11 Dec. 2008

PPP

This is your public-private partnership – the public purse lines the pockets of the bourgeoisie. According to this article, the Sydney Harbour tunnel cost $550 million to build. Rather than pay this money, the shifty NSW government of the day got a private company to build it, to operate as a toll road, to recoup vast profits from the users. However, just to make sure they'd build it, the government removed the element of risk on which capitalist enterprise supposedly thrives, and guaranteed not simply the investment, but the profits.

What is the point of such a deal? Well, it means that the state can avoid an initial outlay. But it also means that they are deliberately foregoing a revenue stream that they know will be profitable. Since it will be run as a near-monopoly (actually in competition only with the government's own harbour bridge), there is no likely advantage to consumers or profitability having it privately-run. It's thus simply short-termism.

The claim that the tunnel cannot generate enough revenue to run is total nonsense – the problem is not that the tunnel is not financially viable, but that it's not profitable, that it cannot make the giant returns required by finance capital for them to get out of bed in the morning.

Why the short-termism? Two reasons: firstly neoliberal ideology, and secondly the shambolic Australian federalism. The influence of the first should be obvious enough: cutting taxes is good, private industry is good. The second is less noticed, but operative: the state of NSW is hard-pressed to afford serious infrastructure investment. Nationally, however, it becomes possible for the government to invest $1 billion dollars in an infrastructure project in Sydney, on the understanding that the next time it has money it'll go to Melbourne. To some extent the existing federal government already does operate like this, but imagine what it could do if it had all the money in one pot, and if proportional representation cut out the pork-barrelling.

8 Dec. 2008

The strong arm of internet censorship

Two incidents in a short period of time seem to presage things to come with new internet laws; these pertain to existing laws about the depiction of children on the internet.

A 60 year-old Queensland man arrested for uploading an already widely disseminated video of a man playing with a baby in a way that is dangerous, although not evidently harmful to the baby and asexual.

A NSW man is convicted for possessing (not disseminating) a video depicting Bart and Lisa Simpson engaged in sexual acts, which is covered by the child pornography laws according to the presiding judge, though he sensibly rules that this is not as serious as the depiction of actual children. Nevertheless, the very fact that the mere possession of a single video of actual children is said by this judge to warrant incarceration seems deeply OTT. I could right now (I presume) with a few clicks and keystrokes find and download an image of such actual child pornography, possibly in error. The mere possession would then potentially earn me a jail sentence, despite the fact that there would be no link between my actions and any abuse depicted in the video.

17 Nov. 2008

Appeal for contributions

Though I never intentionally stopped maintaining this site, I must concede that it has ceased to function in fact. It was never my intention to maintain this site by myself – it began as a group blog with the intention of the group of bloggers expanding, but it's dwindled to no-one. I believe that this blog is still necessary, and I hope that someone will put their hand up to revitalise it with contributions. I am still willing to operate it in an editorial capacity. Anyone in any way interested should contact auswatch at gmail.com

9 Sep. 2008

Garnaut

Condemnation by climate scientists of the Garnaut report is well placed.

Garnaut is an economist, and as such is concerned with the stability of the economic system. He recognises climate change, and tries to put in place a feasible plan for reduction of human activity related to warming.

The scientists however deal in objective reality: we need to radically reduce emissions now, or we're going to die. You can talk about whether other countries should be reducing their output and what is achievable, but all the while we're literally destroying the ecosphere. Preventing this destruction is something in the order of an absolute: we just need to do it, and other costs pale in comparison.

8 Sep. 2008

APEC exclusion lists

We are not surprised by the nature of the APEC exclusion lists, namely that they were devised with the purpose of preventing demonstrations, not at preventing riots or terrorism. Actually, probably the most surprising thing about the news story is that the lists were obtainable under freedom of information protocols at all, which in Australia are notoriously unfree. Of course, the names had been removed from the lists, but I'm still surprised they didn't manage to keep them hidden for decades.

