Sunday, March 31, 2013

Aussies & Drugs

"Drugs, drugs, drugs. Line up and get your drugs, kiddies!"

It's an issue that's been beaten to death, but an issue that will be with us for as long as 'illicit' drugs themselves will be with us.

Just like every other issue that gets debated in a democratic country, there's the for and the against, all with good arguments, but as with all debates, there's no clear winner with a clear answer.

Let's look at our most prolific and most destructive drug: alcohol.

Yes. Booze!

Alcohol costs the Australian economy in health costs and damage to the community in the realm of tens of billions of dollars - it's cheap, it's legal, and it's tightly integrated into the Australian culture.

Young, old, rich, poor, we all love a tipple. So despite the calls for tighter regulation and higher taxation to lessen the impact of our most beloved booze, the industry is seemingly too powerful to challenge.

It sends politicians of all strains running.

Now, what about something 'illegal' - like marijuana.

I confess, I last tried marijuana at a party way back in 2004, and a couple of times before that over the course of a year - I can see its appeal, but I've also witnessed how it can become addictive, and with myself personally, it made me feel 'dumbed down' and sluggish for days after, despite what its adherents claim.

But yes, unlike Bill Clinton, I did inhale.

I just plumb didn't 'dig it', and I refused all offers from friends of a toke thereafter.

That's not to say I don't 'like' the people that consume it - I'm yet to meet one violent high person (unless they're drunk as well), and one could argue that it is vastly less destructive than our good friend alcohol.

However, there is a stigma that certain sections of society that smoke it.

A poor person smoking marijuana is 'bad'.

"AGAINST THE WALL! Test his piss! My tax dollars aren't paying for THAT!"

A suave, young, creative university hipster student however smoking marijuana is 'good'.

"He's only young, and so what if my tax dollars support his university placement, he's talented and needs it to develop his art; they're our future leaders!"

So if you're not 'cool' enough to smoke marijuana, perhaps you shouldn't; however if you're in your mid 40s for instance, unemployed, and smoke dope all day, maybe we should test your piss.

Hmm, maybe I just perpetuated a stereotype.

And then of course there's stuff like heroin, because marijuana is for pussies, anyway right?

Warring Mexican drug cartels, which are costing their own country dearly, flood city streets with the likes of meth, heroin and cocaine, and the kiddies think it's cool.

That's an area of the drug spectrum I know little of, so perhaps I should take to the streets and ask the cool kiddies in flat-brimmed cap hats what the latest, hip, cool, funky drug is.

Maybe it's cat pee, ala South Park's 'cheezing'.

Who knows.

What I do know, is that if something is illegal, it becomes dark and mysterious, and something that certain sectors of society will want to try; in the case of drugs, a massive black market opens up.

Imagine for a moment if marijuana was decriminalised.

Imagine further if the government could collect taxes from its sale - it already collects taxes from the sale of tobacco and alcohol - so no one in positions of power can claim moral superiority when they already skim the fat off the human misery those two drugs cause.

It would take away some of the profit and power of our dinkey-die dope growers, and perhaps turn them into legitimate businessmen, if it could be properly regulated.

Of course, the moral panic in this country over things such as marijuana and gay marriage always prevails over plain common sense, so unfortunately, no progress will be made in the near term.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Education Revolution - An Evolving Farce

It was billed as the biggest shake-up to Australia's education system.

The 'Education Revolution' - as Labor and the Gillard government had billed it.

It began with the early Rudd times. A laptop for every school child, as it was the 'toolbox of the future' - despite the fact that we still need industries that use real toolboxes.

If you just ignore the fact that Australia's manufacturing sector is being systematically deconstructed and shipped overseas, that is.

Heck, even the call centres are increasingly outsourced.

The laptop per child scheme proved to be somewhat useful, if not dreadfully wasteful, and the computers were criticised for being under-powered and not pre-installed with all the software a student would use.

Then the Global Financial Crisis hit, and the infamous 'School Halls' program was instigated as a means of sugar-boosting the economy.

These aren't necessarily bad ideas - they were just perhaps good ideas that were poorly executed at the cost of the public purse.

The 'Schoolkids Bonus' is the latest example of trite measures to bolster educational standards... at least, I think that's what it's for?

Who knows.

In terms of higher tertiary education, it exists in Australia as mostly a privatised business, a juggernaut of dreams, promises, and flashy marketing material aimed at the naive young person.

It's hard to ignore the fact that the overwhelming majourity of Australia's university graduates originate from higher socioeconomic backgrounds; it's almost expected that a child from a lower socioeconomic background will have the future of a service station attendant for the rest of their lives.

Either that, or an alcoholic.

