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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.

We failed.

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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What The Actual Fuck?

Congratulations, Australia.

We've just embarked on a three year gamble. The Australian public, in their infinite self-centred, short-term-focused wisdom, have re-elected the Liberal-National Coalition government under Scott Morrison. I have no idea why they chose to do this - possibly it's because enough of them are deluded into thinking Australia runs on a presidential system, and they weren't happy about the idea of Bill Shorten as Prime Minister. Possibly it's because enough of them have fallen for the American way of thinking of themselves as not being members of a working class or a middle class precariat, but rather as a group of billionaires who are temporarily short on cash, so they want to do things like preserve franking credits, tax cuts for people earning over $200,000 a year, and negative gearing because one day they might, just might, get some benefit out of it. Possibly it's because they want the vicarious enjoyment of kicking the poor, which is always on the menu in a Liberal government. Possibly it's just because they don't want to think about climate change, an on-coming global recession, and any of the other big problems looming, and they think if they just hide their heads under the covers, it will all go away.

To be honest, I don't know, and I don't really care. This isn't about why the Australian people elected the government they did. It's about what's going to happen next.

The Liberal party went into this election with absolutely no new policy. Their entire campaign was "the ALP are big and scary and are going to eat your children". In the past six years of Liberal government, we have heard them, time and again, blame the ALP for every single problem which came up. It didn't matter what it was. If the problem wasn't caused by the ALP under Rudd and Gillard, it was caused by the ALP under Hawke and Keating, or the ALP under Whitlam, or even the ALP under Curtin. So we can expect another three years of hearing the ALP is responsible for whatever difficulties the government is encountering, and we can expect the government to be demanding the ALP do something about it (because of course it's the responsibility of the party in opposition to fix things, not the party in power). So there are problems waiting for this government when they get back in - things like the whole issue with the Murray-Darling scheme, and the water rorts there; things like the Centrelink robodebts and the paltry rate of Newstart; things like the lack of movement on wages in the past six years; things like the massive rip-off that is JobActive; the results of the banking royal commission, and so on. Problems they largely caused, and which they have been extremely reluctant to deal with.

Does anyone actually think they're going to do anything about those problems now?

We have a bunch of social issues which have been simmering away. There's the low movement on wages, which is making the lives of everyone who isn't already retired more difficult. There's the increasing casualisation of the workforce, which means a lot of people don't have the stability to do things like buy housing, make long-term plans, settle down, have families. There's the decay of our social support networks, and the increasingly punitive nature of our social security system. If you're applying for government assistance, you're automatically assumed to be sponging on the public purse for no good reason, and you have to jump through an ever-increasing amount of hoops in order to prove yourself a member of the "deserving poor". We have the rise of public white nationalism, and public anti-Semitism, and public anti-immigrant sentiment, and public anti-black sentiment - often led by members of the government. We have the rise of public anti-indigenous sentiment.

Does anyone think these things are going to go away?

Over it all, we have the looming spectre of global climate instability. The climate is changing. The climate has been changing for the last thirty or forty years now. It's reached the point where we can't pretend otherwise. It's starting to affect us. It's starting to affect every other species on this planet - and that's going to affect us because all life on this planet is linked together in a web. The web is starting to break. We've been told, again and again and again, that in order to deal with the problems facing us on the climate front, we're going to have to take drastic action.

We've just elected a government whose policy on climate change comes down to "if we ignore it, maybe it will go away".

So we've started a three year national gamble. We're gambling that for the next three years, nothing too terrible happens on the global economic front. We're gambling for the next three years, nothing catastrophic happens in terms of drought, floods, cyclones, bush-fires, or any of the other myriad manifestations of climate variability. We're gambling that for the next three years, we don't wind up getting pulled into a war, caught up in a trade dispute, faced with a global epidemic, or any of the other really big political problems which might crop up.

We're gambling this, because we have, with the full foreknowledge of their incompetence, re-elected a shower of MPs who have PROVEN themselves incapable of handling the challenges of government. This mob couldn't run a chook raffle in a country pub with the local CWA doing all the tricky bits for them. Why do we think they're competent to govern?

