When countries like Australia purport to preach the virtues of democracy, we might have the grace to recognise how violently resisted and how recently won even this most fundamental of all democratic principles has been, even in Australia.
We still have much to do to protect if from a government which routinely spends half a billion dollars of tax payers' money every year on propaganda masquerading as government information. We have to protect Australian democracy from a government which last year denied votes to no fewer than 200,000 of our fellow citizens, at the stroke of a pen, by closing the electoral rolls at the moment the Prime Minister chooses to announce an election. Delegates, this latest travesty of democracy reinforces the urgency of the appeal I have made to the Party over the last decade, to stop the manipulation of the electoral process and the stop the buckpassing of responsibilities between the State and Federal jurisdictions. And the way to do that is to establish fixed and simultaneous four-year terms for every House of Parliament in Australia.
. . . As a result of the work of the 1969 Conference, I was able to say in the 1969 Policy Speech, at Sydney Town Hall: "We of the Labor Party have an enduring commitment to a view about society. It is this: in modern countries, opportunities for all citizens--the opportunity for a complete education, opportunity for dignity in retirement, opportunity for proper medical treatment, opportunity to share in the nation's wealth and resources, opportunity for decent housing, opportunity for civilised conditions in our cities and our towns, opportunity to preserve and promote the natural beauty of the land--can be provided only if governments, the community itself acting through its elected representatives, will promote them. And increasingly, in Australia, the national government must initiate those opportunities."
Delegates, you will see at once the remarkable resonance and relevance of 1969 in terms of what we must do and what we can achieve in 2007. The issues on which we fought, in my first House of Representatives election as Leader--education, health, housing, fair shares for employees, fair provision for retirees, urban renewal, the environment, a failed war begun with lies, and a demanding foreign policy--all as urgent now as then, and some of them even more pressing than they ever were.
There is, however, one big difference. Our chief task in 1969 . . . was to present policies to remove or reduce the inequalities entrenched by two decades of Liberal neglect. Now, in 2007, the task of the Australian Labor Party is to address and redress the growing inequality created, not by neglect or drift or mere indifference, but by the deliberate infliction of a decade of the most ideologically driven regime in Australia's history.
|The Bundanoon is Brigadoon highland gathering is a great day and one of the largest such events anywhere. (The title comes from the Brigadoon myth.) A small town in the Southern Highlands of NSW, Bundanoon is taken over for the day, with thousands of visitors, a parade, music, dancing games, hundreds of stalls, etc. They even change the name on the small railway station, on the main Sydney to Melbourne line.|
|So James and I invited my Dad to travel to Bundanoon for the day with us--quite a distance from his home. But as the saying goes, " be careful what you pray for -- you might get it!" We've been praying for rain for months and, on the festival day, it happened. The rain fell all day. The main venue was thick with mud. It was impossible to see much through the hundreds of umbrellas -- a major disappointment for the organisers and the many hundreds of participants. The parade was the largest yet, with 26 pipe bands, but most of them looked a bit damp and played accordingly.|
|I enjoyed meeting Glenda Mason, Commissioner in Australia of the Clan MacFarlane Society, of which I'm a member, staffing her stall under the MacFarlane banner!|
An event of note was the launching of the Australian National Tartan by the Chieftain of the Day, British High Commissioner the Rt. Hon. Helen Liddell. The tartan was designed as Australia's official, accredited and recognised tartan, by Mrs. Betty Johnston of Canberra in consultation with the protocol section of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The colours include the red, white and blue of the Australian flag as well as Australia's official colours -- green and gold. The blue and green dominate, representing a rural setting of blue skies and green trees. The six white stripes represent the Southern Cross constellation, and the federation star, black stripes in the tartan represent Australian's early beginnings as a convict settlement, a dark area of our history. It's registered as 2742 in the Scottish Tartans World Register and no. 6098 on the register of the Scottish Tartans Authority.
Went there, didn't do that (too wet), but bought the T-shirt.
Dad and I managed to raise a brave smile, despite the dreich day.
But we do give thanks for the rain.
And yes, that is the MacKinlay tartan I'm wearing.
DiscriminationThe resolution falls far short of civil unions or marriage, but will provide a legal means of conferring rights and entitlements to couples who aren't married. The resolution does not call for any change to federal law, simply for the federal government to enable states to register couples. Then, once a couple, same-sex or otherwise, has registered they will gain federal rights currently not available, including superannuation and welfare. The conference also committed Labor to a widespread national consultation on a national charter of rights.
12. Labor supports legislative and administrative action by all Australian governments to eliminate discrimination, including systemic discrimination, on the grounds of race, colour, sex, religion, age, sexuality, gender identity, disability, genetic makeup, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
17. Labor believes that people are entitled to respect, dignity and the opportunity to participate in society and receive the protection of the law regardless of their sexuality or gender identity. Labor supports the enactment of legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of a person's sexuality or gender identity and will audit Commonwealth legislation to amend provisions that unfairly discriminate against any person on the grounds of sexuality or gender identity.
