The White Australia Policy in Drag

For as long as anyone can remember Australia has been obsessed with having tight control over its immigration policy. On one hand this may seem like a noble cause of ensuring sustainable population growth and ensures that the country grows through immigrants providing skills that are needed. However, on the other hand, and more so the reality, the immigration policies over the decades have focused on race than anything else. First with the blatantly racist White Australia Policy and more recently with the various versions of the Pacific Solution.

If you believe the government spin about the Pacific Solution it is all about saving people from risking their lives at sea and stopping the terrible queue jumpers in refugee boats coming from South East Asia. However, cut through the spin about people smuggling and queue jumping and what you get is a series of governments who are obsessed with only allowing the right people from the right races into the country. Despite all the rhetoric about humanitarian efforts in war torn countries and saving the poor etc. When it comes down to really caring for those who need it most Australia is the fat bully who doesn’t want to share. Put simply the Pacific Solution is nothing more than the White Australia Policy in drag.

A tweet a few weeks ago summed up the whole silliness of stopping that boasts:

Could Australia’s treatment of refugees ever be worse than the Taliban? Currently refugees are detained indefinitely in prison camps detention centres on islands in the pacific, where refugees have been abused and mistreated again and again and again – to the point where the few brave ones are winning high court cases against the government. And just this week, it was decided that if any boat physically landed in Australia it wouldn’t legally be in the migration zone for Australia – this sort of logic of “being in a country but not being in a country” belongs in a Orwell novel, not Australian law. Furthermore, if the Liberal Party becomes government has vowed to physically tow the boats back to where they came from and reintroduce temporary protection visas – that is whenever the government decides to it can ship you back to where you came – once a refugee there is never a permanent home for you.

An opinion piece by Waleed Aly in today’s Sydney Morning Herald also highlights just messed up the system has become:

Now the Gillard government has left the satirists with nothing to say. It’s excising the whole damn country. For boat people, Australia will effectively no longer exist. Howard’s logic has been taken to its most absurd extreme – an extreme that was too much even for Howard’s own cabinet. It allows us to maintain all sorts of hollow fictions. Like the fiction that we’re good international citizens upholding the UNHCR Refugee Convention. How can you breach a convention that instructs you on how to deal with people who arrive in your country if no one ever makes it in the first place?

… We’re only interested in saving lives if it involves punitive forms of deterrence. We’re not interested in doing it through increased generosity, for example, by seriously increasing our humanitarian intake and significantly speeding up our processing times. What we really want is for asylum seekers to stop being our problem.

That’s why we’re so selective about the lives we want to save. That’s why there’s no crying in Parliament, no hand-wringing, and no cross-party soul searching when an asylum seeker is killed because we sent them back to the country they were fleeing. Those deaths don’t matter. We don’t count them. We don’t ask tough questions about the quality of the information we’re using to decide their home country is safe. And we certainly don’t go through absurd policy contortions to prevent it happening again. Why not? Are those asylum seekers any less dead?

The point is that they’re out of our system. They aren’t ours any more. No care. No responsibility. Our desperate concern for the wellbeing of asylum seekers begins only when they board boats and ends when we intercept them. It’s like we’re excising the rest of their lives from our humanitarian concern. And here the artifice becomes clear: the studied, confected compassion of our discourse is as much a convenient fiction as the one that pretends Australia doesn’t exist.

A few weeks back the government voted to reopen the immigration detention centres on Nauru. The vote in parliament to support this action was supported by both the Labor and Liberal parties with only the Greens and Andrew Wilkie opposing it. And this sums up the who political game around refugees, it doesn’t matter if you vote Liberal or Labor because both have been shown to exploit the world’s most vulnerable for political points. Ultimately, the only way that Australia will change the way it treats refugees is if the people of the country to stand up and demand it. Unfortunately this is unlikely to happen as the majority are too obsessed with pokies, the carbon tax, and who is going to win Big Brother.

Labor and Liberal Parties voting to reopen the Nauru detention centre
Labor and Liberal Parties voting to reopen the Nauru detention centre

Slow Death By Rubber Duck

I have just finished reading Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie’s excellent book Slow Death By Rubber Duck – The secret danger of everyday things. I can now tell you I have a very different perspective on just how much human created and introduced chemicals are poisoning our lives. The book isn’t designed to be something that scares you into becoming a homeless hippy but instead a guide to how we can reduce the amount of dangerous chemicals in our lives and improve our lives as a result.

