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ScamMo at it again

Scott Morrison knows full well that teachers are not the ones making the decisions as to when schooling goes back to normal.

And warranted as the criticism and derision that his video address attracted, I doubt he minds that much. It still achieved his aim of shifting national discourse away from anything that he is directly responsible for.

This is classic ScamMo (definitely not a typo)- the guy who has more deserved derogatory nicknames than policies, and Donald Trump’s Australian protege (although he does have to rely on Barnaby Joyce to cover the sexual misconduct side of that equation).

Turning the spotlight onto teachers and the difficulties of delivering distance learning, whilst emoting about the fate of underprivileged families and their education is good clickbait because everyone has an opinion. But ultimately it is just another example of him trying to change the national conversation around COVID 19 away from his failure to listen to warnings and act decisively (to be fair, cherry-picking science is very on-brand for the Liberal Party), away from the perilous state his government had brought our economy to before the crisis; and away from his putting the needs of his Hillsong religion ahead of the safety of Australians (what a coincidence that social distancing measures came into force the day after the international Hillsong conference ended or that the Ruby Princess had Hillsong members and family of a Liberal Party MP on board).

The mainstream media networks try hard to gloss over much of this (no surprise to see a 40 million dollar stimulus for the media industry announced this week too) but even with their cheerleading, the parallels to his failures during the Bushfire Crisis are clear- at least he couldn’t bugger off to Hawaii again due to the restrictions on international travel.

His apologists will say that he is doing his best in tough circumstances and criticising him at this time is just playing politics, but let me be clear, he invited me to this conversation by gaslighting me and my entire profession. Someone is playing politics in this scenario, but it’s not me or any teacher I know.

If this all sounds an awfully cynical way to describe a national leader and supposedly devout Christian (and you didn’t hear him publicly throw a healthcare worker under the bus to promote a government tracking app last week), consider his history.

This is the man who publicly accused aid workers of coaching refugees to self-harm and then- after reaping months of political capital from the statement- quietly paid over a million dollars of taxpayer money in compensation because he couldn’t substantiate the allegation.

He is also a man, who throughout his time in office, has routinely targeted the most disadvantaged in our community, through cuts to social services, domestic violence services and the NDIS, whilst continuing to redistribute more and more of society’s wealth to its richest members and refusing to raise welfare. For this reason, it is hard to see this sudden concern for the poor as genuine. If he was truly concerned with the educational disadvantage of underprivileged students, he would not have fought against Gonski funding recommendations or continued to facilitate the rivers of taxpayer money being funnelled into private schools.

Don’t be fooled by crocodile tears and emotive appeals from a deeply dishonest, cruel and empty human being. ScamMo’s words are not be trusted, as he will say whatever he thinks will deflect attention away from conversations he doesn’t want us having. A lot of conservatives and media pundits will let him, too, giving him a pass for pretty much anything, just like they do with his mentor, Trump.

This article was first published on quietblog

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Selectively raging about greed

Hoarding for the apocalypse

I’m not going to join in the chorus of contempt for those hoarding for the COVID-19 apocalypse. While it certainly causes problems and doesn’t show a lot of rationality, should we really hate people for their stupidity?

Yes, Australians are easily scared and when they are scared they can act stupidly. That was demonstrated very clearly at the last federal election so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. I don’t know what else to tell you. It makes me angry too, but I have to remember no one sets out to be deliberately selfish or stupid. Moreover, in our embrace of neoliberalism and trickledown economics, this country often lionises greed. It seems odd for a PM who uses ‘socialism’ as a derogatory term to suddenly ask people to show a socialist attitude towards their groceries.

So before we rant and publicly shame these people for their ‘unAustralian behaviour,’ and lack of empathy for others, perhaps we owe them some empathy ourselves. I’m sure most people know what fear and stress feel like to some degree, but not everyone experiences these emotions in the same way. Consider someone easily anxious, further spooked by alarmist news reporting (which I would argue actually contributes to the problem) and inaccurate word of mouth. Consider their quite justifiable lack of faith in a government that has failed repeatedly – most recently during the bushfire disasters to act effectively or speak truthfully in the face of disaster.

Now consider their reaction when they are repeatedly shamed and turned into memes on social media. As social distancing is encouraged, a lot of us will probably spend more time online, but people who feel personally attacked every time they log on may not feel they have that luxury and end up feeling truly isolated.

I don’t see how that is a good outcome.

Can we also accept that aside from this point, it is also ridiculous that we are suddenly speaking about food hoarding like it is the worst form of greed we see in Australia?

If I had opened this article by stating that, “Many Australians can’t feed their families or put a roof over their heads because a greedy minority is hoarding more wealth than they could ever need,” a lot of people would call me something along the lines of a bleeding heart, lefty SJW or suggest I move to communist China. Most of the rest would shrug indifferently and say something about rich people creating jobs. Yet switch just a few words and make a similar point about people having more toilet paper than they need and a lot of people lose their sh*t (see what I did there?).

If people temporarily not being able to get necessities like toilet paper makes you more angry than people living in permanent poverty, you might like to reflect about why.

The importance of staying calm in a crisis doesn’t just relate to avoiding panic. It also relates to our ability to think rationally about our response, control our frustration and remember our compassion for others. A good friend of mine commented that for most of us, the major impact of COVID-19 will be felt for a few years at most, but the impact of our behaviour at this time could last a lot longer.


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Bushfires and blame

Scott Morrison is an empty liar and creep, but we have known that for years. However, he is not single-handedly responsible for bringing on these catastrophic bushfires.

I need to stress that because there is much he is guilty of, but the media campaign to protect him will be intricate and will capitalise on any inaccurate criticism; even as they mesh truth with fiction to form their alternative narrative. It is said that truth is the first casualty of war and it was a similar story here. There have already been some ridiculous claims made that would be laughable if the matter wasn’t so serious. I was initially reluctant to write about the fires whilst people’s lives were still at risk, but eventually decided actually we need to talk about them whilst the reality of their devastation is obvious to everyone. And with the maelstrom of spin, exaggeration and outright lies being thrown around right now- with due respect and genuine sorrow for all those whose lives were lost- I thought it important to put a few things in context.

To begin with, if you’re going to tell me climate change isn’t proven and that we have always had bushfires, stop there. If you believe that you know more than the global scientific community, then your peer group is made up of anti-vaccers and flat-Earthers. You should stick to chatting with them because I’m not writing this for you.

Another embarrassingly stupid false narrative is that The Greens are somehow responsible for these fires because they stop hazard reduction burns. There is a seductive appeal to these lies, because accepting them is going to be a lot more comfortable for many people than admitting they have been wrong about climate change. Even so, it’s a really stupid argument. Despite the fact, that the Greens do not have a position against back burning, or hold majority government in any state, this narrative (which has repeatedly debunked by fact-checking) has been pushed so hard by unscrupulous politicians, shockjocks and newspaper hacks (if you work for the Australian I’m probably talking about you) that some people are falling for it. Sadly, some people don’t just drink the conservative Kool-Aid Rupert Murdoch and his goons provide. They practically swim in it.

Another good example of this are those who inexplicably still try to defend Morrison’s gross negligence and misjudgement at jetting off on holiday as his country faced a disaster with the argument, “Well it would be even worse if Bill Shorten was Prime Minister.” Believe it or not, I have seen this written a number of times without a trace of irony (or self-awareness it seems) so I’ll take a moment to consider it. Scott Morrison is the only Australian Prime Minister I can remember who would consider trying to downplay (he really isn’t getting value for money from his empathy consultant) the challenges and suffering of those affected by the bushfire whilst heading overseas for a luxury holiday. I would say it is a pretty safe bet that Bill Shorten would understand exactly how important it was that a leader step up and be present in times like this, as he showed with his actions during the Beaconsfield disaster. Moreover, Bill Shorten went to last year’s election with a policy that explicitly recognised the dangers of extreme bushfires and would have allocated millions of extra dollars to firefighting resources! If he was in charge, it is actually arguable the damage from these fires would be less.

But it is also overreach to claim that these fires are the primary result of Coalition climate policy. Don’t get me wrong. Australian climate policy (or lack thereof) is atrocious and is contributing to continued global heating, but the increasing air temperatures, the drought and the drying of the vegetation are all the product of decades of global inaction. The Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government have been disgusting in their refusal to act and their efforts to downplay the real threat of climate change, but Australians re-elected them to office knowing full well how dismissive they were towards the threat of climate change. So while they are certainly complicit in these fires (especially Morrison considering his refusal to listen to warnings and allocate greater resources for this year) and those of the future, the government is unlikely to have prevented them simply by adopting a more sustainable policy in recent years.

