19 Jul. 2008

Quotes on mandatory detention

From an article in the SMH today:*

Labor MP Michael Danby on the $396 million Christmas Island detention centre: "giant Liberal steel prophylactic, a rusting stalag in the Christmas Island jungle and a monument to the folly of the previous government".

Deputy PM Julia Gillard: "We've always said that if people arrived unauthorised, they will have to be detained for health, security and identity checks." (This is a pretty minimal detention regime, more akin to mandatory quarantine. However, it's premises are dubious. Why do unauthorized arrivals have to be detained for such checks? Plenty of people can enter Australia without health checks and with only the security and identity checks in the immigration and customs halls in the airport terminal. The reason to detain immigrants is not for such tests, but precisely to prevent their entry into Australia. As such, the process must lead either to deportation or indefinite detention.)

Former detainee, Morteza Poorvadi: "The Iranian government could break our bones but not break our spirit; we were fighting for some reason. In Australia they break your spirit, they make you feel you are nothing, not in control of your life, they tell you when to sleep, eat, watch TV, what time to smoke. They say you are nothing and if you don't like it, just go back."

*The weird tagline to this article is "The question is not whether we detain asylum seekers, but on what terms, writes Connie Levett." Weird, because Levett does not phrase the debate in this scurrilous way – rather, it is phrased this way by the former detainee at the heart of the article, Morteza Poorvadi, and by the federal parliamentary inquiry, according to Levett.

15 Jul. 2008

Right to annoy constitutionally protected

Australian federal judicial authorities have struck down the outlawing of annoying behaviour towards World Youth Day pilgrims in NSW. This is a significant, but of course incomplete, victory. Political activity that disrupts physically ('inconveniences') the operation of the shebang is remains illegal.

Update: Interesting article in the Herald today by two UNSW legal scholars. Their claim is that the judgment is really anomalous: it's based only on the claim that parliament somehow did not intend to pass an element of the legislation it did pass. As such, it's really a dubious judgment, one that is more by accident than by any check or balance other than the sheer existence of judicial oversight. This really boils down to something that everyone should know, although probably rather few do, namely that there is no overarching protection of freedom of speech in Australia.

14 Jul. 2008

Pell on demography

Very interesting are the Australian Catholic primate Cardinal Pell's comments on the relation between religion and demographics: effectively he's linking the decline of religion causally to a demographic decline, which in turn is characterised as a disaster. There's two dubious steps here: firstly the causal link, and secondly the normative characterisation. I'm surprised never to have heard this line before, thinking about it: for Christians, it is surely our duty to go forth and multiply? Actually, not really, I suppose. While this is clearly a tenet of Islam, Christianity is much more death-driven: for Christian morality sex is bad. So sex without kids is worse than sex with, since it makes it purposeless sin, but no kids and demographic annihilation is the logical consequence of everyone embracing Christ-like celibacy.

The causal link is basically a joke. Demographic decline is occurring, I would suggest, because of a variety of things including the welfare state (you don't have to have kids to provide in old age), relative economic prosperity (ditto), women's liberation (women have something to do other than have kids – although this freedom has of course been turned against us in neoliberalism, with an injunction to toil replacing the former injunction to breed, driving breeding still lower). It's true that women's liberation is to some extent the outcome of the decline of traditional religion that assigned women to a breeding role, but that doesn't mean it's the result of a decline of religiosity per se – if anything, this is another result of the decline of tradition, which mandated both sexual subservience and religiosity. The welfare state has also partially replaced traditional religion, as indeed has relative economic prosperity. In short, the same social shift encompassing secularisation and low rates of demographic increase – getting back into religion isn't going to help, although getting into Catholicism might since it would mean identifying sex with breeding.

The negative characterisation of demographic decline is something I'm even more surprised not to have seen lately. The only place one typically hear's such talk however, is on the extreme right. It's therefore ipso facto worrying to hear a mainstream figure like Pell talking in a way that obviously connotes notions of racial vitality.

12 Jul. 2008

Catholics in the NSW government

Rigorous constitutional separation of religion and state anyone? Succinct Herald article detailing NSW ministers' relations to the religious aspects of World Youth Day. Bottom-line: purported economic benefits of government support of World Youth Day don't stack up. At best, it's electoral pandering; at worst, a hobby-horse of a Catholic regime. Either way there's better things to spend the money on in NSW. The best example would be transportation infrastructure.

