7 July 2020

Christopher Ryan asks Why Are Rich People So Mean? “When the researchers posed as pedestrians waiting to cross a street, all the drivers in cheap cars respected their right of way, while those in expensive cars drove right on by 46.2 percent of the time, even when they’d made eye contact with the pedestrians waiting to cross. [W]ealthier subjects were far more likely to claim they’d won a computer game — even though the game was rigged so that winning was impossible. Wealthy subjects were more likely to lie in negotiations and excuse unethical behavior at work, like lying to clients in order to make more money. When [researchers] left a jar of candy in the entrance to their lab with a sign saying whatever was left over would be given to kids at a nearby school, they found that wealthier people stole more candy from the babies.” But it seems that it is inequality, rather than wealth per se, that makes people mean: “Research conducted at the University of Toronto … suggest[s] … it’s the distance created by wealth differentials that seems to break the natural flow of human kindness. … Rich people were as generous as anyone else when inequality was low. The rich are less generous when inequality is extreme, a finding that challenges the idea that higher-income individuals are just more selfish. If the person who needs help doesn’t seem that different from us, we’ll probably help them out. But if they seem too far away (culturally, economically) we’re less likely to lend a hand.”

The Flemington-Kensington CLC’s Police Accountability Project: “Interventions into this pandemic, however necessary the rationale, are not neutral.  Government and public health interventions can either strengthen the health and capacities of affected communities or they can cause harm. The policing we have seen in Victoria to date and scale of the policing we have seen last night and today in Flemington & North Melbourne, has caused and continues to cause harm. … The policing of the emergency lock-down takes place in the context of long-running and well documented community concerns and extensive legal action to regard to discriminatory policing, documented racial profiling, policing operations targeting particular ethnicities and multiple incidents of severe human rights abuses over many years. … It is paternalistic that people living in these towers were not considered active partners in the need to prevent COVID transmission and instead have been made to feel like criminals in an urban detention centre. … The need for rapid and urgent measures to control the spread of coronavirus is undisputed.   But health and social workers, housing workers and community leaders need to be resourced and empowered to communicate the Chief Health Officer’s directions in partnership with residents and their associations, instead of public order police.”

1 July 2020

Bassina Farbenblum (UNSW) and Laurie Berg (UTS) have produced a significant report for the Migrant Worker Justice Initiative, outlining the serious and ongoing exploitation of visa workers in Australia: “A half (49%) were paid below the basic statutory minimum wage. Over three quarters (77%) were paid below the minimum casual hourly wage. … Over a quarter (26%) of all respondents earned $12 or less per hour in their lowest paid job (approximately half of the minimum wage for a casual employee). … This figure has remained static despite increases in the statutory minimum wages since 2016, the introduction of legislative protections for vulnerable workers, and an increased focus on international students by the Fair Work Ombudsman.” Berg emphasised the additional vulnerability caused by their immigration status: “They suffered in silence, often because of visa concerns or fear of job loss. Our findings confirm many who complained were in fact sacked. Their visa concerns are also valid — there’s nothing to stop the labour regulator sharing information with immigration authorities if a student has worked more hours than her visa allows.” The pandemic has made visa workers even more precarious and vulnerable to exploitation — but the already useless FWO has used the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to stop conducting investigations, rejecting a call for help with this justification: “In this current COVID climate, I cannot conduct site visits or interviews.”

30 June 2020

Nicholas Gruen: “This follows from the basic common law principle that principals are responsible for those who act as their agents. … The problem, however, is one of interpretation. Ministers will deny acting improperly. Public servants should not assist or coach them in making disingenuous claims, but if ministers can figure out how to cover their tracks and assert their probity unless a public servant has clear evidence that they are acting improperly, it is difficult for them to do anything other than assist their ministers in their work. If it seems highly likely the minister is acting improperly, the next step according to the book is for the public servant to write to the minister: informing them that, in the department’s professional view, the proposed action is ultra-vires or beyond the minister’s power… Unfortunately, however, after the widespread sackings that cleared the public service decks on the ascension of new governments in 1996 and 2013, and the summary removal of Paul Barrett and Paul Grimes each for giving unwanted advice, these values are imperilled. It would be nice to be bipartisan in offering such admonitions. But the fact is that it’s the Coalition that has perpetrated virtually all these heavy blows against our Westminster heritage which evolved in England and then Australia over centuries. It’s ironic that such people call themselves ‘conservatives’.”

29 June 2020

Haley Pessin, in a speech to supporters of the NYC Amazon unionisation drive: “In a just society, we would understand that people like Jeff Bezos, and people like the bosses who are making us go in so that they can make a profit — those are the real looters, and those are the real criminals. They don’t arrest people like Jeff Bezos who is $44 billion dollars richer during the pandemic while 45 million people remain unemployed in the U.S. No, instead, the police target people like George Floyd for allegedly forging a $20 bill. They targeted Eric Garner for selling loose cigarettes. They target the poor, and black people, and when they kill us they are protected by a legal system that almost never holds the police accountable unless we make them. This is not a mistake, and it’s not a matter of a few bad apples. Racism has been central to the way that the cops have operated since the beginning. They are the descendants of slave patrols and of strikebreakers, and they continue to function in this society to maintain the wealth of a very few at the top. They don’t care about our lives, they only care about one thing, and that’s their profits. And there is only one group of people with the power to get their knees off our necks, and that is us. Not alone, but as workers, because no matter how they try to treat us as disposable, without us, they would have nothing.”

24 June 2020

Bernard Keane: “Anthony Albanese’s Press Club speech today … abandons even fifth-best policy positions on climate in favour of offering the government a chance to establish a bipartisan energy policy. By abandoning any interest in a National Energy Guarantee, Anthony Albanese will position Labor as weaker on climate action than Malcolm Turnbull, who at least sought to include both energy security and emissions reduction within his energy policy framework before another right-wing/Murdoch putsch forced him out. … [T]here can be no bipartisanship with the Coalition on anything to do with climate. It is run by climate denialists, and any attempt to take meaningful climate action will lead to a repeat of 2018. As Malcolm Turnbull correctly put it, these people operate like terrorists, intent on blowing up their own government, with the support of News Corp, if anyone tries to address climate change. You can’t do any sort of deal with them. That merely rewards terrorists.”

This week we have seen shocking revelations about former High Court judge Dyson Heydon, who “was known as ‘Dirty Dyson’ and ‘Handsy Heydon’ due to his lecherous behaviour towards young women”, with credible complaints of sexual harrassment (and, perhaps, criminal assault) made against him by a number of students, staff, and lawyers. The allegations relate to his time as a judge, as well as during his post-judicial career as a guest speaker and lecturer. The High Court’s response has included a sincere apology as well as a review of HR procedures to ensure better oversight and complaints processes for staff. However, as Gabrielle Appleby argues, the inherent power of judges needs to be counterbalanced by stronger institutional reform: “[U]nlike, for instance, the legal or medical professions, or the public service, these avenues for accountability are not designed to provide an independent, standing institutional response when an individual has a professional complaint about the conduct of a judge — be that on or off the bench. A standing, independent complaints body with appropriate powers would ensure that there is a place for complaints to be received, the capacity to investigate them properly, and an independent body to impose penalties should misconduct be found.”

23 June 2020

Professor John Quiggin has published a report on the end of coal in Australia, concluding: “A fair and orderly phase-out of thermal coal from Australia’s economy is both essential and economically feasible. Australia can end its production and use of thermal coal by 2030, while protecting the interests of workers and communities, at a very modest cost. The costs of not acting, by contrast, are both huge and obvious.” The report is not only focussed on energy production, but on the lives of communities most at risk of disruption in the transition. Quiggin notes that over the life of comparable projects, renewables generate more jobs than coal, so “fears about the impact of a shift to renewables are misplaced as regards the national economy. However, it is of little comfort to coal-dependent communities that job losses in their region may be matched by gains elsewhere.” Fortunately, the communities most reliant on coal employment are well placed to transition to renewables, particularly solar, and tourism — as long as the government takes control of the process and plans for a just transition.

Samantha Maiden investigates the right-wing claims that Victoria’s recent increase in coronavirus cases are explained by transmission through the Black Lives Matters rallies: “a fortnight later, the incubation period for coronavirus, experts do not believe there are any confirmed cases of someone catching COVID-19 at the rallies. That’s despite the four people in Victoria confirmed to have attended the BLM protests who were subsequently diagnosed with COVID. Surprisingly, even in the United States where the coronavirus is rampant, some of the cities where the biggest BLM rallies occurred, including New York and Philadelphia, have actually recorded a fall in COVID cases after the protests.” Victoria’s chief health officer: “I don’t think the Black Lives Matter protest has contributed.” His federal counterparts: “[T]here is no evidence that there has been chains of community transmission that we are aware of through the Black Lives Matter protests.” Masks and hand hygiene work. Wear a mask and wash your hands.

16 June 2020

Following up on my earlier post about how bicycle laws can be used as an excuse for police to harrass people whose public presence they generally dislike, here is an analysis of NSW’s helmet laws [$] in the Alternative Law Journal: “[T]here is also evidence from our research of quite arbitrary enforcement where unstated and sometimes discriminatory factors — rather than legitimate safety considerations — dictate enforcement practices. For a start, there is enormous geographical disparity in the number of penalty notices issued for failure to wear a bicycle helmet. … More worryingly, our interviews with legal aid lawyers and others indicate that the law is not infrequently used for a range of purposes clearly unrelated to bicycle safety, including to gather intelligence about other offences and suspects, to justify searches and to harass targeted individuals (particularly among young people). … Draconian enforcement of this kind does nothing to address the safety issue and is more likely to engender cynicism, resentment and resistance which may in turn produce escalation effects, including confiscation of the bike where a person cannot prove ownership and/or further offences like resist police, offensive language, goods in custody and so on.” Sound familiar?