How ‘We the People’ Lost Control of Our Own Country

March-In-March-State-LibraryForget media censorship. In Australia, there is a gravely concerning relationship between media ownership and public opinion censorship. What do I mean by that? I mean that while members of the public may have the right to choose what media to watch, generally, they’ll watch the most popular one or two. So freedom for other media entities to exist is excellent (and better than many less lucky countries), but it doesn’t change the fact that the largest of them will be the ones whose message is heard by that same majority. The more circulation (eyes and ears) a particular media entity controls , the more control they have over the TOTAL public perception and opinion. They control what is important, and what is not. March-in-March-Melbourne-2014-32Think about it like this. You’re an employee at a company and your boss sets a meeting agenda. She or he has the power to control exactly what to talk about during that half hour meeting. Even if you disagree with what’s most important, unless you can directly convince your boss otherwise, that agenda stays the same – how they want it. Which means that all the other colleagues at that meeting, believe that whatever is on that agenda, is what is most important. As a protestor in the “March in March” in Melbourne, my sense of deflation after the event at the lack of media coverage quickly turned to curiosity. I asked myself…”How could the Australian media ignore such a massive turnout? I was THERE! I saw it. My parents and my partners parents were there. THEY saw it. Sure there were some fringe hippies, but the majority of attendees seemed like completely average Aussie’s to me. There were tens and tens of thousands there. Why the post-protest radio silence?”. Now, I think some of it had to do with the lack of organisation from the protest founders – they didn’t exactly make it easy for the media to report. Secondly it was probably difficult for the media to put the protest into a neat box, when those who turned out were protesting everything from immigration policy to climate change to a general vote of no confidence in government. But, something tells me that’s not the whole story… Research has shown that media ownership is perhaps the most important impact on modern public thought and opinion. So then, lets dive into the concentration of media circulation in Australia. This is just an example using Newscorp. I’ve taken from a number of different sources to find their ownership across a variety of media to estimate what their potential TOTAL audience could be. Nine, 7 and APN Radio Stations, while they may stack up in numbers (eyes and ears), would not have the same number of people who see their news segments as Newscorp’s media entities combined.

Owner TV PayTV Newspaper Commercial Radio Internet Total Potential Eyes & Ears
AU Preference 90% 30% 10% 62.50% 40%
20,412,000.00 6,804,000.00 2,268,000.00 14,175,000.00 9,072,000.00 22680000
Newscorp 0% 63% 57% 0% 25% 7,847,280

This means Newscorp has the power to control what could be upward of 25-30% of those peoples voting preferences (with just over 14 million Australians voting at the 2013 Federal elections. Based on the two party preferred voting results, the “swing” between the parties was approximately 412,000 people. That’s just 5% of Newscorp’s total potential audience! Still think it’s not possible for a media entity to be able to help swing an election? March in March 2014What I find concerning is that the March in March, unlike other protests about specific areas of concern, was basically a march against a particular leader and a particular government, not just one particular policy decision. There has been nothing else like it in Australian history. Something to be concerned about? I’d say so! 112 thousands Australians got off their lazy asses on a Sunday, instead of signing a Getup or Change.org petition. If that’s how many people were willing to get out of bed for this, how many more were thinking it. And yet there was barely a wink of coverage on it in the media. How can the complete degradation of trust in the government from its citizens NOT constitute a media story? Or here’s another question, is a democracy really a democracy when protests don’t end in any political interface or conversation? (see outcome below)

Issue Protesters Year Outcome
March in March (Anti AU Govt) 112,000 2014 None
Climate Change Rally 60,000 2013 None
Occupy Melbourne 2,500 2011 None
Marriage Equality 5,000 2010 None
Industrial Relations (Howard) 250,000 2005 None
Iraq War 200,000 2003 None
Industrial Relations (Kennett) 150,000 1992 None

There is a misconception that politics is like a football game, the party who wins, even if its by just a few %, should mean that the other half of the country have to take whatever comes. The difference between a political win and a win at footy, is that the footy team only have themselves and their team (who won), to answer to – whereas in an election, the winning team must still look out for the interests of the losing team with the same amount of care as those who voted for them! it seems Australian politicians have lost sight of that. 2014-06-08_19-45-55 There is really further investigation that needs to be done to come to a strong hypothesis around this area but I’d be very interested in investigating the following: 1. Look at the number of people who attended a protest in Australia, and then cross reference that against the number of news articles for the protest, by company type and compare this also to the personal views of its chief controllers. 2. Look at total number of audience by media type, then cross reference against % of Liberal positive articles and then look at election outcomes (across both state and federal elections in the past) 3. The relationship between media coverage and interest in a protest, and the strength of political change brought about as a result of the protest (both in Australia and overseas).

So…how did we the people lose control of our own country? By letting others dictate what is important to our lives and what is not.  Feels like it’s time we as citizens question our own complacency and start to think about how we could regain our control.

In the mean time, my mother took photographs of a variety of rather witty signs from the March in March (whether you’re pro-Libs or not, they’re still amusing). I’d hazard a guess that this is the largest collection of March in March sign photography in Australia!

 

Proof everyone is NOT doing their bit for the 2014 Budget

Tonight, the Australian Govt budget was released.  To see the number of organisations being interviewed afterward almost in tears was quite devastating to watch.  The CEO of St Vincent De Paul put it eloquently:

‘There’s nothing admirable about humiliating people who can’t find work, nothing good about building the economy on the backs of the poor, and nothing smart about making it unaffordable to see a doctor’.

Out of the 20 or so interviews I watched on ABC News 24 this evening, there was only ONE person who was positive outside of the lot, and that was the representative of a Corporate Australia group.  Unsurprising?  Now who knows, maybe that’s bias, but lets look at the facts.

I have heard a bunch of rhetoric around “everyone must do their bit” to fill this budget deficit, as an answer to the deep cuts. For the moment, lets set aside the stuff that Labour and Greens keep talking about in terms of whether we really do have a problem or not (or whether the problem is as big as Liberals say it is), just because we have a Triple A credit rating, better than the US (blah, blah blah).

What I want to know is, when a representative of Corporate Australia smugly says “we’ll cop it, we’ll do out bit for the good of the country” – is it a FAIR ‘bit’?  i.e. are corporates/companies copping a proportionately fair amount of either cuts to services or additional taxes?

I don’t have exact figures on this, it has got some assumptions and worked backwards from this pie chart which shows a breakdown of tax contributions by segment to the Australian Govt annual revenue.  It’s 12am and I should be sleeping before an 8am catch up in the city and not writing a blog but I need to get this out!

Tax-Mix

So based on this, lets assume Corporate Australia (or at least companies) make about $153 billion in revenue post-costs (as company tax rate is 30% and that’s 3 times 76.6 billion) and according to the budget, they’re going to cop a $500m reduction (+ some other minor millions for certain key industries such as the auto industry).  That’s a 0.3% contribution based on total company revenue.

Australian citizens on the other hand, they’ll pay a total of $138m for an average of 6.9 visits to the doctor annually, plus $400m from the “top earners” paying a short term 2% extra tax on any amount earned above $180k which is already taxed at 45 cents in the dollar – (in the mean time, companies pay 30 cents in the dollar despite earning billions).

Lastly add to that the losses, the cuts of $80 billion across Health and Education (forget the investment into Medical Research…$20 billion is nothing in the world of Pharma – if a cool $20 billion was all it took to cure cancer as Joe Hockey tried to sell, trust me, it would have been done).  So, we add the taxes and the losses together for the average Aussie citizen and we get a total of $80.5 billion.  That’s a 13%  “contribution” by Australian citizens who let’s say earn an aggregate of $600 billion in wages minus tax deductibles (again I’m guessing based on working backwards from the total tax bill).

Let me repeat and make clear: 13% effective contribution averaged across ALL Aussie citizens verses 0.3% effective earnings contribution from companies. So I think we can safely say, that corporate Australia is happy for a reason…because they have in fact, not come even CLOSE to putting in their fair share for these services cuts and new taxes.

In the mean time, companies like Apple are being investigated for massive tax evasion (they paid just $193m tax on $27 BILLION REVENUE - that’s right kids, close to 10 BILLION worth of the 80 billion budget cuts being made could have been covered by the tax bill of the company you bought your last iPhone or iMac from).

Then there is the LOST revenue of the carbon tax which was going to be over $4b a year – now resulting, instead, in cuts to health and education when that could have been borne by business.  Instead, Aussie’s were worried about it hitting their pockets through high electricity bills.  Well guess what, its hitting their pocket anyway…and its even worse than the electricity bill.

In the mean time, a single mum with 3 kids has just been told today she’s going to need to shell out an extra $7 every time she takes one of her kids to the doctor…and then more at the pharmacy…and then more when she fills up on petrol…

Now, I’m not a maths whiz by any means…nor am I anti-corporate or company.  I have 3 start ups and I run my own business!  But I am also a citizen of the world and it seems to be, something is seriously, seriously wrong here.

Let me put it this way:
– Apple pays their outstanding tax bill and keep that money comin’ in for another 2 years ($24b)
– Australian companies pay an extra 5% in tax for ONE YEAR – I’ll happily sign up for that to save my friends and family affected by this ($7.6b)
– Abbott govt DOESN’T scrap the carbon tax for 3 years ($12b)
– Abbott reneg’s on his ridiculous purchase of military fighter jets ($12b)
– Top earning Aussies contribute 2% of earnings for 3 years ($1.5b)

And that’s already $57 billion over a 3 year period.  Budget problem solved. Hehe.

Obviously I am oversimplifying it, I get that.  But, sometimes looking at things simply, can help gain perspective.  One of my startups had a business model with a very complex formula, and today the business valuer found an error because he checked the math doing some really simple backward calculations.

In my very humble opinion, we live in a highly symbiotic relationship – businesses, and individuals – particularly in the way our capitalist society with socialist elements has been set up here in Australia.  That means that any major structural changes…to either side, can be highly damaging.

You can’t just take from one segment, you must take in proportional amounts, and those proportionate amounts must take into consideration the fact that equal contributions may not be enough (i.e. company profits go back into the company but profits are not forced to be distributed into new labour hire so i.e. more money for companies doesn’t automatically equal more jobs. Often they go to shareholders in dividends, and people who can afford to purchase company shares, are not those living on the poverty line – which means companies could AFFORD to bear a greater financial burden, and yet instead they are currently being asked to be just a fraction of it).

To shift the cycle, the cuts MUST be done so carefully as to have a proportionate negative effect.  Are cuts necessary – may yes, maybe no – that’s actually beside the point.  The point is, for the cuts not to wreak havoc by potentially causing other issues (e.g. low education and health standards in research is always correlated to low GDP contribution and low employment rates…etc), the negative effect must be carried fairly by the variety of parties who currently make up the tax revenue for the Australian government.

Alright time for bed.  I just hope others can find the time and patience to do a bit of sense checking themselves, and come to an informed conclusion, rather than hearing and believing whatever is they hear on TV (regardless of which political party its coming from).

