May 13, 2015

Dumbing Down the Trickle Down

We spend less on education across the decades. And create a spiral of social decay with each generation.

Australia watches another generation enter our society ill-equipped to cope with the power of marketing, spin and bullshit media. They grow up thinking "A Current Affair" is a source of news and information. They grow believing "subway" is health food. They grow up fearing foreigners and their wives. That generation is the new vulnerable.

They are easily impacted by the street trade of drugs. They have no idea what home ownership looks like. They have no skills to critically assess honesty in media or politics. They are financially caged, cash-flow poor and unable to make decisions without checking the cash in their wallet first.

The men with money talk about those families below the poverty line as though they are a disease, a self-inflicted wound that needs to be purged for fear it may infect an otherwise healthy body. The men with money rely on these walking wounds to feed their profits, to buy their Coke, to drive their trucks, to vote for the LNP.

The men with money are blind to humanity, to people, they are the biggest sociopaths Australia has ever known. The men with money increase funding for police to fight the war on drugs, and cut the funding for education to deliver an even more vulnerable generation just around the corner. The men with money concoct elaborate justifications for diverting government spending to subsidise the activities of the rich and greedy.

Hi Gina, how are you today and how much diesel fuel did you buy with our money this week Governments are strangely reluctant to fund safe houses for victims of domestic violence.

More women die each year from being bashed to death by their partners than terrorist attacks, but where does the money go? Men with money understand the fear of terrorism, because terrorists can harm their stock portfolio or ruin plans for a holiday in Bali. Men with money do not understand the terror of living with violence, living in a home where nothing is certain for a single day.

Beer and gambling are what fuels domestic violence in Australia. Snorting cocaine never managed to achieve a socially acceptable status, but getting blind drunk is woven into the fabric of our culture. Across every socio-economic level their is glamour in grog. It's the most damaging drug of our times. It shortens lives, kills prematurely, ruins careers and sends families broke. It's a great source of revenue for tax coffers however.

The biggest tax based social cancer we have is gambling however. State revenues are addicted to gambling money, so much so that we watch our suburbs slowly drain their home equity into the casinos, pokies, horses and footy. The men with money realise that "gambling" is a dirty word, so they call it "gaming" instead to make it sound less of a big deal. Play a game, have a flutter, put two-bob each way.

What's the harm? After all the beer drinking under educated have nothing better to do with their lives and it's fun to slowly spiral into bankruptcy and force your family onto the streets.

The only thing more disgusting than watching our politicians shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic is watching media whores like Alan Jones profit from the charade.

The man who made millions off his fake fondness for the families on "struggle street" is the first to slip in the boot when a documentary goes to air revealing a few home truths about those in Western Sydney who cannot afford a chauffeur driven Merc. In true form Alan delivers a tirade of condemnation about the TV series while admitting that he hans't actually watched it.

Alan is of course one of the men with money. He has bags of it. He's not ashamed because he would argue that he worked so hard for it. Did he work 1 million times harder than anyone in Mount Druit? At the heart of this "I worked hard for my bags of money" argument is the idea that somehow others didn't work hard for their low rent housing. The suggestion is that somehow it's their fault for being poor.

Gina is helpful in this regard of course, she loves to remind the working poor that if you want more money just work harder. That advice seems a little hollow from someone who was left millions of dollars by her father.

Education is always the key to poverty. Money is not the key, but it does slow things down. It's hard work starting at the bottom of the pile and working your way up, but the better the education the more likely you are to make progress. Take away that education and you condemn a generation to failure before they had a chance.

No man is poorer than a man without an education. No nation is poorer than a nation divided.

The men with money are blind to the poor, to the humanity of poverty. The gap between "have and have not" widens. The fabric of society wears more thin and frail. It's a slippery slope as we watch the vulnerable become increasingly desperate and the government increasingly lost.

Is this the inevitable decay of democratic society? Wealth attained through social contract, for the benefit of all, leads to super wealth for some and pushed others into poverty until we're back at feudal chaos?

If you let gambling, alcohol and violence destroy lives across the country what kind of future does our society hold? How does the next generation of poorly educated citizens expect to improve the picture? Where did all the money go from the mining boom, because the country is broke and our governments are broken.

July 21, 2013

Keep Left. Safety Zone.

There are two motivations for people at a refugee rally, those who connect directly with a sense of discrimination and injustice, then those who feel directly the plight of the refugees themselves. 

I didn't know what I hoped to achieve by attending the rally in Melbourne, I just wanted to be counted and blurting outrage on social media wasn't going to cut it. Marching in Bourke St felt like real action, even if it it really isn't.

Governments in Australia have a very poor record of heeding protests, and if 600,000 people marching failed to precipitate an apology to our indigenous or a rethink on the Iraq War, then how would a few hundred gathering in the rain lead to any real action?

What took me by surprise was the emotion of the experience. It caught me off guard because my outrage was rational and ethical, not personal. Standing on the edges I could barely hear the speeches, and didn't really care. My mind had begun to wander with contemplation of the people we're here to support, and what their lives are like. 

