Discrimination for being a white male – seriously?


Australia has recently been subject to a debate over proposed changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. The changes were seen by conservatives to be necessary as there was some evidence to suggest that the Courts found that sometimes, some of their rank were found guilty of harassing, offending or insulting others based on their race or religion. During the debate,
Senator Brandis further added that he found it "deeply offensive and insulting" for Labor and the Greens to say his campaign for the changes to race hate laws had something to do with him being a white man.
Thankfully, the changes were voted down in the Senate.

The same week, ‘legendary’ entertainer Barry Manilow at the age of 73 announced that he and his partner had been together for 39 years. The reason that Manilow’s relationship was ‘newsworthy’ is that his partner is male and they finally married in Palm Springs in 2014. Any partnership that lasts 39 years must have a lot of commitment and consensus by those in the partnership and in my view anyway, should be commended.

Manilow apparently kept his personal life to himself because he was worried that he would lose his fans if he ‘came out’, but found out that most actually supported him. And so they should have.

Patrick Garvin, a staff writer for The Boston Globe took a different view, namely why is there an expectation for people who don’t live traditional male/female partnerships to ‘come out’ and justify their lifestyle choices? Garvin has a point – while sometimes a conversation will turn to how various couples met and determined they would form a partnership, there usually isn’t a discussion on why a particular male formed a partnership with a female.

Despite the claims made, Brandis can’t be serious that he is being actively discriminated against. Yes, he is a white man and while he is divorced, it’s highly likely that he has never had to justify his choice of the opposite gender for the partnership that brought two children into the world. This is the same George Brandis who is responsible for the carriage of the changes to the Australian Marriage Act, which are required to remove the requirement that only a man and a woman can be lawfully married.

In 2004, the Sydney Morning Herald reported
Less than an hour after Prime Minister John Howard announced the changes to the Marriage Act, the government rushed legislation enabling the changes into parliament.

Mr Howard said the Marriage Act would be changed to include a definition of marriage as the voluntarily entered-into union of a man and a woman to exclusion of all others.

The laws currently do not define marriage.

"We've decided to insert this into the Marriage Act to make it very plain that that is our view of a marriage and to also make it very plain that the definition of a marriage is something that should rest in the hands ultimately of the parliament of the nation", Mr Howard told reporters.
The US Judge who ruled on same sex marriage completed his ruling with the following words
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfilment for themselves.”
Australia still has a long way to go before we can claim to be a society based on equality. As Howard said, the definition of a marriage is something that should rest in the hands ultimately of the parliament of the nation. Howard changed the law to prevent same sex marriage without the need for a referendum, postal plebiscite or any other delaying tactic; Brandis and Turnbull can adopt a position on marriage that agrees with contemporary beliefs and change it back.

By the way Senator Brandis, Manilow faced discrimination as he had to justify why he prefers to be partnered with a male – you and Turnbull haven’t had to justify your choices of female partners. It is a factual statement that you are a white male. Factual statements are not discrimination – it’s in Section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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Open letter to PM Turnbull about automation
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Prime Minister

The people of Australia are aware of your desire that this nation and its people be agile, enterprising, and ever ready to adapt to change. I applaud your aspiration.

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Open letter to PM Turnbull about automation



Prime Minister

The people of Australia are aware of your desire that this nation and its people be agile, enterprising, and ever ready to adapt to change. I applaud your aspiration.

While some changes receive much publicity such as global warming, there is another, just as crucial, but which scarcely receives a mention. I am referring to the march of automation and the consequent displacement of humans from work they once did.

As robots progressively replace the workers who perform physical work, as algorithms make redundant people who perform cognitive tasks, the human toll increases as more and more are swept into unemployment.

The predictions are frightening. Robots are taking over jobs in manufacturing, agriculture, transport, tourism, hospitality, catering, retail, online sales, health and aged care, the service sector, and communications. Already, algorithms are being used in seventy percent of financial transactions. The trend is accelerating.

Whilst it is acknowledged that many benefits follow in the wake of automation and that productivity gains could be substantial, and while it is expected that automation will enhance national prosperity, the human cost is either being ignored or discounted by planners.

It is predicted that in the decades ahead many millions of people will lose their jobs, both here and overseas, leaving them without an income, dependent on welfare for survival.



Inequality, already high and rising, will be exacerbated.

Which brings me to the purpose of this letter.

