A perspective from Perth, Western Australia

Saturday, August 19, 2006

This blog has been superseded.

The new blog location, to which all posts in this blog have been migrated, is


Thank you very much to all who have provided comments and insights and emails, and I look forward to seeing you there.


Friday, August 11, 2006

News coverage

The news in recent weeks has gotten to the point where even me - the ultimate news junkie - has been known to turn off the news at times because it either becomes too depressing, too frustrating, or too repetitive, and has found it easier to resist the temptation to hear the morning bulletin when NewsRadio, my primary source of info, kicks in with its own coverage between 3:30am and 10am WST - they do have by far the best breakfast program if you like news and sport delivered with both precision and at times humour.

One of NewsRadio's strongest points is its diversity of news sources - it plays two hours a day of Deutsche-Welle (German radio), two hours of National Public Radio (an independent American broadcast), one hour of Radio Netherlands and several of the BBC World Service, as well as other specialty programs such as Asia Pacific and several business, science/technology and sport programs.

However, with news of anything that breaks in the UK or USA, BBC coverage (among others) tends to fall into a rut of reporting the same news in 100 different ways before anyone really knows what's going on, and relying on analysts, experts and world leaders speaking to plug the gaps. The news today is not even news, but the threat to make news - a plot has reportedly been discovered involving planes and the whole country (UK) is in lockdown. Considering their past combined investigative efforts resulted in the death of an innocent man of Brazilian ethnicity and the injuring and imprisoning of two innocent Muslims (later released) in a raid rivalling Sanders & Simpkins subtlety in the movie "Whoops Apocalypse" (1986), I am a tad sceptical.

The funniest assessment of the news comes from Daniel Carter's assessment of the DW Radio bulletin, which is quoted in full below:

Story 1: The plot. News from the UK.
Story 2: The plot. News from the US.
Story 3: People blowing each other into tiny bits in the Middle East, in complete defiance of common sense. Reports from both sides.
Story 4: People with common sense criticising the protagonists of Story 3 (HRW; aid organisations).
Story 5: People blowing each other into tiny bits in a different bit of the Middle East. (Iraq)
Story 6: People blowing each other into tiny bits in Sri Lanka.

There is a disturbing pattern. The theme music comes almost as a relief. Is this a true reflection of what's going on in the world, or is this a failure of emphasis and perspective on the part of the world's news agencies?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

On Barnaby Joyce and coalition dinners

We will probably never know what was on the menu, but we do know a few other things. This was hidden at the bottom of a Sydney Morning Herald report:

In another small flare-up, the National Party senator Barnaby Joyce has revealed he walked out on a speech by Mr Howard to an annual dinner of Coalition senators in Canberra on Tuesday night. Senator Joyce took offence when Mr Howard lauded the voluntary student unionism bill, which Senator Joyce opposed. "It should be called the 'demise of regional university sporting facilities Bill'," he said.

But he was most offended when Mr Howard attributed the Coalition winning four Queensland Senate spots at the last election to a letter he sent urging people to vote Liberal in the Senate and National in the lower house.

Senator Joyce has long been angry at the letter. He left the dinner in protest and went for a walk along the lake. "And they complain about me not supporting the leadership," he said.


Sharp fall in jobless rate? Centrelink may be the answer

It reflects a strong economy and an extremely tight labour market, both of which contributed to the Reserve Bank's decision to raise official interest rates two weeks ago.

Mr Howard says it is a blow to those who argued that the WorkChoices laws would mean dramatic job losses.

More spin, more hype... and completely ignoring the changes made to the Centrelink system on 1 July 2006.

"Helping people move into work" - an overview (Centrelink, 22 June 2006)

The system is truly an interesting place. It is managed by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, whose minister is Kevin Andrews. DEWR manages both Centrelink and the Job Network. Centrelink has had its ability to investigate actions by Job Network agencies curtailed by various Federal Government legislation since 1997-98 - when the ALP's "job compact", introduced four years earlier, was abolished and the Job Network was launched to replace the supposedly ineffective CES (Commonwealth Employment Service).