18. Labor will ensure that all couples who have a mutual commitment to a shared life do not suffer discrimination because they are not married. Labor will take action to ensure the development of nationally consistent, state-based relationship recognition legislation that will include the opportunity for couples who have a mutual commitment to a shared life to have those relationships registered and certified. This legislation will:
- be based on the scheme that has existed in Tasmania since 2004 and that the Victorian Government has announced its intention to introduce;
- not create schemes that mimic marriage or undermine existing laws that define marriage as being between a man and a woman.
This is a change for the better, but it is a weaker stance than that taken by the ACT Government in its attempts to legislate (overruled by the Commonwealth). Should the ACT back down and go for something along the lines of what is proposed in the new ALP national policy? I think yes. The Commonwealth has said it will accept a Tasmania-like scheme. It's not ideal, but the ACT should do whatever it can to protect the rights of its citizens.
Singer Anthony Callea has received much goodwill following his recent announcement that he's gay. Callea was a guest panelist on last Wednesday's episode of the ABC's Spicks and Specks game show. It was delightful to see him relaxed, enjoying the laughter, obviously "comfortable in his own skin" as he said himself. British comedian and fellow team member Stephen K. Amos raised a laugh with "What I find is quite strange that it's Australia in this day and age with all this hoo-haa. Who cares what you do in your bedroom, come and do it in mine. . . . I love you. You're so cute. I could put you in my pocket and take you home and spend all your money."
Callea's cover of The Prayer became the fastest and largest selling single by any Australian artist, number one on the ARIA Charts for five weeks and certified four times platinum, top single for 2005. The song also won Callea an outstanding achievement award from Australian Gospel Music Association.
But mushy ballands are not to my taste. Callea's new album A New Chapter is more diverse, with some ballads but also rock numbers like Addicted to you. "I don't want to be so serious all the time, I don't want to get out there and sing ballads all the time. I wanted to have a bit of fun with this record so that when I do take it on the road and tour, I can get out there with a rocking band behind me and sing these tracks that are really guitar-driven and up-tempo and have more of an uplifting vibe about them. I didn't want to pigeon-hole myself to doing one genre or style of music, and I didn't want every song to be a lovey-dovey song. . . . When you write about something that is real, it comes naturally to you."
At Easter, Zimbabwe's nine Catholic bishops called on Mugabe to end oppression and leave office through democratic reform or face a mass revolt. Their pastoral letter accused the ruling elite of racism and corruption and fomenting lawlessness and violence to cling to power and wealth, factors they said led to the economic meltdown. The letter decried state-orchestrated intimidation, beatings and torture. Predicting further bloodshed, it said the country had reached a flash point.
Prominent among the signatories to Friday's Anglican letter was Harare Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, frequently praised in the state media for his "progressive sentiment." Kunonga has denounced some black clergy as "Uncle Toms" and puppets of whites and Britain and the United States for their criticism of Mugabe.
There has been more than one occasion in which the Bishop of Harare's relationship to Mugabe's régime and his conduct generally have long been questionable, but it seems odd that the Bishops of the whole province should support him in this. Is the report accurate? The text of the letter, reproduced below, shows that press reports exaggerate. I doubt that the bishops of Zambia, Malawi and Botswana would have signed a letter directly supporting Mugabe. Certainly they have accepted Mugabe's line in blaming sanctions for Zimbabwe's ills, but they also urge peacefulness and non-violence by all concerned.
On 7 March 2007, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams and Archbishop Bernard Malango, Archbishop of Central Africa met in South Africa with Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, Anglican Bishop of Harare. The two Archbishops shared "deep concerns" with the Bishop of Harare about the situation in Zimbabwe, affirming those places where Anglican ministries are bearing fruit and the church is growing, but also expressing the widespread concerns in the global church and in the international community about the deteriorating economic life of Zimbabwe and issues of human rights and peaceful non-partisan protest." They "encouraged the development of an independent voice for the church in response to these challenges."
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe government has deregistered the more than 1,000 nongovernmental organizations in the country. Those who want to stay will have to reapply for new permits. "Pro-opposition and Western organizations masquerading as relief agencies continue to mushroom, and the Government has annulled the registration of all NGOs in order to screen out agents of imperialism from organizations working to uplift the wellbeing of the poor," Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told The Times. Among the reasons: the government wants to control all food distribution so that it can reward political supporters and punish political opponents.
We the Bishops of the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa, comprising Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, "called to share in Jesus' work of sanctifying and shepherding his people and of speaking in God's name" (An Anglican Prayer Book, , London: Collins Publishers, 1989, p597). As shepherds of our people and out of compassion, feel the need to offer support to our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe going through unprecedented levels of suffering.
