Friday, 20 August 2010

I Blog and I Vote

I like elections and election campaigns. All sides of politics are put back into promotion and selling, convincing me to vote for them. I get to throw them out, or keep them in. This might sound arrogant to you, but based on the last election results, where I live now is the most marginal seat in Australia, won by only 64 votes out of 82,000. And that was with a swing against the sitting member.

So what does that mean for my vote? Just like every election, I based my vote on care for the most needy. To steal some biblical phrases, we'd call them "the least of these" or "the widows and orphans." The way we treat the marginalised is the measure of us, and that applies to us as individuals and, more importantly, as a community. If you read some of my previous entries on this election, you'll get the idea. I've looked at more policies than those I wrote about, and I would have liked to blog about them all, but time is against me this year.

But here's the summary. The Labor Party and the Liberal Party are like Pepsi and Coke this time around. The differences are trivial on the issues that matter. From what I've seen, the campaigning between the two has been more like Australian Idol than a genuine battle of ideas, with the added element of negative advertising. They've appealed to the hip pocket of middle Australia, but in the end they don't offer much that's different to each other.

And the Greens? Yes, I've looked at them too. Full points goes to them for not being the Dr Pepper in this metaphor. They aren't just another flavour of the same, most evident in the issues that I did write about.

So this is how I'm going to vote.
1. Below the line. Every preference is my preference, not theirs.
2. ALP and Liberals last.
3. Greens first.
4. Fill in the rest with preference away from nationalistic parties.

Yes, this year I'm voting Greens and I encourage you to do the same.

EDIT: I use a tag for all my posts about the Australian Election 2010. It will explain my position a little better if you read them as well.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Making golf courses useful

In the news this week:
The Department of Housing has confirmed it has reached an agreement with the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder over a new site for an Indigenous short-stay facility.

The council was asked to suggest alternative locations for the centre after community opposition to the Government's preferred location of Vivian Street.

A spokeswoman for the department says plans are underway to buy a section of land at the Boulder Golf Club.

She says the sale is subject to the outcome of community consultation, which is expected to continue until mid-September.
ABC Online, Golf land to be used for short-stay facility

It reminds me of this piece by George Carlin.

I'm just sorry that George didn't live long enough to see it happen.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Policy Comparison at the ABC

Regular readers will know that I've compared a couple of policies across the Labor, Liberal and Greens parties as we approach the election. This is clearly a popular pasttime. The ABC has done something similar, but without the value judgements, and mostly without the Greens. They have a page which serves as a launching point for you to make your own comparisons. The section headings operate like search tags, though, and will take you to stories about those issues.

Nevertheless, you can learn a lot from these links. Our national broadcaster has done a lot of work for you by bringing together the stories about the election. You should look through it before you vote. Make your vote a deliberate and informed choice.

Friday, 13 August 2010

The Boats, The Boats

Refugees. Illegal immigrants. Queue jumpers. Terrorists in disguise. In the past decade, our media and politicians have called them all sorts of things. The images are of brown-skinned people, dressed shabbily, crowded onto boats and staring at the camera. Foremost in people's minds is the question, "Who are these people? Are they genuinely fleeing persecution, or are they lying to sneak into Australia?"

Before I look at the major parties' policies, I'll briefly go over three points. The size of the problem, our historical response to the problem, and our moral obligations.

The size of the problem is important. Just from the TV and the newspapers it looks as though it's frequent and it's large, as though the boats are another form of public transport. Famously, a couple of graphic representations have been crafted to show the scale of the situation. Relative to the population, it's small. Relative to other refugees, it's small. Relative to the number of people who overstay visas, it's small (the count was about 47800 people, around five years ago). If we, as a community, are concerned about illegal residency, the bulk of the problem is here, not on boats, but it doesn't make for good video-bites and sound-bites to deport a hundred backpackers.

Historically, we've seen an increase in the numbers of boat people, without a commensurate increase in personnel to assess their claims for refugee status. "In 1998-99, 926 boat people were detained, in 1999-2000, 4174." The number of people in detention rose, and the length of time they were in detention rose as well. Courts were unable to handle the increased demand, and the terrible situations in the detention centres arose. Hunger strikes. Suicides. It became "prudent" to send them offshore. It's cheaper to run a detention centre in Nauru, and it's harder for the Australian media to investigate. The solution was to find more space for the queue, rather than find sufficient capacity to evaluate claims for asylum.