Seriously, Australia, what the fuck were you thinking yesterday?

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Current Mood: frustrated frustrated
Five Things Make A Post 04 OCT 2018

1) Potentially distressing content under the fold )

2) In my other class, we're studying Foucault (a quick introduction to Foucault, discourse, and so on), and one of our readings is bringing up examples of current events (current at the time of writing/publication for the reading ... which was published in 2000) in US politics. Things like the Anita Hill case, the Clinton impeachment and so on. I was reading this yesterday and thinking "damn it, Brett Kavanaugh can't stop getting into everything". I'm hoping the rest of my readings this week won't be so... inadvertently synchronisticly appropriate, damn it.

3) One of the things I was asked to listen to for a previous weeks readings for one of my classes was "Four Chord Song" by Axis of Awesome[1]. Which means I'm now hearing the chord structures and bass line of a lot of what I'm listening to these days, and thinking about the ways that various chord patterns are used and re-used to create music. There's the standard four chord song, the twelve-bar blues, the Romanesca (aka "that one in Pachelbel's Canon") and so on. So that gives me a bit of something to think about when I'm busy listening to music to block out the extraneous noise while I'm doing my uni readings.

4) As a side effect of stress, I am currently dealing with a complete lack of spoons for actual sensible cooking stuff. Which means I'm eating a lot of stuff which can be cooked by throwing it into the oven and reheating it. (Yes, I know this isn't healthy in the long term, but unless someone else is volunteering to come and cook for me for free, I suspect I'm going to be sticking with this for a while). One thing I have worked out is that it is cheaper for me to buy a $2.90 box of Coles plain brand frozen chicken nuggets, and re-heat them at home, than it is to get one of those "24 nuggets for $10" deals from KFC or Maccas - for $10 I can get three boxes of Coles nuggets, for a total of 66 of the little bastards, and all I have to supply is the oven to reheat them. Plus I can have my choice of dipping sauces (at present, the winner is Fountain Hot Chilli sauce) rather than being stuck with the options of watered down Sweet Chilli Sauce, or watered down Sweet and Sour Sauce or whatever. So, that can stand in for my reviews of recipes. I'll do more of them when I have the time and spoons to cook again.

5) Latest book up for the Farewell Re-read treatment is "The Ultimate Dracula" - a collection of short stories on a rather predictable theme, edited by Byron Preiss.


[1] In the words of Neil Innes: "I've suffered for my art; now it's your turn."

PS: I was serious about the Twitter thing. If you see me on Twitter any time before this whole thing has simmered down, remind me to get the fsck off there for the good of my blood pressure.

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Current Mood: stressed stressed
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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Current Mood: quixotic quixotic
The Deconstruction of the Welfare State

Essay under the fold )

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Current Mood: tired tired
Pauline Hanson, One Nation and Why Far-Right Populism is not The Answer.

Essay below fold )

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Current Mood: cold cold
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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Current Mood: cynical cynical
Meditations on the Past Week or So

Am I odd because I tend to see things like the Damore memo (the "Google manifesto", the thing which got James Damore sacked from Google for creating an unfriendly work environment) and the Charlotteville terrorism as being manifestations of the same principle?

The principle being "The only Real Human Beings are white men".

As a woman (and a person with a disability) I tend to find this somewhat frightening. I find it more frightening when people treat all of this as some kind of intellectual exercise, rather than the very real attempt at dehumanisation, at objectification and at rationalisation for actual violence it is. As a woman who would have had to fight to have her very humanity recognised a century ago, I find this reversion to a perceived historical mean to be deeply frightening. I can't imagine how upsetting it must be for people of colour in the USA, and for indigenous people here in Australia to be seeing this.

