27 Feb. 2007

So, when students compulsory subscriptions are dispersed in support of left-wing causes they dislike, this is unfreedom, according to the Liberal federal Arts Minister. Well, actually he claimed that the funds were channelled into left-wing 'terrorism'. I find it impossible to understand how this argument does not indict the entire Australian political process: manifestly, the people of Australia were not keen to invade Iraq, yet the elected government decided to disperse millions of tax dollars to pay for that. How is anything a student union does remotely comparable to this infamy?

24 Feb. 2007

Second Timorese killed by ADF

A second Timorese man has died as a result of the incident yesterday. The self-defence justification seems somewhat more implausible in light of this. How many others were shot but did not die, or have not yet died? Did the ADF open fire into a crowd?

Exclusive Brethren watch

Pretty good article today in SMH doing a round-up of the current knowledge of the Exclusive Brethren's influence in Australia. Not that they do know much really. While I suppose it's good news that the EB are staying out of this next federal election, they're only staying out because they won: Latham was defeated, and his plans to take some action to remove public funding from private schooling with them, in favour of Rudd and his increasingly-obvious Blairism.

23 Feb. 2007

Fairly self-explanatory article: Australian Soldier Kills Dili Man, allegedly in self-defence. Not to prejudge that excuse, but it certainly sharpens the issue of Australian involvement when Aussies start killing locals.

Australian obesity

This is kind of a throwaway post, in that I don't really take obesity to be a serious political issue, but I found this article, about Australia being the 21st fattest country in the world, amusing. I've long suspected that Australians' self-image as a sport-obsessed nation, and the massive national per capita spending on sport, function to mask and excuse the sedentary behaviour of the populace.
From the article:

Dr Booth said Australia's rich food supply, "relatively unregulated advertising environment" and love of gadgets and machinery that encourage sedentary behaviour had contributed to the obesity epidemic.

For 'rich food supply', read 'cheap meat', 'cheap fast food', '2l of Coke for $2', and oodles of alcohol. For 'relatively unregulated advertising environment', note the fact that Australian television consistently broadcasts advertising on the part of meat producers claiming that eating red meat is necessary for good health, a clearly-false claim that would never be allowed in the UK, a significantly less fat (though still mostly overweight) country. The 'gadgets and machinery' alluded to – well, what can this mean other than cars?

22 Feb. 2007

Dick Cheney: more important than any Australian

Dick Cheney's visit proves that Australia is merely a province of the American imperium. Conventional wisdom would have it that the most important people in Australia would be, say, John Howard (head of government, most politically powerful), the Queen (when she's here, the head of state – clearly more important than the Governor General), James Packer (or, when he's here, Rupert Murdoch – the richest man, most economically powerful) or Russell Crowe (most famous). Which of these men has either of these: green light motorcades on any trips they take, and three streets closed around their residence. That's right: none of them. Cheney's treatment shows that he is more important than any Australian in Australia. In having his own personal armed bodyguard from the US Secret Service accompanying him while in Australia, Cheney simply sidesteps Australian sovereignty, although of course the Australian state is willing to serve him to any degree possible. Of course, the security level also tells us something else: that Australia is a dangerous place for Cheney, and that people who live here hate this doubly-unelected (neither by America, nor by the world he rules de facto) potentate.

21 Feb. 2007

Rental crisis

I must say that Ross Gittins' article today does what I asked someone to do back in January and explains the rental squeeze very concisely.

Gittins' article is strange however in pretending to be predictive when it's really post hoc: He starts be proclaiming that rental increases will be the big housing story this year. However, this is manifestly already the case, despite the fact that the increases haven't yet – i.e. there are a raft of speculative media pieces claiming that there will be big rental increases, scare stories essentially, based on the low occupancy figures. Of course, it's entirely reasonable to say that low supply will lead to price rises, and so price rises do seem to be on the cards. The question is why the supply is lower. Gittins really offers two explanations: overall population growth and formation of new households.

I can't find growth figures for Sydney for 2006, but they've been around 40,000 a year for several years, an increase of below 1%. This is not insignificant of course if enough of it's being dumped on the private rental market. In recent years, housing stock growth has been well in excess of population growth, closer to 2%. New house building has of course collapsed since 2005, due to the stagnation in property prices. Assuming new household formation at a constant rate this does indeed imply a serious squeeze on rental accommodation. I think there can be no doubt that the essential problem is that new houses are not being built. This is meaning that new households are buying up existing properties (thus stemming the decline in house prices, and removing houses from the rental market) and moving onto the rental market itself, squeezing supply. So essentially the problem, if there is one, is simply one of supply and demand. The evidence we have of high demand and low supply, namely low rental vacancies, itself seems to imply population growth outstripping the supply of housing (and possibly to an extent people at the higher end of the income scale demanding ever more space, such that apartments that previously housed families may now house a single yuppie, etc.). The thing is that the population growth in Sydney is not necessarily going to remain steady forever. Indeed, higher rental prices are in themselves something that my tend to curtail both demographic increase (people will wait till they can afford the space to have a baby) and migration (people will be less likely to come to Sydney and more likely to leave). The lack in new housebuilding itself undermines the construction sector which is incredibly important to Sydney's economy, employing 250,000 people directly, and this may also certainly affect population growth.

