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Showing posts with the label australia

Why stop the boats?

I don't want to spend this whole election campaign writing angry posts about refugee policy. There are so many more interesting, and less repetitively awful, things to think about. But... you've gotta have at least one. So here we go.

There is no border protection rationale for the Pacific Solution, or Operation Sovereign Borders, or whatever we're now calling it. At the absolute peak of boat arrivals, the numbers were around 30 000 a year. (In no year did that many actually arrive, but nearly 15 000 people arrived on boats in the first six months of 2013.) In that year, net migration to Australia was 235 000. It's declined since, but is still comfortably clear of 150 000. And those are the net numbers, so the number of new immigrants arriving is higher than that. So the number of asylum seekers is much too small to have any real impact on unemployment, or welfare budgets, or culture, or really anything. You might want to have some short detention period for security r…

Why are we doing this again?

Last week, the High Court authorised the government to send 267 asylum seekers who are currently in Australia to the offshore processing centre on Nauru. 91 of them are children, including thirty-seven babies born in Australia. Keeping children in detention is horrific and incredibly damaging to their mental health. In the aftermath of the High Court decision there has been a surge of political pressure on the government to keep these refugees, and especially the children, in Australia rather than deporting them.

The most significant development is that Daniel Andrews, the Premier of Victoria, has written to the Prime Minister offering to settle the refugees in Victoria and accept all the costs of their healthcare, education, and so on. The Chief Minister of the ACT has made a similar offer, and the premiers of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania have also made somewhat more limited offers to help with the settlement of refugees. So you might think that, for Malc…

Don't go there, Europe

Another boat, carrying hundreds of people, sinks. The second in a week. Though none of them really want to welcome or deal with these migrants, politicians recognise they have to do something. Existing policies were supposed to deter people from trying to make this fatal crossing, but they've failed. So solemn statements are issued, emergency sessions scheduled, while people scramble to figure out what needs to be done.

It's April 2015, in Europe. But it could be the end of June 2012, in Australia, the month we cracked once and for all. Two boats sank off Christmas Island, and the spectre of more drownings forced action. We had detention centres. We had frozen asylum applications from war-torn, repressive countries. This was supposed to make a difference, but apparently it didn't, because - in the Coalition's vile phrase - there was still "sugar on the table". Back to 'offshore processing': taking these people, putting them somewhere else, to be locked…

Everyone's wrong about the Intergenerational Report

Remember the 2010 Intergenerational Report? If you don’t, it’s not because you’re forgetful: a quick Google reveals that, apart from on the website of the Treasury itself, almost nothing was published about it at the time of its release. This year, it’s all over the news, and the reason is no mystery: Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott think that this report might be the start of a solution to the intense unpopularity of last year’s budget.
So, how big really are the differences between this year’s report and the last one? One of the biggest changes is in the presentation. Take the Forewords, written by the Treasurer of the day: Wayne Swan in 2010 noted that the report presents challenges which are “substantial, but … not beyond a nation like ours”, and briefly mentioned some of the government’s recent changes. Hockey, this year, repeatedly highlights the importance of reducing the debt burden, criticises the previous government, and praises the government’s economic plan for enabling Austra…

Who is Gillian Triggs anyway?

That is the question that might well have been on people's lips for the last couple of weeks, in a not-that-wacky alternative universe. There was no need for the release of the Human Rights Commission's report on children in detention to be even vaguely difficult for the government to handle. But the Coalition has somehow contrived to turn the release of a critical but eminently manageable report into a full-blown political disaster and an investigation by the Australian Federal Police.

Put aside, for the moment, the morality and culpability of various people embroiled in this dispute. For the record, my own view is this: Gillian Triggs did handle this report in a slightly strange way, and that's probably not unrelated to the fact that her political sympathies are closer to the ALP than the Liberal Party. That doesn't make any difference to the merits of the report or the importance of responding to it rather than slandering its author, and trying to convince an indepe…

How the Australian press drags down Prime Ministers

I'm enjoying watching the Liberal Party squirm and tear itself up as much as anyone. I think Tony Abbott is a pretty laughable Prime Minister and that his government is a terrible and regressive one. And Coalition politicians really did say a lot of stuff about Labor navel-gazing which is now pretty hilarious. So the schadenfreude is fun.

But this was a problem when it happened to Julia Gillard, and it's a problem now. The Australia media has become very good at destroying Prime Ministers, and very eager to do just that. This is a PM I, and many of the people who'll read this, detest. But that doesn't change the fact that we now seem to have a basically rabid press gallery who are more than happy to gin up a leadership crisis from the barest of source material.

Obviously the situation is not that the media have invented this out of nothing. The government is very unpopular, and Abbott has made a series of increasingly comical missteps that seem to have sown genuine doubt…

What Victoria's state election isn't

I didn't get sent the postal ballot I applied for, so my contribution to the Victorian democratic process for this year will come in the form of a short rant.

