Budget 2014 – heaviest lifting from the weakest Australians

May 13, 2014

Treasurer Joe Hockey has just handed down his first Budget, and it’s a shocker. Here are the highlights – or rather, the low-lights.


Commission of Audit hits those who are most vulnerable

May 1, 2014

The government’s Commission of Audit report was finally released today. It’s over 500 pages long, but already it’s proving to be targeted at those who can least afford it.

These are just some of the recommendations:

PENSIONS

Aged pension eligibility to be raised to 70 years old.

Pension eligibility criteria to be tightened.

The family home to be counted as an asset in means testing.

Pension payments to be gradually reduced to 28% of average weekly earnings.

Carer’s Allowance to be means tested.

HEALTH

NDIS rollout to be ‘slowed’.

GP visits to cost $15 in ‘co-payment’.

Those who turn up at an Emergency Department whose situations are deemed ‘less urgent’ to be forced to make a co-payment.

Everyone to pay more for medicines, including those currently listed under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. This includes medicines that are currently free.

In a rare recommendation not aimed at the poorest and most in need in Australian society, high income earners would be required to take out private health insurance in order to access Medicare. The Commission also recommended a 2% increase in the Medicare Levy surcharge to encourage the shift to private health insurance.

NEWSTART

Payments to young job seekers to be cut after 12 months.

Job-seekers between 22 and 30 be forced to relocate to take a job after 12 months, or lose benefits.

EDUCATION

Gonski reformed to be scrapped.

States to have full control of schools.

Higher education to cost more.

Students to start paying back their FEE-HELP debt earlier.

FAMILIES

The Commission recommended the Paid Parental Leave Scheme salary cap be scaled back to $57,000 per year.

Family Tax Benefit B to be abolished.

A new FTB A ‘supplement’ to be available to sole parents with children under 8 years of age.

INFRASTRUCTURE, INDUSTRY AND PUBLIC SERVICES

More road tolls.

Industry assistance, including to the car industry, to be slashed.

Seven Commonwealth bodies to be scrapped, including the Climate Change Authority and Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Over 60 other departments to be merged; for example, Border Protection with Customs.

The Snowy-Hydro scheme, the Australian Submarine Corporation, Defence Housing, Australian Rail Track Corporation, Australia Post, Medibank, the Royal Mint and the National Broadband Network to be sold off over time.

The Commission estimates this will mean that 15,000 fewer public servants will be needed, especially in Canberra.

New targets for funding the ABC and SBS, while the Australian Broadcasting Network would be abolished.

The minimum wage case to be abolished, with a new benchmark of 44% of average weekly earnings.

It takes no special knowledge whatsoever to see that this report is a nightmare. It targets the weakest, poorest, least able to adapt to extreme changes in their fiscal circumstances. Now, Treasurer Joe Hockey has been at pains to stress that this is a report, not the Budget, but he’s not ruling anything out, either. Some of these recommendations have already been signalled as ‘under consideration’.

Take an ‘average’ family – one parent works, making about the average weekly age. The other parent stays at home with the kids, who are 14 and 10 respectively. If the Commission’s recommendations are adopted, they’ve just lost Family Tax Benefit B. They’re probably paying higher fees to send their kids to government schools than they were even one year ago. If the kids get sick, they not only have to find the money to see the doctor, but also the money to pay for whatever gets prescribed.

How about someone approaching 65, and thinking about retirement? Their superannuation funds aren’t great, because they’ve never had a high earning job. They won’t be able to even try for the pension for five more years, and even then there’s no guarantee. You see, they own their home, which they’ve paid off over decades. Thanks to gentrification in the area, it’s probably worth a fair bit now – almost certainly enough to exclude them from the pension.

Or someone leaving high school, wanting to go to university? Well, they’d have to pay more for their degrees, but hey, there’s always FEE-HELP, right? Except that debt will be higher, and they’ll have to start paying it back much sooner. They could always go on the job market and try to save money, but if they have trouble getting a job, they might well find themselves forced to move anywhere the government deems fit, or else be back where they started with no means of support.

Even a single, able-bodied, employed person doesn’t get off scott-free. They’ll be mostly okay – as long as they don’t get sick, require regular (or even semi-regular) GP visits and medicines, lose their job, drive to work, sign up for the NBN … you get the picture.

Amazingly, the government would like us to believe that this is all necessary. It’s all the previous administration’s fault, of course. The message is clear and consistent: the Coalition don’t want to do this, but they must. Why? Because, in Hockey’s words, ‘What this report proves is that we have inherited a mess’.

Really, Mr Hockey? Are pensioners out in the streets desperately trying to make their terrible circumstances known, as they are in Greece? Is our inflation rate at almost 60%, as it is in Venezuela? Is our debt as a percentage of GDP at 230%, as it is in Japan?

The short answer is NO. They’re not.

Our inflation rate is 2.9%.

Our debt as a percentage of GDP is 28$.

Yes, we have a deficit. Yes, if a completely unforeseen disaster happened right now, we would need to borrow more money to combat that. But that deficit came about as a result of spending designed to cushion us from the impact of the Global Financial Crisis. It was strategy – and it worked.

