Posts Tagged ALP

Is Christmas offensive? A non-Christian perspective

I had an interesting experience last week, it happened a couple of times. When arranging something to do with friends, I suggested Monday night, only get the response: ‘you mean Christmas Eve??’

It was interesting because it showed me how everyone else must feel when I say something like that for the many festivals that I have over the course of the year (which is  a lot more than non-Orthodox Christians keep). It reversed the roles a little. I wasn’t cognisant of Christmas Eve, you see. As a non-Christian, it really doesn’t mean that much to me.

I am aware of the fact of Christmas Eve, I know that 24 December is Christmas Eve, but I am not aware of it enough to have connected it to Monday night in my mind. I don’t generally plan to mark Christmas Eve with anything in particular – to me, it is just another night of the brief holidays that I have at this time of year. (Not that I’m complaining about the day off work, but I’m kinda complaining about the day off work. I’ll get back to that later.)

It’s not the forgetting Christmas that got to me though, it’s what comes after. You see, it seems as though the Jew forgetting that it’s Christmas Eve serves as a little reminder to everyone that the Jew is different. The tone of conversation changes from there because everyone is aware of that fact. We live in a modern, multicultural society and everyone knows that they should be inclusive. So they try to be. Which is really quite horrible.

Talking about Christmas: NOT offensive. But apologising for talking about Christmas: OFFENSIVE

Suddenly it seems as though everyone needs to apologise for everything that they do on Christmas. My friends start talking about the great ham they are eating or the tree that they decorated, then they catch themselves, turn to me and apologise.

This is not ok. Aside from the fact that they are doing nothing wrong, the reason it is not ok is that it is patronising. It’s a little reminder of the hegemonic status of Christianity compared with my practices. It would never even occur to me as a Jew to apologise to Christians for celebrating any of the Jewish holidays. It’s what I do, they don’t do it, so I need to tell them that [x] date is Simchat Torah and It’s my religious duty to be getting hammered and dancing around in circles carrying a Torah scroll, so I can’t come to the poker night. Or something.

Apologising is what people from the hegemonic culture do to minority cultures to make us feel ‘included’. What it does is exactly the opposite: it is a reminder of status. Think about it this way: if the reason that you were celebrating with your family was not a point of difference, but something that is shared between cultures – ie a wedding, birth etc – would you be apologising? I can’t imagine anyone saying:

Yeah the wedding is going to be amazing! I’ve seen the menu, the food is beautiful and… oh, I’m really sorry MK!

It just doesn’t play that way. But I have heard from several people something along the lines of:

My dad is making pork belly for Christmas, it going to be amazing! Oh, really I’m sorry MK!

Fuck that.

Eating pork: NOT offensive. But apologising for eating pork: OFFENSIVE

It’s a similar phenomenon to eating out. I am not especially observant as a Jew and I don’t keep strictly kosher, but there are a few ‘red lines’ that I tend not to cross – no pork, no shellfish, and I try to avoid mixing milk and meat when I can. What this means is that I struggle to eat at some forms of Asian cuisine, which seems to have nothing but pork and shellfish. What this does not mean is that I am offended by other people eating pork or shellfish.

Yet in these scenarios, people start doing that apologising thing again. And then they act overly friendly to compensate, as if to say:

Hey MK, we know that you’re one of those strange ‘Jew’ types, so you don’t eat normal food like us, but that’s super ok, we can order vegetarian food for you and be really super friendly, just to show you how ok it is that you don’t eat pork. Because it’s fine. Really. Doesn’t bother us one bit. No, seriously! We’re ok with it. Are you ok? We’re ok if you’re ok. Because that’s what friends do. They’re ok.

Again, people do not act that way for other kinds of dietary requirements. I can’t remember ever being in a situation where someone was condescended to in that fashion for being vegetarian, or gluten intolerant, or allergic to nuts. It’s a particular brand of condescension that comes from all of the power dynamics playing out in the room. And I’m going to stop there, because I’m starting to sound like Foucault, and I hate Foucault.

