Monday, April 11, 2011

Minister says burka is 'alien', prompting applause from Libs

THE federal opposition has backed a West Australian minister's controversial comments on the burka, saying the dress goes against Australian culture and should not be worn.

WA Minister for Women's Interests Robyn McSweeney sparked heated debate when she spoke out against the burka at the weekend, labelling it "alien" to Australia's way of life. "I'm saying that it's confronting when somebody's face is not showing and I personally think that they're being oppressed," Ms McSweeney told The Australian yesterday. "I would just love for them to have the freedom to show their faces."

Opposition parliamentary secretary for the status of women Michaelia Cash said the burka had nothing to do with religion because Islam stipulated modesty only, not the wearing of a face covering. She said the dress deprived women of their identity and isolated them from society. "It is inconsistent with our culture and values and I truly believe that women should not do it," she said.

Both Senator Cash and Ms McSweeney said they were not advocating legislation to ban the burka but wanted Australians to have a "conversation" about whether it should be worn.

But Liberal senator Cory Bernardi renewed his calls for a burka ban because the garment was a security threat and restricted social interaction. In Europe to monitor France's anti-burka law -- under which veiled women will be fined E150 ($205) from today -- he supported Ms McSweeney.

Minister for the Status of Women Kate Ellis said the government was not considering a burka ban and there were differing views about the covering. She said her view was that governments should support a person's choice in dress and encourage understanding of diversity.

Queensland Minister for Women Karen Struthers said Australians respected cultural traditions "as long as no one is being hurt". South Australian Minister for the Status of Women Gail Gago said there was no reason to influence a Muslim woman's choice if it were made freely.

WA opposition women's interests spokeswoman Sue Ellery claimed Ms McSweeney was playing the race card. Victorian opposition women's affairs spokeswoman Jill Hennessy accused Ms McSweeney of engaging in "dog whistle politics".


A carbon illusion we can't afford

By Sinclair Davidson, a professor of economics

IN implementing its carbon tax the Gillard government is involved in a massive campaign of misinformation.

First there is the fiscal illusion. It is creating confusion about who will pay the tax in order to disguise the full cost of the policy.

Andrew Leigh -- first-term ALP backbencher and former professor of economics at the Australian National University -- recently said that the policy consisted of big polluters being taxed and money given to households, while the Coalition policy consisted of households being taxed and the money being given to polluters.

On the ABC's Insiders yesterday, Finance Minister Penny Wong said: "This is not a tax that people pay; this is a tax that polluters pay." That sounds all very reassuring, until we remember that Treasury thinks that household expenditure will go up by $860 per year for a $30 a tonne carbon tax.

What many people don't know is that the carbon tax will have to be much more than $30 a tonne to be effective.

As both Leigh and Wong know the argument that only the big polluters will pay is nonsense, some might say dishonest. There are two points to remember. It is household demand for goods and services that gives rise to carbon pollution. In any event big polluters will simply pass on the cost to their customers. So we know the carbon tax will be paid out of the household budget through higher prices and in some cases job losses.

The reality is that while big polluters will have to pay money to government , the burden will fall on people.

Then there is the notion that households will be compensated. Not all households, mind you; only low and middle-income households.

People should be worried that the government won't define what middle-income households are until late in the piece. Many households are going to be unpleasantly surprised.

The idea is to overcompensate low-income households. This will simply lead to them consuming more carbon intensive goods and services paid for by those higher in the income stakes.

How this would contribute to lowering total carbon emissions remains to be explained.

All sorts of anomalies and confusions are going to arise and this government hasn't shown itself capable of clear communication and explanation.

It is going to be very difficult to compensate households while also protecting trade-exposed industries. Wong knows this too. In Shitstorm, their excellent account of the Rudd government, Lenore Taylor and David Uren recount that Wong "had reached the conclusion the business executives filing through her office were not making ambit claims but were genuinely worried about the potential impact of the plan".

The government is hoping the introduction of the carbon tax will be similar to the introduction of the GST. When the GST was introduced there were compensating tax cuts and increased welfare payments. This compensation has been permanent. True, the GST raises more revenue than expected, but a whole raft of inefficiencies were eliminated and replaced by a more efficient revenue system.

Consumers very quickly got used to the GST and there is broad acceptance that the GST was a worthwhile and valuable reform. It is unlikely something similar will happen this time around. The GST is a tax designed to raise revenue. The carbon tax is designed to change behaviour: revenue is a secondary and, if the policy is successful, a temporary consideration.

Yet most of the discussion has revolved around how to spend the revenue.

The policy objective is to cause a substitution from low-cost but dirty energy production to higher-cost but cleaner energy production. In plain language the policy objective should lead to a permanent increase in household prices and fewer carbon emissions. But if successful, the revenue will decline, meaning there will be no money to pay compensation. There just isn't enough money to finance this scheme.

The government is planning to allocate revenue from a windfall gain to permanent spending. This is a recipe for structural deficits and fiscal irresponsibility. In the short run this policy isn't revenue neutral and in the long run it isn't budget neutral either. So rather than being reminiscent of the GST reforms, the notion of carbon tax compensation is more like Paul Keating's L-A-W reform. It is just not affordable.


Political conversation sours with Nazi comparisons

The pity is that false comparisons such as the ones detailed below tend to discredit accurate comparisons -- such as the fact that Hitler campaigned on a platform of peace and equal rights.

One of his election posters from the 1930s below. Translation: The marshall and the corporal fight alongside you for peace and equal rights"

At the end of each year I write a column devoted to the exaggerations and false prophecies of the previous 12 months. There is no problem finding material. At times, in delusional mode, I like to imagine that people are competing for a citation.

