Posts Tagged ‘Australia’


Is Australia becoming a police state?

The Sydney Cafe siege on December 15, 2014 which saw the deaths of two hostages further heightened fears for national security in Australia as the country seeks to clamp down on home-grown militancy. Saeed Khan/AFP Photo
 Is Australia becoming a police state?

Since ISIL made headlines with its lightning advances in Iraq and Syria in June last year, the Australian government has upped its national security rhetoric and passed a number of controversial laws.

The heightened climate of fear has fuelled criticism that the right-wing Abbott government is undermining the nation’s democratic values and eroding civil liberties to fight terror.

In December last year, police stormed a cafe in downtown Sydney where nearly 30 hostages were being held by a lone wolf gunman. The 16-hour siege ended with the deaths of two hostages and the gunman, who had forced his captives to display an Islamic flag in the cafe window during the ordeal.

Two months earlier, Australia launched a massive counterterrorism operation that saw hundreds of armed police raid multiple homes in Sydney and Brisbane. Police would not comment on the number of arrests made.

The country also raised its terrorism threat level to high in September, believing an attack was likely.

Australia is becoming a “polarised and fearful place” due to the government’s scare campaign of the ISIL militant group, Senator Scott Ludlam, deputy leader of the progressive, left-wing Australian Greens, told The National.

Australia’s Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs has led the chorus of criticism, accusing the government and opposition Labor Party of colluding to increase government powers under the veil of national security by passing laws “which violate fundamental freedoms”.

This includes a data retention law, passed in March, which grants government security agencies access to two years’ worth of metadata — or citizens’ phone and internet records.

Julian Burnside, a Queen’s Counsel and human rights advocate, said that “the metadata laws are edging Australia one short step closer to being a sort of secret police state”.

In September 2014, soon after the US-led coalition launched its military campaign against ISIL, the Australian parliament passed a counterterror law that gave greater immunity from prosecution to intelligence officers who engage in special operations.

The law also punishes whistle-blowers who disclose intelligence-related information, sparking fears that the media could be targeted if it reported on intelligence operations.

In June, Australia also rushed a website blocking bill and a border force act that punishes medical staff with a two-year jail sentence if they report abuses at detention centres for asylum seekers.

The World Medical Association said that the act was “shocking” from an advanced country like Australia.

The government is now pushing to revise citizenship laws, which could see Australian dual nationals stripped of their citizenship for fighting with terror groups abroad.

An estimated 150 Australians are said to be fighting with ISIL and other militant groups in Iraq and Syria, and they are backed by about 150 Australia-based “facilitators”, according to Mr Abbott.

At least 20 were believed to have returned as of January and there are fears that home-grown militants returning from the Middle East could pose a threat to national security.

However, the bill presented also includes vague terminology that widens its scope to beyond terror activities, such as a clause that could see an Australian lose his nationality for damaging government property.

Senator Ludlam has been a leading opponent of the government’s campaign to increase its power at the expense of civil liberties, and warns that Mr Abbott is leading Australia on a dangerous path.

“There is no question that the Abbott government has repeatedly weakened some of the country’s civil and political rights underpinnings,” he said.

But Mr Abbott insists that the threat posed by groups like ISIL is worth giving up some basic freedoms.

“Regrettably, for some time to come, Australians will have to endure more security than we’re used to, and more inconvenience than we’d like,” Mr Abbott said in September 2014 before introducing counterterror legislation.

The government has allocated an extra AU$1.2 billion (Dh3.3bn) in funding for national security which Mr Burnside said was an “absurd amount of money” to be spending to fight terrorism “when the fact is deaths in Australia from terrorist activity are incredibly rare”.

He noted that domestic violence is a greater killer in Australia but receives little political attention in comparison to terrorism.

While noting the credible threat of ISIL, Mr Ludlam said that its significance has been grossly misrepresented.

“The government has chosen … to elevate the threat of a few dozen domestic religious zealots to a challenge greater than that faced by Australia during the Cold War,” he said.

“[The Abbott government is] seeking to maximise this fear for political advantage,” Mr Ludlam said.

Mr Burnside agreed, saying that Mr Abbott’s fear campaign is geared more towards domestic politics rather than confronting a terror threat.

“Abbott recognises that by creating a climate of fear and then offering protection, he can retain government.”

But the strategy of playing fear politics to increase chances of re-election risks leaving Australians with fewer freedoms than their counterparts in the West, and vulnerable to prosecution for crimes reminiscent of autocratic police states.

Mr Ludlam and Mr Burnside both point to the lack of constitutional protections for human rights in Australia as a weakness in the country’s political system that allows governments to tamper with civil liberties.

“I think we’re the only western democracy that does not have coherent human rights protection,” Mr Burnside said, adding that “our nation is less threatened by terrorism than by laws like these”.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* with additional reporting from Reuters

Catholic fanatics_n


eric campbell - guard
New Guard leader Eric Campbell at a meeting in Sydney 1932
The secret history of fascism in Australia

by Mick Armstrong

New Guard leader Eric Campbell at a meeting in Sydney 1932

 

There is a myth that Australia, with its supposed democratic, egalitarian traditions, has been immune from mass fascist movements. This is far from true.

Fascism as a mass phenomenon is a product of a capitalist system that is in deep social and political crisis. That was the case with the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

In 1931-32 there were 130,000 Australians under arms, out of a population of just over 6 million. They trained and drilled with an assortment of fascist or far right paramilitary organisations. These were so-called respectable citizens: solicitors, doctors, dentists, graziers and business owners.

Support for Hitler and Mussolini was widespread in establishment circles.

In 1933, the Melbourne Herald ran a series of articles titled “Why I have become a fascist” by Wilfrid Kent Hughes, a Victorian MP. Kent Hughes came from a well connected Melbourne family. He had been school captain at Melbourne Grammar and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He went on to become deputy premier of Victoria. In the 1950s he was a minister in Menzies’ federal Liberal government.

