Thursday, March 30, 2006

Update: Glenda has hit

It's moving so fast, the cyclone made landfall hours sooner than expected.

Check out the video on the ABC news website here.


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Cyclone Glenda to hit West Australia

Karratha, in West Australia's Pilbara, is about to get hit by catergory 4 Cyclone Glenda today.

The danger, besides the 130–200 km-an-hour winds, will be from storm surges and a 10 meter tide, which threaten to flood parts of the town!

ABC radio in Northwest WA is streaming their coverage here. One of my favourites in their coverage so far is 'Why you shouldn't wait out a cyclone is the dunny'.

It is worth wondering whether we are noticing – and covering – these damaging cyclones more because we are increasingly noticing what's happening in other parts of Australia (especially far-flung regional areas, where cyclones are more commonly expected) or whether Hurrican Katrina's impact and the fear of climate change induced bad weather are on our minds...


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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

When green is the new red

The mining and nuclear industries are getting themselves into a lather over Howard government plans to sell Australian uranium to China, and they are finding themselves unexpected supporters.

While the government is intent on approving the sale of Australian uranium to China and allowing them to explore for the mineral here, the ALP Opposition is happily singing along in the chorus. The idea of massive investment from China and profits from uranium exports is blinding every wannabe mining magnet and Canberra's finest to the dangers the industry poses to our land, water, air and children.

The wide range of dangers, from radioactive waste (mis)management, to the potential poisoning of our groundwater, to the possibility that China will use the uranium for its military nuclear weapons capability, seems to be pooh-poohed by the pundits for hire.

Instead, we are being sold on how much this venture would mean to Australia monetarily. (i.e. big business: the miners, the bankers, the lawyers, and the schmoozers – oh, lobbyists.) Next, I bet we will be told that the 'mums and dads' of Australia will benefit from uranium exports because their investments and superannuation funds will be making big bucks from backing those digging the poison out of the ground.

But the argument supporting the uranium industry that has the greatest potential to win over many more people is the green one. Yes, environmental concerns can, ironically, be the clincher as attention turns more and more to global warming and the massive impact of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels on our climate.

It is no secret that Lovelock, the originator of the gaia principle of earth ecology, argued that the threat of global warming from CO2 emissions was so serious that nuclear energy should be embraced to replace it. Crackpot nuclear lobbyists had to name-drop Lovelock after that.

However, more highly respected environmentalists and scientists argued against Lovelock's support for nuclear power, and put far more cogent arguments in favour of renewable energy such as wind and solar power. Tim Flannery was such one.

When I first blogged on Flannery's book The Weather Makers, I pointed out in the comments that Flannery argued against nuclear power because it is insufficiently effective and safe to be a viable alternative to coal power. I felt reassured that Flannery argued for wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy sources as far more desirable than nuclear.

Well, how things change. On 10 March, The Age reported that Flannery told a British audience that nuclear power would have to be embraced by energy hungry India and China to prevent CO2 emissions from skyrocketing and global warming increasing.

Despite insisting that Australia would have enough gas, solar, wind and geo-thermal power as viable alternatives to coal and nuclear, Flannery argued that Australia should sell its uranium to those who needed it.

Just before that Age report, we witnessed the ‘debate’ over whether India should be allowed access to Australian uranium without signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. After appearing to ride on Bush's coat tails in favour of doing so, Howard seemed to relent. India’s nuclear weapons programme seemed too hot a potato for the moment.

Three weeks later, we now see the Howard government whole-heartedly spruiking the impending uranium deal with China. Apparently because China is a signatory to the Treaty and such big business for Australia...

So far, I haven’t come across arguments supporting the nuclear deal based on global warming fears. Money is talking loudly enough for now. Only the Greens have raised the specter of China’s nuclear missiles, pointing to China’s threat to use them if the US intervenes over any dispute with Taiwan and the fact that Chinese missiles can reach Australia. (Don’t ask me why China would want to nuke one of the biggest destinations for its cheap exports…)

However, I don’t think it will be long before global warming will be trotted out as ‘exhibit A’ in favour of the nuclear lobby’s arguments. And this will become the most twisted legacy of global warming – an urgent global environmental concern will be used to legitimate nuclear energy and uranium mining, which have been for so long the antithesis of being green.

