Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: June, 2019

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 25 June 2019

NSW budget fails to address the important issues

Though the NSW budget handed down last week splashed plenty of cash around despite the state suffering a drop in revenue due to a fall in stamp duty income because of the housing downturn, in my column this week I will focus on how it totally missed the big issues.

But first of all, a comment on how the pork barrelling, or should that be the cargo cult mentality, was at work in expectations of millions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure projects being lavished on the electorate. This always strikes me as a misguided way of looking at state or federal budgets, because if one electorate scores big-time, others will of necessity miss out. I guess those of this mind-set aren’t overly concerned with equally sharing the goodies around.

So the morning after the budget was handed down our local headline news read “Hospitals across the Wagga electorate have emerged as the big winners with millions of dollars in works from the 2019/20 NSW Budget handed down on Tuesday afternoon.” (Daily Advertiser, 19 June 2019)

Never mind that the budget failed to address many of the big issues that actually impact on real people, including climate change, homelessness and domestic violence, though by some urgent back-pedalling this latter issue was belatedly addressed, in a small way.

As Greens MP David Shoebridge pointed out, “The Greens would choose to put wellbeing and sustainability at the heart of our budget. We’d put community and the environment ahead of big business and developers” he went on to say.

However, a follow up to the hospitals story gave me my focus for today’s column, which is education, though I will explore it in a more broadly meaningful way than the DA’s story read, which was that “some of the state’s fastest growing regional suburbs, located north of Wagga, have to receive a dollar figure for a planned new school”.

What caught my attention was the realisation that according to the budget the state’s public schools will need to justify their funding by proving that they are lifting standards.

To ensure that taxpayers are getting value for money Mr Perrottet said that education would be the first government department that will need to have a clear focus on outcomes.

This is clearly putting politics into the classroom and is therefore something that should not go unchallenged.

It beasts me how state public schools that have been underfunded for years and that take the vast majority of disadvantaged children are expected to achieve the outcomes the state government demands. I was also dismayed that education had been chosen as the first cab off the rank for this new form of favouring those who are already favoured.

Which brings me to the other very worrying education aspect of the budget I also  need to focus on today, which is its record expenditure on private schools, a rank betrayal of the Gonski plan.

 

Hidden among admittedly much needed increases in public school funding is a massive increase in private school funding. This is preventing NSW meeting its Gonski funding commitments to public schools.

This budget sees another 7.5% increase in recurrent expenditure to private schools bringing state government spending to $1.4 billion in the 2019/20 budget. Private schools have now received a 15% funding increase from the NSW government in just the last two years.

The NSW Government needs to meet at least 75% of the resource needs of public schools to enable them to meet minimum Gonski standards, but even with increased expenditure they will only meet 71% of this in 2019/20.

“Meanwhile this budget means the NSW government is providing more than 25% of the resource needs of private schools, when its long term commitment is to just 20% under the National Education Agreement” noted David Shoebridge.

Even with the increased funding to public schools in this budget, the NSW government is still billions short in funding for public schools.

It’s an absolute disgrace that while public school students continue to suffer in demountable classrooms and hold outdoor assemblies because they don’t have a hall, that the State government has billions to give to private schools.

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My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 18 June 2019

There is a solution to the high level of gun ownership

A front page story in the Daily Advertiser last week revealed how many guns there are in Wagga Wagga, via figures released by the Greens NSW, obtained through a Freedom of Information application to the NSW Police. It’s a frightening figure, and of course it only refers to legally registered firearms, so the true figure is most likely far higher.

The data shows the number of guns and gun owners in NSW overall and also by postcode. There were 810,023 registered firearms in NSW. Over 100 postcodes have more than 2,000 guns and there are 6 postcodes that contain more than 10,000 guns.

The data also demonstrates the size of the largest 100 private arsenals owned by any one person in NSW, excluding guns owned by firearm dealers and collectors. These 100 people own between 73 and 312 firearms each.

Drilling down to our postcode of 2650 the Greens website detailing private firearms ownership shows that that our city has 10,191 guns and 2121 registered firearm owners.

The Greens think that is too many. I concur, and so too do DA readers, with a survey by Fairfax Media, publishers of the DA, showing 71.43% being of that opinion, whilst only 28.57% find it acceptable.

On 28 April 1996 a gunman killed 35 people and injured a further 23 in the Port Arthur massacre. 20 years on from this tragedy and the historic National Firearms Agreement (NFA) that followed, the data quoted above shows it is time to review the state of our firearms laws.