The only way changing climate policy would have stopped these fires would have been if we had used diplomacy and climate policy to drive a world-wide policy shift to make a difference ten years ago (when scientists were already warning of these exact fires in the future), so it isn’t fair to suggest Morrison could have prevented them by embracing renewable energy. So while the fires seem to have made clear what a growing threat climate change presents (in a way that all of the previous “once in a generation” extreme weather events we have seen over the last ten year haven’t), you can’t lay all the blame on Scott Morrison and Gina Reinhart. Given the utter lack of morals Morrison has shown during his time in politics, I wouldn’t feel too bad for him if you did, but if there is one thing rich conservatives are good at it, it’s playing the victim (hello, Israel Folau). This type of hyperbole can undermine genuine criticism of both the Liberal government and the coal industry. And both of these entities have serious questions to answer.

This certainly doesn’t excuse our government’s wilful (arguably traitorous, given most of them benefit financially from the coal industry) negligence, but this victim narrative has already begun, especially in the Murdoch Press (which is also highly culpable for its long-running efforts to discredit climate science). The fact that Morrison could not have stopped global climate change is erroneously morphing to a narrative that he had no power to affect the extent of this crisis; and that his party’s long-running platform of science-denial and soft corruption involving the coal industry is not a problem. And this is blatantly false. Our government and our Prime Minister still have a lot to answer for

Against a global backdrop of international efforts to curb emissions, the Liberal and National Parties (along with their proxies in One Nation) have done everything they can to hinder and undermine any attempt at responsible climate policies and to discredit the warnings of climate scientists. And Morrison- famous for bringing a lump of coal into parliament- has been one of the worst. Even having seen the damage of the fires he has stated there will be no change the government’s climate policy. So they can certainly be more fairly blamed for their part in fires of the future.

Moreover, Morrison could have done a lot more to reduce the magnitude and impact of this disaster. These fires were not impossible to predict. They actually HAVE BEEN PREDICTED by climate scientists with uncanny accuracy in previous years. Even if he wanted to remain dogmatically against renewable energy, the Prime Minister could still have listened to warnings he has been receiving, by providing greater funding and resources to the fire services (as Bill Shorten would have). But he didn’t because he didn’t like the optics. Declaring a national emergency (which seemed a no-brainer at the time), increasing funding for firefighting services or appealing for international aid might have given greater ammunition to critics of his government’s climate policy at home and abroad. So he did nothing. He is such an empty PR-driven fraud that he is more concerned about the damage these fires can do to him politically than about the damage they are doing to real people’s lives.

And that is the true measure of him. Empty. Fraudulent. Useless.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Prime Minister and the party he leads.

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Maybe I’m not supposed to judge you, but sometimes I do

I know I’m not meant to say that. Obviously if I want to engage with and understand people with different opinions, then writing this goes against my purpose. But I would feel disingenuous if I didn’t admit it. And it wouldn’t hurt some people to hear it either. In a week where Ellen Degeneres tried to pass off a friendship with acknowledged war criminal, George Bush by saying we should be nice to everyone whether or not they agree with us, I thought it was important to be open about how I look at those who disagree with me.

​I’m not sure if it just me that has changed or the nature of politics under our failing democratic systems. I wrote a few years back that you can hold whatever opinion you like, but if your actions don’t negatively affect other people, I don’t really mind.

I don’t think like that anymore though. I used to try to make a distinction between opinion and action, but in the era of news by social media consensus, this is harder to do. If you publicly advocate a position, you are potentially affecting the voting behaviour of others. Moreover, your voting is an action that is (ideally- unless you just do what Rupert Murdoch tells you to) a direct reflection of your opinion- and your vote makes a difference.

Look no further than the last election. If you voted for the Liberals or any of their proxies such as Hanson and the Nationals, you have contributed to a government hell-bent on upwards redistribution of the nation’s wealth in order to please their corporate donors. You have voted for using the misery of refugees as a political plaything, continuing to stick our heads in the sand about climate change and proudly watching as Scott Morrison tries to sycophantically ingratiate himself further with Donald Trump by propelling our defence force unnecessarily into any upcoming conflict with Iran and China. This will have a real effect on people’s lives and I don’t feel any obligation to forgive you for that.

Maybe I’ve become intolerant, but I also think people need to be responsible for their words and actions. Obviously there are many things we can disagree on that would have no bearing on how I see someone, but certain opinions are really hard to get past because they belie values and traits that I don’t respect.

Ignorance is dangerous. If you contribute to the spread of anti-vax nonsense, you are putting people’s lives at risk. Advocating similarly stupid anti-science positions denying climate change is not harmless either.

Selfishness and pettiness are choices. If you would rather punish welfare recipients for ‘being lazy,’ than make sure they have enough money to feed their families and pay their bills, or if you think people born in other countries don’t deserve even basic empathy or compassion, that tells me a lot about you and I my opinion will reflect that.

And however you dress it up, cowardice is something I judge you for too. Fears about the impact of refugees, immigration and Islam (all of which Australia has experienced for over a century) are not patriotism, they are fear, much of which doesn’t really reflect factual analysis.

So yeah, these days I do judge people for their beliefs, at least the ones they publicly proclaim.

If you are liberal-voting, refugee-hating, coal-loving person reading this and wondering why we are still friends, that is a fair question. I should repeat that I won’t define someone solely by their opinion and there are many other important facets that contribute to the totality of our identity. If anything, it shows how much I respect other aspects of your person if I still consider us friends, but don’t be under any misunderstanding. I may still respect you and I will (hopefully) treat you respectfully even if I don’t, but I do think less of you.

This article was first published on quietblog.

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The irony of Australians who laugh about Trump

There is a slightly painful irony to Australians joking about Trump voters.

Australians generally don’t show a great amount of interest for in-depth analysis of national politics (thanks in part to the appalling and partisan coverage of commercial media networks), let alone international politics. But even so, most Australians seem at least peripherally aware of the colossal and ongoing train-wreck that is the Trump Presidency.

I noted a few months back that the number of Australian commentators willing to stick their necks out in support of Donald Trump had quietly diminished over the previous twelve months of demonstrable incompetence and dishonesty. Now Australians of many political persuasions (except perhaps One Notion voters who would probably vote for him if they could) sneer at President Trump and the voters who still support him even as he dismantles their country for the benefit of the ultra-rich.

This reaction might seem perfectly reasonable to most people, but it actually really pisses me off.

Let’s look at the Trump administration for a moment.

The President is an unrepentant, almost pathological liar who views anti-Islamic fears within the community as an opportunity to exploit. The administration is stacked with science-denying religious conservatives who refuse to acknowledge even the most blatant of wrongdoing and instead try to deflect through dog-whistling. It is a government that works for the benefit of only the wealthiest individuals and corporations; and its corruption and incompetence is obfuscated from the public through the deliberate lies and spin of the Murdoch-owned Fox News.

​You might think there is plenty of reasons Australians might think Donald Trump’s government is laughably undeserving of its position- but it can’t be any of the points I just mentioned, because they are all just as true about the Morrison government. It frustrates me that Australia’s disdain for the Trump Administration does not correlate with disgust at our own Coalition government, when they are just so similar.

Don’t believe me? Go through it yourself. Morrison’s litany of lies and false claims about refugees, the economy, the environment (and now bizarrely about cars) seems to increase every time I hear him speak. He is also widely reported as having suggested in a cabinet meeting that the Liberal Party seek to exploit anti-Islam fears for electoral gain. The Coalition’s disdain for science and antipathy for renewable energy is well documented, as has been their ongoing religious crusade against LGBTI rights. With their emphasis on cutting penalty rates, and tax rates to the wealthy as well as their protracted and ultimately unsuccessful efforts to protect the banks from the Royal Commission- all while cutting services to the most needy in society- they have also shown clearly their primary concern is for the wealthy and their lucrative corporate connections that they will leverage for financial gain after leaving politics. Overall, the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government has had more scandals and failures than any government has the right to get away with, but rather than ever taking responsibility they just try to distract the public with the aid of the Murdoch-owned papers and Sky News.

And they might get away with it. Two-party-preferred polling still somehow has Labor only slightly ahead of the Coalition and the Murdoch press is doing everything it can to narrow the gap. So yeah, I’m worried and frustrated.

