Blog Archives

There Goes The Civility Again

A matter of days after the Coopers controversy that was not much of a controversy died down, today there was a reminder of how the debate around marriage equality can often be toxic and potentially dangerous. The ever-reliable Peter Dutton provided that jolt to the memory.

The Immigration Minister was speaking in response to a letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, which was co-signed by a number of business leaders, including the Managing Director of Wesfarmers, the Chief Executive of ANZ, and the Qantas boss, Alan Joyce.

All the champions of free enterprise bore some of the unwarranted criticism from the combative Immigration Minister. However, it was to be Alan Joyce, the openly gay CEO of Qantas, who was the singled out for further unnecessary criticism, above and beyond all the other signatories.

In his rage against the business community, Mr Dutton said that the company bosses should “stick to their knitting”, and that the government he is a part of “would not be bullied” by the business sector.

Furthermore, the minister went on to say that “it is unacceptable that people have used companies, and shareholders money, to try to throw their weight around in these debates”.

Then came the ministers precision-guided barb aimed at Mr Joyce. He said that “Alan Joyce, the individual, is perfectly entitled to campaign for and spend his hard earned money on any issue he sees fit, but don’t do it in the official capacity and with shareholders money”.

First of all, the Minister of Immigration is more than a little bit lucky that his knitting jibe was directed at the group, rather than the Qantas CEO. Had Mr Dutton aimed this remark at Joyce, it would have been rightly seen as playing to the negative stereotypes of LGBTIQ community.

If the minister had made that particular part of the statement about Alan Joyce, he would have been accused of using the outdated and wrong assumption that gay men are somehow feminine in nature – which they are not.

Minister Dutton’s riposte to the letter, that business must stay out of the affairs of government and society, needs to be examined.

Companies in any given nation, where they are free to do so, like in our liberal democracy here – need to respect and appeal to diversity. This is not an unnecessary evil, but a responsibility in a free and open society. Individual businesses and business leaders can choose whether this amounts to simply serving a diverse community, or using more broader mechanisms of inclusion, like what happened in this particular instance.

In the absence of laws providing for inclusion and non-discrimination, it is a basic concept of business, that organisations within society need and should want to appeal to as big a market as possible – and also to serve an existing market. Otherwise, how would they maintain and then grow their respective markets?

That is precisely what these champions of industry have done in these circumstances. They have engaged with their responsibility to be inclusive of the whole of Australian society, while using broader mechanisms of inclusion.

When you live in a liberal democracy, you are entitled to freedom of expression. This goes for both business, and the Immigration Minister. And, as is frequently said when instances like this arise, they can be called out if and when those people make what any reasonable person would call, at the very least, stupid and ill-informed comments.

It just so happens that the Immigration Minister has a history of being called out for saying the wrong thing.

Just the person you want as a leader to unite the nation together.

It’s International Day of People with Disability

Today, December 3rd is International Day of People with Disability. This worldwide day has now been running for 20 years, beginning as an internationally recognised day sanctioned by the United Nations. It is a day when disability should be in the forefront of the mind’s of policy-makers around the world. It is a rare day indeed.

But this year there is cause for some hope. For once it is not a blind optimism, far from it. A fully-funded National Disability Insurance Scheme is getting closer and closer. Five launch sites have been agreed to and funded jointly by state participants and the federal government.

At the same time though, the NDIS is far from a fait accompli. People with a disability, their carers and broader families, as well as disability services organisations need to keep the pressure on during the remaining years of this decade. We must do in order to ensure that government works towards allocating what will be upwards of $15 billion dollars a year towards the most important disability reform in the history of our nation.

International Day of People with Disability, as far as Australian domestic politics is concerned, is about much more than just ensuring that we have a well-funded and well-coordinated system for disability support.

This international day, according to the website is also about forging, across the global community, a broader “understanding” and acceptance of people with a disability. It is about how the broader population recognise the challenges that people with a disability face in both the poorest of countries and the wealthiest.

The day is also about other simple measures of a humane society. The International Day of People with Disability is also about trying to secure some of the most basic human rights.