The 1996 agreement delivered a prohibition on automatic and semi-automatic weapons. For the first time the NFA also made it a universal requirement for people to establish they had a ‘genuine reason” for having a firearms licence and a “good reason” to acquire a firearm.

However there is a serious loophole in these laws that is being exploited by some gun owners so that they can accumulate dozens and dozens, and in some cases hundreds, of guns. Gun owners can endlessly recycle the same “good reason” to get their first gun and then their second gun, their tenth gun and their 300th gun.

This lack of rigour in the law has allowed 100 citizens in NSW to have more than 70 guns each. There are dozens of people in ordinary suburbs and towns who quite literally own private arsenals. The community expects that our firearm laws will put reasonable limits on the number of guns people can own to prevent the build-up of private arsenals in the community.

The NSW permit to acquire a firearm requires a person seeking to acquire a gun to state that “I confirm that the good reason for acquiring this firearm is directly related to the reason for the issue of my firearms licence.”

The main reasons people give for obtaining a firearms licence are that they are a member of a shooting club or the owner of a rural property. Some also rely on their membership of a hunting club. Indeed, these were the very reasons stated by gun owners in the Daily Advertiser last week

The Greens accept that there are people in the community who have a genuine reason to own a gun, and I concur. Farmers on rural properties often require firearms for euthanizing injured stock or controlling wild invasive animals. Target shooting at a registered gun club is also a long-recognised and legitimate sport. Members of a shooting club and farmers may reasonably be able to establish a need for a number of guns to address their different needs.

However it is impossible to see how one citizen can establish a “genuine” or “good reason” to have dozens, or even hundreds of guns.

In the interests of community safety it is time this loophole in the firearms laws was closed, which brings me to a simple solution to this dangerous problem: once any gun owner owns at least 5 guns they have to establish a separate and extraordinary reason for owning each additional gun.

Properly administered this reform would significantly reduce the number of firearms in our community and end the disturbing trend towards people collecting their own private arsenals.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 11 June 2019

We need action to stop domestic violence now

Last week Wagga was privileged to host a very special and very timely event at the Civic Theatre, Ray Martin’s ‘My Story, Our Story’, which brought together a panel to discuss domestic violence.

Domestic violence against women is one side of the bigger picture of violence against women, the other side being ‘public violence’.

Last week, for example, began with the brutal murder of another woman in a Melbourne park. In fact four women have been killed in public murders in Melbourne in less than a year. The murders of Eurydice Dixon, Aya Maasarwe, Natalina Angok and Courtney Herron show that this aspect also needs urgent attention.

However, this week my focus will be on the domestic form of violence against women, for in comparison, twenty women have been killed in domestic violence incidents this year, and countless more have of course suffered non-lethal violence.

Let’s begin by setting the statistical scene. Recently there were 34 police call-outs to domestic violence incidents in Wagga in one weekend alone, and presumably many more unreported ones. A Wagga survey showed that 1 in 4 believe men should have a dominant role in a relationship, and 1 in 25 believe there are circumstances where domestic violence is justified.

Mr Martin’s account of domestic violence in his family brought to mind my own story, which in some ways is similar to his. I too witnessed my father’s violence towards my mother, and was myself a frequent victim of his angrily wielded belt. My family’s story differed from Ray’s though in that Mum was unable to up sticks and take herself and we kids away from this brutality because, as she plaintively said, “Where would we go? I have no money”.

Somehow we survived, as thousands of others have done, with goodness knows what psychological scars, and after Dad’s death Mum had a brief but very happy second marriage before her own untimely passing.

I share this story for the same reason that Mr Martin shared his – to draw attention to a widespread social problem that is urgently in need of a solution, and this column is my way of doing what Mr Martin is doing on a national scale.

Now to what causes domestic violence. The first reason that comes to mind is a culture of ‘toxic masculinity’, which Wikipedia defines as “Traditional stereotypes of men as  being socially dominant, along with related traits such as misogyny and homophobia, which can be considered “toxic” due in part to their promotion of violence, including sexual assault and domestic violence”.

However, we need to dig for a deeper understanding than such generalisations provide.  Indeed, White Ribbon Australia research showed that domestic violence is the outcome of a number of factors.

Primarily men’s violence is the result of gender norms and inequality. Sometimes men feel pressure to be dominant and in control. Some people believe men must be strong and powerful. These characteristics are called gender norms.

