Archive for category Economics

How the ‘Kashrut Racket’ drives Jews away from practicing Judaism

Olive Oil

Olive Oil (Photo credit: desegura89)

Note for my non-Jewish readers: please refer to the glossary at the end if you don’t understand any of the Hebrew/Yiddish terms.

I would say it’s time to blow the whistle on this, but what I am about to write about is such an ‘open secret’ in Australia at least that the whistle has been well and truly blown by now. What has not really been considered enough are the ramifications of what has been going on.

I’ll begin with a personal story.

A few years ago, I was organising an overnight event for young Jews in NSW. As a matter of practice, all such events should be kosher-catered – clearly, not to do so would exclude all of the more practicing members of the community, which is not something that Jewish organisations should be in the business of doing.

For some background: the extremely stringent standard of kashrut kept by Judaism’s current brand of Orthodoxy (which is not the same as has always been practiced) mandates that people like the leadership of Jewish communal organisations cannot be trusted to make sure that the cooking is done correctly. Instead, all food preparation must be officially certified by, in this case, Sydney’s Kashrut Authority (‘KA’).

This meant that in organising the camp, I had the extreme displeasure of having to gain approval from the KA. Fortunately for me, a friend of mine at the time was a certified moshgiach with the KA and he had agreed to supervise the camp’s kitchen on a pro bono basis.

Of course, having a certified moshgiach is still not sufficient for Orthodoxy Inc., which requires the KA’s actual stamp of approval.

That left me with the task of calling the KA and asking for approval to call the camp ‘kosher’. Naturally, the woman on the other end of the line was *shocked* that we were contemplating having a kosher event with a moshgiach and not paying the KA. It wouldn’t stand, she quote a figure of several hundred dollars and hung up the phone.

The organisation that I was working for is not particularly wealthy. Those several hundred dollars were much more than we could afford if we hoped to charge a cover fee that our members would actually pay. I had to call back and practically beg for an exception to be made, given the service we were doing for the community and the fact that we were doing this in order that Orthodox Jews not be excluded etc. etc. I think we got away with it in the end, but I left the affair with a very sour taste in my mouth.

This story was far from unique. It is, in fact, just a tiny example of the extortion racket that the KAs in Sydney and elsewhere have become.

There is a vegan restaurant that I know of in Bondi, which pays thousands of dollars each year to the Melbourne KA in order to be kosher certified and so appeal to the large Jewish clientele in the area (the Sydney KA were outside their budget). Now, kosher laws only really govern meat/seafood. If there is a restaurant that is completely vegetarian, you can be more or less certain that all of the food it serves is kosher. Vegan, even more so.

Anything that is vegan necessarily complies with every single law of kashrut bar one. What one would that be? The one requiring large cash payoffs to the KA. This is how there are such arbitrary differences between what different KAs will and will not accept as kosher.

For example, for those following the Melbourne KA, here are the Australian oils you can buy this Pesach:

ADELPHIA (umberto@frattali.com.au)
*Extra Virgin Olive Oil
BANABAN (www.naturepacific.com)
*Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, *Virgin Coconut Oil
BENEVITA (thebigolive.com)
*100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
CECCONI’S CANTINA
*Extra Virgin Olive Oil
COBRAM ESTATE
+Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Fresh & Fruity Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Rich & Robust Extra Virgin Olive
Oil, +Novello Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Pictual Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Premiere Extra Virgin Olive Oil
COCKATOO GROVE (www.cockatoogrove.com.au)
*Extra Virgin Olive Oil
COLES
+Australian Extra Virgin Olive oil
COORONG
+Extra Virgin Olive Oil
DIANA
+Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Novello Extra Virgin Olive Oil
DISSEGNA (dissegna@activ8.net.au)
*Extra Virgin Olive Oil
FRATTALI (umberto@frattali.com.au)
*Extra VirginOlive Oil
OLIVE GROVE
+Extra Virgin Olive Oil
OLLO
+Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Fresh & Fruity, +Mild & Mellow
OZOLIO
*100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
PROCHEF
+Extra Virgin Coconut Oil Spray, +Extra VirginOliveOil Spray
PUREHARVEST
+Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
THE BIG OLIVE (thebigolive.com)
*100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spray

As for Sydney, you can pick from this list:

ALTO OLIVES
P Premium Australian Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Delicate
P Premium Australian Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Lemon Infused
P Premium Australian Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Robust
BENEVITA
P 100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
COORONG
P 100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
MACADAMIA OILS OF AUSTRALIA
P Macadamia Oil
OLLO
P Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Fresh and Fruity
P Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Mild and Mellow
OZOLIO
P 100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
PRESSED PURITY BY PROTECO
P Cold Pressed Almond Oil
P Cold Pressed Apricot Oil
P Cold Pressed Avocado Oil
P Cold Pressed Macadamia Oil
P Cold Pressed Olive Oil
P Cold Pressed Walnut Oil
PROCHEF
P Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spray
R SOLOMON & CO
P Cottonseed Oil ONLY when bearing a Diamond KA – Kosher for Pesach Logo
THE BIG OLIVE
P 100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil

So why exactly are, for example, Adelphia and Banaban oils kosher in Melbourne but not in Sydney? This is conjecture, but my bet would be that, similar to the vegan restaurant in Bondi, they could afford the Melbourne KA’s fees, but not those of the Sydney KA. I don’t believe for one second that it’s about ‘higher standards’ and not higher fees.

Why does this matter?

I’m glad you asked.

Essentially, keeping kosher these days is not an easy thing to do. If you live any distance away from the Jewish population centres in the major cities, you had better get used to eating plain chips and the tiny selection of chocolates and other goods with the official KA stamp. If you want to eat anything that can vaguely be described as ‘interesting’ – especially any meat products – you need to be prepared to spend 2-3 times what you would pay for the same item without the kosher stamp.

More to the point, if you want to go out for a meal, you are essentially restricted to four overpriced restaurants in Bondi. When you are at functions or parties, you have to either bring your own food or make sure that the host has ordered you a ready-to-microwave meal from Lewis’ Kosher Kitchen. For this reason, most of my friends who intend to keep kosher will still go out and eat a vegetarian meal at a non-kosher restaurant. Also for this reason, most of my other friends do not keep kosher.

The exorbitant costs of being kosher-certified ensure that there is little competition in the kosher catering industry. In order to remain officially kosher, new restaurants or caterers have to increase their prices and push-down their profit margins so that they remain competitive in an already difficult market.

Further, the arbitrary way in which products are designated ‘kosher’ or ‘non-kosher’ – not much to do with the preparation of the food, but everything to do with who the company has paid-off – makes the whole kosher enterprise lose credibility in many eyes.

In essence, thanks to the KAs, being kosher in Australia is both expensive and unappetising. The KA extortion racket is reducing the culinary choices for practicing Jews in Australia and, in doing so, ensuring that fewer Jews in Australia could be described as ‘practicing.’

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Kashrut: refers to Jewish dietary laws. You probably know the word ‘kosher’ – same kind of idea.

Moshgiach: a person who is employed to supervise the preparation of the food in order to ensure that it is being done in accordance with kashrut.

 

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Reshuffling the gargantuan cabinet

Something seemed curious to me, looking at the list of new ministers in Australia’s recent government reshuffle:

Julia Gillard loads up senior ministers in her sixth reshuffle | The Australian.

The Prime Minister used her sixth ministerial reshuffle to merge the Department of Climate Change with the Department of Industry, creating a new Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.

Dr Emerson has been appointed Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research – the role relinquished by Mr Bowen – while continuing as Minister for Trade and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Policy.

Mr Albanese, a Rudd supporter who escaped demotion after last week’s events, has taken on Mr Crean’s former portfolio of regional development and local government, while remaining Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and Leader of the House.

Mr Gray, a West Australian with close mining industry links, has been awarded Martin Ferguson’s old resources and energy and tourism portfolios. He also takes Mr Bowen’s vacated small business ministry.

Mr Gray’s special minister of state responsibilities go to Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.

Mr Clare, the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, becomes a full cabinet member with his current roles. […]

Mr Albanese will be supported by Victorian MP Catherine King, who has been elevated to the outer ministry as Minister for Regional Services, Local Communities and Territories, and as Minister for Road Safety.

Gillard supporter and so-called “faceless man” Don Farrell has been promoted to the ministry as Minister for Science and Research, while fellow backer Sharon Bird becomes Minister for Higher Education and Skills.

Queenslander Jan McLucas steps into Kim Carr’s role as Minister for Human Services following his resignation last week.

