23 June 2006

Sydney Futures Twilight Symposia


Sydney is a global metropolis sliding into chaos. A beautiful city with a declining infrastructure, a city once characterised by its concerns for social justice, it is now harder to live in, unhealthier, more dangerous, more expensive, and far less equitable than its potential holds. In a desire to stimulate a comprehensive debate among its citizens about the future of our city and its region, the University of Technology Sydney, the university of the city, sponsors six twilight symposia focusing on critical issues in the city’s future.

In a desire to stimulate a comprehensive debate among its citizens about the future of our city and its region, the University of Technology Sydney, the university of the city, sponsors six twilight symposia focusing on critical issues in the city's future. The symposia are held every six weeks or so, with the final event a free public forum 2 weeks out from the March 2007 state election. A search conference in April 2007 will focus attention on the post-election issues and how policies will need to be developed and implemented. Further information on the conference will appear later in 2006.

Each symposium will be addressed by leading figures in the field, planners, advocates, academics and social critics, who will identify and analyse the issues and look for solutions. There will be time for questions and comments. The collected papers will be published by UTS e-Press through the TFC occasional papers series; there will be a series blog. The series will be podcasted.

22 June 2006

Australia: trampling on the dignity and sovereignty of Iraqis

"They are trampling on the dignity and sovereignty of Iraqis," Abdel Falah al-Sudani, a member of Parliament's dominant Shiite bloc, said on state television.

The minister lashed out at Australia after escorts guarding an embassy delegation that visited him at his Baghdad office shot dead one of his own guards and wounded several others.

Yes. The Iraqi people have no sovereignty. Iraq is under occupation by the Anglosphere. There is no other explanation. A country in which the representatives of a foreign power travel around with weapons and can shoot anyone they like. American soldiers and even "civilian contractors" (mercenaries—remember every time that you read or hear that ambiguous phrase that it means mercenaries, men trained, armed and licensed to kill, for money and nothing else) can basically kill anyone they like. Even including, in this case, the security entourage of an Iraqi minister. Imagine this. Of course, Iraq is dangerous, an this explains how the Australians came to murder this man. It's not just the homicide—it's what it means. Which is approximately nothing. The Australian 'Defence' Force "apologises". There's no question that they have to account for their actions, as they would have to do were they actually in Iraq not as invaders but as guests, or as friends.

Update: The Iraqi government is demanding compensation and threatening trade deals. And so they should. But it makes very clear their lack of sovereignty. Though this is notionally, allegedly their country, they cannot take direct action against the perpetrators, but rather only diplomatic-style sanctions against Australia per se! Incredibly, the whole incident is summed up perfectly by none other than Kim Beazley, leader of the loyal Australian opposition:
The point is this - we shouldn't be there.

Save the whales, stuff the native from Reading the Maps

Absolute genius: we're beating the Pacific over the head with whale corpses. My (Mark's) editorial follows . . .

Australasia likes using the Pacific as its private fiefdom. Obviously the rest of the world doesn't care too much about a smattering of islands without many people, no industry, and a few natural resources. America cares for strategic reasons, which is why they made Australia deputy sheriff in the 1940s while Britain's back was turned. Indonesia cares because it's expansive, and Australia has to keep that in check, but otherwise the only reason anyone, even nearby nations like Japan and Taiwan pay any attention, is because these tiny nations have voting rights on international bodies incommensurate with their size. The Pacific island nations can sell postage stamps, internet domain names, and votes on international bodies to the likes of Israel, Japan and Taiwan, nations with money and unpopular causes. Australia generally doesn't mind that, because there's nothing Australia respects these days as much as money, but for some reason they're spoiling for a scrap with Japan. Reasons on the postcard below. Maybe Howard wants to appeal to the bleeding hearts out there to distract from his brutalisation of human beings, depradations in Melanesia, etc. Nothing like a bit of cheap jingoism—1914, etc. I don't really understand why Japan wants to whale so bad in the first instance, either. Enlighten me?

