What did we expect?

Friday’s shooting in Christchurch New Zealand is tragic.

I have so many different thoughts around this.

This post is going to be fragmented and perhaps not particularly coherent, as a result. Snippets of ideas and thoughts.

But I feel compelled to write.

Firstly, I wanted to echo and wholeheartedly concur with the appraisal and sentiments expressed by my friend Tim Mansfield, so eloquently expressed in his post Pray for Christchurch.

Especially this:

“Finally, and perhaps toughest, I ask you to pray for the perpetrators of this crime, for those who encouraged them, for those in the media they listened to and for all those who share their beliefs that they may meet Wisdom, grasp justice and finally find compassion for all peoples and cease this hateful path.”

I was heartened by the early response by NZ Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, especially this:

“Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home.

“They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand.”

There is so much power in that phrase: “They are us.” An acknowledgement of a sentiment of “other” the drives so much hatred. The “they.” And making it clear, there is no “they.” There is only “us.”

If only were would be so lucky to have a Prime Minister that could demonstrate such true leadership, and not just empty platitudes.

I was surprised that the term “terrorism” or “terrorist act” didn’t appear earlier in media reports. Why? I would venture because the perpetrator was white. Even yesterday, the Daily Telegraph’s front page didn’t cry from the rooftops that this was terrorism.

There’s no headlines proclaiming the gunman’s religious beliefs. Why? Because he’s white? Was he a Christian? An athiest? Surely we should know this, because if it was a Muslim person involved, this would surely be the lead… it would be a core part of the headline, no?

“Australian Christian migrant shoots dead 50 in act of terror”

But no. That’s not what we get.

We get the watered down language.

There is no condemnation of all Australians, or all Christians, or all white-folk, as being hell bent on taking over our country, or being violent, or hating us.

No. This was the act of some lone person. They couldn’t possibly represent the views of all Australians. Or all Westerners.

But if this were a Muslim, this would be presented without such nuance or distance.

This, is of course, indicative of a more widespread, clear, discernible and quantifiable bias in our media.

It is so reminiscent of what Noam Chomsky has highlighted for decades in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Where radically different language is used depending on “which side” is being referred to. “Rocket attacks” vs. “Incursions.” “Settlements” instead of “Illegal land occupation.” We hear it in the language used around asylum seekers arriving by boat: “illegals”.

(An aside: the Refugee convention EXPLICITLY states that an asylum seeker’s method of entry into a country is not grounds for discrimination. That is, they are under international law, LEGAL by definition. Contrast this with the over 60,000 people overstay their visa in Australia each year—these could be legitimately considered “illegal” vs. around 3000 people “processed” in offshore detention—note the lightened language we use here also).)

For many people who “consume” and don’t interrogate the media, these biases become invisible. It lessens the crimes of one, and heightens the crimes of another. I see this as yet another example of these biases plainly on display, and largely missed…

If it were a Muslim person that had committed the crime, there would be cries for all Muslim leaders to condemn the act. Instead, we get words like this reportedly on an “Australian parliamentary letterhead”:

“The truth is that Islam is not like any other faith. It is the religious equivalent of fascism,” or, “The real cause of bloodshed is the migration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate in the first place.” Or, “As we read in Matthew 26:52: ‘All they that take the sword shall perish by the sword’. And those who follow a violent religion that causes them to murder us cannot be surprised when somebody takes them at their word and responds at kind.”

(Waleed Aly’s full response is very much worth a read, btw.)

How is this even legal? It just goes to show the depth of the rot in our Parliamentary system that this could even be permitted, let alone go mostly unreported.

