Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Small joys in life

Coalition crumbles, leaderless and lamenting
It is this title of Michelle Grattan's article in today's Age that sums up why I'm feeling so pleased today, despite suffering a cold that won't let go its giant-squid tentacle grip on me, really bad hay-fever over the weekend away, and various other physical vestiges from the wedding.

And being able to read blogs, and write,

Makes up for the knife-edge wait to see if Victoria gets its first Greens senator, and whether the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate.

Labels: , , ,

Read more!

Thanks, Bennelong!

As I'd previously said, we were away for a wedding on the weekend (Congratulations Andrea and Liam!), and so I wasn't able to blog the election results as they became evident. That has not stopped me from being incredibly pleased with the result!

I did a naughty thing at the wedding celebration, held in the garden of A & L's new home: I brought a little portable radio along, and from about 5.30 pm on, after the polling booths had closed in the Eastern states (with daylight savings!), I would occasionally duck off to a quiet spot and check ABC Radio 774 AM to see what the news was.

It was not so much excruciating, as a test in patience. As the evening progressed, I would dampen my enthusiasm by reminding myself that exit polls "have a checkered history" as the ABC reported, that with only 20-odd per cent of the vote counted it was too early to see a swing, that the WA polling booths were still open, that while Howard could possibly lose his seat, the count could change when they started counting from booths from more conservative suburbs etc etc.

It was only after over 50% of the vote had been counted did I dare believe that Labor had truly won the election. And even then, it I felt a bit numb.

But I couldn't dare believe that Howard lost Bennelong - even after one of the wedding guests returned in the evening to announce that news, to everyone's joy, I went to double-check with the ABC on radio, and they wouldn't call it, as it was so very close!

Three days later, they still won't call it. However close the result, I am very thankful to the people of Bennelong (well, 51.7% of them), who voted against John Howard in favour of Labor's Maxine McKew. If Howard really loses Bennelong, this will be only the second time in Australia's history that a serving Prime Minister has lost his seat in an election!

I'm disappointed that by the time we left the party, got back to our rented cottage, got the sleeping kids out of the car and into bed, and turned the TV on, I had missed Howard's concession speech (saw the tail end of him making his exit through the crowd). At least I caught Rudd's 'victory' speech – probably the only upside to Queensland not having daylight savings. But I agree with Barista - it was a rather pedestrian speech. Nothing to write home about, really. And Barista's right about the fact that election night belonged to the Labor women.

What made up for it all is that we came home on Sunday afternoon to the front page of
the Sunday Age with this headline:
Rudd romps to historic win as Howard is humiliated
I think I'll frame that.

Labels: , , ,

Read more!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

We are away

...for a wedding today, so I can't post much on the election. Mixed blessing, perhaps.

Read more!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Election 102 – or 'Don't hold your breath'

Okay. It's two days to go and I've laid my cards on the table and shown how I want a change in government – mainly because I believe we need a change in the country.

But don't get me wrong. I am under no illusions over what an ALP government can or will achieve in these issues. For all Kevin Rudd's talk of 'New Leadership', the ALP still supports mandatory detention of undocumented asylum seekers, and sees itself as a party that can wage war against terrorists, whether in Afghanistan or Southeast Asia, rather than make peace with the poor. Kevin Rudd supported the government's NT Intervention in Aboriginal communities, and their treatment of Dr Haneef, and while Rudd's policy on cutting greenhouse gas emissions is far better than Howard's, it falls short of what is urgently required now.

I am also under no illusions because I remember how much I hated the Keating ALP government when it was in power. Admittedly, I was younger, more radical in my politics, and heavily involved in the education campaigns of the day – against Keating's HECS increases, moves to replace Austudy with a loan scheme, and the bottom-line driven underfunding of universities. I also opposed the Keating ALP government's collaboration with the Suharto regime over Indonesia's occupation of East Timor, the ALP's support for the PNG government's war in Bourganville, and Hawke's support for the first Gulf War.

It is amazing what my memory can dredge up when I bring my mind to it.

