Monthly Archives: June 2013

Strength through suffering

Judith Sloane believes that “Work Choices has, contrarily, been a boon for the union movement”, by providing it with something to campaign against (“Work choices ‘fear’ a boon for lifting union ranks”, The Australian, 29/6). For the same reason, she argues that “a Coalition government may help the trade unions organically rebuild their membership base”. Accepting that adversity is so salutary, it is tempting to make the complementary suggestion that business efficiency be stimulated by, say, a stricter tax regime!

Her new-found concern for union viability prompts Ms Sloane to offer the following advice: “Rather than rely on favourable laws, regulations and appointments, they will do this by offering relevant and valuable services to members”. What she has missed is that winning those very laws and regulations is one of the most valuable services that unions provide, not only to their paid-up members, but to all other Australian workers for free.

Snowden’s travel arrangements

The Australian’s editorial “Flight to authoritarian regimes” (25/6) is rightly critical of the fact that in Russia “the definition of treason … has been expanded to include ‘international advocacy on human rights'”. But if Edward Snowden’s passage through such countries is ironic, so is the ruthless manhunt being conducted by the “vibrant civil society” of the US. If it is not “noble” for a whistleblower to flee, it is less so for a democratic government to necessitate flight by persecuting him.

What The Australian calls Snowden’s “unfortunate choices” in his travel arrangements are inconsequential compared with what he has revealed about the US, where it seems that the definition of treason includes telling the truth about monstrous, illegal global surveillance.



I note that Greg Sheridan has taken to using the term “boatpeople” to refer to asylum seekers (most recently in “Neighbour asks for a hand to tame Tiger”, The Australian, 22/6). That tabloid epithet first gained currency in this country 40 years ago, when it expressed an ugly xenophobia towards Vietnamese refugees. It was wisely ignored as a basis for policy by governments at the time .

But it is slightly preferable to the inaccurate and inflammatory “illegal immigrants” previously favoured by Mr Sheridan, who recently announced that the Australian Press Council “has ruled that I may not call people who arrive illegally, illegal immigrants” (“People are fed up with continued growth in asylum-seeker numbers”, 13/6). Well, yes they did, over two years ago! That did not stop him wearing the phrase out until he abruptly switched boo-words a week ago.

But I have a simple question for Mr Sheridan: why is it so difficult to use a neutral, fair and accurate term like “asylum seeker”?

The real George

It has become fashionable among conservatives to invoke George Orwell as authority for their denunciation of any sanctions on such things as expressions of racism, or breaches of public duty by media monopolies. The real Orwell, of course, supported such measures.

Yet these same guardians of freedom have fallen silent before the genuinely Orwellian spectacle of top US spooks chanting “two legs good, four legs bad!”, as they try to justify their monstrous global surveillance program – the envy of any Communist dictator – for reasons they cannot detail because they are “classified”. If they are so proud of their handiwork, why hunt down the man who brought it to light?

Even if US “intelligence” could claim a tacit mandate from their own citizens, they have been granted no such thing by the other 95% of the world’s population.

Spooks should thank Snowden

Some have aptly compared the PRISM program to Soviet Cold War surveillance of its own people. But there is a difference of scale: this time, the data collection is global.

Despite denials from companies said to be allowing the siphoning of their clients’ private information, the U.S. government cheerfully admits it. But if they really believed their own defence that we need PRISM for our own protection, they would thank whistleblower Edward Snowden for bringing their good work to our attention, instead of threatening him with a charge of treason. Alternatively, if they have done wrong, to punish Snowden for revealing it doubles their offence.

Sheridan breaches standards

What is the story with Greg Sheridan’s persistent assertions that asylum seekers are illegal immigrants (most recently on 8 June)?

These assertions are inaccurate, as it is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia, and are derogatory, inflammatory and unfair.

They also violate press standards. The APC has made several adjudications to that effect (for example, No. 1525), and the relevant Standard of Practice states that ‘[d]epending on the specific context … terms such as “illegal immigrants” or “illegals” may constitute a breach’. An example of such context is “if the terms can reasonably be interpreted as implying criminality or other serious misbehaviour on the part of all or many people who arrive in this manner”. This closely matches the context in Sheridan’s recent column and others he has written on the subject.