Given the above, it perhaps is little surprise that I share the anger, and agree with the ALL CAPS sentiment, in this response from another friend, Meredith Schofield (reposted here in case the Facebook walled garden hides it from the rest of the world):

Australia we need to own up to our part in this terrorist act. This c$%t was clearly radicalised here in this country. If our gun laws were like NZ he would have committed this terror act here. No doubt. Our culture of hate towards Islam, Muslims, middle eastern people and asylum seekers has bred this level of violence. When you like share or retweet an anti-immigration or anti-Muslim sentiment YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. When you make flippant comments around the dinner table about ‘Mussies’ or ‘Queue Jumpers’ YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. When you support parties or politicians with anti immigration, anti-refugee or anti-Islam views YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. And 100% of the time I hear shit like this from people online and people & family I know – they never ever ever have had a Muslim friend or met a refugee.

Don’t be part of the problem be part of the solution. Reach out, educate yourself, look within at some views you have that are deeply racist at their core. We are all different we come from a nation that is the most multicultural in the world it’s time these views left our society.

I like that Meredith uses the language we commonly associate with reports of Muslim terrorism—”radicalisation.” We do need to own up to that fact. What’s scary is that this person wasn’t radicalised in some terrorist camp. They were radicalised through publicly available and accepted mainstream media and social sentiments.

THAT is the scariest part of this whole episode from my perspective…

And it’s also, for me, the call to arms…

Plainly, this could have been avoided.

Not by extra security, or additional Police power, or foregoing our rights and handing them over to the State.

It could have been avoided by not perpetuating and propagating the culture of fear and hatred. The type peddled by the shock jocks, the mainstream media, our politicians, our so-called “thought leaders.”

I find it hard to acknowledge that our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, might have had anything poignant to say about this incident (which reportedly he did), in the face of his and his party’s, and successive Governments’ over the past 20+ years, treatment of Aboriginal people, of migrants, of people of ethnicity, of asylum seekers. Treatment that is effected both through policy and public statements.

All of this contributes to this culture. All in pursuit of a victory in the next (News)poll.

I am waiting for the shock jocks to decry this act of violence, then spout some tripe about “but it’s easy to understand the sentiment.”

Update 18 Mar 2019: Seems I spotted the argument correctly, but missed where it would come from—a Senator instead?!?

This is the underlying “problem.”

We need leaders that actually respond to the real issues that are affecting us, instead of peddling fear and intolerance.

Like owning up to the fact that one woman a week dies as a result of domestic violence.

Like keeping things in perspective: 1,143 people die on our roads each year. Or that 29% of Australian deaths in 2014 had Cardiovascular Disease as the underlying cause—that’s 45,000 deaths a year—many of the drivers being preventable: “being overweight, lack of physical activity, poor nutrition and smoking.”.

Contrast this with terrorism—that big fear that drives our inhumane, abusive, illegal, and obscenely expensive (1, 2) detention system—where just 12 people have died from terrorism-related incidents on Australian soil in 36 years.

Which is the bigger threat?

I want to see our political priorities, and the same vehement language and sentiment, addressed at the real, not imagined, issues and threats.

How can we achieve that?

I feel strongly that focusing first on your circle of influence is the critical “first step.” Don’t let racist, fear-driven comments or sentiments stand in your family and friendship circles. It doesn’t cost a cent, but does take a lot of courage. Don’t just laugh it off. Step into it.

Have the conversation (or argument if it comes to that.) Importantly, let them know you don’t think it’s ok, that you think their fear and anger is misguided. Seek out the source of the fear beneath the comments, and encourage them to look harder at what’s actually going on, where the truth really lay, and not to rely on the headlines for making up their mind.

Write to or otherwise speak to the politicians in your electorate and tell them that you don’t think it’s ok that they perpetuate this, neither through policy nor in public statements and comments.

And consider joining or financially supporting organisations doing work in creating a more inclusive and just Australia. There are many, but I am a fan of one in particular that is working hard on the underlying drivers—All Together Now. Their vision is “a racially equitable Australia … [achieved] by imagining and delivering innovative and evidence based projects that promote racial equity.”

