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The Australian Gun Situation and America

Gun reform is again being talked about in the United States of America after a terrible year for mass shootings in that country. There was the shooting in the cinema complex in Aurora, the Sikh temple rampage and now, most recently, the tragic slaying of mostly young children in Newtown, Connecticut. But unlike those needless acts of gun violence before it, the Newtown incident has created a much larger noise about gun control.

Some of the increased support for gun control is coming from within the US, most notably with the President hinting at the possibility of some form of action. Barack Obama however is not giving any hints as to the nature of the action. There is as yet no substance, just calming rhetoric.

What has been interesting though has been the growing interest from across the globe in America reforming its gun laws. It has been an attention, a focus with its roots appearing to go deeper than after any of the massacres this year.

Of course that will ultimately come to nothing. What matters is what Americans think about the issue and the pressure they are able to exert on their leaders. The most important factor, however, is what their leaders are both willing and able to do under  legislative circumstances which are fairly unique to their country.

There is talk of a possible return to the Clinton era ban on assault rifles and this would be a sensible move. But it would only be a band-aid solution, not to mention that it would almost certainly be reversed or allowed to expire by an incoming Republican administration.

There is however a way forward which has been offered and has been given almost as much worldwide attention as the need for the gun law reform itself. And this pathway comes in the form of laws brought in by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard which have enjoyed remarkable success since being introduced in 1996.

These laws instituted a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons and were put in place after our own Newtown, the Port Arthur massacre, where 35 people were gunned down. And these laws worked in Australia.

Of course, it is probably not within the realms of imagination to believe that the US would even consider remotely similar laws to those we have for guns in Australia.

In theory, similar nationwide laws could work in America. There would certainly be a marked decrease in gun violence across the nation. However the prospects of the same level of success that we had in Australia with the same laws in the USA are not good.

For a start, if, in the extremely unlikely event, the US and her composite states were able to agree on similar national gun control laws, the logistical task would be a massive challenge in itself. The sheer population of the US, at over 300 million, provides the biggest barrier to widespread success of the laws.

There would need to be a heavy reliance on honesty and the self-sacrifice of weapons as there was under the gun control laws in Australia. And of course US laws would also require the same combination of the financial incentives of a compulsory buy-back mixed with heavy criminal penalties for disobeying the law.

Policing the same kind of regime in the US would be a much more challenging effort. And any positive effects of the same type of laws would be more gradual and not as abiding as the Australian experience has proved to be.

But the change itself could be attempted if the political realities of the intersection between government and the gun lobby were not as they are, with the NRA holding so much sway and a gun culture  being so deeply ingrained in the national laws and psyche.

The reality however, is that for America, the gun control laws which Australia pursued provide the best and only way to seriously curb the number of gun related deaths.

The best part for a country of people worried about losing their right to bear arms is that Americans will not lose that right. Gun owners and many others will however think they are and that is part of the reason why a legislative change on the same scale as Australia will probably never happen.

Symbolism and Statehood are Two Different Things

The Australian Government was reportedly engaged in an especially robust party-room debate today. The Labor caucus was discussing the position to take on the United General Assembly vote set to take place in the coming days. This motion, if successful, would grant the Palestinian territories non-member observer status in the UN. Currently, the Palestinians have observer status.

After looking like the ALP caucus might vote ‘no’ to the motion, it soon emerged that the party-room, in the end, voted in favour of the Australian delegation abstaining from this highly non-controversial vote.

Not surprisingly, the United States of America and of course Israel, have indicated they will be voting against the motion in the UN General Assembly.

Unlike in the Security Council though, the US and Israelis voting against the measure will not matter. There is no veto power in the General Assembly and 132 of the 193 member countries have pledged recognition of Palestine as a state. Despite this, official recognition of statehood has been blocked in the United Nations Security Council.

During the ALP caucus discussions this morning, members of the left faction reportedly indicated that granting observer status would provide some assistance in promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

This is an interesting concept. The position argues that by granting non-member state observer state status, the longstanding conflict would suddenly lurch closer to some form of mutually agreeable conclusion.

