Monthly Archives: June 2011

Wait, don’t they have rings like trees?

Of course, if you’re going to impose ludicrously long jail-terms on poor Indonesians who crew refugee boats, it’s important to make sure you’re only being obscenely harsh to adults, so far as anyone can prove:

TWO of Australia’s child commissioners have backed criticism of the Gillard government’s use of wrist X-rays to determine the ages of Indonesian crew members of asylum seeker boats. Crew members face five years’ mandatory jail sentences under harsh people smuggling laws…

Sir Al, a world expert on determining the ages of children, warned that the current process of assessing age in Australia was a matter of grave concern.

Mr Geary said X-rays were a ”bizarre” way to find out the ages of vulnerable children.

Mr Geary seems to care more about the Convention on the Rights of the Child than on THE MESSAGE that we must send to poor children overseas. That message being, it’s worse to help a refugee escape danger than to commit a violent or dishonest crime in Australia as an actual adult.

And, hey, if that means some kids are convicted of adult offences and serve time alongside actual violent adults, then serves them right for being born into poverty where they don’t have proper birth records.

“Bizarre”, indeed! Hah. I suppose Mr Geary would rather we cut their limbs off and counted the rings. (Foreign children are constructed like trees, right?)

Greece: the rich fudge the figures; the poor pay the consequences

Funny that the strings that come with the IMF’s “aid” always seems to set up bargains for wealthy investors:

Buyers’ market as Greece starts assets fire sale

If the rioting Greeks can be made to swallow this “medicine”, anyway.

Still, are we really convinced that they should accept the “deal”? It’s a loan, not a gift. The “austerity measures” aren’t merely taxing more and spending less – they’re also “privatise everything” and “sod the poor”, and they appear likely to make it even harder for Greece to recover. Greece may presently have an comparatively low retirement age that makes for easy bashing – but the “austerity measures” go far, far further than that.

And, frankly, Europe can’t afford not to “bail them out” (with a huge loan on which they’ll incur enormous interest and which they must eventually repay). Maybe the protesters are right. Maybe they don’t need to swallow everything that’s being forced down their throats.

Maybe they’ve got little to lose from calling their bluff.

Don’t pay any attention to the Liberals quietly reviving WorkChoices

Mourners over the (wildly exaggerated) “death” of WorkChoices will have been thrilled this week by Tony Abbott’s reassurance that he intends to bring it back:

Abbott bows to Reith on IR

TONY Abbott has yielded to pressure from fellow Liberal Peter Reith to abandon his low-key approach to industrial relations, promising he will take a ”strong and effective” policy to the next election.

What does he mean by that? He means whatever will make Peter Reith happy:

After Mr Abbott’s statement yesterday, Mr Reith tweeted: ”Abbott comments on IR policy are encouraging. I should lose elections more often.”

LOL. It’s funny because Peter wants to take away your rights at work on behalf of big business.

But if you’re thinking of getting worried about WorkChoices – about unfair dismissal, about losing your hard fought-for protections, about undoing even the comparatively minor changes Labor made to wind back the Liberals’ legislation – well, I’ve got two words for you.

Carbon Tax!

CARBON TAX! CARBON TAX!

Concentrate on that, and stop paying attention to the Liberals’ efforts to really make you worse off. Don’t you trust Peter Reith to advocate for your best interests? Shh, then.

Boardrooms emptying around Australia

Who wasn’t appalled this morning to discover that company directors have to apply their minds to documents put before them? Who doesn’t fear the devastating consequence of, as their barrister threatened, the ruling causing boardooms to “empty overnight”?

Who would take on the responsibility of being a director of a corporation now? What possible incentive would they have, except the huge salaries and the fact that any other job would also require them to apply some kind of diligence to the task for which they’re being paid?

The trains right now, at lunchtime, must be full of directors who’ve handed in their resignation and are on their way home.

AND WE WILL MISS THEM.

