Quick Post: Note on the Abyan case

There’s nothing new in saying that the public discussion about Australia’s asylum seeker policies is broken.  People who want policy change show no capacity to change the opinions of those who disagree with them; and those who want policies similar to the status quo show no desire to listen to alternative opinions.  It is a catastrophic failure of deliberative democracy.  There are no agreed facts; both ‘sides’ equally guilty of cherry-picking, misrepresenting, and outright deceit.  And there are a shit-tonne of celebrity talking heads and people with political motivations adding more chaos to the mix.  It is broken and will continue to be broken for the foreseeable future.

It’s in this framework that we have Abyan’s case: an extreme consequence of an unresolved, decades old policy problem.

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2014: A bad year to be a sane conservative

2014 should have been different.  The Australian right was in power.  Here was our opportunity to show that a conservative government is a safe pair of hands, reliable and dependable, guided by a deep sense of integrity and tradition.

At some point, I’m going to have to let go of the fantasy that a conservative government is going to live up to its rhetoric.  At some point, I’m going to have to let the reality of the past sixty years sink in, that there are just too many reasons why conservative politicians are going to succumb to lower nature.  At some point, I’m going to have to make peace with the fact that the glossy allure of anti-human libertarianism is going to be more appealing than dry tradition, dignity, and culture.

There was very little reason to be idealistic about conservatism in 2014.  Even under the Howard years, there was a pretence that government was about something bigger, a particular vision of society that was worth promoting.  We might (and probably should) reject Howard’s vision of society, but we could at least be grateful that there was some vision.  I don’t know what Abbott’s social vision is, but it seems to be consistent with sending grotesque comics to asylum seekers, with scoring petty points against cultural institutions, and with promoting the interests of business over those of society.

For me, the worst part about 2014 was that a bill to reform university revenue structures (which I supported) spent ages being debated in Parliament, but a bill to grant the Minister for Immigration increased powers to the disadvantage of asylum seekers went through at rapid pace.  We got things fundamentally wrong here.

It seemed appropriate and fitting that we’d end 2014 with conservative Australia claiming that socialists were supportive of Daesh, that people on welfare should be coerced into using contraceptives (while noting the massive effect this would have on Indigenous Australia), and that the real threat to freedom was the regulation of ‘free speech’ (by which Rita Panahi meant uncivilised attacks on society).

At times, I wonder if I’m waging a one-man war against reality.  Why be idealistic about how much better conservatives could be when they show absolutely no capacity to change?  Why spend my time reading books and essays by some of the greatest conservative thinkers of the past when the dull, beige future shows that we’re not going to revisit those golden ages?  How miserable.

Here’s to 2015.

Quick Post: @gingerandhoney and @amandavanstone are two sides of the same problem #auspol

Although I’m on the wrong side of the political spectrum, I enjoy reading Overland.  I highly recommend it to others, in fact.  Some of the writers they gather there are exceptional, insightful, witty, and clever.  Jeff Sparrow’s writing about atheism is easily some of Australia’s best and I sincerely wish it were more widely read by New Atheist weirdoes.

As is inevitable for an organisation that wants to excel and push boundaries of discourse, sometimes Overland’s reach exceeds its grasp.  This usually happens when the writer has absolutely no idea about the subject matter.  Stephanie Convery’s recent article ‘The age of conservatism‘ is an excellent example of this.

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Laugh with me, hyena… Was Wikileaks to blame for @SenatorLudlam losing his seat? #auspol

It’s been an interesting week for psephologists and election nerds.  The Australian Electoral Commission has been formally declaring the Senate results, with perhaps the most interesting result being in Western Australia.  Where it was previously believed that the Australian Sports Party and the Greens’ Senator Scott Ludlam would take the fifth and sixth Senate seats, it now looks like Palmer United Party and the Australian Labor Party will take them instead.

The question that erupted on Twitter was: ‘To what extent was the Wikileaks Party’s insanely lunatic preference-swapping strategy to blame?’

Senator Ludlam hit Twitter to declare Wikileaks blameless:

[tweet https://twitter.com/SenatorLudlam/status/385388333536251904]

Prima facie, Ludlam looks like he has a point.  In the updated count, all of the votes cast for the Wikileaks Party ended up with the Greens Party in Western Australia.

On closer look of the results, Ludlam is incorrect.  To work out why, you have to come to grips with one question: ‘Why is it that Senator Ludlam gets a seat when Wikileaks preferences go to another party (Australian Sports Party) but he loses his seat when Wikileaks preferences go to him?’

I promise that my answer does not reduce to ‘Because Wikileaks is freaking cursed.’

