Author Archive for youngmarxist

Defiance or compliance? How should Queensland workers fight LNP sackings and cuts?

Campbell Newman’s Liberal National Party government was elected in Queensland in March this year. Their cuts to public service jobs have provoked 10,000-strong rallies and public anger is growing at cuts to service that were not mentioned before the election. Newman’s popularity has dropped quickly since March, creating space for people to mobilise against his austerity-lite agenda.

At a symposium yesterday, organised by the Brisbane Labour History Association, it quickly became obvious the first barrier to effective strike action against the Queensland government is the threat of huge fines for strikers and organisers who ignore court orders to return to work. Two different approaches to that threat were presented at the symposium: defiance of court orders, or working to elect an ALP government in the hope they will repeal anti-strike laws.

In 1976 Queensland introduced injunctions with civil penalties that could lose you your house and car. The Federal Trade Practices Act, which bans secondary strikes, was mirrored in Queensland law in 1984. In 1985 strikes were made illegal in the electricity industry, as was any strike without 7 days notice

These powers were quickly used in 1985 to break a strike of South East Queensland Electricity Board (SEQEB) workers (Get the pdf file directly downloaded here). Barbara Webster of the Central Queensland University explained that when plant controllers at the massive Gladstone Power Station cut electricity supply by 50% in support of sacked linesmen, the Government ordered them to return to work. When all but one operator refused, half of the operators were threatened with fines. Young men, with families, cars and mortgages to support, they submitted, and without their backing the wider strike was doomed.

Barbara Webster speaks at Brisbane Labour History Association forum 121027
Barbara Webster

We can be sure that any widespread strike action will be met quickly with similar threats. In fact it already has: the symposium heard from Bob Carnegie, who is associated with the Socialist Alternative group. Carnegie helped with organising a recent successful strike of workers building a new Queensland Children’s Hospital. When the strike was declared illegal and union officials were ordered by courts to not go near the strike site, the workers defied the court orders. Carnegie did too, and now faces up to $400,000 in fines, and a jail sentence.

Bob Carnegie speaks at Brisbane Labour History Association forum 121027

Bob Carnegie

Towards the end of the symposium, ALP member and Queensland Council of Unions Secretary Ron Monaghan spoke. He said that workers in the private sector will not support sacked public servants, and that it’s no good telling workers that they “got it wrong” when they voted for Campbell Newman. Monaghan said the union movement should not split from the ALP as the ALP will then completely ignore it. He said this after describing how the former Queensland ALP government accepted the union movement’s vital support in the 2009 election, and then announced major privatisations of State assets months after being re-elected.

Ron Monaghan speaks at Brisbane Labour History Association forum 121027

Ron Monaghan

ALP member and official of the United Voice union, Michael Clifford, also spoke, saying a strategy of working to elect an ALP government is the best one. He said his union wanted ALP candidates who would stand up for trade union voices, and said legislation that supports the rights of workers to organise is the key. Earlier in the day, Howard Guille, a former Queensland secretary of the National Tertiary Employees Union, said that a right to strike might be enshrined in the Constitution, as it has been in South Africa. However he did not mention the recent deaths of striking miners in South Africa, killed by police despite the words of their Constitution.

Michael Clifford speaks at Brisbane Labour History Association forum 121027

Michael Clifford

 

Howard Guille speaks at Brisbane Labour History Association forum 121027

Howard Guille

 

Later Ron Monaghan was asked if the unions should make themselves strong enough to defy any government, ALP or LNP, by calling a general strike. He spoke of the dangers of this, but then said “we” were doing so already, claiming credit for the defiant actions of Bob Carnegie, although Carnegie is not an ALP member.

The first speaker of the day perhaps should have been the last. Sue Yarrow, once involved in the Right to March movement in Queensland and later a ministerial adviser to the Goss and Beattie ALP governments, spoke about how the old Trades Hall Group, authoritarian and socially conservative ALP members who once dominated the ALP and the union movement, lost control when they did not realise how much public support the Right to March movement had. As society shifted beneath their feet, they fell. If working people are pushed by the current government to defy anti-strike laws, and if all the ALP can offer is the chance to vote them back in and hope things will get better, something similar might happen again.

Sue Yarrow speaks at Brisbane Labour History Association forum 121027.50

Sue Yarrow

Blasphemy is legal, and should always remain so

 

 

The answer to Australian govt e-snooping? *We* must use privacy tech, not ask govt to play by the rules

Hands off my Lolcat!
Protesters against Australian Government plans to censor the Internet in 2008.
Photo by flickrsquared, licenced under Creative Commons.