I vividly remember how much my friends – especially fellow activists – and I hated the way the 'lawyer-dominated', right-wing of the ALP so profoundly controlled the party and federal government, and how we detested the economic-rationalist zealotry of the '80s-'90s that changed this country in a mean-spirited, money-grubbing, bean-counting way. Does that sound familiar to you? Deregulation and free trade meant thousands of manufacturing workers losing their jobs, and why you can barely find a wool jumper made in Australia in the shops these days. Or anything else made in Australia that isn't designer-, boutique-, or hand-made, for that matter. We also saw the deregulated finance sector squeezing low-income people where it hurt – with account keeping fees and increasing transaction fees.

It was 'economic rationalism' in the early 90s. How different will it be from Rudd's 'economic conservatism' of today?

We witnessed (with mockery, mind you) how lefty and union ALP members and supporters shook their head in disbelief and waited for the day when the their beloved party would forsake its right-wing capitalist turn and return to its roots. Hah. Do you see that happening under Rudd's economic conservativism?

Why am I saying any of this is now? After all, there is an almost palpable fear amongst those who want to see Howard defeated that if we were to speak the truth about what we fear of Rudd's ALP, that the spell will break and Howard will not be defeated. There is a belief that Rudd is only saying what he needs to to get into power – hence his 'Me Too'-ism – and then everything will change and come out all right after the election. And there will be a return to the ALP long hoped for by the True Believers. And milk and honey will flow down the Yarra.

You could say that the nation waits with baited breath, for the massive change to come under Rudd. But I don't. We will probably let out a collective sigh of relief. But then the hard work of rebuilding will come. And, for all his talk of education and infrastructure revolutions, I think Rudd is an incrementalist, rather than a revolutionary.

That is why I've come to the opinion that who holds the balance of power in the Senate will be more crucial that we think. Whoever does so will have the power to push through stronger responses to climate change than the government is prepared for, to temper cost cutting so that it doesn't hurt the disadvantaged, to to insist on more far-reaching changes to the industrial relations regime, and to ensure we don't turn to nuclear power at the expense of renewable energies. And of course on the range of other matters I raised when I expressed why and how I believe this country needs to change.

When I've raised this with friends and colleagues, I'm greeted with 'The House of Reps is what matters', or 'Oh, no, it's not a shoe-in, the ALP is not guaranteed government,' and 'Now's not the time to be voting Greens!'.

But I think many people do get it - perhaps far more deeply than I do, and more realistically. It would explain, for one, the financial and moral support some trade unions are offering the Greens for this election.

I admit that a return to power for the Howard government, or a Costello government if Howard loses his seat or retires, will be devastating for Australia – and the world, if Australia fails to support the development of a credible, viable international agreement to stop global warming.

And, while I'm not convinced that a Rudd government will bring us the groundswell of social, political and economic change and renewal that this country needs, I do believe that a growing majority of people sincerely do want that change – that they're not just toying with a change of government because they're bored with Howard. This is something that the media commentators have not given voters credit for.

But it is a question of when people will start being disheartened with a Rudd labor government not fulfilling the hopes of people (rather than the promises they've made, which are pretty slim so far…) for the change we seek.

And then we will see the first disagreements with the new government – over how far they're prepared to dismantle WorkChoices, how far they are prepared to cut greenhouse gas emissions, how soon they will bring the troops home from Iraq, and whether they will support more asylum seekers to settle (without trauma) in Australia. And that's also when we see the Senate, and those who will hold the balance of power, come into play.

I'm not sure which will be the first major, defining fight that will end the
(hypothetically future) Rudd honeymoon – the split between the unions and (hypothetically future) Rudd government over Workchoices, or the split with the green movement over greenhouse gas emissions and the Bali negotiations. But it will come.

And then hopefully, we'll more and more come to realise that we – each of us, individually and together – will have to make the change we want, and not just proxy it to our government.

Labels: , ,

Read more!

Election 101 - or why we need a change

Regular readers would have no doubt about how I feel about John Howard and the Coalition government. You would think though that with this election bearing down on us, I would have written a lot more about it than I have. Perhaps it's just exhaustion – by the time the 'real' election campaign took over from the 'fake' campaigning, I was pretty much sick of it all.

