Archive for June, 2012

Mental asylum: on refugee processing and protections

There have been two undeniable tragedies over the past few days as two boats carrying asylum-seekers have capsized en route from Indonesia to Australia (fortunately, the latest one seems to have been rescued fairly effectively and the loss of life was far less, although there was still one dead and three still missing). As most readers would know, this has re-sparked the gigantic debate about Australia’s asylum-seeker policy – which has reached a fervour not seen since… the last time this happened.

There seems to be consensus that the government has to “do something” to “stop the boats”. Just what that means exactly is under fierce debate. There are three main options being pushed, so I figured that I would summarise these for all you lovely people and then give some quick thoughts on the right way to go.

1. The “Pacific Solution”

This is the Liberal Party’s pet policy – they want to replicate what was done under then Prime Minister John Howard and then Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock. This solution is designed to provide strong disincentives for people to attempt to reach Australia by boat.

It’s kind of a two-pronged assault. Firstly, anyone who arrives in Australia unlawfully and then claims asylum will be given a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) – meaning that they are permitted to remain in Australia until it is no longer dangerous for them to be in their country of origin, at which time they will be deported “home”. This is supplemented by opening an Australian-administered asylum-seeker detention centre on a tiny Pacific atoll called Nauru, so that no one who tries to reach Australia unlawfully by boat will actually reach Australia and there are no guarantees of ever getting there.

2. The “open arms” solution

I call it that with my tongue in my cheek. This is the line being pushed by the Greens and various “refugee advocates”. At its core, the argument is that any form of offshore processing of refugees is cruel and so we should process them all in Australia and let them into the community as soon as possible.

Typically, for the people who are advocating it at least, this is a very nice and well-meaning policy but is a little detached from reality and would create huge problems if put into practise. The biggest problem is that, contrary to this narrative, not all “boat people” are just really nice, desperate people who are fleeing horrible persecution to make a contribution to our great, multicultural nation. Some of them are that, but some aren’t. In fact, the easier it seems that it is to get into Australia, the more likely it is that people who are not genuine refugees will come over.

Once someone destroys their travel documents (as these “boat people” are want to do), it is very difficult to figure out exactly who they are. This results in a small but significant number of these asylum seekers fleeing not persecution for their race, religion or politics, but for their involvement in organised crime – or even terrorism. Ignoring that element of them is dangerous, it would take just one bomb on a major piece of infrastructure and the public reaction would mean that our borders are sealed permanently (not to mention the horrible loss of life that it would inevitably entail).

3. The “Malaysia Clusterfuck Solution

This was the brainchild of the Gillard Labor government and requires a little background. The most important thing to know is that the Pacific Solution worked – boats had essentially stopped coming in 2007 when Kevin Rudd was elected Prime Minister. The new ALP government then set-about dismantling the Howard/Ruddock policies, which they had been calling “inhumane” for years, and boats promptly began coming again and have been increasing ever since.

When running for the 2010 election, Julia Gillard – aware of the political difficulty that these boatloads of asylum seekers presented for her government – announced an “East Timor Solution”. This claimed to provide the same effect as the Pacific Solution, but was supposed to be somehow different because East Timor is a signatory to the Refugee Convention (a weak argument as the Nauru centre was Australian-administered, so it was not really material whether or not Nauru had signed the Convention). Regardless, it transpired that Gillard had not seen fit to run this little idea past, you know, the East Timorese. Suffice to say it didn’t go very far.

After East Timor collapsed, the government was desperate for a solution and began floundering. They then had the genius idea of announcing that they would negotiate a solution with Malaysia after they approached Malaysia, but before they had actually negotiated a solution. Malaysia was calling all the shots and they knew it, so they eventually agreed on a kind of asylum-seeker trade: they send 4,000 Burmese Christians in exchange for 800 (presumably) Iranian and Afghani Muslims from Australia. They hate Christians, we hate Muslims, everybody wins.

After the huge outcry in Australia regarding the way refugees are treated in Malaysia (let’s just say that it involved caning of bare buttocks), the government did get Malaysia – not a signatory to the Refugee Convention – to agree to respect the refugees’ rights. In an explicitly non-binding agreement.

Problem for the government was that the Convention is annexed to the Migration Act and explicitly referred to in the provisions allowing asylum-seekers to be processed offshore, so the High Court ruled that the decision to implement the Malaysia Solution was not made according to the power conferred on Chris Bowen, the Immigration Minister, which requires that the rights and protections of refugees under the Convention are respected. The government then tried to remove these protections, but this was (thankfully) blocked by pretty much everyone else in Parliament.

Offshore in general

So here comes the real analysis (woohoo!). The most common argument against offshore processing (chiefly the Pacific Solution) is that it made no real difference and the number of unlawful arrivals in Australia is just a reflection of global trends (see, eg, this). This claim has absolutely no basis in any fact or evidence. The numbers speak for themselves really. Consider this table first from the Australian Parliament:

Year No arrivals
1999 3721
2000 2939
2001 5516
2002 1
2003 53
2004 15
2005 11
2006 60
2007 148
2008 161
2009 2726
2010 6555
2011 4565

Now, look at this table from the UNHCR:

Share of main receiving countries of asylumseekers in total number of applications

Countries 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
United States 15% 13% 13% 15% 17%
France 9% 9% 11% 13% 12%
Germany 6% 6% 7% 11% 10%
Italy 4% 8% 5% 3% 8%
Sweden 11% 6% 6% 9% 7%
Belgium 3% 3% 5% 6% 6%
United Kingdom 8% 8% 8% 6% 6%
Canada 8% 10% 9% 6% 6%
Switzerland 3% 4% 4% 4% 4%
Turkey 2% 3% 2% 3% 4%
Austria 4% 3% 4% 3% 3%
Netherlands 2% 4% 4% 4% 3%
Australia 1% 1% 2% 3% 3%
Greece 8% 5% 4% 3% 2%
Norway 2% 4% 5% 3% 2%

That is very clear evidence that Australia’s number of asylum seekers has not been keeping up with global trends. To the contrary, the number of asylum claims in Australia relative to the rest of the world has tripled since 2007. I don’t need to bother with more sophisticated statistics (although many have), anyone who looks at that data without blind bias can see that something made Australia far more attractive to asylum seekers in 2007 than it had been before.

