28 Jan. 2007

Hizb ut-Tahrir

John Watkins, the particularly-odious Labor NSW Police Minister, has today called for Hizb ut-Tahrir to be banned. [Update: State premier Morris Iemma has now joined in.] [Update 2: the ALP's federal immigration spokesman has weighed in by suggesting a senior HuT figure's visa be cancelled. Bizarrely, the Liberals are being outflanked by the ALP on the right on this issue, with Darth Ruddock proclaiming that there is no evidence to support a ban on HuT since they do not urge violence. This is something we should bear in mind when it comes to the next election, that the ALP heavyweights consider advocacy of sharia law per se criminal behaviour, which amounts, I would say, to intolerance of mainstream Muslim views.] Hizb ut-Tahrir is a party dedicated to the restoration and spread to span the world of a new Islamic Caliphate. Since Hizb ut-Tahrir pledges to confine itself to establishing this Caliphate through peaceful means, through democratic measures, through winning people over to its side, this strikes me as in fact being an entirely-acceptable, mainstream Islamic aim. Any Muslim wants all people to embrace Islam and to establish an Islamic society. Islam has traditionally been held to be a rational faith, such that people will ultimately embrace it through rational persuasion.

To ban a party advocating the realisation of fundamental Muslim aspirations by peaceful means, by crimialising Muslim aspirations, one makes Muslim militancy inevitable. It amounts indeed to the criminalisation of radical Islam and the issuing of a challenge to radical Muslims to surrender or fight. It is tantamount to a declaration of war. This is why the British government came to their senses and shelved their plan to legislate to ban HuT.

26 Jan. 2007

New 'WorkChoices' scandal: when Tristar offshored its operation to China, it had to make workers redundant and pay redundancy packages, linked under the workers' enterprise bargaining agreement to their length of service. However, that agreement will expire in a couple of years, and under WorkChoices they will then be able to sack the workers without the payout. Their strategy therefore is only to offer redundancies to the shortest-serving workers, making the longer-serving workers keep working until their agreement expires. In the meantime, they spend their days sitting listless in a small shed.story here.

22 Jan. 2007

Apparently, Peter Debnam is to "put ministers to work" in NSW. In the incredibly unlikely event, one assumes, that he become the next premier of NSW.This is a good idea, but NSW will require that he appoint a minimum of 26,000 ministers to replace the 26,000 public sector jobs he has vowed to axe, if services in NSW are to be maintained. Unless ministerial salaries are slashed, this would hardly be a cost-effective move.

18 Jan. 2007

While its attempt to masquerade as a general history of squatting in Australia are unconvincing, this protagonists' history of squatting in Sydney since 1970 is very convincing when read as such. From the squatters' resource website, SquatSpace.

16 Jan. 2007

Houso Blog

A fantastic Australian blog has been brought to my attention, namely Diary of a Desperate Houso.It's a blog of a young woman who lives in public housing in New South Wales, and mainly details her experiences of the NSW Department of Housing and the ambiguously-named federal department of social services, 'Centrelink'. There's some great graphic design on the site. A worthy addition to our blogroll, I dare say.

10 Jan. 2007

A furore broke out a couple of weeks back when it emerged that the Australian military had some ordinance unaccounted for, basically rifles and 'rocket launchers', namely the shoulder-held anti-tank type, not the vehicle-mounted, artillery type.

Then they arrested some Arabs in Sydney allegedly in possession of some of the rocket launchers.

Now, it would seem, they're trying these men as terrorists on the basis of evidence that allegedly says these men were planning to use said rocket launchers to blow up parliament and a 'nuclear place'. This latter description obviously doesn't indicate an advanced level of planning, but presumably refers to Lucas Heights, the only nuclear facility in the vicinity of Sydney.

The obvious problem with this plan is that these weapons are designed to knock out tanks, not destroy buildings. Nuclear facilities are built to be very hard to destroy, and it's highly dubious whether any more damage could be done with such weapons than homemade explosives. Indeed, homemade explosives could be vastly more devastating. The rocket launchers allow one fire from a distance, but their accuracy is such that this would amount to taking ineffectual pot-shots, which may serve to terrorise and perhaps also kill and maim, but would have no usefulness in such dastardly schemes.

9 Jan. 2007

Spruiking rental hikes

OK, could someone explain this to me?

Through the roof: rents to soar 20% from smh.com.au today. The reason rents are supposed to soar is because people are taking money out of property investment and putting it into superannuation. I don't understand how this is supposed to make rents rise at all. Presumably the implication is that the supply of rental properties will diminish with rental landlords selling properties. However, it seems that the only parties they will be able to sell to are either other landlords or renters who want to get on the property ladder; indeed the most obvious implications of people getting out of property is for property prices to fall, reducing the demand for rentals by increasing the affordability of home ownership.

