Saturday, April 30, 2011

Feedback to Crikey, one of the few truly independent media voices left in Australia.

I have been asked how I'm finding my Crikey news subscription. I think Crikey is a breath of fresh air in a media landscape dumbed down by simple minded sound bites and 'gotcha' moments and traduced by political bias. My only complaint is a tendency at times to fall in with the group think of political journalists, who have pointed the bone at this Labor Government:

"I greatly enjoy your news analysis venture. My only criticism is the relentless bagging of the Govt by your political correspondent, Bernard Keane. It is bad enough we have to put up with the constant propagandizing of News Ltd outlets and many other MSM carriers on behalf of the Coalition. A largely ill-informed electorate swallow the sound bites and media grabs of this shoddy bunch and are conned into believing their life-styles are under threat by a carbon tax. BK's constant banging on about Labor's shortcomings may satisfy his political predilections, but Labor is opposed at every turn by a media campaign to deliver power to Abbott. The purveyors paint a picture of disunity, betrayal of the body politic, a 'stab in the back' for decent citizens by a government beholden to 'special interests' and unspecified 'elites'. More coded dog whistling to convince the electorate that their government is weak and incapable of protecting the country from outside threats and the export of jobs. Our PM is branded a liar, wooden, childless and weak. Actually, I think she is making a pretty good fist of the job and is a quick learner.

It is difficult to counter the constant barrage of negativity hurled at her by Abbott and his conga line of media buddies, including within the ABC, and she has been forced to adopt hard-line stances on refugees and several social policy fronts to blunt the extreme campaign of Abbott. The body politic has drifted to the right as a result of the Howard years and it is difficult for Labor to differentiate a progressive identity while hanging on to middle ground voters preoccupied with bread and butter issues and inundated with simple-minded political sound bites from every quarter. Crikey, give her a go.. "

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Robert Manne on a solution to boat arrivals - in the absence of compassion in Australia let's revisit Manus Island!

Robert Manne has reworked an earlier lecture in a piece on ABC's Unleashed today. Whilst I agree with his humanist assertions on an ideal approach to refugees arriving by boat, I question the logic of a reprise of the Manus Island facility in PNG. I made a few forays into the commentary area, as follows:

"I agree wholeheartedly with your first point re asylum seekers in the community. I was involved in the first wave of the Pacific Solution, which offered aid 'incentives' to GoPNG to re-activate the military base at Manus as a detention centre.

I visited said centre and was tasked to explore Manus Island for community based activities in health & education that AusAID could support as a way of oiling the wheels of the Provincial Govt. Aid to these areas had not been considered until the centre opened. The whole approach was under the table and pretty tacky. I was far from comfortable with the strategy.

There were other sleights of hand in terms of expenditures kept off the books of costs that were facility-related. The aging facility is by the water, with a mess for support staff and visitors, with conditions for the asylum seekers marginal at best in an extremely hot & humid place.

Manus is a relatively poor province of PNG, with high levels of youth unemployment. Doubtless the centre will be refurbished and substantial resources will be applied to its operation. This in itself can cause problems with surrounding peoples who are somewhat disadvantaged."

"I cannot believe the sanguine commentary here on the success of Nauru and TPVs. The great majority of detainees on Nauru were genuine refugees who now live in Australia and NZ. Our government spent a lot of treasure making that miracle work. People were persecuted without any foundation whatsoever. In the knowledge that the Pacific Solution was an expensive unsustainable dud, particularly given the parlous state of Nauru, the Howard govt. commissioned Christmas Island, which has turned out to be an even bigger dud. Refugees on TPVs lived a twilight existence of uncertainty and fear that they would be returned forcefully to their home countries. It was another form of mindless punishment of innocent human beings.

Refugee advocates rightly highlighted the bloody mindedness of this Catch 22 scenario hatched by Howard and chums. I had never seen a government so practiced in the art of pettiness. I managed the aid component of the Nauru solution; I was on the detention facility coordinating committee and Howard’s task force on ‘illegal arrivals’. I know of what I speak and my role in that cruel fiasco stirred me to examine Australia's performance in the arena of human rights.