Clearly it will not. Hostilities on the part of Palestinian terror groups will not stop, at least until a broad solution involving Palestinian statehood is reached.

Terrorist acts on the part of some Palestinian factions would quite likely continue, even in the event of a negotiated peace between authorities on both sides of the conflict. They would however be more isolated and not necessarily linked with representative political organisations.

However, such heinous crimes would still not be tolerable, no matter how infrequent. The point must be made too, that both sides are and have been in the wrong on this issue, albeit in different ways.

The reluctance on the part of the Israelis and the USA to recognise Palestine as an official state would also continue, virtually leaving the situation at the status quo. Non-member state observer status will be a symbolic act.

Granting non-member state observer status is however one that the Israeli government should not be scared of. But they are and they will probably be annoyed. They need to realise, however, that there is a clear difference between a vote for non-member state observer status and a peaceful two-state solution. The latter should be negotiated outside the United Nations.

It is curious that Australia will abstain from the vote. Abstention, to some, gives the appearance that Australia is basically hedging their bets.

Abstaining from the vote will likely be seen by the representatives of the Palestinian territories as a vote against their motion, since the Australian Government does not feel a compulsion to vote for what is ostensibly a sensible concept.

This week’s vote is not about statehood and probably will not provide much of a catalyst toward the Palestinian territories becoming a recognised state.

So why such a fuss?

Storm Events Forgotten

Last week Hurricane Sandy smashed into the United States of America, a country nearing its presidential election. The storm has left at least 110 dead on US shores and will be responsible for a reconstruction bill in the order of tens of billions. The eyes of the world were fixed on the US as the storm came ashore, the coverage in-depth and intense. Television coverage brought Hurricane Sandy into the living room’s of people across the world in a frame-by-frame blanket of images.

The human suffering brought on by natural disasters like Sandy is sad, shocking and devastating. Loss of life through natural disasters is an unfortunate reality for countries and people across the globe. But sometimes that devastation is heard but not seen. Sometimes the cameras are not there to capture the destruction and death. Sometimes storms and the people they impact are invisible to the world. Sometimes too there are storms we easily forget.

The USA was lucky in a sense. The world power had plenty of warning of the impending threat that Sandy posed. The storm had bashed and battered the Caribbean, particularly Haiti, still recovering and rebuilding after a massive earthquake, before continuing onto America. The Caribbean was largely forgotten, the damage and death wrought by the tropical storm largely ignored by the world’s media.

It was almost as if Hurricane Sandy was the United States’ storm. That’s not to say that the loss of life and widespread damage to infrastructure on US soil should be forgotten, that it is any less than death and damage elsewhere. The point is that there should be little or no distinction between loss of life and property in the United States of America and people losing their lives and property in the third world.

The coverage of Hurricane Sandy on the television, the radio and the web was also notable for another large storm that most of the coverage seemed to ignore or had forgotten occurred.

Generally, the one and only storm used for comparative purposes was Hurricane Irene. Irene was more powerful in wind speed, a Category 3, than Sandy, a Category 1. Sandy though was much larger in size, her impact felt across approximately 2 million square miles, much of the eastern seaboard of the USA. Which event caused more death is of course irrelevant. All loss should be mourned.

In comparing and contrasting Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene, there was one storm event which was conspicuously absent from media coverage and social media comments. Many had seemingly forgotten a storm which is still, seven years on, causing problems for some of the areas it hit, including exacerbating social disintegration and the breakdown of social cohesion.

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit Florida as a Category 1 hurricane where some casualties were incurred and damage experienced. The system then moved into the Gulf of Mexico where it again gathered strength. By the time Katrina reached landfall it was a Category 3.

There were 1833 confirmed deaths and $185 billion damage was levelled on storm-hit areas. The city of New Orleans, a largely African-American populace, was the hardest hit area and continues to suffer the consequences of a storm that time, the American people and the world seem to have largely forgotten.

How could the American media as well as social media have skipped over such a large, dramatic and violent event responsible for so many casualties and so much temporary and also ongoing damage? How could people on social media also not think of Hurricane Katrina when making links or comparisons between major natural events?