On the other hand

I now have to write what is possibly the most difficult thing that I have ever written on this site.

Here goes…

Greens leader Christine Milne has a point.

Australia takes a negligible number of asylum seekers from Indonesia and Malaysia (somewhere in the neighbourhood of 60p/a) – the two sources of these boats. Both of these countries are not good places for refugees and in Malaysia they are actually persecuted, meaning that they still have refugee status and (as mentioned before) it is illegal to deport any refugee back there.

Disincentivising the journey is all very well, however it will not work so long as the incentive to come is still stronger. The refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia know that they have almost no hope of ever being resettled, they cannot go home and they cannot stay where they are. Getting on a boat is their only hope and while that remains true, they will continue to come.

The solution requires that incentive to be changed as well. Australia needs to substantially increase the number of refugees that we take from Malasia and Indonesia, it’s as simple as that. Once we are taking several thousand a year, they will know that they would probably make it here eventually if need be and the UNHCR camps would look more appealing than our detention centres.

To summarise

Given all of the above, here is the ideal solution in my opinion:

Combine the Pacific Solution and the surprisingly lucid Milne solution. Have a processing centre on Nauru (which, by the way, does great things for the impoverished island nation as well) but also commit to taking a few thousand asylum seekers from Indonesia and Malaysia each year. It will make the boat journeys seem unappealing while providing another option for the truly desperate people in Indonesia and Malaysia.

And no deportation to Malaysia. I was almost throwing my iPad against the wall this morning while Gillard was on it trying to sell that solution as though it is really the humanitarian thing to do. She was advocating for the removal of all the refugee rights under the Convention as ratified in Australian legislation, simple as that. It is disgraceful and inhumane – no amount of spin will change that. The principle of non-refoulement lies at the very core of the refugee framework, which means that you cannot deport someone fleeing persecution to a place where they will still be persecuted. According to Gillard and Bowen, refoulement is the humane choice. Go figure…

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Threat to press freedom: it’s not Rinehart, it’s the Greens and the ALP

Part II of my comments on the Gina Rinehart saga, this time focussing on press freedom. The first one, focusing on her as a female business leader, can be found HERE.

GINA RINEHART has bought 20% of the shares of Fairfax and is demanding three seats on the board. Listening to the way some people are talking about this, you could not be blamed for thinking that press freedom is over in Australia. To refute that claim, I would first like to juxtapose the following. First, a quote from our esteemed Foreign Minister Bob Carr and one of his colleagues in the Senate:

Greens seek laws to block Gina Rinehart | The Australian.

“We’re not being coy or raising this in the abstract — it’s about whether it’s in the public interest for a change of control to occur at Fairfax,” [Greens] Senator [Scott] Ludlam said. … “People seem to be frozen in the headlights,” he said. “I think it’s important we take action rather than wring our hands and let the market take it where it will.”

His comments came as Foreign Minister Bob Carr entered the media ownership debate, warning that a Rinehart takeover of Fairfax would “degrade” the quality of the publisher’s mastheads.

“I think Australians would be entitled to be very, very concerned. I think it would be impossible to separate her position as a controlling influence on the board, if it comes to that, a controlling influence, from the way the paper behaves,” he said. “The independence of Fairfax, which has been its glory, its boast, its pride, would be diminished.”

Second, something that a Pakistani journalist wrote a year ago (read the full story, it’s very good):

Pakistani Journalists, Dying to Tell the Story – NYTimes.com.

WE have buried another journalist. Syed Saleem Shahzad, an investigative reporter for Asia Times Online, has paid the ultimate price for telling truths that the authorities didn’t want people to hear. He disappeared a few days after writing an article alleging that Al Qaeda elements had penetrated Pakistan’s navy and that a military crackdown on them had precipitated the May 22 terrorist attack on a Karachi naval base. His death has left Pakistani journalists shaken and filled with despair.

And third, a news report from earlier in the week:

NGO fears for missing Iraqi-Kurd… JPost – Iranian Threat – News.

An Iranian journalist who advocates ties between Israelis and Kurds has been missing for 11 days, NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Wednesday, expressing concern for his safety.

“We fear the worst and we urge the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government’s authorities to do everything possible to find Mawlud Afand,” the group said. “And we therefore call for an immediate investigation into this journalist’s disappearance.”

NOW I would like to take a second to ruminate on the freedom of the press. The freedom to express any view is possibly the most  important aspect of any democracy. Without the ability to make an informed choice based on accurate information, “democracy” is meaningless – you can vote, but you have no idea who or what you are voting for. The press play a vital role in scrutinising the government and reporting on its activities to the general population, as well as conveying the discussion and debate surrounding ideas in public life.

There are, however, some justifiable limits to free expression. For example, it is illegal to say or do something that encourages another person to commit a criminal act. Preserving the “glory” of a media company that is about to go insolvent, however, is not a justifiable reason to begin limiting the freedom of expression.