The assertions also infringe corresponding internal News Ltd policy instituted in February 2012 in response to complaints to the APC, raising the related question of why Sheridan has been permitted to persist.

Excuses in advance

Greg Sheridan (“Policy failure creating a monstrous problem”, The Australian, 8/6) appears to be providing excuses in advance for the inevitable failure of any Abbott government to “Stop the Boats”. In fact, Sheridan now puts it as “turn back the boats where possible”, which according to regional governments and our own armed forces, is never. Sheridan is at great pains to persuade us that such difficulties are “entirely Canberra’s own” and will make for “very hard work” for Abbott. Yet they are international in nature, and exist regardless of who is in government.

The only real policy distinction Sheridan is able to draw is in terms of regional cooperation: Labor’s “fast processing and rapid resettlement” versus the Coalition’s “deter and exclude”. The former is a global view of a global problem, the latter narrowly aims to keep refugees out of our backyard, without a thought for what happens to them next. The comparison does not favour the Coalition.

It has always and everywhere been the case that “no one is more hostile to the boatpeople phenomenon than immigrants”, as Sheridan reports; but his view that this should be the basis for refugee policy, and his dystopian prophesy of a permanent, dangerous immigrant underclass, are historically plain wrong. We’ve heard it all before.

Oh, and for the umpteenth time: it is not “illegal” to seek asylum.

How to keep Hendrickx happy?

It is difficult to divine exactly what  the ABC could do to satisfy Marc Hendrickx (“ABC lacks balance in its climate coverage”, The Australian, 5/6).

His first gripe concerns Karoly et al’s 2012 “1000-year study”, which was found by its authors (not “online climate sceptics”) to have a subtle methodological error and is currently under review (it was not “short-lived”). He complains that the ABC did not sufficiently emphasise this on their “online website”. However, it does not seem to bother him at all that The Australian’s only coverage of the ground-breaking research concerned the error.

Hendrickx is also bothered by the ABC’s publication of dissenting views alongside recent reports of a Canadian paper which posits CFCs as the cause of warming. In this case he seems to prefer The Australian’s approach of reporting the controversial theory with no balancing view (“CFCs ‘are the real culprit in global warming'”, 3/6).

Trickle-up effect

The 2.6% tweak received by Australia’s lowest paid workers on Monday is barely commensurate with inflation, but still too generous for Judith Sloane, who would prefer them to fall ever further behind (“Extended freeze would protect the poor”, The Australian, 4/6). She asserts that this is for their own good, citing cherry-picked research linking bottom-of-the-market wage rises with unemployment.

Economists are far from unanimous on that narrow topic, but it is unnecessary to decide whether Sloane’s view is correct. In the bigger picture, the real driver of employment is productivity, which has risen about 85% in the past three decades, while real wages have grown only around 50%. This “trickle-up” effect demonstrates that continuing unemployment, and downward pressure on wages, are due not to labour unaffordability but to employers’ unwillingness to share the increased wealth that their workers have created. Worse, dwindling union membership means fewer are in a position to insist on a fair share.

Postmodern van Gend

Christian anti-marriage equality campaigner David van Gend (‘Pity the child of same sex union’, The Australian, 4/6) is confused about the role of the law in a civilised society. It is not the case that ‘marriage laws … exist to reinforce [a] biological foundation’. Biology takes care of itself. The law exists to ensure a stable, just and fair society. All are equal before it; this is the principle at stake.

Van Gend’s emotive talk of “abuse of a child’s birthright” is a smokescreen: married and unmarried people of all sexualities can already raise children, or not, as they choose. Marriage law reform will not change this. 

Van Gend blithely quotes social scientists like Claude Levi-Strauss (who held a very different view!) to further his jarringly postmodern theory of law as anthropology, yet rejects as ‘shallow’ studies which consistently show that children of same-sex couples do just as well as others. If his concerns for children are not based on fact, then what? He should remember that the law is also secular.