The government would have us believe this was ‘wasteful’. They prattle about pink batts and school halls, and just about turn themselves inside out trying to obscure the real effect of the Rudd and Gillard governments’ spending initiatives.

And yet the Coalition decided to increase the deficit by $8 billion ‘just in case’.

And yet the Coalition decided to spend $24 billion on buying Joint Strike Fighters in a highly questionable business deal.

The same people who even now wring their hands and all but confirm that their sights are squarely trained on the most vulnerable of us.

Hockey says the Commission’s recommendations are ‘courageous’.

No, Mr Hockey. What would be courageous would be your government refusing to kick people when they’re already down.

But what are the chances of that?

Guess it’s over to you, Labor, Greens, PUP. Anybody? Anybody?


Q&A with Joe Miles, Pirate Party of Australia

September 5, 2013

With less than 48 hours to go before the polls open – and that may be a cause for relief or depression, depending on your political point of view – let’s step back from the major parties and take an in-depth look at a newcomer. The Pirate Party of Australia is one of a huge number of minor groups contesting this election, but it is far from the usual single-issue ticket.

The party has its origins in Europe, founded in 2006 and fielding successful candidates in the 2009 European Parliament elections. At the time of writing there are Pirate Party representatives in governments across Europe. The Australian branch was founded in 2008.

Through the wonders of the internet, I (virtually) sat down with Joe Miles, the PPA’s lead Senate candidate for Victoria.

CV: Could you tell us a little of your background, including why you decided to go into politics?

Joe: I’m a new dad, I’ve been working as a Welfare Worker since 2006 (ish) mostly working with people who have an intellectual disability and who are on their way into (or out of) prison. It’s work I’m proud of, and being able to look at myself in the mirror after work is a bonus too. Not realising it, I got into politics as a shop steward in my third job. It was the only good thing about that job. I began to read, and learn to speak up and speak out. I moved to queer politics somewhere around 2008 or 2009, and added deep-green to my pink flag-waving activities somewhere around Edinburgh in 2010ish.

Aristotle says we’re all political animals, and I think he’s right – we all enter politics in some way, I just decided to do it publicly and under the pirate banner.

CV: The name ‘Pirate Party’ opens candidates up to all sorts of lampooning and charges of being a single-issue group (as evidenced in the way the Sex Party has been treated); given that, why join and run for a party with that name?

Joe: I liken our name to “The Greens” – Green is a colour, not a political persuasion, but the name is the signpost to the idea. Any questions I get on our name get dealt with in around 6 seconds, especially on hearing about Pirate MEPs and Pirates in the Icelandic and German city governments.

To be honest, the name the perfect ice-breaker. No-one is guarded around people who call themselves Pirates – political conversation flows uninhibited, and conversations about solutions to problems are freer. This isn’t normal. The usual conversation is base and unhelpful, the name Pirate Party helps a lot in getting around this. I’ve had long discussions with people who wouldn’t call themselves ‘political’ about the types of decision-making they’d like to see.

CV: Let’s move on to look at specific policies. Your education policy would require a massive restructure for the tertiary sector, which is already overstressed in terms of teacher/student ratios and research/teaching balance. What is your timeline for that restructure, and how would you pay for these reforms, given your policy to reduce HECS-based funding?

Joe: The tertiary restructure is mostly to do with the third point; ‘Defund administrative functions and organisations associated with monitoring, surveillance, government reviews and data collection’. There’s a world of potential resources used for compliance that could otherwise be spent on instruction or research. These changes would provide savings, not more burden, and these savings could be unleashed.

There’s no rigid time-line for this, though there’s been consultation with ACT and NSW academia on this policy, and I’d suggest 3 years is the common wisdom. That’s for both the student-teacher ratio and the teaching-support ratio.

CV: On the subject of hate speech – many would say your policy allows an anything-goes approach not only in terms of speech, but also in terms of incitement to violence; how do you address that? Do you have a law enforcement policy that encompasses ‘hate crime’?

Joe: The policy covers speech that someone may be offended by, not speech which incites to violence. There are common law provisions against incitement, harassment, intimidation – that would stay in effect. Our policy is to remove an almost radical subjectivity from the system.

We propose repealing Part 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Apart from the last point of 1(a), it deals with being offended. The last point (intimidation) can be more than ably dealt with by preexisting legislation. Most intimidation is (I think, rightfully) viewed as a kind of assault.

‘Hate speech’ involves an incitement to violence, abuse, intimidation or other discriminatory action. Hate speech is already effectively illegal, without the need for part 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. In fact, this Part adds absolutely nothing of value to public safety, but it does chill speech.

CV: You’ve called for a US debate style, which is arguably little more than a feistier version of ours. Often nothing is done to call candidates on their misinformation or failure to answer questions; how would the PPA ensure candidates are made to answer properly?

Joe: In US style debates the candidates are forced to talk off the cuff, they then can be followed up on and made to engage with each other. Good moderation and effective debate opponents would allow a kind of self-correcting that would incentivise answering questions well.

Though key here is an independent debate commission (or committee or whatever the name may be) – specific rule sets can devised and moderators can be tasked with things like keeping the candidates engaging properly.