That hasn't stopped me from following what I can in the news, especially ABC radio most mornings, some online reporting and the weekend papers. In all I've been digesting what this election means to me. Not deliberating who should win government – I know full well who I don't want to form government. But more reflecting on what this election means for me, my family, and the kind of community and country I want to raise my sons in. What has spurred me to now write on the election so late in the piece is actually what John Howard has been saying of late.

In trying to scare people over the dangers of changing the government when, as he believes, his government has been running the country well all this time, Howard has been warning us that changing the government will change the country – as if that were such a terrible thing!

I do what this country to change! In a fundamental, profound way.

I believe that the decade of Howard government has changed this country, and as I struggled to express how and why I think so, I find that Pavlov's Cat has already done a fine job of expressing it:
But we've now had eleven straight years of a government that has stayed in power by shamelessly playing to our weaknesses and our worse natures: self-interest, literal-mindedness, mean-spiritedness, fear and greed. And after eleven years of fear and greed being indulged, reinforced and rewarded by policies (and their accompanying rhetoric) in, especially, economics and immigration, you have to worry about what it's done to us as a people: positive reinforcement is a powerful thing, for better or worse. We all take it for granted that it is we who create the government, but that relation is actually a complex two-way street, involving the re-calibration of personal assumptions and the re-setting of social norms.

I believe that Australia is at a tipping point – after over a decade of 'head-in-the-sand' denial and inaction overy global warming by Howard, we cannot afford for Australia's government to drag its feet on real action on global warming. The next three years – not decade as I've previously thought – is when we must make the necessary changes to our economic, consumption, and social practices to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

We must stop the Howard government from prevaricating over our need to wheen ourselves from carbon-dependency and hamstringing renewable energy in order to shore up their mates in the coal and fossil fuel industry. We must also stop global warming being the excuse to unleash the nuclear power genie.

After a decade of the Howard government, Indigenous life expectancy is 17 years lower than the rest of Australia. Life expectancy (and other well-being markers) amongst indigenous peoples in Canada, USA and New Zealand has improved – why not Australia? This government has derailed Reconciliation and Indigenous self-determination, and allowed this situation to worsen.

On top of that, it has undermined the Racial Discrimination Act and the Northern Territory Land Rights Act to pursue its pig-headed, machismo Northern Territory Intervention – which is simply another attack on Aboriginal self-determination, something it has been chipping away at since it came to power.

When the news that the Navy had rescued some people from a leaky boat of the Western Australian coast, I was concerned for a moment that we would witness another Tampa – that the government would finally have its dog-whistling moment to finally wedge the Rudd Labor Opposition and win back voters through a fear of the Asian invasion, the Muslim menace or terrible terrorist. Thankfully, that hasn't quite happened.

For all the talk of economic conservatives, interest rates and budget surpluses, I still believe that this election will be an accounting of how the Howard government has treated asylum seekers, especially their mandatory detention in god-forsaken desert concentration camps, curtailed our rights and freedoms in the name of the war on terrorism, and marginalised the Muslim, African and Asian communities. And let's not forget the fictitious Weapons of Mass Destruction and the war in Iraq.

Despite the Howard government's much lauded economic credentials and the celebrated economic 'prosperity', Australia has become more unequal in significant ways. More young people, low income earners and first home buyers are locked out of home ownership. Australians owe far more today on credit cards and personal debt, which suggests to me that people are struggling financially. Despite lower than historical interest rates, households are paying more of their incomes in interest weekly repayments. And this on top of the increased insecurity, disadvantage, inequality and tension in workplaces since WorkChoices came in! Let's make economy work for us, not the other way around!

This election not just about making government accountable and answerable to the people of Australia. It is not just about who can reign-in the increasing cost of living, or who can help making housing more affordable for those of us locked out of buying our own homes one – although these are really important to many of us right now.

It is about ensuring there we tackle the urgent crisis of globbal warming, that our future is not of a parched, burned land with dwindling biodiversity, and neighbouring nations who have the seas lashing at their doorsteps.

This election is about the change we need. It is about the kind of future we want for our children.

[Image is one of mine (cc) used earlier this year]

Labels: , , ,

Read more!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cut your teeth on fairy tales

This morning, my eldest son, Jacob, asked if there really is a tooth fairy. Actually, what he really asked was, "Did you sneak in my room last night and take my tooth?".

