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Category Archives: News and Politics

Pushing Huawei Out: Australia, the Solomon Islands and the Internet

Be wary of the Chinese technological behemoth, goes the current cry from many circles in Australia’s parliament. Cybersecurity issues are at stake, and the eyes of Beijing are getting beadier by the day.

The seedy involvement of Australia in the Solomon Islands, ostensibly to block the influence of a Chinese company’s investment venture, is simply testament to the old issues surrounding empire: If your interests are threatened, you are bound to flex some muscle, snort a bit, and, provided it’s not too costly, get your way. Not that Canberra’s muscle is necessarily taut or formidable in any way.

The inspiration behind Canberra’s intervention was an initial contract between Huawei and the Solomon Islands involving the Chinese giant in a major role building the high-speed telecommunications cable between Sydney and Honiara. Even more disconcerting might be the prospects that it would work, supplying a cable that would enable the Chinese to peer into the Australia’s own fallible network.

What made this particular flexing odd was the spectacle of an Australian prime minister congratulating himself in securing tax payer funding for the building of a 4,000-kilometre internet cable even as the domestic National Broadband Network stutters and groans. Another juicy point is that Huawei was banned from applying for tendering for the NBN in 2012.

As the world’s second largest maker of telecommunications equipment was told, “there is no role for Huawei in Australia’s NBN”. The then Attorney-General Nicola Roxon explained that the move was “consistent with the government’s practice for ensuring the security and resilience of Australia’s critical infrastructure more broadly.” Better an incompetent local provider of appropriate “values” than a reliable foreign entity.

The move against Huawei has largely centred on fears voiced by the intelligence community in various states that Beijing might be getting a number up on their competitors. In February this year, the FBI Director Chris Wray expressed the US government’s concern “about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks.” Doing so would enable them to “maliciously modify or steal information” and provide “the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.”

Such comments tend to suggest envy; the US intelligence community chiefs know all too well that they, not a foreign entity, should have the means to conduct their own variant of undetected espionage on the citizens of the Republic, not to mention the globe.

The concerns fomented by Huawei’s alleged profile are such to have featured in the telecommunications sector security reforms pushed by the Turnbull government. When they come into effect in September, they would permit the government “to provide risk advice to mobile network operators or the relevant minister to issue a direction.”

Labor backbencher Michael Danby has also pushed the line that Huawei is materially compromised by its links to the Chinese Communist Party, a point that only becomes relevant because of its expertise in technology infrastructure. By all means allow Chinese companies to “build a fruit and vegetable exporting empire in the Ord and Fitzroy River” but be wary of the electronic backdoor.

“On matters like the electronic spine of Australia, the new 5G network which will control the internet of things – automatically driven cars, lifts, medical technology – I don’t think it’s appropriate to sell or allow a company like Huawei to participate.”

Certain figures backing Australian intervention can be found, though they tend to take line of ignoble Chinese business instincts. Robert Iroga of the Solomon Islands Business Magazine noted that no public tender was made, with Huawei getting “the right … this is where the big questions of governance comes.”

Ruth Liloqula of Transparency Solomon Islands spoke of “paying under the table to make sure that their applications and other things are top of the pile.” None of these actions, however, are above the conduct of Australia’s own officials, who tend to assume that matters of purity seem to coincide with those of self-interest.

The message from Canberra has fallen on appropriate ears. Penny Williams, Canberra’s Deputy Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, told her counterparts in the Solomons that a study had been commissioned on the undersea cable project. Miracle of miracles, it “found a number of solutions that would provide Solomon Islands with a high speed internet connection from Australia at a competitive price.”

DFAT’s head of the Undersea Cable Task Force Pablo Kang also had the necessary sweeteners for his target audience; the project, appropriately managed by Australia, would be cheaper than the Huawei alternative.

It will be a delightfully grotesque irony should the Internet speed on the Solomons be quicker than their Australian counterparts, who specialise in lagging behind other countries. In May, the Speedtest Global Index, which provides monthly rankings of mobile and fixed broadband speeds across the globe, found Australia languishing at an inglorious 56 on the ladder. (A relatively impoverished Romania comes in at an impressively kicking number 5). Should that happen, the political establishment in Honiara will feel they have gotten the steal of the decade.

The law should not be a plaything of the government

From the beginning, the Coalition government has shown an unhealthy disregard for the law, using it for political purposes when it suits them and ignoring it when it doesn’t.

One of their first acts in October 2013 was to launch a high court challenge to overturn the ACT’s recently enacted same sex marriage laws.  The court ruled that states and territories did not have the right to overrule federal marriage law.

Yet when a citizen successfully litigated that the Commonwealth had no right to fund religious school chaplains in state schools, Christopher Pyne chose to bypass the ruling by giving the money to the states with the direction that it could not be used for secular welfare workers.

These were expensive exercises which ignored the will of the people and the intent of the law.

Then we had the saga of George Brandis’ refusing to fulfil a freedom of information request for his diary to see if he met with community legal aid stakeholders before making controversial cuts to the sector in the Coalition’s 2014 budget despite a Productivity Commission report that found it needed a huge boost in funds to meet growing demand.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal subsequently ruled Senator Brandis should process the request.  He again refused, taking it to the Federal Court who also ruled he must hand it over.  Eventually, after 1039 days and over $50,000 of public money wasted, Brandis finally handed over a heavily redacted copy of his diary.

Michaelia Cash is waging a similar battle to avoid answering questions regarding tipping off the media about an AFP raid on union headquarters.  The Federal Court has issued a subpoena requiring her to give evidence but she has instructed her lawyers to fight it.

And now we hear that the Commonwealth government and the Murray Darling Basin Authority have sought a high court injunction to prevent their staff giving evidence to the South Australian royal commission into the Murray Darling.  They contend that the SA royal commission does not have authority to require answers or demand the production of documents by federal employees.

This from the government who dragged three Labor leaders before Royal Commissions and broke a long-standing convention by demanding the release of Cabinet documents.

The government has sought to circumvent the law by bestowing special Ministerial powers and protections.

First, Parliament moved to give then Environment Minister Greg Hunt retrospective legal immunity against future legal challenges to his decisions on mining projects, effectively licensing him to avoid compliance with the EPBC Act.

Then we had Scott Morrison conferring on himself the power to revoke a person’s citizenship. The new laws provided the Minister with the power to set aside decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal concerning character and identity if, in his opinion, it would be in the public interest to do so.

Peter Dutton ignores court rulings that we are responsible for the care of refugees on Manus and Nauru and the ruling by the PNG court that the detention centre on Manus was unlawful.  He just moved people to a different place with less protection.

Nothing epitomised more the attitude that they are a greater power than the law than when three Ministers of the Crown – Greg Hunt, Michael Sukkar and Alan Tudge – had to be threatened with contempt of court charges before they would “apologise unreservedly” for their criticism of court sentencing in Victoria.

The court had previously said the ministers had “failed to respect the doctrine of separation of powers” and “breached the principle of sub judice”.

The AFP seem to be at the beck and call of the Coalition, as shown not only by the Craig Thomson arrest and raids on the AWU headquarters, but also the raids on the lawyer representing Timor l’Este in a case involving alleged industrial espionage by our government and on Stephen Conroy and a staffer when they revealed the truth about the NBN rollout.

It is also troublesome that the government of the day gets to appoint the judiciary and decide who will act as Commissioners in inquiries – Dyson Heydon being a case in point.

As rights are being stripped away from individuals with things like metadata collection, random identity checks at airports, reverse onus of proof with alleged robodebt bills, huge penalties for withholding labour, and the loss of the ability to appeal decisions, the government threatens public servants, journalists and contractors with jail time if they disclose anything the government doesn’t want them to.

The ABC has the Sword of Damocles hanging over their head with constant complaints from the government about any story that they perceive as critical, accompanied by new (weaker?) management, continued funding cuts and calls for it to be sold off.

More than ever, we need an independent national broadcaster, an independent judiciary, a federal integrity body, responsible regulators, and a knowledgeable Senate, to oversee the actions of our increasingly secretive authoritarian government.

Day to Day Politics: ‘Electricity Bill’ was electrifying with a very bright spark.

Thursday 14 June 2018

It’s strange how we humans judge each other. We seem to attach ourselves to others or teams of others all with varying qualifications, distinctions and virtue.

We lock ourselves into groups for various reasons be it sporting teams, spiritual leaning or political parties.

“No man is an island” did I hear you say?

Is it just plain bias, the need to be on the winning side, or many others?

Take for example, politics. People seem to adhere themselves to two major parties with an increasingly large proportion of misfits in the middle.

When Tony Abbott became Leader of the Opposition in 2009 he became an exception to the rule of how Opposition Leaders behave. The media called him the best opposition leader the country had ever seen.

How did he achieve it? Well, every day he called the Prime Minister Julia Gillard a liar. He visited, almost daily, any manner of industrial plants and told with gross exaggeration so many lies, with so much force of personality that he became known as Dr NO.

Conversely, Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister after espousing a personality that charmed people. With voice of velvet fog he spoke of purpose, manners in debate, sensibility and innovation. He believed in science, a republic, equality in marriage and a solution to climate change.

Abbott tried to bring the same negativity to his tenure as Prime Minister and was an agonizing failure. Turnbull proved to be, after ditching a persona of “Manor of the House” to become the greatest hypocrite of a politician the country has seen.

In view of my opening remarks this of course brings me to the question of why people are attracted to an allegiance of one but not others.

Bill Shorten of course lags behind Turnbull, despite the opinion I have just given about Turnbull, which I regard as factual and fair. Shorten is probably the most unpopular Leader of the Opposition ever.