The idea behind it was that a competitive tendering system could do better than the government - fundamental to Liberal Party ideology. Job Network providers were given long-term unemployment cases formerly handled by the CES. They were rewarded for finding such jobseekers work, and were able to provide intensive assistance programs to them. Peter Davidson, social policy officer at ACOSS, said that "the theory behind the Job Network funding model is appealing: employment assistance providers are best placed to judge what assistance each job-seeker requires, and appropriate, cost effective assistance will be offered if funding is tied to employment outcomes rather than "programs"."[1] Another reason for the Job Network was to transfer the costs the Government was incurring onto somebody else - the providers in this case.

The first version of the Job Network failed, with nearly 75% of the providers leaving the network within the first year of operation. Quite simply, the money and incentive wasn't there for them to stay. The initial system limited Job Network jobs to Job Network providers, which caused many companies to stop offering jobs through the system due to the perceived low quality of applicants. The system was revamped after a year, giving Job Network providers considerably more autonomy. Curiously, a large number of new Job Network providers were faith-based agencies.

Many providers within the Job Network operate for profit, and they get money every time they pull someone into intensive assistance, even if the person clearly doesn't need it. A sure sign of a government system which makes profit are signs of corruption to make more money out of the system. Here's some examples:

  • Service providers are being paid $4,500 - $8,000 to offer intensive assistance to disadvantaged people - so the idea is they classify anyone they can as disadvantaged. In some cases, job seekers may be called in for intensive assistance after just 2 weeks of unemployment, even if their employment prospects are strong elsewhere. The incentive for them to sign off Centrelink completely if they have the funds to do so is fairly high.
  • Service providers are paid when they find someone work. I have heard allegations that some providers claim this money for jobs found by the jobseekers under their watch by themselves or through other agencies.
  • There is a near-guarantee that they'll find work through the intensive assistance, but some jobs are known problem cases which frequently recycle people, have health and/or abuse risks and the employer can't find employees through normal channels. The providers may know this, but the incentive for them to turn a blind eye is high. For jobseekers, not accepting the job means getting breached, and risking losing one's payments for 8 weeks. If the person gets injured in such a job, they get transferred onto Disability Support Pension and off the unemployment queue. This is ultimately harming Australia's competitiveness on the world market.

A system which encourages and rewards corruption, maintained by a Government fearful of the very system collapsing with considerable electoral collateral? Never.

As an aside, Work For The Dole cases are, as far as I can ascertain, not counted under official unemployment statistics, which incidentally require that a person do just one hour of work a fortnight to be considered "employed". Few of these jobs have any merit or contribution to society, or improve the jobseeker's prospect for employment in their own field (indeed it may hinder them).

So when I see claims about the unemployment rate falling, don't blame me for being sceptical.

* "Howard hails falling jobless figures", ABC Online, 9 August 2006.
* "Job Network burnout? - ABC Counterpoint - interviewing a Job Network agency spokesman and a social work academic, 31 July 2006.
* Seems this sort of thing isn't by any means limited to Australia - Howard's good friend George Bush has been up to no good as well.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Israel and Lebanon: a rabbi speaks out

As the international community inches closer to a Security Council resolution on this matter, I found an interesting statement from a Jewish Reform rabbi in California. Religion I feel has a role to play in solving the crisis - unfortunately, religion has been used in many conflicts including that in my birthplace of Northern Ireland as a pretext to kill or dispossess people rather than affirm life.

The full text is quoted in the link, but the text from Lerner makes three demands, which he describes as only the minimum steps necessary to stop the disaster. It is a nice change to see someone who has thought this out and wants peace which does not favour either side but allows each to live in peace.