A Song for the Silent

OK today’s post is a little different and a tad scarey to be sharing!  Some of you may or may not know that I write songs as a hobby. Over the last few months I have been reading lot – books, The Conversation, I’ve shelled out money to get the Climate Council back in action in Australia after it was shut down as soon as Tony Abbott assumed office, I’ve had contractors in the Philippines affected by Typhoon and the flooding that preceded in the months prior and I’ve attended one of the largest climate rally’s in Australian history in Melbourne.  So I have had lots to think about and act on my beliefs which, prior to this year, I hadn’t done since I was a kid living over in PNG where my Dad worked as a volunteer doctor for 3 years.  For a long time I forgot that I actually stood for something and so it has been nice to rediscover that part of my humanity post corporate-life.

I’m not usually a massive fan of overtly political songs which is why I have tried to keep this one fairly nondescript.  Its ultimately about any scenario of the powerful vs. the powerless – whether in government, business, school or relationships.  My partner is a music producer and a song recording was a belated birthday present.  This is the first song of my own that I have ever had recorded properly.  Hope it speaks to you in some way. (if you can’t see the embedded player below, go here to listen)

LYRICS

V1
Let’s say we let it go
Let’s say it all came crashing down
Let’s say we planned it all
Let’s say its no mistake of ours

Let’s deny it. Let us hide it
Let’s pretend the worlds ok
Let’s say defeat it, not really mean it
Let’s do anything
Never be responsible

CHORUS
And if you stay silent
You’re no better than them
Swing words as your swords
Use your hearts as an emblem

You’ve been fraught with it
You’ve been caught in it
You’ve been hauled through it
You’ve been lost in it
But no more

V2
Let’s promise everything
Let’s give them nothing in return
Let’s set their fear alight
Let’s fake sympathy and concern

Let’s be liars. Let them buy it
Those stupid people never ever learn
Let’s say its all their fault
Let’s say it’s them that don’t belong

CHORUS
And if you stay silent
You’re no better than them
Swing words as your swords
Use your hearts as an emblem

You’ve been fraught with it
You’ve been caught in it
You’ve been hauled through it
You’ve been lost in it x2

Let’s promise everything
Let’s give them nothing in return

Copyright 2013 Michelle Bourke

The Politics of Hormones

For the last two days every human being and animal I’ve crossed paths with has pissed me off.  And I can’t control it.  It was only when my partner gingerly pointed out one day that I seem to want to kill myself (or everyone else) on the same 3 days every month, that I realised that it was overwhelmingly brought on by my monthly hormone cycle.

Double-flowered carnationsThis morning I attempted to make myself feel better by having a healthy breakfast, buying some carnations and painting each fingernail a different colour of the rainbow.  It turns out chucking a hissy fit and have a rage-fueled cleaning spree did the trick instead.  As I was attempting to stuff these beautiful carnations into a ridiculously narrow vase, one of the flower heads popped off and I quickly realised this vase just wasn’t going to work and tension began to build.  I pulled the stems out and briefly glanced around the room only to be struck by the vision capabilities of a vampire, zeroing in on thousands of grotty specs of dust.  The kitchen was a pigsty.  The tension burst.  I screamed and threw the flowers stems across the room like a two year old.  Thankfully no one else was there to witness it.

And there you have it – human hormones in action.  Have too little of one and you become depressed, too much of another and you’re angry.  These regulatory substances that our own bodies produce, sometimes in cycles, sometimes in response to medications or environment, are created and then transported by our blood to stimulate specific cells or tissues into action.  Basically, they’re little chemical messengers that help to keep everything in balance.  Testosterone, Estrogen, Insulin, Oxytocin and even Dopamine as a peripheral hormone – over 50 of them in total.

But as anyone who has attempted to live a balanced life knows…balance is not exactly simple, it’s a constant juggling act.  So here’s my poor female  body, prepping itself to make babies every month while the rest of me has to catch up and balance all its internal chemicals just right to keep me sane.  I’m lucky it can at least do that.

Many of us would like to think we have absolute final control over our actions and disposition, but our predisposition toward certain behaviours or traits are governed by these chemical compounds which are originally a product of genetics or epigenetics, but then subject to change based on our own epigenome and our environment.  For instance, what we choose to eat or not to eat (given foods are also chemicals), will also effect the chemical composition of our guts and our bodies.  Here’s some examples of the power of hormones:

  • Pre-op Female Transexuals take more Estrogen to stimulate breast formation, heightening of voice and change of fat distribution across the body although this cannot change the effects of the androgens (testosterone and others) on the shape of the skeleton. Visa versa for Pre-op Male Transexuals.
  • Men who take more anabolic steroids like testosterone to make bones stronger and muscles bigger can have the side effect of high blood pressure, sharp aggressive moods, increase in body heat and reduced sperm count.Chemical structure of oxytocin.
  • Oxytocin has different effects in men verses women.  In men it improves the ability to identify competitive relationships whereas in women it facilitates the ability to identify kinship.  It is released by the body in high doses during pregnancy and around childbirth in order to ensure proper boding between the mother and the child and it is also released during sex, which is why women tend to interpret sex as having more meaning than males do, because while it can also be released in men – the presence of testosterone interferes with its release.
Cover of "Emotional Awareness: Overcoming...

Cover via Amazon

I have been reading Emotional Awareness which is a book that covers a 3 week conversation between the Dalai Lama and scientist Paul Eckman (who is behind vast tomes of research on human emotion and, in particular, how it is expressed in minute facial expressions.  His work formed the basis of the TV show “Lie to Me”). In the book they talk about the difference between moods and emotions – where a mood is generally not tied to a specific event or circumstance but has a continuous emotional effect, whereas an emotional episode is much more able to be linked to a trigger event.  In some ways, moods trigger emotional episodes that reflect the mood itself, while emotional episodes are often in response to some sort of external trigger.

When I look at this in the context of hormones, I can see how hormones would often be the precipitants of moods, which would then trigger a variety of emotional responses.  The stronger the hormone and stronger the mood, the stronger the emotional response, and of course like all learned human behaviour, these patterns would continue to strengthen over time if performed again and again and can be how people slip into ongoing depression or aggression.

All this also got me thinking about how religion deals with hormones and their effect on humans.  Two particular instances I can think of relate specifically to women:

  1. In Sharia (Islamic) law, two women must bear witness to a crime in order to be heard in court.  This is stated to be due to the emotional nature of women, although on further research I found the story was related directly to Mohammad wanting to save one of his wives from being stoned to death by being caught all one with another man by a woman.  It seemed he often made up rules to suit his worldly purposes.
  2. In Jewish law, a man cannot touch a woman who is in the bleeding section of her monthly cycle.

Interestingly, there seems to be no similar law governing the display of aggression in men which is similarly a hormone fueled disposition.  Perhaps from an evolutionary perspective this is because the male aggression hormone was highly useful during times of empire expansion and the need to protect land, while the female hormal response in its monthly cycle had no broader benefit (from the patriarchs perspective).

Because for the majority of history, both East and West have lived in patriarchal societies, the best way to look at hormones being a determinant of military and political outcomes is through a male sex hormone like Testosterone.  As an example, research in 1992 showed there was no difference in Testosterone levels between black and white boys during adolescence, but in adulthood, black male testosterone levels were much higher which then directly links to other statistics we see on the number of incarcerations of black verses white males.  Of course there are so many other factors involved including race related discrimination and levels of education…etc but hormones remain a factor.  For instance in contrast, there was significant racism in Western countries toward those of Chinese descent and yet their incarceration rate remains lower.  So if we widen out that thinking from groups to countries, we see the possibilities for testosterone levels in any particular age generation to change and potentially fuel the ability for one clan (or country) to change military outcomes, or to resort to military resolutions over negotiation.  Environmental factors also come into play with research showing in adult male rats that experience short term starvation can significantly reduce testosterone levels.

So here we have a mix of chemicals in our bodies which have the potential to guide us to achieve great good or great destruction and yet we have only scratched the surface in controlling their effects through various hormone replacement therapies that often have many unwanted side-effects of their own.

Fitbit: Wireless Personal Trainer

Fitbit: Wireless Personal Trainer (Photo credit: mrcd@sbcglobal.net)

Interestingly I recently did an interview with Jonathan Teo as part of a Fireside chat run by our meetup group Lean Startup Melbourne.  He led initial investor rounds into Twitter and Instagram and more recently Snapchat and is one of the key people in the tech industry who has been able to predict new technology trends.  One of the key trends being talked about in the tech industry at the moment is wearable tech (being able to monitor body functions insitu) – which is in part being quickly moved forward and expanded by breakthroughs in nanotechnology and size/power of computer chips.

At our last meetup, one of the speakers was from Lab on a Chip in Melbourne who talked about the real possibility in the near future of capabilities being produced that would enable the immediate mapping of genomes and epigenetic markers and then the smart releasing of medications or hormones through a patch (just like a smoking patch…but way smarter!).
Here’s hoping there’s a nanotech-hormone-patch for PMS before I smash a plate….or five.

Why money shouldn’t be a measure for progress

What do “happiness”, “progress” and “the meaning of life” all have in common?  They are all used to describe each other in some way, and yet, when used together they don’t always add up.  Here are the two most common implied equations I’ve seen:
Meaning of life = happiness /  Happiness = progress
Meaning of life = progress / Progress = happiness

The inherent assumption in that a state of happiness is directly and upwardly correlated with progress which feels inherently flawed to me because…

1.  It assumes an understanding of the meaning of life for each individual
– Science would suggest the only meaning of life is that your cells replicate and enable another human being to replace you – biological survival 101.  Therefore the only relevance of progress in this context is biological, and even then this may not mean extending life given that could reduce replication. Science would also place emphasis on the uncovering of new knowledge as progress for humanity in discovering an overall meaning which has not yet been found yet.

- Islam places great emphasis on the afterlife and suggests the meaning of this life is preparation for the next – therefore progress is not particularly relevant.

- Buddhism places emphasis on the achievement of positivity and the potential for reincarnation into a new body to live again – again progress is not the emphasis.

- Christianity places emphasis on positive personal relationships and a personal relationship with God or Jesus.

- Capitalism places emphasis on the achievement of material wealth, progress is an emphasis here as it “creates fuel for the fire” – by providing a progress as a proxy for meaning in order to create wealth.  The important thing to note is that in capitalism, the “winner” is the entity with the most highest dividend pay outs to its investors, so the end game is not progress or happiness.

With all of these broad brushstroke ideas about meaning, the individual is ignored – even though it is the individuals perception of meaning that matters.  Interestingly I found it pretty much impossible to find any large scale scientific study on people’s own perception of the meaning of life for themselves personally and then for the human race in general which seemed odd…given we’re all alive and doing “stuff”…surely we’d want to know, in general, what others think its all for!

Apart from Capitalism…which isn’t really a philosophy, its a way of managing money markets…there isn’t an interpretation of the meaning of life requiring any link whatsoever to Gross Domestic Product GDP(which is what most countries used to determine their country’s relative position in comparison to other countries when it comes to progress)

I did find this interesting graph showing GDP vs. happiness…showing there really is no correlation.  The poor people of Columbia and Guinea are just as happy as some of the worlds richest countries by GDP: Switzerland and Denmark, and are more happy than people in the US which enjoys the worlds second highest GDP.
600px-Life_Satisfaction_vs_GDP

2.  It assumes a meaningful life equals a happy life and that meaning is derived through progress which is derived through a combination of health and income
In many ways meaning and happiness are connected – if you feel having a purpose or meaning is important to your life, then without it, you’ll probably be unhappy (although there’s still people out there who don’t require stated purpose or meaning to experience happiness…most kids don’t!).  So that connection feels right (again I wasn’t able to find any large scale scientific studies on it – weird).