“Why is it so?” asked the professor. His crimes of personality trait are on a par with Abbott and Turnbull. He has been involved in the dismissal two Prime Ministers. He has given evidence before a Royal Commission over corruption deals and found not guilty on all counts. He is accused of giving AWU Union money to GetUp! without permission and of other Union matters pertaining to wages.

On this basis he is more unpopular than a Prime Minister who conned the people into believing he was somebody he wasn’t. In Shorten’s favor is the fact that he has never tried to be anything other than what he is: a well-educated Union Man.

I admit to having reservations about him for a long period of time but on Monday night’s Q&A I saw a more mature Bill Shorten. One who with the passing of time has become acquainted with the reality that it is really possible that he will become Prime Minister at the next election.

His performance was one of a highly skilled media performer who was on top of all the subjects, having it all down pat, as if he were talking to each questioner, personally. Prime ministerial if you like.

This must be the “Town Hall” Bill they speak of, casual and relaxed. Seriously fair dinkum handling tough questions like Turnbull promised but has never delivered.

Those at home would have seen not the leader they had formed an opinion about but one who in a Town Hall format was gracious in manner and succinct with answers. He listened to and answered questions like this with aplomb:

“Your unique use of zing, dad jokes and eccentric metaphors,” the questioner said, “despite opinion polls suggesting you’re likely to win the next election the same polls indicate you’re one of the most unpopular politicians in our country. “Do you worry that these zingers and the Coalition’s ‘Kill Bill’ strategy represent you as an untrustworthy and shifty character, and undermining your suitability as a potential PM?”

Shorten replied:

“They say to be PM of Australia you’ve got to have a thick skin. The Opposition Leader’s job is good training for it,” he added.

“I tell you what the polls tell me if you want to obsess about them: any Saturday for the last two years we would have won the election. Of course obviously there hasn’t been an election held. So I take them all with a grain of salt.”

Speaking to a captive audience of roughly evenly divided people who had firm opinions about him when they walked in I wondered how many might have changed their view after hearing him talk about basic wages, unemployment, apprenticeships, housing affordability, negative gearing, aged care, and power bills, and using economic fairness to make his points. Then he turned on the Turnbull Government’s association with big business and the big banks.

“This is more fair dinkum to me than half the rubbish we carry on with in Parliament,” he uttered as the curtain fell on a very revealing Q&A.

My thought for the day

“It is obvious that Question Time in the Australian Parliament is just an excuse for mediocre minds who are unable to debate with intellect, charm or wit, to act deplorably toward each other. And in doing so debase the parliament and themselves as moronic imbecilic individuals. Question time should be the showcase of the parliament and badly needs an independent speaker.”

Meeting on the Island of Death From Behind: The Kim-Trump Summit

Everything about this summit is in the showy warm-up run. “I am on my way to Singapore,” tweets US President Donald J. Trump, “where we have a chance to achieve a truly wonderful result for North Korea and the World.” Such descriptions from America’s ever hustling television president tend to become child like, whether glowingly or indignantly. On this occasion, he was glowing. “It will be certainly an exciting day and I know that Kim Jong-un will work very hard to do something that has rarely been done before”.

Detractors and sceptics were fretting in the woodwork. Former US Representative from Florida David Jolly was one: “Under scrutiny from loyal allies, Trump chooses to strengthen his alliance with Putin and Kim Jong Un.” The slip into psychobabble becomes easy: “Notwithstanding geopolitical consequences, it demonstrates a grown man unable to hold his own among peers, so instead seek affirmation among adversaries willing to provide it.”

Holding the summit on Sentosa Island suggested a deliciously disturbing twist. Now a resort destination drawing some 20 million visitors a year dotted by theme parks, beaches and Singaporean state propaganda, it had been known as Pulau Belakang Mati, “island of death from behind.” During the Second World War, summary executions of members of the Singaporean Chinese population were common on the island, as were instances of brutality towards British and Australian servicemen after their surrender to the Japanese in 1942.

This past did not distract. The two hefty figures approached before their flags. Pressed the flesh. Exchanged remarks. Before them stood two flags displayed with equal relevance (the free world types would have quaked), and a display that preceded an initial discussion between the two leaders. Importantly, that discussion was unencumbered by the machinery that has historically done as much to scupper smooth sailing than anything else. Only the two interpreters accompanying them at the initial stage will ever know.

The horror that this television, social media tart of a figure might pull off a durable peace venture is not something that is missed by journalists and pundits. The press conference was filled with baffled queries: What about Kim’s appalling human rights record? What of the actual details, the sort usually left for the mechanists to worry about after the photo snaps are taken.

This did not bother Trump. He had a show to perform, and accordingly ran it. “There is no limit to what North Korea can achieve when it gives up its nuclear weapons and embraces commerce and engages with the rest of the world.”

For Trump, reminders were important, and praise directed when required: the Chairman “has before him an opportunity like no other to be remembered as the leader who ushered in a glorious new era of security and prosperity for his people.

Then came that other horror: one of legitimacy. Both men, meeting alone, initially unencumbered by their advisors and policy staff; both, shaking hands and standing in front of their respective flags, levelling, legitimising, making those present complicit. This very fact would have made those familiar with the cultic regime padded by its ideological doctrine of Juche uncomfortable. It also showed the DPRK chairman that he had scored what was, some months ago, the unthinkable, and, more to the point, the unfathomable.

A curious perversion was effectively at play. To have reached this point necessitated a nuclear program that effectively terrified and tormented US strategists with sufficient bite to take Kim seriously. To bargain it away in the absence of various onerous security guarantees supplies the greatest talking point of all. The White House mythology is to see different triggers: crippling sanctions, maximum, pig-headed pressure, the indignation of the “Little Rocket Man” school of rhetoric.

Details of the Sentosa agreement have been sparse; the fastidious bookish types will be left disappointed. “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK,” went the salient part of the joint statement, “and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Much of the previous work done to get the two leaders to Singapore was simply reiterated. The Panmunjom Declaration, signed by South Korea and the DPRK after the April 27 meeting committing both states to the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, was reaffirmed.

If words are weapons to be forged, then some were sufficiently sharp to draw some attention. “Mutual confidence-building” measures were deemed essential to promote the goal of denuclearisation. Both states committed “to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.” A “lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula” would be worked towards. Then, something for the populist metre was also inserted for the voters back home: a commitment to recover US “POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.”

No timetable could be ventured on denuclearisation, the word that is keeping the astrological fraternity in international relations teased, but this did not stop Trump from insistent vagueness (“very soon” he hazarded and “as fast as it can mechanically and physically be done”). Sanctions, Trump observed, would “come off when we are sure that the nukes are no longer a factor.”

For one thing, both men insisted that what was signed did not necessarily incorporate what was said. Matters were tagged on, as if in a fit of absentmindedness. At stages during a press conference that resounded of Dada experimentation, Trump would tantalise journalists with remarks about record keeping – or its lack of. “We have notes or something,” he claimed offhandedly about the discussions.

As ever, Twitter, with its brevity and short bursts of attention was a source to return to. “Great progress was made on the denuclearization of North Korea. Hostages are back home, will be getting the remains of our great heroes back to their families, no missiles shot, no research happening, sites closing”. The end, perhaps, of a certain beginning, done from behind.

We have forgotten what is important let alone how to fight for it

The trouble with neoliberalism is it focuses on the how and not on the why.

The result of this headlong pursuit of continuous growth is a concentration of wealth in the hands of a few while the vast majority are mired in poverty.  At the same time, environmental degradation in the pursuit of profit, and the waste produced by billions of consumers, is destroying the planet.

Neoliberalism purports to reward individual effort, completely ignoring the fact that we don’t all start from the same place.

It is much easier to build wealth if you start with some assets.  It is easier to do well at school if you have somewhere to live and enough to eat.  It is easier when your parents can afford to pay for extra tuition or to pay university fees so you don’t start life with a humungous debt.  It is easier to find work if you have a car or can afford, and have access to, good public transport.  It is easier to fight for your rights when you can afford a barrister.  And it is much easier to protect and grow your wealth if you can afford financial advisers and accountants.

Neoliberalism cares nothing about the greater good.  Every man and woman for themselves.  Lobbyists promote self-interest and the privileged jealously guard their perks.  Greed has replaced our sense of community, collective caring and shared responsibility.

Neoliberal governments strive to reduce regulation but businesses exist to maximise profits, not make moral or even ethical choices.  They will adhere to the law (usually) but contribute no more than they are forced to do.  And even that is questionable.  A quick look at the Fairwork Ombudsman site shows hundreds of litigations for underpayments, sham contracting, false or inadequate record-keeping and a litany of other abuses.

Environmental protection regulations are regularly breached with minimal consequences.  The Department of the Environment and Energy shows some case judgements but they seem to have dwindled to almost nothing since the Coalition won government.

Conservatives are often religious, insisting on imposing their view of the sanctity of life on everyone.  But they complain bitterly about contributing to the cost of raising children or caring for the elderly or providing a safety net for those who cannot work or find employment.

Spending on health, education, welfare and environmental protection is not a cost but an investment in a happier, more productive, more harmonious society.  That creates savings itself and benefits everyone.

Increasing company profits, on the other hand, have only benefitted CEOs and shareholders.  With company profits at record highs, investors enjoyed a 9.5 per cent per annum increase in dividend payments last year, while workers’ wages remain stuck growing at roughly 2 per cent per annum.  Rather than sharing the benefits of a revenue boost, the government wants to give even more back to big business through tax cuts and less to workers through cuts to penalty rates.  They want to impose draconian industrial relations laws and hobble workers’ ability to negotiate or protest, all the while protecting shareholders at every turn.

Despite the taxation assistance already given to small businesses, many will continue to struggle until their customers have more disposable income, a fact the government seems unable to understand.  Big business lobby groups oppose any increase in the minimum wage but they still think it would be a good idea for the government to give people on welfare a bit more to spend.