There is some sugarcoating and inspirational language of 'no child left behind', but the fact of the matter is that the rigid class structure of Australian society is still alive and kicking strong.

It's even being taught in the universities as fact.

A young paramedics student recently informed me that in a psychology class they were all asked to raise their hands if they identified themselves in either the upper class, the middle class, or the working class.

An episode of 'Housos' was played in the tutorial, and was used as serious example as to how all lower class people look, act, and behave.

The differences between the upper and lower classes were emphatically highlighted, and how everyone should avoid being working class or (heaven forbid) lower class at all costs.

At first I thought it would have been to show students the type of people they might come across in their career as a paramedic - but no, the emphasis was that the lecturer herself was upper class, and everyone should aspire to be the same.

I too recall a 'politics 101' subject during my journalism degree that preached to a similar song book, namely that lower class students should not go to private schools; they would not be abreast with the finer points of the upper class, and therefor would not fit in.

Universities themselves are by and large degree factories that skim the fat from government for 'education'.

Want a degree? Not a problem! Sign your life away, inherit an education debt, and hope for the best.

There is no guarantee that a suitable job for your degree will be waiting for at the end of it all, but that doesn't matter - all you need to care about is if you have enough alcohol since you're living away from mummy and daddy.

Then there are the professional students.

They wised up long ago that they will most likely be unemployable at the end of their degree, and so are moving on to a second, or perhaps even a third, racking up an education debt that they will likely never pay off.

The Baby Boomer generation enjoyed free university education - nowadays it is somewhat a mark of honour to be laden with owing the government tens of thousands of dollars for learning three years' worth of junk.

This younger generation, my own and the one coming up behind me, are very apt at rolling over and playing dead to please the Baby Boomers and pledging to follow their rules of work and education.

By doing so, they are not fighting for the entitlements that their parents had, such as free tertiary education, or lower property prices.

Many young people are so ignorant that they just believe that expensive higher education is how it's been since the dawn of the dinosaurs, as is high petrol prices, high rental prices, high property prices, and all the rest of it.

But hark, you're getting a degree - you surely will be able to secure a full time career able to pay for all the middle class goodies your mummy and daddy have, won't you?

Perhaps, maybe, if you're lucky.

After all, Australian universities are churning out an awful lot of graduates, both the good and the bad, and you'll be competing with them all out there in magical employment land.

Chances are that you'll at least briefly end up on the unemployment cues, and the horrid 'job support' services network that it entails - either that, or you can get mummy and daddy to pay your trip around Southeast Asia to help you 'find yourself' before you enter that fabled career you lie about wanting.

The system might be geared towards you getting an education, but after that, it's the devil's playground of chance of it actually meaning anything in the Real World that you heard about long ago.

It's a race to the bottom to become a wage slave, degree or no degree.

There are some that say a degree and university isn't simply about the piece of paper, that it's the experience, and that it makes society a better place if we have more educated people living in it.

If you've seen Australian television lately, for one thing, you would know otherwise; there really is no 'big thinking' going on among our youth.

Their vision is as short as conspicuous consumption and following in their Baby Boomer parents' fabled footsteps.

The revolution perhaps isn't being televised.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Australia - a nation of whinging

We've all heard of the term 'whinging pom' - being a nation of English convicts and such, perhaps the sentiment has carried on down through the generations.

Politicians love to pander to the notion that Australians are always doing it tough, such as John Howard's 'battlers', who are cardigan-clad, and toiling away in the middle class just trying to be decent obedient Aussies.

To suggest that people are 'doing okay' is political suicide.

That's why we're all told we need the baby bonus, the schoolkids bonus, subsidised childcare, subsidised maternity leave, and a plethora of other middle class welfare measures to keep everyone snuggled tightly up against the government's bosoms.

You would think that no one actually earns a wage, because I personally thought that renumeration from work was supposed to make people self-sufficient - whoops, it must all be a farce then.

When foreigners arrive on a rickety boat, or even on a plane on 457 work Visas, the media and the national conversation reacts in an inflated, huffing way, that a brown coloured person might be taking their goodies and trinkets.

The Prime Minister's recent visit to western Sydney highlighted this fact; apparently a one hour commute time to the city was too much for the poor, downtrodden residents of western Sydney, and a magical expressway will be built just for them to cut down their travel time to their big city jobs and shopping outings.

This is despite the fact that western Sydney is physically located one hour from the CBD of Sydney, and short of folding space-time, it is impossible to remove that amount of travel time.

Which by and large really isn't all that much, especially when you compare it to rural New South Wales.