I think where we get off track is when we assume that the meaning itself is derived through progress which we assume comes from income and health.  There could be so many other interpretations of progress and meaning – and in fact when people talk about life meaning or purpose, they often talking about “leaving something for their kids”, having a positive impact on others” – none of these things require progress or money to do.
As a side note, the rise of obesity and depression in Western Societies also shows the pursuit of personal income comes with some heavy side effects

The other important aspect of how meaning is described in an economic progress context is often on a macro, rather than micro level.  That is,  the effect felt by humanity as it progresses after an individuals death, not the meaning experienced by the individuals themselves during their own lifetime.  For example – how much meaning would someone working in the industrial car age have received in working on the same car parts every single day?  I’d say not as much as the meaning derived by humanity in the ability to now transport themselves hundreds of miles in mere hours that perhaps allows them to live, work or visit family that would have otherwise been difficult in the past.  Does progress require that some must suffer so that others may benefit?  And if so, are there some benefits that are not worth the suffering, when the benefit only contributes to economic progress and not directly to meaning or happiness?

So what’s more important, meaning or happiness?
Well logic suggests a balance of both.  And the data suggests countries could achieve this balance in ways other than measuring GDP which does not correlate to happiness forever.  Compared to ancient market forces, capitalism is a baby.   Who can say whether it will continue to sustain itself.  If (or as some would say, when) it fails, we need a system that can maintain happiness and meaning in balance or the humans of that generation will suffer a deep psychological chasm that could hurt generations into their future.  If we used Guinea or Costa Rica or Colombia as case studies, we could find key elements to a new structure that would enable meaning to thrive without capitalism.  My guess is it is heavily reliant on a sense of family and community and is supported by cultural modes of working and interacting that are native to the area – although I’d need more time to look into it.

The reality is most humans aren’t going to turn around and sign up to a new way of working if it sends them back to the dark ages and having to farm their own fruit and veg living naked on a commune farm in Tasmania (sorry to my dear Hippy friends!) – so we need a system that allows us to maintain similar lifestyle but also make considerable leaps forward in our personal well-being and happiness.

This would be my checklist for finding an alternative:
1.  Run a survey to 50k people on Google Consumer Surveys for $10k (cheapest way to run surveys around!) and get responses to two key questions:
a) What do you believe is the meaning of life for you?
b) What do you believe is the meaning of life for human kind?
c) What makes you happy?
d) Do you think that happiness and meaning are connected? (e.g. without meaning, you can’t have happiness or visa versa)
f) Do you believe you would be happier if you earned more money?

2.  Study societies where GDP and happiness are not correlated, find the source of happiness for those communities and look at ways these could be applied in other societies.  Bhutan’s fourth Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck  was onto something when he coined the term “Gross National Happiness” as a way of measuring a countries psychological state as an important and connected measure of progress, verses just the traditional monetary economic measurement.

3.  Study societies where technological and scientific progress occurred without capitalism or communism, then get sci-fi fantasy writers and economists into a room for a brainstorm session!  Creativity and logic are powerful combinations for innovation.

4.  Get the economists to create economic models, to model out the transition to the new state (or the transition from a failed state to the new alternative) because it has been too long really since anyone properly got their hands dirty on this one as there are so many things that need to be taken into account – particularly in a transition model where the transition would necessarily begin with education of young minds and would need to occur over perhaps 100-150 years.  Some good alternatives exist for business which you can read about here, but communism and socialism tend not to work if applied as the only system of governance across a country because humans have an inherent need to be individual while also being a part of a community and that must be balanced appropriately.  (Australia has some socialist constructs which were created with the best of intentions but do end up with some unwanted side effects in the market – such as Medicare which provides much needed care for our poorest, but also encourages those with enough money to rely on and overuse the system, come to expect more than necessary and makes doctors and clinics dependent on the system also which may have some impacts on innovation.)

We measure money and not happiness because its EASY.  But easy doesn’t make it fit for purpose.  1+1 = 2, but that equation won’t solve Einsteins theory of relativity.   It simplifies humans to a common denominator that doesn’t even match their perceived experience of reality!

I don’t have $10k lying around right now to do the research, but I’d be interested to know YOUR answers to those survey questions if anyone would like to share :-D

A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in 13 Steps

I always found it really difficult to understand what the hell was going on in news reports around the Middle East.  It all seemed like the same thing to me.  Everyone was fighting each other about the same stuff.  Obviously I was obliviously wrong, as I have found out through my new obsession with history and politics, so here is my brief overview for your benefit as well.  I don’t expect that this account is all encompassing and because my knowledge is still limited there may be bits and pieces that I’ll need to revise as I learn more.  Thanks to my awesome friend Glynn who studied Politics at Melbourne Uni and is now doing his Masters in International Relations at Monash for loaning me a book (US Foreign Policy in the Middle East – The Roots of anti-Americanism by Kylie Baxter and Shahram Akbarzadeh) which I have also used as a reference point for the below information.

I always find it useful to have a map handy when I try and visualize these moments in history.  I recommend this one for historical maps of Israel.

ONE
Somewhere between 1400BC and 1200BC, Israelites were being persecuted by the Egyptians.  According to the old testament of the Christian bible (Exodus 6:2-8) and the Torah, God speaks to Moses and promises Israel to the descendants of his people. Through history, the Jewish understanding of God has been a very personal one – as scripture says “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God”.  This creates a psychological connection between the Jewish people, their religion and their promised land through time.

TWO
The diaspora (scattering) of Jewish people from their original home (within the area of Israel) throughout Europe and Russia from 1400 onwards happened for a variety of reasons that are often debated.  Some suggest it is the result of multiple persecutions and expulsions, others, that migration (including violent expulsions) were (and are) a normal part of human history.  Whatever the truth, the Jews were one of many Diasporas that occurred over a similar time frame including the Armenians and the Chinese.  It is also important to note that Jews maintained a presence in Israel throughout their history (although diminishing until the mid 1800’s).

herzlTHREE
In 1896, Viennese Theodor Herzl (founder of political Zionism – the movement and belief in the return of Jews to the land promised to them by God via Moses) published “the Jewish State” which in turn influenced Russian-Polish Doctor Leo Pinsker who (in response to anti-Semitic violence at the time in Russia) became a strong Jewish Nationalist and wrote “Auto-Emancipation” arguing that a Jewish Homeland was the only solution for the Jewish people.  it should be noted that in the ensuing growth of the Zionist movement, not Zionists were religious, for some it was about the biblical connection and promise, for it was about the original Jewish home.

ww2-newspaperFOUR
In the lead up to WW1, the German Empire was already experiencing unrest between the German (and broader European society) and Jews.  When Kaiser Wilhelm decided to take Germany on a new path, it led to the country’s diplomatic support for Austria-Hungary after the country declared war on Serbia and ultimately initiated WW1.

While a general fear or concern of Jews related to differences in beliefs between religions, political influence and economic power existed many years prior to WW1, a broader belief that the German Jews lacked of patriotism was heightened after WW1 and led to mainstream anti-semitism (despite the fact that according to many reports, more Jews fought in the German army than any other political or religious group).  WW1 ended for a number of different reasons, the main ones being Germany’s lack of access to military supplies due to a blockade, significant military causalities with worse threatened due to the allied forces (British Empire, France, Russia, US…etc) and the threat of new weapons and tactics from those forces.

The Turkish created Ottoman Empire who had long ruled the Middle East at the time, signed its own death certificate by supporting Germany in this war – they had carried out genocide against the Armenians.

The League of Nations (founded with 42 member countries) was subsequently set up on the back of the Versailles treaty to promote peace between countries and to prevent a similar outbreak of war from occurring again.

Sharif_HusaynFIVE
At the same time In the lead up to WW1 in the Middle East, the powerful Hashemite family (Sharif Husayn of Mecca – in modern Saudi Arabia, whose family were considered direct descendants of Mohammad) has been in contact with United Kingdom’s High Commissioner based in Egypt.  Husayn was looking for British support for their forces to lead a revolt against Ottoman rule in al-Ḥiǧāz and secure land for their own rule.  (see the translated letters here).  The promise from Britain was support for the action – and ultimately Arab self-determination, but it was never defined how much land would be apportioned to this new potential Arab state.  On the premise of British support, the Hashemite family instigated the Arab Revolt in 1916, but did not receive the military supply support needed to sustain and grow as the leaders had expected.

israel1SIX
Back in the Europe, Britain and the US, with strong networks, the Zionist movement and power increased until, in 1917, (despite the previous, although ambiguous British support for Arab rule in the Middle East), Zionist Patron Lord Rothschild was granted a declaration via Arthur James Balfour from the Queen of England stating that:
“her Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

FIVE
As a result of the loss in WW1, between 1918 and 1922, the Sykes-Picot Agreement of Feb 1916 provided the League of Nations with the power to grant France mandates over Syria and Lebanon , United Kingdom mandates over Mesopotamia and Palestine (later divided into Palestine and Transjordan).  Parts of the Ottoman Empire on the Arabian Peninsula became parts of what are today Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

sykespicot

In 1919, the US government authored the King-Crane Commission which evidenced a requirement of significant military force to implement the Balfour agreement with the Zionist Jewish community, and as a result, indicated a strong sense of injustice in the Zionist program that would also go against the understanding of the agreement that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

So England made good on SOME of the agreement with the Hashemite family…but it certainly wasn’t what the Hashemite family had been expecting or hoping for, and in the case of Palestine, it had provided a completely different and altogether more binding commitment to the Jewish Zionist community for their settlement in Palestine.

Palest_against_britishSIX
At the time of the Balfour agreement, there were 56k Jews vs. 700k Palestinians living in the area in and around Israel, these Jews had been living in the area throughout the time of the Ottoman Empire.  In fact reports suggest throughout some of the history of the empire Christians, Muslims and Jews lived side by side in relative peace.

Immigrant Jews, escaping the atrocities of WW1 and the ingrained European xenophobia that had been bubbling for hundreds of years, saw this as the ideal solution.  During the 3rd and 4th Aliyah (1919-1929) 122k Jews migrated to Palestine.

However as their numbers swelled, tension between the Jewish and Palestinian communities began to rise significantly.  If we think about this in the context of the refugee or immigration in Australia, we have a cap of 20,000 on refugees and 190,000 for immigration.  In contrast we have 297,000 births a year and an existing citizenship of 22.68 million.  That’s 0.93% of our total population and those immigrating are across a variety of countries and religions.  So the swelling of tens of thousands of Jews into a total Palestinian population of 700k shows just how and why there was such significant tension that grew so quickly where immigration laws and quotas had not be set or enforced by the British government on behalf of the democratic mix of original inhabitants (which included both Jews and Palestinians).

In 1922, a British Whitepaper released by the Churchill government acknowledged the situation as untenable in writing “The status of all citizens of Palestine in the eyes of the law shall be Palestinian, and it has never been intended that they, or any section of them, should possess any other judicial status”.