Menzies, Australia’s longest serving prime minister, was glowing in his praise of Nazi Germany. In 1938, when federal attorney general, he visited the country and enthused about the “really spiritual quality in the willingness of Germans to devote themselves to the service and well being of the state”.

Hitler and Mussolini were viewed as heroes by conservatives because they had crushed the socialist movement and smashed the unions. They had ensured that profits kept rolling in. An editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald declared: “Italy was only saved from Red dominance by the heroic remedy of fascism”.

Another typical example comes from 1937. William Mackay, the NSW police commissioner, established the first Police Boys Clubs. They were modelled on the Nazi labour youth battalions, which he admired because they “subordinate the individual to the welfare of the nation”.

Mackay’s fellow police commissioner in Victoria, Thomas Blamey, headed the main far right paramilitary organisation the League of National Security (also known as the White Army). Blamey went on to become a field marshal and commander of the army in World War Two.

1930s crisis

The crisis of the Depression years led to a political and social polarisation along class lines. More than 30 percent unemployment, wage cuts, widespread evictions and mass poverty led masses of workers to question the whole basis of capitalist society.

In NSW, the radical populist Labor premier Jack Lang won an enormous following. To the left of Lang, the Socialisation Units – which were committed to the immediate introduction of socialism – enrolled tens of thousands. The Communist Party also grew.

Ruling class opinion was hysterical about Lang. Lang was no revolutionary, but he was seen as opening the way for all the disloyal elements in society – the Reds, the unemployed and the Irish Catholics. Irish Catholics were the Muslims of the day – they had betrayed the empire during its hour of need during World War One by revolting against Protestant rule.

The New Guard is the best known of the far right groups. It was formed in February 1931 as a breakaway from the much larger and more powerful Old Guard, which had prominent capitalist backers and operated secretly.

The New Guard, with 36,000 members, was an open fascist organisation that physically attacked union, ALP, unemployed and communist meetings. Its leader, Eric Campbell, visited Italy and Germany and established close relations with the fascists there. It was more middle class in character than the Old Guard. Former prime minister John Howard’s father, Lyall, a petrol station owner, was typical.

Every state had its own fascist or far right organisations. In March 1931, the League of National Security staged a trial run at a coup. Its armed militias seized dozens of towns across rural Victoria.

But the height of far right mobilisation was in NSW. The Melbourne Herald declared: “Today in NSW the deliberate process of smashing is going on under our noses. Sovietism and revolution have found their instrument in Lang”.

In April 1932, the New Guard organised a riot outside Sydney’s Central Police Station as a trial run for a coup. It went badly. But just over a month later, on 13 May, Lang was gone.

The Old guard – which had close connections with the police, the armed forces and the security apparatus, and whose leadership read like a who’s who of the Sydney establishment – mobilised to bring his government down. As well as a secret military wing, it had an open front organisation of 130,000 members called the All Australia League.

Under tremendous pressure from the ruling class, state governor Philip Game sacked Lang in a soft coup. An armed fascist revolt was no longer necessary. Soon afterwards, Scullin’s federal Labor government also fell.

Legacy

Capitalist rule had been stabilised without the need for a full blown fascist regime. But the far right and fascist mobilisations had a profound impact on Australian politics, which was pushed well to the right.

The conservative governments that came to power federally and in NSW shared many of the values of the New and Old Guard. Indeed, at least 20 NSW members of parliament were members of the New Guard. There were others from the Old Guard.

The parliamentary arm of the right achieved a lot of what the paramilitary wing desired: democratic rights sharply undermined, major attacks on free speech, a harsh censorship regime, and a crackdown on the left, the unions and the unemployed.

All this ensured that the burden of the Depression was imposed on the working class and that the profits of the banks and big capital were secured.

For large numbers of workers, Depression-level wages and conditions were maintained for many years after the economy began to pick up.

The fascists and their backers had achieved their main goal.

 


ANZAC Day Not for Faggots and Towelheads

australian-christian-lobby-tell-me-more-about-ho

by Geoff Lemon

[This piece is a few years old, but age has not wearied its sentiment.]

At least, not according to the Australian Christian Lobby. Sure, their main man Jim Wallace used slightly more careful language, but that was the sentiment of what he said. “Just hope that as we remember Servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for – wasn’t gay marriage and Islamic!” was the thoughtful missive he left via Twitter on the 25th.

I generally couldn’t give two shits in a waffle cone what people have to say on Twitter, the place where relevance goes to pick out its funeral clothes in pale blue. But once in a while you get something juicy, someone reposts it, and suddenly giant kerfuffles are exploding over everyone. (They’re kind of like soufflés.)

Generally, also like soufflés, these are massive beat-ups: think Nir Rosen, Catherine Deveny, that poor bloody lady with the horse. But Wallace has more reason for contrition than most. Aside from the fact that most of the towelheads and faggots could demolish him in a grammar challenge, his opinions (which he may have extensively pondered) only reinforce the ill-thought-out prejudices of thousands of other people. At least, they do once they make it onto the evening news.

Wallace said he would stand by his comment “if people read it in the right context and realise I’m not slurring gays. I have a lot of friends and associates who are gays, in fact one even tweeted me last night…” That must’ve been an illicit thrill, Jim. So, not slurring gays, you just don’t think they should have the same rights as proper normal people. Ok, check.

He went on to explain that this revelation of his came about after sitting with his father, a veteran of Tobruk and Milne Bay, who said that he didn’t recognise this Australia as being the one he fought for. Thought Jim, it was a good time to make a statement about our Judeo-Christian heritage, despite the fact that most of Australia these days is about as Christian as a bag of wet socks.