Just as anti-communism – that intense fear and hatred of the red invaders – legitimised the American embrace of nuclear weaponry and its corollary, nuclear power, in the advent of the Cold War, so will fear of the greenhouse effect be used to legitimate nuclear power. And so, green will be the new red.

The industrial powers that have directly caused the greatest global warming impact through CO2 emissions from fossil fuels will be the biggest voices in favour of legitimising nuclear solutions. It certainly won’t be the rank-and-file greenies or the community based environmental organisations like Friends of the Earth, whose fundemental platform has been no-nukes.

However, more and more the arguments of scientists like Flannery will be trotted to out support digging it out of the ground, carting it across the country and seas, and shoving it into fancy, super-expensive machines that boil water for steam to run electricity turbines. A nuclear powered steam engine. Welcome back to the nuclear age. It’s so twentieth century.

Only time, and a massive campaign for the hearts and minds of Australians, will tell if we turn a blind eye to history – to the dangers of nuclear power demonstrated by Chernobyl; to the incapacity of India to safeguard its citizens from industrial accidents or compensate them where it has failed – as in Bhopal and Union Carbide; to the refusal of a secretive, uncompromising and authoritarian state like China to deal transparently over nuclear matters – as seen in the parallel of the Soviet Union handling Chernobyl, or China dealing with its dissidents.

If not, we will have massive – poisonous – holes in the ground in Australia, processing and transporting plants that will be just more tantalising targets for terrorists, more Aboriginal people forced from their land by mining, and the constant fear that the cloud coming over the horizon is not a storm cloud whipped up by climate change but something far more terrible.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Yes, it's our ABC – demand more funding

While the threat to introduce commercial advertising on the ABC is off the agenda for now, the need to increase the public broadcaster's revenue has not abated.

Through various email lists (thanks Damian), I've learned of an online petition campaign run by GetUp calling for the Federal government to increase its funding to our public broadcaster in the upcoming budget. The GetUp campaign says:
Right now, the Cabinet's budget committee is deciding the ABC's funding for the next three years. ... As it stands, the ABC is $264 million poorer in real terms today than it was 20 years ago. The programs we rely on - from independent news and current and affairs to quality children's content - are under extreme pressure. In a very real sense, the integrity of the ABC is now at stake. ...

Let's show politicians in Canberra that the ABC's owners - the public - are prepared to stand up and defend it...
GetUp is now aiming for 40,000 signatures in the petition, so every click to the site will count!

You can find the petition here.

My friend Damian reminds me that that action for something as important as this needs more than signing an online petition, so please pass the word around by email, or on your blog; write to your local MP and/or Communications Minister Helen Coonan and other members of the cabinet (who will make the decision); and remember to tell your mates at the pub, the bbq, at dinner or at work about this important campaign!

Also try writing to the newspapers (an oldie but a goodie), calling talkback radio (my least favourite), and leaving positive comments on blogs (like mine) that raise the issues of broadcasting and a public funding for the ABC.

Yes, it is our ABC. So if we want to see a properly funded, relevant, fearless, un-cowed public broadcaster, then we need to do our bit.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Everyone can

Originally uploaded by Mark Lawrence.
This graffiti reminds me that there is hope that we can all pitch in and do whatever we can to make the changes needed to make our community happier and more connected, our democracy more robust, and our environment healthier and recover the excesses of industrialisation.

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Read early, read often and read for fun

Loobylu has a great post on books and reading to children. Some lovely ideas here, and the link to the State Library of Victoria blog on literature for young people has a great list of great ideas on reading by Nigerian novelist Ben Okri:
There is a secret trail of books meant to inspire and enlighten you. Find that trail.
In all the arguments over literacy and learning in young children, what makes sense is to read regularly to our children, start from an early age, and read widely too.