Fairfax is going out of business. That is extremely important and seems to have been entirely ignored by the ALP and the Greens. At the current rate, there will be no more fairfax in a decade. When people express concern at Rinehart’s control of Fairfax, they really only care about the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. The lamentations for our society’s debate are coming from a particular kind of inner-city elite that doesn’t generally listen to Fairfax radio (or anything that’s not the ABC) and certainly does not read any of its rural papers.

The Age and the Herald are not making any money. They have lost their revenue from classified ads and have suddenly discovered that no one actually wants to pay for their articles. They are now going to tabloid format and anticipating being phased-out completely, as well as firing all their senior editorial staff and cutting 1,900 other staff members – and that’s without Rinehart. Why is that? I think the Australian said it best:

Fairfax papers must speak to mainstream Australia | The Australian.

The myopia that predominates at Fairfax has seen its broadsheets cater, almost exclusively, to a conclave of left-leaning professionals, public servants and activists situated in inner-city Sydney and Melbourne. Rarely do they report on the shift of economic power to the north and the west of the country. They do not understand the mining boom and ridicule the idea of workers from the states in which they publish chasing the opportunity to work in the most dynamic area of the economy. Their reporting of Aboriginal Australia is confined to Redfern or St Kilda rather than exploring the important stories that can be found across the continent. Too often they focus on inner-city anti-development protests rather than life in the sprawling suburbs where most people live. A cafe opening in Western Sydney that serves “good coffee” is considered a novelty. They editorialise in favour of the latest fads and praise the Greens, who, the Herald argued, had inherited the “mantle of leadership in progressive politics”. Both papers usually champion negativity, embrace a culture of complaint, oppose economic progress and push the limits of social reform. They have missed most of the major political stories in recent years, such as the discontent over the resource super-profits tax or the lead-up to the coup that felled Kevin Rudd’s prime ministership.

Simply put, Fairfax in its current form is not a viable business and it has to radically transform or perish.

RINEHART, HOWEVER, has spent somewhere in the region of $200mln on Fairfax shares. That, to Fairfax, was a sorely needed cash injection. Fairfax shares have dropped from over $5 in 2007 to around $0.60 today, who knows where they would be without Rinehart? She bought the company valuable time and could potentially have kept it afloat.

Think about that. Fairfax’s metropolitan papers’ current editorial policy is beloved by the kinds of people currently in power (left-leaning, highly educated, wealthy, inner-city elites) but not popular enough amongst Australians in general for them to actually buy any papers. Rinehart is investing heavily in this company and would therefore benefit from the company becoming profitable and would have a duty to prevent the company from going insolvent. She is being asked to commit to having no say over the editorial policy whatsoever. That seems absurd.

It is natural that a person who holds 20% of a company should have some representation on the board – after all, the company’s success is her interest. Fairfax’s main product is determined by its editorial policy, so the board should have a say in what that is and how it is produced. No company directors could sit by and watch their company continue to produce a highly unprofitable product – this is actually a breach of their duty as company directors. They have a right, and indeed a duty, to prevent this.

WHICH LEADS me to another point: Rinehart has a multi-billion dollar mining company to run, she’s not exactly going to be spending her days in the Herald newsroom commissioning articles and reprimanding disobedient journalists. I also very much doubt that she will be going through each edition before it goes to print and vetting every article. The actual degree of editorial control she can/will exercise is highly questionable, especially as certain columnists, editors and correspondents are strongly entrenched in Fairfax and are key selling-points. I very much doubt that the Fairfax opinion writers can effectively be “silenced” by Rinehart – more likely, they would jump ship.

Therein lies the most important point, which is also worth putting in bold: no one is being forced to buy Fairfax papers. Who cares if they become glorified mouthpieces for Hancock Prospecting? The audience will move on. From where I sit, there is no shortage of aspiring journalists or new media outlets. The media is probably less monopolised now than it has ever been before.

If the Age and the Herald go the way that the ALP/Greens are predicting, their current writers and editors will find work elsewhere and their audience will follow. The Fairfax papers would never be able to compete with the News Ltd papers in the right-wing tabloid market, so they would become completely unviable and would probably be shut down.

THE REAL threat to freedom of the press comes not from Gina Rinehart. As a result of the Rinehart bid, both the Greens and the ALP are advocating some kind of “fit and proper person” test to be implemented for someone to control a media company. Essentially, they are making it illegal for Rinehart to control Fairfax because they don’t like her views.

That is blatant government censorship. Who the hell gave Stephen Conroy the right to choose who can and cannot own press outlets? The people who can decide whether or not Gina Rinehart’s views are worth listening to are those who opt to buy her papers, not our elected representatives. It’s not exactly like having some influence over Fairfax would be tantamount to a media monopoly, there are still plenty of outlets out there to vilify Rinehart (the ABC is going nowhere, so we can hear about how fat, ugly and greedy she is for the next decade).

This is complete government overreach. This is an open assault on our democracy. This is putting into place a system whereby the government can prevent anyone who disagrees with them from having a podium to express their discontent. The problem in Pakistan and Iraq is not that the “wrong” people own the media, it’s that the government is intervening to prevent people from expressing anti-government views. Sure, this legislation is not the same as journalists disappearing and turning-up dead, but it is symptomatic of the same kind of thinking: that “we are unpopular, but we are right and we are in power, so we can stop them from talking because they’re wrong”.

That is extremely dangerous. Australians need to wake up and see where the real threat is.

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World’s gone mad and it don’t seem right

I sleep in a little on one Sunday morning and everything’s gone crazy.

