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Seeking the Post-Corona Sunshine: More Continuity for Post-Fitzgerald Electoral Reforms in Queensland?

By Denis Bright  

Even Nostradamus himself might be hesitant about predicting the final outcomes of the Queensland state election on 31 October 2020. Opinion polls to date have been of scant assistance. This article can only promote discussion about some of the new variables in this year’s contest. These are strange times with lots of added social and financial tensions during the COVID-19 era.

The last Queensland Newspoll administered by YouGov was conducted between 23-29 July 2020 from a sample of one thousand voters. That seems like generations ago.

Despite Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s high personal ratings in that polling (64 per cent and +5 per cent since the previous poll, a close result can still be expected. The Palaszczuk Government has the slenderest of majorities. It was a minority government between 2015-17.

Conservative media networks will of course strive to take advantage of any future major opinion poll showing any substantial swing to the LNP, even if the state-wide results are quite meaningless. Queensland’s decentralized regional character and the sheer vastness of urban sprawl on the outskirts of cities across South East Queensland will always raise the margin of error in even the best  opinion polls.

Key marginal seat polling will always need to be used to accompany the generalized state-wide voting projections. Even in some electorates like Ipswich West, Mirani (Mackay District), Keppel (Capricorn Coast) and Hervey Bay, there is great internal diversity in social demography.

Opinion polling was once used to call early opportunistic elections. This opportunism is now controlled by a fixed election date every four years unless there are extraordinary circumstances requiring the governor to intervene in setting an unexpected election date.

Premier Campbell Newman took Queenslanders to an early poll on 31 January 2015. This folly for the LNP brought on a 14 per cent swing to Labor after preferences and a 10.81 per cent on primary votes.

The Electoral Commission Queensland (ECQ) has a decisive role to play to maintain the momentum of post-Fitzgerald election reforms under the new four-year parliamentary term arrangements and greater contemporary demands for election accountability.

Legitimate calls by the ECQ will have a decisive influence on this year’s election processes and even final outcomes in marginal seats. Political parties of all persuasions will also be proactive about reacting to any perceived loopholes.

Queensland’s ECQ and the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) need to be highly proactive in testing these loopholes. Any laxity in their vigilance can bring a regression to the Joh era.

 

ECQ’s Responsibilities During COVID-19 Times

The ECQ is of course an independent body which can makes its own calls on issues such as the protocols for postal vote applications, pre-polling procedures and that final election day anti-climax in this COVID-19 era.

The comments from political analyst Anthony Green on the Brisbane City Council (BCC) elections on 28 March 2020 are of great significance. I have not seen any comprehensive reports on the electoral practices in the 72 other local authorities in Queensland. Time does not allow me the luxury of making independent investigations from the ECQ data available on local government elections which is quite abundant.

“When the Notice of Election for Queensland’s local government elections was published on 22 February, no one imagined that by election day the state would be under lockdown and voting and counting would be restricted by social distancing rules.

During March the Electoral Commission reacted to the emerging health emergency by encouraging voters to make use of postal and pre-poll voting. It also broadened access to telephone voting, an option previously only available for blind and low vision voters. The new public health rules prevented the Electoral Commission from visiting retirement homes and hospitals, and also prevented the use of Electoral Visitor voting.

The effect of Coronavirus on turnout was less dramatic then the impact it had on how people voted. In the Brisbane City Council Lord Mayoral election, turnout fell from 84% in 2016 to 79.9%, a drop of only 4.1%. That is a remarkable turnout given the health concerns.

But using Brisbane ward election results, on the day voting fell from 66.0% in 2016 to only 26.5% in 2020. Pre-poll voting rose from 13.2% to 28.7%, postal voting from 12.2% to 23.9%, end telephone voting recorded 8,428 votes (1.4%) compared to only 151 votes in 2016.

Absent voting also leapt from 7.4% in 2016 to 18.3% in 2020. This figure hides some of the increase in pre-poll votes. In 2016 pre-poll votes recorded outside of a voter’s home ward were recorded as pre-poll votes. In 2020 outside of ward pre-polls were counted as absent votes.”

The ECQ is not a law into itself. The Guardian (17 May 2018) covered the forced resignation of a previous electoral commissioner that year. I am using block quotes from published sources and do not seek to make defamatory imputations in promoting public discussion on some very vital issues.

“Queensland’s former electoral commissioner was drunk and using drugs at work, bullied staff and was caught in a sexual act with a temporary employee, an investigation has found.

Walter van der Merwe, 56, resigned from his senior public service role in February after being suspended over seven allegations levelled against him.

The attorney general, Yvette D’Ath, on Thursday confirmed in state parliament that a number of those accusations were substantiated by the Crime and Corruption Commission.

They include Van der Merwe being caught in a sexual act with a staff member, being intoxicated at work, failing to show up to work without a reasonable excuse and directing senior officials not to discipline staff he was friends with.”

ABC News (18 April 2018) covered the involvement of the CCC in criminal charges relating to the previous ECQ Commissioner:

“Queensland’s former electoral commissioner is expected to front court after being charged with dangerous drug possession.

Walter van der Merwe resigned from the position in February after being suspended for “serious allegations”.

At the time, Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath did not confirm the nature of the allegations other than stating they were related to “misbehaviour” under the Electoral Act but “do not suggest inappropriate interference in the outcome of elections”.

Today he was issued with a Notice to Appear on one count of possession of steroids after an investigation by the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC).

Ms D’Ath said the charge is “of a very serious nature and must be dealt with through the court process”.

“In February, I suspended the former Electorate Commissioner due to a number of serious allegations that went to inappropriate conduct in the workplace,” Ms D’Ath said in a statement released today.

“Immediately after the suspension, I referred the allegations to the CCC for investigation.

‘I am aware that the CCC has released a statement today advising of a charge of a former senior state government employee on the charge of possession of a dangerous drug.

“I will await a formal report from the CCC before finalising the investigation into the original allegations received.”

Mr van der Merwe is expected to face the Holland Park Magistrates Court on May 1.

Dermot Tiernan remains the acting electoral commissioner while a recruitment process to permanently fill the position is underway.”

The Mandarin (18 May 2018) noted the outcomes of the hearing at the Holland Park Magistrates Court:

Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath tabled a letter from the corruption watchdog yesterday, summarising its findings in relation to seven serious accusations. The CCC found two of these — claims of travel rorts and rumours about specific cases of nepotism — were baseless.

Allegations that were upheld by the CCC investigation include bullying, skipping work, being drunk on the job, and an incident where the commissioner was found in “a compromising position” of a sexual nature with a temporary staff member.

Van der Merwe allegedly favoured particular employees and “overruled reasonable management decisions of senior managers” to benefit them. Another allegation related to possession of steroids, which were found by CCC investigators inside locked containers in his office. Van de Merwe pled guilty to this in court and accepted a $600 fine, with no conviction recorded.

“It is suspected that Van der Merwe used drugs in the workplace,” according to the CCC’s summary of that allegation.

The corruption watchdog included seven recommendations arising from its investigation in the letter to D’Ath, which can be found published on Queensland’s parliamentary website.

Now Patrick Vidgen PSM as Electoral Commissioner can bring a fresh approach to his heavy responsibilities in maintaining the momentum of integrity relating to elections in the post-Fitzgerald era.

Permit me to introduce a discussion of some important issues affecting this year’s Queensland state election in these COVID-19 times.

 

The Challenges Posed by Postal Vote Applications Through PVA Centres

The state LNP is clearly aware of new opportunities to influence political outcomes through its emphasis on the harvesting of postal vote applications. The LNP would not be alone in making the most of these opportunities. Postal votes accounted for almost a quarter of all votes in the BCC election on 28 March 2020.

LNP resources have been thrown into expensive mail-outs to encourage postal vote applications as part of a How to Vote Safe Strategy.

Attractive envelopes with blue-green graphics give no hint of party affiliations. Constituents who decide to open the envelopes will find a letter from the local LNP candidate. Some envelopes in swing seats like Maiwar in Brisbane’s Inner West are personally addressed. Bringing this seat back into the LNP fold is surely a prized objective.

What is intriguing about the Vote Safe Strategy is the use of a reply-paid envelopes for the enclosed postal vote applications which are being directed to a PVA centre at PO Box 960, Archerfield 4108 before the applications are sent off in bulk to the ECQ. This is a costly step in a well-resourced statewide campaign from the LNP.

At least Labor is more forthright about its  own postal vote requests to constituents. In Ferny Grove electorate for example, sitting member Mark Furner makes no secret about just where the enclosed postal vote applications are going:

From Mark Furner MP in Ferny Grove Electorate

Enclosed with this letter are two postal vote application forms. If you can’t make it to a prepoll booth or vote on election day, simply complete the forms and return it in the reply-paid envelope.

Image from reddit.com

This is returned to Mark Furner’s office without the need for the pretentious use of the PVA Centre.

The LNP’s more assertive style of canvassing for postal vote applications was given a good trial  before the BCC council elections on 28 March 2018. I had not noticed this practice mainly because I give very little attention to junk mail.

At the BCC elections, postal vote applications were returned in a reply-paid envelope to a PVA Centre in Spring Hill. This was ambiguously addressed as Brisbane City Council, PVA Centre, Spring Hill as the graphics clearly show.

I forwarded inquiries to the LNP by phone and to the Coorparoo Ward office by email for an explanation of the nature of PVA centres.

The LNP does not need to explain its actions in setting up PVA centres but I encourage interested voters to keep asking questions about the integrity of such entities.

Should I get more than an automated reply from the Coorparoo Ward, I will soon pass on the details to readers in a postscript to this article.

It is conventionally accepted that the use of a PVA address as used at the BCC elections is probably legal but still highly irregular if postal votes now represent almost a quarter of all votes during the COVID-19 era. My two enquiries at the ECQ with follow-up phone calls do suggest that the use of the PVA centres has not been considered as illegal.

An unnamed CCC complaint adviser,  claimed that the use of the PVA centres does not come within the scope of The Crime and Corruption Act 2001 possibly until a complaint has been filed and processed by the ECQ itself or at the Court of Disputed Returns. I was surprised that officers of the CCC in Fortitude Valley can only release their first name which may or may not be fictitious.

If this practice of allowing PVA centres to operate in the past, has been cleared by the ECQ, surely the transparency of these considerations should be public knowledge. If there is no authorization, there is perhaps a role for the ECQ to investigate this matter.