Issues and Concerns
We the Bishops are concerned and pained at the distressing occurrences that have been taking place in Zimbabwe. The deteriorating economy has rendered the ordinary Zimbabwean unable to make ends meet. This we note has been exacerbated by the economic sanctions imposed by the Western countries. These so called targeted sanctions aimed at the leadership of the country of Zimbabwe in reality have affected the poor Zimbabweans who have born the brunt of the sanctions. The result of which has been the displacement of thousands of Zimbabweans roaming the cities and rural areas of our region making it imperative that the Zimbabwean crisis be looked at as a regional crisis. As a church, the degrading environs that the Zimbabweans find themselves in as they seek survival both in Zimbabwe and the region, pose serious pastoral challenges to us as a church.
We therefore call upon the Western countries to lift the economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe. We further call upon the British and American governments to honour their obligation of paying compensation to the white farmers.
We call upon the government of Zimbabwe to provide a framework for peace by creating a conducive environment for dialogue and tolerance.
As Bishops we denounce all forms of violence perpetrated by whatever source as a means of resolving conflict. As this is a degradation of those created in the image of God. We want to make it unequivocally clear to all of our people, that we do not condone what is happening in Zimbabwe.
We call upon the civil society in Zimbabwe to articulate and promote the practice and respect of human dignity by all social and political ways in the building of a culture of governance that respects the sanctity of life. So called targeted sanctions aimed at the leadership of the country of Zimbabwe in reality have affected the poor Zimbabweans who have born the brunt of the sanctions. The result of which has Furthermore, we urge the church in Zimbabwe to offer an effective pastoral ministry to the downtrodden, to rebuke and warn the nation especially those in positions of authority through a prophetic ministry by calling upon the nation to repentance and renewed relationship with God and our neighbours. Finally, in the wake of our Easter celebrations of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ we pray that the spirit of the Resurrection be shed in the hearts Zimbabweans to bring hope and renewed faith for a peaceful, just and prosperous Zimbabwe.
Issued by the Bishops of the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa
Recently, at the National Press Club in Canberra, Dr Liddell caused some fuss when spoke the the inconvenient (if obvious) truth about the invasion of Iraq, in response to a question following her speech,
Q. High Commissioner, one of your Government's ministers, Hilary Benn, this week told a New York audience that the term 'war on terror' was sending out the wrong message and was, in fact, encouraging terrorists. Does this not suggest the military strategy encompassed by this term, particularly in Iraq, has been a bit of a failure?Later the High Commissioner was again asked about Iraq.
A. We have never seen Iraq as part of the war on terrorism. Certainly, at the moment, we are engaged in a war on the streets in Afghanistan, in Iraq, against terrorism, but our raison d'être for our involvement in Iraq has not been about terrorism. We have always said, all along, that you cannot defeat what is going on in some parts of the world today by military might alone.
Indeed, Hilary Benn makes this point, that you cannot defeat what is going on in some parts of the world today by military might alone. You have to use the techniques of soft power. You have to use this debate about values and this narrative about values, whilst at the same time recognising that our societies are under threat from certain kinds of terrorism and taking the legislative and security responses necessary.
Q. Prime Minister Howard famously accused the Democrats in the US of giving encouragement to terrorists by suggesting a troop withdrawal from Iraq. It's a charge levied at Labor here as well. What do you make of the argument?Dr Liddell was happy to repeat her view in an ABC Radio interview:
A. Well, the great thing about democratic societies is the people will decide, based on the rhetoric that comes forward during election campaigns. The involvement of Australia in Iraq is very important to the UK. We've watched what Mr Rudd has said and we will await developments and see what happens. But basically, at the end of the day, we have to take our decisions based on what is right for the UK and what the policy options are that we think are best. The great thing about democracies is it's not for me as an outsider, as a foreigner, to say what I think about other democracies. Up to you guys.
We have never seen Iraq as part of the war on terrorism, certainly at the moment we are engaged in a war on the streets in Afghanistan, in Iraq against terrorism but our raison d'être for our involvement in Iraq has not been about terrorism. . . . Phrases like war on terror these are tabloid slogans and I can understand why they're used, but the real fight against terror will not just be through a legislative process, it will also be about hearts and minds.and was reported widely in the UK.When asked whether Helen Liddell was wrong when she said that Iraq is not part of the war against terrorism, Prime Howard could do little more than waffle. His government would do well to take note of the High Commissioner's speech; some extracts:
We [British and Australians] did not arrive at our belief in tolerance, liberty and the rule of law by chance. Our belief in those fundamental principles is rooted deep in our history.
In Britain we had to find a way of living together in a state made up of several nations, and out of that we learned tolerance, then the pursuit of liberty and the principle of fairness to all.
. . . Without our passionate belief in these values, we would neither of us be inclusive societies, open to all regardless of race, creed or colour. We put at risk those values if we pretend they are not under attack from those who regard our liberal, tolerant societies as anathema. . . . Our enemies hide behind those values and yet they try to crush them by bringing bombs and fear to our streets.