21 June 2006

Windschuttle vs. Windschuttle

Keith Windschuttle’s appointment to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation board is obviously meant to provoke, and I’ll refer those seeking outrage (or right-wing taunts) to Larvatus Prodeo. Or back to Windschuttle himself in his younger, leftier days, in his book The Media[1]:

Some conservatives, as is well known, have often described the ABC as a hotbed of radicalism. However, as one would expect from a state broadcasting organisation which for the greatest period of its existence has operated under conservative governments, the ABC hierarchy leans distinctly to the right. It has recruited and promoted many people of the same political persuasion. The hierarchy does not, however, see its values reflected in every programme because the nature of radio and television broadcasting means that production staff always have some room to exercise their judgement and opinion, and this can never be controlled completely. [p143]

For the same reason, I don’t expect the ABC to suddenly start re-editing old docos about Tasmanian demographic history or headhunting Naomi Robson to replace Kerry O’Brien on the 7:30 Report. The Fraser government also “appeared to have pursued the organisation with a surprising vindictiveness” [p144], but the result was a 28 per cent real budget cut and restructuring rather than an editorial overhaul. Likewise, it seems now that the main purpose of the government’s board-stacking is to clear the ground for ads on the ABC.

In Windschuttle’s now famous speech (sorry, his Earle Page Memorial Oration) last year, he said that the solution to a degenerate left-wing culture was to commercialise all public cultural outlets:

The government should put all these institutions on a commercial footing. SBS already takes television commercials, without any apparent detriment to its operation, so the ABC should do the same. As the readership of the Fairfax press and the sizeable audiences attracted to the various arts festivals, to John Pilger lectures, and to productions like Three Dollars and Two Brothers all demonstrate, there are now many well-heeled people who consume these cultural products. If it were commercialized, the ABC would not only survive, it would probably thrive.
There’s a contradiction in arguing both that commercialisation is a solution to degenerate left-wing culture and that this same degenerate left-wing culture would thrive in commercial conditions anyway. But there are good reasons to believe that commercialisation would be a disaster for the ABC. As the younger Windschuttle said:
The news and entertainment content of the media, then, is mainly determined not by considerations such as ‘editorial integrity’ or ‘quality entertainment’ but primarily by what will attract the target audience that management wants to offer to advertisers. Certain audiences are targeted on the basis of the income they have to spend, their buying habits and the volume of advertising money that is available to direct at them. A newspaper or television news bulletin may emphasise its editorial integrity but it will do this only if it is seeking an audience among the well-educated, up-market audience that finds this important… If media attract the wrong audiences… they will have to change their format or fold. [p9]
Commercial, ad-funded TV has proven itself unable to target niches very well, and quality is unfortunately a niche. When a station is advertising dependent, there’s always going to be pressure to chase a lower common denominator, or to sacrifice prime time to the ratings gods to maintain independence elsewhere. It’s a slippery slope. Anyone who has lived in New Zealand knows what a commercial-dependent public broadcaster is like – no different from a private broadcaster, and mostly crap.[2]

Back to last year’s Oration:
There is also the question of equity: why should those of us who don't care for the offerings of Radio National, Triple J or the 7:30 Report subsidise others to get their political entertainment commercial free?
But the younger Windschuttle spent several pages [15-18] dealing convincingly with this argument, pointing out that we pay for advertising anyway through the cost structures of the things being advertised. That’s a regressive tax.

The rest of Windschuttle’s argument comes down to spite:
And why should Derryn Hinch and Dave Gray be the only ones reduced to doing television commercials for toilet paper and erection problems, when the ABC's Phillip Adams and Kerry O'Brien could do them just as well?
Now, the ABC is far from perfect. Journalistic ethics, even at their best, still tend to make news a conduit for received opinions and reflect the social structure rather than question it. Again, I refer you to Windschuttle (1989):
The ABC has a charter to provide ‘adequate and comprehensive’ programmes, which it has interpreted liberally.… It has aimed at a slightly up-market but still mass audience…. It is the nature of mass programming, with an up-market skew, that is more an influence on the politics of the ABC than anything else. [p143]
But it’s still better than the alternative. It is worth defending the idea of publicly funded independent media from the idea that the market should be the arbiter of our news and entertainment. It is ironic that public funding for the media is being put under such pressure even as the ad-funded model of private television starts to show the strain of digital evasion.


[1] I’m quoting from the 1989 third edition, the only one I have. I understand later editions may differ. It’s not a book I entirely agree with, but it’s more serious than Windschuttle’s later pronouncements and Orations.

