Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Abbott government cares little for our sovereignty

Image source:
Sovereignty is the quality of having power over a geographical area. Traditionally, this has referred to governments being able to exercise political power and control over their jurisdictions.

In the recent election campaign, Tony Abbott made much of the supposed threat to our sovereignty from people seeking asylum in Australia. The Abbott government even went as far as to name its refugee policy "operation sovereign borders" and militarise the operation by appointing a 3-star general to oversee it.

However, while desperate people seeking asylum on leaky fishing boats are characterised as a threat to our sovereignty worthy of a military response, a true threat to Australia's sovereignty has quietly become government policy.

On the eve of the last election the Coalition quietly released its trade policy [PDF] which significantly changed the previous government's approach to investor state dispute settlements (ISDS) in trade treaties. ISDS' are clauses which allow multinational corporations to sue national governments that are signatories to a treaty for passing laws that are harmful to the interests of these corporations. These cases are not heard in national courts but in tribunals that are often presided over by representatives of multinational corporations - hardly independent arbiters.

This effectively allows multinational corporations to over-ride government's powers effect legislation without the threat of significant legal action. Already, Australia is being sued in Hong Kong by tobacco companies for passing a law to enforce  plain packaging of cigarettes. This law was passed by both houses of the Australian parliament and confirmed by the High Court, however, the ISDS in a bilateral treaty now has the potential to penalise the Australian Government for performing its democratic function.

The previous government rejected the use of ISDS' as not being in the national interest, however, the Abbott Government's trade policy remains open to the use of ISDS'. The Abbott Government has stated that it is keen to conclude free-trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) - a treaty negotiated in secret that contains ISDS'.

Leaked sections of the TPP indicate it will potentially undermine fair access to copyright material and limit environmental protection laws, public health measures and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Governments will be limited to legislate in these areas by the threat of serious financial penalties - even if it is in the national interest to legislate.

At the recent APEC conference Malaysian Prime Minister Razak characterised the TPP as:
"impinge[ing] fundamentally the sovereign right of the country [Malaysia] to make regulation and policy''.
This curtailment of a government's sovereign power represents not only a threat to democracy, but a fundamental shift in political power from the citizenry to multinational organisations.

When the Coalition said that 'Australia was open for business' what they really meant was that 'Australian sovereignty was for sale'.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Pulled Pork


1 kg Pork Shoulder
1 Onion
1 Clove Garlic
2 tsp pickled jalepeno chilies
300 ml Dry cider

Spice Rub
2 tsp Smoked paprika
1 tsp Chili flakes
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Coriander
1 tsp Fennel
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
1 TBSP brown sugar


Take the skin off the pork shoulder (use it to make crackling!)
Rub the spice rub into the pork.
Slice the onions and place them in the pressure cooker
Add the garlic and pickled chili
Place the pork on top of the onions and add the cider and any leftover spice rub.
Pressure cook for 1 hour.
Once cooked remove the pork from the sauce and pull the pork apart with a fork.
Add the shredded pork back to the sauce and bring to a simmer. Add cornflour if it needs thickening.

Serve with a good coleslaw (on a bun or in a taco)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ministerial Responsibility

There has been much criticism of Prime Minster Abbott's assigning policy responsibility for the status of women to the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) portfolio. This is understandable considering Abbott's many sexist public statements. 

Abbott has gone on the record saying:
"I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons"
So it is unsurprising that there was a strong reaction to Abbott essentially appointing himself Minister for the Status of Women. However, it has been pointed out that the bringing of the Office of the Status of Women into a central policy making agency such as Prime Minister and Cabinet has the potential to make policies affecting women closer to the heart of the decision making process.

While this is true, the corollary of this is that now Abbott himself, as the Minister, is accountable for every sexist comment of his Government, sexist policy (in any portfolio) and his passive acceptance of any sexist comments from his cheerleaders in the media. So next time Abbott spouts his sexism, he cannot hide behind being a "daggy dad". Every time shock jocks spout their sexism, he cannot let it pass and every time his Ministers make gender based attacks on women in parliament it is Abbott who is responsible for holding them to account.

If Abbott was truly going to take responsibility for stemming the sexism that he himself unleashed it would be worth giving him the benefit of the doubt, but unfortunately he has already shown his mettle.