But what's the problem? Why can't we just let them all into the wider community? The problem lies in the notion of government as the ordering force in society. Government has a role to provide the rule of law and security for citizens and residents. They are even given the right to use violence, in the form of the police and the military, to accomplish this. As Max Weber put it, the state is the entity that claims a "monopoly on the legitimate use of violence." So governments want to protect the community from...

...from? Well, from terrorists hiding as refugees, said Wilson Tuckey, Liberal Party MP in 2009. And maybe from ethnic gangs that form in ghettos in the suburbs of Australia. There have certainly been plenty of cases of ethnic violence in Australia, some allegedly caused by Sudanese, some by Serbians and Croatians, some by Anglos. In all cases, this view of government shows that the moral responsibility of government is to impose order.

But what about our moral responsibility to genuine refugees? It doesn't take much googling to see that the situation in countries like Sudan and Afghanistan is terrible. Women living in the DR Congo fear for their safety and her lives. The process to assess asylum claims is required for this situation. People who are in such peril in other countries want to take refuge in safe countries. No one should argue that. Furthermore, a wealthy and peaceful country has the resources available to provide that refuge. The next time you go shopping, look around you at the products on sale. More clothes. More jewellery. More electronics. We have more than enough money in Australia, and yet we spend it on ourselves for things we don't need when there are others who have neither the money nor the opportunity to even have clean water and regular food.

And with that in mind, let's look at the policies from the big three.

The Greens have a policy on immigration and refugees. It has three main points: No mandatory detention, end offshore processing, climate refugee visas. The first one sends a shiver of fear through anyone who thinks that governments should enforce order to protect society. Refugees can disappear into the community, true. In that way they'd become like any other illegal resident, from backpackers to Chinese sweatshop workers who overstay visas. The second point is good. Asylum claims should be reviewed here, with the people here close to services that they need, like medical care and psychological care. The third point is also good, and quite forward thinking. Sea levels are rising (for whatever reason) and there will soon be a number of people who need somewhere else to live.

The Labor Party has, well, nothing on their website. I looked for immigration. I looked for refugee. Only when I looked for asylum did I find some commentary. No policy, just a press release. Let's work from that. They want a regional centre (Timor?), which is another way of saying that it won't be in Australia. Sri Lankans are welcome again, because they improved internal security. I wonder whether there will be such a need for asylum claims from a country that has improved internal security. And not much more than that. A regional centre that assess claims by people fleeing countries with improved internal security and humans rights performance? This is not the action of the strong protecting the weak, it's the strong showing some concern for the average.

And the Liberals? For a start, it's listed under National Security issues, so already we see their approach. The policy is called Restoring Sovereignty and Control to our Borders. Despite its ominous name, the policy focus in on people smuggling with a final point about "a compassionate and fair refugee and humanitarian program" for refugees who "come to Australia through legitimate processes." Although I'm pleased that they've not ignored genuine need, I'm stunned that they think a person in fear of their life will queue up at an Australian embassy to follow "legitimate processes."

Fleeing in fear is just that. People leave homes, possessions, culture, and sometimes family, to preserve themselves. Bellowing "STOP THE BOATS" is a shameful trivialisation of the issue. There are people on those boats, and people should be treated as exactly that, people. If the problem is people smuggling, then say it as it is, and deal with it as people smuggling.

And lastly, perhaps as poetic reminder, another country once sent plenty of boats to this land. Those boats brought soldiers, violent criminals, petty thieves who stole bread for their families, and a whole host of other social problems (alcohol abuse, disease, etc.). By the standards of some Australian political parties, not even the First Fleet would have landed.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Indigenous Policy, Some developments

I posted last week about the indigenous policies of the Liberals, the Greens and the ALP. The weekend news has had some developments. The Australian has reported,
Under pressure over Labor's lack of progress on its promise to hold a referendum to recognise indigenous people in the Constitution, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin held talks yesterday with Aboriginal leaders Galarrwuy Yunupingu and Marcia Langton at the Garma festival, near Gove in northeastern Arnhem Land.
The article goes on to show that both Rudd and Howard proposed amendments to the constitution on this issue, but neither saw it through to the end.