The Australian government is trying to get more powers to snoop on Internet users. Mark Newton, a network engineer at a large Australian ISP, has attacked, angrily, these plans at New Matilda. He points out the dishonest way law enforcement keeps demanding new powers, the threats to civil liberties, the cost to telcos (and thus their customers), of keeping 2 years’ worth of messages for *every single subscriber*, and the dangerous temptation to steal or leak such valuable information on a large scale.

He’s of course correct on every one of these points. But there’s something missing – it’s rarely mentioned when people talk online about how to deal with these dangerous planned powers. Newton’s final paragraph says:

Before data retention proposals are taken seriously, the law enforcement community should be required to explain, in detail and in public, why the existing measures they’ve demanded every other year since 2001 are insufficient.

which means he’s demanding greater oversight. And that’s where we get to a problem. For a start, we probably won’t get much more oversight except for what Greens Senator Scott Ludlam can extract from public servants in Senate committees. Ludlam does good work on this issue, but he’s not going to have the resources to carry out a wide-ranging investigation of the entire proposal. But even if he had those resources, there’s still a deeper problem: Relying on the government to play by the rules is a terrible idea, and one that leaves us complacent.

There’s a better approach – using the tools that exist, right now, to defend our privacy. There’s a very useful interview with a man who had his Twitter account information seized by the US government at n+1 magazine. The details of the legal procedures used to snoop only apply to the US, but there’s also an explanation of some of the ways we can protect ourselves – sometimes as simple as not taking a mobile phone with you to a highly confidential meeting, because cellphones are “tracking devices that make phone calls”.

We’re almost at the stage where we can use easily-available, simple-to-explain technology to defend our privacy. Small computers the size of a large power plug are already available – they plug into a wall socket and cost a few dollars a year to run. FreedomBox is a project to develop and sell such “plug servers” pre-configured to protect users privacy. Because of the low power cost they can remain on all the time, meaning that instead of keeping all our personal information on Stalkbook’s computers, we’ll use a new type of social network where WE control our private info on OUR computers, and people we give permission to will be able to see it, “like” it, comment on it and so on. Diaspora has been an attempt to do this, but it is difficult to install and does not work very well yet.

We need to swing the Australian debate around to “How can we protect our privacy and take control of our personal information?”, instead of “How can we get the government to respect civil liberties?”. One simple way is to tell people about the n+1 article – it’s good at explaining some of the risks and trade-offs of different types of communication. Surveillance Self-Defence is a great wrap up of the risks and our defence options in some detail at the US Electronic Frontier Foundation website. I hope to write some articles later in the year about my experience minimising my contact with Google – I stopped using my Gmail account and set up my own email server, taking personal control of my email and stretching my computer knowledge while I did it.

Of course, if the government REALLY wants to snoop they’ll be able to. But we have the power to make it much harder for them to do it. Let’s start talking about this and get Australians realising the answer to snooping by our over-reaching, busy-body government is to take power into our own hands.

Thanks to the Australian technology blog Delimiter for pointing me to Newton’s article.

Thoughts on #OccupyBrisbane so far

Occupy Brisbane is like nothing I’ve ever been involved in.

I’ve only been on the fringe of the Brisbane site (which had about 50 tents last night), as I’ve been mainly helping out with Facebook, Twitter and the website. But I’ve attended two General Assemblies, one very divided, and spent maybe ten hours on site, including two half-hour stints on the OB livestream.

The Left (no matter how broadly or weakly you define it) are in a minority at the Brisbane occupation. Brisbane has three small Trotskyite groups; no more than four or five people from all those groups are in any way seriously engaging with the occupation. On the weekend two of the groups set up tents to try to capitalise on public interest but the ones who weren’t here already usually don’t even stay around for the General Assembly.

The newest thing for me is a group called The Zeitgeist Movement, “an explicitly non-violent, global sustainability advocacy group”; it’s common to hear talk about them and their project of a “Resource-Based Economy” from the Brisbane occupation. I think linked with this is a significant strand of opinion on site that:

- opposes the flouridation of water

- opposes compulsory vaccination

- opposes fiat money and central banking [ADDITION: and fractional reserve banking], and

- has a generally conspiratorial, rather than systemic, view of politics

Magical thinking seems common in people who hold to some of these views. On Sunday I was at a General Assembly where the possibility of the police evicting the camp was discussed. One organiser seriously advanced the priniciples in The Secret as a guide to political action, and an attendee at the Assembly said that discussing a possible violent eviction meant it was more likely to manifest.