And it turned out that for me it is personal, I really can put myself in their shoes. I can feel their sense of homelessness, their sense of isolation, their sense of hopelessness. These are people adrift in the world, in every possible sense. 

Until you've been homeless, stateless and lived without a safety net you cannot begin to imagine the emotional journey that your average refugee has undertaken. That doesn't mean you should't try however. Cast into the ocean in search of a new home is far from the worst thing they have faced in life. The more I contemplated their noble desperation the more meaning I drew from the rally.

These rallies will do absolutely nothing to alter the course of debate in Australia, but they will do everything to help us through a dark night in our own lives. Hundreds of people from Melbourne have gathered because they care, because they are custodians of compassion. It was a gathering of humanity and something we can be proud of. 

Our media is filled with the destruction of sanity. But out on the steps of Victoria's State Library, walking the tram tracks of Bourke St and outside the Immigration Dept a chorus of voices came together to remind ourselves that there is a better way to live our lives. A chorus that speaks in the hope that refugees may have a better life too.

Being part of the rally helped me to feel better about the country I live in, knowing that there really are people with morals above those of our current political leaders. If you only saw Australia through our own media this week you would think it was a country where people care more about protecting tax rorts than asylum seekers.

Well the media can go fuck itself. Collectively they are a mob of shameless dolts who put their pursuit of profitable headlines ahead of the nation that feeds them, ahead of their own decency, and ahead of our most vulnerable. Those few examples of reasoned debate are inevitably drowned out by the stupid. 

That battle was lost a long time ago, and maybe the battle for humane treatment of refugees is also lost for now.

At least I have something positive to walk away with today. On a bleak and miserable winters day in Melbourne a cohort of caring souls came out to embrace kindness, humanity and compassion. That's the part of Australia that I love the most, and that I hope to see more of in the years ahead.

July 18, 2013

Cheaper. Kinder. Smarter.

The idea of being able to "Stop the boats" is akin to zero tolerance on drugs, prohibition of alcohol, or teenage abstinence. Governments cannot regulate human behaviour, especially when the humans haven't even reached your shores yet.

There has been a massive rise in displaced persons around the world in recent years. This means more people seeking asylum globally. This means more refugees in boats. We call this "push factors".

All of the policy discussion in Australia for the last decade has been around punitive measures to stop one kind of refugee, the boat people. In 1992 the mandatory detention policy was put in place, with bi-partisan support, as a temporary measure. It's proved expensive and currently is not working. The deterrent simply doesn't stack up against the desperation of so many displaced people.

I want a policy debate that focuses on the needs of these people, not one that focuses on the racist paranoia of a few privileged Australians. So what alternative policies might change the current situation?

The money currently spent on detention is in the order of $100,000 a year per person. Instead of locking up people who have already been through hell what if we spent some of those funds on creating a better way to get them to Australia? Here's a simple outline for a cheaper, kinder and smarter response to the international humanitarian emergency.

1. Increase our intake: Australia accepts piss all numbers of refugees compared to the rest of the world. We need to stop whining about the numbers arriving and get real about the benefits of accepting them into our communities. We are a wealthy nation and most of us here are migrants of a sort anyway.

2. Improve Processing Times: Why does it take years to process refugees in Australia and only months to do it in Sweden? We spend all our dollars on detention instead of a solution. A very small percentage of asylum seekers end up failing our criteria for refugee status, so currently we're punishing the many for the sake of the few.

3. Bring them here safely: People wont jump on a boat and risk their lives if they have a better way to get here, or a better way to apply for asylum. Creating legal pathways for refugees removes the economics of boat smuggling, and stops people from drowning at sea. This is not a trivial challenge, it requires cooperation between nations, but it's a more achievable goal than trying to get Indonesia to stop the smugglers.

My simple equation is not a new one, but I haven't seen these ideas talked about in the media recently. Having just penned my thoughts I saw a tweet from Sarah Hanson-Young on a similar thread. Turns out The Greens have a well documented policy along these lines, as was submitted to the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers led by Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston.

It's very detailed and tackled some of the practical issues around creating safer pathways. This is where our debate should currently be focused. Below is a copy of the submission from The Greens. I know our political leaders and media are not in the habit of reading the details as often as they should, but perhaps a few words can stick in the memory somewhere and maybe stir some motivation to dig deeper on alternatives:

Cheaper. Kinder. Smarter.

Australian Greens submission can be found here. (pdf)

Cartoon from Bruce Petty, The Age (link)

July 09, 2013

730 Pre-Recorded

Dear ABC & 730 Report,

This week the 730 Report aired a pre-recorded interview with Tony Abbott, conducted by Chris Uhlmann.

The absence of any questions regarding the hot topic of the day, the alleged $9400 error in Mr Abbott's expense claims, was quite startling. In fact the entire interview came across as a highly 'managed' process, as though Tony was only answering pre-approved questions.

I am interested to know whether pre-conditions were placed on the ABC before Mr Abbott agreed to appear on the program, and whether there are any restrictions on disclosing the exact conditions agreed to for this interview. The context of any interview is important, and I believe it would be in the public interest for the context of this pre-recorded interview to be made clear to the audience.

Is this possible?