archive: March 2021

31 March 2021

Scott Morrison announced that Marise Payne would be his new Prime Minister for Women, overseeing a new team of women ministers with gendered portfolio titles — before immediately trying to walk it back as people wondered whether he saw himself as only a Prime Minister for Men. As Tanya Plibersek put it, “What a nonsense proposition that we have a government that is half for men and half for women.” Other appointments don’t inspire confidence, either. The Assistant Minister for Women, Amanda Stoker, was immediately slammed by Australian of the Year Grace Tame as “someone who previously endorsed a ‘fake rape crisis’ tour, aimed at falsifying instances of sexual abuse on school and university campuses across Australia. It goes without saying that this came at an immeasurable cost to already traumatised student survivors. … The new Assistant Minister also supported last year’s Australia Day Honour of a woman [Bettina Arndt] who gave a platform to the convicted paedophile who abused me.” In her first interview in her new role, Jane Hume declared, “I don’t think you can appropriately put a gender lens on the budget” — despite her portfolio of Women’s Economic Security seeming to require putting a gender lens on the budget. Perhaps this promotion was based on her performance as minister for superannuation, where she tried to force women to spend their retirement savings to escape family violence. Michaelia Cash is the new Attorney-General and Minister for IR, even though she refused to cooperate with a police investigation into her office’s abuse of power and, to avoid tough questions about it, threatened, “I am happy to name every young woman in Mr Shorten’s office about which rumours in this place abound. If you want to go down this path today I. Will. Do it.” What a charmer.

24 March 2021

Prof Anne Twomey: “The sports rorts affair was quickly followed by another controversy: the funding of the Safer Communities Program. … These two programs don’t even scratch the surface of the massive government expenditure on discretionary programs with unimaginative (but suitably vague) titles such as … ‘building better regions’. Both sides of politics, when in government, use these programs to favour their supporters and influence voters, particularly in marginal seats, with scant regard to public need, fairness or responsible expenditure. Every time another government rort is exposed, the response is always that the action was ‘entirely within the rules’. But what actually are ‘the rules’ and does anyone ever enforce them? … While legal proceedings can be brought to challenge the constitutional validity of the grants or the validity of the decisions under administrative law, it is generally not in the interests of those who could bring such proceedings to do so. All aggrieved grant applicants want the opportunity to get a grant in the future. Ultimately, this means ministers can breach the rules and get away with it, undermining the rule of law and public confidence in governments. … [T]he rules cannot, in practice, be enforced against them, because they do their best to make sure this is the case.” (In the article, Twomey explains how each of the different “rules” systems fails.)

Rob Harris: “[T]here are now more statues of kelpies than Indigenous Australians or Australian women in the green spaces surrounding the nation’s seat of power. … Within Canberra’s parliamentary triangle you can spot Sir Robert Menzies strolling along the north side of Lake Burley Griffin and former Labor prime ministers, John Curtin and Ben Chifley, in conversation as they walk from the Hotel Kurrajong towards Old Parliament House. … [Liberal Senator Nola] Marino thinks Dorothy Tangney and Enid Lyons — as the first two women elected to federal parliament — are befitting of the same recognition. … Why there is no statue recreating the iconic picture of Lyons and Tangney walking through the doors of Parliament in 1943 is a stunning oversight. This August marks 50 years since Neville Bonner became the first Indigenous Australian to take his place in Parliament. If recognition is not to be continually kicked down the road a statue of Bonner outside Old Parliament House would be a good start. Then when that’s done they can set their sights on Eddie Mabo, and maybe even his wife Bonita, a short walk away at the High Court. Perhaps near the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet there’s also room for Charles Perkins, the civil rights activist who became the first Aboriginal Australian to become a permanent head of a federal government department.”

Osmond Chiu: “Australia likes to see itself as punching above its weight as a middle power, but this boast does not hold true when it comes to the representation of cultural diversity in politics. … The 2018 Leading for Change report from the Australian Human Rights Commission showed that only 4% of federal MPs had non-European ancestry, compared to 19% of the Australian population. The underrepresentation … [is] particularly stark for Asian Australians. … An estimated 14.7% of Australian adults today are of Asian heritage, similar to the proportion of African-Americans in the US population. New Zealand and Canada have about the same percentage of the population with Asian ancestry, but in terms of political representation, Australia does far worse than other English-speaking Western democracies. More than 5% of New Zealand parliamentarians have Asian heritage, as do 12.8% of Canadian MPs and 3.8% of members of the US Congress. … The image that Australia wants to project – of being the most successful multicultural country in the world – is shattered by a simple look at Australia’s parliament. There is a cognitive dissonance in championing a diverse, multicultural population and at the same time maintaining extremely unrepresentative corridors of power.”

17 March 2021

The WA Liberals have been all but obliterated: “The current final outcome prediction is 52 Labor, three Liberals and four Nationals.” It’s a first for women: “WA’s Lower House will end up with more female MPs elected in 2021 than the total number of Liberal women, 25, to have ever [ever!] sat in the WA Parliament. There may also end up being more Lower House MPs named Lisa than Liberal party members.” And a first for the upper house: “At this stage, it looks like the extraordinary support for Labor will translate into an upper house majority for the first time for Labor. It is worth noting that Liberal-National governments in WA have regularly controlled both houses of parliament while in government.” The reason it has taken a record landslide for Labor to have the chance of narrowly winning the upper house is that WA’s electoral system is rigged with rural malapportionment: “the three-quarters of the WA population who live in the Perth area elect 18 MLCs, while the one quarter outside Perth elect the same number of MLCs. This malapportionment means that the Legislative Council is significantly biased towards the ‘right’ (Liberal Party, Nationals and small parties like Family First and the Shooters) and against the ‘left’ (Labor and the Greens).” Perhaps McGowan will take the opportunity to make WA a democratic state.