The book analyses chemicals in our toys, clothes, tools, and food and through a combination of history lessons and self experimentation shows the dangers in a lot of products that we wouldn’t even think for one second would be dangerous. In particular highlighting the risks of phthalates, teflon, PCB flame retardants, mercury, triclosan, and plastics including bisphenol A. In the end the conclusion is not to run for the hills but instead to look at what we are putting into our bodies and how can we can stop poisoning ourselves.

This book is a must read for anyone who wishes to improve their health, it isn’t overtly science heavy and is easy to read. At the end of the book there are some fantastic tips about what foods and plastics to avoid and other ways to eat better and live healthier. As a result of reading it I will be watching what I eat and by to try and reduce things the impact of things like mercury, phthalates and BPA in my body. Living more organically has never seemed so simple, or so important.

An example of why NZ will never catch Australia

Yesterday I saw a friend link to an advertisement for a full time graduate programming job on Student Job Search. The employer is seeking someone who is competent in C#, ASP.NET, HTML, CSS and Silverlight.

None of these skills in particular are very difficult or uncommon but what got me was the pay rate. $20/hour at 35 hours/week. On the surface that doesn’t look that bad and probably a lot better than the $12.75/hour most people are getting working in retail, but lets do some maths.

$20/hour * 35 hours/week * 48 working weeks/year = $33,600 NZD per annum.

Now lets convert that to AUD (using xe.com) we get just under $26,000 AUD per annum.

Now the minimum full time wage in Australia is $27,355 per annum (based on 38 hour week).

So a full time graduate job in a growth sector in New Zealand pays lower than the minimum full-time wage in Australia.

So this got me thinking, what is the minimum full-time wage in NZ, converted into Australian dollars?

The minimum is $24,480 NZD (based on 40 hour week), which converts to just under $19,000 AUD per annum.

To put it simply at the minimum wage level in Australia you earn 44% more for two hours less work per week.

Now of course none of this takes into account tax differences, superannuation, living cost differences etc. But it is still a remarkable gap.

Prime Minister John Key may talk about a goal of catching Australia but I don’t believe it is possible. Politics can’t fix the problem, only business paying their employees more can, and of course this idea flies straight in the face of capitalism.

In the meantime it is little wonder why so many young people are leaving when a graduate job is paying less than the equivalent minimum wage of the next door neighbour.

The lost art of reading

Due to it being students’ association election season, over the past two weeks I have been talking to a few people about student politics. In particular how to debate, articulate a point of view and campaign. During these discussions I have explained that one of the key methods of articulating a point is to use references from common culture, and in particular with debates, you often quote literature with a slight spin. However, from these discussions it has become clear just how few people these days are up to play with what I would consider well known texts, such as: Alice in Wonderland, Shakespeare, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc.

This is rather sad, but it gets worse. On Tuesday night I saw the movie adaptation of John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began. Out of the four people I saw it with I was the only one who had read the book (indeed the whole series) as a child. Last year, Maurice Gee’s Under the Mountain was also adapted into a movie and again few people had read the book. What is happening? Sure one could argue the likes of Harry Potter and Twilight are providing the next generation with the reading and imagination skills they need. However, I think there is more at play here than just a generational gap. The likes of Alice in Wonderland, Shakespeare and less so Narnia are full of nonsense verse and other wonders of English. This is missing from modern texts. Furthermore there is nothing better than falling down a rabbit hole, exiting your imagination through a cupboard and then pricking yourself to make sure you still bleed.

Post high school I am reading less Fiction and more non-fiction, mainly popular science and sociology type books. However, the key is I still read. I also read blogs and way too many status updates on Facebook and Twitter. However, the digital environment is not a replacement for books and is a great time waster which I believe is collectively lowering our literature IQ. Last week I purchased a novel, the first novel I have bought in a very long time. However, I had to buy it because the author is a good friend of mine. I am referring to The Fallen by Ben Sanders. Ben is a 3rd year, civil engineering student and at just 20 years of age has written an adult crime novel and subsequently gone number one on the best-sellers list in NZ.  What strikes me most about the book is not the story, hell it is good and you should buy it, but the dedication at the start:

“This book is dedicated to my parents who always made me read.”

Isn’t it time we all started to read again, not only it provides us with an escape from real life; it also improves our imagination, understanding and all round communication skills. Plus it provides us with new quotes to famously spin in the future.