Admittedly some of the lack of attention toward Hurricane Katrina may have been down to the size of the wind field as compared with Irene and more recently Sandy. However, surely a mass casualty event where close to 2000 people died is worthy of a mention?

The memory loss surrounding Katrina could be one of three things. Either Katrina, with the loss of life and infrastructure and the woefully inadequate response from FEMA and the Bush administration is because of a genuine forgetfulness, a source of shame and deep embarrassment or a sign of something more sinister.

It is much better, a more pleasant thought to contemplate, that the amnesia suffered about Hurricane Katrina is down to genuine forgetfulness. Unfortunately, this is the most naive and unrealistic assumption. It is not within the realms of reality to believe that such a significant event could simply be forgotten.

Could it be the next best option? Could it be that the response to Hurricane Katrina caused deep shame?

This is the eventuality that seems most reasonable to widely apply to the case of Katrina. It is also, thankfully, not the most uncomfortable. The slow response and the divisions it exposed and further fomented should have been and should continue to be a cause of shame and consternation.

Unfortunately, just because embarrassment would appear to be the major response in the wake of Katrina, it does not mean that there are no sinister undertones in the ignorance displayed about Katrina and her impact.

One need only look to the swiftness of action in response to Hurricane Sandy and Irene and then compare it with the slow move to help those who suffered because of Hurricane Katrina. The link is somewhat tenuous and does not reveal a widespread ethnic and racial divide, but the disparate responses should provide pause for thought.

It is entirely possible that some of the lack of tolerance and understanding of different races and ethnicities does pervade parts of the media. No parts of society are without ignorance of difference and a lack of tolerance, but this must not be overstated. Any role intolerance plays in the media is likely very small.

Whatever the cause of the storm amnesia, no large and tragic events should be forgotten. The good thing is that lessons can be learned from the way the media have covered Sandy and the social media response which so closely mirrored that of the broadcast media.

Not the Asian Century White Paper

Tomorrow the Prime Minister will launch the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper. This document, which will plot a way forward for Australia in what is already considered to be the “Asian Century”. It will act as the government’s version of a SWOT analysis. The paper will examine the real internal strengths of Australia and external factors that lead that do contribute to our strengths as we continue to engage in the region. The paper will also look at our weaknesses in terms of trade in particular, but also security. The paper will look at the opportunities for Australia in the Asian century, with whom we can engage more to our benefit. Finally, the document will also look at the threats in the region.

In a way, the Asian Century White Paper is behind the times. Trade with Asia already makes up about 70% of Australia’s international trade. This makes it appear clear, as do public statements, that the blueprint is more about the rise of China and to a lesser extent India, than it is about looking at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that exist in the Asia-Pacific area. As such, the possibilities of greater relations with the “Asian Tigers” and rapidly growing Asian economies will likely not receive much press.

This examination will look mostly at the bilateral activities Australia undertakes currently, could enhance or could begin to participate in and less at the specific domestic policy directions necessary to cope with living in a strong and prosperous Asia.

Undoubtedly, the Asian White Paper will say that China is the country, above all others to focus our energies on. You would be hard-pressed to find many who would say otherwise. We need China and they need us. Our commodities are prized by China and we source cheap goods from the Asian powerhouse, now the second biggest economy in the world after overtaking struggling Japan. To this end, concluding Free Trade Agreement negotiations with China is an absolute must.

Some will have you believe that China also serves as one of the great uncertainties of the Asian Century.  “Reds under the beds” is not a worry that should be occupying the mind’s of our people. China’s continued growth will almost certainly be one of peaceful empire. Their growth is because of the embrace of market economics and China is communist in name and some aspects of internal behaviour only. The military build-up in China is entirely consistent with the growth of the country as a world power and countries like the United States of America have nothing to fear except for loss of economic dominance. 

In terms of Japan, our second largest trading partner, the future of the economic relationship at least is not as certain. The economy of Japan has been battered by high levels of debt, natural disasters and unstable economic leadership. In saying this though, the relationship with the nation of islands should be maintained with caution and buttressed by increasing economic cooperation with other nations in the region. However, it is in our interests to continue to proceed with free trade negotiations with the Japanese.