We were all huddled in the bathroom, with the adults overseeing the kids' teeth-brushing, hair combing, face wiping thing, and talking about what the tooth fairy had brought Jacob last night in exchange for the tooth he had lost, his third. When he asked us, his mother and I were a bit taken aback. The looks we gave each other were that almost frantic parent semaphore: do we tell him the truth, or do we try to shore up this one more childhood myth and keep him a little boy just that bit longer?

We tried to put off the question, or rather the answer, for a little bit. I played at being surprised. "Why do you ask?", "What do you think?" He wouldn't be put off. He's a smart kid. He asked outright again, and it was clear he really wanted to know.

So, his mother told him the truth. I knew she would (even if I was too chicken to do it). She believes it is more important to be truthful to kids – when they need that honesty – than to shore up adults' sentimentality about childhood's innocence. Jacob looked pleased as punch to have discovered the truth about the tooth fairy – to have found his parents out and unlocked some secret parents' business. It wasn't really out of the blue though. He had asked his mother a day or so before if the tooth fairy were real. Which says to me he'd been working on this line of thought for a while.

So, last night my eldest son has passed another milestone of growing up: he lost another baby tooth. But he has passed another, more significant, milestone this morning: readily giving up one of those traditions that mark young childhood, his belief in the tooth fairy. Perhaps seven really is the age of reason after all.

I am a bit worried, though. Now we can no longer blame it on the tooth fairy if he's not please with the going rate for milk teeth. And he's going to come negotiating directly with us in future!

And I wonder what will happen to Santa Claus this Christmas?

[Image by Walsh (cc) ]

Labels: , ,

Read more!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bangladesh under flood

The horror that Cyclone Sidr created in Bangladesh is set to get worse, as the death toll is expected to pass 5,000. The Bangladeshi Red Crescent Society has already retrieved 3,000 bodies, and estimates that the toll could reach 10,000.

Villages have been flattened, survivors are traumatised, and the threat of water-borne diseases rises as both animal corpses and human bodies remain in flood waters. The problem of getting emergency relief and aid to the survivors continues, especially along the southern coast, where the category 4 cyclone hit. It has been described as 'catastrophic'.

But I'm sure you already know all that. Beyond this information from online news sources, however, I couldn't get much more. There was the usual about how the international community is pledging millions in aid and emergency relief, and how this is being called a 'calamity'. I wanted to know more about how the Bangladeshis are facing this tragedy, and what they are saying needs to be done.

So, I went in search of blogs and reports from Bangladeshis – either in Bangladesh or amongst the diaspora. Of course, the electricity supply in Dakha is unreliable, and pretty much out of action in the rest of Bangladesh, so this understandably makes new blog reports a little thin.

I did, however, find a blog that features posts by Bangladeshi women learning new skills – including blogging! – through the Nari Jibon Project. It also has some updates on the cyclone from the project's US supporter, Kathryn Ward. She hopes that the electricity will be back on within a week, but if it's not, she intends to get the women's stories of the cyclone over the phone from the US and post them on the blog. So, there should be more coming up there in the next week.

There's more news and posts via the blog aggregator, Global Voices, which promotes blogs from across the world, especially Asian, African, Latin American, Eastern European and Pacific voices. (This is a welcome change from the blogs I usually read. 'The world is talking', as they say, 'Are you listening?' )

Blogger Rezwan, originally from Bangladesh, has aggregated a bunch of news and posts on Cyclone Sidr for Global Voices, including information on how Bangladeshi bloggers followed the cyclone as it hit the coast. There are more updates at Rezwan's blog, The 3rd world view.

If you don't want to stand by helplessly, Rezwan has some good insights into the international aid needs for cyclone-hit Bangladesh.

Medicins Sans Frontieres Australia have not yet announced a specific appeal for Bangladesh, but if you're looking for a reputable emergency relief and aid agency that puts most of its donations into helping those in need, rather than in advertising or admin, then I'd suggest supporting their work.

The same goes for Oxfam Australia, who have launched a specific Bangladesh appeal, and are providing information on what they're doing there.

