Recent blog entries

Spanish Ebola nurse: infected others in holiday swimming pool?

English news reports of Teresa Romero, the Spanish nurse infected with Ebola mention that she had been on holiday when she first started experiencing the symptoms of Ebola.

As most people know by now, a patient becomes infectious the moment that they start to exhibit symptoms.

Abbott may kill more Australians than Putin

Australians are the third biggest group of casualties in the MH17 tragedy this week. Australia's leader, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, is already calling Mr Putin to account before the facts have even been confirmed.

The startling reality is, OECD research already suggests that Mr Abbott's own policies have the potential to kill more Australians.

Balancing a budget with sex work?

Tony Abbott has attracted worldwide ridicule for himself and our country (not for the first time of course) with his infamous wink incident this week.

In fact, people repeatedly sharing this incident on social media are not really adding much to the national debate. Anybody who's opinion actually matters already knew Tony Abbott is not fit to even lead a scout group, let alone a whole country.

Why I hope Craig Thomson avoids jail

Craig Thomson has finally been convicted of all those fraud charges that everybody has been talking about throughout the years of Rudd/Gillard Government.

It is worth remembering how Gillard deflected all the questions about Thomson:

"Everybody is innocent until proven guilty"

Well, unless you are a refugee or a coloured person (or both).


Cuba: Teaching the world about containing Ebola

Links International - 0 sec ago

Havana took up the challenge by hosting a special Summit on Ebola with its regional partners and global health authorities on October 20.

For more on Cuba's health system and its assistance to other countries, click HERE.

By Conner Gorry, Havana

October 24, 2014 -- Guardian Professional -- West Africa needs what Cuba has: a well-trained, coordinated healthcare system. Anything less and Ebola wins.

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Categories: Community

The NT’s “Daniel’s Law” – Alarmed But Not Alert

The Northern Myth - 51 min 58 sec ago

This is a guest post by Russell Goldflam, President of the Criminal Lawyers Association of the NT.

The Northern Territory Sex Offender Public Website (Daniel’s Law) Act (“the NTSOPW Act”), as it will apparently be formally designated, sends so many wrong messages it is hard to know where to start. Of course, at the time of writing, no details have yet been provided.

As yet we have no definition of the “serious sex offenders” whose names, photographs, physical descriptions and regional locations will be published on the NTSOPW. Notably, Attorney-General John Elferink’s Media Release did not state that the reach of the NTSOPW would be restricted to child sex offenders.

An obvious starting point would be to place all reportable offenders pursuant to the existing Child Protection (Offender Reporting and Registration) Act (NT) on the NTSOPW, and then top it up with details of sex offenders convicted of similarly serious crimes against adults. That would include everything from rape to indecent assault.

The Attorney-General has assured us that to protect the identity of victims, details of the crimes committed by each person on the NTSOPW will not be published. This however raises the spectre that everyone on this “easy user-friendly” site will be indiscriminately branded as a dangerous sexual predator.

Similarly, the Attorney-General has been at pains to point out that, unlike the Derryn Hinch model for community-based DIY justice, the NTSOPW will not publish offenders’ full residential addresses, but merely “regional locations”, such as “Darwin”.

It is obvious, though, that any committed would-be vigilante armed with a Facebook account and a smartphone would have little difficulty in tracking down the whereabouts of the named and shamed offenders.

Even more disturbingly, in many cases, the victims will also become readily identifiable. A high proportion of sexual offending is intra-familial. In many such cases, to target the perpetrator will inevitably result in the exposure of the victim. It is also readily foreseeable that this state-facilitated vigantilism will result in the targeting of innocent people who have been mistaken for sex offenders identified on the website.

“Daniel’s Law” is modelled on its American cousin, “Megan’s Law” (versions of which have proliferated on a State-by-State basis across the USA over the last twenty years). There is now a significant corpus of research into the effectiveness of these laws, and the evidence is in: they do not reduce the incidence of sexual offending, the type of offending, or recidivism.1

This is, no doubt, why Megan’s Law has not been adopted in other similar countries, such as Canada, the UK or of course Australia.

Make no mistake: on this issue, the Northern Territory Attorney-General has defied the collective wisdom of his fellow Attorneys of every political persuasion, in every other Australian jurisdiction. It is trite to observe that in our Federal system, in which freedom of movement across State and Territory borders is constitutionally protected, such a scheme would only be effective if it were supported by a network of national legislation, as is the existing child sex offender reporting and registration scheme.

The NTSOPW will provoke alarm, by ramping up paranoia about and hatred towards sex offenders, who John Elferink wasted no time in comparing to the lepers of old. His proposed leper-colony solution is to make them social pariahs, and to exclude them from civil society.

Putting to one side the odiousness of inciting odium, this approach has another, more insidious effect: it reinforces the stranger-danger stereotype that sex offenders are “out there”, when, as is now so well-recognised, children are at far greater risk from those they know and trust than from some rain-coated monster hiding in the shrubbery.

Ironically, although the NTSOPW will undoubtedly make us more alarmed, it may well also make us less alert.

1 – For example, see: Zgoba, Witt, Dalessandro and Veysey, “Megan’s Law: Assessing the Practical and Monetary Efficacy” (New Jersey Department of Corrections, 2008; abstract at; Fitch, “Megan’s Law: Does it Protect Children?” (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, UK, 2006); “Is notification of sex offenders in local communities effective?” (Australian Institute of Criminology Factsheet No. 56, 2007).

This article was originally published in Balance, the journal of the Law Society of the Northern Territory.

Categories: Community

Der sieg von Evo Morales zeigt, wie sehr sich Bolivien verändert hat

Links International - 2 hours 35 min ago

[English at]

Von Federico Fuentes

Oktober 20, 2014 -- Einartysken -- Die Vorhersagen der Umfragen und Kommentatoren, dass Evo Morales die Präsidentenwahl am 12.Oktober lässig gewinnen wird, bestätigten sich, als er 60 % der Stimmen erhielt.

Die meisten Leute sind jedoch verschiedener Meinung, warum die 'Bewegung Richtung Sozialismus (MAS)' von Morales nach fast 10 Jahren an der Macht immer noch so hohe Unterstützung genießt.

Ihre Erklärungen neigen dazu, sich auf spezifische oder politische Faktoren zu konzentrieren, wie die gestiegenen Rohstoffpreise oder die Fähigkeit der MAS, die sozialen Bewegungen des Landes zu kontrollieren oder zu kooptieren.