Trade relations with South Korea continue to be strong with the nation, as of 2011, being our 3rd biggest export market. We have commenced Free Trade Agreement negotiations with Korea, but the discussions have hit the final hurdle. The agreement was supposed to have been concluded by now, but negotiations are ongoing.

Our next biggest market, is also our second biggest opportunity as the growth of Asian economies explodes. That nation is India. This is a nation with economic growth to rival that of China. While India is not in a position to rival China in terms of the size of her economy, India does provide opportunities. This includes, somewhat contentiously, uranium exports which are now being negotiated and also the restoration of Indian confidence in Australia’s safety for the large overseas student and tourism market the nation of the subcontinent can and has provided. Finalising the Australia-India Comprehensive Economic Agreement is also a necessary step in continuing to open up India to Australia and vice versa.

There are other nations of Asia in the list of our top 10 training partners too. In fact, Asian countries make up more than half of those nations. Also in the top 10 is Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand. With both Singapore and Thailand we have established Free Trade Agreements. However, in the case of Taiwan, there is no economic agreement being negotiated, awaiting approval or in force. Perhaps an opportunity lies there, perhaps we are frightened to pursue one for fear of causing China offense or perhaps our priorities are not mutual.

There are also other Asian states that are outside of the 10 biggest Australian trading partners with which we have already or are in the process of negotiating or approving FTA’s. There is an ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement which includes Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. This includes nations such as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia with whom we either have individual FTA’s or are in the process of either negotiating or seeking domestic approval for.

In a broad sense, continuing to pursue the recently commenced negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is also a must and will only enhance economic relations with both Asia and other parts of the world.

So in terms of economic cooperation in the Asian region and into the Asian century, the task is not really to establish new markets, but rather to consolidate and build upon those already available to Australia. In the case of the services sector in particular the task is returning it to the vitality we know. Particularly in the case of tourism this will be a lot easier when the price of the dollar lowers and economies recover.

In terms of economic engagement with Asia and the focus that it is given, it is a positive but has the potential to be a negative from time to time. Putting too many eggs in the Asian basket might expose us to regional shocks. So far, with the economic activities we undertake in Asia though, we have managed to avoid major damage to our economy when other countries in the Asia-Pacific have not been spared. But the possibility of exposure to risks should still be in the front of the mind’s of our policy-makers.

New Zealand and the other Pacific Island nations must also factor into the Asian equation. They are as much a part of Asia as we are. New Zealand is our greatest ally in the Asia-Pacific region, a long-term friend and economic partner and we will continue to share and grow our economic relationship and broader bilateral relations with her.

In terms of security, the most volatile place in the Asian region, the place that has the potential to most impact on our security, is Indonesia. Enhancing current cooperation with Indonesia on counter-terrorism efforts is a must. However, this must not be at the expense of combating homegrown terrorism on Australian soil.

It is certain that we will be seen to be deeply connected with the USA . We can, will and should make clear that our actions in the region will be peaceful and aimed at trade and our ongoing security, rather than offensive actions and manoeuvres that constitute a threat.

In terms of China, as stated earlier, it has been quite easy for some to classify the economic growth and consequential militarisation of China as a threat. This eventuality though, as stated before, appears hard to fathom. On the other hand, disputes involving China and her nearer neighbours, currently festering, do have the potential to develop into problems for those nations. By and large, these are conflicts Australia can remain independent of.

With regard to people movements, Indonesia as well as Sri Lanka and Malaysia will remain central to our efforts in cutting down on irregular people movement. We would be foolish to ever imagine that we as a country or even the wider Asian region could solve the complex issue that is asylum seeker movements.

Later on in the Asian century it is also reasonable to keep in mind the potentially significant movement of people in our region brought about by climate change. The scale of this is hard to calculate, but the prospect must be factored into equations. Australia as a rich and prosperous country would be expected to take up the majority of the resettlement burden in such circumstances.

Overwhelmingly the opportunities for Australia in the Asian Century are good. The positives far outweigh the negatives. We must however be careful of too much dependence on the region and too much nation specific interaction within the Asia-Pacific.

