Poker machines: why do we even have them?

I’m loath to refer to this as a piece in support of poker machines (electronic gaming machines, slot machines, fruit machines, pokies, call them what you will), but this will largely be interpreted as such because it’s not a scathing criticism. However, it’s more a collection of thoughts and things to think about when composing scathing criticisms of poker machines. So here goes.

(And before we start, full disclosure: I am employed by a large club in Sydney, my knowledge of gaming and gaming machines is technical and extensive, and I have worked in the gambling industry (in clubs and casinos in Australia and overseas) since 2005.).

First I’ll acknowledge that problem gambling exists and is a problem, and I don’t think anyone is doing enough to tackle it, and a lot of harm can be attributed to problem gambling involving poker machines. A huge amount of money goes through poker machines in NSW, and very few players win in the short-term – even fewer in the long-term.

All of that said, it’s important that we have legal and regulated gambling. We have to – both from a personal liberty perspective (people should be allowed to do whatever the like with their own money), and from a harm minimization perspective (the alternative to legal, regulated gambling is illegal, unregulated gambling – underground casinos, dog fights and cock fights, underground poker games bankrolled by loan sharks). We can’t totally prevent problem gambling and the harm that comes from it, but we can try to minimize it, which is why regulation is important.

Regulation and monitoring

Poker machines are easy to regulate and easy to monitor. Really easy. Every legally operated poker machine in NSW has a unique serial number; the regulator knows where every single one is, who is operating it and what software is installed on it. The software goes through an approval process. Every legally-operated poker machine in NSW is connected to the Central Monitoring System (CMS) and has to be by law – if there are any problems with communication to the CMS, the machine can’t be operated until communication is restored. Whether the regulation is good enough, the enforcement is good enough, compliance is good enough are other issues, but that they are so so simple to regulate and monitor makes them really attractive to gambling regulators.

Because of the process of getting poker machine software from development to market, poker machines are really difficult to compromise. In short you can’t bribe a poker machine. You can’t cheat. Unlike in casinos and bookmakers, staff can’t be bribed or assist with cheating, payouts can’t be miscalculated. Everything is legit. So they are attractive to operators, players, and regulators, all of whom can trust them.

Low-risk gambling

With the usual acknowledgement that some people’s lives are destroyed through gambling, for most people poker machines provide access to gambling (a legitimate leisure activity) in a low-risk and low-cost way. People who set and stick to limits don’t lose more than they can afford, and the range of machines and games available mean that even very low limits can provide genuine entertainment value, decent time playing, and the thrill of a potential win. And poker machines combine three things that other forms of leisure gambling can’t: low entry price, high prize potential, instant win. Some examples:

  • Casino games offer instant wins and high prize potentials, but the entry prices are high – most people cannot afford to play casino games.
  • Racing and sports betting offer the potential of instant wins with a low entry price, but large prize potentials don’t exist without large bets.
  • Lotteries offer large prizes at a low entry price, but generally can’t offer instant wins.

I’m sure many people consider this a bad thing; I don’t. I just consider it a thing. Lots of people want to experience the thrill of gambling, the potential to win a large prize with an instant payoff, and at a low entry price, and poker machines offer that. I am certainly not going to tell people that that should not be on offer to them.

Harm minimization

Like for regulation, poker machines are easy to monitor for problem gambling as well as for potential money laundering. (Despite what is often said, it’s very difficult to launder money through a poker machine if strict transaction monitoring and player identification procedures are adhered to). Players can monitor their own play if they want to, and get detailed and accurate statements on their play and spend, things that are much more difficult with casino gaming, racing and sports betting, and lotteries, for example. These are not necessarily good or bad things, but they are things that make poker machines attractive to operators and regulators.

Staff exposure is quite important here too: this is anecdotal, but I’ve had far fewer colleagues develop gambling problems in venues with only poker machines compared with casinos that offer table games with live dealers. I have been a dealer myself, and even I can sit at a blackjack table, or stand at a craps table as a player and think that I somehow have an advantage because I know the game inside out.

And it’s worth mentioning that, unlike racing, there are no animal welfare issues with poker machines (other than, perhaps, say, problem gamblers neglecting their pets).

