The Cost of Doing Nothing
As bush-fires rage and rage across Australia (I'm in one of the few state capitals which isn't actually being directly affected by bushfire smoke; I feel as though I'm cheating somehow) our Prime Minister keeps on banging on about the costs of taking action to deal with climate change. Apparently it would cost too much for us to change what we're doing to work to mitigate the risk of climate change. That's why we're not doing anything - because doing something would cost too much.
What's happening now, all down the east coast, and cutting the transport across the Nullarbor, is the cost of NOT dealing with it. So let's start counting that cost, shall we?
Direct Costs (as at the morning of 05 JAN 2020):
* 23 people are dead, since September. At least three of these people are volunteer fire fighters - who weren't being paid for their work (and whose compensation for extended absence from workplaces and so on is being limited to $6000 by the federal government).
* More than 6 million hectares of land burned. It may recover, it may not. We can't count on recovery. We certainly can't count on the arable stuff being able to be farmed in the next growing season, because that depends on an end to the drought.
* More than 450 million animals known to have been killed since the start of the fire season - and that's mainly the livestock, I'm guessing. The impact on native wildlife is still unknown, but we may well have entire species going extinct as a result of habitat destruction. I realise this may not seem like much to our politicians, since animals can't vote, but the destruction of biodiversity makes it harder and harder for the landscape to recover from these sorts of catastrophic events.
* 110 properties and 220 outbuildings known to be destroyed in Victoria alone.
* Destruction of essential infrastructure (electricity substations, water treatment plants, power transmission lines, water tanks etc)
* Destruction of workplaces (eg Adelaide hills wine industry - 1/3 of that has been burned; Mallacoota abalone collective (2nd largest employer in town); any number of farms; etc) which results in people being put onto Newstart (and let's not forget: the rate of Newstart is ridiculously low. It's about half the poverty line income).
* Increased mortality rates, ambulance call outs and hospitalisation rates in smoke-affected and bushfire affected areas.
* Greater rate of distress from smoke-related illnesses on the East coast, greater rate of distress from psychological illness all over the country.
* Nullarbor highway & Coolgardie-Esperance highway blocked between Norseman and Caiguna. Which means here in Perth, we're going to start running out of things which are brought over from the eastern states by truck, because the trucks aren't getting through. (Yeah, it's small bikkies. But it's still a cost we're going to be paying).
Foreseeable knock-on costs in the future:
* Rents are going to rise in Melbourne and Sydney (and possibly also Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth) as those people who have been made homeless and jobless by the fires try to find somewhere to live and something to do.
* Cost of electricity is going to go up, as all the power companies on the East Coast raise prices to cover the damage to infrastructure caused by the fires (they're going to do this even if they didn't get affected by it at all, let's be realistic here).
* Cost of water is going to go up all over the East coast, because firstly, drought; secondly, damaged infrastructure; thirdly, guess what's been thrown on the various fires all over the place.
* Cost of food is going to go up, because the amount of places which are growing it has just taken a rather substantial hit - and this means not only animal protein, but also vegetable crops as well.
* A number of communities are going to be effectively wiped out by the bush-fires, because it just isn't economically feasible to rebuild.
* Increased rate of hospitalisations and medical treatments for chronic conditions will continue to rise for at least 12 - 18 months down the track, because the impact of profound and prolonged stress on human bodies is unpredictable in the individual cases, but will probably show up in an increased rate of auto-immune disorders, stress-related disorders, and so on. Compounded, of course, by things like less healthy food choices being available to individuals on low incomes, etc.
* Increased rates of alcohol and drug-related disorders, because that's one of the predictable lack-of-coping methods people use.
* Increased rates of PTSD and complex PTSD presentations in psychiatric care situations.
* Increased mortality rate will have a "long tail" effect, covering approximately the next 12 to 18 months (because stress kills, even if it does so unpredictably).
* Insurance premiums will go up, drastically, especially for people on the East Coast.
This is just me doing a bit of thinking off the top of my head and skimming the news stories. To me, it seems like the cost of doing nothing is ridiculously high. Especially when you consider part of the cost of doing nothing is the cost of having to do all of this again next year. And the year after. And the year after that.
Surely compared to the cost of doing nothing, the cost of doing something diminishes?
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One Tweet Summarises an Election
[Eddy Jokovich; @EddyJokovich: The #Insiders panel asking “what will be the LNP agenda over the next three years”. I shouldn’t have to tell you this but aren’t these questions meant to be asked before the election? #auspol ]
What annoys me about this tweet is twofold.
Firstly, there's the whole point that firstly, the press were supposed to be scrutinising the various parties policy offerings (ALL the offerings of ALL the parties, guys, not just the big two) and providing the public with coverage of all of these. They were supposed to be doing this before the election. So clearly the Australian press have fallen down on the job, or they were lazy and didn't do their job, or they weren't trained properly and didn't know this was their job, or they were being actively prevented from doing their job. Any and all of these may apply, and all of them are horrifying to think about.
Secondly, there's the subsidiary point that we AS VOTERS were supposed to be looking into this OURSELVES. We shouldn't be relying on the press to spoon feed us everything in carefully measured sound-bites. We should, instead, be doing things like, oh, going to the various websites of the various political parties and reading their policy statements for ourselves. We should not be wholly reliant on the media to pre-digest these announcements for us. We should, instead, be doing some of our own damn legwork.