We must think, for the century ahead, well beyond commodities and to sources of renewable energy. An ongoing and healthy services sector is also a must as resources begin to diminish.

There is the possibility of regional instability, but much of that should not have consequences for Australia. The major threat will continue to be terrorism with hatred fomented and potential non-state actors trained in Indonesian camps in particular.

We will be seen as one of America’s deputies in the Asia-Pacific, along with South Korea and Japan as well as New Zealand to some extent. In reality though, this should not colour the way we interact in our geographical region nor the way in which our peaceful advances are received.

People movement will continue to be something Australia experiences for as long as there is security and economic concerns in nations around the world. Later in the century this will probably be exacerbated by climate change, particularly in the low-lying areas of the Asia-Pacific.

Australia must not be happy with the status quo. Moving towards greater engagement and cooperation not just in Asia, but the world, is the answer to making the most of the opportunities and the threats that we and the region already experience and may encounter in the future.

A Romney Win and Another Magic Act

The first Presidential debate of 2012 has passed. Expectations were, with Mitt Romney behind in the polls so close to the election in early November, that the debates were make or break for Mr Romney. Still recovering from recent gaffes, Tuesday night in Denver had to be the start of a recovery for the Republican challenger. For at least the first half of the 90 minute to-and-fro, Romney had the upper-hand, clearly outplaying his usually suave and confident political adversary, President Obama. Overall, Governor Romney came out of the experience the winner.

The normal confidence of the President just wasn’t there. It was as if the roles had shifted. Mr Romney was the one that looked and sounded confident, maintaining eye contact and a confident stance throughout. The incumbent Obama, on the other hand, failed to keep eye contact with his opponent and the audience, constantly writing down notes, something he’s rarely relied on in the past. The only one with less control on the debate was the moderator, broadcaster Jim Lehrer, who may as well not have been there.

Just what effect today’s effective win will have for the Republican candidate is debatable. Most likely, this first debate will not dramatically alter the contest as it stands, it’s just the first outing. There will probably be an improvement in the polls for Mitt Romney and the Republican campaign, but this won’t be dramatic.  Likely, any improvement will be a matter of one or two percent, if that.

What today’s outcome will do is breathe some life into the challenger’s campaign. The stronger performance will give the Republican party some much-needed confidence that after a tough couple of weeks in particular. It will convince strategists there still might be a glimmer of hope for that one day in November when voters will be asked to vote for another four years of President Obama or entrust Governor Mitt Romney and his Republican Party with government. The performance today is much more a psychological win than it will be a dramatic vote-winner.

One of the most interesting elements of the contest today was the seeming abandonment of some political differences between the two sides of politics in favour of a degree of “me tooism”. In particular, the Republican nominee seemed to be making the case that he was not going to be embarking on some of the dramatic policy shifts he’s announced, that at worst in a few areas, he’d be taking Obama’s policies and tinkering with them.

In fact today’s performance from Mitt Romney displayed elements of former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s so-called “Howard lite” campaign. For Americans, Howard lite refers to policy and political positioning of Kevin Rudd as basically John Howard, but with some improvements, meant to paint Kevin Rudd as a change to the former Prime Minister John Howard, but not a dramatic one.

The interesting thing about this posturing is the longevity of it. The pretend similarities, most of them, lasted until the election had been run and won in late November 2007. Fewer similarities remained from then on. That’s likely how the outcome in US politics too. This sudden need to appear only slightly different in terms of policy to the Democrat administration would be thrown away early on in a Romney administration. The similarities exist in words only, not in deeds. In fact, these likenesses are actually a politically constructed illusion.

If these similarities were to continue and actually be implemented as policy, then they would have a serious impact on the budget. But of course, cuts are and need to be, in reality, the order of the day. However debate over what is and is not cut should continue.

Mitt Romney clearly won the debate, but today was only a battle. The war for the White House rages on for another four weeks. Governor Romney can claim to have the upper hand today but he is probably still behind in the overall conflict. Maintaining belief in the so-called similarities? Well, that’s a completely different magic act altogether.

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.

There’s One Sporting Team to Come That Won’t Need a Performance Review Nor Extra Funding to Outstrip our Olympic Team

There’s just under three weeks to go until another massive sporting event begins in London. The 2012 Paralympic Games return to the spiritual birthplace of the Paralympic movement. Australia is traditionally very strong at the Paralympic Games compared to the Olympics, with medal tallies often outstripping that of our Olympians. Some will put that down to the extra events which are necessary to accommodate the varying levels of disability. Others, like me will say that has nothing to do with it, each respective athlete still has to be able to perform on the day.

One of the strongest sports at the Paralympics for Australia, if not the strongest, is traditionally the swimming, just like it is with that other competition they call the Olympics.

Unlike the Olympic counterparts, the Australian Paralympic Swimming team are unlikely to need a soul-searching performance review complete with navel-gazing to determine what went wrong with their campaign.

There’s likely to be a gold rush to rival Victoria in the 1800’s as I’ve written before. Our collective medal haul in the pool alone, if melted down, would likely save Spain and Greece from the ignominy of default. Okay, maybe I’m embellishing just a little bit, but nonetheless our performance in the pool alone at the Paralympics is a real possibility of eclipsing the overall gold medal tally of our Olympic team which currently stands at 5 golds.

And all that before factoring in the strong possibilities of gold medals in other sports for Australia at the London Paralympics.

Our athletics team which has not under-performed by any means in the past is likely to again bring home medals, some of them gold, but also silver and bronze.

With people like relatively well-known Paralympian Kurt Fearnley competing again in London we’re sure to make a strong showing. The three time gold medallist will line up for his third Paralympic Games in an attempt to win gold in the 800m, 1500m and the marathon which Kurt has made his own.

Other track and field athletes to look out for at the Paralympics include Kelly Cartwright who broke the long jump world record for her classification in 2011 and then earlier this year broke both the 100m and 200m world records in her class. Then there’s Evan O’Hanlon who broke his own world record this year in the 100m, Jessica Gallagher who’s competed in the Winter Paralympics before and medalled in the sport and up and comers some of whom will be in with a real shot of a medal.

Then you have the wheelchair basketball with the Australian men’s team, the Rollers the defending champions from Beijing who are sure to again push the USA, Canada and the home team Great Britain for another gold medal. Not to be outdone, the women’s team who received bronze at the Paralympic Games in China will also be a good chance of another medal.

Australia also has a great chance in the wheelchair rugby, popularly known as ‘murderball’ for the rough nature of the game. The Australian team, with superstar Ryley Batt, will want to go one better on their effort at the Chinese games and win back the gold which the team won at Sydney in 2000.

Those sports alone, chiefly swimming and athletics, should easily see the gold medal tally go into double figures before sports like cycling, equestrian, powerlifting, sailing and more.

We’ll be up against it with the British hosts having plunged an astronomic amount into funding for both Paralympic and Olympic athletes, but any review won’t be raising depressing concerns about the performance of our Paralympic athletes.

It’s time to get excited Australia, with nine and a half hours of live television coverage daily to keep you happy and up to date with our teams’ exploits.

A Slow Lead-Out, But It Just Wasn’t the Day For Our Men’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay Team

The Australian Men’s 4x100m freestyle relay team had an off day in the pool, no doubt about that. The team went into the race hot favourites after speeding into the final with the fastest time of all the countries contesting the event. They deserved their ‘favourite’ tag with former champion and world record holder Eamon Sullivan and current world champion and holder of the fastest time this year, James ‘Missile’ Magnussen in the team. The team also contained the not inexperienced Matt Targett and James Roberts who stormed onto the team for the individual event behind Magnussen with a time in the high 47 seconds.

But ultimately, the also fast and favourites until Australia stormed home in the heats yesterday morning, the French prevailed in a time of 3:09.93. They came home 0.45 of a second ahead of the United States of America (3:10.38) and the also speedy Russians who managed to edge out Australia for third in a time of 3:11.41.