Environment Minister Tony Burke becomes Arts Minister in addition to his current responsibilities, taking on Mr Crean’s other portfolio following his sacking last week.

Ms Gillard also appointed a number of parliamentary secretaries to assist ministers with heavy workloads…

I’m not going to even bother getting into the Parl Secs. Let’s have a look at that ministry.

Apparently the departments of Industry and Innovation are different from Small Business. We also have a Department of Higher Education and Skills, and a Department of Science and Research, both of which are different from the new Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.

Oh, and apparently that mammoth “Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, etc” portfolio also does not encompass Climate Change, which needs its own separate department as well. Or, for that matter, Resources and Energy.

Then there’s the fact that “Human Services” and “Regional Services” are different — perhaps because regional Australians are not human?

One would think that there is some doubling-up going on between all of these public service departments. Perhaps the government’s failure to deliver a budget surplus, despite record terms of trade, would have something to do with this gargantuan bureaucracy that they have been constructing?

Nah, couldn’t be.

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So this is ‘tolerance’? Doug Cameron, Campbell Newman and the NDIS

Last time I mentioned Senator Doug Cameron, the leader of Labor’s left faction from what I gather, it was because of some horribly intolerant remarks he was making about foreigners stealing “our” jobs.

Well, it’s good sad to see that some things don’t change.

Today he called for raising taxes and abolishing the Productivity Commission and raising taxes because this would help “build the country”. That seems absurd, but I’ll leave it to the economists to say why.

What really bothered me was this:

Axe Productivity Commission and up taxes | The Australian.

I have been arguing for some time that hypothecated taxes should be introduced to pay for Gonski, aged care reform and the NDIS. It makes me a little uncomfortable to know that I’m on the same page as the Queensland Premier on this when it comes to the NDIS, but I’ll take all the friends I can get. I am serious about this issue – I am not sure the Queensland Premier is.

The not-so-subtle subtext is that Cameron does not like Campbell Newman, who is a Liberal after all, and therefore does not want to ever agree with him on anything and is suspicious of him whenever he says something that Cameron does agree with.

In Cameron’s view, he and Newman are polar opposites and must necessarily disagree on everything — it is very unlikely that Newman would genuinely be concerned about something like helping the disabled because he’s, you know, Conservative and stuff.

I am quite repulsed by that attitude.

To me, if Cameron truly agrees with Newman, the logical thing to do would be to pick up a phone, call Newman and say, “Hey, so I know we disagree on a lot of things, but this is very important and I’m glad you’re on board, we should work together to make it happen.”

Not only would he then learn whether Newman was actually serious, he would also be part of a bipartisan group working for something that he apparently feels very strongly about. Instead, he writes to the nation about how “uncomfortable” he is that they agree.

For shame.

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Sunday quote: on hearing what the other team is saying

Following on from last week’s thought, we have one David Frum attacking his own side’s insularity and the propensity to label anything they disagree with as “socialism”:

David’s Book Club: What Are Liberals Thinking? – The Daily Beast.

These characterizations certainly mobilize the base. They also insulate and isolate conservatives from real-world policy debates. If you don’t know what your opponent is saying, you won’t do a very effective job refuting him.

Exactly. I would go further and say that if you don’t really understand the arguments against you, you’re almost definitely wrong about something.

Frum goes on to review two books by adherents to what bizarrely passes as “progressive economics” these days (read: following a model from the mid 20th Century that just proved disastrously inefficient and brought down most of Europe).

Uniting every argument is [Dean] Baker’s insistence: “the progressive agenda is about setting fair rules for the market. … It is not by luck, talent, and hard work that the rich are getting so much richer. It is by rigging the rules of the game.”

The last two sentences quoted above seem to me needlessly bogey-hunting. The trend to inequality appears in every developed country, and it began to show up about the same time. The trend is driven by deep changes in the world economy, and we’re guaranteed to respond perversely if we fail to understand that. But it’s precisely because the progressive agenda is largely wrong that it’s important to understand what that agenda actually is. Today’s loose and lazy conservative talk about “socialism” is self-deceiving and therefore self-sabotaging.

I have said it before, but I find all these characterisations of “the rich” to be deeply, deeply troubling – not least because I know quite a few of “the rich” and they are hardly a homogenous group of greedy pigs, hell-bent on accumulating wealth and subjecting other people to misery. In fact, a lot of them are extremely nice, generous people who do a hell of a lot more for our society than almost anyone else and sometimes don’t even take much credit for doing that.

