Bias and balance

My parents only agreed on a very small number of issues. They…

One million jobless – unprecedented, and out of…

By William Olson  The Morrison government released its latest unemployment statistics on Thursday,…

Extreme Moderation in the Spittoon: Kamala Harris for…

The Vice Presidency has always gotten a degree of bad press in…

"Hey, Bill, your son's made a racist cartoon!"…

When a friend asked me why I'll read the Murdoch media if…

Mr Morrison - are you a sadist?

One issue which has been vividly revealed by the current crisis in…

Low wage growth confirmed (again) – critics say…

By William OlsonWhile the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has been…

Blight and Revelation: Coronavirus, Austerity and the UK

Epidemiologist Michael Marmot begins his August 10 piece in The Guardian on…

JAGGED #9 - Crazy Daze

Follows on from JAGGED #8 – ghost-woman MOTHER(JAGGED has contained some difficult…

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Category Archives: News and Politics

Bias and balance

My parents only agreed on a very small number of issues. They both believed in god and followed a branch of the non-conformist Christian faith.

After a near disaster in my father’s mishandling of the mortgage payments, they agreed that my mother was the more competent money manager.

I had (intentional past tense) an older brother and sister, a year apart in age, with a nearly 3 year gap between my sister and me.

My father taught us all to ride a bike, to strip it down and service it (he was a mechanical engineer), to swim – a sport in which the 3 of us all later engaged at a competitive level –  and to drive the car – having first been required to get a good understanding of how an internal combustion engine worked!

My mother had held a driving licence pre-WWII, without actually learning to drive, but she held it for long enough that she was automatically regarded as qualified. She put the fear of god into the local lamp posts if she ever did get behind the steering wheel, and her brief efforts to learn did nothing positive to her relationship with my father!

The plus side was that later she could accompany us when we were on L-plates and we could then replace my father as driver whenever was convenient.

My mother was responsible for ensuring we all learned to play the piano, which was a passion of hers, and she played well, and my brother later went on to play the violin and any other musical instrument you put in his hands!

When he was at Cambridge (he won a State Scholarship), he got involved in Morris Dancing and played the piano accordion, for that and folk dancing as well.

Politics was also a bone of contention between my parents, so an important part of my social education was learning that there are always at least two points of view on anything which cannot be definitively described as fact!

Although they were poles apart – Tory mother vs card-carrying Labour father – their Christian faith did leave them with a drive to help others, although their methods might have varied.

My sister studied medicine at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, which was part of London University, as was the Imperial College of Science and Technology (now Imperial College, London) where I later studied maths. So while my brother effectively left home when he went to Cambridge, my sister and I travelled up to college, daily, via the London Underground.

My brother moved on to design aircraft engines for Rolls Royce, my sister became a surgeon and I went on to teach maths – and, much later, practice as a lawyer and mediator.

In my parent’s home, we listened to the BBC radio, and I left home to get married a year after graduating and before television was an established household necessity.

At times in later life I have listened to commercial broadcasts on radio and TV and found the breaks for advertisements unbelievably unacceptable.

While still in England and after we had a family, we still did not choose to get television, as we had family and friends nearby, spent our weekends working on the boat (a long story attaches to that) and later sailing it, so we were quite happy to confine our radio news to the BBC.

Not surprisingly, after coming to Darwin nearly 50 years ago, we kept the same pattern – in fact when we first arrived, we preceded TV to Darwin – but we did succumb to renting a back and white TV later in our first year. The ABC replaced the BBC – but then, many ABC offerings are from the BBC!

My dislike of being inundated by ads means I rarely watch commercial TV and never listen to commercial radio.

When I started work at the then Northern Territory University (NTU), in mid-1989, I was given an Apple Mac for my exclusive use (as were all education and maths lecturers) – it had graphics packages which were particularly important for maths, but not then available in DOS – and I have morphed through all the changes in following years.

So now  – years later – I can access news from a variety of sources and identify the extent to which bias distorts information.

Because the Murdoch media, which dominates the commercial media in Australia, is unashamedly hard right conservative, the ABC’s efforts to introduce balance in reporting is perceived, by conservatives as being left wing.

‘If you are not with us, you are against us’ is a typical attitude in a culture which, through its law and politics, encourages an antagonistic approach to contentious issues.

I have studied maths, which emphasises logic.

I have studied law, which highlights the adversarial approach.

I have trained as a mediator in Alternative Dispute Resolution –  which I am happy to say is an approach into which the Courts are now diverting some disputes, particularly ones in the area of civil law and, less successfully because of the emotions involved, Family Law.

Mediation has so much to recommend it, because it directs you away from conflict and insistence on getting what you want, and requires you to consider the other party’s needs and wants, and to reassess your important priorities.

The question is “What can you live with?” rather than “What do you want?”

I listen to the ABC news and comment programs and note that they employ an increasing number of conservatives including former politicians, like Amanda Vanstone.

Yet conservatives as a whole continue to accuse the ABC of left-wing bias!

And because it is so obvious that the ABC is not offering exclusively left wing opinions, those who are firmly left-wing in their personal beliefs, see the ABC now as becoming right-wing!

It is a crazy situation when each side of politics demands balance in their national broadcaster, and, when they get it, interpret it as bias!

It is worse than crazy, it is dangerous, when that results in the government effectively introducing strong right-wing bias into media, by cutting funds to the ABC and giving funds to blatantly right-wing Murdoch media outlets.

You have to ask yourself – how, in a democracy, can this be seen as legitimate? – particularly when that same government is passing increasingly dictatorial legislation which reduces our freedoms.

Not a good look from a government with so slim a majority!

No wonder they do not want Parliament to be sitting and discussing the government’s flawed program!

It is clear that the current Coalition government is living from moment to moment, with no clear understanding of the need for a flexible plan which will minimise harm to those who become infected, to those who care for them, or to those who have lost income – and many also the ability to find a source of income.

We do not want politicians who sit comfortably in their ivory towers, unaware of the extent of people’s traumatic situations, any more than we want ones who force a handshake on a victim of unprecedented bush fires for the sake of a photo op.

We need a leader with vision of positive outcomes, who can, with a like-minded team,  plan for a variety of potential situations and make rapid and appropriate adjustments as situations change.

I cannot see any in the Coalition who begin to measure up to what we need and they are not going to allow anyone else to step up, even though they clearly cannot cope.

Sadly, COVID-19 is their friend.

We ought to be out on the streets demonstrating but that might do more long-term harm than good!

At least we can be preparing for action as soon as it becomes less likely to put lives in danger.

What say you?

I end as always – this is my 2020 New Year Resolution:

“I will do everything in my power to enable Australia to be restored to responsible government.”

One million jobless – unprecedented, and out of control

By William Olson  

The Morrison government released its latest unemployment statistics on Thursday, and the immediate interpretation from the numbers possesses a deadly truth: it’s unprecedented, bound to get higher, and the recession occurring in the midst of a pandemic isn’t going to end anytime soon without a jobs plan to combat it.

Via data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the rate of unemployment in Australia has risen to 7.5 per cent, equating to 1,009,400 people out of work – rising over the 1,000,000 mark for the first time in the nation’s history – and the underutilisation rate which defines a combination of those who are unemployed in addition to those who aren’t working a minimum of 20 hours per week has risen to a whopping 18.7 per cent.

For perspective, nearly one in every five people who are able to work are not working enough hours to qualify for the title of part-time workers.

Another bit of perspective: Back in January, when the words “pandemic”, “coronavirus” and “COVID” were not a part of the daily lexicon, and the word “recession” was an absolute afterthought, the unemployment rate stood at 5.2 per cent, and was considered as “steady”.

Therefore, in the last seven months, the key economic indicator of the nation’s economy that the public generally identifies with has gone from “steady” and mildly acceptable, to “record-breaking” and unprecedented – and in no way of making a U-turn anytime soon.

In order to inspire that recovery, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) maintains that a plan to create more jobs remains as a key foundation point to engineer some sort of a National Economic Reconstruction Plan (NERP), as the organisation has put in its own blueprint before.

And if the Morrison government fails to do this quickly, the ACTU fears that concerns will increase for the country’s working classes, that the economy and unemployment figures will continue to veer out of control like a heavy vehicle on an old country road.

“These figures show that Australia is on track – as predicted by the government’s own department – to reach 10 percent by the end of the year,” warns Michele O’Neil, the ACTU’s president.

O’Neil also points out that the government’s statistics on unemployment and underemployment would be worse if not for the 3.5 million workers currently receiving payments under the JobKeeper subsidy scheme.