The extra-bad taste in the mouth from all this, though, is his invocation of the ANZACs to back up his point. We shouldn’t have gay marriage because ‘the ANZACs’ didn’t fight for that. We should keep an eye on dodgy Muslims because ‘the ANZACs’ sure as hell didn’t fight for them either. It was in the same vein as a particularly lunk-headed individual named Mick (natch), commenting on my pokies article, that restrictions on people’s gambling meant “the anzacs would be turning in their graves.”

To quote another commenter’s rejoinder, “Everyone loves making the ANZACs say what they want them to. They’re kind of like Jesus like that.”

And spot on. As recent years have ticked by, I’ve increasingly come to loathe ANZAC Day. Not the soldiers it honours, but the modern way of supposedly honouring them. Before you get all down on me for my disrespect, check my credentials. Through high school, my uni major, and my honours year, I specialised in Australian First and Second World War history. I’ve read dozens of biographies and memoirs by servicemen, interviewed WWII vets, and spent countless hours in archives here, in Canberra, and in Singapore. I spent a year in Thailand and Borneo researching prisoner-of-war camps, walked across northern Borneo to retrace a forced march of Aussie soldiers, then drove back and forth several more times to follow up on leads. I wrote a book of poems based on the stories I found, and I’ve done readings from it in all kinds of places to try and make sure those stories are heard. My best mate since primary school is an infantry corporal. I probably have a more direct emotional connection to that history than just about anyone who now chooses to invoke its name when April rolls around.

The fact that I do care so much is why ANZAC Days have increasingly become a time to cringe. It’s the resurgent nationalism and mythologising championed by Keating and Howard. Sentimental crud like ‘the ANZAC spirit’, gets thrown around by every chump with a lectern. People get tagged with it for playing football. The modern understanding of the phrase makes it more and more synonymous with a kind of Aussie boganeering. Thousands of young Australians go to Gallipoli to pay their respects by getting shitfaced, watching rock concerts, unrolling their sleeping bags on the graves of the dead, and fucking off the next day leaving the place completely trashed for the Turks to clean up. Much like 1915, but with a bit more piss. It’s a short step from this ‘spirit’ to the Aussie pride that saw flags tied on as capes down at Cronulla a few years ago. It seems to appeal to the same demographic that have made “Fuck off, we’re full” such a big seller down at Bumper Sticker Bonanza.

The most recent dawn service I went to sounded more like a school assembly, with the officially-voted Most Boring Prick on Earth conducting the service, then the tokenism of some Year 12 from an all-girl private school reading us her revelations after a trip to Gallipoli. The same myth-heavy sacred-worship shite. The ANZACs were this, the ANZACs were that. No, Hannah Montana. The ANZACs were a bunch of different people. The ANZACs weren’t one thing. ‘They’ didn’t believe in this or that, ‘they’ didn’t have these characteristics. They were a group of individuals.

The sanctity shtick is also popular with politicians who want to push a particular view. But the use and misuse of that history is the topic of my next post, which is an actual essay (as opposed to rant) on that subject. Yes, an essay. The internet will fall over when someone posts more than 500 words in one hit. Mind you, the 5000-worder I wrote on Balibo is one of the most popular entries on this site, so, give this a shake. I promise it’s interesting.

All of which brings us, bereft of a segue, back to Mr Wallace. His Twitter post, he said, “was a comment on the nature of the Australia [his father] had fought for, and the need to honour that in the way we preserve it into the future.”

So let me just make sure I’ve got this, Jim. Because soldiers fought and died in 1943, we need to maintain the values they had in 1943. Or do we maintain the values of the ones who fought in 1945? But hang on, they fought and died in 1915 as well… and 1914. So do we wind our values back to then? Do we bring back the Australia Party and the Northern Territory Chief Protector of Aborigines?

Let’s settle on the 1940s in general – Milne Bay and all that. And look at the values of the 1940s. This was an era when it was ok to smack your wife around a bit if she gave you lip. If you went too hard on her too often, then people might tut disapprovingly, like they did with a bloke who kicked his dog. But the odd puffy cheek was nothing to be remarked upon.

This was an era when women were supposed to show respect to men as the heads of the households and their natural superiors.

This was an era when you could pretty casually rape a girl who ended up somewhere alone with you, because if she’d got herself into that situation she was probably asking for it. Girls who said no or changed their minds were just playing hard to get. You know women, right? So fickle, so flighty. It was an era when the Australian occupation troops sent to Japan post-war were involved in the consistent rapes of Japanese women. Not traumatised vengeful former combatants, mind you, but fresh recruits, straight out of training.

This was an era when capital punishment was legal, and conscription was encouraged. This was an era when dodgy foreigners were kept out of the country by being made to sit a test in a language of the examiner’s choosing. Oh, you don’t speak Aramaic? Sorry, you failed. This was an era when Aboriginals weren’t recognised as people. Despite having been here when everyone else rocked up, they weren’t even given citizenship till 1967. Twenty-two years after the war had ended.

Were these the values that our Aussie heroes fought and died for too? Or were these not-so-good values, ones that we can discard? Where’s the distinction, Jim? Where do your values end and your values begin?

Well, guess what. I don’t want to live in the 1940s. I don’t want to live in 1918. I don’t want to brush off Vietnam, Korea, Malaya, because they were morally ambiguous. I don’t want to be part of a culture that makes people saints. I want to respect them for being people. I don’t want to live in a society where people are encouraged to hate each other, either. That kind of hatred is one of the most corrosive things in existence.

When I was in Year 9, I went to a boarding school for a year with this kid named Chris Millet. Word on the street was that he was gay. It was never clear why – I don’t think he even was. The story was along the lines of him being dared to touch another kid’s dick in the change room, and doing it to impress the tougher kids daring him. Presumably it was a set-up, and from that moment on he was branded “faggot”. I don’t mean that kids called him a faggot. I mean that they flat out swore that he was a faggot. And to 14-year-old boys there was nothing more terrifying in the world, nor so potentially destructive to one’s social standing. Millet was a fag, the lowest of the low, and in all my years I have yet to witness anyone treated in such a consistently awful fashion.