100% Pure Volcanic Homeland – Photos from NZ Trip July 2010

I haven’t blogged in a few weeks because I have been head down in uni work, and there has not been that much going on to annoy me enough to rant. In particular it would be hard to blog about the Australian elections without sounding like a damp sponge because so far the leaders of all the parties appear to be very bland and boring.

Below are some of the photos I took on my recent week in NZ. The location of the photos are Taupo, Orakei Korako and Rotorua.

This is why Auckland will never be a “World-Class” city

Jon C at AKT reports that the platforms at the new Onehunga train station will only be 55m in length, whereas the new electric trains will be 70m long.

KiwiRail says the platforms are of a shorter length because of “constraints on keeping the line away from nearby apartments”, electric trains could run to Onehunga but people would only be able to travel in the front two of the three car trains.

Not only is Auckland 100 years behind most of the developed world in getting an electric rail system (remember that Britomart is the only underground diesel railway station in the world!) we can’t even get the size of the platforms right. This would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Meanwhile in Sydney next week sees the commencement of the 4th Metrobus route from Bondi to Chatswood with 80,000 people per week capacity. The Metrobus system in Sydney has been a great success with bus running so frequently they don’t need timetables. In Auckland there has been the Link bus for a number of years working on this system, but how about seeing it on routes like the Northern Express, Dominion Road (ARTA are launching the “B.Line” here), Great South Road, New North Road, Great North Road.

There is a reason why “Public Transport” in Auckland has been called an oxymoron and this stuff up in the length of the train platforms is yet another example of it.

UNSW vs NTEU dispute becomes ugly as students turned into political prawns

Yesterday morning I found out that members of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) would be refusing to release student end of semester course marks as part of their ongoing dispute over pay and conditions with the University of New South Wales. Yesterday afternoon UNSW responded by issuing a refusal to pay any staff member who takes part it the ban on exam results. The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the issue here.

The biggest problem with refusing to release marks is that the main impact of this action will affect students far more than it effects the university. This step has seen students become political prawns in a petty dispute. While I support the right for members of the union to strike, and I certainly believe in their cause I do not see how bringing students into the crossfire is going to get the staff onside with anyone. However, I believe the actions in response by University management will only seek to inflame the situation further. Tit for tat is never a good way to resolve conflict.

If the staff really wanted to force the university’s hand they would place a ban on submitting papers and attending conferences. This would see a far bigger impact on the university’s reputation, standing and income. I do not believe that the NTEU would even consider this course of action because more than any lost income the action would directly affect the standing of its own members within the global academic community. But surely that is what industrial action is about, standing up for what you believe in, putting your reputation and standing on the line? Rather than using students as cheap political ammo the NTEU should focus on where it hurts, research output.

There is something wrong with an economic system that tolerates beggars

Today marks four months since I moved to Sydney. To date Sydney has been awesome, I do have a few moans about it, mainly around its sheer size, my lack of a car, and unfriendliness of people, however these points are minor compared to one thing I am still failing to understand.

Sydney is a rich city, it has been blessed by money, looking at the CBD there are an uncountable number of buildings over 200m in height, looking at the news you seen rich people complaining they are being taxed too much, every mall has a many designer fashion stores, and one thing you don’t see much of is poverty. Except in one place. Street corners in the CBD. On almost every corner there is a beggar, some young, some old. There is one question that screams out from this: How can a city that is as big and as rich and is blessed as Sydney have people on street corners having to beg for money to survive?

I am informed that Sydney beggars are not as bad as other big international cities, and when I have raised this point with locals in discussion their reply is often runs along the lines that the beggars should just get off their lazy arse and get a job. Sure there are probably a few young beggars who could and should do this, but what about the older generation the people who have been on the streets for years? Surely this problem is a failing of the underlying social system than that of solely their own doing.

And the problems in the social system must lie on the shoulders of the government. It is the government’s duty of care to look after its citizens in particular the vulnerable and the disadvantaged in society and the homeless must be some of the most disadvantaged people in Sydney. I have yet to meet a rich beggar.

However, the failings of the government must lie back in a lack of tax revenue being raised from the people who are blessed, those who are earning money and are wealthy enough to be demanding tax cuts so they can buy their sixth holiday home. But can we really blame or attack people for being rich or blessed? People often work extremely hard to get ahead so who are we to bring them down for it?