19 Jul. 2008

Quotes on mandatory detention

From an article in the SMH today:*

Labor MP Michael Danby on the $396 million Christmas Island detention centre: "giant Liberal steel prophylactic, a rusting stalag in the Christmas Island jungle and a monument to the folly of the previous government".

Deputy PM Julia Gillard: "We've always said that if people arrived unauthorised, they will have to be detained for health, security and identity checks." (This is a pretty minimal detention regime, more akin to mandatory quarantine. However, it's premises are dubious. Why do unauthorized arrivals have to be detained for such checks? Plenty of people can enter Australia without health checks and with only the security and identity checks in the immigration and customs halls in the airport terminal. The reason to detain immigrants is not for such tests, but precisely to prevent their entry into Australia. As such, the process must lead either to deportation or indefinite detention.)

Former detainee, Morteza Poorvadi: "The Iranian government could break our bones but not break our spirit; we were fighting for some reason. In Australia they break your spirit, they make you feel you are nothing, not in control of your life, they tell you when to sleep, eat, watch TV, what time to smoke. They say you are nothing and if you don't like it, just go back."

*The weird tagline to this article is "The question is not whether we detain asylum seekers, but on what terms, writes Connie Levett." Weird, because Levett does not phrase the debate in this scurrilous way – rather, it is phrased this way by the former detainee at the heart of the article, Morteza Poorvadi, and by the federal parliamentary inquiry, according to Levett.

15 Jul. 2008

Right to annoy constitutionally protected

Australian federal judicial authorities have struck down the outlawing of annoying behaviour towards World Youth Day pilgrims in NSW. This is a significant, but of course incomplete, victory. Political activity that disrupts physically ('inconveniences') the operation of the shebang is remains illegal.

Update: Interesting article in the Herald today by two UNSW legal scholars. Their claim is that the judgment is really anomalous: it's based only on the claim that parliament somehow did not intend to pass an element of the legislation it did pass. As such, it's really a dubious judgment, one that is more by accident than by any check or balance other than the sheer existence of judicial oversight. This really boils down to something that everyone should know, although probably rather few do, namely that there is no overarching protection of freedom of speech in Australia.

14 Jul. 2008

Pell on demography

Very interesting are the Australian Catholic primate Cardinal Pell's comments on the relation between religion and demographics: effectively he's linking the decline of religion causally to a demographic decline, which in turn is characterised as a disaster. There's two dubious steps here: firstly the causal link, and secondly the normative characterisation. I'm surprised never to have heard this line before, thinking about it: for Christians, it is surely our duty to go forth and multiply? Actually, not really, I suppose. While this is clearly a tenet of Islam, Christianity is much more death-driven: for Christian morality sex is bad. So sex without kids is worse than sex with, since it makes it purposeless sin, but no kids and demographic annihilation is the logical consequence of everyone embracing Christ-like celibacy.

The causal link is basically a joke. Demographic decline is occurring, I would suggest, because of a variety of things including the welfare state (you don't have to have kids to provide in old age), relative economic prosperity (ditto), women's liberation (women have something to do other than have kids – although this freedom has of course been turned against us in neoliberalism, with an injunction to toil replacing the former injunction to breed, driving breeding still lower). It's true that women's liberation is to some extent the outcome of the decline of traditional religion that assigned women to a breeding role, but that doesn't mean it's the result of a decline of religiosity per se – if anything, this is another result of the decline of tradition, which mandated both sexual subservience and religiosity. The welfare state has also partially replaced traditional religion, as indeed has relative economic prosperity. In short, the same social shift encompassing secularisation and low rates of demographic increase – getting back into religion isn't going to help, although getting into Catholicism might since it would mean identifying sex with breeding.

The negative characterisation of demographic decline is something I'm even more surprised not to have seen lately. The only place one typically hear's such talk however, is on the extreme right. It's therefore ipso facto worrying to hear a mainstream figure like Pell talking in a way that obviously connotes notions of racial vitality.