Since it is the function of governments, civil authorities and planners to predict the future and plan for it, I seek your response to these questions:
  • What steps has your government taken to address the issue of automation and its sequelae?
  • Is there a department, a parliamentary committee, or an external body or group that has been commissioned to address the issue of automation?
If there is such a group:
  • What are the predictions about the proliferation of robots and algorithms?
  • Over what time frame has the predictions been made?
  • What effects are predicted to result from automation?
  • As people are displaced by automation and become unemployed, what provision is being made for their welfare and that of their dependents?
  • Has any consideration been given to the idea of guaranteeing all who unsuccessfully seek work or become unemployed a universal basic wage to enable their survival?
  • Does your government have a plan to manage this radical change to the work environment and the social contract of work for all?

I seek answers as a concerned citizen, deeply troubled by what lies ahead as automation takes its toll on our people.

I will anxiously await your response to my queries. In my view, in the same way as global warming threatens physical existence on our planet for all living things, automation threatens the very fabric of our human society. Both threats are dangerous; both demand the urgent attention of those to whom we have entrusted our future.

Yours respectfully



What do you think?
Have you seen any signs of Turnbull or his ministers taking any preemptive action on automation?

What action should he take?

Let us know in comments below.

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A pound of flesh


Well inside his first 100 days, President Trump is facing a revolt from his core constituency. Trump promised a number of ‘initiatives’, from ‘draining the swamp’ (a reference to the political class in Washington DC), to building a wall to keep Mexicans in Mexico and repealing Obamacare, more formally called the ‘Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’, a program implemented by the Obama Administration to ensure health care was affordable for Americans who were not on large incomes.

Trump’s problem is that it sounded like a good rallying point to suggest that Obamacare was unaffordable, a waste of resources and a complete disaster. As Paul McGeough observes in Fairfax’s websites:
Until now being President has been easy-peasy for Trump – keeping his base happy by snarling at the news media, offering a new "he tapped my phones" conspiracy to replace the Obama birther nonsense, firing off another executive order on migration when the first backfired, and shirt-fronting the world on trade and security.
Trump’s Presidency just got harder.
The self-proclaimed dealmaker is attempting a sleight of hand, by which millions of his own voters stand to be screwed. More than 80 per cent of them told election day exit pollsters that Obamacare had "gone too far", but experts warn that under Trump's proposed deal they will be slugged for thousands of dollars more a year.

And at the same time, Trump must convince dozens of small government purists in Congress that what is being foisted on them, dubbed Obamacare-lite by some, is not a halfway house that fails to deliver on their absolute commitment to be rid of Barack Obama's legacy-defining health insurance scheme.
McGeough goes on to quote a number of the 90% of Trump voters (those who earn less than USD200,000 per annum) who will be worse off. Trump is now finding out it is all very well to claim that on the whole, a country would be better off if one course of action rather than another was taken, but the reality is in Trump’s case, he implied that every American citizen would have all their problems fixed if they voted him in. We’ve discussed this before on The Political Sword:
Trump has by implication promised to ‘fix’ the perceived personal problem of every person that has voted for him, as well as those who didn’t. It really doesn’t matter that there are a multitude of problems and, given all the good will in the world, some of the problems are so entrenched in the global economic system that they will never be ‘fixed’, Trump’s implicit promise is to ‘fix it’ and benefit all those US citizens who voted for him. When it comes time for other Republicans to challenge him for the 2020 nomination sometime in 2019, a lot of the disaffected that voted for Trump this time around will look at their individual circumstances and decide whether they are either worse or no better off. While Trump may not necessarily follow the usual political protocols, he can’t ‘fix’ everything he claimed to be able to manage in under 24 months. He is already ‘talking down’ his promise to cancel Obama’s Affordable Health initiative. Will these people (probably numbered in the hundreds of millions) accept Trump’s inevitable line that he is gradually turning things around? Or will they, to paraphrase a former Australian politician be waiting on the porch with a baseball bat?
And that’s the problem when you play with people’s perceptions. Your perception probably differs greatly from mine on certain issues – and ‘fixing’ an issue to your satisfaction means that I probably won’t be happy with the result. Depending on the importance of the ‘fix’ in our daily lives (maybe financial, social or educational disadvantage), one of us is likely to withdraw our support and to be figuratively, at least, standing on the verandah with the cricket bat waiting for the perceived wrong doer to come by. As The New Yorker recently stated:
The thing always to remember about Trump—and this week has merely confirmed it—is that he is a sham populist. A sham authoritarian populist, even.

Going back to late-nineteenth-century Germany, many of the most successful authoritarian populists have expanded the social safety net. Otto von Bismarck, the first Chancellor, introduced health insurance, accident insurance, and old-age pensions. “The actual complaint of the worker is the insecurity of his existence,” he said in 1884. “He is unsure if he will always have work, he is unsure if he will always be healthy, and he can predict that he will reach old age and be unable to work.”