[2] To be fair, NZ may lack the critical population mass to fund a proper public TV station, but Radio NZ, sans ads, does a fine and popular journalistic job.

19 June 2006

A dark day: the first* person convicted of terrorism in Australia for having terrorist fantasies

Call me old-fashioned, but I think there's a difference between ideation and acting. I've fantasised about killing myself and killing other people about a billion times and I don't plan on stopping any time soon. But I've never so much as self-harmed or punched some guy in the face, even in retaliation. Indeed, the ideation is in my case, as I suspect in many others, a psychological sublimation of the urge actually to hurt other people.

Today, despite the jury's unwillingness to reach a verdict (and if you're told you can't go back to your life till you reach a verdict, that's a lot of duress), Faheem Khaled Lodhi was found guilty of "planning a terrorist act".

The evidence against him seems to suggest some planning indeed, assuming it's all accurate. The terror manual, the contacts with other terror suspects, the attempt to buy chemicals the purcahse of materials necessary to conducting terrorism. But here's the thing: this guy didn't do anything that was illegal in itself. He wasn't ready to go. They didn't catch him in the act of conducting terrorism. They didn't catch him with the means to conduct terrorism. They caught him at a stage before that,assembling the expertise to conduct terrorist acts, without actually conducting the acts. One suspects there's a fair number of people in the ADF, in the reserves, with this amount of knowledge, but they don't come from Pakistan, so their knowledge is not to be interpreted as the preparation for terrorism, but rather is considered legitimate.

The thing is that obtaining this knowledge, even with a terroristic intention, does not imply that the guy was a terrorist, only that he had fantasies about being a terrorist. From a security point of view, of course, locking up people with fantasies of terrorism may be a good idea, in that if they get everyone with fantasies, then there'll be no actual terrorists, since actual terrorists are a small sub-set of those who consider conducting terroristic activities. Of course, that logic is pretty poor, even excluding its lack of respect of people's right to think about doing things that are illegal, since those who are really serious are far more likely to evade capture than those who are just pissing about. It's also quite possible that in Australia there are no bona fide terrorists to capture, but that it is necessary to create the impression there is to justify Australian imperialism. And it's also quite possible that this repression will in itself generate the terrorism which will justify the 'anti-terrorism' measures, the imperialism and the repression.

*As opposed to Joseph Thomas who was convicted of terrorism for associating with terrorists, despite neither actually being one, nor fantasising about terrorism.

17 June 2006

Freedom of Information in Australia

This post is commentary on this smh.com.au newsblog post

Even the best freedom of information (FOI) laws have limited usefulness. That information is freely available does not mean that we know it exists or know it is important or know how to extrapolate its importance from its manifest contents. Moreover, the right to access information carries with it the danger of complacency, that people will assume that as long as it can be accessed, everything must be right with it, and not actually access it.

Australia's FOI laws are apparently a smokescreen to encourage complacency, which in fact do not deliver the goods either. For starters, Australia's freedom of information is anything but 'free'. In fact, it is very costly. Because government reserves the right to charge people who want information for the cost of finding it out, which is often apparently quite high, despite the fact that the government itself has in all cases already had reports produced internally at taxpayer expense. And because government reserves the right not actually to release information even after its retrieval has been paid for on all sorts of grounds.

It seems from the SMH's experiences that one must in fact be rich to have any hope of getting information from the government, and even then they'll throw expensive lawyers at you in a war of attrition. The lesson is clear: the federal government is hiding something. And I therefore want to know what it is, where I didn't care before. The SMH's probing has found something, namely that there is something fishy with the government's Welfare to Work programme that they don't want us to know about.

16 June 2006

New federal election laws

The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2006 is being pushed through the federal senate by the Coalition federal government.

Here's the gist:

  • More donations to political parties to be tax free;
  • Higher burden of proof on and more restrictive time frame for registering to vote;
  • All prisoners to be disenfranchised;
  • Large increase (from $1500 to $10000) in the amount that can be secretly donated to a political party.