Men often have more power and a higher status than women. We see this in private and public life: in the home, workplace and community. This imbalance is known as gender inequality. Violence against women is more easily accepted in societies where men and women are not equal.

The drivers of men’s violence against women include gender norms; accepting and sometimes approving of men’s violence against women; men controlling decision-making; limits to women’s independence in public and private life; and interactions between men that are aggressive and disrespectful towards women.

Other contributors to men’s violence against women can be considered to be reinforcing factors that, while not a direct cause of men’s violence against women, increase its likelihood and severity.

Reinforcing factors include traditional discrimination favouring men over women, and  experience of and exposure to violence, such as experienced in movies, for example. Other reinforcing factors include alcohol and substance use; some cultural and religious practices; lack of knowledge of Australian laws; and the loss of traditional family and community support systems.

Let’s note though that only some men use violence against women. Most men think that violence against women is never acceptable. We should also note that men are also victims of violence. However, most of the time men and boys are victims of violence by other men.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed for 4 June 2019

Constitutional recognition and treaties needed now

Last week was National Reconciliation Week and as it usually generates a lot of media discussion about how we can achieve meaningful reconciliation with our First Nations’ people I thought it timely to devote my column to the topic. Space limitations mean however that there is room only to focus on constitutional recognition and the need for treaties.

I will though briefly comment on Scott Morrison’s appointment of Ken Wyatt as minister for Indigenous Australians. He is the first Indigenous person to hold the position and there is hope that it will hasten constitutional reform.

PM Morrison also said a new “national Indigenous Australians agency” would be established, but details are yet to be announced.

This sounds like what Mr Morrison is very good at doing: the smart advertising of something of no real substance, so we’ll have to wait and see if any of this pans out or is merely cosmetic propaganda.

In other possibly good news newly anointed Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the ALP was ready to advance the agenda of the Uluru statement in a bipartisan manner.

All well and good, and we certainly need to rapidly move forward on that, but with a workable majority there is no need for the Coalition to take any notice of Labor by engaging in bipartisan actions, so let’s not get our hopes up too high.

Now, to constitutional recognition. Lest some readers think this is an impossible dream we can note that the USA, Canada and New Zealand have all moved to recognise Indigenous people in their respective constitutions.

“A glance at the constitution reveals the deep stain of racism and discrimination,” says reputable journalist Jeff McMullen. “It is one of the few constitutions in the world today with negative race powers allowing government to make laws and policy that pointedly trample the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

When musing over the difficulties of federal constitutional recognition it is worth noting that Victoria and Queensland already recognise Aboriginal people in their constitutions.

Mr Morrison’s procrastination also brings to mind the issue of a treaty, or treaties, as we have approximately 600 First Nations in Australia.

A treaty refers to a formal agreement between the government and Indigenous people that would have legal outcomes. It would recognise Indigenous people’s history, as well as the injustices many have endured. It could also offer a platform for addressing those injustices and help to establish a path forward based upon mutual goals, rather than ones imposed upon Indigenous people.

A treaty could also provide, among other things a symbolic recognition of Indigenous sovereignty and prior occupation of the land; a redefinition and restructuring of the relationship between Indigenous people and wider Australia; better protection of Indigenous rights; a basis for regional self-government; guidelines for local or regional treaties; and structures and systems for local and regional decision-making processes

Treaties are accepted around the world as a way of reaching a settlement between Indigenous people and those who have colonised their lands. New Zealand, for example, has the Treaty of Waitangi, an agreement signed in 1840 between the British Crown and over 500 Maori chiefs, while Canada and the United States have hundreds of treaties with their First Nations dating back as far as the 1600s. This data demonstrates quite clearly that the large number of Australian First Nations does not mean that we can’t have treaties with all of them.

Yet Australia has never entered into negotiations with Indigenous people about the taking of their lands, even though Prime Minister Bob Hawke promised to deliver a treaty by 1990. Many saw this as too controversial and so it was changed to a ‘document of reconciliation’, the ‘Makarrata’. It was eventually replaced by the push for constitutional recognition.

Treaties and constitutions serve two different purposes; a treaty is a contract between two sovereign parties, while a constitution is a set of governing laws. They are not mutually exclusive and can even complement each other.

Negotiations are well under way for a treaty in Victoria between that state and its First Nations. If Victoria can do it why does Mr Morrison’s government need to procrastinate?