Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Half of high school students don't know they live in a democracy, survey finds

Since Australia is in fact a Constitutional Monarchy and the Royal family get constant coverage in the Australian press, this might not be quite as bad as it seems

HIGH school students will be taught the Australian system of government after a survey revealed more than half have no idea they live in a democracy - or even know what it means. This is despite students learning about our political structure at primary school in Year 6.

The AusCivics program, developed by the Constitution Education Fund Australia and endorsed by the federal and state governments, will be rolled out after the school holidays.

"The Australian Electoral Commission has found that half of young Australians don't know that they live in a democracy or what it actually means," the fund's executive director Kerry Jones said. "Children are taught in primary school but then half of them forget everything they've learned by the time they are 16."

The program has been developed by Ms Jones, a prominent monarchist, with author Thomas Keneally and former New South Wales premier Barrie Unsworth.

Ms Jones said she was disappointed to learn a conference for members of the radical Islamic organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir in the Sydney suburb of Lakemba last weekend repeated its rejection of democracy, calling for Muslims to boycott elections and embrace Sharia law. "That's not the Australian way," she said.

Yet Ms Jones said it was not only radicals that threatened democracy. "There is a lack of engagement among Australians and this is putting our democracy under threat," she said.

"For the last election, 1.4 million Australians, mostly young people, didn't bother to enrol. More than 700,000 Australians voted informally."

The program includes a short film written by Keneally that encourages young Australians to be politically engaged. It features well-known Aussies including Ian Thorpe, Steve Waugh and Georgie Parker. Students will also be encouraged to see the award-winning film Broken Hill.

Federal Education Minister Peter Garrett said the government supported the program as a way to remind young people of the "value of living in a democratic and free country". "The Australian way of life includes fairness, tolerance, respect for parliamentary traditions, recognition of the importance of the right to vote and a willingness to be part of a community," he said.


Didn’t sign up for an internet filter? Have one anyway

HAVE you received an email about Australia’s internet filter lately? Seen a brief note from your internet service provider?

No? Neither have I. Yet, like the majority of Australian internet users, my access to the internet is being filtered. A list of hundreds of websites is being blocked from view. ‘Which websites?’ you ask. It’s hard to say. They’re on a secret list.

‘Why didn’t the Government tell me?’ you ask. The Government isn’t overseeing this operation. In fact, the Australian Government has no control over this filter at all. It’s something a select group of internet providers have taken on all by themselves.

Are you concerned yet? You have a right to be. As suspected, Australia’s internet filter crept on to the worldwide web very quietly.

This filter, you see, was not the much-publicised version devised by Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. It would have seen every website lumped into the ‘Refused Classification’ basket banned from view. There were more than a few Australians concerned about what that filter might ban, including political debates on topics such as euthanasia and abortion.

The RC filter still on the Labor policy table, though we’ll have to wait for the results of a Classification review before it rears up again. That is due next year. The filter we now have (surprise!) was instead devised as a stop-gap while we wait for our full-blown filter. It is just as secretive, however.

Optus has confirmed it plans to start censoring the web this month, though it won’t say when. Telstra flicked the filtering switch on July 1, as did CyberOne.

So what exactly are they filtering? At this stage, the voluntary filter is designed to block child abuse material. According to the Communications Minister’s department, that includes the ACMA list of about 500 websites plus Interpol’s list of sites. We don’t know how long this list of websites is. No one will say.

So why should you be concerned? No one here is in favour of child abuse, after all. Here’s a list to get you startled.

1. Subscribers have not been told.

I expected to know when Australia got its first internet filter. I also expected to be notified when my long-time internet provider installed one. Telstra has told me nothing about it. Millions of others are in the same boat. If it’s for our own good, why aren’t we being told about it?

2. We don’t know what is on this list.

It’s all very well for the IIA to come out in support of this voluntary, commercial filtering, but even they won’t say what exactly is being filtered. Can we have content descriptions at least? Will there be a repeat of the incident in which Wikipedia was blocked in the UK due to an album cover the Internet Watch Foundation didn’t like? Nobody knows.

3. No appeals process.

Discover your website is being blocked unfairly? Perhaps you have a saucy album cover on your website? There is no way to appeal this ban. You could perhaps lobby the IIA or individual service providers, but there is no pre-constructed method to get your site off this list.