Chris Millet was bastardised and ostracised for that entire year. He was mocked, reviled, heckled, and spat at as a matter of course, the mere sight of him passing by enough to prompt a volley of abuse. Some of it was the comic genius of teenage boys (“Bums to the wall, Millet’s on the crawl!”), but usually it was just plain old invective. A big country kid, quiet and thoughtful, he just bowed his broad shoulders and kept on walking. We lived in small dorms of sixteen kids apiece; he was socially frozen out of his. His size meant not many would risk straight-out assaults, but he was routinely pushed and whacked and scuffled with; his belongings stolen, broken, or sabotaged; clothes and bed dirtied or thrown around the dorm; fair game for anyone, anytime. He ate alone, sat in class alone, walked the paths of the school alone. Even the nerdiest of the nerds only associated with him by default. He had no recourse, beyond reach and beyond help.

Even then, I was sickened by it. Even then, I could see that the fear was irrational, like being scared of catching AIDS from a handshake. Even then, I wanted to reject it. But I rarely had contact with Chris. He was in a different dorm, different activities, different classes. It was impossible not to know who he was, but our paths seldom crossed. Whenever they did, walking around school, I would smile and say hello. It was nothing, but more than he got from most people. It still felt so useless, though, that all I could offer was “Hey, Chris.” An actual smile and the sound of his real name. I don’t know if he ever noticed, but I did.

And while I wanted to do more, it was dangerous. I was a new kid that year, only just managing to fit in. Awkward, strange, providing the kind of comic relief that was mostly jester or dancing chimp. Even though I was sickened, I couldn’t seek him out to talk to, or it would have been obvious. There was the risk his personal opprobrium could have deflected onto me. I felt like a coward, but couldn’t see a way out. Even talking was dicey. One day I said hello to Chris while a kid from my dorm was walking with me. “What’s going on there?” said Will as we continued up the road. “Are you and Millet special friends?” And while he was mostly taking the piss there was still an edge to it; I could still sense that moment balancing, the risk that if he decided to push the topic with others around, it could easily tip the wrong way.

That school was tough. We spent three days a week hiking – proper stuff, 30-kilo packs, heavy old gear, 30-kilometre days through the Vic Alps. More than one stretch of mountains I crossed crying, or trying not to, or bent double, crawling up slopes with hands as well as feet. Other times I was painfully homesick, weeks spent with just the indifference of other kids and the professional distance of teachers. No phones, no internet, no way home. Physical exhaustion and isolation.

It was one of the hardest years of my life. The small group of friends I made were the one blessing that meant it could be borne. And that was exactly the thing that Chris Millet didn’t have. I cannot imagine how he made it through that year alone. Not just alone, but in the face of constant and targeted aggression. I would have buckled and gone home broken.

The last night of that year, there was a big get-together in the dining hall. When it was over I left the building looking for one person. I wandered around till I spotted him, that round-shouldered trudge, a fair way off up the hill towards his dorm. I don’t know if he was a great guy underneath it all. We never even had a proper conversation. He was just a big, quiet kid, brutalised into shyness. But I did know he didn’t deserve what he’d got. I ran up the hill after him and called out, and when he stopped, looking back a little hesitantly, I jogged up and shook his hand. “Congratulations on surviving the year,” I said. And I hope he understood how much I meant it.

That wasn’t the 1940s. That was the 1990s. And I don’t doubt you could find similar instances today. It’s attitudes like Jim Wallace’s that give legitimacy to the kind of reflex hatred that was thrown at that kid all those years ago. It’s attitudes like Wallace’s that legitimise dudes throwing molotovs at mosques in Sydney because something blew up in Bali.

And that shit doesn’t just go away. Dealing with homophobia isn’t a matter of surviving your awkward adolescence to find the inner-urban Greens-voting world has become yours to enjoy. Not every gay man gets to flower into Benjamin Law’s dashing-young-homosexual-about-town persona. Some are awkward and nervous and clumsy and just plain uncharismatic. And the kind of damage done by that early hatred will stay with them for good.

Memo: Jim Wallace. Relax. Gay marriage does not entitle hordes of faggots to come round to your house and fuck you in the mouth. At least, not without your express consent. I kinda wish they would, because at least that might shut you up, but it’s not going to happen. So what exactly is your problem? None of this legislation has any effect on your life whatsoever. Your only connection is that it makes you uncomfortable from a distance. And guess what, champ? That doesn’t give you the right to have a say. Take a pew, Jim.

As for citing ‘Anzac values’, or however you want to phrase it, it’s a rolled-gold furphy. There was no charter of mutual ideology at the recruitment office, in any of our wars. Reasons for joining up were as varied and individual as the men themselves. You have no right to start designating what those men believed.

But if you want to boil things down to the basic principle on which the war was fought – the national political principle – it was that smaller and weaker powers should not be dominated by larger ones. It was that men (and yes, it was men) should have the right to determine their own form of government, and reap the rewards of their own lands. It was (putting aside the attendant hypocrisy of the Allies’ colonial pasts) that Germany had no right to push around Poland or Czechoslovakia, and Japan no right to stand over China or Korea. It was that those people should live free, and free from fear.

Australians deserve to live free from fear too. There were nearly a million Aussie servicemen and women in WWII. Stands to reason more than a few of them were gay, even if they didn’t admit it. How could they have, when most of the population would have regarded them as either criminal, deviant, disgusting, or mentally ill? How about the 70s or 80s, when gays starting to live more openly were bashed and killed in parks and streets? Or the Sudanese kid bashed to death in Melbourne a couple of years ago? How do you feel being a Lakemba Muslim when racial tensions start heating up? Living your life in fear doesn’t only apply to warzones.

Australian soldiers fought and died in 1943. Australian soldiers fought and died in 2011, too. And in 2010, and in 2009. So what about protecting the values they represented? Like the freedom to be yourself and love you who want. The freedom to practice your religion in peace. Values like a tolerance of difference. What about protecting a society where warmth and kindness and generosity of spirit are promoted ahead of distrust, segregation and disapproval? I’d like to live in a society like that. I might even be prepared to fight for it.

Because guess what, Jim? Faggots and towelheads are people too. And in a society that still calls them faggots and towelheads, they’re some of the most vulnerable people we’ve got.

If you want to talk to me about values worth dying for, protecting the vulnerable would be a good place to start.


Speak boldly

Catholic fanatics_n

Written by:

The editorial in the Age today suggests that “the Abbott government is cynically moving to de-legitimise certain institutions that perform vital roles in the democratic life of this nation.”

This latest reprehensible attempt to silence the Human Rights Commission is, as Penny Wong points out, part of a wider pattern of behaviour.

This is a Government that seeks to intimidate people who don’t agree with their policies and to silence independent voices.

Within hours of being sworn in, the Prime Minister’s office issued a press release, announcing three departmental secretaries had had their contracts terminated and the Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson would be stood down next year.

Dr Don Russell lost his job as head of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research; Blair Comley was the head of the Resources, Energy and Tourism Department; and Andrew Metcalfe, a former Immigration Department chief, was sacked as head of the Agriculture Department.

AusAID was integrated into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and its director-general Peter Baxter resigned.

“AusAID has been delivering an aid program that eradicates poverty in the world’s poorest communities, while DFAT’s objective is to promote and protect Australia’s national economic and political interests.”

The head of Infrastructure Australia, Michael Deegan, stepped down in February 2014 after he lashed out against the Abbott government for eroding the advisory body’s independence.

Infrastructure Australia disagreed about the priorities being pushed by government.  For example, they had listed Sydney’s WestConnex motorway as an ”early stage” project, despite Premier Barry O’Farrell’s and Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s determination to proceed with the project.

”Grand announcements, ‘funding commitments’, glossy brochures, and project websites do not change the reasons (why some projects had not progressed on his organisation’s priority list.),” Mr Deegan said in an email. ”Many proposals lack merit.”

Infrastructure Australia was required to report to the federal government on how climate change would affect federal infrastructure policy. It was set up to assess infrastructure investments on their productivity merits instead of their vote-buying potential. As climate change could inflict damage worth $9billion annually to Australia’s infrastructure by 2020, it makes sense for our infrastructure advisory body to think about how to bring those costs down.

But the Abbott government expunged this instruction as part of its rewrite of Infrastructure Australia’s mandate. This is despite infrastructure co-ordinator Michael Deegan’s warning that rising sea levels and heat stress are among climate impacts threatening ‘‘a significant proportion of Australia’s existing infrastructure assets … and adaptation will require changes to the scope and mix of infrastructure investment’’.

Mr Deegan also noted that ‘‘a significant proportion of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are associated with the various infrastructure sectors, notably energy and transport’’.

No wonder he had to go, along with the Climate Commission and the Climate Change Authority.

Talking about global warming is a death sentence to funding.

The CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology have had their funding slashed with hundreds of jobs lost and research programmes abandoned.  With no Minister for Science to point out the value of research it is seen as an avenue to save money and control the areas being studied.

As a direct consequence of the $111 million budget cut, the organisation will lose 489 researchers and support staff by mid-2015.  Another 300 positions will be cut after an internal restructure. The union estimates CSIRO is set to shrink by about 20 per cent over two years.

In August, management confirmed eight infectious disease researchers at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, the country’s only facility for researching live samples of deadly diseases such as Ebola, would lose their jobs.

Eight staff have left the Aspendale laboratory, which focuses on marine and atmospheric research, since the budget was handed down in May. Those leaving Aspendale include senior scientist Paul Fraser, who has taken a voluntary redundancy. Dr Fraser, head of oceans and atmosphere, has been honoured by NASA and also helped establish one of the world’s two most important climate research centres at Cape Grim in Tasmania.

Water research also appears to have been targeted. The office of water science research and the national water commission will be abolished, while the sustainable rural water use and infrastructure program’s budget has had a $400 million trim.

At CSIRO’s largest Victorian site, in Clayton, 15 staff have left or are in the process of leaving. The laboratory, home to research areas including advanced materials, nanotechnology, energy, mining and minerals work, had already lost staff under Labor’s efficiency drive. Among them was organic chemist San Thang, who was made redundant in September. It came as Dr Thang and two colleagues were nominated as frontrunners for the illustrious Nobel Prize in chemistry. Dr Thang has been made an honorary fellow – an unpaid position allowing him to both continue his work and to supervise PhD students.

In addition to the budget cuts, CSIRO also lost about $4 million indirectly when the government folded the Australian Climate Change Science Program into the new National Environmental Science Program.

A further 175 government bodies were cut in the last MYEFO, building on previous decisions to defund agencies in the 2014-15 budget, “taking the total reduction in the number of government bodies since the election to 251″.

Two groups whose funding ceased were the Biosecurity Advisory Council and the National Biosecurity Committee Stakeholder Engagement Consultative Group.  In light of the recent outbreak of Hepatitis A due to contaminated imported berries one wonders who is advising Barnaby on how to proceed.

Other bodies to be disbanded included the Diabetes Advisory Group and the Alcohol and Drug Council of Australia.  This is unbelievably short term thinking as the cost of these problems to our society are astronomic.

The Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood (SCSEEC) Joint Working Group to Provide Advice on Students with Disability was also disbanded which fits in with George Brandis’ decision to replace the Human Rights Commissioner for the Disabled, Graeme Innes, with the IPA’s Tim Wilson – Commissioner for bigots and presumably the “anonymous source” quoted in the government attack on Gillian Triggs.

Reading through the list of bodies that have been axed makes me wonder who the hell is looking after these crucial advisory roles.

The Prime Minister for Women has watered down gender reporting while the Minister Assisting assures us that, whilst she likes women, she also likes men so couldn’t possibly be a feminist – a view shared by the highest placed woman in our government, Julie Bishop, who tells us that “it’s only a downward spiral once you’ve cast yourself as a victim.”

Righto.  Domestic violence, workplace discrimination and sexual harassment are our own fault and we should stop whinging….is that the message?

The Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs promptly cut over half a billion in funding from Indigenous programmes and disbanded the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, replacing them with Gerard Henderson’s son-in-law Warren Mundine.

Speaking of Gerard Henderson, he was appointed Chairman of the panel tasked with awarding the PM’s non-fiction Literary Awards.  He chose to give the history award to “a poorly sourced anti-union tome” which was described as a rudimentary, badly-structured book full of hearsay by another panel member.  But it fed into Abbott’s anti-union agenda.

From the outset, Abbott has spent many millions of dollars in a frenzied attack on unions seeking to demonise and undermine the only group with the power to present a collective voice in bargaining to protect workers’ rights.

In December, the Abbott government reintroduced legislation to abolish the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, despite 82% of the sector believing it was important to keep the charity regulator.

ACNC Advisory Board Chair and Productivity Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald said: “…the key beneficiaries of the repeal of the ACNC are really only those organisations who do not want independent public accountability or transparency but which seek to continue to receive large benefits from the Australian community.”

Unsurprisingly, it was George Pell who told Kevin Andrews to get rid of the watchdog.  Scott Morrison appears to have recently backed away from the idea calling it a low priority while he gets his “family package” together.

Huge cuts to the funding of the ABC, questionable board appointments, and threats to journalists that they will be jailed if they report on “special operations”, are all designed to muzzle the watchdogs.

Whether it’s scientists, charities, Aborigines, people with disabilities, refugees, unions, feminists, preventative health groups, Muslims, infrastructure specialists, journalists, public servants, or even colleagues….Abbott does not want to hear from us unless it’s to agree.

Bill Wright, a priest and church historian who was vice-rector at St Patrick’s seminary whilst Tony was there, said many found him “just too formidable to talk to unless to agree; overbearing and opiniated. Tony is inclined to score points, to skate over or hold back any reservations he might have about his case.”

Nothing has changed.

The Abbott government may not want to pay for advice but that sure as hell isn’t going to stop me from giving them some.

May Gillian Trigg’s strength and defiance be an example to us all and may we all raise our collective voices to defend those who this government would mute.

1408


‘This is just insanity’: four Nobel laureates let fly over Australian science funding

Four of the nation’s most-renowned scientists have spoken to The Australian Financial Review about their concerns for Australian science and our ability to compete as an innovation economy.

What Nobel prize winners Elizabeth Blackburn, Brian Schmidt, Peter Doherty and Barry Marshall had to say about innovation funding in a nation historically responsible for a range of world-beating scientific advancements was often scathing.

Each holds fears for Australia’s global competitiveness. As stated by the AFR’s Anne Hyland, “When it comes to investment in science, Australia is in reverse as other countries floor the accelerator.”

Here’s a selection of quotes from the Nobel laureates about Australia’s investment in science and our economic future. For the full story, read: How ignoring science damns our economy at the AFR.

ELIZABETH BLACKBURN (joint Nobel prize in physiology or medicine in 2009)

Photo: Ken James

“How could Australia not think of investing heavily in science? This is just insanity. The fact that the natural resources boom is fading away – it’s foolishness.”

“I come back and have these marvellous science conversations and I talk to really, really bright people, but they’re under-used. They don’t groan. They just do the best they can.”

“Australia needs to invest in science. It’s a bigger picture than politics. Prime ministers come and go. National policies can be developed in a much less politicised way and be much more forward looking, whoever the prime minister happens to be.”

“There needs to be a very serious investment because you have all this scientific talent. If you look at the track record of countries that have invested in science, it’s obvious, it works.”

BRIAN SCHMIDT (joint Nobel prize in physics in 2011)

Photo: Rohan Thomson

“I’m scratching my head and losing sleep at night about that in a way that I haven’t before.”

“It’s unclear to me whether or not we will continue to be a great astronomy nation.”

“If we lose [our] advantage, are we going to replace that with something else? We damn well better be or we’re going backwards.”

“If we’re damaged it will take 20 years to fix ourselves. It only takes one year to cause 20 years of damage.”

PETER DOHERTY (joint Nobel prize in physiology or medicine in 1996)

Photo: Arsineh Houspian

“The celebration of science in Australia is pretty thin.”

“Basic science is done through public funding. It can’t be left up to the magic of the market. It doesn’t work in innovation.”

“We still have high quality universities. If we keep cutting back on that sector we’re going to lose it. It’s sad.”

“Australia, because of its location and the fact it’s an open Western country, really has tremendous potential to be an innovation hub.”

BARRY MARSHALL (joint Nobel prize in physiology or medicine in 2005)

Photo: Philip Gostelow

“There’s a layer of administration and bureaucracy that sits on top of original scientific research that almost doubles the cost or more.”

“[There’s] not the priority given to academic and scientific pursuit in Australia by politicians and government”.

“We need to raise some political pressure and educate politicians.”

“[In Singapore] their resources are their people and they say: ‘What are they going to do? We want to give them something interesting to do and have them doing things that are going to be white-collar, high-value jobs with some product coming out of it.’ ”

Fairfax Media


Brian Toohey: Australian schools about to get biblical

Catholic fanatics_n

Australia’s federal government is set to adopt a review of the school curriculum that will severely cut back content about Asia and explicitly celebrate what it calls the nation’s “Judeo-Christian heritage, values and beliefs.”

Following recommendations of a review panel, the government has said it will “properly recognize the impact and significance of Western civilization” in classrooms. The new focus even extends to a proposal to scrap all computer literacy classes.

What do you know?