    In the senate debate, opposition senators are being quite good right now at lambasting this legislation. However, they're doing it from their own perspective, which means complaining about the unfairness of this legislation in disadvantaging them by disproportionately affecting the more left-wing parties, with their poorer base. But this isn't really true, because political parties can and do shift to the right in order to account for changes in the composition of the electorate. Rather, the main effect is to shift the whole of Australian domestic politics towards the right, which is to say, towards the interests of the rich. Every single one of these measures removes political influence from the poor and hands it to the rich, and effect compounded by the deliberate widening of the economic gap between rich and poor in recent years.

    The opposition lays down a smokescreen of evident hypocrisy over this. They claim that the bill is party political, a matter of Liberal 'self-interest', a corruption of the 'good system'—good of course in the sense that it feathered the nests of these politicians. The opposition advocate changes not out of a deep egalitarianism, so much as out of their own self-interest, demanding fixed parliamentary terms (a demand which is purely meant to reduce the advantages of incumbency), that prisoners have the vote, that secret donations be eliminated (too right, but only demanded because Labor know that their voters are poorer and disadvantaged, every bit as much as the Liberals know that theirs are richer).The real story is
    current ascendency of the cpaitalist class in the class war, not
    simply the Liberals' 'self-interest'—are they really suggesting
    that political parties can or should put normative considerations of
    fairness above strategy?

    A more interesting reading was produced by a Labor senator who claimed that in fact party-line voting doesn't break down along these traditional class lines anymore. This is a false claim, but it was instructive in that it allowed her to make a direct and bipartisan appeal that the disenfranchisement is 'bad for the electoral system'. This is to say, that undermining the legitimacy of the electoral system is bad for the whole political game. Let's hope so.

  • 13 June 2006

    Houses in motion

    These last few years, in many cities of the world, rather a lot of dinner party conversations have revolved around the property market, or so I’m told. At first the talk was about how fast prices were rising, and how far it would go; later, when it would all come to an end. In the last few weeks the business press has been worrying itself sick about the impact of sustained, simultaneous interest rate rises in the US and Europe, and Japan finally looks set to join the trend. The cheap money of the last five years is flowing out with the tide.

    Here in Sydney, bubble talk is old news. It burst way back in 2003. It’s a case study for pundits predicting the outcome of bubbles elsewhere – will prices plunge or just stay still for ages because people are reluctant to sell for a loss? In Sydney, it’s the latter: the median price has only fallen a little. But that’s enough to bring the housing construction industry to a crashing halt and keep the champagne bottles corked in real estate offices across the city.

    But there’s another lesson to be learned from the Sydney bubble burst, a political one. Faith in the ability of magical levitating house prices to carry us all into the economic heavens hasn’t really been shaken. The propaganda arms of the property investment, real estate and construction industries have run a campaign to blame the downturn on taxes, red tape and environmental laws. They’ve been given plenty of space by newspapers big and small, eager to fill the gaps between the real estate ads. (At a chain of local papers where I worked last year, their press releases would run pretty much unadulterated.) Often they’ve made it into the news pages.

    Along comes last Saturday's piece by Michael Duffy, in the Sydney Morning Herald [now behind a subscription wall]. He attacks former NSW premier Bob Carr (a great target for abuse, don’t get me wrong) for single-handedly bequeathing “the wreck of the housing industry”.

    There were no external pressures on him to destroy jobs and the quality and affordability of housing: he did it all on his own, partly through sloppy decision making and partly in pursuit of environmental goals.
    It is ridiculous to claim that state government policy is responsible for a downturn in the housing industry. Construction has long been among the most notoriously cyclical branches of capital. There are two reasons for that. First, its products are so long-lasting. Newly-built houses and office blocks compete with those constructed decades ago, so the industry is supplying for growth and the replacement of the small proportion of the built environment that needs replacing at any particular time. It doesn’t constantly restock the whole market like, say, the food industry. So it’s particularly susceptible to economic cycles.

    Second, real estate is in a strange double position in capitalism. It’s a useful good in that we all have to live and work in buildings, and it’s made through a real labour process. But it also takes the form of a financial instrument like shares or bonds. Added to the everyday demand for dwellings and workplaces are the ups and downs of investor speculation. Reflections of the jagged lines of the financial market graphs are projected in our city skylines and suburban street maps.