In the post-Fitzgerald era, expenditures on PVA centres should be declared either in returns from LNP candidates or from the state-offices of the LNP. It would be interesting to find out what declarations of expenditure were made in the BCC elections and any prior elections where these practices were in use.

Other legitimate calls by the ECQ can be expected to have a big indirect impact on election outcomes. The authority for this decision-making is not controversial and within the scope of the Electoral Act 1992 and its amendments. However, there is no doubt that even legitimate calls might affect election outcomes in key marginal seats.

 

Polling Booth Protocols in a Stressful COVID-19 Era

As early voting centres are scheduled to open on 19 October 2020, they will be operating for eleven days just two weeks prior to polling day, the ECQ must make a call on the administrative arrangements at these booths for the distribution of How to Vote Cards by volunteers from competing political parties. The early voting centres will operate for eleven days as they are also operational on Saturday 24 October. At the BCC elections, the early voting centres attracted 28.7 per cent of all votes.

Hopefully, there will be no need to exchange How to Vote Cards between volunteer party volunteers and constituents. Voters can decide if they need How to Vote Cards from containers of fresh cards under the supervision of helpful ECQ staff members.

The Chief Health Officer in Queensland and the ECQ and their senior staff members can be expected to make the final call on pre-polling and other polling booth protocols to avoid the possibilities of community transfers of COVID-19 at polling stations.

The ECQ has published a complete list of early voting centres in communities large and small. Some city booths have only one or two early voting centres. More remote electorates like Warrego have several centres which are largely neutral venues beyond the influence of local storeowners.

The need for the distribution of How to Vote Cards at these centres by volunteers is highly questionable if the ECQ maintains additional staff members for added security with protocols to report incidents and voting anomalies to local police stations.

 

 

It might surely be a waste of campaign energies if volunteers from local political parties  were expected to distribute how to vote cards to just a couple of voters every hour over eleven days of at these early voting centres.

Let’s hope that commitment to the post-Fitzgerald reform processes is maintained after 31 October 2020 with more reforms to those blind spots in electoral laws relating to canvassing of postal vote applications, greater scrutiny of campaign expenses and a review of the role for canvassing of votes at early voting centres which now operate between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. on four occasions in some quite remote locations.

Changes in voting practices state-wide can be confusing at a time of concerns about public health and financial stresses on voters which might have scarred perceptions about politics and public issues in a representative democracy. Once errors are made in allowable campaigning and voting practices, the outcomes are difficult to resolve.

Before the full onset of the Great Depression, Queenslanders went to the polls on 11 May 1929. The election ushered in the only conservative government in Queensland between 1915 and 1957 under the Premiership of Arthur Moore, then under the banner of a Country-National Government.

As with the Campbell Newman Government (2012-15), the Moore Government lasted for only one term. It would be an interesting project for a keen student to investigate this single term of government as a case study in disaster management through the application of debt reduction and market ideology in a fragile economy.

The conservative press generally welcomed the election of the Moore Government . Even The Truth (Brisbane Sunday paper) welcomed the arrival of a new Premier from the Dalby based  electorate of Aubigny. This paper was indeed popular with Labor voters who liked its populist style of reporting.

The election of Premier Moore raised the hopes of conservatives across Australia.

The Burnie Advocate in far-off Tasmania gave its endorsement of the need for a change of government in Queensland just two days before the state election date (9 May 1929 with text from Trove to offer some historical authenticity):

 

 

Tasmanian conservatives did not have to give up the reins of government to Labor until 1934. The LNP presided over the worst years of the Great Depression.

Tasmanians did not seek another change of government until 1982 when Liberal Premier Robin Gray ran a state rights campaign to continue construction of the two Franklin River Dams. The Tasmanian and Queensland governments funded the legal challenge to this decision in the High Court.

As always, the mainstream media would endorse the nostalgia associated with conservative populism.

Interested readers might like to check out my previous AIM Network article on the consequences of the defeat of state Labor government in Queensland for my own family perspective. Such older articles are difficult to retrieve so I am adding the web address from  8 May 2020.

Perhaps only the horrors of an avoidable war with our chief trading partner could be more devastating to the lives of Australians in contemporary times than a return to regressive styles of market ideology at all levels of government.

Meanwhile, in the old traditions of that eulogy to Premier Arthur Moore, I am sure that television eyewitness news networks will have similar scripts ready on the life and times of Premier Deb Frecklington just in case those political shadows from 11 May 1929 are relevant again.

Denis Bright is a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to citizen’s journalism from a critical structuralist perspective. Comments from insiders with a specialist knowledge of the topics covered are particularly welcome.

 

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The ‘Panama Papers’ exposed the greed of the rich – and then nothing happened

By Paul Gregoire  

The Panama Papers could have been a massive moment in history. However, the culture of tax havens, loopholes and our richest paying zero tax continues unabated.

An Oxfam report released on January 20 revealed that last year 26 billionaires owned the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people around the globe. This was down from 43 individuals the year before. And this extreme wealth disparity is accelerating every year.

As has been exposed over recent times, some amongst the richest portion of society has a habit of avoiding paying taxes. There was the Panama Papers leaked in 2015. And then there was the largest ever leak of financial information – the Paradise Papers—that came to light in late 2017.

The Paradise Papers consist of 13.4 million pages that reveal the global rich avoiding tax payments by using offshore tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions. German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung obtained and shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

And according to the ICIJ’s Gerard Ryle, what was important about this leak is “it’s the high end of town”, whereas its Panama counterpart dealt with “rogue players”. So, with the Panama Papers you’re talking Facebook, Amazon, Queen Elizabeth II and Donald Trump’s son-in-law.

Despite the magnitude of what’s exposed, for the most part, people looked the other way. However, if you dig deep into the documents, as St Louis tax accountant Ken Boyd recently did, what you find is the perfect how-to guide on tax avoidance.

A tax accountant’s take

“Most striking to me was the sheer scale of the leak,” Mr Boyd told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “And the speed with which these documents were perused and reported upon once released.” And he also pointed to the exposed “connection between Trump’s administration and wealthy Russians”.

In his report, Tax Avoidance By The Numbers: The Paradise Papers, the accountant explains that the majority of the documents – 7 million – were from Appleby, one of the world’s largest offshore law firms, with its headquarters in Bermuda. It’s been in business for over 125 years.

Half a million documents came from AsiaCiti: a wealth protection company in Singapore. And the rest were from corporate registries in secrecy jurisdictions, which are countries that allow entities to avoid tax regulations in a way that’s not made public. These include the Cook Islands and Samoa.

Tax avoidance by numbers

“The techniques exposed by the Paradise Papers operate in a somewhat grey area that’s arguably within the letter of the law,” Mr Boyd explained. “Often, the tax avoidance employed will involve convoluted business structures, with extensive use of offshore tax havens.”

The most common way to do this is by setting up a shell company, which are businesses that hold funds and manage the financial transactions of other entities. There aren’t any employees. And they don’t trade on exchanges. Shell companies are perfect places to hide wealth.

The advantage of setting up such a company in a tax haven is these jurisdictions’ tax rates are extremely low or non-existent. And as these areas don’t report tax information, individuals and companies can place money in offshore accounts without their own government’s realising.

Indeed, one of the most popular places to carry out this practice is a five storey office block called Ugland House in the Cayman Islands. Around 20,000 companies are registered to this premises, whilst another 80,000 companies are registered throughout this British Overseas Territory.

These practices are becoming less acceptable however, according to Boyd, as the public reaction to the recent leaks has shown. “Even when high-profile individuals and companies are complying with the letter of the law,” he went on, “they’re seen to be flouting the spirit of it.”

Some of the main offenders

As set out in the report, the Duchy of Lancaster, the private estate of Queen Elizabeth II, invested in the UK household goods company BrightHouse. But, instead of directly investing, the Duchy avoided paying taxes by directing the money through a private equity company in the Cayman Islands.

Colombian pop singer Shakira funnelled $31 million worth of intellectual property rights into a company she owned called Tournesol in Malta, which is a well-known secrecy jurisdiction. Following the leak, the Spanish government investigated her for tax evasion.

And former Turkish prime minister Binali Yıldırım and his sons were found to be stashing cash in a Maltese shell company. However, exposing this caused dire problems for one Turkish journalist. Pelin Ünker was sentenced to 13 months’ gaol time last month for writing about the dodgy dealings.

But why should we care?

While these offshore investments aren’t illegal, they do harm the communities where the wealth is being siphoned from. Tax revenue is used to fund infrastructure, healthcare and public education. But, with a lack of it, these institutions suffer, and so too does the public that relies on them.

And in the meantime, the uber-rich are avoiding paying the taxes required by the law of the jurisdictions in which they live, whilst at the same time, they reap the benefits of the tax-funded services their society offers them.

As Mr Boyd points out, 366 of the Fortune 500 companies hold US$2.6 trillion in offshore tax havens, which would amount to US$752 billion in back taxes, while Berkeley professor Gabriel Zucman estimates that 8% of global wealth – or US$7.6 trillion – is held offshore.

The accountant further outlined that “the world’s most valuable public company” Apple stashes most of its non-US earnings in offshore havens, whilst Nike has US$6.6 billion in cash being taxed at just 3% in Bermuda.

The avoidance continues

“At the time the story broke in November 2017, it made some waves,” Boyd recalls. And there was talk of creating legislation to tighten it up. But, he admits that considering the size of the scandal, the media paid little attention.

Mr Boyd puts this down to two things. Firstly, “tax affairs – particularly those involving complex offshore arrangements – can seem rather impenetrable to the general public”. And secondly, the financial practices that were leaked were more of an ethical problem, than a legal one.

And as for Appleby, it’s business as usual. After it tried to sue the Guardian and the BBC for exposing the documents, the offshore legal firm came to an agreement with the media companies, after it was found that the majority of the leaked documents were no longer owned by Appleby.

“The practices exposed were arguably legal,” Mr Boyd concluded. “Had the Paradise Papers exposed instances of outright tax evasion, that would have been far bigger news.”

 

This article was originally published on The Big Smoke.

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on civil rights, drug law reform, gender and Indigenous issues. Along with Sydney Criminal Lawyers, he writes for VICE and is the former news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

 

 

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Australia’s poor old women

By Jane Caro  

Despite women facing the wage gap, eventual poverty and possible homelessness, the government is quite happy to blame us for our fate.

As soon as the Federal Government understood that millions of Australians were likely to find themselves living on unemployment benefits for the foreseeable future, they realised just how politically untenable the previous rate actually was. They clearly couldn’t care less when it was just a bunch of old women and other marginalised people forced to eke out an existence on $40 a day, but millions more who had become unemployed through, as our politicians love to put it, ‘no fault of their own’ was a bridge too far.

