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Sonia Kruger is wrong, but not a racist

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The views expressed below are solely the views of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Australian Progressives.

‘Death to Islam and all Muslims, you filthy korandathals. You will watch your family burn in bacon fat!!’, one message reads.

‘You even approach One Nation, you will see a burning Qaran and the death of your family.’

These are messages sent to the man who organised the protest outside Q&A against Pauline Hanson.

These messages are motivated by hate of an ethnic group, and are, therefore, textbook racism. We should not hesitate to condemn them for one second.

Progressives, we have to stop creating the conditions in which hatred like this can flourish.

I know, I know, you don’t mean to do it. But listen.

A few days ago, on the Today show, Sonia Kruger called for Muslim immigration to be ‘stopped now … because I would like to feel safe,’ in light of the tragic events in Nice. After being branded racist, she said ‘As a mother, I believe in a democratic society to be able to discuss these issues without automatically being labelled racist.’

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This is not someone motivated by hate. This is not Donald Trump shamelessly exploiting people’s fears for political gain. This is a private citizen expressing her fear for her children’s safety. Fear and hatred are related, but they are not the same thing.

Fear is something we can confront. Fear is something we can deal with. Confronting fear requires an open and honest discussion. When we label someone expressing their fear as racist, we are shutting down the possibility of open and honest discussion. We let it fester underneath, until it turns into hatred.

As Progressives, we have a tendency to do this. We are damaging our own cause and creating the conditions for real hatred to emerge. We need to separate those who are merely afraid from those who actually hate, and engage with their fears.

This will require some difficult introspection on everyone’s part.

For Progressives, it will require admitting that yes, there are some Muslims out there who want to kill us, and that this is a problem.

For those who are afraid, it will require admitting that we have given them far too many reasons to do so. Whether that be killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians for no good reason, or locking up (predominantly) Muslim people under horrible conditions while claiming to be champions of human rights, we certainly have a hand in provoking this level of hatred.

For Progressives, it will require admitting that we don’t actually have any solutions for stopping terrorism, and we need to start developing them straight away.

For those who are afraid, it will require admitting that 1.6 billion Muslims don’t actually want to kill us, and if they did, we would all be dead already. Equating the actions of a few to one-sixth of the world’s population is a completely irrational response. It will require admitting that human beings are basically the same everywhere, and that they just want to live peaceful, happy lives.

For all of us, it will require admitting that we have created a society which champions individualism at the expense of community. We are disconnected from the people around us, and thus have created the perfect conditions for radicalisation to occur.

And so forth. These are hard conversations, which will require us all to challenge our own beliefs. I believe this country has the maturity to have these conversations, and to grow as a result. It will not be easy.

So to Sonia Kruger, I will say this:

I strongly disagree with your call to end Muslim immigration. I think it will play directly into the hands of ISIS and make things worse.

However, I don’t believe you are a racist. I think you are simply afraid.

There are Islamic leaders in Australia who are working tirelessly to combat terrorism and build positive relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Australia. Reach out to them. They will show you that it isn’t a religion that you should fear. Muslims need all the help they can get, and would welcome your assistance in building a better Australia.  

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A PaTH to trickle down: the trouble with internships

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trickle down economics

Creative Commons image: click for image licence

Now that the election campaign is well under way and July 2 is approaching at the speed of a glacier, let’s talk about this new Youth Jobs PaTH ‘internship’ program that’s been proposed by the Coalition as a solution to Youth Unemployment.

It sounds simple enough:

  • Anybody who’s under 25 and unemployed will now work 15-25 hours per week.
  • They’ll receive $200 per fortnight on top of their regular unemployment payments, and the business will receive $1000 to take on the position over a period of 12 weeks (or three months).
  • If, after the 12 weeks, the employer hires the ‘intern’, they receive up to $10,000 over six months.

On the surface it seems harmless enough. More workers for businesses, and more jobs for unemployed youth!

However, there are some very serious concerns that make it not only non-viable, but borderline illegal. Not only does it only pay between $4-6 per hour, but it incentivises businesses to cut full paying jobs in favour of hiring more interns.

Not so harmless really

Here’s an example:

A business is looking to hire some Christmas casuals over the busy holiday period. They’re looking for five positions that will cover the extra work required to prevent a bottleneck and maximise profits over the period.

But the new government internship program, Youth Jobs PaTH, has just become available, and the business has the option of taking on government ‘interns’ instead. The business weighs their options. It will cost them roughly $40000 to interview, hire, train, and pay five casual employees for their workloads. On the other hand, to take on five government interns will give them $5000 extra cash in hand, and even if they only keep one of them after the 12 weeks is up, they get $10000 over the six months they’re required to keep them on afterwards – which pays for itself.

They decide to take the government interns, because it maximises profits for the busy period by them not having to pay their employees – and in the end they get a ‘free’ employee for six months to cover emergencies.

On top of that, they decide to take on a sixth intern because the $6000 can finally pay for their new toaster, so they can keep the tax breaks that’ve been handed to them for a rainy day.

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You know you want one.

But what about the dole bludgers?

There are some who say that this scheme will ensure that all those lazy bludgers on welfare are actually working for their money. However, is that the point?

To those who think I’m being too soft, here are a few frequently asked questions from people who think unemployed youth is just having a whinge.

What about welfare cheats?

Welfare cheats? Sure, fraud exists in social security and any form of fraud is unacceptable. I’m not against procedures of investigation into fraud, and if it’s fraud you’re worried about, then what we really need is more investigative procedures – more layers of proof required.

As long as people are proving they are looking for work, or studying, then they ought to be allowed to receive social security. As it happens, the percentage of fraud is a very small percentage of those on unemployment, and the perpetrators tend to be the sorts of people who will find a way around this scheme too. It’s actually very easy to take advantage of this program, if the fraudster has a friend with an ABN and a little know-how with the system – which is why tighter investigative measures would be more effective. If that’s what you’re after.

What else are the unemployed doing with their time?