Most importantly, from my experience, is to make sure reading, books and stories remain fun and relaxed. Don't let it become a chore.

Now that my sone, J, has started school and is bringing home daily readers meant to help him learn to read, it has become more important to prevent learning and reading from becoming a pain, and keep the magic in reading and books!

Thinking about it, and the stack of books I've been trying to make time to get through, that advice applies to adults too!

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Monday, March 20, 2006

"I looked out at the weather and it was terrible"

Causing extensive damage as it hit the Queensland coast at Innisfail (south of Cairns; see the red pointer on the map below), Cyclone Larry is now making its way inlad over the Atherton Tablelands.

The satelite image from the Bureau of Meteorology website is certainly frightening, but looking at a map of the area and hearing the news on radio this morning has raised more cause for alarm: that part of Queensland's coast has many small towns and hamlets, all of whom would have suffered extensive damage from the cyclone.

There is more news at ABC Online here. There are calls for public support for the cyclone victims. Even as it is still unclear which non-governmental aid agencies are helping, generosity is still demanded of us. Though this doesn't mean we shouldn't be vigilant of which aid agencies we can really trust to get the urgent short-term and long-term rebuilding aid out to the remote communities – especially the Indigenous ones!

I was reminded of the quote from the Epic of Gilgamesh, the ancient Sumerian myth which has an incredible flood story, that Tim Flannery uses to start his chapter on rising ocean levels in The Weather Makers:
The evening came, the rider of the storm sent down rain. I looked out at the weather and it was terrible… With the first light of dawn a black cloud came from the horizon;… the God of the storm turned daylight into darkness.
No, I'm certainly NOT suggesting that Cyclone Larry was directly caused by Global warming and thus greenhouse gasses. I just find the parallels compelling.

Remember to think of the people in trouble.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Beyond the vegie patch

I've been interested in gardening, permaculture and self-sufficiency for a while now, especially in relation to how these practices can allow us to live simpler, more ecologically sustainable lives. While moving to a smaller unit with a tiny courtyard has put our medium-scale vegetable gardening on hold, I still wonder what it would be like to return to it, or do more.

Along a similar vein, this morning my partner and I were again speculating whether we could seriously make the tree-change to regional Victoria in our youthful years, rather than retirement years.

This was inspired by friends we had breakfast with, who are thinking of building a strawbale house in regional Victoria. It is interesting to learn that many other people consider these ideas.

Linda Cockburn and her family took it very seriously. They lived self-sufficiently for a year on one income and a home garden of food, generated their own power, and slashed what they bought from the shops to a bare minimum.

Cockburn's story and resulting book is very well covered and reviewed by
Loobylu, and it is well worth checking out the post and the many comments it got. (By the way, Loobylu has a beautifully designed and well-written blog, and she recently won the 2006 Bloggie for best Australian or New Zealand blog! Good on her!)

Meanwhile perhaps I'll go back to experimenting with creative gardening in pots and for a small courtyard, and try not to think of how it pales in comparison.


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Protests mark third anniversary of Iraq war

If you think the war in Iraq is not a good idea, you're not alone. ABC News online reports that there were rallies of thousands across Europe and large rallies in may cities in the US.

"About 1,000 protesters gathered near New York's Times Square" to denounce the war and Bush's administration; at least 15,000 attended the anti-war march in London; and about 2,000 protesters marched in Athens.

There were also rallies in Australia, but these were poorly reported in the media.

And Iraq continues to burn, with the situation there getting worse each month.

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"I cannot tell a lie, it was I"

No, it's not Chinese whispers, it's not pass the parcel, and it's not about getting good advice. The main game of the Howard government seems to be ensuring ministers can deny they were actually told that the sky was falling down around them.

