Thursday, February 07, 2013
Australian politicians still trying to square the circle over Aborigines
They all want blacks to behave like whites -- but that's not "racist" apparently. Blacks, however, just go their own way -- which is their right
It isn't often that Tony Abbott begins a speech with the words "Paul Keating was right", but it happened during a rare outburst of bipartisanship when the nation's parliament reviewed progress toward closing the gap on indigenous disadvantage on Wednesday.
The Opposition Leader employed the words of the former Labor prime minister to define a mission that is embraced by both sides of politics and, increasingly, businesses across the country.
"As long as there is serious indigenous disadvantage in our country, it constitutes a stain on our nation's soul," Mr Abbott quoted Mr Keating as saying. "Until the first Australians can fully participate in the life of our country, we are diminished as a nation and as a people."
Mr Abbott also welcomed Prime Minister Julia Gillard's candour in delivering a mostly positive, but mixed, report card on progress towards meeting six targets that were agreed after former prime minister Kevin Rudd delivered the formal apology to the stolen generations in 2008. "We need this level of candour to achieve genuine progress and genuine closing the gap."
Ms Gillard reported that the pledge to deliver early childhood education for all four-year-olds in remote communities within five years would be achieved this year. Two other targets, the halving of child mortality rates within a decade and halving the gap in year 12 education attainment by 2020 – were on track to be met.
But Ms Gillard reported that, despite some progress, a "massive and unacceptable" gap remained between indigenous and non-indigenous employment and that in some areas of literacy and numeracy, results had gone backwards.
Only three of eight reading and numeracy indicators were tracking as expected and the other five required "considerable work", she reported. Moreover, the central aim of closing the life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians has become more daunting.
The annual report on progress says indigenous male life expectancy – where the estimated gap is at 11.5 years – will probably have to increase by almost 21 years by 2031 and observes "the current rate of progress will have to gather pace if the target is to be met".
Ms Gillard used her speech to attack moves by the Northern Territory and Queensland governments to wind back alcohol reforms, declaring: "I have a real fear that the rivers of grog that wreaked such havoc among indigenous communities are starting to flow once again.
"The government will take action in response to any irresponsible policy changes that threaten to forfeit our hard-won gains."
She cited the dismantling of the banned drinkers' register in the Northern Territory and the possible easing of alcohol restrictions in Queensland. Mr Abbott said he shared the Prime Minister's concern about the banned drinkers' register, saying it should be re-instated.
He also applauded Ms Gillard for her action to secure Labor's first indigenous member of the federal parliament in Nova Peris, saying: "I believe it would help us immeasurably as a parliament and a nation to have more indigenous people in this place to support the work of my friend and colleague, Ken Wyatt."
Both leaders committed themselves to the passage of the proposed referendum recognising indigenous Australians, with Ms Gillard declaring that, without it, the nation's story would remain incomplete "and the soul of our nation will remain unhealed".
Indigenous leaders welcomed the progress, but pressed both sides of politics to commit the resources to fund programs to close the gap. They also pressed for two new targets to be included to reduce incarceration of indigenous people and the level of violence in communities.
Revival of "Pacific solution" beginning to bite
The Australian Left has been forced to revive the illegal immigration policies of the conservative Howard government
THE boats are being readied along Java's west coast to ferry thousands of fresh asylum seekers to Christmas Island.
But some among the potential customers are having second thoughts, prompted by Australia's toughened policies.
They are not waiting for a boat, but for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to pronounce them genuine and find them a refugee visa. In the language of Australia's politicians, they want to join the queue and enter through the front door.
The difference, they say, is "the rule" - people arriving without a visa after August 13, 2012, could be sent to Nauru or Manus Island.
"If the rule was not announced then maybe I'd have arrived two, three months ago, I would have arrived in Australia," Mohamad said. "But because of that rule we are waiting. And not just me … there are a lot of people that are waiting for a visa."
Before the rule was introduced he tried take a boat to Australia but says, "I missed it".
He says Labor's policies have been responsible for a steep drop-off in people making the trip from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Indonesia. Those with good reason to fear for their lives still come, but many don't.
"It's stopped - 50 per cent it's stopped, and people are not coming. They are not coming because of that rule." It worked, Mohamad said, because of the stories of people going crazy when sent to Nauru.
Waiting in Indonesia, though, is tortuous. A UNHCR place is reckoned to take three years - during which time they must often beg money from their families to support them in a country where they cannot work.
They were sent originally to be providers for those families, not a burden.
"The Australian government announced, 'Don't go by boat, every year we [will] send 1000 visas'. But we've seen nothing," says an older man, Muhammad Juma, who has waited for almost two years already, much of it in a shabby detention centre.
Many, though, are still taking the illegal route. Last weekend two boats arrived on Christmas Island, one carrying 132 people. As the monsoon season ends and the sea grows calmer, sources say, people smugglers have 50 or more boats ready to sail.
Ashya Danesh has with him his wife, Golsaman, and two sons, Ammer, 16, and Mahdi, 12. Mr Danesh is tortured by his inability to support his family.
The boys cannot go to school in Indonesia and none of them is allowed to work. "If UNHCR helps us and gives house, money, we stay [in Indonesia]. If not, we go by boat," Mr Danesh says.
Rosia - a rarity in that she's a middle-aged woman travelling alone - is also looking for a people smuggler, but does not know how to find one. "I will go on a boat. It's difficult for me to stay here. We don't have any money. A long time we stayed here … no interview with UNHCR." Asked if she was worried about sinking, she smiles: "I don't worry. It's in God's hands."
