The Elephant in the Room

agendaTracker

By Chris Graham, September 13, 2011

For decades, government report after government report has chronicled the continual failure of bureaucracies to lift Aboriginal people out of the mire of poverty and disadvantage. And for decades, Aboriginal people have been offering the same solution, as yet untried. Self-determination. CHRIS GRAHAM looks at the never-ending cycle of government reports into government failure, and the refusal of a nation to accept that it’s part of the problem, not the solution.

The elephant in the room: Self-determination

If the publication of government reports alone were enough to lift Aboriginal people out of disadvantage, then black Australia would be the healthiest and wealthiest people on the planet.

In the past seven months, at least five major reports into the appalling life circumstances of Australia’s First Nations people have been handed down by governments.

They all say pretty much the same thing. Well, almost, but we’ll come to the dissenting report in a minute.

In May, the NSW Auditor General released a report that outlined the train wreck that was the NSW government’s decade-long policy on Aboriginal affairs (Two Ways Together), noting that it had failed to deliver the outcomes intended.

In June, the federal parliament handed down a report entitled Doing Time – Time for Doing, a probe into the extraordinary rates of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth.

That report found government programs to halt the rising incarceration rates were ineffective.

In July, the federal government was forced to release a cabinet-in-confidence document entitled Indigenous Expenditure Review.

It lays bare more than a decade of government failure, and billions of dollars of bureaucratic waste through the failed delivery of services to Aboriginal Australians. It is by some margin, the most harrowing read of government in decades.

In August, the Productivity Commission handed down its bi-annual review, which outlines Commonwealth service delivery to Aboriginal people.

The Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Report 2011 said exactly what was said in 2009 – government programs were failing badly, in no small part because of a lack of coordination between Commonwealth departments.

The fifth report – the dissenting document – was delivered in February.

It was the Prime Minister’s ‘Closing the Gap’ report card, an annual statement to parliament on government progress in, as the name suggests, closing the gap between black and white Australians.

Of the five reports, the Prime Minister’s is the only document to suggest government programs were starting to make a real difference. After telling parliament that Aboriginal people needed to change their behaviour for real gains to be made, Gillard said that while much remained to be done, government service delivery was heading in the right direction.

Obviously, the Prime Ministerial statement flies in the face of the available evidence. Her statement is particularly concerning in light of the contents of the Indigenous Expenditure Review, which stated the precise opposite.

Even more concerning is the reality that Gillard’s cabinet fought tooth and nail to suppress it, finally capitulating after Channel 7 took the government all the way to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and won the right to access the document under Freedom of Information laws.

All of the reports are well worth reading, because they catalogue the sort of government failure that people expect, but rarely believe, even when they see it. But the problem with them is that while they’re very good at identifying the failings, government reports have never really been particularly good at coming up with solutions.

Indeed, a common feature across all of the reports is for the authors to blame governments for their repeated failings, only to suggest governments should continue to centralise service delivery.

In other words, the reports consistently find that bureaucracies are the answer.

In fact, bureaucracies are the problem.

Which leads us to the reason why, year in year out, we keep getting reports on government failure in Aboriginal affairs policy.
Government ministers are looking for solutions in all the wrong places.

In a former life, Paul Kauffman was Associate Professor at the University of Canberra. Today, he’s Manager of Research and Planning at Aboriginal Hostels.

Kauffman has written extensively on international issues around the world, and has a particular focus on the four major western nations with Indigenous populations – Australia, America, Canada, and New Zealand.

In 2003, Kauffman published a ground breaking paper entitled Diversity and Indigenous Policy Outcomes: Comparisons between Four Nations.

It received virtually no mainstream airing upon its release.

The issue of Australia’s performance against its Western peers is a fairly sensitive subject.

We love to be compared with the US, Canada and New Zealand in the sporting arena, but when it comes to human rights – and in particular our treatment of our First Nations people – Australia has a tendency to get a little defensive.

When you read Kauffman’s report, you get a sense why.

Kauffman’s report ranks Australia against the other nations in 21 key areas, covering everything from education and employment to health and incarceration rates.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard pats the climate change elephant. (AAP IMAGE).

The figures are startling.

Just 13.6 percent of Indigenous Australians have a post-school qualification, compared to 85 percent of all Maoris.

Twice as many Aboriginal Canadians speak their native tongue at home, compared to Aboriginal Australians (29.3 percent versus 13.3) and almost twice as many Aboriginal Australians left school before the age of 16, compared to Aboriginal Canadians (40 percent versus 22 percent).

In First Nations youth suicide rates, Australia is a world-beater. The Maori rate – one of the worst on earth – is 56 per 100,000 head of population.

Australia’s rate is almost double that, at 108.

Of the 21 statistical areas, Australia fares worse than Canada, the US and New Zealand in every single category, except four.

We’ll return to those shortly, because the major point of Kauffman’s report is not to belt Australia over the head with its own statistical failings.

It’s to explain why we’re failing so badly.

“Contemporary Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and United States governments claim to have pledged their allegiance to similar policy approaches,” writes Kauffman.

“All governments proclaim that they are committed to renewing partnerships, strengthening Aboriginal governance, developing new fiscal relationships and supporting strong communities, people and economies. It is significant that in the United States and New Zealand, treaty and other agreements have provided extensive educational scholarships, and individual and educational and business opportunities.
And there it is – the ‘T’ word.

A treaty is merely an agreement between two parties. In the context of Indigenous peoples living under colonisation, it is self-determination by any other name. The right to run your own affairs.

But the mention of the word on Australian soil sends politicians and conservative commentators into a tail-spin.

Like this, from former Prime Minister John Howard in 1988, while launching his “One Australia” policy as Opposition Leader (the policy which saw him call for a cooling on Asian immigration).

“I abhor the notion of an Aboriginal treaty because it is repugnant to the ideals of One Australia,” Howard said.

He offered that his One Australia policy would “…welcome all those who share our vision and are ready to contribute to it.”
Presumably, Aboriginal people who want real self-determination are not “welcome”.

Kauffman’s report, however, casts treaty – and self-determination – in a far more positive light. His report argues that in Canada, the US and New Zealand, treaties have paved the way for lifting Indigenous peoples out of their disadvantage, the resultant benefit being prosperity for an entire nation.

New Zealand in particular comes in for high praise.