Despite this, due to rising tensions post WW1, a further 250,000 Jews migrated to Palestine during the 5th Aliyah (1929-1939) and the Nazi’s negotiated an agreement to transfer another 50,000 Jews during their rise to power.    Between 1933 and 1948, Britain placed quotas on Jewish immigration to Palestine.  This led Jews who were attempting to escape the growing antisemitism in Europe, to choose illegal immigration (which came to be known as Aliyah Bet). 

Under British Mandate, the Palestinians had no truly powerful political representative other than the British government itself.  And so this situation ultimately instigated the Arab Revolt in 1936-39, a period of intense violence led by the Arab Higher Committee targeting both Jewish and British interests (that had started as a civil protest against the British governments sale of Palestinian land to the Zionist movement but rapidly deteriorated).

At the end of this revolt in 1939, the British government stated again that His Majesty’s Government therefore now declare that it is not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish state. [It is] contrary to their obligations to the Arabs under the Mandate.”

Shortly after this time, the Jewish population in Palestine had reached 450,000.

SEVEN
n_holocaust_wiesel_130127Then came WW2 which began in 1939 because Germany had not, and did not want to fulfil its obligations under the Versillias treaty (accepting blame for starting WW1, paying 6.6m in damages, disarming their military, the removal of land and forbidding of union with Austria).

In the middle of the war, in 1942, the outcomes of an international Zionism conference resulted in the Biltmore Program which called for an immediate reimplementation of the original purpose of the Balfour declaration which the British government had denounced in 1939.

By 1945, it was estimated the Holocaust had been responsible for claiming the lives of 6 million Jews and the European Jewish communities had been largely decimated.  In the aftermath of these horrors, the local Jewish community in Palestine turned against the British Mandate and illegal immigration continued as the Jewish community looked for a way to aid their Jewish family and comrades in their time of need.

However, some factions of the Zionist community had also gained significant military experience throughout the war.  Groups including the Irgun, Lehi and Haganah began to set up military forces to proactively defend Jewish communities in Israel against Palestinian attack (although these groups had varying amounts of support for their approach from Jewish immigrants).  Regardless of the thoughts of the rest of the Jewish community at that time, 2 years after the official end of WW1, in 1947, Palestine was in a state of chaos due to cyclical violence between the military groups defending the two communities.

The UK had obviously had a enough of attempting to fix the issue that it had created in Palestine and so referred it on to the United Nations (which had been set up to replace the disbanded League of Nations).

1947-partitionEIGHT
The UN passed Resolution 181 in November 1947 to partition Palestine into two states in which over the preceding 20 years, had grown its Jewish population from 56k to 500k due to immigration, nearly outnumbering the Palestinians.  Post-war superpowers Russia and America endorsed the new state and gave it international legitimacy (despite the initial concern of the US in its King-Crane commission report 28 years prior).  How quickly a nation forgets.

In short, the Jews accepted the partition and the Palestinians (who were represented by the Arab Higher Commission), rejected it completely and threatened force.  The day after Israel’s declaration of independence, an Arab force entered the new state started the first major Arab-Israeli war.

Palestinian citizens fled in what is known as the Palestinian Exodus or an-Nakbah (“disaster” in Arabic).  There is significant contention between Jewish and Arab historians as to what happened.  Israeli historians tend to focus on information that suggests Arab leaders told the Palestinian people to leave and return after the war was over.  Other historians suggest a wide range of factors including Jewish military advances, attacks against Arab villages and fears of massacre after Deir Yassin which caused many to leave out of panic; expulsion orders by Zionist authorities; the voluntary self-removal of the wealthier classes, the collapse in Palestinian leadership, and an unwillingness to live under Jewish control.  Later, a series of laws passed by the first Israeli government prevented Arab Palestinians from returning to their homes, or claiming their property.  Whatever the truth of history – Palestinian Arabs were frightened, coerced or trusted their leaders words and left.  This exodus over over 700k people in 1948 caused further problems as it left those remaining in a state of chaos without the power of people and political institutions to properly deal with their situation.

Some might ask – if both sides perpetrated violence, why would the Arabs have been the ones to leave?  Why did the Jewish community remain steadfast?  I wonder (no evidence here, just a thought) if it had to do with the fact that the Jews had just escaped from a situation that was far worse all across Europe. Their capacity to cope with the violent situation and stand their ground for a new sense of true home they felt they hadn’t enjoyed in many years provided them with stronger determination than the Palestinians who underestimated this significant psychological background.

By 1949, Israel had laid claim to victory.  In that same year, 700k+ Palestinians were refugees.  Similarly over the following 30 years between 1948 and the 1970’s there was a mass exodus of 800,000 to 1,000,000 Jews from Arab and Muslim countries respectively.  Some as a result of fear, others due to forced expulsion.  And again, perhaps in response to the Jewish laws, Arab countries enacted similar laws disallowing Jews from return or collection of owned property.  It seems the “eye for an eye” response mechanism was in full force.  In fact, even today, many Arabic countries will refuse entry to any tourist who has a Hebrew stamp on their passport.  Perhaps he key difference between the two exodus (Palestinian vs. Jewish) is that Jews had a recognised nation state happy to take them in as citizens, and so 600,000 of those who left Arab and Muslim countries migrated to the new Jewish nation of Israel.

suez_warNINE
In 1956, war broke out again – this time between Egypt and Israel.  Gamal Abdul Nasser had asked for a loan from the US government for the construction of the Aswan Dam and was initial accepted and then rejected after the US learned of his overtures to the Soviet Union.  In response, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal which deprived Israel of its waterway access and UK and France of their profits.  Of course this simply aggravated the colonial powers who then led a joint military operation to take the canal back.  In response to widespread protests, the US condemned this action and called for sanctions against Israel.  Operation Musketeer (UK, France and Israel) were eventually forced to withdraw as a result, however, Nasser’s decision to turn to the Soviet Union in the 1950’s further distanced US support from the country.

TEN
In the lead up to 1967, as hostilities between Israel and its neighbours continued, Egypt moved to protect resources and land in Mt Sinai to protect Syria.  Israel found itself surrounded.  But on 11 June 1967 – 6 days after the war started it was over (in what is now known as the 6 Day War).  Israel had used misinformation, military knowledge and tactics to its advantage and had illegally expanded into the West Bank, Sinai and Golan Heights – subsequently Israel became responsible for the more than 1 million Palestinians who lived in those regions.  It had increased its size 6 times.

Oil EmargoELEVEN
By 1973, Israel’s military strategy was one of active deterrence.  As the Soviet Union continued to provide military support to Egypt and Syria on behalf of the Palestinians, America was undecided.  In the end, Israel were able to plan and stop an attack from Arab forces.  Another military victory that is now known as the Yom Kippur War.

However post this second defeat, by way of protest, Saudi Arabia led a new oil embargo on Western countries and Israel.  While politically, if the opposite were true, the West would have done the same – it of course reacted badly to the embargo and this brought Israel and the US closer together than ever before.

By 1981, the US had signed their first strategic cooperation agreement with Israel against Soviet influence. And so it was that since the time of the Ottoman empire, the Arabs had backed the wrong horse (given the eventual outcome of the Cold War and ultimate demise of the Soviet Union).

plo-ira1TWELVE
In 1982, Israel invaded original French mandate Lebanon who housed the growing PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation) and incurred the condemnation of the international community.  Eventually 11,000 PLO fighters were physically relocated to Tunisia in a US-sponsored deal.  The Israeli army did not withdraw from Lebanon until May 2000.

LON009D_waTHIRTEEN
There have been 1060 UN resolutions concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The Oslo Accords in 1995 dealt with significant issues around resource use, including roads and water.  The biggest issue is really now the resettlement of 1.4 million of Palestinian refugees, a third of which live in UNHCR registered refugee camps.  50k of the original refugees remain.

The refusal of Jordan and other surrounding countries to grant citizenship to Palestinian refugees makes the conflict a cyclical one – for Israel’s power and force will now never cede its territory, despite how legitimate or illegitimate its original creation may have been.

In response to a weakening trend in Palestinian violence and growing economic and security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli military has removed over 120 check points in 2010 and plans on disengaging from major Palestinian population areas.

Neither Israeli or Palestinian civilians support the violence  – although latest polls (Aug 2013) shows support for a resumption of Peace talks with Israel is down 9% to 67%.  Although this is still an overwhelming majority, its understandable that support would waver up and down over time – I think its hard for any people to keep a positive outlook in the face of so many peace talks that do not end in practical peace that directly improves daily existence.

Palestinians born after 1920 would not even recall their old state as it existed before their birth.  These people would now be 93.  i.e. there are likely less than a few hundred people who would remember a time before Jewish immigration from Europe and America.

Like Australian Aboriginals driven out of their land, dispossessed and disenfranchised, we know the many years it takes for those societies to heal.

200 years later there is still no true mental peace for Indigenous Australians (although history would show those atrocities were more like the genocide experienced by the Jews than those experienced by the Palestinians).  The Jewish people themselves have not yet healed from the atrocities of the holocaust.  They know the horrors of freedoms taken all too well.

Regardless, it will take another 100 years or more for the Palestinian people to find their peace from the psychological trauma of the last 100 years.

In the mean time, the world moves on to other conflicts that take the fancy of the media – Syria most recently.  Sometimes I feel like our world is a lonely place full of lonely hearts looking for answers that are just, and will always be, out of reach.

Australian Minister Crisis: Our Leader Knowledge Deficit

English: en:Julie Bishop, Deputy Leader of the...

Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I had a brief but interesting conversation with a work colleague which ended in this person angrily denouncing the background of former Finance Minister Penny Wong – explaining that she didn’t really have any finance experience at all, and also revealing they voted Liberals in the same sentence.  I took the mention of these two things together to suggest my colleague was making the assumption that the Liberal party had candidates that were more educated and better suited to their roles.  So I decided to do a bit of my own research and answer the question with some actual evidence.

I created a spreadsheet of each of the newly announced Ministers for the Abbott Government and compared them against the previous Labor Government minister that was in the role the longest (as there were quite a few changes at the end – but I’m going to ignore those for the purpose of this exercise.  Then I went about confirming the educational and industry experience background of each and every single member and based on that, judging whether their experience and education was relevant to their appointed portfolio.

Note that I have NOT counted experience managing a folio in government as “experience” in the industry.  I don’t think this information is available anywhere on the internet and it took me about 4 hours to do so hopefully its useful to people other than my curious-self!

