Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Racial tensions in Sydney: Sydney police in denial

Indians are a generally polite and unaggressive people (remember Mahatma Gandhi's gospel of non-violence? The Mahatma is still revered throughout India) and that makes them targets for more predatory groups. In Melbourne the attacks on them mostly emanate from young African men but in Sydney it is young Lebanese Muslim men. In both cities the Indians know who their attackers principally are and have become hostile towards their oppressors. Only energetic police pursuit of all wrongdoers could quieten the situation but that looks like too much work to them

Progress in Victoria: Victoria's chief cop has now admitted that much of the violence is racial and is promising increased police action. We will believe that when the prosecutions of the attackers begin

Two people were arrested and more than 100 others were told to move on after an Indian community in Sydney's west held a protest against racial violence last night. Up to 150 Indian people from the community stormed the streets of Harris Park about 8 pm in protest against claims of years of racial slurs and attacks in the area. Police were forced to close of an entire block of Harris Park around Marion and Wigram Streets.

This comes after a young Indian men and some middle eastern men clashed in the same area on Monday night. They chanted "justice" as police told them to stay calm. At one point officers told a large group to walk away and when they refused threatened to arrest them for not complying. No-one was injured and talks are expected to be held with police about the violence in the area.

The Daily Telegraph spoke to the protesters last night, many of whom said they would form their own vigilante-like groups to patrol the streets at night. Harris Park local Kush Ghai, 22, said the local Indian community held the protest last night because they wanted more police protection after claims of years of racial abuse. "We want peace, justice and protection," Mr Ghai said. Sarabjot Singh, 25, said Indians living in Harris Park have been victimised for the last few years and accused police of doing nothing about it. "This (the attacks) is the story every day. But now we cant take it anymore," he said. By 10:30 pm, all the protesters had been moved on from the area by police.

Within hours of another great hosedown in this city - police declaring the disturbance in Harris Park on Monday was not race-driven - groups of Indians and Lebanese again began circling each other in the suburb's streets. Again police intervened to separate them and again it was hosed down as an incident of no great note.

Then this, from a Lebanese woman who walked into one of the few remaining Lebanese shops in Harris Park: "It has become unbearable." Her tolerance dead, she was speaking of the Indians who stand in the street when she wants to park her car and refuse to make way for her. "One of them attacked me one day," she said. "He left his car and came walking towards me and people were sitting there and they didn't even want to stop it."

She did not want to give her name. "I am not scared of giving my name but I have got no trust in them," she said. "Keep your distance. That's it."

The authorities' formal dismissal of Monday's incident as being of no great gravity has done exactly the reverse of what police and the NSW Government had hoped. It has inflamed tensions. Both populations now feel even more slighted by a society refusing to acknowledge their problem.

Across the road, Bhavin Jadav spoke for an Indian population feeling persecuted by young Lebanese men. He said Indian students are seen as a "soft target" by these men, who prey on their civility. "That's why they attack Indian students, they don't believe in violence," he said. He was robbed last year when a group of Lebanese men took mobile phones and wallets from his group of friends. Then, just the other day, a petrol bomb was launched at an Indian home on Albion St. The Lebanese are the problem, he said, with much the same authority in his voice as Joseph Gitani when he declared: "It's mini-Bombay, to be honest with you."

Mr Gitani is 49 and was born in Australia but is of Lebanese descent. Yesterday he went to the scene of Monday's disturbance. As each side vented its anger at the other, a 16-year-old Lebanese boy was at home, sleeping off the night before. With three friends, he was returning from dropping a girlfriend at home when they turned into a group of 300 protesting Indians. As bad timing goes, this about tops it. The Indians were drawing attention to another racial attack they believe went unrecognised earlier that evening. According to Mr Jadav, about 15 Lebanese men had attacked a young Indian man walking in Wigram St. "Just near those three cars," he said.

So the Indian population rallied, peaking when a car carrying young Lebanese men turned into their path. The Indians rocked their car until eventually a door was opened and the 16-year-old was hauled out. Two others were also dragged out, while the last broke free. All were punched and kicked and eventually ended in hospital with superficial injuries. They were shouting, "You Lebanese bastards," said Joseph Gitani, who, like everybody - on both sides - has had enough. It was his son being attacked.


Elitism disguised -- sort of

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd tries to speak like the common man but not really convincingly. His Labor party predecessor was much better at the act. Bob Hawke really sounded like the unionists he long represented, despite his privileged background and Oxford education. When he retired, however, a more elite language and pronunciation re-emerged

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd has added a third language to his well known mastery of Mandarin and bureaucratic English - common Australian. Sensitive to criticism that his new frontbench line-up had overlooked women in favour of factional heavies, Mr Rudd yesterday dismissed the claims with the Aussie maxim, "fair shake of the sauce bottle mate". More curiously, he said it three times during a short television interview with Sky News.