That a government was re-elected with absolutely NO policy information given, with every single question on policy matters turned aside as being "part of the Canberra bubble" or "it's all in the budget"; with ministers being missing in actions, with candidates doing their best impersonations of the invisible man or invisible woman; and with their only damn point being "look how terrible the opposition are"... this is a failure on two counts. Firstly, it is a failure of the press, who are supposed to be the public's advocates and watchdogs in such matters. Secondly, it is a failure of the electorate, because we have failed our democratic duty to ourselves.
The second is the more crucial failure, especially in this era of press consolidation and near-monopoly press control by the Murdoch media. We, as citizens in a democracy, have a responsibility to ourselves to be educated voters. To take the time to have a look at the various parties on offer, to learn what they stand for, to figure out whether we agree with this or not. Otherwise, we are failing ourselves, and we make ourselves into easy targets for the sort of exploitative, populist politics which delights in a divided electorate, and which chooses to divide and rule, pitting people one against the other. We owe it to ourselves; we owe it to each other; to create a country where we can all have a fair go. We didn't do this. We failed as citizens.
Now, the poor, the disabled, the sick, the elderly on the pension, the parents, the children who can't yet vote, the rural populations, the indigenous population, the recent migrants, the detainees in foreign lands, and everyone else who isn't earning over $200,000 per annum in this country are going to be paying the price for our failure. They'll be paying the price in reduced services, in more punitive welfare conditions, in increased prices for those services which remain, and in decreasing quality of service as well. They'll be paying the price in discrimination, in stigma, in negative coverage in the press, and in all the various little ways they've already been paying for the past six years.
We failed them. We failed ourselves. Now what are we going to do about it?
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A Government Motto I'd Like To See
I have a dream. I have a dream that someday, some political party will be elected to government on the platform of "It is not our job to ensure your business model remains forever profitable".
( Essay under fold )
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The Deconstruction of the Welfare State
( Essay under the fold )
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An Analogy for Allies
My ongoing analogy for people who are wanting to "ally" in activism with at least a bit of consideration:
The role of the ally in activism is like the role of the parent in children's sports. Allies can do all of the following things:
- We can get people to events, both physically and metaphorically. (Physically in the sense of "actually taking people to protest sites, rallies, etc"; metaphorically in the sense of providing things like the money to cover transport costs, or by participating in consciousness raising or similar activities to help people get to the point where they want to participate in activism).
- We can get them safely back home again (both physically and metaphorically - and this includes finding the funding for things like fines, bail, court payments, lawyers fees, and so on).
- We can provide the emotional support which keeps people carrying out activist activities
- We can provide the material support which makes activism possible in the first place (and this can be as simple as ensuring there's food, water and shelter available to people involved in activism).
- We can look after other people's families while they're taking part in events. (This includes providing funding to cover the costs of families where family members have been imprisoned, fined, bailed or whatever).
- We can help coach people in ways and means which will assist in getting a better result (bearing in mind the limitations which come built into the situation. A child can't do an adult training routine; people in marginalised groups aren't able to access certain forms of privilege)
- We can referee - which in the context of protest actions means leveraging our privilege to ensure fair play on the part of the people with power.
- We can keep score - sending pictures of what's going on to the media. Keeping track of who is being harmed by an action, and why.
- We can cheer from the sidelines, and provide support in every form we can think of.
- We can provide comfort, warmth and succour for people who are suffering a loss; and we can also assist in the "post-match" phase of planning how to do better next time.
- We can provide material and physical support during the "game" phase of activism (food, water, first aid, warmth and so on).
What we can't and shouldn't be doing for marginalised groups as allies is attempting to play the game (that is, performing the activism) for them. We also can't expect a trophy for participating. Our contribution may be registered by other allies, but we shouldn't require the gratitude of the people playing the game in order to want to continue helping out. We can be there at the game, helping out and providing support and cheering from the sidelines, but out of simple respect to the players, we have to stay off the field unless we're needed on there.
You stop being an ally when you try and make the game all about you. You stop being an ally when you demand trophies for your participation. You stop being an ally when you demand payment in the form of gratitude and recognition for your actions. You stop being an ally when you invade the pitch, and demand everyone pay attention to you, you, you, and ignore what was going on in the game as it stood.
We also need to recognise, as allies, that we aren't strictly needed
in order for the game (activism) to proceed. If we aren't there, if there aren't allies available, people will still organise and be activists (the same way kids will figure out ways to play team games even if there isn't a formal "league" organised by adults for them to play in) and their activism will still be just as valid, and just as real. Sometimes, we won't be welcome - and we need to accept this as well (in the same way kids resent having a fun game of street or back yard cricket with rules about "tip and run" and everyone having their turn at batting and bowling being taken over by adults who want to have a more "formal" game, with proper sides and designated bowlers and batters and so on).
The core truth is: it's their
game, and they're the ones who are going to play it, whether we're there or not. We don't get to set the rules, we don't get to choose the players, and we don't get to have participation trophies for showing up to spectate.
(Agree? Disagree? Comments, critique and constructive criticism welcomed, especially from people who are engaged in activism or in activist spaces).This entry was originally posted at https://megpie71.dreamwidth.org/115461.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Pauline Hanson, One Nation and Why Far-Right Populism is not The Answer.
( Essay below fold )
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Results of the Marriage Equality Survey are out
61.6% of Australians voted "yes" to Marriage Equality (or in other words, we voted "yes, let's allow people who aren't in strictly binary heterosexual relationships to get married").