[Satellite image of Cyclone Sidr about to hit Bangladesh from here]

Labels: , , ,

Read more!

Global warming – the next three years will determine our future

The news broke over the weekend that the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s new report says that climate change is "unequivocal", and may bring "abrupt and irreversible" impact. The report is a synthesis of the three previous reports by the panel, the winner, with Al Gore, of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

I have to admit that today's sweltering temperature in Melbourne – the first of many hot days expected this season – and the news of the devastation Cyclone Sidr brought to Bangladesh, have helped focus my mind on the IPCC's report.

The IPCC is trying to alert us to the fact that the changes caused by global warming are worse, and occuring sooner, than originally estimated. According to BBC Online, the IPCC projections include:

  • Probable temperature rise between 1.8C and 4C
  • Possible temperature rise between 1.1C and 6.4C
  • Sea level most likely to rise by 28-43cm
  • Arctic summer sea ice disappears in second half of century
  • Increase in heat waves very likely
  • Increase in tropical storm intensity likely
According to Time magazine, the IPCC reports,
that the world would have to reverse the rapid growth of greenhouse gases by 2015 to avert the worst consequences. The clock was running. "What we will do in the next two, three years will determine our future," said Pachauri [the IPCC's chairman]. "This is the defining challenge."
The challenge is for all of us, not just for our political leaders (in or out of the Bali discussions), as the press would have us believe. Election or not, we cannot afford the parties to manipulate and politic the issue of global warming into justifications for inaction. Or poor action.

Labels: ,

Read more!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Arsehattery – and other matters of concern

I'm not ignoring the fact that I blogged little the previous week – okay, not all at. My excuse is that my parents were in town for the week for the celebration of the 50th wedding anniversary of one of my father's sisters and her husband, who live in Melbourne.

To make up for it, I'm sharing a number of great things I've found online this past few days.
Ampersand Duck has made these great posters – printed on an old press, mind you – and is selling them via here website:
You can find them on AD's website here. She has, thankfully, given permission for the digital image to be used.

Barista has written a brilliant post to mark Norman Mailer's passing, including this paragraph, one of the best pieces of writing I've read all year:
In my smaller, Anglo-saxon petit-bourgeois parvenu immigrant soul, I have never been able to comprehend literary lions, those agonised, bellowing carnivores of the literary Serengeti, obsessed with fame, breeding and marrying and writing seemingly by priapic impulse. I see myself as a kind of short-sighted giraffe, munching leaves above it all, blurrily vague on the details, tripping knock-kneed and spindle-legged on bones and burrows. Mailer and his vastly gushing American mates demand their faces carved in stone on mountain tops, while I want to amount to the proverbial hill of beans. I am content to survive, and I celebrate those who want more.

Barista's also exploring his dark side in a theory he's got – what I'd call the 'chaos theory of world domination' – in a post on the the messes the US is creating in Iraq, Afghanistan etc being deliberate.

While Barista suggests that the US doesn't have an exit plan from Iraq because they have every intention of creating a permanent presence there (in the relative security of superbases), Get Up is running a new petition campaign, fronted by two young women who have felt the brunt of the war on terror and the war in Iraq, calling on Howard to announce his strategy for extricating Australia from Iraq – one that is independent of US interests.

Meanwhile, as I couldn't make it to the Walk Against Warming last Sunday (as my parent were in town and we had family commitments), I was very happy to hear that it got up to 30,000 people in Melbourne!

To make up for now doing the walk, I'm going to get my bike fixed and starting riding to work again - as often as I can (I'm under no illusions over how unfit I am!). Stay tuned for more cycling posts.

If you're in Melbourne and looking for something to do this Saturday, and you want to tell the Howard Government and its Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews that you won't forgive its shamefully racist and opportunistic move to stop the intake of refugees from Africa because of groundless accusations of African refugees not 'settling into' the 'Australia way of life', then I suggest you go along to the 'Big Day Out Against Racism', a community festival to 'Support African Communities' organised by Racism No,
who say "We reject the Federal Government's attempt to isolate and marginalise the African community in Australia, and its targeting of the Sudanese community in particular.":

Big Day Out Against Racism
Saturday 17 November 2007 at 4 pm
Nicholson Campus, Victorian University
Corner of Nicholson and Buckley Sts, Footscray
With music and more. Details on the Racism No website.