“The New Zealand story is remarkable, because there was always a treaty or consciousness of a treaty and after restructuring the national economy between 1987 and 1992, Maori employment and livelihood were hit hard,” writes Kauffman.

He adds: “Since 1994 many Maori people throughout New Zealand have re-established themselves to share a reasonable if not bountiful place in the modern New Zealand economy, which with globalisation and the shift to knowledge economies, is still under pressure.

“When I visited New Zealand with eleven Aboriginal leaders in 1998, Maori culture, language, regional agreements, educational initiatives and business success were much in evidence.

“Although there is not statistical equality between Maori and non-Maori in many areas, labour force participation, median weekly income and retention of 16 year olds at school approaches similar levels to non-Maori.

“New Zealand has the best comparative data over time, and that country has shown how well-integrated policies, specifically linking training, education and economic opportunity, can significantly reduce phenomena such as unemployment within a ten year time frame.”

The point being, while most Maori will argue that the Pakeha (white people) have been breaking treaties ever since they were introduced, the sky is yet to fall in on Aoateroa.

“Maori employment and educational rates increased significantly after 1992 because of Treaty settlements and effective programs,” Kauffman says.

“There is pride in their Polynesian cultural heritage and achievements. A number of Treaty or regional agreements allowed Maori to own and work in major corporations.

“It is likely that both business assets and educational investment together were critical factors for change.”

And therein lies the lesson in Kauffman’s report. Rather than hamper Aboriginal progress, treaties have in fact formed the basis of advancement. This is also the case in Canada and the US.

But in Australia, it has been an unfortunate feature of the Australian political landscape that despite having the worst life statistics for First Nations people, we have the best record in telling the rest of world ‘how to fix the blacks’.

In August 2009, Professor James Anaya – the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and one of the world’s foremost experts on Indigenous issues – travelled to Australia to get a first hand look at the Northern Territory intervention, a Howard government 2007 re-election policy that is well-known in the international human rights community for its racially discriminatory measures.
Prof Anaya didn’t like what he saw, and said as much.

In his interim report, he noted: “After several days in Australia listening and learning… I have observed a need to develop new initiatives and reform existing ones in consultation and real partnership with Indigenous peoples to conform with international standards requiring genuine respect for cultural integrity and self determination.

“Of particular concern is the Northern Territory Emergency Response. These measures overtly discriminate against Aboriginal peoples, infringe their right of self-determination and stigmatise already stigmatised communities.

“The emergency response is incompatible with Australia’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights; treaties to which Australia is a party.”

Anaya’s comments sent the conservative commentators and politicians into a rage.

Tony Abbott, then Opposition spokesman on Indigenous affairs, responded by calling Prof Anaya – a man who has devoted his life to travelling the world looking at these issues – an “armchair critic”.

News Limited reported that Prof Anaya’s call for the Racial Discrimination Act to be reinstated for Aboriginal Territorians could trigger an “army of publicly-funded human rights lawyers” to start challenging different aspects of the intervention in court.

Inexplicably, Abbott added: “If there are any concerns about the impact of this measure … why don’t we extend it more broadly? I think that would be the way to solve the problem, not to drop the measure.”

If Abbott was annoyed, the architect of the NT intervention, Mal Brough – a man with more missionary zeal than the 1930s – was apoplectic.

“I get very annoyed when I hear people pontificating about human rights when today there will be children sitting out there in abject squalor with diseases they don’t have to have, with inadequate education, poor nutrition and poor access to health and we have some nicety about human rights legislation,” Brough told ABC radio.

“Let’s get real, look these people in the eye, instead of coming in and telling us that we’ve offended some law rather than offending the right of a child to be healthy and happy and to have a future.”

Anaya was certainly telling Brough he had offended “some law” – namely international human rights law – but he was also telling Brough that his policy was killing Aboriginal men, women and children.

The fact is, human rights don’t cause “inadequate education, poor nutrition and poor access to health”.

Government does. And government neglect is rooted in the refusal to respect and extend basic human rights to a marginalised proportion of the population.

It’s worth remembering Brough and his colleagues were at the end of a 12-year stint in office when he discovered the desperate poverty confronting Aboriginal people.

According to the federal government’s own report into the Northern Territory intervention, released in late 2009 after two years of the policy, the death rate in intervention communities went from 10 in the year prior to the intervention, to 84 the year after.

Suicide and self-harm rates almost doubled in two years.

The intervention caused widespread starvation among Aboriginal people, and the Sunrise Health Service in Katherine reported an immediate spike of up to 57 percent in anaemia rates in children, courtesy of the intervention’s compulsory welfare quarantining provisions. The Australian Indigenous Doctors Association warned the government that the intervention was causing “immediate and lasting harm to Indigenous people”.

In announcing the policy, Howard predicted it would cost some “tens of millions” of dollars.

The bill today has climbed beyond $2 billion.

Notably, the very first recommendation of Little Children Are Sacred, the report which the Howard government used to justify the intervention, noted: “It is critical that both (the NT and federal) governments commit to genuine consultation with Aboriginal people in designing initiatives for Aboriginal communities.”

Instead, the Howard government implemented the plan without any consultation with Aboriginal people, save for one – Noel Pearson, a Cape York Aboriginal man with no links to the Northern Territory.

It’s no coincidence that the NT intervention has been such an enormous policy failure.

Which brings us neatly back to the four areas in Kauffman’s report where Australia fares better than Canada, the US and New Zealand.

Unfortunately, they provide no comfort for the current Australian approach of Canberra-control of black communities.

Under the category “single parent families”, Australia beats the US with 28.1 percent versus 39 percent. Even so, you could hardly suggest that Aboriginal families stay together longer thanks to federal government policies.

It’s just the nature of black Australia to stick together longer.

Australia also fared slightly better in smoking rates than New Zealand Maori – 45 percent versus 50 percent.

But that was in 2001. The story today is quite different.

By 2006-07, efforts to stop smoking in New Zealand saw rates cut to less than 40 percent among Maori. At the same time, rates in Australia continued to climb.

In 2011, it sits at more than 50 percent.

Australia also comes in under Maori in diabetes rates – 24 percent compared to 30 percent in New Zealand.

Again, the figures have taken a turn for the worse.

Australia’s rate increased from one in four in 2001, to around one in three today. At the same time, Maori diabetes rates have decreased.

Most notably, one of the four areas where Australia doesn’t fare worse than the other three nations is in employment.