What happened to that freedom loving social democracy built on universal human rights; a nation at ease with itself and welcoming to those who face persecution on political, religious or ethnicity grounds? Never existed, right?

We are in fact an uncompassionate society ready to disbelieve the legitimate claims of asylum seekers who didn’t stand in a non-existent queue of orderly people waiting for whichever repressive regime they are escaping to allow them to migrate. The silliness of this position overwhelms me at times.

Thankfully a good many decent Australians refuse to bow down to a majority opinion that tolerates human rights abuses.

I am reminded of a quote from Mahatma Gandhi:

"It is a superstition and ungodly thing to believe that an act of a majority binds a minority. Many examples can be given in which acts of majorities will be found to have been wrong and those of minorities to have been right. All reforms owe their origin to the initiation of minorities in opposition to majorities...So long as the superstition that men should obey unjust laws exists, so long will their slavery exist.""

"If you take the combined figure for PNG & Nauru I believe over 1,600 people were detained. Some 1,200 were settled in Australia and NZ as refugees. To our shame, NZ took a proportionally higher number when capacity and relative resources are considered. Some 480 returned to their source countries, many of whom took a measly DIMIA bribe to get out of the hell hole of detention. We now know many of those found themselves in harm's way yet again (see David Corlett's "Following Them Home").

As Susan Metcalf points out in her book on the Pacific Solution, Oxfam and A Just Australia estimate the cost (of the Pacific Solution) at more than $1 billion, with the $390m construction of the Christmas Island facility included in this figure. The long-term damage done to the human beings involved and to Australia cannot be calculated".

I can confirm that many of us who worked on the aid component of the PS invariably suffered deep anxiety & depression as a result. Public assets were misused to enable a ruthless politician to drive a wedge that won an election (arguably two elections) and that is still demeaning our body politic.

What does it say about the health of our democracy in the 21st century when a major political party has as the centrepiece of its election platform the punishment of refugees that arrive by boat? It is frankly disgusting."

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Abbott's carbon tax strategy to win govt at the cost of the national interest

Abbott and his conga line of media cronies are continuing the thinly camouflaged campaign to win government by trashing any attempt to put a price on carbon. In the process our national interest is being subverted for political gain. The science on climate change is routinely questioned and vilified by skilled dog whistlers and commentators compromised by their links to vested interests opposed to carbon pricing. A largely ill-informed electorate swallow the sound bites and media grabs of this shoddy bunch and are conned into believing their life-styles are under threat. The test of sound leadership is knowing when to sublimate the desire for power in the national interest. Throughout history great leaders have offered bi-partisanship in the face of national challenges. What do we get here? Abbott pretends to care about the little people while doing the bidding of the mining and power companies. He pitches a different message to different audiences, depending on their relative levels of literacy - in the case of the recent rally outside Parliament three word slogans were more than enough. Demagogues always operate like this - it is in their DNA to tailor the message to suit the crowd and they are gifted at pressing the right fear buttons with confected outrage and anger. Sound familiar?

Lenore Taylor is one of the better journalists following the carbon pricing debate. In her latest piece she writes:

"...The political genius of Abbott's campaign is to focus all that anxiety, all the anger about all the existing price pressures, on to the carbon price which has not even happened yet. Coalition strategists are absolutely blunt about it. ''We are going to blame the carbon price for absolutely everything,'' they say."

If its not scaring people over asylum seekers its scaring them about phantom cost of living increases. Abbott is a fear monger-er of the worst sort. We have seen his type of politician down through the ages. They set up straw men to knock down and claim the credit for 'saving' the people from some imaginary onslaught. Coalition supporters have used asylum seekers and certain 'types' of migrants to raise the spectre of threats to personal security and standards of living & public services, lower land & property values. Instead of joining with the government to develop a bipartisan approach to immigration and the ongoing challenge of irregular arrivals by asylum seekers, we get a shrill pitch to fear and division. Ring a bell? Well it bloody well should. Carbon pricing is the next bogey man to be misused by this reactionary campaign to grab power.