The changes reflect the views of Education Minister Christopher Pyne, who commissioned the review after the ruling conservative Liberal/National party coalition replaced Labor in 2013. To conduct the review, Pyne chose two academics renowned for ardently supporting Pyne’s overall approach.

Like Pyne, Prime Minister Tony Abbott is a devout Catholic who had earlier championed changes to ensure that history classes no longer “underplay” Australia’s Western heritage. The reviewers endorsed Abbott’s claim that it is “impossible” to have a good education without a “serious familiarity” with the Bible. They seemed unaware that many Confucian and Hindu scholars, for example, manage to become reasonably well-educated without even a nodding acquaintance with Christianity’s sacred texts.

There should be no mistaking Abbott’s determination. The High Court, Australia’s supreme legal authority, has twice rejected the constitutional validity of his government’s appointment of Christian chaplains to all government-run schools. But Abbott is pressing ahead with a revised legal tactic, despite some states’ preferences for properly trained, secular counselors.

Looking West

The desire to stress Australia’s Judeo-Christian heritage is particularly difficult to understand in the context of an increasingly diverse, multicultural society. The latest survey shows only 8% of Australians went to church at least once a month in 2011, compared with 36% in 1972. Although many of the initial settlers from Britain and Ireland (including transported convicts) called themselves Christians, Australia chose to establish a secular political system.

Contrary to the views of some conservatives, its laws are not derived from the Bible’s Ten Commandments. Moreover, many observers argue that the inhabitants of today’s turbulent world would benefit from less emphasis on the superiority of a particular religion’s “heritage, values and beliefs.”

The review’s official adviser on the English curriculum is Barry Spurr, a poetry professor of the University of Sydney whose specialization is Blessed Mary imagery in poetry. In line with Spurr’s approach, the review recommends that the curriculum put greater emphasis on the “Western literary cannon, especially poetry,” and much less on Asian and other literary texts in the existing curriculum.

Spurr gained unwanted publicity when the University of Sydney suspended him in October after the online site New Matilda revealed elements of allegedly “racist and sexist” emails he had sent. Despite what others saw as a repugnant tone, Spurr said he was being “whimsical” and claimed his email account had been hacked.

What is not in dispute is that Spurr’s written advice to the review said he could find no good examples of Asian writing. The comment is absurd, even leaving aside literary prize winners from Asia, such as India’s Aravind Adiga, author of “The White Tiger,” which won the U.K.’s prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2008. Pyne was forced to distance himself from Spurr’s emails but is still enthusiastic about the curriculum changes.

Words versus action

The new curriculum also favors the traditions of English law that Australia inherited. Few would object to this. But this legacy is currently being eroded by claims of national security risks, something the review fails to acknowledge. Abbott and Pyne have backed the imposition of draconian legal changes in Australia, where detention without charge is allowed in some instances under anti-terrorism legislation. In other cases, the onus of proof has shifted from the prosecution to the defense. Journalists, whistleblowers and others who reveal abuses of power by the intelligence services and police during security operations can now face five to 10 years in jail. A “publication is in the public interest” law that had protected these truth-tellers was abolished in October.

While few Australians want a school system exclusively devoted to serving the economy, the new concepts are so rarefied as to be meaningless for parents, students and policymakers. They endorse the 20th-century British philosopher Michael Oakeshott’s definition of education as an extension of a “conversation [that] began in the primal forests.” Oakeshott went on to say, “It is the ability to participate in this conversation, and not the ability to reason cogently, … or to contrive a better world, which distinguishes the human being from the animal and the civilized man from the barbarian.”

Given the review’s evident contempt for “student-centered” learning, it is not clear how students in Australia (or Asia) could be motivated to participate in this high-minded “conversation,” let alone learn much about how to reason or make discoveries about the world.

Brian Toohey is a Sydney-based commentator on defense, economic and political issues, and was editor of the former National Times. He is co-author of “Oyster: The Story of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.”

Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

Mia Freedman

It’s the Year of the Bunny and I have no idea what that really means except that a bunch of Playboy memorabilia is being auctioned by Christies. Among the items for sale are some original prints of Playboy bunny centrefolds complete with their original mark-up notes. These are the written instructions given by the art director about what must be digitally altered.

stretchlinesbutt 11 18 Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

The nearly invisible stretchmarks on Brande Roderick’s bum, are circled with the annotation, ‘Kill stretch lines.’

largepores 1118 Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

According to art directors, Shauna Sand’s pores were too large

Even though these proofs are from the 90s, before air-brushing became as extreme as it is today, there are still loads of alterations to ‘soften’ nipples, ‘remove stubble’ and ‘thin’ pubic hair as well as remove all stretch marks, blemishes and cellulite.

But what about the vaginas? Oh yes, they have to be air-brushed too. Although I’m not sure if this is enshrined in law like it is in Australia.

The debate around censorship and female body parts in magazines is one that I dealt with at Cosmo, you can read more on that here. In short, the laws in Australia legislate that you MUST air-brush vaginas to ‘heal it to a single crease’ so that no outer parts of the labia are shown, apparently it’s too rude to show what a REAL vagina looks like.

Earlier this year, journalists Kirsten Drysdaleand Ali Russell investigated the link between censorship and the increase in labiaplasty amongst young women and I wanted to share with you Kirsten’s blog post which was first published on Hungry Beast. It’s brilliant.

4403219366 0a0fd61c91 Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

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If I handed you a pencil and paper and asked you to draw a vagina*, odds are you would come up with something like this:

Which is interesting, considering only a small minority of mature females actually have fannies that look like that. Little girls – yes, that’s pretty much what they all look like. But grown women? The vast majority have a least a peep of their ‘inner lips’ showing, even when standing upright with their legs together while sipping Earl Grey from gold-rimmed Royal Doulton and nibbling on homemade shortbread. For many women, it’s more than just a ‘peep’ – some have full-blown dangly blossoms on display. This has nothing to do with how much sex they’ve had, their state of arousal or whether they’ve borne children (although, so what if it was?). It’s simply the way they are built.