The obvious solution is to produce more accommodation, rental or otherwise, preferably in the public sector to house those who can least afford private rentals. Howard instead ponders additional rent assistance out loud, surely a disastrous idea that would simply tend to raise rents even further, although it is true, as Gittins points out, that high rents will themselves stimulate construction. The non-socialist Kevin Rudd actually denies that there is a 'silver-bullet' solution to the rental crisis, which is simply untrue – there are in fact several, including government investment in public housing and rent controls.

20 Feb. 2007

Rent hike

OMG! The rent on our flat is to be raised by slightly over 5%! Isn't this the final proof that the rental apocalypse foretold by the media is finally upon us?

The answer, of course, is 'no'. The rental increase will occur after we've been living in the place for 1.25 years. It's true that over the same period, compounded inflation only amounts to slightly over 4%. However, if one assumes that the price of rent when we moved in was correct at that time, then we've being paying less and less than the true price every week since then. In short, a rental hike above the rate of inflation is necessary at this point to maintain the overall average rate of profit generated by our landlord. That is to say, that an individual rental hike being over the rate of inflation is to be expected if prices are keeping pace with inflation – it's only averaged over time that rents may actually be judged in relation to other indices of inflation.

18 Feb. 2007

Arch war criminal Dick Cheney in Sydney this week; two protests called, details below.


(Cheney will be giving a speech inside the hotel at approx 9.30am)


17 Feb. 2007

Desperate Houso on the absence of free dental care in Australia. Dental care is in no sense an optional extra in health care. Dental problems cause immense pain. The women cited in the daily Telegraph article quoted by DH indicates that public dental care would leave her without any means of chewing food for years, which would grossly inhibit her ability to eat healthily, etc.

Israel update

Somewhat surprisingly, the Zionist organisation, "The Australia-Israel & Jewish Affairs Council" (AIJAC), has distanced itself from Prof. Israel's comments and cancelled his speaking engagements with them. The Shalom Institute, the institution that is hosting Israel, is less than contrite, however.

I should apologise for following the SMH in so unequivocally equating Shalom with UNSW yesterday. The Shalom Institute, is based out of, and runs, Shalom College, which is a residential college on the UNSW campus. UNSW is the only university in Sydney based in the Eastern Suburbs region of Sydney, where most of Sydney's Jewish population is also located; it is, surely not coincidentally, reputed to have the highest proportion of Jewish students of any university in Sydney.

The question really needs to be asked what the interconnections here are. The Shalom Institute puts on courses, but these do not appear to be accredited by UNSW. However, it is accredited to provide accomodation to UNSW students, through Shalom College. The College is independent of UNSW, contends that its residential facilities are open to anyone, and offers scholarships to indigenous students, although it also hosts both the Shalom Institute and the Australian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS), both of which are avowedly political-Zionist organisations.

16 Feb. 2007

The University of New South Wales imports Israeli race-science. The claim being made is that 10%+ Muslim population = trouble. Quite how this can possibly be asserted, I do not know. There is only one example of such a Muslim population in the Western world – unless you count Israel – and that is France. There is no question that in France there is tumult surrounding suburban Muslim youth, but there is also tumult surrounding suburban non-Muslim African youth, and the blame for both can be placed at the door of France's exclusionary racist policies towards these minorities. Simply unscientific Islamophobia dressed up in an academic gown. Completely unempirical – I have seen no better justification for boycotting Israeli institutions than that such 'scholars' hold chairs at them.

15 Feb. 2007

Pauline Hanson has been shown genetically to be of Middle-Eastern heritage (though not, apparently, appearance). Hanson showed her appalling racism and total lack of understanding of history by claiming off the cuff that Middle Eastern stock in her must be the result of rape. This of course implies paradoxically that she is the descendent of rapists as well as those raped. She tried then to cover for her disgusting racism with a spot of her more default neo-racism, claiming that this was irrelevent since she was 100% Australian, of course alluding to the fact that her problem was not with other races per se, rather the cultural foreignness of migrants to Australia.

Peter Beattie was shown to have a much larger admixture of apparently non-European DNA. His response to this was far less superficially appalling, but in fact shows much of the same confusion as Hanson. Beattie claimed that his genetic diversity demonstrated the inherentness of multiculturalism. Culture of course is not genetic, however. Hanson's horror at her genetics show that her cultural racism is undergirded by a good dose of old-fashioned racialism. Beattie's happy acceptance of his racial diversity as proof of the appropriateness of multiculturalism show an appalling tendency to believe that culture is generated as a genetic, racial characteristic that cannot be wiped out by enculturation, exactly the opposite lesson that one should take from Hanson's genetic profile, namely that racism is itself a cultural construct, and that culture, unlike genetics, is malleable and highly contingent.