Perhaps more Australians approve of Trump than I realise, but they’ve certainly gone quiet. It seems much more likely that a lot of Liberal voters and conservative commentators can see that Trump is a conman and would think themselves too smart to vote for him. This was borne out last year in polling by The Australian showing 54% of Coalition voters disapproved of Trump’s performance as president. And if you are one of those people, you might think I’m being unfair because there are other odious things about the Trump Administration that I didn’t mention above and that you wouldn’t vote for.

But it can’t be Trump’s disdain for the basic structures of democratic institutions. Peter Dutton has shown time and again that he believes the less informed the Australian people are and the less civil rights they have, the better and spent millions of dollar fighting our legal system’s judgements that sick refugees be brought to Australia for treatment. Meanwhile, Michaelia Cash is willing to spend nearly a million dollars of taxpayer’s money to fight court orders for her to cooperate with AFP investigations into the politically motivated leaking of information from her office.

It also can’t be Trump’s sex scandals and general misogyny, unless you’ve forgotten about Andrew Broad, Barnaby Joyce and the treatment of Julie Bishop and Julia Banks. Nor Trump’s smug disdain for the poor, considering the years of continued attacks on Australia’s most vulnerable by Joe “Poor people don’t need to drive far” Hockey, Scott Morrison and Christian Porter. Trump’s refusal to condemn white nationalism and neo-nazis even has parallels with the Coalition’s support for Pauline Hanson’s It’s okay to be white senate motion (later withdrawn) and their initial support for Fraser Anning’s Final Solution speech; while Trump’s general boorishness and even his willingness to mock the disabled is matched by Peter Dutton at every turn.

I could go on too. There may be no Access Hollywood tapes, but if you are okay with all of the things above, it’s hard to see what it would take to change your opinion.

We live in a democracy so please make up your own mind on this one. Maybe despite everything I have referred to, you still plan to exercise your right to vote Liberal. You might be very rich and waiting on further tax breaks to the wealthy, or you might be in some way tied to the fossil fuel industry and not believe in climate change. Maybe you are more worried about a Labor government than the economic collapse the self-serving Coalition government has us headed towards. If that is what you believe, I doubt I can change your opinion, and you have every right to vote for whoever you think will best serve this country. But don’t tell me you wouldn’t vote for Trump if you lived in America too.

There are obviously a lot of issues and policies that could be discussed in the lead up to the federal election. And different people are energised by different issues, but this observation really frustrates me. Right now we have an incumbent government plagued by so many scandals it is hard to keep up. One whose only strategy to distract voters from their incompetence is to scream about refugees as hysterically as possible. This is plainly and transparently similar to Trump shouting about his ludicrous wall, but according to recent polling, far more Australians seem to approve of ScumMo and Dutton’s exaggeration and deceit about boat people than Americans approve of Trump’s wall. Does that mean, as a nation, we are actually more stupid than America? I’m not going to draw a conclusion of that one, but it certainly makes it a harder argument to say we wouldn’t be stupid enough to vote for a fraud like Trump (Clive Palmer certainly thinks we are stupid enough to do just that).

The way I see it, if you are willing to vote for a Morrison government in next month’s election, despite everything they have done, then you would have been willing to vote for Trump too. So if you laugh at Trump and his supporters, the joke is really on you- and the rest of Australia if we have to suffer another three years of Liberal Government due to your choices.

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Okay the title is admittedly an awful pun but that seems kind of fitting. In my view, everything to do with Fraser Anning being hit with an egg was bad.

I’ve already written one post about Anning tonight and I so even the fact that I am writing about that lowlife again frustrates me, but so does everything about this episode.

How there are still people that want to hear the senator speak at an event is another slightly depressing aspect of this whole saga, but regardless of my disdain for the senator, I didn’t like anything about this story.

I hated reading about a young kid being set upon with manifestly excessive force by a group of thugs. It will be interesting to see whether any charges can be laid, or whether he looks at civil litigation.

I won’t argue that Anning is scum. But I can’t condone any kind of unprovoked attack on a politician (or anyone really) no matter how abhorrent I may find his views. Similarly, when a self-described anarchist headbutted the loathsome Tony Abbott in a Hobart park, there was no way I could condone such as action no matter how much I detest our former PM.

“It’s just an egg,” you might say. Fair enough, but what does it represent? If you think that comparing throwing an egg to a violent assault is a bit of a stretch, let’s consider a more similar example.

Alan Joyce experienced a similar attack when he had a cake shoved in his face at a public event by an opponent of marriage equality. Even though there was no injury caused, this was widely – and quite rightly – condemned as unacceptable. Why? Because the offender in question had no legal right to physically interfere with Mr Joyce and the implication is that the victim is not safe from this type of harassment at any moment they are in public. This is not peaceful protest. It is intimidation.

The major difference between the attack on Mr Joyce and the one on Mr Anning appears to be that most of Australia thinks the egg was okay because the senator deserved it. Maybe he did – or even something worse – but it wasn’t kid’s place to decide.

I’d hate to see a society where if your views were judged too divergent from mainstream, you were free game for people to harass in the street. Who would make the distinctions about who deserved this type of treatment and what level of harassment was considered fair? A couple of years ago, my views about our disgusting treatment of refugees seemed to be far removed from the majority of Australians. That could have made me a fair target under such a paradigm.

And that is what we are tacitly condoning as we continue to lionise this attack and the boy behind it.

​People are going to tell me the kid was standing up against bigotry and to that I would say, I applaud his passion but he should find a better way. Equally, I don’t seek to question the boy’s motives or integrity, but the internet has no shortage of people looking for their 15 minutes of fame. What do you think this public adulation of this kid means for the likelihood of copycats? Let’s not forget that this young kid copped a pretty heavy and disproportionate assault in response. I don’t want to see any more young kids getting hurt like that (or worse) in an effort to achieve internet stardom.

Lastly, Anning deserves a nation’s disgust- not our sympathy. Don’t give him any chance to play the victim (conservatives will do this at the first opportunity). Public dialogue in this country is for once focused on inclusion and tolerance. This is a conversation people like Anning, Hanson and Abbott have no place in. Let’s leave them sidelined and take the conversation further. Arguably, incidents like this give Anning relevance when we could move on without him.

This article was first published on Quietblog

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Don’t shoot the young messengers

As someone who lives on this planet and a father who hopes my child lives on it long after me, I couldn’t not find the tens of thousands of Australian students who walked out of school as part of international protests over inaction on climate change powerfully uplifting. With everyone from the Reserve Bank to our intelligence agencies to the scientific community delivering blunt warnings of the threat posed by climate change, the Abbot/Turnbull/Morrison government’s refusal to stand up to their donors/owners in the coal industry is as self-servingly treasonous as David Cameron’s actions around the Brexit referendum.

I’m angry about it and I’m glad the youth of this country are too. And our government would do well to take notice. These students may be too young to vote in this year’s federal election, but many won’t be too young for the next one. Far from virtue-signalling, these protests have been an exercise in vote-signalling by soon-to-be voters, and politicians would do well to take note. Alternatively, they could choose to double down and condescendingly tell students to stay in school and let the grown ups worry about climate change.

It seems obvious which response would have been a more prudent long term strategy for any political party, but no prize for guessing which option our tin-eared government and its supporters in the commercial media took.

Let’s consider the dismissive and hostile treatment of student activists as ill-informed truants by conservative media and politicians. It was nothing short of disgusting. It belied an anachronistic belief that adults are always right and children are always wrong – that adolescents are too young and naïve to be treated with the same respect we would give to adults.

Repeatedly, airtime and column space has been devoted to the idea that children are too young to have formed and educated opinion and that they have been unduly influenced by others (like maybe teachers educating them about climate change, species extinction, etc). Students have been berated and denigrated, whilst being accused of disingenuously seizing a chance to skip school over an issue they don’t actually care about or even understand. Whilst these accusations don’t deserve much serious consideration- coming from politicians who have barely turned up to parliament in the last six months or from hack journalists who make a living from simplifying and misrepresenting complex issues- I’m in a generous mood.

So let’s consider the primary criticisms of these student activists.

1- “They should be in class.”

Now education is important. I believe that even if the Liberal government’s gutting of the public education system at both state and national level shows that they don’t. But education doesn’t just happen in a classroom. The education experience for school children includes learning in classrooms, in the playground and out on excursions. There are also many occasions in a school year where regular programmed teaching is halted for special occasions such as sports carnivals, performances and assemblies. Let’s not pretend that by missing a few hours of class this time they have jeopardised their future, but every other interruption is fine.