  • a halt to attacks on Lebanon on Israel - such attacks, he argues, will not provide peace or security for Israel - and for Israel to provide humanitarian assistance and funds to repair the damage it has caused.

  • a halt to attacks on Israel by Hezbollah and Hamas - attacks which he argues played a central role in provoking the crisis and harm the cause of Palestinian and Lebanese independnece and democracy by driving decent Israelis into the hands of "militaristic and paranoid political leaders".

  • for the US government and international community to call for an immediate ceasefire - he argues the US has become a party to the violence which, together with Iraq, are creating enmity towards the US and Israel.

Lerner then calls for an International Peace Conference to impose a solution - "Why do we say “impose”? There are too many forces in each country in the region who are committed to continuing this struggle forever." While I agree with him, I don't agree that imposing a solution from outside will necessarily help to solve the situation. One key emphasis is a viable Palestinian state and a return to the 1967 borders.

Lerner also calls for a "new spirit of open-heartedness and reconciliation", as each side needs to recognise the humanity of the other and stop demeaning the other in media, religious institutions and educational systems. He believes the fundamental "goodness and generosity" in humanity, led by those with the financial means to be generous, will ultimately fix not just this situation but wider world problems. For those who disagree or find this an unrealistic possibility, he answers his critics at length in this piece and I do suggest reading it.



Saturday, August 05, 2006

Land Rights Act - Getup campaign

I was contacted today about the "Stop the Land Grab" campaign - according to GetUp, legislation will be going through on Tuesday which will disempower the existing Aboriginal Land Councils in regional Australia. For more information, and if you wish, to sign the petition, please click on the link in this post.



Friday, August 04, 2006

Preselection woes for sitting Liberals in the West

It seems that sitting federal Pearce MP, Judi Moylan, is being challenged for preselection, as is sitting Tangney MP Dennis Jensen. News is slow but the "Perth Now" website appears to have the most complete story at this stage, while ABC Radio has been covering it during the day.

The upshot of this story is that it is a storm in a teacup. Pearce is an extremely unusual seat which wraps around the north and east of Perth while taking in its outermost suburbs - both Gingin and Narrogin are in this seat, as is the eastern fringe of Midland and the Clarkson-Quinns connurbation. As far as I can see by comparing 20 years of Federal and State statistics:

  • Clarkson-Yanchep (far northern suburbs) - a mortgage-belt vote which tends Labor, but votes for Judi Moylan. Reasonably strong Labor at state level.
  • Eastern Hills (Greenmount-Mundaring-Chidlow) - a solid Lib-Green vote as can also be seen in parts of Alexander Downer's Mayo electorate along the South East Freeway. The Green (13-18%) preferences in this part of Pearce, however, lean heavily towards Moylan. At state level it is marginal and fluctuates, at present Labor holds the entire region with Green preferences.
  • East Midland (Midvale-Swan View) - solidly Labor although Swan View and Stratton have voted Liberal for the past two Federal elections. Adjustments by the AEC to this seat may see Bellevue enter from the southwest.
  • North rural (Gingin, Muchea) - Strong One Nation territory.
  • East rural (Toodyay, Northam, York, Narrogin
  • - While safe National at state level, Northam and York have comparatively high Labor votes and there is one ultra-safe Labor booth in Northam, possibly aided by a high Aboriginal population.

Surely the Liberals would have learned something from the Georgiou situation that a "liberal" Liberal is, from their point of view and no matter how troublesome for them, better than a Labor person? I've dealt with her in the past and she's a very strong representative for her area, even considering how ridiculously diverse the AEC have made it for her.

The news is now suggesting that failed Merredin candidate (One Nation 2001 byelection; Liberal 2005) Jamie Falls, the mayor of Dalwallinu, which is quite a distance within Wilson Tuckey's O'Connor electorate, is the challenger. Tuckey is denying any involvement but Falls appears to be on first name terms with him. I doubt that the increasingly suburban nature of this seat would tolerate a candidate with views compatible with One Nation, and I think this will be reflected at branch level. Georgiou had an opponent who would have carried the seat, and his seat was less at risk, but the local branches strongly backed him.