CV: The Pirate Party says it supports Fibre to the Premises broadband; does this mean you support the ALP’s NBN project?

Joe: Yes.

CV: Your energy policy expresses support for the ZCA2020 Stationary Energy Plan; could you expand on that?

Joe: In short, we aim for 100% renewables inside 10 years, with a concerted program. It would be paid for by a partial sale of the project on completion, a levy and the fact it is a profitable exercise. We view it as not only an investment in our environment, but a quintessential financial investment – build this now to save both repair, maintenance and fuel costs in the future.

CV: Do you support an Emissions Trading Scheme? If so, what model?

Joe: A floating price doesn’t work, except for speculators. There’s been very little in the way of action in Europe considering the time an ETS has been running, contrasting with Australia – a flat price for a short period has solid results. It’s a cliché, but business loves certainty.

We support a carbon price until Australia’s investment in renewables is so great a carbon price (or any other mechanism, for that matter) is redundant.

CV: Your marriage policy calls for the Marriage Act to be repealed altogether. Such a move would likely be resisted by parliamentarians and by many sectors of the community, including those who advocate for marriage equality. Wouldn’t it be simpler to reverse the Howard era changes to the Act, rather than legislate an entirely new civil unions act?

Joe: Aiming merely to amend the Marriage Act is to aim to leave a loaded gun on the table – those amendments could be rewound easily by any theocratic-minded conservative government. As you’ve suggested, it would be simple to amend the Howard era changes.

That’s why we have as policy a new Act – any attempt at regressing would be obvious. Our societal view on the validity of romantic relationships (and which body defines ‘valid’) is evolving, this policy just keeps pace. There are always people resistant to change – that’s why people voted “No” in the 1967 referendum.

CV: Finally, if the PPA gains a seat in the Senate, it’s likely to bring with it a great responsibility in terms of balance of power. In those circumstances, would you go it alone or ally with a party with larger representation, such as the Greens?

Joe: We won’t join a voting bloc. We’ll vote according to our principles, with our goals being to get our policy aims realised, apply transparency provisions to all relevant legislation and make sure decisions of the House uphold human rights.

* * * * *

And there you have it. The PPA is no fly-by-night ticket; it takes its politics and its goals seriously, and it’s in it for the long haul. Its policies are more detailed than any I’ve seen published, even attempting to provide a general idea of costings. In terms of preferences, the party has achieved an unprecedented level of transparency, exposing to the public the internal workings of what can only be described as an exemplar of democratic process at work.

Whether the Pirate Party of Australia can secure a seat in the next Parliament will almost certainly depend on those preferences. Either way, I think it’s safe to say that there is real potential for the PPA to become a formidable force in Australian politics in time to come.


Rudd vs Abbott – People’s Forum no. 3

August 29, 2013

With nine days to go, it’s wall-to-wall election ads on TV and flyers in every mailbox. But there was time for one more debate between Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Coalition Leader Tony Abbott. Conducted in a ‘town hall’ style at Rooty Hill in Western Sydney, nobody expected anything new. In fact, though, we heard new promises and perhaps new policies.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Coalition Leader Tony Abbott shake hands after the People's Forum

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Coalition Leader Tony Abbott shake hands after the People’s Forum

Live-tweeted with annotations, brought to you via Storify.


The Culture Wars are back

April 22, 2013

Grab your rose-coloured glasses, run up the Union Jack and get spotting those black armbands. Yes, the culture wars are back.

Shadow Education spokesperson Christopher Pyne fired the latest salvo in our Federal-Election-campaign-that-isn’t, today. His target was the National Curriculum, specifically, the study of History – and the irony quotient was thick on the ground.

We shouldn’t take a ‘black armband view’ of history. We ‘should know the truth about it’. Best of all, ‘we shouldn’t allow it to colour our present and our future’. And what does all that mean? Why, that our National Curriculum is too ‘politically correct’ and that we need to ‘restore’ the importance of Anzac Day and our (wince) ‘Judeo-Christian heritage’.

Take a moment. Pick your jaw up off the floor – or stop laughing.

No, this isn’t some weird moment of de ja vu. You haven’t been transported back to the Howard era, and I haven’t been reading the fantastic imaginings of Keith Windschuttle. This is right now. Today.

Pyne says it will be the Coalition’s ‘first education priority’ to rewrite the National History Curriculum. It must be done! Our kids are in danger! They will not learn the truth about Anzac Day and our national identity! Why, we even have an expert – a one-man think tank named Dr Kevin Donnelly – telling us so.

Back up a minute, Nelly.

Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the truly astounding notion that it’s more important to shred the National Curriculum than, say, deal with issues of literacy, school funding, special programs, etc. (But, wow, couldn’t we go to town on that?) Just exactly how is this dreadful curriculum destroying Our Way of Life?

Here’s a novel idea. Let’s take a look. The document is freely available, after all.

Let’s see, now. Prep (or Foundation) level focuses on family history, and how family events are commemorated. Seems okay. Ditto Year 1 – oh, but wait. The kids are taught to look at how family structures may be different ‘now’, as opposed to in their parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods. Potential minefield there. Heaven forbid they learn about blended families, single parent families, ‘grandparent’ families or even – gasp – same-sex families.