Moreover, children becoming politically engaged through taking interest in government policy is important in achieving a better informed society. By physically taking part in peaceful protest, students are experientially learning about democracy and political activism in an arguably much more meaningful way than studying its history.

2- “They don’t understand the issues fully.”

This is hilarious. Remember Tony Abbott saying global warming is probably good because some people find it hard to stay warm in winter? What about Craig Kelly blaming energy blackouts on renewable energy? Or Pauline Hanson diving in a healthy part of the Great Barrier Reef to prove the entire reef was not at risk of coral bleaching? If these illiterates are still allowed a platform to speak about climate change, why shouldn’t children who probably have a better understanding?

And climate change isn’t a bloody debate anyway. The science on climate change is as settled as the science of vaccines. Those who refuse to accept it are as stupid and dangerous as the anti-vaccers responsible for the resurgence of measles this year. Nor is it debatable that our COALition government has done nothing to address the worsening threat of climate change over the last six year- and in fact have done all they can to divert funding and discourage investment in renewable energy.

Don’t try to tell me either of those facts are too difficult for school students to understand. Even someone who writes for The Australian could probably understand them.

3- “They’re hypocrites because they use technology and vehicles that contribute to climate change.”

This is even stupider than the previous argument. Unless you have heard any of the advocates seriously advocating Australia’s immediate return to pre-industrial times, why would you expect them to do it themselves? Quite rightly, the activists are calling for policy that transitions our country towards renewable technology over the next decade. Moreover, it is wilfully disingenuous to suggest individual actors will address the problems of climate change through behavioural changes such as recycling and reducing their electricity consumption; unless these changes are mirrored by the private industries whose factories have exponentially greater impact on our environment than any private citizens.

But for all the conservative bluster and attempted intimidation, school students turned up in huge numbers and I want to credit their courage. For some children, arguing with authority comes almost as second nature, but for many others it is very difficult. The crude coercive tactics by adults of perceived power and influence would have been a test of courage for some to overcome. But the numbers at rallies around the country proved our students passed this test.


This article was first published on Quietblog

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How did we get here?

Scott Morrison may believe compassion is some kind of affliction, but I believe it is important – just as I believe its absence is a glaring character flaw. And like anyone with any compassion, I was obviously happy to see the Phelps Amendment passed yesterday.

But having said that, it is quite a limited and conservative amendment really. My happiness was certainly tempered by the fact that there is still much more that needs to be done; and even more so by the government response in the following 24 hours.

Still, it’s a start. I must say I had little faith in them, but I have to give some credit to Shorten and the ALP for not buckling in the face of sustained and deceitful public pressure from the government cheerleaders in the Murdoch Press.

No surprise that in the aftermath of its embarrassing loss, the government has doubled down on its dishonest scare campaign about the poor victims of its abuse. Enthusiastically abetted by a media – who seems wholly uninterested in the fact that the boats never stopped and record numbers of asylum seekers have entered the country by plane under the current Liberal Government – ScumMo et al took their lies and rhetoric to a whole new level.

Of course that probably would have happened anyway (I actually said a few months ago I was waiting for the scare campaigns and partisan headlines to start properly). Much like a real life version of Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars (I don’t claim any expertise in Star Wars lore so I will pretty much concede any technical critiques of this analogy without argument), Scott Morrison will always seek to capitalise on fear and hatred to draw us towards evil. If Shorten had backed down over this bill, he would still have copped the same ‘soft on people smugglers’ garbage he is getting now. He just would have also been exposed on the left by people disgusted at his capitulation.

The government’s weaponisation of people’s suffering should shock us, but it has become such standard behaviour for the Coalition since the Howard years that it is barely questioned. The constant scare tactics have had their effect on the national psyche and diminished us as a people.

And that is probably what I find the most disheartening. In truth, the outpouring of joy at this decision shows just how low we have set the bar for compassion in this country. Legislation that allows critically ill or at risk people being held in unjust detention in our name to be evacuated to where they can receive appropriate medical attention is a baby step on the way to an immigration system we can take pride in.

How did we get here though?

And what will it take to rediscover our way?

This article was first published on Quietblog

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Poker machine reform

Wow! Just like that, the next Tasmanian election became important. The Tasmanian Liberal Party have been nowhere near as incompetent, corrupt or divisive as their federal counterparts. Add to that some comparatively progressive positions on refugees and Marriage Equality and they are closer to their Labor opposition than the federal government. Well they were close. But then Labor leader, Rebecca White, announced her party would phase out poker machines over the next five years and the Tasmanian people have been presented with a clear choice. With politicians in other states no doubt watching on with interest, the upcoming battle over poker machine reform will be important.

As in other states of Australia, the harm done to the Tasmanian community by poker machines is significant and widespread. The 2017 Tasmanian Parliamentary committee recognised this with its recommendation that the industry should be significantly reformed and the number of machines reduced. And the Hodgman government did next to nothing.

The parliamentary committee reported that nearly 200 million dollars are spent on poker machines in Tasmania annually. According to a report commissioned by Anglicare, around a third of this comes from problem gamblers. But these problem gamblers are not the only people who suffer from poker machines. The economic hardship and struggles with addiction contribute to a range of other societal harms such as family breakdown, crime, suicide, intergenerational poverty and neglect.

The Anglicare report further noted that the majority of money lost to poker machines exits the state economy through lease fees and private shareholders. If even a fraction of this money was diverted from the machines and retained in Tasmania, it would be worth tens of millions of dollars to the Tasmanian economy and create hundreds of jobs.

Sounds like a no-brainer. What’s the catch?
While poker machines are unambiguously poison to Tasmanian society, the proposal to phase them out is still a high-risk strategy for the Tasmanian Labor Party, and one that its counterparts in other states will watch carefully. Let’s not forget, there is a lot of money and vested interest in the gambling industry. Predictably, it took no time at all for this policy to draw heat from a number of high profile sources in government and the industry. Greg Farrell’s hyperbolic statement on behalf of the Federal Group threatened legal action and the entire company withdrawing its operations from Tasmania.

Just as the speed and the source of these attacks were no surprise, neither were the arguments made against the policy. Broadly speaking, there are three main arguments against Labor’s pokies policy, which will be employed in any state that attempts to reduce the pervasive influence of poker machines. None of them are entirely frivolous, so they deserve consideration. However none provide sufficient justification to counter Labor’s policy either.

“It will cost jobs,”
The first argument that opponents of the policy rely on is the impact on people’s jobs. This is usually the first argument against any policy, regularly spoken in grim voices by people whose jobs are never really in danger. Despite my distaste for lattes and chardonnay, I’m still about as middle class as you can get, so I have to own that it won’t be my job that is affected. And I really do empathise with those who feel their job is threatened, but let’s consider this argument dispassionately, without jumping at shadows. I would take these claims more seriously if many of the people citing them hadn’t used the same arguments to back slashing penalty rates six months ago, arguing this would promote economic growth and more employment. It hasn’t.

Let’s be honest, exaggerating the threat to jobs is a deliberate propaganda strategy and an over-used one at that. As I noted earlier, the Anglicare study suggested that diverting the millions of dollars spent on poker machines into the Tasmanian economy would actually have the net effect of creating jobs!

But that doesn’t make it any better for the hospitality worker whose job is on the line. I get that. I don’t necessarily accept that venues cannot be profitable without poker machines and that job losses will be anything like what opponents of the policy are claiming, but I’m not going to argue that this policy is cost-free.

However the phasing out of an obsolete or harmful industry never is. I’m sure it cost jobs in the asbestos industry when it was discovered that the fibres were deadly, but it would have cost lives not to do anything about it. In a similar way, the longer poker machines are allowed to reap their harvest of money and misery, the more lives are ruined by them. Similarly, tobacco companies could argue that reducing the restrictions on their advertising and sales would increase production and create more jobs, but they don’t because they understand the simple policy calculus that destroying people’s lives is not justified by the jobs it creates.

Something else to remember is that these changes will not come into place overnight. Ms White has given a reasonable timeframe for people who know their work is at risk to upskill, retrain and look for more secure employment. I sympathise with those who are unable to do so, but not nearly as much as I sympathise with people, especially children, whose lives are being torn apart by gambling addiction in their families. If I have to choose who to protect it’s not a hard choice.

