Sunday, September 30, 2012

Of chaff bags and chum buckets

Another weekend, another nuclear-level fallout from a comment by a radio shock jock, namely Alan Jones.

In this case, it was at a private function at the invitation of the Young Liberals at Sydney University, and in a rambunctious fashion, he spouted that Julia Gillard's father died of shame because her daughter is a liar.

He then went on to state in similar rambunctious fashion that everyone in the Labor Party is a liar, and so on and so forth.

He also won the bid on a jacket made of chaff bags donated by a Woolworths executive; obviously a throwback to Jones' on air comment that Gillard and former Greens leader Bob Brown should be thrown out to sea in a chaff bag.

The comments inside the meeting were captured by News Ltd. journalist Jonathan Marshall, who simply paid the $100 per head fee to get into the event, and recorded proceedings, unbeknownst to Alan Jones and all who attended.

It's relieving to see that journalists do indeed still carry out some journalism.

Of course, Alan Jones is now seemingly remorseful and seemingly apologetic that it has come to light - however Ms Gillard has, rightly, refused his apology and refused to take his phone calls.

Once again, it's created a shit storm in the media. The fetish-like media coverage of Jill Meagher (the raped and murdered ABC employee from Melbourne) has cooled, and so has the media outrage about the Sydney Muslim riots.

Being a Monday, a new media cycle monster has begun - analysis of the Jones comments, which all in all, will probably temporarily boost his ratings, and no doubt his comments have appealed to a misogynistic element in his audience.

Of course, none of which was probably his intention.

Another unintended consequence will probably be a boost in the polls for Gillard.

The chum and mud that Gillard has weathered is indeed astounding, and I cannot recall any Australian public figure that has worn so much vitriol on the chin and carries on.

The Thomson affair of course is one other example.

It once again goes to the core of what Australian politics has degenerated into. Policy wise, one could argue the government is doing very well, and it does deserve credit where credit is due.

The public discussion however is wildly swung away from policy debates - besides boat people and gay marriage, the Australian public is given no niggle of an insight into any other policy area - they're our bread and butter issues that we can discuss, and nothing else.

It perhaps all seems beyond the grasp of the public, or perhaps bores them and doesn't garner good ratings - hence why we have a lot of biff thrown around, like a red cape dangled in front of a bull.

The rest of the slack is taken up by fierce character assassination attempts on public political figures, such as the Prime Minister herself, or expressions of rage in the media against ethnic groups, such as Muslims.

And it all runs like clockwork. Periodically, something such as the Jones incident comes along and everyone expresses outrage, such as on social media, and someone somewhere starts up a petition to get someone sacked.

It makes everyone feel all warm and gooey inside.

Alan Jones is one of those agitators that everyone loves to hate. I've listened to previous interviews his conducted with former NSW Premier Kristina Keneally, and he conducted those in a very courteous manner.

Of course, I don't agree with these latest comments, but I don't quite share the same level of outrage.

I guess you could say, I have outrage fatigue after angry Muslims, gay marriage not passing, Jill Meagher's alleged rapist and murderer, and now another Jones affair.

What will it be next week I wonder?

The TAB should add it to their list of things to bet on - what next will outrage the Australian public?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Gay marriage and angry Muslims

Wow.

What a blustering time this past week was.

It kicked off last weekend in Sydney with some very rowdy scenes in Hyde Park and elsewhere in central Sydney, featuring placards such as:

"BEHEAD ALL THOSE WHO INSULT THE PROPHET".

Being held up by children, it sparked quite an understandably reactionary response from the media, state government, Gillard & Abbott, and various community leaders who expressed about a possible backlash.

Opinion articles were spat out of the big papers at lightening speed, all of which were overwhelmingly full of condemnation and were calling out for answers as to why Sydney's CBD could be gummed up with violence on an otherwise lazy and peaceful afternoon.

The prime reason we're told is because of a very lame movie that wasn't even fully released out of America, and had very low production values, and for all intents and purposes, probably made to get this type of response.