Looking for work, I expect. It’s a long process involving writing cover letters, making phone calls, trawling job sites and career sections of websites, interviews, chasing leads and making connections, on top of all the other household chores.

And I tell you what: that is all that ought to be required of them, because adding anything else on top of that stress-inducing process of rejection after rejection only sets them up to fail. On any work-for-the-dole scheme they have less time to look for work, less time in the day to attend interviews, and a greater financial burden that comes with weekly travel. It’s always been a problem with work-for-the-dole, and it will be as bad or even worse with this new program.

They’re getting more than $6 per hour!

So you say the $6 an hour figure is a misnomer – that they’re still receiving their regular payment on top of that. Do you know why they’re still receiving that payment? Because even under this ‘internship’ they are still regarded as unemployed. The fact that they will still receive, on average, $100 less than the minimum wage is still a bad thing.

And if you do count their regular payments towards the work, even if this extra payment were bumped up to being the minimum wage, this program is nothing more than welfare for businesses – which is trickle-down Reaganomics bullshit.

They need to contribute to society!

What good are they doing for society by working a not-job that wouldn’t exist if the business had to pay for it themselves?

A position that exists only to put money in the pocket of the owner, and that is menial and pointless?

A position that, if it IS needed, has taken the place of a real job by its very definition, and so increases unemployment in the youth population?

How deep is your fraud?

Finally.

If you believe that the problem with the economy is that there are too many dole bludgers, your position is one of rhetoric – one where evil, sneaky poor people are sucking the system dry. Fraudsters that cost you, the taxpayer, your own livelihood, because now you have to pick up the slack by sacrificing going out to lunch every day and pay more tax yourself!

Except this is not the reality, because all the people on social security who ‘cheat’, if they exist at all, cost the nation a pittance compared to the big-business fraud that happens on a much larger scale and costs us tens of billions of dollars. Many of these are the same businesses who will take full advantage of this new program, costing YOU more rather than THEM paying more.

So what do we do instead?

So, that leaves us back where we started. Youth unemployment is far from solved, and the election seems to have no end in sight.

Well, I’m going to be honest: there’s not much we can do about the election.

On the other hand, there’s still hope for our unemployed youth. Investment into entrepreneurial endeavours such as new technology startups, research and development and artistic programs are all promising avenues towards providing the youth of today a future, giving them the opportunity to gain experience in their fields while being paid a living wage.

As long as we also support these investments with strong, sustainable safety nets that will catch them if they fall onto hard times – future-proof telecommunications infrastructure, appropriate for the emerging digital economy, and a fully funded, national education system to teach them how to navigate it – we will have the tools to finding the solutions that make for a better society, and a bright future, for everyone.

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Cowardly political system is cowardly

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CSG mining diagram

She’ll be right, mate – it’s only our water supply! Image courtesy of Lock the Gate – click picture to view source.

 

So there I was, watching Barnaby Joyce on Q&A  explaining pseudo-patiently for the fifth time that he couldn’t do anything about protecting aquifers from unconventional gas mining because it was under the control of the States. And waving the Holy Book of the Constitution at us.

Spot the obvious error in this sentence, I tweeted. ‘We can’t save our water supply because of the Constitution.’

Vision impaired power games

I hope you can see the mistake here, even if Barnaby chooses not to. To uphold that a piece of paper is more important than the long-term survival of our food bowl is surely mind-blowingly stupid. Yet it seems that instead of Justice being blind in this country, it’s the political system that’s in need of a seeing eye dog.

We keep voting them in, don’t we. We keep voting for politicians who ignore the bleeding obvious because it’s not expedient, or it’s too hard.

You’d think that, in a two party system, we’d at least get a choice of options in policy between the stupid and the logical. But that’s not the way it works. Major change is considered too dangerous; nobody likes change! Staying in power is the game, regardless of how many lies are told, or – more dangerously – how many truths are ignored.

The basic philosophy of our current political system is this: ‘the future’ equals the number of years till the next election, and devil take the human race.

Let’s only present an alternative between two convenient but wrong answers; let’s just keep plunging towards the cliff edge, lemming-like, and spin a convincing enough web of bullshit to get the people to follow!

Cowardice and self-interest

And so we come to cowardice. I believe there is no other way to describe the behaviour of our politicians on both right and left. Taking tender care of one’s own neck and nest egg, watching one’s own back – this is the culture of today’s breed of supposed ‘representatives’.

They are intelligent people. They know, somewhere in the back of their minds, that their policies’ short-sightedness endangers the human race. But the vast majority of ‘representatives’ are too lily-livered to act in our defence. The party machine chews up and spits out anyone who dares challenge the status quo. (Do I dare mention Peter Garrett. The company takes what the company wants*, mate!)

In truth, I feel for some of the individuals in both parties. They are trapped; even if they see the folly of the policies they must spruik, they risk their jobs if they swim against the tide.

Courage is not easy. It never was. If the politicians can not be brave, then the people must.

Courage: it’s up to us

In political terms, courage is voting outside of the two-party paradigm we’ve been force-fed for generations. Courage is saying ENOUGH, and giving your vote to the representative whose policies reflect truth and justice instead of voting for one of the ‘big two’.

You’ve been taught to be afraid of the alternative. You’ve been taught to believe that a vote outside the big two is a vote wasted. That’s manipulation.

Fear will not save us from the greatest threats to our health and prosperity. Only courage can do that – the courage of the people, as a body, to turn away from the self-interest and hypocrisy exhibited by both major parties. Where will Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten be when the aquifers of the driest continent on earth are polluted, when the sea eats away our coastal cities and towns, when technology pushes more and more of us out of work?

Enjoying their pensions in their ivory towers, that’s where.

Bravery: a vote for a better future

You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. You can’t keep electing this dinosaur or that dinosaur and expect to be led towards a healthy and prosperous future.

We CAN change the future. But we cannot do it without major upheaval of our political system.