Perhaps Mr Pyne wants to make sure kids deny the evidence of their own experience? Or is it just that he doesn’t want his government to be seen condoning such terrible situations?

Uh, Mr Pyne? Your Coalition has made damned sure that none of us are under any illusions there. We know what you think of us.

We move on, to local history in Year 3 (complete with projects that encourage kids to look at structures like local war memorials). Nothing wrong with that – but uh-oh, here’s where it gets ‘unacceptable’. Here we have the first mention of indigenous peoples. Kids are taught about the important of Country and Place, and about national holidays. Oh, they get taught about Anzac Day, but they also get taught about National Harmony Day, and Sorry Day. How dare we ask kids to think of anything to be as important as Anzac Day?

It gets worse! Now, we’re supposed to ask kids to consider Anzac Day as a holiday similar to Christmas Day – or Ramadan – or Chinese New Year! Or Independence Day in the US!

We have to teach them about our first contact with indigenous peoples, Asian migration to the goldfields, giving the vote to women and to indigenous people, the contribution of migrants, the environment movement, reconciliation around the world, Asia (specifically China) in the modern world, and even (horror of horrors), the spread of Islam.

Terrible, isn’t it?

Now, maybe if that was all our kids were being taught, Pyne might have a point. Except it isn’t.

Our kids also learn about Anzac Day … and the ancient world … the rise of Christianity … Federation … World War II … the First Fleet … the Eureka Stockade (whoops, better not include that one, we might give the kids the idea we approve of unionism) … Aussie Rules football (for goodness’ sake) … Kokoda … etc … etc.

Now, I went through school (in the 70s and 80s), but I’ve got a pretty good memory (and some of the textbooks, dear me). From Grade Prep to 6, we learned virtually no history. In Year 7, we had some fun learning about ‘cavemen’ and ancient Greece (history, apparently, started with the Greeks). Year 8 was medieval European history (specifically Christian-based – those evil Saracens, dontcha know), and Year 9 was Australian History.

It’s worth pointing out that when I say ‘Australian’ history, I’m talking ‘British’. There was a nod to the Aboriginals who came out to watch the First Fleet, but otherwise, the concept of terra nullius was firmly entrenched. All those explorers – Dampier, Cook, Burke, Hume – apparently wandered around or landed on a really big island with strange animals and no people. Except for the occasional ‘native tracker’, who seemed to spring from nowhere and act the part of the good little servant, we didn’t find out anything about the indigenous peoples. Oh, except for the occasional anecdote about ‘savages’ who attacked the white settlers.

We did spend a lot of time learning about Gallipolli – how it was all about mateship, and our brave men playing cricket on the beaches at Anzac Cove. At no time did we learn that it was a terrible defeat, or that our war dead were virtually led into a killing field. We had Australia Day dress-ups (oh, those colonial bonnets) in Primary School and Anzac Day ceremonies in High School.

(And while we’re on the subject of Anzac Day, you really have to wonder why Pyne and his ‘expert’ are so worried. Thanks to former Prime Minister John Howard, all our schools have flagpoles – and they use them. Anzac Day is commemorated every year with the minute’s silence. Primary kids learn about the origins of Anzac Day, are allowed to take the day off to march in the parade for their grandfathers, or even accompany marchers from battalions associated with their school (as my own children did last year, marching with the 2/14 Battalion in honour of Bruce Kingsbury, VC, after whom their school was named). It’s a part of school life in a way it never was during my early years – back then, we stood in silence but never really understood why.)

We learned about Chinese people on the goldfields, but not about the White Australia Policy. We learned about Changi and the Burma Railway, but not that we interned people in camps during World War II.

In short, we learned a piecemeal version of the history of our own country, and largely pretended the rest of the world didn’t matter. The National History Curriculum offers a much more comprehensive course that gives us ‘warts and all’ – as any student of history knows, you have to read the good with the bad, or you end up learning nothing. So where, exactly, is the ‘very one sided, politically correct view’ that so worries the Coalition?

You have to love that phrase, ‘politically correct’. It’s such a good insult to throw around. Say something that makes people uncomfortable? You’re politically correct. Point out where privilege is operating and people are/were disenfranchised? Likewise – and worse, you have a ‘black armband’ view. The Coalition seems to think it’s important that we don’t tell our kids what we did, what our ancestors did, what our country was like in the past and what its place is in the world.

This is a very dangerous way of thinking. It’s a truism that those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it. What the Coalition proposes is not that we forget the past, but that we actively bury it. That we distort it. That we lie to our children and tell them that nobody really got hurt in white settlement, that Gallipolli was glorious and that we’re a homogenous, ‘Judeo-Christian’, white society – and that, by implication, everyone else is not really ‘Australian’.

It’s not just a step backwards. It’s a giant leap straight into the arms of propaganda – because, make no mistake, that is exactly the aim of the Coalition’s proposed ‘rewrite’. Donnelly, claims that those responsible for drafting the National Curriculum ‘are hostile towards the institutions, beliefs and grand narrative associated with Western civilisation that make this nation unique’.