It wasn’t poor preparation that brought the team undone. They’d had just as much time preparing for the race as the Olympic champion women’s team did the day before. They completely smashed it, with anchor Melanie Schlanger storming home for Australia to take the gold. They put a great race together with all firing just when they needed to and that translated to the first gold medal of the 2012 Olympic Games for the Australian team.

It was certainly not a lack of potential for speed with two of our swimmers, the two James’ swimming times of 47 seconds this calendar year. Both did that at winning the trials in Adelaide just a matter of months ago, with Magnussen finding himself just outside the world record. Eamon Sullivan too has shown himself capable of swimming a time in the range of 47 seconds. Sullivan broke the world record twice, first at 47.24 and then took it back from fast Frenchman Alain Bernard with a time of 47.05, the latter a time .05 seconds faster than Magnussen’s best time of 47.10.

The decision for Magnussen to swim both the morning heat of the race and the final was at the very least an interesting one. Usually the fastest in the team are omitted in the morning to save them for the evening, but James Magnussen opted to swim in the heats to “blow the cobwebs out”. Swimmer’s at the top level should be able to back-up and swim a faster time in the evening finals than in the heats.

Another interesting decision was for ‘the missile’ to lead out the team in the final overnight. The fastest swimmer in the team is often used to anchor the swim so that they can swim over the top of other competitor nations if they are ahead of them.

Instead the strategy was theorised as the fastest swimmer going out first and going out hard and getting the team a sizeable lead for the weaker swimmers to defend in the final three legs of the relay. But that lead never materialised and there were teams ahead of us with Magnussen swimming a very poor opening leg of 48.03, almost a second outside his best.

Australia was behind from the get-go and never recovered with the slower of the swimmers, not slow by any stretch of the imagination unable to cut the deficit left after the first leg.

But it would be wrong to think that the fourth place was because of those two decisions. It simply was not. While they were strange decisions, Magnussen could just as easily have swum the same time in bringing the Australian relay team home. We won’t ever know, but it’s entirely plausible.

It’s also wrong to focus all the blame for the race on Magnussen. Being about one and a half seconds off the pace it was more than down to the slow Magnussen swim. It would have been much closer were James able to swim at his best, with a medal a certainty had he swum his best time, but not the gold. The others were responsible for the remaining gap of about half a second from the gold medal time.

Put simple, it just wasn’t the day for the men’s 4x100m relay team. They were probably partly a victim of their own high expectations, but elite athletes can and should know how to deal with this, especially with the support staff on offer. The team just didn’t perform and James Magnussen should not be too hard on himself. We need him back and swimming like a torpedo for the individual men’s 100m freestyle.

But really, a key reason Australia didn’t do so well? France, the US and Russia took advantage of the situation and swam better than our team.

A Modest Proposal for Gun Control That Would Never Get Up

The latest gun massacre in the United States of America, this time in Aurora, Colorado has again sparked debate, within America and across the world about the sense or nonsense of the 2nd amendment right to bear arms. Twelve people were shot dead at a movie screening of The Dark Knight Rises and 58 further were injured by the gunman who burst into the cinema, let off teargas and began indiscriminately shooting at movie-goers.

The scenes of pandemonium that followed, including leaked mobile phone footage and the last tweets of some in the crowd will stick with people for a long time and must translate into at least some change in the gun laws.

Every year there are roughly 10,000 gun related murders in the United States of America out of a total number of murders close to 13,000 per annum. This is a truly horrifying statistic.

From the outset it is extremely important t0 acknowledge that no one “solution” to this incredibly difficult and fraught issue in US politics. Even a complete ban will not result in a massive reduction in gun-related deaths. People will do all they can to try and get their hands on firearms if they really want them and they will always exist in society.

There are two major problems that exist when thinking of gun crime. The first is that the right to bear arms applies to just about any weapon out there, in just about every state in the country. This access to an almost unlimited range of weapons includes some  capabilities that just about any military would be proud of being able to use.

The second major problem is that the ability to acquire weapons in most states in the USA is just way too easy and there are few checks and balances and the process to legally acquire a weapon is just too lax. There is just too little examination of people wanting to obtain a firearm, something that, while still a right, must be highly regulated.