Ultimately the issues of wealth, poverty, tax and a failed social system lie with the failure of our economic system, capitalism. A system that in its most fundamental form demands that in order to make a profit another must make a loss and those who make the largest profits win. And that is seen in its raw form with bankers walking past beggars at rush hour every morning in central Sydney.

In a column in today’s NZ Herald union activist Matt McCarten writes:

The left intellectuals we used to rely on to challenge ideas have retreated into academia. The staunch left survivors parroting on about an economic system built around the needs of people, rather than the needs of some to make profits, is rather quaint and eccentric.

The fight between socialism and capitalism isn’t over yet.

I was challenged last week to put this to the test.

So we organised a left versus right debate on Wednesday at Auckland University on the question, “Is Capitalism working?” Unashamed right winger Matthew Hooton, aided by the NZ Herald’s Fran O’Sullivan, with liberal conservative cover from National’s Nikki Kaye, agreed to give us the reasons why capitalism was better than socialism. Unite’s Mike Treen and NDU union leader Maxine Gay joined my team.

The auditorium was standing room only, overflowing in the aisles and outside. We won the overwhelmingly majority of the nearly 400 students present. When the right has to justify its dogma it doesn’t stand a chance with a thinking audience.

It is no surprise that the socialists won in a debate at a university, in the same way the capitalists would win if the debate was held in the middle of the stock exchange floor. However, I do believe that capitalism is not working, and it is not an academic argument, it is an argument that can be shown through beggars on street corners, pensioners who can’t afford the necessities of life, or a decent health system, or the young people of today who are being lumped with huge student loans to be able to get a qualification, a ticket to compete in the corporate world where capitalism turns people into cannibals who will stop at nothing to get to the top of the cooperate jungle.

A new system of economics and life needs to be developed, one that does not tolerate beggars, one that values education and our young people, a system where taxation is fair and leaves no one behind. People can become rich and can be blessed but not at the expense of others. I don’t buy the argument that it is just a fact of life that there will be rich and poor. Sure there will always be unbalances in life, but as socially advanced, aware, and intelligent beings we need to start acting intelligently and ensure that everyone in society is guaranteed shelter, food, health, education and employment.

This is not a left verses right political argument. This is a societal argument. I have no issue with people working for the dole, and I certainly do not like the idea of tax money being given freely to those sitting around watching TV all day. This is an argument about how terribly broken our economic situation is, and how we need to change it before our entire world collapses, the global financial crises was only a small warning sound to a much bigger societal collapse – are we intelligent enough to listen and react to the warning? Or are we truly just deaf, blind, dumb and stupid?

Speed Cameras in NSW

Living in a new country brings with it a lot of cultural changes, and while the difference in most things between NZ and Australia are mild and minor some of the laws, particularly around roads, are quite absurd from the view of a Kiwi.

Yesterday the NSW Government announced that it was reintroducing mobile speed cameras – you know those white/green/black vans always parked on the sides of the roads in NZ with the dark tinted windows.

What is absurd in NSW though is instead of the anywhere, anytime, no signage speed cameras they have in NZ, the NSW Government is going to give everyone one warning sign before a camera (currently the fixed cameras have 3!), and maintain a public list of locations.

I don’t see the rational for warning people about speed cameras (let alone 3 warnings). If you are serious about bringing the road toll down then stick cameras at the black spots, at the points where people are acting stupidly and fine them, take their cars off them, take their license off them. The only thing fixed speed cameras are is white elephants on the side of the road and those who manage to get fines from them certainly shouldn’t be driving.

By having anytime, anywhere speed cameras it means drivers are more alert to the speed they are travelling at all times not just when a road sign tells you to slow down. And don’t get me started on people calling them revenue gathering tools, they only gather revenue because you are dumb enough to break the law.

The best of years and the worst of years

2009 has been a very odd year for me, a year of many highs and extreme lows. Of trials and triumph, of hurt and pain, of joy and euphoria, of sorrow and misery, and of anticipation and expectation. And while the fifty words I have written as an introduction may be nothing more than cliché they compactly summarise my feelings at the end of one of the most dramatic years of my short life.

My year started in January (as all years do in the Gregorian calendar); at the time I was exhausted after a year of intense stress serving as President of the Students’ Association at University. The experience of student politics had left me very bitter and in a way messed up. I was in a state where I wanted to be left alone to my own devices and at the time I was actively working to avoid people and block out the year before. I managed to find some space and time to myself in the middle of Parachute music festival in late January. It is ironic that I can find solace in the middle of 30,000 people but sometimes being around people but not knowing people can be a good form of rehabilitation.

February was a much more exciting month. I spent a number of afternoons and evenings perched on the top of North Head watching America’s Cup Class yachts race in the Auckland Harbour for the first time in more than five years. Later in the month I left NZ for the first time in my life to spend two days holidaying in Melbourne. While I was over there I set myself a goal of moving to Australia to study in 2010 (a goal that I am pleased to have achieved). However, February was also the start of an intense drama in my life that carried on as a drawn out and ridiculous soap opera until mid December. For the last two years I have been going out with on and off with Malaysian Girl. However, I was not comfortable with this and after picking Malaysian Girl up from Auckland Airport at 5am one morning after flying back from holiday I explained that I was sick of the games and I wanted things to either be going out or not going out. Unfortunately for me I was not firm enough and the games continued for another 11 months.

The memories of March, April, and May are all lost in a blur. In March I started my honours degree and for the semester I put my head down and didn’t lift it to breathe again until June.

June will be remembered most for the marks that I achieved on my first semester papers. Although I have always been relatively smart and typically get good grades I have never been a straight A student, however, this changed in June when my marks for my first semester came back with 2 A+ and 1 A grade. To celebrate I went skiing at my happy place, Mt Ruapehu. The first day of skiing was in typical Whakapapa misty shit, but the second day was a beautiful bluebird day on the slopes of Turoa after 10cm of overnight snow fell.

July saw university restart for Semester Two and the rest is a blur.

August was the beginning of the end for any friendship or future with Malaysian Girl. As mentioned I was not firm enough with stopping the game playing back in February and by August it got to the ridiculous situation where I was being played off against someone else of closer ethnicity. I didn’t have a hope and within two weeks of being told that Chinese Boy was on the radar I was flicked off like an ant that tried to follow the wrong pheromone trail for far too long. This left me in a state of intense distress and the pain of how I was treated by someone who I really cared about still leaves a bitter aftertaste even now. August also saw a nice weekend away in Christchurch skiing at Porters Ski Area where I rocketed down a 400m vertical double black diamond run, not once, but twice, it is an awesome way to get the adrenaline pumping and one of the absolute highlights of my year.

In comparison to the hell of August, September was like being in another world. Early in the month I was successful in being awarded a travel grant to fly to Sydney to visit University New South Wales (UNSW). Having spent the last five years studying at the awesome but tiny Albany campus of Massey University the experience was eye opening. I also began an ill-fated relationship with West Auckland Girl.

October was a month where the hell of August began to set back in. As the end of the semester and exams drew near I began to have nasty panic attacks (something I have been fighting for two years). In an urgent bid to get my head back I decided at 2am one morning to drive to my happy place, Mt Ruapehu for a day of skiing, this was great until a) I hurt my leg and b) four days later the panic attacks were back with a vengeance. October also opened my eyes to just how bad an employer can treat a staff member and after my workplace fired a staff member and close friend on the basis of unsubstantiated and circumstantial claims shit really hit the fan. On the morning before one of my final exams I had a massive panic attack which spelt the end of my part time work, but fortunately for me I somehow aced the test.

If there was one month that was a bellweather indicator of the rest of the year it would be November. The main stress of the month was getting my thesis complete and handed in on time. No easy task when your supervisor is on the other side of the world and because of all the dramas of August and October in particular there had been little progress on it since July. In the midst of the stress was the ending of my relationship with West Auckland Girl – the second breakup in 4 months, and when I have had less than 5 serious relationships in my life it was quite a blow. However, the good thing to come from the month was starting to play summer Hockey. I am completely useless at team sports – especially ones that involve hand and eye coordination so I was stoked to score a goal in my second ever game (and since then have only scored one more).

The final month of the year, December was by far the best, all because of a few simple words: “first class honours” and “full PhD scholarship”. Despite all the trials, challenges, pain, and torment the year had thrown at me I had made it through with a few battle scars and a massive piece of treasure at the end. In hindsight there are things that I would have done differently, there are still many things that I am very bitter about, and there are things that I am sorry about, however, in saying that you cannot celebrate the good times until you have first felt the pain and suffering of the bad times. Now the question is what does the new start in life hold?