It’s time to turn over the status quo. A vote for Australian Progressives is not wasted. Don’t let fear stay your hand from voting for listening to the evidence, for acting upon it, for the good of the human race.

Bravery is not the absence of fear. Bravery is acknowledging your fear but acting regardless. Are YOU brave enough to vote for a better future?

*Lyrics from ‘Blue Sky Mine’ by Midnight Oil

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Empathy in Australia: a progressive seminar

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On Wednesday night, 24th February, the School of Life hosted the event ‘Empathy in Australia’ at the Melbourne Town Hall.  Peter Wingate and I joined 2000 Melbournians in an insightful and inspiring three hours of EMPATHY.

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CEO Kate Hamley and Victorian Coordinator Peter Wingate at the Empathy in Australia seminar.

So, what is empathy?

 

The first speaker and host for the evening was Roman Krznaric, author, cultural thinker and founder of the Empathy Museum. Roman explained the two kinds of empathy.

The first was ‘affective empathy’, which is where an emotional response is shared between two people.  It is the contrast to sympathy, in which an emotional response is not shared and is only felt by one of two people.

The second type of empathy is cognitive empathy; where one can see the world from another’s point of view, or ’walk in their shoes’.  

Roman provided the example of two toddlers. The little boy is crying.  The little girl is not.  The little girl feels empathy for the boy, and brings him her favourite toy to comfort him.  This is affective empathy (yes, the boy is still crying).

The next situation occurs a few months later. The little boy is crying. The little girl is not. The little girl feels empathy for the boy, and brings him his favourite toy. This is cognitive empathy (now he is comforted).

Though they don’t understand the terms, children show us that empathy can be taught and learned.  Roman identified two barriers to empathy: stereotypes and assumptions. The more we assume about people and judge others, the less we are able to truly put ourselves in their shoes.  We can work to break down such assumptions by building connections between people, to create a dialogue which may reduce the stereotypes that we all have about each other.

The speakers

The panellists were then introduced – Deborah Cheetham, Julian Burnside, Dr Susan Carland, Tara Moss and Chris Judd. You can read their CVs here: Empathy in Australia

Why is our empathy disengaged?

So began a wonderfully engaging and inspiring discussion about Empathy in Australia; about politics, challenging attitudes and improving our own empathy towards others.

First was a reflection on us as the Australian people.  The majority of us are highly empathetic people, but why do we disengage our empathy on so many of our most significant issues?

It’s obvious that we are being misled – by our media and by our politicians, who feed the public lies in the pursuit of their own political interests. “Goodness of Australian people will present when our politicians start to lead and be leaders”.  I enjoyed Julian Burnside’s passion as he openly criticised the manipulative media and government.  Mr Burnside’s tireless advocacy for Human Rights and the rights of refugees has my highest admiration.  People don’t seem to understand Human Rights.  They don’t understand that we are all entitled to human rights because we are all human.  Mr Burnside told a story which is symbolic of Australia’s hard-line border protection laws.

‘I have the right to say who comes to my home and the circumstances in which they come.  So I’m not having anyone over till next Thursday. Then a young boy frantically knocks on the front door. “HELP! HELP! They’re trying to take me!”

‘Do you say ‘sorry, come back on Thursday’ and close the door? No. You take them in and protect them.’   

Border Farce

Roman spoke of the perplexing nature of Australia’s border policies – that our country is founded on immigration, yet our policies fail to reflect our history. Deborah mentioned wittily that the largest uninvited arrival of boat people happened after 1770.

Deborah recited her revised version of the National Anthem, a revision she had made because “we are not young and we are not free of ignorance and hatred”. She passionately discussed how a lack of empathy has affected her life; although there has been progress in the recognition of Indigenous people and culture, we still have a long way to go.  She highlighted the importance of not using the term ‘Indigenous issues’ because they are not; they are society’s issues. Empathy has the power to help us overcome the barriers built through years of abuse, by building connections and overcoming false stereotypes.

Asking and listening: the path to empathy

So what is the first step to becoming more empathetic to the plight of others?  It’s quite simple really – ask and listen.

Tara Moss spoke passionately about the lack of empathy in the provision of funding for domestic abuse services, including her unsuccessful campaign to secure $250,000 of government funding to ensure a domestic violence support call centre had the capacity to answer all calls made to the service.  Women are overwhelmingly the prime subjects of domestic violence and yet nothing is being done about it.  In 2015 two women were killed every week by a current or former partner; that’s more than the number of people killed by terrorism, yet the funding of these issues is massively disproportionate.  

Susan Carland revealed the challenges she has faced as a Muslim woman and the senseless hatred that she had been subjected to.  She reminded us that empathy is a choice and we are all responsible for creating it and using it in our lives.  Empathy works to humanise people, to allow us to listen and focus on our similarities.  Turning the negative abuse she received into a positive – by donating $1 from every hateful tweet on Twitter to UNICEF – has reinforced her strong commitment to empathy in the face of destructive opposition. The audience applauded her courage.

Q: How can empathy be engaged in regard to topics such as climate change?

People have a view of the world and the issues therein for a reason.  Empathy should guide us to listen to what others have to say – even if we don’t agree.  It’s important to understand others and why they are there.  Understanding can lead us to a clearer picture – Are they ill-informed on an issue? Have they had a negative experience in the past?  Are they scared?  Empathy allows us to delve deeper and reveal a bigger picture; to see the world through their eyes and find a way to take them with us.  

It takes courage to use empathy.  Be courageous enough to empathise with your opposition and understand them.

It was highlighted that at an anti-climate change conference, the method used by all of the speakers was to repeat the same messaging over and over and over.

Nothing kills off empathy faster than fear. If someone is fearful of losing their job, destroying their reputation, losing their way of life – they can become hardened to empathy. Tara emphasised the importance of whistleblower protections for those courageous enough to speak out against cruelty, such as those who have spoken out against the government’s border force policies.  People need to be empowered to use their empathy and override the more powerful emotion – fear.  Fear is used effectively by conservative right wing politicians to disempower the community and allow the passing of policy that lacks empathy.  How do we turn this around? By building connections.