ELSEWHERE: Corporations continue to resist moves to reveal the ratio between board salaries and those of their average employee. Because we’ll just use the figures to mock their absurd claims about how difficult they have it, I suppose.

Media demand an invite to Greens conferences

I don’t agree that Lee Rhiannon should’ve conceded this point to Uhlmann so readily:

CHRIS UHLMANN: You are in fact the only Australian political party which doesn’t allow access to its conferences.

LEE RHIANNON: I don’t think that’s actually probably true. I think you’ll probably mean of all the parliamentary parties.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Certainly you are a parliamentary party?

LEE RHIANNON: Yes, now a parliamentary party but when you said political parties I think there’s others that have closed doors.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But as a parliamentary party don’t you believe the media should have access to your…

LEE RHIANNON: That’s what I just said, I think there is room for us to change how we work here, and it’s an issue I have discussed with my colleagues. I think there is a real need to be more open and one always needs to reflect on how we can improve our own work.

The thing is, there are two main approaches to party democracy.

There’s the American system, where you have two pretty much permanent unchallengeable parties (with first past the post and no preference system, it’s virtually impossible for any new party to challenge them; as you grow, you cannibalise the big party that’s closest to you and put the big party you dislike the most into power). The two established parties become, effectively, government institutions. So those two parties supposedly contain all the different viewpoints, the vast spectrum on “left” and “right”, within them. There are only two parties, but they have very broad bases – because the entire population is expected to pick one or the other. This also means that you never know in advance what particular position such a party will take on an issue, because it depends on the internal makeup at any particular time.

This is the system that the Labor and Liberal parties here like to emulate.

In that system, it makes sense for the media to have full access to those parties’ conferences, because that’s where the democracy actually happens. In the election, it’s just a choice between two (often very similar) choices. What those choices are – that’s what is decided in the party conferences, or primaries.

So if you believe we have to have a Labor or Liberal government, then we need to know what the numbers are internally. We need to know whether they’re presently representing the views of the left, or the right. Note that we never see the internal faction conferences – and the bigger ALP and Liberal party factions are probably about the same size as the Greens – but we get to see, sort of, what happens when they thrash out what the policy of the whole party is going to be. And that makes sense, because that’s effectively like a limited parliament where the decisions are actually made.

The second approach to party democracy is one where the parties themselves are smaller and represent specific views. They don’t try to encompass opposite sides of the spectrum simultaneously. Where instead of groups A, B and C being contained within the Labor Party and groups D, E and F being contained within the Liberal Party, those groups are parties in their own right and the debates on policy take place in parliament. (This also means that just because A, B, and C agree on one issue, it doesn’t mean that they are lumped together on another – A, D and E might agree on a social issue, but with the big party system they’re prevented from voting together.)

Anyway, my point is that the Greens are an ideological grouping more like the factions within the big parties. They’re largely on the same side. The main effect of inviting the media in would be to create further factions within the Greens and start the party down the path to becoming just like the big parties. It would enable the media to focus on personality instead of policy. It would mean that the real policy decisions are, as they are in the big parties, made in another forum before the conferences. Refining a position is never effectively done in the full glare of the media – not by the Greens, not by any political party.

I’d rather the parties sorted out their positions and their candidates in their own time, and then presented their views for us, the voters, to choose between. And then they’d debate and negotiate, party to party, in parliament.

The extra scrutiny required of the internal workings of the big parties only comes from the fact that they appear to be, for many, the permanent institutions of government. As soon as that assumption changes, my need to know what they do internally will vanish as well.

And if you want to influence Greens policy, there’s nothing stopping you joining the party and going along to the conferences yourself.

Collective punishment; unnecessarily making refugee A wait in a camp because refugee B arrived by boat or plane

Well, of course, if we play the refugees off against each other:

Stopping boats has appeal on the queue

…Rajab bears no ill will to those who take boats to Australia. He knows families who have done just that, and he would do it himself if he had the money and the opportunity.

But he would be happy if the Australian government stopped the boats, if it meant more places were opened up for long-term refugees like him and his family.