8 Jul. 2008

Catholic Church in Australia: still in denial

ABC's Lateline last night staged a timely intervention, showing that the Australian Catholicism was still in the business of protecting its officers who have sexually assaulted its flock.

Specifically, the Australian primate, Cardinal George Pell, misrepresented the findings of Church investigations into one clergyman to that clergyman's victim, Anthony Jones. An internal inquiry into the case found a substantial admission of guilt from the clergyman and upheld the complaints of sexual assault, but Pell in a letter to Jones claimed that the inquiry had found no evidence, that the clergyman involved had denied the claims, and, moreover, that the clergyman involved had never had any other claims made against him. However, it appears that Pell the same day wrote to another victim of the clergyman's upholding their complaint! This kind of dissimulation is breathtaking, and shows the Catholic Church today to be an organisation mired in criminal conspiracy to commit acts of sexual assault against people in its care.

Update: Pell has responded with the fairly unbelievable claim that the drafting of the letter to Jones was a mistake – still in denial indeed.

7 Jul. 2008

History of Sydney WYD by Linda Morris


Incredibly, this is entitled 'Almost There: The Long Road to Success', despite the fact that what it details is more in the order of a farce than a success – modest governmental support for WYD, becomes a ballooning burden to the public purse, federal, state and local, and a pain in the arse for Sydneysiders. From figures at the end, it looks as if we're talking state subsidies to WYD in the order of $500 per pilgrim.

RTBU call strike action for WYD

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union have called a strike on the trains in Sydney for World Youth Day. I suppose this may by brinkmanship and may not actually happen, but if it does it is very significant, in that it means that the RTBU are acting with complete indifference to both the Catholic Church (which has historically had a good deal of interpenetration with the Australian labour movement, particularly in Catholic strongholds like Sydney) and the Australian Labor Party, or more specifically its Right faction, which governs NSW, thus are the bosses as far as CityRail is concerned, and, as we've previously reported, is Catholic-dominated and sponsoring WYD in Sydney. This is not a complete surprise, in that it's in line with the RTBU's criticism of the ALP for some time, as well as being part of a general hostility from the labour movement towards the NSW government that has even included many of the elected ALP politicians in the state.

It's difficult to know, certainly for an outsider like me, what's going on here. The RTBU's story is that they are simply trying to achieve maximal leverage for their workers' demands. The threat of strike follows that logic. An actual strike goes further. While demonstrating the seriousness of the workers' demands, it feeds into discontent around WYD and the NSW government to provide leverage for forces trying to remove the current NSW ALP regime.

Update: the SMH is reporting that the strike is off, amidst the most florid use of the passive voice I have ever seen, extraordinary even by the grammatical standards of Australian politics today:

"Industrial action has been agreed to dropped," Mr Watkins said.

What this use of the passive indicates is the attempt by the government to cover up the fact that it has shat its already shitty pants and acquiesced to the union's demands rather than face the clusterfuck this strike promised to bring on.

Solicitor allegedly brutalised, arrested by NSW Police for offering legal advice

Story here.

One odd thing about this story is that it was fairly prominent in the SMH print edition, but conspicuously absent from their online frontpage – one has to fossick for it in the 'National' sub-page (which is a designation I find a little weird as it's really a local, rather than national, story – I think 'Australian' would be a better heading for this area, but perhaps that adjective in itself connotes Fairfax's arch-rival in a way they want to avoid).

1 Jul. 2008

World Youth Day legislation

It will be made illegal to 'annoy' World Youth Day pilgrims, on the pain of arrest and $5,500 fines.

This is an extraordinary bias towards the rights of pilgrims at the expense of the rights of ordinary people, towards visiting outsiders at the expense of locals.

The NSW government is engaged in a wholesale sponsorship of World Youth Day that I think may be understood by reference to 3 factors:

1. (Maybe) Catholics are perceived to be an important electoral constituency

2. (Maybe) Catholics have serious weight within the NSW ALP, particularly the Right

3. (Definitely) the NSW government is dominated by and headed by a Catholic.

It's both emblematic of and the apogee of the blurring of church and state in NSW.