Thing is: this isn't news. It's something which has consistently been shown by opinion polls, it's something which has consistently been a part of the whole mess from before the point at which the Howard Liberal government amended the Marriage Act to add the words "between a man and a woman" (thus invalidating the marriages of any number of intersex people in Australia and actually taking away their right to marry) back in 2004. The changes to the Marriage Act under John Howard were in response to attempts by the local government of the ACT to bring in same-sex marriage in their jurisdiction (which could have, and probably would have been overridden by Federal veto) and in response to attempts by the state of Tasmania to start the process of seeing whether under the previous Marriage Act, same-sex marriages would have been legal (which couldn't have been overridden by Federal veto, because Tasmania is a state rather than a territory). The whole thing was Howard politics in a nutshell: petty, vicious kicking at the underdog, simply because they could.
Ever since then, the Liberal party in particular has been resisting the idea of legalising same-sex marriage because this would mean having to reverse the changes of 2004. They talked of a "plebiscite", and wound up spending even more money on a voluntary "survey" to find out whether the Australian people were in favour of same-sex marriage. The results just came out today, and surprise, surprise, we are! Just like the opinion polls have been showing for at least the past decade. At least three in every five Australians are in favour of people who aren't cis-heterosexual being allowed the same marriage rights as cis-heterosexual people, up to three in every four in the electorate of Warringah (currently represented in the House of Representatives by one Tony Abbott).
As predicted, the conservative lobby is out attempting to shift the goalposts (something they've been working on for the past few weeks, as it became fairly clear the whole business was likely to result in a majority "yes" opinion) to provide "protection" for those people who object to same-sex marriage (because religious beliefs or similar). Essentially their argument is that churches should be allowed to object to providing same-sex ceremonies (just out of interest, does anyone in a nation which already has same-sex marriage know of any cases of a same-sex couple insisting on a religious ceremony from a religious marriage celebrant who wasn't in favour of the idea? Even one case will do), and people connected with the wedding industry (bakers, florists, photographers and so on) should be allowed to refuse to supply their services to same-sex couples for reasons of "conscience" without suffering the consequences to their business.
Now, let me speak a bit about conscientious objection, because I actually know a bit about this from family history. My maternal grandfather wound up spending time in a "conshie" camp during World War II, because he was a conscientious objector to wartime service due to holding the Christadelphian faith. Or in other words, my grandfather was imprisoned for the sake of his religious beliefs. He and his brothers were tradesmen, and also due to their religious faith, they refused to take payments by credit or use credit facilities themselves. Which meant sometimes they lost work, or they couldn't buy things as soon as other people might have, because they were saving up for them rather than buying things on the never-never. They took the consequences of the choices they made due to the dictates of their consciences on themselves. They didn't insist everyone else had to bear those consequences. That is what "conscientious objection" means. It doesn't mean "whine to the government about wanting protection in case people withdraw their custom because you're bigots".
Unfortunately, this means the "yes" result of the survey is not the end of the argument. It merely means the argument has moved on to a new stage. Now we get to hold the feet of our various politicians to the fire, and make sure they firstly, create a bill regarding same-sex marriage which doesn't remove more rights from non-heterosexual people in the name of protecting "religious freedom". We have to make sure our MPs and Senators vote in line with what the people of Australia are demanding, which means we need to see this bill pass through both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and we need to see it get Vice-Regal approval from the Governor-General. (This last should be a sinecure, however let's not kid ourselves that the "no" lobby won't fight this all the way to the Governor-General's desk). And we also have to make sure that if an MP or Senator votes against the will of their constituency, they get removed from office at the next available opportunity. We pay our parliamentarians over $200,000 per annum (equivalent to 1 year's dole for about 14 people, each) to carry out the will of the Australian public. When we've stated it in such a clear and unequivocal fashion, we should expect our will to be carried out.
So we have to carry on and enforce the consequences of their actions on the MPs and Senators who choose to vote against the will of their constituents. Which means remembering who voted against the will of their electorates (there were about 30 electorates across the country where the "no" vote got a majority, and yes, I do mean if their MPs vote "yes" against the will of their constituents, they should be voted out as well) and voting them out when they're next up for re-election. It means making our political memories stretch for longer than just the standard "last Thursday" the media and the parliamentarians encourage.
It's worth noting: if this issue had been a referendum question, the referendum would have passed, which is bloody rare (8 out of 40 referendums put before the Australian people have passed in the century or so since Federation - we're a conservative bunch, sticking to the adage of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"). It got a majority in each of the states (narrowest majority was in NSW, with 54% yes) and it got a majority in the majority of the states (all 6 states, and both territories came back with a "yes" majority). There are no more excuses for our parliamentarians. The majority of Australians want same sex marriage to happen. Get out there and flamin' well MAKE IT HAPPEN.
My ideal: I'd like to see the 2004 amendments to the Marriage Act removed, and just go back to an act which specifies a marriage has to involve two adult humans who are not closely related to one another, and who each consent to the marriage. This allows firstly, for the marriages of people who identify as masculine, feminine, intersex, or genderqueer to people of any gender identity; secondly, rules out the marriages between humans and their pets (as so feared by the far-right); thirdly, rules out marriages between parents and children (again, as feared by the far right); fourthly, rules out marriages between humans and corporate entities (yet again, as apparently feared by the far right); and finally, ensures unwilling marriage is illegal (something the far right has very little to say about for some reason). It also allows for the potential of polyamorous marriage by removing a single word from the short form of the Act.
Congratulations to my fellow Australians who aren't involved in heterosexual relationships. May this good news be followed by much more. But let's not kid ourselves this result will ever be enough.