We need to speak up. We need to speak out. We need to oppose this principle in all its manifestations - in the supposedly "civil" ones like the Damore "memo" (query: how "civil" is a multiple page ramble which boils down to "I am not willing to behave in a respectful way toward a large number of my co-workers and managers because I don't think they're Real Human Beings like me, and I strongly believe I shouldn't have to work alongside them"?); in the virulently obvious ones like the Charlotteville march. In all its manifestations, in every space (including the police forces, the public service, the private sector and the rhetoric of our politicians) we need to oppose this principle, because we have seen what happens when it is allowed to run free. We have seen it in so many different circumstances - in the extermination camps of Germany; in the slavery of the American South; in the so-called "off-shore processing" camps on Nauru and Manus Island; in the Intervention; in the massacres down through the ages; in the Trail of Tears; in all the little slings and arrows of colonialism, of racism, of sexism. We know this principle is socially toxic.

So why do we keep allowing people to spout it as though firstly, it's something new and radical, and secondly, as though it's a valid point of view?

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Current Mood: coldly furious coldly furious
Weekly Update 29 JUL 2017

Gearing up for the start of classes next week, which means this week I've been practicing getting up at 5am (mostly to find out whether I am going to be able to get up at 5am, or whether I'm going to have to shift things even earlier in the morning). Good news: I can get away with a 5am start on the mornings I have 8am classes (8am class means I need to be ready to leave the house by 7.30am). Bad news: by about October, I'm going to have to shift my wake-up time back to 4.30am, because I'm still working on extending my writing time each month, and I don't have too much to spare at present. Today I have plans to clear last semester's readings and work off my uni laptop, and make sure its battery is all charged up and ready to go, and then I'm all set to go.

So this week I'm going to get a bit political.

Ranting below the fold )

Okay, so, spleen vented. How's everyone else this week?

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Current Mood: cranky cranky
Reflections on the Centrelink Mess.

Centrelink crisis 'cataclysmic' says PM's former head of digital transformation

The notion that the current Centrelink crisis is a result of a culture of "don't want to hear bad news" in Centrelink management doesn't surprise me at all. Centrelink management has long had a culture of shooting the messenger bearing bad news, because it doesn't agree with the glossy picture they're trying to sell their Minister (not to mention themselves). It really is one of the main ways the particular algorithm being used (compare total incomes reported against the ATO total for the financial year to determine whether income has been reported accurately, then average the ATO total across 26 fortnights to determine whether there's a debt) could have survived even cursory testing.

I suspected the whole thing was developed in-house, and it's nice to have those suspicions confirmed, but the point to be raised here is Centrelink's programming staff are not sourced from within the group of people who have worked on the customer contact end of Centrelink's operations. Instead, they're sourced from within the IT industry, and generally from a group of people who have had next to no contact with what could be considered the bulk of Centrelink's business (their parents may have received Family Tax Benefit for them while they were in school, but that's pretty much it). This is where a blind spot in the bureaucracy intersects with a blind spot in the IT industry - the bureaucratic insistence on "no bad news" intersects with the IT industry article-of-faith that if you can figure out programming, you can solve any problem at all with no additional knowledge required (and if you did need extra knowledge and didn't get supplied with it by the client, this is the client's fault for not knowing you'd need it).

So basically, what's happened is a programmer (or group of programmers) in Centrelink's IT section has been handed the job of figuring out how to automate the process of debt recovery sparked by income data matching, and they've done this effectively starting from scratch (and probably reinventing several wheels along the way) with absolutely no reference to existing processes and procedures, or to the knowledge bank of staff who were doing this job at the time. When the program was tested, it passed all the standard tests to see whether it would break the Centrelink desktop environment (this is mandatory for all products on the Centrelink network, whether they're being rolled out to all staff or not), so it was assumed to be Just Fine! If someone in the debt recovery section raised the problem of "we know this is going to raise a lot of false positives - something like nineteen out of twenty of the issues data matching raises aren't actually valid debts" with their manager (assuming they found out about it ahead of time), the caution would be buried, because nobody wants to hear bad news in Centrelink's upper management.