Some of this may have been an over-reaction; perhaps those opposed to violence feared that those who aren’t opposed in principle wanted to get it on with the police. But even if so such attitudes present wide political gaps between outlooks.

There is bitter opposition from some people to even acknowledgment of indigenous custodianship/ownership of land, discussion of female, queer or class oppression and so on. One tenet of the Zeitgesit movement I mentioned about is that divisions between nation, gender, class are denied, as described on the Australian chapter’s website:

The Zeitgeist Movement is not a political movement. It does not recognize nations, governments, races, religions, creeds or class. Our understandings conclude that these are false, outdated distinctions which are far from positive factors for true collective human growth and potential.

 

The most interesting conflict on site is about the idea of whether Occupy Brisbane is in fact political. This may be a mere confusion over terms in some cases where people assume “politics” is “what politicians do”. But there is also a strand of real hostility to any idea of systematic analysis of oppression.

However I’ve been learning a lot about getting information about an ongoing event onto Facebook, Twitter, our website, Livestream etc. I’m looking now for more people who want to make a team to do this sort of thing.

I’m also learning about what is and isn’t possible. I re-read Fascism and the Left the other day after I recommended it to someone else for its descriptions of pathological behaviour, but this paragraph in particular struck me:

 

“This article is not a plea for everybody to be more tolerant of everybody else. It is a call for sharper defence of our basic principles and less tolerance of attempts to undermine them. One cannot be a Communist if one is not first a democrat. The democratic revolutionaries of England, France and so on in earlier centuries had no hesitation about chopping off the heads of their aristocratic opponents and neither should we.”

 

This principle is bound to come into conflict with people at the Occupations and at would seem to make, at most, a unified short-term unification around reformist goals the most that could be widely agreed on by an Occupation. Perhaps a wealth tax” or a “People’s Bank” are the sort of things that could happen here.

It seems clear to me at the moment that to form a party contending for government is the last thing likely to arise out of the Occupy movement as a whole. I could see several possible parties arising from the various tendencies, but not one that could possibly encompass people who believe that politics drives human relations, and people who are avowedly non-political.

Why we should definitely Occupy Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and more – response to “Don’t Occupy Sydney”

I’ve been involved with the online organising for Occupy Brisbane. Yesterday I noticed a post on Tumblr getting some attention from people I knew, people who are definitely not rich.

This is my response:

The original post is in bold, my response is in plain text.

At the moment in the US there is a collection of affiliated protests, centred on New York city. As with all “grass roots” protest movements, some of the protesters are unemployed or students who enjoy shows of unity and demands for change as a recreational sport.

Really? How do you know this?

Some of them are people who have found themselves with a low quality of life for no other reason than they have declined to work to improve it. They see that other people have a high quality of life and are demanding the same.

Really? How do you know this?

These groups of people are the minority. The majority of protesters, and the theme of the protest, is the idea of a (figurative) 99% of America who may or may not be well educated, but work hard, and still have a quality of life that compares better to developing countries than the United States. Some are drowning in student debts that are all but impossible to service. Some have been through processes of being laid off or having pay reductions in corporate cost cutting exercises and earn only as much or in many cases significantly less than they did several years ago – while costs continue to inflate. Many or most have no access to healthcare were they to require it – not being able to afford access to the user-pays American system.

The 99% are real, and it’s frightening. Young families with $10 left after essentials who are an illness away from bankruptcy, professionals with undergraduate degrees in corporate roles who are choosing between making student loan payments and eating dinner. One to two generations of Americans who are fed up to hell with an economy that came about largely because of a finance industry which managed to somehow overthrow the rules of capitalism; an industry that instead of winning or losing based on market supply and demand, took home its profits, and managed to get its debts paid by taxpayers. The entirety of Wall St is like Nick Leeson, the derivatives trader who worked for Barings making a tonne of highly profitable transactional trades, all the while putting the debts from the disastrous failed trades into an “error account” (numbered 88888) until they totalled $1.4 billion and were discovered. Barings was sold to ING for £1.00

Australia is different. Australia is a country with universal subsidised healthcare, subsidised tertiary education with an efficient and fair loans scheme which is paid at an acceptable rate only out of the money you earn, near universal employment and an expansive welfare system that can sustain the unemployed for years if that’s what the situation requires (unlike the US’ time-limited unemployment benefits scheme).

