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.

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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)

What happens when State and Federal Governments fight

While I was doing a bit of random research the other day, I started seeing a patterns of disagreement between the State Government and the Federal Government.  It’s probably not something that has been thought about too often.  Actually, I can’t find a detailed analysis of it anywhere. I did find an article about Federalism in Australia vs. the Unity system in the UK.  Just as a quick refresher: In a country running with a federal system, the power of the State and the National governments are constitutionally divided – i.e. one is not the boss of the other!  Oh and they look after different things – the Federal govt deals mainly with tax, immigration, law and justice and the states look after education, health…etc.  The main leverage the Federal Govt has is that it control the budget and decides how much money to give the states for their stuff.  There’s pros and cons to the system.  Some say a federal system provides competition between the states and as a result more choice for people in terms of where to live, or get a job…etc – and more choice = better freedom (according to the proponents of the system).  On the other hand it makes for a bloated bureaucracy and the potential for serious communication breakdown…not to mention the fact that most people don’t actually get the difference anyway.

So anyway, back to this issue of states arguing with federal government…most of the articles I could find suggested these disagreements amounted to “healthy debate” based around issues whenever federal government sticks its nose into State based business and issues (like health and education and local government).  I’d like to suggest something different…

For instance, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and WA Premier Colin Barnett vs. Julia Gillard on the proposed changes to the constitution allowing the federal government to give funding directly to local governments without having to go via the state.  Another example: QLD Premier Campbell Newman vs. Julia Gillard on the proposed Gonski reforms.  Now, at first glace, you could put this down to the fact that both these issues were about Federal verses State control.

English: Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gil...

English: Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes these are both examples of areas where federal government is trying to control more of what is within the State’s remit – but you’ll also notice that in both cases, The Gillard Federal Govt was a Labor government, and each of the Premiers disagreeing were Liberal/Coalition. And what of the other states?  Why was it that in the only Barry and Colin that seemed to disagree with the then Federal Government with the local govt reforms?  Well, because every single other State Premier was Labor.

So that got me thinking a bit more…how deeply does a divide in party focus or values between State and Federal Governments affect the ability to pass legislation? So I put together a list of every Prime Minister since 1901 and then put it against every single State Premier and their respective party.  You can download it here.

Findings – Times of Communication Struggle

1.  In 1975, Gough Witlam’s first and only term with Labor in Federal govt, almost other major state was under a Liberal government and in his final year, WA went back to the Liberals too.

2.  Between 1993 and 1995 during Paul Keating’s last term, he also had to deal with all-liberal party states except for QLD.

3.  Between 2002-2007, the Howard governments last terms – every single Australian state was controlled by a Labor government, while Liberals (John Howard) were in federal government.

4.  Julia Gillard struggled with a complete split in governance of the states, in 2011 when after years of Labor state government, both NSW and VIC voted for a Liberal Party govt, and this worsened in 2012 when QLD joined the crowd.  Joining WA who were had voted the Liberals in back in  2009 – now every major, powerful state was under Liberal control.

English: Portrait of Sir Robert Gordon Menzies...

Menzies

So it seems that in times when there the Federal Govt is working against states governed by a different party…they’re usually  headed for their final term.  Which causes which (if at all)…I’m not sure.  The only exception to this pattern is Robert Menzies – the guy had staying power, through a time when the states were fairly evenly divided in terms of party governance.

Findings – Times of Unity

1.  1927 – Labor Prime Minister Stanley Bruce’s last year in government provided complete governance unity across federal and state.  However, in 1927…I’m not sure how much that would have mattered given media access, transport…etc.

2.  1932 – Liberal Prime Minister Joseph Lyons’ first year enjoyed almost complete Liberal control of Federal and State affairs (excluding SA)

3.  1946 and 1947 – Labor Prime Minister Joseph Chifley got the same in reverse – all Labor control of Federal and States (excluding SA)

4.  1969 and 1970 – Liberal Prime Minister Grey Gorton had party unity across every single state for two years (before that 1965-1970 enjoyed fairly majority control under Harold Holt and John McEwan)

5.  1976 to 1981 – Malcolm Fraser had a pretty good run with major states (minus TAS and  SA) under Liberal party control.  In 1982, every state was under Liberal governance.

6.  2008 – Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd got a dream Labor scenario.  With one of the highest popularity votes AND state unity – imagine what he could have done if he hadn’t caused all that internal disunity!  They could have been an absolute force to reckon with.  Between 2009 and 2010, there was more of the same.

Now I’d need to look at each of those times more carefully to find out whether relatively speaking there was much more agreement and it was easier to get legislation in those years, while harder in those others – but that would be my hypothesis.  Also, we’d need to consider the make up of the senate in any one year to be completely sure of any results.

I think with a bit more study, we’d probably find that the Australian version of the Federal system of internal governance actually undermines the unity of the entire governance process.  At the very least, it must create massive miscommunication issues where in the majority of cases over the past 112 years, party governance is not aligned across state and government levels.  For instance, in sharing information between state and government – there becomes a massive risk of silos that, unlike the promotion of competition BETWEEN states, promotes national disunity between states and government.

I wonder how this effects people’s experience of local vs. national media as well?  For instance, if they live in a Liberal governed state, they’re likely to see a lot of Liberal messages locally, and be confused with any cross fire messages from the National government.   I do wonder if this happened particularly in NSW, VIC and QLD in the lead up to the 2013 election.  If I were Tony Abbott, and really smart, I would have created a whole strategy around playing on the creation of a divide between Labor and the states to build mass confusion for the people and help lead them in the thinking that the government of the day was disorganised.  Obviously if this was an orchestrated effort by the Coalition, its strategy was significantly helped by the fact that at the Federal Parliament level there were some pretty massive internal rifts within Labor already.

On another note, the old corporate world has already gone through the process of accepting that restructure is necessary to cost cutting: breaking down silo’s that exist between departments uncovers massive cost savings, improves communication and basically helps get things done faster and with less frustration for everyone.  Although the restructuring process takes years and humans within it get tossed around in constant change and instability until its done, once it is done, there is an exponentially great ability to be more agile and responsive to the needs of the community (which a modern nation expects from its leaders, because that is how they live the rest of their lives).

And of course the timing differences between state and federal elections don’t help the situation at all – in fact it leads to a gap between the will of the local people and that of government.  At least aligning these election dates within the same month would likely mean alignment based on any changing community views were properly represented from a state to national level.