In his first media interview since becoming the Minister, Tony Abbott, Minister for the Status of women said:
"I don't think women suffer legal discrimination and I don't think anyone these days sets out to do the wrong thing but it is very difficult for women to combine work and family if they don't have a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme and that's going to change very soon under the Coalition."
Legal discrimination? All discrimination on the basis of gender is illegal. Bringing the Office into PM&C may be a positive step for policy making but it is clear that the Minister to whom they report is sexist and unfit for the the office.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Occupy the narrative: winning the culture wars of the Right

"I certainly believe in her right to say what she said. I thought some of the things she said were an accurate reflection of what people feel."

These words are from former Prime Minister John Howard in 1996, failing to repudiate the independent (former Liberal) MP Pauline Hanson's maiden speech, in which she put forward the view that Australia was being "swamped by Asians".

This changed the political narrative in Australia. While under the previous Keating Government racism was called out, under the Howard Government it was carefully incorporated into policy that played to an undercurrent of racism that exists in Australia.

As Keating himself said: "you change the government, you change the country" and this is precisely what Howard's deliberate failure to repudiate Hanson's racism did. He had given permission for racism and elevated it to an acceptable view, a view which "reflected what people felt" and because it was what people "felt", it no longer needed to be justified. It gave permission for a type of cognitive dissonance that allows someone to spout racist views, but be good mates with their ethnic neighbours. Every challenge to this contradiction can be  met with an accusation of "political correctness".

Fast forward to the Abbott Government. Abbott, through his words and actions, has carefully crafted a similar story for sexism and a similar dissonance for those on the Right to hold those views while still believing themselves not to be sexist. To challenge them is to play the "gender card" or to be "politically correct". This sits nicely with the general conservatism of the populace, which does not see gender politics as any more nuanced than a simple matter of "equality". It is this simplistic view of feminism that enabled the effectiveness of the parade of "Abbott's Women", who by their mere presence proved that he could not be sexist. The more nuanced symbolic arguments of the Left failed to have the resonance of simplistic symbols paraded by the Right.

In his article for the GuardianJeff Sparrow argues that "The challenge for the left is not to abandon symbolism, but rather to fill symbolic reforms with real content" and argues that by doing this the Left will achieve the resonance with the populace that it needs to repudiate Abbott's sexism. Sparrow argues: "If [...] progressives can use debates over sexism in political life to discuss the oppression faced by women who don’t hold positions of prominence and power, Abbott’s persona suddenly pits him irrevocably against him the bulk of the population."

 Although it is true that the Left must "fill symbolic reforms with real content", the achievement of this is not, as Sparrow suggests, a matter of finding this resonance by using relateable examples. It ignores the relativism and cognitive dissonance of views that the Right has given permission for people to hold. If the Left wants to break this type of relativism, its leaders must challenge the contradictions inherent in the Right's ideological narrative.

The job of the Left is to call out these contradictions. For those calls to  resonate, it requires leadership that is not timid. The Left must articulate its own ideological vision.

This is the tragedy of the treatment of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard's "misogyny speech"[video]. Here was an example of a leader repudiating sexism, denying permission, outlining an ideological view. However, by this time it was too late. The ALP was too timid to engage directly with the electorate on gender for fear of Gillard's gender being a defining feature of her Prime Ministership (which it was already). This re-enforced the Right's position and it was hardly surprising that a cynical media amplified the Opposition's "gender card" excuse to fit the narrative of the PM that the ALP had allowed to take hold.

The Left has been too timid to engage in this direct battle of ideas, preferring to console itself with symbolism - arrogantly assuming its symbols are too nuanced for the electorate to engage with directly - or expressing an incoherent middle-class dissatisfaction through movements such as 'Occupy' or disengaging entirely through clicktivism.

The Left must stop ceding ground to the Right and directly engage with the Right's contradictory ideological position. This can not be done by adopting the type of soft-liberal symbolism that divorces their position from the majority of the electorate but with a coherent ideological narrative that articulates the Left's position.

This goes further than Sparrow's "filling symbolic reforms with real content", it is a coherent ideological response to the Right. Sparrow's view encourages the sort of soft-liberal approaches that have been the very reason for the Left's failure to counter the Right's ideological position.

The Right is incoherent and contradictory and  its culture wars are a distraction from its incoherence. An  ideological narrative from the Left will expose the cognitive dissonance inherent in the ideology of the Right.