The idea that we must decrease company taxes to attract investment is not borne out by the facts. Non-mining investment grew by 14.0% through the year ending March 31, 2018 with many foreign investments coming from countries with lower tax rates.

You can’t tax a profitable business into being unprofitable, but you can, with their contribution, provide a strong judicial system, a safe place to do business where the rule of law is enforced, sophisticated transport and communication infrastructure, a well-educated, healthy workforce and a comparatively stable government.  These are the things that attract business investment.

We don’t need more growth.  What we need is a better, more equitable distribution of our finite resources.  Why should the owners of the capital amass wealth beyond measure built on the work of others who struggle just to survive?

We are a wealthy nation but we have lost our compassion.  We have forgotten our duty to protect the vulnerable.  We have abandoned our obligation to keep our home clean.  We ignore the plight of less fortunate countries.

We have become consumed by greed and gluttony.  But that has led to a greater poverty – a poverty of purpose and dignity, as Robert Kennedy said fifty years ago.

“Too much and for too long, we seem to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.

If we judge [our success by Gross National Product], that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.

It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.

It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

That same year, 1968, Martin Luther King organized the “Poor People’s Campaign” to address issues of economic justice.  The campaign culminated in a march on Washington, D.C., demanding economic aid to the poorest communities of the United States.

He felt that Congress had shown “hostility to the poor” by spending “military funds with alacrity and generosity.” He contrasted this with the situation faced by poor Americans, claiming that Congress had merely provided “poverty funds with miserliness.”  He was particularly in support of a guaranteed basic income.

His vision was for change that was more revolutionary than mere reform: he cited systematic flaws of “racism, poverty, militarism and materialism”, and argued that “reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.”

They shot them both that year.

Fifty years later, we are so used to all the things they warned about that we have given up the fight.

It is possible that a visionary leader could get the weight of the people behind them to remind us of what is important, but would the corporate world ever allow it?

Day to Day Politics: Was there ever a greater fool?

Wednesday 13 June 2018

1 ‘Wam’ who frequently comments on my posts, asks:

“Your strength of purpose is strong, Mr lord, still nothing on Singapore or G8, oops no Russia yet, G7?”

Well, I shall keep this brief. Every picture tells a story.

Any number of captions could suitably tell this story. These are mine.

“Was there ever a greater fool that would denounce the collective minds of the world’s leaders as being inferior to his?”

Before Donald J Trump was elected I had a piece reblogged on the US site “Crooks and Liars”. I wasn’t very complimentary.

Here are just a few snippets from my essay:

“So emphatically poor of political morality is the U.S. now that there is a distinct possibility that an ill of mind billionaire entertainer in Donald Trump might trump a second grade movie actor to become the next president.

How a man of such ill repute, threatened by two countries to be disallowed entry, could even be nominated beggars belief. It even questions the sanity of those who would contemplate his election.

To think that the Republican Party could ever consider a megalomaniac like Trump as a nominee to run for the Presidency illustrates just how low the GOP have fallen.

If character is a combination of traits that etch the outlines of life, governing moral choices and personal and professional conduct. Donald Trump is devoid of it. He is nothing more than a walking talking headline for all that’s unscrupulous about American politics.

Character is also an elusive thing, easily cloaked or submerged by the theatrics of a presidential campaign. His transparency is there for all to see. We sit before our televisions and watch his antics and ponder at the gullibility of the American people and say …

From Down Under we see a sick deluded man of no redeeming features, full of racial hatred, bile and misogyny. A deluded pathetic liar unsuitable for the highest office in the land, if not the world. He sees complex problems and impregnates them with populism and implausible black and white solutions.

He is a person of limited intellect and understanding only capable of seeing the world through the prism of his own wealth. The far edges of knowledge seem to have passed him by. Matters requiring deep philosophical consideration seem beyond him.

His opinions on subjects of internal and international importance are so shallow that one would think he spent the entirety of his youth in the wading pool at the local swimming pool, or six years in grade 6 and never academically advanced.

He is a crash through politician with a ubiquitous mouth. Trump remains an incoherent mess who bounces back after each disaster thinking he has been impressive while those around him are laughing their heads off. Entertaining in a uniquely American way he might be to the hillbillies but leadership requires worldly character.

Is America to have, an ignoramus of first world order, as President?

It might be said that my description of Trump has descended into what Americans call hyperbole.

If I have, I make no apologies.”

It therefore follows that my opinion of Trump’s rather theatrical performance at the G7 is much the same as the aforementioned description of him. It seemed the only reason for his attendance was to head the cast while the other performers were intent on putting together a decent show.

Change in world affairs takes much time, great delegacy, immense patience and above all supreme leadership. Nothing can be achieved without a change in the hearts and minds of men.

Do we think China came into the family of nations in the last five minutes? No, it has taken forty years or more.

My thought for the day

“What the world needs is less nationalism and more internationalism.”

Day to Day Politics: Economics is about perception, not what is, but what we perceive it to be.

Tuesday 12 June 2018

The electorate has always believed that the Liberal Party are better managers of the economy. That it is a myth, is unimportant. “Life is about perception, not what is but what we perceive it to be.”

Pensioners will always vote for the Coalition even though the right of politics couldn’t give a stuff about them. The perception is that they offer security in old age.

The Coalition will be hoping that the next election will be fought on the economy, which they have historically seen as their strong suit. Although it is a myth they are right in doing so. “Life is about perception, not what is but what we perceive it to be.”

What is different as we move toward the next election, is that the perception has become more understandable. There are answers to claims of superior economic management.

This has always been so you might argue but I would counter with the fact that the punters are now more aware. Even the pensioners know they are not getting a fair go.

The voice of unfairness has risen and is declaring its share of the country’s wealth.

Why should the rich get richer off the back of the worker? Why isn’t there a more equitable distribution of the country’s wealth?

I believe this voice has been rising for some time. The people now have a clear definition of just what “drip down economics” and “Neoliberalism” is and how it makes the rich richer and the poor, poorer.

In the past, the “born to rule”mentality of conservatives had emboldened them into believing that just being in power resolves the issues. It won’t this time. Again, the punter can see that having a bunch of entitled politicians has not advanced the nation one iota.

In fact, in many areas, we have gone backwards.

The concept of equality of opportunity has, like fairness, entered the intellects of the people. They now consider better services might be obtained from a fairer/ better tax system and that equality of opportunity isn’t just a three-word slogan.

An observation

“Labour is prior to and independent of, Capital. Capital is only the fruit of labour, and could never have existed if labour had not first existed. Labour is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” – Abe Lincoln.

I read yesterday in The Australian (firewalled); Ross Fitzgerald said he has been following Australian elections for 40 years. Beginning to think the coalition will win. Better the devil you know mindset. Turnbull is disliked. But Shorten is feared.”

I could easily counter that by asking if he were that feared “how come he almost won the last election?”

It is with simple efficiency of words that Labor can counter the Coalitions self-anointed “better managers of the economy” title.

So, let’s pretend we are in the midst of an election campaign and the subject is the economy.

For obvious reasons we can only speak of what we know. What we don’t we will have to leave unknown. Fair enough.

A We will always be better managers of the economy and you will have more surpluses under a Coalition Government.

Since 1945, significant budget surpluses have been achieved only rarely: once by Ben Chifley, three times by Bob Hawke, and eight times by John Howard, who shared another with Rudd, who was elected during the 2007-08 fiscal year. That is, the Menzies, Holt, Gorton, McMahon and Fraser governments managed only a few, small surpluses. So much for the claim about the Coalition’s Fiscal management.

And the surpluses by Howard came from an unprecedented, never to be repeated mining boom and the sale of public assets. So let’s keep it in perspective.

By the way, the current budget is now $532 billion in debt and the interest is about $18 billion pa. Which is a record far worse than Labor’s ever was.

Company profits are up.

Yes, they are with the help of the workforce. But where is the trickle down effect you speak of? How much time does it need to seep through? We are not looking for a flood.

Strong economic growth.

Yes, that’s true but again it’s the worker who is making it possible and China of course. Without their buying of our commodities, we would be stuffed. Out in the real world, the worker is doing it tough because of your policies that hold wages down. What are you doing about it?

It’s only 12 months ago that you were saying. We have a spending problemnot a revenue problem. An inflow of revenue prior to the budget was welcomed with open arms. What do you mean exactly?

Labor is to blame for everything.

The Liberals have been in power 16 of the last 22 years. If people think the country is stuffed, they should know whom to blame.

Employment is strong. We are producing record jobs numbers.

Yes, that’s commendable but we are just marching up and down on the one spot. Last I looked, for every job available 19 people wanted it. Fewer full-time jobs are being created and those with jobs want more work. Really we are only creating jobs for those who immigrate. Yes, that’s a good thing but what about the others.

F We are giving Tax cuts in the form of 500 dollars cash in your hand before the next election. Will that apply every election as under John Howard.

But Labor is offering twice that. Why don’t you match it?

And in order to build a better economy we are offering large tax cuts to the Multi-Nationals including the banks. And I might add to those who pay no tax at all.

Are you serious? You mean you are giving tax cuts to companies who are making record profits, to banks who treat their customers with gross unfairness, and to those who don’t pay any tax. You must be kidding, right. Fair dinkum. Giving tax cuts to people who should be in jail. You cannot be serious. How unfair can you be? What about the ordinary worker. What’s in it for them? If it’s all so honky dory why the tax cuts in the first place?

Of course, this isn’t the complete picture and each party will have more to add during an election. My assumption is that yes, the economy is on the improve, but it’s not because of anything the government has done, legislated or promoted. Therefore, arguing against every perceived positive statement is relatively simple.

My thought for the day

“The left of politics is concerned with people who cannot help themselves. The right is concerned with those who can.”