Today is about making sure that we give people with a disability a level of dignity. Just as importantly, it is about pursuing and cementing the rights of the disabled and doing what we can as a society to guarantee the basic well-being of some of the most vulnerable people in the country.

Finally, the day is about integrating people with a disability into society, rather than leaving them at the margins with little support or understanding.

Believe it or not, Australia as a developed nation actually has a long way to go in the way that people with a disability are treated. Among OECD nations, Australia is failing our disabled people.

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers from late last year made for some truly sad reading.

In that report it was found that 45% of Australian’s with a disability were living on or near the poverty line. Far from on its own being a damning statistic, that number places Australia 27th out of 27 developed nations in terms of being at risk of, or in poverty.

It does not get much better in terms of employment prospects for people with a disability in Australia.

It was found that Australia is ranked 21st out of 27 nations in relation to employment. Only 31% of disabled Australians were found by that report to be in active employment.

With Australia faring so poorly in providing for its disabled community, then one can only imagine how those in the poorest of nations are coping and today is as much about their plight as it is about our disabled people.

Today is a day when all governments, including our own, must pledge to do better, much better in the area of policy development for people with a disability.

In terms of what Australia can do, well, there are two things which are particularly urgent.

The first is to do significantly more in terms of access provisions.

With or without a National Disability Insurance Scheme, access will still be a major issue for people with a disability. Better access provisions will mean more economic participation can be achieved, in conjunction with all that the NDIS will provide. Better access would also mean increased participation in a range of activities that most in society take for granted.

The second most significant thing that needs to occur is a better understanding and importantly, a deeper acceptance of disability. This is particularly the case for businesses, but also government and society in a wider sense.

This means highlighting abilities and not impairments. Too often, negative perceptions of disability cloud the judgement of otherwise bright people and this simply has to stop.

If we focus too much on the NDIS and what it will bring, then we will be neglecting our duty to remind policy-makers that there is much more to be done in the area of policy for the disabled.

We do however appear to be on a somewhat promising path.

EU Nobel Prize More of Giggle Than a Full-Bodied Laugh

Have you heard that bit about the European Union? No? It goes a little something like this:

EU walks into Oslo City Hall, takes all the chairs and is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Well, a number of people are viewing the awarding of the Nobel Prize for peace in that manner, a complete and utter joke. But, it’s not quite as farcical as one might think. Does it look good? No, not in particular. It doesn’t really matter what it was given out for, people have made up their own minds about this year’s recipient and their worthiness.

Perhaps the European Union receiving the peace prize was a not so clever ruse perpetrated by the committee, which had the intention of getting people talking about the award again, but that actually backfired?

Let’s begin to put the award in some context. What is the Nobel Peace Prize awarded for? Well, that’s all pretty clear there in italics. It’s about peace, or at least that was the original intention of the honour. The prize has come to mean so much less because the original intent of the this particular Nobel Prize, peace, has not always been behind the gifting of it.

The long-awarded prize has turned into a recognition, not every year, but from time-to-time, of relative peace rather than absolute peace on earth, sleigh-bells jingling and all that jazz.

Again, to the intent of the prize which appears lost on a number of people. It is about peace. The European zone, in case anyone hadn’t noticed, is going through a prolonged period of economic woes. They’re not great money managers, but that is usually a whole different story to being a peaceful or relatively peaceful region. Yes, we have witnessed scenes of less than peaceful protests, but that is slightly different to governments or individuals not promoting a wider form of peace.

Do economic woes sometimes lead to conflict? You bet. But precious few, indeed probably only the most uninformed, are suggesting that scenario carries any legitimate weight.

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Europe for their post-war efforts in developing the region into a peaceful, relatively secure continent after World War 2. It is a recognition of the huge shift from a politically and geographically divided region into one of relative harmony, regardless of the much less than ideal way the continent decided to go about uniting. It is though entirely arguable that awarding a supranational institution, which has the ability to erode national sovereignty, is a stupid one. Again, it seems to hark back to the Nobel committee rewarding relatively peaceful, secure and democratic recipients.