    So the construction industry suffers years of lean pickings as society makes do with the buildings it already has, and in Sydney that’s what has happened. It’s unlikely that Duffy’s prescription of opening up more land to developers, cutting red tape and lowering property taxes further would do much good. If it would, the state government would have already done it, since it’s so reliant on the property market for its own revenue – witness the deficit it’s been getting hammered about lately.

    To suggest some semblance of public interest in rising house prices, these groups invoke the mythical figure of the Mum-and-Dad investor. Either they’re sensibly saving for retirement, or they’re ‘aspirationals’, chasing the lifestyle they deserve. As someone from the Real Estate Institute of NSW wrote (in a piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Domain section on 25 March), “If owning your own home is the great Australian dream, then owning your own investment property is the great Australian aspiration.” Or, if you missed it in Domain, check out this piece explaining how the property market brings Mum-and-Dad investors together with first-home buyers and “fulfils everyone’s need for shelter, financial and emotional security”.

    The property investment bug spread over the last decade, as boomers aged and prepared for retirement and banks channelled cheap finance into housing. But investment property ownership, as you would expect, is highly concentrated among households with the highest incomes and wealth. [1] It hasn’t spread very far even into the middle classes.

    And one person's capital gains are another's inflation. Prices rise without any increase in production elsewhere in the economy. So while riding the bubble might make sense to those who can afford to jump on, it only increases their share of future output without adding to it. It’s no solution to the problems of an ageing population unless those houses are being used to stockpile pacemakers and cans of mushy peas.

    Property has a lot in common with a pyramid scheme, in that to realise the gains you have to unload to someone in the future for more than you paid. The willingness of that someone to buy relies on their belief that they, in turn, will be able to offload it eventually themselves. But there’s one advantage over the average pyramid scheme: its agents don’t need to work hard to find a constant supply of rubes. We’re all the rubes because we all have to pay into the scheme in one way or another, buying or renting. Mum-and-Dad investors suck their incomes from Mum-and-Dad renters, while pricing them out of the buying market.

    Anyway, if you missed out on the last boom you’ll be pleased to hear that “there has never been a better time to buy residential property in Sydney”. Get in while the bargains last.

    [1] It’s difficult to extract the details from the econometrics of last year’s Reserve Bank survey, but the wordsmiths responsible for the report come to the unsurprising conclusion that “the propensity to own other residential property and the value held increases monotonically with income and wealth”, and “the marginal impact of income on the probability to own property is higher for investment property [than owner-occupied dwellings], consistent with investment property being more concentrated within those groups that have higher income.” (Interesting fact: According to the survey data, about eight per cent of households in the 15-24 age group own property they don’t live in… At least, it’s in their name.)

    10 June 2006

    Gitmo: an Australian invention

    Australia's willingness to allow its citizens to be illegally detained in the American concentration camp on its soil in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been well noted. Why is it willing where other countries, specifically Britain, are not? There are manifold obvious reasons:

    1. Australia does not respect human rights. Unlike the US or Britain, it does not have human rights enshrined in domestic law, except insofar as it is a signatory to international treaties which it dishonours with Hitlerian abandon;

    2. The Australian Howard regime is well to the right of the British government;

    3. Australia is substantially more dependent on the US than the more powerful, though still not quite independent, UK;

    4. Australia was itself a pioneer in the extra-judicial detention of foreigners in concentration camps, and the use of concentration camps in far-flung parts of its empire not technically part of its home jurisdiction. In fact, Australia's 'Pacific Solution' was the pioneering exercise in offshore mass imprisonment, taking place from September 2001, significantly before the US opened Gitmo. In both cases, the purpose was to manouevre around the constraints of both domestic law and the law of third countries, by creating a legal-territorial limbo.

    Update: Today's suicides at Gitmo of course also recapitulate events in Australian detention. That it has taken so much longer for suicide to eventuate (assuming these were indeed suicides . . .) in this situation may, I think, be attributed to two factors: the religiosity of the inmates, who were imprisoned because they were fervently Muslim, and whose religion forbids suicide, and the much closer monitoring of inmates. That deaths are now occuring correlates with the loss of value of these inmates' lives to the state which is imprisoning them, which once viewed them as assets of a sort, where in Australia refugees lives were never accorded intrinsic value.