“Even with a national wage subsidy scheme which unions fought for, more than a million people are now looking for work,” O’Neil said.

“Even with a national wage subsidy scheme which unions fought for, more than a million people are now looking for work.

“The million Australians now out of a job, and the millions more who are either reliant on JobKeeper or worried about their future, need leadership from this Government. They need a plan for jobs,” O’Neil added.

O’Neil also said that any jobs-creation plan would have to result in a particular “if-then” scenario: if the government can put masses of people to work, then they can have the foundation blocks to rebuild an economy upon, and where the newly-employed can spend their money.

“We need to make sure that the recovery creates secure jobs which will kick-start the economy by putting money in the hands of working people and giving them the confidence to spend it,” she said.

To review the ACTU’s economic recovery blueprint from nearly four weeks ago, it focuses on areas in training, infrastructure, sustainability, hospitality and tourism, and childcare.

And the ACTU has even said to the Morrison government, in no uncertain terms, “feel free to adopt our plan” – an insistence that the organisation was offering, on general principle, even at the start of June – and adapt the blueprint’s fundamentals and build upon it to aid in its economic recovery aims.

“People need reassurance that Australia isn’t going over an economic cliff so the sooner the Government tells people the plan the better for everyone,” O’Neil said at the time.

And at that time, unemployment stood at a similar rate of 7.4 per cent, so these appeals are nothing new, adds O’Neil.

“We have 13 times more unemployed people than jobs available, and record rates of young people either out of work or needing more hours,” she said.

“People need a real pathway that builds on skill development into real work so expanding the program to include new apprentices and making sure there are government projects with mandated minimum numbers of trainees and apprentices is what we need to see now,” added O’Neil, using a reinvestment into the country’s TAFE system as a focal point to put people back to work.

Overall, O’Neil has implored for those in the Morrison government to consult with the ACTU, in the name of camaraderie and bipartisanship towards a common goal, over any plans which it has proposed in the past.

“The ACTU has put forward a detailed plan, what’s needed now is for the Government to act to create jobs and to ensure that working people have better rights and more secure work as we recover from this crisis,” said O’Neil.

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Extreme Moderation in the Spittoon: Kamala Harris for VP

The Vice Presidency has always gotten a degree of bad press in the US political system. Its ineffectuality is sometimes lost on the occupant, though not on John N. Garner, who considered it “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” (R. G. Tugwell in The Brains Trust suggests that the measure “quart” was used.) Two terms as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second fiddle was something he considered “the worst thing that ever happened to me,” occupying an office that was “a no man’s land somewhere between the legislative and executive branch.” He regretted giving up the heftier role as Speaker of the House.

Joe Biden, having himself occupied that spittoon of an office for eight years during the Obama administration, has now found the person he hopes will do the same for him. That candidate, Kamala Harris, had been an early Democratic contender for main billing, but the electoral law of entropy struck her down early. In March, when she announced her withdrawal from the race, she was careful to keep her hat in the ring of favour, endorsing Biden as the presumptive nominee with her own lacing of fiction. “There is no one better than Joe to steer our nation through these turbulent times, and restore truth, honour and decency to the Oval Office.”

The announcement propelled pundit land to chorus with bone weary predictions and assessments, some of which might prove, come November, to be merely astrological. The fortissimo score that is being played through is that of Harris’s moderation and safe bearing. The America of Donald Trump is dangerous and immoderate; Harris offers a tepid corrective, one that will see a Bourbon restoration rather than inspired reform. She “can appeal to voters in key swing states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania,” suggests Thomas Gift, director of the Centre on US Politics at UCL. She also measures up in the identity stakes, “the first African-American and Asian-American selected as VP candidate for a major party.”

The commentary on her selection is heavy with the centrist tag, one that seeks to push the stone throwing radicals out while supposedly embracing voters who steered to Trump in 2016. For the Los Angeles Times, Biden’s choice of Harris “set a marker for how he believes Democrats can win – both in this election and in the future – with a multiracial coalition that can excite voters, but a centre-left brand that steers clear of the most far-reaching progressive demands.”

Ed Kilgore, writing in New York magazine, noted these points in 2019. She is “disciplined”; she is the candidate of “moderation – or some would say, lack of courage.” Where she is seen as radical is through no doing of her own. As Elizabeth Weil put it, “Harris’s demographic identity has always been radical” while her record in office was marked by avoiding “saying or doing much that could be held against her.”

These are not exactly promising attributes in populist times. The Democrats risk doing, as Ted Rall warns, of making the same mistake they did with Hillary Clinton. Picking Harris is a suggestion to the left base of the Democratic Party to “drop dead.” Biden’s “centrist establishment handlers view Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016 as historically anomalous rather than evidence of a flawed strategy.” Identity politics becomes the substitute for policy.

This suggests that little in the way of change will be forthcoming on a Biden-Harris ticket. Harris is branded as an institutional figure (thirteen years in public office, spent as District Attorney in San Francisco and Attorney General of California), one who, according to family friend Lateefah Simon, chose to “work within some of the most systematically racist institutions in the country” while her sister, Maya, became the enterprising advocate.

The institutional moorings of the presumptive VP-nominee is seen as a strength, till you realise that Trump’s victory in 2016, and his appeal to the country’s marked rages, were of an anti-institutional flavour. What he has done during his tenure has been to trash them, to break the Republic, assisted by his opponents who have done little in the way of addressing the country’s ills. (Coronavirus has, and is doing, the rest.) A ticket with Harris on it is a promise to Make America the Same Again, a return to political recycling.

Establishment Democrats are certainly happy about “no risk” Harris. President Obama’s former national security adviser Susan Rice enthusiastically pointed out that any Republican attacks on Biden’s choice was always going to focus on whether they were “left and socialist. It’s not true. That is not who Kamala Harris is. And it’s not who Joe Biden is.”

Much analysis on the Harris pick soon turns into waffle and tripe. Former Republican staffer and communications boffin Drew Holden picks up on the “moderate and centrist” theme in the Democrat advertising strategy, but insists that she is “among the most liberal in Congress.” This conclusion is not reached through teasing out any substantive political philosophy. Holden is a strategist in political communication, and is happy to bore us with “Ideology-Leadership” charts featuring Harris (spot the “purple triangle”) as scoring as an extreme liberal on “our liberal-conservative ideology score.” More interesting is the view held by the editors of the conservative National Review that Harris “is a moderate autocrat”, a “moderate anti-Catholic bigot” and a “moderate monopolist on health care.” Moderation is the new extremism.

Stool water and slush continue to mark the issue about what constitutes wings of US politics. Barack Obama suggested in 2004 that there was no “liberal” or “conservative” America, merely the “United States of America.” Gore Vidal’s idea of two right wings holding the US political cosmos together remains the most pertinent. There are other iterations of the theme, which focus on the business element so crucial to the timbre of the election system. A business civilisation will only tolerate the parties of business. No divvying-up-the-wealth populist is ever going to be allowed to get by the banking mentality that governs the DNC-RNC duopoly. He can certainly, as Trump has tried to do, pretend to drain the fetid swamp, with the natural inclination to fill it with his own brand of crony. The rest is reality television chaos.

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“Hey, Bill, your son’s made a racist cartoon!” “Ok, well, he has to get a name somehow!”

When a friend asked me why I’ll read the Murdoch media if it’s left out on a bench when I know that it’s just full of illogical propaganda and hate-filled nonsense, I replied that I thought it good to hear what other people had to say even if I disagreed with them otherwise we’d simply be living in an echo chamber and nobody would ever change anyone’s mind.

“That’s ridiculous,” he replied.

“Why?” I asked. At which point he shouted that he didn’t have to explain himself to me and promptly blocked me on social media.

Ok, that’s not entirely true. I mean it didn’t actually happen to me but I’m sure that there’s someone out there who’s thinking that I must have been listening in to the argument they had with somebody they know.

I think it’s important to listen to all people for the simple reason that, unless somebody actually disagrees with them, they’ll go on thinking that everyone agrees with them… Apart from those idiots who should be shipped off to wherever it is that the people disagreeing with them should go.

At this point, I should add that there are people on both the left and the right are guilty of not considering the simple idea that they’ll be wrong about some things at some point in their lives. I know I’ve been wrong on at least two occasions but that’s a whole other story.

Anyway, I’ve heard people on the left proclaim that I shouldn’t accept something because I read it the mainstream news, and while that’s true, I also believe that it’s foolish to reject everything that I read in the mainstream news. It’s possible to pick up information that’s factual true even when it’s presented through the medium of a biased media. I can accept, for example, that the moon landing happened and still not see it as a triumph of capitalism, particularly when it was a government program. It’s also possible to believe that Scott Morrison actually made an announcement about providing funding to something  without accepting the media narrative that this is the same as actually providing the money.

