Saturday, August 29, 2009

Both sides of Australian politics shoot the UN messenger on NT intervention

This blog labeled the NT intervention as racist from the outset. This was not to diminish the alarming facts of child abuse and social dysfunction but to question whether human rights were violated through the response. I won't repeat my earlier critique, but I'm sure it stands the test of time.

Kristen Gelineau, writing for Assoc Press, examines the current Govt's reaction to James Anaya, the U.N. special rapporteur on indigenous human rights, who said Thursday that his 12-day fact-finding tour of Australia revealed that Aborigines still suffer from "entrenched racism." He expressed particular concern about the intervention.

I refuse to believe that programs developed in close consultation with the key interest groups, which empower their capacity to help themselves, could not be implemented effectively without violating people's human rights. For Brough and Abott to climb on their high horses over UN interventions on human rights is despicable, as these politicians were members of a government that routinely trashed human rights in pursuance of their narrow reactionary agenda. They did little to address the human rights of women & children in remote communities for the lion's share of their period in office. What hypocrites! It took an alarm beacon to be set off in their faces for them to respond, and they did it with all the subtlety of an invading force, resplendent with military might! I can't get the abiding suspicion out of my mind that Howard sought to play low politics with the intervention - it must be something to do with 'children overboard' and the Pacific Solution that leaves me a little incredulous.

Woolly Days has a take on the defensive posture of Australian pollies and the media club.

And yet another take can be found at Public Opinion.

Surprise, surprise, Howard has again come out against a Charter or Bill of Human Rights. Howard et al don't like the idea that politician's laws are subject to universal notions of human rights. The preeminence of the parliament over the rights of its citizens seems to be at the heart of the argument. In other words, executive government should always be able to legislate at will, without consideration of whether or not laws passed undermine human rights. It is an interesting notion, somewhat reminiscent of past authoritarian regimes of the extreme left and right, who would not brook interference with their law making on the grounds of human rights.

Hmmm, what do you think about a group of politicians and their cheer squads that resist the notion that human rights should govern the laws that bind us all?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Human rights in Australia - Oz scores poorly on OECD wage & social equity indicators - why?

I have'nt been posting lately due to a bout of ill health. However, there is no diminution of interest in human rights matters on my part.

I heard a news report this morning on findings that reveal Australia scores very poorly amongst developed economies on most measures of socio-economic equality, just ahead of Portugal, UK and USA. This does not surprise me at all. The academic being interviewed suggested the main cause is income inequality, with high income earners streaking away from the rest. In response to a question whether low indigenous incomes skewed the findings, the interviewee rebuffed this as the numbers are too low to affect the baseline outcome.

This got me thinking and I recalled an essay I read recently by Benjamin Friedman on a book by the son of John Kenneth Galbraith, entitled The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too. James Galbraith argues that true conservatism is bankrupt as a source of usable policy ideas, leaving conservative rhetoric, disconnected from any actual policy implications. Rather than lament this reality, Galbraith suggests 'liberal' policy makers (in Australia this term aligns with social democrats like Labor politicians) need to reject market fundamentalism.

Galbraith observes 'conservatives' no longer follow their own orthodoxy, including free trade, balanced federal budgets and keeping inflation in check by limiting the increase in the supply of money. He argues 'neo-conservatives' have turned government policy into an instrument of private financial gain, on a grand scale, for themselves and their allies in the business and political lobbying world; hence the "predator state" of the book's title.

The "cult of the free market" has seen western political culture

"divided into two groups. There are those who praise the free market because to do so gives cover to themselves and their friends in raiding the public trough. These people call themselves "conservatives", and one of the truly galling things for real conservatives is that they have both usurped the label and spoiled the reputation of the real thing."

By contrast, so called 'liberals' "praise the "free market" simply because they fear that, otherwise, they will be exposed as heretics accused of being socialists, perhaps even driven from public life."

Sound familiar? Galbraith argues 'liberals' (or perhaps social progressives is a better term) need to acknowledge and critique the failure of markets to deliver what's promised on their behalf as a basis for the formulation of a coherent construct to challenge free market orthodoxy.

