Monthly Archives: August 2010

Crash goes another barrier

And Tasmania suddenly recognises same-sex marriages registered in other states or countries.

Excellent news! One more stupid, pointless barrier against equality falls.

Remind me again why we have to drag this whole thing out? Full equality is inevitable, you know – and I bet the advocates for discrimination know it, too. But it’s like they just want to make gay people suffer for as long as they can possibly get away with it, even knowing they’re going to lose in the end. Spiteful, really.

ELSEWHERE: NSW debates same-sex adoption, as if there were actually any rational arguments against it.

Sorry, cultural freedom trumps religious control

So, the Wandjina controversy.

Now, I’m a little bit late on this, because it only came up on my podcast USB drive today, but I doubt it’s been resolved in the two months since. I also doubt it’s all that politically sensible for me to raise the subject, given that I am undoubtedly (as with the Uluru climb debate) going to be on the opposite side as most of my usual allies on this site – hell, looking at the comments to the Law Report episode linked to above, it appears that Andrew Bolt weighed in at the time, and although we’ll have come to it from completely contrary perspectives on the plight of indigenous Australians, we’ll likely have come to a similar conclusion in relation to this specific issue, something which disturbs me greatly and in relation to which the only comfort is the “even a stopped clock is right twice a day” aphorism – but I’m going to do it anyway, because I think there’s a lot of confusion and muddled thinking on the issue.

In essence, it’s about the outrage of an indigenous community and its supporters towards a non-indigenous gallery owner commissioning a work somewhat inaccurately representing an image sacred to them.

And the idea that perhaps our copyright law should be amended so that this sort of free expression by the artist who dared not to be born into a community which permits itself to represent this image becomes somehow prohibited. Maybe we could make copyright even more restrictive than it already is! Maybe we could give special copyright rights to ethnic groups, and your right to reproduce or enjoy them is determined by a blood sample. Perhaps we could extend copyright terms from the already absurd 70 years after the artist’s death to 70,000 years after the artist’s death. Perhaps we could just lock up all intellectual property forever in an unrecoverably entangled mess that results in vast masses of human culture and development being permanently lost.

You might guess that I’m not a big fan of this approach. Continue reading

Prisons not good at rehabilitating; very good at self-perpetuating

An article in this morning’s Age demonstrating why imprisoning people convicted of crimes should be a last resort – because it’s very ineffective at rehabilitating people (particularly compared with other more constructive (and cheaper to the public) sentencing options like community based orders or intensive corrections orders) – reminds me about a post and video I saw last week about how the American system of “randomised draconianism” actually makes the problem worse:

UCLA Professor of Public Affairs Mark Kleiman is “angry about having too much crime and an intolerable number of people behind bars.” The United States is home to five percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, yet, says Kleiman, our high incarceration rate isn’t making us safer.

In his book, “When Brute Force Fails,” Kleiman explains that, when it comes to punishment, there is a trade-off between severity and swiftness. For too long the U.S. has erred heavily on the side of severity, but if we concentrate enforcement and provide immediate consequences for law-breakers, Kleiman says we can both reduce the crime rate and put fewer people in prison.

The video is worth watching, particularly for law-and-order types who think the solution to crime is to keep ratcheting up the severity of sentences. Of course, that that doesn’t work is hardly news to those of us who deal with the courts day-in, day-out, and see first-hand which sentencing approaches work in reducing crimes and which don’t (although, sadly, the US doesn’t have the same non-custodial options we have here, so the professor doesn’t address them).

What was news to me, since we haven’t quite gone all the way down this road yet, was a link in the comments to the above post regarding how private prisons are now a source of cheap, effectively slave labour on which the US government now depends:

…the federal prison industry produces 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove assembly; 46% of body armor; 36% of home appliances; 30% of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.

Combine that with the recently exposed scandal in Pennsylvania where judges were sending children to jail to receive kickbacks from the local private prison operator, and you have to doubt whether introducing a motive like profit into the justice system (which is what privatising sections of it necessarily involves) can ever be a good idea.

But it is just what happens when consumers of hysterical tabloid media believe what they’re told and demand politicians send more people to jail. Even though it doesn’t work in reducing crime as well as other sentencing options. Even though it is a lot more expensive. Even though it pushes us down a path where what happens to citizens is corrupted by the interests of those who make money from them being locked up. Even though once governments become reliant on cheap labour and outsourcing their responsibilities it becomes almost impossible for them to ever undo that damage.

I really hope Australians take a good hard look at the US approach some in our most pervasive media suggest we emulate, and observe closely where it leads – before it’s too late.