And thousands of people across Australia got asked to justify their receipt of social security benefits they were legally entitled to, because they made a typo in their income reporting once (or because the business they were working for made a typo when they created their record with the ATO), or because they got a good job after having been on social security (and this averaged out over the course of twelve months to be higher than the fortnightly cut-off limit), or whatever. Things which probably could have been picked up very quickly and resolved with minimal fuss and bother to the person affected if there had been any efforts at inserting a human element in the whole process to just double-check the results of the first couple of weeks, and then remove the bugs.

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Current Mood: "why?"
Generalised Message For The Entire English-Speaking World In The Wake of Brexit

Rupert Murdoch is not our friend.

Rupert Murdoch is an ageing billionaire sociopath, who appears to believe the world will end when he finally dies, and is going to a great deal of trouble to ensure this is the case for all the rest of us, too. Rupert Murdoch's motto at present appears to be "apres moi, le deluge".

The only apocalyptic "End Times" approaching are those of Rupert Murdoch - he's 85, his father died at age 67, while his mother lived to 103. Which means he's pretty much reached the age of splitting the difference between the two and any year he gets after now is a gift. He is in his personal "end times" and he doesn't like it.

Rupert Murdoch's media properties (all of the News Limited newspapers in multiple countries, all of the Fox television stations in multiple countries, Sky TV in the UK, and so on) are generally not institutions which display a one-to-one correspondence with consensus reality. This means if you see something being heavily reported on Fox News, or in the Murdoch press, you should check with other sources to ensure you're getting the correct picture. Or indeed, whether there is actually a picture there to be getting - the Murdoch media does have a long history of making things up out of whole cloth in order to sell advertising space, and also of bouncing the same made-up story around their various international properties in order to give it creedence.

Please, don't trust them. They don't have your best interests at heart. They don't have anyone's interests at heart except those of Rupert Murdoch, and his primary interests are in acquiring power over world leaders and getting All The Money for himself.

So think about it: do you really want your life overturned because one cranky old man with a lot of money doesn't want to die and resents the fact it's inevitable?

If you can do nothing else, please fact-check what you're hearing from Fox, what you're hearing from News Limited, and what you're hearing from Sky. Find some source which isn't inside the Murdoch Media fold, and see whether they're reporting on the particular "crisis" of the week. Spread the news about what's actually happening out here in consensus reality, rather than in Murdoch-land. Tell people where you found counter-stories, and where you find your facts. Spread the news that there's more out there than what the Murdoch media is telling us.

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Current Mood: serious serious
(Yet) Another Mass Shooting in the USA

I'm not going to go into huge detail about this one (save to note that so far this year, there have been more mass shootings in the USA than there have been days in the year). Instead, I'm going to concentrate on some things which could be tried to stop these things from happening (or at least slow down the rate of them) without necessarily altering gun laws.

Detail under fold )

Now, none of these three things is going to drastically drop the number of mass shootings immediately. If you want an immediate impact on the number of mass shootings in the USA, then it's going to have to be done through gun control laws, just the same as everywhere else on the planet. But in the medium-to-long term, and particularly if you have the NRA and their paid-up politicians remaining as stubborn as ever on the issue, then these measures will help.

So start speaking to the media firms. Start speaking to your political candidates. Start demanding change.

Ignore the idiots who say "it's too soon" - as I pointed out above, you're currently averaging better than 1 mass shooting per day. How many do there need to be before things change? Ignore the fools who accuse you of "politicising the issue. Shootings like this are essentially about power - which means they're political from the get-go. The choice to do something about preventing them is a political choice, I'll grant you - but so is the choice not to.

It's up to the people of the USA to make it clear they don't want to see this happening. And the best way to start is by denying these little dickweasels who want to exhibit their sense of entitlement, their sense of personal power, the attention that they so desperately crave.

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Current Mood: downright cranky downright cranky
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[1]. 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).