So, in their self-interest and embarrassment (sorry, I can’t call it generosity), they added the $550 Coronavirus supplement to the usual Newstart rate, now called ‘JobSeeker’.

On the 25th of September, this supplement will drop to $250 a fortnight. This will be a blow for the newly unemployed – particularly as it is meant to drive them back into jobs that don’t exist. Nevertheless, even halved, the supplement remains a bonus for the long-term unemployed, most of whom are older and many of whom are women.

In that way, (as long as they don’t catch the virus and die, of course) the advent of COVID-19 has actually made the lives of many older women easier. The extraordinary dark irony of that fact seems to have passed most of our leaders and commentators by.

The terrible penalty we exact on women as they age in this wealthy country is horrifying. According to a report released in March this year by think tank Per Capita ‘Measure for Measure. Gender Equality in Australia’ 34% of single women (divorced, widowed or never married) are living in poverty by the age of 60. That number rises to 50% of them once they are living on the aged pension. These figures are pre-COVID.

The most galling part of these figures is the reasons why so many women in our society find themselves facing poverty as they age. There are too many to enumerate here, suffice to say it is directly a result of the sexist and misogynistic assumptions that dog women from the cradle to the grave. They include the fact that women – despite outperforming men and boys in all levels of education – are paid less from the minute they enter the workforce. They include the high cost of childcare, the tax disincentives deliberately designed to make it hard for mothers to return to full-time work, the gender-segregated nature of the Australian workforce, the assumption that women will do the lion’s share of unpaid work including domestic and caring duties, and the resulting over-representation of women in part-time, casual and low-paid jobs. And let’s not mention sexual harassment in the workplace or domestic violence and the thousand and one other things that can conspire to fling women into penury.

As a result of all this, women retire with an average of half the super of men (and men don’t have enough) and fully one-third of women retire with no super at all. (The same third who end up facing poverty at the age of 60, I wonder?)

Despite decades of feminism, all of these circumstances remain intractable, which is why me and my contemporaries (I am 63) are watching in horror as yet another generation of women race headlong towards the same abyss, especially if they remain or become single. For as long as I can remember, women have been told that a man is not a financial plan, but when I look at my contemporaries and who is secure and who is at risk, it seems that is a big fat lie.

The current generations of younger women – especially those just entering the workforce – are actually in the scariest place of all. We know this pandemic has disproportionately affected women. They have lost the most jobs, they have lost the most income and they have shouldered even more of the domestic, caring and home learning duties. Their super will be disproportionately affected. Our government in its infinite lack of wisdom has actually helped people access their super balances early to tide them through a contracting economy. The costs of this in later life will be huge, especially for women, who will never make good the loss.

The job stimulus packages offered by our government are so entirely focussed on male-dominated industries that it almost feels like they are trolling us. They even keep being referred to as ‘shovel-ready’ jobs. To absolutely rub women’s noses in it, the first group of workers removed from JobKeeper were childcare workers – overwhelmingly underpaid women. No one has been able to explain the logic of singling them out.

The confusion around childcare (ours is already one of the most expensive systems in the world) has forced many families to throw their hands up in despair and decide that – you guessed it – mum will have to give up her job. The message is clear: ‘go home ladies and help us make the unemployment stats look more politically palatable.’ At least, if they are young they may still have a home to go to. In a couple of decades, they may not. The fastest-growing group among homeless is women over 55, leaping up by a terrifying 31% between 2011 and 2016.

And what has been the Federal Government’s response to the pressure being brought to bear about the fate of half the Australian population – the best-educated half, by the way? Apart from some vague promises about plans to do something about the super gap, it’s all the stuff beloved by neo-liberals: an ‘economic security pack’ whatever that is, more parental leave flexibility, scholarships for women in economics and finance, specialist DV units (at least they mentioned it) and a female entrepreneur’s program. All well and good, if vague on detail, but where’s the social housing? Where’s the paying people’s super whenever they take time out of paid work to care for others? Where’s the free fucking childcare available to every family?

But the bit that really infuriated me about Assistant Minister for Financial Services Jane Hume’s package was the potted lecture she gave women and the super industry about the need to improve women’s financial literacy. The implied blame in that suggestion is at best tone-deaf and at worst utterly cynical. Once again, we blame women for their own fate. We turn our faces away from the very real barriers, biases and prejudices that hobble women at every turn and tell them they are poor because they are stupid and lazy about money.

In fact, women are poor as a direct result of doing what they are constantly told is their duty and putting the needs of others ahead of their own right to earn an income.

As I have said before, in today’s Australia we tell older women; ‘look, its lovely you put the needs of your kids, elderly relatives and anyone else in need of care ahead of yourself, thanks for that. Now, can you just go and live in your car?’

 

This article was originally published on The Big Smoke.

Jane Caro has a low boredom threshold and so wears many hats; including author, novelist, lecturer, mentor, social commentator, columnist, workshop facilitator, speaker, broadcaster and award winning advertising writer.

 

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The big lie

By Leonie Saunders  

A little over two weeks have passed since I listened intently to the presenter of the ABC’s Statewide Drive program, Nicole Chvastek interview the owner of a popular Kyneton restaurant to get his opinion of the COVID-19 Roadmap aimed at taking Victoria out of lockdown that Premier Andrews announced the previous day.

With an open mind, and my humanitarian instincts fully engaged, I listened to the restauranteur voice his understandable dismay at the toll COVID-19 has taken on his small business and his staff. However, when he expressed his displeasure with Daniel Andrews simply because he expected the Premier would announce on the day how much financial support business owners can expect to receive from the Victorian government, my critical faculties kicked in.

Perhaps the Premier may have been able to placate the restauranteur had he stipulated that the Roadmap he laid out was the public route, and all secondary roads on the map would be outlined in due course. Then again, bearing in mind no matter what size the business, good old hubris is rife in the mindset of the business community. That being said, I somehow doubt there would be any circumstances under which business owners would abide secondary status in the realm of political considerations.

To be fair, at the beginning of the interview as I listened to this restauranteur expressing not only his concerns for his business but also for the economic hardship his staff were under; I judged him to be somewhat empathetic. Nevertheless, as he went on about the Premier not announcing on the day any offer of financial support for business, his solicitude for his staffs’ financial stresses soon waned. In truth, there would need to be more than a soupçon of empathy to assuage my ire at his and all business owners hypocritical bleating for social handouts.

The question is, why should governments provide financial support to business in a capitalist free-market economy? From my perspective, this fundamental contradiction in terms warrants serious debate. Accordingly, as is my wont, living up to the integrity of the allegorical meaning of my name being Lioness. I thought it high-time to put the cat amongst the pigeons. It was on that basis that I decided to ring the ABC to express my views during the talkback segment.

While I cannot recall verbatim the entirety of what I said, I remember beginning with words to the effect that it is important to take stock of the fact that one of the main reasons people are motivated to go into business is to make lots more money while being top dog with no-one looking down on them telling them what to do. And that is fine. But in the process of making a profit off the skills, time, and labour of workers, to then expect the rest of society – the majority of whom are workers – to pick up the tab for the profit-takers in hard times is a bit rich. Especially coming from people who think themselves morally superior to their employees. These are the people who begrudge paying taxes, and who hate having to comply with red tape despite the social and environmental safeguards that red tape affords our society.

There are common threads in the discourse of business owners worth noting. For example, whenever anyone dares challenge people in business to justify the way they go about deriving profits, it is reasonable to assume by the mechanical uniformity of their responses that collectively, all have learnt the Capitalist Handbook 101 by rote. This is more than evident in the obvious lack of deviation in their language when they assert themselves to be deserving of lucrative returns because they work hard and take all the risk.

Incredible as it sounds, I am yet to hear any business owner say my employees work as hard as me, if not harder. And they also face any number of workplace risks. So they too deserve to profit just as handsomely from the product of their labour.

The resentment that runs through the veins of the filthy penny-pinching rich is echoed in the attitudes of all the wannabes (otherwise known as aspirationals) in the ranks of the upwardly mobile sole traders in small to medium businesses. United in their jaundiced view of humankind they are predictably hostile when it comes to debating questions relative to the equitable distribution of wealth. Likewise, they are typically vitriolic in their condemnation of socially-conscious empathetic lefties who argue strongly for increasing our nation’s social safety net that for too long has failed abysmally to provide reasonable financial support for the less well-off in our society.

That being the case, I thought the irony of the restauranteur’s expectation for a hand-out was particularly pertinent in context to the presupposed benefits to Australia as a profit-oriented free-market economy. Why the lie? If the material benefits of market economics were tangible and evenly spread, then there would be no need for governments to apply socialist interventions in markets whatsoever.

Paradoxically we have COVID-19 to thank for exposing to the air the lies that journalists in the employ of this country’s self-serving commercial news media outlets have been complicit in suppressing. While they leave misconceptions and blatant untruths to fester like a puss-filled carbuncle on the bum of our society, the pandemic has laid bare the inherent defects in capitalist economics and the copious flaws that exist in globalised market economics. Importantly, Rona has brought into public view just how much business owners expect the freedom to capitalise their profits while in the cycle of economic downturns. They are reliant on governments enabling them to socialise their losses. Ergo, one must ask the question; if businesses rely so heavily on governments to bail them out in a crisis, what is their risk?

Truth be known, other than failing in business arising from their own mismanagement, the risk to the restauranteur and other small business owners comes from the people they typically vote into government.

Behind closed doors, government ministers beholden to monopoly capitalists cherry-pick which industry sectors get the most hand-outs. Take for example the unscrupulous extraction industry receiving fuel subsidies and a raft of other tax-breaks designed to offset the operational costs of doing business. While the working class suffer the financial burden that comes from the inequity of a 10% regressive goods and services tax, rent-seekers and other capitalists benefit handsomely from government wilfully leaving gaping loopholes in the tax system.

 

 

What is it with our political class? Is it nest-feathering, seeking a soft landing post-politics? Is it political careerist geared only to serving their self-interest? Or is it sheer unadulterated venality?

Perhaps it is all of the above that holds leaders in government so captive to rent-seekers that they allow billions in profits from raping this country of its precious resources to be channelled offshore tax-free? The only thing that is free about trade in this country is how our nation’s government facilitates its donors in big business to unceremoniously screw Australians over freely by making billions in untaxed profits while we pay the price.