Um jedoch zu verstehen, warum Morales bald der am längsten an der Macht stehende Präsident in einem Land ist, das für seine Staatsstreiche und Rebellionen berühmt ist, ist es notwendig, die tiefgreifenden Veränderungen unter seiner Präsidentschaft zur Kenntnis zu nehmen.

Ökonomische Umwandlung

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Categories: Community

Canada: Rulers, media exploit random violence by troubled people to justify 'war on terror'

Links International - Sat, 25/10/2014 - 12:12

Armed police patrol in Ottawa on October 22, 2014, following the attack on Canada's parliament by the troubled Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.

By Roger Annis, Toronto

October 24, 2014 -- A Socialist in Canada, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- Today, the Vancouver Sun has published a description of the troubled man who killled a guard in Ottawa two days ago and then entered Canada’s parliament building carrying his gun. He was shot and killed by police.

The Sun reporters speak to people who knew Michael Zehaf-Bibeau while he lived in Vancouver during recent years and they describe an angry and troubled man grappling with mental illness and drug addiction. He has lived in Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal at various times in the past three years. He died at age 32.

In Vancouver in 2011, he staged a robbery of a McDonald’s restaurant in order to get himself placed in jail for what he considered would be a form of drug treatment. After threatening a McDonald’s employee and demanding cash, he sat outside and waited for police to arrive and arrest him.

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Categories: Community

The will to act: The life and thought of Louis-Auguste Blanqui

Links International - Fri, 24/10/2014 - 13:33

Doug Enaa Greene presented a talk on the life and thought of Louis-Auguste Blanqui to the Center for Marxist Education in February 2014.

By Doug Enaa Greene

Dedicated to my father

October 24, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- “I am accused of having said to thirty million French people, proletarians like me, that they had the right to live”.[1] These words are the opening remarks of then 27-year-old revolutionary, Louis-Auguste Blanqui's defence speech when he was tried for treason by the French state in 1832. Blanqui's words were nothing less than a declaration of war upon the rule of the bourgeoisie on behalf of a mercilessly exploited proletariat.

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Categories: Community

‘Socialism or barbarism’: An important socialist slogan traced to its unexpected source

Links International - Fri, 24/10/2014 - 04:10
Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg.

By Ian Angus

October 21, 2014 --, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- I think I have solved a small puzzle in socialist history. Climate & Capitalism’s tagline, “Ecosocialism or barbarism: There is no third way”, is based on the slogan, “Socialism or Barbarism”, which Rosa Luxemburg raised to such great effect during World War I and the subsequent German revolution, and which has been adopted by many socialists since then.

The puzzle is: where did the concept come from? Luxemburg’s own account doesn’t hold water, and neither do the attempts of left-wing scholars to explain (or explain away) the confusion in her explanation.

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Categories: Community

10 minute trains – there is a rollout plan – but when will it get funded?

Daniel Bowen - Thu, 23/10/2014 - 22:57

High-frequency trains (all day, every day) are critical for any big city, to ensure large numbers of people can get around quickly and easily.

As a PTUA study found some years ago, Melbourne is one of the few big world cities that doesn’t have them. To draw an analogy, it’s as if outside peak hour, we closed the freeways and highways except for one lane in each direction.

To delve into hyperbole for a moment: it’s the tyranny of infrequent services on so-called trunk routes. Those in power are basically saying: if you choose to use public transport, your time is not important. We’d prefer you drove.

But there is a rollout plan for ten minute trains.

Footscray station, Sunday morning

This week the Coalition announced that as part of a package of transport upgrades that include extending the South Morang line to Mernda, the line would also go to every 10 minutes off-peak on weekdays from October 2015.

Notably the service upgrade is costed at only $20 million (it’s unclear for how long, but often these recurrent figures are given in terms of 4 year budget cycles).

This underscores that higher all-day frequencies, which make public transport much more easy to use, don’t have to cost that much money. We have a big train fleet and plenty of track capacity to cope with extra services outside peak hour. The costs are largely in drivers and power, though it also adds to pressure on maintenance facility capacity, which is why this is being slowly expanded.

PTV, which established by the Coalition government to manage and plan the network, actually has a plan to gradually roll out ten minute services across most of the rail network — it’s part of their “Network Development Plan – Metropolitan Rail” (which I blogged about here). The process started with the longer (thus busier) lines a few years ago, and while it’s not ideal that progress is driven by politicians rather than transport planners, I suppose that’s the reality — so in a way it’s good that the importance of high frequency all-day services is recognised at the political level.

I’ve summarised the rollout (past, and proposed) of ten minute services (and new lines) below.


  • The first toe dipped in the water of ten minute services was a short-lived experiment on the Werribee line. It wasn’t a good choice — the single track Altona Loop meant it was impossible to provide even frequencies on the line, so it never actually provided a ten minute service. It was abandoned in 2011. There were similar problems initially on the Frankston line, with half the trains running via the City Loop, and half direct — leading to very uneven frequencies at Flinders Street.
  • The 2016 proposal was originally tied to the opening of Regional Rail Link, but RRL will now open around April 2015. It’s unclear if it will be accompanied by any additional 10 minute services on Metro lines.
  • As noted above South Morang (weekdays) is now said to be happening in October 2015 if the Coalition is returned to government. It’s not clear what will happen if Labor is voted in.
  • One oddity from the plan: It appears the Sunbury line (between the city and Sydenham) would go to ten minutes, but then back to twenty minutes when the Airport line opens. This seems a bit strange, and perhaps someone messed up the plan — or perhaps it’s because eventually the Melton line would be electrified and combined with Sunbury trains provide a 10 minute service between Sunshine and the City.
  • By the time it’s complete, most of the network would be running every ten minutes, so you’d be able to get around much of Melbourne quickly and easily, and without having to look at a timetable to avoid long waits, including when making connections off other services.

Unfortunately PTV has almost totally failed to promote the existing ten minute services (despite them and the government promoting many far less useful improvements to trains), but anecdotally at least patronage does seem to be increasing — it’s not unusual on Saturday mornings to see a few standees on Frankston line trains inbound, which in the past few years have doubled in frequency and length, thus quadrupling capacity.

The question is… when will the politicians grasp how beneficial high frequency trains are, and fund the PTV rollout plan — not just a line at a time, but for the whole network?

Categories: Community

Sea Shepherd Bay Islands Turtle Defense Campaign Saves 4,000 Hawksbill Sea Turtle Eggs

Sea Shepherd - Thu, 23/10/2014 - 21:12
Sea Shepherd Bay Islands Turtle Defense Campaign Saves 4,000 Hawksbill Sea Turtle Eggs

To protect the turtles from poachers, Sea Shepherd volunteers patrolled the nesting area on the northern side of the island nightlyTo protect the turtles from poachers, Sea Shepherd
volunteers patrolled the nesting area on
the northern side of the island nightly
Photo: Sea ShepherdOn June 16, 2014, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Bay Islands and Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA) launched a joint conservation project to protect the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles on the Caribbean island of Utila, north of Honduras. Hawksbill sea turtles arrive on this small, fairly obscure island to nest on a yearly basis.

It is estimated that there are only 8,000 female hawksbill sea turtles remaining in the world. Therefore, there is an urgent need for extreme care and monitoring of this fragile population. Sea Shepherd Bay Islands is in the unique position of being responsible for protecting a percentage of the world’s breeding hawksbill females, documenting at least 14 tagged and four untagged breeding females that nest on private property in Utila.

While BICA, the local municipality represented by Mayor Troy Bodden, and the Honduran government, all have the best interests of the hawksbills at heart, they can only do so much to protect them due to a massive lack of funding at every level. It is not an overstatement to say that Sea Shepherd Bay Islands is on the frontlines in the fight for the hawksbills’ survival on Utila.

Until this recent campaign, these sea turtles would arrive onshore to poachers awaiting the opportunity to steal their eggs to be falsely sold as aphrodisiacs, and then killing the turtles for their meat and shells. However, with a regular volunteer presence during the nesting season lasting three months, not a single nest or turtle was captured or killed by poachers at this beach.

Given that the hawksbill turtle can nest two to three times per season, laying up to 200 eggs per nest, Sea Shepherd Bay Islands has protected approximately 4,000 hawksbill eggs, resulting in a documented count of 3,600 hatchlings getting a chance at life at sea without the threat of being poached. Unfortunately, the odds for survival certainly aren’t in favor of these hatchlings. The sobering fact is that only one out of 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings will reach breeding maturity, for a chance to contribute to propagating their species.

Hawksbill sea turtles lay up to 200 eggs per nestHawksbill sea turtles lay up to
200 eggs per nest
Photo: Sea Shepherd

Only one out of 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings will reach breeding maturityOnly one out of 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings
will reach breeding maturity
Photo: Sea Shepherd

Sea turtles often fall victim as bycatch in commercial fishing or to net or hook entanglement, along with the threats of poaching, and the illegal trade of their valuable eggs, meat and shells. Sadly, turtle meat and eggs are still part of the traditional Caribbean menu, despite being declared illegal by the Honduran government. Unfortunately, making it illegal to poach turtles, inadvertently creates a black market demand for them at the same time. Hawksbills in particular, are at even greater risk due to their comparatively thinner shell, which makes them easy prey for predators, and also highly sought after for use in jewelry throughout the Caribbean.

Unlike neighboring islands that have fallen to rampant and indiscriminate commercial development, most of Utila’s nesting areas are still virtually untouched. Due to the fact that the nesting females will unerringly and inevitably return to their natal beaches every two to three years, it is of utmost importance to keep these habitats protected for the species to have a chance at survival.

To protect the turtles from poachers, Sea Shepherd volunteers patrolled the nesting area on the northern side of the island nightly, searching for signs of any turtle activity and hiding tracks and nests along the way. Initially, poachers waited until the premises were clear to get to the nests. Unfortunately for them, the volunteers remained on site throughout the night until sunrise when all turtle activity stops, and they removed all markings leading to the location of the nests. Poacher presence in the area started decreasing after just the first month of our turtle defense campaign.

Poachers don’t want to risk the chance of being arrested. Volunteers would stay in contact with Utila’s municipal police, the Honduran National Police and the nearby Honduras Navy base in the event there were any incidents on patrol.

While nightly beach patrols in search of new nesting turtles officially ended in mid-September, volunteers continued to protect the existing nests throughout the remainder of the month, until all eggs hatched and the hatchlings made it to the water untouched.

During the turtle defense campaign, Sea Shepherd Bay Islands recruited and mobilized more than 150 volunteers to protect the hawksbill turtle. The safety of these endangered hawksbills and their offspring would not have been possible without the funding and organizational assistance from Sea Shepherd USA.

Approximately 4,000 hawksbill eggs were protected, resulting in a documented count of 3,600 hatchlings getting a chance at life at sea without the threat of being poachedApproximately 4,000 hawksbill eggs were protected thanks to volunteers patrolling the beach. This resulted in a documented count of 3,600 hatchlings getting a chance at life at sea without the threat of being poached
Photo: Sea Shepherd

Categories: Community

Bolivia: Evo Morales re-elected, important challenges lie ahead

Links International - Thu, 23/10/2014 - 13:18

Evo Morales addresses supporters in La Paz on election night. In foreground is David Choquehuenca, Bolivia’s foreign minister.

By Richard Fidler

October 19, 2014 -- Life on the Left, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- As expected, Evo Morales and his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) government won a resounding victory in Bolivia’s national presidential and parliamentary election October 12.

Although official results will not be available until November (more on that below), the MAS was re-elected with just over 61% of the popular vote, three percentage points less than in 2009 and short of the 74% support the MAS had proclaimed as its goal. However, the MAS vote was more evenly spread throughout the country; it won a plurality in eight of Bolivia’s nine departments, including three of the four that make up the so-called “half-moon” in the country’s east and north, which in 2008 were in open revolt against the indigenous-led government.

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Categories: Community

Emerging Kurdistan: socialist or capitalist?

Links International - Thu, 23/10/2014 - 04:19

"The latest developments in the Middle East have had Western specialists-strategists-analysts playing with their pencils, rulers and compasses, doodling all over their maps of the Middle East."

By Giran Ozcan

October 2014 -- Kurdish Question, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The last decade has seen many maps published by "think tanks" and/or "intelligence organisations" in which the Middle East gives birth to "new nations/states". The latest developments in the Middle East have had Western specialists-strategists-analysts playing with their pencils, rulers and compasses, doodling all over their maps of the Middle East; once again hoping to carve up the region to best fit the interests of their imperial masters.

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Categories: Community

Evo Morales’ victory demonstrates how much Bolivia has changed

Links International - Thu, 23/10/2014 - 03:26

By Federico Fuentes

October 20, 2014 -- TeleSUR English, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission -- The failure of opposition forces and critics to recognise or accept that a political revolution that has taken place explains why they are so far out of touch with the majority of Bolivian society.