Q: What is your #1 tip for empathy?

  • Change your media. Go outside your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to look at the world through a different pair of eyes.  Watch NITV, read a different newspaper, listen to community radio – challenge yourself.
  • Listen to people you think you don’t like.  Hear their stories.
  • Read a book. (Read Roman’s book!)
  • Expand your curiosity about strangers.  Talk to a stranger once a week – see how you can start stripping away assumptions about people.

The evening concluded with one final offering of advice from the panel:

Q: How do you engage empathy in regards to social media?

I admired the response of Julian Burnside.  He reads every email that he receives and replies to every one – even the hate mail.  He said to always remain polite and rational, as it calms the tone in 95% of cases.  Challenge yourself to get into their mind and understand them. And use their outrage as an opportunity to educate them.  When someone writes something that is angry or not empathetic, it is usually a case of misunderstanding, misinformation, inaccurate assumptions or a profound fear. If you engage with them appropriately, you can start breaking down those barriers and engage their empathy.  Never assume you know why someone has done or said something – ask them why and listen.

That concluded our night of inspiring and challenging conversations.  I’m sure every one of us walked away with a sense of open-mindedness as to how we engage with others around us, and a little less fear of stepping outside of our comfort zones.  

So now I’m looking at the world a little differently and not just through my eyes. We have a long way to go as far as engaging the respect of our communities – but empathy will remain the cornerstone of  how we get there.  To tear down assumptions; to ask, to listen, connect, understand, and build a country free from hatred and ignorance.

 

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Hottest 100 Democracy

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So I am siting at home today with my girlfriend and some mates, waiting for the Triple j Hottest 100 to start. The world’s largest music democracy is an interesting thing; it alienates and confuses some, while others (including myself) can’t get enough.

So why is it so controversial?

People who listen to Triple j, and many who don’t, have a say on their favourite songs of the previous year (the release date must fall within the last calendar year). People get confused when their favourite song from commercial radio doesn’t make the list. There are many reasons for this, including several rules about not being allowed to have commercial arrangements to drum up votes (even when they aren’t organised by the artist or anyone affiliated with them – sorry Tay Tay!).

Still people crack the sads and can be disappointed by the results.

There is one thing that can explain this. I believe is the most important factor. It’s democracy.

Democracy means everyone

That’s right, the vote; everyone – even non Triple j listeners – can vote, and this defines what is different between the commercial charts and the Hottest 100. Everyone gets to vote.

This means that even those without enough coin in their pockets can have a say about what is popular. It gives us a real picture about what the nation (let’s be serious; more like the ‘Triple j nation’) loved listening to in the last year.

It’s a true democracy, like our government elections; every citizen gets a vote, no matter their financial means or social status. The commercial charts don’t have this kind of street cred.

Why is society less democratic than this?

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Is compulsory income management such as took place with the NT Intervention democratic? Is it fair? Click image for source.

But why isn’t the rest of society this fair? In the past (and somewhat more so in recent times), those with little means have been blamed for their own misfortune. We live in what we like to see as a meritocracy; we say ‘we are where we are because of our hard work’, or ‘because we studied hard we made the right choices’. We deserve to be where we are –

– or do we?

This idea that folks are where they deserve to be because of hard work and ability forgets that we are constantly under the influence of circumstances beyond our control. I was subject to this just two weeks ago, when I was made redundant from my job. Not sacked, but my position was removed as part of a rationalisation process – a company restructure.

Now, in order to remove the immediate threat of financial woes, I need to start a job hunt and apply for social security. It’s a demoralising process. Many of us have been through it before, either while a student or due to a fall from grace; there is no real problem with this. But if we believe people are where they are because of their own efforts, this brings that world into question. We use words like ‘dole bludger’ to explain the attitudes of a very few people, but what we do to combat ‘bludgers’ affects those who are temporarily having to go through the system due to factors beyond their control.

The realities of this make the system overly complicated and exceedingly slow. I got a pay out, and so have a bridge; many don’t. Some folks get let go from casual jobs without notice or explanation – business reasons are cited as enough.

But then the punishment begins. The job market fluctuates over time and it’s not always as simple as ‘just getting a job’. It can take time to find one, let alone the right one or one that supports the lifestyle you once had.

We’re all a little vulnerable

 

Yet in the last few years our politicians have sought to reduce the amount of support available or even introduce wait times before you are eligible. As much as those of us in a job can say ‘that’s not too bad, my savings can last me that long’, what if you were low on savings having just came back from holiday and your boss gives you 2 weeks’ notice on your return? Your boss doesn’t know your financial situation, neither does the government. So why do they assume such changes are OK?

Life has its ups and downs. Even if the politicians think they can’t pay for so many of us stumbling occasionally, it’s still going to happen. We obtain food, a roof over our heads and a little dignity with money. What happens when this runs out is the reason why some people are on the streets; they don’t necessarily want or deserve to be there because they were a ‘bludger’ or too stupid to help themselves. A society is judged by how they treat their most vulnerable. We are all a little vulnerable from time to time.

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The statistics are a reality check, especially when one considers that many of the homeless are aged or children. Click image for source.

Is the solution UBI?

If we want a fair and supportive society we need to help folks to get back up when they stumble. Allow them to have another go. Like the Hottest 100, everyone should have the ability to have their say, a say means a roof over their heads, a warm meal and the security to know they can get on with life and even a job search with dignity.

I advocate for a Universal Basic Income as a way to achieve this. An income that is there not a month after you fall, but when you fall. Paid to all citizens, all the time. It’s offset by your taxes, and replaces the tax free threshold so that when you work you pay it all back, plus a little more as your bit to help others when they end up in the same scenario.

Some will say, ‘What about those who will try to exploit the system?’