So…I wonder how the Liberal Federal Government can have a conversation about cost cutting and budget management, without having a good hard think about whether we actually need to relook at the efficiency and effectiveness of our democratic system.  After all, this stuff was made up by people colonising a completely new country, taking bits and pieces from different government set ups (mostly from the US – EXCEPT for the federal system which came from the US and Canada). I mean, can you really just stuff bits and pieces into a constitution based on different ideas from around the world and expect to still work perfectly in 112 years?  I’m gonna hazard a guess: No.

Don’t get me wrong, lots of things about it are great – for instance, we have a mostly dreamy preferencing system (apart from being able to preference votes “above the line” in the Senate), but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve a whole lot.  It’s not like democracy as a system itself has been around for that long anyway, Monarchies are more tested through time.  And back in 1901 when our federal level democratic system of government was formed, corporate national/multinational capitalism, globalisation and communication were not the mega-influencers of the society as they are today.  The country existed in a completely different social, political and technological landscape.

The first step, I humbly propose, is a conversation.  A conversation between Local Government, the States, the Federal Government and the Australian people.  Because the only thing that can be guaranteed to happen in life is change.  Isn’t proactive engagement and discussion a better approach rather than waiting until the system fails us – just like our Senate voting system has in the 2013 elections?

What do people in parliament REALLY spend their time on?

Ok so to answer this question I had to rummage around to try and find a list of all the bills that were tabled in parliament sessions between 1901 and today.  On the Australian Parliament website I was able to find a list of bill extracts in an excel spreadsheet from between 1901 to 1983 so I just had to work off that because I don’t have enough time to manually create a spreadsheet for all the others which are in PDF files across govt websites and Comlaw.

Alrighty, now a word of warning I had to go through nearly 2000 of these friggin things and categorise them all – so some of the categorisations might be a little broad or may not capture some underlying content in the bill since I only had the bill title, but here’s what I was able to analyse:

So…the majority of the time in parliament is spent talking about…tax!  hahaha oh what an exceedingly fun subject matter!  You know I did wonder why refugees and immigration was such an important thing on the agenda even though I rarely hear people talking or complaining about it and now I can see it here in broad daylight…they spend a lot of time talking and thinking about and so they think the Australian public care a little more than we actually do!

I can’t believe how much air time Fruit, Veg and grains get! haha.  And I was a little concerned about the lack of chatter in the primary and secondary area – but its probably because its under the each state’s remit to look after that.  Same with health.  Science and Technology and management of Government debt was pretty abysmal.  All things considered – Natural Resource and Environment Protection got a FIFTH of the floor time of Mining, Minerals and Oil – although it did fair better than international trade agreements and diplomacy.

English: Kevin Rudd, 26th Prime Minister of Au...

English: Kevin Rudd, 26th Prime Minister of Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can see why I think Kevin Rudd struggled in parliament…with an Arts and Asian Studies degree the guy was probably bored out of his brains!  In contrast, whatever your personal opinions of him may be, Tony Abbott studied a Bachelor of Economics and a Bachelor of Law and is probably much more naturally suited to and talented at the elements of policy creation or review.  BUT, lets be honest…the guy sucks on camera.  Which suggests to me that the IDEAL parliament set up of the future should be one where there are two lead roles:
1.  A Prime Minister
2.  A Prime Speaker

The Prime Mister would be the leader of the house within Parliament and during internal discussions and the manager of staff.  The Prime Speaker would be the international states person and media spokesperson for the party – the person who travels internationally, spoke to the media…etc…etc.  I mean, the job is too big for one person anyway – its ridiculous.  The role should be split and given to two different types of people – because they are two completely different roles suited to completely different personalities.

My  question for my NEXT post is going to be…does what a Prime Minister studied at university (and therefore we’d assume is relatively naturally interested in), make a difference to how long they remain in parliament because of their ability to manage the stuff at a federal level that actually takes up the majority of the floor time?

Bill Category Number of Meetings (sessions)
Taxation 501
Immigration & Customs 183
Corporations 112
Justice System 84
National Security and Military 65
Fruit, Veg and Grains 63
Mining, Minerials & Oil 56
Loans, Grants & Subsidies 55
Media and Communications 43
Health 41
Maritime 37
Roads and Transport 36
Electoral 33
Textiles, Machinery 32
Livestock 31
Housing 29
Administration of Govt 27
Agriculture 27
Export Goods 27
Intellectual Property Protection 22
Tertiary Education 22
Banking 19
Unions 19
Alcohol, Drugs, Tobacco 18
Aviation 18
Public Service Employment 17
Land 16
Superannuation 16
Employment 15
Public Service 14
Social Security & Welfare 14
Social Services 14
Natural Resources and Environment Protection 13
Aboriginal 11
Commissions & Advisory Councils 11
Democracy and Representation 11
Finance Industry 11
Insurance 11
Police Force 11
Fishing 10
Constitution 9
Deaths and Marriages 9
Human Rights 9
Parliament 9
International Trade Agreements & Diplomacy 8
Animal Protection 6
Government Debt 6
Primary & Secondary Education 6
Utilities Supply 6
Water 6
Coastal Waters 5
National Census 5
History 4
Home ownership 4
Archives 3
Corporation 3
Industries 3
Currency 2
Economy 2
Space 2
Customs 1
Science and Technology 1
Grand Total 1904

Why Australian’s should care about POLICIES not POLITICS

English: Photo of the entrance doors to the Au...

English: Photo of the entrance doors to the Australian House of Representatives, Parliament House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, it’s the day after tomorrow!  Some Australian’s are ecstatic, others are devastated.  As always, I’d like to to a look at exactly what a new government will mean for Australians.  Because being Prime Minister doesn’t give you the ability to just pop decisions through parliament as you choose.