It's inflamed the Muslim world elsewhere, and the response has been somewhat silly, and I think somewhat embarrassing for Muslims, who have seemingly been doing nothing but protest and scream at the West and their old regimes in their own lands.

Obviously, any integrated and informed Australian citizen would not react so viciously to blasphemy.

The religious element of Islam always hinges on defending the prophet at all costs - which is either admirable, or imbecilic, depending on your point of view.

However, I do wonder - what if the gay marriage reform passed the Parliament this week.

Would we see rallies and demonstrations from the Christian community? Would we see an outpouring of disgust from the fundamentalists, who would viciously attack homosexuality?

It's my own personal opinion that I think we very well would.

After the reform failed in both the lower and upper houses, there was a collective sigh of relief expressed on forums and on social media from the conservatives about it's failure.

Some of them even saw it as an opportunity to lay the boot into gays and lesbians, and express their disgust that Australia could even consider such a thing as marriage equality.

Which I personally feel is dangerous, and it once again shows how much influence religion actually has on the Australian political apparatus - look at Hillsong for example.

Gay marriage is usually seen as a leftists issue, and it is true that many left-leaning politicians try to squeeze that precious political capital from it, but of course more often than not, they are genuinely for reform.

I found it interesting that Kevin Rudd voted against it - while Greg Combet voted in favour of it.

Rudd was considered for a longtime as Howard Lite, and I suppose he still is; even union heavies such as Combet see marriage equality as a positive thing.

I wonder what Paul Howes thinks? Sure he's not in Parliament (and we all pray to whatever deity we can) that he never will be, but his own opinion is probably a moving target, just as it was on the carbon tax.

Of course, Abbott didn't allow anyone in his party to vote how they felt - which is a failure of democracy in itself, as everyone was expected to tow the party line, no matter what.

The problem in summary is that gay marriage has been politicised, with the aid of the religious overtones that our conservative politicians like to brush everything with.

"We're a Christian nation," they will say, followed by the teary-eyed story that only a man and a woman can have a family - even though there are already a plethora of family models in existence in this country, and there's plenty of broken families that started out with a man and a woman.

They will then say the Marriage Act reflects our Christian values - even though according to that act, you're allowed to marry your aunt, uncle, first cousin, niece or nephew - so long as they're the opposite sex.

Divide and conquer, a crusade can be made out of anything.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Newstart - Dialing Up The Dole

The unemployed of Australia are probably the least likely candidates to garner any sympathy from the wider electorate.

They are even more unlikely to capture the attention of any politicians fishing for political capital, as there's other special interest groups better suited to whom they can court their wares with, either it be gay marriage or climate change.

Unemployment is somewhat a smelly dead rat that no one really wants to address. As long as it stays at around a manageable 5-5.5%, then everyone is happy, as most people can find work, carry on, and be good consumers and satisfied enough to not threaten the fabric of society.

And yet, there will always be unemployed; there can never be such a thing as 'full employment', and 4-5% unemployment in Australia is already considered 'full' employment.

In a capitalist economy, they actually serve to help drive down wages and control inflation - no one makes mention of it, but it is a factor in that regard.

However, with Australia's retail sector up the creek, and the chills of a possible end to the mining boom blowing in, that rate could find itself climbing rather quickly.

A few charity and business groups have recently been pressuring the federal government to bolster the rate of the Newstart Allowance (which I am graciously a recipient of myself) - Australia's unemployment benefit.

Bill Shorten, despite his previous gaffe of alluring to the fact that perhaps it was a struggle to live on his ministerial wage of $330, 000, has also recently stated that the government takes the rate of Newstart "very, very seriously," and that he was paying attention to the matter.

Over half a million Australians receive this payment, and with a working population of 11.5 million, it's a sizeable amount of people that the government needs to accommodate.

It probably sounds a bit Marxist, but it's an army of reserve labour.

The problem is, they're all living on $35 a day, granted not including other benefits such as medical care, but the case is being made by those interest groups to raise the rate.

