Thursday, July 26, 2007

NT 'emergency' – Aboriginal organisations put the alternative

This is not the time to let the feds off the hook over their shambolic 'emergency intervention' in the Northern Territory's Aboriginal communities. If anything, we need to keep attention on the issue.

A fundamental problem with the feds' intervention was that it attacks Indigenous self-determination. In direct contrast to this NT Aboriginal organisations, with the support of the wider community sector nationally, have put together an alternative plan to deal with violence, abuse and disadvantage in Aboriginal communities. They want the government to sign up to it – and implement it, of course.

We can help by supporting the Oxfam Australia campaign to pressure on the federal government to adopt their plan. Oxfam says:
"Revelations that there are deep social problems in many of our Indigenous communities are not new. Indigenous leaders have been warning for the past decade that a social crisis would emerge if federal, state and territory governments failed to provide Indigenous Australians with the opportunities and basic services other Australians take for granted: policing, primary health care, education, housing and real employment opportunities. We are now reaping what we have sown through the failure of successive governments to address the root causes of this crisis.

Now that this issue is finally on the national political agenda, immediate action is required to protect communities – and children in particular – while also addressing the underlying factors contributing to the cycle of abuse.

The Combined Aboriginal Organisations of the Northern Territory (CAO) has come up with such a plan and we are asking the federal and Northern Territory governments to adopt this plan as a matter of urgency."
The Oxfam site has the full plan and information on how you can write to Howard and Brough – and the Opposition – to get them to support the plan. The more noise we make in support, the better chance that Aboriginal organisations have of being heard.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A snake pit and a Rubik's Cube

Labor was rubbing its hands with glee over the weekend in the wake of Costello bad-mouthing the boss in the new Howard biography creating speculation of Liberal party leadership rumbles. Labor's Lindsay Tanner has been the most eloquent to date over the Liberal's leadership shambles:
"If the Howard Government gets re-elected, it's going to be a total snake pit, it'll be a complete internal free-for-all.

For years, John Howard's been there in his office with a Rubik's Cube, trying to find some future leadership arrangement that isn't Peter Costello.

So it's Peter Reith, it's Tony Abbott, it's Malcolm Turnbull, it's Alexander Downer. He's been furiously fiddling away. Now, if he gets re-elected that Rubik's Cube's going into meltdown."
You'd think that the ALP was laughing its way to the polling booths when the latest Newspoll was announced yesterday, suggesting that "a change of Liberal leadership would not improve the Coalition's election chances".
The poll shows that 60 per cent of voters say a Liberal leadership change would not affect their vote.

Twenty-nine per cent say it would make them less likely to vote Liberal, while only 8 per cent say it would attract their vote.
Then again, it's still a long way to the election and you'd think that Rudd wouldn't get cocky and stuff up, especially with many fervently hoping he wont. Too late, by the look of the blogospheric wrath at Rudd's forestry policy: an old-growth forest bulldozing deal with the devil (the forestry union). They probably calculated it would only lose the ALP a few votes in a Greens leaning seats in Tasmania and inner-city seats in Melbourne and Sydney. Are they so cocky that they didn't think it would lose them seats?

Ironic, considering one of the federal Labor's more eloquent frontbenchers, Tanner, nearly shat himself at the Green push last election. He shares similar boundaries (Melbourne) to Victorian MP and State Minister, Bronwyn Pike, who faced a huge swing to the Greens at the 2006 Victorian elections and barely holds the seat by 1.9%.

I wonder where the snake pit is now.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

When you just want to rush home and see your newborn baby

Why doesn't it seem so perfectly understandable that if you were an Indian doctor working in a Queensland hospital, and your wife had recently given birth to your first child by emergency caesarean far away in your home country, and you were anxious to see them as quickly as possible, to hold your first born child in your arms and whisper the Quranic sutras in his or her ears, as a good Muslim father must do, (and you're regretting that you weren't there to do so immediately, and you're wondering if your brother/cousin/father/brother-in-law did it correctly in your absence), and so you booked the first flight to India available the soonest you can arrange leave – and you settled for a one-way ticket.

Maybe it was the only option possible. Perhaps it was all you could afford at the time, and you would have to borrow money for the return flight. Maybe, just maybe, you were so sick of Queenslanders looking at you sideways and whispering worriedly to their relatives, or asking the nurse if they thought you could be trusted right in front of you – just because you are Asian – while you were giving them medical treatment. Perhaps you're just so sick of it that for a moment you entertained the idea of flying back to India, cradling your baby in your arms, and saying 'to hell with the money, Queensland is not worth it and I'm not going back'.

You know, I could see myself feeling like that. But we weren't expected to think like that. No, we were meant to see this a sign of guilt – of being a terrorist.

When Federal Police made a big thing about the fact that the Queensland doctor Mohamed Haneef had booked a one-way ticket to India immediately after news of the failed bomb attacks at Glasgow airport and elsewhere in UK broke, we were all meant to be suspicious. When they told us he was related to one of the terror suspects arrested in UK, we were meant to nod our heads sagely and think that these Muslims are tight as thieves, tricky and can't be trusted – thank goodness the police got him in time. Then, when they said that Dr Haneef had supplied his 'terrorist' cousin with a SIM card before leaving UK, and it was found in the jeep used in the failed bomb attack, we were all meant to be convinced.

