Sunday, September 18, 2022

Should minorities be angry at the Queen?

ABC journalist Stan Grant is. He is part Aboriginal and apparently grew up among them. Some excerpts from his comments follow below after this note.

Since the Queen was a-political it is pretty dumb to blame her for ANYTHING Blame the governments of her time maybe but she had no part in their decisions or actions.

But the big problem with the sorrow he expresses below is that Grant assigns NO responsibility for what blacks underwent to Aborigines themselves. He attributes all the woe felt by Aboringines to British colonialism.

But look at another colonized group. The people of Hong Kong were until quite recently a literal Crown Colony. So how do they feel about the Queen and the British legacy? The mourning there for the Queen was epochal. It was at least as great as the demonstrations of feeling in Britain itelf. They loved the Queen.

Clrearly it was not colonialism that was bad for the colonized. It has to have been something else that caused grief to Aborigines.

And what that was is no mystery. The people of Hong Kong are Chinese and, as such, the inheritors of thousands of years of civilization. So they were well equipped to thrive under Britain's civilizing influence. So they appreciated the opportunities that Britain brought and vigorously grasped those opportunities to their own great benefit

Aborinigines, by contrast, come from the most primitive type of culture -- a hunter/gatherer culture. They had none of the mentality, customs, attitudes and skills that the Chinese do. Aborigines have traits and abilities that equip them well for their ancestral lifestyle but those same traits tend to be a hindrance rather than a help in adjusting to modern civilization.

No doubt both Aborigines and Hong Kongers were at times badly treated by their respective governments but the Aborigies did not adapt. They simply lacked the ability to do so. And from that the rest of their experience flowed. They simply could not help themselves and others were slow to come forward to help them. And now that many attempts have been made to help them there are still many who seem unhelpable. Given their origins that will continue

I called my mother this week and she told me the story of her childhood brush with royalty over again. I have thought about mum and dad and all of my family, of my people — First Nations people — who die young and live impoverished and imprisoned lives in this country.

We aren't supposed to talk about these things this week. We aren't supposed to talk about colonisation, empire, violence about Aboriginal sovereignty, not even about the republic.

We've skirted around the edges of the truth of the legacy that the Queen leaves in Australia, a reign that lasted almost a third of our colonial history.

I'm sure I am not alone amongst Indigenous people wrestling with swirling emotions. Among them has been anger. The choking asphyxiating anger at the suffering and injustice my people endure.

This anger is not good for me. It is not good for my mental health. It is not good for my physical health. I have been short of breath and dizzy.

But that is nothing compared to what too many other Indigenous people go through day after day. Those languishing in cells. Those who take their own lives. Those who are caught in endless cycles of despair.

This past week, I have been reminded what it is to come from the other side of history. History itself that is written as a hymn to whiteness.

History written by the victors and often written in blood. It is fashioned as a tale of progress, as a civilising mission.

As historian Caroline Elkins writes in Legacies of Violence, her history of the British Empire, for hundreds of millions of people "the empire's velvet glove contained an all too familiar iron fist".

From India to Africa to Ireland, the Pacific, the Caribbean and of course here, Australia, people from the other side of history have felt that fist.

It is not a zero-sum game. There are things in the British tradition that have enriched my life. But history is not weighted on the scales, it is felt in our bones. It is worn on our skin. It is scarred in memory.

How do we live with the weight of this history? How do we not fall prey to soul-destroying vengeance and resentment, yet never relent in our righteous demand for justice?

At times like these I struggle with that dilemma. Because Australia has never reached a just settlement with First Nations people.

But again, we don't talk about that this week.

I have felt a sadness at feeling adrift, estranged from friends and colleagues. Sadness at knowing that at times like these there is a chasm between us.

I have watched as others have worn black and reported on this historic event, participated in this ritual mourning. And knowing I cannot.

They come to this with no conflict. I cannot.


Monarchy works well as a constitutional system for Australia

Ultimately, this is not a celebration of the celebrity life of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Mountbatten-Windsor. It is a reaffirmation of the supremacy of the democratic system of governance known as a constitutional monarchy.