This is true, in itself. But what about those “Young families with $10 left after essentials who are an illness away from bankruptcy”? You don’t think we have those in Australia? I’ve lived most of my life an illness away from homelessness. I’ve waited for over four hours to get treated in a hospital emergency room because local doctors don’t take on any more patients because that healthcare system isn’t subsidised enough. As for “near-universal employment”, there’s a trick the government do, which is to regard anyone working for even one hour a week as employed. The underemployment rate (measuring the number of people who want more hours but aren’t getting them) was around 7% last year in Australia. And what if the money you are earning is at a job that eats away at your self-respect and dignity every day you do it?

Those are just the sorts of things that have affected me personally, that I can talk about with experience. I wonder how many other people, even in a fairly well-off country like Australia, are feeling ground down by these sorts of problems – or other problems that I’m lucky enough to miss out on.

Our banks are strong and to a large extent highly ethical. The lack of speculative, nonsensical finance products bought and sold in Australia by our highly liquid and well regulated financial institutions, means our economy didn’t only not plunge into recession in the GFC, we largely didn’t even feel its effects beyond those from exposure to overseas markets. Our average wage is about 150% of the US’, our minimum wage is $15.51 to the $8.00 in Los Angeles. It’s not perfect but when an Australian retires, they will absolutely have some retirement benefits due to a pension system and the superannuation guarantee.

Australians NOW struggle if they have to rely on just the pension. I don’t see that situation easing up much in the next twenty years. And what happens to people who are due to retire on their superannuation just after a stock market crash? Their plans might have to be put on the shelf, and they might have to work a lot longer than they hoped. Those people are feeling the results of the recent financial crisis now. I wonder how they feel about the fairness of the retirement system.

We have our problems. We have people who are mentally ill who aren’t getting help.

I’ve been one of those people. Have you? If you have, then I say I have too and my opinion on the Occupy protests is just as valid as yours. And if you have not, it’s not your place to use an illness I’ve had to tell people they shouldn’t get involved with something I agree with.

We have indigenous communities that just aren’t thriving.We have a nation gripped with an absurd fascination with people who crawl onto our beaches having escaped whatever hasn’t been bombed into a vapour in their home country. We have a polarised national debate about the global environment and how to minimise our effect on it, and that debate is birthing a sociological crisis in the way groups of Australians interact with each other, their government, and the media.

A group of people coming together because they are angry with the way things is one of the best chances we’ve had in years to start talking about these problems, and many others. Telling people not to get involved in Occupy protests because of these problems is ridiculous. We need to work out how to unite many different areas where people are fighting for their rights – and if people at the Occupy protests are politically mature enough to, for instance, deal respectfully with Aboriginal people, we have the chances to form some new alliances.

I also think that most of the big problems of the world today are closely linked to the way our economy is set up. If we start digging closely into any issue, we come up against one similar problem each time – a government not prepared to raise the taxes needed. And that’s because governments have been answering to the 1% – and not even pretending to work for ordinary people – for the last three decades and more. The 1% don’t want more of “their” money going on taxes, so it doesn’t.

These problems don’t get fixed with the solutions the Americans are demanding. “Occupying” Sydney or Melbourne and demanding the “end of corporate greed” is putting a bandaid on your forehead to deal with a headache. With the lack of relevancy the “occupy” movement has in Australia, the only people left are the unhygienic, mouth breathing Socialist Alliance, Citizen’s Electoral Council and other limpet organisations that try to inseminate their agenda into any group of people larger than about twelve individuals. You want to occupy something in Australia?

Firstly, using the “those people I disagree with are dirty” argument is childish and hateful. Wrong ideas need to be defeated in debate, not called “dirty”.

Secondly – is this actual analysis? Or just name-calling using the names of two groups you vaguely know you dislike? Do you know for a fact that the Socialist Alliance and Citizens Electoral Council are the main groups dominating the Occupy Sydney protest? I saw that a Socialist Alternative (not Alliance) rep was scheduled to speak on Channel 7’s Sunrise on Monday morning. Do you know the difference between the two groups? If not, I won’t rely on your assessment of who is dominating Sydney’s protest.

Occupy your local member’s office and discuss how the mentally ill can get the help they need.