There have been a lot of articles in the last week, and will inevitably be more in the next few days, about the contribution of the Abbott government and its unpopularity to this result. A state government in Victoria has not been removed after one term since the 1950s. It happened today; the idea that Denis Napthine and the Victorian Liberal Party were tarred with the federal party's toxic brush is an easy explanation of why. Here is one analysis piece, blaming the Coalition's defeat on "a toxic fusion of state and national politics". Here is a news article saying that the result "will inevitably be interpreted as sending a strong message to Canberra" - as if that interpretation just happens, magically, and not because of articles which say things like that. A very brief and straightforward histo…

Three travesties: this week in Australian government

Here is Joe Hockey, on the BBC, lying baldly.

That may be a bit harsh. Unless he's an extremely good liar, he doesn't seem to show any signs that he knows what he's saying is untrue at all. This is not complicated stuff. I learned in Year 9 geography that Australia was among the largest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. That has not changed. You can look at the statistics here.

The Treasurer didn't actually dispute those statistics, of course. He just said they were "misleading", because they failed to take into account some important fact about Australia's economy. He didn't really say what that important fact was: maybe something to do with the cleanness of our coal, or that we have a lot of land. He was most excitable about the fact that Australia exports energy to the region; but that is irrelevant, because the statistics don't count Australian resources used overseas towards Australia's emissions, as Hockey seemed to b…

forests, trees, the predictability of Tony Abbott

I don't want to be a know-it-all and I definitely don't want to be the kind of person who refers to previous stuff I've written, but this is relevant. If you took seriously the policy debate (such as it was) that occurred before the last election then you would have a fairly concrete idea - yeah, I hear you, left-wing types, just go with it for a bit - about what the Abbott government was for and what it'd do. If you were the kind of person (more like me) who is quite convinced of their general principled and ideological premises and decided it wasn't worth bothering that much about assessing the specific policy agendas of the main parties, you would also have had an expectation - a much vaguer one, as much as anything characterised by a general feeling of right-wing-ness, maybe accompanied by some instinctive sense of unease / glory and optimism.

Here's the thing though: there are a lot of things you could probably draw out of that general feeling which wouldn…

Global warming, cold days, bushfires

There are currently bushfires raging in New South Wales. They are grave and sobering. Also raging is an enormous fuss about the putative connection between these fires and global warming. So far, as far as my extremely limited attention to this can tell, the debate has ranged over whether this connection exists, whether it's appropriate to talk about it, whether it has any policy implications, whether Wikipedia is a reliable source...

This is not serious. It is very silly, from everyone involved, but particularly from the people who I would generally have more political affinity with. The whole thing has been scattergun and stupid; too much so for me to even write a post as long as I was planning to. So this is now very short.

Just one complaint I promise

This isn't going to be long and it's not going to be frequent, because I have so much other stuff to do and also because I don't want to be that person who spends months after an election defeat smouldering with rage. It's probably unhealthy, apart from anything else.

But come on.

Review the demand-driven model? Okay. It's vaguely plausible that universities are taking on too many students and quality is declining as a result - although it's strange that the main worry is about "poisoning" the international reputation of the sector rather than, you know, making sure that students are getting the best possible education. But whatever.

Abolish compulsory SSAF - well, I don't go to an Australian university and I have no dog in this fight, but somebody has to pay for this stuff and it's not obvious why it shouldn't be the students. Any particular student's university fees already pay for lots of things that student will never use, so the serv…

So just like the last five years then

I got a letter today, and it contained a promise. When I checked, it wasn't the first time this promise had been made, and when I checked a little more, the promise meant nothing at all. But I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Two million jobs, in ten years? No! That'd be nearly seventeen thousand jobs every month!

You can get the data here, if you feel like making a graph for yourself.

Bonus "Australia is awesome" update: here is a graph for the same period, measured at the same intervals, for the US.

Australia is awesome.

Scott Morrison In 'Basically A Racist' Shock

Well, this happened. My mum went into a spin last night when she first heard about it. Initially I thought she was being a bit unreasonable. But having read about it this morning, I can confidently say that the Coalition's new policy is nonsensical and xenophobic.

Here's what's happening: Julia Gillard last year announced the Houston Review, in classic get-the-military-involved-in-refugee-policy style. The end result of that review was that there should be a "no advantage" policy, under which coming to Australia would not get you settled any more quickly than waiting in a UNHCR camp. So there are quite a lot of people in Australia who basically aren't getting their claims processed, in order that they don't get any advantage. These people arrived over the last year, before Rudd's policy switch. They are now here. Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott are now saying that they will never get permanently settled in the country.

Tony Abbott and the conscience vote killed marriage equality

This is infuriating.

Last night, Kevin Rudd promised that if re-elected he would bring on a vote on marriage equality within the first hundred days of his government. That is good, and it's fantastic to see that the ALP believes marriage equality is a vote-winner worth making a campaign issue out of.

Rudd remains committed to a conscience vote. The result of the last vote was a 42-98 defeat, with ALP members voting their conscience and the Coalition voting in a bloc against. So the contours are fairly clear: if the Coalition doesn't give its MPs a conscience vote, there will be no marriage equality; if it does, the odds are somewhere round even.