For political noobs out there (as I was 6 months ago), here’s how it works.  This is what politicians spend more than half of their time actually doing:

– Someone comes up with an idea for a bill – i.e. an idea to change a law that governs Australia (it’s usually one of the parties but it can come from associations or other lobbyists)

– Generally the minister who is responsible for a particular portfolio presents a bill (although any member is allowed to).  The person gives notice that that idea is going to be presented at the next seating (basically a get together of parliament – i.e. a meeting!).  Obviously before they present it, they have to write a draft of the law.  For some reason I can’t find anywhere that actually details WHO does the writing…is it a lawyer, is it an analyst…who?  I don’t know…  ANYWAY…

– There are two “houses” of people who represent Australians.  Once’s called the Upper House/The Senate which is where the “Senators” live – once is called the Lower House – or as you may know it The House of Representatives.  The Lower House is the place where you vote in the government at the prime minister BUT it is not the house that actually has the final say.  The Senate does.  So to connect this all back to YOU:  on your voting card – the Green one was the one that you used to vote in people from your local area to the Lower House, and the white one,  you used to vote in representatives of your whole state to the Senate/Upper House.  Most people know the people on the Green card cos it’s their local area, but generally there’s less of an emotional connection to the white piece of paper – not to mention it takes an hour to fill in the preferences so most people just vote for a party instead of individuals and then let the party decide where to send the other preferences.  Often it’s much easier for smaller parties to get into the Senate than into the House of Reps.

– Alright so…off this bill (idea) goes – get’s presented generally first at the Lower House (House of Reps) although in some cases it can come the other way (unless its any money or tax related stuff).  And just to give you a sense of scale, government usually gets 200 of these proposals a year and about 80% of the actually end up becoming laws (or amendments to existing laws).  Anyway, at this first presenting of the bill, everyone gets a copy.

– No one chats about it or debates it this first time, it just gets presented.  Ministers and members of parliament then have time to go off, read it properly, do their own research, consult experts – basically do whatever they need to do to come to their own decision about whether they want to support it, reject it or amend bits and pieces of it.

– When they meet again, everyone votes in general on whether they want to run with it or not.  If it’s a yes, there’s a public enquiry into the bill and then an opportunity for members to discuss it all in detail, then there’s another vote and if it’s a goer – get gets passed on to the Senate.  The Senate then goes through basically the exact same process.  So they’re kind of like a second pair of eyes that I think tend to look at things from more of a national rather than local community perspective.

If there’s a bill introduced that fails to get through this WHOLE process TWICE, then the Prime Minister can ask the Governor General to “dissolve” both houses of parliament (hence the term “double dissolution”!) and then have another go at the election!

There have been 6 cases of double dissolutions since the federation was formed.  In one case, the bill was dropped, in 2 cases – the government who requested it in the first place lost their power and in 3 cases the the government “won”.  So that’s basically a 50/50 chance of getting back into power…let alone letting the bill pass through!  All in all, you’d need to be a betting man or woman to decide to call one I reckon.

So why would you want to call one?  Often this is if a party won because they won the majority in the House of Reps but didn’t get a majority in the Senate and so they’d call that a “Hostile Senate” – or basically a review panel that rejects the bills the are trying to pass.  BUT…I think to be strategic about it – you’d want to think about whether the bill you were trying to pass is actually worth the risk of a loss.

I think there’s two major reasons why the elected government loses at the time that they call a re-election:

1.  Usually it happens when they are trying to implement a key policy that they promised the people during an election campaign, which means it happens about 6 months after they get into government.  For the average citizen this isn’t enough time for that government to have proven itself or to have really made any positive changes based on their new governance.  It’s not long in government but its a long time in the real world – so people begin to have doubts about the governments ability to do its job and deliver what it promised those who voted for them.  Alternatively, the government has been in for a few elections, slowly losing ground and the re-election is called after 3 years, when perhaps the government hasn’t done as much as the people “thought” it would.

2.  They underestimate the gap between people’s  voting choice and their individual views on certain issues – so if the media reports (as they would) that the whole reelection is around a particular issue that perhaps is more contentious even between people who vote for a party, then people will be more attuned to that issue in particular in the reelection – i.e. they’ll vote almost based on whether or not they agree with that particular bill.  It’s a key psychological shift, but I reckon that’s what happens.

So with that in mind, it got me wondering – I know that yesterday by preferences, Liberals won by less than 6% (apparently that’s a lot in Australia) based on the votes of about 14 million Australians, and the biggest swing was toward independent parties – which showed that lots of Aussies just didn’t like either party but kind of didn’t get a choice since there wasn’t another big enough party in the contest.

So given that…it’s likely people probably disagree on a case by case basis with the actual policies being proposed, which also means there will be a more hostile senate because minor parties have been able to gain more seats than previously…which in turn means, there is more likely to be a scenario where bills get rejected by the Senate and that Tony Abbott will have the opportunity to ask the Governor General for a double dissolution.

And based on probably the biggest poll run in the country other than the election results themselves – run by the ABC, we can see what people’s views really are (regardless of how they actually voted).  Here they are, and my views on what will happen in parliament regardless of what the Australian people might personally prefer or think:

1.  Scrapping of the NBN:  Men are more likely to vote for liberal, but men are ALSO more likely to be interested in broadband/technology – which suggests to me that a dissolution called on the basis of the scrapping of NBN as currently planned could actually change the re-election results.
POTENTIAL OUTCOME VERDICT:  Good for Labor voters

2.  Gay marriage: has majority support amongst both sides of voters (liberal and labor).  This hasn’t really been a major focus of the campaign – apart from Rudd saying he’d allow his party a conscience vote on it.  I think both sides should listen to the Australian people on this and call a referendum.  It should not be up to a government to decide this if there is support amongst the whole community because it suggests that community’s overall views are not being properly represented.
POTENTIAL OUTCOME VERDICT:  Bad for all Australians

3.  Asylum seeker policies: are highly divisive and as a result of Labors shift toward a protectionist stance, close to half of all Labor supporters disagreed with Labor on this, but ALSO disagreed with Liberals.  The further people live from the city, the more likely they are to want to turn back boats and given 68% of Aussies live in cities this suggests a high level of disagreement with both parties on the issue.  I think that given Labor and Liberals have aligned themselves on this one – regardless of the Australian population – I’d say any bill on this would get through both the house of reps and the senate.  Which is a shame as again the majority views on the subject are not being properly represented. POTENTIAL OUTCOME VERDICT:  Bad for all Australians

4.  Mining tax:  The majority of Australians actually want this! (59%)  So it’s kind of hilarious that this is was what got Ruddster kicked off his perch in the first place (when he should have called his own double dissolution as he was at the height of his popularity at that time).  The liberals are calling for mining tax CUTS despite what the majority of Aussie’s want.  The issue here is, again the Senate – because minor parties are more able to gain seats and Queensland holds a lot of them and I’d say in both Queensland and WA where mining is most prominent, people are much more likely to be “for” mining tax cuts in their industry.  Also now that The Clive Palmer Party (who has is a Billionaire mining magnate) holds three seats in the Senate and could be the deciding party if it was a vote for the tax cuts with the Liberal party, he would likely have significant power in that vote.  So I think the tax cuts will definitely make it through the Senate.
POTENTIAL OUTCOME VERDICT:  Bad for all Australians and particularly Greens voters

5.  Legalised voluntary euthanasia:  A whopping 75% (plus 10%) neutral – want this.  This wasn’t even an agenda with either party – I think perhaps because while people might vote for it privately…its not exactly an upbeat thing to talk about.  But I do hope there is a bill brought in to assist the government agenda and help it reflect the views of the people.
POTENTIAL OUTCOME VERDICT:  Bad for all Australians if a bill is not presented and even worse if its not approved

6.  Car Industry Support: No one in SA actually cares.  They don’t want their own industry supported and Liberals agree.  So I think this one will be a no brainer as I don’t see the Greens supporting Labor against cutting the support in the Senate.
POTENTIAL OUTCOME VERDICT:  Good for Australians and particularly Greens

7.  Climate change/Carbon Tax:  This one is a really interesting one because overall 61% of Aussie’s think more should be done for the environment.  Also women and young people are more likely to agree with the statement vs male/older people.  (but it feels like most people don’t think the Carbon tax is it – although I’m not sure how many people actually understand it).   So the Liberals want to get rid of the carbon tax (in effect, a negative action against the environment) – and this is the one that Liberals believe is most likely to receive a hostile response in the Senate because it was a deal that both Labor and Greens had already agreed on (although who knows how the Palmer United Party would vote on this…given that they’re in the mining biz – they’d likely side with the Liberals on this…although given how Clive has been treated during the election campaign he may have other plans!).  So anyway, assuming it went through twice and they were unable to get it through, and a double dissolution was asked for – and assuming Australian’s voted in the way of “for or against the tax” rather than for or against the party AND assuming that by that time the Labor had a strong opposition leader who was polling well, then Labor could win back the election. Let’s not also forget that 25% (500k) young people didn’t enrol to vote before this election.  And the number of new young people eligible to vote will go up.  We could assume they would be prompted to enrol if there was an issue at stake they were more likely to care about and the difference of another 200-300k voters plus 50k people will die of old age in that time too who may have been likely to vote “against” the tax.

However if there was no leader and there was significant media surrounding the tax and confusing people into thinking having it is a negative, then Liberals could win back their seats AND win back more of the Senate. Jury is out on this one.  I think there would be a 50/50 chance here.

POTENTIAL OUTCOME VERDICT:  Good for Australians, Good for Labor and Greens voters OR Bad for all Australians

Then its important to look at the likelihood of success to win IF you take into account how strong the hold on the house of Reps or the Senate was at the time the dissolution + re-election was called by the government.

The 1975 Double Dissolution I wont count because it was a requirement for Malcolm Fraser to do this after the Governor General dismissed Whitlam so it was not related to any bill.

Joseph Cook Called Dissolution (1914)
– Liberals:
HoR: 38 Senate: 7
– Labor:
HoR: 37 Senate: 11
CALLED:
1.25 years after 1st election
BILL IN QUESTION (1): 
Abolish preferential employment for trade union members in the public service
OUTCOME:
Elected Party significantly defeated (it had been fairly neck and neck at the 1913 election anyway), bill not passed

Robert Menzies Called Dissolution (1951)
– Liberals: HoR: 74 Senate: 23
– Labor: HoR: 47 Senate: 19
CALLED: 1.5 years after 1st election
BILL IN QUESTION (1):  The creation of the Commonwealth bank board which opposition felt would mean private interests would influence bank decisions
OUTCOME: Elected Party returned and also won majority in senate, bill passed

Whitlam Govt Called Dissolution (1974)
– Liberals/NPA: HoR: 61 Senate: 46
– Labor: HoR: 66 Senate: 29
CALLED: 1 month after 1st election
BILL IN QUESTION (6):  Electoral bill (changing how electorates were divided) and same for Senate, Health insurance bill which would provide for creation of universal health insurance with Medibank – now known as medicare) and the establishment or a Petroleum and Minerals Authority.
OUTCOME: Elected Party returned but still no majority in the senate, bill did not pass

Fraser Govt Called Dissolution (1983)
– Liberals/Country Nationals: HoR: 74 Senate: 30
– Labor:  HoR: 51 Senate: 27
CALLED:  3 years after 3rd election
BILL IN QUESTION (12): A variety of Tax amendments, A social services amendment and amendments to tertiary education
OUTCOME: Elected Party lost, Challenger Won, bill did not pass

Hawke Govt Called Dissolution (1984)
– Liberals: HoR: 50 Senate: 16
– Labor: HoR: 75 Senate: 30
CALLED: 1 year after election
BILL IN QUESTION (1): Amalgamate all other govt ID systems to act against tax avoidance, health and welfare fraud
OUTCOME: Elected Party returned but still no majority in the senate, bill did not pass

Ok so…after all that research!!  Based on the above is seems that when a Double Dissolution has been called in the past:

A.  In 4 out of the 5 cases, the bill did not pass

B.  In 2 out of the 5 cases, the party who called the dissolution lost.  Where they did win, in 2 out of the 3 cases they still didn’t win majority in the senate, only in 1951 did the party win and get Senate majority.

C. Both Fraser and Menzies had the exact same majority number (74) in House of Reps and yet one lost, and the other won – which suggests deciding factors are about length of time in govt before the dissolution is called and also the issue itself.

So now lets look at this election IF we assume that a double dissolution is called on Carbon Tax within 6-12 months:

Tony Abbott Called Dissolution (est 2014)
– Liberals: HoR: 89 Senate: 33
– Labor: HoR: 57 Senate: 25 (+10 from greens on this issue) = 35
CALLED: 6-12 months after election
BILL IN QUESTION: Amendment to carbon tax to scrap whole program
PREDICTED OUTCOME: The situation is closest to the Fraser govt BUT, the timing is different.  I still say there’s a 50/50 chance of it going either way.  I think that if held 6-12 months after election, they would be reelected BUT they still wouldn’t get Senate majority.  If held in 3 years, they’d lose.

13 real policy ideas to help navigate Australia through to budget surplus + happy people!

So I took some time to read through the CIS report which you can read here.  I’ve taken half a day to study and research them and decide for myself whether I agree.  So hopefully this can benefit others who can’t be bothered spending half a day but can take a few minutes to read instead.  I’ve included links to my research sources where possible.