Occupy a soup kitchen and use your labour to give the homeless that we do have, a hot nutritious meal.

Occupy a dinner party and explain the scope and substance of our “refugee crisis” to your friends in clear, respectful language.

Occupy a talkback radio station for 5 minutes on the phone, and ask the shock jock why it’s a bad thing for the government to make polluting more expensive for companies.

The Occupations can and should discuss all these questions:

Why won’t the government spend enough money on mental health services? I know of one person at Occupy Sydney who is losing out big-time because of cuts to mental health services, and it’s a big motivation for him to get involved.

Why is housing so expensive that more and more people are homeless or very close to it? Why are meal centres mostly very horrible places to eat at? (I’ve had my share of meals in them)

Why is our society so inward-looking and fearful that a few thousand “illegal” boat-arrivals are seen as a major existential threat?

Will the carbon price/tax/whatever help to create a massive renewable energy industry in Australia? Or are there other ways to do it?

And one final question that’s worth thinking about:

We’ve suffered so many defeats at the hands of the 1% in the last few decades. When people start to come together because they want to see change, they are scoffed at by people who have nothing to lose and everything to gain from successful Occupations. How on earth do we change that?

The English Civil War Is A Crucial Part of Australian History

There’s an appalling article in Crikey today by Associate Professor Tony Taylor of Monash University, co-editor of an upcoming book History Wars and the Classroom: Global Perspectives.

The article responds to an article in The Age, “Coalition would scrap Curriculum” saying Federal Opposition Education spokesman Christopher Pyne is prepared to scrap the new national history curriculum. The article says Pyne thinks there is to much emphasis on Asia, indigenous culture and sustainability in the history curriculum, and not enough on Christianity, Greece and Rome, and the English Bill of Rights and English Civil War.

There’s plenty to criticise there. Australian students need a good grasp of indigenous culture and the deadly and destructive effects that white settlement had on it, and of the history of Asia. Sustainability – we can do without that, thanks very much! We could replace sustainability with a discussion of how humans have moved away from being at the whim of nature every moment of the day.

However, the response in Crikey is arrogant, dismissive and, frankly a joke. Taylor’s lowest moment is when he says the English Civil War is “arguably just a series of confused and confusing localised squabbles that may have a special significance for UK history, but not for anybody else (unless they like dressing up in period costume).” Anyone with even a basic knowledge of how bourgeois Parliamentary democracy works knows that this is ridiculous. Most of the assumptions behind it come directly or indirectly from that Civil War. The most important tenet of parliamentarism – the idea that only the parliament, not the executive on its own, may tax – is a direct result of the war and the main issue it was fought over. You can’t understand the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, which lead to the sacking of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, without understanding that crucial point.

But the bad thing about Taylor’s article is not just that he is wrong, but that he is in a position to affect the curriculum of Australian schools but clearly has contempt for democracy. He implies that Pyne’s threat to scrap the curriculum and start again is an example of the “arbitrary rule of one”. Of course, Pyne will never be in a position to change the curriculum unless he is part of a government elected in the closest thing we have to a democratic election. Does Taylor really contend that elected Governments have no right to change public policy?

Taylor’s contempt for outsiders interfering in work only he and his priesthood should be allowed to carry out is revealed in another passage, where he discusses criticism of the new curriculum: “I read it and dismissed it as someone who doesn’t know much about how education or history works.” Not because it was wrong, or misguided, or suggested a poor use of scarce classroom time, but it came from  an outsider.

What’s worst of all about this article is it carries on the smarmy pseudo-left habit of congratulating themselves that they must be right, because the slightly more right-wing ruling class party is against them. This is part of the nature of the bureaucratic pseudo-left; they push the line that their work must be done behind closed doors because evil right-wingers and the stupid populace they fool are too dumb to know what’s best for them. There is no sense at all of actually trusting ordinary people, of welcoming outside debate or being ready to submit their decisions to the judgment of the great unwashed.

We need to keep attacking the pseudo-left with this – with the idea that, while they parade their moral virtue, they are utterly unwilling to actually try to win public debates.

A cached version of the Crikey article is here, and my first comment replying to that article on the original site is here.

Melbourne and Sydney Rallies in support of the Egyptian Rebels

WLE_01_exiledsurfer 

Melbourne: Sun Jan 30 2011, 3pm

Egyptian Consulate

50 Market St, Melbourne

Click here for a map

 

WLE_02_exiledsurfer

Sydney: Mon Jan 31 2011, 4.30pm

Egyptian Consulate

241 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills

Click here for a map

Facebook event:

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=136722939725676

Anyone else? Leave details in the comments.