So from a purely statistical standpoint, there’s something fishy about the fact that none of the women in soft porn mags have ‘outies’. Go and see for yourself – flick through Picture, People or Penthouse and see if you can find a single instance of a punani that looks like this:

4402427219 e18942cf93 Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

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You won’t.

And it’s not because they’ve chosen to only photograph women with ‘innies’. Many of those models actually have outies in real life, which have been ‘healed to a single crease’ (that’s the charming term used in the magazine industry) with the aid of image editing software. Think of it as ‘digital labiaplasty’.

It’s important to be clear that this is not something magazines do to suit the taste of their readership. Although mainstream pornography is hardly known (or appreciated) for a commitment to realism, in this particular case it’s a different issue. They’re not removing lady bits because people don’t want to see them, in the same way they smooth out cellulite or remove blemishes. They’re removing them because as far as the Classification Board is concerned, the labia minora are too rude for soft porn. It’s as though the censors think you could only possibly see it by spreading your legs or pulling your flaps apart.

If you still don’t believe me – go and pick up a copy of the ‘Unrestricted Category’ (M15+) Penthouse and compare it with Penthouse Max (the ‘Category 1’ R18+ version of the mag). I did this at the recommendation of the Classification Board, and found it a very enlightening little exercise. You’ll see exactly the same girls, from exactly the same photoshoot – and in some cases, exactly the same photographs – which will illustrate very clearly how they’ve been ‘tidied up’ in the softer version.

And they don’t even have to be very ‘messy’ to begin with. Take this example from the February editions of Penthouse and Penthouse Max:

4402449021 8c711f205c Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

February editions of Penthouse and Penthouse Max

Heaven forbid minors – or people in Queensland, where only the Unrestricted category is legal – see what a real vagina can look like!

There’s a clause, you see, in Australia’s Classification Guidelines that concerns how much nudity is acceptable for soft porn. It says:

“Realistic depictions may contain discreet genital detail but there should be no genital emphasis.”

Need I point out the irony in the fact that the way the Board applies this rule results in highly unrealistic depictions of nudity? Or that at a time of fierce debate over whether a person’s physical appearance (regardless of their actual age) should be a factor in deciding whether they could incite paedophilia, the Classification Board is preventing obviously mature pussies (the growth of labia minora happens during puberty) from being shown in soft porn?

And WTF does ‘discreet genital detail’ mean anyway? Well, according to the Board member we spoke to, it’s obvious:

Yeah well I guess genital detail’s that, we can have discreet genital detail in Unrestricted and I guess that means genital, well, detail is pretty straightforward, so discreet means little or no or very little detail or not prominent, so it’s sort of quite clear on what is not allowed, if that makes sense…

No, it doesn’t really.

Well, genital detail. It’s just the detail of the genitals. Like if it’s not specific in our guidelines we use the Macquarie Dictionary meaning for those terms. And genital detail is details of the genitals. So, I guess in Unrestricted you can have discreet genital detail, and whatever that means, you combine that also with a pose, and with everything.

Clear as mud. And highly subjective. One person’s ‘discreet’ could be another’s ‘explicit’. And detail? What exactly constitutes ‘detail’? Can you show pubes? Can you show the clitoris? Can you show the eye of the penis? Can you show the wrinkles of a scrotum? Or can you only show genitals in soft-focus giving a general idea of shape?

The Classification Board’s denial that they are effectively censoring a particular body type is a first class lesson in spin. Have a read of their response to our written enquiry seeking clarification on the rules about nudity in ‘Unrestricted Category’ publications and how they pertain to the depiction of labia minora for yourself:

In considering each classifiable element, including nudity, the Board makes classification decisions based on the impact of individual elements and their cumulative effect. Both the content and treatment of elements contribute to the impact. The Board takes into account the concepts underlying individual descriptions and depictions, and assesses factors such as emphasis, tone, frequency, context and the amount of visual or written detail in those descriptions and depictions.

This is the same excuse they’ve been using ever since these guidelines were redrafted in 1999. Because no one factor alone is used to classify an image or publication, they can claim that photos of women with protruding inner lips are refused for any one of those other reasons – ‘oh, we can’t speculate on individual cases, but it must have been something else that was a problem, there’s nothing in the guidelines that says labia minora aren’t permitted’.

Horse’s arse.

They don’t allow it, and they know it.

Screen shot 2010 11 23 at 5.26.34 PM Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

By Kirsten Drysdale

*DISCLAIMER: Yes, I know I should be using the word vulva. The vagina, technically, is the ‘muscular tube leading from the external genitals to the cervix of the uterus’. The vulva refers to the external part (the ‘lips’, clitoris, etc) which is obviously what we are talking about here. However – the term vulva is not used in everyday language to describe the external female genitalia of humans, so for the sake of making the point clear I’ve opted to use the word vagina in this article as it is commonly (though not entirely accurately) used.

Kirsten Drysdale is a reporter/presenter for the ABC’s Hungry Beast and a researcher on The Gruen Transfer. She is currently travelling in Africa and working freelance.

WARNING: The video contains imagery that is not safe for work, including a labiaplasty surgery scene. Story by Kirsten Drysdale and co-produced by Ali Russell republished with full permission from the authors.

This should be mandatory reading and viewing in schools. Just like the Dove advertisement which deconstructed what goes on in the making of your typical beauty image, girls and women of all ages need to know that the vaginas (vulvas!) they see in men’s magazines do not exist.

Imagine for a moment if someone in the censor’s office had decided that testicles were too ‘explicit’. Imagine that to be sold over the counter at a normal newsagent, your naked pictures of men had to have their testicles digitally removed.

Yes, digital castration. Think there might be an outcry? Think the censorship laws might be overturned?

So what exactly is it about female genitals that are so ‘explicit’ and offensive that they must be removed?

People need to know about this. Please share it.

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