Social exclusion reduction

There are better venues for social interaction than gaming rooms in clubs and hotels. Of course there are. But still, we live in the world we live in, and for quite a lot of people (especially elderly people living alone) a couple of hours playing the pokies once, twice, or a couple more times a week is valuable social interaction with others. I won’t spin it as a good thing, and I am more than aware that this can be spun as pokie dens preying on vulnerable people. But it’s a thing that exists and happens. Social services for elderly and lonely people should be better – of course they should – but they aren’t, and as long as people who get their social interaction from playing poker machines would otherwise be sitting at home alone, a social exclusion reduction argument can be made.

Physical poker machines in regulated venues also function as an alternative to online gambling. Online casinos and online poker machines. Those things can’t be regulated (we’ve tried!) and they are genuinely solitary. Again, it’s not ideal, but having poker machines in relatively safe environments with amenities and other people is a more attractive offering to players and regulators than people sitting at home alone playing the same games but with unregulated operators with no guarantee of wins being honored and withdrawals being possible, and with no protection if things do go wrong.

Money

Of course one of the main reasons they are attractive to operators is that poker machines can generate quite large amounts of revenue, and they are attractive to governments because they generate quite large amounts of tax. There’s a lot of financial and political leverage that goes both ways. A lot of people spend small amounts of money playing poker machines, and a small number of people spend large amounts of money playing poker machines, and this is the basis of most criticism of poker machines: money. (And this criticism is valid.)

All forms of gambling come with the risk of harm from problem gambling and problems related to problem gambling, and poker machines are not a special case. I won’t argue that poker machines are a benevolent source of social virtue providing employment and delivering social change through charitable giving (though both things are true/there are good arguments why these things are, indeed, bullshit: make up your own mind), but poker machines and the industry as a whole (despite some thoroughly rotten operators) are not a pure force of evil. They are simply, as a form of legal and regulated gambling, attractive.

A celebration of queer rights in Australia

In Australia we’re in the middle of a campaign for a government survey on whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. The going is really tough, and a lot of us are feeling really shitty: the attacks are coming strong from the No campaign.

But: some positivity. Despite marriage equality not yet having arrived in Australia, we do have a lot of rights, and rights that are worth celebrating. And importantly rights that prove that our equality does not have terrible consequences for society.

Let’s celebrate these rights, and use their existence to argue for further extension of our civil and human rights.

The right to exist

Fundamentally, in Australia, we have the right to exist. The law doesn’t prohibit our existence. For all the hatred we face, the abuse, the violence, our right to exist is protected. Around the world, not all LGBT people have that right protected.

The right to fuck

Sexuality and sex is a core part of [most of] our existence. In Australia we have the right to fuck anyone who can and does consent. Some people engage in sexual violence against people asserting that right. Some put acid in lube dispensers in gay saunas. But none of that removes the right we have to fuck anyone who can and does consent. Around the world, not all LGBT people have that right protected.

The right to form domestic partnerships

Australia is pretty good when it comes to recognizing de facto partnerships — including those between same-sex couples. We’ve established over the pervious weeks that they are not identical to marriages but even so, de facto couples are afforded most of the rights and benefits that married couples are. It’s not perfect, but we do have some of the most progressive de facto rights and protections in the world.

The right to migrate

Spousal migration to Australia is easy. I know: I’ve done it. Admittedly as a white man, but the right to migrate to Australia as the spouse (de jure or de facto) of an Australian citizen or permanent resident is protected, and dependent on (almost) nothing except the status of the relationship. Migration law recognizes the status of de facto relationships where cohabitation hasn’t occurred because of the illegality of the relationship where the couple previously lived.

In practice it can be hard, expensive, and complicated, but the right to migrate with our spouses exists. Few other countries offer this.

The right to employment

Discrimination against a person on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, or marital relationship status is against the law in Australia. Employers are not allowed to discriminate against us.

They do, of course. But they don’t have the right to do so. And our right is to be protected by law against such discrimination.