Australia is a democratic society noticeable for its relative lack of political violence and relatively low level of ethnically motivated crime. Yet the language in political discourse is at a different level altogether, at times replete with hyperbole and ready comparisons to the most violent dictatorships.

Take the past couple of days. On Insiders on Sunday the Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt said democracies sometimes make errors and this was the case with those Germans who voted for the Nazi party in 1933. His point was that Australians who vote Greens today also err. The NSW Greens MP Jamie Parker then upped the ante by maintaining Bolt had said that the Greens were like the initiators of Kristallnacht, the Nazis' 1938 pogrom against the Jews.

Last week, in the Federal Court, Bolt was accused by Ron Merkel, QC, of making comments on Aboriginal identity that were akin to anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws introduced by the Nazis in 1935. Merkel declared: "The Holocaust started with words and ended with violence." It is difficult to imagine a more serious allegation. However, like virtually all attempts to link modern democracies with totalitarian regimes - whether by the extreme right or the extreme left - the comparison fails.

As Richard J. Evans documents in The Coming of the Third Reich, the Nazi Party was a violent revolutionary force even before the 1933 election. Germany was not a democracy like Australia in 1933. And the Nazi reign of terror did not start with words. It started with violence. Merkel should know this.

The debate about racial vilification in Australia should focus on Australia. This is not a new discussion. In 2007 Julie-Anne Davies reported in The Bulletin that Mal Brough, the minister for Aboriginal affairs in the Howard government, has a sister who identifies as an Aboriginal woman, even though he does not. Some years ago the Tasmanian indigenous leader Michael Mansell queried the Aboriginality of some Tasmanians who identified as indigenous.

Like Bolt or loathe him, it is both ridiculous and ahistorical to link him - directly or by implication - with the Holocaust. In January 1996 Amanda Vanstone drew some comparisons between Paul Keating and the Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels. Last month, the Gillard government parliamentary secretary Mark Dreyfus accused Tony Abbott of engaging in "Goebbellian cynicism" in his anti-carbon tax campaign.

Goebbels was more than a mere propagandist. He was into street violence as early as the 1920s and was one of the chief advocates of what was called the "final solution" for the Jews and Gypsies of Europe. Before he died by his own hand, Goebbels murdered his children by poisoning them.

Yesterday, in a letter to The Australian, the Melbourne academic Robert Manne linked the journalist Greg Sheridan with "Julius Streicher's notorious anti-Semitic Nazi periodical Der Stuermer". Manne was responding to a considered piece by Sheridan on why he had changed his mind and become a critic of multiculturalism.

Manne is entitled to criticise Sheridan. But his comparison is over the top. In Who's Who in Nazi Germany, the historian Robert S. Wistrich described Hitler's friend Streicher as "corrupt, dishonest, sadistic, obscene and brutal in manner". Convicted of murder, Streicher was hanged in Nuremberg in 1946.

Then there are the comparisons with that other mass murderer Josef Stalin and the communist dictatorship which he controlled in the Soviet Union. The Canberra academic Norman Abjorensen recently opined that the experience of the NSW Labor Party today "is eerily reminiscent of the decaying communism of the Soviet Union as described by Yugoslav dissident Milovan Djilas in his book The New Class".

Nonsense. Djilas wrote The New Class in 1957, when the Soviet Union had three decades to run. He was imprisoned for his opposition to Moscow. Incarceration in a Belgrade prison is a long way from political snakes and ladders in Sussex Street. And then there is the continuing leftist John Pilger, who told a WikiLeaks forum at the Sydney Town Hall last month that Julia Gillard's speech in Washington reminded him of "a grovelling Stalinist party boss in eastern Europe summoned to Moscow during the Cold War". Just crazy.

In modern Australia there are no Hitlers and no Stalins. These days the only real political violence is found in the abuse of language. This is best treated by a reading of history.

Gerard Henderson is executive director of The Sydney Institute.


Pauline Hanson poised to pick up NSW seat

Former One Nation leader Pauline Hanson looks likely to claim the last seat in the New South Wales Upper House. The result will be officially declared tomorrow, more than two weeks after the state election.

ABC election analyst Antony Green estimates Ms Hanson has a lead of more than 6,000 primary votes over Greens candidate Jeremy Buckingham, who is also vying for the final position.

With 91 per cent of the vote counted, the Coalition has secured 11 of the 21 Upper House seats. Labor secured five, the Greens two, and the Shooters and Christian Democrats each have one.

Despite Pauline Hanson's primary vote lead, the Greens are still confident of winning the last seat. Greens MP John Kaye says Mr Buckingham will be better placed once preferences are distributed tomorrow. "We have every chance of defeating Pauline Hanson on preferences," Mr Kaye said.

Before the state poll, both major parties vowed not to preference Ms Hanson, who has moved to Corlette on the state's north coast. But the One Nation party threw its weight behind Ms Hanson, saying it still shared many views with its one-time leader.

Last year, Ms Hanson said she was selling her home and moving to the United Kingdom but later reversed her decision.

She made her name as the independent member for Oxley in Queensland between 1996 and 1998, during which time she set up One Nation.



Adam Newman said...

Henderson is a wanker. Who can take him seriously? I read this piece and he is quoting it out of context. It's a valid comparison in terms of culture, and that's what it sets out to describe.

Ruby of Qld said...

I find it very hard to comprehend that a person can be 6000 votes ahead in the primary vote and still lose. Pauline should demand a recount with different scrutineers