Alright, drum roll for the results…

AUSTRALIAN LIBERAL PARTY MINISTERS
(Newly appointment Abbott Government Ministers)

Portfolio Liberal Minister Education Experience Relevant?
Prime Minister Tony Abbott Bachelor Economics, Law Journalist, Plant Manager, Political Advisor (10 yrs), Parliament (17 yrs) N/A
Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop Bachelor Law, Harvard Mgmt Program Lawyer (20yrs), Parliament (14yrs) No
Infrastructure & Regional Development Warren Truss Highschool Farmer, Chair on multiple regional agriculture boards (12yrs), Parliament (12yrs) Part
Employment Eric Abetz Bachelor Arts, Law Lawyer (28yrs), Parliament (6 yrs) No
Arts George Brandis QC  Bachelor Arts/Law, BA Civil Law Lawyer (20yrs), Parliament (7yrs) No
Social Services Kevin Andrews Bachelor Arts, Law, Masters Layer/Lawyer Education/assistance (11yrs), Parliament (22 yrs) No
Human Services Marise Payne Bachelor Arts, Law Political and public affairs advisor (10 yrs), Parliament (16 yrs) No
Small Business Bruce Billson Bachelor Business, DipEd Mgmt Public Service (3yrs), Parliament (17yrs) No
Environment Greg Hunt Bachelor Arts, Law, MA Public servent – advisor on foreign policy (10yrs), Parliament (12yrs) No
Immigration & Border Protection Scott Morrison  Bachelor Science Policy and research council (6 yrs) Senior roles in tourism (7 yrs), Parliament (6yrs) Part
Finance Matthias Corman Bachelor Law Health (4yrs), Public service (7yrs), Parliament (6 yrs) No
Health and Sport Peter Dutton Bachelor Business Police Officer (9yrs), Parliament (12yrs) No
Defence David Johnston Bachelor Jurisprudence Barrister & Solicitor (20 yrs), Parliament (17yrs) No
Agriculture Barnaby Joyce Bachelor Commerce Grew up on cattle farm, Army reserve  (5yrs), Accountant (5-10yrs), Parliament (5-10yrs) Part
Justice Michael Keenan Bachelor Arts, Philosophy Bar attnt/salesman (8 yrs), real estate  (4 yrs), Parliament (6 yrs) No
Education Christopher Pyne  Bachelor Law Public service (3yrs), Solicitor (3yrs), Parliament (20yrs) No
Industry Ian Macfarlane  Highschool Farmer, President on multiple regional agriculture boards (25yrs), Parliament (10 yrs) Yes
Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion  Rural leadership program graduate Fisherman, Business Owner, Mining co researcher & manager, company director, Seafood councils, Parliament (11 yrs) No
Veterans Affairs & ANZAC Michael Ronaldson  Bachelor Law Barrister & Solicitor (18 yrs), Parliament (21yrs) No
Trade and Investment Andrew Robb  Bachelor Economics and Agricultural Science Animal health officer (2 yrs), Agricultural economics (5 yrs), ED Farmers Assoc (7 yrs), Senior exec/SEO/Chair multiple pharma co’s, Praliament (9 yrs) Yes
Communications Malcolm Turnbull  Bachelor Arts, Law, Civil Law Journo (4 yrs), Barrister/Gen Counsel (7 yrs), Biz owner & grazier (10yrs), Chairman Ozemail (5 yrs), Parliament (12yrs) Yes
Housing & Homelessness N/A N/A N/A N/A
Financial Services & Superannuation N/A N/A N/A N/A
Treasurer Joe Hockey Bachelor Arts, Law Banking and finance lawyer/public policy (10 yrs), Parliament (14 yrs) Part


AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY MINISTERS
(Rudd Government Ministers / Gillard Government Ministers)
*Note, I have chosen the “main” minister – that is, the minister that spent the most time in the position while Labor was in government.

Portfolio Main Labor Minister Changes Education Experience Relevant?
Prime Minister Juilia Gillard 1 Bachelor Arts, Law Industrial Lawyer (12 yrs), Parliament (15 yrs) N/A
Foreign Affairs Kevin Rudd 2 Bachelor Arts Diplomat (7yrs), CoS/Dir-Gen (7yrs), China consultant(3yrs), Parliament (15yrs) Yes
Infrastructure & Regional Development Anthony Albanese 0 Bachelor Economics Bank officer (1yr) and researcher (4 yrs), Party official (6yrs), Policy advisor (1yr), Parliament (17yrs) No
Employment Bill Shorten 3 Bachelor Arts/Law Superannuation director (9 yrs), Workers Union (6 yrs), Parliament (6yrs) Yes
Arts Simon Crean 2 Bachelor Law, BA Economics Labour Unions (20yrs), Parliament (23yrs) No
Social Services Jenny Macklin 0 Bachelor Comms Researcher (9 yrs), Health strategy (8yrs), Parliament (10yrs) Yes
Human Services Multiple: no one had this role for more than 12 months under the former Labor govt 5 Multiple Multiple No
Small Business Gary Gray 4 Bachelor Economics ALP Secretariat (14yrs), ED Med research (1yr), Snr Mining exec (6 yrs), parliament )6yrs) Part
Environment Tony Burke 2 Bachelor Arts, Law Shop assistant (9 yrs), Electorate office (2 yrs), Union (7 yrs) No
Immigration & Border Protection Chris Bowen 3 Bachelor Economics Researcher (1yr), Union (5 yrs), Public service (6 yrs), Parliament (9 yrs) No
Finance Penny Wong 2 Bachelor Arts/Law Law (6), Unions (4yrs), Parliament (11yrs) No
Health and Sport Tanya Plibersek 1 Bachelor Comms/Masters Politics & public Policy 20 years in public policy and parliament No
Defence Stephen Smith 2 Bachelor Law Barrister/Tutor (7yrs), party treasurer & advisor (10 yrs), Parliament (10yrs) No
Agriculture Joe Ludwig 2 Bachelor Arts, Law Industrial inspector (10 yrs), Training consultant (6yrs), Parliament (13yrs) Part
Justice Jason Clare 1 Bachelor Arts, Law Corp relations (4 yrs), Policy advisor (6 yrs), Parliament (10yrs) No
Education Peter Garrett 4 Bachelor Arts Musician and activist (28yrs), Parliament (11yrs) No
Industry Kim Carr 2 Bachelor Arts, MA, DipEd Teacher (11 yrs), Ministerial advisor and policy analyst, parliament (20 yrs) No
Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin 0 Bachelor Comms Researcher (9 yrs), Health strategy (8yrs), Parliament (10yrs) No
Veterans Affairs & ANZAC N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Trade and Investment Craig Emerson 3 Bachelor/MA/PhD Economics, PhD Philosophy UN Economic analyst, CEO SQ transit authority, Public service (10 yrs), Parliament (20 yrs) Part
Communications Stephen Conroy 1 Bachelor Economics Superannuation officer, research assistant, Parliament (14 yrs) No
Housing & Homelessness Brendan O’Connor 5 Bachelor Arts, Law Union official (11 yrs), Parliament (12 yrs) No
Financial Services & Superannuation Bill Shorten 3 Bachelor Arts/Law Superannuation director (9 yrs), Workers Union (6 yrs), Parliament (6yrs) Yes
Treasurer Wayne Swan 1 Bachelor Arts Lecturer (12 yrs), Analyist and advisor (4 yrs), Parliament (14 yrs) No

I also did a quick analysis of a number of other things I often hear people spouting like “There’s much more experience in Liberal” or “Labor are riddled with Unionists” or “Liberals have a shitload of Lawyers”…or something along those lines.  Now here’s the truth:

Item Liberal Labor
Number of Lawyers 13 (59%) 11 (47%)
Number of Unionists 0 (0%) 6 (26%)
Number of Biz/Comm/Economists 5 (21%) 6 (26%)
Number of Arts Degrees 8 (33%) 12 (52%)
Years experience in Parliament 272 years 265 years

SO WHAT HAVE I LEARNED…

  1. The level of appropriate skills matching between ministers and their portfolios is an absolute JOKE with BOTH parties, in the Liberal Party only Malcolm Turnbull, Andrew Robb and Ian Macfarlane had the necessary industry background for their roles.  In Labor – only Bill Shorten, Jenny Macklin (not her role in Indigenous Affairs) and Kevin Rudd (as Foreign Minister) had the necessary backgrounds for their roles.  This is just not good enough.  There wouldn’t be a CEO in the world (unless he or she were a startup CEO), who would be hired by the board if they didn’t have extensive experience in their area.  Let’s take Telstra CEO David Thodey for example.  He worked in sales and the senior exec positions for IBM and then Telstra for close to 20 years…the guy knew his telecommunications before he stepped into a role with a company that hires 45,000 Australians and manages 25.5 billion in annual revenues.  Yet, just as an example Marise Payne who managers Human Services has no background in it, and yet she’s responsible for a portfolio containing Medicare AND Centrelink – equal to probably over 200 billion or more each year!  Whhhhatttt?  Let me make this clear to BOTH parties: 20 years experience as a Lawyer DOES NOT make you an experienced leader fit for a role managing a portfolio you know nothing about – no matter how you want to argue it!
  2. There is WAY too much change, surely making it nigh on impossible for anyone to get any real work done when ministerial management changes up to once every year.
  3. A bunch of Lawyers run our country…well 50% at least.  And its NOT just Liberals…its both parties.  Given the kind of mistrust most people have for the profession, its no wonder people are apathetic about politicians, and its no wonder they’re so good at spinning the truth – that’s what they’re all trained for.
  4. It’s true, Labor DO have more Unionists in their ranks (just over a quarter to be precise) – given Liberals have zero.  This claim is true.
  5. Labor actually has more finance knowledge and capability than the Liberals (based on education and experience alone – obviously I can’t judge talent), but it IS true that Wayne Swan as Treasurer, didn’t have broad experience in finance, although he was acting treasurer for many years.


Putting all of this another way just to show the absurdity…

  • We have Indigenous Affairs ministers who have never lived in Northern Territory where majority of the aboriginal population reside
  • We have Education Ministers who have never been teachers or principals or curriculum advisors
  • We have Health ministers who have never been doctors or nurses or health executives
  • We have Finance ministers and Treasurers who never did a degree in economics or finance
  • We have Ministers for Small Business who have never run their own business
  • We have Defense Ministers who have never fought in a war
  • We have social and human services ministers who have never worked in and with those disaffected communities
  • We have employment ministers who have never hired someone or been a HR manager
  • We have housing and homelessness ministers who have never worked in real estate or construction, or worked for any organisation that assists with homelessness

Ultimately, we have Ministers who seem so intellectually and emotionally removed (in terms of their non-parliament backgrounds) from the areas they look after, its beyond me how this country gets anything done at all.  How can they truly represent the country without having strong knowledge of the areas they look after?  It’s absolutely bizarre.  I guess we have to thank the public servants in making up for the shortcomings of their on-again/off-again bosses.

Thoughts people?  Is this a serious gap or a non-issue for you?

*If you want a copy of the excel spreadsheet, let me know and I can send you a copy.

What a REAL democracy in Australia would look like

WThe Real Democracy: People Powerhen a democracy can’t be called a democracy, or its definition must be changed to fit current circumstances, then its probably time to rethink our approach!

Democracy comes from an old Greek word that literally translates as “People Power” (they were the brains behind the basis of the whole Democratic system).  Athens had about 250,000 residents at the time and all citizens had an open invitation to a regular forum which allowed them to have direct input on all issues relating to their society, that is: they did not go via representatives like we do today.  Our current system is more like an oligarchy than a democracy.

Not everything was perfect about their system (women and children were not considered citizens and you needed to have TIME to go to these meetings which often meant those more well off were more likely to be involved), but it was the truest form of democracy humans have had in all recorded history.