12 Jul. 2008

Catholics in the NSW government

Rigorous constitutional separation of religion and state anyone? Succinct Herald article detailing NSW ministers' relations to the religious aspects of World Youth Day. Bottom-line: purported economic benefits of government support of World Youth Day don't stack up. At best, it's electoral pandering; at worst, a hobby-horse of a Catholic regime. Either way there's better things to spend the money on in NSW. The best example would be transportation infrastructure.

8 Jul. 2008

Catholic Church in Australia: still in denial

ABC's Lateline last night staged a timely intervention, showing that the Australian Catholicism was still in the business of protecting its officers who have sexually assaulted its flock.

Specifically, the Australian primate, Cardinal George Pell, misrepresented the findings of Church investigations into one clergyman to that clergyman's victim, Anthony Jones. An internal inquiry into the case found a substantial admission of guilt from the clergyman and upheld the complaints of sexual assault, but Pell in a letter to Jones claimed that the inquiry had found no evidence, that the clergyman involved had denied the claims, and, moreover, that the clergyman involved had never had any other claims made against him. However, it appears that Pell the same day wrote to another victim of the clergyman's upholding their complaint! This kind of dissimulation is breathtaking, and shows the Catholic Church today to be an organisation mired in criminal conspiracy to commit acts of sexual assault against people in its care.

Update: Pell has responded with the fairly unbelievable claim that the drafting of the letter to Jones was a mistake – still in denial indeed.

7 Jul. 2008

History of Sydney WYD by Linda Morris

here

Incredibly, this is entitled 'Almost There: The Long Road to Success', despite the fact that what it details is more in the order of a farce than a success – modest governmental support for WYD, becomes a ballooning burden to the public purse, federal, state and local, and a pain in the arse for Sydneysiders. From figures at the end, it looks as if we're talking state subsidies to WYD in the order of $500 per pilgrim.

RTBU call strike action for WYD

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union have called a strike on the trains in Sydney for World Youth Day. I suppose this may by brinkmanship and may not actually happen, but if it does it is very significant, in that it means that the RTBU are acting with complete indifference to both the Catholic Church (which has historically had a good deal of interpenetration with the Australian labour movement, particularly in Catholic strongholds like Sydney) and the Australian Labor Party, or more specifically its Right faction, which governs NSW, thus are the bosses as far as CityRail is concerned, and, as we've previously reported, is Catholic-dominated and sponsoring WYD in Sydney. This is not a complete surprise, in that it's in line with the RTBU's criticism of the ALP for some time, as well as being part of a general hostility from the labour movement towards the NSW government that has even included many of the elected ALP politicians in the state.

It's difficult to know, certainly for an outsider like me, what's going on here. The RTBU's story is that they are simply trying to achieve maximal leverage for their workers' demands. The threat of strike follows that logic. An actual strike goes further. While demonstrating the seriousness of the workers' demands, it feeds into discontent around WYD and the NSW government to provide leverage for forces trying to remove the current NSW ALP regime.

Update: the SMH is reporting that the strike is off, amidst the most florid use of the passive voice I have ever seen, extraordinary even by the grammatical standards of Australian politics today:

"Industrial action has been agreed to dropped," Mr Watkins said.

What this use of the passive indicates is the attempt by the government to cover up the fact that it has shat its already shitty pants and acquiesced to the union's demands rather than face the clusterfuck this strike promised to bring on.

Solicitor allegedly brutalised, arrested by NSW Police for offering legal advice

Story here.

One odd thing about this story is that it was fairly prominent in the SMH print edition, but conspicuously absent from their online frontpage – one has to fossick for it in the 'National' sub-page (which is a designation I find a little weird as it's really a local, rather than national, story – I think 'Australian' would be a better heading for this area, but perhaps that adjective in itself connotes Fairfax's arch-rival in a way they want to avoid).

1 Jul. 2008

World Youth Day legislation

It will be made illegal to 'annoy' World Youth Day pilgrims, on the pain of arrest and $5,500 fines.