Predictions by pollsters and commentators that Evo Morales would easily win Bolivia’s October 12 presidential elections were confirmed when the incumbent obtained over 60% of the vote.

Most however differ over why, after almost a decade in power, Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) continues to command such a huge level of support.

Their explanations tend to focus on specific economic or political factors, such as booming raw material prices or the MAS’ ability to control and co-opt the country’s social movements.

However, to understand why Morales will soon become the longest-serving head of state in a country renowned for its history of coups and rebellions, it is necessary to start with an acknowledgement of the profound changes that Bolivia is undergoing under his presidency.

Economic transformation

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Categories: Community

The Frankston line X’trapolis – are you impressed?

Daniel Bowen - Wed, 22/10/2014 - 10:49

You’d think from the tweets from Coalition MPs this morning that the arrival of the first X’trapolis train in service on the Frankston line was a miraculous huge leap forward for train travellers — a rocket-powered, laser-guided teleportation device that can get you to your destination in seconds.

Great to travel in the new X'Trapolis train on the Frankston line today!

— Lorraine Wreford (@lorrainewreford) October 21, 2014

Brilliant feedback from commuters who also caught 1st X'Tapolis train from Flinders St to Frankston @TerryMulderMP #BetterVic #springst

— Elizabeth Miller MP (@EMillerMP) October 21, 2014

Loved the X-Trapolis train- faster, smoother and quieter. Chatted to commuters enjoying the ride and @TerryMulderMP

— Donna Bauer (@DonnaBauerMP) October 21, 2014

It’s a bit like the Danger Mouse theme tune: “He’s the ace / He’s amazing / He’s the strongest, he’s the quickest, he’s the best!”

The government press release is equally enthusiastic:

X’Trapolis trains are the newest, biggest and fastest trains on Melbourne’s network. Running this train on the Frankston line will reduce crowding and get more people out of their cars and onto public transport.

X’Trapolis train debuts on Frankston line today

The truth is a little more nuanced.

X'trapolis train, South Morang line near Merri

Are these trains better?

So the claim is that these trains are bigger, faster, quieter and smoother.

Bigger? I’m not sure of the logic behind that. The trains are a similar length, and with a similar number of seats to other models, and a similar total capacity.

Faster? Perhaps — both the X’Trapolis and Siemens trains have theoretical speed limits of 130 kmh, but the Siemens is currently limited to 115, which is the same as the Comeng top speed. They have good acceleration, similar to the Siemens trains (1.2 m/s/s), and when I asked Metro’s CEO Andrew Lezala about it when the Bayside Rail Project was first announced, he said the overall speed was similar to the Siemens trains, presumably meaning if the entire line group went to X’trapolis and Siemens trains, they could theoretically speed up the timetable. And that, I suspect, is where the real, tangible benefit will be.

Quieter? I’m not sure there’s that much in it.

Smoother? Arguably not. Many people have complained about the ride quality of the X’trapolis trains, though some of this is due to track conditions, especially on the outer semi-rural ends of the Hurstbridge, Lilydale and Belgrave lines. Some train drivers have complained of getting back problems.

The newest X’trapolis trains do have very clear destination signs, and many more handles inside to hold onto if you can’t get a seat.

They also have slightly fewer seats, making an arguably more efficient layout, allowing people to move in and out and around the carriage more easily. And they have big bold interior displays, though these are obscured by the handles!

Bayside rail project - original timeline

Was their rollout rushed?

Clearly yes. The original estimate was that these trains wouldn’t start on the line until around October 2015. But of course, that’s well after the election, so they’ve brought it forward by an entire year.

As noted by Channel 7 on Monday, and The Age on Tuesday, there is just one X’Trapolis train deployed onto the Frankston line. It has been specifically speed-limited so as not to accelerate towards still-closing boom gates too fast, and has two drivers in the cab as a precaution.

The train seems to run just two round trips each morning, both timed to avoid the height of peak hour (so making poor use of the claimed additional capacity) before heading to sidings at Burnley for the rest of the day.

So will people be impressed?

It’s a publicity stunt, nothing more.

Yet I know some people suffer from train envy — I remember a friend from the then Epping line saying he wished they got the Siemens trains. Perhaps he wouldn’t have wished that had he seen the often filthy state of the seats.

But ask someone who regularly catches these trains if they’re anything special, and I doubt they’ll go over-the-top in praising them — they’ve had this model for years now.

In any case, it seems not everyone was impressed:

Terry Mulder says someone tried to sabotage the first X'Trapolis service to Frankston- by vandalising driver's cabin @9NewsMelb #springst

— Andrew Lund (@andrew_lund) October 21, 2014

I suppose it’s good the politicians (who hold the purse strings) are so interested in public transport. But it’s important that the money isn’t all put into show ponies like “new” trains which aren’t really new, but into ensuring the whole system is frequent, reliable, fast, clean, and safe.

Categories: Community

The Gurindji people farewell that “jangkarni marlaka”

The Northern Myth - Wed, 22/10/2014 - 09:38

This is a media release from the Karungkarni Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation at Kalkarindji.

The Gurindji people gathered yesterday to express their sorrow at the passing of that “jangkarni marlaka” (big important man), Gough Whitlam. Men, women and children sat together through the day sharing stories in his honour. At sunset the women and young girls performed a farewell wajarra ceremony at Handover Park in Daguragu.

In 1975 this was the site where Gough symbolically poured soil into the hands of Gurindji leader, Vincent Lingiari – an iconic moment in Australian land rights history, famously captured by photographer Merv Bishop.

Elder, Michael George, commented, “As a mark of respect, Gurindji people will now refer to this man as “kulum Whitlam”. “This great man helped us get better wages, health, education and housing, and most importantly, gave us our land back. Our people pay their respects to the family of kulum Whitlam.”

In 1966, Vincent Lingiari initiated a workers’ strike to protest against the poor conditions on Wave Hill Cattle Station and a claim for their traditional lands. The Gurindji campaign went on for nine years until Prime Minister Whitlam’s visit where he ceremonially proclaimed,

“Finally, to give back to you formally in Aboriginal and Australian law ownership of this land of your fathers. Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof, in Australian law, that these lands belong to the Gurindji people and I put into your hands this piece of the earth itself as a sign that we restore them to you and your children forever.” Gough Whitlam, August 16th 1975

This event was a defining moment, which led to the passing of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, generating momentum for the broader Aboriginal land rights movement.

Topsy Dodd says farewell to that "jangkarni marlaka"

Cultural knowledge custodian, Theresa Yibwoin recalls, “I remember big mob dancing … big mob men, big mob women… big mob culture ceremony. I was young woman, dancing to welcome that big boss for country. Last night I danced farewell dance.”

