Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tony Abbott says Government's draft anti-discrimination laws amount to censorship

FEDERAL Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says Prime Minister Julia Gillard faces an election-year free speech battle if she presses ahead with planned anti-discrimination law reform.

And Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has criticised the federal plans to streamline laws against discrimination, saying they would clash with state laws and could create uncertainty for Queenslanders.

Ms Gillard defended the draft laws as "most worthy for consideration" and urged people to have their say on the proposals.

Almost 600 individuals and groups have made submissions to the draft Bill, which will be scrutinised by a Senate inquiry today and tomorrow.

A wide range of critics are lining up to pan the laws, with employer groups and human rights lobbies warning the changes could see people found to have breached the law if they merely "offend" someone.

Others have complained the proposed laws give too many exemptions to religious organisations to discriminate against single mothers or gay people.

The Bill is meant to merge and simplify five existing laws against age, disability, race, sex and other forms of discrimination. But it includes some new forms of discrimination at work, including on "medical history" and "social origins".

The new laws also change the definition of discrimination to include comments that "offend" or "insult" someone.

Mr Abbott said the proposals would amount to censorship by the Government and were against the "DNA" of his party.

"We do not need any additional restrictions on free speech in this country. I want to make that absolutely crystal clear," he said while campaigning in Brisbane.

"Not for nothing are we called the Liberal Party.

"The last thing we need is anything that shuts down legitimate debate in this country."

Mr Abbott said the Government had been "hectoring" and "bullying" those who criticised it, including in the media.

Independent Tony Windsor said he was unlikely to support the legislation in its current form and said he had received a large number of complaints about the proposed changes.

Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs has called for changes to the Bill to protect the right to free speech.

The Queensland Council for Civil Liberties said in a submission to the inquiry that the Bill "repeatedly and unjustifiably encroaches on free speech".

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry will tell the inquiry today the changes will make it easier for employers to be accused of discrimination.


The usual Greenie exploitation of the Barrier Reef

The GBR has been "threatened" as far back as I remember and I am in my 70th year.  No evidence is needed:  Just a shriek

THE Great Barrier Reef could be stripped of its world heritage status within months if action isn't taken to better protect the natural icon from coal and gas developments, environment groups say.

A coalition of green groups today launched the Fight for the Reef campaign in Canberra, warning state and federal politicians were putting the reef's international reputation at risk.

Last year UNESCO was "sufficiently concerned" enough by proposed developments along the Queensland coast it sent a mission to Australia to investigate, the campaign's director Felicity Wishart said.

It made a number of recommendations to the commonwealth and Queensland governments about how to proceed in the best interests of the reef.

The global heritage body could place the reef - the world's longest coral reef system - on the "world heritage in danger" list if it doesn't receive an adequate response by February.

Ms Wishart said such action would be an international embarrassment that threatened both the reef ecosystem and the $6 billion tourism industry it supports.

"The reef has an international reputation, it is loved globally," she said.

"That's a really alarming international black mark that we could be tracking towards if we don't lift our game."

She said the campaign, formed by the Australian Marine Conservation Society and the World Wildlife Fund, had written to all the major parties in a bid to get the reef on the 2013 election agenda.

At the centre of their concerns are 45 major industrial developments proposed for the coast, including large-scale coal and gas projects that would boost shipping over the reef.

Currently, around 4000 ships make "port calls" through the reef every year, but that number could skyrocket to 7000 if the proposals go ahead unchallenged, the campaign group warns.

The main concern is that the government, which has a "proud track record" of defending the reef, wasn't now taking this issue seriously, Ms Wishart said.

"We're calling on all sides of politics to step up and commit to greater protection for what is the most significant natural icon that Australia has," she said.

"This is something that has to be beyond politics."

The Great Barrier Reef was granted world heritage status in 1981, but has since faced numerous threats from coral bleaching to cyclones, runoff, Crown-of-thorns starfish and commercial activity.


The Backpacker has lost his way if he thinks patriotism is out of this world

There is nothing shameful in declaring that you are proud to be Australian.

Sadly, Ben Groundwater, Fairfax's globetrotter on a shoestring, who writes The Backpacker column, has declared he is not a proud Aussie. He wonders what we should be proud of and asks what makes Australia so much better than everyone else's country. He does acknowledge that as he travels the world he finds people in other countries who are also proud of their patch.

For the Fairfax world traveller, the concept of nationality and nationhood has become irrelevant. One cannot be sure but the article reads as though he believes patriotism and nationalism are one and the same. Many, including myself, will disagree on that point.

I take a patriot to be someone who loves their country above all else in the sense that they would unflinchingly put the common good for their compatriots ahead of any personal gain. Patriotism, in this sense, is a good thing.

Like it or not (and The Backpacker doesn't) nation states are the prime mechanism for citizens to group together for each other's benefit. They are also the key vehicle through which large numbers of citizens (one nation state) communicate with others (in other nation states) to encourage fairer trade, protect our natural environment and encourage world peace, to name a few laudable objectives. In other words, by being good citizens of our nation state and by Australia taking helpful and constructive positions on the international stage, we are in fact being what The Backpacker professes to want, namely good citizens of the world.