4. Companies are in charge.

This internet filter affects millions of Australian internet users yet it’s being governed by companies. Forget child abuse. Why not block customers whinging about Aussie telcos? Why doesn’t Vodafone block Vodafail? It’s possible now.

5. Paving the way for a bigger filter.

Much more serious is the threat that this system could be expanded to become Conroy’s planned internet filter. If no laws are required to set up this system, what is preventing its expansion to all Refused Classification sites? What is to prevent the banned website list getting longer? Based on this current experience, we would never know just how long the list was and wouldn’t discover a website was banned until we tried to visit it. This filter could become downright insidious without notice.

There is hope, however. Quite a few Australian internet providers do not see it as their job to block websites. These include iiNet, Internode, Exetel and TPG. Those looking for a way to protest this quiet filter can opt for any of these services.

We shouldn’t have to change service providers to make a political point though. This filter is not something Australians were allowed to vote upon and it’s not something about which we’ve been adequately informed. The Government won’t say anything about it as they’re not in charge of it and the ISPs are not even telling their customers.

If a site is illegal, take it down. If more law enforcement is needed online, fund it. Installing a voluntary, commercially introduced ban on a list of unknown websites? Dodgy.


Australians demand carbon tax vote

AUSTRALIANS have given the carbon tax the thumbs down, with 68 per cent saying it will leave them worse off and 63 per cent calling for Julia Gillard to bring on an early election.

The exclusive Galaxy Poll for the Herald Sun - the first major survey since the release of the carbon tax package on Sunday - also found 60 per cent of voters opposed the tax, 29 per cent were in favour and 11 per cent undecided.

The nationwide telephone poll of 500 people conducted on Monday night suggests voters believe the personal cost of the carbon tax outweighs the environmental benefits.

Voters have not accepted Ms Gillard's promise that more than six out of 10 households would be fully compensated or better off after compensation for the rise in the cost of living.

Only 10 per cent of voters said they would be better off and only 28 per cent believe Ms Gillard has a mandate to introduce the tax without holding another election.

The poll reveals 62 per cent of people think the Greens, who negotiated the package with Labor and the independents, have too much influence over the Government, while 30 per cent say the Greens are working effectively.

It finds 81 per cent believe the carbon tax will have little or no impact on the environment and 67 per cent believe it will be bad for the economy compared with 22 per cent who think it will be good.

The poll comes as Ms Gillard rejected suggestions she might step down as PM or be replaced after Labor's primary vote in the latest Newspoll plunged to a record low of 27 per cent. It was 35 per cent when she toppled Kevin Rudd last year.

"I will be leading this country to a clean energy future, that's what I'm determined to do," Ms Gillard said yesterday as she campaigned in Melbourne. "I'm absolutely convinced what I'm doing is right. "There's a very simple proposition here: do you want your kids to grow up in a country that's generating more pollution or less? ... By putting a price on carbon we will generate less pollution."

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who was in Dandenong South, predicted Labor MPs might move to replace Ms Gillard because of the carbon tax. "They may well remove this Prime Minister," he said.

Ms Gillard said under a $23 carbon tax the economy would continue to grow with more jobs and she cited a $4.7 billion takeover bid by the world's biggest coal miner, Peabody Energy, for Australia's Macarthur Coal as proof the coal industry had a strong future.

"Tony Abbott was predicting Armageddon for the coal mining industry yesterday. The future of the coal mining industry is bright and it's not the first thing he's got wrong," she said.

Ms Gillard rejected claims by food and housing groups in yesterday's Herald Sun that prices would rise by more than predicted by Treasury.

She said the same experts who modelled the GST and got it right had estimated the carbon tax would add just 0.7 per cent to the cost of living.


Disgusting old hatreds still live on among the Australian Left

Want to see stormtroopers picketing Jewish shops? You don't have to go to 1930s Germany. You can see it in Melbourne right now

A century ago, Australia was a relatively tolerant society. Even so, Jews and Catholics were banned from Protestant-dominated gentlemen's clubs in Sydney, Melbourne and elsewhere. In other words, discrimination against certain minorities became acceptable and fashionable. Consequently, it was rarely commented on or even noticed.

Today Australia is an accepting society which formally outlaws discrimination on the basis of race or gender and disapproves of intolerance towards minorities. Except, it seems, Jews and Catholics.