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Today's Bit of Schadenfreude
Christensen threatens to leave Coalition amid fears Bernardi may form own party
Not so much the article, rather the comment thread below it - which is so far up to about nineteen pages of the equivalent of "Jump, you bastard! JUMP!" and "Don't let the door hit your arse as you leave".
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On Working For the Dole.
So, I've been unemployed for six months (according to Centrelink, anyway). Which means, lucky me, I'm due to start my "Work For The Dole Phase" of the whole glorious process of being unemployed in Australia in the 21st century.
For those not in the know, "work for the dole" was an idea conceived back in the era of John Howard, by Liberal Party policy-makers who wanted to bring back the workhouses, but who didn't fancy the idea of having to shell out money to feed, house and clothe the undeserving poor (i.e. anyone on an activity-tested Centrelink payment). Basically, in order to impress on the long-term unemployed how important it is they find paying work, they're required to perform up to twenty-five hours a week of compulsory, unpaid volunteer work in order to be able to continue receiving their dole payment. I suspect whoever came up with this one must have woken up in the night and hugged themselves with glee.
Luckily for me, I'm on a part-time activity test (mental illness, such fun). I only have to do sixteen hours a fortnight worth of whatever the current equivalent of picking oakum, washing bottles, pasting labels or sorting rags is. Normally, the requirement is for fifteen hours a week for someone my age, twenty-five for someone younger. In my case, I'm going to be transcribing old (hand-written) court records from turn-of-the-century-NSW (i.e. early 1900s). Years of translating my mother's appalling medical handwriting into something legible has finally come in useful.
Basically, this sort of thing is supposed to... well, I have no idea what it's supposed to do. Punish me for the sin of not being in employment, one presumes. I have the site induction on Thursday, I suppose I get to find out then whether I'm supposed to be wearing sackcloth and rubbing ashes into my hair to show repentance, flagellating myself with a cat-o'-nine-tails, or whether just walking around wearing a sandwich board that says "I'm SO FUCKING SORRY" will do.
Yes, I am a bit cranky about this.
I'm cranky about it, because it's a bit of deliberate humiliation on the part of a government which has an ideological agenda, and will do anything in its power to get that agenda implemented. I'm cranky about it because I'm being forced into performing unpaid labour in order to ensure wage earners are frightened into accepting lower wages and lower conditions in order to avoid being put into this situation. I'm cranky about it because the penalties for missing work, or not being able to perform whatever work I'm supposed to be doing on the day I'm supposed to be doing it, are all on me (yes, even if my erstwhile "employer" doesn't have enough work for me to be doing, or the computers are down, or the office gets hit by a meteor falling from the sky).
Oh, and I still have to keep looking for 20 jobs a month, same as before. That doesn't change, either. About the only positive thing to note about the whole mess is that since the place I'm going to be physically doing my Work for the Dole placement is the offices of my JobActive provider, I'll be able to drop off my monthly lists with a lot less carry-on.
 Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment, and Special Benefit.
 If your "volunteering" is organised through your JobActive provider, you get an extra $20 per fortnight on your dole payment to cover costs incurred (transport, lunches etc). If it isn't, you don't. There's a LOT of encouragement to find your own "volunteer work".
 A bit of googling reveals it was the brain-child of Tony Abbott. I must remember to write him a thank-you note.
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So, We Have a New Prime Minister
As many of you will know, Malcolm Turnbull did the people of Australia (as well as his own ego) a profound service yesterday by successfully challenging Tony Abbott for the leadership of the Liberal Party. He's now the Prime Minister designate, and the country is still a little giddy with relief (or at least, this particular bit of it is).
Some brief explanation for those who aren't aware how a parliamentary system works. Despite what Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey were saying yesterday in their press conferences, the role of Prime Minister is not a "gift" of the Australian people. In fact, constitutionally speaking, the role of Prime Minister is actually a very real "gift" of the Governor-General, in that if you read the strict letter of the constitution the GG gets to choose the inhabitant of the role without reference to any external forces whatsoever. By convention, however, the Governor-General usually gives the role to the parliamentary leader of the political party with the functional majority in the Federal House of Representatives. The Australian people, in fact, have their role in the process cease entirely once they've elected their local members of the House of Representatives.
Tony Abbott may have said he was elected by the Australian people. This was an exaggeration at best, since the only people in Australia who had a direct hand in his election are the voters for the House of Representatives seat of Warringah (in Sydney), many of whom would probably vote in a dead emu should one be stood as a candidate by the Liberal Party, and the members of the Parliamentary Liberal Party during a leadership ballot back in December 2009 (by one vote).
In the vote last night, Malcolm Turnbull won the leadership of the Liberal Party by a comfortable 10 vote margin (54 votes to 44) and should therefore be reasonably safe from predation within his own party. The Nationals will probably fall into line (since their alternative is parliamentary irrelevance) and agree to remain in the Coalition, which means the Liberal/National coalition government retains a functional majority in the House of Representatives, and Malcolm Turnbull becomes the Prime Minister of Australia (and about our fourth one in a two year period... it's been a good time for political journalists).
Tony Abbott is no longer Prime Minister, and while he still holds the office of Minister for the status of Women (unfortunately) until at least the end of the week - Mr Turnbull has said he's not going to be re-shuffling ministries until the parliamentary week is over - he probably isn't likely to get a major ministry in the new cabinet. He remains the member for Warringah, unless he chooses to resign from that role and precipitate another by-election (or unless the Warringah branch of the Liberals get polling results which indicate the aforementioned dead emu will do better).