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Would a trip to a remoted island ease your mind… What @AustralianLabor doesn’t understand about leadership #auspol

I’ve previously written that I’m in support of the ALP holding a leadership ballot.  Here’s a quick revist of why:

But could a ballot be used to promote and communicate a sense of unity and stability within the ALP?  Yes. […] The solution is to hold a ballot where the candidates ‘campaign’ for each other, rather than for themselves.  Ordinary ballots have candidates striving to ‘win’ by promoting themselves and tearing down opponents.  A ballot could instead have the message: ‘The ALP is overflowing with leadership talent.  Here are three candidates that we think are excellent.  Regardless of which is picked by the ALP membership, we will have a leader better than our political opponents.  We believe this so much that our candidates will promote the alternative candidates rather than themselves.’

Since then, we’ve had the leadership ‘debate’ where the candidates, Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese, have emphasised that the competition will be about policies and not personalities.

This completely misses the point of leadership debates.

The result has been a publicly civilised (though privately less so) conversation between two people who are struggling to show any sort of difference, any sort of disagreement, or any point of distinction from the other candidate.  There has been some pressure — and, certainly, enough opinion writers have been braying for it — for the candidates to talk about differences in policies and opinions.  The debate is slowly shifting into this area, with both candidates starting to discuss various quota systems and even asylum seeker policy.

But should a party’s policies be a discretionary matter for the leader?  Does the ALP want a system where its leaders start arguing that they’ve got a ‘mandate’ to pursue a particular policy?  Isn’t this one of the reasons we all criticised Rudd?

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Quick Post: Acknowledging feelings of horror while forming policy positions #asylumseekers #auspol

Humble brag time!  If you like the deep, smooth sounds of me forming patient (by which I mean ‘slow’) opinions about news events, you can hear me in discussion on ABC Radio National in conversation with Chris Berg, Van Badham, and Jonathan Green.  The conversation took a sharp turn when I found myself trying to find the rhetorical footing for a question about the recent tragedy in Java.

As many as 50 people are feared dead after a boat loaded with asylum seekers sank off the south coast of west Java.

Indonesian rescue authorities, speaking on the basis of information provided by local police, say 22 bodies and 25 survivors have been found.

As many as 30 are still feared missing and without the capability to search at night, or in big seas, there was little hope of them being found before day break. [Source]

Van Badham — understandably, justifiably, entirely reasonably (I don’t want to suggest otherwise) — was upset about the loss of life, particularly of children.  What becomes difficult is the transformation of this understandable, justifiable, and entirely reasonable response to a disaster into political language.

Here’s the CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, for example:

The puzzle is how we construct the event in terms of what we expect of our Government and the international community, and in terms of what responsibility people have for themselves.  In the process of analysing the issue clinically and methodically, there is a fear that we lose that authentic human response to the disaster.

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Quick Post: What can the ALP learn from the Coalition about ministries? #auspol

English: Australian politician Craig Emerson a...

It increasingly looks like the ALP isn’t learning the lessons of the past six years.  The key question is simple to frame: ‘How was it possible for the ALP to achieve a series of significant wins and yet be so thoroughly reviled by the voting public?’

The fashion of the moment among opinion writers and bloggers is to declare everything ‘a complicated issue’.  I sometimes wonder if it leads on from policy makers in the 1980s and ’90s declaring everything to be a ‘wicked problem’.

This unwillingness to sharpen our analytic tools to concentrate on one aspect of the problem means that we’re not really discussing the issue at all.  The case of the ALP’s last stint at government is a case in point.  Nobody’s really discussing what went so hideously wrong beyond vague platitudes about ‘talking about [themselves]’, ‘leadership tensions’, and ‘Murdoch press!  The Murdoch Press is so bad!’

We should take the Mad Hatter’s advice and simply begin at the start then come through until we get to the end.  With this idea in mind, let’s start with ministries.

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Quick Post: A leadership ballot could change the image of the ALP #auspol

 

English: Photograph of Kelvin Thomson, Austral...

English: Photograph of Kelvin Thomson, Australian Labor MP. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kelvin Thomson is on my television screen advocating for a leadership ballot.  Following the defeat of the Rudd Government on Saturday, the chatterati have returned to discussion about the ALP leadership.  ALP leadership has been a recurring issue throughout the past three years and, arguably, one of the reasons the ALP lost so decisively was because of the perception of division and disunity within the party.

In the twilight of the Rudd era, the ALP changed its rules for electing leaders.  The idea was to prevent the situation we had seen in the Rudd-Gillard years of Prime Ministers being replaced overnight by the Caucus.  Rigidity, inflexibility, and immutability is stability, so the argument goes.

This has caused an unusual problem in the post-election world.  The ALP is desperate to show a united front, but ballots can show division and disunity.

But could a ballot be used to promote and communicate a sense of unity and stability within the ALP?  Yes.

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