Anti-consumer copyright treaty being finalised while we don’t have a government

You remember that hideous and absurdly secretive “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” (ACTA) the US is busy “negotiating” with other countries like Australia in order to try to prop up its crooked corporate copyright industry by taking away consumer rights and enacting ridiculously punitive enforcement regimes around the world?

It’s okay, we’ll finish it up without you – you just sign when we’re done.

Just an update: they’re finalising it now, aiming for completion in September. While Foreign Affairs is negotiating on our behalf, without direction from parliament. I know it’s the sort of nasty corporate bullying that its victims (ordinary Australians) won’t realise until it’s too late, and that therefore both the Liberal and Labor parties will probably support it – but, still. At least if it came before the new parliament the Greens would ensure there was an actual debate about its provisions. Who knows, maybe some members of the media would sit up and take notice.

It’s not as important as Julia’s earrings, obviously, but it could be worth some kind of a mention.

Depends what Republic you’re talking about

How could we throw all this away?

According to an Age/Nielsen poll getting some airing this morning, support for Australia becoming a Republic has plummeted:

An Age/Nielsen poll taken earlier this month shows support for a republic is now running at 44 per cent. This is the lowest level since 1994, and well down from the peak of 57 per cent in 1999, the year the question was tested in a national referendum.

The national poll of 1400 people found almost half (48 per cent) are now against the idea. Such a level of hostility has not been recorded since the late 1970s, when about 61 per cent were against a republic.

I wonder what the question was. I want us to have a republic, but I’d rather the status quo to a direct election model. (Our recent election was presidential enough – we don’t need a Head of State representing one party.) So depending on what then question was, I might have responded with a “no”.

Before the referendum, people probably answered “yes” to the republic question in polls because we thought it’d be a fairly straightforward matter replacing the British Queen with an Australian – but now we’ve been through such a divisive referendum, with no model gaining even close to majority support, it’s not surprising we’re no longer so confident. And, hence, that we’d prefer to leave things be till for the moment. In some ways, so am I – I’m sufficiently disturbed by the direct election model to prefer no movement to movement in a direction which might result in such a step backwards. I’d vote for a minimalist model like the 2/3rds one Keating proposed, but I’m realistic enough to know that it won’t be offered again for a long time – and that even if it was, it’s too easy to destroy by demonising it to the ignorant as a “politicians’ republic” (even though it’s much less likely to result in a politician president than direct election).

The only tragedy here is that the electorate is ignorant enough of our actual parliamentary system that they can fall for lies like the “politicians’ republic” campaign. But the only way to counter that is with better civics education. And we’ve been waiting for that even longer than we’ve been waiting for a republic.

Anyone seriously considering switching sides in a re-vote?

I wrote sarcastically on this the other day, but the conservatives do seem convinced that if the election was held again, people would change their votes in their favour.

Somehow the time line skewed into this tangent, creating an alternate 2010 election result in which Tony Abbott did not become PM as he was certain he should have. Alternate to Liberals and News Ltd columnists, but reality to everyone else.

Which seems extraordinary to me. I haven’t seen Abbott do anything post-election other than whinge about releasing his costings, storm petulantly out of press conferences, and order the independents to support him. Why does he think this will have won over new voters? I’m not sure to which voters on the ALP side of the ledger, the voters he’d need to convert, such antics would appeal.

As you might expect, I certainly have no intention of changing my vote.

So here’s the question: would you change your vote? From what, to what? Why? Do you know anyone else who would? How? Why?

I am genuinely curious as to the mindset of anyone taking the hung parliament result as a reason to switch from Labor to the Coalition, or vice versa.

Party that lost its only seat wants to determine Government

Obviously the threat by a man whose party seems to have lost its only seat at the election and who is only in Parliament because of a botched preference deal by Labor in 2004 (a gift that keeps on kicking them in the crotch) to block supply (for the few weeks between the budget and his removal from Parliament on 1st July) is somewhat infuriating to the vast mass of Australians who, once again, quite deliberately did not vote for his party.

Seriously, how many times do we have to not vote for you before you’ll take the hint?

But what’s funnier is how he justifies it:

“The Australian people have decided they don’t want Labor returned for a further three years. The voters are clearly not happy with Labor,” Senator Fielding told The Australian yesterday.

The irony. Oh, the irony. If he wasn’t going to hold us to ransom for 10 months until the voters’ decision to get rid of him is finally carried out, it would almost be funny.

UPDATE: Tony Abbott has shot down Steve’s last ditch cry for relevance. How ungrateful.