Celebrating Christmas: NOT offensive

I don’t know who came up with the idea that non-Christians would feel less offended when people celebrate Christmas and then pretend that they are doing something else, but it’s a little silly. You can call it a ‘holiday tree’ if you want. You know it’s a Christmas tree, and I know it’s a Christmas tree. What are you trying to prove? The whole charade is ridiculous. I hate all of these initiatives to ban public Christmas displays, or have ‘Happy Holidays!’ written everywhere. It’s Christmas, you’re Christians, you’re allowed to celebrate the birth of Jesus if you want to.

I actually find the Christmas trees, lights, and songs this time of year quite beautiful. Believe it or not, it’s possible to appreciate other cultures and not just be offended by them all the time. Sure, Lakemba Mosque issues fatwas on saying ‘merry Christmas’, and I hear some equally stupid sentiments from some of the more zealous in the Jewish community, but really what does it matter? I say ‘chag sameach’ to my non-Jewish friends on holidays, they can say ‘merry Christmas’ to me. It’s no problem.

That said…

Forcing me to celebrate Christmas: OFFENSIVE

So I was driving around yesterday with two friends, trying to find something to do. There was nothing, the whole town was dead. Even the obligatory Christmas Chinese food was almost impossible to find. We tried almost every Chinese joint in the East, before stumbling across a little one in Bondi that had decided to open its doors to some hungry Jews on a rainy day. God bless them.

Which is fine, except that the only reason that everything is closed because of penalty rates. I’ve complained about penalty rates before, but this is yet another example and I want to do it again.

The bastion of cultural tolerance that is the Australian Labor Party and its affiliates at the Australian Union movement have decided that Australians should be with their families on the Christian holidays and on the Christian sabbath, whether they want to or not. For this reason, they have imposed inordinately high penalty rates that must be paid to anyone working on Christmas – and slightly lower, but a similar idea on Sundays – to the effect that businesses operating legally are more or less forced to close.

That means that all of us non-Christians out there are being forced by law to keep Christian holidays, or else be fined. THAT is extremely offensive. It’s a lot more offensive than the beautiful lights display projected onto St Mary’s Cathedral at night, I’ll say that much.

Sure a day off work is a day off work and I won’t complain about a day off work. I also bet that, were there not penalty rates, most places would still choose to close on Christmas. But people to whom 25 December bears little unusual significance should be allowed to go to work on 25 December if they so choose. But we don’t even enter into the discussion. As a regular viewer of Q and A, I have seen numerous Anglo officials from the ALP and the Unions saying something like ‘well we can’t take working people away from their families on Christmas!’

Newsflash: NOT ALL WORKING PEOPLE CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS.

At the risk of sounding like Foucault again: check your fucking privilege.

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Why I don’t care about the Gillard-Abbott sexism war and neither should you

English: Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gil...

As readers will probably have figured out, I like to follow Australian politics. As you may have guessed (and those who know me would know), I also like to talk about Australian politics. People I associate with know this, so they tend to engage me whenever an issue in Australian politics catches their attention — I even have some friendships based around these conversations.

So when there is a huge scandal in Australian politics that the whole world is talking about, I expect that it will come up somewhere. Sure enough, a lot of people have been asking me about Julia Gillard’s now world-famous speech calling Tony Abbott a misogynist. My answer has surprised a few people, so I now feel the need to write a post and justify it. Simply put:

I don’t really care.

It just doesn’t really interest me. I watched a recording of the speech and got bored after a couple of minutes. Since it was such a big thing, I went back and watched the rest later, but now I just want that 10 minutes back.

So why this uncharacteristic apathy? Well, I don’t really see this as anything new. The issue that was much more important/interesting was the resignation of Speaker Peter Slipper because of the revelation of lewd and offensive text messages that he sent his former staffer.

The Slipper issue I care about. In fact, I might care enough to write a whole post on the right to privacy and the dilemmas that this kind of situation brings up (ie should someone be forced to resign over what were really private comments, no matter how offensive they were?)

Gillard’s speech? Well, the reaction says it all really. Below are a few responses from friends on my Facebook and Twitter feeds (for obvious reasons, I am not mentioning any names and have slightly edited some of the comments for length):

Wow go Julz! She schooled Abbott #likeaboss

Julia Gillard strikes me as the sort of university feminist who screams “chauvinist pig!” when you hold the door for her and “woman-hater!” if you just let it swing back in her face.

