Monday, July 02, 2012

Are Australians Really Dumb, Drunk and Racist?

A comment from India below.  Repeated research has shown that the average IQ of white Australians is the same as that of whites in Britain and the USA.  There are over 40 countries with higher alcohol consumption than Australia. Australians are generally more outspoken so may express racist views more freely but, unlike Britain and the USA, I can think of no racially-denominated killings in Australia.  And we won't mention the bride murders in India, will we?

That’s the central question of a new television documentary series currently showing in Australia. Fittingly, it’s called Dumb, Drunk and Racist – a provocative line coined in a Mother Jones feature last year, which told of an Indian call centre trainer describing Australians as such.

The premise of the six-part series revolves around a whistle-stop, three-week tour of Australia undertaken by four Indians, in which they’re planted in various situations. They’re traveling with the host, Joe Hildebrand, a laconic, left-wing newspaper commentator whose role is to decode Australia for the Indians and the Indians for Australians.

The four – a call centre worker, a law student, a television news anchor and an overseas education advisor – were selected to take part, as most had experience relevant to the show. One woman had been racially abused during a Sydney holiday seven years earlier, while another had reported extensively on interracial relations.

Australian attitudes towards race have been under the scanner in recent years in India, after highly publicized violent attacks on Indians there led to breathless, often hysterical, media coverage in India.

The effects were immediate: Within months, student enrollments to Australian universities fell dramatically, an issue of great alarm to education institutions which rely heavily on foreign fee-paying students.

Earlier, in 2005, ugly scenes of a drunken mob directing their fury towards Lebanese Muslims at Sydney’s Cronulla Beach – known locally as the “insular peninsula” – were aired around the world. This, too, did little for Australia’s desire to raise its profile in the international community.

The show is essentially an attempt to hold a mirror to Australian society and work out just how dumb, drunk and racist it really is.

One episode has so far gone to air, receiving substantial publicity and ratings in Australia. Shot vérité style, the first of six episodes introduces the concept, the participants, and follows them around Sydney, during which they stumble across a verbal altercation between a potty-mouthed Muslim man and a seemingly erudite artist painting a wall mural reading “say no to the burqa,” in a liberal inner city suburb. For the first time, they witness the confused rhetoric of Australian attitudes towards race and religion.

A blog post written by the host on a news website has garnered more than 600 comments (a lot by Australian standards; remember, this is a country of just 22 million people – less than that of Haryana). And during the airing of the pilot last Wednesday, Twitter was aflame with commentary.

“Some revelations were more obvious than others,” said series producer Anita Jorgensen in an email interview.

“It was surprising to discover that our survey in India about Australians confirmed our reputation as ‘dumb drunk and racist,” claimed Ms. Jorgensen. “When it came to racism we wondered if we’d struggle to open the debate in any meaningful way, but once we took four Indians into the streets, strong opinions soon found us. I was appalled to see our Indian travelers openly abused in the street.”

In another example the experiences of call centre workers are recorded, and the kind of comments made by Australians don’t make for easy listening.

“There’s so much abuse, I’m embarrassed to even say,” says Radhika Budhwar, one of the Indian participants, before listing a stream of foul-mouthed abuse that would make a sailor blush.

But other experiences were a surprise: one episode takes the four to a Bachelor and Spinster Ball, or B&S Ball, a cherished tradition in country Australia of drunken, earthy revelry. “The boys had a great time,” says Ms. Budhwar. “And everybody, boys and girls, kept flashing us.”

“The racism debate is often characterised by either knee-jerk anger and defensiveness or a complete lack of interest. We hope the show will open up discussion as to what the word ‘racism’ actually means and to what extent we see it here,” said Ms. Jorgensen.

Still, both Ms. Budhwar and Ms. Jorgensen are tight-lipped about revealing too much of what ensues during the journey across Australia: producers are hoping that an Indian network will pick it up.

So are Australians dumb drunk and racist? Ms. Budhwar won’t say on the racist point, as all is revealed in the final episode. “Dumb, no, I don’t think they’re dumb, I met many very intelligent and wonderful Australians. Drunk is, well, there’s an episode dealing with all the drunk encounters. I’ve travelled all over the world and in comparison I think yes, Australians do drink a lot.”


Labor Party government putting on a brave front  about the carbon tax despite latest polls

100% wipeout of Federal seats predicted for Labor in Qld. -- and after a 90% wipeout in the State election, that's believable

It's grim reading for Labor in the polls this morning as well, as voter backlash against the carbon tax grows.