What about them? Even if you try control their spending, their behaviour, their lives – what gives you that right? It makes little impact, and costs more to police than it saves; this is not about principle, it’s about a practical system. People can always sell their restricted purchases for cash, or use someone else’s receipt to return them for cash. Why waste our resources impinging on the liberty of others, where the same treatment for yourself would rouse anger?

A future where we help each other have full access to our great democracy is a good aim. No matter how well you are doing right now, we all benefit.

And now – back to the tunes.

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Politics Deluxe: Melbourne meet-up, 16.1.16

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MelbourneMU1

Melbourne Progressive Peter Wingate reports in his first AP blog post. Welcome to the team, Peter!

A prettier day you could not imagine in Melbourne town, and the Beer Deluxe courtyard was the perfect spot for some game-changing political discussionPeter Wingate (or at least a cold beer with some people wanting to channel their anger beyond thoughts of torturing <insert name of topical MP>.

And along they came….meet-up virgins Matt, Aaron, Prisca, David, Lou, Anita, Ben, Donal, Roxanne, Jacinta, Sean, Neil joined organisers Josh,  Kate and Pete and special guest veteran Russell….a great turn-out!

Introductions unearthed diverse backgrounds including a deep-sea diver, scientist, construction company owner, train engineer, carer, student teacher, town planner and Prime Minister incumbent (well, hopefully!) and an amazing breadth of life experience.

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A quick survey of individual political priorities and passions proved that we share a lot more than our contrasting backgrounds suggest, with refugee treatment, political accountability, marriage equality, sustainability, economic fairness and social justice gaining support around the table.  Breaking off into small groups to tackle each topic, we brainstormed action-focused ideas to affect positive change AP-style.  Presenting back to the larger group, we then turned to thoughts of Victorian AP goals – ie What do we want to achieve at a local level that furthers fundamental progressive values and success?MelbourneMU2

Again, our members thought big; voicing ideas about political policy and accountability, encouraging innovation, equality of opportunity for all and social justice.  Clear, cut-through communication and promotion in the lead up to this year’s election was also a hot topic as we seemed to get even more enthused about the task ahead of us this year.

With Kate promising to collate pages and post-it notes of progressive ideas for further feedback and a new meet-up schedule, we left the formalities behind for more drinks in the sun, and optimism for the future.

To join the conversation, contact Kate Hamley at vic@australianprogressives.org.au

 

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The budget debate gets silly

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post-cash

The budget debate has gotten silly now. The Treasurer stood up this week and repeated the mantra that we have a spending problem, refusing to acknowledge that we also have a revenue problem. And until he recognises this and talks about BOTH sides of the problem, we are not going to get anywhere.

So why won’t he talk about the revenue side of things? Well, it’s because of how hard he and others went at Wayne Swan when he warned that Australia faced a revenue shortfall, because of the ending of the mining boom and the pending collapse in world mineral prices. Swan was hammered in the press and the (then) opposition took advantage, claiming that the ALP were just being lazy.

Turns out Swan was right; we do have a revenue problem, and it is far worse than our spending – billions of dollars worse.

Some facts:

  • Revenue was around 25% of GDP for most of the Howard/Costello years.
  • Somewhere in 2007 revenue fell off a cliff (looking at graph below, you can see it on the right hand side. State and Local revenues stayed the same, but Federal revenues fell).
  • Revenue is now somewhere around 22% of GDP.
  • The current government intends to spend around 26% of GDP this financial year.
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Government Revenue as a percentage of GDP. Source: www.treasury.gov.au (click image).

See the problem? There is a 4% gap between what the government is spending and what it is receiving. And if we take the Howard/Costello years as a guide (25%), the revenue shortfall is 3 times larger than the overspend. And given that our economy is about 1 ½ trillion dollars a year, that’s about $45 billion a year less revenue than the Howard government enjoyed.

Can we fix it? Yes, we can!

So how do we get through this impasse? How do we get the debate moving?

A good place to start would be in deciding how much tax, as a percentage of GDP, an Australian Federal Government should be allowed to take. Looking at the graph above, it would seem that somewhere around the 24-25% mark looks sustainable. If we could agree on that figure – even a range – then we could move discussion along to the best means of raising that tax and where the savings should come from.

Using the household budget analogy, if we find that we’re not getting enough money in to do the things we want, what do we do?

What we wouldn’t do is stop sending our kids to school, or stop going to the hospital when we’re sick, or throw grandma out on the street. But we would look at Uncle Joe (who earns a bucket load from investments) living in our house rent free and not paying any board. We’d think that’s not fair – he should contribute. And our neighbours who use our garage to build widgets to sell –  they should contribute something to the cost of things as well.

Let’s be fair about this…

As a progressive, I am always in favour of fairness and doing what’s right for people. I look to see who isn’t contributing to the cost of government, and who are we giving money to who doesn’t need it.

The two obvious groups are corporations and superannuants.

We saw recently the list of corporations who paid no tax at all in Australia. The list included those that made huge profits, paying no company tax on those profits. Corporations which do business in Australia use our infrastructure, use our highly educated workforce, depend on our legal and regulatory systems and above all else, rely on our peaceful and strong governance. They should contribute to the cost of these things. They’re a bit like the neighbours in the garage.

Top 10 companies not paying tax (1)

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 17/12/2015 (click image)

Also, just as it wouldn’t make sense for a household to pay their neighbours to use their garage, it doesn’t make sense that we subsidise corporations, particularly miners. There is some spending that could saved.

The other group, superannuants – that’s a bit trickier. They’re like Uncle Joe; we don’t really want to upset him, but it just doesn’t seem fair that even though he earns as much as anyone else in the family – more in a couple of cases – he doesn’t contribute to the upkeep of the house. It just doesn’t seem fair that a superannuant getting an income of $75,000 a year pays no income tax, yet a person on $60,000 pays $12,500.

Looking for solutions

See, we can get beyond this silly little impasse that the politicians have built for themselves. We’ve just got to recognise the problem. We have a revenue problem AND a spending problem – but the revenue problem is the bigger of the two, and easier to fix. So I’m not waiting for the Treasurer to mention the R word. I’m moving the debate along.