[1] 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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Current Mood: relieved relieved
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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Current Mood: cynical cynical
"Country"

[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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Current Mood: angry angry
Current Music: "My Island Home" - Christine Anu
26 JAN 2015

Two hundred and twenty-seven years ago, a fleet of eleven vessels illegally made land on the eastern shores of this continent. Approximately 1480 people landed in the area now known as Sydney Cove, along with an additional cargo of livestock (horses, sheep, cattle, pigs and rabbits - these last two are now known feral pests) without permission from the traditional owners of the area, and without consultation with their elders. This group of illegal immigrants proceeded to make camp, and to occupy the lands of the Eora people without permission.

They were the first of many. Battles between the illegal arrivals and the original inhabitants were inevitable. Who won? Well, whose language am I using to write this?

This story provides a lesson for people seeking to enter this country by sea. Stop meekly presenting yourselves to the customs cutters, stop meekly surrendering to the Navy vessels. Come in force, well armed. Dodge the patrols, and set up camp on the mainland, raise the flag of your past homeland, and refuse to acknowledge the government in Canberra. Claim the land was empty when you arrived.

It's already worked once. Who's to say it won't work again?

I recognise the house I am living in is built on land once part of the traditional lands of the Beeliar group of the Whadjuk Nyungar peoples. The name of the suburb I live in is a word from their language. Their land was taken from them without compensation, without recognition of their ownership, and without recognition of their essential humanity. This was wrong when it happened, and it is still wrong now. My direct ancestors did not necessarily take part in the actions of dispossession, but they benefited from them indirectly by being of the same racial and ethnic group as the dispossessors (three out of my four grandparents were born in England, and emigrated here at the invitation of the Australian government in Canberra).

Australia Day commemorates the day a bunch of thugs sanctioned by the government of a foreign power started a campaign of robbery with violence. What is there in that to be proud of? I stand with the dispossessed, and hang my head in shame at the lack of action from successive generations of Australian political "leaders" towards a realistic acknowledgement of the wrongs done to the indigenous peoples of this country, and the lack of work toward a treaty.

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Current Mood: ashamed ashamed
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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Current Mood: quixotic quixotic
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[1]. 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).

[1] 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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Current Mood: indifferent indifferent
So, How Badly Were You Shafted By The Budget?

I'm basically looking at trying to find an extra $70 per year from an income which had no discretionary spending available anyway (as per First Dog On The Moon, this is not a budget for people who fancy eating food and living in some sort of housing while wearing clothes). Basically, I can stop replacing clothes, shoes and underwear as they wear out, and thus put that money toward things like health maintenance for my two chronic health issues (under-active thyroid and chronic endogenous depression), or I can do things like actually replace the pair of jeans which gave up the ghost last week and keep the two replacement pairs of sneakers I bought about a month ago for $30, thus keeping myself shod for another six to eight months and wait for my health problems to get bad enough to put me in hospital. The latter will almost certainly cost the Australian taxpayer a damn sight more than $70.

So that particular program is almost certainly about the government cutting off its nose to spite its face for ideological reasons.

[Actually, given a new bra is likely to cost me about $80 a pop (and I need at least three of the wretched things), I'm starting to wonder how expensive a double mastectomy would be. It'd certainly make things cheaper for me overall - I could buy men's clothes, and save a fair old whack of money over the amount I'm charged as a woman who wears larger sizes. Heck, if they'd take the uterus as well, I'd be able to avoid spending money on "feminine hygiene" products too, which would be a nice little saving over the long term.]

It's only going to get harder as things go along, because I'm on Newstart, which is inadequate even now, and isn't likely to get any better (not with the payment rate frozen for three years). I'm old enough I'm not going to be forced to Work for the Dole, thanks be to the gods, but I'm not old enough for an employer to be able to get a subsidy for employing me (ah, the joys of being part of Generation X - neither fowl nor flesh nor good red herring!). Mr Nahan here in WA has already put up the cost of travelling anywhere by public transport, and Mr Hockey over in the federal house has decided to start slugging us more for fuel, so going out isn't going to be an option Any Time Soon.

So tonight I'm celebrating the budget with a cup of hot chocolate enhanced with a good solid slug of the cooking brandy.

