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Falling in Love with Sydney All Over Again

The Sydney part of the family roadtrip is over and there’s an empty cavity in my heart. Why? Because Sydney is simply stunning. Sydney has all the things you want in a city, plenty of restaurants, myriad shops, sights and sounds, and for the water-lovers, beaches.

The first part of the day was spent travelling to Sydney and then settling in at Haymarket near Chinatown. Unfortunately we were located near the offices of those wonderful Sussex Street inhabitants, the Labor Party- politics just could not stay away from me for more than a few days. Then it was time for a gut-widening lunch and a quiet dinner.

The first full day we had a quiet morning, aside from a futile search for the giant duck, with the plan being to journey to the Northern Beaches where my father lived from his early years until his 20’s. Instead we took the wrong road and ended up in Bondi which turned out to be simply gorgeous- a wonderful mistake for the chief navigator to make.

After lunch and a paddle in the slightly chilly water of Bondi, we ventured around the elegant and expensive eastern suburbs a little more. We drove past his old unit in Vaucluse and stopped off at his favourite old watering hole in Watson’s Bay. The day was just magical. I was to discover that day that I was falling madly in love with Sydney again- I’m sorry Melbourne, but you really cannot compete with Sydney except for food and culture but not scenic vistas.

The next day we actually went to the Northern Beaches, the chief navigator and driver had found his bearings. Newport was the destination for the day. Where dad grew up. We went to visit his old home only to find a new one in its place. Dad was happy to find that Keith Miller’s house (yes that Keith Miller), who drove him to school, was still standing. And what’s more, the home was still inhabited by a member of the Miller clan. We then drove back to Sydney, passing many picturesque beachside locations, with my love for Sydney growing even more.

Sadly that was the last night in an all-too-brief stay in Australia’s biggest and most beautiful city. I could seriously move there, but do not fret Queensland, Maroon blood still courses through my veins. I would still be one of the most vocal loungeroom supporters during the Origin series, even with the fear of doing so resulting in attempts on my life.

Until next time, Sydney, my love, au revoir.

Generalisations Flowing and Critical Thought Lacking Over Riotous Actions

The events on the weekend in Sydney and those in the days preceding them, across the world, were horrific. There are no nice words that can be said about the protests, riots, call them what you will, that have taken place in a number of countries, both in the Middle East and across the Western world. A small portion of the Islamic community in Australia, less than one thousandth of the Muslim inhabitants of Australia took to the streets of Sydney with violence and mayhem in mind. This was met as well with the urge for a small number to parade with disturbing placards, one in particular held by a young child.

These protests provoked strong reactions from the public, the traditional media, social media and politicians all rising to condemn the divisive actions of a small proportion of people hell-bent on causing trouble and being divisive. Those speaking out against the raucous and over-the-top actions quickly included leaders in the local Muslim community which is quite sizeable in and around Sydney.

The actions of the protesters, demonstrators, rioters, call them what you will show a complete lack of understanding of the thoughts of people in relation to what they themselves say was the issue- that is, the tacky, poorly made video by an American that wouldn’t even be considered good enough and tasteful enough for a Saturday Night Live skit. This tends to indicate, as some thinkers have pointed out over the last few days,

The reactions of those responding to the scenes on Saturday, in particular on social media- read Twitter, tended toward heavy generalisations and at times showed a complete lack of critical thought and comprehension.

The protesters, if the film was the issue, fail to realise that governments all over the world, including ours and more importantly, the United States of America, had roundly condemned the mean-spirited movie. That is to say, they didn’t like it one bit either. The film wasn’t even put together by the government, just one or two intellectually vacant people, one of whom is of questionable character.

But far from just the lack of realisation that most of the West and its governments had said that the film was horrible and at the very least in poor taste and at the most, downright offensive to Islam, the actions themselves were well out of proportion to any amount of offense caused.

As for the Twitter and other social media commentary in the wake of the events of the last week, again a vocal minority blew events out of proportion, trying to link the messy visuals to the whole Muslim population. Clearly that’s not the case.  If any critical thought whatsoever was used by those who, frankly are frightened by difference in the first place and seek to cause fear when a small number of people representing a particular group they despise, then they would have realised the acts were not representative.

If the social media commentary wasn’t bad enough,the perennial Senator for divisive communities, Senator Cory Bernardi engaged in crass generalisations himself. The politician from South Australia, no fan of multiculturalism, attempted to argue that the protests of few, while yes, extremely awful and necessarily despised, signalled a problem with multiculturalism.

The problem in this case, as a number of commentators have pointed out, is not a problem to do with multiculturalism. It is, first and foremost, a problem more to do with human nature than anything else. As those same commentators, like Waleed Aly have pointed out, it is also partially down to disaffection, but again this does not mean that the actions of a small minority can be justified, even for a millisecond. But it does raise the need for greater cross-cultural dialogue.

If we are to truly understand each other, some of us must first learn to critically think, not give in to emotional reactions to events in the world around us. Generalisations do us no favours either.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Parliament and Question Time are back after just a weekend break. It has been a rather eventful weekend, with tensions exploding from within elements of the Islamic community of Australia in response to a lame video by an American individual. The government here and most across the Western world, including the United States of America, were quick to condemn the video when it became known. These events seem likely to change the complexion of Questions Without Notice early in the week at least as the government seeks to explain their position and possibly answer questions on the matter from the Opposition.