Brisbane blogger Phil posted a excerpt from a New Matilda article on how government ministers are – or aren't – given information in the business of government:
From children overboard to AWB and all stops between, John Howard and his ministers have been accused of perfecting the art of not being told what they don't want to know. Now a former insider has spilled the beans on how it happens.
Go take a look. Thanks to David for the tip.

By the way, do you know the source of the quote in this post's title?

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Friday, March 17, 2006

Liar, liar! Pants on fire!

Again, the Howard government is caught with its pants down – lying again over its denials of previous knowledge of the AWB scandal. And denying it.

On ABC TV's Lateline programme last night, Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesperson Kevin Rudd outright called the PM a liar, as he believed that intelligence briefings released in summary to the Cole Inquiry ove
rwhelmingly demonstrated that the government must have be informed of the connection between Jordanian trucking company Alia and Sadam Hussein's UN sanctions busting activities – and thus Aussie sanctions buster AWB. The story is online here.

Howard has rejected claims he and his government ministers have lied. But then, they've denied lying to the Australian people over the children overboard matter, the real reason for waging war on Iraq (WMDs? Bull.) and numerous other occasions. (Don't you sometimes get the impression they're just getting through by the seat of their pants?)

I didn't believe them then, and I don't believe them now.

So, the 'Liar, liar, pants on fire' award goes to John Howard and Alexander Downer. Again.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Howard hoses down advertising on ABC

After a storm that threatened to break over talk of allowing advertising and sponsorship on our public broadcaster ABC, John Howard has quickly rejected that possibility.
On ABC radio this morning, I heard Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan trying to explain that the government was only flagging the possibility of the ABC Board allowing advertising down the track, and insisting that it was not on the government’s immediate agenda.
On John Faine’s show on ABC Melbourne, they reported that the idea was initially flagged by a government backbencher, but that Howard soon rejected the idea on the basis that the commercial broadcasters would oppose the move. Apparently, they would resent competing for the advertising dollar with a publicly funded ABC!
Well, pheew! I’m glad we don’t have to fight a long campaign to prevent commercial interests undermining the ABC, but isn’t it really telling that Howard’s motivation for opposing it is not pissing off the commercial broadcasters, rather than a principled support for an advertising-free, publicly funded, responsive, national public broadcaster.
Hmm. The principle of loving media barons wins.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

No! No! No! No ads on ABC! No more broken promises!

The Howard government's newly proposed to media ownership laws will not only threaten the diversity of media and public opinion in our country, it will also threaten the very heart of public broadcasting – by introducing advertising and sponsorship on the ABC, our only public broadcaster to be ad-free!

Nationals Senators are threathening to cross the floor over the proposals, but this time we musn't rely on the squirming deal-making of the likes of Barnaby Joyce. Concerted public action will be needed to stop this!

Lobby group Friends of ABC have whole-heartedly rejected the proposal, and very pointedly reminded us that the Howard Government promised at the last election (2004) that no advertising or sponsorship would be introduced on the ABC. This is a further example that this government cannot keep its election promises. Liars! Liars!

Friends of ABC have called for people to write to Senator Coonan (Communications Minister) or local members of parliament.

However much – or little – you think of letter writing campaigns, I think that every little bit will help to stop the errosion of our free, public, commercial-free, and interesting broadcaster!

Advertising is not the way to solve the ABC's funding crisis. It is incredibly disingenous of the Howard Government to destabilise the ABC by constantly cutting its funding and attacking its editorial integrity, and then turn around after 10 years later of these attacks and say, 'Here, if you're short of money, sell advertising time to increase your income'! This will no solve the ABC's problems!

According to the ABC News Online report, Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) federal secretary Christopher Warren said that "advertising on the ABC is an inadequate suggestion that will not only compromise the independence of the ABC, but also neglect the severity of the national broadcaster's funding situation".

He also said:
Once they put advertising on the ABC they will profoundly change the nature of the organisation that Australians know and love.
That is just what I'm afraid of!