Another plank of the strategy is to demonize the Labor leadership, much in the way the Tea Party is demonizing Obama's leadership in America. They paint a picture of disunity, betrayal of the body politic, a 'stab in the back' for decent citizens by a government beholden to 'special interests' and unspecified 'elites'. More coded dog whistling to convince the electorate that their government is weak and incapable of protecting the country from outside threats and the export of jobs. Our PM is branded a liar, wooden, childless and weak. Ring a bell? Well it bloody well should.

The latest strategy in the US Congress is to link repeal of progressive social policies in areas such as abortion to an agreement on reducing the budget deficit. A quick scan of the signs on show at Abbott's 'people's revolt' rally reveal a similar bent. Ring a bell? Well it bloody well should.

One of the Tea Party pin up boys, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has called for a “roadmap” for the economy, brought out last year, which "would essentially privatize Social Security (a failed effort by George W. Bush); replace Medicare with vouchers that people would use in the private insurance market but that would likely not increase in value as the cost of care went up; and revise the tax code so that the middle class would end up paying higher taxes than the wealthy. Low-income people would be especially hard hit by Ryan’s plan." Similarly, Abbott's welfare prescriptions would be just the first step in the dismantlement of a fair income re-distribution system built up over decades. Guess who would shoulder the lion's share of Abbott's carbon emissions strategy? The low and middle class tax payer of course. It is a recipe to recycle public money away from tax payers to the big end of town polluters. Ring a bell? Well it bloody well should.

Poor fella my country....

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Sunday, April 03, 2011

ABC Insiders just another vehicle for reactionary pamphleteers dog whistling for Abbott

I have finally given up on this show, which should be compulsory viewing for political junkies like me. However, it has become a vehicle for right wing pamphleteers to dog whistle for reactionary politics. Attempts to counter their twaddle by sensible journalists are foiled by bullying and poor hosting. Poor Barry is more interested in his sun tan and taking revenge on Labor luminaries who have done him wrong than bringing some sense of decorum to this ongoing farce. My last feedback went like this:

"I have complained several times about the demeaning of the political discourse by enabling paid up pamphleteers to have such a high profile on this show. I am addicted to the contest of ideas at the heart of our body politic but Bolt and Ackermann are dog whistlers for a particularly nasty brand of reactionary politics, and should not be allowed to bully other journalists who actually have an open mind. Free speech by all means but just give them a megaphone and send them back from whence they come. I've persevered for a long time but Bolt's 'performance' today was beyond the pale - he will be back sniggering with his fellow travelers on his appalling blog before the day is out and our ABC will be further diminished under its own charter. You won't be hearing from me again Barry so you can relax and get your bets on.... "

Friday, April 01, 2011

Asylum seekers in Australia - regional framework begins to take shape

VoA reports "The Asia-Pacific region has become the first to produce a framework agreement to combat human trafficking. Member nations agreed to share responsibility for the regional problem and showed some support for a controversial proposal by the Australian government during a Bali Process meeting.

Thirty-two nations in the Asia-Pacific region agreed to take a regional approach to human trafficking and people smuggling during the fourth Bali Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. While the framework is non-binding, it is the world’s first such agreement.

The framework draws up the way in which nations should deal with people smugglers, asylum seekers, illegal immigrants and trafficking victims. The nations agreed that treatment of all parties should promote human life and dignity and reflect the principles of burden-sharing.

The Asia-Pacific region hosts 3.9-million refugees, according to the United nations, and includes source, transitional and destination nations for asylum seekers, illegal immigrants and trafficked people. Pakistan hosts 1.7-million refugees, Iran hosts more than one million, and around 150,000 refugees are residing in Thailand."

This blog has advocated a regional approach to asylum seeker processing for many years. It is encouraging to read the communique to emerge from the Bali process. We may not get an all-encompassing outcome that includes a regional processing centre, but it is important that regional players have an interest in a sensible framework that benefits all, including, most importantly, the refugees themselves. The current desperate default that leads refugees toward people smugglers is a lose lose that diminishes us all. Our common humanity demands a humane approach, that addresses regional security concerns while managing refugee claims and people movement effectively, and that precludes recruiting small states such as Nauru, desperate for foreign capital, into low rent deals with low rent politicians.