For one thing, being on Newstart doesn't give you any confidence in yourself as a person. There's few if any social circles, and any from your former study of workplace can quickly dissipate; along with any support network associated with them.

There's no money to dress nicely, or to portray yourself as a confident and outgoing person that has pride in him or herself, which is what employers are supposedly looking for.

All in all, at least in my own experience, you begin to avoid everyone else and see yourself as 'the other' that society has deemed unfit to play any role within it, and that it would be better off without you.

But on the issue of how much Newstart pays, I personally do not want to see a rise in the payment.

On the contrary, the payment should be abolished and replaced with something radically different; there needs to be a swift departure to how unemployment is currently handled.

I for one do not want to be on Newstart, and I would much rather renumeration for being productive and doing something practical, hence why I undertook study in the first place.

Welfare, as it is has evolved from the left side of the political spectrum, has evolved into something quite harmful and damaging when it operates from within inside a market-driven economy.

One group of people are generating private wealth from private employment, while another group are surviving from the redistribution of alms collected by the government to the poor; welfare payments keep a person in a perpetual expectation that they will always be there, no matter want.

All the while, the gap between rich and poor widens all the more.

It has bred a whole class of single parents that have learnt it is possible to keep reproducing to keep receiving payments - thereby setting up their children inside the welfare cycle themselves.

It's brutal to acknowledge, but it's not difficult to find examples.

And it's not even a question of ambition. I myself do not want to be famous, or rich, or even wealthy. It just shouldn't be too much of an ask to want to live comfortably and to have a sense of belonging and acceptance, which after several years of job seeking, is becoming quite distant on the horizon.

Granted, the government itself has said it feels the current rate of payment of Newstart encourages people to go out and look for work; since it's already a pittance, surely it must motivate people to go out and find a job?

Not entirely.

While Newstart is a lowly payment, it can also represent a stable payment, perhaps even more stable than a low income job - this sets up an insidious welfare trap, where work seems either impossible obtain, or the net financial gain is minimal once one is earning a taxable income.

Also, you might just plumb give up after a run of unsuccessfully executed job interviews.

Charity groups have also noted it's not so much the unemployed facing being booted out of where they live, or not having enough to eat, it's the working poor, who are burning the candle at both ends.

Some of them might have a mortgage to pay, for instance, and face losing the bank's house.

They probably might even harbour feelings of jealousy towards Johnny Dole Payment who has their rent subsidised, along with healthcare, and all the other fabulous trimmings provided to by Her Majesty.

Of course, I jest.

Unemployment benefits are supposed to be a 'safety net', not a means of supporting oneself. But combined with parenting payments and baby bonuses, it quickly becomes an attractive option.

But I'm not going to go into welfare recipient bashing - that would be quite hypocritical, and unlike perhaps the approach of the far right, where we would send them all down Gina Rinehart's mines with a hammer and chisel, there must be a better way to approach the issue.

Also, make no bones about it, since the former Howard government privatised the job seeking industry, we've had all sorts of private interests actually profit from the unemployed, such as Max Employment, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of an American company.

So chin up, dole bludgers. Your unemployment might actually be keeping someone within either the job seeker space or within Centrelink itself employed - that's +1 for irony.

But I digress.

Any lifting of unemployment benefits would probably merely be a form of short term economic stimulus.

Poorer people are most likely to spend any extra spare cash immediately - hence why government stimulus payments, such as the carbon tax 'compensation' find their way to the low income demographic.

It would only be a guess, but if by some act of fate that our economy does begin to tank, and retail and mining jobs go, there would probably only then be a case to lift the rate of Newstart - there would be more unemployed, but they would also have slightly more spending power that would be beneficial to the retail sector.

Only if it were beneficial to the wider economy would it be lifted.

If either side of politics was serious about everyone having work and participating in society, then there would be no need for an unemployment payment - it would be null and void.

Government programs for the unemployed might help, but unless an employer is actually willing to give them a job, then they will remain on that payment indefinitely.