The Merchants of Venality

By Ad Astra

Venality: the quality of being open to bribery or overly motivated by money.

Wherever we look, venality flourishes. Attune yourself to it and you’ll see evidence of it every day on TV and radio and in the print and electronic media. You can’t escape its tentacles. It’s all-pervading.

Where shall I start? The Royal Commission on Banking is an obvious place. It has uncovered venality that was hidden from most of us. Only the insiders knew.

Let’s start at the top. The governing boards knew of the dishonesty and fraud the banks were perpetrating. Only the criminally incompetent didn’t. Some have resigned in disgrace; others are being ignominiously ejected. More will follow as the scandal widens. These officials are venal. They placed making money above the interests of their clients.

Below them were the executives, choking on million dollar salaries and bonuses, who knew what their underlings were doing and approved of it.

Loans managers placed customers into loan arrangements that were not only disadvantageous to them but also destined to cause them catastrophic loss of savings, often their entire life’s savings. Loans to small businesses and farmers were often abruptly terminated although repayments were on time, thereby jeopardizing the family homes they had offered as collateral. Claims managers disallowed legitimate insurance claims, leaving many in financial peril.

Why did these managers do this? Because their bonuses were conditional on them making money for the bank or saving the bank money. Self-interest overrode client interest. They were venal.

Venality filtered down to lesser bank officers. Retail bank staff at a number of Commonwealth Bank branches made fraudulent transactions in the junior saver program, ‘Dollarmite’ without the knowledge of parents, by putting just enough money (around ten cents) in each account so that they could accrue bonuses for themselves and meet targets.

Some of those who realized the venality of what they were required to do were terrified of speaking up, or being exposed as complicit.

From the top down there was layer upon layer of merchants of venality.

The same appalling state of affairs afflicts the financial planning industry. For years, armed with computerised generic plans and under the spell of investment fund executives, planners have been inveigled into placing clients’ funds in their favoured schemes, which earned all of them bonuses. It mattered not whether the schemes were of benefit to clients; that was secondary to the imperative to collect bonuses. Because they did not receive a plan tailored to their needs, clients often suffered while the planner benefitted. Venality writ large!

I suspect you are so disgusted about what the Banking Royal Commission is uncovering day after day that you are tired of hearing about it, so let’s look at another industry – the restaurant business.

Almost every day we hear of restaurants, often well known, that are defrauding their workers. Perhaps the most celebrated is the Vue Group that operates Melbourne’s Vue de Monde, and its renowned owner Shannon Bennett, a regular celebrity on Channel Ten’s MasterChef.

Staff members complain that they are underpaid, often work overtime without payment and that the tip money they rely on to supplement their incomes is regularly taken from them on the pretext that they have broken crockery, or arrived a few minutes late, or, would you believe, could not answer to the satisfaction of the managers a ‘tip test’, a quiz about the restaurant and its owner. In all these instances the managers pocketed the tips.

A female receptionist who complained that she was not given time for a toilet break was told: ‘Drink less’!

There were though some good aspects of working at Vue de Monde. Read the article in The New Daily and judge for yourself if they balance the downside.

The Vue Group is not alone. Barry Café in the Melbourne suburb Northcote underpaid its staff and refused to pay penalty rates. When challenged, it paid withheld wages but with the threat that further complaints would evoke legal action. You can read the details here.

The operator of the Indian restaurant Red Salmon, Abdul Hafeez Bilwani, was fined and the operating company likewise for chronically underpaying staff.

Former employees of Darren Purchese say that the celebrity chef, who has also appeared on MasterChef, underpaid them thousands of dollars when they were working at his upmarket Melbourne dessert shop, the Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio. They also claim he intimidated them.

St Kilda’s Cafe Di Stasio is another as is Burger Buzz in Brunswick.

There are many more.

Wage theft is endemic in restaurants and franchises. Unions are up in arms. Sally McManus suggests a remedy for this venality in an article in The GuardianIn Victoria, it is now planned to legislate huge fines for businesses that underpay staff and jail terms for employers that do so.

Then there are the convenience stores. You know about Seven Eleven cheating its staff. 76% of Caltex franchises were found to be underpaying workers. The list goes on and on. I could fill a dozen pieces with examples.

All Merchants of Venality.

Let’s explore another realm; a government-sponsored one – the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which is riddled with incompetence and suggestions of rorting similar to that seen among private education providers. The Government’s reaction has been to suggest a ‘crackdown’ on NDIS users, notably those with autism, as this condition is deemed too expensive for our government to tackle via the NDIS. Here again, we see venality among users of the NDIS and the providers, and in the reaction of the government, which appears concerned only with saving money.

Before leaving the healthcare field, look at the behaviour of some aged care providers. Many have been exposed because of poor care, gross disregard for the vulnerable elderly they are paid to nurture, criminal negligence, overcharging, even fraud.

Look at the gambling industry where merchants of venality thrive.

Crown Casino has been found guilty of deliberately tampering with poker machines to maximize profit. Last year whistleblowers from the casino accused Crown of instructing staff to remove betting options from poker machines, in a scheme known as ‘blanking buttons’. Not satisfied with their massive profits already, Crown wanted more, even if it defrauded its clients, the very ones, the ‘pokie addicts’, who are losing their money in spades already. Another merchant of venality!

Moreover, every attempt to restrict the size of bets (as has recently been legislated in the UK), has been met with stiff resistance from the casinos, clubs, hotels, and pokie operators, who are more concerned with ripping off clients for fatter profits than the harm being inflicted on pokie users.

The same condemnation can be applied to all the merchants of venality in the gambling industry, which, with its persistent TV ads is trying to suck viewers into parting with their money by betting not just on horse racing, but also on anything that moves – footballers, cricketers, motor racing drivers; next it’ll be flies crawling up a wall!

Let’s look now at the Coalition’s bête noire, the National Broadband Network. It is not national, not broadband, and not a network. It has been a technological disaster ever since Tony Abbott instructed the then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to ‘demolish the NBN’.

Customers have been cheated with slower than purchased speeds, long waits for installation, and in many places, no service at all. Complaints have surged. A recent talkback session on ABC Melbourne 774 radio evoked thousands of complaints that so overwhelmed the hapless NBN spokesman that he was left almost speechless. The NBN is a merchant of venality. Now it says it is abandoning its initial promise of an Internet speed of 100Mb/s as it’s become too expensive!

Recently, Optus was fined $1.5 million for trying to force customers onto its NBN service using misleading claims.

The quest for profit has always overridden client service, and likely will for a long while yet. From the outset, Turnbull’s orientation was to use cheaper technology that he claimed he could roll out sooner than Labor’s FTTP NBN. Instead, the rollout will take longer, will cost more, will deliver less, and will be more expensive for users. Turnbull, who originally had carriage of the Coalition’s FTTN NBN, which is now Fibre to the Curb and ageing copper to the premises, has been and still is, a merchant of venality. Another, the hapless Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield, has now replaced him.

For a flagrant example of venality, one can’t go past the media, notably the Murdoch media. Focussed on profit and determined to keep in power the party that gives it most support, subsidies, and privileges, News Corporation uses its media power to uplift the Coalition and demonize the Opposition. Truth is irrelevant. Stories are manufactured shamelessly by compliant writers and promulgated brazenly via print and electronic media. Those who see through the tactics they use are affronted, but what can they do to combat their power and their venality?

Take the environment. Although The Conversation highlights the threat to our environment in its May 18 article: One-third of the world’s nature reserves are under threat from humans, and while Labor and the Greens both show deep concern for the natural environment, the Coalition exhibits disdain. Our treasurer brings a lump of coal into parliament urging us to venerate it, even though he knows that continuing to burn it is threatening our environment, our seas, our Great Barrier Reef, and all living things.

To fossil fuel advocates all that counts is making a profit, exploiting natural resources, enriching those who own them. These merchants of venality believe that it is man’s right to gain supremacy over nature’s gifts and exploit them shamelessly. To them, regulation is anathema and preservation is a dirty word used only by greenie ‘tree huggers’.

The trucking industry abounds with venality. Drivers are forced into killing schedules, dangerous driving timetables and inadequate rest breaks, all in the pursuit of profits.

The live sheep trade to the Middle East, where profits outweigh animal welfare, is another example of obscene venality.

Sadly, some religious orders too, are merchants of venality. How often have we seen sickening poverty among the people alongside the excesses of the church? While the poor languish, massive churches with gilded effigies adorning their interiors are built at great cost. Priests decked out in their richly embroidered robes and mitres tout their extravagantly fashioned staff and waft expensive incense. While many church charities do care for the poor, the venality of the past haunts them still.

Let’s go overseas for a moment. On 21 May Four Corners exposed the venality of the electronics industry in China. For years, the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile phones and tablets, Foxconn Technology Group, which makes devices for Apple, Sony, Samsung and Philips, has been using well-known carcinogens, n-hexane and benzene, to clean those devices. These solvents have caused countless cases of fatal leukaemia. Instead of accepting responsibility, Foxconn blamed its workers for becoming ill. When whistleblowers exposed its venality, the government tried to shut down these advocates of better safety for workers. All this illness and death resulted simply because Foxconn used the cheapest chemicals, although it knew how fatally toxic they were.

The recently initiated inquiry into the disastrous fire on June 14, 2017, that engulfed the Grenfell Tower in London, incinerating over 70, will examine how cheap but highly flammable cladding was used. Questions demanding answers are: ‘Why was the cheapest cladding selected’; ‘How was it approved?; and ‘Why were the fire procedures so inadequate?’ The venality the inquiry exposes will shock us all.

Dozens of pieces could be written about the venality of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jung-un, Bashar al-Assad, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte, Najib Razak and all the other venal leaders, but the output would become encyclopaedic.

So let’s finish by describing the venality of our political system. For all political parties, winning is all that counts. With it comes power, privileges, influence, prestige, and of course, money!