James Madison

James Madison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now such a system was just not possible when the constitutions of countries like America and Australia were set up.  The land masses in which citizen lived were enormous, populations vastly larger, there were no means of communication like telephones, televisions, radios and there was certainly no internet!  So there were lots of very sound reasons why James Madison and other US political thinkers of the time came up with the fair system of representation that Australia drew inspiration from and that we still have in place today.

But guess what people…times have changed!
We now have instantaneous communication with mobile phones and SMS, we have web infrastructure that allows for the calculation of information in mere nanoseconds and can be supported to withstand millions of visitors performing activities at the exact same time.  In fact, 88% of Australians have access to the Internet and use it regularly.  Back during the Howard Government days, this still wouldn’t have been possible, but it is all technically possible today.

compsSo here we are with all this new fandangle technology, but we’re still plodding off to the polls.  In the intervening 100+ years, no one’s thought to re-evaluate the system based on new capabilities.

Is there a fair and economical way that each Australian could get an actual say in the policies and workings of government?  Is there a way that we could bring back power to the people and end political apathy in this country?

I believe the answer is YES, and there has never been a better time to make these changes because we have the technological capability to do it.  Of course, our representatives won’t give up their power so easily so I believe a new political party would need to be formed to push for governance with the knowledge that the first thing they would change is the constitution and ultimately dismantle their own representative rule over time.

Below are a list of concepts that would underpin the proposed new democratic framework in Australia (and these same concepts could work for any society where democracy already exists and internet penetration is higher than 80%).

GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE & OPERATIONS


The new framework would keep the government split into two “houses”, but the basis of the houses would be different:

  • The Upper House (the Senate), would become the Peoples Representative House – which has representatives from each electorate.
  • The Lower House, would become known as the Knowledge & Wisdom house – in which each representative Minister is an expert in administration, policy and the area of their portfolio (e.g the Minster of Health must have prior direct administrative experience in the health industry).
Parliament House Canberra, Australia

Parliament House Canberra, Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Psychologically it makes more sense that the UPPER house, who are generally the reviewers, are representatives of the people, while it is the Australian people themselves (through voluntary policy voting) and portfolio experts who define the policies themselves. The Upper and Lower house most speak and interact much more regularly and freely than they currently do.

Checks and balances on the government in power
An overarching third body would be created that can hold the government accountable for its actions.  This would replace the role of the Governor General and Queen who have only ever intervened once), it is important that the role is more than symbolic.

In matters where the will of the people will impinge on the human rights of those locally or in another country, this overarching third body has the right to intervene.

Checks and balances on the people
An independent body called the Council for Science, Well-Being, Economics, Psychology (COSWEP) provides support services to the government in power and the Opposition. If the Opposition strongly oppose a bill through The Peoples Representative House or the Knowledge & Wisdom House, they can request review from the council.  If the council deems their point of view valid, their concerns must be addressed by a new joint policy, which both parties work jointly on and then it goes back for final vote to the people.

The new role of the Prime Minster
The role of the Prime Minister will be split into two.  The Prime Speaker will be the leader of the House of Peoples Representatives, and they will be the prime speaker for and on behalf of the people of Australia, including being Australia’s delegate internationally.  The Prime Minister will be the leader of the House of Knowledge and Wisdom and will be responsible for organizing all Ministers in the creation of sound policies and pulling together information to inform policy based on the will of the Australian people through policy votes.  They will also be responsible for ensuring there is cohesiveness in parliament between the two houses.

The role of the Opposition
There are no PHYSICAL sides in parliament. A mix of ministers (those in power and those in opposition) will sit together.

For freedom of information, all incumbent government data and pricing or economics models driving policy must be made freely available to the Opposition and to the public.

The Opposition is not necessarily a party, but a group of minster by minster opposition, there to provide alternative policies to the incumbent government, and to question existing policies: not to be roadblocks but to play devils advocate to the government and the Australian people.

Map of the Australian states / Mapa dels estat...

Map of the Australian states / Mapa dels estats australians (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

THE RE-IMAGINING OF STATE AND FEDERAL RESPONSIBILITIES

1. Councils and senate electorates are aligned, so instead of 150 electorates and 564 councils, there are simply 250 Councils.  The responsibilities of councils remain the same, but they work directly with ministerial electorates and because of this new alignment, enjoy much better communication and speed of necessary change.  This will also increase the size of the House of Peoples Representatives.

2. State government in its current (constitutionally separate form) is dissolved because we assume that people’s new power to vote on individual policies will ensure that the states are properly represented without the need for a separate government.  This will also ensure much better alignment and billions is administrative savings.

3.  Instead, there will be a state based minister for every portfolio.  The federal government is then responsible for the creation of policies that were formerly state based activities (e.g. health and education), but the state based representatives are responsible for state level input into the plans and for the implementation of those plans.

4. Voting for Council, State, House of Knowledge & Wisdom and House of Peoples Representatives all happen at the same time (or at least within the same month), to ensure best alignment of the values of the people.

aupeepsVOTING: EMPOWERING THE PEOPLE
Voting in the House of Knowledge and Wisdom is for a MINISTER, not for a political party.  This means we no longer have situations where people without knowledge of the area are chosen simply because they have been working in party politics for a long time.  Political parties may present a list of all ministers, but they must go through a process to verify those chosen ministers have the required experience in order to run for that house.

However, there are no special skill requirements to run for election into the House of Peoples Representatives.

1. Online voting is made available for all citizens.  Citizenship kiosks are also set up in places where few people have the internet.

2.  Votes can be cast online over the period of 1 week, however home based voting lasts for 6 days which ensures that if the internet is not working on the final day (where there would be a rush), those people have the opportunity to attend a kiosk based voting booth.  Voting online will provide 500k vision impaired Australians the right to a private vote, something they have not enjoyed to date.

3. Before voting, every Australian must spend 30-40 minutes reading about the ministerial candidates (this is the time it takes for most Australians to go to the voting both today any way so this time is simply being re-appropriated to their education instead).  They can also complete a survey based on personal values and wants – system will suggest candidates and political parties based on these.
Parties may not provide “how to vote” cards.

4. In online voting, candidates will be randomly presented in each different voting session to prevent effects of donkey voting and rogue “how to vote” cards.

5. Federal government voting occurs in two stages, the first of which is mandatory:


STAGE ONE
(Mandatory)
– Voting individuals in to the House of Knowledge and Wisdom.  People can choose OPTIONAL PREFERENCING both “above” (to parties) or “below” the line.

- Voting individuals in to the House of Peoples Representatives.  People must vote for a local candidate who may or may not be a part of a political party

- Voting for a Prime Minster and Prime Speaker candidates.  People can nominate any number of minsters (in preference) for those roles.  The top 5 candidates are presented to the representatives who ultimately win the HoR and Senate seats and those people then vote on the nominated candidates in their own preference.  This is how the Prime Minister and Prime Speaker are chosen.

English: Ballot Box showing preferential voting

English: Ballot Box showing preferential voting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

STAGE TWO – ONGOING POLICY PARTICIPATION & VOTING (Voluntary)
I would propose that all ISPs and email providers, provide the current email address for their Australian customers – the Australian government obtains an exemption from the SPAM act allowing them to email all citizens and provide them with an opportunity to register for Policy Voting.  Here’s how it would work:

1. All Australians are provided with and opportunity to take part in parliament policy.  The government subsidizes up to $35 per hour up to 2 days per year (16 hours) for any registered voter who engages in the voluntary system.  This would cost approximately $3billion dollars per annum; a small price to pay for true democracy (in comparison, our welfare system alone costs $316 billion).

2. Once the registered voter confirms they would like to be involved, they must fill out at online profile that:
a) goes through their personal details, if they change jobs, family situation, income…etc

b) confirms their personality type

c) confirms their politics type (eg authoritarian, libertarian, center…etc)

d) confirms their education and fields of expertise

3. Citizens may input their recommendations for community and national priorities into their profile (although certain priorities are guarded where small portions of community have big impact e.g. agriculture)

4. Portfolio ministers must request policy submissions from citizens once a year – all citizens can be notified when these are being asked for, orthey can switch all off except those that are related to their field of expertise.  This ensures citizen input into a yearly planning process.

5. Yearly policies are then pulled together by: Knowledge & Wisdom Ministers, groups of experts, citizen panels and citizen reps (each citizen can apply to be selected for types of panels and will be selected representatively and randomly by geography but no person can be selected more than once in 5 years). Separately opposition ministers come up with other alternative policies, they become the “red team”, who don’t see policies until they’re done and can help point out any holes or provide alternatives to fill gaps.

6. For major policies, all citizens may be provided the voluntary opportunity to vote. A completely independent body will prepare:

-       An overview of suggested policy

-       A comparison to opposition policy

-       A standard template that shows financial AND social or environmental impacts

-       A full version of the policy which die-hard participators can suggest amendments to on the fly.

-       An easy to understand video will be created for each policy so anyone can understand proposed changes in 5 mins.  ($10m allocated for 200 a year to these type of communication materials).

7. Each voluntary policy voter must read the material and prove understanding by answering quiz questions on the policy before voting on the proposed policy. They are also able to input amendments.
8. At the time they vote they can also see what others are saying on social media and traditional media in a real time feed if they choose. (more research would need to be done on this in terms of whether this may create “group think” problems.)
9. Votes are auto-recorded and amendments are mass-analysed by computer to find common themes for further investigation.  Once the policy has been reviewed and updated based on amendments from all parties, it goes to all party Minsters and People Reps to take the final vote.

10. Votes by Senators in the House of Peoples Representatives are also recorded

11.  If a House of Peoples Representatives Senator vote does not match the people they represent, a mandatory vote will may be asked for from people of that area whom the senate leader represents. If the senate rep fails to match the people in their area 3-5 times, the people can request a re-election for the minister in that area.  If the Senator defaults 10 times, an automatic re-election for that Senator is called.

12. For smaller, minor legislation changes – only those affected (based on their demographic info) will be automatically invited for input or vote. Others can always provide amendments but not votes.  If they contest this and wish to vote and there is more than 0.5% of the population (or 100-200k requests), the vote is opened up to those requestors.

13.  For policies where people whose lives may be affected can not be properly represented, their carers may vote on their behalf and/or Not for Profit organizations may be able to provide some voting power as true representatives of that sub community.

14.  A separate committee is required to assess and report back on the outcomes of each legislation every year. In addition to this, an Annual Happiness Survey is also conducted for all voluntary policy voters. This report is then provided by email to each and every citizen.

15. Ministers positions can be reviewed officially on a yearly basis (post release of the above report).  The people can request an inquiry into any minister at that yearly review. Enough votes will get the minister reviewed and then a new candidate must be chosen in a by-election. i.e individual ministers can be voted OUT of office by the people if the Australian people deem them to be failing in their role.

16. People can also request direct challenges, audits or inquiries into any capitalist institution, which, if there is significant interest (e.g. 5% or more of voluntary voters), the government must carry out.

This participatory form of government will, for the most part, be an automated system, which sends out invitations when a Minister uploads and publishes a policy document and then automatically aggregates results for review.  There would need to be rules around the release (e.g. it may need to be released on a Tuesday afternoon (which is the most likely time Australians will open emails).