On the evening of Friday, July 1 - at the commencement of the Jewish sabbath - there was a demonstration outside the Max Brenner chocolate shop in Melbourne. This was part of the Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions campaign against Israel. Demonstrators prevented customers entering the premises. The reason? The Strauss Group, the parent company of Max Brenner, supplies confectionary goods to the Israeli Defence Force.

There's not much connection between buying hot chocolate on a cold winter night in Melbourne and the events in the Middle East - where Israel remains, with the possible exception of Iraq, the only democracy. Yet this was a violent demonstration. Victorian Police suffered three injuries and 19 protesters were arrested. Demonstrators called for the destruction of Israel and chanted: "From the river to the sea/Palestine will be free." The protest was reported in the Herald-Sun but all but ignored by The Age and the ABC.

Michael Danby, the Labor MP for Melbourne Ports, put the matter in perspective when he commented: "These people are prejudiced fanatics who should look into their soul. While 1500 people are murdered in Syria, they launch their own sad little attack on a chocolate shop because it also has stores in Israel."

Danby's point about double standards is well taken. There is little doubt that most ABC and Age journalists would regard a violent boycott of a kebab shop, in opposition to Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, as both a provocation and newsworthy.

Then there are the historical parallels. In the mid-1930s, Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists used to go on rampages outside Jewish-owned shops in London's East End - some were boycotted, others smashed up. The British government responded by implementing the Public Order Act. Mosley targeted Jewish traders because they were Jews. The BDS protesters targeted the Max Brenner chocolate shop because its parent company does business in the Jewish state of Israel.

The demonstration in Melbourne (there was also one in Sydney in June) has attracted little attention, apart from coverage by Andrew Bolt and reports in the Australian Jewish News. This suggests society has become complacent when the target of a protest is Jewish.

It's much the same with traditional Catholics, such as Tony Abbott. Last week he was subjected to two negative advertisements: one by the Labor Party, endorsed by the ALP national secretary, George Wright; the other by the left-wing CFMEU, which was endorsed by the trade union's national president, Tony Maher.

The Labor advertisement has Abbott being woken by an alarm clock and then going through his wardrobe to choose his attire for the day. Among the outfits rejected are a red pair of swimming briefs, bicycle clothing and a cassock with a crucifix on the front. Get it? Abbott, who trained as a seminarian, once thought about being a Catholic priest.

The CFMEU advertisement is more of the (sectarian) same. The Liberal Party leader is presented as one of the popes of old who rejected Galileo's scientific findings. Abbott is presented as not merely someone who declines to believe that the world is round but a Catholic who wears a crucifix on his cassock.

I know and respect Wright. I doubt that the newly appointed ALP national secretary understands just how sectarian Labor's advertisement is - or that such anti-Catholic material is capable of offending conservative Catholics who vote ALP. But that's the point. Like pro-Israeli Jews, conservative Catholics are readily taken for granted.

As is its practice, Britain's irreverent Private Eye publishes anonymous reviews. Whoever had the task of assessing the latest offering by the atheist A.C. Grayling made a perceptive point about modern Western manners. He or she pointed out that, for the likes of Grayling, Anglicans, Catholics and Methodists make easy targets.

The reviewer added: "The wise would quite like to be equally contemptuous of Muslims and Hindus, but these persons generally have brown skins and thus criticism of their religious beliefs is better avoided." Australia's very own born-again atheist Catherine Deveny admitted as much on Q&A in February when she said she was "flat out" attacking the "Catholic faith".

Conservative Catholics are a large enough minority to look after themselves. However, there is reason to be concerned about the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in the West. Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada have been relatively free of this blight in recent times. Not so Europe, including western Europe.

In his recent essay From Blood Libel to Boycott, Professor Robert Wistrich paints a disturbing picture of anti-Semitism in contemporary Britain. A similar case has been made by the British lawyer and historian Anthony Julius about the hostility to academic Jews exhibited by the University and College Union in Britain.

Wistrich asks the hard question: "Why is Anglo-Jewry the only important ethnic or religious minority in contemporary Britain that has to provide a permanent system of guards and surveillance for its communal institutions, schools, synagogues and cultural centres?" A similar question could be asked about Australia - both with respect to Jewish property and anti-Catholic sectarianism.


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