Last week, like the previous sitting week, was all about the Opposition asking questions about the spending priorities of the Gillard Government, especially in relation to the budget, which the government is trying to say, will return to surplus.

The carbon price was next in line on the list of priorities of the Coalition, with a number of questions on the issue throughout the week. But unlike many previous weeks in this, the 43rd parliament, it actually took a backseat to something else on the political agenda of the Liberal and National Party Coalition.

Of course too, it would not have been a parliamentary week, or even a week in politics in general, without the Tony Abbott led Opposition asking the government some questions on asylum seekers and refugees.

The government again continued to have their backbencher’s ask questions on a number of issues including the economy, health, education, infrastructure, the environment and workplace relations as well as immigration.

In the week ahead, not much is likely to change as far as the overall make-up of Questions Without Notice goes. Early on in the week, probably limited to Monday, there is likely to be a question or questions from both sides of the political fence as Australia seeks to make sense of the angry protests which took place at the weekend.

After that, it is likely that the Coalition and the government will return to other issues. But the policy areas considered will likely remain the same.  Only the number of questions on each regular issue will change.

Asylum seekers might well dominate the week, at least early on, as the Opposition seeks to goad the ALP into allowing the re-introduction of Temporary Protection Visas and the turning back of asylum seeker vessels. This comes after the first asylum seekers have begun to head to Nauru

If asylum seekers isn’t the main political game this week, it will again be government spending priorities, taxation and the budget that make up the majority of questions that come from the Liberal and National Party’s.

That small matter of the carbon price will also make an appearance, but it may not be as prominent again as it has been in previous weeks of parliament.

The Labor Government for their part will also aim to respond to the events of the weekend during Question Time, with Government MP’s likely to ask a question or questions on the matter, but probably limited to Monday.

After that, attention will again to return to the spending priorities of the government, those announced and half-announced, including health, education and infrastructure in particular. There will however, also be questions on the environment, the economy in general and workplace relations.

The only unknown factors in Question Time are the exact make-up of questions on each issue, whether any other topical issue arise during the week and just how bad the behaviour is and how hammy the theatre.

Positive Signs on NDIS from the Prime Minister as we Await the Budget

Today in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Hobart rallies were held as a show of support for the policy of a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Those who could converged on events in their capital cities with their friends, families and supporters of the cause to put a strong public face to the calls for action in the often neglected and always underfunded area of disability policy. Today the silent  minority, Australia’s largest minority in fact, found their collective voice.

The numbers were propped up in many cities by the presence of politicians of all political colours, with attendees at different rallies around the country including the Prime Minister, Minister for Disability Reform, the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, the Shadow Minister for Disabilities, Attorney-General and others.

It was a red sea of sorts at rally locations around the country. All in attendance were united in the fight to pursue the announced but not yet commenced policy development and implementation of the NDIS which the Productivity Commission has identified as a necessity for so many Australians who receive little or no support  and face barriers of inclusion because of their impairments.

Speculation surrounding the NDIS and the upcoming federal budget has been rife in recent weeks, with speculation mounting that there would be a significant announcement in the fiscal statement on the evening of May 8 on the future of the policy.

Today the Prime Minister announced, at the Sydney NDIS rally that the speculation was indeed true, though, giving us the detail of an earlier commencement of the scheme, but teased us with just how it would be funded, saying we would have to wait for the budget to be told how the quicker rollout would be achieved.

Prime Minister Gillard today announced that the Medicare-like scheme would commence in July next year in four sites around the country, helping approximately 10 000 people with significant and permanent disabilities seek the treatment and care that they need to be able to, in many cases, perform basic daily functions.

The Prime Minister also stated that those covered by the program would double to 20 000 by the following year after the initial implementation of the scheme.

Probably of most importance and central to the delivery of this policy promise, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of the agency to oversee the NDIS. The new body to oversee the delivery of the necessary care and support programs will be called the Disability Transition Agency.

For their part, the Coalition came out in strong bipartisan support again for the NDIS, as they have reaffirmed in recent weeks save for comments from the Shadow Treasurer questioning how the federal government would be able to fund the scheme.

But nevertheless, Mr Hockey reiterated that it was an “extremely important” initiative and that it did have bipartisan support.

Truth be told, the scepticism will probably continue to exist until the budget and even the eventual delivery of the scheme. People with a disability who cannot help themselves and their carers have been let down time after time with piecemeal action in this big and complex policy area and even a reluctance to deal with the issue since de-institutionalisation.

But the budget should and will go a long way to placating many of those who are wary about how the promise will be funded and in any case, the query seems to be more about how it could be funded in what we have been warned to expect to be a tough budget with the government trying to return the budget to surplus.

What is important in the end is that the bipartisan nature of the NDIS continues and there are few real indications that it will not, except perhaps in terms of detailed negotiations on the scheme with the states.

In another 8 days the government will outline just how this essential policy will be funded and further detail on the rollout will be outlined and the Opposition have already locked in supporting any supply bills for the scheme.

The signs are good, but we wait for the detail and the costs.

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