The deliberate use of bush slang had political watchers suggesting the poll-conscious PM may have been responding to focus group research calling for a more a common touch in his communication style. "Fair shake of the sauce bottle mate, if you were to compare what this government has done in terms of the promotion of women of talent and ability compared with our predecessors, it's chalk and cheese ... fair shake of the sauce bottle mate," he said.

At another stage of the same interview, his normally complex sentences - often derided as techno-babble - gave way to a style commonly used in post-match interviews. The new Defence Minister Senator John Faulkner, became "Faulks" - a familiarisation not even used inside the ALP. And the only woman given a bigger job in the reshuffle earned the dubious designation as "young Kate Ellis" making Mr Rudd sound more like the ageing captain of the Australian First-XI welcoming a teenager to the fold.

The reshuffle attracted criticism for its promotion of men and for the elevation of newcomers connected to factions over some competent, but less well-connected MPs. Promotions included, new minister Mark Arbib, a powerful figure from the NSW Right faction with less than a year as a senator and SA's Mark Butler, an influential Left powerbroker also in his first term in Parliament. Strong performers such as Maxine McKew, Amanda Rishworth and Melissa Parke were overlooked.

At the swearing in, Governor-General Quentin Bryce struck a blow for women in the workforce, asking one minister's wife not to take a crying baby outside during the formal ceremony declaring: "I don't believe in taking children out of the room".

Women's rights, particularly those of his wife, Therese Rein, were also on Mr Rudd's mind when he made thinly veiled criticisms of Women's Day magazine which took pictures of Ms Rein working out at a gym.


Mice rampant in government nursing home for years

A MOUSE plague at a Queensland nursing home where a war veteran was bitten was so severe that the rodents were routinely reported in the kitchen, climbing chairs and even in bed with residents, a damning report has found. An investigation of the Karingal nursing home on the Darling Downs found mice had been a problem at the facility since it opened in April 2006 but the rodents had been left to run rampant by management inaction and a poor pest control strategy.

The problem was so bad in the lead-up to the attack on the 89-year-old Digger on April 26 that staff were sent to check on him every two hours to keep mice out of his bed, The Courier-Mail reports. The war veteran passed away on Sunday.

Staff officially reported 500 rodent sightings in the six weeks before the attack, with mice seen "asleep in bed with resident", "drinking from cup" and "fried mice" were disposed of after chewing through the computer server.

The report by the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency found mice had a significant impact on the daily lives of residents from the latter half of 2008. "Residents suffered discomfort and a loss of personal possessions," it said. "Of greater concern is that residents, staff and others were exposed to a major infection risk."

Although the plague was well established, the report found management did not take the problem seriously until residents were bitten. The investigation said environmental controls in the land around the facility were inadequate, door seals were not effective and the baiting strategy was poor. An environmental health inspection after the incident also concluded the home had not been cleaned effectively on a daily basis.

Communication within arms of Queensland Health was also criticised and it was urged to review its monitoring processes and address the "clear lack of management guidelines" for pests.

Federal Minister for Ageing Justine Elliot said work had begun to better mouse-proof the building, and baiting and pest management strategies had been strengthened. But the report said the home still had mice.

Queensland Health said all recommendations were either completed or well progressed and it was addressing the capture of mice in the laundry of the nearby hospital area of the Dalby Health Service.


Envy boomerangs on the envier

By Janet Albrechtsen. Janet might also have mentioned the case of Maryland, where the boomerang came back and hit the Maryland government in the space of just one year

It's no great surprise that the ACTU congress last week called on the Rudd government to back a wealth tax on high-income earners. The common orthodoxy, even among a large section of the economic commentariat, is that the wealthy should be the last to get tax cuts in good times and the first to be hit with tax rises in bad times.

Take Geoffrey Barker, writing in The Australian Financial Review after the May budget. He complained Wayne Swan’s budget was “plainly flawed in moral terms” because it did not slug the rich enough. “An ethical budget should ... seek impartiality to make benefits granted and sacrifices demanded commensurate with the needs and abilities of citizens.” There was no attempt to claw back revenue by progressively increasing the taxes paid by the wealthiest citizens, Barker complained.