This is an extraordinary bias towards the rights of pilgrims at the expense of the rights of ordinary people, towards visiting outsiders at the expense of locals.

The NSW government is engaged in a wholesale sponsorship of World Youth Day that I think may be understood by reference to 3 factors:

1. (Maybe) Catholics are perceived to be an important electoral constituency

2. (Maybe) Catholics have serious weight within the NSW ALP, particularly the Right

3. (Definitely) the NSW government is dominated by and headed by a Catholic.

It's both emblematic of and the apogee of the blurring of church and state in NSW.

21 Jun. 2008

Aboriginal Control of Aboriginal Affairs



The numbers today were very small – tiny, really, when you consider that the vast majority of those involved in the protest in Sydney were non-indigenous, in a city where there are 10s of thousands of indigenous people.

We think it is significant and worth reporting that Aboriginal people march under a banner demanding not only formal equality before the law, but sovereignty. Of course, such an objective can never be achieved fully without the agency of Aboriginal people in general, not just a tiny conscious minority.

6 Jun. 2008

Henson case precedents

Well, the police have given up charging artist Bill Henson with anything. They never charged him in fact, never arrested him. Rather all they did was to barge into his exhibition and confiscate his work pending a charge, which is now not forthcoming, so the pictures will be returned.

No one is being charged because there is no case to be made. I.e. no law was broken in showing the pictures.

In this case, one wonders how it was possible for the police to move in to prevent the pictures being shown. The police furnish the answer that they had three complaints from the public. Moreover, they say that they would have acted on the basis of only one such complaint.

This is a truly extraordinary and completely unbelievable claim. If I phoned the police and complained that I, as I often am, am offended by some sexist piece of advertising, would the police move in to confiscate the offending hoarding? Or would they rather tell me to piss off? I presume rather heavily that the latter would be the case. Perhaps some kind of experimentation is called for. . .

23 May 2008

Onward Christian Soldiers

We are still getting an idea of what the new regime will bring in Australia. The indications are that if anything government by the ALP now means more, not less, social conservatism.

The first sign of this was clearly Rudd's lash-up with Family First to attack "binge drinking". Actually, the first sign of this was the endless, focussed rhetoric about "working families", combining the valorisation of "work" emblematic of a conservative socialism, with the "family values" so beloved of the right.

Australia remains the Western society with the highest degree of censorship. Far from moving to change this, the Rudd government's aggressively pursuing the same kind of internet-monitoring nonsense beloved by the Coalition.

And today, Rudd's intervened in a debate to clearly signal the limits he thinks should apply to artistic expression.

While adult nudity in art might be OK, the budding forms of those underage are not - a taboo is thus placed on their forms that in fact in and of itself makes their exposure artistic regardless of Rudd's complaints. It seems obvious that Rudd is without artistic sensibility, and as such should refrain from commenting on this, or similar, issues. The difference between the exposure of young women's bodies in the artistic space of a gallery and their exposure as pornography is so gaping that Rudd's naïve protestations about protecting the innocence of children beggar belief.

23 Apr. 2008

Girt by territorial claims

Click to enlarge:


Note in particular that Australia claims about as much land in Antarctica as in Australia, and of course the point of this map, which is to show the oil in the Timor Sea Australia claims by dint of military strength.

14 Apr. 2008

The NT Occupation – Colour Blindness

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, as any Liberal will tell you, is the media wing of the Australian Labor Party. For the most part, insofar as we've been concerned to see the Liberal government replaced by an ALP one, and insofar as we've believed the truth favored this transfer, we've been pleased with the ALP in the foregoing period, for its commitment to truth against the Liberals.

Now that the ALP is in power, we begin to see the danger of this conjunction, however. The ABC remains to the left of and more reliable than the commercial media outlets (with the possible exception of the generally left-liberal-bourgeois-dominated Fairfax broadsheets). This is precisely the danger: people, particularly educated liberals, who are not a politically critical segment of Australian society, but nevertheless have some significant weight, rely on the ABC for accurate reporting and are thus susceptible to being bamboozled by it.