But still and all, the westie battlers played their part in the narrative that they were somehow being shafted by living some distance from the CBD of Sydney - which tens of millions of other Australians actually are.

Not only that, there was a big whinge-fest about Gillard visiting western Sydney; so they would probably never be happy if Julia came to see them or not.

Of course, not all Australians are whingers, and may of them are the heads-down type of people, who just work hard and pay their taxes...

WHOOPS!

Hold the phone! Did I just say 'pay taxes'?

Eek.

Australians love nothing more than to whinge about paying taxes, despite the fact that things like medical care, their baby bonus, public roads (maybe even the magical space-time folding ones), garbage collection, schooling, and other public services are all paid for by taxation.

The argument would then be that they have to pay for other people to live - such as pensioners and other Centrelink recipients - which from one angle you could view as a fair gripe.

But rest assured, disgruntled tax paying Australian, that you would have hordes of hungry young and old all clambering for your trinkets and goodies, and they would be a domestic menace, not just the feared brown people on boats.

And in some shape or form, everyone pays taxes in some way, such as through the GST. The welfare that people receive is also usually immediately spent on essentials, and that money trickles back into the real economy in the form of wages from goods purchased.

It' not like you're paying for their below ground swimming pool or Bentley.

That's for the likes of publicly funded sports people, whom Australians also love to whinge about when they don't win gold medals, while sitting back and stuffing their already bloated stomachs with more yummy fattening treats.

I could go on, but the list is endless - and I don't want to appear like I'm whinging about whinging.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Time for Australia to welcome a Coalition government?

With just under 180 days until the next Australian Federal Election, it's looking more and more like Tony Abbott will be our next Prime Minister.

Rather than rant and complain about what travesties await us under the new regime, perhaps we should instead cut our losses with Labor, and instead embrace a new Liberal-led government.

Labor have failed at being a supposedly progressive centre-left party, anyway.

In any other circumstance, I would probably barrack very strongly for Labor and their ilk; but as the past 18 months at least have shown, they are no longer really fit to govern.

Their chance has past, and they've had some great ideas, such as the National Broadband Network, but as with all of those great ideas, they have been poorly implemented, or poorly communicated to the public.

Instead, we've had displays of 'Rudd backers' and 'Gillard backers' and faceless union men playing out their dramas in the national media spotlight.

We've also had Labor and union heavyweights, such as Paul Howes, trash the Greens at every given opportunity, even though the Greens allowed Labor to form a government in the first place.

This week has shown how dysfunctional they now are, as they attempt to ram through sweeping media reform legislation through Parliament by Thursday, which is looking more and more likely to be a failure, especially given that the Greens and independents are wary of it.

Gillard today even attempted to play the 'misogynist' card against Tony Abbott, which I personally found to be a poor show, and without any relevancy to any topic in Question Time.

Combined with renewed party leadership speculation, and falling approval ratings for Gillard and the two party preferred for Labor, we're all left wondering if Labor's ship can be saved.

If the recent state election in Western Australia is anything to go by, it's clear that Labor as a party brand are on the nose of many Australians.

The comical foray into Western Sydney a few weeks ago has done little to stop the bleeding of potential Labor votes from their bread & butter electorates, and there's little, if any positive news for them.

In short, Labor do not deserve to govern Australia.

Having said that, do the Liberals deserve it either?

No one in the Liberal party is yet to acknowledge the Global Financial Crisis ever happened, and they still haven't acknowledged Labor's relatively good handling of the economy, and helped kill off any meaningful reform, such as a resources rent tax.

And given that track record, any sort of progressive economic reform under a Liberal government is going to be like molasses, as we will constantly be treated to how bad the economy is, and how much of Labor's debt needs to paid off by making drastic cuts to the public sector.

So it's not going to be all rosy, and Joe Hockey as Treasurer is going to be an exercise in trying not to laugh in hysterical, sheer horror, especially now since his own party goes against him on matters such as the bloated Baby Bonus.

However all in all, Australians aren't going to go with the 'better of two evils' this time and vote for Labor, which would really be Labor's only hope at an up and coming election success.

Labor won't be able to bank on it - they've proven that they get wrapped up in their own dramas, and Australian voters, even left-leaning ones, are poised like a samurai to enact swift democratic revenge.

With the media legislation fiasco, it has also given Malcolm Turnbull more exposure to the public in news and through Question Time, who is still a very popular Liberal figure among the electorate.

The past few months have cemented the Liberal brand somewhat, and the Liberals now just really have to not say or do anything particularly silly, and they will cruise to victory like it's a one-horse race.

Labor have all but stabbed themselves in the foot.


Monday, March 11, 2013

"You're Just a Simple Tax Payer"

A few lines of rhyme, something a little different here at Left, Right, Up, Down.