Which brings me to another lie lifted straight out of the capitalist handbook. Out of all the people who erroneously claim that taxing businesses cost jobs, it is the rent-seekers who take the most but return nothing of any value to society that rail the loudest against paying company tax. No matter how one looks at it, rent-seeking is a protection racket and the fact that our so-called elected representatives entertain these racketeers dressed up in thousand-dollar suits designed to convey a veneer of respectability, is beyond contempt.

Overall, monopoly capitalism predetermines who wins and who loses. Big business leverage governments with the prospect of more jobs and political donations shape government budgets. Corporate wholesale shareholders engineer movements in markets. And this goes to the lie of there being a hidden hand of competition in markets as it proves market systems are never impartial.

If we are invested intellectually in the 17th Century philosopher Adam Smith’s microeconomic theory on supply and demand, in which he warned that equilibrium in markets can only be achieved through the hidden hand of competition. And that competition is driven by demand. How can politicians call Australia a free market economy based on supply and demand when government intervenes to serve the interests of monopoly capitalists dominating the supply side of the ledger? This is but one of many questions that should be raised concerning the efficacy of capitalism and to the social and environmental probity of deregulated supply-side market economics.

Not to put to finer point on the fact that 48 years have passed since the last political leader was fearless enough to introduce meaningful socioeconomic policy changes for the betterment of our society. It is fair to say courage is not the forte of today’s political class. Nevertheless, I contend that at this juncture in time, with our international borders closed, dampening the power of outside economic forces. The pandemic provides the political class with the perfect opportunity to show some mettle and test my long-held view that business owners are analogous of shark’s teeth – when one fails another pops up immediately to replace it.

Of course, that is just my pie-in-the-sky idealism sneaking out. Sadly, they won’t take the risk because they truly are cowards. They fear not being able to rely on aspirational mercenary capitalists starting in a business having the moolah readily available to line the right pockets in time to fund their Party’s election campaign. That is absolutely the domain of well-established capitalist class elites, here and abroad.

The likes of Murdoch, Rinehart, Forrest, Triguboff et al, understand only too well the raison d’être of political parties is winning power for power’s sake, and as a consequence politicians will go to extraordinary lengths to protect their benefactors. The capitalist class also know that contrary to the core tenets of representative democracy, governments first and foremost govern for them. This is evidenced by the fact that whenever governing in their best interest clashes with governing in the best interest of the electorate. There is no question of who wins and who loses.

While it is certainly true that not all business owners exploit workers or the environment and the tax system by setting up family trusts to dodge paying their fair share of taxes, it is also true that not all business owners begrudge government red tape because they know that it is red tape that safeguards Australia’s high standards. They understand the added time it takes to meet those requirements is a cost-benefit they pay in the social good. On the other hand, given the capitalist system encourages greed, it is equally true that capitalists including aspirational capitalists in small business are inherently monopolistic. Thus, it is an inexorable truth albeit, in varying degrees, business owners who exploit workers, society, the natural environment and the tax system are most definitely in the majority.

Which brings me to the source of my disgust. Every time the dyed-in-the-wool marketing man Scott Morrison smugly gives voices to one of his favourite right-wing shibboleths; “if you have a go, you’ll get ago”, I am reminded of how slimy capitalist puppets operate. The lie is evident in the subtext of Morrison’s typically pious mantra that all men are created equal. When in truth, he knows all too well that monopoly capitalism guarantees all men and women are not born equal.

Despite being media savvy, the marketing man’s glib façade of aspirational “if you have a go, you’ll get ago” rhetoric, cannot conceal his smug countenance. Morrison’s smirk betrays his lies, including his particular penchant for proselytising the farcical idea that the self-made man is a common occurrence in capitalist economies. This is another lie he and his ilk use as a means of harnessing deference to capitalist ideals. Make no mistake, this nation’s Prime Minister invests a great deal of religious fervour in conveying the cock-and-bull narrative that life is conducted on a level playing field.

To that end, there are days when I despair over the wretched credulity of the great majority of Australians who in their apathy and ignorance give sustenance to the biggest lie of all. Contrary to the narrative propagated by the mainstream media, social media is not responsible for the great majority of Australians buying into the lie that capitalist growth must be allowed to flourish unfettered by taxation and regulations. Social media is not to blame for the level of political illiteracy in Australia. Indeed, social media is not to blame for the impediments to the democratic process that comes from political illiteracy and indifference. That failure must be laid at the feet of mediocre leadership.

The mean-spirited state of politics in this country is testament to the public sphere being dominated for more than 40 years by right-wing politicians in both Liberal and Labor. It is testament to the dominance of misanthropic right-wing neoliberal leadership that a media landscape was created that gave a select few monopolistic media owners more power to foster witless passivity to ensure a culture in which Australians would unthinkingly give deference to capital. And to that extent, the general public’s predisposition for self-sabotage evident in how economic artifices of debt and deficits that allow the government to shirk their responsibilities go unquestioned. Is to be expected.

Yet despite all the lies, as oxymoronic as it sounds, this melancholy optimist continues to live in hope that the penny will drop before Mother Earth’s patient indulgence of our stupidity that is already showing frightening signs of being worn thin, runs out completely. As a socialist, I fight on in the belief that the multitudes will soon wake up from their political slumber to discover there are no second chances.

Doubtless to say, my position is clear and that for the sake of my grandchildren and all living creatures on this planet; I and we have no other choice than to keep raising our voices to awareness in the public good the cavernous pitfalls that come from buying into the lies told by Morrison and his ministers. To be perfectly frank, I cannot conceive of any finer aspiration than being a valid contributor in the quest of safeguarding the future by sounding the alarm that if heeded will ensure Morrison and his capitalist cronies in politics and business will be listed as a breed on the threshold of extinction.

This article was originally published on Connecting the Dots.

Leonie Saunders is benevolent dictator of Connecting the Dots, proud lefty feminist. Adores children and animals. Despises greedy union-bashing, power-abusing corporate polluters.

 

 

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The forced sterilisation of women in detention is nothing new

By Mikayla Chadwick  

The headlines may have shocked the world, but the forced sterilisation of immigrants in detention centres is not new, nor should it be surprising.

The Irwin Country Detention Center (ICDC), a prison facility that detains immigrants in Georgia, has been subject to complaints about human rights violations for many years. This month, whistleblower Dawn Wooten, a former nurse at ICDC, has made allegations of improper medical treatment, detailed in a report by Project South. According to Ms Wooten, hysterectomies are being performed on unwilling women at ICDC, who have no access to translation services and did not give their consent to the sterilisation procedure.

As Wooten herself suffers from sickle cell disease and is thus vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus, the alarm has been raised concerning the lack of policy to protect inmates and staff from the pandemic. Wooten “was told not to tell officers that there were detainees that they dealt with day in and day out that were positive.”

“Only God is taking care of us here”, reported a detained migrant at ICDC. The unidentified complainant’s statement was verified by another detainee who asserted “The medical unit is not helpful at all, even if you are dying”, after being subjected to improper medical care and neglectful treatment upon requesting medical care for her breast cancer four times and waiting more than two weeks without seeing a doctor. According to Ms Wooten, “it was common practice for the sick call nurse to shred medical request forms from detained immigrants”, condemning them to weather their illness, no matter how severe.

Explanations ranged from “a small twenty-minute procedure done drilling three small holes in her stomach to drain the cyst” to “receiving a hysterectomy to have her womb removed”. 

Lorelei Williams, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, stated to The Intercept that ICDC appears to “fail to provide basic medical care, necessary lifesaving treatments, and the resources needed to protect detained migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic”. The failure to care for people locked in immigration prisons is depressingly becoming a global trend. This trend is contextualised by historical medical neglect towards ‘othered’ Americans.

Many examples of women being subjected to heinous treatment were littered throughout Wooten’s testimony. A terrifying example is of one detained immigrant who reported to Project South that she experienced a near-miss of the doctor now termed “The Uterus Collector”. The woman “felt like they were trying to mess with my body”, after being transferred between the unit, an ambulance, the hospital and back to the detention centre, receiving three different accounts of what procedure was scheduled to be performed on her body. Explanations ranged from “a small twenty-minute procedure done drilling three small holes in her stomach to drain the cyst” to “receiving a hysterectomy to have her womb removed”. After receiving a positive COVID-19 test result, the woman had no operations performed.

“The Uterus Collector” has been identified by Prism as gynaecologist Mahendra Amin. Dr Amin is based in Douglas, Georgia and affiliated with Coffee Regional Medical Center and Irwin County Hospital in Georgia. Wooten, who did not identify Amin by name in her report, stated: “I’ve had several inmates tell me that they’ve been to see the doctor and they’ve had hysterectomies and they don’t know why they went or why they’re going.”

Wooten also told Project South the despondent story of an inmate who fell victim to Dr Amin. The woman “was supposed to get her left ovary removed because it had a cyst on the left ovary; he took out the right one. She was upset. She had to go back to take out the left and she wound up with a total hysterectomy. She still wanted children—so she has to go back home now and tell her husband that she can’t bear kids”.

Forced hysterectomies and a neglect of the duty of care to inmates must be contextualised within a broad and alarming history of forced sterilisation within America. According to journalist Moira Donegan, “everything the Nazis knew about eugenics, they learned from the United States”. In her report, Donegan detailed a series of engineered mass sterilisations of African American women, ignited by the Buck v Bell supreme court case in 1927.

 

 

Further, in the 1960s and 1970s, medical officials in the U.S. “decided that approximately a quarter of Native American women were unfit to have children, and sterilized them”. North Carolina’s eugenics program victimised 7,600 women, subjecting them to forced sterilisation until 1977.

I have my own story of medical practitioners neglecting their patients, proving the same mindset is not strictly an American problem. Last year, I had pains in my stomach on a holiday at the beach. I returned to Melbourne, panicked, and immediately saw a GP. They told me to go into the emergency room, where I waited six hours to see a doctor. In those six hours, I was vomiting from severe pain. I was repeatedly told I had appendicitis. I wanted to wait for an ultrasound to confirm this diagnosis but was told that ultrasounds are not available over the weekend. Two days later I was pressured into surgery to remove my appendix, and the last thing I said before losing consciousness on the operating table, was “this is not my appendix, it’s my ovaries.” I waited three months to find out that it was not my appendix that was causing me pain, but a burst cyst on my ovary. I sat in the follow-up room and cried, realising they had operated on me to remove my appendix unnecessarily, and a feeling of grief washed over me while I processed the fact that I had been right all along.