The Maori and Native Americans had unemployment rates of 10 percent and 14.6 percent respectively. Australia’s was 20 percent, but Canada’s was 24 percent.

There’s a simple reason why we didn’t finish last.

By 2001, the Community Development Employment Projects scheme (CDEP) was starting to gather steam.

CDEP was a program where Aboriginal people worked for the dole in, as the name suggested, projects aimed at building their communities.

It was created in 1977 by Aboriginal people near Katherine in the Northern Territory, as a local solution to local problems.

The program was quickly adopted – voluntarily – by Aboriginal communities around the nation, so much so that by 1996 the Census reported it was operating in more than 250 locations.

Enter the white man, in this case the Howard government.

By the mid-2000s, the Howard government had begun branding the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) a “failed experiment in self-determination”.

ATSIC had to go, Howard decided, and CDEP, which was administered by ATSIC, had to go with it. It had become a “destination” rather than a step into real employment, said Howard’s ministry at the time.

When the government finally axed the program in 2007, Aboriginal unemployment had dropped to around 13.8 percent.

Today, four years after the death of CDEP, unemployment now sits at around 20 percent again.

If you want more evidence of the power of black design over white malaise, then look no further than the federal government’s recent experiences in Aboriginal housing.

While dumping on all manner of Australian Government programs aimed at alleviating Aboriginal disadvantage, the Indigenous Expenditure Review which Gillard fought so hard to suppress actually praises one scheme – the Home Ownership Program (HOP).

HOP is one of the few government programs which is actually self-funding, and was described by the Auditor General at the turn of the century as one of the best programs in the Commonwealth.

The program enables black families to access home loans at interest rates one percent lower than the Commonwealth Bank rate. Most importantly, you also don’t require substantial savings to qualify. You just need a capacity to service the loan, and a good rental history.

HOP has been around for almost two decades. Like CDEP, it was an Aboriginal creation, having been designed and launched by ATSIC. Enter the white man again. Specifically, Mal Brough.

After the abolition of the ATSIC, the HOP program – which the Commonwealth retained – saw its waiting list blow out to several years. As a result, in 2008-09, applications nose-dived by 34 percent.

Aboriginal people – who had been queuing up to access an Aboriginal controlled and created program – walked away in droves.

The Howard government could have eliminated the backlog with a fresh injection of funds – money that it would get back through the payment of interest by Aboriginal homeowners. Instead, Brough constructed a brand new program, called HOIL – Home Ownership on Indigenous Lands. He quarantined more than $100 million in housing funds desperately needed by a people who were, in many communities, sharing a single dwelling with more than 20 other residents.

Brough’s bold plan was to encourage Aboriginal people living on their own land to purchase their own homes.

Of course, Brough never stopped to ask whether Aboriginal people in remote regions even wanted to own their own homes. As it turns out, they overwhelmingly didn’t.

Thus, after several years, the HOIL program managed to secure just 15 loans worth less than $3 million.

At the same time, the Commonwealth was forced to spend almost $10 million to administer the program. By any measure, HOIL was a spectacular failure.

In yet another government report, the Australian National Audit Office slammed the program in late 2010: “While it is necessary that costs will be incurred for the establishment of a program of this nature, the administrative costs of $9.9 million for the HOIL program were very high compared to the low level of loan activity that ultimately resulted.”

Significantly, the Indigenous Expenditure Review, recommended that money be transferred out of HOIL and into HOP.

To her credit, Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin last year did precisely that. It had an immediate affect, with the waiting list dropping from around 1,500 to just over 400.

Despite the enduring failure of government, there is some light on the horizon, at least in NSW. It’s a pin-prick of light, but light none-the-less.

Earlier this month, the NSW Government announced a Ministerial Taskforce in response to the Auditor General’s report into the failed Two Ways Together program.

When the Two Ways Together report was released, Victor Dominello, the new Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in the O’Farrell government, publicly stated that Aboriginal people were not responsible for the spectacular failure.

It was a surprise – if not refreshing – departure from the usual blame game levelled at the victim’s of government policy.

During an interview with this writer earlier this month (at the announcement of the Taskforce), Dominello was asked why he didn’t take the well worn ministerial path of blaming Aboriginal people for the failings of government.

“Because Aboriginal people weren’t at the table,” Dominello replied.

The NSW Liberal strategy of inviting Aboriginal leaders to the ministerial table is a radical departure from standard Australian government policy. It brings Aboriginal leaders into the process as equal partners. It puts Aboriginal people at least partly in control of the solutions.

As Stephen Ryan, chair of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (publisher of Tracker) put it, “It seems to be, and I hope it is, a taskforce that can address some of the outstanding issues.

“I certainly hope it will be a true partnership and it is, as the Minister says, something that hasn’t been tried before – us, the Aboriginal community of NSW, in the room with a third of the cabinet.

“It’s something we haven’t been given the opportunity to try before, so I’m certainly grateful to the Minister and his cabinet compatriots.

“But it is called a ‘taskforce’, and there’s a hard task ahead of all of us.”

A ministerial taskforce, it’s important to note, is not self-determination. To borrow a phrase from the Howard ministry, it cannot become the destination.

But it is a step in the right direction.

Just as Australia is the only nation on earth that uses the term ‘queue jumpers’ to describe perhaps the world’s most disadvantaged people, Australia is also the only Western nation on earth where self-determination is even debated, let alone considered controversial.

There also happens to be only one Western nation on earth with trachoma, a third world eye disease which has been eradicated in poor nations like Vietnam.

And there’s only one Western nation on earth which jails black males at a rate more than five times greater than South Africa did in 1993, when the Apartheid regime collapsed.

All of the reports mentioned in this feature are available on the NSWALC website, at http://www.alc.org.au (follow the publications link) or via the Tracker website download page (www.tracker.org.au/downloads).

But if you can’t be bothered reading the 40 pages of the Two Ways Together report; if you can’t be bothered reading the 56 pages of the Prime Minister’s Close the Gap report card; if you can be bothered reading the 346 pages of the Doing Time – Time for Doing report; if you can’t be bothered reading the 66 pages of the Productivity Commission’s Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report; and if you can’t be bothered reading the 470 pages of the Indigenous Expenditure Review report, do yourself a favour and read Paul Kauffman’s Diversity and Indigenous Policy Outcomes: Comparisons between Four Nations.

It’s only 28 pages, and it contains more solutions than all the other reports combined. If you’re really stuck for time, skip to the last page. There, you’ll find a table entitled ‘Key national policies and Indigenous outcomes’.