Lumping everyone who earns above a certain income level into one category to be hated is the kind of narrow-minded discrimination that also inflames racism, sexism and all the other -isms you can think of. Once you have people thinking a certain way, adding groups in the “to hate” category is not so difficult.

That tangent aside, Frum’s general point is extremely important and so I will keep repeating it on this site ad infinitum because there’s no way I will ever get through to most people: if you do not understand what your critics are saying, you are probably wrong. They have arguments that challenge what you believe and if you do not at least consider them, you cannot say for sure that your views are correct.

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On the carbon tax: doing the PM’s job for her

The best argument that Julia Gillard seems to have come up with in defence of her carbon tax is that Abbott won’t be able to repeal it because Labor will block his attempt, as well as spruiking the pre-emptive bailouts her government has decided to give to everyone.

Right.

Well, there are also points like this:

Sensible Australians will see carbon pricing as a change for the better | The Australian.

Did you know the Chinese company Suntech, whose chief executive Zhengrong Shi was educated at the University of NSW, became the world’s largest producer of silicon solar modules in 2010? Or that in 2010 global investment in generating renewable energy such as solar and wind power overtook investment in generating energy from fossil fuels?

Well, fortunately for the Chinese government, it doesn’t have to spend much money developing companies like Suntech because it allows workers to be kept in on-site barracks and work 48-hours straight for less money than Gillard probably spends on breakfast. That makes Suntech a lot more viable than it would be in a country where joining a trade union wasn’t a good way to disappear of the face of the planet. But then, people my age don’t care about democracy anyway, so maybe the Chinese model is a good idea.

Let’s throw another company into the mix: Solyndra. Here’s a good piece from Juliet Eilperin in Wired a little while ago that describes that whole kerfuffle:

Why the Clean Tech Boom Went Bust | Wired Magazine | Wired.com.

In 2005, VC investment in clean tech measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The following year, it ballooned to $1.75 billion, according to the National Venture Capital Association. By 2008, the year after Doerr’s speech, it had leaped to $4.1 billion. And the federal government followed. Through a mix of loans, subsidies, and tax breaks, it directed roughly $44.5 billion into the sector between late 2009 and late 2011. Avarice, altruism, and policy had aligned to fuel a spectacular boom.

Anyone who has heard the name Solyndra knows how this all panned out. Due to a confluence of factors—including fluctuating silicon prices, newly cheap natural gas, the 2008 financial crisis, China’s ascendant solar industry, and certain technological realities—the clean-tech bubble has burst, leaving us with a traditional energy infrastructure still overwhelmingly reliant on fossil fuels. The fallout has hit almost every niche in the clean-tech sector—wind, biofuels, electric cars, and fuel cells—but none more dramatically than solar.

That, right there, was what happens when the government artificially props-up an unviable industry. The government was committed to Solyndra, so had to keep pumping money into it, even when it started to become obvious that they were just never going to be as competitive as they had hoped. A few billion taxpayer dollars later and the now gigantic Solyndra imploded, leaving hundreds of people without jobs and an entire industry in ruin.

Now to pick-up on a point in today’s Australian editorial:

Carbon debate is taxing but falls short of targets | The Australian.

Given that Mr Abbott has subscribed to the same carbon reduction target as the government — cutting Australia’s emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 — the framing of the debate in this fashion pushes the onus on to him to produce more substance. His “direct action” policy relies on the government picking winners rather than the market seeking out least-cost abatement, so it is bound to be less efficient than a trading scheme, and therefore more costly on the economy. Mr Abbott should not escape by simply pledging to repeal the carbon tax. He must show how he can meet his target without creating a large burden on the budget. Scepticism about his ability to do this abounds, especially given he promises to provide tax cuts for families and business, while scrapping the carbon and mining taxes.

See, the Coalition’s “direct action policy” is not dissimilar from the policy the US was following when the whole Solyndra thing broke out. Tony Abbott is essentially arguing that the government should be funding carbon-saving ideas in order to reach the emissions target that he agrees we should have. The carbon tax is a prima facie tax, but the direct action scheme is an indirect tax. After all, someone has to foot the bill for the hundreds of millions of dollars that would actually be required to implement it, and no prizes for guessing who that is (hint: me and you).