Look, I just had to post it. Fucking brilliant. I could watch this over and over again. … There should be a whole channel devoted to this one video.

I look forward to the rude shock that the lefties who are currently engaged in self-congratulation and saying how amazing Gillard’s performance yesterday was will receive when they realise voters havn’t fallen for her BS…

Yes, Tony Abbott, you were just destroyed.

Gillard stands by Thomson after prostitute revelations. Now stands by Slipper after texts. Yet says Abbott is misogynist. #chutzpah

Amazing speech by our PM. Showing some serious leadership.

And so on.

What was really remarkable about these comments were that there was a very clear divide, but it was not on gender lines, nor was it even on the lines of people who are generally feminist versus people who aren’t. The responses that I have seen were split exactly down party lines. Labor supporters loved it, Liberal supporters mocked it.

And there is the reason why I find the whole thing boring.

Gillard’s speech was not a scathing attack on Abbott to expose his deeply held sexism, and neither was it a blatant display of hypocrisy in defence of a real misogynist.

What was it? An uninspiring partisan response to a successful partisan power-play. It was smart PR — a very clever way to divert the public conversation away from the Slipper debacle.

Abbott was trying to embarrass the government while also taking away the vote that they had from Slipper being speaker, Gillard was trying to defend her majority by recycling old allegations at Abbott.

I have annexed a breakdown of the arguments that Gillard used at the end of this post, but more important than what was there is what was missing: there was absolutely nothing about Abbott’s record in office or any policies that he has proposed which harm women, it was a purely personal attack on Abbott’s character. There is no real policy issue at all and it contributes little to the Australian debate, it’s just boring.

That is why its effect will never be anything other than to provoke cheers from Labor supporters and jeers from Liberal supporters. It was not aimed at ‘exposing Abbott’, so much as spurring-on people who already don’t like Abbott. The Liberals had a bit of a coup when Slipper’s text messages were made public and Labor countered with a clever diversion to mitigate the damage. Yawn.

Until I started this post, I had been filtering out the discussion around this issue. It has joined the categories of things that set-off my mental killswitch — like the carbon tax, Gillard “backstabbing” Rudd, and anything that uses the phrases: “clean energy future”, “working Australians”, “great big lie”, there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead”, ”
fair go”, “getting on with the job” etc etc.

Now that I am done, I am free to go back to not caring. Trust me, that’s a relief.

__________________

Gillard’s arguments:

Transcript of Julia Gillard’s speech.

He has said, and I quote, in a discussion about women being under-represented in institutions of power in Australia, the interviewer was a man called Stavros. The Leader of the Opposition says “If it’s true, Stavros, that men have more power generally speaking than women, is that a bad thing?”

And then a discussion ensues, and another person says “I want my daughter to have as much opportunity as my son.” To which the Leader of the Opposition says “Yeah, I completely agree, but what if men are by physiology or temperament, more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”

Then ensues another discussion about women’s role in modern society, and the other person participating in the discussion says “I think it’s very hard to deny that there is an underrepresentation of women,” to which the Leader of the Opposition says, “But now, there’s an assumption that this is a bad thing.”

I have looked for a full transcript of this discussion and I can’t find it anywhere online. Abbott was not expressing a viewpoint in those comments, they were inquisitive and hypothetical. In context, they could well be completely innocuous. Then again, they may not be, but I will not make up my mind until I am shown a full transcript. A couple of soundbites extracted from a whole conversation is not sufficient to condemn anyone.

Anyway,

This is the man from whom we’re supposed to take lectures about sexism. And then of course it goes on. I was very offended personally when the Leader of the Opposition, as Minister of Health, said, and I quote, “Abortion is the easy way out.” I was very personally offended by those comments. You said that in March 2004, I suggest you check the records.

Doesn’t convince me. Whatever Abbott’s stance may be on abortion policy, there is no reason why he has to personally support it.