1. Vandalising in the name of “social justice”

From what I gather, some of the “social justice protesters” in Tel Aviv from last year tried to put up tents in Rothschild Blvd again, but were arrested as the government didn’t want the whole of central Tel Aviv to shut down for a second year in a row. This sparked a whole new protest, which blocked Ibn Gvirol and marched south, joining-up with some kind of anti-homophobia protest.

At some point, the whole thing went out of control and the protesters started just smashing things. The police responded with what has been alleged to have been “police brutality”. It’s hard to tell either way, but I can say this: breaking into and smashing-up banks is not a good way to defend “social justice” or to get any kind of point across.

Haaretz report HERE, more photos HERE.

2. Flare-up around Gaza

There has been another of what are becoming routine flare-ups in violence around the border between Gaza and Israel. Jerusalem Post reporter Yaakov Katz even argues that this one is half-hearted compared to the last ones.

It is a very sad state-of-affairs that this kind of language can be used about an incident that has killed 14 Palestinians so far and has forced a million Israelis to be living in bomb shelters for a week, with rockets seriously damaging a school in Sderot, amongst other things.

However, I have heard reports privately that the IDF General Staff has been pulling all-night meetings and could be planning another large-scale Gaza incursion. That is not going to be fun for anyone, but may be necessary in order to stop these perpetual flare-ups. I’m not sure which is the bigger evil, in all honesty.

That brings me to…

3. Third Intifada

Nathan Thrall argued in the New York Times Sunday Review that a third intifada is inevitable. For some reason, this was released online on Friday, but it has caused a stir amongst a lot of analysts who accuse Thrall of actually supporting the idea.

One point that has been repeatedly made is that another intifada would pose little real threat to Israel, but could well unseat the current Palestinian leadership (not a bad outcome IMO). Fatah and Hamas know this, so they have been doing everything they can to avoid it and to keep their peoples’ attention on Israel.

There also seems to be a threat from within that is coming to unseat Mahmoud Abbas – Salaam Fayyad has just announced that he may challenge the Palestinian Authority presidency in the event that elections ever actually happen.

4. Egypt: the tale of two presidents

The results of Egypt’s presidential elections are rumoured to be coming any minute. This has not prevented both candidates announcing victory and the supporters of both holding huge, angry riots against each other.

Essentially, the country is polarised. Half hate the old regime candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, and half hate the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed  Moursi. Whoever wins, there will be mass dissatisfaction and possibly violence.

5. And the rest

I’m getting a little tired of writing out these short summaries, so to conclude: Sudan is exploding and Turkey is about to go to war with Syria over what was probably a stunt to prevent further Syrian airforce pilots defecting (shooting down a plane is a good way to do it).

Gotta love the Middle East.

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Women can’t have it all and neither can men

With extraordinary timing, just after last night’s post on high-powered career women, The Atlantic‘s July issue was released with a cover story addressing exactly that issue. In her essay, former director of policy planning for the US State Department Anne-Marie Slaughter  has given her treatise on why she left that dream job after just two years in order to be with her family and how society can change our expectations in order to better accommodate work-family balance.

I can’t do her argument justice, so please go and read the essay (it’s very important). There is, however, one point that I would like to focus on relating my post yesterday (my bold):

Magazine – Why Women Still Can’t Have It All – The Atlantic.

Still, the proposition that women can have high-powered careers as long as their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load equally (or disproportionately) assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them. In my experience, that is simply not the case.

This supposition is the issue. Slaughter does give evidence later that is closer to my perspective, however it does not seem to change her perception from what she has encountered in her “experience” (my bold):

To be sure, the women who do make it to the top are highly committed to their profession. On closer examination, however, it turns out that most of them have something else in common: they are genuine superwomen.

Seeking out a more balanced life is not a women’s issue; balance would be better for us all. Bronnie Ware, an Australian blogger who worked for years in palliative care and is the author of the 2011 book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, writes that the regret she heard most often was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” The second-most-common regret was “I wish I didn’t work so hard.” She writes: “This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship.” …

What I glean from this type of thing is the harm that is genuinely being done by gender-normative assumptions — not just to women, but to us men as well. The assumption here is that men won’t care about being away from their family and will naturally just spend more time working.

It seems that people have been extremely reluctant to acknowledge the sacrifices that men at the top actually make in order to be there. It could be that this phenomenon that we’re seeing is not a case of society having created top-jobs that women can’t do because women care about family too much. Maybe it’s a case of society having created top jobs that are extremely difficult, and the women who were born into the egalitarian era are just beginning to discover how true this is.

I am a little offended by this idea that it is something reasonable to expect of men, but unreasonable to expect of women. Even Slaughter here has made the assumption that the men around her were not hurting just as much about the fact that they weren’t spending time with their family.

Maybe the difference was not that she had some kind of inherent need that they didn’t feel — maybe it’s simply that it is more socially acceptable for her to make the decision to sacrifice career for family because, while she may be seen as “betraying her feminist principles”, she will not face the stigma that the men would of being “weak”, “not dedicated enough”, or — dare I say — “girly”.

Of course, evolutionary psychologists would disagree with this idealised view that human nature is so malleable and would argue that men and women really are wired that way. Even accepting this as true, the furthest that this argument can go is to say that most women on average will be inherently more likely to want to sacrifice their careers for their families than most men. There would still be countless men and women who do not fit this characterisation.