It notes that while Canada, New Zealand and the US all have “constitutional recognition of Indigenous peoples”, “Indigenous Treaties” and “Diversity-employment policies”, the column under Australia lists “none”, “none” and “few”.

Now look at the outcomes column.

The male lifespan of First Nations in Australia is 56. The others are between 67 and 68. Under infant mortality, our figures are almost twice as bad as New Zealand and the US. Over-representation in prison: United States, 1.4 times. Australia, 14 times.

Despite this, governments in Australia are still filing report after report on ‘how they broke it’, and ‘how they’ll fix it’.

The elephant in the room – the debate we must have – is about self-determination, the ONLY proven way to lift an Indigenous peoples above the atrocious affects of colonisation.

The fact is, the solutions for black poverty lie within black Australia, not white government.

Always have, always will.

RECOMMENDED READING

OTHER key works Australian governments might consider reading are the bi-annual Sustainable Governance Reports, from Bertelsmann Stiftung, a German think-tank which looks at the stability of nations around the world.

In the Australian report for 2009, one of the authors writes: “Ethnic minorities are not actively discriminated against, but it should perhaps also be noted that Indigenous Australians experience appallingly bad outcomes on almost all measures of economic and social well-being and health.

“While various programs and payments are made available to Indigenous persons, government provision of health care, community services and basic infrastructure in Indigenous communities is far from adequate.

“The federal government recognised this and has recently made a commitment to substantially increasing resources flowing into these communities [a reference to the Council of Australian Governments boost to Indigenous affairs funding].

“Nonetheless, to the extent that government policy has failed to rectify the adverse situation of Indigenous communities, it could be argued that the state does not protect Indigenous civil rights.”

The author of the report is none other than Roger Wilkins, the former secretary of the cabinet office of NSW, under Bob Carr when Two Ways Together was first launched. Wilkins, notably, is now the secretary of the Commonwealth Attorney Generals department, the very bureaucracy that designed the laws to suspend the Racial Discrimination Act to enable the Northern Territory intervention.

• Chris Graham is the Managing Editor of Tracker magazine. He is a Walkley Award winning writer and twice won the Human Rights Award for his reporting on First Nations in Australia.

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A history of marriage in Australia

ABC  The Drum
1 July 2011

Rodney Croome

Rodney Croome

Rodney Croome

On August 13, 2004, in a debate punctuated by rage and tears, the Senate passed a Howard government amendment to the Marriage Act banning same-sex marriages.

Rally

Rally in support of gay marriage rights (Getty Images: Luis Ascui)

Exactly 45 years earlier, on August 13, 1959, in the midst of debating Australia’s first national Marriage Act – the one Howard later amended – the House of Representatives erupted at the news an Aboriginal woman had been denied permission to marry.

In Darwin the protector of Aborigines had refused Gladys Namagu permission to marry her white fiance, Mick Daly. In response to questions from the opposition, the Menzies government promised such discrimination would never be written into Australian marriage law.

This coincidence highlights the direct link between the way Aborigines were once denied freedom to marry the partner of their choice and how gay and lesbian Australians are denied the same freedom today.

Yet the link runs deeper than infringing the principle of individual autonomy.

In an article published in the latest edition of Overland, I argue Australian governments have a shameful history of manipulating who ordinary people marry in order to engineer broader visions of what Australian society should be. This history goes back to the earliest times.

In convict Australia the government assumed control over who the majority of white Australians married and used this control for overt ideological purposes. Governor Philip wanted to create a native Australian yeomanry and rewarded those convicts who exhibited appropriate traits with permission to marry.

Forty years later, governor Arthur sought to inculcate convicts with industrial rather than agrarian values and gave the reward of permission to marry to convicts who conformed. There was resistance to these controls from convicts who insisted on marrying for the sake of love or children, from women convicts who married to escape the convict system and become “free subjects”, and of course from the anti-transportationists who despised this kind of governmental intervention in personal life and brought it, and convictism, to an end in the 1850s and 1860s.

But Australian governments had not lost their weakness for infringing freedom to marry. Into the 20th century women had to fight hard for the right to marry who they wished and conduct those marriages free of laws against contraception, abortion and divorce.

Because of the White Australia Policy servicemen in occupied Japan were refused permission to local Japanese women or, if they married anyway, were unable to return to Australia with their Japanese wives.

Infringement of Aboriginal freedom to marry was most notorious of all. Beginning in the 1860s in Victoria and culminating in the 1930s in West Australia and Queensland, authorities assumed ever more control of who Indigenous people married.

In Queensland the purpose was to prevent miscegenation by preventing black/white marriages. In WA it was to absorb blacks into the white population by preventing black/black unions.

The adverse effect on Indigenous people was always the same, and, as with convicts, some Aborigines resisted control. Women deliberately fell pregnant to their forbidden fiancés, couples escaped to states without marriage controls, and in 1935 the “half-caste women of Broome” petitioned the WA Parliament declaring:

Sometimes we have the chance to marry a man of our own choice… therefore we ask for our Freedom so that when the chance comes along we can rule our lives and make ourselves true and good citizens.

Aboriginal advocates in Sydney and Melbourne were slower to pick up on the issue. But when they did – as a way to prick the conscience of an Australia increasingly concerned about “Hitlerism” – the right to marry the partner of one’s choice shot to the top of Aboriginal Australia’s list of demands above land rights and equal pay, and second only to the right to vote.

When the case of Gladys and Mick hit the headlines across the world, thanks in part to an appeal to the UN Secretary General, it helped end the entire rotten system of Aboriginal protection laws and propelled the nation towards overwhelming endorsement of Aboriginal citizenship in 1967.

Many white Australian’s have forgotten how important freedom to marry was, but not so Indigenous people like lawyer, Tammy Williams. When the issue of same-sex marriage was raised during the recent national human rights consultation she said, “I couldn’t help but think about my family, when you talked about the right to choose your partner… In my family, it’s only one generation ago that we were prevented from choosing our chosen partner to marry – not because of sexual orientation, but simply because of our race, our Aboriginality.

The denial to gay and lesbian Australians of our freedom to marry follows the historical pattern I have outlined.

The decision to form a lifelong legal union with one other person is one of the most important decisions most of us is ever called on to make. To rob an entire group of citizens of the legal right to make that decision sends the message that they are not fully adults, fully citizens or fully human. This was the burden convicts and Aborigines carried in their day and it is the burden gay and lesbian Australians carry today.