We do a lot to protect ourselves, through the skill and courage of our security services both here and in Britain. We do much with legislation. We can repatriate those who come not to celebrate our freedom but to wreck it.
That kind of response is essential, but not sufficient. We must stop people becoming terrorists in the first place. We must counter their narrative of hate with our own narrative based on our shared values. Confront their ideas, inspire our young people with a vision of hope. Hope based on the strength of a free society, where all have rights, including women.
There are two million Muslims in Britain. Like any Britons, they want jobs, education, decent housing, opportunities. A fair go. British Muslims are helping to shape their country for the better. Britain has more Muslim parliamentarians than anywhere in Europe; British banks are pioneering Islamic finance--with Islamic principles--so that more money is invested in the UK. Men and women who are Muslims are in every profession, every skill, every community in Britain. And like everyone, they want to sleep safe in their beds at night, go about their lives free from fear. Raise their families.
Islam is not the threat, extremism is the threat.
. . . We must be rigorous in dealing with those who wish our liberal societies harm, but we must not deprive ourselves of the vibrancy that has come from opening ourselves to different cultures. We are richer for the diversity in every sense.
Sharing our prosperity is a route to our security too. Terrorists use disadvantage, alienation, and a sense of being unfairly treated as their recruiting tools.
As the Prime Minister said today, this will have a "potentially devastating" impact on many primary industries around the river basin. But he rightly said there was no choice. "It is a grim situation, and there is no point in pretending to Australia otherwise. ... If it doesn't rain in sufficient volume over the next six to eight weeks, there will be no water allocations for irrigation purposes in the basin" until May 2008.
There are likely to be huge crop losses and sharp price rises as more and more food will have to be imported. The economic impact will be substantial, with business failures and job losses.
The six year drought, the worst on record, has already severely reduced the production of major irrigated crops in the Murray-Darling river basin, which usually accounts for 40% of Australia's agriculture. Citrus, almond and olives trees will die and take almost a decade to be replaced. There will be no rice crop. Wine grape production and the farming of stone fruits will drop sharply.
Only two large cities are directly affected -- Canberra and, more severely, Adelaide -- but many smaller towns and thousands of farmers are in strife.
We must abandon the crazy practice of farming in semi-arid areas and adopt more intensive farming in areas with a larger water supply, on the east coast and in the far north.
Show somebody a painting of a verdant, botanically explicit forest with three elk grazing in the middle and ask what the picture is about, and the average viewer will answer, "Three elk grazing." . . . What you're unlikely to hear is anything akin to, "It's a classic temperate mix of maple, birch and beech trees, and here's a spectacular basswood and, whoa, an American elm that shows no sign of fungal infestation and, oh yeah, three elk and a blue jay."In the northern Spring, the article urges us to "venture outside and check out the world through nature's rose-colored glasses--and the daffodil, cherry blossom, dogwood and lupine ones, too. If this view doesn't move you, you're pushing up daisies. Angier goes on to describe how plants are the basis of "virtually all life on earth". "The most important chemical reaction on earth is photosynthesis,"
According to Peter H. Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, many of us suffer from an insidious condition called "plant blindness." We barely notice plants, can rarely identify them and find them incomparably inert. Do you think that you will ever see a coma as vegetative as a tree? "Animals are much more vivid to the average person than plants are," Raven said, "and some people aren't even sure that plants are alive."
You don't need much encouragement to notice plants from where I sit. Our courtyard, tended by James, is crammed full of roses, with autumn blooms, as well as camellias, gardenias, and other things. There are two parks just a few metres from our apartment and our street is lined with tall oaks and other trees. Maples are slowly growing outside my study window and I can see Black Mountain in the distance, covered with native bushland--we are fortunate to live where we do. The Australian National Botanic Gardens are not far away.
I notice plants, a lot; I'm frustrated by knowing the names of so few of them. Inner Canberra is a good place for plant lovers to live.
"I have been sledged by the crowd a fair bit on depressional issues, taking drugs and all that sort of thing. The people that use these sort of comments about depression, I wonder how their mind works. I think the more people can learn about depression, they probably would not be saying those sort of things."
The more that succesful public figures who have encountered depression are able to acknowledge it publicly, the better. Former West Australian Premier, Geoff Gallop, earned praise (including from me) when he felt able to say that battles with depression were his reason for leaving that job.
Thompson, was supporting a joint initiative between the AFL, the AFL Players' Association and national depression initiative beyondblue to raise awareness about depression. A 'Tackling Depression' training session will help players and staff to build awareness, reduce the stigma associated with depression and to encourage people to seek help. A Players' Association survey has found 18 per cent of AFL players have suffered symptoms of depression. Beyondblue chairman Jeff Kennett said, if successful, the program would be offered to all sporting codes in Australia.