 

WLE_03_exiledsurfer

 

More information about the protests here – including the comments

Summary of the Egyptian protests

The Mother Jones website has a summary of the current Egyptian protests, with links to more info.

Also, ABC Journalist Rosanna Ryan has created a Twitter list of protest-related accounts; but their accuracy is anyone’s guess.

The Twitter hashtags #Jan25 and #25Jan also have information, but as always with Twitter, treat most of it as unverified.

Naomi Klein, Pseudo-Leftist Rejecting Progress and Growth

 

Over at The American Situation, Sean Collins has passed on a video of supposed radical Naomi Klein being as reactionary as she can. Collins says she’s "proving that what passes as "left" today is often the most reactionary in explicitly rejecting progress and growth." If you can’t see the video above, click here.

Help buy a satellite to bring cheap Internet to places that don’t have it yet? $150K needed.

This organisation is raising $150K from people online to start buying a satellite so they can bring cheap and free Internet to the five billion people who don’t already have it. You can donate here, and find out more about the plans here.

"New politics” where Independents pretend there is no conflict: an undemocratic sham #AusVotes #AusWaits

Australia’s Federal Election last weekend has led to a hung Parliament. Three rural Independent candidates seem likely to decide whether Julia Gillard’s Labor Party will stay in Government, or whether Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party-led coalition will take over, only three years after former Prime Minister John Howard led it to defeat after thirteen years in office. While one Independent is already fantasising about a unity Government in which Labor and Liberal MPs sit in the Cabinet, the current rejection of parties and fetishisation of Independents is a rejection of real politics, and a backwards step for Australia.

There is no doubt that Australians, like many people in the Western world, have been badly served by their politicians, and this has led to the power vacuum which allows the Independents to pretend that what they offer us is politics. Gillard overthrew the elected Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, in an internal ALP coup in June, and called the early election a few weeks afterwards. When people complained that the elected Prime Minister had been dumped in an undemocratic manner, they were met with the scornful response that “We have the Westminster System, stupid!”. Such a reply ignores the undemocratic nature of that system, especially in the modern style of politics where presidential-style campaigns replace parties standing on platforms designed to advance to interests of their supporters.

Rudd shouldn’t be mourned as a lost democrat, however. He is a bland bureaucrat who has been expertly removing politics from government, whose previously high popularity ratings plummeted after he backed down on an emissions trading scheme, after labelling global warming as the “great moral challenge of our generation” (pdf file) while in Opposition. He had appeared to stand for something after attempting to change the way Australia’s miners were taxed; a proposal no-one in Australia had heard of until it was a recommendation of a tax review released in May. While the opposition of miners and right-wing media allowed Rudd to pose as a man of the people who merely wanted Australians to have a fair share of the riches generated by Australia’s mining boom, it’s interesting to note that this was a top-down proposal, not one demanded by the Australian people and certainly not one arising from the clash of ideas in political debate. It was a technocratic solution to a technocratic problem, and the disconnection between government and people was demonstrated when the government planned a $38 million TV ad campaign – the idea that a network of political activists in the Labor Party should use their community connections to sell the idea of a major new government  policy was never even considered, because such networks don’t exist any more.

Rudd was dumped when the Labor Party panicked as his approval ratings dropped to merely comfortably ahead of the Liberals’ Tony Abbott. Gillard took over in June and immediately announced changes to the mining tax, called an election in July, and Australians voted in August.

This brings us to our hung parliament. Since it’s been clear that the three rural Independents will decide who takes power, a barrage of anti-political sentimentalism has erupted. Earlier this week on the ABC TV network’s Q and A program, one of the Independents, Tony Windsor said “one of the good things that will come out of a hung parliament is that a private member will be able to introduce legislation and not be shut down by the government of the day using their numbers”. No-one challenged him with the idea that a government has been elected and has a right to govern because of people’s votes.

Tony Oakeshott is another of the three Independents. His ridiculous idea of a unity government has already been mentioned. His anti-political “unity” ideas go further than that though. Today he told the “AM” program on ABC radio he wanted to talk “less about sides, I mean if we can get rid of this red and blue language, it’s more about what do we want from this Parliament and engaging the communities of Australia in public policy”. The idea that people want different things from Parliament, that politics is about the clash of those interests and desires, and that public policy isn’t simply a place for experts to work out the “best” solution, but about deciding who wins and who loses, seems to have escaped him.