And so this idea that somehow the political correctness of the past few years has invented “cancel culture” and thanks to some humourless lefties, people are liable to have their lives ruined over the odd casual remark. Of course this completely overlooks how often the conservative forces have enacted their own form of cancel culture. They don’t need to boycott advertisers to get people taken off the air or removed from their jobs. Think Scott McIntyre who was sacked over his ANZAC tweets or Yassmin Abdel-Magied. Recall the furore over Annaliese van Diemen, Victoria’s Deputy Health Officer, comments comparing Captain Cook to Coronavirus which some on the right didn’t like because they didn’t think that Cook did that much harm, while others didn’t like it because it suggested that like Covid-19, the man was largely a myth created by people with a vested interest.

Whatever, we’ve had censorship for a long time and, while some may argue that they’re sovereign citizens and they have a right to do whatever they like including walk onto private property and tell people that they have no right to impose any conditions, it’s generally agreed that some things are just too offensive to be in the public arena. The only real debate is what these things actually are. Once upon a time a woman in a bikini would have been arrested for public indecency, but now we not only allow that, but there are even photos of Tony Abbott in speedos published in the newspaper where they made lead to nightmares in impressionable children… And while standards in this area have changed, we can all agree that a photo of Clive Palmer in budgie smugglers is argument for the return of the death penalty…

So, when Johannes (son of Bill) Leak has his offensive cartoon published in “The Australian” what should one do? I mean, it’s tempting to ignore it because he’s obviously trying to emulate his father and drum up a bit of publicity, and it’s hard to do that when you lack the talent to make perceptive observations with your cartoons so you have to resort to racism in the hope that you’ll actually attract the sort of outrage that will actually alert people to the fact that you are not your father even though you basically copying his style because you never developed one of your own.

Photo from Twitter (@KarenMMiddleton)

Yes, it’s tempting to just ignore it because you feel that outrage must be what he’s after because nobody could be stupid enough to think that it’s acceptable. Still something about the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

And, like I said before, unless someone disagrees, people might actually think that nobody thinks what they’re saying is wrong.

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Mr Morrison – are you a sadist?

One issue which has been vividly revealed by the current crisis in Aged Care, is the underpayment of carers in private Aged Care Homes (ACH), which are controlled by the Federal government.

Mostly, but not exclusively women, these staff have largely been inadequately trained for pandemic conditions resulting from COVID-19, and expected to work on a basis that has necessitated their working in more than one ACH.

Recipe for disaster when a long promised pandemic hits an ill-prepared system!

The glaring need for loss of  income to be compensated for, if a worker has to self-isolate with no sick pay, was only evident to the government way down the track. How blind can you be and still claim to be competent?

DIRECTING these organisations in what they should do, and providing extra funds, without having any adequate over-sighting of whether the instructions are followed and the funds properly spent, highlights the nonsense which is small governments.

I bet the shareholders are happy!

We now have a situation with far more people seeking work than can ever hope to find a placement, and the government is looking for ways to help businesses pay lower wages and reduce conditions!

Paradoxically we are also being urged to get back to work and help the economy recover!

Unlike those in the top tax bracket, who are on a promise of a tax cut, most people are spending all they dare in order to try to survive, and they are, in many cases not succeeding.

Everyone is living in suspense, not knowing when or where the infection will next occur, dreading the day when they will be expected to start paying rent or the mortgage – if they have been fortunate enough to have been allowed a moratorium on payments – and the government is constantly changing plans to meet circumstances, so raising stress levels.

Face facts.

  • Do we know if there will ever be an effective vaccine? – NO.
  • Do we know how soon we might know for sure? – NO.
  • Has the government any plans to persuade those with wealth to invest, to do so, in enterprises which will provide jobs and boost the economy? – Who knows, because they are making no announcements on the issue.
  • Will we soon hear about this issue? – See the last answer.
  • If Job Keeper and Job Seeker are going to be reduced, and the moratorium mentioned above ceases, how does the government expect people with no job to cope? – See the last answer.

What we NEED is a commitment from the government on the lines of a universal basic income.

That way people know they can feed and clothe themselves and, if they have one, their family, until they can find a job.

And the vast majority of people are NOT bludgers and feel a sense of self-respect when they can support themselves without assistance.

Between the ATO and Centrelink, the government has more than enough information available to be able to come up with plans for appropriate means-tested payment levels.

One frustrating thing in all this is the government’s incapacity to understand that normal is something we must now create.

Everything has changed.

We have to adapt to a new world order or go to the wall.

This is not a short-term problem, it is a long term crisis which we need to use well if we are to survive.

Even more frustrating is awareness that those whose wealth could contribute to solving many problems, include among their ranks many who have fought, tooth and nail, against paying a cent more tax than they have to, while still availing themselves of all the facilities and services which have been provided by tax payers!

Morrison is sitting pretty – at least until the next election – with a more than adequate income, a roof over his family’s heads, ability to take a holiday and enjoy life for brief spells, so he appears to be one of two things: the first is – someone totally lacking in empathy and compassion – which is bad enough – while the second is – an out and out sadist, getting pleasure from other people’s pain!

How do you see yourself, Mr Morrison, and do you sleep well at night????

I end as always – this is my 2020 New Year Resolution:

“I will do everything in my power to enable Australia to be restored to responsible government.”

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Low wage growth confirmed (again) – critics say plans are needed

By William Olson

While the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has been calling out the various LNP governments since 2013 for stagnant wage growth, statistics reveal that wages have slowed to their lowest points since wage price index statistics started being tracked in 1997 – no matter how they’re to be measured.

Both the ACTU and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) have interpreted Treasury figures that wage growth is down by 2.1 per cent in the quarter ending in June, 0.2 per cent lower than the previous quarter ending in March, and down 1.8 per cent over a 12-month span – numbers which justify that a once-in-a-generation recession is happening in Australia.

“Working people have been living through a wage growth crisis for more than seven years, but this crisis has driven wages to new lows,” said Sally McManus, the ACTU’s national secretary.

And while the ACTU has been making deafening calls for the Morrison government to institute programs promoting jobs creation, not to cut existing schemes of JobKeeper and JobSeeker, come up with a plan for national paid pandemic leave, as well as promoting their latest push to fully expand JobKeeper, they now have a range of like-minded allies to help advocate for those economic remedies.

The ACTU now has the backing of three key ALP members as well as Greens leader Adam Bandt’s passionate pleas to reinforce their calls.

“The biggest lesson we’re learning from COVID-19 is that you can’t leave anyone behind,” Bandt said last week.

“It’s important that we provide everyone with the support they need to be able to cope with this pandemic and ensure restrictions have the best chance of working,” he added.

In addition to Bandt’s emphasis of a fundamental socio-economic truth arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, MP’s within the ALP echo those concerns, along with pointing out the shortcomings of which ministers in the Morrison government have already done.

“On its latest attempt to fix the program, the government has still failed to support millions of workers that were originally excluded,” said Tony Burke, in his role as the shadow minister for industrial relations.

Burke specifically points out the potential impact of the government’s revision of JobKeeper last week, that far too few workers were standing to benefit from it.

“Labor is still concerned that other aspects of the wind down of JobKeeper will come at the worst time for workers and businesses in Victoria and in other parts of Australia and that the Government continues to exclude millions of workers from JobKeeper,” he added.

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers, in concurring with Burke, has been critical that the Morrison government has little to show for its intermittent efforts – aside from the establishment of a few schemes and programs in the five months that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Australian society and culture, as well as the nation’s economy.

“We’ve been saying for some time that the deterioration in the economy should force the Government to reconsider its changes to JobKeeper,” said Chalmers.

“These changes are welcome but they are a tweak, not a plan, and don’t do enough to tackle the jobs crisis that continues to worsen,” added Chalmers.

McManus insists that a comprehensive jobs-creation plan – defined within her declaration of “working people have to lead this recovery” – exists as a key element of the government’s recovery blueprint.

In doing so, McManus has called for the government to make it public, in areas falling under that of jobs minister Michaelia Cash’s portfolio within the Morrison government.

“We are almost six months into this pandemic and we have no jobs plan. This data shows one is desperately needed,” said McManus.

“We need to put money in the hands of working people and give them the security they need to spend it. If we don’t support working people, they can’t support the economy,” McManus added.