Female autonomy in the medical landscape is undermined in public hospitals in Australia, and Immigration Detention Centres in America. What is concerning, is that a detained woman has even fewer rights to speak for herself and cannot decide what she consents to when the information given to her is not in her own language. Prism claims that every woman they spoke to in ICDC had not been appointed a translator when being consulted for medical treatment.

We like to believe that we have come a long way from enslavement and Nazi medical experiments, yet it takes the strength of a whistleblower like Dawn Wooten to remind us that we have not.

 

This article was originally published on The Big Smoke.

Mikayla Chadwick is a Melbourne-based freelance writer, focused on human and legal rights, global affairs and popular culture. Mikayla holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree and is currently completing a research degree in sex work policy reform. To read more from Mikayla, check out her website: mikaylachadwick.com.

 

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The $3.5 billion investment in the NBN is not an upgrade

By Laurie Patton  

The Coalition has announced that a further $3.5 billion will be poured into the NBN. But, don’t get it twisted, this is not an upgrade.

In the end, it was inevitable. The government couldn’t risk heading into another election with the NBN in the mess that has resulted from Tony Abbott’s fateful instruction to his communications minister Malcolm Turnbull to ‘demolish’ Labor’s state-of-the-art fibre model.

With millions of Australians struggling with slow and unreliable Internet connections – especially people in highly contestable rural seats held by increasingly nervous National Party MP’s – current communications minister Paul Fletcher has finally hoisted the white flag.

NBN Co will now spend $3.5 billion replacing inferior connections with the fibre they should have had from the start.

Of course in all likelihood, this will blow out (perhaps to more than $5 billion). After all, Turnbull’s so-called multi-technology mix model was supposed to be built for under $30 billion but now sits on the books at well over $50 billion. This includes a $20 billion-plus debt to the government needed just to complete the dud network we have now.

 

 

To be fair to Mr Turnbull, he took advice from a few of his ‘techie’ mates who should have known better. He also relied on the communications department who should have warned him that Telstra’s copper network had been let run down for years in anticipation (by Telstra) that it would be replaced with fibre.

Don’t let anyone tell you this is just an upgrade, or that it was planned from the start. Most of the FTTN technology out in the field will be redundant and will have to be junked.

 

The other flaw in the MTM version was the decision to use old pay television cables. The entire Optus network had to be abandoned and it’s costing a bomb to remediate large sections of the Telstra/Foxtel cabling.

Curiously, we are now told that NBN Co can roll out fibre for less than half the costing they’ve used in every financial report since 2013 to justify using copper.

This is a total surrender and a complete repudiation of the Abbott/Turnbull folly.

We’ve spent billions of dollars on a dud technology that has left a third of the country behind in a digitally-enabled world.

And don’t let anyone tell you this is just an upgrade, or that it was planned from the start. Most of the FTTN technology out in the field will be redundant and will have to be junked.

Paul Fletcher is to be congratulated for having the courage to admit the mistakes of his predecessors. Stephen Conroy and Kevin Rudd have been vindicated.

Access to technology and ‘digital literacy’ are two of the most critical issues confronting us in the digitally-enabled 21st Century.

During the Coronavirus crisis, many more people have become accustomed to working from home. Predictions are this phenomenon will continue long after we return to a ‘new normal’. What’s more, real estate experts are now predicting a technology-led increase in decentralisation as many more companies and their employees realise that they don’t need to operate from overcrowded and expressive capital cities.

Over in New Zealand (where they persisted with fibre) they found ways to reduce their per premises installation cost by around 40 per cent. The same would have occurred here. Chorus NZ (the equivalent of NBN Co) is already delivering gigabit speeds to many of its customers.

Thanks to petty politics we’ve just wasted the better part of a decade. As I’ve been saying for more than five years now, we need #BetterBroadband!”

 

This article was originally published The Big Smoke.

Laurie Patton (AKA “The Lucky General”) is a former journalist and media executive. He’s been a prominent advocate for #BetterBroadband as a tool for maximising the benefits of a digitally-enabled world, and decentralisation as a means of providing more affordable housing and creating more liveable communities. His personal blog is theluckygeneral.biz. His posts are frequently re-published and he is often interviewed on radio and television.

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Will the pandemic force us to recognise how privileged we are?

By Claire Harris  

With a pandemic sweeping across the globe, I’m wondering if this is the moment when we finally realise how fortunate we are.

I think we can all agree that it has been an exhausting week. And month. And year. Australia was only just beginning to recover slowly from the horror show of the worst bushfire season in history, when we – as everywhere else – were struck with a global pandemic.

It happened gradually and then all at once. It’s hard to believe now, but just a fortnight ago I was in my hometown of Sydney planning two birthday events: one for myself and one for my mother who was turning 70. As I watched the spread of Coronavirus, I made the difficult decision to cancel both celebrations.

At the time, it seemed perhaps overly-cautious. How much could possibly change in the week that these parties were scheduled to occur?

The answer was… everything.

Within 24 hours of my birthday drinks that didn’t happen, a travel ban was imposed, “social distancing” became a common term, and non-essential businesses were slated for closure. I spent my first (and I hope only) quarantine birthday with just the few family members I was staying with. We all stopped leaving the house. For my mum’s birthday, we decided that her children and grandchildren shouldn’t even visit – it simply wasn’t worth the risk.

Cutting short my visit to return to Melbourne where I live, I said goodbye to my mother on the doorstep of her home, not knowing when I would see her again. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. We are fortunate that she can be isolated, but worried – as so many are – about the growing likelihood that she will spend months on her own.

A few days ago, a friend messaged me to ask whether I should come back to Sydney before the state borders close, so as not to be on the opposite side from my family for an indefinite period of time. The thought of this twists my stomach into knots, as I ask myself when I will see loved ones who are overseas and interstate again. I have a sister who lives in Prague and another in China (and currently in government quarantine following exposure to COVID-19).

With all international flights grounded, they suddenly seem the half-world away that they actually are. We used to be able to count on the fact that we could always get on a plane to visit each other – the only obstacle, of course, being money.

But as the walls come down indefinitely, it also occurred to me that this is the reality that most people in the world live with, pandemic or no pandemic – being separated from loved ones with the uncertainty of not knowing when a reunion will occur. For the first time in my life, I’ve actually felt the physicality of borders which have always, for me, been invisible lines in the dirt.

We are so used to being able to do pretty much what we want when we want it: swim at the beach, get on an aeroplane, have a haircut, buy toilet paper. It makes us furious that these privileges, one by one, are being taken away – so angry, in fact, that we fail to even recognise them as privileges. We believe this kind of freedom is our birth right.

The display of 20,000 Australians at Sydney’s Bondi Beach despite government warnings to stay home – like the thousands on spring break in Florida and flocking to seaside towns in Britain – demonstrates just how fiercely we cling to our sense of entitlement. It is evident in the Hollywood celebrity refusing to stay home, declaring “some people value freedom over their lives” and in the wealthy people returning from ski resorts and cruise ships infected with the virus and failing to self-isolate. As a result, they are being quarantined in luxury hotels and complaining of prison-like conditions.

While this is an unenviable situation to be in, I do wonder whether the people who have unexpectedly found themselves in it will discover empathy for the boatloads of desperate asylum seekers who have been languishing on Manus and Nauru for seven years – in actual prisons.

As we fought each other over toilet paper, I wondered whether we will emerge out the other end of this crisis with greater empathy for the people in the world who constantly struggle with access to toilet paper – along with other things we consider basic necessities. I’ll admit that the scenes of Australians filling their shopping trolleys to the brim and brawling in supermarkets don’t fill me with a lot of positivity.

But there are reasons to feel optimistic about how the world will be re-shaped after this is all over. People are connecting in ways that we haven’t for a long time: for example, the amount of time I’ve spent actually talking on the phone this week instead of texting, the number of messages I receive (and send) just “checking in”, and the fact that I now play virtual board games with my family.

Will this newfound connectivity continue as we grow used to self-isolation? (And will we finally work out how to solve the unceasing technical issues?) What about once life goes back to “normal”? And, most importantly, when we finally resume our lives, will we have a lasting appreciation for just how good we’ve always had it?

We can only hope that one positive outcome of this terrible experience is a brave new world where we hold a greater awareness of how lucky we are  – and a stronger sense of compassion for those who don’t have our privileges. That we will no longer take any of it for granted.

 

This article was originally published on The Big Smoke.

Claire Harris is a writer in exile who has spent the last decade travelling and working around the world. This is not nearly as glamorous as it sounds and usually involves scraping by on a diet of muesli and cheap wine. Occasionally together. You can find her at www.clairejharris.com.

 

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‘Climigration’: Whole communities are moving due to climate change

By Dr Tony Matthews  

Climate change increasingly threatens communities all over the world. News of fires, floods and coastal erosion devastating lives and livelihoods seems almost constant. The latest fires in Queensland and New South Wales mark the start of the earliest bushfire season the states have ever seen.

What happens when climate change causes extreme events to become chronic, potentially rendering some communities unviable? This question is fuelling a new strand of global research focused on “climigration”. Climigration is the planned relocation of entire communities to new locations further from harm. And it has already begun.

It takes a lot to convince a community to move. But extreme events disrupt communities socially, economically and physically. Buildings and infrastructure are damaged, as are community cohesion and morale. Lives may be lost; many others are changed forever.

When extreme events disrupt communities, responses usually occur in one of two ways. We can try to repair damage and continue as before, which is known as resilience. Or we try to repair and fortify against future damage in a process of adaptation. Climigration is an extreme form of climate change adaptation,

This article draws on our recently published research, which investigated how land-use and strategic planning frameworks can prepare for climigration.

Climigration is no longer a concern for the future; it is a challenge today. The notion of strategically relocating entire communities has quickly moved from imagination to reality.

For instance, in 2016 the US Department of Housing and Urban Development provided US$1 billion to help communities adapt to climate change in 13 states. The grants included the first direct allocation of federal funding to move an entire community.

Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana is the first US community to undergo federally sanctioned climigration. The move has been forced by the loss of coastal land to rising seas and storm surges. Last December, the state bought land at residents’ preferred site to develop their new community.

 

 

Climigration options were previously considered in Alaska. Climate-induced coastal erosion has threatened the viability of the village of Newtok for many years. Its residents voted in 2003 to relocate to higher ground but the relocation looks unlikely to be completed before 2023.

In Australia, more than 100 households in Grantham, Queensland, were relocated to higher ground with government assistance after devastating floods caused by an exceptionally strong La Niña in 2011.

 

Critical factors in climigration

Climigration is, of course, not a phenomenon restricted to the US and Australia. It is a growing concern for many countries.