Of course it would be naive to blame these Independents for the way in which their anti-political message is received. Ever since the ALP government of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating gutted the union movement, cut real wages and destroyed the ALP as a mass party in the 1980s, politics in Australia has been a game of pretending that all Australians share the same interests, and that conflict is divisive and unnecessary. Indeed, Hawke won power on the idea of “consensus” and the slogan “Bringing Australia Together” (which was cribbed from Richard Nixon). Consensus sounds pretty, but the trouble is, of course, that anyone who decides to fight for their rights can be painted as disruptive, rather than legitimately advancing their own interests. This gives those who already have power a huge advantage in hanging on to it.

What the Independents propose is not politics, but an undemocratic sham. Democracy isn’t pretty, it isn’t clean and it isn’t anything to do with pretending that sides don’t exist. Politics in Australia won’t be healthy again until people realise their needs and wants clash with the needs and wants of others, and we need to compete to work out who gets what they want. Until people grasp this most basic fact, we’ll be left in the hands of bland technocrats who resent the demands of ordinary people, occasionally tempered with pious witterings about how fighting is really nasty.

Clive Hamilton lies about Net censorship on national TV

Clive Hamilton at Save Solar Systems public meeting at Fitzroy Town Hall, 091203

Clive Hamilton, liar.

Australia’s Internet censorship plans featured on tonight’s episode of Four Corners. The delightful Clive Hamilton, proud father of Australia’s Internet censorship scheme, was there bravely guarding the morals of our country.

Hamilton kindly let the nation know he is definitely opposed to bestiality and coprophilia, but he’s not quite so big on the virtue of telling the truth.

Hamilton said on Four Corners:

We commissioned a poll which showed that parents of teenage children are extremely concerned about their children’s access to porn on the Internet and when we asked them explicitly whether they would support a mandatory filter on Internet service providers to prevent extreme and violent pornography coming into the home an astonishing 93 per cent said yes they would support that.

Wow. 93% support compulsory Internet censorship. Hamilton did the numbers, so it must be true, right?

Well, no.

According to the Australia Institute, Hamilton’s own think tank that carried out the poll he mentioned, respondents to the poll weren’t asked about “mandatory filters” at all. The Australia Institute 2003 poll on net censorship (pdf file) says (p23) :

Finally, parents were asked about their support for the two new strategies proposed in this paper to protect children from Internet pornography, that is, mandatory blocking of pornography by ISPs and educating children on the risks of pornography. They were first asked the following:

Would you support a system which automatically filtered out Internet pornography going into homes unless adult users asked otherwise?

So parents weren’t asked if they supported compulsory censorship at all! They were asked if they supported optional censorship. Hamilton has been caught out in a pure and simple lie.

How can we take anything else he says about Internet censorship seriously?

Note the slippery wording of the report. It says parents were asked about “mandatory blocking”, but the question quoted in the poll only talks about optional censorship.

The other fascinating thing about the program was the “town hall” meetings about how to get around Internet censorship, apparently linked in some way to Exit International, the pro-voluntary-euthanasia organisation. This seems like an excellent way to take opposition to Government Internet censorship plans off the Net and into broader society.

Miners Slam Abbott Dole Ban Plan, While Unions Boast They Know What Bosses Want

A mining industry body today said Tony Abbott’s plan to cut under-30s off the dole to help the mining industry find skilled workers was “misguided”. The comment, by Queensland Resources Council director Michael Roche was reported by the ABC.

The ABC report missed the main story, running with a headline reporting a union leader saying that this was Abbott’s “Sarah Palin” moment. It’s barely news that a top unionist would criticise the Liberal leader, and the Sarah Palin comparison is nothing more than using her name as a swear-word. There’s nothing in common between Palin, a formerly obscure chancer who seized her opportunity to become a national right-wing figure in the USA, and Tony Abbott, who was already the leader of Australia’s conservative Establishment party, and who had everything to lose.

The story that a mining industry group thought Mr Abbott’s policy is a bad idea is clearly far more significant – if a Liberal leader can’t get the miners behind him, he’s in big trouble.