”Everybody has their own perspective,” he says. ”If you take people from the boats, that means other people will not be accepted … shut the door completely and you will discourage these people and encourage more people through the UNHCR.

“That means other people will not be accepted” – why? Only because we let our government link the two programs, instead of treating the two intakes as completely separate.

We let the government punish refugees waiting in camps for those who arrive by boat or overstay visas.

Why do we insist on doing that? There aren’t so many people arriving by boat or overstaying visas that they’re “flooding” the country or something and we need to make up the numbers by taking it out on the most vulnerable. The policy that punishes refugee A for the actions of refugee B is – well, it’s collective punishment. It’s wrong. It is unnecessary, and it is cruel.

And then to tell refugee A not to blame us, blame the other people as desperate as they are, go take it up with them – it’s utterly repugnant.

The story above, in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, sickens me.

“I’ll get an order out on you!1!”

The media – well, the Sunday Age – have finally noticed that there’s a bit of an issue with intervention orders clogging up the courts.

Unlike an ordinary civil case, you don’t have to pay the court a fee to issue an intervention order. Unlike a criminal case, there’s no assumption that the police will be involved. And whilst in practice an intervention order is able to be used as a weapon by the applicant against the respondent – the police simply assume that the person who’s got the order is the “goody”, and the person against whom it was obtained is the “baddie”, and they don’t bother prosecuting any actions by the applicant that cause the breach of the order – the courts still tend to err on the side of caution, because what magistrate wants to refuse an order and then find out the next day that the applicant has come to serious harm?

So what happens? Even when the parties do not want to see or have anything to do with each other, the respondent has to go and get their own order so that they’re not at risk of being assumed to be the villain in any dispute. And if the parties can’t agree on mutual orders – which is quite common, since they are by definition people who can’t get along – then the courts have to allocate time to hear drawn-out, he-said-she-said, petty, interminable evidence to decide who’s in the right.

This costs us, the community, a FORTUNE.

So what should we do about it? Obviously we want to be able to separate warring parties. But we don’t want to encourage frivolous applications. Nor do we want to make applications expensive so that the people who really need them can’t get them.

I suggest we simply have an order that the court makes that separates parties without specifying an “applicant” or “respondent”. It’s a KEEP APART order, and it operates against both parties equally – tells them not to contact each other, not to write about each other, not to go to each others’ homes, to walk away if they see them in the street. Randomly order the parties so the police do not know which person applied, and so they don’t commence any investigation into a breach with assumptions as to who’s the villain simply from the paperwork.

This order would cover most neighbourhood, internet and other disputes where the parties don’t have any need to see each other at all. It would discourage a lot of applications where the motivation isn’t really fear, it’s spite. It would save the court a lot of time – and taxpayers a lot of money – in disputed applications, when respondents instead realise that it goes both ways, and simply tells everyone to just move the hell on.

There are, of course, situations where this approach would not work – specifically, incidents of family violence where the parties do not intend to separate or where there are children involved. In those cases it certainly does make sense to have orders that make clear the history so that the police know what’s going on.

As it happens, however, they’re covered under a different Act to the stalking intervention orders already.

There is one way even the family violence orders need to be changed: they also need to be able to be enforced against the applicant when the applicant actually creates the breach. The courts regularly see situations where a person takes out an intervention order against her partner. Then they reconcile, he moves back in, but she doesn’t bother going back to the courts to have the order rescinded. Next time there’s a fight, she calls the police and, hey presto, he’s charged with breaching the intervention order. She isn’t. Or other situations where he’s the one with an order, she doesn’t; he rings her up and abuses her; she shouts back and she’s the only one charged.

We need to revise intervention orders so that they’re not weapons to be used by one party against another; they’re nothing more than a precaution the court puts in place to keep people safe. Not an easy way of getting at someone you don’t like.

I’m glad the problem is finally being noticed – although for some reason I have little faith that any reform by this government will actually be an improvement.