Men have, of course, become much more involved parents over the past couple of decades, and that, too, suggests broad support for big changes in the way we balance work and family. It is noteworthy that both James Steinberg, deputy secretary of state, and William Lynn, deputy secretary of defense, stepped down two years into the Obama administration so that they could spend more time with their children (for real).

Going forward, women would do well to frame work-family balance in terms of the broader social and economic issues that affect both women and men. After all, we have a new generation of young men who have been raised by full-time working mothers. Let us presume, as I do with my sons, that they will understand “supporting their families” to mean more than earning money.

I don’t see why this needs to be a “framing” issue. Why can’t we just accept that work-life balance is important for everyone? This idea that it’s a “feminist” fight immediately isolates anyone who does not define themselves that way. This is not about making work easier for women or men, it’s about strengthening families, improving peoples’ working lives and improving the wellbeing of parents and children.

And where are the Unions on this one? It seems a hell of a lot more important than keeping those damn foreigners from taking our jerbs.

That said, I will end with the point made here by Rod Dreher — who, as he describes in that post, is a man who sacrificed his career to spend more time with his family.

Slaughter is still hanging onto the 1960’s feminist dream that women can “have it all” and that is what her solutions are geared towards. Her solutions would definitely help with peoples’ work/family balance in general, however they would not allow women to “have it all”.

The unfortunate reality is that no one can ever have it all. It is impossible to do everything. There is no conceivable way that someone can work a 60-hour week and still have a huge amount of time with their families and there is no way that someone who works less than that can compare with someone who does work that much. At some point, everyone has to make a trade-off: some will choose their family, and some will choose their career. We can try to ease the conflicts as much as possible, but they will never go away completely.

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Gina Rinehart and how self-styled “progressives” are keeping the boardroom male

This is the first of two posts on Gina Rinehart,  resulting from a few debates that I have been having over the past few days, mostly on Facebook. The other one will consider her Fairfax bid and press freedom.

IN MY line of work, I get to spend quite a lot of time in high-level boardroom meetings with people who all sit on corporate boards. I also have a few relatives who have sat on various boards in their time and my extended networks include quite a number of others. This means that while am not on any corporate boards, I am not a stranger to them either.

I still remember the first time I was at one of said meetings and a female colleague muttered to me, “do you notice anything particularly… male about the room?” The truth was that I hadn’t. While I had definitely noticed that I was the youngest person in the room by at least a decade (two if you didn’t count her). Until she pointed it out to me, it did not occur to me that she was the only woman there.

That incident jolted me into awareness. Since then, I have been paying attention to the gender balance when I am in corporate settings and a lot of observations have struck me that anecdotally support the mountains of research showing that the boardroom is simply not a place for girls. Not once in the last couple of years have I ever seen anything that even comes close to gender balance. Several times, there have actually been no women present. I also find that the “higher-level” the meeting, the less women tend to be invited.

That said, there are other observations that I can make about people in boardrooms than merely their gender. They are generally very sure of themselves – often manifesting as arrogance, but always including a calm and confident demeanour. They are hard-working, ambitious and persistent to the point of obsession, they know what they want and they make it happen. They are uncompromising – they expect the best and will not accept anything less. They are often very blunt and straight-talking. They can be friendly and charming when they want to, but they can be aggressive and intimidating when they have to.

I note these things not as a criticism of the corporate world and certainly not as an affront to the people that I am writing about. I have a tremendous amount of respect for most of them, they work harder than anyone else I know and they do amazing and under-appreciated (if not under-paid) work, without which our society could not function.

I MENTIONED those character traits is because of a common thread running through them: they are generally “alpha male” traits, they are not things that women are “supposed” to be. Women are loving, conciliatory, family-oriented and selfless. Women are neurotic and emotional, they doubt themselves, they shut-down and cry when bad things happen and they panic when they are stressed. They are not confident, ambitious, persistent and aggressive. When shit hits the fan, they are the ones panicking and screaming, not the ones who take-charge – at least in most sitcoms. [UPDATE: as the comments show, apparently this paragraph was not interpreted correctly by everyone, so I need to give a disclaimer. The previous paragraph was not intended to be a true and accurate reflection of how all women behave, it was supposed to be illustrative of a stereotype.]

Again, I am not trying to say that it is a bad thing for someone to put others first, display their emotion and focus more on relationships than outcomes. I am trying to say that doing this is unlikely to get you ahead in the corporate world (or in other areas of public life). If you doubt yourself, the person who believes in themself will get the pay-rise or the promotion. If you shut-down and cry or panic, someone else will take charge. If you compromise, someone else won’t and they will have the better result in the end. Potential alone can only get you so far, there is not a lot of room at the top and to get there requires hard work, sacrifices and, above all, wanting to be there more than everyone else.

The public image of most successful women in Australia does not fit the stereotype of a high-powered Director. I say “public image” because, from my experience, the women who get to these positions do have most of these traits in private, but are able to create a persona that comes across as more “feminine” when they want to.

I refuse to believe that the corporate exec described above is actually gender-related. I know plenty of men who do not act like that. That character is simply how a person needs to act in order to reach the top of the corporate ladder – possibly the most competitive position anyone can aspire to reach (except maybe professional athlete). Other high-profile positions (rockstar, politician etc) require a huge amount of luck as well as hard work, becoming a CEO or company chair is about nothing except ability, attitude and work ethic.

THERE IS one very notable exception: Gina Rinehart. Here is a woman who is overweight and unattractive, but clearly not too concerned about her appearance and uninterested in the world of glamour and fashion. She is abrasive, intimidating and even a bully. She is willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants, without regard to the way it makes her look or the people she is offending. She is ambitious, single-minded and dedicated to the point where she supposedly goes without any of the frills that other billionaires afford themselves so that she can re-invest all her money into her company.