Meanwhile, Australia’s tame-cat union movement reminded people which side they’re on.  Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Jeff Lawrence said Mr Abbott’s proposal was unlikely to make any difference to the labour market in the resources sector. Mr Lawrence said there were challenges for Australia in training new and existing workers, but these challenges required effective industry-driven responses, not simplistic fixes.

So what the ACTU said is that it knows better than the Liberals what the bosses want and need. Probably true, but rather revealing. The statement released by the ACTU had a few token references to support for low-paid workers, but the only formal campaign mentioned had nothing to do with agitation to increase wages, but was the National Resources Sector Employment Taskforce, which is suposed to develop solutions to skills shortages. The words “strike” and “industrial action” were not mentioned in the statement.

So there we have it. A nutjob Liberal leader who is no doubt just going to worry his party more and more, and a union movement which sees itself as a consultative member of the capitalist class.

What I Did With The Electricity I Used During Earth Hour

So, it was Earth Hour last night. Naturally I wanted to discuss this on Twitter, as the subject was coming up all day. However I wanted to actually discuss it, not just sneer at people, which is pretty easy to do. And obviously I didn’t want to criticise from the angle that people like Mark Pesce did, who thinks that people in favour of “Human Achievement Hour” are “idiots” (This from someone who is a regular guest panellist on a show about new inventions!) The trouble with Earth Hour is not that it is a tokenistic sham. The trouble with Earth Hour is that it implies that reducing power consumption is the most urgent task facing humanity. If it weren’t a sham, it would be much more dangerous to human progress than it actually is.

So I got into discussions with a few people about the issue yesterday, taking up some of the themes that have come up on this blog. I said that I thought Earth Hour implied that slowing consumption and therefore the economy is what the West needs to do, and said that I thought rapid development and massive investment in new forms of energy were better ideas than guilt-trips about “overconsumption”.

The first discussion (read it from the bottom up) was with k_o_o about “overconsumption”, and if such a thing even exists. We didn’t really find a lot to agree about, but managed to at least try and remain constructive and not just shout slogans at each other, which is a good start for trying to work out if there’s anything we do agree on.

The second discussion, with webboy42 was about the definition of “waste” and how it can mean many things, from energy wasted as heat (which obviously should be minimised) or a way to hector people for being evil and wanting to fly cheaply. This reminded me of this Guardian “Comment is Free” article by Green MEP Caroline Lucas, where she uses some very dodgy figuring to claim that it’s only the rich that fly anyway – this sort of attitude is exactly the sort of thing that is an enemy of progress.

The third discussion was about power outages in South Africa. I responded to LaurenLee_‘s tweet saying “Earth Hour Haters” should realise that some people in South Africa have 3-hour power outages, by saying that that sounded like a reason for more development, not less. She challenged me to do some googling on the topic, which revealed that part of the problem is the ANC Government banned the public electricity company from building any new power stations for six years, apparently to try to encourage competitive private investment instead. Electricity is now unofficially rationed in South Africa, by means of the regular power outages, and while I can see the need to ration resources if they are genuinely scarce, the real solution is not to fetishise rationing, but to do all you can to make sure the resources are NOT scarce.

I also got sent this link about how candles are a far more inefficient, and carbon-heavy, way of creating light than lightbulbs are - it’s a very interesting read, I suggest you have a look.

So I spent a lot of time yesterday, including during Earth Hour itself, using electricity to spread the idea that we need to develop power sources as much as we can. I hope it had an effect.

Today’s Harmony Day a “Howard-era cover-up” of Australian Racism

A former senior public servant said today’s Government-sponsored “Harmony Day” was a “Howard-era cover-up” of Australian racism.

Michael Quall, who worked in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) under both the Keating and Howard Governments, said that before the 1996 election, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, part of PM&C, was developing a public awareness campaign about racism in Australia.

Mr Quall said after the Liberal/National coalition under Mr John Howard won the 1996 election, he downgraded the Division responsible for planning this campaign to a Branch and moved it to what was then the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. The then immigration minister, Mr Philip Ruddock, commissioned research which showed Australians would be uncomfortable being confronted with the truth about racism, and developed the Living in Harmony campaign (now the Diverse Australia Program, which runs Harmony Day).

Mr Quall said he strongly supported the idea of celebrating Australia’s diversity, but not in place of addressing systemic racism in Australia, and asked Australians to spend the day thinking about how they can change this racism.

The official Harmony Day website makes no mention of the fact that today is also the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the anniversary of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa, where 69 anti-apartheid protesters were killed.