The right to transition

Unlike in many places in the world, trans people in Australia have the right to transition. Socially, medically, and administratively. This is not to suggest it is straightforward or that the process of transition isn’t riddled with gatekeeping bullshit, but trans people have the right to live in whatever gender role(s) suit, according to each person’s own determination.

Trans people have the right to receive support to transition, the right to a name change on official documentation, the right to change gender markers on official documentation (including to X if neither male nor female is appropriate). Around the world not all trans people have these rights.

The right to celebrate

These — and other — rights come along with the right to exist openly and freely. The right to celebrate. We have bars and clubs that are not hideaways, but open and public venues that SCREAM queer. We have Mardi Gras in Sydney every year, and politicians incessantly turn up for photo opportunities. There are plenty of problems in the queer party scene, including racism, sexism, and transphobia, and we need to work on that. But we have the right to work on it because we have the right to celebrate.

The right to marry

Coming soon.

The right to marry is an addition to our existing rights, wide-ranging rights that in Australia are surprisingly progressive. It’s right and good that we demand access to marriage, but let’s do so in the context of celebration of our existing rights, and how much these rights add to society.

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Why straight people should say Yes to gay marriage

For most queer people, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, call it what you will is about equal access to a legal institution, and for us equality is important.

For a large part of mainstream society, equality honestly just isn’t that important, and inequality doesn’t affect your day -to-day lives. I know you don’t really care about queer people’s mental health or about queer teens’ suicide rates. Yes, it’s sad, but it doesn’t really affect you, and you’d rather it all just went away.

I know that to a large number of you, the gays are an irritation, an inconvenience. Of course it gives me the shits that you see my existence as an inconvenience, but I won’t pretend it isn’t so, and try to sell you same-sex marriage on a platform of equality, benefit to queers, and #loveveislove.

I know that since we are an inconvenience, you’d rather we just went away, but unfortunately (or otherwise) we are here to stay. Society has tried for centuries to reduce the inconvenience we cause by making us go away, but I think we all realize that we are not going anywhere.

So aside from the equality that we care about, I’d like to share with you how same-sex marriage can help solve some of the inconvenience that you care about.

Admin is a mess

In most states and territories in Australia, there is some kind or relationship register or civil partnership register that unmarried couples can use to register their relationships. Same-sex couples are required to use these registers if they wish to register their relationships. It’s a mess: each state or territory that uses such a scheme has to administer this scheme, as well as administering the recognition of similar interstate schemes and administering the recognition of marriage, which itself is looked after by the Commonwealth. All this jumble, all these intertwined systems could be streamlined and simplified simply by opening up marriage to all couples who want to register their relationships.

Think of all the taxpayers’ money that could be saved. Think of all the red tape that could be done away with. Think of all the extra time, money, and resources that could be put into roads, schools, and hospitals instead of managing half a dozen mostly-equivalent systems that could all be consolidated into the one institution that already exists and is universal: marriage.

Determining next of kin is a mess

When people in same-sex relationships die or fall ill, how much time, money, and effort is spent trying to ascertain who their next of kin is? Lots. Doctors and medical staff spend time and taxpayers’ money trying to find out who should make decisions on a person’s care, when they could be taking care of patients. Taxpayers’ money and administration time is spent in courts trying to determine who a dead person’s next of kin is, who has rights over their affairs. And all of this could be solved by opening up marriage to couples who want to use marriage to manage this.

Barring same-sex couples from marrying costs us all money, and reduces the quality of our healthcare. It’s such a simple fix.

Children are important

Same-sex couples have children. The debate on whether they should or not is a different one, but the fact is: they do. And children of same-sex couples are important. Their lives are important, their childhoods are important, and their education is important.

Children’s lives are easier when the administration of their lives and their education is simple. And that involves recognizing their parents. Marriage makes this super, super simple. It instantly recognizes co-parents, and reduces time and money spent by education systems and other systems administering children’s lives and arrangements. This doesn’t just improve life and education for the children of same-sex couples; it improves life and education for all children. Streamlined education systems with simple admin benefit everyone. Opposition to same-sex marriage is very literally holding your child back.

And aside, if you really do believe that children need a mother and a father, that children of same-sex couples are necessarily at a disadvantage, surely you wouldn’t support putting these kids at more of a disadvantage. Surely you would want to do everything possible to mitigate the effects of that inherent disadvantage. Same-sex marriage does that.

So #VoteYes for you

So straight people, even if you don’t really care all that much about equality, put your support behind same-sex marriage because it benefits you. Even if you actually oppose rights for queer people, put your support behind same-sex marriage because it benefits you. Even if you think queers are a scourge on society, put your support behind same-sex marriage because it benefits society as a whole.

Even if you won’t do it for us, do it for you.

No hate mail, please

Followers on Instagram and twitter may have seen I have updated my mailbox, adding a “No anti-marriage equality material” sticker next to the “no junk mail” sticker.

If you want your own that looks like mine, here is the PDF printable format (click the link). Print, laminate (if you like) and stick it on your mailbox.

This is a very small gesture, but I have stuck this on my mailbox for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I don’t want homophobic hate mail in my letter box. I don’t expect this will actually prevent this, but it might. Secondly I am marking my home as queer, or at least queer-friendly. In the past I might have been afraid to do this out of fear of threats to my physical safety and to the security of my home. Now I don’t care; I think it’s more important to be visibly queer, to send messages that we are everywhere, and that we are not going away.

This also, I hope, sends the message that objecting to receiving homophobic hate material is a normal and reasonable thing to do, that this ‘debate’ on marriage rights in Australia does not have to be balanced, and that we have no obligation to ‘hear both sides’.

Stay strong, comrades. xx

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Everybody loves the Trump/Turnbull phone call story

The Story

There were reports that on a phone call with Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, Donald Trump shouted a lot and then hung up on him.

Everybody loves it

Apart from one group, everybody in both the USA and Australia loves this story:

USA

The fash love it because it makes Trump look powerful and in control, taking no prisoners, and not allowing existing alliances influence his very good decisions.

Conservatives love it because it embarrasses Trump, making him look out of control. They know that they have control of Congress and that this display of childishness means they can more or less proceed how they like.

Centrists are horrified because their President who they Must Respect has insulted the leader of Australia, and surely the Australians respect him and are also suitably insulted.

Progressives love it because it’s reasonably amusing.

Australia

The fash love it because it embarrasses Malcolm Turnbull, makes him look weak and unable to deal with Trump, and paves the way for previously ousted leader Tony Abbott to recommence his Glorious Reign.

Conservatives love it because it embarrasses Trump and shows how their darling waffling Malcopops Trumble remains cool, calm, and collected in the face of adversary.

Centrists love it because it’s reasonably funny.

Progressives love it because it embarrasses both Turnbull and Trump, shows Trump as unhinged and Turnbull disrespected by a man he’s spent the last few months declaring to be one of his closest political allies.

So what?

Quite. That everyone is jumping on this story and trying to use it their advantage probably means most of it has been grossly exaggerated, and that it’s a non-story probably masking real stories. (E.g. the call was over a deal concerning refugees on Nauru & Manus Island, and we’re talking more about the phone call than seriously how we can get these people to Australia as soon as possible.)

That’s as in-depth as my analysis on this will get. Sorry.

Enough already with #loveislove

A lot of same-sex marriage advocates really like the hashtag #loveislove. I don’t. It’s harmful.

Today deputy leader of the opposition, Tanya Plibersek, tweeted this in support of same-sex marriage in Australia:

It irritated me quite intensely. Partly because that’s not what same-sex marriage (or marriage equality, call it what you will) is; and partly because of the harmful message it sends.

Amending the law to allow same-sex couples to marry is simply a question of giving same-sex couples equal access to a legal institution. Nothing more, and nothing less. Amending the law is not about recognizing love: weddings (well, most) do that; the legal institution of marriage does not. We are not asking that the government recognizes the love involved in many of our relationships, or that the government supports the love involved in many of our relationships, we are simply asking that the government provides us with equal access to the legal institution for formalizing our relationships.

I feel like I am repeating myself too much, but it irks me that something so simple seems to be so widely misunderstood.

Facts aside, #loveislove seems like pretty good rhetoric to convince people to support same-sex marriage. And oh, how harmful that rhetoric is.