Our research sought to establish a framework for effective climigration planning. We systematically reviewed international case studies of community relocations undertaken because of environmental hazards. As part of this we developed a hierarchy of influencing factors in planning for climigration.

We found that the degree to which a community agrees on the need to relocate is a crucial influence. Consensus generates social capital, which supports action and improves the prospects of successful outcomes.

Perception of the timing and severity of risks is another critical factor. Immediate, obvious risks are more likely to motivate action. Motivation can be low if risks are seen as a problem for the distant future, even if impacts may eventually be devastating.

Political, economic and logistical support from government moderately influences the success of community relocation. Relocation may still occur without government support, but this is not preferable and the chances of success are lower.

Strong local leadership can improve the capacity of communities to face the reality of relocation and then to resettle. Strategic leadership from outside agencies is a complement to local leadership, not a substitute.

Strategic and land-use planning systems will be central public agencies in many climigration cases.

Planners already have relevant skills and training. These include community consultation, mediation and stakeholder engagement. Planners can coordinate land acquisition and development applications. They can provide temporary housing, infrastructure and transportation.

Planning for climigration also requires other professional input, including disaster management, social psychology and engineering.

Strategic planning for climigration should begin as early as possible. Vulnerable communities can be identified using risk mapping.

Alternative sites can then be shortlisted and potential logistical demands identified.

Securing land for relocation may place planners in the middle of competing forces. They need to be careful and deliberative to balance the expectations of residents, government, and the market.

Consultation is vital to secure community consensus in the event of climigration. It is a key tool for planners to explain risks and engage residents in crucial decisions.

Specific policy frameworks for climigration are preferable but not essential. When used, they can improve coordination and reduce the risk of negative outcomes.

 

A confronting concept

While climigration is not yet a common planning issue, it is likely to become an increasingly urgent agenda. Climigration events like those in Louisiana, Alaska and Queensland are just the first wave.

There are limits to the feasibility of climigration. It might only be viable for small towns and villages. Undoubtedly there will be cases where climigration is rejected as too much of challenge.

Triage-based planning could be helpful in deciding which communities to relocate.

Accepting the notion of climigration may be the biggest challenge for planners. The idea that the only viable future for a community is to be relocated elsewhere is unusual and confronting. Managing climigration through planning practice may prove more straightforward than adjusting to the idea in the first place.

 

This article was originally published on The Big Smoke.

Dr Tony Matthews (@drtonymatthews) is an award-winning Urban and Environmental Planner, with portfolios in academia, practice and the media. He is a faculty member at Griffith University, where he is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Environment & Science and the Cities Research Institute.

 

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Truth be known

By Robert Stygall  

A new mutant strain of Covid emerged – to be known as Covid-X. This was even more virulent than the first strain, and longer lasting, eventually impacting more than ninety-five per cent of the world’s population. At first, it was believed it was having no side effects but then the strange symptom became apparent. It was affecting the Prefrontal Cortex, in particular, that part of the brain responsible for the decision to lie or tell the truth. For reasons that scientists could not fully explain, those infected with Covid-X could not tell a lie.

News of the condition (and the actual condition) literally went viral. For a period of six months more than ninety per cent of the world’s population was Covid-X positive.

The realisation of the potential the condition delivered had profound consequences.

The dramatic implications soon became apparent.

In a matter of months hundreds of thousands, if not millions of marriages were ended or seriously damaged, as partners took the opportunity to ask each other if they had had affairs or committed other infidelities.

The outbreak of truth telling caused a myriad of social ructions, for example:

  • Celebrations such as Christmas and weddings, already renowned for many as stressful occasions, they now became incendiary events as true feelings and long-held family secrets and grudges were revealed;
  • Patients realised from their doctors the full extent and implications of their illnesses with many adverse outcomes resulting;
  • At performance reviews managers and employees’ candid comments to each other resulted in mass terminations and resignations at all levels of organisations;
  • The level of debate on social media descended to depths previously unimaginable as previously tamed truths and opinions were unleashed.

Not surprisingly, politicians became a major focus. In Australia politicians were asked directly if they had knowingly lied to the public. Virtually all of those that responded admitted they had. Those that refused to answer were assumed to be in the same category. The public was now so cynical they assumed that the very few who said they had not lied were not Covid-X positive and hence were still able to lie.

Other truths emerged:

  • MPs admitted that the stance they took against climate change and their support of coal was nothing to do with truly held beliefs but seeking the votes of workers employed in fossil fuel industries and the importance of donations (overt and covert) from industry participants.
  • Senior MPs admitted that previous leadership changes had been fuelled almost exclusively by personal ambition or just a lust for revenge;
  • Many MPs admitted they had no firmly held principles or beliefs but were political careerist attracted by the game of politics and the fiscal rewards including life-time benefits.

Other amazing revelations emerged. A significant number of clergy and other religious admitting when asked that they no longer believed in God, but had continued the pretence as they had no other viable job or profession to turn to or were ‘trapped’ in an ecclesiastical establishment.

Other revelations were not so surprising. Producers of ‘Reality TV’ shows admitted they were planned and manipulated in detail, in order to deliver desired conflicts and outcomes.

After years of living in a post-truth society suddenly the world was living in a mostly post-lie environment.

Boris Johnson admitted that Brexit was just a convenient vehicle for him to attach his leadership ambitions.

Some leaders had no option but to refuse to answer questions knowing the serious implications of the truthful answers they would be ‘compelled’ to give.

Donald Trump retreated from public appearances entirely. Even the Tweets ceased. The silence became a mark of guilt by half the country and clear evidence of a conspiracy by the other half.

Likewise, Vladimir Putin retreated entirely from public profile. Two opposition figures who continuously demanded that Putin answer questions in a public forum were subsequently taken to hospital not with Covid symptoms, but with symptoms not unrelated to Novochok poisoning.

Xi Jinping had been unfortunate that he had been at a press conference at the very beginning of the Covid-X outbreak and was unaware at that time of the truth imbibing effect of the virus, that he unknowingly had contracted.

So when he had been asked; “Do you have any comments relating to the suppression of democracy protests in Hong Kong and the mass detainment of the Uighurs within China?” he replied, much to the astonishment of those present; “Our intention is to crush all resistance to the Chinese Communist Party, the enormous wealth of my family and associated elites, depends on my retaining total authoritarian control.’ Shocked party officials whisked Xi away before he could say anything more. Later, the Chinese Government said the official English interpreter for Xi had suffered a break-down and had made up the commentary and had subsequently been taken to a secure hospital. Unfortunately, there were a number of Chinese speaking westerners in the press conference at the time.

This was the first of a number of incidents that contributed to a significant deterioration in world tensions. As the veil of diplomacy was removed to reveal the shocking truths.

The unrelenting truth-telling was having a devastating impact on societies around the world.

Truth be known, most people were looking forward to the time when Covid-X was eliminated and there was a return to the relative normality of deceit and lying.

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Newspoll, Insiders, and what’s new in politics

1 I have always said that polls at this time of the election cycle only ever tell us what people are thinking at the time, and Monday’s Newspoll tells us that during times of crisis the electorate generally sticks with the incumbent government, at least in the short period.

At 51/49 in favour of the Coalition this poll shows a normal fluctuation but in the longevity of a recession I would expect it to turn against the Coalition.

Analysing the numbers, The Poll Bludger also tells us that:

“Scott Morrison’s personal ratings are little changed, up one on approval to 65% and down one on disapproval to 31%, while Anthony Albanese is respectively down four to 39% and down one to 40%, and Morrison’s lead as preferred prime minister is out from 58-29 to 59-27.”

In addition, The Poll Bludger also provides us with some interesting information on COVID-19 and some international polling:

“An international poll by the Pew Research Centre finds 94% of Australians believe their country has handled the pandemic well and 6% badly, whereas 85% think the United States has handled it badly and 14% well, while the respective numbers for China are 25% and 73%.”

“Twenty-three per cent have confidence in Donald Trump to do the right thing for world affairs, down from 35% last year, equalling a previous low recorded for George W. Bush in 2008.”

“Only 33% of Australians have a favourable view of the United States, down from 50% last year, a change similar to that for all other nations surveyed.”

According to the latest polling the worse the government governs the more popular they become.

2 The USA is nearing 2000,000 pandemic deaths. Many of which could have been saved had Trump acted earlier. Remember the blond buffoon had earlier said that keeping deaths to 100,000 would represent “a very good job”.

It is high time that those with the capacity to change laws that might prevent the deaths of masses of people and refuse to do so were made to account.

3 US President Donald Trump in complete disregard of the Supreme Court judge’s dying wish that her replacement be appointed after the election says he will pick a woman to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and expects to reveal his nominee within days.

Convention, ethics and respect for her final judgement would suggest that only a few weeks out from the election whoever is elected should make the appointment. Not Trump, of course, he wants dead-set conservatives to control the agenda. Most normal people would find this form of politics objectionable, but not Trump.

Could it be that Trump wants a conservative majority court to give him the presidency if the vote is close? Add to that the hypocrisy of the GOP given that they took away the right of Obama to make an appointment in a similar situation.

As an Australian what l find remarkable is that judges are appointed on the basis of their politics rather than their impartiality.

4 On Insiders last Sunday the Prime Minister let the cat out of the bag with yet more lies by omission. Last week we needed another gas fired power station to produce 1000 megawatts of power to replace the Liddell power station, now we find it is 250.

He also repeated that other oft told lie that we will reach our 2020 emissions targets in a cantor which is categorically untrue.

It has to be said that this bombardment technique of Morrison’s when talking about issues is wearing a bit thin. He bombards the media like a talkfest. Nothing is said about policy, just talk about announcements, that may or may not happen.

There are no concrete plans, just ideas and proposals involving the private sector or public investment that amounted to bluff.

With Morrison talking in a non-committal mode it’s difficult to know what he is serious about.

I am convinced conservatives believe that the effect of lying diminishes over time and forget that they leave behind a residue of broken trust.

5 The Member for Banks has been away from work for 9 months or more. It does seem to be an inordinate amount of time without any explanation.

6 Back to the David Speers interview with the Prime Minister: For what It’s worth, I thought, given that he rarely appears on Insiders, that the segment might have been given more time.

Obviously, there are a multitude of questions that Speers could have asked but didn’t. Aged Care and the controversy surrounding it required some attention but received none.

Some prompting as to what may be in the budget would also have been worth some questions.

The Prime Minister was his usual self with quick fire answers to everything. Speers did however (as I mentioned earlier) extract from him some repeats of previous lies but it was all over before it began.

The major thing to come out of it I suppose it that coal has at long last been defeated.

7 Joe Biden plans to re-join Kyoto and spend trillions on renewable energy. In doing so Morrison would find himself under great pressure.

That being so, the US would expect us to dramatically improve our climate change policies. If we don’t, we will be out of step with our nearest ally. If he wins, we could see a whole new era of climate change leadership.

8 Now about my state Victoria. Not so long ago the daily figure of new COVID-19 cases was about 700, and Premier Danial Andrews put in place new rules to combat a problem that was becoming catastrophic. On Monday 20 September we were down to 11. No other democracy to my knowledge has been able to do that in the space of five weeks.

9 The true test of any nation surely must be the manner in which it treats its most vulnerable, but I think our November 6 budget will see the poor giving to the rich.

My thought for the day

The common good, or empathy for it, should be at the centre of any political philosophy. However, it is more likely to be found on the left than the right.

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Define Heartless

By 2353NM  

At the moment, some Premiers and Chief Ministers are being described as heartless, without compassion, cruel and nasty. The descriptions are being applied because of decisions made by the individual Premiers and Chief Ministers or their delegates to contain, to the best of their ability, the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.

While it might be ‘heartless’ for one to miss the interstate funeral, is the risk of inadvertently infecting 90 year-old Aunt Doris at her dear husband Bert’s funeral worth it? Don’t forget there are all the other mourners, the funeral home staff as well as hundreds of others that could be infected through community transmission of a virus with no prevention or treatment medication available at present. It is certainly heartless to run the risk of inadvertently infecting the Uber driver that takes the infected person to the airport, to infect a number of passengers on the plane seated around the infected person, infect the relative that picks up the infected person at the destination, infect the staff in the coffee shop and incidental contacts along the way because you didn’t know you had COVID-19 when you went to pay respects to Uncle Bert.

If we are talking about heartless, is it heartless to insist on indefinite detention of refugees who have a legal right under a United Nations treaty signed in 1951 by an Australian Government led by Liberal Party founder Robert Menzies that clearly states that people who determine themselves to be refugees have the right to seek sanctuary in any country around the world? The treaty doesn’t specify how or when the refugee has to travel to the country, so the argument of the Rudd as well as the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government that flying into the country is acceptable while arriving by boat isn’t is not only illogical but just plain wrong. Those that do arrive by plane have some documentation to get out of their country (which makes the refugee status questionable). Those that overstay visas to enter Australia are acting illegally despite Border Force usually allowing them to stay in the community rather than being sent to some detention facility — which might be not be Australian mainland if your only choice is a probably leaky boat.

If we are talking about heartless, is it heartless to insist on those requiring support to find a new job live on $40 a day for months or years on end as practiced by the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government while federal politicians ‘living away from home allowance’ for one night is $288? And arguably even more heartless, if that is possible, after initially increasing the unemployment rate to something that people can actually live on due to COVID-19, they start reducing it during the worst recession Australia has ever encountered.

If we are talking about heartless, is it heartless to ask why airlines who are still flying into Australian airspace are allowed to price gouge because of limited capacity as this ABC News article discusses?

If we are talking about heartless, is it heartless to discuss the commodification and lack of care given to our elderly and infirm in what the Federal Government ironically calls an aged care system? Certainly the rot set in a long time ago and both sides of politics deserve some of the blame. This article in The Saturday Paper (paywalled) discusses how various federal governments in Australia have stood by for nearly a quarter of a century and watched while the care for our elderly was corporatised and the residents seen as profit generators for the large corporate entities that own a large percentage of Australia’s aged ‘care’ homes. The current Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government seem to have known about the problems and only acted to ensure greater profits for the corporate entities.

If we are talking about heartless, is it heartless to only be critical of some state premiers for their responses to COVID-19? It seems the criticism from Morrison and his cheer squad are targeted at the border restrictions implemented by the Queensland (ALP) Premier on residents of NSW, the ACT or Victoria rather than the Tasmanian Liberal Premier who is using his island to advantage at the moment, or the South Australian Liberal Premier who opened his borders to residents of the ACT on 15 September (provided they fly direct). It would have nothing to do with the Queensland state election in late October, would it?

If we are talking about heartless, is it heartless to insist on some state premiers opening their borders using examples of those who can’t attend significant life events in Australia while insisting on those wishing to travel overseas to go through a bureaucratic process to leave the country?

Governments around Australia have significantly reduced service capacity in areas that at some point will be required to be delivered urgently. The Federally funded and managed aged care system, Victoria’s public health system and LNP Minister Peter Dutton’s Border Control system have all been found wanting in the current pandemic. Conservative Governments promoting ‘small government’ or ‘reducing waste’ (such as Campbell Newman’s sacking of some 14,000 Queensland public servants when coming to power in 2012) while demonising and withdrawing funding from well-regarded services such as Medicare, the ABC, TAFE, ensure that when suddenly required, our society gets a sub-standard response to an abnormal event. Then, the politicians and vested interests look for someone to blame.

COVID-19 is a health crisis which leads to an economic ‘flat line’. If you don’t fix the health crisis first, you won’t have an economy to take off life support. In a statement distributed on 15 September, 35 eminent economists agree that the health problem needs to be resolved first. They probably have a better idea of economics than the editors of various newspapers and most conservative politicians.

The heartless ones here are Morrison and his political and media cheer squad, who despite claiming ‘we’re all in this together‘ never let a chance go by to gain a perceived political advantage.

What do you think?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

For Facebook users, The Political Sword has a Facebook page:
Putting politicians and commentators to the verbal sword

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Low hanging fruit

By John Haly  

Disparaging the unemployed youth as lazy, pampered and opposed to hard work is a conservative mantra. Conscripting youth into the army (as Jacqui Lambert would have it) or off to rural farms to do hard graft, has been a talking point for years amongst conservatives.

This opinion has been prevalent during the pandemic associated with mass disappearance of jobs. Senator Gerard Rennick and Colin Boyce MP have respectively expressed these views, in Facebook posts from 16th Aug and 6th Sept 2020.

Similar views are echoed in the Courier Mail articles they posted. “Unemployed youth should be conscripted” by Peter Gleeson and “Crops rot as lazy young Aussies snub lucrative hard work” by Michael Madigan. The first article discussed claims Unions are calling for an end to the working holiday Visa because of exploitation of backpackers on Farms.

Despite the hyperbole, unions were asking for a reformed Visa system, rather than terminating the Visa. This distinction was missed by Peter Gleeson who dismissed union concerns about exploitation with the phrase, “What bulldust“. However, other Murdoch news sources have acknowledged systemic abuse problems when promoting a documentary about Backpacker abuse. Sydney Criminal Lawyers have also documented visa abuse by farmers as has the ABC and business-oriented websites. So, sorry, Peter, these union claims are not “bulldust“. The federal ministers supporting these stories should know that because of their Federal paper on the subject “Labour exploitation and Australia’s visa framework“.

The second story by Michael Madigan implies typically extravagant wages of $3800 are being offered by farmers desperate to find workers. Both articles have exaggerated the earning capacity of a good fruit picker (although Peter’s article “modestly” claims that farmworkers can earn up to $1500 a week). According to Madigan’s article, Gavin Scurr managing director of Piñata Farms (a multi-million dollar business) said, “We recently paid a worker $3800 for a weeks work recently, and that is a top pick up working six days a week, probably around 10 hours a day,…”. Now on that basis, one might be forgiven for presuming that you can earn $63 an hour for picking strawberries. This assumption would reflect a misunderstanding of how much growers pay their workers. Despite both Michael and Peter’s claim that farmworkers can earn extravagant amounts of money, it is somewhat contrary to the Horticulture Industry Award of $19.49 for full-time or $24.36 an hour for casuals.

None of these articles mentions the practice of bonus payments paid on top, of a meagre base pay rate. Performance bonuses are only given to their top picker to encourage competition amongst the workers. Neither do these articles mention the standard rate paid, to everyone else who picks fruit. It is only about the total paid to a single worker who had – in the case of Piñata Farms – worked a sixty-hour week for a farmer who “turns over more than $50 million a year and employs 70 full-time staff and 300 seasonal workers.” Contrast this with the projected cash income for Australian farms of an “average $216,000 per farm in 2016–17, the highest recorded in the past 20 years,” cited by the Department of Agriculture.

At least Peter’s claim of $1500 a week is possible if – at $25/hr – the casual worker picks for 60 hours a week. However, maintaining that level of manual labour on a farm would be unsustainable. Which is presumably why Piñata Farms paid one of their workers who did precisely that, a huge bonus, as per Madigan’s article.

Is the picture of the real potential earning for casual farm worker, gaining any more clarity now?

 

Senator Rennick’s FB protest disparaging Australian Youth

Colin Boyce’s FB protest disparaging Australian Youth

Why is it a backpacker industry?

Lower rates of pay than are legislated, are typical as many citizen’s confirmed on Colin Boyce MP’s Facebook feed. So why do backpackers take on this work? To qualify for the second Working Holiday Visa (subclass 417) applicants have to finish three months (or 88 days to be exact) of regional farm work in the country. The Visa promotes specific jobs such as fruit picking and packing, trimming vines, fishing, working in tree farming, or working in mining. Backpackers put up with being paid under the award and overcharged for food and accommodation and even sexually exploited. With backpackers in short supply, our politicians are suggesting the use of the “many young, pampered Australians [who] have an aversion to hard work.

 

Selected social media comments on Colin Boyce’s FB page

 

Australian youth who are not seasoned backpackers, face relocation issues, such as the costs associated with travel, accommodation and feeding themselves while on a farm, which would diminish their earnings considerably. Although being accustomed to the poverty level of dole payments have presumably inured them to scrape by on very little. Current travel restrictions prevalent under pandemic conditions would limit Australian youth to work on farms only in their State. Is seeking minimum wages in an industry well known for underpayment, exploitation and poor working conditions the best we can do for our young Australians?

Senator Gerard Rennick echoing these sentiments elicited reaction to his post varying from gratuitous approval like, “Totally agree with this…” to criticism noting why relocation and picking work was fraught with problematic issues. These included the propensity for exploitation and anecdotal stories of the poor working conditions on farms.

Dubious claims that CQ with 4.4% of State pop’ is a booming jobs zone

Logistic Viability

Is farm work a viable option to occupy our “indolent” and unemployed youth, irrespective of possible low pay rates?