She is also not a “loving mother” figure by any stretch of the imagination. She is reportedly quiet and reserved in person and she keeps her personal affairs completely private. What did leak last year was that, having judged her children as inept for running her company, she offered them each $300mln a year in return for signing-away their shares. When they refused, she fought them all the way to the High Court – becoming estranged in the process.

Meanwhile, her achievements are incredible. She inherited a floundering, debt-ridden mining company that was making its money from a lucky break and transformed it into a hugely profitable, gigantic operation – becoming the world’s wealthiest woman in the process. She is now in the process of planning the biggest Australian-owned mining development in history and is funding it entirely on her own.  Yes, she was born into some wealth due to a lucky find by her father, but many people born into wealth spend their lives turning a large fortune into a small one. She turned a small fortune into a gargantuan one.

And yet she is being punished for this – not by the Andrew Bolts and Alan Jones’ of this world, but by the very people that would generally be the first to jump to her defence if she hadn’t made the unfortunate mistake of being a Conservative and one of the mining magnates vilified by Wayne Swan. Oh, as well as committing the awful sin of giving jobs to people who weren’t lucky enough to be born in Australia.

The best (but not the only) example was the abuse she received from David Marr and Miriam Margolyes on Q and A last month:

Note: I did not criticise the others as Barry Humphries was playing a character, Tony Jones was trying to defend her while still maintaining his “distance” as chair, Jacki Weaver seemed a little stunned and John Hewson later said he regretted not arguing but felt overwhelmed. Also, Marr and Margolyes were the two noted “feminists” on the panel.

THAT INCIDENT did receive fairly wide coverage – in News Ltd papers. It was all but ignored in the ABC, Fairfax (well, aside from the SMH’s balance columnist), New Matilda etc. Some good responses were written that I could find in more minor leftist publications, however it was generally her political allies that were jumping to her defence. More anecdotally, the people on my social networks who would normally be concerned about this kind of thing have been completely silent.

Why is this such a problem? Because it shows that this kind of abuse is acceptable for women that the left don’t like. It sends the message that the only reason anyone complains about comments aimed at Julia Gillard or Christine Milne is that they are on the left and not because this kind of discourse should be unacceptable. It reaffirms the idea that women shouldn’t act like CEOs, which discourages women from acting like CEOs, which in turn means women won’t become CEOs.

To some degree I think that it may be that people who hold corporate leaders in contempt yet think they want to see more women being corporate leaders were somehow expecting female corporate leaders to be more like “women” and less like “businessmen”. The issues inherent in that assumption should speak for themselves.

It’s all well and good to conduct research and then complain about the lack of women at the top, but unless there are a lot of ambitious and competitive young women willing to fight to get there, nothing will ever change.

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Sunday quote: on discrimination, “the Negro” and American Jews

Americans seem to want laws expressing high ideals but they seem also to want the convenience of ignoring or violating many of them with impunity.

Currently reading: Equality by Statute by Morroe Berger.

Berger argued that law can change society, yet this seems to be in stark contrast to the message from the history that he gives (I’m only about 1/10 into the book, so that may change). He even pointed out these two laws, passed almost a century apart:

Civil Rights Act of 1875:

… all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement; subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.

The law was changed before society was ready. State intervention did not successfully end discrimination, racists simply found ways around the legislation and everyone else didn’t care enough to stop them.

This leads me to a second thought:

Berger traces the flight of “the Negro” from, as he puts it, “rural poverty and exploitation in the South to urban misery and discrimination in other regions”. The Black Americans* were essentially one step behind the Whites and were moving into industries like manufacturing and mining just as the Whites were moving into the more lucrative trade and finance.

This story is rather familiar to many other groups of people in many other countries – urbanisation has been growing across the world for the past century, however the prosperity that comes with it seems to left behind the traditionally disadvantaged groups. Except for one.

Looking at the biggest law firms in America and you will see a long list of old European Aristocracy-sounding names like ‘Baker and McKenzie’, ‘Jones Day’ or ‘Latham and Watkins’. But then you get to the occasional one that doesn’t quite fit the mould – ‘Greenberg Traurig’, ‘Weil, Gotshal and Manges’ or ‘Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton’. And then of course there’s Goldman Sachs, holding its own with JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley.

The Jewish immigrants into New York in the late 1800s/early 1900s were not the highly-educated metropolitan elites from Vienna and Berlin who thought they had integrated well into European society and were about to get a nasty surprise (if that phrase comes even close to describing the horror of what happened). No, these were rural farmers from shtettles in Poland and Russia. They also were not at all free from discrimination – the universities all limited their ‘Jewish intake’ through quotas and the chances of a Goldberg or a Rothstein being hired by any of the top firms were slim to nil.

So what did they do? They worked. Hard. The poor Lower East Side of Manhattan became full of sweatshops where Jews worked in conditions worse than those in Foxcomm factories. They saved money and sent their children to school and university. The children then found that the old WASP establishment had no interest in employing Jews and so they were locked-out from all of the most esteemed industries. So what did they do? They came together and hired each other, they built their own firms and did it so well that within a few decades they were buying-out the firms that used to refuse to hire them.

As with the Black Americans, that story was similar across the world in the new immigrant nations that were forming. A few things come to mind when I ask this question, but none of them really give a definitive answer: why are we so different? Why were Jews able to impose themselves on the White establishment until there was no choice but to accept them, where other disadvantaged groups just seem so… complacent?