Speaking on the first business day of the tax, Ms Gillard said people could make up their own minds "not based on the claims of politicians but from by what they can see in their own lives".

"What people are going to see is tax cuts ... and people are going to see that the claims like the coal industry is going to shut down is all untrue," she told the Seven Network today.

Ms Gillard acknowledged there would be some flow-on effects from about 300 big polluters paying $23 a tonne on carbon, but said tax cuts would benefit seven million people.

A Nielsen poll published in Fairfax newspapers found opposition to the carbon tax had risen three points to 62 per cent.

Just over half of those surveyed thought they would be worse off as a result of the tax.

According to the latest Newspoll, Labor's primary vote in Queensland is down to just 22 per cent.

The results mean federal Labor MPs in the state are facing a swing against them of 10 per cent, which would unseat every Labor MP, The Australian reported.

But Ms Gillard said implementing a price on carbon wasn't about the polls. "This is about what is right for our nation's future," she said.

"We have had some very divisive debates in the past - the GST, universal superannuation, Medicare ... and when the dust has settled and people have had the opportunity to judge it all for themselves they recognised it was the right thing for the nation."

Ms Gillard said Opposition Leader Tony Abbott would create a "fiddle" and only pretend to scrap the carbon tax if he wins power.

But Mr Abbott said the Coalition would get carbon emissions down without saddling the coal and gas industries with extra costs.

Mr Abbott is today campaigning hard to convince people it will be all financial pain for no environmental gain.

He is warning it will kill off the gas and oil industries.  "The whole point of a carbon tax is to use less coal, less gas, less oil," Mr Abbott told ABC Radio.

The Coalition would do things differently, he said.  "We want to get emissions down without loading up the coal and the gas industries with these kind of additional cost imposts," he said.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said Mr Abbott could not and would not repeal the carbon pricing scheme.  Mr Combet is confident the Government will be able to win back the Australian public's support once it has "lived" the carbon tax.

"We're taking a lot of the revenue from that paid by the largest polluters and using it to implement a significant income tax reform that will treble the tax free threshold from $6000 to $18,200 liberating one million people from having to pay tax and file a tax return," he said.

"As the message gets through and we keep arguing our case, I'm sure that we can win people's support back."


Australian climate views have moved on

THE Gillard government hopes Australians will change their minds this week, when the introduction of the carbon tax doesn't result in sudden and startling changes to the economy or their standards of living. But a close reading of Lowy Institute polling since 2005 suggests the government's hopes may be misplaced.

Our polling tells a strong story: that Australians supported tough action on climate change, and were prepared to pay for it, when they thought it was a real and pressing problem. But as they've come to see climate change as less of a problem, with no global solution in sight, they have steadily turned against action and are less willing to pay to address it.

When we began polling in 2005, Australians ranked improving the global environment equal second (with protecting jobs) as a foreign policy priority, more important than combating terrorism, countering the spread of nuclear weapons and stopping illegal migration.

In 2006 addressing climate change was thought to be the No 1 foreign policy priority and in 2007 the most important domestic policy priority.

In this mood, Australians supported strong action on climate change. In 2006 more than two thirds of the people we surveyed agreed with the statement , "global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs."

There was daylight to the next most-supported proposition, with less than a quarter agreeing global warming would have gradual effects and should be dealt with gradually, using low-cost measures. Just 7 per cent opted for the wait and see option.

People were reasonably willing to contribute through electricity bills. In 2008 we asked people how much they were prepared to pay. The largest number (almost one-third) said they would be prepared to pay up to $10 a month, another fifth said they'd pay between $11 and $20 extra a month, and 19 per cent said they'd pay more than $21 a month. Seventy-one percent were prepared to pay something towards dealing with climate change, compared with 21 per cent not prepared to pay anything at all.

That was Kevin Rudd's first year as prime minister. Two-thirds of people we asked said his decision to ratify the Kyoto Protocol as one of his first actions in office hadn't solved the problem of climate change but was a step in the right direction. The following year, 60 per cent of people said the problem of climate change had become more urgent, while 80 per cent said that the prospects for a solution were either steady or improving.

Then things started to change. Australians' attitudes on climate change have shown remarkable variation over the nine years of Lowy Institute polling. In 2008, people still saw climate change as the second biggest threat we faced, on a par with terrorism, but dealing with climate change had slipped to fifth most important foreign policy goal, down 9 per cent from 2007. In 2009 it had slumped to seventh, down 10 per cent from 2008 and 19 per cent from 2007. Climate change dropped to the fourth most worrying threat, down 14 per cent from its 2008 levels.