Why the government hasn’t been using this as an argument is beyond me. Whatever flaws its policy may have, it’s vastly superior to the Coalition’s (and ironically, more in-line with the Coalition’s general ideology than the Coalition’s policy is).

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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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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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This may (or may not) be how the recent ACTU conference went down

I’m seeing a lot of comments like this one from Labor Senator Doug Cameron:

Good jobs for Aussies is not a miner matter | thetelegraph.com.au.

We must have a clear and unequivocal position on this: If Australian workers are being denied employment on mine construction sites then companies should not have a licence to engage overseas workers. …

Since when was it unreasonable to expect that highly profitable mining companies should provide Australian workers with the skill upgrading, training, travel support and accommodation to ensure they have genuine access to employment opportunities?

And this one:

Robust’ Labor caucus meeting expected.

Victorian Labor backbencher Kelvin Thomson has also issued a sharp critique of the government’s Rinehart deal, telling reporters in Canberra that does not support the enterprise migration agreement policy, which allows “mega” resource projects to negotiate temporary migration needs up-front.

“We will end up with a situation where we have foreign companies using foreign workforces to send our resources in foreign ships to foreign countries for the use and enjoyment of foreign customers,” he said this morning.  

God forbid.

Sinclair Davidson from Catallaxy Files pointed to economist Brian Caplan explaining that it’s easy to play on peoples’ fears like this and make them scared of “foreigners”.

The real irony is that the ALP has been trying to paint itself as the party that’s more “compassionate” to asylum seekers. Apparently that only applies to people who are not actually going to contribute to the workforce — otherwise tehy are just “stealing our jobs”.

Meanwhile, you’re probably wondering what that headline was about. Well, does the whole situation make anyone else think of this?

Or this?

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More on defence spending and the South Pacific

Despite not being the “shadow CIA” that Julian Assange tried to pretend it was (mostly so that hacking them could seem like a big deal), strategic consulting company does provide some useful analysis.

In this week’s dispatch, Stratfor director George Friedman has analysed the strategy of Australia, trying to answer the question of why a country that seems both secure and wealthy would take part in so many wars that do not directly affect its security.

As Friedman details, the answer is that Australia must contribute to our strategic alliance with the Us in order to guarantee US support in our own region. As I have pointed out, the maritime routes in the South Pacific are not quite as secure as they seem, and will probably be the subject of some conflict over the coming decades.
Australia’s Strategy | Stratfor.

This leads to Australia’s strategic problem. In order to sustain its economy it must trade, and given its location, its trade must go by sea. Australia is not in a position, by itself, to guarantee the security of its sea-lanes, due to its population size and geographic location. Australia therefore encounters two obstacles. First, it must remain competitive in world markets for its exports. Second, it must guarantee that its goods will reach those markets. If its sea-lanes are cut or disrupted, the foundations of Australia’s economy are at risk. …

Australia is in a high-risk situation, even though superficially it appears secure. Its options are to align with the United States and accept the military burdens that entails, or to commit to Asia in general and China in particular. Until that time when an Asian power can guarantee the sea-lanes against the United States — a time that is far in the future — taking the latter route would involve pyramiding risks. Add to this that the relationship would depend on the uncertain future of Asian economies — and all economic futures are now uncertain — and Australia has chosen a lower-risk approach.

This approach has three components. The first is deepening economic relations with the United States to balance its economic dependencies in Asia. The second is participating in American wars in order to extract guarantees from the United States on sea-lanes. The final component is creating regional forces able to handle events in Australia’s near abroad, from the Solomon Islands through the Indonesian archipelago. But even here, Australian forces would depend on U.S. cooperation to manage threats.

Once again, Australia is secure because we have played our strategic hand very well over the past century, but this may not necessarily be the case in future. Reducing our military — and especially naval — capabilities by cutting defence spending, as the Government is, is a huge mistake.

There is no shortage of Government projects that could be cut back instead of defence . We can start with some of these ridiculous middle class welfare/pork-barrelling measures that my favourite treasurer has just introduced, or that useless bid for a seat on the UN Security Council that has been our top foreign policy endeavour since 2009.

What is the point of having a vote in the Security Council when we are a military non-event?

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