Policy-wise, Mr Turnbull has indicated his government is going to be very much "meet the new boss, same as the old boss", which is disappointing, but only to be expected at this stage. However, his presence at the helm rather than Tony Abbott's has immediately boosted the Liberal Party's chances of being re-elected at the next federal election (which is still scheduled for late 2016), particularly if their major rivals, the Australian Labor Party fail to either pull a leadership re-shuffle of their own (the current leader, Bill Shorten, has all the personality and political forcefulness of damp newspaper; he might have won on a platform of "at least I'm not Tony Abbott", but only if he were the only one occupying that particular platform) or come up with some policy points which demonstrate an appreciable difference from the Coalition. Given the chances of a leadership re-shuffle in the ALP are currently minimal (the last-PM-but-one, Kevin Rudd, put some nice little traps in place to make re-shuffling the ALP leadership a lot harder than it used to be) it's looking at this point like we can expect to see the Liberals re-elected at the 2016 elections (and certainly we're more likely to see a comfortable win for the Liberals in this weekend's by-election in the seat of Canning).
 This has been tried precisely once in the history of Australia as a nation. Google "Whitlam dismissal" for an explanation of what happened.
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What Border Force did Wrong on Friday.
( Very long Australian political rant below the fold )
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From the Department of "Didn't See THAT One Coming"...
'Urgent' need for another public secondary school in Perth's western suburbs, Education Minister says
Back in 1999 - 2000, the state government of Western Australia, led by Richard Court (Liberal) closed three public high schools in Perth's Western Suburbs, citing lack of enrolments and lack of demand for the facilities. In 1999, Scarborough Senior High School closed down, and in 2000 Swanbourne Senior High School and Hollywood Senior High School (in Nedlands) were closed down and their student bodies merged into Shenton College. The land they stood on was sold off to developers, who later sold it on at a profit as premium housing in the prestigious Western suburbs.
The education minister at the time was one Colin Barnett.
Now, eleven years later, there's apparently urgent need for at least one more state high school in Perth's western suburbs, because the two state-run facilities which remain, Churchlands Senior High School (in Churchlands) and Shenton College (near Subiaco) are bulging at the seams and running out of facilities for students. There's going to be a need for another 1,417 spaces by 2020. The current (Liberal) state government, under Premier Colin Barnett, appears somewhat surprised by this.
Kids grow up, who knew?
Unfortunately, the cost of land in the Western suburbs is sky-high (which is why all those high schools were closed in the first place - where else was the government going to find prime real estate for the developers to sell off?). The government is looking at space in City Beach (and probably wincing, shuddering and bleeding when they consider the cost, given land prices in the area), but they're constrained by the fact that at the end of the mining boom, the coffers are suddenly empty. All the money's been spent. Including, one must add, all the money they earned from selling off those school sites in the first place.
See, the thing about schools is this: demand for school places in a particular region is cyclical. You'll get times when you have a high population of students, because your suburbs are full of young families settling in with their kids, and needing things like primary and secondary schools, sporting grounds and so on. That'll last for maybe a couple of decades, and then there'll be a bit of a gap, where the demand dries up a bit, because all those kids you put through the school system have grown up and are getting started on their own lives, and moving away from their parents' homes. But if you hang about for a bit (maybe about a decade or two), you'll find that once again, you're going to need those school facilities, because the original parents will be selling up and downsizing, selling their family houses to young families who want to buy in the area because of things like access to schools! Bingo! You have a new generation coming up who want things like schooling.
A school building is a long-term investment, something you build for three or four generations, not just one. They're specialist assets to the region, which attract people to suburbs, rather than simply being drains on the public purse. Even if the demand for the school is low at present, it will increase in ten to twenty years. Even if the need for the school is declining this decade, in another ten to twenty years, it'll be back on the rise again.
This is why you don't sell off schools. It costs you far more in the long run than you'll ever make in the short term.
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[Inspired by: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-11/abbott-defends-indigenous-communities-lifestyle-choice/6300218 - particularly the comment thread]
I was born in Western Australia, and I lived most of my life until I was about 27 in the south-eastern suburbs of Perth. I then moved to Canberra, in the ACT, and lived there until about mid-2006, when my partner and I moved back to Perth.
I hated it in Canberra. The land wasn't right. The way the sun rose wasn't right. The way the sun set wasn't right. The water wasn't the same. The seasons were all wrong. The city was put together strangely. I never felt settled, never felt "at home". I felt displaced.
I went to London for a month in August 2002, on holiday. I felt more "at home" in London during that one month than I had in three years living in the ACT, despite the different hemisphere, different latitudes, different everything.
I went back to the ACT, and lived for another four years in exile, before returning to Perth, Western Australia. Since then, I have come to wonder whether the profound feeling of "home" I feel living here is akin to the Indigenous notion of "country". Whether that horrible feeling of being displaced, of being exiled, is what they feel when they're forced by circumstance or government policy to move away from their country. I know that for me, songs like "My Island Home" now have a whole new meaning, because I hear them through the filter of my experience living in Canberra.
This is part of why I feel angry and upset about the WA state government's decision to close a number of remote communities. I would not want to push that feeling of displacement, of always being in the wrong place, on anyone else. It would be a wrongness, an evil, a wicked thing to do. I am angry the government of Western Australia is doing this in my name. I am upset the Premier, Colin Barnett, is implicitly claiming he has the support of white Western Australians to do this. His government does not have my support, or my consent.
These days I'm living in the south-western corridor of suburban Perth. The sun rises in the correct way, over the right hills. The sun sets properly, over the ocean. The ocean is there, within reach - I'm about twenty minutes drive from the beach, if that. The seasons flow correctly, from dry heat, to stormy heat, to gradually cooling dry, to cold and wet, to gradually warming and drying, to dry heat again. The city is the way it should be, the right mix of architectural styles and geographic features. I'm home. I would say I'm in my country, and I would challenge anyone to uproot me from it.