*raises mug*

May Tony Abbott's path be paved with Lego. And may all his shoes have cheap soles.

*drinks deeply in the hopes of oblivion*

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location: Poverty
Current Mood: cranky cranky
Current Music: "All You Fascists Are Bound To Lose" - Billy Bragg & The Blokes
On Elections and Referendums and Policies.

Apparently the Liberals are claiming the recent Australian election was a "referendum" on the various policy packages of the major parties, and that as they won the majority of seats in the lower house of parliament, they therefore have the right to implement all their policies (even the ones there's strenuous opposition to for practical reasons, such as their NBN-on-the-cheap one).

Let's just break this down a bit. If an election is a referendum on policy, then clearly these policies should be readily stated in detail, adequately debated, and fully costed, and all of these details supplied to the public at the beginning of the campaign. As it stands, neither of the major parties supplied all of this detail to the public even by polling day (and the Liberal party was by far the most egregious offender in this regard - there were more and better costed policies from the Greens than from the Liberals).

In a referendum, the winning answer needs to get a majority of votes nationally, AND a majority of votes in all the states. Referendums, being voted on yes/no questions, don't go to preferences, because they don't need to - it's straight first past the post all the way. Yes, there are a majority of Liberal and National party members in the House of Representatives at present (if we're going to be continuing with the "referendum" analogy, presumably they'd count as "yes" for the Liberals, and "yair" for the Nationals), and there are more of them than there are members for the ALP (who are presumably the "no"s in this analogy). But where does this leave the Greens, the Palmer United Party, and the other few Independent MPs in the chamber? They don't readily analogise to a straight yes or no response.

As regards to the majority of the states, the composition of the new Senate is still being decided (further complicated, of course, by the fact that only HALF the senate seats were up for contest in this election, so we still have a senate which is being half-decided by responses we made to questions asked back in 2010), but it seems likely the Liberals and Nationals won't have a clear majority there, and will be required to do some horse-trading with the various minor and opposition parties in order to get policies passed. Or, in a return to our referendum analogy, the Liberals did NOT get a majority of senators in all the states... and thus the referendum doesn't pass.

The Liberals don't have a simple "mandate" for their entire policy list. Particularly since at least some of their policy list is stuff which is disputed even within the party itself.

Now, if the Liberal party really does want each election to be a referendum on policy rather than the current popularity contest, here's a suggestion for how it would need to work. Firstly, the parties would be required to have their policies worked out, costed, and ready to defend at the beginning of each electoral campaign period. These policies would need to be summarised into single line items, and each line item policy would be placed (with its costing - no costing, no consideration) in a list, with tick boxes at the end of each line - one for yes, one for no.

Incidentally, this could be a big saving, because it would mean only a single ballot paper for both the House of Representatives AND the Senate, and only a single ballot paper Australia-wide. Yes, that does mean people in Melbourne and Sydney would be voting for and against pork-barrel measures aimed at people in the rest of the country. On the other hand, the rest of the country would be voting for and against pork-barrel measures aimed at people living in Sydney and Melbourne. Just think, winning Federal policies would most likely be the ones aimed at the entire country, rather than the ones aimed at winning individual seats.

In each seat and each state, the respective yeses and noes would be added up. For the House of Representatives, the candidate for the party whose collection of policies best conformed to the wishes of the voters for the seat would be chosen as the member for the individual seat. The current parliamentary convention of the Prime Minister being the parliamentary leader of the party with the greatest number of members in the House of Representatives could still apply. In the senate, the votes would be counted at a state level, and as each constellation of policy choices which matched a particular party's platform reached a quota, a senator from that party would be elected.

In addition, the AEC at the end of the day would have the ultimate opinion poll on which policies were supported and by which percentage of the population - and they could basically hand this to the incoming government with instructions that THIS is what they have a mandate for. Each individual member could also be given the same sort of run-down for their individual seat as well, thus indicating which way they were mandated to vote by their electors.

It would certainly change the How-to-vote cards.

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