This danger comes into stark view when it comes to the issue of the Australian occupation of the Northern Territory, or rather the current phase of this occupation, in which the limited autonomy of Aboriginal people qua Australian citizens has been drastically rolled back.

On this issue, the ALP federal government is basically indistinguishable from its Coalition predecessor. And the ABC is an uncritical cheerleader for its racist policies. I just watched the ABC's Lateline on this issue. Their story was unbievably partisan. It resembled nothing so much as US media reports from Baghdad which find isolated success stories and present these as representative. Though the ABC did present critical voices, it prefaced these with the line "some people are still critical of the intervention" - essentially misleading the audience into thinking that criticism of the intervention is a marginal view within the Aboriginal community. Conversely, a part-Aboriginal Territory parliamentarian was uncritically presented as an authentic, representative voice of Indigenous Territorians. The local Aboriginal voices in favour of the 'Intervention' were two old men whose English was poor.

The issue of Aboriginal sovereignty and the cultural genocide and expropriation of Aboriginal people dwarfs every other 'domestic' Australian issue - except insofar as saving Aborigines from Australia seems to depend on changes within Australia itself. However, we would argue that co-ordinated strategic resistance by Aboriginal people would go a long way to shattering the hallucinatory fantasy of Australians about Aborigines which is evidence by government policy and ABC coverage.

10 Mar. 2008

Growing apartheid in NSW public schools

White students move to cheap-private Catholic schools, leaving Aboriginal-dominated schools in rural areas, and ethnic-minority-dominated schools in urban areas.

The urban issue seems to be dual, with white students fleeing Asian-dominated schools, and Asians fleeing "Muslim"-dominated schools (I don't know about this "Muslim" business - is it that Islamic faith of the students or their Arabness that is the issue?).

The key issue here is not the apartheid, but the fact that apartheid public schools are bound to be worse than the private schools. Firstly, in Australia, government funding of the private sector ensures that private education is better than public. Secondly, the advocacy of white people for educational standards in public schools will be lost.

Still, one must remember that this is a somewhat marginal issue. Even busing in the United States failed to eliminate the clear black-white race divide in that country. Australia is no less historically racist - what hope can we have for the elimination of the divide here? Even integrated schooling is not busing, which in turn is not a solution.

4 Mar. 2008

ASIO is recruiting



The meaning? Protecting the property and privileges of the Australian ruling class. As a descendent of white settlers, you may feel you have some share in and affinity for this group. This giant, stolen landmass is hard for the paltry millions of whites who currently claim it as their own to hold onto, so more and more of us can be employed in guarding our ill-gotten treasure.

19 Feb. 2008

"Rudd should hold his head in shame"

Via not the motorcycle diaries, a post from Sydney indymedia:

Driving 1,500 km to shop - “Rudd should hold his head in shame”
Posted February 17th, 2008
By Diet Simon

Sydney, 17 February 2008 — How would you feel having to drive 1,500 kilometres to buy your household supplies, limited to 60 dollars per person?

How would you feel about police and troops with guns swarming through your community, your house, your possessions totally accessible to them without any legal instrument?

How would you feel about not being able to spend your own or your dead husband’s war veterans pension after he served in Vietnam?

All of that and more is happening in the intervention in the Northern Territory, which is moving up community after community from the South Australian border to the coast, terrifying people.

And now the architect of it, former army man and minister for Aboriginal affairs under John Howard, Mal Brough, has been invited by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to be part of his “war cabinet” to tackle Aboriginal disadvantage.

“The people are screaming in horror at this,” says Aboriginal leader Michael Anderson, “in one fell swoop he has unwound all his good intentions in the sorry speech.”

“People are terrorised by the number of police around them, their limitless powers, soldiers with guns.”