Thompson first disclosed his struggle with depression in 2004 and says that stigma of mental illness was the reason he had hidden his problems from his family for so long. "Deep down I felt I had a sickness and a weirdness and a weakness that was embarrassing to even talk to my family about. Everything beyondblue is doing is trying to destigmatise depression so AFL footballers, in the testosterone society that it is, don't feel they can't put their hand up to get the help."
(Image from: 101 uses for a John Howard.com)
"Howard is whistling in wind", by Paul Syvret The Courier-Mail 17 April 07It's the dog whistle, you see.
Dog whistles are clever devices. They emit a high-pitched tone beyond the range of human hearing, but one that dogs' more sensitive ears can easily detect. In short, they send a message only to those pre-programmed to receive and respond.
Prime Minister John Howard has quite a collection of these whistles--finely tuned instruments designed to bore into the brains of certain sections of the Australian voting public. If you listen hard right now you can just hear them--a discordant tweeting noise at the very fringe of the political spectrum. There's a special whistle for whipping up fear of trade unions, another for multiculturalism, one for "the Aboriginal industry" and an orchestra of whistles for summoning forth fear and votes over national security and immigration.
They are Howard's alarm and divide tools. The latest inharmonious tune coming from the wind section in Howard's Government is an oldie but a goodie--a classic hit from the past decade of our discontent.
Immigration is always a favourite, with the fear and unease used to justify humanitarian abominations such as children locked behind razor wire and asylum seekers processed at God-forsaken gulags such as the detention centre on Nauru. We've already heard the number about the nasty illegal immigrants who toss children overboard, we've played the tune about the armada of asylum seekers sailing through our northern waters, and we've sung the song about the ingrate "towel-heads" who refuse to assimilate into our culture.
Now the variant is the faceless hordes of disease-ridden dispossessed who want to come here and spread their sickness. It is only Howard and our brave Immigration and Customs officials standing between Australia and the Grim Reaper. We're talking AIDS here--or more specifically those people living with the human immune-deficiency virus, or HIV. Last week, Howard argued that HIV-positive people should be banned from migrating to Australia in all but the most exceptional of circumstances. "My initial reaction is no (they should not be allowed in)," he said. "There may be some humanitarian considerations that could temper that in certain cases but prima facie, no." . . .
Dr Williams has come in for some criticism lately, suggesting that he is an indecisive leader. Be that as it may be, I have the greatest respect for him as a thinker and theologian, as most recently evidenced in his Larkin Stuart Lecture, The Bible today: reading and hearing (Toronto, 16 Apr 07).
I'm far from surprised at the criticism Mr Bush is receiving, but this piece by Joe Klein (Time 16 Apr 07) is notable. It's remarkable than a mainstream publication publishes a such trenchant criticism of the President of the United States. It's not simply that I agree with much of it, but the force of the language used interests me and encourages me to paste it into this scrapbook.
An Administration's Epic Collapse
In the face of three scandals, Bush offers only more relentless partisanship
The first three months of the new Democratic U.S. Congress have been neither terrible nor transcendent. A Pew poll had it about right: a substantial majority of the public remains happy the Democrats won in 2006, but neither Nancy Pelosi nor Harry Reid has dominated the public consciousness as Newt Gingrich did when the Republicans came to power in 1995. There is a reason for that. A much bigger story is unfolding: the epic collapse of the Bush Administration.
The three big Bush stories of 2007--the decision to "surge" in Iraq, the scandalous treatment of wounded veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys for tawdry political reasons--precisely illuminate the three qualities that make this Administration one of the worst in American history: arrogance (the surge), incompetence (Walter Reed) and cynicism (the U.S. Attorneys).
Iraq comes first, as always. From the start, it has been obvious that personal motives have skewed the President's judgment about the war. Saddam, tried to kill his dad; his dad didn't try hard enough to kill Saddam. There was payback to be had. But never was Bush's adolescent petulance more obvious than in his decision to ignore the Baker-Hamilton report and move in the exact opposite direction: adding troops and employing counter-insurgency tactics inappropriate to the situation on the ground. "There was no way he was going to accept [its findings] once the press began to portray the report as daddy's friends coming to the rescue," a member of the Baker-Hamilton commission told me. As with Bush's invasion of Iraq, the decision to surge was made unilaterally, without adequate respect for history or military doctrine. Iraq was invaded with insufficient troops and planning; the surge was attempted with too few troops (especially non-Kurdish, Arabic-speaking Iraqis), a purposely misleading time line ("progress" by September) and, most important, the absence of a reliable Iraqi government.