And according to Brendan O’Connor, the ALP’s shadow minister for small and family business, a jobs plan leads a positive domino effect of getting people employed so that they can participate in a revitalised economy.

And with those intentions and goals in mind, it is something which Prime Minister Scott Morrison, his cabinet, and his ministers have to plan and think through as thoroughly as possible.

“We don’t want people left out and left behind in Australia’s first recession in 30 years, we want them to get ahead in the recovery, and that’s why Australians can’t afford for the Government to get this wrong,” said O’Connor.

With the power in numbers that the ACTU has behind them, even if Labor do not hold a Parliamentary majority, their collective efforts will do their best to keep the Morrison government honest.

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Prevention is better than cure

I was reminded of this old adage, when I heard it reported this morning, on ABC radio, that the new approach to mental health should be to prepare people to cope better with the adverse effects of the present stressful situation, as compared with treating those who have already developed mental health issues.

Then, later in the day, I read Alan Kohler’s Insight article on page 33 NT News, (12/08/20), Covid-19, needs inquiry, fiscal fix – which should be compulsory reading for anyone with any involvement in economics. (I am sure this article can be easily obtained from other News Corp publications, even though it is probably pay-walled for non-subscribers.)

If I were to be unkind, I would suggest that Scott Morrison is deliberately waging war on universities because he thinks he knows all the answers and does not want to admit that there might be – let alone really are – many people who are far more knowledgeable than he is, on the areas which are vitally important in establishing a new order which might deliver us from the current crisis situation.

To a large extent, since everyone has grown up knowing that doctors know more about the human body than do most laypeople, expert medical advice has been accepted in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because it is caused by a novel coronavirus, approaches to controlling the pandemic have changed as knowledge has grown. To wear or not to wear a mask has become a contentious issue, partly because of the reasons put forward for doing so.

An infected person wearing a mask is less likely to infect others if wearing a mask. And people can be infected without showing symptoms.

Wearing a mask will reduce the probability of becoming infected – but not guarantee total success.

PPE is worn by most health care workers, yet even some of those become infected, sometimes because removing PPE carelessly can enable the virus from infected patients to be transmitted.

It really is a silent enemy.

Look at what has happened in New Zealand after 100 days of no infections!

It is hard to change the habits of a lifetime. In many cultures, greeting a family member or friend automatically involved making contact. Yet this is the quickest way to pass on an infection.

Human beings, by their very nature, mostly enjoy company, yet one person in a group may be infectious and pass on the infection to all within the group. The larger the group, the greater the number of infections.

Then we come to the issue of needing to be concerned about others, not just ourselves.

If you unwittingly get infected, before any symptoms show – if they ever do – you can pass that infection on to everyone you spend time with.

Without a mask, every time an infected person breathes out, they send a spray of microscopic particles which can be inhaled by anyone in their vicinity – or land on their skin, clothing or nearby surfaces and find their way into the bloodstream of those nearby.

Insisting on having fun, in company, risks spreading a virus which not only might kill someone, particularly but not exclusively an older person, or it might infect someone who goes through a nightmarish illness from which full recovery is not guaranteed.

And that is just the medical side.

In order to reduce the extent of infection spread, the Commonwealth government closed down many business and social activities and tried to persuade mortgagors and landlords to allow mortgagees and tenants some latitude in relation to payments due.

Not all states have necessarily followed up on necessary directions and legislation and not all mortgagors or landlords have seen fit to comply.

Given the thousands who are currently out of work or struggling with a reduced income,  I do not know who gains anything if mortgages are foreclosed or tenants evicted.

Hold it!

Remember how reducing taxes and allowing millionaires to pay minimum tax has led to a massive wealth gap?

Millions – probably billions or even trillions are stashed away in tax havens, ready to be poured into buying property in a market where house prices will be dropping, at least initially.

The buyers can still make use of negative gearing and can afford to sit on their property empire as long as it takes.

They will recoup little in the short term, but that is no problem as they have more than enough to ride out the crisis.

Government MUST intervene to ensure this currently hidden wealth is put to better use than further impoverishing the already poor!

Alan Kohler’s article is important in at least two regards.

One is the point about re-thinking the whole economic approach and the other is the issue of Modern Monetary Theory.

We are hearing too many horror stories about debt and disaster without realising that the solution is in our hands.

When I studied economics, two early units were microeconomics and macroeconomics – simplistically the household and business aspects vs the issues affecting countries and governments.

I am fortunate in being retired, with an adequate pension from a secure source which is topped up by a portion of the Age Pension.

When I received my two $175 relief payments, I was not in desperate circumstances and I understood that the money was intended to go back into the national economy to stop the wheels from grinding to a stop.

So I passed it all straight on to the Asylum Seeker Refugee Centre.

Kon Karapanagiotidis, CEO of the ASRC, and his valiant group in Melbourne are struggling to help many who have no other means of support, having been continuously ignored and ill-treated by government…Every cent I sent will have already been well spent!

I tell this story, not to make myself out as a do-gooder, but because the government desperately needs people to spend, while the stagnant wage issue, preceding people’s losing their jobs, means that people can barely afford to buy necessities, let alone spend up big to boost the economy.

I do not doubt that some, not necessarily all, of the really wealthy, are also philanthropists, but there is a mass of wealth – in property and tax havens – which will not get back into circulation, unless the government persuades those holding it, that now is the time to invest in the country’s future.

We have accepted medical advice.

We need to accept advice from climate scientists, because, while a reduction in travel (including by aircraft) and industrial has serendipitously reduced greenhouse gas emissions, it is not enough to allow us to postpone action to further reduce levels.

Gas is a fossil fuel. It might pollute slightly less than coal but fools rush in!

Alan Kohler has provided a very valid suggestion as to how to get some effective economic advice – which is incredibly important at this stage of the crisis.

To be talking now about reducing support payments, without first analysing the impact on rent and mortgage payments, and making more certain arrangements with the banking industry, would be negligent to a possibly criminal extent.

What good are empty houses which people cannot afford to live in?

Get real!

Some of you, reading this, might agree with the underlying theme but assure me that it will never happen.

I am maybe a foolish optimist, but I cannot see any government brazenly pursuing policies that will end in the destruction of society.

If enough people with appropriate expert knowledge can show them that investment for the future, using money held by the already wealthy, plus using MMT approaches to issuing bonds, in order to ensure people can receive enough to survive AND enable the economy to recover, then the government might even survive the next election – perhaps the message might get through!

I end as always – this is my 2020 New Year Resolution:

“I will do everything in my power to enable Australia to be restored to responsible government.”

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Trust Linda Reynolds? Sure can’t

Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds was one of the first to speak up about the bullying that occurred during Scott Morrison’s rise to the top job.

“I just hope … whatever happens tomorrow that the behaviours that we have seen and the bullying and intimidation that I do not recognise as Liberal in any shape, way or form be brought to account.”

However, she quickly changed her tune when offered a minister’s role.  Despite it being her who raised it in the Senate, she then said it was not the appropriate forum to air the issue and accused Labor of making “cheap political capital” out of an important issue which she had subsequently decided should be addressed behind closed doors….or not at all.  No-one was “brought to account” but hey, Linda got a promotion so all’s well.

We then had the humiliating debacle – well for anyone with a conscience – of Linda’s 16 second complete backflip on wage restraint.

“Do you agree with the sentiment that flexibility in wages, and keeping wages at a relatively modest level, is a deliberate feature of our economic architecture to actually drive jobs growth?” David Speers asked on Sky News.

“No I don’t. No, absolutely not. And for Bill Shorten to even suggest that, I think, shows a fundamental lack of understanding about economics,” she said.

“Well I’m actually quoting Mathias Cormann, the finance minister, here. Your colleague. He says that wage flexibility is ‘a deliberate feature of our economic architecture’,” Speers said.

“He’s absolutely right,” Ms Reynolds replied.

Moving on to her brand spanking new portfolio of defence, three months ago, Reynolds said that, despite the Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal recommending that World War II hero Teddy Sheean be awarded a Victoria Cross, she did not feel it was appropriate.

“The 2019 review by the tribunal did not present any new evidence that might support reconsideration of the valour inquiries recommendation,” she said.  “That is also my view and the view of defence.  It is a very difficult decision, but I believe in the circumstance, the right decision.”

Then two days ago, Reynolds posted this on her facebook page:

“The announcement by the Prime Minister that Teddy Sheean has been recommended for a Victoria Cross for Australia is recognition of extraordinary and selfless acts of valour by a young Australian in defence of his country and his mates. Lest we forget.”