The key phrase there is ‘grand narrative’. Simply put, a grand narrative is an overarching story-of-stories that is used to replace smaller, more detailed stories. Most of the time, such a narrative leaves out or obscures more than it explains. In this case, Donnelly claims that the National Curriculum undermines the grand narrative of Australia’s British heritage and its debt to Europe (read: Britain, or at least northern Europe, possibly France if we’re feeling generous).

And well it should. However much Donnelly, Pyne and Howard would like it to be otherwise, Australia is not – and has never been – a little piece of Britain. We are far more complex, and our history is far richer. We do every student a disservice by trying to teach them otherwise.

You might not agree with the current (or proposed) school funding split. You might think NAPLAN is a horrible idea, and MySchool a waste of time. But when it comes to either teaching our kids the whole story, or giving them a pretty meagre pick-n-mix view of history – it should be a no-brainer.

And if giving the kids a perspective on Australia’s place in the world, our indigenous history, and the way we’ve been shaped by religions, cultures and political beliefs of all kinds – if giving them that makes us politically correct …

Let’s aim for a score of 10/10.


Does the ACL want blood on its hands?

January 6, 2011

Well, it’s a new year, and a new Victorian government. Sadly, though, it looks like the same old bigotry rearing its ugly head.

This time, it’s about bullying in schools, and the ever-popular concerned citizens who think it’s time Premier Ted Baillieu understood that the current funding situation to address this problem is just too darn unfair. Bullying is a big problem, after all, and our elected representatives need to make sure that taxpayers’ money is spent properly. Accordingly, they’re up in arms, determined to champion the needs of Our Precious Children against the ‘ideological agenda’ of questionable groups.

Sounds reasonable, right? The last thing most parents would want is to see kids become the victims of people pushing narrow and potentially damaging ideas. And bullying is a huge problem, so it’s important to make sure the best possible steps are being taken to protect and educate the kids.

But wait. Who are these Corrupters of Our Youth?

Apparently, it’s the Safe Schools Coalition of Victoria.

This dangerous organisation is a network of schools, Rainbow Network Victoria, the Foundation for Young Australians and interested individuals. Its purpose is to promote school environments where same-sex attracted people are able to find acceptance and support. As part of its work, the SSCV produces information and education resource packages for schools, as well as offering courses in dealing with issues of intolerance and fear.

Pretty scary, huh? Why, you can just see the agenda dripping from their webpage.

Now we know who the ‘enemy’ is – so just who are these Noble Crusaders for Fairness? It’s our old friends, the Australian Christian Lobby. You remember, the lobby group that claims to represent all Christians in our ‘Judeo-Christian’ country? In fact, the ACL does nothing of the sort. They are not an ecumenical or interfaith group – rather, they espouse a narrow and intolerant set of values set squarely in opposition to issues that include equal rights, diversity of religion and freedom of expression. They’re also pretty adept at obscuring the differences that exist between the Christian faiths and are not above inflating their numbers to make a political point.

As lobby groups go, they’re very well-organised. They created an image for themselves of an organisation representing ‘mainstream’ values, speaking for the ‘majority’ of Australians. They’ve been so successful at this that successive Prime Ministers (John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard) afford them special attention. Political parties go out of their way to help that image along by responding to their heavily-slanted ‘values questionnaire’ at election time. Needless to say, the same privileges are not extended to lobby groups claiming to represent Muslims, atheists or any other faith. The ACL are pretty shrewd marketers. But they are not representative of most Christians in Australia.

Now we know who the players are. But just what grievous act did the SSCV commit that moved the ACL to call for Baillieu to cut funding to anti-bullying programs aimed at addressing homophobia and similar issues?

The SSCV sent a letter to schools reminding them that the upcoming Pride March will take place around the same time that classes commence, in case any students want to attend.

Yes, you read that right.

The ACL were outraged. How could the Victorian government be involved with an organisation that promoted events that were ‘no place for young children’? It’s absolutely unacceptable for taxpayers’ money to be used to ‘persuade children to attend a gay pride march’ or take up an ‘alternative lifestyle’. That money should be spent on the ‘wider context’ of bullying, not some vocal minority’s agenda.

According to the ACL, the SSCV aren’t using their funding to keep schools informed and encourage a sense of self-worth and acceptance in students. No, no, they’re actually taking funding away from ‘real’ bullying.

See what they did there?

It’s actually horribly clever.

They appeal to the ‘reasonable expectations’ of parents. Not every parent is queer, or has a queer kid, right? Bullying is a terrible thing that affects all sorts of kids, right? Doesn’t it make sense, then, to make sure we have the best possible programs to stop bullying?

You can almost see people’s heads nodding. Well, of course. But unpack the ACL’s position a little more, and you can see the really ugly side.

ACL: ‘Gay’ is a ‘lifestyle’, and it’s not one we should encourage our kids to take up.

Leaving aside the whole question of genetics, ‘lifestyle choice’ or whatever, the question remains – why not? What’s so bad about being gay that the ACL feels kids must be protected from it at all costs?