12 Feb. 2007

The Obama Controversy

Possibly overcome with hubris from throwing his weight around in Pacific island-nations, John Howard has taken the extraordinary step of thinking he can interfere in U.S. domestic politics. Not that I would decry an Australian politician speaking out about U.S. politics per se, but it's actually a very different position to that that Howard's historically held, namely that Australia is ancillary to the U.S.'s decision to be in Iraq, not a campaigner for the U.S. to be in Iraq. This puts Howard on an extreme right fringe of global politics that even neo-conservatives are deserting in droves.

Barak Obama's retort to Howard is brilliant: he points out that Australia is not itself proportionally committing to the war in Iraq, so it hardly behoves Howard to tell American politicians to continue doing something that he will not.

The revolting Alexander Downer hit back, saying that Australia's small size should be taken into account, and that committing twenty thousand Australian troops would mean committing half of Australia's army. Well, this second claim is entirely true, but not in itself a reason not to commit to Iraq. The reason Australia can't commit half it's armed forces to Iraq is because it's already using them to occupy other countries. Moreover, Obama actually called for Australia to call up 20,000 troops, not simply deploy its currently-serving ones – as should be well-known, many in the US forces are reservists.

The claim that Australia size explains its inability to field 20,000 troops is ridiculous. Obama's demand is fairly proportional to Australia's size – since the US population is 15 times as large as Australia, Obama is effectively calling on Australia to deploy twice as many troops per capita as the US, but he could just as well have said 10,000 – Australia's current contribution to the occupation is many times smaller than this.

(sorry there are no reference links. By the time I wrote this, the news coverage was dominated by the intra-Australian dimension to the controversy.)

8 Feb. 2007

There is no doubt that there is a groundswell for David Hicks happening at present. There's no saying quite how deep it is. Still, it's forced the Prime Mininister into action.

Fairfax have an extraordinary story now: the PM has apparently told the Coalition party room that he has has de facto power over Hicks's fate all along. That is to say, that Hicks has only been in Guantanamo for so long because Howard has wanted him there. Well, that's not quite true of course: Howard wants Hicks to be in prison, but not in a legal limbo, wants Hicks convicted. Howard admits that Hicks could not be tried in Australia, which is to say that he has not broken any Australian law. Yet Howard has decided that Hicks is a bad man, and must pay the price for violating Howard's personal standards of propriety – and it's Howard's personal prerogative we're talking about here, not a decision by coalition, party or cabinet.

The pressure mounting, Howard tells the US to try Hicks or free him. So ths US set up another kangaroo procedure. I see no reason to expect that this one will stand where the last fell. Indeed, the last was more or less in the same vein, a sop to Howard. The US in general seems in no hurry to regularise the status of Guantanamo detainees and remove them from the limbo it has so extraordinarily created. Indeed, why should it? That would only give them less power over the detainees. But Howard, under pressure from the Australian public, has been pushing the idea of a trial for Hicks all along. But, I would conclude, there can be no real trial, since there was no real crime.

4 Feb. 2007

Australia Day: rotten celebration of racist imperialism

Over a week has elapsed now since 'Australia Day'. What I witnessed that day was something new. The cues for a new Australian patriotism were taken directly from Cronulla, 2005. White people wandered drunkenly through the streets wearing Australian flags as capes. Where does this flag-as-cape device originate? It seems to me that it was at least popularized by Cronulla.

There is a certain tendency to write of the flag-waving in Sydney as a healthy contrarian reaction to the PC dictat of the organisers of the Big Day Out music festival not to bring flags on Australia Day. This, it seems to me, is sheer nonsense. Firstly, the organisers merely suggested people should leave flags at home, so there was no order to defy. But more importantly, the Big Day Out were reacting to the fact that the previous year, a month or so after the Cronulla Pogrom, the audience had been festooned with flags à la Cronulla. The attempt was to avert a similar display of racist-nationalism this year. This attempt was a failure, but had it not been attempted, there would have been a display anyway, and any attempt to problematise it would have been decried as unpatriotic political-correctness-gone-mad.

A man I know, of Mediterranean heritage, was passing through Woy Woy, on the very white Central Coast, on the 26th January, and stopped in a bar to use the ATM. He was subjected to a torrent of racial abuse. The patrons of the bar were already geared up to abuse any 'wog' who passed through there - they already had a flag up emblazoned with the slogan, again popularized by, and possibly invented at, Cronulla, "You flew here, we grew here".

The Big Day Out is itself an almost-all-white event. It's a festival based on the rock music popular primarily among Australian whites, far more popular among the dominant community than minority communities. As such, the event is a natural venue for racist-nationalism. In such a gathering, when young whites get together in such a concentration, we see nothing less than there emergence of a mass-racist consciousness among them, which has indeed always to some extent existed (people like to blame Pauling Hanson for this, but there was something called the 'White Australia Policy' in this country for well over a century, which people tend to forget), but which has received new impetus from Cronulla. The attempt to clamp down on this phenomenon can only backfire if there is already something to clamp down on.