The Karungkarni Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation can be contacted by the following:

CMB Kalkarindji Community

Lot 77 Buntine Highway Kalkaringi NT 0852


M: 0427 177 779

Categories: Community

Neoliberalism and big data: public and private goods

Club Troppo - Wed, 22/10/2014 - 04:35

In the words of Ronald Regan, here we go again.*

Sandy Pentland rehearses something that’s made it’s way from heresy to platitudinal commonplace with breakneck speed. Asked “what, specifically, is the New Deal on Data?” Sandy tells us this:

It’s a rebalancing of the ownership of data in favor of the individual whose data is collected. People would have the same rights they now have over their physical bodies and their money.

Jaron Lanier has written a book on devolving power to individuals in their own data.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have the Wrong Metaphor. Just as it was a pity that we ever called intellectual property intellectual property (we want strong property rights don’t we? Pretty much the stronger the better) so now by making data something that is owned, our metaphor gives short shrift to the free rider opportunity.

Once more with feeling, here are the words of Thomas Jefferson, well known freedom fighter and slave-owner.

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.

Now it’s one thing to say that, in so far as we arrogate a right of control to anyone, it should be to the individual that the data is about. This is arbitrary in some ways.  It took two to tango and the data is about some attribute or assumed attribute of the industrial, but it was also the product of someone else capturing and organising that data. But since we want a society in which individuals are empowered, that all seems good.

But there’s a problem. We’ve errected this idea of someone owning their own data out of anxiety about the way it was being misused, for instance in ways that compromised individuals privacy. So we’ve done something about that – as well we might.

But along the way that metaphor got in the way. Here we have data – which in the age of the internet is always and everywhere a global public good. And here we have identifiable mischiefs that can befall an industrial. But instead of focusing the remedy around constraining the mischief in the most efficient way – with regimes that make it difficult and punishable to misuse data and create those mischiefs, we’ve gone with The Metaphor. Your data is yours. And we’ve gone with something that we built modern commercial law from and which lawyers love. Consent. We’re devolving the decisions to those at the coalface – a good instinct – and, hey, it’s your data so you had better consent to all the uses it will be put to.

But this is already going too far. Why? Because you can’t possibly consent to all the possible worthwhile uses to which your data could be put. Furthermore this all smacks of the fiction of infinite computing power which has been so useful, for instance in macro-economics in building views of the world which are unparadoxically, counterintuitive and at the same time wrong. If data is owned, then the cascade of permissions follows from the logic of property.**

One of the most important things I know about political discourse I got from a few lines in Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. The ‘engine’ behind democracy – what makes us engage – is not reason (which tells us that there’s no point in engaging because of the infinitesimal chance we have of affecting the outcome) but affect – our emotional and expressive selves. And this governs what gets covered by the media – what takes off as a meme and what doesn’t. And it turns out the metaphors of property are pretty memeworthy, while the metaphors of a public good commons are strangely not.

Anyway, for the record, reason tells us that when it comes to data we’re staring at a massive and exponentially*** growing free rider opportunity. That that opportunity ramifies into the future into a multiverse of possibilities. We want to put people in control of their data to the extent that we want them to make decisions about whether they wish to compromise their rights – for instance to privacy – for whatever reason they may wish to. Moreover this is the only way we can build a healthy eco-system in personal data in a democratic world. (And doing so would be a major economic and social boon!)

But we don’t want them to individually or even in principle consent to every possible use of their data. Rather – and people might differ on how far to go – we want to identify a universe of possible objections that people might have to allowing others to use their data and empower them to prevent such objectionable uses. Beyond that, in the words of that well known Socialist Muslim Barack Hussein Obama “they didn’t build that”. We all built it. Or to put it more clearly, we are all the beneficiaries of the information world we have built which makes it possible for there to be data on us. And if our data can help benefit future generations by being free subject to being vouchsafed against reasonable mischiefs, then it’s the least we can do to set it free.       

* Yes, I know he said 'There you go again, but I'm after cheap mellifluence here - cut me some slack. ** As an aside I note that it may follow from the logic of property, but not from the fact of property which has always practically made room for the idea of multiple use without consent. Thus easements, adverse possession, residual rights, riparian rights, mining rights, airspace rights and on it goes. *** Yes folks, I mean exponentially - not "really so amaaaazzzingly faaast you won't belieeeeve it".
Categories: Community

“That old maluka” – the Gurindji say farewell to Gough

The Northern Myth - Tue, 21/10/2014 - 09:11

This is the speech given by Warren Snowdon, Member for Lingiari in the Northern Territory on the passing of the Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam AC QC



It is indeed a great honour and privilege to be at the despatch box today to contribute to this fine discussion. I commend all who have spoken for their eloquence and their reverence for the occasion but most importantly for recognising the greatness of Gough Whitlam.

I have no doubt—and all the speeches thus far have recognised this—that his efforts made unprecedented transformational change to our national government and to the Australian society. He changed forever the architecture of Australian public policy. In my view, we would not be the proud and confident nation that we are today without his genius.

I was a student at the Australian National University in the early 1970s. As a part-time job I used to drive cabs. Quite often I would be driving past Parliament House in the evening and I would note that the red and green lights would be on above the parliament—though those younger members would not know about this—and I would just stop by and go and sit in the Speaker’s Gallery and watch the debate.

Other days I would turn up at question time and watch the performance of this great man.

Later, in 1973, I was engaged as a research assistant on a book about the Whitlam government—Out of the wilderness, by Clem Lloyd and Gordon Reid. Through the research job that I had, I got to see firsthand the dynamism of the legislative agenda of the Whitlam government.

So I stand here as someone who was of a generation—and there are not many left in this place, with great respect to the member for Berowra—who can, I think, appreciate what that parliament was really like. To all of those who might be listening, to all of those who have the opportunity to look at what happened then and what happens now, I say that there is a difference.

I want to refer to Gough’s early days in Gove. Indeed, the Leader of the National Party referred to it, as did my friend the member for Jagajaga. Gough was stationed at Gove airstrip with No. 13 squadron in 1944 for a number of months and he met and established deep friendships with the Marika and Yunupingu families—and I will come to that a little later.

As the member for Jagajaga said, this was the site of one of Gough’s first political campaigns in support of Labor Prime Minister John Curtin’s 1944 referendum on postwar reconstruction and democratic rights. Sadly, it went down and Gough fondly remembered this time, saying: “Our squadron and other members of the Forces voted in favour but the civilians let us down.”