Here’s some really interesting take outs:

  • Australia’s welfare system accounts for 65% of government spending and has doubled over the last 10 years from $150 billion to over $300 billion.  A third of that goes to welfare cash payments (like Newstart, Family Allowance…etc) – most of which are more strongly means tested than other OECD countries – but current spending trends are unsustainable and contribute to ongoing dependence.
  • Close to half of all Australia’s welfare payments (over $150m) are accounted for by what is referred to as “welfare churn”, where an Australian (those of incomes higher than $18.2k per annum) pays taxes, and then those taxes come back to them as benefits – generally in kind benefits like education or health.
  • Between the ages of 15 and 55, an Australian’s benefits vs taxes is fairly even (even though it may not be happening at exactly the same time – e.g. students receive education benefits, but then pay for the next generation to receive those benefits with their taxes).  But after 55, there is a huge gap as taxes decrease significantly while welfare benefits increase significantly until the time of death.  This makes the policies around  welfare benefits to the growing ageing population one of the most crucial issues in the Australian Government’s budget.  It’s a $50 billion+ a year issue.  In comparison, that’s double Australia’s defense budget.

    Weekly value of total benefits and taxes

    Weekly value of total benefits and taxes

  • The biological essence of this issue – particularly over the next 20 to 30 years, is that Australians aren’t having enough babies who can grow up to get their own jobs and pay enough taxes so that the previous generation’s age cohort will be properly supported.  The population grew, but now its not replacing itself.  In terms of the environmental impacts of an ever growing world population, this is perhaps a positive, but in terms of the real experience of people living their lives in Australia right now and over the next 30 years (for example, people like me who will be 60 in 30 years), this is a serious problem.

Recommended policy changes

WELFARE CASH PAYMENTS

While there are some really great ideas for more progressive reforms, there’s a big problem with implementing them.  When you change a system that affects generations of people, there is a long period of time in which SOMEONE has to suffer…which means that reforms of that size never make it through parliament, or if they do – they come out the other end so changed that they can never have the effect that was intended – and if changed back by a new power in government, can due irreparable damage to the lives of people in had intended to help.

So, with that in mind, smaller changes, while not completely solving the dependency factor, can slowly reduce it and incentivise people to change over a long period of time, until such a time as major reforms are possible.

  1. Align the age at which someone can access their superannuation funds (60) with the age at which a person can apply for the pension (65) so that people don’t use the intervening 5 years to reduce their means-tested assets to the point at which they can benefit from the pension despite not necessarily qualifying for it 5 years earlier.
  2. Include a persons principal home as part of the means testing process for pensions, which will incentivise people to use their superannuation drawings to purchase income generating assets, rather than avoid them in order to qualify for the pension.
  3. Also link the age of retirement and access to super and pension, to life expectancy.  This is something the UK is considering.  To put this into context, Superannuation was introduced to Australia at a time by the Labor government when life expectancy at birth was 77.38 years.  In 2012, life expectancy at birth was 81.85 years.  That’s a difference of 4.47 years.  Now, I imagine this age would need to change based on the birth year of the child – or perhaps birth cohort of 10 years.  For instance, if 50 years from now, humans were living 50 years longer, it would make absolutely no sense for them to retire and be supported by the state for 50 years.  So if the age isn’t increase in line with life expectancy, then its up to the tax payers to bear the burden of the difference of X years.
  4. A more politically difficult item to implement would also be the limit index pensions to the Consumer Price Index.  Currently it is linked to both CPI and also the Pensioner and Beneficiary Living Cost Index (PBLCI) – whichever is higher.  The inherent problem I think being called out here is that if government spending on welfare increases at a higher rate than the CPI, then welfare earners spend more, thereby increasing their own Index, and of course since it will be higher than CPI, it will be used to define the exact amount of benefits…basically becoming a self-fulfilling cycle of increases that are instigated by government spending in the first place.  I’m not ENTIRELY sure my line of reasoning here is correct, but that’s what I’ve deduced.
  5. Aged care supports to be means tested just like every other welfare payment is.  So basically providing system consistency to ensure money goes to those who actually need it.

FAMILY WELFARE CASH BENEFITS

  1. Reducing tax churn for middle income earners – by ensuring that again, the benefits are delivered to the lower income families who need it most, but also that some of the savings made are distributed back to the middle and higher income tax payers.   Family Tax Benefits payments have two parts and were originally set up to support families with a stay at home parent.  Part A provides $100 per child per week for family’s with incomes under $75k and Part B provides lesser payments ($70 for kids under 5 and $50 for kids 5-18) for people with family incomes below $150k – so, helpful for anyone with a family earning between 76k and 150k per annum.  Now I wanted to double check this against Australian Poverty lines.  These obviously differ depending on whether you own your house outright and therefore don’t have to pay rent and also on how many children you have.  But line was set this month at $34k a year (Pre tax) for the 33% of Aussie’s who own their own home and have one child, and the line goes up to $79k (Pre tax) for those with 4 kids who don’t own their own home (although average number of kids is 2).  So I think it’s safe to say that households with a family income of $150k – which is more than double the income of a family living on the Australian poverty line, are not the ideal beneficiaries of the welfare system – they are better of having tax credits.  So based on my own research I would also conclude with the research paper that Part B could be phased out over time.   But I would add that Part A should be linked to the Poverty line index, so that as living standards change and the price of living increases, welfare benefit categories are seasonally adjusted.  Because I am sure the government brought the system in based on original poverty line figures…which inevitably change over time.  Based on the calculation of pre tax income, Part A should be increased to include family incomes up to $79k per year (where means testing shows they don’t own their property and have 4 children).
  2. Tony Abbott, Leader of the Liberal National Party Australia

    Tony Abbott, Leader of the Liberal National Party Australia

    The Liberal National Party’s plans to provide mothers with 26 weeks of wage replacement up to a maximum of $150k without means testing or a sliding scale of benefits based on income which the rest of our taxation and many other means tested systems are based upon.  This presents a significant financial concern.  Of course there are ways for empowering people to take paid leave and enjoy the beautiful time that all humans should enjoy in being a parent to a new child – without creating systems that contribute to welfare churn.  For instance, using a tax effective savings vehicle – where Australian’s are all provided with a way to save for education, health and new life creation (having babies!) in a particular savings account and if they do so, are taxed at a much lower rate (perhaps the effective tax saving difference based on welfare with- i.e. 30-40% rate saving – with the extra 15-20% kept to fund those who need it most).  People can then access these funds when they have children – or perhaps if they never do, they could access those funds after menopause??  That’s an interesting thought!  Childcare payments could then be reduced as people self funded time off to spend with their new or recently grown family.  Either way, the current Labor party’s child care benefits scheme is a more financially prudent policy.

  3. The report also suggests that for the above two items (and other family and child related welfare payments) there is benefit in reform across all of them.  The number of children you have is a major indicator of potential new costs, so the suggestion of replacing all these benefits with a non-means tested Child Tax Credit could be an option.  The issue I see there is that it provides more money for those who earn more and therefore pay more tax, and zero money for those who earn under $18.2k.  So, there would need to be some more thought put into how this could be achieved – particularly covering any transition period.  Would the tax credit happen as a part of someone’s weekly/fortnightly wage?  What of people who are paid monthly? Perhaps the tax credit could increase or decrease on a sliding scale based on income and then switch from a credit to welfare payments on the lower end of the scale?  I guess you’d need to do more modelling to check.
  4. CentrelinkThe other major component of welfare payments is within unemployment.  Interestingly 60-70% of people who take up Newstart move back to paid work within 1 year.  One proposal suggests people could use Personal Future Fund accounts to self fund this period…but I think this is a bit of a stretch.  That would require someone to have up to $40k in savings at any time JUST IN CASE they were unemployed for up to a year.  I think that Australian’s would find that a big stretch to agree to.  The other suggestion which I think makes more sense and is something Aussie’s are already familiar with, is to provide those who are recently unemployed with a loan amount that is paid weekly – but which must be paid back as soon as they start working and earning over a certain amount that would allow them to service the debt.  It works just like the HELP fee system so as not to disadvantage those who are unable to get paid work.  I think the debt would probably need to be capped at 1 years of benefits (given that is 70% of the cases anyway), because psychologically, the more someone felt they “owed” to the government, the greater the disincentive to find work because after 5 years they’d owe over $70k to the government which is 1/5 of a house loan – most humans would feel overwhelmed at that obligation.

DISABILITY SUPPORT CASH BENEFITS

  1. The Disability Support Pension was an interesting one.  I found this one difficult because there is so much complexity around physical and mental disabilities.  On the one hand there is a social etiquette which dictates we should avoid expecting the same from a disabled person as that of a normally abled person, on the other, there is much that an individual human can gain from positive and meaningful contribution to the workforce.  Of course the degree to which this is experienced is dependent on the individual, the type of disability and the severity.  Now ABS data shows that disabilities that begin in adulthood are most likely to occur in the 45-64 age bracket (prior to workforce retirement) – and those in the 55-64 bracket are the least likely to return to work.  At the moment the payments for DPS (Disability Support Pension) are not aligned to the objectives of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (which provides support for increased workforce participation).  The two programs are at odds – one provides the support, but the other does not require people to look for work in order to obtain benefits, so there is little incentive for someone to go and look for work – even if there is now a program structure to support it!  So by aligning the two – i.e changing the pension to require those with partial working capacity to seek out work, the aims of the NDIS can be carried out and the government can also save money on pension payments as a side benefit.  I think this is a good idea in principle, but it is a tricky one to means test by “working capacity” and might have the effect of causing public outrage – particularly in instances where there are people that may be physically partially able, but combined factors of mental preparedness and also workplace preparedness creates a difficult environment.

EDUCATION SUPPORT BENEFITS

  1. Christine Milne, leader of the Australian Greens Party

    Christine Milne, leader of the Australian Greens Party

    On Primary education, Rudd government wants to spend more and Abbot wants to spend less or perhaps distribute the balance across primary/secondary and tertiary – both have an impact on the ability of future government expenditure and the ability to pull Australia out of deficit.  On the other hand, the Greens proposal to means test government funding to private schools just pisses off any parent who is currently sending their child to a private school and is unlikely to be a policy that Parliament would accept as a solution.  But that’s not to say the track isn’t right…it just needs to be presented as a change for all that provides new freedoms and opportunities…rather than a new disadvantage for some.  The idea proposed is that the amount of tax money used to pay a public funded school position is instead provided as a tax credit that can be used for education.  The credit could be capped based on the price of attending the closest local school.  Now this still effectively lowers potential benefits to parents with kids going to private institutions – but its much more difficult to compare since now the decisions are being made by the individual, not by the institution. The approach increases competition within schools and raises the bar for all, while still providing education within an essentially socialist framework.

  2. On tertiary education, the current FEE help system takes no account of the earning POTENTIAL of the degree being studied as a means of determining % of HELP assistance available.  For instance, the average earning potential of a teacher is $64k per year, the average earning potential of a lawyer is nearly double that at $123k.  Reforms suggest this earning potential could be used as a means of reducing or increasing government subsidies as needed.  My personal thoughts are that this is a good idea in theory but individual job types and associated incomes vary wildly within particular industries, there are hundreds of jobs, and in some sectors salaries stay relatively the same over time while others go up and down – meaning the system would at least need to be smart enough to cater for all of these intricacies.  Certainly not impossible in the IT age…but important to consider.  Also increased fees for higher earning potential jobs could effectively cut out students from lower income backgrounds.  So I think if the system were to work, it would also need to include family means testing as part of the equation of potential fee help.

HEALTH SUPPORT BENEFITS

  1. MedicareFirstly I think it should be noted there is probably not too many Australian’s out there who aren’t fans of the socialist style medical system we have here in Australia.  Americans would say we are very lucky.  However, if we accept that the point of such a system is to provide healthcare to those who can’t afford it (unlike US where without health insurance, you’re in a real bind), then just like everything else, a socialist system needs to be implemented in a balanced way.  And this means means testing it in the way that practically all other welfare benefits are implemented in Australia.Here’s the issue: because you don’t pay (or you receive a rebate) on visits to the doctor or purchases of prescription drugs, and the doctor and pharmacist don’t lose out either – the system encourages people to use it more, leading to more spending that may be unnecessary – particularly if the same result and levels of population health could actually be achieved for less.  In America, cost benefit analysis is used to make decisions on how to best decide which drugs or equipment to subsidise.  Many suggest that the better approach is another measure: Quality Adjusted Life Year – which is a measure that I think makes more sense for this area where the “cost” is money and the “benefit” is life verses death or disablement so its not as simple as money vs. less final life benefits!  On top of this, means testing as a method of ensuring health welfare benefits go to those who most need it vs. those who can afford health insurance and the price of a visit to the GP seems like a common sense approach.Ultimately, why should someone earning $75k or more get exact same government help on healthcare as someone earning $18k.   Logic would say…well they pay their taxes just like everyone else – so they should get the benefit right?  But if, similar to the other suggestions in the report around tax credits, a percentage of their taxes could be used to go directly to health insurance which was perhaps expanded to cover a % of GP visits depending on means tested income – this, with the savings gained from other welfare areas, could potentially cover costs without any major change for high income earners – making it a more palatable solution for the whole of the Australian public.  Regardless, I think this idea needs more work because our healthcare industry is highly complex and involves many more intricacies in comparison to other welfare areas.