I was also very offended on behalf of the women of Australia when in the course of this carbon pricing campaign, the Leader of the Opposition said “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing…” Thank you for that painting of women’s roles in modern Australia.

Gotta hand it to the PM, this one is pretty convincing. I am very reluctant to attribute anything to a “gaffe“, but this does show that Abbott harbours a degree of subconscious discrimination. But then, there is the whole “gaffe” issue.

And on:

And then of course, I was offended too by the sexism, by the misogyny of the Leader of the Opposition catcalling across this table at me as I sit here as Prime Minister, “If the Prime Minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest woman of herself…”, something that would never have been said to any man sitting in this chair.

That I don’t agree with. I have no doubt that an unmarried male Prime Minister would be attacked on the grounds that he was unmarried.

I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition went outside in the front of Parliament and stood next to a sign that said “Ditch the witch.” I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition stood next to a sign that described me as a man’s bitch.

Now that is just spurious. So Abbott was photographed standing next to the wrong sign at an anti-carbon tax rally, what does that have to do with anything? I have seen several prominent Labor and Green MPs standing next to the flags of terrorist organisations and nobody batted an eyelid.

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Outright lying to make the O’Farrell government look bad

There is no other way to interpret this.

Media release by NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson:

The month of July saw 2,256 more people become unemployed and NSW continues to suffer with 5,861 fewer jobs today than when Barry O’Farrell took office.

The release cites this data from the ABS. The ABS website says:

The number of people unemployed decreased by 2,500 people to 635,100 in July, the ABS reported.

Seriously.

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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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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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Union progression towards White Australia

I recently had a long conversation with a Union representative who was trying to convince me that I was wrong about the Australian Union movement. As I explained, my thoughts are generally that I am theoretically in favour of an organised workforce and I have no qualms with workers coming together to demand certain rights – but this is no longer what the Union movement is (which is the reason I capitalise the “u”).

From my perspective, Australian Unions are mostly opaque, bloated, entrenched organisations that represent a very small portion of the workforce. Their institutionalisation and the extend to which they are favoured by successive Labor governments have given them hubris, to the point where they seem to care more about perpetuating their own existence than actually doing anything in the interest of Australia’s workforce and spend a lot of time playing political games instead of concentrating on their nominal mission.

What bothers me the most is the dogmatic adherence to certain anachronistic principles because these used to be good for “workers”. I see absolutely no self-reflection and no desire to reevaluate the policies of the movement in light of the world that we live in. As I have noted before, this has resulted in Australia having ridiculous penalty rates and bad teachers.

Well here’s yet another example, which follows this post:

Prime Minister Julia Gillard told: migrants or the mine | The Australian.

In an increasingly bitter dispute over the management of the mining boom, ministerial splits are emerging within the Gillard government and unions have started a racist campaign to hound West Australian-based minister Gary Gray from his seat. …

Yesterday, five unions ran a full-page newspaper advertisement in Mr Gray’s seat of Brand, south of Perth, alluding to high levels of indigenous unemployment and accusing the Special Minister of State and former ALP national secretary of not standing up for “Aussie jobs”.

Joe McDonald, the assistant secretary of the West Australian branch of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, accused Mr Gray last night of betraying Australians and vowed to run a union campaign to get rid of him.

“He’s betrayed the people of his constituency,” Mr McDonald told The Weekend Australian. “He’s betrayed them. He should pack up and piss off. If the union movement puts a politician in, they shouldn’t forget where they came from and if they do then we should piss them off and put someone else in.”

Last night Mr Gray, who won his seat with a margin of just 3 per cent in 2010, said EMAs, for which projects with more than $2bn in investment and 1500 jobs are eligible, would create “many, many mining jobs for Australians”.

Note that the story calls the campaign against Gray “racist”. I don’t like when a news story editorialises like this, but in this case I don’t see a lot of other ways to describe it.

The CFMEU is notionally a “progressive” Union, yet its officials are spouting rhetoric that would not have been out of place during the days of the White Australia Policy. I am also disgusted by the way that McDonald is threatening to remove Gray from Parliament if he doesn’t “play ball”.