General David Petraeus has repeatedly said, "A military solution to Iraq is not possible." Translation: This thing fails unless there is a political deal among the Sh'ites, Sunnis and Kurds. There is no such deal on the horizon, largely because of the President's aversion to talking to people he doesn't like. And while some Baghdad neighborhoods may be more peaceful--temporarily--as a result of the increased U.S. military presence, the story two years from now is likely to resemble the recent headlines from Tall'Afar: dueling Sunni and Shi'ite massacres have destroyed order in a city famously pacified by counterinsurgency tactics in 2005. Bush's indifference to reality in Iraq is not an isolated case. It is the modus operandi of his Administration. The indifference of his Environmental Protection Agency to the dangers of carbon dioxide emissions was rejected by the Supreme Court on April 2.
On April 3, the President again accused Democrats of being "more interested in fighting political battles in Washington than providing our troops what they need." Such demagoguery, is particularly outrageous given the Administration's inability to provide the troops "what they need" at the nations premier hospital for veterans. The mold and decrepitude at Walter Reed are likely to be only the beginning of the tragedy, the latest example of incompetence in this Administration. 'This is yet another aspect of war planning that wasn't done properly," says Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "The entire VA hospital system is unprepared for the casualties of Iraq, especially the psychiatric casualties. A lot of vets are saying, 'This is our Katrina moment.' And they're right: this Administration governs badly because it doesn't care very much about governing."
Compared with Iraq and Walter Reed, the firing of the U.S. Attorneys is a relatively minor matter. It is true that U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President, but they are political appointees of a special sort. They are partisans, obviously, but must appear to be above politics--not working to influence elections, for example--if public faith in the impartiality of the justice system is to be maintained. Once again Karl Rove's operation has corrupted a policy area--like national security--that should be off-limits to political operators.
When Bush came to office--installed by the Supreme Court after receiving fewer votes than Al Gore--I speculated that the new President would have to govern in a bipartisan manner to be successful. He chose the opposite path, and his hyperpartisanship has proved to be a travesty of governance and a comprehensive failure. I've tried to be respectful of the man and the office, but the three defining sins of the Bush Administration--arrogance, incompetence, cynicism--are congenital: they're part of his personality. They're not likely to change. And it is increasingly difficult to imagine yet another two years of slow bleed with a leader so clearly unfit to lead.
Henry crunches the numbers for Howard (5 Apr 07)Of course, Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has been quick to respond with criticism of the Government. I find his views persuasive. I'm less convinced that Labor will be able to act on them if elected.
Treasury fires a shot across the election-spending bow
Treasury Secretary Ken Henry has provided a sound and timely warning that good policy can often fall victim to political opportunity when an election beckons. In doing so, he has rallied the Treasury troops to resist the more outlandish requests by ministers keen to put short-term results ahead of long-term common sense. There is nothing particularly new in Dr Henry's comments delivered to an internal Treasury forum last month. They mostly emphasised that in a period of near-full employment, government actions that favour one sector come at an opportunity cost for those seeking labour elsewhere in the economy. Dr Henry said Treasury's reputation for analytical rigour and economy-wide thinking got it a seat at the policy table, but its advice was not always taken. However, there was a political dimension to Dr Henry's speech. He said officials should expect a spike in bad ideas from ministers as the election approached, and that they should be particularly vigilant in balancing their duty to be responsive but non-political in the advice they gave.
Controversially, Dr Henry said Treasury advice had been overlooked on two of the biggest political issues facing the nation--climate change and water. If Treasury had been listened to more attentively in both areas over recent years, he said, there was no doubt policy outcomes would have been far superior. To be fair, Dr Henry praised the superannuation reforms in the last budget as being as good as anything he had seen the department produce in his 20-odd years at Treasury.
Dr Henry said he had not intended his comments on water and climate change to be critical, but they drew a stiff rebuke from the Government, which is running heavily on its record of economic competence. John Howard said the bureaucracy did not always get it right, and he would not be leading a government that always took its advice. Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull, speaking from a tour of rural areas, said Dr Henry didn't know his Dethridge wheel from a computerised flume-gate. He said water policy was not a narrow or arcane economic analysis issue, but involved "dealing with practical people who've got a lot of dirt under their fingernails".
Maybe, but Dr Henry is to be congratulated for speaking out. As The Australian editorialised when the $10billion water plan was announced, the environmental objectives were matched only by the audacity of the politics that underpinned it, providing as it did a huge pot of money to be made available for distribution to rural voters. Since then ,the plan has been criticised, most notably by Victorian Premier Steve Bracks, for lacking financial rigour in its development. The criticism now, as we correctly assumed, is that the buyback has become mixed up with the politics of the Nationals over who gets what. With Dr Henry's comments, it is now in dispute if what the Howard Government has proposed is the most efficient way to secure environmental dividends for the river system. What may be needed is a more considered, Keating-style rural adjustment scheme to get unviable farmers off the land. Unfortunately, Dr Henry, who remains one of the most respected bureaucrats in Canberra, did not spell out what the Treasury advice had been on water. But he did say his department was now back at the centre of the action on climate change. At a time when the Government has been much criticised for its politicisation of the public service, notably with the AWB bribery scandal and the children overboard affair, it is heartening that at least some in the bureaucracy are still prepared to offer fearless advice.