Labels: , , , , ,

Read more!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Australia is now a world leader in unaffordable housing

And you can bet that this is something that has bothered the hell out of me and my family.
There has been extensive coverage of rocketing prices in Melbourne and Australia, and it appears there is something to complain about. Prices in Melbourne have more than doubled in a decade. And interest rates in Australia are now the sixth-highest in the OECD. They are higher than in Britain, US and most of the EU.

Australians paid 6.6 times the median household income for a median-priced home.
Yes, those who have already bought their houses and have high mortgages are feeling the pain from the recent interest rate rises, including last weeks'. But for those of us who feel locked out of being able to buy our own homes, the news of Australia's, especially Melbourne's, increasing infamy for poor housing affordability just adds to our continuing demoralisation. And further pain.

The Age has the story here.

Labels: , ,

Read more!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Australia's greenhouse emissions increasing

I knew that the Coalition's Environment Minister, Turnbull, couldn't be trusted when he kept claiming that Australia was leading the world in reducing its greenhouse emissions – despite not signing the Kyoto Protocal (thus making that okay).

Now the government has been caught out by the World Bank new report – now how can they dispute the authority of that body?
clipped from www.theage.com.au

The bank report shows that between 1994 and 2004, Australia's annual emissions of carbon dioxide (the world's main greenhouse gas) increased by 107 million tonnes, or 38 per cent. Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared yesterday that Australia was "leading the world on climate change".

Australia's emissions grew by more than the combined increase in emissions by Britain, France and Germany, which have 10 times our population.

In Denmark, which has become the world leader in wind energy, carbon dioxide emissions fell by 9 million tonnes, or 13 per cent.

Australia's emissions are high largely because it relies on heavily polluting coal for electricity; specialises in energy-intensive industries such as aluminium; has a large car fleet with poor fuel efficiency; and lags behind Europe in energy efficiency standards for buildings and appliances.
 blog it

Read more!

You can't buy social change

Every so often, I'm reminded of why WorldChanging's Alex Steffen is on of the most insightful and influential environmental thinkers (not just writer) in the blogosphere. This time, he has nailed on the head the strong discomfort and concern I've been feeling for a long time about the recent popular tendency to individualise responses to – and responsibility for – global warming:
The privatization of responsibility for the crises we face is entirely understandable. Making planet-saving a consumer choice helps sell products. Making it a lifestyle choice mutes political pressure for change. Making it an individual responsibility helps deflect attention away from the massive impact, ethical bankruptcy and extreme profitability of the unsustainable production, transportation, energy, food and construction systems upon which we depend and over which we currently have essentially no direct control.
In a nutshell, Stefen challenges us to move beyond our tendency to express 'Be the Change' as 'Buy the Change'. You can't shop your way to social change.
In this context, Be the change in fact usually means Buy the change. It means living a standard consumerist lifestyle, but varying the products one consumes to include "green" clothes, cars and furniture... or at best going without a few things you didn't need anyways.
Sure, Steffen is not the first to say it, and this is not the first I've thought this through, as I've tried to blog through some of these ideas for a while. But he surely has the capacity to nail it. He does challenge us to get off the couch – and go further!
We don't need more people living marginally greener lifestyles. We need thousands of people, millions of people, swarming out of their lifestyles and leading worldchanging lives: practicing strategic consumption, sure, but also inventing new answers, changing their companies (or quitting their jobs and starting better companies), running for office, writing books and shooting films, teaching, protesting, investing in change, mobilizing their communities, redesigning their cities, getting up off the couch and going to the meeting, and in every other way making it happen. It is time to live as though the day has come, because it has: tomorrow is too late.
I haven't yet decided what more I'm going to do. Other than keep sharing these ideas on this blog. And telling you about the Walk Against Warming on 11 November and urge you to go along. I went last year, and I'm really hoping to make it this year too, even though my parents will be in town staying with us.

What else would you suggest? You may also find more ideas on what you can do at The Big Switch website. And Steffen's article is worth reading in its entirety.

Labels: , ,

Read more!