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The Sydney Siege
The siege is over, three people (including the original hostage-taker) are dead, and the dust is starting to settle. Including, one must point out, the rather colossal amount of bulldust stirred up by the whole business in the media.
When I first heard about the siege, my first thought was "well, this is convenient, isn't it?".
Why was it convenient? Well, to start with it completely buried the MYEFO statement, something the Abbott government must be sighing with relief over (for our "the dog ate my homework" government, this must have seemed like the equivalent of Teacher calling in sick!). For seconds, it gives our PM a chance to look all concerned and serious on the telly, making statements about how the besieger had "a political motivation" and so on. For thirds, it gives the tabloidosphere something to really chew on for the next few months (anyone want to bet we're going to be hearing a lot about Islamic "terrists" from the shock-jocks, the talk-back tabloids, and the Murdoch media? No takers?). For fourths, it neatly justifies all that extra money the government was handing ASIO a few months back. For fifths, it also neatly justifies any amount of crackdowns on public speech critical of the government, "undesirables", public protest and so on. The sixth useful thing it does is justifies increases to police funding (especially "elite" "counter-terrorism" units).
I can't help but think of the last time we were put under an increased security regime (under the Howard government, in the years following the September 11 2001 attack in the USA). At the time, one of the things people were saying was that there was no evidence of terrorist activity in Australia, and all this extra security theatre was a waste of money. People were saying the same things earlier this year when the government effectively doubled ASIO's budget. Will they be saying it now? Probably not as loudly...
And the MYEFO is still buried deeper than a dead thing.
The man who took the hostages, Man Haron Monis, is being demonised in the press. He's already being labelled as being mentally ill. He had a history of violence and imprisonment (according to his lawyer, he was harassed and bullied in prison) as well as a string of charges against him. He also had a history of extreme ideology, but there's a strong thread running through things that this man was acting alone. He wasn't likely to have been part of an organised terrorist cell - indeed, he's just the sort of person a serious organised terrorist movement wouldn't want within a thousand miles of their active cells. But do you want to bet we're still going to see an increase in security theatre to prevent organised terrorist activity - one which will, purely coincidentally, result in a crackdown on "undesirables" (including the mentally ill) and public speech criticising the government?
It seems this siege was the action of one deeply troubled man with a history of violence. But it was still incredibly convenient for a lot of people, and I have no doubt they're going to be exploiting it to the fullest.
 I'm sorry, but I wouldn't trust the PM telling me the sky was blue without looking out a window to make sure, or to tell me water was wet without turning on a tap to check - to put it at its most charitable, his perception of reality is so very different to the consensus one it seems sensible to ensure his statements are well benchmarked against checkable data.
 To be less charitable, the man is a lying liar who lies and who wouldn't recognise the truth if it bit him on the bum.
 I'm mentally ill myself. The majority of mentally ill people are no more likely to commit violent acts than the rest of the population. Instead, they're more likely to be victims of violence.
 What I'm really disliking in seeing a lot of comments about this story in a number of places is the strong link being made between mental illness and any form of socially unacceptable or merely disliked behaviours. You don't have to be mentally ill in order to be an arsehole, and gods above the people making such comments are proving this in spades!
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Public Service Message for those in the USA
To all the Americans who read my blog: It’s already Tuesday here in Australia. It’s voting day. Democracy is a participatory system of government. You owe it to yourselves and everyone else around you to get out there and vote.
Yes, even if you don’t like any of the available candidates. One of those people on the ballot is going to be representing YOU for the next however many years, whether you like them or not. So get out there and vote for the one you dislike least. If you don’t vote, you don't get a say in whoever represents you.
Yes, even if you’re in a gerrymandered district where there’s no chance the incumbent is going to lose. The more people go out and vote, the more votes the incumbent needs to win the election, and the bigger the chance they can lose. If 100% of eligible voters vote, the winning candidate needs to have the support of at least 50% of the people. If only 50% of eligible voters in an electorate vote, the winning candidate only has to be supported by 25% of the population. If only 20% of the voters get out there and vote, the candidate needs 10% of the population voting for them to win. The more people get out there and vote, the higher the bar the candidates have to get over in order to win. Even if you’re in a gerrymandered district, and the incumbent is going to get over the bar anyway, you can at least hope they sprain their back doing so!
ESPECIALLY if you’re in a state which has voter ID restrictions, and you have the right ID. Voter ID is essentially an effort to restrict the voting population to those people who will support the status quo. As per my paragraph above, the fewer people are eligible to vote in a district, the fewer people the candidate has to appeal to in order to win the district. Voter ID laws try to restrict the population and knock down the difficulty level for the big candidates.
Even if you “don’t care about politics”. Politics is all around you. It’s in the air you breathe (whether that air is breathable is a political decision); it’s in the water you drink (whether you’re able to drink the water or not is a political decision); it’s in the food you eat; the job you work at; whether you can find a job or not. Politics is in everything, because politics is about power. The one guaranteed, non-criminal way you can affect things in the current system is by voting. So get out there and vote, and start regaining a bit of control over the world.
Even if you don’t think it matters. It matters, because you are taking back the power the politicians are given. Even if you don’t believe your vote will accomplish anything. Your vote on its own will not make much of a change, this is true. But it will accomplish more than not voting will.