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Indigenous protest on Wednesday - Stolenwealth Games – Black GST

I got this news from one of the email lists I'm on:

A rally for Indigenous rights and in support of the Black GST demands
will be held on Wednesday 15 March at 10:30 am, at the Old Exhibition Building, Cnr Gertrude and Nicholson Sts, Carlton Gardens, Melbourne.

They've offered more news on the Indigenous protest camp held to coincide with the Commonwealth Games:

The sporting event has been called Stolenwealth Games by the protesters to highlight the stolen Aboriginal land, stolen Aboriginal children and stolen wages that occurred since the invasion and colonisation of Australia.

The demands of the protesters are summarised with the words Black GST: that the attempted Genocide against Indigenous people be stopped; that Indigenous Sovereignty be recognised; that a Treaty be negotiated between the Indigenous nations and the British and Australian invaders.

The Indigenous protest camp was established with a ceremony lighting the Sacred Fire that was brought from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra.

The location of the camp is in Kings Domain, Linlithgow Street, off St Kilda Road, Melbourne (Melway Ref 2F K9)

The camp will be maintained 24 hours a day during the duration of the Stolenwealth Games. Supporters are asked to camp at the site or to visit the camp. Solidarity donations, including food and bottled water are appreciated. Supporters are asked to maintain a dry camp (no alcohol, no drugs) and to respect the Sacred Fire.

More info:

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Remembering Empire by the Sacred Fire

The Melbourne Commonwealth Games has begun to well and truly dominate Melbourne’s skyline, traffic, social concentration and energies. There is a lot going on, not the least being a sporting meet by countries previously colonised by the British Empire.

Is this the Empire Games? I certainly think that for a while there, it was, but Britain’s influence in the world is certainly diminished over time. The US has taken over the role of the world’s big empire…

Robbie Thorpe, Aboriginal elder with the Black GST campaign, has reminded us of the Commonwealth Games’ roots in the British Empire. The campaign wants to serve Queen Elizabeth II, who is in town to open the Games, with charges of war crimes and genocide against the Aboriginal people of Australia.

As he says, the war against Aboriginal people began in 1788 when the British Fleets landed at Sydney, stuck the Union Jack in the sand and declared the land theirs. Isn't that a declaration of war? And he goes on to ask when the war was declared over!!

That is why they also want a Treaty between the Aboriginal people and white Australia. Thorpe strikes me as a brave man, principled, highly intelligent and articulate too. He is pushing for something whose time hasn’t come yet, but it is only through steps like this that a Treaty will get on the mainstream agenda.

If you want to know more, and are in Melbourne, you can visit the Black GST’s camp, where they have lit a Sacred Fire, at Kings Domain (next to Sydney Myers Music Bowl, near Governor’s House). You can also find out more about the campaign here.

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Happy Labour Day

In the car coming home from Williamstown beach yesterday, my five-year-old son heard on the radio that it would be ‘Labour Day’ the next day (today). So, he asked his eight-months pregnant mum if she would be giving birth that day! Ah, out of the mouths of babes.

Today is Labour Day, a public holiday marking the anniversary of the
eight-hour day – eight hours work, eight hours rest, and eight hours
recreation – and celebrating the achievements of workers in Victoria.
It remembers the day when building workers in put down tools and
marched off the job to demand the eight-hour day.

It is usually marked with the Moomba Parade, a bit of a carnival in
the city, and people taking the opportunity to go off somewhere for
the long weekend. It is certainly a workers’ holiday, rather than a
workers’ holy day. (The later would be May Day for the trade union
movement and left activists here in Victoria.)

I get the feeling that the Melbourne Commonwealth Games has altered
that to some extent this year. In fact, it took a newspaper
advertisement to remind me that the Moomba Parade was actually on!
I’m not there – I’m too busy getting more than my fair share of eight
hours rest and eight hours recreation today.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

The awe of discovery

Derek Miller at had this to say about science, which really caught my attention:
Even when [scientific researchers] are highly opinionated, those opinions come from trying to understand what they can about the universe, and frustration with those who would rather believe something than discover it.
I think that would apply to a lot of human inquiry, wouldn't it?