The Paddington Bears are more revealing than they at first seem. It was only during the Platinum Jubilee festivities back in June that the cute film with the Queen, Paddington and the marmalade sandwiches was aired. Prior to that, the Queen was a socal media celeb only thanks to her similar comedic cameo role in a James Bond spoof for the 2012 London Olympics and, of course, for her starring role as the lead character in the Netflix hit The Crown. Astonishingly, for the best part of 70 years this very private individual was known to the public by her handbag, her horses, her corgis and, er, that’s about it. It is astonishing that after 70 years in the public eye, after a squillion encounters with the public, after being scrutinised by the world’s media for decades, pretty much all that anyone could find to visually convet an emotionsal response to the Queen’s death was a cute little advert made a couple of months ago.

That alone is testament to how over her entire life, and often presumably at great personal cost and pain, the woman herself never resorted to trading on her own emotions in order to garner public affection.

Today’s celebrity-obsessed, emotion-driven Millennials have grown up in a world that demands visual totems or ‘emojis’ in order to instantly convey and advertise ‘personal’ feelings. So it’s not surprising that many latched onto the bear and the marmalade film – a superb bit of cross-brand promotion which managed to simultaneously flog the Paddington books and movies, the Queen (the monarch), the other Queen (the pop group), London tourism, the grandeur of Britain’s old homes and the entire category of British marmalades and cream buns. (The skit was written, incidentally, by Simon Farnaby, who co-wrote Paddington 2 and who plays the footman in the spoof.)

That the Queen and her ‘Firm’ have so cleverly cultivated popularity without ever choosing to stoke populism is the single greatest achievement of Elizabeth’s long reign. It’s a trick that no other royal family has ever managed to achieve. It is something no presidential dynasty has ever pulled off. And it is something that no other form of government, no dictator, no junta or no republic has succeeded in emulating. The longevity of the loyalty to Her Majesty is testament above all to the enduring power and attraction of a constitutional monarchy, where the sovereign is the source of all authority without ever exercising any and is placed in the pinnacle position in our Constitution not in order to wield ultimate power, but in order to deny it to anyone else.

For that reason it is imperative that the constitutional monarch remains above politics. Prince Charles fell into the trap of allowing his concern for the environment to spill over into embracing and even advocating for political outcomes, most noticeably and unacceptably by promoting the ‘Great Reset’ on behalf of the World Economic Forum and by his relentless climate change doom-mongering. He has now solemnly pledged to leave such activism to others and, at this stage, we must take him at his word.

Strip away the pomp and ceremony – all of which is emulated (poorly) and copied (tastelessly) by every despotic regime in the world – and what makes these celebrations so important is they are not a personality cult. No rent-a-crowds. No bussed-in supporters. The crowds are there thanks to the authenticity of the institution.

Here in Australia, through a unique blessing of history, we are privileged to enjoy all the benefits of a constitutional monarchy with very few of the financial costs. We would be insane to give it away.


If you’re told ESG is the next big thing, beware of greenwashing

Joe Kennedy famously said that when the shoeshine boy gives stock tips, it’s time to get out of the market. The story goes that the investor exited the market just ahead of the great Wall Street crash of 1929, clued in to a bubble created by dilettantes piling in.

More recently, an ad popped up in Australian bus shelters, which read “this is the sign you’ve been looking for to get into crypto”. Shortly after, cryptocurrency tanked.

So when a public relations conference told me this week that ESG is the next big thing, I took it as a warning that it’s about to be over.

In the last few years, environmental, social and (corporate) governance, or ESG, has become an increasing concern for companies which realise that securing their long-term profitability depends on the wellbeing of the environment and the societies in which they operate. The “governance” part is monitoring that the organisation isn’t making decisions which deliver profit right now but run counter to actual laws or implicit norms. Banks turning a blind eye to the money trail leading to paedophiles, for instance, or casinos knowingly participating in money laundering.

ESG can seem simple: commit to reducing emissions, develop a modern slavery statement and, above all, become a values-led organisation. Only, anyone who believes it’s that simple is almost certainly doing it wrong.

That has always been the case, but the war in Ukraine and growing concerns over China’s activities at home and abroad are making it more obvious how just how wrong the simplistic approach is.