“I don’t need a nanny-state telling me what to do,”
Another argument people will make is about civil liberties and ‘nanny-state’ policies. Sure, the machines are rigged to make money and they have been deliberately designed and refined to prey upon those with addictions, but isn’t it still a person’s right to use them if they so wish? No doubt, we will hear that poker machines aren’t the problem, addicts are the problem and why should those able to gamble responsibly (if you don’t find that an oxymoron) suffer? This is a seductive line of reasoning, as it appeals to our natural sense of fairness and forgets that we live in a fundamentally unfair world. One in which we are ‘punished’ for the behaviours and inadequacies of others on a regular basis. I could use the same argument against speed limits, drug laws, seat belts or gun control. In fact, the next time you hear someone arguing against banning these harmful machines, try replacing the word ‘pokies’ with the word ‘guns’ and see how much they sound like the NRA in America. If you understand why even responsible gun owners can have some of their rights restricted, then you should understand how the same is true for ‘responsible gamblers.’

To anyone who thinks government should not be in the business of restricting our rights, I disagree. Isn’t that exactly their function? That is what making a law does. It determines in what circumstances you can take the actions you want to and often those circumstances are quite restricted. Obviously we don’t want the government trampling on our freedoms unnecessarily. That is why it is important you don’t elect corrupt or incompetent representatives to make decisions about your freedom. But this is a good decision.

“They will just find different ways to gamble,”
It is also argued that the phasing out of poker machines will not have the intended effect, as it will just push gamblers online or to casinos. There is surely a kernel of truth here for some gamblers, but it is sophistry and outright deceit to claim that the current locations of poker machines and their deliberate concentration in particular suburbs does not contribute to the problem. And if Mr Farrell really thought this would drive a significant number of gamblers to his casinos, he wouldn’t be throwing such a tantrum. A recognised concern of the Anglicare study was the phenomena of impulse gambling due to the proximity of poker machines near to where people live. When Tasmanians, especially those prone to addiction- can’t go to their local pub for a counter meal or a drink with a friend without having to resist the pull of the machines, then they are obviously more vulnerable to the associated harms. If a reformed junkie couldn’t go out with their friends without being enticed with a loaded syringe, how hard would it be for them to stay clean? For this reason, unravelling the almost ubiquitous status of these machines is a very important step in combatting the problem.

And don’t forget this IS a problem we are facing. A big one too. The gambling lobby will fight hard and fight dirty, while the Liberal government remain willing accomplices, so don’t forget how much of a disaster poker machines are. Tackling the problem may cost some jobs; it may slightly reduce your options in how people gamble; and it won’t stop all problem gambling. But it WILL reduce the damage. It shouldn’t be a hard decision.

A letter to LGBTIQ Australians

This postal survey isn’t right
I originally addressed this letter to the LGBTIQ community, but while I don’t want to downplay the strength of this community, I can also imagine some of you might actually be a bit sick of being lumped together as a single undifferentiated entity.
Just as heterosexuals are a diverse range of people with all manner of opinions and traits, so too are their LGBTIQ counterparts.
The constant delineation between LGBTIQ and straight perpetuates an unspoken narrative that our sexuality is a preeminent criterion for defining differences, camouflaging the reality that I have more in common with many LGBTIQ people than a lot of straight people.

So, on behalf of millions of fair-minded Australians, I write this to all LGBTIQ Australians, with my own friends particularly close in my thoughts.

I would like to say that I am sorry for what you are enduring right now. Some may take issue with my apologising for things I don’t have control of, but I am comfortable with the term, because I am truly sorrowful and embarrassed at what some of my fellow countrymen are capable of, let alone our pathetic excuse for a government.

As I said, everyone is different and some of you are handling this farce remarkably well, but you shouldn’t have to; and I am dismayed by the already documented emotional impact it is having on many of you.

You didn’t ask for your existence to be subject to prolonged public criticism and were unequivocal in your opposition to the plebiscite proposal, but here we are.

Come next election, you need no better example of how unfit the Liberal Party is to hold office than this postal survey on your rights.

This is a government that saw the divisiveness of the Brexit referendum (which included one Remain campaigner being murdered in public) and thought, “Yeah we want some of that, but let’s make it even more drawn out.”

The so-called debate

Despite the protestations of conservatives, it is unarguable that you are the only real victims of what is generously being described as a debate about marriage law.

Sadly, use of the term ‘debate,’ is poor nomenclature, as that would require two opposing perspectives on Marriage Equality being tested, but only one side is even talking about marriage.

The other uses any piece of obfuscation and downright trickery to frighten people into voting against equality.

One thing I want to say to you is I’m not buying the lies and few people I speak to are either. They just come off as desperate and none of their arguments withstand any real scrutiny or analysis.

I don’t want to get into name-calling, but anyone proudly saying, “I’m not a bigot, but I think homosexuality is wrong,” is going to have to pick one or the other.

Ironically though, this type of NO voter is the only one being honest about why they are against equality.

While I can’t agree with their homophobia, at least they are open about it, so in some ways, I give them a little more credit than the more urbane NO advocates who try to have it both ways.

And it is certainly preferable to the disingenuous and self-righteous wailing about a child’s need to have both a mother and a father. Aside from its blatant irrelevance and mistruth, this is just a poorly coded way of saying children need to be protected from gay parents.

To many of us, it is self-evident how distorted and malicious these words are. It makes me angry when I hear them said about people I care about, so I can only imagine how awful it is to endure it in person.

I urge you to remember that the lies said about you are in no way reflective of you or your relationships. They are just reflections of the ignorance and prejudice of those who say them.

If you want to stand up for yourself and respond to these veiled attacks, you go right ahead. There has been a lot written about how the YES campaign has lost votes by being too ‘aggressive,’ but I’m not sure I buy this as a significant factor.

Even if it is, you have to do what is right for you and sometimes standing up for ourselves is important for our own wellbeing. Moreover, people who whine about their rights to freedom of speech almost invariably have a very one-sided idea of that freedom.

It takes some pretty Orwellian sophistry to argue that those who are publicly belittling you and your relationships are entitled to free speech, but when others use that same freedom to justifiably ridicule their ridiculous claims, the NO campaign feels bullied.

I won’t say I speak for a majority of Australians. I’ve heard half a dozen people make this claim, including Bernardi and Abbott (both of whom I despise). I don’t want to sound anything like them, so I won’t even use the language.

I also shouldn’t need to speak for the majority, because morality should not be a popularity contest. On the other hand, I truly believe millions of Australians are with you in this campaign and that most of the denigration is coming from an obstinate minority.

As the saying goes, it only takes a few empty vessels to make a lot of noise. And as the hysterical voices of those against equality get louder and more desperate, that is no sign of their strength, but of their weakness. I hope you all know this.

Actually, I don’t think it is okay to vote NO

Sadly, I have to accept that even some of my own friends will vote against equality and in doing so will wilfully endorse arguments that treat you as inferior. What do I make of that?

In truth, I’m not sure how to act about this. I won’t deny anyone the right to hold different opinions to my own and as I have said before, we are so much more than a single opinion. But this is a different situation.

I don’t care about opinions, but I do care about actions, especially those which directly and negatively impact on many of my friends. And that is what a vote against equality is.

Am I still okay that some of my friends are going to do that? I’m honestly not sure. I guess I’ll make up my mind at some point after the whole painful charade is over, but I don’t expect to forgive quickly.

Let’s not kid ourselves, this survey has been set up by opponents of equality to get a particular result. But even if it succeeds, one way or another, Marriage Equality is coming and coming soon.

If the Liberal government continues to fumble over this issue, I expect the next Labor government to legislate on it as a matter of priority and, in doing so, formalise an ongoing point of difference that will be politically costly for the Coalition for years to come.

And when it does- without the fanciful consequences NO campaigners are trying to conflate with it- a lot of people are going to be a bit sheepish about having voted against it. This knowledge that they were wrong isn’t going to go away quickly either. And nor should it.

What I am hoping for is a resounding YES that clearly articulates that I live in an open, accepting country, and not one that is stuck in the bigotry of the past.

I don’t ask people to be ashamed of history, but now that we know better, we don’t have to keep making the same mistakes.

But even if we don’t get that, let me assure you that for me and many others, none of the mud thrown by the NO campaign will stick and all this whole charade has done is consolidated our support for you.

This article was originally posted on Quietblog

Yassmin Abdel-Magied

I’m not going to equivocate about this. In my view Yassmin Abdel-Magied made a serious error of judgement yesterday and her words were in poor taste. Some of the reaction was hyperbolic and confected, but that doesn’t change my opinion of the original post.