This is the tragedy of Australia’s major social democrat party being beholden to these groups; it is also a problem that the Union rep in the conversation that I mentioned above did not seem to understand. The current system of preselection means that we get exactly the wrong people into Parliament. A few conversations between key people within the Union movement or the ALP can be enough to get someone a safe seat for life – the process is completely opaque and prone to corruption and abuse. Once there, do/say the wrong thing and upset the wrong people and goodbye – no matter what the public may want. (Incidentally, this is not a partisan issue. Union movement aside, the same principle holds for the Liberal party.)

So now we have a situation where the Government is being pressured from inside to bow to xenophobic demands and prevent people who want to come to Australia and contribute to the country’s economy from doing so. They are also using arguments like this gem from Senator Doug Cameron:

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

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?

I am constantly amazed by the Union mentality that the way to achieve these demands is for the Government to force mining companies to provide them. What is preventing the Unions from doing something useful like developing their own training programs and apprenticeships, investing in the development of mining towns to allow workers’ families to move there, or forming recruitment initiatives to connect their members with the mining companies to fill employment vacancies? (Note: I’m aware that some do this already, but obviously not very well, or else there wouldn’t be an issue.)

Why do they think that playing the political system to force the mining companies to do it would be a better idea?

I am shocked by the silence from people I know who are generally pro-immigration and usually speak-out against xenophobic rhetoric like this. Even the Greens are behind the migrant workers idea – and they think that Australia is overpopulated and the world is ending.

Clearly, there is something wrong here. I could go on, but plummeting membership figures speak for themselves. It is paramount that we introduce stronger requirements for Union transparency and accountability and remove the disgraceful Rudd/Gillard industrial relations reforms that force workers to be represented by organisations that they have no intention of joining. Otherwise, backwards thinking may just win the day yet again.

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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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A thought on Union mentality and Australia

Paul Howes on the HSU debacle:

How HSU betrayed all workers | thetelegraph.com.au.

IT hasn’t been a great week to be a union official. Once again the ongoing stories of alleged corruption and unethical behaviour at the Health Services Union (HSU) have dominated the headlines.

The actions of a few in a union of 77,000 members have tarnished the reputation of the entire union movement which represents two million Australians.

… Unfortunately, with a small minority in our movement giving our enemies free kicks things have become that much harder for the rest of our members. But at the end of the day what we seek to achieve for working people is the right thing.

Providing strength and unity for workers is still necessary in our society. That’s why taking action against the enemy within was the right thing to do for the labour movement — and will be the right thing to do in the times to come.

What strikes me about the two million workers he speaks of: that is less than 10% of Australians. By most accounts, it’s around 18% of working Australians. So even assuming that the Unions all do their best to represent their membership (which they don’t – say what you want about HSU, but I can’t believe that there is no uncovered corruption going on elsewhere in the movement), that means that the Unions are an interest group representing less than one in every five workers and fighting for what those workers want.

Yet this group has 50% of the internal votes in Australia’s only real social democratic party and numerous other ties, which means that leaders like Kevin Rudd who are not especially pro-Union can never be allowed to last long. It also seems to mean that the Labor party can never get passed its anachronistic dogma about what’s “good for workers”, in spite of very clear evidence to the contrary. It also makes Wayne Swan’s bizarre conspiracies about “vested interests” look even worse.

The sad thing is that unionised labour is actually a great idea in theory and once worked very well. There is a lot to be said for people who work uniting democratically in order to achieve better conditions for themselves. Unfortunately, the Union movement in Australia has long ago ceased to be anything resembling this.

Also, will someone please point me to the Union leader in Australia who spoke out against worker conditions in China when the whole world recently focussed its eyes on Apple and conditions in its manufacturing plants at Foxconn? I would really love to see the person who pointed out that Foxconn really has better working conditions than most Chinese factories and we are letting an even bigger evil go completely unscrutinised. Thing is, that wasn’t a Union leader, it was an anti-Union leader. The Unions were too busy trying to distance themselves from HSU to notice.

For shame.

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Knockout punch for national treasure

Remember that awful, conspiratorial-sounding polemic by the man in charge of Australia’s economy the other week? Well it’s been responded to by… the Opposition’s communications spokesperson. Will somebody please get rid of Hockey?