As it was in the past, today’s infringement of the freedom to marry is part of a broader ideological vision imposed by government. That vision is a theocratic one which sees the subtle re-introduction of Biblical values back into civil law following their removal in the second half of the 20th century.

Most importantly, the success of today’s freedom to marry movement will, like the movements before it, have consequences far beyond those directly affected. It will mean a re-affirmation of equity, impartiality and humanity as the values that govern Australian law. It will mean marriage is no longer manipulated to discriminatory, ideological ends and is instead what it should be, an affirmation of love, a commitment to fidelity, a source of security and a font of personal happiness.

Routine violations of the freedom to marry seem to well up from the bedrock of Australia’s history. But so do challenges to these abuses. As a result, when these challenges succeed, Australian society matures quickly and profoundly.

Rodney Croome AM, is an honorary lecturer in sociology at the University of Tasmania.

Source

Should we name and shame online racists?

Tory Shepherd

by Tory Shepherd

18 Jan 05:50am

——————————————————————————

The interwebs are a cesspit of bigotry, bullying and racism, hate and snuff porn, and all things dark and evil, right?

Does anonymity breed hate? Pic: AP

Right. But, being a human place, they’re also full of wit and wisdom and things of beauty.

It’s hard to tell who’s winning, but there’s a bloody interesting skirmish going on. Twitter user @lizsinnott tweeted a screenshot from a Facebook page on which a bunch of racist nongs had posted racist rubbish about an ad for indigenous education.

Pig ignorant, superficial, uneducated, poorly composed, petty, nasty crap like:

God! Look at that boonga nose! Disgusting! Maybe if they stopped pretending to be Australian dancing animals who beat sticks and think it’s music and started being humans who dont live off the doll they’d get somewhere in life.

Disgusting indeed.

Another Twitter user, @swearycat, posted the screenshot on their blog. It spread through social media. And then people started tracking down the racist clowns, figuring out where they worked, and reporting them to their employers.

Modern medium, classic name and shame.

I won’t repeat the names here, because the people who are now involved in the exposé are redacting the names as people apologise, so I’ll leave the list in their capable hands.

The broader question is: Is naming and shaming an effective tactic against people being dickwads, and worse?

It certainly got Marieke Hardy in trouble. Hardy joined in a shaming exercise under the hashtag #mencallmethings, pointing to a blog post she’d written about the author of “ranting, violent” online attacks against her – but got the name wrong, and was forced to apologise.

But what if you get it right, and can literally shame people into realising the error of their ways?

The best outcome would be that you might force people to realise they let the crazy free-for-all hatefest of the internet go to their heads. They might just take a good hard look at themselves. It might make them think about what they say, and stop feeding the beast.

It might just make them stop spreading hate speech on Facebook, and turn to forums where it’s easier to stay anonymous. Anonymity gives people great freedom to voice their most horrid thoughts, to give free reign to foul ideas and to become world wide bullies.

It could, conceivably, encourage people to pose as others and post hateful things in order to discredit their enemies.

It could encourage cyber vigilantes.

I still reckon it’s worth a go. Like it or not, the internet is a frontier town. It’s close to lawless – and that’s part of its beauty. Censorship is not the answer; neither is removing the cloak of anonymity that allows people to speak without fear of retribution.

But where bad ideas fester, and hate speech flourishes, the best weapon against it is fresh air and sunlight, and the ridicule of the cyberworld.

And if you’re stupid enoughto be racist, and to put your own name to your racism, well you’ve already done the naming and shaming part yourself.

@ToryShepherd

Source

Underarm stink also underhand

SMH National Times
Waleed Aly
January 13, 2012

Opinion

Ranting racist

Illustration: Andrew Dyson.

Teresa Gambaro’s wrong-headed remarks about migrants are symbolic of a wider problem with Coalition attitudes.

How did Teresa Gambaro’s father smell? Let us survey the evidence. His first Australian job was as a farmhand in the hot, sweaty climes of north Queensland. It’s unclear how long he stuck at this, but it must have been quite some time because it gave him enough savings to buy a small fish store, which rapidly grew into an impressive seafood business.

From this, I am apparently to deduce that he stank. Not simply because of his obviously stench-filled path from farm labourer to fishmonger. Mainly because he migrated to Australia from a war-ravaged Italy. This indicates his personal hygiene was not up to Australian standards, and more specifically, that he was insufficiently acquainted with the virtues of deodorant. On this I cite no less pertinent an authority than his own daughter, Teresa, who so infamously declared this week that migrants need to be taught such things if they are to integrate. You smell! What began as a schoolyard insult suddenly became public policy formulation.

Public outrage was swift and loud, and Gambaro’s apology inevitable and ”unreserved”. She regrets ”any offence that may have been taken”. So, that’s that, then. Case closed. ”Let’s move on,” pleads acting Opposition Leader Warren Truss.

Not so fast. Certainly, there is little point expounding further on the myriad ways in which Gambaro’s remarks were wrong-headed. So plain is the error, and so pervasive the retorts that further substantive analysis is now redundant. But this doesn’t mean we should simply press on as though nothing has happened. Something has happened. Something that keeps happening. Something telling about the Coalition’s approach to the politics of culture.

You’ll remember that patch from around 2005 when Coalition MPs, then in government, seemed to be competing with each other to demonstrate belligerence on the issue of migration and integration. Mostly (and predictably given world events) this was directed towards Muslims. Bronwyn Bishop demanded that we ban headscarves in schools because they made women subservient, then when confronted with the fact that many headscarved women felt perfectly free, said they were like Nazis who felt free in Nazi Germany. Brendan Nelson told Muslims who didn’t know the story of Simpson and his donkey to ”clear off”. More recently Cory Bernardi declared that ”Islam itself is the problem”, describing it as ”an ideology that is mired in 6th-century brutality”.

But this invective is not confined to Muslims. Recall Kevin Andrews’ pledge to cut the immigration intake from Africa in 2007 because Africans fail to integrate. And this in response to the murder of a young Sudanese refugee by young white men; an impressive victim-blaming manoeuvre.

Such outbursts may not be Coalition policy, but they express a certain political logic that Coalition policy does express, just in more moderated tones. The individual who goes too far (like Gambaro) is transgressing only in degree, not in essence.

