Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: May, 2017

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 30 May 2017: Dutton and Bishop both busily spreading ‘fake’ news

Last week Ministers Peter Dutton and Julie Bishop demonstrated that ‘fake news’ isn’t confined to President Trump and his media minions.

Broadly, both Dutton and Bishop were doing their best to re-write our human rights practice. Let’s hope everyone isn’t fooled by such con jobs.

To Dutton first. Fresh from re-writing the news about the refugees we are incarcerating on Manus Island, this time in a blatant example of ‘fake news’ he adopted an alternative fact to justify our latest human rights violation

This involved the federal government setting an October 1 deadline for 7,500 people who arrived in Australia by boat between 2008 and 2013, but who have not yet lodged claims for refugee protection, to apply for a visa or face deportation.

He announced that “the game is up” for “fake refugees”, who he referred to as ‘Illegal maritime arrivals’, his media release reading “The Turnbull government has today set a deadline for thousands of Illegal Maritime Arrivals (IMAs) who flooded into Australia under the previous Labor government to prove they are genuine refugees and owed protection by Australia.”

This is a deliberately false and misleading statement as it reinforces prejudicial stereotypes that successive governments have used to demonise people seeking asylum in Australia. The subjects of the government’s announcement are not “people”, “individuals”, “human beings”, or even “asylum seekers”. Instead, they are “illegal maritime arrivals”. How many times do Dutton & Co need reminding that it not illegal to seek asylum, with or without papers?

These apparently non-people did not “travel to” or “arrive in” Australia. Instead, they “flooded into Australia”.

They are the latest group to suffer from the shameful practice of setting human beings apart from others in the community, being classed as a threatening peril or a menace.

Dutton’s condemnation of “fake refugees” is prejudicial. It suggests those people now subject to his deadline must not have genuine protection claims, or they would have been lodged already.

It is in fact ‘fake news’, for Department of Immigration statistics show people who travel to Australia by boat without a valid visa, seeking asylum, are more likely to be genuine refugees than people who travel by air with a visa and seek asylum on arrival. Over the years, between 70% and 100% of people arriving by boat have been assessed as eligible for refugee protection.

Furthermore his assertion that these people have failed or refused to apply for protection quite wrongly and very unfairly suggests that sufficient time has already been afforded, when the truth is that the Department of Immigration is unable to process the volume of asylum claims because in fact it is under-resourced.

Dutton’s demonising of asylum seekers is truly odious. So too is our human rights record, which didn’t stop Foreign Affairs minister Julie Bishop officially launching Australia’s bid for a 2018-20 seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

With a straight face Bishop managed this by describing Australia as the “standout candidate” for this position because “we are arguably the most successful, the most diverse, multicultural society on Earth”. Try telling that to those who seek asylum, those found to be genuine refugees but are languishing in the hell-holes we have put them in on Manus Island or Nauru, or our own First Nations people classed as being incapable of looking after themselves and so are made to suffer the paternal indignities of the ‘Intervention’.

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My Daily Advertiser column for 23 May 2017: Bad news for our health on two counts during budget week

Last week my commentary on the 2017 budget focussed on its attack on young people, including cuts to university and how Gonski 2.00 represented a huge cut in schools funding compared to the Gillard government’s Gonski 1.0, but in budget week there were two attacks on the health system that need to be exposed.

One of these attacks was included in the budget itself, but another was a separate health issue that snuck up on us largely unnoticed because of the media’s focus on the budget, and so I’ll analyse it first.

What happened was that the Nick Xenophon Team and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation slammed the door on terminally ill patients fighting for faster access to the medical cannabis prescribed by their doctor, the Special Access Scheme would give faster access to medicinal cannabis for terminal patients.

Patients are currently waiting weeks and sometimes months for access to these treatments. This motion could have reduced that to a day or possibly hours. For some of these patients, speedy access to medicinal cannabis is the difference between being able to eat or wasting away.

These changes add time, stress, and difficulty for terminally ill patients accessing medicinal cannabis. Terminally ill patients who are using medicinal cannabis to alleviate their suffering have been let down.

As Australian Greens party room leader Richard Di Natale said, “I am so disappointed that these politicians couldn’t put the needs of terminally ill patients above their own political games”.

This was during the same week that the budget dealt yet another blow to health care, for it really failed Australian patients, had zero vision for the future of the system and was clearly a political fix. The Government’s plan to lift the Medicare freeze will have no impact for patients for at least a year, if not longer.

Indeed, Greg Hunt’s ‘road map’ for health lacks any vision for the future of healthcare in this country. It’s a U-turn that takes us back to where we were three years ago.

Taking the Medicare freeze off ice is an entirely political fix by this Government in response to a very successful campaign run by doctors. It unwinds part of their worst health policy while doing nothing to look to the future of our health system. Sure, they finally listened, but this ‘phased’ removal is meaningless for patients.

I’m left wondering whatever happened to Prime Minister Turnbull’s flagship health reform? This time last year he was out there spruiking his Health Care Homes initiative to revolutionise Medicare for chronic disease, yet last week we saw the funding for this initiative cut and kicked two years down the road while trial sites are delayed until October.

Not only are they unpicking their own reform program designed to treat people with chronic illnesses, there is next to nothing for programs to help prevent Australians developing debilitating chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease in the first place, particularly in children.

Also, in case there was any doubt, this budget also confirms this Government has no commitment to Closing the Gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health.

We all have every right to feel hugely let down, again, by this government on health. This budget is not about patients, for there is not one measure here, apart from cheaper medicine, that would improve health care for those who receive it, that is, patients.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 16 May 2017: What has this federal government got against young people?