And while you're visiting the penmachine blog, check out Derek's post on why DVDs 'suck'. He has totally hit the nail on the head, and expressed well what I've been thinking.

Though I'm still somewhat awed with the quality of DVD to feel as jaded as he does, since we only got our player last Christmas, and now we can actually rent movies from the (not)-video store again! (they had already gotten rid of most of their videos, and won't get new-realeases on video!)

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A woman who made the week's news

And what a week it was! The Labor Party threatens to tear itself at the seams, as those who sympathise with Simon Crean's bid to protect his pre-selection for his parliamentary seat made public their criticisms of the ALP's gormless leader (Beazley) and the party's destabilising faction fighting, while the right-wing faction criticised them for being public about it.

Julia Gillard has been especially vocal in her criticism of the factionalism and of Beazley. Perhaps she decided to take International Women's Day (which
was last Wednesday) to heart and come out of her corner fighting. I almost felt like cheering.

Still, I don't know whether to cry at the ALP's utter uselessness at focussing on getting Howard out of government, or cheer at the possibility of a massive overhaul and renewal. Julia Gillard for PM? Maybe a disintegration, then split, and the ALP left aligning with the Greens to form a new Social Democratic party? (No, I'm not holding my breath.)

If you believe Black Inc's new Quarterly Essay, you would doubt the worth of waiting for a Social Democratic ALP coming to save us. So says Clive Hamilton, in Quarterly Essay 21, What's Left? The Death of Social Democracy:
The Australian Labor Party has served its historical purpose and will wither and die as the progressive force of Australian politics.
What a fascinating idea. For many years, I thought the left of the ALP too weak and compromised to make its social democratic ideals work in practice – the party's right had too profound a control over policy and government under Hawke and Keating, and they pushed their economic neo-liberal agenda to the hilt. I believed ALP social democracy dead already.

Now, under a Howard regime, I've begun to actually mourn its demise in the rest of the ALP – to miss the semblance and vestiges of social democracy the ALP found convenient to perpetuate through the 90s. Gillard seems to remind me of it – its promises.

Hamilton seems to think the death is pretty self-evident (15 years after many of us thought so). Perhaps Julia Gillard and the rest of those from across the ALP spectrum who've taken issue with ALP factional 'warlords' are suggesting that the news of their death is grossly exagerated...

By the way, I marked International Women's Day by remembering to kiss my partner – while we were on the train going home after an outing in the City. It was a nice Melbourne day.

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Racism's tangled web

It has been an incredibly busy week. Although I've hardly had time to write, I have had time to read. Riding on trams between work and home is good for that.

This week, my Monthly arrived. I didn't get around to reading Robert Manne's article on how Howard's infatuated with America. I'm pretty tired of seeing Manne's name in print everywhere, described as "Australia's leading intellectual". His work is interesting enough, and at times very important, but he's not my favourite.

Instead, I read the piece by Chloe Hooper – a woman, younger (probably in my age range) and prepared to get out of the office and talk to people:
In "The Tall Man", the second of the March Monthly's major essays, Chloe Hooper ventures into Palm Island's heart of darkness. Attending the inquest into an Aboriginal man's death in custody, she finds a community on the verge of disintegration - violence, alcoholism, unemployment, poverty, misery - and wonders how the people of Palm Island will achieve justice and equality.
The man's death in custody sparked a riot on the Island, and I now understand more why. I nearly wanted to cry when I read Hooper's story.

Earlier this week, a prominent Aboriginal woman elder in Queensland was left lying on the footpath beside a Brisbane bus stop – ill and imobile after a stroke. Passersby didn't stop to help her, presumably because she is Aboriginal, and they probably thought she was drunk and dangerous. The Courier Mail reported (thanks to David for sending me that):
Buses came and went and hundreds of students and commuters walked past Delmae Barton's prone body at the bus stop at Griffith University's Mt Gravatt campus last Tuesday. [...]