Overall, I think the ideas presented a pretty good – the question is then about implementation.  Change of this type in too many areas at once is not only difficult to achieve, it scares the population into thinking the government is cutting stuff willy-nilly because most people don’t have half a day to spend going through and really thinking deeply about exactly what the proposed reforms mean like I just did today!  So focusing on just one or two areas that would have the biggest impact as part of an election campaign I think would be the maximum that the Australian public could psychologically handle.

On a final note, what I found so interesting about all of this, was that the Australian governments policy attitude toward Indigenous Australians, is actually reflective of its policy attitude to ALL Australians.  Its paternalistic in nature.  But paternalism disguised as public generosity won’t save future Australians from having to deal with the fall out of policy decisions that drive our budget into further deficit, particularly as Australia’s population ages.

Lack of political education killing true Australian choice

English: Ballot Box showing preferential voting

I don’t understand why in America you don’t have to vote but you are required to learn about politics in school. In Australia you are not required to learn about politics in school but you are required to vote.  And yet the BIGGEST impact a free citizen can have on the outcomes of their country is an informed vote.

Surely if a system places such value on the equality of each citizens opinion that they would force each person to provide their opinion – then that system should be equally interested in informing those citizens about how the system they are a part of works.

Now, I am not saying that the US education system should be copied, nor am I saying that there is no education about politics in Australian schools.  What I am saying is that there is no national standardardised implementation of the study and I see this as a major gap and one of the likely reasons that many Australians profess not to understand how our preferential voting system works.

One of my good friends put this really well in a recent Facebook post:

 The absolute unbiased truth: Vote for minor parties if they represent your values best. Vote for whoever represents your values best. We have a preferential system where YOU choose where your vote goes, all the way through the preferences and it passes on at full value.

In a seat which is a fight between Liberal and Labor the only thing that matters in terms of who wins the seat is which comes first out of those two parties on your ballot paper. They can be last and second last and which ever one is second last will still get your vote AT FULL VALUE. Voting a minor party as 1 sends a message to the old parties that they are not representing your values, and it gives funding to the minor party of your choice WITHOUT HAVING ANY IMPACT ON WHO WINS THE SEAT.”

So…back to the issue of education.  When I was in high school you were able to choose politics as a subject in Year 11 and 12, but it definitely wasn’t “required” like maths or science. And perhaps the only other time it was mentioned was in a couple of SOSE classes in year 8.

In 2014,  the Australian government will bring in required studies of Civics and Citizenship from Years 3 to 10 (http://www.acara.edu.au/curriculum_1/learning_areas/humanities_and_social_sciences/civics_and_citizenship.html).  That’s a huge step forward.  But am I the only one thinking…where the hell is the requirement for study in Year 11 and 12?  So right when most Aussie’s turn 18 and are being asked to now provide their opinion on the governance of their country, most of them haven’t even thought or been in a class on it in 2 years.  That’s a lifetime to a young person!!

It also brings up the question of how much influence any government in power should have over the creation of the curriculum.  This whole curriculum has been created while the Labor government was in power.  What does this mean for the neutrality of the information presented to young minds of the future?

It’s almost like the “ideal” scenario is that there is a third party/non affiliated with the government or other association that actually writes that part of the curriculum. Because science, maths, english are fairly solid in terms of their interpretation and application: But history is written by the conqueror and politics is defined by those in power.

So…what of those of us who are voting in the Australian Elections this Saturday?  Those of us who missed out on essential information that governs our potential to have positive or meaningful participation in the system that has been chosen to manage the country they live in?

Many Australians are talking about their apathy toward both parties, but with the 2 major parties having $64 million and $67 million in campaign backing verses $1m backing to the next viable party – the average Australian without any particular interest in politics is simply bombarded with two choices: Labor or Liberals.  And no thanks to US Billionaire Rupert Murduch who owns 70% of Australian media, they are getting even less of a choice by being presented with editorial content in newspapers across the country as if it were news.

Without unbiased, consistent education – no society (no matter how intelligent its people) can be expected to make an informed voting decision on country governance.  I just hope that in 2023/2024 – when those in grade 3 next year turn 18, they’ll be able to make better decisions than the rest of us this year.

Australian Politics…chapter 1

Parthenon from west

Parthenon from west (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.1  What is meant by calling the human being a ‘political animal’?

The ancient Greeks used the word Politics to mean something rather different to how the word is used today.  Polis means “of the city”, so Socrates reference to “man as a political animal” was about humans natural state being living in a city or state.

Today, some might say this is incorrect, given that humans are biologically built to live mainly in Hunter-Gatherer societies, and it is only in relatively recent times that we have grown to live in dense cities and urban masses.

Although in some ways, in ancient Greece, the saying was perhaps closer to the truth given that “cities” generally didn’t contain more than 300 or so people and very often were less than 100, while modern cities like Shanghai in China now has over 23 million inhabitants with 6,400 humans per square kilometer. (source)

At the end of the day, anything that describes human behaviour as being either essentially social and city based on individualistic, can only ever be general – given the diversity of human life and thought.

1.2  Must politics always involve conflict or power?

Politics in its simplest form, is the act of managing the state.  Politics involves many elements and both conflict and power are essential ingredients.  However the dynamic of the conflict and power change significantly dependent on the political regime in place.  For example, in a Dictatorship where perhaps the state is often run by military rule (like Egypt from the early 1900’s until the Arab Spring), conflict in the running of parliament is low, and conflict with the people is low until a revolution occurs as a result of low level and ongoing conflict between military forces and the public which builds public resentment slowly but inexorably over time.  In its place, the authority executes the full force of its military power on the people of its society, in order to maintain a state where there is no internal conflict to its own rule.

