17 March 2021

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.”

An important test case: “The Morrison government’s claim that national cabinet deliberations are exempt from freedom of information laws will be challenged in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, setting up a test over the new body’s immunity from scrutiny. The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) will file a case with the tribunal as it seeks to access information on at least 15 environmental approvals ‘fast-tracked’ by the federal environment minister, Sussan Ley, a task so far stymied by the government’s insistence the documents fall under traditional cabinet rules. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has insisted national cabinet deliberations are treated the same as those in the federal cabinet, which are kept confidential and not subject to freedom of information legislation. The national cabinet comprises federal, state and territory leaders. It was established in early 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic and replaced the Council of Australian Governments, which was not bound by cabinet confidentiality rules.” Cabinet confidentiality in Australia lasts for 30 years unless the government chooses to waive it — but there is another way: “Unlike in Australia, where there is a blanket exemption from disclosure, the New Zealand Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) allows access to cabinet documents if it can be demonstrated that the consequences of releasing the information do not outweigh the public interest in keeping the information confidential.”

2 March 2021

Morrison refusal to stand down a Cabinet minister who is accused of rape is damaging his government, but more importantly it is sending a clear message to future victims: you won’t be believed. Richard Ackland explains why the ‘presumption of innocence’ excuse doesn’t cut it: “In times of need we all cling to the presumption of innocence and the legal standard required for conviction. The law is cautious and protective. Politics, however, is raw, cruel and on occasions destructive. The rule of law is not the same as the rule of parliamentary politics. The prime minister’s statement on ministerial standards says as much. ‘It is for the prime minister to decide whether and when a minister should stand aside if that minister becomes the subject of an official investigation of alleged illegal or improper conduct.’ Implicitly, the standards of the prime minister of the day determine the standards of the ministry in the face of an allegation of criminality. Being charged or convicted is not a precondition of the rather flexible standard. … [A]s a result of the complainant’s suicide last year, it cannot be thoroughly tested in the courts. … So it is the prime minister who is left without a chair when the music stops. To try and patch this politically, he would have to order an inquiry into the ‘alleged illegal or improper conduct’. It’s that or his ministerial standards don’t amount to a hill of beans.”

24 February 2021

Rick Morton on the disconnect between Canberra policymakers and real lives: “The prime minister thinks only in the hollow terms of political problems. Humanity does not figure into the equation. Worse, for a man who thinks he knows the answer he has never suffered the real problem. Neither he nor almost anyone in his government has ever had to do the threadbare arithmetic of blunt survival. Never had to make a decision to skip meals or medications to feed a family. Never had a single, sudden expense trigger a five-year debt spiral. There have been no back-to-back years of punishing stress which exacts its toll not only on the mind but on the body, too. … The problem is not necessarily that he has not lived this life, but that he refuses to accept the testimony of the millions who have. Millions. It reaches further down, into the public service, where often well-meaning people are forced to reduce the rich and complicated human tapestry to mere budget constraints and policy priorities. For those who have not lived the life of gritty survival, it is difficult to really understand the consequences of enduring scarcity. These aftershocks bleed into every area of government service delivery and into every budget.” One small illustration of this: “A single person on JobSeeker will receive a little over $300 a week to live on. A politician receives more than $280 per day in travel allowance”.

23 February 2021

Anthony Forsyth: “[I]t is in the [IR Omnibus] Bill’s provisions on casual employment that we can most see the government’s opportunism in latching onto the pandemic. To understand this, we need to take a step back. In 2018 and again last year, the Federal Court up-ended what has become a common practice of many employers: engaging casual employees for long periods of time, so they are almost permanent but without the rights of permanent staff. … So what does the Bill say? It is quite devious, presenting the façade of adopting the Federal Court’s definition of a casual — someone who does not have a firm commitment from their employer to ongoing work, according to an agreed pattern of work. But then the Bill adds other elements to the proposed casual definition, including how the work is described in the employment contract — thus preserving the power of employers to designate an employee as casual. The Bill also freezes the assessment of employment status (casual or not) as at the time the employment begins. A court could have no regard to how the employment evolves or changes over time. All of this would return us to the position that prevailed before the Federal Court stepped in. Employers would have maximum power to engage and keep an employee as a casual, no matter how regular their shifts become or for how many years they are employed. … If passed into law, this Bill will only intensify insecure work and enable employers to push through reductions in wages and conditions in the name of ‘economic recovery’. … All up, the Coalition’s Bill tells Australian workers: ‘thanks, but really, no thanks, for all your efforts in the pandemic’. Cross-bench senators need to tell the government: it’s just not on.”

19 February 2021

Lizzie O’Shea: “The media code aims to solve a public problem — the decline of the fourth estate — by setting up a system of private transfers between digital platforms and news organisations. Such an approach harbours several design problems. Firstly, it represents an abandonment of the democratic political practice of taxation and spending. That strategy might have allowed elected representatives to strip tech companies of their excessive profits, which is an important objective. It would have also permitted lawmakers to redirect such funds to fill the actual gaps that have emerged in the media in recent times, rather than, say, Rupert Murdoch’s pockets. … The other key design problem with the proposed code was that it aimed to align media organisation and tech platforms against the interests of users. Media organisations have demonstrated that they are perfectly fine with exploiting user data for ad dollars, so long as they are not left out of the game. What does it say about tech policy in this country that the human rights of users were almost entirely left out of the conversation? … Imagine if the government had shown instead an interest in facilitating public participation and community-building by supporting other platforms that were not driven by profit. … It would be a world in which Facebook doesn’t get to dictate the terms of our engagement in online life.”

12 February 2021

Tom Theuns and Andrei Poama, Leiden University: “Far from banning prisoners from voting or making it difficult for them to vote, we think democratic governments should legally oblige felons to vote and call them to account if they don’t. Advocates of felon disenfranchisement sometimes argue that depriving felons of their right to vote allows democracies to affirm the importance of basic values, like equality and trust. If you decide not to live by society’s rules, they argue, you forfeit the right to have a say in how society is run. We disagree. … The right to vote is fundamental to democracy. It should not be seen as a favour or a privilege that depends on other people’s goodwill. Other citizens or unelected judges shouldn’t be in a position to deprive us of such rights; this makes all our voting rights more fragile. When people violate the values we hold dear by committing crimes, democracies should double down. Whereas criminal disenfranchisement communicates to felons that they are second-class citizens, compulsory criminal voting reinforces the idea that democratic rights are an important responsibility. If we think criminals see themselves as above the law, compulsory criminal voting sends a strong message that felons are fellow citizens, that we are all in this together, whether we like it or not. … The fear of certain disadvantaged groups heading to the polls should tell us something about the legitimate complaints these groups have. Such complaints should be heard.”