Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Back to school

The kids are back to school in Victoria today. My eldest started Grade 1 this morning.

I don't quite know whether to laugh or cry.

Personally, I think it's pretty significant that he's started Grade 1. He's now in what I've described as 'real-school' (as opposed to Prep, which is preparing kids for school, surely…). But, whereas there was a sense of ritual and significance in marking such an important milestone as the Preps' first day of school last year, this year's start was quite anti-climatic. We didn't even get the chance to meet his new teacher. Yet.

And I keep wondering, 'where did that summer break go?' The new term seems to have just snuck-up on us!

Oh well. I'll have another 11 years of 'first day back at school' with the eldest. And another twelve with number two! Better get used to it.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Life in a box

It's been going round the blog traps, but I can't help mentioning it here as well: The Ad Generator creates fake advertisements from random images on flickr and sliced up bits of advertising jargon. If you're patient enough for the generator to plough through the chaff, there are some beauties in the juxtaposition of image and text.

But as I watched for that elusive single combination of image and text that screamed of great insight, to no avail, I realised it was about the whole exercise rather than any one image. I was captured, however, by the sheer ridiculousness of the language. Beauty in idiocy. Ad Generator's creator, Alexis Lloyd, says:
By remixing corporate slogans, I intend to show how the language of advertising is both deeply meaningful, in that it represents real cultural values and desires, and yet utterly meaningless in that these ideas have no relationship to the products being sold.
Found through Lawyers, Guns and Money and Barista. It's pretty ingenious.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Unfinished business

Despite the growing years of my living in Australia and my coming to call this country home, Australia Day will continue to remain Invasion Day to me. Instead of a day of 'national pride' – something that I used to think was an anathema to the 'national character' (if there is such a thing) – it is the day that marks when white Australia began its long and brutal invasion and occupation of this land and the displacement – and attempted genocide – of the Indigenous peoples.

Australia Day commemorates the day Captain Arthur Philip landed the First Fleet of convicts, soldiers and sailors at Port Jackson Bay, raised the Union Jack, formed a British penal colony and secured an extension of the British Empire – at the expense of the Aboriginal peoples of the area: the Gadigal, Cammeraygal, Eora and Wanegal peoples.

Rather than pathetic PR attempts to make us taking pride in 'being Australian' and embrace the celebration of Australia Day, about the only thing that has shifted my take on Invasion Day is the current practice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to observe this day as Survival Day – a day to commemorate their ancestors' heroic struggles to survive in the face of colonisation, and the survival of their culture and people. This is important because the abysmal relationship between the Indigenous peoples and mainstream Australia that continues to benefit from the years of colonial disposession has not yet healed. In fact, it festers.

In his Australia Day address, Foxtel chief executive and arts industry figure Kim Williams suggests that reconciliation as one of the most important issues facing Australia .

While a core of his speech looked at the role television and film storytelling play in "developing an understanding of Australian history and identity", he also talked about how that screen-based stortytelling explores meaning, life and purpose between Indigenous and other Australians.

I agree to a significant extent that storytelling – especially in the biggest medium of our times, the screen – helps us to approach the issues that Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians need to deal with. The fact that Ten Canoes, the first feature length film ever made entirely in an Indigenous language (Yolngu), won AFI awards says a lot about how well it was received by audiences, as well as the quality of the film making. Yet it is important to reflect that it came 218 years after invasion!

Another significant aspect of Williams's address is that Reconciliation is unfinished business. He points out:
In reading the previous 10 speakers and their addresses there was an almost consistent theme – the necessity of effective national reconciliation with Indigenous Australians.
Reconciliation is still unfinished business after 10 years under Howard because it will never be advanced, let alone completed, under his conservative, nationalist – and now openly assimilationist – government.

Survival Day looks like it will need to be a day to pursue the continuing survival of all our cultures – Indigenous and non-white Australian alike – in the face of Howard's new assimilationism.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Shake, shuffle and roll

Two things have made the headlines out of Howard's recent cabinet reshuffle – he has sacked Amanda Vanstone from his cabinet. She was rolled from her troubled position as Minister of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.

And Howard has re-named the portfolio the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. DIC. I think that's about right.

Amanda Vanstone was in charge of the most troubled Department in federal government as a number of debacles came to light. First, we discovered the detention of Australian resident Cornelia Rau in immigration detention – a mentally ill women wrongly accused of being an illegal immigrant and kept in the horrendous conditions at Baxter until asylum seekers there alerted refugee rights advocates of her condition.

Then, it was discovered that Immigration officials had deported an Australian woman of Filipino background
, Vivian Solon, to the Philippines – and then covered it up when they discovered the mistake!

The two cases exposed the Immigration officials as bullying, insensitive to the suffering of the people under their charge, and acting with one eye on the attitudes of their political masters rather than from their duty of care. It is quite rightly pointed out that
these incidents actually occurred when the Ministry was under the former Minister, Philip Ruddock.

However, while Vanstone initiated some 'reviews' and talked about changing the 'culture' of the department, I think she fundamentally took on a position of covering her government's arse – usually at the expense of the people who were ground through the mill of immigration detention and applications for asylum. She maintained the government's long standing hard-lined stance against refugees with the usual bullying denigration of asylum seekers who arrived by boat, and defended the unconscionable way they are held in detention. She should have been sacked a long time ago.

Who replaces her, however, is no better. Kevin Andrews is the Government's new DIC head. He helped deliver the government's new anti-worker Industrial Relations laws. And he will oversee the department, in its new incarnation, that will dismantle the many, many gains that multiculturalism has brought Australia.

The removal of 'Multicultural Affairs' from the portfolio and its replacement with 'Citizenship' is not just cosmetic. It signals the Howard government's
fundamental approach to winding back the efforts of migrants – who form Australia's diverse ethnic minorities – to win some space for our communities to practice our various cultures, foster our languages amongst our children, and help instill pride in our families' cultural practices in the generations succeeding those who came to this country with hopes for something better.

Howard and his followers celebrate and defend this move as a return to 'rationality' and assert 'integration' (into 'Australia') over the social and cultural disintegration they see in every incident of cultural conflict. However, in its essence, winding back multiculturalism is a return to the bad old days of assimilation.

However much the pundits wish to glitz this move as about 'integration', it's just plain old assimilation – ugly and hurtful, just as Howard intends it. Let's be
reminded that this was the man who criticised Asian immigration when he was Opposition leader back in the 80s (that old fear of Asian hordes 'swamping' Australia), and who played coy with Pauline Hanson's anti-immigration, anti-Asian, anti-Indigenous populism in the 90s.

Just so you know where we're standing in the 00s.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Flag burners unite

I wasn't able to come up with anything clever, insightful or helpful to contribute to the storm in a teacup that is the Australian polity's new-found passion for defending the honour of the Australian flag – against rock festival organisers.

Instead, I urge you to go read Tim's great tongue-in-cheek post on the matter over at Sarsaparilla. He just captures it so well.
If popular music is about anything, it’s about conformity, obedience, and respect for the values of the broader community. Waving an Aussie flag while moshing is a time-honoured tradition.
Do you recall any commentators or politicians condemning the Aussie rioters at Cronulla beach in 2005 for demeaning the flag with their racist violence?

Now, in case you think I'm exposing a double standard here – defending the right to free speech over t-shirts while suggesting that the Big Day Out organisers had some grounds to ban festival goers from waving around the Australian, or any other, flag – I'd like to draw a distinction between the freedom of
political expression and jingoistic, flag-waving ultra-nationalism – of the type so inextricably linked to white racism that we saw in Cronulla, or the Croatian and Serbian ultra-nationalism seen recently at Melbourne's Tennis Open.

For more context, I suggest you check out antipopper's 'Let it burn'.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

t-shirt politics, satire and free speech

There is no sublime in this ridiculousness. ABC Radio 774 AM talk-back this morning ran hot over the story of a man who was prevented from boarding his Qantas flight from Melbourne to London because he refused to remove his t-shirt (and put on a Qantas one instead). His t-shirt bore an image of George Bush with the caption "World's Greatest Terrorist" (or something like that). The passenger, Alan Jasson, 55, refused to remove his shirt and insisted on his right to wear what he wished. He says:
"I have a right to my political views and no one can take them away from me".
Qantas refused to allow him to board because they insisted the t-shirt's message would upset and insult other passengers and posed a security risk. When asked to explain its actions, Qantas claimed they had the right to prevent from its flights anything that threatened the security of the company!!! Since when was a t-shirt a threat to security? Because it criticises Bush? Can our culture stoop any lower in its obsequiousness to our American overloads? This is certainly an attack against free speech, and, importantly, political speech!

So, I'm sharing my little token of resistance (see above, published under my Creative Commons license) – particularly as many responses on ABC radio this morning were "where can I get that t-shirt?". If you're serious to get your mitts on a Bush-is-an-idiot type t-shirt, check out this listing of anti-Bush t-shirts on CafePress.

But, the anti-free speech wowserism doesn't stop there. We now have comedy and satire in the dock in New South Wales. While the story first broke when he was arrested and charged when performing his TV stunt, Chasers' War on Everything (ABC TV) comedian Chas Licciardello is back in the news "facing a Sydney court today, charged over a comedy skit filmed outside a rugby league game last year."

Licciardello pleaded not guilty to charges of offensive behaviour in a public place. "The comedian was arrested by police after they found him selling fake Bulldogs paraphernalia including knives, knuckledusters and flares," states ABC News online. He was basically running a gag on the violence in the rivalry between Rugby League teams – in the aftermath of "the incident which happened outside a game between the St George-Illawarra Dragons and the Canterbury Bulldogs at Kogarah."

It was a gag! He was poking fun at thugishness and violence in Rugby League, especially the supporters of a team with a reputation for violence against opposing teams' supporters – as demonstrated in the incident mentioned above. He now faces charges for offensive behaviour! How ridiculous can things get? I do think that one of the signs of intensifying conservatism in any society – and the stresses this creates – is increasing restrictions on free speech and scrutiny of artists, comedians writers, and the public generally. And especially when it stomps on its clowns.

I dread the time when we have to print 'Free Chas' t-shirts…

[Image by me, shared under the terms of my Creative Commons license. Feel free to download it and put it on your blog/website (print quality would be crap for anything large, sorry) or turn it into badges, but please do credit me and don't make money off it!]

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Labor proposes two year break from work to care for your child

ABC News Online reports that the "The Federal Opposition is considering a new policy to allow parents to ask for two years of leave after the birth of a child."

Currently, most workers can
request up to 12 months of unpaid leave – whether their employers grant them that much time is another thing, but most do get the full 12 months – on top of the 12 or so weeks of paid maternity leave that they may be eligible for.

My partner is currently on 12 months unpaid leave from her job, as she stays at home to be the primary care giver to our second child, who turned 8 months at the start of this month. I know that given the option, she would take two years. As it is now, she has to consider resigning from her job if she believes that our baby is too young to be placed in child care five days a week – or if she feels that she's not ready to leave him to return to work.

The ABC also reports that "Labor is also considering allowing parents to ask for part-time employment when they return to work." Personally, think that is a good idea too. Labor's policy coordinator Lindsay Tanner insists that the policy is still in its early stages, saying:
"This, along with everything else that's in the raw draft of our platform proposal, is yet to go through a variety of consultation processes, including with the party leadership and senior shadow ministers".

"So we don't know what the outcome of this will be, but I think this proposition will drive the debate forward."

What this probably indicates is that some in the ALP that think this is a very good idea, while others are afraid they will be painted as anti-business because of this. Positioning this as a policy 'idea' or plan in development allows them to backpeddle later if the flack gets too much.

As it is, the conservative Howard government is
already claiming the proposal will 'cripple' small businesss! Not unexpected from a government that prefers mothers just stay out of the workplace, and stay home to look after the kids – thus helping it to wash its hands of the crisis in child care availability and affordability! (In typical scaremongering, the government is also trying to link this policy with the threat of increasing unemployment and rising interest rates! sheesh!)

Alternatively, Labor could push it harder if the policy resonates with their core constituency: working families who are concerned with the 'work-balance' and how their working lives may hurt their family lives. Perhaps increase its popularity with working women/mothers who've abandoned the ALP for the Greens.

I think the key to making this policy gain traction with the community is to not just focus on how this will alleviate the child care crisis, or resolve the quandaries faced by parents who feel they aren't ready to return to work or that
their babies aren't ready for them to do so, but to focus on how this will allow all people to better balance their working lives with their parental responsibilities – and importantly to ensure this issue or policy isn't seen as just a women's issue but is acknowledged as one concerning men too.

I know there are many men – including friends of mine whom I've spoken with at length about this – who enjoy the time they take off from work to help raise their children – to the extent of becoming the primary care giver for their young child while their partner returns to work. Some take a year off, others decide to make it a permanent change, others return to work part time so they can continue actively raising their kids – each often feels it the best thing (though still the hardest or most challenging) they've done with their lives.

Let's have these men's stories come out in this debate, and let's make this a conversation about how each of us (whether male or female parents) can take the opportunity to raise our children more directly and continuously by taking time off from work to be with them – or at least know the option was there if we wanted to do it. And let's push it further: we should ask to be paid to do it!

[Image: famiglia, by

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I'm back, it's hot, and I'm raring for another year

Well, the Christmas silly season has well and truly passed, and the brown and brittle pine tree has been stripped of its shiny baubles, hand-painted paper angels, coloured lights and tinsel, and dragged outside to the driveway until I decide how we'll convince the garbos to take it with the usual rubbish collection.

And boy is it hot! Bush fires are raging once again in Victoria, threatening various towns in Gippsland and the Northwest, while Melbourne gets used to the idea of getting through summer like Manila, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok – with a permanent haze from burning forests.

While much was happening around the world, my family and I were blissfully unaware (or unconcerned) in our post-Christmas summer holiday – first on the beach at Philip Island, with of some friends of ours, where we enjoyed the sun, surf and sand – albeit with the usual UV protections.

Then, on our return to the city, enjoying Melbourne's favourite summer pursuits, including visits to the Museum (air-conditioning and stuffed animals. Hmm), gelati on Lygon Street, Carlton, a dip in the local pool, a visit to the Howard Arkley exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (at Federation Square) and spending time with family and friends.

Oh, and remembering how much I love jacarandas when they flower in summer! (See above.) They remind me of lush tropical hot weather – perhaps because I associate them with Brisbane, where I have family – until Victoria's dry heat withers all their flowers to a yucky indigo-brown.

All the same, no holiday can shelter us so completely from the world (nor should it). I couldn't help noticing, of course, how US President Bush is pushing to increase US troop deployments to Iraq (despite huge opposition from experts and the US public). Sheer idiocy.

Fear and Loathing
Nor could I ignore the fact that Australia is witnessing another resurgence of its ugly white racism and xenophobia – not so deeply buried in the redneck isolationist interior, after all. The community of Tamworth, in New South Wales, is rejecting federal government plans to increase the number of South Sudanese refugees it wants to resettle in the town and region as part of the Fed's programme of settling newly arriving refugee communities in regional towns and centres where they can become fodder for the factory farms, abattoirs and other regional industries.

With this issue, I found myself commenting on it as I was drawn into another fascinating conversation at Sarsaparilla about what Australia (and Australians) fear, and I said:
This issue is one that is still fraught for me – the city is still, to me, the place where migrants, refugees, and assorted ‘others’ and those of the peripheries find safe heaven from the racism of the redneck interior (can you guess I had unhappy experiences in rural and regional Australia?) – the centre is where, paradoxically, the decentred can secure safety, cultural autonomy and continuity and community.
Forcing newly arriving refugee communities, as the Australian govt is doing with the Sudanese, to settle in regional towns so that they are fodder for the factory farms and abattoirs is an anathema to me for that reason. Yet, it galls me that redneck Australia wants to still demand its purity and isolation be protected against black migrants…
What else am I afraid of? Bad drivers – especially now that I've started riding my bicycle regularly to work and I take my life in my hands whenever I have to move off the bike track or when drivers turn across the track ahead of me without looking for oncoming bikes – i.e me!!

Oh, and the Japanese whaling fleet is on its way to Antarctica to start butchering more whales. Again. Once again, I do hope that the the activists from Greenpeace and Sea Sheppard manage to curtail the hunt numbers again.

As you can see, I'm fired up and raring to go.
Happy New Year, everyone, and thank you for all your support and kind words for my blogging last year. I hope you keep coming back to visit my blog and share your insights with me and ideas for future posts. It's fun.


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