11 June 2014

Woes and Inexperience of the Budgetary Kind

The Abbott government has a huge issue that it needs to resolve. In fact, it is really two issues. The first is to try and convince the Palmer United Party senators (with Ricky Muir of the Motoring Enthusiasts Party in tow) and other independent senators to pass a hugely controversial budget. The second is to sell this ‘austerity’ type budget to the electorate. So far the Government has not succeeded with either of these issues. 

Even if the bills pass the Senate, and therefore becomes law, it is expected that there would still be a lot of hostility from the public. How can the government turn this around and effectively sell the specifics of the budget to an already sceptical electorate? If we look at it another way, how did the Government dig this huge ‘hole’ for themselves in the first place? 

To answer this it is best to look at a couple of sporting analogies. With the FIFA World Cup breathing down our necks, I thought it would be best to start with an analogy of the football type. 

A football manager has to take into consideration a number of factors when selecting a team. It is not just a case of choosing 11 players and 5 substitutes. Managers and the coaching staff would have spent many hours studying the opposition and working on appropriate tactics. Especially in relation to how not to concede goals. They would also be looking for their opponents ‘Achilles Heel’ to see if that can be used to their advantage. 

 Aside from this, the weather conditions would also play a role in team selection. For the FIFA World Cup, some matches are being played in the tropical region of Brazil. This means that heat and humidity will take a toll on the players. A good manager would ensure that his team are fully equipped to handle this. Finally, on the day of the game, a Manager will pick the best team to play the opposition and hopefully win. 

Similar considerations impact cricket, and indeed all sports. A cricket coach, together with the captain, will firstly look at the wicket and assess what it is likely to do over the next 4 or 5 days of the game. They would factor in that, for example, Sydney is traditionally known as a spinners wicket, whilst Perth is seen as a fast bowlers paradise. Hence team selection will be made accordingly. In addition, the state of the weather prior to the coin toss will have an impact on whether to bat or bowl. A cloudy day could influence a captain to bowl first rather than to bat. 

Politics is a similar beast to sport. Every government has an agenda that they want to implement. Some of their policies can be seen to be ‘controversial’ whilst others will be universally accepted. What the government has to do is to gauge public opinion and work out the best strategy to sell the message to the public. To do this, there would be discussions within the cabinet and advisers as to how to effectively implement their policies. Remember, if you can get the public onside then more than half of your budget battles are won. 

 Incumbent governments tend to issue a ‘nasty’ budget first up knowing that they can offer ‘sweeteners’ in the succeeding two budgets. 

The Abbott government, and especially the Treasurer Joe Hockey, decided to paint a picture of ‘doom and gloom’ prior to Budget Day. Leaking details of parts of the budget prior to its reading in parliament is not a new thing. All governments do this. The idea is to mentally attune the public to the ‘bad’ parts of the budget. 

The other aspect of the budget is to sell it once it has been read in parliament. Generally the Prime Minister and the Treasurer will go on a type of media ‘roadshow’ espousing the reasons behind the budget decisions. Favourable media can certainly help with selling the message. 

So where did it all go wrong for Tony Abbott and the Coalition? Obviously, the ‘all guns blazing’ approach of the government in relation to the budget has backfired. It is simply too harsh for a first budget. Also, continually blaming the ALP for the budgetary decisions wears thin after the first 100 or so times. It would appear that the government didn’t do their research correctly and have totally underestimated public reaction. 

In my opinion a large part of the failure of the budget has to sit quite firmly with Peta Credlin - the Chief of Staff. Peta Credlin is reputed to have a stranglehold on all policy decisions that the government makes. She is the conduit for the Prime Minister, the cabinet and back-benchers. Ministers, for example, have to get her permission just to undertake a media interview. So it can be seen that Peta Credlin has a lot of power and influence as well as being the Prime Minister’s confidante. 

 It would be natural to assume that Credlin played a major part in the shaping of policies for the budget. As such, she has totally overlooked the reaction from the public. If we look at the earlier sporting analogies it could be said that she did not do her ‘homework’ in relation to the anger from the public. If this is the case then it clearly shows Credlin’s naivety and possible inexperience. 

So where are we at the moment? Well, we have a government who cannot pass all of their bills in a fairly hostile senate without ‘watering down’ a number of policies or, heaven forbid from their point of view, scrapping a few of the controversial ones. Given the theme of the budget, Tony Abbott could go for a Double Dissolution of parliament but, based on the opinion polls, the Coalition could end up out of government. The bleak economic picture that the government has painted does not give them much room to manoeuvre anyway. Whatever happens one thing is sure, the next few months in parliament are going to be far from boring! 

 Finally, could it be that Peta Credlin is out of her league as the Chief of Staff to the government? How many times have we heard of promising footballers and cricketers who just couldn’t take the next step up despite their ability? This is reminiscent of the scene where the coach goes up to the young budding sport star and says “look son, you are just not going to make the grade. I am sorry”. Maybe this is an apt description that fits Ms Credlin. Only time will tell.

10 April 2014

Racism, Religion and Internalism

There has been a lot of debate recently over the Australian Government’s decision to look at amending section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.  The amendments proposed include removing the provisions making it unlawful to “offend, insult or humiliate” based on a person’s race.  This would be replaced with a new clause that bans racial vilification.  In brief, a large number of Australian’s feel that the proposed changes will, in effect, allow people to be more racist to others.

