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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 herewith 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

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.


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