I also agree with these comments by Prof. Marcia Langton (from the report).
"She has said nothing about indigenous people. If she has nothing at all to say about indigenous people . . . that will set a very bad tone for the relationship should she win the next election," Professor Langton said.
While it's important for the campaigning to be spread across the relevant ministers and senior figures, it's also important that the candidate for Prime Minister speak across the whole range of policies.

Perhaps the least impressive aspect of this is the return to reliance on community consensus rather than community persuasion. Strategy like this doesn't look like leadership, it looks like vote-winning through focus groups. I'm left wondering what the ALP believes. The members of the ALP aren't ignorant, I'm sure. Jenny Macklin has an honours degree in economics. Kevin Rudd has a first class honours degree in Arts (major in Chinese history). Julia Gillard has degrees in Arts and Law. These are are all people who have the ability to think and argue, but in this campaign I don't yet see it.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Indigenous Policy

Indigenous quality of life is a great metric for the success of Australia. These are the conquered people of this continent, who previously had sovereignty over the land in a diverse mix of tribes (or nations, depending on your translation). I say conquered because no treaty exists between the British invaders and the conquered tribes. Legally, the Anglo-Australian state recognises citizens regardless of place of birth or colour of skin, and that's a good start, but to think that the Aboriginal peoples are anything but conquered is to forget the violence brought by Europeans in taking the resources of the land.

But suppose that we take the view that we all peacefully co-exist now, and that we are all Australians, and that The Apology has put it all behind us. The sociological group of Australians who live in the worst conditions are the Aboriginal peoples. If the prosperity of society means anything at all, it will be evident in the lives of people in the worst conditions. Middle Australia is doing fine, rest assured. Just look at the rate of ownership of mobile phones. We apparently have "one of the highest rates of mobile phone ownership in the world." A lot of Middle Australian money has contributed to that rate.

But enough from me. Let's look at the major parties' policies on indigenous issues.

The Liberal party doesn't have an explicit policy for it. They've bundled it into a Community policy. That's a good move because it acknowledges the necessity of equality across the community, that everyone should be regarded in the same way. It covers a few areas, including mental health (with a focus on early intervention, hospital beds, youth sites) childcare (child care rebates and child care centres), families (a single-page about what Labor did wrong) and paid parental leave (26 weeks paid). Overall, it makes the assumption that we're all living within reach of hospitals and child care centres. That doesn't bode well for remote communities, where most indigenous people are.

The Greens have a separate policy for indigenous affairs. Although I'd mark it down for being a separate problem, at least it has some explicit words around it. It (like my preamble) pays attention to the prior occupancy and the lack of a treaty, and wants those issues dealt with. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of it is the demand for implementation of the recommendations of seven reports into indigenous affairs. Money has been spent on research and investigation, and recommendations have been given; so I understand why the Greens want to see some action from all that expenditure. I'm still undecided about some of the points to do with native language education and so on, because it feels as though we should then fund schooling in Mandarin for the Chinese enclaves throughout Australia (for example). The jury is out on that.

And last on my list of Big Three is Labor. They don't have a policy for indigenous affairs, but they have a hot topic, just like the Libs. One key advantage that Labor has over the Liberals is the ability to take action on the issue. Looking at the ALP tags on indigenous affairs shows a lot of activity, from job creation and doctor placement through to sports programs and accommodation for trainees from remote communities. Of course, I read it with some skepticism because it's election time, and this skepticism would be allayed if I had an idea of their policy. Where is the ALP going with all this? Do we just see a series of random "photo opportunities" here, or a clear strategy to improve living conditions for aboriginal people?

This is important for my vote. Our treatment of aborigines is woeful, like the sans papiers in France. This is a "symptomal torsion" as Badiou would say. Fix this problem and along the way we will solve so many other problems.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

A regular occurrence

This article in the Australian about a multiple shooting incident in a US workplace has a subtle remark near the end.

"Many US states have loose gun ownership laws and massacres in public places are a regular occurrence."
Beer warehouse driver shoots 8 co-workers dead | The Australian

If the Australian is right, we have come to expect this violence as regular in the US. It's part of the American landscape, claims this view, for an individual to shoot several random people and then themselves as a means of dealing with some intractable problem.

It makes it sound like it's part of the weather patterns, or the migratory habits of local fauna.