Meanwhile, there is no commentary needed really. Turnbull absolutely destroys Swan. Just take a look.

Swan:

The 0.01 Per Cent: The Rising Influence of Vested Interests in Australia | Wayne Swan | The Monthly.

Today, surveying the wreckage of the worst global downturn since the Great Depression, many leading thinkers argue the ideal of the middle-class society is under mortal threat in the West, even as a growing middle class is lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty in the East. One of the most compelling contributions to the debate comes from Francis Fukuyama, who wrote in Foreign Affairs about the dangers of the erosion of the middle-class social base in the developed world. “From the days of Aristotle,” writes Fukuyama, “thinkers have believed that stable democracy rests on a broad middle class and that societies with extremes of wealth and poverty are susceptible either to oligarchic domination or populist revolution.” These are the extremes, but, as he goes on to argue, we are already witnessing “some very troubling economic and social trends … which threaten the stability of contemporary liberal democracies and dethrone democratic ideology as it is now understood.”

These trends are all too evident in a recently released and widely discussed report by the OECD, ‘Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising’. It found that starting in the 1970s and through the 1980s, coinciding with the Reagan–Thatcher revolutions, inequality in the West has widened considerably. Across the developed world, the top is accelerating away from the middle much faster than the middle is moving away from the bottom.

The catchcry of Wall Street’s Zuccotti Park and the Occupy movement, ‘We are the 99%’, has shone a spotlight on the top 1%. Between 1979 and 2007 in the US, the top 1% saw their after-tax incomes rise 275%, while the middle two thirds saw their after-tax incomes increase by less than 40%.

And Turnbull:

Not classy, Wayne.

Defending workplace re-regulation, he claims “Australia’s egalitarian social contract is also underpinned by a fair and flexible industrial relations system”. But evidence for this is dubious –most studies say increased labour market regulation is, on balance, detrimental to equality, because any boost to earnings, conditions or job security for insiders are offset by diminished opportunities and social exclusion for more marginal outsiders, including young people seeking to enter the workforce.

The Treasurer also cites “a quiet revolution under way in recent years in our tax and transfer system”, presumably referring to changes since 2007. Targeting of transfers indeed matters, as we will see. But OECD comparisons of household income inequality which show Australia in a fairly favourable light are only available to 2008 – so if any “quiet revolution” had an impact, it wasn’t his. The jury is out on whether Labor has increased or decreased inequality.

In reality Australia has above-average inequality in individual earnings by advanced economy standards, though not as unequal as the US. But inequality in household incomes has increased only slightly over the past decade, because our below-average spend on transfers as a share of gross domestic product is closely targeted, and we barely tax poor households at all.

… Swan pays lip service at least to the education part of this agenda. But in the end he completely fails to link his many words about inequality (the bulk of which refer to other countries, not to Australia) to the allegedly baleful influence of “vested interests”.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Swan’s Monthly piece brings to mind some unsavoury images

I finally got round to reading the controversial “anti-billionaire” essay by Australian treasurer Wayne Swan in The Monthly. There were some connotations there that seemed uncomfortably familiar. Something about the language he was using really made me concerned.

The 0.01 Per Cent: The Rising Influence of Vested Interests in Australia | Wayne Swan | The Monthly.

In the last couple of years, Australia has seen the emergence of our own distributional coalitions willing to use their considerable wealth to oppose good public policy and economic reforms designed to benefit the majority. The combination of industry deep pockets, conservative political support, biased editorial policy and shock-jock ranting has been mobilised in an attempt to protect vested interest. It’s reflected in how the Coalition under Tony Abbott has recently radicalised itself into an Australian version of the Tea Party, more than willing to kneecap Australia’s three-decade reform project for cheap political points.

There are many Australians of great wealth who make important and considered contributions to the national debate. I always welcome that involvement in the discussion of public policy whether I agree with them or not. What characterises the vested interests that I’m concerned about is how they misrepresent their self-interest as the national interest. There has been a perceptible shift in this country in recent years, and it is sadly very much in the American direction of stronger and stronger influence being wielded by a smaller and smaller minority of vested interests. Crucially, much of our media seems more and more inclined to accept that growing influence.