Total unemployment is massive under the pandemic. Historically, it has not dipped under a million workers since May 2012, and it did so, only for that month, according to Roy Morgan. For regular numbers below one million you have has to look back before September 2011. ABS only reports half the numbers of domestic unemployment because of their international methodology, which I have explained previously.

 

Under/Unemployment and Job Vacancies under the coalition

 

Youth unemployment (15-24 yrs) has had a long history of being more than twice as high percentage-wise as the national average, even by ABS’s low standards. Which in July 2020 measured 16.3% of the youth labour market (Table 13) or 345,900 people.

 

ABS Youth Unemployment compared to all

Youth Unemployment

So what are the job prospects for this mostly unskilled market of unemployed youth? Are there plenty of jobs in the market?

The Government publishes such data every month in the IVI job vacancy statistics. Under the classification of Labourers, there is a sub-classification for “Farm, Forestry and Garden” Workers. Early September’s seasonally adjusted figures show that in July of 2020 there were 750 such jobs advertised in a class of general unskilled labourers of 10261 vacancies, that were a subset of total job vacancies advertised in Australia of 131072. Unemployment figures, according to Roy Morgan in July were 1,786,000 although the August figures (at the time of writing) were released showing a rise to 1,980,000 people. So from July’s perspective, we can note that farm labour vacancies represent 7.3% of general unskilled labour and 0.57% of all job vacancies advertised.

ABS Youth Employment/Unemployment and unskilled Labour jobs

 

Keep in mind that the IVI job statistics only drill down to the level of “Farm, Forestry and Garden” Workers which means that Farmworkers specifically are a subset of that 0.57% of Australia wide job vacancies. Given that the Courier Mail stories are spruiking the idea that Australians should be taking up these jobs, I think it is also safe to suggest farmers have been increasing their advertising for workers.

No matter how you cut the numbers and consider all the variables of remote location, physical suitability, skill limits, accessibility limitations, competition, financial limits, of young people; coupled with accounts of employer discrimination, exploitation, feeble pay and working conditions; one has to ask this question. Is the conscription of young people or shaming them into compliance, the best possible recourse of action, for which our political senators and ministers should be lobbying?

There are far greater vacancies in other industries. Should not these parliamentarians not be focusing on where the greatest needs are? Not that farmer’s needs are illegitimate because they are not. These crops do need to be harvested. But professional job roles like engineers, scientists, Health (particularly now), ICT, Lawyers and the like for which there are at least 39580 jobs advertised or 30% of the job market. Managerial roles have 13800 job vacancies (10.5%); Technical and trade workers have 18194 job vacancies (13.8%); Community and personal services workers have 12821 job vacancies (9.8%); Clerical and Administrative workers have 18655 job vacancies (14.2%). These jobs need an educated population to fill them so a better focus for young people would be – one might presume – to promote policies to make education more universally available to young Australians.

Instead, our political conservatives and Murdoch media are focused on the largest unemployed group in Australia to fill jobs in one of the smallest markets for jobs in the country. Dare I make the pun, that there will be no bonuses for your work ethics as you’re all targeting, the easy pickings of the lowest hanging fruit!

This article was originally publish on Australia Awaken – Ignite your Torches.

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Addressing the mental health needs of asylum seekers: A compassionate and trauma-informed approach

University of South Australia Media Release

A new study by The University of South Australia has found mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression and suicidality are widespread among people seeking asylum in Western nations, including Australia.

The research, conducted by UniSA’s Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Research Group (MHSPRG), was published in the British Medical Bulletin, and examined data from Australia, Europe, Canada and the United States, finding asylum seekers from all regions face numerous systemic mental health challenges.

MHSPRG researcher, Heather McIntyre, says the team reviewed 25 studies which included a total of 3504 asylum seekers from 12 countries, and results indicate mental health problems are relatively common and often co-occur.

“The experience of seeking asylum is unique and problematic when compared to other migration trajectories, and this review suggests harsh and restrictive immigration policy settings initiated by governments severely affect asylum seekers’ mental health,” McIntyre says.

“Significantly, our review finds this population group experiences high rates of PTSD, anxiety and depressive symptoms, with 25-54 per cent of participants meeting criteria for at least two of these conditions.”

The MHSPRG review also indicates self-harm and suicidality are linked to the asylum immigration process, reinforcing similar findings from other studies over many years.

“Rejection of asylum seeker claims is a major driver (61 per cent) of suicidal thoughts and behaviour and presentation to psychiatric emergency services – uncertainty for the future and perceived burdensomeness all contribute to suicidal ideation and acting upon those thoughts,” McIntyre says.

“Advocates and care workers of asylum seekers and refugees see these outcomes weekly, and publicly available information (unconfirmed and provisional data) shows us that asylum seekers are thought to die by suicide at a higher rate than their male Australian-born counterparts.”

The MHSPRG study recognises asylum seekers often express mental distress in ways consistent with their culture and suggests the medical and professional response should be ‘trauma-informed’.

“A trauma-informed approach acknowledges that behaviours and expressions of distress are coping strategies instinctively developed to manage trauma,” McIntyre says.

“Being aware of trauma and consciously working to avoid causing more trauma or re-traumatisation is the approach needed – showing empathy toward the person, while gently encouraging them to develop their autonomy and support them to make positive mental health care choices.”

The study also emphasised that work rights and employment prospects can be a significant factor in protecting and promoting mental health for asylum seekers.

“Feeling psychologically safe and being able to work increases wellbeing for the asylum seeker; living a life as normal as possible is also a driver for personal autonomy and will improve mental health,” McIntyre says.

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Genetic secrets of kangaroo paws to be revealed

Edith Cowan University Media Release

Western Australian kangaroo paws are under the microscope as part of a quest to understand more about this iconic flower.

Dr David Field from Edith Cowan University’s School of Science is leading an international research team assembling the first kangaroo paw genome.

He said the project would open opportunities to breed plants with new colour varieties and disease resistance and build our understanding of the evolutionary history of kangaroo paws.

“Understanding the genetic basis of traits helps us decipher the blueprint underlying variation we see in nature,” Dr Field said.

“Once we identify some of the genes responsible for traits including flower colour or disease resistance, we can use this information to breed new varieties of resilient plants.

“Some kangaroo paws have desirable floral or growth traits but are highly susceptible to ink spot disease. Understanding the genetic basis of these traits will allow us to mix and match combinations of desirable traits between species.”

Dr Field said despite the status of kangaroo paw as Western Australia’s floral emblem, there was only rudimentary understanding of the genomes of these unusual plants.

“Assembling the genome and comparing the DNA sequence between varieties will unlock vast amounts of information regarding the evolutionary history of the 11 known species of kangaroo paws, helping us understand how new species form and how biodiversity is generated,” he said.

The team, which includes researchers from Kings Park Botanical Gardens, aims to provide the blueprint for the development of new plant varieties to appeal to Western Australia’s annual $50M horticultural market.

The project is expected to be completed by 2024.

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I reject the premise

By 2353NM  

Have you ever noticed that if a number of politicians don’t really want to answer a question, they ‘reject the premise’ or ‘reject the characterisation’ rather than answer it? Current Prime Minister Morrison is a past master of the ‘art’.

The implied message is that the question for some reason is either beneath their ‘dignity’ to answer or ‘too silly’ to be bothered thinking about. The response gives the impression the question is awkward or will bring up an issue that the particular politician doesn’t want to address. A similar sentiment, popularised by Adam Savage on the TV series Mythbusters is ‘I reject your reality and substitute my own’. As the Urban Dictionary suggests, the

quote basically means “you may be technically right, but you’re not changing my mind.”

While it could be argued that Adam Savage used the line for comedic value, the concept of refusing the premise or the characterisation of a question is not only deflection, it is suggesting that the question is so far way from being meaningful it should never have been asked.

However, if someone is asking the question, there is clearly some interest in a genuine and honest response. Politicians are supposed to be accountable to the people they represent for their entire term, not only for a few months every third or fourth year when it’s time to kiss the babies, shake the hands and promise that their particular beliefs and ideologies are far better than any other choice. If a reporter at a press conference is told the premise of their question is not accepted, more often than not the impression is the politician is trying to hide something, because the politician hasn’t given us any justification to consider another option.

In other parts of our lives, we understand implicitly and accept that a flat “no” is never a good answer. When responding to our partner, employers, employees or children, if we are delivering an unfavourable outcome, most of us innately know that an explanation is required along with the “no” so the person receiving the message is aware of why there has been a negative response.

So why do politicians choose to look tricky, evil and dishonest by refusing the premise of a question or more simply deflecting it? Discussing ‘why we are or not’ rather than just ‘yes or no’ does take a little longer than the length of a soundbite on the nightly news, and there probably are questions asked that make the politician wish for the ground to open up and swallow them. However if politicians put themselves up for ‘no holds barred’ long term interviews more often we all might have a better appreciation of why various decisions are made and what’s in it for us, engendering trust. It also might improve the typical shallow reporting of national events that seems to have been an ongoing issue in Australia (and elsewhere) for a number of years.

It’s just open communication and leadership. Most of us know that while saying what you really think about Aunt Beryl in front of your five year old (who repeats everything verbatim) may not be a particularly clever idea, explaining why something is or isn’t happening is a learning experience for your children. They realise there is more to a decision than the self-evident and should eventually realise you’re not saying ‘no’ just to be vindictive or annoying. In a similar way, if politicians actually explained why decisions were made, the reasonable amongst us would probably consider the evidence provided versus our pre-conceived ideas and understand and accept the basis for the decision — even if we don’t agree with it.

Leadership is the ability to made a decision that is believed to be correct based on a set of circumstances; and then if the circumstances change or are demonstrated to be incorrect, admitting the circumstances have changed and re-assessing the decision. Open communication is discussing the reasons for a decision and if relevant, the reasons the initial decision was incorrect. If people who claimed to be political leaders did admit errors and discuss reasons, the method of operation for ‘shock jock journalists’ would have to change as there would be no fodder for the ‘gotcha’.

Rejecting the premise or the characterisation of the question points to trickiness and deceit. Taking the time to provide an explanation is much more open and a discussion around why the question was inane, irrelevant or pointless demonstrates there is nothing to hide.

While we have seen traces of real leadership and communication during the current pandemic period, at this stage it is certainly too soon to be able to call most of our political ‘leaders’ authentic leaders and communicators. We have an opportunity to embed a ‘new normal’ in political and business life into the future — our future leaders need to answer the question rather than reject or deflect them. Who knows, they might engender trust if they do.

What do you think?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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