Although the exception, as we’re seeing, are immigrants from East Asia – who look set to replicate the Jewish success of earlier generations.

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*I consider “African American” to be quite an offensive term, not to mention a misnomer. Millions of “African Americans” have no African heritage whatsoever. Many more Americans do have African heritage, but are not Black.

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12 years on, Screen Australia enters 21st Century

In 2000, seminal journalist Malcolm Gladwell released a book called The Tipping Point.

The book essentially defined our generation and the way we communicate. It introduced the general public to the whole concept of viral marketing and how ideas are spread from one person to another.

In the book, he identified three types of people who play key roles in transmitting information: mavens, connectors, and salespeople. To give a much too simple version of his theory: mavens have the information, connectors put people together with the mavens and salespeople convince people that they are connected to that they should act on the information.

Well, it has been more than a decade since this revelation hit the planet and our beloved national movie producers seem to have finally managed to crawl out from under a gigantic rock somewhere (some theories place them in Uluru for the last 12 years).

Committed viewers are being targeted to engage in local content for TV and film | The Australian.

Screen Australia has identified 34 per cent of the population as “connectors” who can drive engagement with Australian content, in new research into the motivations for watching feature films, television drama and documentaries.

This third of the population are typically affluent, generally younger, live in the city and are highly engaged with the digital age and are now seen as key drivers of audience engagement with Australian screen content.

“The 34 per cent who we call connectors who are really engaged with content across a range of places, especially the social media space,” said Screen Australia’s chief executive Ruth Harley.

“It’s a lot of people, they’re watching a lot of content and they push other people to watch.”

And here we were, wondering how Australia could be such a sought-after filming destination for Hollywood and yet have a pretty pathetic excuse for a film industry ourselves. I guess some mysteries were never meant to be solved.

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Gay rights, the Israeli military, “pinkwashing” and a photo-gaffe

The above photo was released by the Spokesperson’s office at the Israeli Defence Forces to promote its role in the upcoming gay pride parade in Tel Aviv. The photo has come under flack because one of the men depicted was not actually gay. I will note first that I use the word “gaffe” ironically, click here to see why.

Regular Karnage interlocutor Liam was one of the people giving the photo flack:

Real pinkwashing: IDF caught faking an image of gay soldiers – Liam Getreu.

Advocates for Israel have every right to point to positive elements of the country’s socio-political makeup, regardless of other parts of the equation that are less than flattering. That doesn’t mean it excuses the negative parts though, which is where the main problem develops. It becomes an issue when hasbaraniks come to believe their own propaganda, when they start, in their mind, to dismiss the occupation, the lack of gay marriage, the lack of full civic equality for Palestinian-Israelis and think that it’s okay because gays can serve openly in the military. It’s not okay.

The IDF was downright stupid manufacturing this photo. They could have found an openly gay couple, surely. But instead they went the half-assed route and got sprung. That is pinkwashing — they’re making stuff up to get the good news story. That’s unacceptable and works against people trying very hard to stand up for Israel where it’s needed most.

A long email chain ensued. Below is an edited sample of my responses, Liam may publish his at his own prerogative.

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My gut reaction was similar to Liam’s, but having thought about it:

So the photo was staged… does anyone looking at that photo really think that they were walking around Tel Aviv and happened to snap a pic of two male soldiers holding hands?

Clearly it’s a staged photo, which happened at a photoshoot. That is how promotional photos are taken. Generally, the people in promotional photos are not really what they look like — for example, this woman does not really play for Liverpool:

The IDF picture is a promotional photograph. It was attached to a press release from an official military outlet and not a news-reporting service. It is openly a piece of propaganda and does not make any pretences about that. It is not claiming to be an accurate depiction of any real events, it is only supposed to be representative of the IDF.

While you’re getting all indignant about the fact that the soldiers in the photo weren’t actually  gay, there are people who are genuinely angry about the photo because they think that the IDF should not be so outwardly gay-friendly.

So instead of praising the IDF for doing something that is actually quite remarkable and completely unprecedented (an ARMY marketing itself as gay-friendly. An ARMY, that is OFFICIALLY participating in a gay pride parade — that is totally unheard of anywhere else in the world, whatever the motivations), you are castigating them for a minor detail that no one would even know had some journalist not done a little digging and that is really of no consequence to anything.

The sexual preference of the guys in the photo is really immaterial, it has no bearing on whether or not the IDF is gay-friendly. In fact, as one gay blog noted, it may even be better that one of them is not gay:

Israeli Military Celebrates Gay Pride With Cutie-Patootie Photo / Queerty.

Before anyone cries “Foul!”, this is actually better. A gay man and a straight man holding hands couldn’t be a more comforting sign of acceptance, friendship, alliance and unity between gay and straight soldiers. The army isn’t about finding romance. It’s not about gay soldiers hooking up. It’s about fighting for your citizens while standing by your fellow countryman, regardless of his or her sexual orientation. Gay and straight holding hands together in joint cause is the greatest symbol of equality we can think of. We’d love to see a similar gesture from two American soldiers, wouldn’t you?

I got kinda angry after I saw the article below. There is still a fight to fight here, the IDF has not always been as accepting as it is and there are still senior figures in the IDF who do not exactly agree with this stance, as well as people who are pressuring the IDF to stop being so open to gay people. These “pinkwashing” accusations attack the people who are doing the right thing and empower those who would sooner see the IDF regressing to a less tolerant place.

By attacking the photo, you’re playing into the hands of dickheads like this:

Keep gay pride out of IDF – Israel Opinion, Ynetnews.