Rudd: Howard ignores the big picture (The Australian 05 Apr 07)
The speech by secretary of the Treasury Ken Henry, on the federal Government's refusal to embrace the commonwealth Treasury's advice on climate change, water and, more broadly, the continuation of economic reform, tears at the heart of the credibility of John Howard's claim that his Government deserves re-election based on its experience in economic management. The commonwealth Treasury is no ordinary agency of state. As a former commonwealth public servant, I know from experience that the Treasury is staffed with the most competent policy elite that can be attracted to the Australian Public Service. They are part of a tradition that sees their role as the continuing custodians of the nation's long-term economic wellbeing, providing robust advice to the government of the day, irrespective of the political complexion of that government.
The Treasury, like all agencies of state, also recognises the role of the democratically elected government to accept or reject the advice it is provided. But both the tone and content of Henry's address underline the fact that on two core economic policy challenges facing the nation in the coming decade (climate change and water scarcity), the Howard Government and its Treasurer, Peter Costello, are happy to throw Treasury's advice to the wind. And we can only conclude the reason for doing that has been Howard and Costello's chronic addiction to short-term political advantage against the long-term economic interests of the nation. Of course, we understand the government of the day is not bound to accept lock, stock and barrel what Treasury may advise. But to remove it entirely from the policy equation on two such critical challenges is beyond belief.
For some time Henry has spoken of the three Ps: population, participation and productivity, all of which expand the supply capacity of the Australian economy. Together with the Productivity Commission, the commonwealth Treasury has attempted to shape the public policy debate on the country's economic future in these terms. It is a framework with which Labor, as the alternative government of Australia, is broadly comfortable.
On population, Labor recognises the importance of migration and fertility rates to sustain long-term economic growth given the acute nature of demographic change that will occur in the decades ahead. On participation, the Intergenerational Report warns of a projected drop in the Australian work-force participation rate from just under 65 per cent today to just more than 57 per cent by 2047. One of the best predictors of people entering and remaining in the work force is their completion of compulsory schooling. On this measure, Australia has begun to stall badly. Our completion rates are poor against Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development competitor economies. We need to turn this corner, and part of turning this corner lies in Labor's commitment to improving numeracy and literacy through early childhood education. Another way of lifting participation is to lift the affordability and availability of quality child care. Once again, this is a gaping hole in the Government's handling of the particular work-force participation challenges faced by women.
The third P is productivity. Since I became leader of the Labor Party, addressing the decline in productivity growth in the Australian economy has shaped much of Labor's policy work. Australia's recent productivity performance has been poor by both our own historical and international standards. According to the Intergenerational Report, average annual labour productivity this decade is likely to be just 1.5 per cent, which will make it the second worst decade for productivity growth since 1950. In addition, benchmarked against the economy of the US, Australia's labour productivity fell from a peak of 85 per cent in 1998 to just 70 per cent between 1998 and 2005, almost completely losing the relative productivity gains of the 1990s. And this poor performance has in large measure been masked by the extraordinary dimensions of the one-off, once-in-a-generation resources boom. The temporary nature of this contributor to Australia's recent economic growth performance is also importantly referred to in Henry's address.
Until now, it has been federal Labor that has argued that the Government's economic agenda has been driven in large part by political short termism. That argument is confirmed by no less an authority than the commonwealth Treasury. Howard's claim of superior economic experience lies crushed by this cold, hard evidence that experience yielded to arrogance a long, long time ago.
Anglican Church 'not safe' for gay Christians, by Benedict Brook
Sydney Star Observer (861, 5 Apr 07)
The Anglican Church in Australia has admitted it may "not be a safe place" for gay and lesbian Christians and that insensitive Church leaders have made gay parishioners "too vulnerable to speak publicly".
The admission comes in an interim report documenting the Listening Process--a drive by the global Anglican communion to understand the needs of gay and lesbian members of its community. However, far from listening, the report compiled by Dr Muriel Porter, a member of the governing body of the Anglican Church in Australia, says some sections of the Australian Anglican Church have actively ignored the views of gay and lesbian parishioners.
According to the report, it has been almost impossible to discern the experiences of gay clergy and lay people because "the processes involved did not enable this kind of listening, or because gay people felt too vulnerable to speak publicly. In some cases, responses to gay people who attempt to communicate their experiences have been insensitive."
Porter said attempts by diocese to listen to the views of gay and lesbian people were often a "scarifying experience" and that one person had told her the listening process "became a time of shouting rather than listening".
But Porter told Sydney Star Observer the news was not all bad. "Most bishops actually took this seriously and were very caring in one-to-one listening with individual gay people," she said.
The problem, Porter identified, lay higher up the Anglican food chain, where opponents to the Listening Process would orchestrate vocal campaigns. Porter said the negative voices were in the minority, "but enough to make bishops very wary because they are concerned they don't want to hurt gay people in the name of listening".