OTHER FRAMEWORK CONSIDERATIONS

  • Mandatory citizenship education must be provided for all Australians between years 3 to 12.  This must have practical elements that empower them to begin their involvement as early as practicable.
  • Young children from 10 and older get a say: particularly in decisions that will affect their future (like protection of the environment…etc). Their vote does not count toward wins, but it is recorded, reported on and it allows young people to appreciate and participate in the system from an early age if the choose.  It also provides government ministers with a strong sense of the thoughts of young people and how to cater for them as they enter into official voting age.

 

EDUCATION OF POLITICIANS
There is a big gap in Australian politics at the moment: education.  Society accepts that to get a job you must finish school or university or an apprenticeship.  To get finance for a new business idea you must show a lengthy business plan, yet there are no specific requirements when it comes to people choosing to represent the views of their people and communicate on a national scale and have responsibility for decisions on multi-billion dollar portfolios and millions of lives.  This is simply not good enough.   In the new democratic system I would propose:

All politicians elected are required to complete a mandatory 3 month intensive course prior to a parliament role: history, citizenship, law, leadership, media training and parliament etiquette and day to day operations.

FAIR AND REASONABLE STRUCTURE REQUIREMENTS FOR NEW POLITICAL PARTIES & ELECTIONS

Political Parties

1. Before registering as a new party, the party must have a website and a clearly defined policy on every portfolio area available for view for all members. Only after that, will 500 members be counted and then party can apply to be accepted as a registered party.

2. Once the party is accepted, to run in an election, they must complete mandatory political skills training.  This training must be completed 1 month prior to the election date or they will be disqualified from running in the election.

3.  All party policies must be in place and online (same for all minister plans) 4 weeks before the 5-year election date.  Each policy must be LOCKED IN during the election period.  Which means, once the election campaign begins, the party may not change their stance unless it is to match what another political party is already providing.  They may not remove an item already on their priority list.

Elections
1. Elections move from 3 years to 5 years (as individual ministers can be voted out on a yearly basis after a review).

2. Elections are called at exact same time every five years: Feb – 2 month campaigning (Feb and mar) last week of March is election. Then April, May and June, all new politicians are getting up to speed. Incumbents work with any new ministers to hand over and provide insight so there is a much smoother handover of work and responsibility. The last month is to provide intensive training for any new politicians.

Obviously this is all blue sky stuff…but its also all possible right now.  What do YOU think?  Which bits do you agree or disagree with?  And which bits are most important?

Islamic Law: Democracy’s new Communism

Religion is a difficult, divisive subject for most people.  The earliest evidence of religious ideas dates back several hundred thousand years to the Middle and Lower Paleolithic periods so it’s not like it’s a new issue.

English: Mao's official portrait at Tiananmen ...Fighting either for, or against religion has sparked genocidal wars:
For the religious there was 3 Million in the Crusades (Christian vs Muslim), 3-11 million in the Roman’s 30 Years Holy War (Protestants vs Catholic), French Wars of Religion (Protestants vs Catholic) 3 million in the Nigerian Civil War (Christian vs Muslim) and of course the ongoing atrocities across the Middle East particularly since the final collapse of the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the early 1900’s (Sunni Muslim vs Shia Muslim).

Sociopathic communists have been no better:  over 16m against “old religion and beliefs” in China under Máo Zédōng (毛泽东) and of course historians still diverge on the religious nature of Nazism but it wasn’t a war sanctioned by the catholic church – with 10m lives lost in WW2 .

Democracy took hundreds of years to develop and did so on the back of horrific human casualties.  It was able to develop most quickly in colonialist countries like the US, Canada and Australia because they were able to oppress the decentralized native communities and create a clean slate to completely control land, thought and political ideology.  On the other hand, Europe took thousands of years to find steady peace.  Even in America, it was only in the early 1800’s that politics and the governance of the country was legally and constitutionally separated from religion.

So, once the democratic system became the Western World’s poster child for progress and freedom, all other political or politico-religious ideologies became a threat.   The first major threat came in the form of Communism – creating a major divide in relations between Russia, China and America, which has still not healed.

The next thing many Western leaders (in particular France and Germany) see as a threat to democratic ideology within their countries is Islam.  Not necessarily in the form terrorism, but in the form of religiously powered political pressure whose goal is to take control of the state.  Why?  Because true Islam controls the state through Sharia Law with rules on everything including the governance of crime, politics and economics (as an example – where banks charging interest is illegal).

burkiniThe sentiment of a threat seems to be shared by the citizens of Germany and France with 68% of French nationals stating they saw Islam as a concern or threat to their way of life and 51% of Germans saying the same.  It seems the fear rises in direct proportion to the numbers of those with Islamic faith in the community (7% of France’s population is Islamic). In response, the French government has banned all wearing of religious artifacts in schools including the Hijab (signed into law by Jacques Chirac), has banned Burkinis at swimming pools and there are calls to now also ban the Hijab at universities.  Just last week a German court ruled that Islamic girls must attend swimming lessons with boys at school but they can wear a Burkini.  But these political leaders are strong right wing conservative politicians, right?  Wrong.  French Prime Minister François Hollande is very much from the left side of politics.

Now, whether all these fears are founded or not is an interesting question.  The facts are that the fear can only become founded when:

1.  There is (or on current trajectory of change there will be) a proportion of any one country’s population large enough to support the democratic election of a new government who has the power to change that country’s constitution and laws.  We may not like to hear that change is inevitable, but change has been occurring for thousands of years.

2.  That population actually wishes for a change in government and wishes Sharia Law to be instated.  A study of over 38,000 muslims found that support for Sharia law was high across all countries (even up to 40% in the US), however the implementation of the law was divided on certain controversial issues such as polgamy, choice in wearing of the hijab, enjoyment of music/dance and severe punishment for religious defection.   However, by the very support of Sharia law, the expectation is that certain elements of religious basis rule would be enforced across all members of society, regardless of religious persuasion.  Homosexuality and the consumption of alcohol were overwhelmingly viewed as immoral – so we could say that under the current thought, if Sharia law were ever instated on a formerly democratic society, at the very least each of those actions would be made illegal and a punishable crime.

The Roman empire collapsed, the Gauls wiped out almost all of England’s original population in 900AD, and 200 years ago homosexuality was punishable by death.  So to assume that change of this scale is not possible, is to deny history has ever happened.  After all, many of the Roman Empire churches built across the Middle East were converted to Mosques during the Ottoman empire.  And if you think that humanity has only ever gone “forward”, not “backward” in terms of human rights – think again.  Late Roman Empire, the Greeks and even some Chinese dynasties were very free when it came to homosexuality before they fell to larger forces, and before the rise of the Catholic church, paganism worshipped the power women rather than subordinating them as was subsequently done throughout Europe’s religious history.

English: The name of الله Allāh, written in Ar...

English: The name of الله Allāh, written in Arabic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, if we accept that change is an inevitable part of the evolution of humanity, then sure, it’s possible that Islam and Sharia law could topple Democracy as the next world-wide ideological power – because unlike Communism which was taken up by elites and forced upon citizens, Islam grows within the citizens themselves.  But by the time this change happened, would anyone really care?

If high birth rates are the true biological indicator of long-term survival for humanity (putting aside for the moment the impact of the population on the Earth’s finite resources), then it is possible that through both birth into the Islamic faith, immigration and falling birth rates of Western countries, there would be a point in the next 100-200 years at which a significant portion of French or German society was of Islamic faith.  At that point, a rewriting of constitutions and return to Sharia law would be inevitable, and in fact, would be welcomed by most citizens anyway since the entire psychological make up of the population would have changed.  I mean, 500 years ago – it would have been psychologically unimaginable for Europeans to accept the idea that women could vote or have property ownership or a say in their destiny through marriage and work: so the passage of time effectively breeds out certain viewpoints.

Some might say it wouldn’t be too bad anyway – there are scientifically studied psychological benefits to being religious.  An analysis of over 200 social studies contends that high religiousness predicts a lower risk of depression and drug abuse and fewer suicide attempts.

In Australia, 2% of the population is Islamic – so while there has been some tension in the past (for instance in 2006 when Sheikh Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly sparked public outrage when he compared women to uncovered meat in a reference to the occurrence rape) – the tension has not mounted to become a federal political issue.

Danny - Rise up AustraliaBut new to the political arena is The Rise Up Australia party, whose leader talks about the failure of Multiculturalism (quoting British MP David Cameron) and used the 2013 election campaign to begin its campaign to “enlighten” Australians about the failure of Multiculturalism in their own country.  But given the leader of Rise Up is a sprightly young Indian man – listeners would get the distinct impression what the party is referring to is not “failure of Multiculturalism”, but in fact a “fear of Islam”.

Views from the left may say that it is important to be tolerant and accepting toward other religions and cultures, a sentiment I can identify with.  But what of the moral dilemma of a religion where that tolerance is not returned?

Some of my family (my Auntie, Uncle and two cousins) all converted to Islam over 10 years ago – so I’ve taken a lot of time to carefully consider this question including reading of the Qur’an, speaking with my Islamic friends, family and business colleagues across India and UAE, reading Hadiths and more.

I love my cousins dearly and I visit them often, but I cannot deny the fact that there are core parts of their faith that fundamentally oppose certain freedoms that I, and most inhabitants of any democratic society, strongly believe in (even if they don’t realise it because they have never had those freedoms challenged).

The good
Like all religions, at its core is generally a message of peace, love, generosity and mercy – and for the vast majority who live in the faith, they are peaceful and respectful.

The interesting and the downright concerning
The concerning bits are less related to the Qur’an and more related to the Hadiths and Sharia Law.  The Hadiths are what Muslims believe to be the words and deeds of the Prophet Mohammed.  200 years after their prophet died, Islamic scholars wanted to put together a practical guide to help people of Islamic faith to live their lives “like Mohammad”.  So they sent out thousands of volunteers to go and collect information about his words and deeds.  Over 200,000 of these were collected and it took over 20 years to put together the Hadiths, which also underpin Sharia law.  There are a number of different collections and Sunni and Shia justice systems refer to different parts of these for their implementation of the law.  Whatever the relative truth of the true origin of Islam, the Sharia Law, Hadiths and the Qur’an provide an extremely strong foundation and framework of behavioural guidance for those of the Islamic faith, which in turn increases the “stickiness” of the religion – and is what some countries experience as “the inability to integrate”.

Some examples:

  • Hadith’s state that Mohammed never listened to music or danced (except to a particular drum).  As a result, strict Sunni Muslims are not allowed to dance or listen to music.
  • At the time of Mohammed war was an inevitable part of life.  Many men were lost at war and women left without financial support, so polygamy became the best solution for the time…but it has now continued to modern times as part of a culture.
  • In Sharia law, women are seen as being emotional beings and as a result, Sharia law requires that two women must be a witness to a crime in financial or business transactions for it to be admitted as evidence in court.
  • Islam in its purest form absolutely rejects any other god, way of thinking, and change or reinterpretation as the entire Qur’an is the word of God/Allah.
  • Sharia law acknowledges that men are susceptible to the temptation of the flesh, and so requires the complete covering of women (the amount of coverage depends on the sub sect), women must be segregated from men and cannot ever touch or be in the same room alone with anyone other than their brothers, father or husband.
  • Sharia law requires that a woman may not have sexual relations out of wedlock. In Saudi Arabia many women do not approach authorities if they have been raped as if they do, they can be charged and put in jail for having sexual relations out of wedlock.
  • Marriages are arranged.
  • Banks are banned from charging interest on loans.
  • Homosexuality is a punishable crime (punishable by death in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Mauritania).
  • Only Halal animal products can be eaten: where the animal’s throat is slit while facing toward Mecca. Some argue this is more humane than electrocuting the animal first.
  • Those who leave or renounce the religion can be punished, including put to death.