Why didn't Tony Abbott give his members a conscience vote? Well, we know he is a devout Catholic who opposes marriage equality himself. But the reason he gives is this: the issue wasn't on the radar before the 2010 election, and to the extent that it was, the Coalition's position was to oppose marriage equality, so it's…

Julia Gillard and the media

There's a book out fairly recently called 'The Stalking of Julia Gillard', about Kevin Rudd's long-term campaign to regain the Prime Ministership and the role played by the media. I have only read the first two chapters, and to be honest it seems fairly boring. The book is a kind of diary-style recount of The Saga of Julia and Kevin and the media's treatment of it, though unfortunately it ends in March 2013 and so doesn't quite get to the tale's conclusion.

Anyway, maybe it's interesting, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend reading it. In particular because I think the most important point is made by the Appendix, which I'm going to write out here. The Appendix is a chronology of predictions and assessments by journalists - not all journalists, just a select few - about the Labor leadership. It leaves out, also, all the critical commentary that was written about things not strictly related to the leadership: the carbon tax, mining tax, Malaysia…

"I will be very clear of one thing, this party and this government will not be lurching to the right on the question of asylum seekers."

For a couple of years, I've - quietly, privately - wished that refugee politics would just go away. Not that the refugees would, but that a toxic issue and the poisonous conversation around it would cease to be live and important on Australia's political stage. That, given the apparent impossibility of a genuinely humane policy, the ALP would stop trying to win votes by outfoxing Tony Abbott - Malaysia, Manus, Angus Houston - pass something close to what he demanded, and take the issue off the table. This would not be a victory for asylum seekers, but there didn't seem to be any victory in sight for them, and there were and are plenty of other reasons not to want Tony Abbott to cruise into the Lodge.

This was not an optimistic hope. It seemed, desperately sadly, to be the best we could anticipate. Even that hope has been violently, utterly dashed.

Briefly, I thought Kevin Rudd might get us there. Suggesting that Tony Abbott's policy might lead to conflict with Indonesi…

Margaret Thatcher, the UMSU, etc.

Margaret Thatcher was apparently worried about the prospect of a divisive debate in Parliament over her funeral arrangements. That hasn't happened, but her fear was far from misplaced.

In Melbourne, the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Student Council passed a motion listing and condemning some of Thatcher's actions and declaring that it "celebrates" her death. A brief and reasonable roundup is here. The key details are that with 12 of 16 Councillors present, the motion was tabled and debated. It was suggested that the motion be amended to condemn the actions but remove the "celebrate" line; the tabler declared that no amendment would be acceptable, and so the motion was passed 5 to 3 with 4 abstentions.

I have some thoughts in rough ascending order of generality.


One of the interesting points about Australian politics, as somebody who also observes a fair bit of the US variety, is that our major parties are all pretty similar. I don't even really mean that as a criticism. Labor, the Liberals and the Greens all agree on public provision of healthcare, quite significant welfare benefits and firm regulation in the context of a mostly free market.

This is almost always true of the parliamentary parties, except for when Joe Hockey or Doug Cameron go momentarily rogue. It's less universally but still mostly true of the parties more broadly, though the youth movements (particularly the Young Liberals) are sometimes more radical. I guess if you're a full-on libertarian that might annoy you, but for most people the political spectrum's broadly settled social-democratic nature is good and reassuring.

The effect of it is that there's not much reason to be a rusted-on voter for either side, outside of perceived inherent incompetence - …

Sales v Abbott, II

I might as well write down what I thought substantively about the Abbott interview. I've read Andrew Bolt doing a bit of digging this morning regarding the refugees/illegal entry point, and he actually convinced me. He convinced me in such a way that it's basically irrelevant: some UN documents he found described refugees as illegal arrivals. They then proceeded to say that receiving nations should basically ignore that 'illegal' status, so it's ultimately meaningless, but I guess you could say Abbott is technically correct when he describes refugees as illegal.

The bigger disaster was about BHP. Abbott says today that of course he had read BHP's documents and he thought Leigh Sales was referring to something else. You can look at the transcript and decide for yourself how plausible that is; the clincher for me is sentences like "you're not seriously telling me", which suggest that he basically thinks the carbon/mining tax is to blame because he th…

Hostile media

Your precise opinion on this probably depends on what you already think of Tony Abbott, but no matter how you slice it he had a tough time on 7.30 last night. It's worth watching the interview, or at least reading the transcript (which is what I did).

I don't get The Australian and of course it's all behind a paywall now so I can't check online, but I strongly suspect that today or in the next few days we'll get a new round of commentary on the ABC's groupthink and left-wing bias. The predictability of this does not make it wrong, only amusing.

In my opinion this interview and the response to it speak to a problem with the way we think about independence, balance and bias in the media.

I'm not very interested in slicing and dicing with definitions to determine whether Leigh Sales was showing bias in that interview. The real question should be slightly different. We can probably all agree that Sales was quite aggressive and unrelenting in the course of inter…