Oh Linda, we don’t forget.

So when Ms Reynolds takes time out from her sucking up to Donald Trump to issue a media release about Dan Andrews rejecting ADF help in Victoria’s fight against COVID 19, which was quickly refuted with facts from the actual person involved in Victoria’s emergency response, it is blindingly obvious that this woman is solely focused on petty party politics and will say whatever she thinks her bosses want to hear.  She has a laser-like focus on where her bread is buttered.

Heaven help us if she is the best person we can find for the job of co-ordinating the defence of this country.

Linda Reynolds, you are the epitome of a political hack.

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What a disaster the two peas in a pod have proven to be

1 The President of the United States has yet again demonstrated a capacity for vindictiveness that is beyond most people. That a man such as Trump could ever become POTUS says as much about the people of the USA as it does about Trump himself.

This time, or should I say, yet again, he has directed it at those without the power to respond.

By signing executive actions that broadly challenge the powers that separate the White House and Capital Hill. He is proposing to eliminate payroll tax. Now that might sound OK to some until you find out that the receipts from the tax goes into a fund that in turn finances Medicare and social security.

As if all the suffering from COVID-19 isn’t enough he is now, by Presidential decree, attempting to bypass Congress and make dramatic changes to tax and spending policy.

Trump says he will eliminate payroll tax if re-elected. In short this means that the United States will no longer support its citizens in the face of poverty.

Everything he does is vindictive. In my view another four years of Trump would see the USA go into such decline that it may never recover.

Of his actions he said this “Will take care of pretty much this entire situation.” What that means is anyone’s guess.

The ability of thinking human beings to blindly embrace what they are being told without referring to evaluation and the consideration of reason never ceases to amaze me. It is tantamount to the rejection of rational explanation.

2 Back to good old Aus. Conservative MPs and its media are trying to make the most of what might yet prove to be stupid mistakes by a few people the Victorian government was trying to fit into a jobs plan.

In times of crisis, even with the best intent disastrous mistakes will happen and governments of the right take much pleasure in pointing them out. Pink batts and school halls, for example.

Where they are up against it on this one is that their own government has responsibility for aged care and 68% of COVID-19-related deaths in Australia had occurred in nursing homes.

Added to this is their own deplorable record of scandal and humiliation:

A The failure of the Federal Government and the Private Health Industry to provide adequate care has resulted in as many as 162 people losing their lives.

B Robodebt has also led many poor souls to take their own lives.

C Angus Taylor has made both himself and his Government look foolish with his Watergate and Grassgate scandals.

D The Sports Grants affair that went on for months and if not for the virus would probably still be commanding headlines was of itself enough, in ordinary circumstances, be enough for a government.

E Then there were the bush fire failures with the Prime Minister taking a holiday with the embers still burning.

F Then we have an avalanche of no tender government contracts to former Liberal staffers.

G Add to the list the AFP raid on the AWU with no outcome.

H And Stuart Roberts’ Rolex and internet usage.

I Its failure to recognise faults in the financial sector.

Humility is the basis of all intellectual advancement. However, it is truth that that enables human progress.

This Government’s performance over its time in office has been like a daily shower of offensiveness raining down on society. Surely performance or lack of it must mean something.

It goes without saying and his popularity of 68% backs me up that Scott Morrison is a consummate politician. Albeit a rather unscrupulous one with a capacity to somehow suggest that everyone else is at fault when he obviously is.

This attribution of blame is demonstrated with Victoria’s second wave of coronavirus infections and its subsequent handling of the it. At every press conference and every interview the Prime Minister and his ministers take every opportunity to cast doubt on the Victorian Premier’s accountability but when asked if they should be accountable for the deaths in nursing homes the Prime Minister, after fluffing up the surrounds of the question, gives answers like the following, as reported by Katherine Murphy of The Guardian:

“But Morrison saw the death rate through a different prism than a prime minister having a specific, negative charge to answer. Morrison said it was terrible and tragic that elderly Australians had died, but “sadly” it was not surprising that fatalities were concentrated in aged care because elderly people were “the most vulnerable in our community.”

“The aged care regulator was also being accused of causing a “catastrophic communications failure” causing a “potentially deadly delay” after revelations it took them four days to inform the government about a COVID-19 outbreak at Melbourne’s St Basil’s aged care home.”

“Unfortunately for the prime minister, in a forum outside the press conference, the counsel assisting the aged care royal commission was less glass-half-full. In an opening statement, counsel suggested evidence would show neither the health department nor the aged care regulator developed a Covid-19 plan specifically for aged care – which sounds like a commonwealth-specific deficiency.”

Just who is accountable? Well everyone is, including all politicians. However, Scott Morrison thinks that everyone else is … except him.

The two peas in a pod I refer to have similar characteristics. They both blame others, they both lie like it’s a gift to be demonstrated.

My thought for the day

I don’t mind the criticism but please don’t do it on an empty head.

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Mutually assured destruction

By 2353NM  

A few years ago, we were in Canada. One cool and wet day in St Jacobs, Ontario (a couple of hours west of Toronto), we walked into a building dedicated to The Mennonite Story because it looked dry and warm inside. Unsurprisingly, the building went someway towards explaining the history and beliefs of the Mennonite Church. The Mennonites are a branch of the Anabaptist Christians and the easiest way to describe their beliefs is to suggest that the Amish are an offshoot of the Mennonites.

Like the Amish, the Mennonites tend to refrain from a lot of technology unless it gives them more time to contemplate the wonders of their God’s work. For example, the reason why they use horse drawn buggies and carriages for transportation rather than cars and trucks is they don’t have time to see, observe and wonder at the glory of the flower produced by the plant growing at the side of the road if they are travelling past at 60 miles an hour. While not promoting that everyone should immediately invest in horses and buggies or join the Mennonite faith, they have a point. You don’t see the individual flower growing beside the road when travelling on the highway and as you don’t see it, you don’t have the opportunity to marvel at its beauty or contemplate the work of ‘the creator’ (if that’s your ‘thing’).

Taking the time to reflect and consider isn’t the sole property of the Mennonite faith either. Most of the literature about how to gain and retain good employees will discuss work/life balance. Work/life balance isn’t just some 21st Century corporate mumbo-jumbo either, most of us would have heard the adage ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. Crikey daily ‘worm’ reported on 16 July

Niki Savva (The Australian): “Morrison’s decision to go on Saturday to watch his side get thrashed incited outrage on Twitter for daring to seek a few hours respite while Victorians were being treated like lepers. A ‘Scotty at the footy’ hashtag trended and not in a nice way. Those getting stuck into Daniel Andrews defended Morrison and those defending Andrews berated Morrison. Morrison has refrained from criticising Andrews, nor has Andrews criticised Morrison. They need one another.”

Anyone, regardless of their position has the right to some time off. Constant work without time to connect with family, enjoy hobbies and interests or just sit in the lounge and doze off is hazardous to health. Certainly you can criticise Morrison’s sport of choice or his support of a particular team but Morrison attending a football game for a couple of hours is not going to change the country’s response to the current pandemic. Neither did his family holiday to Hawaii at Christmas during the bushfires.

The difference between the two events is that Morrison’s office attempted to convince the Australian public it wasn’t happening last December, despite the photos circulating in the media. Attempting to cover up something that may be used to attack a politician is shonky. A far better strategy would have been to announce he was in Hawaii on a family holiday, receiving regular briefings and the holiday will give him the opportunity to clear his mind to concentrate on the recovery effort when he returns. They could have even discussed the theory behind work/life balance.

Around the same time as Savva wrote the piece discussed above, a former Liberal Party staffer Chelsea Potter wrote a piece in the Nine Newspapers about the 10th anniversary of Julia Gillard becoming Australia’s first female Prime Minister. The piece was an apology for Potter’s past behaviour. The first paragraph is instructive

Dear Julia, In politics, you’re never meant to apologise. Especially publicly. That’s backflipping. And, as you well know, that can come at a political price. In our industry, changing your mind — even if it’s completely genuine and informed by lived experience or research — isn’t the done thing.

Potter goes on to discuss why she acted the way she did 10 years ago, which is well worth reading and will give you some insight into politics as it is played in the 21st Century. However, let’s tease out the expectation in the political industry is that changing your mind isn’t the ‘done’ thing and demonstrates ‘backflipping’ or weakness. It is a crock that we can’t change our outlook or the way we do things — we do it every day.

As you’re reading this, there are probably political operatives in some dark and dismal place creating a ‘dirt file’ on the other side who have had the temerity to criticise an insignificant or long forgotten action of a leading light of the operative’s party. Apart from the questionable work/life balance implied by working at all hours to climb the greasy pole and maybe be nominated for a safe seat in a parliament one day if they are good, wouldn’t the country be better off if the work was directed towards suggesting improvements to government policy and process that doesn’t blindly follow the individual political party’s orthodoxy without original thought? At the very least they should have some time to smell the roses — if not wonder at ‘the creators’ work in getting a small flower to bloom at the side of the road.

The ultimate outcome of competing ‘dirt files’ thrown at political enemies can only be similar to the ridiculous situation of the Cold War where both the USA and Russia had enough weapons to destroy the world hundreds of times. The theory of ‘mutual assured destruction’ seems to still be current in politics. In the end no one wins. Both sides of politics (and their fanatical keyboard warriors) are too busy throwing insults like ‘socialist’ and ‘neo-con’ at each other rather than understanding that the majority of us consider them all to be self-serving. The rise of the ‘anti-politician’ such as Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and Boris Johnson is a direct result of political games such as someone dredging up a nine year old statement from Morrison criticising a police commissioner for going to dinner during a bushfire emergency to attack Morrison for going to Hawaii last Christmas (the link is to The Chaser’s version of the story because this stuff shouldn’t be taken seriously).

Currently politicians seem to have to defend the party orthodoxy, illogical claims or an unsupportable position to the political death. How refreshing it would be for a politician to admit to not being ‘on duty’ 24 hours a day, apologise if a decision is shown to be wrong or change their mind on an issue publicly without the finger pointing and harassment from their internal and external political ‘enemies’. Maybe they could suggest ‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?’ They wouldn’t be the first.

What do you think?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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

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Why Are Those Ignorant, Ugly Trolls So Abusive?

Perhaps one of my favourite bits of irony is when journalists go on Twitter to complain about Twitter…

It’s true, of course, that there’s a lot of ignorant and abusive people on social media who spout opinions without evidence, attack defenceless people and generally lower the whole tone of debate. I can see why some journalists are upset by this because these amateurs are doing for free what journalists get paid to do.

I know, I know. When they ask Dan Andrews a question, ignore his answer and then ask the same question, they’re just holding politicians to account. When they ask politicians to prejudge the findings of an inquiry they’re just trying to get a scoop; they’re not attempting trial by media. And when they ask Andrews if he’ll resign, it’s a simple question. It’s not like those people asking for the government in Lebanon to resign. No, the people in Lebanon are seeking retribution when they talk about resignations…

So it seems to go something like this. Journalists are there to hold politicians to account, but it’s not the public’s job to hold journalists to account for anything whether the public feels that it’s an inappropriate line of questioning or a lack of balance in the holding of particular politicians to account. It’s up to journalists to make that decision and it’s quite frankly none of your business and if you should dare to comment on their decision-making processes, let alone their ethics, why you’re a troll whose putting at risk the whole democratic process. Why shouldn’t we let the Liberal Party write our questions for us? I mean, it saves the trouble of getting them to send them through via our editors. It’s the sort of efficiency that we need in these troubled times for the media. In fact, we should save a lot of time and just print the Coalition’s press releases verbatim…

It’s intrigued me for years the way that the media has gone along with the idea that the Labor party is omnipotent while the Liberals are largely a victim of circumstances. Think back at how various issues have been portrayed. The Liberals are still banging on about how Labor were responsible for the deaths under the Pink Batts scheme even though it was faulty work practices. “It was too rushed and they should have been better trained’, but when Robodebt deaths occur that was something that just couldn’t be helped because how is the government expected to know the consequences of putting people under pressure. Unemployment under Labor equals a weak economy while unemployment under the Gliberal party is because of all those work-shy people who’d rather live in poverty and take drugs.

And so Victorian Labor is at fault for the pandemic raising its head again because the security workers should have had better training and been told that when you’re in charge of a person under quarantine you’re not supposed to be exchanging bodily fluids with them. That’s the sort of specialised knowledge that could only come with an extensive and expensive TAFE course run by a Liberal donor.

And it’s thanks to Victorian Labor that the economy will take longer to recover. Josh Frydenberg told us so and he should know because he’s about to deliver his second budget and nothing in it is the fault of the government but the bringing forward of the tax cuts is all down to the superior economic management of the Glibs because the best way to bring the budget back into the black is to reduce your revenue stream.

Now I’m not saying that Labor are without fault or that the media have no right to criticise. I’m just suggesting that a little more even-handedness would be welcome. I mean, if they could just point out the irony of the party that spent so long talking about strong borders could even think of joining Clive Palmer’s High Court challenge to border closures, or at least ask the Federal government why they backed it and then withdrew, it might be a good start.

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From Abbott to Morrison: by God you need patience

In August 2016 I wrote a piece about dysfunctional government and how much patience was needed if one was to have any confidence in conservative governments ever reversing their incompetence.

There is probably no need for me to tell you that Tony Abbott won government in 2013 – he poured his ideology over society in a period of disastrous dysfunctional leadership that saw him warned by his party that he needed to shape up or ship out.

His answer was to say that “Good government starts today” and we all wondered why it didn’t start on day one.

It never came, of course, and yet another Prime Minister in Malcolm Turnbull not only promised better government, but a more open one that would listen and be more transparent.

Now I am a patient man, but I must say it’s not infinite. I’m still waiting for it to happen. Take for example the kerfuffle at the time over the banking sector.

Blind Freddy knew that the banks had been ripping off their customers for yonks. There is ample evidence that they had destroyed the lives of many thousands of people.

The conduct of their financial advisers was criminal and a drover’s dog knew that they had manipulated interest rates, even colluded on them.

In short, they had behaved criminally. I recall thinking at the time that if a government that was hopelessly dysfunctional can have a Royal Commission into alleged corruption in the Union Movement, why can it not have one into our financial institutions?

Well, you all know what happened after that. The government relentlessly resisted a financial services Royal Commission until the scandal became bigger than Ben Hur and the chariots of fire were let loose.

Good conservative governance requires patience. Lots of it. Which rather laboriously brings me to my point.

Seven long years after Tony Abbott spoke those now infamous words, “Good government starts today” I am still mustering every ounce of something that is very foreign to me. I am by nature a very impatient man.

And so it was when I learnt that none of the $250 million set aside for ‘The Arts’ in June had been allocated.

Art in all it’s forms is just a reflection of society.

By God, they didn’t take long deciding on the allocation of funds prior to the last election.

Now being a thespian of long-standing, a composer of poetry, short story writer and portrait artist,  I was a touch upset for those in the arts who are now unemployed. Well, I’m more than a touch upset, I’m actually filthy on the government that since the announcement by Minister Paul Fletcher on 25 June, nothing has been done.

“Thousands of jobs across Australia’s arts industry will be backed with a new $250 million targeted package to help restart the creative economy and get the entertainment, arts and screen sectors back to work, as they rebuild from the impacts of COVID-19.”

“We are backing over 600,000 Australians in the cultural and creative sectors whose work contributes $112 billion to our economy. These sectors have been hit hard during the pandemic, and the Government’s investment will play an important role in the nation’s economic recovery,” Minister Fletcher said.

Surely, in the circumstances we find ourselves, time is of the essence. Drawing up the guidelines for the allocation of funds could be done overnight. As I said the sports rorts funding was a very hasty effort. They didn’t waste any time with that.

Some six weeks have now flowed under the bridge since the announcement of the arts package. The Office of the Arts has submitted the draft guidelines but Minister Fletcher is sitting on them.

Once the Minister gives the go-ahead it will take another eight to twelve weeks for the cash to start flowing. So it will be November before anyone gets funding. Eight months after the announcement meaning we won’t see any production until the New Year.

Please forgive my impatience but I thought we were in some sort of crisis.

My thought for the day

An artist creates a sculpture alone; a painter uses a brush in isolation. But music forms a community, where the Spirit of life can be felt.

It didn’t take him long to give Murdoch another $10 million on top of the previous $30 million. Still waiting on an answer as to what for. Just be patient.

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Marginalised workers short-changed in JobKeeper revamp, says ACTU

By William Olson  

The Morrison government responded to public pressure on Friday to expand the JobKeeper payment scheme to a greater volume of workers, as well as extending the program’s expiry date to March 2021 – although the payment rate is being reduced and a lower payment rate is being introduced for those working a limited number of hours, as previously announced by federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

However, Sally McManus, the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ (ACTU) national secretary, points out for as well-intentioned the government’s revision of the much-maligned scheme is, those revisions do not extend far enough.