The occupation of the narrative is the goal of the culture wars and the Left must meet it head on, not through soft-liberalism but through hard-edged ideological vision. It is only then that the narrative can be wrested from the incoherence of the Right.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Moroccan Lamb Stew


500 grams lamb
2 Cns tomato
1 Carrot
1 bunch baby spinach
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 onion
1 tsp fresh ginger
1 cl garlic
1 pinch saffron steeped in hot water
2 bay leaves
1 dried chili
1 Tbsp olive oil

Spice mix

1 Tbsp Coriander powder
1 tsp Fennel powder
1 tsp Cinnamon powder
1 tsp dried Rosemary
1 tsp Cumin

Pearl couscous to serve


Brown the lamb in oil and remove.
Brown onion, garlic, ginger, chili
Add chopped carrot
Add spice mix and cook until fragrant
Add saffron water and tomatoes (add extra water if needed)
Add salt and pepper to taste
Pressure cook for 40 mins

Once lamb is tender, add peas and cook uncovered until done then add spinach.

Serve over pearl couscous.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The calibre of Abbott's paid parental leave: It's not the inequity, it's the economics

Many people have criticised the Coalition's paid parental leave (PPL) [PDF] scheme as entrenching inequity, however, since Coalition backbencher (and IPA fan) Alex Hawke, began questioning the opposition's paid parental leave (PPL) scheme from a neo-liberal economic prospective, several prominent feminists have come out in support of the scheme.

Eva Cox has asserted that:
"Interestingly, Tony Abbott’s pitch for his version of paid parental leave is closer to the feminist angle than the health or welfare justifications. He has designed a payment that meets so many traditional feminist demands."
This is untrue and is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the economics of the Coalition's policy.

In this post I want to firstly, address the fallacy behind Cox's defence of the policy and secondly, address how a PPL scheme could meet Cox's criteria.

The two policies

The table below outlines the basic structure of both policies:

Government SchemeOpposition Scheme
Paid leave18 weeks (primary caregiver) at minimum wage26 weeks (Mothers only) at equivalent wage capped at $75,000
Include superannuation:NoYes
Administered by:Centrelink (DHS)Family Assistance Office (DHS)
Paymaster:EmployerFamily Assistance Office
Paternity leave:2 weeks at minimum wage2 weeks at full wage
Same-sex Partner leave:same as paternity leaveunclear, but policy only mentions fathers
Funding:general revenue1.5% levy on large businesses

Cox's Argument

Cox makes three main points in praise of the Coalition Policy:
  1. It represents 26 weeks of leave at equivalent pay which differentiates PPL from a welfare payment because of the attachment to the rate of pay;
  2. it normalises PPL as a workplace right the same as personal leave or annual leave; and
  3. it's paid for by a levy on big business so "business benefits from not having to make the payments out of individual profits." (Coalition PPL policy)
These elements all look self evident from a superficial analysis of  the policy, however a deeper analysis show each argument as inherently flawed.

Why Cox's assertion is flawed

Pay equivalence certainly seems to differentiate the Coalition's policy from welfare if it is compared against the Government's scheme on pure payment rates. However if the policy is analysed more deeply its flaws become apparent.

Cox accuses the Government's scheme of emulating a welfare payment not only on the basis of the rate, but also because it is administered by Centrelink. This assertion is extremely misleading and belies a misunderstanding of the way the government scheme is administered. The Government's PPL scheme is administered by Centrelink, however, payments are made to the employer to be paid to the employee - keeping the nexus between PPL and employment.

However the Coalition's plan is to:
 "be paid and administered by the Family Assistance Office and will not impose an unnecessary administrative burden on employers, unlike Labor’s scheme"
 Which is a welfare payment, administered by a welfare agency paid directly to the welfare.

The amount is not the issue as Cox asserts, the mechanism of payment is, which brings me to Cox's next point.

Cox argues that the Coalition's policy normalises PPL as a workplace right similar to personal or annual leave. In fact, the economics of the policy actually bring it much further from a workplace right than the Government's scheme.

Workplace rights stem from the relationship between the employer and employee - not to rates of pay - annual leave is a right regardless of how much is paid. Annual leave is a mandated part of the payment package that every employee receives. The government does not pay the employee for their annual leave, the employer continues paying a wage while the employee is on leave.

The Coalition's PPL breaks any nexus between the right and the payment. The payment for the right becomes the Government's responsibility, not one borne by the employer as other rights are. It is the very definition of government funded welfare.

Which brings me to the third point - the burden on business.

The Government's PPL scheme is paid out by the employer, firstly to try and keep the nexus between the payment and the right, and secondly, to try to encourage business to "top up" the basic payment to become an "employer of choice".

