archive: January 2020

26 January 2020

Lidia Thorpe: “One of the first things you notice about the ‘Change the Date’ debate is a glaring absence of Aboriginal voices. This is in keeping with the obsession that Australia (progressive Australia included) has with fretting about the so-called ‘Aboriginal problem.’ For all the talk, this never seems to involve opening the conversation to perspectives, solutions, and leadership by First Peoples themselves. We are also absent from the debate because — unsurprisingly — many of us aren’t interested in helping to alleviate white guilt by moving the date of Australia Day. Given worsening and horrific deaths in custody and a gap in the life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous men of up to fifteen years, it’s not a pressing concern. In fact, it’s a dangerous distraction from the conversation we should be having, about signing a treaty between black and white Australia. … Without a treaty, the trauma and bloodshed that stretches from our past into the present cannot be confronted; lasting and meaningful reconciliation will be impossible. Indeed, the absence of a treaty is the single biggest roadblock to Australia growing up as a nation. … [A]t its core, a treaty is an agreement between sovereigns that recognizes the existence and inalienability of the rights of all parties. Other forms of ‘recognition,’ even if well intentioned, don’t cut it because they do not resolve this fundamental injustice.”

25 January 2020

Tom Greenwell on the school “choice” lie: “Twenty years since John Howard declared that private school fees would fall, we are still waiting. Government funding has increased so much that non-government schools now enjoy similar public funding to state schools. By 2017, Catholic schools received, on average, annual government funding of $13,000 per student, while Independent schools received around $11,000 per student. That’s 81 per cent and 69 per cent respectively of the average per-student funding that goes to state schools. The difference narrows even further when we account for the much larger share of expensive-to-educate students at state schools (such as kids in rural and remote locations, and children with disabilities or from other disadvantaged groups). Comparing like with like, non-government schools receive around 90 to 95 per cent of the public funding that government schools do — and yet fees continue to rise rapidly. … Why don’t private schools cut their fees in response to this ever-growing taxpayer contribution? The most important reason is very simple. They don’t have to. … Fee reductions and improved affordability won’t happen until governments require it — by imposing caps on fees, demanding a minimum number of scholarships or creating an obligation to enrol local students, for instance.”

24 January 2020

Giri Nathan: “Climate change will warp human life in diverse ways: mass migration, drought, agricultural failure, rising seas. Besides these brazen, urgent threats to life itself, there are also lesser, subtler threats to ways of life, as global culture is deformed by the changing planet. What will sports, for one, look like in the end times? This past week at tennis’s Australian Open offered one of the clearest, grimmest visions yet of that future. … [T]he air in Melbourne was described by a state health official as ‘worst in the world’; its Air Quality Index qualified as ‘hazardous’ for all people… Meanwhile, dozens of players seeking spots in the tournament’s main draw were told it was safe to venture outdoors and compete in tennis matches that often last several hours. … Going to work in these conditions was, for some players, brutal. … ‘The more I think about the conditions we played in a few days ago, the more it boils my blood,’ wrote world No. 234 U.K. player Liam Broady… ‘Citizens of Melbourne were warned to keep their animals indoors the day I played qualifying, and yet we were expected to go outside for high-intensity physical competition?’ … The world is coming apart in novel ways that tennis functionaries — to say nothing of global leaders — have yet to grapple with.”

The Edelman Trust Barometer has a strong elite bias (for example, its definition of “informed public” includes college education — fair enough, maybe — but also “in top 25% of household income per age group” for some reason) but perhaps that makes its 2020 findings more interesting. Globally, 56% of people agreed that “Capitalism as it exists today does more harm than good in the world” (50% in Australia). This is fairly consistent across age categories, genders and income brackets. 66% of people “do not have confidence that our current leaders will be able to successfully address our country’s challenges”. 82% of people believe businesses have a duty to “pay everyone a decent wage, even if that means I must pay more”, but only 31% trust business to actually do so. So if people agree that there is a problem, and might be willing to hear about solutions, who can influence them? Well, 33% trust government officials, 36% trust journalists, 47% trust CEOs and business analysts — but 54% trust “regular employees” and 61% trust “a person like yourself”.

22 January 2020

It’s just over a year since I started this blog/newsletter project, and I have managed to keep it up. So now I’m adding something new — a shop where you can buy t-shirts and tote bags. These are designs I want to wear myself, and when I looked into print-on-demand options I realised it’s just as easy to set them up for others to order if they like. The garments are produced by AS Colour, a NZ/Aus company with an A grade on Ethical Shopper. Printing and fulfilment is by Brisbane-based The Print Bar. I hope you find something you like.