Aunty Delmae, 62, has sung on stages around the world, performed with ballets and orchestras, even penned poems for prime ministers but, yesterday, with tears running down her cheeks, she recalled the shame of lying in her own vomit, unable to speak or reach out to passers-by.
She was finally helped by a group of Japanese students from nearby Griffith University.

You have to wonder at the threads that tie Australia in a tangled web of racism and fear.

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Friday, March 03, 2006

Ten years too long – or What is Racism 102

This week, John Howard celebrated ten years in power as Prime Minister of Australia. It is ten years too long. Amidst the celebrations, $7,000 a plate fund-raising dinners, backslapping and down-right smug gloating amongst the neo-conservatives, I was pleased to see in the news a mob of protesters outside one of these parties.

They were making life difficult for those attending Howard’s anniversary party, and noisily showing their displeasure at what ten years of Howard’s regime has meant to Australia. It was heart-warming to see people still wanting to remind us that Howard isn’t the bees’ knees and life is not peaches under the coalition. This was good because so much has happened in this past ten years, and it is hard to remember it all!

But the most profound reminder for me of what Howard’s decade has meant for Australia was a textbook on racism in Australia that I picked up at a friend’s place. Published in 1998, I was immediately struck at how a book can so quickly be out of date.

Despite its emphasis on the history of colonial Australia, its impact on the Aboriginal communities, and the trends in race relations and racial disadvantage in Australia since Federation, I knew the book wouldn’t have covered how much the last ten years has set back anti-racism and the struggle for self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people.

Think of it. Since 1996, we have witnessed the significant years of the Pauline Hanson years and the re-legitimisation of political racism; Howard’s denial of the Stolen Generations and refusal to apologise officially; the dismantling of Reconciliation by Howard; and the mainstream retreat from ‘land rights’ as protracted, uneasy battles over ‘Native Title’ devour our energies and scatter our attention.

And don’t forget that mortality rates and childhood disadvantage amongst Aboriginal and Islander communities are still worse despite 50 years of post-war industrialisation and currently unprecedented personal, corporate and government wealth.

Also in this time, we have seen asylum seekers and refugees, especially those from the Middle East and Afghanistan, derided and demonised as un-worthy ‘queue jumpers’, locked up in our most un-hospitable desert concentration camps or barbed-wire urban prisons, and/or deported to uncertainty, danger or death in the countries they fled in terror. Remember too SIEVE X, the Tampa, and the children overboard!

The war on terror is now escalating into alienating the Muslim community in Australia, and as has spilled into a debate over multiculturalism, citizenship and that old Howard favourite: Australian culture and nationhood. In short, racist politics has stood Howard in good stead. Some would say it has even kept him in power.

Ten years is a very long time in these days of shorter attention spans, poorer historical knowledge, whittled social memory, and short-term, quick fix perspectives on everything from business to fashion trends to policy making to social issues.

It is also a very long time in politics, especially here in Australia. When John Howard and the Liberal-National coalition took government on a wave of dissatisfaction with Keating’s Labor government ten years ago, some saw it coming, but most people (like me) just went ‘huh?’.

Before long, ‘huh’ turned to ‘ohmigod’ turned to ‘I can’t believe this’, then to ‘we have to do something’, which turned to ‘what do we do now’ and then to despair as – with one thing after another – the social, industrial, environmental and cultural vandalism of John Howard and the neo-conservatives re-shaped this country so profoundly.

As the accumulative affect of the Howard years pounds our national social conscience and consciousness to the verge of senselessness, and we forget how much has happened, it is probably a good thing that this little anniversary has come up.

It gives us the opportunity for reflection, the chance to take stock, remember what has gone before and where we’ve come from, and hopefully wake-up from our slumber and figure out where we are going.

And, as the protesters noisily reminded us a few nights ago, this is a time to remember Howard’s shame and reaffirm our capacity to do something about it!

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