A day before Gambaro opined about stench, opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison attacked the government’s multiculturalism policies as mere ”symbolism”. This is a familiar Coalition theme. It is the reason John Howard gave for refusing to apologise to the stolen generations. In its own narrative, the Coalition doesn’t do gestures. It does commonsense, practical things. None of that ”mushy, misguided multiculturalism” Peter Costello so abhorred.

Just tell migrants how to act, what to value and what to spray on their armpits; it’s direct action for wogs.

But there’s a deceit here. Far from being baldly practical, the Coalition’s cultural politics are every bit as symbolic as Labor’s. To see this, we need only recall the citizenship test initiative of 2006. The headline message was clear: tougher citizenship requirements to make sure only the worthy get admitted. But the practical effects of the policy were far less hairy-chested. The test was hardly taxing, and for most categories of migrant, the changes meant they could become citizens sooner – after four years’ residence rather than five.

Meanwhile, government literature banged on with slogans such as ”Australian citizenship is a privilege, not a right” and sample questions emerged evoking Bradman and Phar Lap. This was naked iconography. And the government was sure to announce the policy several times: first in the form of a discussion paper, then as a confirmed policy position, then as a budget item deserving of its own specific press release.

This was clearly something the Howard government wanted to talk about. Much as it liked to talk about the importance of migrants learning English while it was cheerfully slashing funding for English-language tuition. Clearly, the rhetoric demanding integration mattered more than the resources that might encourage it.

What little I know of Mr Gambaro’s work history I learned from his daughter’s maiden speech to Parliament. In the present context it makes particularly interesting reading because of the warmth it expresses towards Italian migrants and the way it celebrates Chinatown (located in Gambaro’s seat of Brisbane) and doesn’t once complain about the smell. But the symbolic order of a party is rarely set by maiden speeches. And here we must recognise the symbolism that pretends to be practical. To refuse to apologise to the stolen generations is a symbolic gesture in its own right. To declare that migrants disproportionately have a deodorant problem, citing no more evidence than ”you hear reports” of these things, is deeply symbolic. Symbolism is not confined to feel-good politics. Prejudice needs its symbols, too.

Waleed Aly is a broadcaster and a politics lecturer at Monash University.

Source

Voters Support On-Shore Processing

ONLY one in five Labor voters supports Julia Gillard’s desire to press ahead with sending asylum seekers offshore for processing as cabinet this morning considers legislation to get around the High Court’s decision striking down the Malaysia solution.

In The Age/Nielsen poll, 22 per cent of ALP voters said asylum seekers should be sent to another country to be assessed, 62 per cent said they should be allowed to land in Australia and processed here and 13 per cent took the hardest option of wanting the boats sent back to sea.
Coalition voters were also unenthusiastic about the offshore solution with only 32 per cent supporting it, 44 per cent saying people should be processed here and 19 per cent wanting them sent back to sea.

Greens voters were overwhelmingly in favour of Australian processing (83 per cent), with just 10 per cent favouring an offshore solution and 6 per cent wanting boats turned around.
Women are more likely than men to support processing in Australia (58 to 51 per cent) as are younger voters, with almost two-thirds of those aged 18-24 in favour compared with less than half of those over 55. Capital city voters were more likely to support local processing than those in regional areas (58 to 48 per cent).
A special cabinet meeting today will consider the form of proposed legislation before caucus meets at 9am. The government priority is to try to revive the Malaysia deal.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland said cabinet would consider an amendment to the Migration Act. He said there were various ways this could be framed. It could be drafted to encompass three particular sites, one particular site, ”or indeed, [give] a broader discretion to the minister. They are essentially the drafting options,” he told Channel Ten.
At a faction meeting before the full caucus meeting, the left is expected to support onshore processing although it is not united. A left convener, Doug Cameron, said yesterday: ”The federal Labor Party should respect our obligations under the UN convention, the 2009 Labor platform and the High Court decision.”
With the Greens against any offshore processing, the fate of the legislation will rest with the opposition. It has declared itself strongly against the Malaysia people swap and wants processing in Nauru.
Internally there are different shades of opinion. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is said to be very much against allowing people to be sent to a country like Malaysia that is not a signatory to the UN convention and where Australia doesn’t control the processing.
Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison is said to have a more flexible attitude. The opposition’s final attitude will depend on the wording of the legislation and the outcome of internal debate among senior Coalition figures.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/national/voters-say-no-to-offshore-process-20110911-1k49e.html#ixzz1YICdIR3C

High Court Decision: opportunity not disaster

justice

The Government, the Opposition and the media punditocracy are out in force analysing and dissecting the High Court decision made on 31st August in the case of

PLAINTIFF M70/2011 v MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP PLAINTIFF M106 OF 2011 BY HIS LITIGATION GUARDIAN, PLAINTIFF M70/2011 v MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP[2011] HCA 32

In summary the principles established in the High Court’s judgement are:

1. Malaysia cannot be used as a country where asylum seekers arriving in Australia can be processed. Nor is it the case that Malaysia is legally bound to provide the access and protections the Migration Act requires for a valid declaration. Malaysia is not a party to the Refugees Convention or its Protocol. The Arrangement which the Minister signed with the Malaysian Minister for Home Affairs on 25 July 2011 said expressly that it was not legally binding.

2. An unaccompanied asylum seeker under the age of 18 cannot be removed from Australia without the written consent of the Minister for Immigration.

3. Under s 198A of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth), the Minister cannot validly declare a country as a country to which asylum seekers can be taken for processing unless the country is bound either by domestic or international law to provide proper assessment of claims, proper protection while awaiting assessment and provide protection for persons given refugee status pending their voluntary return to their country of origin or their resettlement in another country.

4. The Court also held that the Minister has no other power under the Migration Act to remove from Australia asylum seekers whose claims for protection have not been determined unless the country fulfils the requirements outlined in (3).

In effect, the decision has also thrown the whole of the contentious Section 198 of the Migration Act into doubt. This section among other things enabled both the notion of off-shore processing of asylum seekers and specifically the so-called “Pacific Solution” used by the Howard Government.

Further, s198C (7)already states that decisions of the Refugee Review Tribunal are subject to potential challenges under Section 75 under the Constitution.

Ron Merkel, QC, in an opinion sought by the advocacy organisation GetUp! said there would be ”reasonably good prospects”of a successful legal challenge to any new attempt to use Nauru and Manus Island as third country processors

That such a fundamentally flawed section of an Act should have withstood challenge for so long has its origins in the elections of 1996, 1998 and 2001.