The challenge to Dennis Jensen is in Perth's safest southern suburbs Liberal seat, taking in an ethnically diverse area which includes Ferndale, Willetton, Bull Creek, Leeming, Applecross and parts of Melville. There is no risk to the Liberals here no matter what happens, but I doubt that they will favour a challenge to a sitting member as it presents a picture of disunity.

(Thanks to Antony Green for the leads for this article.)


Monday, July 31, 2006

This has GOT to stop.

The incident in Qana today is the latest of a catalogue of events which communicates the obvious - there are no winners in war. The battle of spin has raged across the international community with the US, Israel and Tony Blair making use of one set of language and Iran and Hezbollah another, while hundreds of civilians of at least two nationalities and five religions are slaughtered. The talk, the delays, the endless talk, but no-one seems to genuinely care about the people, both Israeli and Lebanese, either losing their lives or livelihoods or in fear of doing so.

The part which is of most concern is that some nations are immune to international law while others are persecuted by it. The case of Iran is interesting - unlike North Korea, Iran has not broken any international laws. Iran also has not violated any other country's sovereignty. It has cooperated with the IAEA. However, the international community insist on moving the goalposts as a means to control Iran's activities within what the US and several European countries consider an acceptable set of limits which they have in effect unilaterally imposed on Iran. The end result has been an increasingly entrenched position from Iran, and a feeling that abiding by the rules is useless as they will not be rewarded for it.

Israel has on four occasions invaded other countries, and at present illegally occupies part of Syria (Golan Heights) as well as the Palestinian territories, in contravention of UN resolution 242. They continue to receive billions of dollars of aid from the US, and we now know that the US is supplying deadly munitions to them via a compliant UK administration (which may soon fall from internal outrage about its complicity in this affair).

UN resolution 1559 (2005), which Israel and the US make considerable use of in their rhetoric, was passed in a set of circumstances where Lebanon was trying to shake off a foreign power which had dominated its political life for the previous 30 years. UN resolution 1441 (2002) was creatively interpreted to allow the US to go to war. Yet UN resolution 242 (1967) calling on Israel to retreat to its borders has been left to dry, and any attempt to pass any resolution criticising Israel today is vetoed by the US under the archaic post-war system which allowed the five leading countries to hold veto powers.

Is a war crime a war crime or not? The Lebanese president was certainly in no doubt of that when he addressed the media today. But who gets prosecuted? While Saddam's war crimes case is wrapping up in Baghdad, complete with seemingly biased judge, questionable process and certain verdict, one can be fairly sure that the international community, whose first responsibility should be to the citizens of the world always, will dismiss this as some kind of mistake or justify it in terms of Hezbollah's attacks on Israel. Those too are crimes against civilians that should be proscuted, but they probably will be - my question is why two civilians can die and one receives justice and the other a kick in the guts by wealthy Western leaders and their media entourages.

It is my hope that the Qana incident (actually the second Qana incident - the last atrocity there is documented in a link from the BBC story) will be a catalyst to stop the spin and help the people who need it most. Commission of unpunishable war crimes only gives rise to helpless anger and a desire to avenge, which in turn is a detriment to Israel's future security needs.

Recommended reading:
Philippe Sands (international jurist) - "Lawless World" - documents both the rise of international law and its abuse in recent years.
Viewpoint from the Arab world (26 Jul) - found on another blog.

* Declaration: The author believes that Israel has the right to exist and a need for secure and peaceful existence within its borders. The author is only 3 generations removed from European Jews, at least 13 of whom died in Treblinka and Dachau, and fears the consequences of excessive Israeli force to its future security and that of a future viable Palestinian state. The author is also from Northern Ireland and is more than used to pointless standoffs where innocents on both sides die and both armed sides have their hands covered in blood.