Although this does create an administrative burden on business, the benefits of keeping this nexus of payment far outweigh the burden. Once the scheme becomes embedded, the burden will lessen as it becomes part of normal business processes, but the benefits will increase as the PPL right becomes normalised. Furthermore, the costs of this administrative burden are likely to have far less price impact than a 1.5% levy.

Many large businesses already have generous PPL schemes designed to attract talented employees to their business. Levying a tax on business to pay for PPL is an active disincentive for business to offer PPL rights (as part of their enterprise agreement or contract) to their employees as businesses will see that they've already paid for PPL thought the levy.

The PPL levy moves the responsibility for PPL from business as a workplace right to government as a welfare payment. Targeted government spending in this manner deliberately crowds out the private sector. 

The Coalition's PPL scheme cannot meet each of the elements on which Cox praises the policy. The Coalition's scheme is the very epitome of welfare which Cox argues against.

The Coalition's policy:
  1. Is paid by the government like welfare
  2. Has no connection to the employer like welfare
  3. Is paid as a tax that acts as a disincentive for the private sector to fund the right (like personal or annual leave).

For all its flaws, the Government's scheme at least keeps the nexus between the right and the payment and does not mimic the welfare model as the Coalition's policy does.

How to fix the Government's scheme

The economic conditions for the payment of PPL at the employee's wage level need to be provided by business to truly divorce the PPL payment from welfare. Cox is wrong to assert that the mere connection between the right and the payment rate is enough. The connection needs to be between the paymaster and the payee to truly entrench PPL as a employment right in the minds of business as this is how other rights (such as annual leave) operate.

In the same way that leave conditions are used by business to attract the best employees, PPL conditions should be no different. In fact, many businesses already offer PPL conditions as an incentive to employment.

While government should provide a basic PPL scheme as a base level (to at least provide a base level of  pay to enable women to have the choice to have children), business should be encouraged to provide PPL over and above this rate. This could be done as a "return to work" subsidy or an employment subsidy for non-ongoing PPL leave positions to fill in for the employee on leave,while keeping the current right of return.

Keeping the nexus between PPL and employment is the only way to change workplace culture in Australia and this nexus includes business' close involvement with the scheme.

The Coalition's scheme divorces business from the scheme by shifting the expenditure from employment to tax. The Government's scheme at least keeps the connection as the employer remains the paymaster.

The Coalition's policy is just middle-class welfare dressed up as a female-friendly policy and although the Government's policy lacks the incentivisation for business - it is further away from welfare than Cox asserts.

Cox has been fooled by the Coalition's simplistic scheme - but the problem is not with the inequity (as Cox points out) but with the economics (which Cox's arguments do not address).

The Coalition's scheme is welfare, and like other welfare payments can be reduced - particularly since the Coalition's scheme is likely to be extremely expensive. The Government's scheme begins the process of embedding PPL as a workplace right and as business begins to "top up" the scheme (particularly if the Government offers incentives to do so) it becomes less likely to be removed.

Even though on pure payment amounts the Coalition's scheme looks more attractive, it does none of the things that Cox praises it for - all it does is entrench PPL as welfare, and extremely expensive middle-class welfare at that.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fraudband, entrenching the past to monopolise the future.

The Coalition has now released its broadband policy and it is heartening that the Opposition has finally realised that high-speed broadband is an important infrastructure issue.

However, beyond the technological differences (which others have comprehensively dealt with elsewhere), the policy fails on one of the fundamental advantages of the NBN - ubiquitous bandwidth over a single wholesale network.

A ubiquitous fibre network provides business certainty for the private sector to build and deploy high-bandwidth applications across Australia, the Coalition's hodgepodge of technologies and last-mile monopolies does not provide this certainty.

Only vertically integrated businesses will have the ability to cost-effectively deliver applications across the network proposed by the Coalition - which is good news for FOX and Telstra but bad news for any other business looking to provide high-bandwidth applications.

It seems that the Coalition is keen to replicate the previous mistakes of digital TV and datacasting regulation that has entrenched the status quo in the broadcast sector - little wonder that the "fraudband" policy was launched in FOX studios.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 2013 - Copyright's Dark Clouds

This year I spoke at on the Optus v NRL case and it's implications for cloud computing and the video is now available:  Copyright's Dark Clouds

There are a couple of other presentations on activism and politics, that I'd also recommend watching:
Sky Croeser's  Free and Open Source Software and Activism
Pia Waugh's  Geeks Rule Over Kings - Distributed Democracy

There are also plenty of interesting technical talks which can be found at