Howard set out to appeal to the millions of poor Australians whose futures had been
thrown into turmoil by the economic restructuring of the Hawke and Keating Governments… He and other conservatives supported that restructuring, but sought to mobilise the anger and resentment into racist nationalism and hostility towards welfare. Liberal Party pollster, Mark Textor, assiduously studied the racial outlook of Australian voters. His polling formed the basis for Howard’s notorious 2001 election campaign. In this way, some working class people were turned against their own interests. In 2000, when Labor politician Anthony Albanese, campaigned against the GST in northern NSW amongst some of the poorest people in Australia—those living in caravan parks—he found far more concern about the supposed threat of boat people, than about a tax that would make them even poorer.

However Labor was not free of responsibility either. Labor long had the White Australia Policy as a centrepiece of its own platform.

Since the Vietnam war, Labor has been identified with anti-racism. But Labor’s ability to fight the racism of Coalition governments has been compromised by its own history and ideology.

In a response to what at the time were changing and more enlightened community attitudes, by 1973 Labor had been confident enough to declare the end of the White Australia Policy.

The Liberals, firstly under Fraser then under Peacock and Hewson, had also moved away from the party’s former rabid bigotry and for a while there was effectively a bi-partisan approach to dealing with asylum seekers arriving in boats from conflicts in South-East Asia and later, East Timor. But then

It was an ALP government that began the cruel business of locking up asylum seekers in the late 1980s. Finally, Labor’s electoralism makes it hesitant about confronting racist hysteria. This cowardice saw the ALP back the Tampa kidnapping, the ‘Pacific solution’ of dumping refugees in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, the detention centres and then the draconian ‘security’ laws passed as part of the ‘war on terror’. Labor’s leader from late 2003, Mark Latham, shared most of the Coalition’s economic liberalism and much of John Howard’s hostility to welfare and refugees.

Hard on the heels of the mandatory detention decision came the Pauline Hanson “phenomenon”. The main driver of the Hanson campaign was the channelling of the focusless xenophobia of sections of the Australian electorate, never far from the surface when economic woes hit. The main pre-occupation of a resurgent Liberal Party was to maximise the damage to its own brand caused by the overwhelming popularity of Bob Hawke and the adoption by Paul Keating of what were effectively neo-liberal financial reforms. Howard’s strategy was to woo the “battlers”, often traditionally Labor voters, by parading a convenient scapegoat for the economic hardships brought about by both the transition to economic reform in this country and by the state of the world economy at the time.

So it seems that if either the Government or the Opposition want to revisit dumping asylum seekers in any third country in the name of chasing the votes of a noisy minority of Australians, that option is now blocked.

There is an opportunity here for both parties, along with the Greens and independents, to take the resettlement and processing of refugees out of the political sphere completely. At various times the idea of having an independent commission looking after the needs of refugees and asylum seekers has been proposed. This would effectively defuse the issue as an opportunistic occasion for the promotion of xenophobia. At the moment, extremist groups are using the race to the bottom of the two major parties as a signal that racism and bigotry are now “respectable” components of political discourse, while the leadership of major parties, whatever their personal views, have not hesitated to amplify these groundless fears in the name of clinging to marginal seats.

There is an opportunity too for major parties to take back the disillusioned voters who used to be the backbone of their organisations, but who will not involve themselves in parties which remain silent in the face of resurgent xenophobia – a resurgence which not only demonises new arrivals, but also older immigrant groups, Indigenous Australians and religious minorities.

Prime Minister Gillard needs to tough things out and to use the asylum seeker decision to revisit Labor policy on the issue, thus taking it out of the political arena. Trying to pander to the lowest of the low does not work in either Labor or the Coalition’s best interests.

Phil Griffiths: Racism: whitewashing the class divide

The High Court Decision

A view from Skeptic Lawyer

I Say Debate, You Say Gotcha. Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

By Greg Jericho

Last week before the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Immigration Detention Network, the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship did something rather bold for a public servant – he suggested politicians question current policy.

How bold was Andrew Metcalfe? Here are some of the questions he posed:

How do we manage reception? By this I refer not only to the policy of mandatory detention, but refer to the broader issue of how we manage unauthorised arrivals at our border, and indeed how we manage our detention network? Does immigration detention facilitate case resolution? What range of facilities should be utilised? For how long is an immigration arrival and status determination process in a detention centre environment required? There are many questions for you, as parliamentarians, to consider.

So it was not like Metcalfe was entering the hairdressers and asking for a bit of a trim. Nope he went in, sat down and said, “I’m in the mood for something new – surprise me”.

And how did the politicians respond? Did they surprise anyone? Well that’d be a no.

Here was the Opposition Immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison:

“It is not in Australia’s interests for there to be any further confusion about the Government’s policy on asylum seekers.”

Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Chris Bowen was also quick off the mark, a spokesman saying:

“The Government’s position is clear: mandatory detention is an essential component of border control and we make no apologies for detaining unauthorised arrivals for checks of health, identity and security risks to the community.”

Whew, that’s good. No need for debate, then. Even better is that we finally found an issue on which the ALP and Liberal Party are able to display some of that old fashioned bipartisanship. Here again is Morrison:

“Mr Metcalfe last night I think simply echoed the terms of reference for this inquiry.”

And Chris Bowen? A spokesman again:

“Mr Metcalfe was clearly referring to the inquiry’s terms of reference in relation to mandatory detention.”

Ah, so we have an inquiry but we are not to answer any of the questions posed because they are not really questions – merely echoes of the terms of reference. It rather makes you wonder about the whole point of the terms of reference, given they state the committee has been “appointed to inquire into and report on:

(g) the impact, effectiveness and cost of mandatory detention and any alternatives, including community release”

If “reporting on” and “inquiring into” means automatically rejecting doing anything, it rather reduces the degree of difficulty in the whole exercise doesn’t it?

Mandatory detention was of course brought in by the Keating Government in May 1992 in response to the massive flood of asylum seekers arriving by boat in the previous year. How many are we talking about? Try six boats and 214 people.

Yep – panic stations.

The passing of the bill didn’t really do a great deal. In 1992 there were another 216 people, down to 81 in 1993 and then nicely up to 953 in 1994. You can read about it all in the Parliamentary Library’s excellent Background Note: Boat arrivals in Australia since 1976.