But is the church itself a "safe space" for gay people?
"I do know of some churches that are most certainly safe places for gay people," said Dr Porter, "but in public forum, no, it is not a safe place and that is a matter of deep shame for the church."
Rector of St Luke's Anglican Church in Enmore, the Reverend Gwilym Henry-Edwards, said "the leaders of the Anglican Church should realise differences in sexuality exist and it's not going to go away by shouting at people. It's different from diocese to diocese but in some places homosexuality is dismissed out of hand; so for people who are gay it is not a safe place for them to come out."
The Anglican Church has been racked by indecision over the question of homosexuality since the openly gay Gene Robinson was installed as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. Many African and Asian churches, vehemently opposed to wider recognition of gay people, have threatened to break away from Canterbury. In an attempt to bridge this ideological divide, the archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, wrote in a preface to the report that the church "is challenged to show that it is truly a safe place for people to be honest and their dignity respected, whatever serious disagreements about ethics may remain".
The next obstacle for the Listening Process report is October's meeting of the Anglican General Synod in Canberra.
|After nearly eight years working in the Australian Government's aged care programs, it was time to move on. I have a new job in a team developing the next round of the Australian Health Care Agreements, through which the Government pays large amounts to the state and territory governments to help them run public hospitals. |
My colleagues must have thought my brain needs sharpening, for they gave me some puzzle books as a farewell -- as well as a Korean phrase book, in case James and I have communication problems. And to soften the pain, there was a good bottle of red wine.
Ironically, I don't like puzzle books all that much -- I'm not smart enough, or not patient enough.
Gay people . . . are now being systematically targeted for execution by Shia death squads. The killers are hell-bent on turning the country into a fundamentalist Islamic state, cleansed of all "impure, unIslamic elements." Some operate within the police and others independently. All owe their allegiance to firebrand, militant clerics.
Large parts of Iraq, including many Baghdad neighbourhoods, are now under the de facto control of fundamentalist militias and their elite death squad units--the Islamist equivalent of the Nazi SS.
Gay people are not the only victims. The militias enforce a savage interpretation of Sharia law, summarily executing people for what they denounce as "crimes against Islam". These "crimes" include listening to western pop music, having a fashionable haircut, wearing shorts or jeans, drinking alcohol, selling videos, working in a barber's shop, homosexuality, dancing, having a Sunni name, adultery and, in the case of women, not being veiled or walking in the street unaccompanied by a male relative.
Two militias are doing most of the killing. They are the armed wings of major parties in the Bush and Blair-backed Iraqi government. Madhi is the militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, and Badr is the militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), which is the leading political force in Baghdad's government coalition. Both militias want to establish an Iranian-style religious dictatorship - or worse.
Some of the anti-war left in Britain and the US support Muqtada al-Sadr, despite his goal of clerical fascism and his militia's involvement in death squad killings. They hail him as a "national resistance hero" (sic) for fighting the US and UK occupation of Iraq; callously ignoring his militia's sectarian murder of innocent Sunni Muslims, women, gay people and others. The allied occupation of Iraq is bad enough. But victory for the Madhi or Badr militias would result in a reign of religious terror many times worse.
The execution of lesbian and gay Iraqis by Islamist death squads and militias point to the fate that will befall all Iraqis if the fundamentalists continue to gain influence. The killing of queers is the canary in the mine--a warning of the barbarism to come.
Saddam Hussein was a bloody tyrant. I know. For nearly 30 years, I campaigned in support of democratic and leftwing Iraqis who were struggling to overthrow his regime. Where were Bush and Blair in the 1980s? Not protesting against Saddam.
While Saddam was in power, discreet homosexuality was usually tolerated. There was certainly no danger of gay people being assassinated in the street by religious fanatics. Since his overthrow, the violent persecution of lesbians and gays is commonplace. It is actively encouraged by Iraq's leading Muslim cleric, the British and US-backed Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In late 2005, he issued a fatwa ordering the execution of gay Iraqis. [Since removed?] His followers in the Islamist militias are now systematically assassinating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
Lesbian and gay Iraqis cannot seek the protection of the police. Iraq's security forces have been infiltrated by fundamentalists, especially the Badr militia. They have huge influence in the interior ministry and the police, and can kill with impunity. Pro-fundamentalist government ministers are turning a blind eye to the killings, and helping to protect the killers.
. . . The UK-based gay rights group OutRage! is working to support its counterpart organisation in Baghdad, Iraqi LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender). Despite the great danger involved, Iraqi LGBT has established a clandestine network of gay activists inside Iraq's major cities, including Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Hilla and Basra. These courageous activists are helping gay people on the run from fundamentalist death squads; hiding them in safe houses in Baghdad, and helping them escape to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The world ignores the fate of LGBT Iraqis at its peril. Their fate today is the fate of all Iraqis tomorrow.