While it is true that it is the person behind the weapon that does the damage, the damage done also has much to do with the types of guns that an American citizen has access to. Since when do everyday Americans need assault rifles and machine guns, even on properties used for farming? And tear gas? Please. Who on earth needs that? Nobody as yet over the years has been able to cogently explain and justify the need for the right to bear arms to translate into access to automatic and in most cases even semi-automatic firearms.

Gun laws, though regulated by the state, separate from the national constitutional right to bear arms need to be made more stringent, perhaps nationally consistent, though this may be constitutionally and politically impossible as any gun reform has proved to be so far.

So here’s a commonsense plan which would maintain the 2nd amendment rights of Americans, still keeping their right to possess such a deadly weapon while at the same time being realistic about the consequences of the more extreme weaponry around.

First, all states must at least ban access to all automatic weapons or guns that have the ability to operate automatically.

Second, access to semi-automatic weapons should at least be limited, though there should ideally be a strong presumption against people having or needing semi-automatic weapons.

A gun buy-back scheme, similar to the one instituted by the Howard Government after the Port Arthur massacre might be a way for honest citizens to hand over the automatic weapons that they frankly don’t need. Such a scheme would result in at least some of the weapons in circulation being taken out of the public and therefore away from the access of criminals.

As far as gun licensing and regulation goes, there should be a move to a stronger, more nationally consistent license and registration framework which takes into account the individual circumstances of applicants and makes purchasing a firearm a lot harder than buying a fast food meal.

But we must be realistic about things when it comes to gun control in the USA. First, it will never happen. The NRA as a lobby group just holds too much sway. Also, the inability of politicians to budge on such a wide interpretation of the 2nd amendment has hamstrung the prospects of any significant crackdown.

At the same time too, we must also be realistic then even the greatest crackdown on weapons will not remove the devastating consequences of gun crime, various examples of this exist worldwide, but it can be restricted.

The fact that even such a modest proposal like this one would never get up is a real shame.

Wheelchair Basketball: A Great Paralympic Sport

Time for another lesson in sports that will be a part of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London just 86 days. This time it’s the fast-paced, exciting and skillful game of Wheelchair Basketball.

Wheelchair Basketball is one of the most-watched sports for the disabled and also has one of the highest participation rates worldwide (there are 82 national organisations for the sport worldwide)

HOW PLAYERS ARE CLASSIFIED

In order to be able to play in national and international competitions players are classified on a scale of 1.0-4.5 points with the lower numbers applying to the least functional athletes and the higher numbers to the least impaired athletes.

A team with a total classification point score of no more than 14 is allowed on court at any one time.

PLAYERS 

Each team can have up to 12 players with a total of 5 playing on-court at any one time.

THE PLAYING ARENA

One of the amazing things about the sport of Wheelchair Basketball is that it is played on exactly the same-sized court as Basketball for the “able-bods”. The court consists of all the same dimensions from the 3 point line to the height of the hoop and the backboard.

DURATION OF THE GAME

The game consists of four 10 minute quarters with a 15 minute half-time break and 2 minutes between every other quarter.

THE RULES

Play in Wheelchair Basketball is almost identical to that in Basketball with play beginning from the centre of the court with the ball being tossed up by a match official.

The team in possession has 24 seconds to push forward and attempt to score before possession is turned over.

A free-throw is worth 1 point, there is 2 points for a shot outside the field shot zone and 3 points for a shot outside the 3 point area.

The “travelling” rule is invoked when a player touches his or her wheels more than twice after receiving or dribbling the ball. The player must pass, bounce or shoot the ball before touching the wheels again.

An offensive player cannot be in the free-throw lane more than 3 seconds in possession of the ball.

The wheelchair is considered part of the player so it may be used to block a player.

A technical foul has been deemed to have occurred if a player attempts to lift out of their chair and otherwise similar foul rules apply as with Basketball.

DEFENDING CHAMPIONS FROM THE 2008 PARALYMPICS

In the men’s draw the Australian team, known as the Rollers are the defending champions and in the women’s draw the USA are dual-defending Paralympic champions as well as world champions.

A LOOK AT THE GAME

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfB2BynBv2k&feature=related

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