People were losing their confidence in the government's ability and willingness to address the issue. When we asked people for their opinion on the most convincing option for reducing carbon emissions in 2008, the fewest were convinced by one of the government's most preferred options: carbon capture and storage. Renewables, biofuels, hydroelectric and even nuclear were considered more convincing. In 2008 51 per cent were not confident that the government could address climate change; by 2010 people gave the Rudd government a mark of five out of 10 for its handling of the issue. By last year, three-quarters of those we polled believed the Gillard government had done a poor job in addressing climate change.

Falling confidence in the government's handling of the issue drove further declines in the seriousness with which people took climate change. In 2010 and 2011, dealing with climate change ranked third last among 12 foreign policy priorities, down 29 per cent since 2007.

The majority of commentators argue the failure of the Copenhagen climate talks in December 2009 led to the sudden falls in support for action. Our polling suggests otherwise. In 2010, 72 per cent of respondents still thought Australia should act to reduce its carbon emissions even before a global agreement.

Our figures show two factors behind the erosion of public support for climate change action. The first is a steady slide of concern about the problem - from 75 per cent seeing it as a foreign policy priority in 2007 to just 46 per cent last year. The second is growing alarm about the economic impact of climate action, particularly as the global economy lurches from crisis to crisis. By this year's Lowy Institute poll, the number of people who thought global warming serious enough that we should act now even if it involves significant costs had fallen to 36 per cent from 68 per cent in 2006.

This combination of public perceptions is bad news for the government's hopes of a poll bounce now that the carbon tax has come into effect. The situation has exactly reversed from 2005-2007. Now, as they're less and less concerned about the problem, they resent the financial impact of dealing with it more and more. This means that even if the economic impact of the carbon tax is less severe than Tony Abbott suggests, there won't be a whole lot of returning warmth for a government whose major piece of policy is seen to be addressing a problem that most people don't see as a priority.


What happened to free government schools?

Not so free in South Australia

THOUSANDS of parents have been prosecuted for failing to pay public school fees this year.  They include 271 parents who have had warrants issued for their arrest for failing to turn up in court - more than five times the number issued two years ago at the height of the financial crisis.

Tougher economic times and parents' high debt levels are being blamed for the surge in cases, according to an investigation by The Advertiser and Sunday Mail into the recovery of unpaid school fees.

Between July last year and May this year, the department recovered $670,181 in unpaid fees on behalf of 179 schools - up 24 per cent from $542,095 the previous year.

It referred 2005 debt cases to the magistrates court in the same 11-month period to force parents to pay - up from 1333 cases in 2010-11.

Education Department deputy chief executive Gino DeGennaro said the collection of school fees and charges was managed at a local level by the schools, including any letters sent to families.

"For families who are struggling to meet these costs there are assistance programs in place, and I urge them to speak to their school about their individual circumstances so they can work together to resolve any issues," he said.  "Arrest warrants are only used as a final resort for those parents who decline to pay."

South Australian Association of School Parents Clubs president Jenice Zerna was shocked to hear that arrest warrants were being issued against parents over outstanding fees as low as $234. "It's disappointing to hear that it's come to parents having arrest warrants put out for fees," she said.

"We would hope that schools would take all measures to go out and talk to the parents at any time if they're having problems paying fees."  Ms Zerna believed a school should only use a debt collector as the "very last resort".

SA Primary Principals Association president Steve Portlock said rising debt levels impacted on all students. "This is a concern, because less fees means less money to spend on students," he said.

"There are some parents who believe schooling should be free and won't pay fees on a philosophic basis, while others simply can't afford to."

Opposition education spokesman David Pisoni said SA had the highest public school fees in the nation. "There is no doubt it's tough economic times for the Government ... but what the Government has done is turn to parents through increasing fees and expectations of fund-raising," he said.

The Australian Education Union said it wanted greater government funding to make schools fee-free.

Between January 1 and June 19 this year, the courts issued 271 arrest warrants against parents who failed to turn up at hearings to resolve the matters.  Only 54 parents had arrest warrants over their heads in late 2010.

This financial year, the Education Department has recovered an average $61,000 a month in unpaid fees - a 35 per cent increase on the previous financial year's $45,000 average.

Most unpaid fees were recovered through mediation. Average school fees for materials and services at public schools this year are $234 for a primary student and $363 for a secondary student.


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