Time and again we have seen our leaders propose measures that serve their aims, or promote their entrenched ideologies, rather than the common good. Whenever a leader looks generous, whenever a politician offers something that seems too good to be true, you can be sure it is. Look behind the show of generosity and goodwill and you will see what’s in it for them. You’ll always find the reward they expect. Political parties are open to bribery – they are venal. They accept donations that are nothing more than bribes to gain an advantage, no matter whom it disadvantages.

The vengeful Tony Abbott habitually exhibited venality. He instituted inquiries and a Royal Commission hoping to nail Julia Gillard, Bill Shorten, and the unions. The courts have thrown out all charges arising out of these witch-hunts. Millions were wasted. Abbott failed ingloriously. His successor is not much better. His most recent venality is the deliberate timing of the upcoming by-elections to advantage the Coalition and disadvantage Labor.

Politicians are merchants of venality, and everyone knows they are, even the millennials, as this Deloitte study shows.

I’m beginning to realize that when venality is the subject, only an encyclopaedia could contain all the instances of it, so I’ll stop before you’re all bored stiff.

So what can we do about it? Philosophically we can, indeed must accept, that venality is ubiquitous. It has always been so, and always will be. It’s outrageous; it enrages us every day.

To retain our sanity though, while we are being tossed around in the swirling currents of menacing venality, perhaps the best approach is to acknowledge the bleak reality of it, but target for comment instances of it in whatever area interests us.

For those of us who are political tragics, pinpointing venality among our politicians and calling it out in our chosen forum, may give us some satisfaction. It might too let our politicians know that we see through their deceit, their dirty tricks and their venality, and we despise them for it.

Enough feedback from constituents might, just might, change their behaviour! Hope springs eternal!

 

This article by was originally published on The Political Sword.

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With Abbott and Joyce gone we have an opportunity for a reset

For almost a decade, Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce have been hugely instrumental in the destruction of bipartisan support for action on climate change (and a lot of other things).  They have both now had their power stripped from them by their own parties for showing a stellar lack of judgement.

This presents an opportunity for a reset that should be grasped.

But will they?

No more money has been committed to Direct Action which has seen billions spent by the government resulting in a 3.6% (so far) increase in emissions since the abolition of the carbon price in 2014.

Minister for Agriculture and Water, David Littleproud, and his Assistant Minister, Anne Ruston, are at least mentioning the words climate change now but they remain unwilling to commit to government policy and regulation to tackle it.

Despite farmers’ increasingly urgent call for good, consistent policy, Mr Littleproud rejected calls for an agricultural climate change adaptation plan, saying farmers will need to do it themselves.

Ms Ruston told agricultural stakeholders they cannot rely on government and said “Industry should be allowed to explore the opportunities” to respond to the risks of climate change.

“We’re not investing specifically in programs, our response to climate change is embedded in everything we do,” she lamely said.

They certainly aren’t investing in programs.  They are terminating them.

The 2017 federal budget axed funding for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF), an agency that provides information to decision-makers on how best to manage the risks of climate change and sea level rise.

The NCCARF received A$50 million in 2008 to coordinate Australia’s national research effort into climate adaptation measures. That was reduced in 2014 to just under A$9 million. For 2017-18, a mere A$600,000 will be spread between CSIRO and NCCARF to support existing online platforms only. From 2018, funding is axed entirely.

This “do nothing and leave it to a future government” approach is typical of the Coalition who are all about the now.  Company profits are up.  Agriculture had bumper crops last year.  Fossil fuel exports are riding high.  Debt is unimportant now as the government spends up big to help boost growth figures.  Let’s do some tax cuts real quick before the Chinese economy slows down, the drought bites, commodity prices go down…and still no wage rises.

“I think we are already reducing emissions. We’ve made a commitment under the Paris agreement and we are moving towards that in a sensible and methodical way,” said Mr Littleproud.

Except we are not even going to meet our 2020 target of 5% let alone the inadequate commitment for 2030.

According to the Department of Energy and Environment’s own website, “Australia’s annual emissions for the year to December 2017 are estimated to be 533.7 Mt CO2-e. This figure is 2.4 per cent below emissions in 2000 (547.0 Mt CO2-e).”

If it’s taken us 18 years years to reduce emissions by 2.4%, how likely are we to reduce them a further 2.6% over the next two years?  I doubt the Snowy-Hydro 2.0 feasibility study will even be finished.  Is there another plan?

Mr Littleproud is a fan of renewables, perhaps unsurprisingly as his electorate will soon be home to large solar and wind farms, but he also has four coal-fired power stations so he treads the fine line of saying that economics should determine our future energy mix.

The men who thought wind farms look ugly – Abbott, Joyce and Hockey – have all been dumped by their own.  Their loudest coal supporters are men like Craig Kelly and George Christensen, hardly your go-to men for evidence-based decision-making.  Oh, and the overly ambitious Matt Canavan who will always say whatever he thinks is in his best political interests but who had little support in the recent leadership change.

The Coalition invested a great deal of energy into promoting Abbott’s attack dog style of politics and Barnaby’s public bar ‘beer with the boys’ porkbarrelling antics.  But the spin of best Opposition leader and best retail politician was exposed as having no substance.  These two were just not up to the job of governing in so many respects.

So why does the Coalition remain hamstrung by their policies?

And more to the point, why do they listen to the IPA who seem to come up with most of these whacky ideas?

The only Coalition policy, aside from increasingly intrusive attacks on our privacy, is tax cuts.  So what does the IPA, who recently made a submission to the Senate inquiry into the proposed changes to the taxation laws, have to say on the matter?  This one ranks up there with their most hilarious.

A progressive tax system, the IPA argues, discriminates against rich people.

“Other forms of discrimination, such as by skin colour, race, or ethnicity, are rightly abhorred,” the submission says, “yet the income tax system openly discriminates against people by income”.

We’ve got rid of Tony and Barnaby.  If they ignored Rupert, Alan, Ray, and the creche for aspiring Young Liberals – the IPA – we might just have a chance of resetting political discourse in this country so we could actually make some progress on the things that matter.

Time for a reset.  Please.

The Ramsay Twist: Australian University Funding and Western Civilisation

There is a lot of tattle going on about why the Australian National University rebuffed, after a series of talks, the offer for the establishment of a specific bachelor’s degree that would feature Western Civilisation as its content. It would have been managed under the auspices of the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation. Besides, universities have been directing their attention to meaningless, tarted guff for decades, whether it be a bachelor’s degree in surfing, or the various toilet roll supplements that degrees in media and communication provide.

This, however, was deemed different. It’s not popular to talk about Western Civilisation these days, notably in capitals, and certainly not in an environment where sexual politics and identity platforms count. The term suggests dead white men of scolding gravitas, even if a few of them were unnervingly bright and ahead of their time. But in Australia, the issue seems to be that much touchier, and uglier. Education is periodically packaged as a diorama for culture wars, and the commanders and grunts are uncompromising in their ideological positions.

In a country given over to the ad hominem stab, and the physical, as opposed to verbal putdown, victories are won through beating contenders into oblivion. The issues here are motivations, political agendas, and visions.

The effort to set up a funding stream for a Western Civilisation degree was imperilled from the start by the two front men in the endeavour, notably former Australian prime ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard. Both are members of the Ramsay Centre, the latter being its current chair. The very fact that these men had become advocates for the enterprise suggested a program and a platform beyond an offer for money and mere cultivation. On the table was essentially a program of inculcation to be controlled by the Centre, a form of soft power a grade above the norm.

There is much irony in this. Both Abbott and Howard were the conservative stalwarts who have done wonders to convert Australia into an arid world of accountants and price watchers, rendering the country a collective of aspirational voters crushed by mortgages who salivate, or despair, at the next economic forecast. Such principles have little to do with the civilizational purpose of Athens and its peripatetic walk and certainly nothing to do with the philosophe punchers who made up the Encyclopaedists. As for talk of liberty, Abbott’s meditations soon veer into the territory of the Vatican, whose values he cherishes with parochial dedication.

Australia’s perfected political suicide Abbott arguably lobbed a grenade of considerable proportion when promoting the merits of the Ramsay program in a piece for Australia’s foremost conservative magazine, Quadrant. In its pages, his praise for late health mogul raises an assortment of questions.

He writes about the acquisitive Cecil Rhodes, a person distinctly out of favour with anti-imperialists and not indifferent to looting for empire, with infantile enthusiasm. He then charts Ramsay’s vision about a syllabus that would “foster undergraduate courses in the Western canon at three leading Australian universities with scholarships” to contend with “life’s biggest issues and history’s greatest challenges” and so forth. (Whether this is Abbott talking, or Ramsay, is hard to say).

Then Abbott starts laying his own booby traps. “The key to understanding the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation is that it’s not merely about Western civilisation but in favour of it.” This made it “distinctive”. “This is an important national project.” The only thing to fear here was the dictum of John O’Sullivan, current international editor of Quadrant: “every organisation that’s not explicitly right-wing, over time becomes left-wing.”

In the schemes of negotiation, this did not play well. Australia’s national university was essentially being told that autonomy over the program – selection of staff, selection of students, and the program itself – would not be exercised by autonomous academics and officials within it, but by those without. Take the cash, but accept the strings. ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt subsequently claimed that “academic autonomy” was at risk, terminating the conversation.

A group of academics at the University of Sydney, having gotten wind of negotiations being conducted between the Centre and their own Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence, claimed any collaboration with the Ramsay Centre “a violation of our crucial role in promoting a society of diversity, inclusiveness and mutual respect”. Their open letter deemed the enterprise to be promoting a “conservative, culturally essentialist, and Eurocentric vision” mired in “chauvinistic, Western essentialism.” Besides, subjects on western civilisation were already being studied “intensively” at the institution.