    That said, I was going to say that the fresh revelations about Australians being detained by DIMA had some specific meaning, in that DIMA somehow has extraordinary powers in this. But really it's powers are not that surprising. While imprisonment in the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs' concentration camps is determined by bureaucratic fiat, and this is something extraordinary, in that it can mark anyone without any kind of due process, the difference between this and a far wider problem, that of remand imprisonment, is relatively minor. Every year, tens of thousands of (not just 26) Australian citizens who haven't actually been proven guilty of anything, thousands of whom are, like the victims of Australia and America's concentration camps, never proven to have done anything wrong, are imprisoned in the brutal regular prison system in Australia on remand. While they are accorded a bail hearing prior to this, these hearings themselves are cursory, and generally have outcomes based on the feelings of the prosecution. The real lesson is that those without the means or wit to defend themselves, namely the poor and immigrants, which two categories have a large overlap, are in Australia frequently subjected to Kafkaesque treatment at the hands of the state, and by token of the lack of connections to the establishment which allows this to happen to them, we are unlikely to hear about it.

    This is not to suggest that there is some easy reform of the migration or carceral institutions which will fix the problem of the massive punishment of the innocent—quite the contrary.

    7 June 2006

    Political Economy at the University of Sydney


    This blog has already attracted its fair share of hecklers. Not trolls, per se, but hecklers, who have been relatively thoughtful and reasoned in their criticism, for which I am grateful, because I am aware how outlandish this blog seems to most.

    One criticism that has been leveled is the old chestnut about how leftist academic thought is not rigorous or scientific. There are of course certain leftist academic tendencies which are amenable to this critique. And it's unsurprising that I may be included in this given my apparently social constructivist basis.

    However, I think that intellectual rigour is the main thing. The most intellectually rigorous left-wing thought in Australia I suspect is that produced by the doyens of the Discipline of Political Economy at the University of Sydney. And this facility is now threatened, which is not altogether surprising, as its existence has rarely been more than tolerated. I am completely unclear about the nature and extent of this threat, and have heard contradictory reports, ranging from apocalyptic to blasé. I'm not sure anyone really knows what the deal is. Despite USyd undergraduate rag Honi Soit devoting three pages to talking about PE last issue, all the content was about the discipline rather than its institutional status and the threat to its existence.

    The internal politics of Australia have long been based on an historic compromise between the demands of the working class for egalitarian treatment and the demands of the rich to make as much profit as they want. This being the 'lucky' country, i.e. sitting pretty on a whole expropriated continent ripe for exploitation, there's been enough plunder to go around. Of course, today this compromise is degenerating somewhat under the demand for greater profits.

    While much of the academic left is caught up in more ephemeral concerns of a more identity politics-oriented flavour, PE is the one place of dissent in Australian society where a critique of what's going on here as a socio-economic trend can be articulated. Political economists understand the imperialist basis of Australian society, and understand the unsustainable short-termism of the current economic haymaking, in which an usustainably bouyant economy allows the Liberals to strip workers of rights without those workers in most cases immediately feeling the deliterious effects.

    As such, PE at Sydney is probably the most important engine of intellectual dissent in Australia. That said, it's existed for thirty years, and in this time has been powerless to prevent the rise to hegemony of the neo-liberalism which it was born to oppose, so I'm not suggesting that saving it can in itself do much to change the conjuncture. I'm rather claiming that the attempted suppression of PE represents a intensification of the clampdown on internal dissent in Australia.

    PE is not an unviable department, in that it has a lot of enrolments. But its position is largely untenable because it is a small fraction of a faculty, the Faculty of Economics and Business, which has as its dual function
    1. the accrual of large profits for the university through an immigration scam in collaboration with the federal government based on getting mainly Chinese students with a smattering of English permanent residency through degree courses utterly lacking in academic credibility, while paying the university $40,000 in for the privilege, thus propping up the now chronically underfunded university, and providing a pool of cheap labour for the Australian economy and
    2. the defence of and active participation in the ideological structures of neo-liberalism in Australia, which it gives a veneer of academic respectability to.