Germany is the poster child of half-baked ESG. Under former Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe’s largest economy began shutting down its nuclear power plants, planning to use gas as a “bridge” while transitioning entirely to renewables. Many analysts warned against the move, pointing out the strategic dangers of relying on Russian gas. But Merkel persisted and many German investors fell in line, in the name of ESG.

Of course, we now know how that turned out. The ESG value of the nuclear shutdown was one-dimensional: it failed to balance the pros and cons of nuclear against other potential fuel sources, or take into account the geopolitical context. As a result, when Putin invaded Ukraine, Germany continued to pay for Russian gas and, in doing so, funded a war it opposes. In fact, it wasn’t until the beginning of September, when President Putin retaliated against NATO sanctions by shutting off gas supply to Europe, that many European countries, Germany included, stopped handing hard currency to Putin.

Now it can no longer rely on hypocrisy to keep the lights on, the power crisis is sending the German economy into recession. Companies face insolvency due to soaring energy prices and people are facing huge bills for heating their homes. “Warming centres”, or heated community halls, are being established across Europe to prevent people freezing to death in their apartments. If a new strain of COVID appears, these could also become hubs of transmission. The poor, naturally, will be hardest hit. If this is environmentally and socially responsible, what on earth is not?

In another ESG complication, building greater renewable energy capacity can lead to an increase in slavery and child labor. That’s because 80 per cent of solar panels are manufactured in China and a significant share of the materials for them comes from companies in Xinjiang Province, using forced Uighur labour. Climate change versus slavery – is there an acceptable trade-off? And if so, who decides what it is?

Even the fashionable expressions of organisational “values” can quickly lead from sublime intention to ridiculous action. Late last year, the legal faculty of a major Australian university proposed that the academics make a public resolution of support for the Indigenous Voice to parliament. While personally in favour of a Voice, my legal academic friend recalls her acute discomfort at being called on to make a public statement of this kind despite her lack of constitutional expertise. Expressing her values in this way forced her to breach a professional ethic.

Real ESG is as complex and layered as the world it is practised in.

The result of overly superficial ESG action is sometimes called greenwashing. “Greenwashing businesses routinely underinvest in their ESG reporting, using corporate spin as a proxy for a real strategy and progress against it,” according to Luke Heilbuth, CEO of BWD Strategic, a consultancy focused on helping businesses navigate the complexities of ESG.

Company regulator ASIC defines greenwashing as “the practice of misrepresenting the extent to which a financial product or investment strategy is environmentally friendly, sustainable or ethical” and has issued advice that the practice falls under its ban on misleading or deceptive statements. Given the current fashion for ESG-as-advertising, it seems almost inevitable that an increasing number of companies boasting of their ESG credentials will find themselves in breach.

Heilbuth, a former diplomat, believes companies serious about ESG need to appreciate the geopolitical context, but can realise opportunities in doing so. As the world splits into two major powers, responsible countries will focus on building green manufacturing in Australia to take advantage of our minerals and other natural resources. We must.

“Beijing also controls much of the infrastructure required to refine the minerals critical to the energy transition,” he says. “Chinese refineries supply 50 to 70 per cent of the world’s cobalt and lithium and over 90 per cent of rare-earth minerals.”

While the far-sighted Chinese look to harness the commodities of developing nations connected to the Belt and Road, and export expensive services to them, it will be strategically and ethically necessary to ensure we aren’t reliant on them.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told Putin grandly this week that we must “play a guiding role to inject stability and positive energy into a world rocked by social turmoil”. See, it’s easy to make war and unethical practices sound good. It’s harder to actually practice ESG. The spin is no longer enough.


HSC students ditch difficult subjects in search of higher marks

The number of HSC students taking physics has tumbled to its lowest in 20 years, while the proportion of girls studying the subject has failed to budge in more than a decade.

A snapshot of this year’s HSC subject data shows 7730 students are studying physics – almost 2000 fewer students than a decade ago – as biology, business studies and personal development, health and physical education (PDHPE) enrolments climb to near 10-year highs.

Physics enrolments fell after a new syllabus was introduced in 2018, as the course became more mathematical, shifted to traditional physics and focused more on areas like quantum mechanics and astrophysics. Students are also selecting other science subjects such as earth and environmental sciences and science extension.