There are, of course, other hypocrisies when it comes to money, donations and the tertiary sector. Universities, when they are teased of their component parts, are fractious creatures, divided to fail rather than prosper and bound to harm that most precious resource of all: the student. If the open letter from the University of Sydney academics was right in their claim that the Ramsay Centre could be successful in creating “a cadre of leaders”, that would have been a near miracle. What universities tend to do now is create gluttonous, beige products that pride management and the harnessing of specialist skills over notions of any Renaissance man.

As for the structure of the university itself, management, in whatever curious cloaking of convenience they choose to pick at any given time, see themselves as head boys and girls keeping the academic workers in check, trying to turn the modern teaching institution into a technical ant hill; the workers, generally weak, loathsomely middle class and in search of misplaced spines, tend to be compliant. Rents, mortgages and quotients of weakness need to be paid.

When a questionable money supply finds its way to the university, the issue of compromise varies. The Ramsay Centre’s mistake here was to be obvious, overt, rather than covert and clandestine. Soft power funds can be received but never described as such. Funding for Australian universities, for instance, can be traced to various states officially out of the good books of Canberra: Iran and Turkey, for instance.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have also taken the additional steps of attempting to control the way Islam and Middle Eastern studies are taught in Western universities. Then comes that most discomforting of realities: the role played by philanthropic funding and donations to the profusion of China Centres that dot the research and education landscape. Forget the Enlightenment; this is business.

Day to Day Politics: Something very weird about last week

Monday June 11 2018

There was something very odd about last week. It had an eery quietness about it that was disturbing. “Politicians this quiet!”, I thought to myself. Then I thought it might have been the fact that the Coalition had a week without a scandal of sorts. An oddity in itself.

That it went by without as much as a comment was surprising. It was worthy of a headline at least. Then it hit me with all the hostile silence of a calm before the storm.

It had the air of election about it. No I don’t mean the five July by-elections. This was definitely the odor of the big one.

I was sensing a firming up of a September election. A date that I have been predicting for six months or more. It just had that suggestion of spring in the political atmosphere.

Then I stumbled upon a piece by Mark Kenny in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald that sort of confirmed my rather glib feelings. “Sooner the better,” I thought to myself as the slightest feeling of sanguinity swept through me.

According to Kenny, or rather, sources confirm (how I dislike that phrase), that the:

“Opposition has recently stepped up its internal processes for completing policy documents, finalising candidates, and mapping out its media buys.”

An observation

“The right to vote is the gift that democracy gives. If a political party is not transparent in supplying all the information necessary to exercise this right it is destroying the very democracy that enables it to exist.”

My take on it is that besides September the longer Turnbull waits the less advantageous are his choices of surprise.

If the Coalition were to improve their vote, even win one or more of the Labor held Super Saturday seats then it is more than likely that Turnbull would take a ride to Yarralumla.

It would of course mean that the good voters of Mayo (SA), Longman (Qld), Braddon (Tas), Perth (WA), and Fremantle (WA) would go back to the ballot box in after just having voted two months previously leaving Turnbull to answer the question of why the elections could not have been held concurrently.

Whilst it would mean a double back flip with pike by Turnbull the angst would be short lived.

The unnamed sources that Kenny subscribes too also suggest that the economics are turning back to the Coalition:

“Economic growth of 1 per cent last quarter putting growth over the year to March at 3.1 per cent – well ahead of the 2.75 per cent budget prediction, was the government’s best news since its near-death 2016 win. Allied with record jobs growth and rising company profits, the expanding economy reinforces the Coalition’s “jobs and growth” message.”

It is this part of Kenny’s assessment that I take exception with. It well maybe that the Government now has a viable economic message to put to the people but it is one to which the opposition has a counter argument at every turn. One that I will argue in tomorrow’s Day to Day.

My thought for the Day

“Just because we are governed by clowns it doesn’t mean we have to laugh.”

Nothing but blue ties from now on? Or academic and democratic freedom?

Blue ties

Smiling at me

Nothing but blue ties

Do I see

(With apologies to Irving Berlin)

 

“Blue ties … nothing but blue ties” is the theme of this week’s Canberra soap opera. It’s about the Coalition’s vain attempt to flog off a hugely ignorant, intellectually bankrupt concept which “suppository of all wisdom” Tony Abbott once pitched to Liberal donor and private health Czar, the late Paul Ramsay, as a cure for our national identity crisis.

The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, would confer an undergraduate degree that would supply what ‘this current generation was missing … familiarity with the stories and the values that had made us who and what we are’.

Like any snake oil or hair restorer salesman, Abbott suggested other key deficiencies in our national psyche would also be cured.  Above all, bigotry and dogmatism would thrive. “Almost entirely absent from the contemporary educational mindset was any sense that cultures might not all be equal, and that truth might not be entirely relative.”

Desperately, the Turnbull government begs the ANU to take on The Ramsay Centre; confer ersatz academic legitimacy on a cheer squad for cultural supremacists. It woos the university for six months but is flatly rejected Thursday.

Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt BS Phys, BS Astro, AM Astro, PhD Astro is polite but firm  as he lets Ramsay know it’s on the nose. ANU has “serious concerns about its autonomy”, he says. His objections expose The Ramsay Centre utterly. And by extension they are a trenchant criticism of a Coalition keen to undermine if not silence a free and open society.

Professor Schmidt tells  Fairfax Media, Thursday, that the Ramsay Centre had “sought a level of influence over our curriculum and staffing that went beyond what any other donor has been granted, and was inconsistent with academic autonomy”. This would set a precedent that would completely undermine the integrity of the university,” he continues, noting the ANU had declined donations before and “will again”.

The word integrity mystifies the PM of an anti-academic, coal-powered, business-friendly government. He just cannot fathom Schmidt’s decision, he declares sounding less confounded than condemnatory:  “I find it very hard to understand why that proposal from The Ramsay Foundation would not have been accepted with enthusiasm, he tells Fairfax.

Rejecting Ramsay is quickly conflated with rejecting western civilisation. Publicly, the PM vows to drum some sense into ANU’s curmudgeons. PM of a mercantile government of mean, narrow and contracting horizons, Turnbull might find himself out of his depth, however, with Schmidt, winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize and leader of the High-Z Supernova Search team which in 1998 made the wonderful discovery that the expansion rate of the Universe is accelerating.

At stake is the very idea of the university, a place for inquiry, academic freedom and intellectual rigour, concepts, ironically that are central to the Enlightenment a part of what it suits some to call the western tradition.

On the other side of the ledger is Paul Ramsay’s $3 billion legacy. The late corporate oligarch, was a former land surveyor who put away theodolite and tape to open a Sydney psychiatric clinic in 1964, a portal into a Mad-man meets Wall Street world of profiteering via his Ramsay Health Care, a thriving private hospital business empire until it “diworsified” overseas.

A market darling, Ramsay Healthcare’s motto is people caring for people. But only for people with money, darling.

While Ramsay may struggle a bit now, with underperforming overseas investments, Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts see a healthy profit in private healthcare. Australian hospitals enjoyed 13% earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, (EBITDA) margin ten years ago. Now it’s 18%-20%. Ramsay has been a nice little earner.

In the five years to 2016, Ramsay Health Care Limited shares rose 321%: 14.6 times better than the return offered by the ASX during the same time period. Since Winston Howard’s 1997-2000 private health subsidies and other ways of getting government to foster private enterprise in the private health industry, Ramsay has never looked back.

Ramsay’s inspiring devotion to profit, the public good and the undermining of our public health system also included his building regional TV: the mighty Prime Network which along with a mind-boggling swag of products to flog, including  pay-day lenders’ usury, gambling and scams such as health and funeral insurance and banking, still manages to find space for daily crusades to expose welfare bludgers and for other truthiness to enlighten our benighted nation.

An army of jeremiahs at The Australian don sackcloth and ashes. Poison barbs are lovingly fashioned by News Corp hacks. Forget culture war, The Oz declares a holy war.  A broadsheet, broadside ensues. Like the heads Christians cut off the Turkish wounded and dead and catapulted into Nicea in 1097, the word Ramsay is now hurled at all infidels; evidence the great white way of the West is superior to Islam, the East or anything anyone else might have to offer.

Surely all that money talking must be heeded, suggests policy-free, Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, who blames ANU’s student associations and the National Tertiary Education Union for “stoking negativity” about such a “significant bequest”. He warns other universities “to resist politically correct objections” whatever that means.

Never get between a Vice Chancellor and a source of funding say the wags. Sydney University, The Canberra Times reports, now may take the money and run – (the degree). Yet more than 100 of its academics sign an open letter declaring that they are “strongly opposed to the university entering into any arrangement with the Ramsay Centre”..

The Australian smears this protest as “including refugee and pro-Palestine activist Nick Riemer, fellow boycott Israel campaigner Jake Lynch and Tim Anderson, who courted controversy by defending Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.”

On economic fronts it’s all good news for Pollyannas. We are world’s best in the GDP, a contest to equate a statistical blip caused by mining and government spending in health with progress. The economy is booming. Except for wage-earners. For the first time on record, less than half of all workers now enjoy secure work reports The Australia Institute.

Scott Morrison may well boast that real wages for those in the best paid job category – permanent full-time jobs – have grown but wages for casual workers are declining. Part-time workers in marginal self-employed positions, including so-called ‘gig economy’ workers fare the worst, with real wages falling 26 percent in the last five years.

“There are one million more Australians in work than there were when we were elected,” boast con-artists Turnbull and Morrison. No hint that our adult population has grown by 1.4 million in that time. One million jobs is inadequate. An endlessly-repeated hollow boast; the lie has sadly now by dint of repetition become accepted as a Coalition success.