As the Federal Police come under increasing criticism over their handling of the case they put together against the 27-year-old Indian registrar at Gold Coast Hospital unravels, we're left wondering what its about.

There is already a lot out there about the inconsistencies in the case put together by the Federal Police against Dr Haneeef – what some would call the outright misrepresentation of the evidence (the infamous SIM card issue) by the Federal Police when they put forward their case in the court in Brisbane. (Robert Merkel at Lavartus Prodeo has a good grasp of the ins-and-outs of the tenuous links made by the police between Haneef and the terror suspects arrested for the failed bombing attempts in the UK)

As the saga of the Queensland doctor Mohamed Haneef's detention, interrogation and subsequent charging and arrest unfolded, my unease that this was another case of the government making mileage from our fear of terrorism has grown. Perhaps it's because the case has been so badly botched by the Federal Police, and the spin so poorly handled by the Howard government, that I can't help but think that this man has been so badly treated for political gain.

At the heart of my suspicions is the beat-up about Muslims – again – and Indian doctors – again. Australia's Muslim communities already feel so under siege over the many associations between terrorists and all Muslims. Overseas-trained doctors, especially those from India, already face quite a bit of mistrust, fear and even outright discrimination from the Australian community after the infamous Dr Patel saga, where an overseas-trained doctor has been accused of terrible and deadly negligence at a Queensland hospital.

I think that this factor gets overlooked a lot. In what she called a "a dialogue of the deaf" in The Age today, Sushi Das has an excellent perspective on the Federal Police's failure to recognise cultural differences in their interrogation of Dr Haneef. They appeared deaf to the nuances of culture, religion, family, language, and accent when questioning him.

Perhaps this is not restricted to 'bonehead' policeman. Is the rest of white Australia prone to this as well?

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Howard's global warming swindel

It strange how there is fits and spurts of attention on global warming in the media. To me, it's unfortunate that such a crappy and clearly disingenuous documentary on the ABC got so much media attention, when there have been far more interesting – and accurate – things being revealed. Like how the Howard government's policy and approach to global warming is effectively written by the biggest carbon polluters in Australia.

Dr Guy Pearse, a Liberal party insider, has recently published a book, High & Dry, on how the Howard government's position on climate change has been influenced at a fundamental level by major greenhouse gas polluters – who are also big contributors to the Coalition parties.

I haven't been able to get my hands on the book, but
Pearse basically put in print what he said in an interview with ABC's Four Corners in February last year:
In my experience there’s no question that this access that the fossil fuel industry has enjoyed and their influence over greenhouse policy in Australia is extraordinary. They really have had the keys to the greenhouse policy car and the reason I’m speaking out is because I just don’t believe that’s in the national interest and I think people have a right to know that.
Crikey's Irfan Yusuf has covered the issue of the book's publication, its claims and the government's response well.

But this is not the first, or only, or most compelling book on how Australia's climate change policy is so compromised by the
relationship between the fossil fuel industry and the Howard government. Clive Hamilton, who has a long track record of exposing the dirt on this issue, had also recently published a book on this very matter. Hamilton's Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change is described by his publishers Black Inc. this way:
In Scorcher, Clive Hamilton reveals a shadow world of lobbyists and sceptics, spin and hidden agendas. He investigates a deceitful government and a compliant media. And he lays out the facts about Kyoto, carbon emissions and what governments and individuals might do, and have done.
Of course, Hamilton himself draws on Pearse's insider information and research into this issue for his own work on what he calls the
greenhouse mafia. All the same, here we have two books on how the government' approach to dealing with global warming and how our country should best tackle reducing greenhouse gas emissions is being driven by those with the most to lose from mandatory reductions to emissions.

So, why wasn't there significant media attention on this issue?

And why hasn't there been the media scrutiny of Howard's lame-arse carbon trading scheme, which he announced yesterday? The main criticism of it seems to be that it lacks a cap on emissions. It's all hoopla over emissions trading, but sets no targets for cutting emissions – the thing that scientists, analysts and environmental groups agree is most required to slow, let alone stop, global warming!

(Interestingly, the ABC News online has just reported on Pearse's criticisms of Howard's emissions trading scheme. It's worth a look.)

We'll have to wait and see if this scheme will get the same level of reporting and debate as that crappy doco.

[The photo of coal power plant in China is by Tobixen, used under GNU Free Documentation License]

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Happy (belated) birthday Shelley!

It was my partner Shelley's birthday last Thursday, 12 July, and I want to wish her – publicly – Happy Birthday!

I know, I know. It's quite a few days now since her birthday, and I'm very late posting this, but things were busy – not the least with helping to make the celebration of her birthday a lovely affair. (I hope!)

Anyway, I just want to thanks to you, Shelley. You're wonderful, and you make my life wonderful too!
And may you have many, many more years of health, happiness, laughter and love!


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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Water crisis to get worse as glaciers melt

If you weren't convinced that the disappearance of a freshwater lake in southern Chile is seriously bad news, then check out this report from ABC's Foreign Correspondent on the ABC site:
The glaciers in the Andes mountains of Bolivia provide about half the drinking water for two million people down the mountain. But the glaciers are now melting at an unprecedented rate and will be completely gone within 20 years.
That's freshwater for two million people.

Meanwhile, tackling the religious side of melting ice, Barista has a nice piece on the disappearance of the frozen lingam in Kashmir.

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Melbourne fog

Why I wish I had I had my camera with me when I walked out my door to catch the tram this morning. Thankfully, someone else did. Talk about a pea-souper!

Can you believe it is a bright, sunny, blue-sky afternoon now?

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Freshwater lake flushed out to sea

Would you believe that the area in the picture used to be a lake? It is mind blowing to think that the water in this two-hectare sized lake disappeared in the space of two months. It just got flushed out into sea! All that fresh water lost due to global warming.

The lake is in the Magallanes region in the south of Chile. When rangers checked it in March, it was as normal. When they returned in May, "they found a huge dry crater and several stranded chunks of ice that used to float on the water". When the lake's disappearance was first reported in June, geologists were speculating that geological disturbances were responsible.

Now, the BBC reports that it was global warming:
Experts now say melting glaciers put pressure on an ice wall that acted as a dam, causing it to give way.Water in the lake flowed out of the breach into a nearby fjord and then out to the sea.
According to glacier specialist Andres Rivera:
"On one side of the Bernardo glacier one can see a large hole or gap, and we believe that's where the water flowed through."

"This confirms that glaciers in the region are retreating and getting thinner."

"This would not be happening if the temperature had not increased."
Apparently, the lake now seems to be filling up again, most likely because the slabs of ice left on the lake bed are melting. You can compare the before and after images on the BBC website.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Even one illegal detention is too many

247 people in the space of 14 years. That is how many Australian citizens and "legal visa holders" have been wrongfully detained by Australia's Immigration officials, according to the Commonwealth Ombudsman's report into immigration "detention bungles" in Australia from 1993 and 2007.

The federal government is scurrying to damp-down the issue, and it appears that the mass media has failed to push the story very far since it broke yesterday – bar the few ABC radio news items and their online report. Unfortunately, the main thrust of the issue being picked up in the media is how it can potentially cost tax-payers millions of dollars in compensation paid to the victims of wrongful detention.

What concerns me most is that such a serious issue as the wrongful detention of people – and the trauma they may have experienced – should be so quickly reduced to how much it may cost the government financially. As the Ombudsman, Prof. McMillan, said:
‘The loss of freedom through detention can have grave consequences for the individuals and their families. There should be nothing short of a careful and lawful exercise of the power to detain a person, characterised by thorough attention to detail and ongoing review of any decision to detain a person. Unfortunately, this was not the case in the majority of these matters’.
It really upsets me to think that those of us living in Australia who come from non-Anglo migrant backgrounds, or who may be visitors from overseas, could be so easily accused of being here illegally and locked up, maybe deported – even with the protection of citizenship – due to the most shoddy of practices and processes. It's upsetting to think that being non-Anglo could make this a greater likelihood, as we saw with Vivian Solon, or having a mental illness, as we saw with Cornelia Rau.

I wonder how many of those wrongfully detained were American, Dutch or British backpackers who couldn't provide the correct papers after being picked-up by cops for a drunken night out, or were arrested at some strawberry farm for not being able to prove they were working legally. Not many, I bet. Comparatively, I wonder how many of them were of Asian, African, Middle Eastern, South Pacific or Latin American background. It is very hard to shake off the sense that Australia's immigration policies and practices are still so fundamentally racist.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Rainbow's end

Last Saturday, we drove through the end of a rainbow. My family and I were driving through light showers – on a sunny afternoon – from Hepburn Springs, and the rainbow was bright and colourful. What got us excited, though, was that we could actually see the rainbow's end. Both ends, actually!

Arcing ahead of and above us, the rainbow kept ahead of our car, with one foot in the pasture on our left, the other foot in one on the right of the road. Then as the road angled, it seemed as the end of the rainbow was right ahead of us.

This led to a bit of speculation over whether we would actually reach the rainbow's end, and what that would be like. My eldest son, who's six, wondered if the rainbow would smash into thousands of shards and pieces, like glass. He was tickled to think that a couple of sheep he saw frolicking (a rare enough sight!) in a field had gone crazy chasing the rainbow's end and smashed into it.

I thought we would never reach the rainbow – that the illusion would keep elusively ahead of us, hence the aphorism 'chasing rainbows'.

Much to our surprise, it seemed as though our car passed right through the end of the rainbow touching the road – and to our delight it happened again as the rainbow took shape ahead of us again. I have to say, it was a very exciting moment.

By the way, we were driving home from Hepburn Springs after visiting our friends Andrea and Liam, who had just had another baby, their third, three weeks ago – congratulations on the arrival of lovely little 'L' (a boy)! May you have many exciting rainbow days too!

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