Though much media commentary of last week’s federal budget has been generally favourable I can’t see for the life of me why, given that it so strongly penalises our young people, demonstrated by its attacks on education, welfare benefits, penalty rates and housing affordability.

More details of all on all the above below, but to start the ball rolling I was pleased to see that Australian Greens education spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young picked up on the same theme when she tweeted that the “Single biggest cut in the budget is a brutal attack on young people. Malcolm Turnbull has proven he has his priorities wrong if he thinks he can foster a clever country by cutting $3.8 billion from universities, while planning to loan $1 billion to Adani for a useless coalmine”.

Richard Di Natale picked up on the same theme, but then upped the ante then he noted the budget’s total lack of action on climate change. Quite.

If you are under the age of 35, this budget guarantees that you will be the one dealing with the climate mess that your parents and grandparents created and that this Government was too gutless to address.

Indeed, it’s not merely a lack of funds to tackle climate change that is one of the budget’s biggest problem, but rather that it commits $60 million for fracking. Lack of action on climate change is a sin of omission, but funding fracking is also a sin of commission. Wrong on both counts.

The young also miss out on the budget’s response to housing affordability. “The Coalition’s refusal to reform negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount means their plan for housing affordability is doomed. Continuing to allow investor tax concessions to supercharge the housing market is profoundly irresponsible,” Greens spokesperson for housing Senator Lee Rhiannon said.

With regards to welfare, the only thing that forcing welfare recipients who fail drug tests onto a cashless welfare card will do is further stigmatise people already at the margins and decrease their incentive to get help. It’s a perfect storm of ill-informed, mean-spirited policy.

Social media was predictively alive about the so-called random drug tests , the random-ness of which was soon exposed as a lie when it was discovered that the geo-social areas and types of people’s backgrounds to be subjected to these tests have already been chosen, in a blatant example of profiling, or ‘blame the victim’.

And why just drugs? What about alcohol? I rarely agree with Senator Jacqui Lambie, but having watched hours of MPs behaving badly at Question Time, immediately after what may well have been a ‘liquid lunch’, I’m inclined to agree with her that MPs should also be tested.

I wrote about the savage cuts to university and schools funding in last week’s column, so here just need to point out that they are of course yet another attack on young people.

In short this is a budget with no vision or direction for the country. It isn’t a roadmap for the future, it’s a highway to nowhere. The mean-spirited approach to welfare, demonising anyone unlucky enough to have had a bad break and making it that much harder for them to get back on track, tells you all you need to know about Malcolm Turnbull’s vision for Australia.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column forv today’s Daily Advertiser: A double whammy for education

Last week the pre-budget announcements were coming in thick and fast, no doubt to get thorny issues out of the way, and to soften us up for today’s bad news, and so early last week saw Messrs Turnbull & Co clear the decks of two thorny education issues, school and university funding.

Both were exercises in spin designed to fool the gullible, with the prize going to schools funding, though the propaganda that universities could afford the proposed cuts made it a close second. However, as the schools funding proposal seems vague and clouded in mystery until today’s budget is presented I’ll begin with and focus on university funding.

The government will cut university funding by 2.5 per cent, a decision they have based on the findings of a Deloitte report, which showed that between 2010-15 the cost of course delivery increased by 9.5 per cent, while revenue grew by 15 per cent. So many, but by no means all, universities are running healthy surpluses and, according to Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education, they can take a haircut.

This has been called an “efficiency dividend” but the system of higher education in Australia is anything but efficient.

Even though economic rationalism suggests that competition generates efficiency what passes for efficiency usually compromises the quality of education. It can mean giving students fewer curriculum choices, increasing class sizes, reducing face-to-face hours, teaching them with casual staff and substituting classroom teaching with “digital delivery”. All of these have happened and continue to do so at our own local Charles Sturt University (CSU).

One major problem is that taken individually such measures often provoke relatively little fuss. But in the light of Mr Birmingham’s claims, we all need to be taking notice and speaking out and making a big fuss, loudly and often.

If staff and undergraduates are being short-changed, where is the money going? I’m indebted to George Morgan, Associate Professor at the School of Humanities and Communication Arts and the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University for suggesting three main avenues. In the first instance many universities cross subsidise research with the public money they receive for undergraduate teaching largely because the federal government underfunds research.

Secondly, some universities have undertaken ambitious capital works programs, erecting what are in effect “signature” buildings such as Frank Gehry designed building at UTS, no doubt to communicate the new university’s cultural and intellectual importance.

Thirdly, administrative costs continue to grow inexorably. Most universities employ more administrators than academics

Given all this, what the university system requires is political and economic change, not short term and crude fiscal shocks. The university community (including both students and staff) needs to be given more power over institutional affairs to provide more democratic checks and balances over the excesses, caprice and follies of managerialism.

We also need to reduce the huge discretionary budgets that senior managers currently control.

As to Malcolm Turnbull’s declaration last week that he will “bring the school funding wars to an end” in a stunning turnaround that will see the government pump an extra $19 billion into schools over the next decade, I’m tempted to agree with Greens Education spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young’s comment that “We’ll look at the detail of this announcement, but what we know is that Australia’s school funding system is broken. It’s time our children’s education was prioritised in Australia. It’s a sad reality that many of our kids are being left behind,” which will certainly be the case as the government’s proposal means that less than half of additional federal funding over the next ten years will go to public schools, compared to 80 per cent under the Gonski agreements.