#loveislove says that we should be given equal access to a legal institution because we deserve it. Not that all legal institutions should be equally available to all, but that equal rights are for those who deserve them.

#loveislove invites people to base their willingness to allow us equal access to a legal institution on their opinion of the validity of of our relationships. It invites them to judge that our love isn’t real love in their eyes and deny us equal rights based on that.

#loveislove sets conditions on our equal access to a legal institution. It says our marriages should be based on love – when the law does not (the law says they must be genuine, for life, and exclusive – all of which I disagree with, but that’s another matter).

Worst of all #loveislove erases the queerness of our relationships. #loveislove demands our relationships be based on a heteronormative model of two people who love each other forming a monogamous life-long relationship, when a very large number of queer relationships are just not like that. #loveislove sets up gatekeepers of equal access to a legal institution, and gives the respectable gays the keys, keeping the scandalous queers out. It sets whatever exists of the queer community up against itself, and can only ever make our demands for equal access to a legal institution weaker.

So can we kill off #loveislove? Can we give up asking for permission? Can we demand equal access to a legal institution based simply on the fact that we are people, and without placing conditions on ourselves?

I hope so.

Conflicts on same-sex marriage

I just found this in my drafts on my Google Drive from August 2014. I probably meant it to be the bones of a piece with sentences and paragraphs and everything, but looks like I could never be bothered to actually write it. (I think the original question was on Q&A). Here it is in its unedited form.

Note the question used “gay people”, so I used the same in the response. I’d normally use “queer people”. See an earlier post for my thoughts on the term for marriage that includes queer people that I refer to here as “gay marriage”.

Why do so many gay people want to be assimilated into the heteronormative-archaic-patriarchal construct that is marriage?

 

  • We don’t
    • Rich vocal minority with means and funding to campaign loudly on this issue make it seem like more gay people see this as a major issue than actually do.
    • Well-meaning straight people with influence see this as an easy cause to get behind.
    • Actual major issues affecting gay people are where the less-vocal majority of gay people actually want to see change:
      • Homelessness, particularly for young gay people
      • Employment
      • Education
      • Access to relevant health services – including sexual and mental health, and especially aged care.
      • Societal, rather than legal change
      • Protection of our culture/subcultures
      • Not being called a poofter on national television or being told by boss to move to New Zealand
    • Underground gay culture is still strong – most gay people really do reject heteronormativity.
  • We do, but we shouldn’t
    • Marriage is a form of social control – government regulating our relationships
    • Gay marriage means more discrimination; not less
      • Immigration (ref UK Home Office guidelines)
      • Treatment of trans people
      • Treatment of poly people
      • Adoption rights
      • Increased stigma to unmarried people – including unmarried couples (of all orientations), single parents
      • Creation of a ‘gold standard’
    • Gay marriage is an attempt to stifle our liberation – by regulating our relationships, our oppressors make us less free; not more free.
    • Marriage is promoted as a right, but in reality it is a civic duty – our responsibility to ensure our relationships follow the approved format
    • Gay marriage creates a public register of gay people that can be used against us by those who would harm us.
    • The whole fucking system is bollocks
  • We do, and we should
    • The law shouldn’t discriminate
      • BUT it still does, indirectly.
      • BUT just because it doesn’t discriminate against us doesn’t mean it doesn’t discriminate against anyone.
    • Family is universal – our desire to form family units that fit within our wider culture is not assimilation – it’s an expression of our relationships being a valid and important part of society
    • Our relationships are normal, not subcultural, and society should recognise that
    • We actually just want the legal rights afforded by marriage, and we reject the archaic patriarchal nature of traditional marriage
    • We can’t completely eliminate societal discrimination if we don’t eliminate legal discrimination
      • Gay marriage, while not perfect, is a definite step in the right direction.
    • We shouldn’t ignore the inequality of discriminatory marriage laws just because there are also worse issues affecting gay people
    • We like the idea of having a wedding and all the cultural tradition that comes with it
    • It’s also just, at it’s most basic element, a certificate and official recognition that two (or more) people  love each other.
    • Some of us want to get married, and that should be reason enough