Workshop with elders

The prime minister should hold his head in shame, says Anderson, who workshopped on Tuesday with key leaders from NT communities in Canberra before parliament opened. The workshop was held in the grounds of the Aboriginal Embassy, founded in 1972 by four black power activists, of whom Anderson, aged 56, is the sole survivor.

Those leaders described what was happening in the communities as the imposition of martial law and charged that the media and politicians are misrepresenting the whole situation.

“They told me of extreme police powers, with total access to communities, vehicles, homes – they need no legal instrument to do whatever they want, they can stop and search wherever and whoever they want,” Anderson told me.

Anyone found with an empty beer can in their car faces a fine of $1,000 the first time, $2,500 the second time, Anderson reports from the meeting. “At the third time they are classified as a supplier – without any definition of quantity – which carries a minimum fine of 75,000 dollars.”

No vehicles of white people, just those of Aborigines are searched, the elders told the workshop, which they ran to try to get public attention.

“The quarantining of war widows’ or veterans pensions is hurting in a big way, it’s the biggest hurt,” Anderson quotes the community leaders as saying.

Shopping 750 km away

Most of the people in the communities affected by the intervention have to shop at Centrelink-approved stores a long way from their homes in the bush, up to 750 kilometres in some cases. They’re all Coles, Woolworths and K-Mart stores. They are not allowed to shop in their own community stores.

“The leaders say this is forcing people off their land to come into the cities. They see it as a stealthy move to seize Aboriginal lands,” Anderson quotes from the workshop. “It’s a very well thought-out move.”

To shop and get their welfare benefits, people have to prove their identity to get ID cards, usually by birth certificate. “Most of the old people were never recorded, they don’t have a piece of paper on them. That even applies to some of the younger ones because they were born in the bush.”

“So, they get no card and get no money. How are they supposed to live? And on $60 dollars per person per week no-one can feed and clothe kids. How do they survive? This is worse than the original situation.”

“We don’t need to be treated like this, it’s gone back to the 50s, it’s more of John Howard.”

Anderson, a lawyer by training and the elected leader of the 16 Gumilaroi clans in northwest NSW and southwest Queensland, accused Rudd of “shallow dealing” with Aboriginal affairs.

Talks on the ground

“He has to open his eyes a little wider. He has to talk to the people in the communities, not some bureaucrats in Sydney or Canberra.

“This has to be fixed from the bottom up. He has to get out there and listen to them, community after community. He should just look at his own speech.

“One size does not fit all. There’s been much talk of the culturally appropriate approach. Well, in these communities, not by their choice, there are mixtures of clans and tribes who don’t get on.

“In past mistakes bureaucrats and pollies saw single, homogenous communities and policies have been very divisive.”

14 Feb. 2008

After the apology, the war

Having issued a crocodile apology for the treatment of Aboriginal people by the Australian government, Australia has immediately holus bolus declared "war" on Aborigines. Of course, the war is not officially on Aborigines at all, but rather on Aboriginal separateness. While closing the gap between Aboriginal people on indicators like life expectancy and education is "justice" in a Rawlsian sense, it also constitutes a declaration of the intention to wipe out difference and create via a crusade a unified Australian nation on this continent. This intention was laid out in Rudd's "apology" yesterday.

13 Feb. 2008

That apology in full . . .

Here. No great surprises.

It's assimilationist, although to an extent that is banal and utterly unsurprising: it asserts that Aborigines are "our fellow Australians" (with Australia defined implicitly as a nation), and most ridiculously that the apology is "part of the healing of the nation". Insofar as this refers to the actual nation that Rudd represents, White Au$tralia, this is perfectly sensical. But the attempt to assimilate Aborigines to Au$tralia is not an act of healing, but an act of ingestion!

It does however apologise in much too limited a way. It apologises specifically only for the Stolen Generations (capitalised!). It does not apologise for the murdered generations before that, nor for the stolen land before that, or since. It does not apologise for the continuing oppression of Aborigines. Here it is particularly invidious in declaring "this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again" and that "the time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future". Unless this signals a coming massive change of public policy, it's outrageous.