Find your nearest polling place. Get out there and vote. The big boys with the big bucks don’t ask your opinion very often, but when they do you’re a fool to yourself and a menace to others if you let the chance go by without taking it.
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Living with an "Episodic" Mental Health Condition
I have chronic endogenous unipolar depression. This is a technical medical term. Chronic means my depression is always there, as background noise in my life. Endogenous means there is no identifiable "reason" for my depression other than "my brain hates me and wants me to be miserable". Unipolar means I get major depressive downs, but I don't get manic highs.
( Continued below the fold )
Employing me, or someone like me, requires a workplace which allows me to vary my workload in order to cope with the changing mental weather. It requires a workplace where my boss is going to accept me saying "I'm having a bad week at the moment; can I please not be put in customer-facing situations unless it's absolutely necessary" without either complaining, attempting to force me into situations I've said I'm ill-equipped to handle, or attempting to guilt me into performing according to their plans. It requires a workplace where I'm allowed to say "I'm feeling overloaded, can I go home?" (and where there's an acceptance this point may well occur twenty minutes into the working day). It requires a workplace where I don't feel required to meet the performance standards set by persons who don't have my rather interesting set of obstacles to performing at capacity. It requires, in short, a workplace which Western Capitalist society is profoundly ill-equipped to supply.
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The Law of Unexpected Consequences
There's a lot being said about what the detrimental effects of the government's proposed efforts to make young unemployed people "earn or learn" will be for the economy. I'd like to point out an effect it's having right now, before the legislation has even been passed (it was introduced to the House of Representatives this week).
In the last few weeks, I've been noticing an up-tick in the number of jobs which are effectively demanding applicants have between two and five years experience, minimum, in the position they're applying for. Or in other words, it's suddenly becoming a lot harder to break into the job market unless you have experience. It's also suddenly a lot harder to trade up within the job market.
Now, I'm theorising here, but I suspect this is due to an influx of CVs and applications from people who are under thirty, and who are desperate to get employed before the Budget legislation is passed through the Senate (because they have to work on the presumption it's going to be passed unaltered; pray for amendments, but plan for the full horror). Employers are getting flooded with applications for any job they offer, and as a result, they're tightening up their selection criteria. The first thing to go is the option to take on someone who might need a bit of training. The end result, of course, is experience criteria get tagged onto just about any job.
Problem is, a certain amount of labour market participation is a condition of getting Newstart allowance here in Australia. The general level is an expectation of putting in applications for ten jobs a fortnight (twenty a month). One of the lovely conditions being proposed for younger unemployed people (i.e. those thirty years old or younger) is a minimum of forty job applications a month, or ten a week, whether or not they're receiving a payment. Which means employers are going to be confronted by more people applying for jobs they definitely aren't qualified for, and will correspondingly tighten up the selection criteria even further, making it even harder for inexperienced job seekers to get into employment.
I would venture a guess Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey aren't expecting either of these results. I'd also venture a guess they don't particularly give a monkey's one way or t'other. They certainly don't seem to give a damn about all the job losses which are occurring (Mr Abbott said earlier this week he considered his government to be "the Australian worker's best friend", which argues either a thoroughly warped definition of friendship, or a possibly psychotic level of detachment from the consensus reality).
[Before anyone says anything about this: yes, I'm aware job ads tend to have criteria which are listing the ideal, and employers tend not to find their ideal employee anyway. Yes, I'm aware I should be applying for anything which seems to even vaguely fit my abilities and skills, and not worry about the experience criteria. But really, can anyone please explain to me how doing so is any different, at my end of the equation, to buying a lotto ticket every week?]
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Why There Isn't Going To Be A Double Dissolution Any Time Soon
There's a lot of talk in response to the budget about double dissolutions, and the term has been floating around in the public discourse since early on in the Gillard government, where Tony Abbott was threatening to try and call an election every single sitting day of parliament (no kidding, one of the standard procedures during the Gillard parliament was the regular call by the Leader of the Opposition for a suspension of standing orders so they could call for a vote of confidence in the government. It got voted down every single time, but was so damn regular that Kevin Rudd's first day back as PM was notable for the LACK of this motion). While I'm right alongside a lot of Australians with wanting to get a do-over on the election (hells, didn't we just have one of those here in WA?) so we can get it right this time, I doubt we're going to see a DD any time soon. Here's why not:
1) Tony Abbott doesn't want to call one.
Tony Abbott is not a complete fool (much as he does a creditable imitation of one). He and his minders are no doubt looking at the dismal figures they're getting in the polls at present (the Liberals are down 45 - 55 against the ALP in two party preferred figures) and realising any double dissolution election is not likely to go their way. At present the Liberals have a comfortable majority in the House of Representatives, and a workable majority in the Senate. They'd be fools to risk either of those if they don't have to. Tony Abbott is famous for saying a lot of things he doesn't actually mean, and I suspect his statements about his willingness to face a double dissolution fall into this category. Given he's the one who is supposed to make the "suggestion" to the Governor General regarding when to have elections, I wouldn't expect to see him willing to go to the polls in the near future.
2) Bill Shorten doesn't want one called either.