During the twentieth century, Argentina’s Juan Perón, Malaysia’s Tunku Abdul Rahman, and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew were among the authoritarian leaders who followed Bismarck’s example. Today, if you look at the election platform of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French National Front, you see something similar. Like Trump, Le Pen is a nativist, a protectionist, and an Islamophobe. But she is not proposing to dismantle any of the many social benefits that the French state provides. Rather, she says she will expand child-support payments and reduce the retirement age to sixty.

Trump, on the other hand, has little to offer ordinary Americans except protectionist rhetoric and anti-immigrant measures. Before moving to gut Obamacare, he at least could have tried to bolster his populist credentials by passing a job-creating infrastructure bill or a middle-class tax cut. Instead, he’s staked his Presidency on a proposal that would hurt many of his supporters, slash Medicaid, undermine the finances of Medicare, and benefit the donor class. That’s not populism: it’s the reverse of it. And it might be a political disaster in the making.
Politics is political and never has the ancient saying ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ been more current than today. As an example, in the recent Western Australian state election, Liberal Premier Colin Barnett was dismissing a preference deal with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation as recently as November 2016 and by February 2017, was claiming the subsequent deal to swap preferences with One Nation above long term allies the National Party as a ‘sensible and pragmatic result’. Barnett also admitted in a radio interview he was personally ‘uncomfortable’ with the preference deal with One Nation but said he accepted the party was now ‘a reality’.

Hanson’s comments after the WA election were interesting as well. She admitted the preference swap was a bad idea:
“Doing the deal with the Libs has done damage to us, in all honesty. It was a mistake,” Hanson said. “We are really going to have to have a good look at this because all I heard all day leading up to this election was ‘why are you sending your preferences to the Liberal party?’”

Hanson suggested the problem stemmed from doing a deal with a major party leader past his use by date. “It wasn’t One Nation. I think it was Colin Barnett – people did not want Colin Barnett.
As well as blaming the ALP for her party’s poor showing, Hanson blames ‘the people’ for not understanding the system:
People ask me about preferences and they don't understand the voting system, the preference system, and the preferences. I think that's where most of the damage has come from.
Writing for Fairfax’s websites on the Monday after the election, Peter Hartcher suggested that Hanson has ‘lost the plot’. His argument is:
Unshakeable faith in the common sense of the ordinary people is the very definition of populism. Hanson, under pressure of failure, has lost the plot.

What happened?

First and foremost, One Nation forgot its essential character as a protest party.

Its entire raison d'etre is to register a protest vote against the main parties, to express the people's disgust at the political establishment.

Instead, One Nation did a deal with one of the main parties. Worse, it was with the ruling party. It made Pauline Hanson look like a close partner of the establishment.

Why on earth did One Nation agree to swap preferences with the Liberals, the party of Premier Colin Barnett?

Simple. It was a lunge for power. One Nation wanted more spillover preference votes, even if they came from the devil himself.

The party sold its soul for power. But it was far worse than a standard Faustian bargain. One Nation sold its soul, yet didn't win any temporary advantage. It ended up powerless as well as soulless.
While short term political expediency has a place (maybe), it certainly didn’t help Barnett retain government or Hanson gain influence. Any deal is a contract between two parties whereby both parties get something they want. As the WA Liberals lost power, any deal they made for power sharing is probably over; a good thing for whoever replaces Barnett. It’s not only Trump, Hanson or the WA Liberals that play Russian roulette with political expediency and populism. Last October, Crikey discussed the potential connection between political donations and renewable energy policy. In the discussion, Bernard Keane suggested:
Malcolm Turnbull says he has lots of solar panels. But the Coalition's hatred of renewable energy isn't so much about personal views as about the cash.
It was probably not a surprise when you clicked on the link to the Crikey article above to see that the conservative parties in Australia received far more donations over the past decade or so from energy and coal companies than the ALP. While it is attractive to suggest that no big business should be donating to political parties, there is nothing illegal with the process at the moment. The energy and coal companies would also want their pound of flesh from the politicians, and it’s probably not hard to guess what the preferred outcome would be.

The average solar system in Australia can generate 5kW according to Infinite Energy, a commercial solar installer with offices in Perth and Brisbane. Turnbull’s Point Piper home can generate 14.5kW of electricity with some battery storage ability. However, Turnbull sprukes the ‘advantages’ of ‘clean coal’ over renewable energy claiming the issue with variable renewables – by which I mean principally solar and wind – is that they don’t generate electricity all the time.

Clean coal is a myth both economically and practically. Fairfax media reported in early February:
An analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance released on Friday found this type of plant was the most expensive and dirtiest source of mainstream electricity supply available.

Across their lifetime, the most efficient modern coal plants would cost a minimum $134 per megawatt hour of electricity generated, and possibly as much as $203.

Wind ($61-118 per megawatt hour), baseload gas ($74-90) and large-scale solar ($78-140) were much cheaper.

The analysis found the cost of building new coal could fall to $94 per megawatt hour if the government were to take on all risk across its decades-long lifespan.
It could be suggested that the donors to the conservative parties are getting their pound of flesh.

When recent headlines suggest that ‘Climate change in Australia impact on Australia may be irreversible, five yearly report says’ and ‘Economic growth more likely when wealth distributed to poor instead of rich’, you’d have to ask if Turnbull, like Abbott before him, should join with Hanson and Trump as (in the words of The New Yorker) ‘sham populists’. While they seek the popularity, they all support tax cuts to big business and those on larger incomes, xenophobic immigration policies, cutting of wages (through mechanisms such as reduction in weekend penalty rates), support to political donors that arguably jeopardises the future of our country and so on. Turnbull’s polling figures reflect general dissatisfaction and Hanson potentially revealed her true colours when she did a ‘preference deal’ with the moribund Barnett Liberal Government in Western Australia and paid the price for that decision.

Putting it bluntly, it’s Turnbull, Hanson and Trump’s fault that they are in the position they are. Hopefully these examples will in time convince future politicians that a conversation on the pros and cons of matters affecting our society is required – rather than sham populism.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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Jesus wept


The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse continues. In the past couple of weeks, the Commissioners have been hearing evidence from Catholic clergy. Some of the numbers are scary:
In total, between 1980 and 2015, 4,444 people alleged incidents of child sexual abuse relating to 93 Catholic Church authorities. The abuse allegedly took place in more than 1,000 institutions. The average age of victims was 10.5 for girls and 11.6 for boys. The overwhelming majority of survivors were male. Almost 1,900 perpetrators were identified and another 500 remained unidentified. Thirty-two per cent were religious brothers, 30% were priests, 29% were lay people and 5% were religious sisters.

The royal commission said 37% of all private sessions it held with survivors from all institutions related to abuse in the Catholic Church.
The Church rightly stands condemned for allowing the abuse to occur with seemingly little or no consequence to the perpetrators. The Royal Commission is hearing evidence that suggests that canon law (the law of the Catholic Church) forbids reporting, that vows of celibacy are not to blame, and that the Church doesn’t understand the depth of the problem their senior clergy (management) has ignored.

Clergy in the Catholic Church are not solely at fault here, Anglicans, Salvation Army, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religions, as well as other organisations such as the defence force and educational facilities are also implicated. No doubt the Commission will make some recommendations and due process will take its course. Those that are found to have offended according to the laws of the land will serve their punishment and one would hope that the process does give some closure and benefit to those people who were the victims of these horrific crimes.

Apart from the need to get to the bottom of institutional abuse of children, the Royal Commission is a demonstration of the axiom that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is probably fair to suggest that in all the cases above, the priest/minister was in a position of power over those whom they abused. If the parents of the children were told about the problem, they too were probably in a vulnerable position where they were torn by their belief in what their children were telling them versus their belief that the morals and ethics of the religious or other association conducting character checks of their representatives were sound.

The point here is that most religious teachers and those in positions of power over the young and vulnerable perform their role exceptionally well and regardless of your personal opinion on religion, there are countless examples of good work for the community done by those who follow various religions, such as health care, family support, childcare, education, visitation to the old and infirm, assistance to those who are homeless and so on. We shouldn’t assume that the deeds of a few reflect in any way the deeds of many. It is less certain that we shouldn’t be asking why the senior members of the organisation (the management for want of a better word) have been less that ethical with their dealings to eliminate the risk to children from predators within the organisation.

It’s another example of power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Why else would Catholic Bishops transfer clergy who had been found to be preying on young children to other areas rather than report the crime to the authorities? Surely there would have been someone with the morals and ethics who suggested at the time while the transfer would hide the problem for some time, eventually there would be hell to pay (pun intended).

And so, it has come to pass. The highest-ranking member of the Catholic Clergy, Cardinal George Pell has refused (on health grounds) to return to Australia to attend the Royal Commission and may be charged with some crimes. Others too seem to have less morals and ethics than the standards they preach; others will probably also be charged. In a number of the senses of the phrase, Jesus wept seems accurate.

It is an unfortunate reality that the Royal Commission is necessary. Hopefully an exploration of the systemic failures of a number of organisations that ‘turned a blind eye’ or thought some other inappropriate management practices would make the problem disappear, will be effective in the elimination of similar practices in the future. We all have to remember that the majority of those who are members of organisations that are subject to the investigations of the Royal Commission are just as horrified as we are? They deserve better.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

Contact numbers if this article has created concerns for you or someone you know:
Royal Commission into the Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse - 1800 099 340
Lifeline -13 11 14


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