A more plausible argument in the article is that the decline in new house-building in Sydney will lead to rental rises. However, this decline is more or less matched by a decline in the growth of Sydney's population, meaning that that argument too is bullshit.

OK, assuming I am right about the vacuousness of this article, how do we explain it? Journalistically, the answer is obvious: the SMH wants to sell papers, and Sydney is obsessed with properties. Large numbers of people on the way to work today will see a headline announcing a 20% hike in their rents and buy the paper to find out what the fuck is going on.

There is another agenda of course, one in which much of Sydney has been investing heavily for years, indeed one on which much of Sydney's prosperity is based: property prices. By claiming that rents will rise enormously, a big impetus is given to the buy-to-rent market, thus indeed invalidating some of the article's own claims!

6 Jan. 2007

There's a good article on smh.com.au today about the higher rate of crime in rural versus urban areas of NSW.

The article manages to deduce that this is actually just because the bush is so much more Aboriginal, and it's Aboriginal people who are disproportionately both perpetrating and the victims of the crimes in question.

In my time in Australia, I've seen this time and again. Earlier this year, I toured outback NSW briefly, visiting Bourke, the most crime-ridden town in NSW according to statistics, and Walgett, the second most, both largely Aboriginal towns, both segregated, both heavily-policed, both out of control. But what I saw there wasn't totally new to me. In areas of Central Sydney with large Aboriginal population, namely Glebe and Redfern, in which I've lived, I've seen pretty similar stuff, if at a lower level, seen kids fight running battles with cops. Redfern St, the main street of Redfern, is fifteen minutes' walk from the bright lights of Central Sydney, but at night it resembles the main streets of Bourke and Walgett far more, shut-down and shuttered, deserted.

What does one say about this? Doubtless there is much to say. The clearest conclusion is that the indigenous people of NSW are in a dire state. No-one would dispute that. The tendency is to say that they need to be further integrated into white society. The centre-left says they must be given respect and employment opportunities, the centre-right that they must be made to work. There is a significant feeling on the popular right that the Aborigines have already been given all the help that can be given and now their plight is their own fault, showing that they are innately morally vicious. And the system responds to Aborigines in this way, by imprisoning them at astounding rates, punishing them for exhibiting the regular symptoms of social disfunction.

This blog doesn't give prescriptions for potted solutions, because what is needed is not a potted solution. Look at the facts: Aboriginal people in NSW were brutalised, herded into camps. They were forcibly torn from their traditional lifestyles, given white men's surnames. They continue to live on in townships around the state, corralled into ghettos, enemployed, while a relatively affluent white population lives a parallel life alongside them, rich on the profits from stolen land. Who in such a situation will have a healthy communal life?

5 Jan. 2007

Tanya Plibersek, widely-regarded as the most left-wing sitting ALP federal MP, and now Rudd's housing spokesperson, this morning criticised federal policy in failing to address the unaffordability of housing.

Her suggestions are predictably vacuous. At least as reported, Plibersek is claiming that financial aid must be given to homebuyers in such a way as to avoid putting upward pressure on prices. This seems clearly absurd, since any stimulation to demand will increase prices. The only way to prevent this is to directly control prices, something she would clearly not advocate as a representative of Rudd's post-socialist ALP.

Her suggestion that we need more houses, increasing supply to lower prices, is plausible, and obvious, but has a number of problems with it, primarily environmental, that are well known. Essentially there are two problems with this, the first being the destruction of important areas of farmland, recreational sites and wildlife to provide housing, the second being the pressure on clearly-inadequate existing infrastruture, primarily transport and water.

The latter problems are of course the province of state ALP governments, whose neoliberal policies are giving us expanding cities without the necessary expansions in infrastructure. But there is also a state infrastructural issue which is directly contributing to the unaffordability of housing: the failure of neoliberal state Labor governments to invest in new public housing stock. Public housing, subsidised, serves to significantly restrict the increase in private rents and house prices, since it reduces demand. At present, most people on low incomes – primarily meaning those in receipt of federal government welfare benefits – are being forced to rent privately, spending their federal benefits as a direct subsidy to the burgeoning class of private 'investment' landlords. This is completely iniquitous, and clearly leading to massive growth in disparity of income by redirecting tax dollars to existing property-owners. Government action to buy up housing stock and rent it affordably would undercut this traffic in human emiseration.