IMO, we need more of this positive action to combat the megaphones in the media peddling fear and hatred…

My thoughts and heart is with the people of Christchurch, and Muslim communities there and here in Australia especially. And I hope that this jolt genuinely triggers some serious reflection of the deeper issues at play. Though, sadly, I can’t say I have much expectation it will…

Illegal acts: boat people vs. the Australian Government

I was unfortunately travelling interstate when the latest series of Go Back to Where You Came From was on free to air on SBS. The last season was excellent, so we recorded it and last night Ang and I just started watching the series (we’re watching one episode a week.)

One of the myths that was repeated by a number of the participants in the program was that asylum seekers that enter Australia by boat (by illegal means) are breaking the law, therefore they are criminals. This is plainly false, here’s why:

Australia is signatory to the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (commonly referred to as the “Refugee Convention.”) This international legal instrument, to which we’re bound, clearly states on page 3 of its introduction (emphasis mine):

Convention provisions, for example, are to be applied without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin. Developments in international human rights law also reinforce the principle that the Convention be applied without discrimination as to sex, age, disability, sexuality, or other prohibited grounds of discrimination.

The Convention further stipulates that, subject to specific exceptions, refugees should not be penalized for their illegal entry or stay. This recognizes that the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules.

Prohibited penalties might include being charged with immigration or criminal offences relating to the seeking of asylum, or being arbitrarily detained purely on the basis of seeking asylum."

What this means is that, contrary to this popular myth, asylum seekers are not breaking the law in attempting entry to Australia. In fact, quite the opposite is true — the criminal act, according to international law, is being perpetrated by our Government. The bolded points in the passage above are all penalties that the Government has illegally introduced, in addition to striking certain islands literally off the map when it comes to immigration law.

Refugees from specific regions have been discriminated against, with asylum seekers from some regions being automatically refused refugee status, regardless of their case. All asylum seekers entering by boat are arbitrarily detained. During the Howard Government people that were found to be refugees were granted only Temporary Protection Visas, which restricted the rights and support that they received. In my view, this can only be viewed as a “penalty” for the method of entry.

If we could remove set aside the emotion that the issue of refugees seems to engender in this country, and focus instead on the rule of law, there are few things that are plain and (should be) self-evident.

If you agree that the Government should commit to international laws (such as trade agreements and other treaties), you must accept that we need to act in accordance with the laws we have agreed to be bound by.

And if you accept that Australia should be a signatory to the Refugee Convention, you must accept that we are bound to its provisions. If you don’t, you should be asking the Government to withdraw its support for the Refugee Convention. Or if you disagree with just these provisions, you should be advocating action being taken by the Australian Government to address these issues through the appropriate channels — that is through the mechanisms of the United Nations — rather than “jumping the queue” (to steal another myth/misnomer) and implementing measures that are illegal under international law. And until such time that those provisions are in place, we should be upholding the laws which we have signed.

Celebrating Australia Day

As Australia Day rolls around again we’re encouraged to celebrate the nation’s official birthday. I’ve mentioned before my agitation about “celebrating” the invasion and near genocide of another people that this day represents.

Since writing that post, I’ve had the thought that if we are to continue celebrating on this date, that the celebration should be something akin to the sentiment engendered in ANZAC day. While a celebratory event, ANZAC day begins with a solemn reflection on lives lost and the cost of war. As the day progresses it transforms into a celebration of the human spirit — of overcoming and moving on from hard times, of friends and family, of sacrifice and valour.

Perhaps if Australia Day was practiced in this manner, I could support it. Imagine if at the beginning of the day we acknowledged the First Australians and the terrible wrongs wrought upon them in the foundation of the English phase of this nation? That we acknowledged and reflected on the lives lost, on the traditions ignored and broken. Then, perhaps, after this solemn expression we could begin to celebrate recent achievements and a vision for the future.

This is highly unlikely to happen, of course. This nation has been built upon a racist foundation — from terra nullius to the stolen generation to the White Australia policy. And that foundation still manifests in so many ways — from the relatively silent (for example, the Northern Territory “intervention” which is barely discussed) to the more vocal, such as the so-called “debate” on refugee policy. I put “debate” in quotation marks, because it is not. It is a race to the bottom as political parties and the media1 clamour for the most headline-catching (and usually inhumane) way to “manage” distraught and desperate people trying to flee war and persecution. All fuelled by a public sentiment that is so fearful of “the other” and an ignorance of the beauty and benefits of other cultures.