What do you think should be the tax/GDP percentage?

What do you think would be the fairest way to increase the current tax intake?

Where do you think the savings should be made?

Over to you, Progressives.

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Engagement: you can do it sitting down

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Do you find yourself constantly banging on the keyboards in frustration as the result of things you see on the news or on social media, and swear to yourself you’re going to write a letter about it? Then life gets in the road, and despite the best of intentions, you never quite get around to it?

Last Friday, I invited people from the Northern Beaches hub to come to my place for a letter-writing morning tea. I knew it was a busy time of year, but threw caution to the wind and organised it anyway. I’m no longer the person who puts things off until they are absolutely perfect. I’ve realised there is no time like now, and we’ve all got to just get in and do stuff. Whatever it is, it all helps.

So, I got my good china out (no time like now to start using that too) and on Thursday night after dinner, I played some loud music and got cooking a couple of slices and some muffins.

I was determined to make this a close-to-plastic-free event.  You have to be the change, and all that.

Success!

This event was such a success. We got seven progressive people around the table, five women and two men aged between 21 and 85, and another who couldn’t make it but wrote a letter and sent it off anyway, so we’ll take the credit for that too. I got several heartfelt apologies from people who told me they would have loved to come, but couldn’t make it on the day.

We chatted, we laughed, drank tea and ate. We had a good whinge: naturally – we are progressives, and Tony Abbott and Bronwyn Bishop are our local members. We discussed our ideas, and we wrote.

We were all a bit uncertain about our letters, but we were each brave enough to read them out. I’ll tell you what, we were so surprised at the spontaneous applause and cheers our letters received. Clearly, when you write from the heart, about a matter of importance to you, the result is always going to be good. It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect – the thing is, you did it!

So letters were written about marriage equality, climate change, the Paris Climate talks. There was one about industrial agriculture and its effect on climate change. Solar panel affordability, coal and coal seam gas. Our absent letter-writer wrote about our treatment of asylum seekers. So all in all, a pretty good mix.

And there’s more…

We then got talking about how a progressive had contacted the Australian Progressives’ Facebook page and told us about the Queensland government’s intention to extinguish Native Title claims over the Moray Downs land, allowing freehold title to Adani in order to facilitate development such as an airport and power station for the Carmichael mine. I read out this article:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-27/proposal-to-extinguish-native-title-over-key-adani-mine-property/6979998

We were all outraged, so decided to spend the last five minutes writing a letter to The Queensland Premier and to the Minister for Mining. Again, the results were pretty good. We all could have done better, perhaps if we’d spent more time, but then again, we may never have gotten them sent off.

So, for the day, we got over twenty letters written on matters of importance. We connected. We learnt. We enjoyed ourselves. (We really enjoyed ourselves.) We left feeling happy and proud that we had achieved so much.

What we did that day was engage.

Have a look at the Flipagram of Louise’s event here:

https://flipagram.com/f/gwJkljLZeH

 

 

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An interview with the founder of the first AP Community Hub

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Graphics by Ian Lacey

 

In this interview, Evan Hadkins asks Progressives’ NSW/ACT representative Louise Hislop about her involvement in politics and how she came to start a Progressive Hub in the Northern Beaches.

Evan: Have you always been involved in politics?

Louise: No!! I’ve always had an interest in politics, especially after studying Political Economy at uni after I left school. I’ve never been a member of a political party, because I’ve always been put off by the careerists and the fact that neither of the major political parties seem to fix the big problems at the root causes or have a cohesive vision for the country.

Evan: Have you always been an activist?

Louise: I have always tried to take my part in our democracy: from writing letters to the paper, writing to and meeting with MP’s, getting involved in local issues and making my voice heard at a local level, to peaceful demonstrations and rallies.

Evan: How did you get involved in the Australian Progressives?

Louise: I became aware of them on Facebook. I initially very gingerly offered my services when a call went out for volunteers in the area of marketing. I only did this because it was the second or third call. I didn’t think I’d be needed, really.

Evan: It is easy to get involved in things online – was it difficult doing stuff face to face?

Louise: Face to face is easy. Social media is a great way to connect with people and it makes organising very easy, but I have always been a face to face person. For me, social media just a facilitator and communicator. The real stuff happens when you make human connections.

Evan: Tell us the story of how the hub came about.

Louise: For years I had been unhappy with the representation Tony Abbott had provided us here in Warringah. Seriously, I can’t think of anything he has achieved for our area in over twenty years, except for a bit of volunteer work in the life-saving and the bushfire brigade which plenty of ordinary people do as a matter of course.  I had never had any confidence in him ever since I saw a Four Corners show on him – in the nineties, I think it was – about the working poor. He had no concept of the fact that someone could have a job (albeit casual and part time) yet still live in poverty. His lack of empathy and understanding was astounding. During his campaign against the carbon tax I requested a meeting with him to discuss his climate change policies as a member of a group called “Say Yes”. I met him after 15 months of emails and phone calls. By the time I got to meet him, he was Opposition Leader and in the throes of his ‘axe the tax’/ ‘debt and deficit disaster’ mode.

I had to provide him with a full list of questions before he would meet me, which I found extraordinary for someone who aspired to be PM. I had only asked to have a conversation about climate change. Needless to say, I walked away from that meeting far from satisfied, and I think a little seed started to sprout that day.

Lots of people I knew were as horrified as I was when he became PM, and I met many more in the course of the March in March period, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest against a lack of integrity in government. I started gathering people’s contact details and stayed in touch with occasional emails. I was hoping we may find a good independent, who, if we gathered enough support, might be enticed to run at the next election. When Australian Progressives came along however, I was so impressed with their vision that I decided to join them. I then encouraged my existing group to join our Northern Beaches hub, which includes Warringah and Mackellar (Bronwyn Bishop) and will be known as the Northside hub as we begin to encompass those from over the Spit Bridge.