… The latest example of this is the foray by Australia’s richest person, Gina Rinehart, into Fairfax Media, reportedly in an attempt to wield greater influence on public opinion and further her commercial interests at a time when the overwhelming economic consensus is that it’s critical to use the economic weight of the resources boom to strengthen the entire economy. Without a blush, her friend and fellow media owner John Singleton let the cat out of the bag when he told the Sydney Morning Herald that he and Rinehart had been “able to overtly and covertly attack governments … because we have people employed by us like Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones and Ray Hadley who agree with [our] thinking”.

I fear Australia’s extraordinary success has never been in more jeopardy than right now because of the rising power of vested interests. This poison has infected our politics and is seeping into our economy. Though these vested interests have not yet prevailed, every day their demands get louder.

… Instead of capitulating to the demands of the vested interests, and allowing the benefits to amass disproportionately to them, we have a chance to bend the extraordinary shift in the global economy from West to East to the advantage of all Australians. This is neither the fierce pro-market capitalism that got us into a global financial fix, nor is it anti-market socialist ideology. It’s simply the best way to keep growing Australia’s economic pie so ultimately we all end up better off. Ensuring the social contract does not erode is vital if we want to avoid a hollowed-out capitalism assured of its own collapse.

Then it clicked.

Wilhelm Marr, founder of the League of Antisemites, in Victory of Judaism over Germanism, 1879:

Highly gifted, with great flair for activities like these, the Jews dominated retail and wholesale trade as early as the Middle Ages and outwitted the hard working common folk.

The common people realized that their own sense of ethics was not shared by the Jews, because these, rather than striving for emancipation preferred to accumulate wealth.

… The same goal, disintegration of the Germanic state for the benefit of Jewish interests, is consistently pursued everywhere.

The daily press is predominantly in Jewish hands, which have transformed journalism into an object of speculation and industrial production, into a business with public opinion; critique of theater, of art in general — is to three quarters in the hands of Jews. Writing about politics and even religion is — in Jewish hands.

… After Jewish hustle and bustle had reduced journalism to a trivial but commercially successful enterprise directed at the mob’s liking of gossip and scandal, it had found the largest possible audience for its attempts at Judaizing. Centuries of a factual predominance of Jewish realism had done its preparatory work. Jewry dictated public opinion in the press.

…And in Germany, who carried off the prize of raw, material advantage? Jewry, represented by a handful of Jewish bankers; Semitic brokers. We Germans got the abstract, imaginary result — to be “Friends of the Reich”, to console us with the “Reich of dreams”.

… Starting from modest beginnings, [this Semitic people] outgrew you, it corrupted society in all of its aspects, squeezed all idealism out of it, occupies the most controlling influence in trade and daily life, penetrates ever more into public office, controls the theater, forms a social-political front and has left almost nothing for you, except raw labor which it itself has always shunned; it has tranformed talent into shiny virtuosity, pimpish advertising into the godess of public opinion and — rules you today.

… In our parliaments, where the topic of usury is paraded about as of burning importance, one can as usual, only hear — twaddle. The dogma of “individual freedom”, which really stands for the impertinence and gall of the most unbridled avarice, has become such a basic tenet of society, that our valiant representatives — what a despicable picture they offer — attempt to make an omelette without breaking the egg. Why! One might also have to curb the unbridled manipulations of big industry and of big capital and this is the reason why the question of usury remains without practical response and does not advance beyond theoretical resolutions.

The doctrinarism of our Judaized society is an aid in getting around the cliff of usury. The impoverished members of every layer of our society remain victims of usury and of its corrupted German helpers, who with the help of Jews would love to make 20 — 30% per month from the hardship and misery of the poor!

Note: I am very aware that Swan did not mention Jews or Israel anywhere and his essay is not remotely antisemitic. I am in no way equating him with the architect of Nazi-style antisemitism!

What I am doing is illustrating that his style of rhetoric and the specific accusations that he is levelling at Reinhart et al are polemical, conspiratorial and reminiscent of some extremely dangerous ideas from an earlier era.

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