No one Fairfax Media spoke to this week were familiar with the Opposition's policies, including the latest statements by its immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, that all boats from Sri Lanka would be intercepted by the navy in international waters and turned around. But they know enough to realise no Australian politician is their friend.
"I don't care about the election or things because when a rule is announced that will be followed by the government," Mohamad said.
Fear of Muslim hate cows Australians and impededs free speech
Two of the films nominated for best picture in the coming Academy Awards, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, contain warnings, with plenty of creative licence but also plenty of historical accuracy, about the challenge to democracy posed by a resurgent strain of uncompromising Islam.
The threat has been deemed real enough in the Netherlands, which now has more than a million Muslims in a nation of 16.7 million people, for a million Dutch voters - one in seven - to vote for the Party for Freedom, led by Geert Wilders, who will be making a lecture tour in Australia later this month.
Four years ago, in an interview with ABC Radio, Wilders was asked why he wanted to curb Muslim immigration to the Netherlands. He said the integration of Muslims was failing:
"If you look at all the statistics, you see that non-Western people, often from … Morocco and Turkey … are over-represented many, many times when it comes to crime, when it comes to prison population, when it comes to illiteracy, when it comes to dependency on social benefits.
"We see also in the second-biggest city of the Netherlands, Rotterdam, that in three years' time the majority will be from non-Western backgrounds. You see in the same city, and most of the south … 55 per cent of the Moroccan youth under the age of 24 have been in contact with the police. You see that there are more mosques being built than churches. You see that once again the Dutch people are tolerant … but they fear for the identity of their own country."
All of this is contested territory. Muslims protest about being lumped in with the fundamentalist fringe. They protest, too, that traditional problems associated with immigration are conflated with Muslims.
What is not contested is that a dangerous Islamic fringe is active in numerous countries. Wilders will be accompanied to Australia by five Dutch police officers. He lives under permanent 24-hour security.
Fear has arrived here before him. On Wednesday, the organiser of the tour, Debbie Robinson, told me yet another venue had cancelled and there had been another act of corporate suppression directed at the tour.
"This morning the venue in Sydney cancelled. There was a meltdown. The events manager at the venue was screaming. Right now we have no Sydney venue."
It was not her only setback. "Yesterday PayPal froze the funds in the account that is processing ticket sales. They will not tell me why. All staff keep saying is the account is under review. It's been like an Orwellian nightmare."
This follows a refusal by Westpac to allow her to set up a payment system and refusal by more than a dozen venues to host a Wilders event, citing security concerns.
The first attempt at a lecture tour last year was cancelled due to visa problems. The then minister for immigration Chris Bowen delayed granting a visa until after the cancellation.
This was just the start. On January 21, the president of the Q Society, Geoff Dickson, sent an invitation to 830 state and federal politicians in all parliaments: "On behalf of Q Society of Australia I would like to issue you a warm invitation to attend one of the speaking engagements we are offering to listen to the Honourable Geert Wilders."
The invitation said Wilders would be speaking in Melbourne on February 19, Perth on February 20 and Sydney on February 22.
"Mr Wilders is a Dutch politician who heads the Party for Freedom, which won 10.1 per cent of votes in the Dutch House of Representatives at the September 2012 elections. Mr Wilders will be here to share his experiences on how Islam is changing the Netherlands in particular and Europe more generally.
"Q Society is a volunteer, Australia-wide organisation whose charter is to educate Australians as to how Islam may change this country … We believe Islam is different from other religions and poorly understood …
"If, in 20 years, some Australian politicians are living under armed guard because of comments they have made about Islam, we believe we would have failed as individuals, and collectively as a society, to protect our democracy and our freedom."
Of the 830 invitations sent out, only four were accepted. The other 99.5 per cent of politicians declined or did not respond.
Robinson is disheartened by all the fearfulness. "The Sydney event may have to be cancelled if I can't even get a venue. I'll have to refund everyone. This is supposed to be a democracy but something Orwellian is going on."
Queensland school principals says subjects cut and less time for student welfare after staffing cuts
HIGH schools have cut subjects and told teachers to spend less time on student welfare as a result of staffing cuts in the state sector.
President of the Queensland Secondary Principals' Association, Norm Fuller, said student welfare and the subjects offered had been the biggest losers following cuts to resource teacher positions.
The State Government announced last year it would redirect 200 secondary resource teacher positions back into the classroom to cope with enrolment growth as a budgetary measure.
The Government has denied the teachers were cut, instead saying they were redirected to where they were needed most - in the classroom.
Mr Fuller said the resource positions were used to run smaller class sizes in less popular subjects and give year-level co-ordinators more time to spend on student welfare.
As a result of the cuts Mr Fuller said: "Some of our secondary schools no longer offer both ancient history and modern history, they only offer one history subject".
"Many schools have combined Year 11 and 12 classes in the same subject, for example chemistry," he said.
"Other subjects are not being offered because they had low numbers - economics, accounting, maths C, physics, geography. More students are having to enrol in the School of Distance Education to access subjects of their choice."
Mr Fuller said most of the larger state high schools had chosen to reduce student welfare, with some telling year level co-ordinators there "is not as much time this year for you to be able to follow up on students.
"It is sad, but time has got to come from everywhere and the priority is the teaching in the classroom and having teachers in front of classes," he said.
Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates said there was one less position in every state high school and the impacts Mr Fuller described would be "long-term and ongoing".
State Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said principals would determine whether particular subjects were offered based on student demand.
"As has always been the case, if only a few students want to study a particular subject then it may be provided through distance education," he said.
Asked if he was concerned about teachers being told to cut back on student welfare he replied: "Individual principals have the resources and experience to ensure student welfare is provided".
He did not answer whether he still believed the staffing changes weren't affecting frontline services in schools.