Now you would think that one of the Key Performance Indicators of mandatory detention would be to halt the influx of asylum seekers – it must be otherwise Scott Morrison wouldn’t suggest that changing it “can send very significant messages to the people smuggling trade”.

However, if we have a look at the four years prior to mandatory detention going full scale, 624 asylum seekers arrived by boat. In the four year period afterwards, there were 2,182.

There’s nothing like seeing a policy meet a Key Performance Indicator is there?

But hey, I know you can prove anything with statistics, so I guess when the numbers increased to 921 in 1998-99 that was just another indicator of mandatory detention doing a bang-up job of halting asylum seekers coming by boat.

I know – it’s all just part of a bigger scheme and the introduction of Temporary Protection Visas in October 1999 did the trick. So the 4,175 that came in 1999-2000 or the 4,137 that came in 2001-02 was just another great example of a policy working well.

Ahh yes, but it was the off-shore processing that did the trick I hear you say. And yes it did knock the stuffing out of the numbers – but why would anyone think it would work again? Here was Tony Abbott describing Nauru in Parliament on June 16:

“I have seen where boat people will be accommodated—and well accommodated. I have seen where boat people’s children will be educated—and well educated. I have seen the police headquarters which will deal with security issues involving boat people in Nauru. And I can tell you this, Mr Speaker: there are no rattans in Nauru and there are no whipping posts in Nauru.”

Well accommodated, well educated, secure, no whipping posts.

Yep, a real deterrent.

But “off shore processing” is not mandatory detention, and while yes the public is firmly in favour of the policy – the latest Nielsen Poll on the issue showed 64 per cent of voters were in favour of mandatory detention – to think that politicians can’t even debate the issue for fear of looking “soft” is a bizarre reaction, when you consider that detention has been pretty comprehensively shown not to be any deterrent whatsoever.

Add to this, the president of the AMA, Dr Steve Hambleton also stated:

The AMA believes that the system of mandatory detention of asylum seekers is inherently harmful to the physical and mental health of detainees. The harm is especially acute in the case of children.

Did this provoke a need for either the Labor or the Liberal Party to “inquire” into mandatory detention? Err no.

Not debating issues has become the norm for contentious issues in recent times. It is part of a tactic which plays nicely into the standard media “gotcha” type questions.

We saw this in great occurrence earlier in the year on the carbon tax. Wayne Swan was asked about petrol and the carbon tax. He responded that it was inappropriate for people to suggest anything is included or excluded from the tax, given that it was still being formulated. The headline?”

Wayne Swan refuses to rule out petrol tax in proposed carbon tax.

When it came to dealing with the “tax forum” in October, Swan was much better prepared, and was ready to rule out anything that might actually ensure the tax forum discusses anything remotely like fundamental tax reform:

Negative gearing? Hell no.

GST? What – why on earth would you discuss at a tax forum the third-biggest tax in this country after income and company tax? That would just be silly and so Swan came out straight away when announcing the forum, stating:

I’ve made it abundantly clear what the Government’s position on the GST is – we are not touching its base or its rate. If people want to talk about it at the forum they can, but the policy of the Gillard Government is not to touch the base or the rate of the GST.

So yes – you can talk about it, we just rule out doing anything.

Unfortunately for Swan the tax forum discussion paper did include a congestion tax on the agenda. And so we got on the front page of The Daily Telegraph:

Second Wave of a Tax

More levies on horizon could add to carbon woes

STILL reeling from the announcement of a carbon tax, drivers could be hit by another wave of green-induced financial pain.

A string of new taxes are on the agenda, with the federal government exploring more options to hit taxpayers where it hurts. A road congestion tax, designed to limit the use of cars on city streets.

This was despite Swan actually having already ruled it out (even ruling things out isn’t enough at times).

It is thus no surprise that politicians have become too scared to even enter into debate on an issue. Rationality is discarded even before the conversation has begun – talk of any contentious issues quickly becomes an intention to implement.

Interestingly, even sections of the media have caught this disease. When at the National Press Club in July, Julia Gillard said in response to a question about a media inquiry that she would “be happy to sit down with the parliamentarians and discuss that review that people are contemplating”. The Australian responded the next day suggesting “This is no time for PM to bow to Brown”, with Dennis Shanahan writing:

Media inquiries into convergence, ownership, market share, service delivery, public-private control, ethics and its very “role” are messy, disruptive and difficult enough to conduct in a calm atmosphere with a stable and mature government.

Ahh so they’re messy. Best not inquire then – especially when we have editorials, opinion pieces and front page stories all telling us that there is nothing to see, move on.

I guess while The Australian can write:

When bureaucrats complain about being held to account the rest of us start wondering what they have got to hide

such a sense of wonder does not apply when media organisations complain about being held to account…

And so the tactic of no debate has a strong hold over political and media discourse (or lack of it). No debate means no possibility of change – especially if such change may be unpopular for a Government, or (even worse) may lead to a conclusion the Government, or opposition, or media organisations want.

This however is not the only tactic for stopping conclusions and decision. The other is that of constant debate. And for the issue that most sees this tactic employed climate change and a price on carbon has no peer. Yes small things will be ruled out but for those opposing a carbon price, the debate must continue – for the time is not ripe, the Government needs to discuss things with the premiers, with industry, with farmers, with the electorate (or God help us with a community forum), the science is not settled, we need another election, we need to wait for America, for China, for the next UN summit.

But at some stage you need to stop talking and act.

On the weekend I read this interesting statement about pricing carbon:

By far the most efficient and effective way to spur conservation is to raise the cost of fossil fuels. Current prices fail to reflect the very real environmental costs of pumping carbon dioxide into the air. The answer is a tax on CO2 emissions – or a CO2 user fee, if that is a more palatable term. The fee need not raise a country’s overall tax burden; it could be offset by reductions in income taxes or other levies.

Now I know such a line does not seem all that interesting – after all it essentially mirrors what Julia Gillard and Greg Combet have been saying all year. What is interesting is that quote came from Time Magazine in January 1989. Twenty two years ago.

Debate is good and we need to move past the reflex fear that even discussing an issue means implementation and change. But at some point you need to call time and make a decision.

Otherwise we might as well save everyone a lot of time and rule out everything now.

Greg Jericho is an amateur blogger who spends too much of his spare time writing about politics and not enough time watching all the DVDs he buys each weekend.

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