One of the powers proposed to be transferred to the Commonwealth in that referendum had been the power to make laws for the Aboriginal race in areas of greatest need—health, social services, land tenure and adherence to international conventions. In the late 1950s much of Gough Whitlam’s vision was a result of his work on the Constitutional Review Committee in the 1950s and its recommendations.

On this committee Gough travelled the country seeing firsthand the areas of need and inconsistency of service delivery and the place of the Commonwealth to make provision for services and opportunities for all Australians. For instance, it was the Constitutional Review Committee that recommended the repeal of section 127 of the Constitution, the exclusion of Aboriginal Australians from the census. It was not until 1967 that that happened—a decade later.

In 1967, soon after becoming leader of the Labor Party, Gough returned to Gove to investigate all aspects of northern development and resource development. He said at the time: ‘I went to see firsthand the water, mineral, agricultural, pastoral and fishing resources and the surface communications.’ He made visits right across the Northern Territory.

In 1972 the Whitlam government established the first Department of the Capital Territory and the Northern Territory—later to become the first ever Australian Department of Northern Development and the first Australian Department on Northern Australia. Gough, as we have heard previously, was also a driver for Senate representation for the ACT and the Northern Territory.

It is worth noting that the Senate (Representation of Territories) Act 1974 was opposed by conservative governments in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia on the ground that Territorians could not have senators voting in a states house.

But the policy area where I think Gough Whitlam affected some of his most transformational change was in the area of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights.

In his 1972 campaign speech, he said: “The inequality suffered by indigenous people should cause Australians an unrelenting and deep determined anger. He said: “We will legislate to give aborigines land rights—not just because their case is beyond argument, but because all of us as Australians are diminished while the aborigines are denied their rightful place in this nation.”

In 1973 he established the Woodward royal commission—the forerunner to the drafting of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, which was subsequently passed by the Fraser government in 1976—and then, in August 1975, Gough Whitlam, as we have seen, handed Vincent Lingiari, the charismatic leader of the Gurindji, title to 800 square miles of their traditional lands.

During that handover, Gough said: “I want to promise you that this act of restitution which we perform today will not stand alone—your fight was not for yourselves alone—and we are determined that Aboriginal Australians everywhere will be helped by it.”

And then he said: “Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof, in Australian law, that these lands belong to the Gurindji people and I put into your hands part of the earth itself as a sign that this land will be the possession of you and your children forever.”

Of course, old Vincent’s response was very simple: “We be mates now.”

The impact of this on Australian political life and what it has meant for Australian political history is understood. All Australians, I think, as a result of the genius of Gough Whitlam and his team, now understand the importance of establishing, forevermore, the place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in our lives, of giving restitution and of understanding not the black-armband view of history but the reality of what was so wrong in our past.

I have today received a message from the Gurindji and it says: ‘Very sad we lost that old man, but good because now people all over Australia will be reminded of his great legacy and the great thing he did with our leader, Mr Lingiari. That old maluka’—old man—’understood our important role in land rights. We will meet today to plan how we will mourn him.’

Of course, this is not the only thing he did in this space. As the member for Jagajaga said, he established the Aboriginal Land Fund and the Aboriginal Loans Commission. He passed legislation that abolished discriminatory treatment of Aborigines and overrode the discriminatory laws of the Bjelke-Peterson government.

He passed the Racial Discrimination Act to ensure that Aboriginal people could not be discriminated against with regard to employment, pay or working conditions and to establish equal treatment before the law, access to housing and accommodation, and access to goods and services.

He amended the Migration Act. That should not be a surprise, but what did this do? Part of his amendment was to abolish the provision that existed when his government came to power that required Aboriginal people to apply for special permission to leave the country. He funded Aboriginal legal aid services for people and established the Aboriginal Legal Service.

When he passed the Racial Discrimination Act, at its proclamation he said the following: “The main sufferers in Australian society, the main victims of social deprivation and restricted opportunity, have been the oldest Australians on the one hand and the newest Australians on the other. We stand in their debt. By this Act we shall be doing our best to redress past injustice and build a more just and tolerant future.

But he did not stop there.

Importantly, he reformed the Australia Council, broadening ordinary Australians’ access to arts funding which would have been largely the exclusive right of the wealthy and elite art groups. As part of this, he founded the Aboriginal Arts Board under its first chair, Wandjuk Marika from Yirrkala.

This, in turn, enabled the flourishing of one of the great international arts movements in the last century, the Aboriginal artists of the Central Desert and Top End, and produced internationally recognised masters such as Clifford Possum and others. His great reform for local government meant that territory local governments received Commonwealth funding for the first time. He established the first Department of Aboriginal Affairs. He made such great change, for which we will be forever indebted.

Of course, he did so much more, and you have heard about it all this morning. He did some other very significant things for northern Australia. It was he who at Christmas in 1974 responded to Cyclone Tracy. It was he who appointed Major General Stretton with broad powers to safeguard and evacuate the people of Darwin. He put off a trip to Greece to make sure he could attend to these functions.

He established the Darwin Reconstruction Commission under Clem Jones, the former ‘can-do’ Lord Mayor of Brisbane, to begin the reconstruction of Darwin, creating the modern city of Darwin today. Whitlam pledged a determined and unremitting effort to rebuild the city and relieve suffering, and he carried that out.

Others have spoken about other aspects of his life, but, as the member for Lingiari and, previously, the member for the Northern Territory, I feel it is incumbent upon me to talk about his contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. What he did was put down a marker. What he did was change the way we relate to one another. What he did was forever change that relationship. It will not matter whatever others do or what others might want to do even in current times—the fact is those changes will last forever.

We can be proud of being members of this parliament, and we have spoken today about the nature of this place. We ought to be proud as parliamentarians of the work which has been done across the divide. The Aboriginal Land Rights Act was one such piece of work and we should be proud of the contribution that we have made and can continue to make by working collaboratively, in a bipartisan way, to support those interests into the future.

I extend my sympathies to Catherine, Nicholas, Tony and Stephen on behalf of myself, my family and the community of the Northern Territory.

In 2001, Gough came to Alice Springs to visit Yuendumu, which is 300 kays up the road—a dirt road and not a very pleasant trip. He was there to open an aged-care facility. I well remember that day with him and Margaret—Margaret with the stick, as the member for Sydney said, reminding Gough that it was time, and Gough knew.

But he was so generous—ever so generous—to those people he worked with. It has been a great honour and privilege for me to be able to participate in this discussion.