Less than a year ago, religious cadets were kicked out of officers’ course because they had trouble listening to female singing. The IDF sacrificed them on the altar of political correctness, and this is precisely what it does now with the photo of the two gay soldiers in uniform.

This photo makes no contribution to the original IDF mission; it merely offers blatant flattery in line with the taste of shapers of public opinion.

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African Migrants in Israel – Betar Australia open letter to Danny Danon

Regular readers will have seen the rather concerning rhetoric coming out of, inter alia, Likkud MK Danny Danon regarding the African migrants in Israel. Regular readers will also know my feelings towards Mr Danon — particularly that he misrepresents his ideological forebears and is in many ways betraying the Revisionist Zionist tradition.

I have just seen this open letter to Danon from the Australian branch of Betar — the youth movement of Likkud’s father, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, of which Danon is world chair. As it is an open letter, I will reproduce it in full and hope it gets as much exposure as it deserves.

While the letter, I think, speaks for itself, I do want to extend a huge kol ha’kavod to Betar Australia for standing up for the values on which their movement is based.

An open letter to MK Danny Danon,

We are writing to you in respect of your position as the chairman of the Knesset committee for Aliyah, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, the chairman of World Likud and as a past chairman of World Betar. Recently we have seen a number of attacks on African migrants living in Israel. Regardless of their status in the country, these attacks have come as a shock and an embarrassment to us as Jews. However, your words in regard to the “national plague” (that is commonly referred to as African migrants) have greatly upset us as Betarim.

We would like to reiterate that Betar Australia firmly subscribes to Betar’s key stance of ‘Had-Ness’ – our most important value is Zionism, we subscribe to the importance of the Jewish majority and our highest flag is the Israeli flag. We do acknowledge the complexities related to the influx of African migrants, and we are not trying to mandate a policy to you from the other side of the world; however we believe that you need to urgently reassess your policy in regards of some of the important ideological principles held by Betar and Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

When Jabotinsky wrote “in the beginning, God created men” (The Story of My Days, 38); he was referring to mankind as a whole, to our shared origins and our shared humanity. This aspect of humanity is unequivocally expressed in our ideological principle of Hadar. Hadar, as you know does not specifically refer to the Jews – it refers to how all people should treat themselves and others in a ‘princely’ manner.

These people fleeing conflict from Africa, who have chosen Israel because they know it is a moral and free country, are just as human as us. In fact, in their present state, they are unmistakably similar to us as Jews. We have always been refugees; our ancestors have been refugees since the destruction of the first Temple up to our grandparents, who fled a climax of persecution around the world. Menachem Begin saw this when he allowed Vietnamese refugees who had been rejected by the rest of the world to settle in Israel, even granting them citizenship, as the minister, David Levy, the former Minister of Absorption said, “May they lend a hand to save women and children who are in the heart of the sea without a homeland, and lead them to safe shores.” Israel desperately needs to develop policy to deal with this crisis and to deal with it humanely. We reiterate that we are not seeking to dictate policy from outside of Israel. However, as Jews and Betarim we do expect for the political establishment in Israel to act decently and to approach this issue humanely, without prejudice and to acknowledge the responsibilities that Israel has towards refugees as a signatory to both the UN Refugee Convention (1951) and Protocol (1967).

Human rights have, apparently, been trademarked by the Left of politics, but as our ideology shows they have origins in the Right and as Begin’s story and the history of past Likud government’s show; it has almost always been the Right which has implemented the humanistic policies that have rendered Israel as ‘a light unto other nations.’ As Betarim, we urge you to reconsider your stance regarding these people and we request that you ensure that Israel fairly determines who needs protection and offers them this. To deport people to persecution and danger is not the act of a Jewish State. Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years and their state should not be one that has a hand in leading others to suffer the same fate. As Jabotinsky wrote, “there is no power that would be able to tear from one’s heart the hope for a better future.”

Ki Sheket Hu Refesh – Because Silence is Mud.

Tel Hai,
Betar Australia Inc.

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It’s not censorship: Limmud Oz and BDS activists

Limmud Oz, the “festival of Jewish learning”, is taking place this weekend. As occurred last year, they are not permitting BDS-supporters to speak at the seminar.

AJDS have gotten on a high-horse as a result and are condemning the “censorship” taking place:

Stop censorship at Limmud Oz 2012 | The Australian Jewish Democratic Society..

This culture of censorship within the Australian Jewish community is dangerous and only conveys the message that dissent will not be tolerated. This is a major freedom of speech issue for the Jewish community and the wider community concerned with a resolution of the Israel/Palestine conflict.”

For one thing, I think that there is a lot of merit in the argument that Limmud is doing AJDS’ job for them. Limmud works with Israelis and brings Israeli speakers to Australia, therefore technically the BDS supporters should not be participating anyway.

Of course that doesn’t stop them, because they only support boycotting Israel in its entirety when that doesn’t take away their soapbox.

Secondly, what is happening there is not censorship. Censorship is preventing someone from speaking or preventing a certain message from being heard. Not inviting someone to speak at your conference does not constitute “censoring” them.

AJDS are perfectly free to say whatever they want — in fact they do that, all the time.

It’s the same line of thinking used when people like AJDS complain that the mainstream media “censors” them. That is not the case — the reality of holding fringe views is that people probably will not want to listen to you. I sure as hell don’t, and I spend half of my life reading fringe views.

Crazies have a place, but that place is not in mainstream fora. Limmud is not censoring AJDS, it is exercising its discretion and determining that BDS not something that fits the Limmud mandate.

If AJDS are so upset, they should hold their own conference. Of course no one will go — but that’s kind of the point.

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