A moneyed class has emerged under the guise of conservatism that

"set out to take over the state and run it - not for any ideological project but simply in the way that would bring to them, individually and as a group, the most money, the least disturbed power, and the greatest chance of rescue should something go wrong".

Thus we get a body politic based on "predation" - "the systematic abuse of public institutions for private profit or, equivalently, the systematic undermining of public protections for the benefit of private clients".

It is no accident that income inequality is widening in polities where pay for CEOs and other top executives has exploded, where a large proportion of tax cuts goes to families at the top of the income scale, where governments rush to bail out big firms, and to protect their creditors (and their executives' pensions), but declines to help ordinary citizens shafted by dodgy lending practices. Galbraith identifies many such inequities, most of which have echoes in the Australian landscape.

Financiers have replaced inventors and entrepreneurs as the captains of industry. Rich people who have largely made their money from exploiting other people's money were cast as 'heroes' until very recently. I always new we were in trouble as they pontificated this new reality as being in the 'national interest'. Beware of snake oil operators who claim patriotism as a key motivation for their predatory behaviour. Galbraith observes "the explosion of CEO pay, and other failures of corporate governance, are natural consequences of the lack of oversight by the financial powers. From there the step to looting is not large and the constitution of top corporate officers into a predatory class follows too. At each step of the way toward the emergence of the predator state, the influence and hegemony of the financial markets lay at the very root of the problem.

"None of these enterprises has an interest in diminishing the size of the state...For without the state and its economic interventions, they would not themselves exist...Their reason for being rather is to make money off the state- so long as they control it."

It all very worrying really, particularly as the 'conservative' forces in this country want to foist a leader on to us who has been honed in the world of investment banking, arguably the greatest looter class of all. There are a number of policy areas that produce rich pickings for the public sector looters. Tax is a core area of predation. When Turnbull launched his tax missive back in 2005 I broke into commentary, thus:

"A test that seems to be applied now is whether 'the policy is enabling public money to be transferred into private hands'. That certainly seems to be one of the driving motivations of this government, and the pace will quicken as the front bench and their mates start to sniff a defeat in the wind. It is time to nail down every public service or asset that isn't already finessed into the control of those who already have too much. Thus you get the Medicare safety net for the well-off; endless tax concessions that only smart lawyers and accountants know how to exploit; tertiary education for those that can afford it; grants to resource-rich schools; and so much more that it is tedious to recount. What we need desperately is a government that genuinely governs for all and not just the mortgage belt wannabees and the legions of tax avoiders in Wentworth."

As I always say, keep your eye on the money trail, if you want to know what is really happening in the world of corrupt power politics. Galbraith concludes his book with a story of a visit to his dad in hospital:

"...I visited my father in his room...for what would prove to be the last time. I told him a little bit of what I'd been working on, and he said, "You should write a short book on corporate predation..."Then he paused and added, with his usual modesty, If I could do it, I would put you in the shade."

Maybe, but I think the old bloke would have been proud of his boy's efforts.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Australians want asylum seekers treated fairly: Amnesty

ABC reports:

"A recent poll shows 69 per cent of Australians want asylum seekers to have the same legal rights regardless of how they arrive.

The Nielsen poll of more that 1,000 people was conducted for the human rights group Amnesty International.

Amnesty International's Dr Graham Thom says the poll is significant because detainees on Christmas Island do not have the same rights as those on the mainland.

Dr Thom says the poll sends a strong message to policymakers.

"While only a fraction of those who seek asylum in Australia each year come by boat, the majority of people think it's up to 60 per cent and a third of people think it's even 80 per cent, but even with that perception Australians believe they should be treated equally," Dr Thom said.

Dr Thom says in actual fact only 3.4 per cent of asylum seekers came by boat last year.

"Clearly there is a focus on boat arrivals that is just not justifiable and this has been picked up by the population, they are being misinformed and I think those responsible need to have a good look at why they're doing and hopefully stop doing it."