Yes, the ALP is up against the Liberals in two party preferred figures in the polls. Problem is, "two party preferred" is a polling artefact, rather than an accurate reflection of electoral reality. The question being asked in a "two party preferred" question is "given these two parties as your only choices, which would you pick?". At present, more people, given only two choices, are picking the red box rather than the blue one. But the thing is, at an election, they don't just have the red and blue boxes - they have more choices, and the ALP is still recovering after a rather comprehensive defeat prompted by internal factional nonsense (and there are NO indicators this internal factional nonsense has stopped. Indeed, all the indicators show it's still going strong, and causing more problems than ever; witness the fuss over the pre-selection of Joe Bullock here in WA). At an election, it's more likely people's votes would swing toward other, more minor parties, such as the Greens, the Palmer United Party, and so on. I suspect a more accurate rendition of people's electoral preferences would point toward another minority government situation, with the balance of power being held by independent, Green and PUP candidates, which isn't really something the ALP wants. Yes, they've shown they can deal with it (the Gillard government, for all the poor press reports, got one heck of a lot done during its time in office), but it isn't their preferred situation - they, like the Liberals, would rather have an outright majority to work with.
Expect to see a lot of horse-trading going on in the House and the Senate between the ALP and the Liberals - this would be the more realistic outcome. While there's going to be a lot of talk about the prospect of a double dissolution, I'd not be expecting one until we actually see writs issued.
Incidentally, if we're really wanting a double dissolution, the person to petition is the Governor General. In strict constitutional terms, the GG is the one who calls elections, usually on the advice of the Prime Minister, but not always. Theoretically, if the Governor General were faced with a sufficiently large indication of the displeasure of the Australian people with their elected government, he would be within his rights to call an election, but I suspect the more practical upshot of such a petition would be an immediate call from the GG to the best firm of constitutional lawyers in the country, to find out whether or not he's obliged to pay attention to such a thing (so any such petition would need to have signatures from at least 75% of Australian voters to have an impact, in my opinion).
 The most notable example of same is back from 1975, in the Whitlam dismissal, where the Leader of the Opposition managed to persuade the Governor General of the time the Prime Minister could not pass his supply bills (the ones which pay the wages of the parliamentarians, federal public servants, and federal government beneficiaries and pensioners). This led to Sir John Kerr dismissing the Whitlam government, and installing Malcolm Fraser as a caretaker Prime Minister while an election was called. In the subsequent election, the ALP was voted out rather solidly, and the Liberals were voted in. The ructions of this are still echoing around parliament to this day.
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Budget Countdown 2014
Is it just me or are our Federal politicians sounding more and more like particularly authoritarian parents justifying themselves while reaching for the strap or the cane? "We'll thank them later", Tony Abbott told us on Friday or Saturday. Christopher Pyne is saying we'll be "glad" after the budget. I'm almost counting down the hours until Joe Hockey tells us the budget will hurt them more than it will hurt us (a platitude I'll only find believable if the budget is revealed to contain cuts to political salaries, a massive tightening of the rules on parliamentary travel allowances and when they're claimable, cuts to political superannuation and changes to the time frames where it can be accessed, and other such restrictions to the perks of political life. Or when I see the flying pigs landing at the airport, whichever comes first).
A bit of news for you, guys. It isn't working. It isn't reducing my skepticism about the budget in the least, and it certainly isn't making me any keener on possibly voting for you in some distant electoral future.
Honestly, I'd be a lot happier if the various elected members of the Liberal party could maybe start treating me as an intelligent adult voter, rather than either a mug punter who deserves to be fleeced, or a disobedient child who deserves to be punished.
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US Government Shutdown - The way I see it (as an Australian, and a student of Computer Science)
Your government is like your operating system for your country. Now, there are a lot of different OSen out there, some better suited to their purpose than others. The US government is basically a very old, very buggy version of RepresentativeDemocracy (RepDem) 1.51, complicated by the problem that you haven't been applying upgrades for a long, long while (I think the last attempt to patch the US OS was the Equal Rights Amendment patch, and it got rejected by the buggy hardware even though the majority of the programs running on the system support it, as well as it being a major requirement for a lot of world networking). Basically, your country is running on a fairly old and buggy legacy system.
(By comparison: The UK is running some kind of bastard hacked-together hybrid of Monarchy 3.5 and Westminster 1.314; Australia is running Washminster XP; France is on Republic 5.0; and New Zealand is trying some sort of Linux-derivative thing called MMP 1.0)
Your system has currently wedged. One misfiring process has managed to wedge the entire system such that nothing is capable of happening. Your country is currently sitting there with the blue screen of death blinking at them, showing a large amount of hexadecimal gobbledegook, which is only really useful to a constitutional lawyer or other such systems architect. Some of the less major processes (the ones running the display etc) are still running behind the scenes, because they're handled by separate data paths, and don't need access to the CPU to operate. But the majority of functionality is gone. For ordinary users, a reboot would fix this - switch the whole system off, replace some of the defective components in the hardware, and restart. Unfortunately, the OS controls the power supply (which is really poor design, by the way) and since the OS is wedged, you're not able to even partially reboot until a scheduled outage in 2014.
My guess, as a former tech support type, is that your system appears to have a serious viral infection - it looks like you have a serious infestation of all of the neo-Con group of viruses, ranging from Objectivism, through (g)libertarianism. Gods, you've even got anti-Communist hysteria running on there, and that's a really ancient one which doesn't even RUN on most systems these days - it's been obsolete since about the mid-nineties. This is causing the system to hang when you attempt to install a working anti-virus program (your current anti-virus isn't working; it's been corrupted by the neo-Con viruses to the point where the OS doesn't supply necessary resources to a lot of programs in order to prevent virus infection).
Ideally, you need to restart your system in safe mode, install an up-to-date anti-virus program, scan your entire system to root out or at least quarantine the Neo-Con viruses, including that really weird "NRA" variant you have in there, and then restart things gradually, to see whether you've rooted out the worst of the problem.
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