You're just a simple tax payer - yes you are;

driving to work, driving both near and far;

bills to pay, mortgages & debts to meet;

you toil away with blisters on your feet;

the promise of democracy is that you have a choice;

whilst in stop-and-go traffic, your baby's nappy goes moist;

rest assured your dollars give welfare folk food to eat;

even if it is mostly cheap cuts of meat;

and even as you gingerly lay down your head;

with worries that your finances are in the red;

you know you are doing the right honourable thing;

even if you are paying for some dole bludger's bling;

ease your mind as your near-broken back finally relaxes;

for alas the only things certain tomorrow are death and taxes.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Federal Political Freak Show Comes to Western Sydney

It's the area of Sydney that everyone outside it loves to forget even exists.

When I was doing work experience at a commercial Sydney radio station, a woman made mention of having to go to her cousin's wedding reception in western Sydney, and that the cousin was also expecting.

"Making babies, that's really all they know how to do out there," quipped one of her colleagues. 

So make no mistake, the west is actually derided and made the butt of jokes by inner city types.

However, it is home to 1.5 million people, and people that are tipped to decide this year's federal election in September.

In a somewhat glaringly obvious move, Julia Gillard is setting up shop for a week in Rooty Hill - but she's not actually staying at Rooty Hill RSL, the name of which a federal Labor minister made fun of.

So in actuality, it's a highly staged stunt, and it's difficult not to be cynical about it.

She's staying at the Novotel next door, and in a bizarre twist, journalists had to interview her via satellite who were just a stone's throw away inside Rooty Hill RSL next door.

So far the media circus has been fairly nauseating. Tony Abbott and the like are hot on her heals, even crackpot Lord Monkcton is gallivanting around the RSL - it doesn't get any weirder than that.

Abbott has even go so far to say that western Sydney is 'new Liberal heartland', sure, at least until the election is over and won, and then the North Shore will go back to being the true heartland.

Labor has been quick to point out repeatedly that the Liberals will take away the hilariously named 'Schoolkids Bonus' (all one word remember, despite being an education payment). Which, apparently, is going to take the very shoes  off school kids' feet, according to Gillard, in a drama act fit for an afternoon soapy. 

There's also the pledge of building grand, and new road links from the west to the city. Apparently, an hour long commute either way is just too long for the residents there - despite the obvious fact that that's physically how far they live from the city.

So unless Labor can somehow change the laws of physics, or lift the speed limit to 200Km/h or something, it won't make a difference to the average commute time.

And that's if western Sydney people are lucky enough to have big flash jobs in the city that pay the big bucks.

According to Gillard, half a million people in western Sydney benefit from the lowering of the tax free threshold.

More to the point, why are half a million people there earning three-and-a-half times less than the supposed national average wage? Isn't that an issue of equality right there? Even she herself made note that some people would consider western Sydney residents as 'second class citizens'.

And while all this is going on, Tony Abbott has pledged to 'stop the guns' in western Sydney, in addition to 'stopping the boats'.

Can we really take all of this seriously? Simultaneously, the Australian media is pointing none of these glaringly obvious facts out, either to their audience, or to the politicians themselves on the ground.

Leigh Sales last night for instance made mention that Labor shouldn't make any promises to western Sydney residents because apparently getting the Budget back into surplus was a more pressing issue, despite the fact that no western democracy at the present time is running a surplus.

Surplus? Surplus?! Really Leigh? That's your 'gotchya' line? 

I suppose at least she's trying, the rest of out media is currently in a pre-election daze.

It also just proves how city-centric our politics has become. Western Sydney residents take one hour to get to the city - oh no! The poor diddums, how can they possibly live with themselves in such dire circumstances, it just takes them too long to get the Mecca of 'real Sydney'.

Sydney itself is like its own little sovereign state, sequestered from the rest of Australia. Many of its inhabitants are blissfully unaware that other places in Australia exist outside their little concentrated circle of smelly trains, homeless, mardi gras, drugs, and dreadful beaches.

But still, they are worthy of being pandered to by our politicians given the sheer number of them that dwell in the proverbial melting pot - they simply outnumber the rest of Australia's other towns and cities, and they immediately appeal to politicians who make a living from targeting middle Australia.

What's to say that a parent might be struggling with schooling costs for their children in Toowoomba, and not just western Sydney? Meanwhile, Julia Gillard will tug at the heartstrings with her 'Schoolkids Bonus' bleeding heart sob lecture deep within the lost arch of western Sydney.

Maybe they're just getting western Sydney out of the way before the election, and maybe this is all just some bizarre dream.