Since the debate about section 18C has started there has been a couple of incidents, most particularly in multi-cultural Ryde, where a poster was displayed with the words “No more Asians.  It’s not the face of Australia.  We speak English.  Save our Aussie culture”. Under the proposed amendments a number of migrant groups fear that they will incur more racist incidences like this one.

Before I move on, I would point out that every country has elements of racism.  This can be along the lines of hierarchy, culture, religion or even social groupings.  Australia is no different to any other country. There is, and always will be, an element of racism from a small group of Australians.

Since the tragic events of 9/11, Muslims and other religious groups, have had to cope with racist attacks – both verbal and physical.  John Howard, the then Prime Minister, hardly helped racial tensions in Australia by announcing, in the lead up to the 2001 election, that “we will decide who comes to our country, and under what circumstances”.  Four years later and racial tensions reached boiling point during the Cronulla riots.

Fast forward to today, and a search on Twitter will easily show racist tweets here in multi-cultural Australia.  These tweets are normally aimed at Muslims, especially those who can easily be identified as such.  Women who wear the hijab (headscarf) are particularly vulnerable to attack. 

The main issues that some Australians have are that we could allow asylum seekers who are terrorists into our country who would then attack our beliefs and also look to hurt and kill innocent Aussies.  Others feel that migrants are generally ‘dole bludgers’ who don’t want to assimilate. In addition, some feel that there is a plan to take away ‘our’ Christian values and make Australia a Muslim country through stealth.  Note that at the last Australian census in 2011 Muslims made up a mere 2.2% of the population.  Christians, on the other hand, made up a total of approximately 63%.

The media certainly plays a role in swaying our views on subjects.  A number of right wing commentators often make reference to the danger of letting asylum seekers into Australia.  Is this fear valid?  Or do we need to look at how our Christian faiths and values stack up against other religions.  Is our real enemy, from an historical point of view, ourselves and not religious groups who make up the minority?

A quick search on the internet shows that Christians, as a rule, have a long history of decimation and destruction.  Consider these examples:

·         Between the 10th and 12th centuries it is estimated that more than 20,000,000 non-Christians were killed.

·         The 30 year war in Germany in the 17th century saw approximately 40% of the population of the country decimated.

·         With the arrival of the Spaniards to the Americas in the 16th century it has been estimated that 60,000,000 locals were slain.

·         During the Second World War, 6,000,000 Jews were killed in concentration camps and roughly 600,000 non-Catholics in Catholic Extermination Camps.

·         During the Vietnam war 80,000 locals were killed whilst in concentration camps.

In the last two decades we have also witnessed mass murders in Bosnia and Kosovo as well as Afghanistan, as the Allies went searching for Bin Laden.

Certainly it can be seen that Christians have been responsible for many atrocities in our history.

Before, I conclude I am certainly not saying that other religions are ‘holier than thou’.  Certainly there has been many atrocities in a number of Muslim countries.  Especially in the Middle East and North Africa.  To this day this continues to be the case.  Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists have also been involved in aggressive campaigns that have left many thousands dead.  It is part of the Human psyche that we attack and kill each other regardless of any God that we may worship or not.  Historically this has been the case and this will no doubt continue in the future.

So let’s remember that Australia is blessed with migrants from all corners of the globe.  Over the past two centuries they have brought their culture and way of life into this country.  How many of the people reading this drink cappuccinos (Italian), enjoy a kebab (Turkish) or love eating burritos (Mexican)?  It is important we sway the argument away from the phobia that is attached to migrants and recognise the role they have played in giving us a rich and well founded lifestyle that we are proud of.  

We need to embrace our multi-culturalism with open arms and learn from each other.  You may find that we have similarities that you never realised before.  Remember too that the vast majority of people are just like you- friendly and peace loving!

22 January 2014

Social Media Respect

It has been a while since my last blog, so I thought I had better rectify this!

So much has happened over the past few months that it is hard to know where to start.  However, I would like to start with a topic that touches every one of us and that is "Respect".  In particular social media respect.

As human beings we can be very self-opinionated.  On the whole, this is an admirable quality.  If we didn't sometimes challenge each other, authorities or our beliefs then the world would be a much more boring and backward thinking place.

However, we need to show respect to others when we are using social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.  People use social media for a variety of reasons from keeping in contact with family and friends, sharing interests, following 'celebrities' and also to share opinions on a number of topics.

In the old days (pre-internet) a lot of conversations would take place in the tea room or at the water cooler at work.  In reality, these conversations still happen to this limited audience today. However, social media allows people to access a larger audience. The use of hashtags are a common way to find a topic and comment on it.

Social Media allows people to hide behind their comments without the recipient (of the comment) knowing who they are. This leaves everyone's opinions and beliefs open to potential attack. These attacks are nowadays known as trolling.

I, myself, have been trolled on a few occasions. These troll attacks have been in relation to my views on gun control, politics, asylum seekers and ensuring religious tolerance.  Except for one occasion I have not worried about the attacks.  The only occasion it affected me I really felt infuriated!

However, as time goes on I have realised that not everyone will share my views.  In fact, a number of my friends differ with me on a variety of topics.  Having said this, some people react differently to other peoples views.  In extreme cases, due to trolling and cyber bullying, some people have taken their lives after being attacked.

So when you read a comment or post on a social media site remember that a human being with feelings has posted it.  Healthy debate is always to be welcomed but do not overstep the mark. Lets keep conversations healthy and non-aggressive.