In a democracy however, the balance of conflict and power are different.  Democracy encourages conflict within its own ranks, between different schools of thought that make up the associations which form parties who represent the general public.  That low level conflict is what ensures the balance of power is kept in check, so that differing points of view have a voice and so that any ruling decisions are thoroughly tested before changes are implemented in society where they will affect the lives of those who choose to live in it.  In a democracy, the power struggle is focused between parties for the love of the people, not forced on the people (although with free press expressing personal view points like Murdoch owned media in Australia, some would argue this is not always the case!).  The power of the state through military force is focused on protection toward outside forces, not the oppression of the internal society.

But in all cases, there is conflict and power at play.

1.3  Is it reasonable to say that politics in some sense always involves the state?

Not always.  In more recent times, politics is used to describe the internal power plays, conflicts, relationships and governance within companies also.  However, if referring just to politics within the realm of the management of a country or nation made up of a collection of states, territories or provinces as is the case with the world today – then yes, the two are connected.  The “state” is what politics as a framework aims to provide protection and advancement for, the members of the state are its existing  citizens and the guests of the state are its tourists, refugees and immigrants – until otherwise officially accepted by the state.

English: One of the symbols of German Women's ...

1.4  How pervasive is “patriarchy” as an explanation of political power relations?

Patriarchy – the power of Fathers – and therefore, the power or rule of male thought, is how most modern Western societies were formed.

Firstly, its important to note that most anthropologists hold that there have been no known matriarchal societies in human history with the possible exception of some small societies from Burma and Native America.  Certainly there have been no major matriarchal civilisations.  Although Matrilineality (where descendant groups and potentially land, culture and other items are based on the mother line) are more prevalent including small society groups in Native America, China, Spain,  Africa and of course those of Jewish belief.  Many of these no longer exist.

What is also important to note is that most of the Western colonial world (USA, Australia, Canada) has been created on the back of expansion from the English, French, Dutch and Portugeuse.  None of these societies had a history of matriarchy nor matrilineal descent.  Given that each of these societies based their system of politics on their known political framework – they only had a patriarchal framework from which to take from!  Even today, while there is a separation of state and Monarchy, England still holds high regard for the family line, and Australia as England’s colonial outpost is not officially a republic and the Governor General as representative of the Queen of England must sign off on all major matters of state.

In democratic societies, the state involves citizens who are able to vote in or out members of parliament.   It was only just over 100 years ago that women were first allowed to even participate in that voting system (longer for countries other than Australia who was one of the first to provide women with that right as a part of the Feminist movement of the time).  And 100 or more years before that, women were under the complete rule of there Father in terms of matters of property ownership, life decisions and more.

So given the political system has existed for hundreds of years and was set up by men before women had any right to be a part of it, this suggests very strongly that patriarchy forms the basis of political power relations.

Australian Coat of Arms (adopted 1912)

Australian Coat of Arms (adopted 1912) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.5  Discuss the difference between rhetoric and democratic politics.

Officially rhetoric is used to describe the discussion of political affairs by ALL members of society – not just politicians.  But the reality is, it has been so often used to describe the empty words of politicians who make promises and never deliver – that the word has lost all power to describe anything else.  Most people think of rhetoric as a ONE WAY speech rather than a discussion.

Discussion, on the other hand, is the heart of democracy.  Without discussing, arguing, engaging and fully testing the idea through debate, it is unlikely that same idea, and any related rulings from that idea, will be able to be accepted by people of different schools of thought.

However, discussion shouldn’t be the ONLY important factor.  Too often (as can be seen in the daily caucus at Parliament in Australia), there is too much talk and debate about things irrelevant to the needs of the people.  We are not a society that lives without access to information.  We live in an amazing age where we can gauge public feedback of thousands within in hours or seconds on social media, where contacting experts from all fields takes a few touches of a button, where scientific research is readily and easily available to all.  So I would argue that when pure rhetoric (without evidence from the people that politicians represent, a range of experts within those people, and research data) takes precedence over informed rhetoric, we enter a dangerous area of non-productive politics which is in fact self serving and undemocratic in its very nature. So often we see Indigenous Affairs ministers who have never spoken to an aboriginal elder or even lived in an Aboriginal community, or Health ministers who have never been doctors or nurses.  If these people are to represent these areas of society and do not have a background in it, then surely they must commit themselves to a learning process through community involvement, traditional study, expert panels, research and more.

1.6  What implications are there for the study of democracy in postmodern analysis?

Post-modernism really just means the following: there is no ONE RIGHT WAY to govern a society.  The idea that all truths can be questioned: including democracy.  Interestingly, never more has this been tested than through the rampant desire of the US to force its concept of democracy on the Middle East.  Or closer to home, the Australian Government’s need to replace the Australian Aboriginal Consensus based decision making system which also placed most power in the hands of elders (both men and women).  And in BOTH cases, the form of democractic rule forced on those societies seems to have made those made situations worse, rather than better.

Societies are very complex, they have taken in many cases, either hundreds or sometimes thousands or tens of thousands of years in their formation: this is particularly the case for people in the Middle East and Australian Aboriginals.  Humans are highly agile and malleable when brought up in a particular way from birth – however fast change forced on an entire society mid-cycle (mid generation) will often end in high levels of conflict or a situation where the state applies a level of power that oppresses the other society into submission.  That doesn’t sound like a democracy to me…

Post modernism in its purest form is academic bullshit.  It’s the realm of masters students and PhD’s who have nothing better to do with their time than deconstruct sentences.  But postmodernism that is grounded in real life respect for cultural, religious, geographical and historical differences is, I think, I highly valid and important perspective.  It is a perspective that allows governments to really think about the potential outcomes their actions may have.  It should never be used as a way to justify the continued existence of oppressive types of government, BUT it should look to accept circumstances where freeing people from such a situation without a valid and COMMUNITY OWNED & VETTED alternative has proven to turn the society into a highly unstable one.    Laughably, this is the definition of anarchy!  It takes time for people to change.  It took hundreds of years for the Western world to create its form of democracy.  Equality for all is a very noble goal, but the seeds of democracy must be sown over time and within the hearts of the people.  Unfortunately, Western governments rule for 3-5 years and time is not something they have a lot of.  So they look to create fast change and in the process, can cause great damage.