The only glimmer of hope I see in this discourse comes from SBS, with a string of excellent documentary series that aim to bring to light alternative perspectives on the race and immigration debate. From First Australians to Immigration Nation to Go Back to Where You Came From to the most recently aired Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta, SBS seems to be the only (relatively) mainstream media entity willing to actually tackle the issue with any degree of respect and balance.

Contrast that collection of works with the jingoistic nationalist tripe that gets rolled out annually across the commercial networks. Until the types of stories that appear on SBS are being told regularly on Sixty Minutes and Today Tonight, we have a long way to go before we can truly come to grips with our past, reconcile with our indigenous and immigrant brothers and sisters, and truly celebrate our nation moving forward.

I love a good BBQ. I drink beer with my mates and celebrate “mateship”. I believe in this supposed Australian tradition of a “fair go”. I am a fervent NRL fan and love heading down the pub to watch the grand final with the rest of the rabble. I’ll cheer Lleyton and Bernard, or Clarkey and the team. I’ll gladly give some good-humoured stick to the Kiwi’s or the Poms when we get up in the union, cricket, rugby (or anything really).

I celebrate and enjoy these traditions. But I can’t bring myself to celebrate this day. I find it a sad shame that when I see people displaying an Australian flag (on a temporary tattoo or on their car or in their window) that I can’t help but think there’s a racist “go home” intent.

All that said, I will appreciate Australia Day, in all of its complexity, in solemn reflection and respect. I hope you do too…

  1. The only time I’ve seen the Daily Telegraph display a pro-refugee headline was when it was an opportunity to beat up on the Gillard Government’s policies (or, more to the point, a beat up on “Julia”). As an aside, is there any male Prime Minister where it was ok to reference them by their first name so readily? I don’t remember Kevin or John or Paul being bandied about quite so freely in the press and public discourse. But I digress…

Blog Action Day: Climate Change

Today is Blog Action Day and this year’s theme is “climate change”. This post is my contribution, professional cross-posted on my blog.

For those that don’t know, world leaders are meeting in Copenhagen December this year to discuss climate change and their responses to it.

So far we have seen very little from world leaders in terms of real, concrete targets and changes. There is a lot of hope (though dare I say not a lot of expectation) that the Copenhagen talks will result in an updated global agreement that reflects the severity of the situation as outlined by the scientific and economic communities (although Obama’s recent executive order is a positive sign).

It seems that governments the world over are having a deal of trouble committing to targets that are decades away. But I suspect this is part of the problem – the focus on decade long cycles (e.g. “25% by 2020”) needs to shift binding 1 and 5 year targets and plans as well. Whilever plans focus on 10 or 20 years away, action will not be swift. Let’s reduce by 1% this year, an addition 2% next year and soon the totals will add up to the 25%+ that we need to achieve.

To most people it is clear that societally we need to rapidly (i.e. over the next 10 years) reduce carbon emissions across the globe. It is also clear that the costs of acting now will be much lower than later.

To put this into perspective, WWF-Australia recently teamed up with Climate Risk to produce an estimate that places the cost of transforming to a low-carbon economy in Australia at half the cost of the recent economic stimulus package – if we act now. If we allow the amount of carbon in the atmosphere to reach potentially catastrophic levels, the cost will be far, far greater.

Our government and business leaders know this. There is popular support for action. And yet things are still stalled…

What we do know

While there are a lot of unknowns, and acknowledging there is no “silver bullet” solution to reducing carbon emissions, there are a few things that are already underway and with further support will make a significant impact on our emissions.

Renewable energy

Renewable energy systems need to be developed and rapidly deployed to offset coal-based generation. So-called “clean coal” is not a long-term solution, yet it has a medium-term development cycle – the case just doesn’t stack up (you might consider joining GetUp’s “iCoal 2.0” campaign to let our politicians know we know).

Investment needs to be channelled to existing and emerging technologies such as wind, solar, and wave energy. Report after report shows how these, existing, technologies can service our needs. Google has stated that more early stage funding is required. But of course there are myriad ways the government could be supporting the industry – a “real” emissions trading scheme (one that doesn’t let big polluters off the hook) or feed in tariffs are a good start. But even better support for R&D in the area would be welcome.

Alternative fuel vehicles

Alternative fuel vehicles – especially electric vehicles powered by renewable energy – will play a significant role in the short-term transformation of mobility towards low-carbon goals.

It seems that the market has landed on electric vehicles – with the Tesla roadster launched and the Model S on the way in 2011, GM launching the Volt in 2010, followed hotly by the Nissan LEAF late 2012. Nissan’s concept is interesting as they plan to lease the battery – the most expensive component in electric vehicles – to reduce the up-front cost of the technology for buyers.

And of course A Better Place has a novel concept that they hope to launch in Australia, among other countries, soon.

There are longer-term solutions, including re-thinking our cities, something that City of Sydney council seems to be making a lot of noise about with their 2030 Sustainable Sydney plan. But in the short-term cars will be the transport option of choice for many people as our existing infrastructure is geared to best support this mode of mobility.

Energy efficiency

Energy prices will inevitibly increase over time – if not through government levies through geo-political and other factors. In addition, a shift to renewable energy will to an extent require us to be more efficient with our use of energy.

But being more efficient now can also have a significant positive impact by reducing consumption, or maintaining current levels of consumption as population grows, reducing the need for new capacity while new renewable energy capacity enters the mix and some emerging technologies gain a footing.

This is where individual action can make a big difference – if we all choose more efficient appliances, upgrade to more efficient lighting technology, and the like can reduce the need for new capacity, as well as reducing our bills.

Collective action

Over the past few years there’s been a lot of emphasis on individual action – in us as “consumers” playing our part in creating demand and making lifestyle changes. While individual action is important, this will only get us so far.

We need our leaders in government and industry to truly step up to the mark. This is why the Copenhagen agreement is so critical. There will be many, many actions that can be taken in the lead up to the Copenhagen talks – but on this Blog Action Day can I suggest writing or speaking to your federal government representative (you can user OpenAustralia to find out who your rep is) and telling them how important this issue is. Outline the ways that you’re doing your bit, and put forward your ideas about how you want the government to do theirs.

If that’s too much, consider casting your vote with EarthHour, or support an environmentally-focused non-profit who is doing good work in the area.

In either case, let’s give our political leaders the support they need to ensure that we get the right result at Copenhagen.

Emissions trading objections

In my (admittedly limited) reading about the proposed emissions trading scheme here in Australia, I get the impression there’s two primary objections (mostly from business, but also the opposition party – coincidence?) to the trading scheme.

The first is that a scheme will raise prices for the Australian public for goods from high-emissions industries, like electricity. I suspect this is to raise public opposition to the scheme, but I think that we’ve mostly overcome this objection.

The second seems to be that the scheme will negatively impact exports for these products, which in Australia will have a significant impact on exports. An extension to this argument is that producers in countries that don’t have such impediments will be able to undercut the price of Australian companies’ produce.

Over the jump I’ve put together some initial thoughts on these objections and the Government’s proposed approach…

Continue reading

(White) Australia Day

Every year I approach the “Australia Day” holiday with a sense of agitation. I want to celebrate my country, but to hold the holiday as a marking of the British invasion of this country has long been of concern to me. (As an aside, in the lead up to this year’s event, Ang and I were considering ways that we could show solidarity with the first Australians on the day – sadly we weren’t that successful – suggestions welcome…).