Simon Crook, a physics education expert and consultant, said students are choosing easier subjects due to the difficulty of achieving a band 6 in physics and chemistry. “And when you have low staff morale and teacher shortages that exacerbates the problem,” he said.

There are dwindling numbers studying maths at the highest levels, with enrolments in the three advanced maths courses offered at HSC level falling 12 per cent in 20 years.

Of this year’s physics students, 22 per cent are girls. In chemistry and biology the proportion of girls studying the subjects has risen slightly, with 48 per cent and 65 per cent respectively.

Data from the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) data reveals biology enrolments continue to surge: 19,173 students opted to take the subject this year, up 14.5 per cent from ten years ago. Business studies increased by 18 per cent and PDHPE enrolments have grown 20 per cent.

Meanwhile, enrolments in modern history and economics have flatlined, while ancient history has taken the biggest hit with 6530 enrolled this year – almost half the number enrolled in 2012.

NSW Science Teachers Association vice president Lauren McKnight said the 20 per cent drop in physics over ten years is concerning, but she welcomed the growth in biology, investigating science and science extension.

“Students turning away from academically difficult subjects such as chemistry and physics possibly reflects more on the nature of the exams, student workloads, and the overt focus on band performance,” she said.

NSW History Teachers’ Association Jonathon Dallimore said the addition of many new HSC subjects over the years means students now have more options. “One reason that students have maintained their interest in modern history is the content – the crisis of democracy, dictatorships, modern conflicts.

“This is all so clearly connected to current events giving it a sense of real immediacy, whereas on the surface ancient history can appear to some students as more detached from the news cycle.”

HSC student Chelsea Leung from Brigidine College in Randwick, one of five physics students in her year, attributes her curiosity and interest in “knowing how things work” as her motivation for studying the subject.

“When experiments work and support your hypothesis, it is so satisfying. I am looking into biomedical engineering at university,” she said. “I want to help people, I’d love to make hearing aids or medical devices.”

A NESA spokesperson said enrolments are consistent with previous years, with maths, biology and business studies attracting the largest numbers for nine years running.

“Year-on-year HSC course enrolments fluctuate based on a number of factors,” the spokesperson said. “Students may choose HSC courses for a number of reasons including their interests, future goals and courses most suited to their pathway to university, employment or further studies.

“Young women are very well represented in science courses, particularly in biology and science extension.”

There are 75,493 students studying one or more HSC courses this year, with exams starting on October 12.

Macquarie Fields High teacher Melissa Collins said year 12 students were still dealing with challenges after ongoing COVID-19 disruption this year, and next week the school will run five days of wellbeing initiatives for HSC check-in week.


Free Wi-Fi is now available to anyone across selected Telstra payphones

These days most of us take smartphones for granted. But we know there are still many people who are isolated or in vulnerable circumstances who have access to a mobile device, but no data to be able to connect with others.

From today, around 3,000 of our Wi-Fi enabled payphones across Australia will offer free Wi-Fi access to anyone, with work already underway on the rest of our 12,000 payphones to provide free Telstra Wi-Fi over the next few years.

This was the next step in ensuring all Australians are able to stay connected and follows our decision last year to make calls from public payphones free.

Over the last few years we’ve seen payphones play a vital role in many communities across the country, particularly those impacted by disasters such as the recent floods in Northern NSW and Queensland, and summer bushfires.

These areas are where we are prioritising upgrading our payphones to be more power resilient and enabling Wi-Fi across around 1,000 payphone locations.

In addition to being able to make calls from these locations, access to Wi-Fi allows more people to connect with loved ones to let them know they’re safe and to access other important online resources.

Almost 19 million free calls have been made from Telstra payphones in the past year, with over 250,000 calls made to critical services like Triple Zero (000) and Lifeline. Centrelink was the most dialled service from payphones in the past year.

Those calls show more than a 70 percent rise in call volume from payphones when compared to the previous year, showing the vital role the humble Telstra payphone still plays in our community.

As part of our T25 strategy, we are committed to supporting digital inclusion and keeping customers in vulnerable circumstances connected. Making payphone calls and Wi-Fi free and accessible to everyone is a reminder that technological change is about more than just innovation.




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