The European Union being given the award is also just as much about the way in which it has promoted human rights. Few could deny that Europe, partly as a result of the shame wrought by World War 2 acts of barbarity and aggression have fostered a culture promoting the human rights of every citizen. The European Court of Human Rights is an example of one such institution which aims to further the cause of human rights across Europe.

Very few doubt the source of black humour that the award has become. In 2009 the award was bestowed upon the President of the United States of America, a world leader responsible for the increase of drone attacks which have killed countless civilians, among other things. Examples of recipients like this are probably playing a part in clouding the judgement of the masses.

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to an institution. It is an example of a body set up with the express purpose of promoting human rights. That’s great, but the award should be limited to individuals, or at the very least small groups of individuals that aim to promote peace, security and human rights, governments and governing bodies should do this as a matter of course.

The 2012 award does not look great, but it’s far less humorous than many are making out. It appears there is a need for a vocabulary lesson in order for the difference between economics and peace to be distinguished.

Consistency on Rights Please

The Newman Government in Queensland is less than two months old, but already the hysterical claims of a return to the Bjelke-Petersen era have emerged. These loopy claims started just days a matter of a week or two before the election, when it became clear a landslide was on the cards, which did eventuate and was above and beyond the expectations of just about anyone, serious pundit or not.

Alas, these claims have again been unearthed over the last 24 hours with a furore over a tent embassy, this time in a Brisbane park- it’s certainly been quite a year for those types of establishments/protests.

The tent embassy, based in Musgrave Park has been established for just a couple of months and was began as a protest for the sovereign rights of the indigenous people

Today, Queensland Police were dispatched to the park in West End to evict the demonstrators who ignored an eviction order that was put forward by Brisbane City Council ahead of the Greek Panyiri Festival which has regularly been held in the same park that the protesters have occupied.

It is unclear what stance both parties are taking over the matter, the protest group and the festival organisers, with conflicting claims being aired over whether or not the Panyiri Festival administration were happy for the indigenous protesters to remain in the park while the festival goes ahead this weekend.

Like the protest on Australia Day, the demonstration, this time involving a short-term protest, compared to the decades long Tent Embassy in Canberra raises some questions about rights in Australia and whether or not they are or should be limited.

But first to the hilarious claims of a return to Bjelke-Petersen era politics in Queensland. This is utterly ridiculous and should be laughed at. In the Bjelke-Petersen era protesters were barely even allowed to organise before they found themselves the victims of completely abhorrent laws that were so draconian that Queensland, because of its history, has a terrible reputation around rights and freedoms.

Why are the claims of a return to the dark days of the Bjelke-Petersen era ridiculous in this case you ask? Well that has a lot to do with the fact that protesters in this case were free to commence their protest and have been allowed to since March. The protesters were also able to march on parliament, a n0-no under Sir Joh that would’ve attracted arrest.

What is different about this protest is that an eviction order was issued by the Brisbane City Council and this was flouted, regardless of what you think of the rights or wrongs of the lawful direction asking people to move on from the park facilities. Those involved defied those orders, again whether or not they are right or wrong.

This then still raises the question of whether or not rights should be limited.

We have found, particularly in recent years that freedom of speech in this country, an implied, not legally or constitutionally expressed right does have its limits and is at the whim of a subjective test in the courts.

There are many people that have supported the limited right to freedom of speech that we have in this nation. In this stand-off today, what we have are the same people who supported limiting freedom of speech, protesting against a limited right to freedom of assembly.

What this debate requires is some consistency across all fundamental human rights, whether they have been expressed in law or have been implied. If one right is limited, then we should not be surprised if others are too and should allow all to have limitations.

However, rights and freedoms should ideally be absolute or, where practically possible, with little or no limitation which impedes the rights and freedoms of the individual.

One right should not take precedence over, or be held to a different standard as other basic rights and freedoms accorded to the individual in a democracy. Can we please have some consistency on rights across all groups please?

 

%d bloggers like this: