Tuesday, 27 July 2010

"Cost of living"

Bernard Keane has an interesting article in today's Crikey about the so-called "cost of living" debate/policies in this year's federal election campaign. He points out:
"Cost of living" is in this context a misnomer. The more accurate term is "cost of consumption choices". This is about Australians' expectations that their expensive lifestyle choices will be supported by governments. Actual poverty, where the cost of living has real, everyday consequences, won't feature in the campaign. There are no votes in addressing poverty. This is about telling middle-income Australians that their high-consumption lifestyles are a matter of legitimate public policy focus.
What I find so interesting is that the rhetoric behind these so-called "cost of living" policies pretends that we have an economic system that would ever actually regulate the market to such an extent. (Although when details are requested both Gillard and Abbott carefully shy away from stating this directly). It is no wonder that people get so confused about the nature of our economic system.

I remember when I was in my last year of law school I had a friend who worked on ACCC phone lines. A woman called up one day and asked why they weren't doing anything about the cost of bread. "They can just charge anything they like," she complained. "That's communism!"

On a similar note, I remember being taught in Constitutional Law that around 90% of a large surveyed group of US citizens in the 1990s thought the phrase "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs," was from the US Constitution. And they do far more political education in High School than we do.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Why I'm voting for the Greens

At the upcoming Federal election on 21 August, I plan to vote 1 for the Greens. These are some of the main reasons why:
  1. They have a humane, compassion and reasonable policy on asylum seekers.
  2. They are the only party with a genuine commitment to doing something positive about the problem of climate change now.*
  3. They support marriage equality.
  4. They support a Human Rights Act for Australia.
  5. They do not support nuclear power or nuclear weapons.**
  6. They have real policies for sustainability - rather than using the term to mean that they intend to reduce the immigration of 'the wrong people'.
  7. They support six-month paid parental leave with superannuation benefits.
  8. They do not support the mandatory Internet filter.
  9. I believe them to be a party of real principle, whereas the two major parties seem committed to 'pragmatic' poll-driven policy making. A vote for poll-driven policy making is a vote for whatever the pollsters believe that people in marginal seats are concerned about. I see no reason to vote for that.
* Please, don't run that silly line about them not being serious about climate change because they blocked the CPRS. By the time the ALP and the Coalition had amended that piece of legislation it was not something that the Greens could support in good conscience. Yes, it was related to action on climate change, but it was bad action. It paid billions of dollars to polluting industries to keep polluting and committed Australia to a program whereby we'd to pay billions more in order to increase the pathetically low target of reductions in the future, and it over-allocated permits. This was a barrier to action, not a step in the right direction.

** Again, please don't argue that this makes them bad for climate change action. Yes, nuclear power would reduce our greenhouse emissions, but it would do so at the expense of creating radioactive waste. We currently have absolutely no idea how to safely dispose of radioactive waste and it is, therefore, thoroughly irresponsible to create it.

A dangerous or wasted vote?
I know that some people are concerned that by voting for the Greens they (or I) will be effectively electing the Abbott Coalition. The idea is that it is necessary to give the ALP your first preference in order to ensure that they cross the line ahead of the Coalition. I can understand where this concern comes from. However, it is actually based on a misunderstanding of our electoral system.

Let's start with the Senate. Our federal government is not formed in the Senate. This means that gaining a majority of seats in the Senate does not assist a party to form government (nor does having a minority prevent them from forming government - the ALP, for example, currently do not have a majority of seats in the Senate). This means that voting 1 for your local Greens candidate(s) in the Senate cannot increase the Coalition's chances of forming government. Instead, it does a number of other things.
  1. First, it increases the likelihood of your local Greens candidate gaining a Senate seat and, if they were to do that, then they would have the capacity to represent your area and truly progressive policies in Parliament.
  2. Second, political parties receive electoral funding based on the number of first preference votes they receive. So voting 1 for your local Greens will increase the amount of electoral funding that the Greens receive, thus increasing their capacity to lobby for progressive policies and to run better political campaigns in the future at the local, state and federal levels.
  3. Third, if your local candidate gets up and so do other Greens Senate candidates then the Greens might end up holding the balance of power in the Senate. This would give them even more power to seek progressive amendments to legislation or to block legislation that is truly problematic from a Greens perspective (like the Internet Filter).
  4. Fourth, an electoral swing to the Greens will give the ALP a clear message that it cannot take progressive voters for granted and continue to move to the Right in order to gain more votes. It will also force them to negotiate with the Greens - something that they have basically refused to do for the last three years.
  5. Finally, you can choose to preference your local ALP candidate second, meaning that if the local Greens candidate does not get up then your vote will go to straight to your local ALP candidate (thus preventing your vote from contributing to a Senate that is controlled by the Libs or, heaven forbid, Families First).
OK, now the House of Reps. Here it is the case that the party who receives a clear majority of seats is able to form government. So what would be the result of voting 1 for your local Greens candidate for the House of Reps.
  1. They might get in. Currently the Greens do not have any sitting members in the House of Reps. It would be great if we could change that, because it would signal a shift in Australian politics away from the current deadlock of the two-party system and that can only mean good things for democracy and for the choices that will be available in the future.
  2. If they didn't get up, the Greens would still receive that vital increase in electoral funding.
  3. A swing to the Greens in the lower house would send an even stronger message to the ALP to stop taking progressive voters for granted and to start negotiating with the Greens.
  4. In the very unlikely event that the election of a Greens house of reps candidate made the difference between ALP election and defeat to the Coalition, the ALP could decide to form a coalition with the Greens. However, let's be sensible here. At this election the ALP will either get up on its own, or it will lose to the Coalition because people have chosen to vote for the Coalition ahead of the ALP. It will have nothing to do with the Greens.
  5. On that note, you can, of course, vote 2 for the ALP in order to ensure that they get your vote should your local Greens candidate fail to get up. This vote will be just as effective for them as a first preference vote.

Any thoughts, questions?

Jeremy Sears and John Quiggin both have great posts on this issue, and LP is asking commenters to let them know their reasons for voting Green instead of ALP.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Apparently compassion is just PC nonesense

It was becoming increasingly clear that the Gillard-Labor government was preparing to "lurch to the Right" on asylum seekers (and let's not pretend that there were actually occupying a middle-ground previous, please), but it was still deeply depressing to read yesterday about Gillard announcing that Labor is preparing to 'get tough on asylum seekers.' Particularly disappointing was her statement that 'political correctness' should not shut-down an honest debate about 'border security':
"I'd like to sweep away any sense that people should close down any debate, including this debate, through a sense of self-censorship or political correctness. People should feel free to say what they feel. For people to say they're anxious about border security doesn't make them intolerant. It certainly doesn't make them a racist - it means they're expressing a genuine view."
The arrival of tiny numbers of asylum seekers by boat into our country is not a border security issue. It is a humanitarian issue.

Over 90% of these people are found to be genuine refugees (if they are allowed to get in and spend years in our detention centers, racking up debt to the government for the 'privilege' of being there). Being 'genuine refugees' means that they are fleeing truly horrifying, life-threatening situations in their countries of origin. They might be members of persecuted minorities, such as Tamils from Sri Lanka or Hazaras from Afghanistan, or they might be suffering political persecution in their homeland.

Many people, including Tony Abbott, have suggested that these people should just stop in the first country that they arrive in. However, as Julian Burnside points out, it is not that simple. Hazaras are not safe in Pakistan as they arrive in areas that are frequently controlled by the Taliban (the group responsible for their persecution in Afghanistan), while no one receives true protection in Indonesia, as that country is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. If they are lucky enough to have their claims processed by UNHCR in Indonesia, it will often take over a decade, during which time they are considered 'illegal' and have no rights to education or health, and risk being sent back to their dangerous homeland at any point. (BTW: India is not signatory to the Refugee Convention either.)

To pretend that political correctness is currently preventing an 'honest debate' in this country is deeply dishonest. Currently talk-back radio is full of people expressing their view that "boat people should be sent back." There is also a bloody good reason why many of these views are not considered to be 'political correct': they are founded on a xenophobic feeling of "us" v "them" and contain more than a little racism to boot. Take this caller, for example:
Caller Melba says that boat people should be sent back to their own country. She says that the “islamification of Australia” is an open secret. — 2GB (Sydney) Breakfast Chris Smith
Instead of pandering to these views, the government has a responsibility to actually take some leadership in this debate. It would be quite easy to actually dispel a number of myths associated with asylum seekers arriving by boat; to better publicise the true facts and statistics and to promote a sense of compassion and tolerance in our community.

They could start by letting people know:
  • Australia takes less than 1% of the world's refugees; and
  • Asylum seekers arriving by boat make up a tiny percentage of our annual arrivals for immigration.
As Julian Burnside puts it:
"at the current rate of arrivals it would take about 20 years to fill the MCG with boat people. The largest number to arrive in any 12-month period over the past three decades is 4100. Compare that with about 200,000 new permanent migrants every year. Boat arrivals so far this year amount to less than three days' worth of ordinary migration."
They could also ask people to put themselves into the shoes of a typical asylum seeker and to ask themselves: "What would you do?"

Imagine for a moment that you and your family were members of a persecuted minority - say Tamils in Sri Lanka, who are currently facing genocide after the collapse of the Tamil Tigers. Imagine you somehow managed to get yourselves as far as Indonesia for 'processing as refugees', only to find that you have a precarious wait of over one decade, during which time you have no capacity to support your family, no rights to health care or education, and are at continuous risk of being deported back to Sri Lanka. Would you pay a people smuggler (or in-debt yourself to them) in order to gain the possibility of arriving somewhere safer? Would you risk just about anything to get your children to a place where they don't have to constantly fear for their lives and might have a chance of making it to adulthood? Or would you 'queue up'?

Thursday, 1 July 2010

You really must watch this

This animation of a recent David Harvey speech on the underlying cause of the current global economic crisis is fantastic. I wish I could insert it into my PhD thesis.

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