Like any religion that exists within the freedom of expression based protections of a democratic society, Muslims in Australia can choose just how closely to follow these rules.  However, in a country under Sharia law (like Saudi Arabia), all these rules become automatically enforced by the justice system.

So here we have a moral dilemma.  Can we tolerate intolerance?  Western democracies legally accept equality of race and sex, and have increasingly come to accept homosexuality in the last 50 years.  So how, when couched in the arms of freedom of religious expression, can it logically provide a free pass to turn back the clock on those leaps forward in equality?  If not, at what point would measures be taken?  And what measures would they be?

The Middle East, Northern Africa, Pakistan, Indonesia and parts of India have the greatest percentages of Muslim populations, so it is there that Western leaders look to attempt “measures” and control the “problem” before it hits their shores in the form of immigration.

Sunni and Shia muslims by country

Sunni and Shia muslims by country

UK, US and French meddling in the Middle East since they partitioned off the Ottoman Empire between 1988 and 1922 shows that continued efforts to stop Middle East self determination by attempting to control governments only exacerbates the disillusionment and anger of citizens toward the Western world and the ideology behind democracy and capitalism – despite the fact that the actions local citizens see perpetrated by Western government or military establishments is not democracy at all.

Empire mongering was still the rule of the day back in early last century, so the the actions of Western governments at that time were less driven by fear and more by the need to extend the reach of their influence of power and control.  Again, not a new concept to those in the Middle East who have consistently been ruled by other powers throughout history including the Greeks through Alexander the Great , the Romans and the Turks during the Ottoman Empire.

Instability in the region began to increase after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, partly as a result of these botched empire building efforts by Western countries, partly because the Ottoman Empire had been effective in its controlling rule, but left a void and cross pollination of religion and culture that immediately began to divide once that rule was no longer in place.

Perhaps now the damage has been done, Western powers (in particular the US and UK) see ongoing instability as their ultimate national security strategy.  When countries are too busy fighting, they cannot amass any level of political force against the West.  And given the hatred that their own actions have cultivated in the Middle East – if power were to rise, the West should rightly fear the repercussions of those actions over the last century.

Some would argue self determination is the answer – and this could, over time, end the civil violence which is often between a secular installed government verses the rule of the people who are overwhelmingly of Muslim Sunni faith (not including Iran where Shia is predominant).  But it would also be naive to suggest that self-determination would end in the kind of democratic rule that the West has chosen.  Democracy is not a natural human state.  If it were, we would have seen the democratic system of government dominating throughout history – but we have not.  Saudia Arabia stands almost alone among countries in the Middle East in its steadfast ability to avoid foreign rule – not just in modern times, but also throughout history.  In large part this is due to its geographic position and landscape providing a barrier to military invasion.  So this country can be seen as an example of what a stable Middle East might look like if civil war ended: highly educated and technologically capable, generally introverted, strong rejection of tolerance toward multiple religious ideas, and controlling of public thought, actions and expression through the enforcement of Sharia Law across all levels of government and society.  This does not mean “bad” in all things, but it does mean “different” in many.

In Australia, we find these questions confronting.  They are confronting because they challenge our natural welcoming of new ideas, people and ways of thinking.

Right now, this is not a dilemma that Australians need to face given the demographic make up of our population.  But who knows, it may be a challenge that our children, or their children will need to confront and decide on.  If so, I do not envy that world and those leaders.

Carbon Tax vs. PM Tony Abbott’s “Democracy”

Carbon TaxWhen Prime Minister Abbott says things like “Australians have made it clear by their vote, they want us to carry out our promised policies” in referring to the Coalition’s plan to scrap Labor’s carbon tax, I want to point out a few key things to Australians and to our politicians:

1.  When Australians turn 18, they are given the opportunity to enrol to vote.  If they do not enrol, they are not able to vote and they won’t be penalised.  As soon as they do enrol, they cannot un-enrol, and they must participate and vote in each election, or suffer a $72.00 fine.  We are one of only 10 countries in the world who enforce these rules.  In 2013, approximately 14.7 million were enrolled to vote – about 93% of whom ended up voting in the Sept 13 elections.  A record 3.5 million people chose to vote in the week leading up to the official election day.  400k people between 18 and 24 didn’t enrol in time to get a say.  Perhaps they were all taking a GAP year

2.  Our voting system requires us to choose a preference for every single party running in the election.  This means we cannot NOT vote for a party, or our vote will be marked as invalid.  This, combined with the 2 party preferred vote means that at some point, the full value of our vote goes to one of two major parties who have been in control of our government for a century: Labor or Liberal.  In some ways this is great as it means you can still vote for a minor party, while having just as much of a say in the major party that is likely to run the country – however, the general feeling among many Australians in the lead up to the elections, was that they didn’t really like or trust either major party…but they didn’t really feel they had a choice.

3.  It was obvious that the Australian public punished (and rightly so), the Labor government for their severe internal leadership struggles (regardless of all their achievements).  They made their voices heard by doing what they could to show their concern and disgust: changing the number on that all-important piece of green paper.  This resulted in a clear swing toward the Liberal party, and a much higher than average trend toward voting for minor parties or independents.  But…does that behaviour (driven I’d say, more by Australian’s NOT wanting Labor vs. WANTING Liberal), really provide the Abbott government with the support of the Australian people for ALL its policies?

4.  Let’s look at it another way.  Only 70% (75% if you assume 7% didn’t turn up) of the 14.7 million Australians who voted, or 64% of the 16 million Australians eligible to vote – used their primary vote for Labor or Liberals.   And the split was:

  • 4,803,862 primary votes to Labor (approx 35% of total voters)
  • 5,445,378 primary votes to Liberal (approx 40% of total voters)

That means, across Australia, a total difference of 641,516 chose to vote for one major party instead of the other.  That’s not even the quarter of the population of Melbourne.

Now, I am not saying this to suggest Liberals didn’t win fair and square – what I am pointing out is that in governing a country, you have to remember that you represent ALL Australians, and sure, in the two party preferred system, 53% of the country voted for them…but 46.82% did not.  And therein lies the challenge of governance.  In a simple game of footy, we’d see that as a win – done deal, game over.  But that’s not how it works when you’re managing an entire country!

Remember also, the government represents a further 6.68 million Australians who make up the remaining 29% of our population.

Then add to this the fact that regardless of the party you vote for, individuals will have differing views on the range of the policy stances taken by the party and these change over time.  For instance ABC’s poll of over 1 million Australian’s revealed that 61% of Aussies actually think the government should be doing MORE for the environment – not less.   And on the carbon tax, in July this year a new poll revealed 62% of Aussie’s wanted to KEEP the tax.

So here’s a major dilemma: the new Government based their election campaign around opinions from 12 months ago.  How did this shift in perception happen? Fear drives negative opinions before legislation is enforced while people think a tax on polluters will mean a direct hit to their hip pocket. But once legislation is implemented and people realise they’re not out of the streets and homeless as a result, the care-factor goes down a notch.  So now Liberal Party’s key policy…is not so “key” for the Australian people anymore.

Now, let’s forget about any argument on whether or not climate change is, or is not real – I mean, I wouldn’t recommend calling this out as a point to Mr Abbott given that in 2009, he was quoted as saying he thought Climate Change was quote, “absolute crap” (interesting that Mr Abbott doesn’t seem to require the same level of proof of the existence of God but that is a matter for another time!).

So instead, to help Mr Abbott out, let’s look at some influencing factors that are a little more concrete and immediate:

  • Defense and International Security
  • International Relations

You are forgiven for thinking – huh?  What does the Australian Defense Force have to do with any of this?  The ABC reported that Australia’s national Security Strategy sees climate change as a key challenge, and a May 2013 Australia Defense force white paper found global energy, food and water resources were under pressure from population growth, rising affluence and climate change.  Research shows that unexpected flooding or heat as a result of climate change has been proven to exacerbate civil unrest. So, is Tony Abbott really going to ignore the advice of Climate scientists AND our national defense force?  It seems like a rather illogical position to take.

On the International Relations side of things, we’re headed for more hot water.  After agreement to renewable energy targets and a 5% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, the new government is set to roll back on those commitments.  Climate Change is an international issue, not just a national one.  Our cooperation with peers in the Asia Pacific region, as well as leadership amongst other OECD countries is crucial to how we are seen on the world stage – affecting a raft of economic factors, including investment.

A new report ranks Australia 16th out of 19 countries on a scale of preparation for a low-carbon world.  The only countries below us?  India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. With the second being a country that is barely able to hold democratic elections and the third being the ONLY country in the world that still doesn’t allow women to vote, we’re not exactly in good political company.

As Australia prepares to take its position as President of the UN Security Council in December 2014, we risk significant damage to our international reputation, as our peers leap ahead of us in their dedication to maintaining a safe future for humanity.  Again – regardless of any personal belief in climate change – Australia does not, and cannot live in a silo when it comes to this issue.  When international politicians and media leaders are calling our new Prime Minister a “Gaffe prone conservative” (LA Times), and a “bigoted air-head” (British MP), Tony Abbott needs to be more mindful than ever of the perception he casts to the rest of the world on Australia’s behalf.

But how could Abbott “save face” if he were to consider an about turn, when scrapping the carbon tax was the centerpiece of the Liberal Party’s campaign?  ABC’s latest poll on what people thought should be Abbott’s main priorites in the first 100 days as Prime Minister clearly show this psychological gap – where Environment is just as big an issue on the minds of Australian people as the Carbon tax brought in to protect it.

Climate Change

So what we’ve established is that the scrap carbon tax policy doesn’t represent the majority of Australian’s views, the majority of scientist views, the views of the Australian defense force nor the views of international country leaders, and certainly not the views of the millions of Australian children who couldn’t vote, but will be the people that will have to deal with any fall out if the effects of carbon pollution do come to pass.  So it seems while leading a majority government, Mr Abbott’ party stance is in fact in the minority on a variety of fronts.

How does Tony escape this dilemma and keep projecting his image as strong leader which was carefully crafted throughout the 2013 election campaign?

Perhaps he doesn’t.  Perhaps he attempts to push the Carbon Tax repeal through, he succeeds, and then only with the benefit of hindsight will the consequences be fully appreciated: because if we accept the information so far, then we can only assume this action is being taken and acted upon outside of the true spirit of democracy.

All I hope for, is that Australian leaders realise (whichever major party is in power) that our ballot cards only allow us to vote for leadership, not each policy, that community opinions change faster than governments can take action, and that NO party, can say that they have been “bestowed” the right to implement their policies and carry out the views of all Australians simply because 24%* of the total Australian population actually popped them as the number 1 preference on their vote card.

*Calculated as: 22,680,000 / 5,445,378 (Total AU population / Total primary votes for Liberal)