21 January 2020

The Australian Republic Movement has at last understood that building support for a specific constitutional model is the only way to win change. In an email to supporters, National Director Sandy Biar explained: “There have been many suggestions put forward about the way to resolve our differences, including plebiscite votes. The difficulty with this approach is that it entrenches division rather than builds agreement. We will not build the threshold of support required to win a referendum by campaigning against each other. We also owe it to voters to clearly explain what reforms we are proposing rather than asking ‘in-principle’ questions that lack detail. … We now have a window of opportunity to build on that common ground towards a consensus position that reflects what the public want and the parliament will accept. [Our new strategy] will focus on building consensus between supporters of an Australian republic towards a clearly articulated model for constitutional reform. That will involve a national consultation over the next 18-24 months that seeks the views of Australians from all walks of life, and allows them to have their say about what should be included in the consensus model. … Once that consensus model has been developed, the ARM will campaign to build support in the community for it to be taken directly to a referendum.” Make a submission.

20 January 2020

One of Australia’s most militant employer law firms, Ashurst, has been systematically underpaying junior lawyers: “The same top-tier law firm advising Woolworths on its $300 million underpayment scandal has been underpaying its own staff, as gruelling work hours threaten to spark an underpayment crisis in the legal industry. Big six law firm Ashurst has undertaken an extraordinary 10-year review into whether its $80,000-a-year graduate lawyers were paid below minimum rates as a result of working long hours. Individual back payments to date are as high as $15,000.” But there is no connection, it says, between its mistreatment of its employees and its advice to clients about mistreatment of their employees: “Our employment practice is the leading practice in the market, but it is not responsible for administration of the firm’s payroll processes.” This is likely the tip of the iceberg: “Ashurst was one of 20 law firms that opposed new award clauses which, from March, will require firms to record hours and conduct annual pay reconciliations to ensure salaries cover penalty rates and overtime pay once actual hours worked are considered. … However, at least eight of those firms… are now conducting underpayment audits.” (Thanks to strong Liberal Party links, Ashurst does a lot of lucrative work for anti-union regulators like the ABCC and ROC — while ripping off its own staff.)

17 January 2020

In case you missed them late last year (I did!), here are John Falzon’s three steps for putting 2019 behind us: “1. Work with what you’ve got. Not what you wish, or imagine, you have. If we want to change the course of history, we need to build our grassroots movement. We need to start from where we are, not from somewhere else. … It is particularly up to those of us who are members of the organised collective movement to reach out to people who are not, keeping in mind that one of the key tenets of neoliberalism is to dis-organise and atomise us or, at worst, turn us against each other. 2. So join! It is the best defence against this atomisation and the best chance of changing the future instead of just raging against it. … Join the community organisations or social movements that matter to you, not because they are perfect but because it is only collectively that we can achieve something good. 3. Know how to tell the story. It’s everything. We love best the stories that speak to our lives, that tell us what we feel to be true but are unable to articulate. … [W]e do not have the right to indulge in the luxury of despair. What we have, and have in spades, is the obligation to engage in the hard work of hope.”

16 January 2020

When Liberal candidate Georgina Downer turned up to present a giant Liberal-branded cheque to a bowling club, it prompted an inquiry by the Australian National Audit Office into the administration of the Community Sport Infrastructure Program by minister Bridget McKenzie — and the report is damning. Disregarding the formal criteria, her office instead used their own pork-barrelling criteria to make decisions: “The award of funding reflected the approach documented by the Minister’s Office of focusing on ‘marginal’ electorates held by the Coalition as well as those electorates held by other parties or independent members that were to be ‘targeted’ by the Coalition at the 2019 Election. … The significant majority of [unmeritorious] applications (71 per cent of the number of applications and 74 per cent of the funding) were in Coalition electorates or ‘targeted’ electorates.” Worst of all — contrary to McKenzie’s claim that “no rules were broken” — the whole plot was illegal: “Throughout the granting process all parties acted as if the Minister was able to be the approver. No section 11 directions were issued to Sport Australia in 2018–19. In the absence of a section 11 direction, there was no legal authority evident to the ANAO under which the Minister was able to be the approver of CSIG program grants to be paid from the money of Sport Australia.” Heads should roll.

15 January 2020

Will Stronge argues for both a Universal Basic Income and Universal Basic Services: “With regards to some basic needs such as non-prescription medicines, local bus or rail fares, or access to the internet, free-at-the-point-of-use services could evidently do the trick. Indeed, some of the basic activities that we require to be able to engage in society could also be greatly facilitated by free services: family outings, for example, would be made much cheaper should there be free transport and free public leisure facilities. With regards to others however, services are clearly not appropriate: adequate nightwear, clothing for all members of the family, (personal) leisure equipment, a mobile phone, toys, celebrating special occasions, and so on. These basic needs constitute most of the list in fact. … Basic services and basic income are each very good at meeting different needs: services make more sense for commonly used, necessary infrastructures such as transport and health, whilst an income floor would allow people to acquire the basic items of everyday life in the 21st century and participate in socially-recognised activities. In these ways, they are not equivalent. However, deployed together they would be an incredibly powerful mechanism for eliminating poverty and taking people out of a scarcity lifestyle”.