Peter Brent: “Howard’s reign can be neatly sliced in two. The first half, 1996 to 2001, was mostly characterised by a curious torpor, electoral disappointment and low-to-mediocre approval ratings. … But the 2001 election win — post-Tampa, post–September 11 — transformed all that. … Having come back from the dead, he now stood for something all right: political success. And that which was seen as his Achilles heel, an obvious discomfort with modern, multicultural Australia, was now seen as the very secret of that success. After asylum seekers were falsely accused of throwing their children off a boat in October 2001, he was finally in his element, declaring, ‘I don’t want people of that type coming into this country.’ … Out and proud, then vindicated by the election result, he never looked back. … So what is Howard’s legacy, apart from his own ludicrously overblown political reputation? During his prime ministership he would frequently opine… that one of his proudest achievements was that Australians now felt freer to discuss uncomfortable topics — by which, of course, he meant matters of race. (Since leaving office, this point has generally been absent from his retrospective boasting.) … Howard didn’t make Australians racist, but he did make casual racism respectable again… It remains enmeshed in our political sphere, precisely because it is believed to be good politics. … That is John Howard’s chief legacy, and it’s not one to be proud of.”

Jathan Sadowski: “It’s no accident that the biggest winners of the coronavirus crisis are the same tech and finance executives who have been aggressively consuming the world for more than a decade. This massive redistribution of wealth, from labor to capital, should be seen as a direct outcome of digital platforms reaching new levels of dominance as their owners strive to amass profit and consolidate power. … The ascendancy of platforms has been accelerating at breakneck speed over the last decade. … In an economy shrinking for the many and growing for the few, the cutthroat drive to be a monopoly no matter what — a defining feature of platforms — has proved to be good business. … The core business model of platform capitalism is best understood as an expansion of rentierism — owning property for the purpose of maintaining control over it and extracting rent from those who live and work on it. I call today’s techno-economic system — which drives investment in innovation, development of infrastructure, and accumulation of capital — the Internet of Landlords. … [W]hat this business model really means is that they enjoy all the rights of owning an asset while you pay for the limited privilege of access. In other words, we are now forced to deal with an explosion of landlords in our daily life — constantly paying rent, both in terms of money and data, for all of the different tools and services we use.”

16 March 2021

Ross Gittins: “When you think about it, aged care is the ultimate women’s issue. Of those receiving aged care, women outnumber men two to one. Who does most of the worrying about how mum or dad are being treated — and probably most of the visiting? More likely to be daughters than sons. The [Aged Care Royal C]ommission’s report found that the root cause of the common ill-treatment of people in aged care is the insufficient number, inadequate training and low pay of aged care workers. And who are these overworked, undertrained and woefully paid age care workers? Almost all of them are women. Now do you see why aged care conditions have been low on the priorities of successive governments? Not enough rich white men jumping up and down. Aged care is huge. Despite understaffing, it has 366,000 paid staff, 68,000 volunteers and 28,000 contractors — about 3 per cent of the whole workforce. The report found that at least a third of people in residential and at-home care had experienced substandard care. It identified food and malnutrition, dementia care, use of physical and chemical restraints and palliative care as needing urgent improvement. Aged care used to have prescribed staffing ratios, but they were removed as part of the push to get for-profit providers into the ‘industry’. The report found that what regulation of facilities exists isn’t enforced because the government knows it’s not paying enough to make quality care possible.” Read that again — the Royal Commission report found that what regulation of facilities exists isn’t enforced because the government knows it’s not paying enough to make quality care possible.

10 March 2021

Patrick Freyne: “Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown. Beyond this, it’s the stuff of children’s stories. Having a queen as head of state is like having a pirate or a mermaid or Ewok as head of state. What’s the logic? Bees have queens, but the queen bee lays all of the eggs in the hive. The queen of the Britons has laid just four British eggs, and one of those is the sweatless creep Prince Andrew, so it’s hardly deserving of applause. The contemporary royals have no real power. They serve entirely to enshrine classism in the British nonconstitution. They live in high luxury and low autonomy, cosplaying as their ancestors, and are the subject of constant psychosocial projection from people mourning the loss of empire. … Over the course of the interview Harry and Meghan, who are charming, clever and good at being celebrities, make the monarchy look like an archaic and endemically racist institution that has no place in the modern world. Well duh.”

9 March 2021

A good first step: “An Australian-first inquiry backed by royal commission powers will investigate the ongoing effects of colonisation on Victoria’s Indigenous community and chart a path to reconciliation. The Andrews government will on Tuesday launch a ‘truth-telling’ commission that will help guide the state’s treaty negotiations and potentially examine how reparations could be paid to Indigenous people for past injustices. It will host public hearings about social, economic and health disadvantage and the role colonisation and discriminatory government policy have played in fostering that disadvantage. The commission will listen to Indigenous stories from the time of colonisation through the stolen generations up to the present day detailing the treatment of Indigenous Australians. It will aim to educate the public and generate momentum for legislative and cultural change. … The scope of the commission was developed in partnership with the assembly, which called for the inquiry to have royal commission powers, be independent of government, make recommendations for reform and be culturally sensitive to First Peoples’ trauma and methods of story-telling.”