Now, obviously there’s a religious dimension here. The ACL has never made any secret of its belief that same-sex attraction is against ‘God’s law’. But it’s nastier. Look at what they said in the Star Observer article:

ACL Victorian director Rob Ward said gay pride marches were “no places for young children” …

This harks right back to a disgusting strategy employed by organisations – usually backed by the same brand of religion as the ACL – that attempts to link homosexual behaviour with pedophilia. They’ve written reams on the subject. If you have a strong stomach and can rein in your anger, just Google the two terms.

It hardly needs saying that there is no correlation between the two – but we are talking about an organisation that doesn’t scruple to misrepresent its numbers in order to push its agenda. Why would a little consideration like absolute lack of factual evidence get in the way of that?

Of course, the ACL doesn’t come right out and say that, but then they don’t have to, do they? There are plenty of other people out there saying that for them – including Christian Democrat MP Fred Nile. And with the current preoccupation with sexualisation of children’s images, child exploitation material and child safety, it’s never far from a parent’s mind.

That particular idea is contemptible – but there’s more, and it borders on the downright dangerous.

ACL: Baillieu should yank funding out of SSCV (and presumably other organisations working to promote sexual diversity) and put it to better use in a ‘wider context’.

This is a tried-and-true ploy; appealing to some notion of ‘fairness’. Is it fair, they ask, for these minority groups to get money to push their ideas while the majority suffer? Why should they get special treatment?

Of course, it’s utter rubbish. The SSCV does not take money from any other anti-bullying initiative – or any other school program, for that matter. They have a one-off grant for $80,000 from the former Brumby government. Compare that to the $800,00 pledged by Baillieu to the school chaplaincy program – a program specifically allowed to promote a particular religion inside public schools – and things fall into perspective.

The ACL wants to muddy the waters by spreading the lie that the SSCV is a tiny group getting more than its ‘fair share’ of public funding. If it succeeds, and Baillieu responds by choking off further funding, the ACL will count it as a victory. Of course, there is no guarantee that the paltry amount earmarked for the SSCV would find its way into any other anti-bullying initiative – but that’s not really the point. The ACL wants to make it very clear that there is no place in Victorian schools for any such program that addresses the needs of same-sex attracted kids.

In other words, bullying is bad, but it’s not as bad to bully the queer kid. We can have programs about not picking on the little kid, not singling out the ‘weird-looking’ kid, not reducing a kid to tears because they have braces or belong to a particular racial group – because that’s ‘real’ bullying. Hounding a kid into suicidal depression for being queer isn’t a signal that we should be teaching kids acceptance of diversity – on the contrary, we should do everything we can to convince that queer kid that there’s something ‘wrong’ with feeling the way he does. We should ‘get help for her’. We should ‘support them by showing them that being queer is bad.

Already, too many queer kids drop out of school because of the bullying and intolerance they suffer. Queer kids are six times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.

And every time that kind of bullying isn’t dealt with quickly and effectively, it sends a message to the bully that what they’re doing is acceptable. That’s the kind of lesson they’ll carry into adult life, and perhaps parenthood.

If the ACL gets its way, an organisation doing far more than its fair share of heavy lifting in trying to combat homophobia and promote diversity will have what little money it does receive choked off. Without money, the SSCV will have to depend on volunteers and donations. Inevitably, there would be a scale-back of programs – not because they wanted to, but because they simply couldn’t afford it. The result would be a void where there is a real, urgent need.

And the next time a queer kid tries to kill himself, or gets bashed to within an inch of her life, the ACL and Ted Baillieu will have blood on their hands.

What frightens me is the idea that the ACL, at least, simply wouldn’t care.


Victorian policies, side by side

November 26, 2010

One day out from the Victorian elections, and – if possible – the level of ennui is even higher than during the Federal poll. Apart from a few committed pamphleteers and online trolls, most people’s attitude seems to be summed up in one word: ‘meh‘.

That could have something to do with the fact that both major parties and the Greens spent a great deal of time in this campaign simply attacking each other. The Labor Party is all about waste; the Coalition will destroy the public service; the Greens will make you take cold showers! (And no, I’m not exaggerating on that last one – it was part of an anti-Greens Twitter campaign that purported to reveal the ‘truth’ about the consequences of Greens policies on coal-fired power stations.)

Now I don’t know about you, but I like to make my voting decisions based on policy, not on who had the most ridiculous claims or nastiest insults. So with that in mind, here’s a quick-and-dirty comparison of some key areas of policy for most of the parties contesting the Victorian election. Let’s focus on Public Transport, Health and Education.

Policy statements are taken from the parties’ websites: Labor, Sex Party, Country Alliance, DLP, Family First and Liberals. I have not separately listed National Party policies, as they are in coalition with the Liberal Party and their policies are folded into the latter’s website.

Full disclosure: I’m currently volunteering for the Australian Sex Party. As such, while I’ll list policies, I won’t comment on them.

Public Transport

This is a huge area of concern for Victorians, to judge from questions directed at John Brumby and Ted Baillieu throughout the campaign. Metro Trains’ poor record, ‘black holes’ in Melbourne’s train system and overcrowding on some heavily-travelled lines (Dandenong and Pakenham being two of the most notorious) have seen most parties make highly-publicised announcements.