The Australian Financial Review’s Michael Stutchbury appears on ABC Insiders, Sunday, to cheer on the government’s fantasy employment boom although he does get a rise out of News.com.au’s Malcolm Farr when Stutchbury smugly dismisses workers on low wages as “whingers”. Bugger the facts. Everyone is fabulously well-paid at bullshit castle.

Everyone gets a share of our national magic pudding featured in ScoMo and Co’s big show this week. Even his PowerPoint tables groan under the weight of his porky-pies. In a feast of aspirational mind-setting, the treasurer flogs a drop-dead gorgeous set of figures. And takes credit. Our hero is on a mission to ease our “tax burden”.

Like a favourite footy team, homespun metaphor-king Morrison, the Malcolm Roberts of economics, bellows, Australia has “climbed back to the top of the global leaderboard”, growing faster than all seven of the biggest rich countries.”

No. ScoMo our economy only looks as if its growing faster because our population is growing faster.

None of ScoMo’s boast is true. Above all, it is impossible to measure our economy from quarter to quarter. Such is the faith-based fervour a Neoliberal government invests in anything to do with the economy – it’s heresy to dispute ScoMo’s misrepresentation of what’s caused the GDP to become a bigger, sexier figure. Or whether it really has changed.

Ross Gittins in Fairfax points out that for the last two years we’ve endured implausibly weak figures on quarter and implausibly strong the next. The only possible meaning lies in the trend. And even jobs are now 600 a day.

Nor dare anyone dare challenge the Prophet of Trickle Down’s wilful distortion of tax bad; cuts good. Or the tax burden.

Tax burden? Taxes are only a burden if you don’t want roads or schools or hospitals. Spare us your second-hand Tea Party evangelism about burdens, ScoMo. The Treasurer runs into a spot of bother when reporters ask him to comment on how women will do three times worse out his proposed personal tax cuts than men. With a well-practised display of confected anger, he trivialises the issue and patronises all with a quip about tax forms not being in pink and blue.

Job done. Journos are silenced. GDP’s making whoopee and we’ll all be on easy (Ramsay?) street on the back of mining exports; a random figure plucked out for show which looks good only because of government spending on health and its NDIS cock-up. GDP is there to remind us that what matters often doesn’t count and what counts often doesn’t matter.

In other fabulous news, a quixotic Craig Kelly jumps on his high horse and rides off in all directions in search of traitors.

‘Leftist academics’ not only hate ‘Western civilisation’, but they ‘have a dislike of our nation, that is simply why they do not want this course’ blue tie Liberal MP Craig Kelly rants. A grateful nation gives thanks for our heroic monocultural warrior’s wake-up call. Fifth columnists infest our universities. Gays. Feminists. Environmentalists. Cultural Marxists.

Our way of life is at risk. Luckily the anti-government Jihadists at the ABC has been fixed. Mitch Fifield, who sees no conflict between his membership of an IPA dedicated to closing down our public broadcaster and his role as Minister for Communications, has helped his Coalition cut $254 million in funds and cull 600 staff members since 2013.

Complaints have been stepped up in the meantime as resources have been denied in a bastardisation strategy. Fifield slams Barrie Cassidy, ABC Insiders’, genial host with the gentle question technique for allowing Andrew Probyn together with ring-ins Phil Coorey and Mark Kenny, who work for other media, to repeat the “Labor lie” that the Super Saturday by elections date was chosen in an act of political bastardry to conflict with Labor’s National Conference.

Laura Tingle opines that the ABC has morphed from being a perennial political whipping-boy to an election issue in its own right. Some tip an early election to be timed to start with disgraced former HSU head and Coalition model unionist Kathy Jackson’s trial but she may not go before a jury until 2019 given the backlog of trials before the County Court.

Cutting the funding and staffing the ABC needs to do its job while complaining about its performance, is a great way to bully our public broadcaster into submission. But even a government cheerleader can’t get out all the good news.

Christian Porter, the poor man’s George Brandis, urges the nation to get behind the government’s latest attempt to turn the nation into a police state, in its Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill which has nothing to do with foreigners interfering and everything to do with the Turnbull government’s obsession with secrecy.

While Porter screams urgency, it should be remembered that in 2009 it was the Coalition which blocked Labor’s attempts to ban the most direct form of foreign interference, foreign political donations.

It’s an “egregious, blatant breach of the democratic rights and civil liberties of Australia” says GetUp!’s legal director, Alice Drury. Porter’s bill is not about foreign influence it’s about increasing government secrecy laws.

Some of the excesses of George Brandis’ original gonzo legislation remain in the proposed new legislation. Bernard Keane sums up. Whistle-blowers remain unprotected but must go through the labyrinthine APS processes laid down by internal whistle-blower laws.

Worse, you can still be prosecuted for viewing, sharing and republishing Wikileaks-style leaked governments documents unless you can prove you believed the information would not “cause harm to Australia’s interests” and non-journalists who receive or use information can still be prosecuted.

Above all it is a move to silence dissent. GetUp! believes it will be forced to declare it is not independent when its grassroots effectiveness is entirely based on “people power” through the digital and social media revolution with crowdfunding campaigns like marriage equality and opposition to the Adani Carmichael export coal mine in Queensland.

The Turnbull government may say it wants a Ramsay Centre to perpetuate Western Civilisation yet beneath the rhetoric is the desire to promulgate propaganda to support the conservative cause and perpetuate the blue tie ruling elite.

In other ways, also its actions betray a police state agenda. Anyone may soon expect to be asked for their “papers please” at an airport. Your private information can be leaked to damage your credibility if you dare to criticise a government department such as the DHS.

Add growing draconian surveillance laws and factor in the ongoing mistreatment of Witness K a former ASIS agent who revealed ASIS’ illegal bugging of the East Timorese government in 2004 for the benefit of Australian resources companies and you have a brave new Australia that a visitor from 2013 would barely recognise.

Yet with the nobbling of the ABC’s independence and culture warriors such as Abbott and Howard actively undermining the foundations of a free, open and democratic it looks like nothing but blue ties from now on.

Unless, of course, the blue ties have already overplayed their hand and gravely underestimate the power of grass-roots opposition and the average Australian’s capacity to see right through the blue ties’ lies, the spin, the evasions and diversions.

The Gospel According To Wind And Sun!

Lyle Shelton is planning to join the ranks of politicians by standing for the Australian Conservatives. As his leader, Cory Bernardi, told us, “Lyle brings a wealth of political and campaign experience having headed up the no campaign last year that saw millions of Australians stand up against political correctness.”

Now, I would have thought that running one losing campaign doesn’t constitute a wealth of experience. But then I also thought those voting “No” against marriage equality were voting against the idea of same sex marriage. Apparently not. They were voting against “political correctness”.

The anti-PC brigade has always confused me. On one hand, they argue that it’s stifling free speech and people should be allowed to say what they like. On the other, they argue that people shouldn’t be allowed to criticise people who are making statements that are “politically incorrect”. Apparently, I should be allowed to call you names but if you say that I’m offending you, you shouldn’t be allowed to speak.

Similarly, I find Shelton’s latest tweet a little perplexing:

Apart from the inconsistency of someone standing for Australian Conservatives using the American “sidewalk”, I find the concept of “counselling” a rather euphemistic term. Are these people trained counsellors who will be helping people clarify their thoughts about a pregnancy? Or will is there another agenda? After all, Lyle suggests that the “counselling” is “life-saving” which tends to suggest that it’s not going to end with: “Well, so long as you’re happy you’ve made the right decision. Good luck with the procedure!”

Of course, we could accept Shelton at his word and agree that respectful free speech and counselling should be allowed everywhere. For example, while I’m not a member of the “radical Greens left”, I am one of those who thinks that we should be doing something to help save mankind…

I specifically didn’t say “save the planet” because I suspect that the planet doesn’t need saving. It’s the humans – and a few other species – that’ll be wiped out. The planet will continue just fine and the cockroaches will adapt and become the rulers of the earth.  Although, some may argue that the cockroaches have already taken over…

Ok, that may be a little controversial. And not just because I said “mankind” which is politically incorrect.

Anyway, Lyle has tweeted in the past that he intends to be “relentless against the Green religion”.

So, if being Green is a religion, well, I may not qualify as one its acolytes. However, if we take Lyle at his word, then maybe all those attending churches, synagogues and mosques are in need of some intervention. After all, standing outside as people attend and trying to give them life-saving sidewalk counselling could be considered in their best interests.

I’m not advocating harassment or bullying. Just respectful singing of “Kumba Ya”, “We Will Not Be Moved” and “Jesus Had Two Fathers And He Was OK”, as well as the odd bit of respectful free speech where they call out to Lyle telling him that he’ll burn in hell for his refusal to embrace Green ideology.

Surely he’d have no problem with that. Surely he’d consider any attempt to stop it just as unfair as the exclusion zones around abortion clinics.

 

Elite Atrocities: Australia’s Special Forces in Afghanistan

“Further into the Afghanistan mission, after multiple deployments, soldiers began to refer to members going ‘up the Congo’.” (Chris Masters, The Sydney Morning Herald, Jun 9, 2018).

They operate with impunity in areas already deemed lawless by their civilising superiors. Afghanistan, derided as a country of anarchic sensibilities, was never going to be a place for those abiding by armchair rules. Whether it was the Soviet army engaged in strafing operations indifferent to combatant and civilian, or those subsequent intruders of the Global War on Terror – the forces of the US-led International Security Assistance Force and associated allies – the complement of atrocities was only set to grow.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Curt, Fatou Bensouda, has had an eye on Afghanistan for some time for that very reason. In 2016, she claimed in a report that, “Members of US armed forces appear to have subjected at least 61 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity on the territory of Afghanistan between 1 May 2003 and 31 December 2014.”