With that in mind, I think Mick Dodson’s suggestion that the date be changed is a worthy one. If Australia Day is truly about celebrating inclusiveness and everything we love about this country, and we have any respect for our indigenous brothers and sisters, we should emphatically not be “celebrating” on this day.

Imagine if your ancestors were nearly wiped out by a colonial power, only to have the “national day of celebration” occur on the first day of that offensive? How would you feel?

The fact that Rudd isn’t even willing to have the conversation, likely due to the political ramifications of accepting to do so (it would be political suicide), is a sign of how deeply ingrained the racism, especially towards this nation’s original owners, is in this country. Why shouldn’t this be on the national agenda? It makes that word “Sorry” sound hollow…

This is an opportunity to step beyond the empty rhetoric and actually acknowledge what really happened when this country was “settled”. Sadly, it may take far too long before we see that step taken…

Anyways – News Limited is running a poll on whether or not the date should be changed – feel free to add your voice. At the moment it seems the crowd is oblivious to the problems with calling 26 January “Australia Day”.

Letter to Tanya Plibersek re: Carbon targets

I received a response from Tanya Plibersek to my previous letter re: clean feed just before I went away on holidays, and just after the Government announced their woefully inadequate targets for CO2 reduction.

Below the fold is my follow-up.

Continue reading

Retailers “doing it tough”. Again.

It seems every year, in the lead-up to Christmas, we hear about how “retailers are doing it tough” and that the Christmas period is crucial for retailers, so we, as consumers, had better “spend, spend, spend”.

This year was no different, except the “global financial crisis” had “hit retailers hard” and that, more than ever, we needed to spend, spend, spend. Never mind the fact that families might need the Rudd government’s handout for bills and savings – it was our duty to spend to save the economy.

Before the Christmas rush I commented to Ang (though I wish I had have blogged the prediction here) that by the time Christmas was over we’d hear that spending was up this year, if not to record levels. Why? Because I’ve noticed that this happens every year.

Last year it was the weight of growing interest rates denting consumers’ spending. This year, the economic crisis. I forget what it was the year before that.

I did entertain the thought that the financial “crisis” might, in fact, have an impact this year – but I posited that we’d still see a surge in spending all the same.

Well… the scare tactics appear to have worked.

According to the salesman at The Good Guys near my Mum’s home, large LCD TVs have been “walking out the door” (hardly an objective measure I know). And Gerry Harvey is surprised that sales had increased 8.7% over the same period last year.

Mr Rudd must be very pleased that his bonus is being spent so wisely…

Now, I am aware that retailers have experienced a significant decrease in spending over the past few months and that some, especially I suspect smaller operators, will actually be “doing it tough”.

I don’t know about you, but I just find the whole “it’s your duty to spend” line a little sickening and that the justifications for why we should are wearing a little thin when retailers continue to report record profits even after claiming that they’re “doing it tough”.

I’d like to see journalists, when reporting such statements, take a look at the profit figures across the previous year and put it all in a bit of perspective: “Despite the fact that David Jones posted a record profit last year, the best in it’s history, the retailer says its preparing for ‘tough times’.” (tough times = “net profit after tax … in line with previous guidance of five to 10% growth” – emphasis mine.)

I think it’s all very much a sign of our myopic focus on growth at all costs (hilariously captured by this YouTube video) as though the environment is just a never-ending source of resources and that permanent, endless growth is possible.

It’s quite simply not possible – the environment has limits that are already stretched by our current consumption habits. Sooner rather than later we’re going to have to face that fact.

Perhaps we should be looking for alternative models and starting to look at the economy from a different perspective? Models and perspectives that don’t rely on infinite, unsustainable growth fueled by private, debt-enabled spending – which, after all, got us into this mess in the first place.

Letter to Tanya Plibersek re: Clean Feed

I decided to write to my Federal MP, Tanya Plibersek, about the Government’s plan to introduce an internet filter (which I’ve written about previously).

Over the jump is the letter itself – but I would also recommend checking out the Electronic Frontiers Australia briefing on the issue.

Continue reading