Australian Labor Party

Labor’s budgeted $432 million for public transport infrastructure and development. They’re promising more train services to Geelong, more bus services lasting longer into the night and a shuttle bus from Clayton Station to Monash University. In terms of maintenance and upgrade, Labor plans to make over train stations, buy new train carriages, and work on updating Melbourne’s ageing tracks and signalling system. The flagship policy is a pledge to establish a Safety Control Centre to monitor trains by CCTV and be in constant contact with stations which will all be staffed.

Australian Sex Party

The flagship policy for this party is a 24-hour public transport system on weekend, to be manned by security personnel. Other areas of concern are the Metro Rail Tunnel – with the Sex Party calling for stages One and Two to be simultaneously planned and delivered, upgrading Melbourne’s signalling system to take advantage of new technologies, and the separation of regional and metropolitan services to allow the regional network to be upgraded to a metro-style system.

Country Alliance

No listed policy.

Democratic Labor Party

No listed policy.

Family First

Family First has focused on encouraging more Victorians to use the metropolitan transit system. To this end they advocate implementing various (though unspecified) strategies, abolishing Zone 2 ticketing in favour of a single-zone system, conductors on all trams for safety and to reduce fare evasion, and guards on trains. They have also called for a feasibility study into the idea of building a tunnel to connect the Eastern Freeway to the Tullamarine Freeway, and for improvements to the most dangerous and congested intersections and railway crossings.

Greens

In keeping with a general focus on initiatives to help reduce dependence on fossil fuels, the Greens have set out a suite of policies. They have called for upgrades to Melbourne’s rail system (including the elimination of bottlenecks), more staff to improve passenger safety, revised scheduling to include more express train services for long lines, frequent and direct light rail, rail links to Tullamarine Airport, Rowville and Doncaster, improved disability access to buses and trams, giving traffic signal priority to road-based public transport and new trains with longer carriages to reduce crowding. Regionally, the Greens advocate restoring passenger train services (including direct services between Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo), estabilishing a feasibility study into location and costs for a very-high-speed passenger train service between Melbourne and Sydney, and investigating the feasibility of opening rural school bus services to the general public. Acceleration of construction of the Principal Bicycle Network, and increased road space for cyclists would be encouraged. A combined ministry for planning and transport would be established, and all proposed road network expansions would have to be valuated against alternative public transport solutions on environmental and social grounds.

Liberal/National Coalition

Running with the ‘safety and security’ angle, the Coalition have promised 900 Victoria Police Protective Service officers at train stations, as well as 350 Transit Police to ride along. They have also pledged to spend $130 million to build a Kilmore-Wallan bypass, and to construct new bus shelters in the Yarra Ranges.

Health

As in most elections, the Health policy tends to be diffused by including ‘social agenda’ policies such as those surrounding abortion, euthanasia and reproductive technologies. I’ve deliberately excluded these issues from this policy area.

Australian Labor Party

Labor has promised to boost numbers of medical personnel: 2800 additional nurses, doctors and other health professionals over the next two years to improve nurse-patient ratios. 200 more nurses will be recruited specifically for palliative care, cancer, geriatric and rehabilitation wards. Elective surgery operations are promised to increase by 50,000, and an extra 300,000 outpatient appointments created. Along with this, patients needing an initial appointment for treatment of hip or knee osteoarthritis will be seen within eight weeks. Labor has also promised to increase emergency department capacity to treat 315,000 additional patients, 70,000 more dental care places, 300 new specialist and GP training places and 50 doctor places in rural and regional Victoria.

Australian Sex Party

The Sex Party’s policy focuses largely on community-based initiatives. It has called for protection of community health services under the new, nationally-managed plan, for communities to be included in planning new initiatives, and resourcing for community health support for sex workers, culturally and linguistically diverse populations, HIV sufferers, indigenous people, rural communities, the elderly and those affected by age-related illness and the transgender community. Additional areas of concern are sexual health initiatives, including state-funded sexual health clinics and inclusion of a range of sexual health treatments on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme regardless of the age and gender of patients. On mental health, the Sex Party has advocated for ongoing funding and expansion for early intervention initiatives such as Headspace and ORYGEN, community education, social support services and funding for qualified, secular counsellors in schools.

Country Alliance

In keeping with its focus on rural and regional concerns, the Country Alliance has called for the establishment of basic standards for access to medical and dental care within rural Victoria and identification of those communities who do not meet those standards, and for 20 scholarships per Upper House region to be offered each year to attract doctors to regional areas.

Democratic Labor Party

The DLP’s health policy is entirely conflated with what can only be described as a ‘social agenda’ policy. Picking through it, there is one specific health initiative: increase in the allocation of funding for palliative care facilities for the terminally ill.

Family First

Family First has called for an increase in funded doctor and nurse training places, support for medical personnel who work in rural and regional communities – in the form of subsidised public indemnity insurance and reduced stamp duty to aid relocation, more acute and aged-care beds, and more respite carers. In other health areas, they have advocated more support for alcohol/drug rehabilitation groups, more detoxification centres, and more mental health inpatient beds.