Photo: Gough Whitlam with body-painted Aboriginal man at Wattle Creek, 1975. National Archives of Australia: A6135, K30/9/77/4

Categories: Community

Naomi Klein: ‘Only mass social movements can save us’ from climate catastrophe

Links International - Tue, 21/10/2014 - 04:09
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

By Naomi Klein
Alfred A. Knopf, 2014

Review by John Riddell

October 20, 2014 -- Climate and Capitalism, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- Despite endless conferences, treaties and solemn promises, greenhouse gas emissions have risen 61% since 1990, and the rate of increase is accelerating. As Naomi Klein tells us in her new book, This Changes Everything, we are now experiencing an “early twenty-first century emissions explosion”.

The reason for this ominous failure, she shows, is that the present capitalist profit system itself is incompatible with climate and environmental stability. Our only hope is the rise of mass movements with the combined goals of saving the environment and achieving social justice.

This Changes Everything is a rich resource of fact and argument: it’s a book that every climate justice activist should read, use and share.

‘The Right is right’

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Categories: Community

Old photos from October 2004

Daniel Bowen - Mon, 20/10/2014 - 22:31

I don’t seem to have many photos from October 2004 for my post of photos from ten years ago… it must have been a dry month.

A slightly out-of-focus photo of the street sign in ACDC Lane, snapped a couple of weeks after it was renamed on October 1st 2004. It’s in the news this week because Cherry Bar, located in the lane, has started receiving noise complaints from people who have just moved into new apartments nearby… who apparently don’t really want the city ambience they probably paid top dollar for. Unfortunately the clever new “Agent of Change” laws which would require developers to pay for music venue soundproofing only apply to developments approved after the laws came into effect.
ACDC Lane, October 2004

Elizabeth Street. Note no tram superstops, old tram colours, and that disused Argus building on the corner of Latrobe Street, still disused.
Elizabeth Street, October 2004

Categories: Community

Habituation – to mediocrity

Club Troppo - Mon, 20/10/2014 - 16:09

A Tale of Repetition: Lessons from Florida Restaurant Inspections
by Ginger Zhe Jin, Jungmin Lee – #20596 (IO)


We examine the role of repetition in government regulation. Using
Florida restaurant inspection data from 2003 to 2010, we find that
inspectors new to the inspected restaurant report 12.7-17.5% more
violations than the second visit of a repeat inspector. This effect
is even more pronounced if the previous inspector had inspected the
restaurant more times. The difference between new and repeat
inspectors is driven partly by inspector heterogeneity in inherent
taste and stringency, and partly by new inspectors having fresher
eyes in the first visit of a restaurant.

Categories: Community

What kind of Kurdistan for women? (+ video)

Links International - Mon, 20/10/2014 - 04:41
What kind of Kurdistan for Women?

By Dilar Dirik

October 20, 2014 -- Kurdish Question, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- "Azadî", freedom. A notion that has captured the collective imagination of the Kurdish people for a long time. "Free Kurdistan", the seemingly unattainable ideal, has many shapes, depending on where one situates oneself in the broad spectrum of Kurdish politics. The increasing independence of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in South Kurdistan (Bashur) from the central Iraqi government, as well as the immense gains of the Kurdish people in West Kurdistan (Rojava) in spite of the Syrian civil war over the last year, have revived the dream of a free life as Kurds in Kurdistan.

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Categories: Community

A charter city for refugees?

Club Troppo - Mon, 20/10/2014 - 04:02

hkHere is quite a good article seeking to “reframe” the asylum seeker debate. It takes a reasonably moderate, non-hysterical approach.

I haven’t written on the subject recently myself, because I have been feeling a little conflicted. On the one hand, long-time Troppo readers will be aware I have always been of the view that reasonably firm border protection and asylum seeker processing policies are justified in Australia in order to maintain public confidence in our very successful migration program and avoid or minimise social tensions and divisions that would inevitably emerge if the pace of arrivals was greater than the nation could comfortably absorb (assimilate is a forbidden expression). From this perspective the Abbott government has been very successful: it really has stopped the boats (at least for the present).

On the other hand, any policy prescriptions for asylum seekers must meet at least two basic human rights requirements:

  1. Whether in immigration detention or not, asylum seekers must be housed in safe, clean and reasonably comfortable accommodation, with ready access to appropriate health, education and basic community facilities;
  2. Asylum seekers in Australian care/custody must never be returned to the country from which they fled allegedly fearing Convention-based persecution (“refouled”) without a rigorous assessment of the genuineness of their claims to refugee status.  Nor must they be “turned back” to a third country from which there is a real risk they will be refouled. To do otherwise is to risk replicating the appalling saga of the St Louis during World War II.

These are the basic and most central aspects of the Refugee Convention to which Australia is a signatory. Except for a short period in the wake of the Tampa affair, when the Howard government flirted with “turning back the boats”, all previous governments have honoured these basic Convention obligations.

However, the Abbott government is flouting both principles, seemingly with the tacit approval or at least complete disinterest of the Australian community and much of the media.

Just about all reports of conditions in the Manus Island detention centre suggest that they are truly appalling.  Perhaps things may improve with the replacement of centre manager G4S with Transfield Services, but there is room for skepticism.

As for basic principle 2, Abbott and Morrison’s policy of “turning back the boats” with little or no prior assessment of asylum seekers’ claims is a clear and fundamental breach of Australia’s non-refoulement obligations under the Refugee Convention.  The policy is particularly repugnant where asylum seekers are returned by Australian authorities to the very country from which they fled fearing persecution, as was the case when our navy recently returned a boatload of Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka under a cloak of “on water operations” secrecy.  Morrison and former Labor Foreign Minister Bob Carr may airily dismiss them as mere “economic refugees”, but reputable bodies including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have a very different assessment of the ongoing risks faced by Tamils in Sri Lanka. Whenever Tamils have been able to access credible assessment processes, at least 50-60% of them have been classified as genuine refugees (having a genuine and well-founded fear of persecution for a Convention reason).

Even worse, the “turnback” policy is now being bolstered by legislative amendements, backed through the Senate by PUP, which expressly permit the Minister to turn boats back to wherever he chooses without considering the risk of refoulement:

The bill amends the Maritime Powers Act to expand already broad powers to intercept vessels and detain people at sea. It seeks to exclude challenge to government actions that are in breach of international law, taking aim at pending High Court action on behalf of the 157 asylum seekers detained recently on board the Ocean Protector. …

The power to remove non-citizens would be expanded by a provision that states: “It is irrelevant whether Australia has non-refoulement obligations” in respect of a person; and removal can occur “irrespective of whether there has been an assessment, according to law” of whether protection obligations are engaged.