I have said in the past I really don’t like seeing significant national events used for political purposes. And just as I have criticised right wing ideologues like Roberts, Leyjonhelm and others, I have to use the same standards when judging the behaviour of left wing activists who at other times I have found myself supporting.

ANZAC Day is an important day to many Australians when they feel greatest connection to those lost in war. Abdel-Magied misjudged that badly and her perceived indifference to the sacrifice of our soldiers and their families caused varying levels of unnecessary offense to many. ​

I fully expect some heated responses that ANZAC Day is already politicised and that the consequences of war, such as refugees, should very much be part of the conversation on this day. I don’t deny this and wholeheartedly agree that the grim reality of warfare is an important and easily neglected chapter of the ANZAC Day story and some of the best occasional addresses I have heard at dawn services have focused on just this. But if you want to have a serious discussion on such a solemn day, don’t be glib or inflammatory about it. Start the conversation in a respectful tone that is mindful of the fact that many of the people you may be talking to may have lost loved ones in war, and consider whether doing it on the day itself is of any benefit.

Whether or not you think she had a right to make the statement in the way that she did, in this case I would say Abdel-Magied has done a disservice to her cause. Her actions feed a false narrative that those of us who do care about refugees do not care about Australia’s history or the sacrifices of our soldiers. She could easily have alienated many with wavering opinions around refugees, pushing them towards the gleeful right, when a more respectful approach might have had the opposite effect.

So I totally get why there is a level of anger towards Abdel-Magied in wake of her actions.

However, amidst outraged calls for her sacking, this should be kept in context. She was disrespectful and insensitive, but she also acknowledged her mistake by deleting the tweet and apologising for causing offence (unlike the doubling down behaviour we usually see in these type of situations). She wasn’t intentionally fostering hate or being derogatory in the style of Pauline Hanson, nor was she dishonest like our Ogre for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton.

It will also be interesting to see how eager ‘champions of freedom of speech’ such as Bolt and Leyonhjelm are to defend Abdel-Magied. If we look back twelve months, Sonia Kruger made highly offensive (and inaccurate) public statements in her position as a television presenter on air, not on her private social media account. Unlike Abdel-Magied, she did not apologise and received considerable public support for her right to exercise her freedom of speech.

This juxtaposition of what does and doesn’t count as ‘political correctness gone mad’ is a valid comment and criticism of the hypocrites who so proudly champion the rights of racists and homophobes to say what they like, but are quick to howl their outrage at a refugee advocate. However, it is not a defence of Abdel-Magied’s actions, unless one actually accepts these flimsy freedom of speech arguments when they are offered in defence of bigotry- and most of us don’t.

I have written previously, I believe freedom of speech does not protect you from criticism for your words so I feel no personal contradiction in criticising Abdel-Magied, but if you have previously excused or defended bigotry on the grounds of freedom of speech aren’t you being a hypocrite? Similarly, if you support Leyonhjelm’s arguments against section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and his assertion that it is our choice whether we take offense, once again can you hold Abdel-Magied to blame for being ‘offensive’ or did you choose to get offended?

I won’t be signing any petitions to see Abdel-Magied fired (Mark Latham has set the bar pretty high for what it takes for a journalist to get fired) and I would be disappointed (but not surprised) if the ABC did capitulate, but that doesn’t mean I condone her actions. When I was a similar age to this young lady I made a few decisions I am not proud of. I can’t undo that, but I learned from them and deliberately became a better person. Abdel-Magied has already apologised and hopefully she has learned from the experience, as I won’t be forgetting it and neither will many Australians.

This article was first published on quietblog on 26/04/2017

You are being lied to

It’s neither ignorant nor foolish to feel you have been poorly treated and even failed by the parliamentary system of late. You probably have been and it is no wonder people are disillusioned with both our political system and the major parties that control it. Most of us would probably agree that the government and many of its bureaucrats serve themselves far more than they serve us, but I have to admit I am one of the lucky ones. Those in dying industries and those who can’t find work, or are locked out of the housing industry have far more reason to resent the seemingly out of touch political establishment than I.

This comment does not only apply to our current government. While the Abbott-Turnbull government has set a new standard (at least in the Australian context- let’s not look across the Pacific) for outrageous ineptitude, heartlessness and avarice, they didn’t create our political system complete with its cronyism, its lobbyists and its entitlements on their own. Past Labor governments also have to take responsibility for the conditions they have contributed to in the power duopoly they have enjoyed for decades.

In the face of egregious expense scandals such as Sussan Ley and Bronwyn Bishop, the equally ludicrous expenses of sitting ministers such as Barnaby Joyce and Julie Bishop, and the ridiculously out of touch Ian McDonald raging incoherently at losing his lifetime gold card, how is someone who struggles to pay their bills meant to believe that politicians of any stripe care about them?

There is a Great Deception being perpetuated against the Australian people. We most definitely live in a country of increasing inequality yet The Great Deception blinds or distracts many to it, by turning their fears and anger in another direction.

I don’t need an economics degree to join the links between the fact that the rich are getting richer and that the rest of us are comparatively poorer. Throw in the fact that our politicians are regularly recipients of gifts, hospitality and donations from the wealthy benefactors who benefit most from their policies, and it paints a pretty clear picture (ever wondered why the one promise Turnbull seems determined to keep is his 50-billion-dollar company tax cut). Minimum wage was once enough to support a family. Now it isn’t. And at the same time, millionaire elites own more and more of the country and cavort in the public eye. Two people in Australia are now wealthier than a fifth of Australians combined!

I am outraged at this. You should be too- even more so if you are under financial duress or have concerns about your employment future. You have every right to be furious. Our government (and this one more than any before it) serves its own interests and that of its benefactors more than it serves everyday Australians. Yet this stark reality doesn’t seem to garner the level of public anger one might expect.

The fact that many Australians are not angrier at this state of affairs is a testament to the effectiveness of this deliberate misdirection. The Great Deception uses exaggeration and spin to redirect the worries and misery of Australians who are being let down by their government to an easy and obvious (but undeserving) target. Like a carnival magician, our government urges us to concentrate fully on the ‘threat’ of terrorism and the social and financial costs to this country of refugees and Muslim immigration, so that we don’t notice the impact of its domestic economic policies.

Refugees, immigration and foreign aid are unjustifiably blamed for everything from unemployment and a shrinking economy to housing affordability, congestion and crime. At the same time, the worst representatives of the Islamic religion are cherry-picked and used to promote the argument that Australian lives and cultural norms are under threat. The Great Deception itself spawns any number of related lies, usually transmitted as memes of false choices (which I have spoken about in greater detail here) with no substantiating evidence, but large text imploring others to ‘share’ without thinking critically about the subject.

It’s all rhetorical smoke and mirrors though. I have previously covered the exaggerated fears of terrorism in another post, so I won’t repeat it here. In this essay I will consider the common refrain about the cost of refugees. In this context, let me say again, two people now own as much as one fifth of Australia combined! A third of Australia’s large corporations paid no tax last year and The Commonwealth Bank just posted a half-yearly profit of 4.9 billion dollars. Let all of that that sink in before you tell me that soft diplomacy programs such as foreign aid and our refugee intake are the reason we can’t afford to house our elderly, homeless and veterans.

Contrary to what people like Hanson and other right-wing mouthpieces would like you to believe, refugees accepted into Australia do not get more generous conditions than other Australian welfare recipients. If found to be refugees, they receive the same welfare benefits as other Australians (along with minor initial support such as language lessons to maximise their chances of assimilating and contributing to Australian society).

The Australian newspaper is a strong proponent of The Great Deception (in fact if the paper were to rename itself, The Great Deception, it would be a much more appropriate name) and last year they reported with suitable horror that refugees cost over 100 million dollars in welfare payments a year (this is of course a tenth of what it cost to keep a fraction of this number of refugees in offshore detention for the same year but I’m sure that wasn’t considered relevant). While Fact Check could not verify this claim I’m not going to dispute the figures, I’m disputing the reporting. Fulfilling our humanitarian obligations will cost money and there are many other costs of refugees not even covered in the report. But the paper also didn’t include the context that this cost comes out of a budget of over 434.5 billion for that year, meaning it is roughly 0.0002% of the total budget. That leaves 99.9998% of the budget (or the other 434.4 billion) that could be used to pay for policies to reduce inequality and support Australian families.

The problem isn’t the money we are spending on refugees, it’s what we are doing with the rest of it.

After many years, The Great Deception is developing cracks. The incredible greed and disconnect of people like Joyce, McDonald and Ley, juxtaposed against government indifference to the struggles of many Australian families is becoming too blatant to ignore. Moreover, the market hegemony of commercial media giants such as Newscorp – who as large corporations themselves, benefit from keeping our attention from the inequality that favours them – is slipping. More and more Australians are taking note of the outrageous disparities within our own country and demanding answers. While one manifestation of this anger is interconnected with the regrettable rise of the detestable alt-right movement, a demand for answers and better government policy isn’t a bad thing in itself. We just have to consider the answers we are given critically and rationally. It would be a shame to replace one Great Deception with another.

This article was originally posted on Quietblog

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Trumble trembles and we should be worried

When a man as spineless as Turnbull has to negotiate with someone as cut-throat as Trump, Australians should be very worried. In his much-publicised gaffe, if Sean Spicer had referred to our PM as Mr Tremble instead of Trumble, we could have been forgiven for thinking it wasn’t even a mistake. It would describe the man perfectly.

​For someone who had considerable success in merchant banking, Mr Tremble seems to have difficulties making deals without giving out major concessions. I make this comment based on his complete capitulation to the ultra conservatives in his party and his inability to make deals with either the Nationals or the cross bench, without giving up everything he stood for.

For someone who had considerable success in merchant banking, Mr Tremble seems to have difficulties making deals without giving out major concessions. I make this comment based on his complete capitulation to the ultra conservatives in his party and his inability to make deals with either the Nationals or the cross bench, without giving up everything he stood for.

I am not actually planning on writing much about Donald Trump’s policies on this site, as they are being breathlessly analysed all over the world. However the revelations of the conversation between Trump and Tremble over refugees were frightening. I am far from the only person to be concerned with how this conversation panned out, but there was one significant aspect of the discussion that I thought might have raised more concern than it did.

Now I don’t for one minute disagree that these detainees that our government has imprisoned for years are our responsibility. There is no consistent economic, humanitarian or border protection reason for keeping them imprisoned any longer. I would like to see them brought to Australia, but given that seemed unlikely, I was cautiously in favour of the agreement struck with the Obama administration. But although it seemed to capture the majority of attention and coverage in relation to this issue, the fact that this deal seemed in jeopardy once more was not my biggest concern.

I also wasn’t completely surprised by Tremble’s silence in a time when many other world leaders were speaking out about the unconscionable travel ban. Aside from not wanting to upset the far right of his party, perhaps he felt he could handle the condemnation, if that was what it took to rid himself of the serious political difficulties his government faces over refugees (remember when New Zealand offered to take several hundred of them and Dutton rejected the offer). After all, we have already seen Tremble appears to value his job above anything resembling his values or his dignity.

But it wasn’t going to be that easy. President Trump has made it quite clear he is very unhappy about accepting any refugees, describing them with his typical lack of class as “the next wave of Boston Bombers.” Yet as I write this the deal lives on. One wonders why. There has been some discussion and analysis suggesting it may still go through, which makes Trump’s bluster look more like a deliberate bargaining strategy. Sickening as it sounds, they were basically haggling over the fate of these asylum seekers the way we haggle over the price of a used car.

By publicly slamming the agreement, Trump could be preparing the ground to ask for something more in response, whether it be now or in the future. Reportedly this may include military activities, such as a freedom of navigation exercise in the South China Sea. This is what really alarms me. Surely our Prime Minister would not put Australian servicemen’s lives in danger and at the same time antagonise China just to rid himself of a domestic political trouble? Would he?

What scares me is that it isn’t even hard to believe that he would. The Coalition has a strong recent history of relying on ‘national security’ to deflect attention from their incompetent management of the economy, backwards social policies and outright corruption. According to the then US ambassador to Australia, Tremble’s predecessor, Abbott was reportedly itching to send soldiers to Syria a few years ago too. For someone as notoriously bad at making deals to be using our military as a bargaining chip is not just an affront to the courage and dedication of our servicemen. It is downright scary.

Recent history may have tied our foreign policy to the United States, but as Trump has bluntly showed, we are entering a new era of realpolitik and we must ensure Australia is making foreign policy decisions in the nation’s best interest. With our American ally increasingly erratic and unpredictable, Australia cannot assume action taken today will mean anything tomorrow. It would be irresponsible and foolish to anger a regional neighbour as important and powerful as China, especially with Trump showing no sign that we can rely on American support in anything that does not benefit the USA.

I should add that the Prime Minister has actually come out publicly and said there will be no quid pro quo, but he has said a lot of things and not many people place much faith in his words. This was most likely already a bargain of some sort- remember we paid Cambodia several million dollars to settle three refugees in 2015. The question is whether the terms of the deal have shifted further in America’s favour. If America does end up resettling some of these unfortunate human beings, and then sometime down the track our soldiers are committed to a conflict that has little bearing on our national interest, we give political support the USA at cost to our own multilateral relationships, or we agree to favourable trading conditions for our larger ally; it would not be hard to believe the two events were connected.

The refugees in offshore detention are not a problem for Australia. They are a problem for the Coalition government though. Allowing them into this country would actually be of benefit both from a financial perspective and our international reputation. As such, for our Prime Minister to make concessions at the cost of the Australian people for purely his own and his party’s benefit is morally indefensible.

To borrow a line from Andrew O’Keefe, the words Tremble needs to remember are, “No Deal!”

This article was originally published on Quietblog

Ignore Joyce and Roberts – talk to the reasonable people that have not been persuaded

​Based on the size of the protests and the media commentary, it appears that momentum is building to change the date of Australia Day. Not to cancel Australia Day and deny the country a day of national pride and celebration (despite what some extreme right perspectives would have you believe), just to move it to a day that is more inclusive and sensitive towards the first Australians. On some occasions, social change can be government-led, when we are governed by statesmen of vision and integrity (don’t laugh – it has happened, just rarely under a Liberal government). However Australia at this time is not governed by such people so it will be up to the people to lead the government. For this reason, it is important that the Change the Date campaign works hard to garner as much support as possible.

But political movements will often garner a political response (I know that change for change’s sake isn’t always good, but just for a moment imagine a blissful world without conservatives) and just as interesting as the protests and articles in favour of changing the date, were the responses and arguments against change. Because it is these arguments and concerns that must be answered if you want to change people’s minds.

Barnaby Joyce looked a strong frontrunner to take out the award for most obnoxious response with his rant telling those people that didn’t want to celebrate Australia Day to crawl under a rock or something similar. But of course I had not counted on the political caricature that is Malcolm Roberts. Now I wouldn’t underestimate Roberts’ lack of class anymore, but even my high expectations of his ignorance were exceeded when he made his bizarre tirade about Labour Day, which must have been based on the following premises:
1) those who were protesting the date of Australia Day all vote Labor, I assume, and even more incredibly for a politician who one might expect to know a little about these kinds of things;
2) that Labour Day has anything to do with the ALP.

But aside from drawing attention to the fact that Joyce, Roberts and their ilk go straight to personal attacks and provide no credible reason for their position at all, I’m not going to focus on these type of response any further. Because there are many reasonable Australians who are still uncomfortable with changing the date and they just need to be persuaded, not berated. Indeed, while I was ambivalent towards the date previously, I have to admit that I have only really come around to the idea that the date should be changed in the past year. With that in mind, I thought I would consider what is it about the Change the Date campaign that many Australians are still resistant to and how the campaign might break down these obstacles to bring more of the community along with them.

It is not a debate about the legitimacy of Australia and the right to celebrate being Australian.

An interesting point about the language of this debate is that the specific pros and cons of changing the date are quite rarely spoken of. This debate could have a considerably different complexion if it stuck strictly to the merits of the proposition. Now I wholly accept that Indigenous Australians have every right to protest and express anger over their past treatment and the ongoing issues facing their community. However I am not sure that it is effective in building community support for changing Australia Day (I’ll emphasis again that I realise many activists are protesting more than just a change of date but this article is focused specifically on this campaign). Indigenous affairs is after all much too big an issue to cover as whole with any detail in a single article.

Why do I say it doesn’t help? Because it is very confrontational and aggressive. The movement does not need to demonstrate the depth of its anger to make its point. It has a strong argument that could convince a lot of people as long as it is delivered carefully. I have written previously that I believe the best way to change someone’s perspective is through dispassionate engagement that shows you respect them enough that they don’t need to feel defensive and can think more clearly about what you are saying.