Evan: When did you all first meet up?

Louise: I gathered people to my home and we had a casual meet-up over some nibbles. Progressive people are always happy to meet other like-minded people and talk about the issues that matter to them. We had 30 or 40 people turn up to the meet-up. I gave what I hope was an inspiring speech about how we have a duty to change things. If we continue to do nothing of substance, then nothing will ever change. We asked people to share their visions for the future, and Vinay Orekondy (the AP president) and Dave Burrows (our campaigns co-ordinator) answered lots of questions about how AP intends to get us there.

Evan: What then?

Louise: We formed a committee of 7 or 8 people. We shared our vision for the future of our community and spoke about the sort of practical things we could do to help us get there. A few common themes kept popping up. Community, isolation, environment, asylum seekers and homelessness. There had been an article in the local paper about an organisation that provides meals and blankets to the homeless people around Manly These people were sleeping out near the beach in temperatures which, with the windchill factor, were nearing 1 degree. The organisation, One Meal, had asked for donations of food and blankets. We decided as a first small step towards our vision, we would hold a community sausage sizzle and ask for people to drop off donations to us which we would forward to One Meal, as we could not bear the thought that people were risking death due to exposure in such an affluent area. One of the young men in our group created an event on Facebook and we went from there.

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Northern Beaches hub members attending their ‘Help for the Homeless’ event.

Evan: What surprises did you have (if any)?

Louise: I shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised at the generosity of the people of the Northern Beaches. We were completely overwhelmed with the amount of quality things that were donated. There were literally truckloads!

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 3.33.29 pm

Those sleeping bags and blankets look almost new…

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 3.34.07 pm

…and there were truckloads of breakfast foods.

Evan: What have you learned?

Louise: I’ve learned that there is a real desire to create a better world by the people that live here. People feel powerless with the political options available to them. People are keen to take things into their own hands and make connections with other like-minded people.

Evan: What would you do differently next time?

Louise: Organise a semi-trailer to transport the donated goods! It was lucky I had lots of helping hands and their vehicles to help with the transportation.

Evan: What’s next for the hub, do you think?

Louise: That’s an interesting one. Now that Tony Abbott is not PM, and Bronwyn Bishop is not the Speaker of the House, we can focus on creating our vision. I’ll consult with the hub about our priorities, but I think it might be something involving asylum seekers.  Everyone in the hub is so ashamed at the treatment of asylum seekers. We may have an event with an asylum seeker, and see what that inspires us to achieve in our local area. There are lots of ideas to help us move towards our vision. We might even get several different things happening at once. It depends how much energy we all have This is just the beginning and the possibilities are endless. I feel the future is bright.

Thanks to Evan Hadkins for initiating this interview. We look forward to his next contribution.

You can be an Australian Progressives blogger too – email your article to info@australianprogressives.org.au with the subject line ‘BLOG’ and we’ll put your work in front of the team.

 

 

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Why ‘community first’ matters

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A while back, Australian Progressives President Vinay Orekondy wrote a blog post about a different approach for our party. From where we are now – in amongst the politics of tit for tat, corruption and decades old ideologies – it seems radical, but it is in fact a reconnection with what democracy was intended to be: a real connection between people and power.

This is exciting stuff! A structure for our party that sets our actions, policies and candidates apart from the fruitless manoeuvrings of modern politics. Members and candidates getting on with making real change for their community, regardless of the latest media sound bite or scare campaign.

This approach has the potential to make all other contenders seem self-serving, while we appear compassionate, honest, pro-active and engaged. Not because of how we managed to spin things, not because we have discredited our opponents and not even because we are smarter than anyone else. Here is the radical subversive idea: we will really be compassionate, honest, pro-active and engaged.

Our vision will be expressed through real activities happening with our neighbours, our friends and our families. Community Hubs will bring people together and empower us to articulate our desire for progress, and the Australian Progressives will be our megaphone.

Strip01-Progress is all about

New is scary, but can we really lose?

This is different, and let’s not make any bones about it – that means there will be problems along the way. Getting people to invest of themselves in something uncertain is not easy, but we can already see it is possible. New hubs are being formed at this very minute across the country.

A group of progressive people coming together to take action offers a connection on so many levels. It can be good for our health (mental and physical), it can be good for the environment, it can help those who need it most where you live, it can be fun, it can rattle the cage of the political establishment and even topple it. Hubs will do good in the community just because they can, with no strings attached; there is so much to gain by us getting together, and so little to lose.

But aren’t we supposed to be doing politics?

There are established ways one goes about getting into politics: find candidates, place them in seats, run a campaign, get on the news, make your case, win over hearts and minds. I for one have arrived here amongst the the Progressives because I’m pretty tired of this system and I am deeply underwhelmed by what it can actually deliver.

Sure, I’ve got my cynical pants on here, but the process of slinging points and counterpoints at each other through the media seems to simply allow the majority of voters to reinforce their preconceptions by believing one side while being dismissive of the other. There are, of course, swinging voters out there, but ending up with politics designed to satisfy them results in limp leadership. If it were as simple as making progressive points about the environment, human rights, social security and taxation through the existing structure, then the Greens would be running the country by now.

listen to me

The ‘community first’ approach may require that we invest time and energy in a broader range of activities, some of which may even seem un-political, but to have successful candidates they must be riding on a wave of community investment that is undeniable. They must come of the community first, and then transition to working for the community if they are going to stand out – if they are going to be immune to the corruption, and bold of ambition. Australia does not need another small party shouting from the sidelines; it needs to refocus politics on the people it represents.

Recent political events, I think, make the change even more important. Our new Prime Minister boasts of being “agile”; to me this reads as ‘the government will adapt any new ideas that gain traction and apply them in a watered down way through the same old corrupt system’. I think we need to have something deeper – a change in how we create our ideas and a support base that is emotionally engaged and invested in how they are applied, so they won’t be fooled by the main parties’ lightweight version. I long for a change in how politics works, what politics is.