I think it is also a good thing to take pride in your country. Pride in its achievements as a nation and pride in the achievements of fellow Australians can inspire others to follow suit and be the best they can be. That people in other countries do the same thing does not mean one must be better than another, simply that we take pride in what we do well. Since when has that been a bad thing?

Nationalism is another kettle of fish. The thin veneer of what I call Vegemite nationalism clearly offends The Backpacker. Yes it can get ugly and none of us see the charm in that, but it can also be both uplifting and harmless. The Backpacker seems revolted at the VB-drinking, footy-watching Australians who holiday in Kuta which is, I think, a little harsh.

Yes, when the Olympics are on we do tend to support our country "like it's a football team". Given the most transparent thing I saw in the International Olympic Committee during my visits there (when the World Anti-Doping Agency was being established ) was the glass elevator, one might have good reason to think carefully about the time and money we put into the Olympics.

Perhaps we should follow India and admit to higher priorities for government spending. Be that as it may, whenever and wherever we are competing I think it is good that we support our team. (Although if Eric Moussambani Malonga, "The Eel", has a crack at it in 2016 I will quietly give him a cheer or two as well).

There is a more acrid form of nationalism that seeks to garner genuine feelings of pride and brotherhood about ourselves and derail them into ugly sentiments about others. A positive is turned into a negative, often to carry the ego of those with narrow and ugly minds. This type of nationalism is especially unattractive - as are the people that support it. Here's a tip: keep away from them.

The Backpacker hates the standard conversation lubricant among new acquaintances overseas "Where do you come from". He says it should be irrelevant without saying why. Quite apart from being handy to even the most shy and inept conversationalist it also holds the possibility of opening up rich avenues of participation for the other person. At the very least it does them the courtesy of showing an interest in them.

The questioner discovers where the person comes from, which gives perhaps just a little insight into the respondent and highlights possible avenues for further conversation.

For example, if they come from Argentina it is a fair bet they will have something to say about Eva Peron, the Falkland Islands or great steaks.

The respondent on the other hand has the opportunity to give very little or quite a lot. It is not so much a banal and irrelevant question as an invitation to communicate, to share stories and knowledge in a gradual way. It is an invitation to interact with others as The Backpacker would have us do, as citizens of the world.

We are just acknowledging the reality that we come from different parts of the world and consequently have vastly different experiences to share.

The Backpacker points out that it is just dumb luck for Australians to have been born on this piece of land. Putting aside the complexities of citizenship being a tad more complicated than where you were born, dumb luck doesn't seem appropriate to me. Unbelievable, windfall, mega luck gets a little closer.

The test is for The Backpacker to identify for himself the country of which he would rather be a citizen. For myself, I can't nominate one. I can nominate traits of other nationalities I admire, places that are glorious to visit and achievements that are inspiring but not a country in which I would prefer to have been born and raised and in which I would now prefer to live.

On Australia Day, The Backpacker might reflect on this question: if we shouldn't be proud of Australia, who should be? If he calls at my house, hospitable Australian though I am, I think I'll send him packing.


Election 2013 will take us back to 64 BCE

Benjamin Herscovitch

In 64 BCE, the great philosopher and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero ran for the position of consul—the highest elected office in the Roman Republic.

Not being from a noble family, Marcus was a political outsider trying to break into the inner sanctum of Roman power.

To give Marcus the best chance of realising his political aspirations, his younger brother Quintus offered some wily lessons in the pursuit of high office.

Quite aside from whether Quintus’ handbook of electioneering contributed to Marcus’ eventual election victory, it is a useful guide to the political trickery to watch out for in the lead up to the 2013 federal election.

Noting that valuable political capital can be amassed by smearing opponents, Quintus did not hesitate to endorse dirt files and rumour mongering.

He advised Marcus to remind the people of ‘what scoundrels your opponents are and to smear these men at every opportunity with the crimes, sexual scandals, and corruption they have brought on themselves.’

Whether in the form of whispers of salacious personal proclivities or resurrected stories of decades-old misjudgements, the ancient art of muckraking will almost certainly feature prominently in the 2013 election campaign.

On the off chance that distracting voters with titillating scandals is ineffective, Quintus reminded his brother that there is always the option of being the electorate’s yes man (or woman).

Quintus recommended never saying no to a request, adding that Marcus should ‘not make specific pledges either to the Senate or the people. Stick to vague generalities.’

With a proliferation of ambiguous commitments to ‘do more,’ ‘take action,’ and ‘get results,’ this election year is likely to serve up candidates who are similarly big on promises but light on details.

Like any good strategist, Quintus also understood the power of chequebook politics.

One of his most important lessons for Marcus was that undecided voters can be won over by offering them ‘even small favours.’

As with the campaign for Roman consul, we can expect to see fast and furious pledges of support for all manner of interest groups and causes during this year’s political contest.

With the playbook for ambitious politicians apparently left largely unchanged for over 2,000 years, Quintus’ words serve as a warning for the Australian electorate of 2013.


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