People whose ancestry does not go back to settlement times do not feel a guilt or responsibility for what happened at that time, but many of them have considerable pride and love for their country. Attacking Australian symbols such as the flag or the anthem- whether or not you think they are anachronistic – will generate hostility from some people who might otherwise not be difficult to convince (I fully expect to draw some criticism for this statement but if I was just going to write what I thought people wanted to read, I may as well write for Rupert Murdoch. It also allows scope for those who strongly oppose a change to push the narrative that this is just the start and that if we allow a change of date, we are committing to an endless series of placatory measures with increasing impact on our Australian identity (I will explain later that I don’t think much of this argument, but it can be persuasive to some if we give it the right preconditions).

If newer Australians feel no responsibility for the actions of the first settlers, they also can’t have a strong historical attachment for the date, January 26. I would suggest that if you were to dispassionately ask the question of whether someone has any objections to changing the date of Australia Day so that more Australians can feel included in the celebration, a considerable number might be forced to agree. In those terms it is difficult for someone with much empathy to actually disagree. Certainly, few would raise strong objections (the most likely of which I will consider next) that you couldn’t perhaps talk through and demonstrate were unfounded.

Aren’t there bigger issues?

Some people also are held up by the fact that this is only a symbolic change. But the thing about symbols is they mean different things to different people. There are many symbolic dates (Christmas, Remembrance Day, etc) that many of the same people would say are very important; so it is imperative we are not so egocentric as to dismiss symbolism just because we can’t personally see the importance to others.

And yes there are bigger issues facing Indigenous Australians, so why has this captured my interest so much? The answer is simple. This is an easy way to make a lot of people more comfortable with their national identity at a cost to no one. Why aren’t I worried about incarceration and mortality rates? I am, but they are very complicated problems that I don’t have a quick answer for. But isn’t it possible to work towards two things at once? If you have the answer to solving Indigenous education, health or incarceration rates, I’ll probably support that too, but this is not an argument against changing the date. The two are not mutually exclusive. That is a false choice that a lot of people fall for. I have to admit that in 2016, I kind of bought into the same false choice, which was part of the reason I wrote then that I didn’t agree with changing the date.

I noticed comments from several Indigenous commentators have come out against the Change the Date protests making this exact false choice. Does this invalidate the desire of many to change the date? Of course not- that would be like suggesting a feminist argument to be invalidated when another woman disagrees with them, without considering the argument itself. Certainly they are as qualified (if not more) to speak on the matter as anyone, but right to speak does not replace the need for a logical argument. And as I said earlier, the false choice between caring about inequality and wanting to change the date is not actually an argument in itself. It is a comment that more effort needs to be spent on other areas of Indigenous affairs.

In actual fact, very few arguments have been raised that actually explain why moving the date would be a bad idea. Sure, Barnaby Joyce can rant about whatever he wants, but no one has actually said why changing the date of Australia Day would be a bad thing, without resorting to lazy jingoism and calling people who disagree ‘unaustralian.’

If we change the date what will we have to change next?

Changing the date of Australia Day will not magically fix the present issues of inequality facing Indigenous Australians. Just last month, the United Nations special rapporteur described the health conditions of some Indigenous communities as worse than in the third world. Neither will changing the date be the end of protest and demonstration over aboriginal rights. Many Indigenous Australians will continue to harbour anger over their historical treatment for generations to come.

In light of this, a concern I imagine many Australians may have is where does it end? Will the next campaign focus on a formal treaty, changing the national anthem, the flag or something more controversial? Whether or not you believe these further measures are also appropriate (and I acknowledge that to many they are), it would be tangential of me to go into detail here. But in grouping all of these changes together as an all-or-nothing proposition, we are succumbing to some rhetorical sleight of hand known as a slippery slope argument.

I have been pretty disdainful of these types of arguments in the past because they are lazy and oblique. They treat tenuous unsubstantiated premises as factual. There is no logically compelling reason that changing the date commits you or the country to anything other than changing the date. Each proposal will be judged on its merits at the time. Changing the date of Australia Day is appropriate now. Perhaps in the future community sentiment will be such that we will seriously consider further changes out of respect to the first Australians. If you have arguments for why we shouldn’t change the anthem or the flag, save them for when they are relevant. For now give me a reason not to change the date itself.

There will always be some who stand against the tide of history (hello conservatives, that is pretty much always you), but the more time goes on the lonelier they will get on this issue. If you take an analytical approach to the arguments for and against moving the date, it is pretty hard to refute. There is actually remarkably little in the way of compelling argument against changing the date. However if people are upset or unhappy with the campaign itself, it becomes an emotional not an analytical decision and is easier for them to be persuaded by the right wing hyperbole around the issue.


Australia Day 2017 – a change of heart

I think it is important to be able to reflect on our own thinking and be willing to change our minds. And when you share a lot of your opinions in a public forum such as this, you also need to be ready to openly admit when you might have been wrong about something (unless you’re in politics where it seems acceptable to just avoid the question). Last year I published some thoughts about Australia Day. I am mostly happy with what I wrote, especially the point that you are not demonstrating a love for the country by expressing bilious hatred for those Australians you deem unworthy. Wearing the national flag and take no effort and as such is a poor illustration of patriotism (Pauline Hanson take note). If you want to show how much the country means to you, start by not being an inconsiderate or hateful jerk.

On the other hand I do feel my views around the date of Australia Day are shifting and I now disagree with some of what I wrote. As I said in last year’s article, I have no attachment to the date, January 26. It was neither the date the country was discovered (by Aboriginals or Europeans) or founded. Having said that, last year I did not support calls for changing the date.

I felt this debate was something of a distraction from more pressing issues such as Indigenous incarceration and mortality rates, as well as ongoing racism in Australian society. I said this with full sympathy and complete acceptance that European colonisation – or invasion – had catastrophic impact on Australia’s Indigenous population. I am not sure there is anything that can be done to properly atone for the crimes committed in the past. For this reason I wrote that priority for effort should be to address extant challenges of the present. And with the increasingly strident efforts of a conservative groups to push the narrative that Anglo Saxon Australians are somehow the true victims of multiculturalism, you know that every concession or initiative made towards addressing issues such as indigenous health or education will be held up as another example of how ‘Australian values’ are under threat from political correctness. For this reason I thought maybe Aboriginal activists would be better served by saving their energy for fights that would have immediate impact on the welfare of indigenous Australians and not poke the angry white bear over more symbolic issues.

I’m a little embarrassed about writing that now as I was looking at that backwards. The fact that something costs political capital to a movement is hardly a good argument not to do it. If there is a good reason to do something, especially if it goes some way to righting a wrong, should we be dissuaded by the fact that it may be difficult politically? Indigenous Australians would argue there is certainly a reason, as the date, January 26, to them represents genocide and abuse. Whether or not you feel that Australia day represents something different to you or that the continued focus on the distant past is unhelpful, the argument that celebrations around this day are offensive to many Indigenous Australians, and as such hinder our progress towards true reconciliation, is valid nonetheless.

Instead of telling Indigenous Australians to ‘get over’ a brutal history at the hands of Europeans, something that everyone would ‘get over’ a whole lot more easily would be doing something as simple as changing the date. I started thinking, who would actually suffer if we did? Who is it insulting? It isn’t taking anything away from other Australians, it is just making many of the first Australians more comfortable joining in our celebrations. Borrowing a phrase from a good friend of mine, you are not being oppressed when others are being treated with the same respect and sensitivity you always have. That’s equality.

Those who have fought vocally against the change may be a little uncomfortable having perhaps backed themselves into a corner with their choice of rhetoric, but that is the most anyone has to fear from a change of date. Being ‘on the wrong side of history,’ is not just a pithy catchphrase. It is a pretty powerful and accurate description of people advocating a course of action that in future years will be looked back on the same way we now look back on other outdated notions such as apartheid, slavery and tolerating domestic violence. I don’t like to think that I was on ever on that side, but in arguing that the positives of moving the date of Australia Day were outweighed by the negatives of upsetting conservative white Australia, perhaps I was toeing that line.

In any case, I was dead wrong. Changing the date is a no-brainer. It will mean a lot to many Australians and be another step towards reconciliation. At the same time it will not really hurt anyone anything more than a bit of embarrassment or anger at not getting their way. The debate will be another rallying point for the right-wing extremist groups such as Reclaim Australia, but it can hardly make them more racist.

I am pretty confident that the date of Australia Day will be changed in the near future, over the protestations of the last diehards and I look forward to that day. As a society, we are maturing each year and, as with many issues of social justice, large sections of the community are leading the government.

This article was originally published on Quietblog.


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