Greens

The Greens have called for more community health centres (including co-location of GPs in those areas), nurse practitioners, increased access for concession cardholders to public dental care, improved integration between health services, better conditions for home care and personal care workers, and accreditation standards for ‘non-traditional’ practitioners, including registers and complaints procedures. They have pledged to reduce waiting times in hospitals and increase outpatient services and institute ‘healthy eating’ programs (including requirements for school canteens to provide healthy food choices). Maternal and Child Health Services would be expanded, particularly in the areas of midwifery and post-natal depression treatment.

Liberal/National Coalition

The Coalition has promised new ambulance stations and a 50% decrease in ambulance subscription fees, upgrades and new hospitals in regional areas, and they have pledged to ban ‘bongs’ and related paraphernalia. In the area of mental health they have promised to set up a $10 million Mental Illness Research Fund, central co-ordination of inpatient mental health beds, and an education/employment program to increase workforce participation of those living with mental illness.

Education

The policies outlined vary wildly, from new national programs to smaller, individually-focused issues.

Australian Labor Party

The big announcement for Labor was the ‘Education for Life’ initiative. This program, aimed at Year 9 students, is budgeted at $208 million, and includes a two-week residential camp. It is aimed to teach financial literary, bushfire awareness, community service, public speaking, first aid, advanced water safety, self-defence, and alcohol/drug awareness. Labor has also promised $1.7 billion for school upgrades, provision of Primary Welfare and Home School Liaison Officers (the precise nature of which – psychologist, social worker, chaplain – would be determined by the school itself), rural ‘virtual’ classrooms and four new bilingual secondary schools. For non-government schools Labor has pledged to increase funding to 25% of that given to government schools, and to provide professional development for teachers and principals.

Australian Sex Party

The Sex Party has called for an end to the government school chaplaincy program, to be replaced by qualified psychological counsellors, as part of a general advocacy for a secular public school system. Special Religious Instruction programs would be replaced by curriculum-based comparative religion and ethics classes. They have also advocated age-appropriate sex education classes, beginning in primary years with safety, body image and self-esteem, and a program to educate students on the safe use of information/communication technologies. Private schools would be required to implement inclusive, non-discriminatory policies.

Country Alliance

In keeping with its focus on rural and regional concerns, the Country Alliance has called for the establishment of basic standards for access to education services within rural Victoria and identification of those communities who do not meet those standards.

Democratic Labor Party

The DLP has called for a voucher system so that parents may choose to send their children to non-government schools without financial penalty, at the same time advocating for redistribution of funding to allow government schools to compete on an equal basis. Government allowances for students would be rolled into a single, non-means-tested, Universal Living Allowance and tax deductibility for when deferred HECS fees are paid. TAFE courses would receive more funding, the Howard government’s ‘Voluntary Student Unionism’ legislation would be rolled back and a professional institute to oversee teacher performance would be established. Finally, the DLP has advocated ‘an education system based on the promotion of competence appropriate for the age and status of each student in a range of skills, including numeracy, literacy, social and civic participation, health skills and knowledge and an informed appreciation of the religious, moral and ethical codes to which the mainstream community adheres’.

Family First

Family First has a suite of policies: reduced class sizes, focus on numeracy and literacy skills, so-called ‘plain English’ school reports, financial literacy programs, relationship programs designed to promote marriage and family life, more TAFE colleges, promotion of the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) and Vocational Education and Training (VET) as pathways for students who do not want to go to university. They have also called ‘genuine choice’ for parents in selecting a school that supports their family’s values.

Greens

The Greens have called for two years’ free pre-school education for all children, no fees and charges for the public education system, a full range of education programs for compulsory schooling years including special-needs education, locally-targeted initiatives, optimum class sizes and implementation of education ICT including video conferencing. Assessment and reporting would be aimed at integrating and supporting learning rather than ‘competition’. All levels of education would be integrated into a flexible network to assist students throughout their learning periods. For educators, the Greens have advocated better remuneration, professional development and accountability, financial transparency and non-discriminatory staff recruitment and enrolment practices. Finally, all public schools buildings (renovated or new) would be required to achieve best practice Ecologically Sustainable Development standards.

Liberal/National Coalition

The Coalition has promised funding for existing and new schools, including the establishment of Years 11 and 12 at Somerville Secondary College. Truancy laws would be enforced. The Victorian College of the Arts attracted particular attention, with the Coalition pledging $6 million to cover its current shortfall, as well as a return to its former independent status. The Rock Eisteddfod would receive $800,000. They have matched Labor’s commitment to raising funding for Catholic schools to 25%, and promised to make Victorian teachers the highest-paid in Australia. Finally, the Coalition would expand the powers of principals to ban ‘dangerous items’, and to search, suspend or expel students at their discretion.

*****

Phew. Well, there you are. That’s the Big Three this election. Of course, every party has a raft of other policies on everything from euthanasia to water to programs for specific regions, and I urge you to look them up. I deliberately did not include climate change initiatives, mainly because almost all the parties have no specific climate change policy, and their environment policies are often mixed up with regional initiatives.

Hopefully, though, you have an idea of what’s behind all those press conferences and jargon-laden rhetoric, and can make some informed decisions.

Don’t forget to vote tomorrow. It might ‘only’ be a State election, but many of these policies will directly affect us in a way that grand federal initiatives often don’t. It’s your democratic right and your responsibility – please use it.


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