The Central Intelligence Agency was not to be left out sulking on the side, with Bensouda suggesting that 27 detainees in Afghanistan, Poland, Romania and Lithuania had been subjected to “torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity and/or rape” between December 2002 and March 2008. A true smorgasbord of violence.

In November 2017, Bensouda concluded, after a seemingly interminable preliminary process, “that all legal criteria required under the Rome statute [of the ICC] to commence an investigation have been met”. The investigation specifically into the conduct of forces in Afghanistan, she suggested, would cover the alleged perpetration of crimes against humanity including murder, targeting humanitarian workers, and summary executions.

Afghanistan has again become the site of interest for the maligned side of human nature, this time from the Australian angle. The weekend began with Canberra in a tizz over allegations that Australia’s special forces have committed war crimes since commencing operations in 2001.

On Friday, Fairfax Media revealed certain contents of a report written by Defence Department consultant Dr Samantha Crompvoets in 2016 alleging the commission of such crimes suggesting a “complete lack of accountability”. It had been instigated at the behest of the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF) examining “rumours … [of] possible breaches of the Laws of Armed Conflict by members of the ADF in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016”.

Various “unsanctioned and illegal” applications of “violence in operations” entailing a “disregard for human life and dignity” had purportedly taken place. There were “allusions to behaviour and practices involving abuse of drugs and alcohol” peppered with instances of “domestic violence”.

The report by Crompvoets points to “problems deeply embedded in the culture” of the Special Operations Command. The account of one interviewee is studded with suggestion though little detail. “I know there were over the last 15 years some horrendous things. Some just disgraceful things happened in Kabul … very bad news, or just inappropriate behaviour, but it was pretty much kept under wraps.”

A central theme emerges here: ignorance in central command and amongst the civilians at the helm. Unvarnished, necessary, practised, Australia’s national security remains detached from an understanding of its elite, anointed arm which does its best to keep bloody in conditions of utmost secrecy. Such ignorance extends to matters of “mentality” and the logistical makeup of the Special Air Service Regiment itself and the Commandos.

Chris Masters has tailed the culture of the SASR for some time, being himself “embedded” within the organisation in Afghanistan that yielded No Front Line – Australia’s Special Forces at war in Afghanistan. “The long deployment to Afghanistan had worn at the character of some members, who were beginning to act as a law unto themselves.” Such are the ugly disfigurements produced by small, endless wars.

Evidence would be planted on the dead to throw off beady-eyed investigators; detainees would be slaughtered in acts of “competitive killing” to prevent the endless questioning that awaited them back at base. By 2010, the butcher’s bill for Oruzgan province, euphemised by the term EKIA (enemies killed in action) had become so lengthy as to raise eyebrows back amongst the paper shufflers in Kabul.

The report has produced its own precipitate in the form of another inquiry, this time fronted by Australia’s judicial arm. A dozen or so men of the Special Air Service Regiment have been subject to lengthy periods of questioning by New South Wales Supreme Court Justice Paul Brereton.

Concern of this ugliness is tempered with well-seeded praise. “The SAS is in my electorate,” Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop took care to point out, “they are regarded as some of the finest men prepared to put their life on the line in conflict situations to defend us and our freedoms, they are one of the finest fighting forces in the world.”

The opposition minister for defence, Richard Marles, was similarly tiptoeing with a pseudo-psychologist’s hat, wanting a killing force that was doing its bit in accordance with decency. “Our soldiers, particularly our special forces, work in difficult and complex environments. It’s important that we know, as a country, that they’re doing it in a professional and legal way.”

Elite forces trained to liquidate their opponents with ruthlessness do not suggest law book observers and the scrupulous reading of statutes. Their very existence is owed to being unorthodox, to operate outside convention in contempt of local rules and the encumbrances of red tape.

The issue, as ever, is not their operational doctrine so much as the political masters who put them there, inspired by fatuous assessments of what the defence of freedom might look like. The crimes will happen, but the mandate to do so will always come from high and farther afield, those tut tutting types back in the bureaucracy who insist that small wars in vaguely defined theatres are necessary for the national interest.

Day to Day Politics: We badly need a change in government

Saturday 9 June 2018

We are in a post “World financial crisis” period where people have come to realise that it was greed and lack of regulation that caused years of suffering from recession, country to country.

Australia didn’t suffer as much because our government with foresight acted quickly. Only today with recovery imminent do conservative politicians dare mention the GFC. When at its most destructive they said it never existed.

Nevertheless, good things are starting to happen. Economies are picking up and employment is getting better. However, we have been left with a set of problems that are not solvable with traditional conservative economic remedies.

Before moving on we should at first visit our economic boom under the Howard/Costello Governments. Richard Dennis in the latest “Quarterly Essay” has a lot to say on this subject.

“Australia just experienced one of the biggest mining booms in world history. But even at the peak of that boom, there was no talk of the wonderful opportunity we finally had to invest in world-class mental health or domestic violence crisis services.”

 “Nor was there much talk from either major party about how the wealth of the mining boom gave us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in remote Indigenous communities. Nope, the peak of the mining boom was not the time to help those who had missed out in decades past, but the Howard government thought it was a great time to introduce permanent tax cuts for high-income earners. These, of course, are the tax cuts that caused the budget deficits we have today.”

 “Australia isn’t poor; it is rich beyond the imagining of anyone living in the 1970s or 80s. But so much of that new wealth has been vacuumed up by a few, and so little of that new wealth has been paid in tax, that the public has been convinced that ours is a country struggling to pay its bills.

Convincing Australians that our nation is poor and that our governments “can’t afford” to provide the level of services they provided in the past has not just helped to lower our expectations of our public services and infrastructure, it has helped to lower our expectations of democracy itself. A public school in Sydney has had to ban kids from running in the playground because it was so overcrowded. Trains have become so crowded at peak hours that many people, especially the frail and the disabled, are reluctant to use them. And those who have lost their jobs now wait for hours on the phone when they reach out to Centrelink for help.”

 

In essence Dennis is painting a picture of how different Australia might be now had the riches from the boom been spent on infrastructure and services like health and education instead of spending it on tax cuts to secure peoples votes at the next election.

The Neo-Conservatives of today have failed to catch onto the fact that those in the real world are in the early stages of revolt. Even those who benefited from Howard’s tax cuts have come to realise the injustice of it all. That Australia, for all its wealth and riches, was looking after the rich and privileged and that it’s those very same people they intend to reward again with the money of the less fortunate.

Richard Dennis again:

“Although people with low expectations are easier to con, fomenting cynicism about democracy comes at a long-term cost. Indeed, as the current crop of politicians is beginning to discover, people with low expectations feel they have nothing to lose. 

As more and more people live with the poverty and job insecurity that flow directly from neoliberal welfare and industrial relations policies, the scare campaigns run so successfully by the likes of the Business Council of Australia have lost their sting. Scary stories about the economy become like car alarms: once they attracted attention, but now they simply annoy those forced to listen.’

 

The reason I’m writing all this is because conservative governments have broken so much of the fabric of our society, destroying our democracy along the way while neglecting how humanity functions. It needs fixing, and it needs to be done quickly.

The ethics of health care often lags behind the benefits of technological advancement because it encroaches on old religious beliefs or mysticism. Rapid change brings with it the need for new rules and regulation that question traditional values and concepts.

So, I ask myself which of the major political parties is more qualified to embrace change, implement it, and legislate it. And do so with the common good as a guiding principle.

By scrutinising the historic social reforms of both of Australia’s major parties and comparing them we can determine who is best qualified to take us through this ongoing period of change and the political, social and economic reforms necessary.

The left side of Australian politics has implemented the following reforms or policies that have directly contributed to change for the better:

A National Health Scheme, a National Disability scheme, compulsory superannuation, a National Broadband Network, Paid Parental leave, major educational reforms, a price on carbon, equal pay for women, the Aged Pension, Mabo and the Apology, and of course the Hawke – Keating major economic reforms that have given the country 24 years of continuous growth.

It has never been afraid of change.

The right side of politics has implemented the following:

The Howard gun buy back, the GST that benefitted the rich, an increase in immigration after the Second World War and Harold Holt introduced a bi-partisan referendum that gave indigenous people the right to vote in 1967.

And there I have to stop. The Liberal Party website sets out a comprehensive list of “Achievements in Government” and they are achievements as opposed to major policy reforms.

In a world where science, technology and the availability of information progresses so quickly change sometimes disregards opinion and becomes a phenomenon of its own making, with its own inevitability.

Conservatives oppose change and are wary of science and intellectualism, as was demonstrated by the Abbott Government.

They seem locked in a world that no longer exists without any comprehension of how much the world has progressed. Remember Abbott wanted to destroy the internet.

They believe in traditional values (whatever they are) without recognising the historical elasticity of society. That change is inevitable. We are governed by rules and regulations. It is the only way change can be civilised and cohesive.

Leaving individuals to pursue their goals without the infrastructure society provides and allowing Capitalism to go on unregulated can only lead to disaster. A society that has change for the common good at its heart can only be attained with conventions, guidelines, systems, laws, policies, instructions and procedures.

Whilst the central argument of conservative philosophy empathies, and overtly supports the rights of the individual it can never initiate the reformist zeal for change like the left.

I have concluded that a society facing the changes confronting us can only achieve worthwhile change under the umbrella of a social democratic philosophy.

An ideology that believes in equality of opportunity, an equitable share of the country’s wealth, individual rights and liberties within a societal framework that guarantees that no one left in need. Where government solves the problems of change with the participation of all that have a vested interest in it.

Change that only serves the secular interests of the rich and privileged is change doomed to fail. Every facet of society including the democratic process needs constant and thoughtful renewal and change. Otherwise we become so trapped in the longevity of sameness that we never see better ways of doing things.

My thought for the day

“I think acceptance and embracement of change is one key aspect of what we try to define as wisdom.”

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