When pundits start framing tax reform in moral terms, you know something’s awry. Their belief in taxing the wealthy has become an article of faith, not a matter for rational analysis. Just as with climate change, those who treat tax as the greatest moral issue of our time will necessarily regard arguments for any limits as immoral. Thus, if you regard progressive tax as a moral imperative, then you can never hit the rich hard enough with higher taxes because every hike makes the system more progressive and, therefore, more morally right. On the flipside, any tax cut or tax break for the rich must necessarily be derided as immoral.

And the sorts of flat tax rates apparently suggested by economist Henry Ergas in his review for the Liberal Party represent the ultimate in moral turpitude. Never mind that flat taxes have helped former communist countries such as Russia and the Baltic states stage a Lazarus-like economic recovery.

Laurie Oakes boarded the same moral indignation train when Malcolm Turnbull committed the political sin of appearing on BRW’s rich list a few weeks back. Oakes thought he had found the ultimate “gotcha” moment when he asked the Opposition Leader how he could possibly support maintaining the private health insurance rebate for high-income earners when he was so rich. In other words, the rich never deserve tax breaks of any kind.

To be sure, it must be politically tempting to run this line. After all, how many votes are you going to lose by soaking the rich? Hence, governments weighed down by deficits and debts are doing just that. Gordon Brown’s Labour government in Britain has raised its top tax rate, overturning Labour Party policy not to raise taxes. In the US, the Obama administration may do the same, following a swath of US states that have raised income taxes on the rich in recent years.

However, clothing these arguments in moral terms is designed to give some respectability to what is in truth little more than an infantile cri de coeur, a barely disguised envy yelp. Rational analysis requires consideration of two questions. First, who pays what proportion of tax? And, second, if you raise the taxes of the wealthy, at what point will they start to change their behaviour, depleting tax revenues?

As to who pays the most, a report commissioned by the Howard government in 2006 cited Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development figures that revealed Australia had the most progressive tax system after Ireland. In other words, the relative tax burden falls more heavily on those with the highest incomes. Many will say that, too, is as it should be. Indeed, the Barkers of this world will say the wealthy should bear higher taxes, as sacrifices must be commensurate with means. It’s a nice pollyanna kind of idea.

Alas, in the brutish real world, you cannot avoid the second issue. If you raise the taxes of the wealthy, you can expect tax revenues to fall as the wealthy change their behaviour. It is hardly novel to point out that raising the tax on a packet of cigarettes will change behaviour. That’s why governments tax cigarettes. People may smoke less or even give up. Same with taxes on alcohol. Why, then, doesn’t the same logic apply to raising income taxes? In other words, the disincentives from paying higher taxes may mean that those we rely on most to fill up the tax coffers may stop doing so.

Evidence of that abounds. In the 1960s, Britain’s 95 per cent top tax rate turned the Rolling Stones into tax exiles and contributed to the devastation of the British economy, reversed ultimately by Margaret Thatcher. The Beatles song Taxman and the title of the Stones album Exile on Main Street should stand as a potent reminder that progressive taxation has its devastating limits.

For more detail on that, take a look at a recent study for the American Legislative Exchange Council by Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore. They found that from 1998 to 2007, every day more than 1100 people hightailed it out of the nine highest income tax states in the US, such as California, New Jersey, New York and Ohio, and relocated mostly to the nine tax-haven states with no income tax, such as Nevada, New Hampshire and Texas.

They also found that during “these same years, the no-income tax states created 89 per cent more jobs and had 32 per cent faster personal income growth than their high tax counterparts”. Laffer and Moore, authors of Rich States, Poor States, found that because people, investment capital and businesses were mobile, there was no coincidence that the two highest tax-rate states - California and New York - also were those in the deepest fiscal hole. In other words, if you soak the rich, you end up sinking the rest.

There are logical reasons hitting the rich, while satisfying the envy gene, does nothing for the economy. The wealthy can, and do, migrate. Those who stay may be more determined to avoid tax (including by working less). And remember, too, that you won’t find rich people locating to a high-taxing country.

This is as true in Australia as anywhere else. As the Rudd government confronts the question of how to pay off decades of debt, inevitably there are calls for tax rises for the rich. That would be a grave mistake. Arguing against tax rises for the rich is not about defending the rich. They can look after themselves. This is about looking after the rest. The smarter approach is to aim for that level of progressivity that maximises the overall tax take, including from the rich. I don’t pretend to know precisely where that point is, but I do know that going beyond that point - although politically tempting - would revive the Beatles’ cry: “Yeah, I’m the taxman. And you’re working for no one but me.”


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

prosecution, then deportation. Sick of this country laying down and being a dumping ground for the garbage of the planet.