According to McManus on behalf of the ACTU, only relatively small percentages of casual workers and those on visas are included in the changes – leaving most workers from those categories with no change in status from when JobKeeper was unveiled in late March.

And moreover, McManus has taken society-over-economy and no-worker-left-behind approaches towards the likely impact of those changes, with the objective remaining to slow and stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“The outbreak in Victoria has shown us again that insecure workers are the most vulnerable during this crisis, and need to be supported so that they can protect themselves and the community,” McManus said on Friday.

An examination of the casual workforce statistics reveals that the long-term casuals coming into the fold on the JobKeeper revision confirms the ACTU’s claim that a significant amount of the casual workforce remains excluded from the scheme.

Two million workers are currently classified as casuals, as attributed by the ACTU, while the federal government claims that overall, roughly one worker in every four is classified as a casual worker.

That latter study also cites that among the casual workforce – in a case where this group could, in the context of the JobKeeper expansion, become poisoned by its own chalice – one million of those workers had been with their employers for 12 months or less, and that the demographic of 15-to-24-year-olds are more likely to be members of the casual workforce.

Within that demographic, 26.4 per cent of those had been with their current employer for 12 months or less, while 46 per cent of all casual workers exist as being of the short-term variety.

As for the Special Category Visa subclass 444 visa holders, the Department of Home Affairs defines that class of visa holder as one who is permitted to “to visit, study, stay and work [in Australia] as long as [one] remains a New Zealand citizen” merely by presenting a valid New Zealand passport and an incoming passenger card upon entry into Australia – thereby making quite limited in scope as to who can qualify for the JobKeeper scheme under visa provisions as a whole.

While the subclass 444 visa holders constitute the largest group of Australian temporary residents via a 2019 study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the impact of those working and holding the Temporary Skill Shortage (subclass 482) – which replaced the old subclass 457 visa in 2018 – cannot be underestimated as those workers face uncertain futures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment, underemployment, visa expiry, deportation, and other factors having a domino effect.

These analyses thereby justifies the ACTU’s position that the revision of the JobKeeper scheme isn’t ranging far enough – and the body which governs unions in Australia remains resolute to push for these benefits to all workers, whether they are union members or not.

“People on work visas have been excluded from JobSeeker and JobKeeper. They have nothing, so they are desperate for work,” McManus said.

“This makes it more likely they will be working, some while sick, in our essential services like meat processing and aged care,” she added.

McManus also stated that the JobKeeper scheme only exists as one such piece of a puzzle to accommodate casuals, visa holders, and any workers previously left behind, pointing to a continued push for a national paid pandemic leave program to be installed alongside another revision to JobKeeper.

“We need to expand JobKeeper to casuals and visa workers, and make federally-funded paid pandemic leave available to all working people,” said McManus.

But above all else, McManus and the ACTU point towards the human impact emanating from the shortcomings of the Morrison government’s revisions of the JobKeeper scheme, no matter how well-intentioned they are.

And they are concerned with the actions of human nature and basic sociology connected in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the workforce around it.

“If we do not treat all workers equally, some will be more desperate and take more risks. This will only create opportunities for the virus to spread,” said McManus.

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Seeking the Post-COVID Sunshine: No More Exemptions for Security Officers with Covering Letters from our DFAT Outposts?

By Denis Bright  

Authorities at state and federal levels have been less than frank excusing the exemptions given to a young Afghan security guard to travel straight from Kabul to Sydney. There were probably transfers at international airport hubs unless our security staffer travelled at least part of the way on defence aircrafts authorised by the US Global Alliance through the local NATO Command in Afghanistan. That would make the exemption story even more intriguing for investigative reporters with the resources to assist in filling in the missing details.

Allied commercial aircraft routinely use Afghan airports for transfers to and from Afghanistan for allied government and military personnel. This cover might have been extended to our unnamed security staffer. This link covers the use of Croatia Airlines for a special flight to Afghanistan (Simple Flying, Croatia Airlines Sends A320 To Pick Up Army From Afghanistan, 28 March 2020).

There is little real secrecy about military transits to and from Afghanistan (everycrsreport.com, 25 September 2020). An inquiry into the movements of the Australian security staffer between Afghanistan and Sydney hardly needs to be censored on security grounds. Other countries do not see the need to censor their news services.

While the Morrison Government warns us about Chinese military penetration of the South China Sea, the encirclement of China and Russia by military ties through Central Asia between Georgia and Mongolia is always overlooked.

After last year’s AUSMIN Meeting at Kirribilli House the defence and foreign ministers of Australia and the US conferred on matters of mutual strategic issues. The US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper went on to sound the political waters in New Zealand and Mongolia. There was a brief stopover in South Korea to confer with allies on the sustainability of the welcome for US troops on the Korean Peninsula.

In Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia), Mark Esper was gifted with a tiny horse by the Mongolian Government (Business Insider Australia 9 August 2019). This justified the use of a military aircraft on that sector of his return to the USA, possibly with the horse in the vast aircraft.

It seems that diplomacy with a Genghis Khan flavour is still the rage at the White House.

Wasn’t it Genghis Khan who advanced the spread of the Mongul Empire into China in the thirteenth century with the aid of dissidents within China itself from the MerkitsNaimansMongols, Keraites, TatarsUyghurs and other scattered smaller tribes.

Map Image from FutureLearn

What is odd about the Australian security staffer’s travel movements is the capacity of lame excuses to over-ride our public health lockdown protocols. There were indeed no extra precautions required from for his transfer from a COVID-19 hotspot in Afghanistan through Sydney Airport with an added domestic flight to the Sunshine Coast and then a road trip to Toowoomba.

In the interest of future public health problems associated with diplomatic movements, Australians should be aware of the flight paths used by our unnamed Australian security staffer on this occasion. The case is more intriguing if any of these flights were actually on military planes as there are no direct flight as between Afghanistan and Australia. Commercial carriers would have required a change of flights at one or more airport hubs on the route to Australia. Was the authorisation from our embassy in Kabul flash at every airport on route to Sydney?

It is to be hoped that inquiries into the spread of COVID-19 in Australia do not dismiss this case when ordinary Australians are being given on the spot fines for breaches of COVID lockdown directives and border infringements.

ABC News has tended to excuse the breach of lockdown protocols (5 August 2020):

Queensland authorities have revealed they gave permission for a man returning from overseas to catch a commercial flight back into the state, with police now finalising an investigation into the process.

The man in his 20s, had been working for the Australian Government in Afghanistan and returned to Queensland, via Sydney, last week, to quarantine at home.

The exemption to bypass hotel quarantine is allowed for diplomatic and consular officials, but the Queensland man was a security contractor.

A police investigation that was launched yesterday to investigate the validity of documents used by the man to re-enter the state has now been finalised with authorities saying he had done nothing wrong.

The ABC news coverage item fails to identify the name of the security officer or the rationale for his employment in Afghanistan. The letter of his authorisation for travel from Kabul to Sydney was possibly made in good faith from our embassy in Kabul. It was a clear mistake to extend this authorisation to domestic travel beyond Sydney Airport. Why was the Queensland government asked to offer a nod of approval in the interests of national consensus?

The 7.30 Report, Four Corners and The Guardian are well equipped to take up these issues. The media should be seeking details from the ministers responsible for border protection and foreign affairs.

Does the security officer’s employment brief with the Australian Government extend to security assignments within the Australian Afghan community? Is his non-quarantine justified by his possible Australian Intelligence links? Should the immigrant community in Toowoomba be concerned by his presence in Toowoomba with its large refugee population?

Awareness of Kabul and regional centres in Afghanistan at hot-spots for COVID-19 is no classified secret.

Even the most politically loyal staff member at key ministerial officers in Canberra or at least the DFAT staff at the Kabul embassy should have been aware of the threat from COVID-19 on our security personnel across Afghanistan. Their local operations are probably always cleared by the NATO Command which controls security operations by the US Global Alliance in Afghanistan. Australia is a part of this strategic network as an active associate member of NATO since 2010 (Parliament of Australia Authorised by Nina Markovis of the Foreign Affairs Defence and Security Section 17 December 2010):

The new Strategic Concept calls for the deepening of cooperation between NATO and its partners, including Australia. This includes collaboration on strategic, political and burden-sharing activities.

According to Benjamin Schreer from the Australian National University, the Lisbon Summit delivered two major outcomes for Australia:

NATO members agreed on a phased transition of security responsibilities to Afghan Security Forces by 2014—a development which will prominently feature in Australian policy planning, and the Strategic Concept as ‘NATO’s premier conceptual guideline defining its major goals, ends and means’ opens up new possibilities for collaboration between Australia and NATO, both in terms of closer security cooperation and the ability to provide a greater contribution to NATO-led operations.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited NATO Headquarters in October 2010 and met with the NATO Secretary-General to discuss the Afghanistan mission.