Introverts and unlikely leaders

Another aspect to this is that we are looking for a whole new kind of leader. Quite possibly these members will have no ambition to lead, but will be lifted up and encouraged by those working alongside them to improve their community. If the Progressives are serious about empowerment, then it follows that we would be represented by empowered members.

This is the real way to change the nature of those who might represent us, and it becomes quite clear that hunting to discover or meet quotas of candidates by a certain time, especially if there is not an active hub in that location, is not going to be compatible. The way to get the representatives we really need is by investing in the hubs themselves; the support and connection they will provide has the potential to turn ordinary people into inspirational leaders.

What about non-progressive people?

The high school style of debate in our political system is very rarely about changing minds. Focus group testing and rehearsed one liners are the norm; political positions are designed to appeal to a particular demographic’s existing point of view.

Our communities are awash in cynicism about politicians and everything they say; we are corralled into categories and constituencies to suit agendas. You know what? Life just isn’t that simple. Anyone should be free to come along and see what’s happening at a hub. The potential for really changing the way people see politics is that the hub is focussed on doing. Actions within the community that are genuinely about helping each other and those in need, actions that people are invited to be a part of, are how we can communicate the power of progress in a way that no TV sound bite, Facebook meme or rehearsed one liner could ever manage.

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In his book The Good Listener, Hugh Mackay says that, “People are more likely to change in response to a combination of new experience and communication than in response to communication alone.” and, “The message in what is said will be interpreted in the light of how, when, where and by whom it is said.” In fact, the ten laws of communication he outlines make for a great overview of how hubs have the potential to effect actual change in how people see politics. You can read them here: http://www.mckenziecoaching.com.au/10-laws-human-communication/

What can hubs do?

So what kinds of things might a hub be doing? Before we discuss specific possibilities, there are a few important factors to consider.

First and most importantly, there are the Progressive values. If a hub is going to be flying the party’s banner, then obviously its actions need to align with the direction of the party itself. The values are effectively a framework for designing hub activities. The smallest of actions can still promote the values; no need to start with saving the world. Small achievable actions can get the ball rolling and it is collectively that our actions will amount to a big political stick.

Context will be a crucial consideration. Empowering your local community is the goal here. Also, there is no point in reinventing the wheel; in some cases it may be a matter of helping out already progressive activities in your community. Creating competition over resources or dividing public awareness of an issue is far from progressive, so there is no point in setting out with an attachment to a specific activity. Hubs need to be the Swiss Army Knives of community action, dynamic and responsive, giving voice to progressives where you live.

These factors together make this all about creativity. The current political system assumes constituents are uncreative – it is a case of ‘the people complain and the government find a way to placate them’. This model is devoid of empowerment. There is no investment by the population. The creative challenge laid down before a hub is not to ask, ‘What can I do to my community?’ But rather, ‘What does my community need?’

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So here are some ideas about what hubs might do if they satisfy the criteria above:

  • Get connected: There are already so many amazing progressive organisations out there doing amazing things in Australia, there are many examples on our Facebook Page. While they are great, they are dispersed and don’t always come together as a single voice across the community. A Hub can potentially be helping these organisations to grow, connect and proliferate.
  • Get together: In some parts of Australia, being progressive can be a pretty isolating experience. The simple act of coming together so we know we are not alone is step one of empowerment. There is no reason I can see why activities can’t be about looking after the hub itself; what you do needs to be sustainable, so it makes sense to invest some energy in the hub’s own health.
  • Support Charities: The first community hub in Warringah has already had a successful charity drive, collecting food and clothing for the homeless. A fantastic way to help those in need and demonstrate our commitment to the value of Empathy. https://www.facebook.com/AusProgressive/posts/1078716735486714
  • Gardens and Gardening: There are mountains of evidence that gardening is good for our mental and physical health, that it is good for the environment, can have a positive effect on a community and can produce food for those in need. In this age of corporate dominance, simply growing food has become a political act. That progressives would be involved in sustainable, local food production just makes sense.
  • Working Bees: Pretty self-explanatory. If someone needs help, the Progressives get stuck in and do something about it. The beauty of this sort of thing is that it is so easily scalable; three people helping an elderly citizen clean out her/his garage or fifty people cleaning up a local park and having a sausage sizzle and anything in between is a win.
  • Co-operatives: A bit more ambitious, but hubs have the potential to be involved in all kinds of locally owned and operated ways of managing resources. Local renewable energy systems, CSAs, local food distribution hubs, business incubators, employment networks, commons, and crowdfunding are just some of the ways this might happen. Part of this might be assisting local communities that are trying to fight off corporations who seek to dominate or endanger resources.
  • The Simple Act of Giving: Blankets for the homeless, a basket of local produce for a pensioner, or backpacks for immigrant children. The possibilities are endless and there is no reason why, as long as it is safe, hubs can’t take things into their own hands and lend a helping hand directly to someone in need. https://www.facebook.com/VictoriaSaysWelcome?fref=ts
  • Health: Organising or promoting community-based health activities can improve life in the community and help to build connections with new people. https://vimeo.com/138158618

Obviously these are just a few of many possibilities, but I think having some examples can make things a little less daunting. It’s fine to start small. How things grow from there is a journey the whole Australian Progressives team can be a part of, if it is helpful. Every journey starts with a first step.

So to finish up, I want you to imagine something for me.

What if your first exposure to a new political party was one of the activities above in action?

Imagine how that would challenge your cynical preconceptions about politics. How would it look compared to the other parties? On the one hand you’d have a bunch of talking heads making the same predictable points, and on the other you’d have a bunch of people willing to put their money where their mouth is. There is no need to be preachy or pushy, it is a simple case of ‘this is who we are, and you can see for yourself what we stand for’.

The potential here is enormous; for me it appears like an open highway (or should that be high speed rail line?) ahead of us. Ultimately it is the only way forward that I can get excited about.

I hope you can too.  

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