    PE obviously lets the side down on both counts, since it doesn't attract large numbers of fee-paying international students, only large numbers of Australian students, who don't actually pay enough in HECS contributions to make their presence profitable, while at an ideological level the department does nothing less than to undermine the overall ideological function of the faculty. Seems to me like the obvious move would be for PE to somehow move over to the Faculty of Arts where these characteristics would not make it unduly conspicuous, though perhaps some other departments would there be embarassed by its intellectual rigour. Or, quite likely, there's simply no money to be made in, hence no reason to offer, undergraduate courses for non-full-fee-paying Australian students any more, since, as Andrew Norton never tires of telling us, HECS + government funding < the cost of a degree, due to the continuing cutting in real terms of government funding for student places (or, as Andrew sees it, due to the political cowardice of not demanding more fee contributions from students to make up the shortfall).

    6 June 2006

    Some thoughts on the present conjuncture

    I'm feeling pretty exposed having started this blog prematurely, by myself, not knowing much about the subject, with no time to do stuff, and no crew to back me, taking fire from a lot of people. I thought I'd recruited another member, but I've had nothing from him.

    Since I'm at a learning stage, I'm just going to lay my thought processes bare on some stuff. An interesting thing happened last month. The leaders of the Anglosphere simultaneously decided to float the possibility of a French-style nuclear-based energy policy. Australia, with a massive proportion of the world's available uranium must play a key role in this strategy.

    Some on the left have been arguing that this move has something to do with opposition to renewable energy at all costs. I can't see where such opposition would come from. Of course, there is massive and organised opposition from the other energy producers, nuclear among them, but I can't quite see that they'd have that much lobbying strength. The oil lobby, yes, but what do they get from going nuclear? And governments would get a huge public relations bonus from doing something as cuddly as using renewable power-generation.

    Rather, I tend to think this has two broad motivations. Firstly, the actual exhaustion of fossil fuel reserves and concomitant rising prices. Secondly, the fact that most fossil fuel reserves are difficult to get at and in politically dubious regions like Iran and Russia. Blair may also be worried about Kyoto, having signed it, but we know Bush and Howard aren't, since they haven't.

    The strategically superior resources are those from the Anglo-Saxon territory in Canada and Australia.

    I don't know about Canada on this front, but in Australia there's a minor bump in the road in the form of indigenous land rights claims, which might give the residual non-European other a say in who gets to mine what where. This is of course intolerable, and these picaninnies are no match for the Coalition of the Killing. If a million Iraqis with RPGs can't stop them looting their oil, how's a hundred thousand of petrol-sniffing fuzzy-wuzzies going to do it?

    The Howard government has been engaged in a somewhat populist assault on the gains of indigenous people for ten years now. The latest permutation, which suspiciously came at the same moment as the announcement of the new mulitlateral energy policy shift, is a bona fide moral panic about the great black beast of our times, paedophilia, going on in autonomous Aboriginal communities. Not in urban Aboriginal communities, apprently, but only the remote ones.

    Of course, I don't know whether paedophilia is going on to a vast extent in remote communities. Certainly, paedophilia or no, people in those communities have a lot of problems. Which is to say, they themselves aren't happy, not that they don't measure up to my standards of civilised behaviour. I measure up to those and I'm not happy either.

    The solution to these problems, it has been suggested by several Liberals, is to make the white man's law absolute in these communities, claiming that the problem is relativism, and that our white law is inherently appropriate, and should be brought to bear with the full force of white men's guns and capsicum spray. Like East Timor, only closer.

    The tendency here is clear. It's a tendency towards assimilation. Most Australians want blackfellas to be like them, not aspire to live separately speaking their own languages and practicing their savage customs, but living in massive urban areas, saving up to buy sports utes.

    There is of course an entirely opposite alternative, not mooted. This is that the problem is too little autonomy, not too much. That the problem is that Aboriginal remote communities are descended from missions where Aborigines were forcibly settled, destroying their culture and ties to their land. That the problem is a continuing lack of land rights, which remove dignity. That the problem is that black people know and see and feel the fact that order in their communities is kept by a few white outsiders with guns. That they know and feel and are touched and probed and prodded by white medical staff with all the best intentions, suffering the indignity of seeing their lives, which are in fact artificially shortened by drugs introduced by whites, apparently kept going by dint of the efforts of whites with special knowledge to which Aboriginal culture cannot aspire.

    Just some points for thought and discussion.