The NATO-led ISAF mission in Afghanistan is Australia’s most comprehensive defence commitment overseas with about 1550 Australian military personnel deployed to Afghanistan under Operation Slipper (which also incorporates elements located in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa).

In 2009–10 Australia provided additional civilian personnel (from AusAID, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Australian Federal Police) to NATO’s civil-military stabilisation efforts in Afghanistan.

In November 2010 Julia Gillard and Defence Minister Stephen Smith attended the NATO Summit in Lisbon, where they held discussions with NATO members and senior partners (including non-NATO members) towards enhancing collaboration, particularly in crisis management and post conflict reconstruction.

An official statement by the Australian Government read, in part:

In particular, the Summit will be an opportunity for the international community to set out further detail on the objective of Afghan authorities assuming lead responsibility for security in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

During the Summit, Australia will highlight our strong commitment to mentoring and training the Afghan National Security Forces in Uruzgan Province to enable them to take on responsibility for security arrangements in the province over the next two to four years.

Perhaps the ministerial staffers and intelligence personnel need to ease up on news blockage strategies within Australia like this recent coverage from Aljazeera (6 August 2020). Ironically the headquarters of Al Jazeera is in the Doha, Qatar which is not noted for its media transparency.

This recent Al Jazeera coverage service warned of the dangers of COVID-19 in Afghanistan. As early as 3 May, the Afghan Health Ministry advised that one third of the residents of Kabul were carriers of COVID-19 antibodies. More recent estimates from a sample study of 9,000 in Kabul from blood tests claimed that almost half the population of Kabul carried these antibodies.

Contrast the laxity with the Australian security staffer to the plight of the Tamil family from Biloela who have lost their bid to stay in Australia.

Even the US Department of State’s magazine Foreign Policy (FP) has dared to take up the inconsistencies in Australia’s handling of refugee applications:

The antics of Sri Lankan intelligence services in Australia is of course an old story which was covered by The SMH on 13 January 2013):

PROTESTERS calling for a boycott of the Sri Lankan cricket team’s tour of Australia say they are being stalked by intelligence ”operatives” who are gathering information about them for the Sri Lankan government.

Hundreds of protesters who have staged events in Sydney and Melbourne in the past two weeks to draw attention to alleged human rights abuses in the country are complaining they have been filmed and photographed in an intimidating way by men they believe have links to Sri Lankan officials in Australia.

A Melbourne doctor who attended a protest at the Boxing Day Test said three men had been overtly photographing them in a tactic that was creating a climate of fear in the Australian community.

The organiser of the Boycott Sri Lanka Cricket Campaign, Trevor Grant, has written to the Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, complaining about the conduct of the men and saying he had been a victim of the stalking at the SCG.

Mr Grant, a former sports journalist, said the Tamil groups who had seen the men were convinced they were connected with the Sri Lankan government. ”They say they have done this before, using the photographs and film for identification, in order to harass relatives back in Sri Lanka,” he said.

”We have photographs of these men and I can send them to you in order to identify them through the Sri Lankan embassy. We believe we know the identity of one man.”

But when Fairfax Media approached the Sri Lankan consul-general in Sydney, Bandula Jayasekara, last week to try to identify the man and inquire about the alleged intimidation, he refused to answer whether the man was known to consular officials.

Mr Jayasekara did say in an email that the protesters at the Test matches in Sydney and Melbourne were some misguided Australians.

”I am told that the protesters wore separatist T-shirts.”

Australian governments on both sides of the political divide have usually been deaf to the plight of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka with a bias towards the Rajapaksa Family Dynasty which has been in power throughout the civil war with the Tamil community and now under the leadership of Gatabaya Rajapaksa after a brief period in Opposition (Straits Times 6 August 2020):

COLOMBO • Sri Lankans shrugged off fears of the coronavirus and streamed into polling centres yesterday to elect a new Parliament that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa hopes will clear the way for him to boost his powers.

The tourism-dependent island nation of 21 million people has been struggling since deadly Islamist militant attacks on hotels and churches last year, followed by lockdowns to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Mr Rajapaksa is seeking a two-thirds majority for his party in the 225-seat Parliament to enable constitutional reforms to make the presidency more powerful, so he can implement his economic and national security agenda….

… Mr Rajapaksa won the presidency last November vowing to restore relations with China, which had been strained by disputes over some Chinese investments.

He is hoping to install his older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is a former president, as prime minister.

The brothers built their political careers as nationalist champions of the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community.

They are best known for crushing ethnic minority Tamil separatist insurgents who battled for decades for a homeland in the island’s north and east.

The 26-year civil war ended in 2009 when the elder Rajapaksa was president amid allegations of torture and killings of civilians in the final stages of the conflict.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s rapport with most western governments during the Civil War Years while at the same time cultivating new trade and investment ties with China. Chinese support was offered to infrastructure for the Port of Hambantota including a new railway connection to this more isolated location in South East Sri Lanka (The New York Times 25 June 2018):

HAMBANTOTA, Sri Lanka — Every time Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, turned to his Chinese allies for loans and assistance with an ambitious port project, the answer was yes.

Yes, though feasibility studies said the port wouldn’t work. Yes, though other frequent lenders like India had refused. Yes, though Sri Lanka’s debt was ballooning rapidly under Mr. Rajapaksa.

Over years of construction and renegotiation with China Harbor Engineering Company, one of Beijing’s largest state-owned enterprises, the Hambantota Port Development Project distinguished itself mostly by failing, as predicted. With tens of thousands of ships passing by along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, the port drew only 34 ships in 2012.

And then the port became China’s.

Mr. Rajapaksa was voted out of office in 2015, but Sri Lanka’s new government struggled to make payments on the debt he had taken on. Under heavy pressure and after months of negotiations with the Chinese, the government handed over the port and 15,000 acres of land around it for 99 years in December.

Australians deserve a more transparent and independent foreign policy with an explanation of our selective support for dodgy quasi-dictatorships in its assessment of these complex issues.

And back to the presenting challenges posed by the transit of the unnamed security staff employee from Kabul.

It’s perhaps time to bring back that ANZAC tradition which our LNP ministers in Canberra claim to live by. Has it really migrated across the Tasman to the ministerial offices of Jacinda Ardern? Will it be taken up by the Shadow Ministry in Canberra as it strives for some pragmatic bi-partnership with the Morrison Government in challenging times.

Denis Bright (pictured) is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback from readers advances the cause of citizens’ journalism. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Replies Button.

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Busy, Busy, Busy !

It was another busy morning at the Trump White House. Morning tweets were completed during bathroom time then hair and makeup performed their magic while POTUS consumed a breakfast of cheeseburgers, followed by a hydroxychloroquine capsule all washed down with a can of coke.

Next the freshly coiffured leader of the western world, sporting a disturbing orange glow [courtesy of Thin Lizzy Cosmetics] was off to the Oval Office for a promo on behalf of Goya Food Products : Ivanka was already in the frame clutching a can of Goya fava beans for the camera.

Jared (Kushner) sits in the corner nervously chewing his fingernails – not sure that his excellent adventure bringing about peace in the Middle East is enough to get him re-elected. Ivanka reminds him that they were not actually elected, ‘it’s known as nepotism’ she points out ‘with side benefits’.

POTUS positions himself behind the Presidential desk posing for the cameras with an array of Goya products and a creepy smile.

Next it’s a meeting with NBC executives who are considering another season of The Apprentice with Donald reviving the role that made him famous and perhaps one that he should have stuck with. Then it’s off for a quick eighteen holes and lunch with his buddies.

Down the corridor Mike (the knife) Pompeo is also planning for his future. This morning he is excited about a meeting scheduled with network bosses who are considering reviving The Sopranos crime series with Mikey assuming the role of Tony Soprano vacated by the late James Gandolfini.

Meanwhile at the Democratic headquarters presidential hopeful Sleepy Joe Biden sits at a desk in the basement behind his COVID-19 face mask. But is it Uncle Joe ? The Democrats are not taking any chances and have lined up a few Biden lookalikes who can step up at a moments notice ; much as Hollywood did with replacement dogs in the Lassie series or piglets in Babe.

On the shoulders of Uncle Joe rest the aspirations of a nation, their most fervent hope being that he stay erect – in the nicest possible way – until at least the inauguration.

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