However, I suspect that the biggest problem with the Abbott government’s current asylum seeker processing regime is a purely practical one: it may not be sustainable because no other country in our region or elsewhere will accept for resettlement any significant number of refugees who sought asylum in Australia (one of the world’s wealthiest nations).  For precisely that reason, the Howard government’s Pacific Solution would inevitably have failed anyway had Kevin Rudd not pre-emptively abolished it in 2008 and made himself the scapegoat for the subsequent resumption of large-scale boat arrivals.  No-one would take the refugees “warehoused” by the Howard government on Nauru and (for a time) Manus Island, and Howard was forced quietly to grant a lot of them protection visas and allow them into Australia. News of this would certainly in due course have reached the people smugglers and their desperate customers, and the boat traffic would have resumed even in the absence of Rudd’s (retrospectively) unwise actions.

Something similar may already be in its early stages for the Abbott government.  Despite reported payments by Australia in the vicinity of $400 million to a notoriously corrupt PNG government (most of it probably in Swiss bank accounts and Gold Coast apartments by now), the O’Neill government has still taken no visible steps to implement a refugee resettlement regime.  Not a single refugee has been resettled in PNG and only one family in Nauru.  There are more than 2500 asylum seekers currently in offshore detention in Manus Island and Nauru, of whom it is fair to estimate that more than half will be assessed (or have already been) as refugees.  There are also almost 30,000 asylum seekers awaiting refugee determinations onshore in Australia, most still in immigration detention.  Will many of them end up being successfully resettled in Cambodia, a country if anything even poorer and more corrupt than Papua New Guinea? Somehow I doubt it. More likely a few will be cajoled into consenting to resettlement but will have dreadful experiences in Cambodia that will result in no-one else consenting to resettlement. It is very likely that Abbott and Morrison will eventually be forced to emulate John Howard and quietly give them protection visas, although probably not until the 2016 election is conveniently out of the way.

The problem with that scenario is that the people smugglers’ “business model” would immediately resume, with thousands flooding across from Indonesia to Christmas Island and more than a few of them being drowned along the way.

A charter city?

Is there a viable and humane alternative? I must say I’m quite attracted by the idea of establishing a refugee “charter city” (cf Hong Kong) somewhere on Australia’s northern coastline.  It was an idea first canvassed by economist Paul Romer as a way for poor third world countries to “fast-track” their way to first world wealth.  As such it has attracted quote a lot of probably justified criticism. However, maybe the idea has rather more merit as a way that a wealthy country like Australia might manage its seemingly insoluble border protection problems by providing real opportunities and “durable asylum” for refugees while avoiding creation of community tensions and divisions or undermining public confidence in the migration system.  Young Australian economist Robert Wiblin suggested in 2009, shortly after the emergence of the explosion in boat arrivals following Rudd’s abandonment of the Pacific Solution, that Romer’s ideas might be adapted to Australia’s asylum seeker situation:

The main insight here is that some of what makes high income countries so rich can be franchised. Rich countries are rich largely because they have large quantities of natural, physical and human capital, access to technology and the expertise to use it, as well as governmental, legal and cultural institutions which facilitate wealth production. Refugees moving to Australia from dysfunctional states would suddenly have access to far more of all of these things, but Australians presumably fear they might also reduce the natural, cultural and physical capital available for those, including themselves, who are already here. If Australians aren’t so enthusiastic about sharing their good luck with refugees, a Charter City administered by Australia could at least allow them access to the governmental and legal institutions which have served Australia so well. By credibly providing those rules in this new city Australia would make it a desirable place for investment, thereby also increasing the residents’ access to physical capital and technological expertise. While migrants to the charter city wouldn’t have access to the cultural and human capital that a new resident of Sydney would have, the close proximity to Australian culture and citizens would be sure to provide at some benefits in these areas as well. Romer is even confident that these cities would be able to pay for themselves and eventually turn a profit for the host country through tax revenue, which would essentially be selling their legal institutions to willing buyers.

The primary difficulty of building a city of refugees from scratch would be putting together the social capital and norms necessary for disparate social groups to obey the law and work together effectively and by so doing attract the investment necessary to build such a city. As Arnold Kling has pointed out:

Paul Romer, in presenting his idea for charter cities, makes it sound as though we can take rules “manufactured” in, say, Canada, and export them anywhere in the world. Leoni would say that instead most law is embedded in social customs In fact, my daughter who just spent the summer in Tanzania, says that the custom of seeing law as something that ought to be obeyed is not nearly as natural there as it is here.

Would refugees from a variety of different cultures be able to produce and follow a common set of laws and norms which would allow them to work and life well together? Would refugees, with little hope of returning home, jump at such an opportunity to start a new life in such an experimental city? If the answers are yes, it is possible Australians could help many more refugees than they would be willing to accept as immigrants to their country.

My own idea for a charter city is that it should be established on Melville Island off the coast north of Darwin.  I’m sure the entrepreneurially-minded Tiwi people would be willing to do a commercial deal for a 99 year lease on a Hong Kong-sized piece of unused land.  The advantage of establishing a charter city in the Northern Territory is that the Commonwealth could readily implement a favourable low tax regime without the constitutional constraints that would apply if it were done in a State. The sort of charter terms that might be considered include:

  1. Much lower and flatter personal and company tax regime;
  2. Very basic but livable social security, housing, education and primary health care facilities, with people being able to access more complex acute care facilities in Darwin when needed;
  3. Only refugees (and NT government employed teachers, nurses, police etc) could live there, and only refugees would be permitted to start businesses there;
  4. Refugees would initially be granted one of Clive Palmer’s temporary Safe Haven Enterprise Visas, but might eventually be permitted to apply for permanent business or skilled migration visas if they established a successful long-term business;
  5. Businesses would be required to pay the Australian minimum wage under the Fair Work Act but would not otherwise be bound to offer award wages or conditions;
  6. Recognition of foreign professional and trade qualifications would be fast-tracked.

I think there is a genuine prospect that such a charter city, if established and fostered appropriately, really COULD develop into a thriving Hong Kong-style entrepreneurial city on Australia’s north coast.  Moreover, with its distinct neoliberal overtones, it might even be the sort of scheme that Abbott, Morrison et al  would see as an attractive option.  I wonder whether any Coalition movers and shakers read Troppo?  Mark Textor, where are you when I need you?

Categories: Community