Versions of gay marriage I have knowledge of and oppose

    • The UK version. Oh god so awful.
      • Spousal veto in particular
      • Really heavily gender-defining
    • The (thankfully overturned) Canberra version (even fucking worse than the UK)
      • Set us apart as different
      • Completely excluded trans and genderless people
  • Versions of marriage including gay people I could support:
    • Any marriage that didn’t exclude any consenting adult. At all. Under any circumstance.
    • None, really. The whole system is fucked

Quick Politics Roundup (warning: may include a terrible analogy)

Hello, here are a few thoughts on Australian and UK politics for the weekend. In the tradition of political commentators who spill their thoughts in the Sunday papers, I probably won’t proof read or edit this, and I certainly won’t think about it too hard.

Jeremy Corbyn

I’m not a member of the Labour party. I generally like Jeremy Corbyn’s policies, but my goodness not right now. He’s come out as a Brexitmeansbrexiteer, which is actually a smart move considering he needs support from working class Brexiteers, but it’s really not helpful for anyone apart from himself.

To use a tired old ‘burning building’ analogy, Corbyn’s anti-austerity message was very good last year before anyone was even thinking about the EU Referendum, and was rather like demanding some fire doors and some sprinklers in a building at risk of catching fire. Now the building’s on fire with everyone trapped inside; Theresa May’s running a “let it burn and see what happens” line; David Davis and crew are turning up with a demolition ball to knock the whole thing down as quickly as possible, and all the while Jeremy – Leader of the Opposition – Corbyn’s response is still “we should put some fire doors in”. Meanwhile there do seem to be some (Owen Smith, crucially, as well as the Lib Dems) who are saying, you know what, we could try putting the fire out, and they’re being demonised by Corbyn supporters as haters of the poor.

Clearly fire doors are a good idea. Anti-austerity is a very very good position to hold. But right now, Brexit is more dangerous than imaginable. The result of the EU Referendum has caused more damage in a month than Cameron and Osborne’s austerity package could have caused in a decade. And even though Cameron and Osborne are out of the picture now, Jeremy Corbyn is still focusing all his efforts on them and their policies, seemingly unaware of what is going on around him.

(And much though I hate to take a “fuck the poor” position, large numbers of certain sections of the British population voted to leave the EU, and my sympathy for the resulting self-inflicted hardship is very limited indeed.)

The Australian Senate & 1st preference votes

Apparently Malcolm Roberts only got 77 first preference votes and is now a senator. Apparently we have four One Nation senators (up from zero) even though the party got a lower share of the vote than last time. Apparently nobody knows how preferential voting works. 77 first preference votes for a not-even-first candidate for a minor party is quite impressive, and quite worrying. We should probably be more concerned about a society that allows bigotry to flourish rather than an electoral system that allows people to vote for it.

No, your concerns about immigration are not about immigration

I wasn’t going to write this. I didn’t think I needed to write something parading my many privileges. But it’s been on my mind for weeks. Since Brexit, since Trump and now since Pauline Hanson, Sonia Kruger, since people all across the developed world are claiming they have concerns about immigration. For all sorts of reasons. But it’s doublespeak. It’s a cover for nasty prejudices that people would rather pretend they didn’t hold. But people are not really concerned about immigration. And I know.

know.

I know because I am an immigrant. But the nice kind. The kind that people don’t have a problem with. The white, middle class, childless kind. The kind who is steeped in privilege.

But going deeper, and removing the many layers of privilege, I have been a very bad immigrant. I have done many, if not all, the things that people who have concerns about immigration cite as reasons for their concerns. And none of the people who have these concerns have objected to me.

I moved from one country to another

In 2012 I moved from the UK to Australia. It’s glaringly obvious that I’m a migrant, but it still needs saying. None of the people I know who have concerns about immigration objected to my migration. Most thought it was a good thing. Some attended a party I had to celebrate my migration (and, ironically, discussed their objections to immigration with me at the party). But not a single person has ever objected to me – and specifically me – moving from one country to another. That’s how I know you do not object to the concept of migration – you didn’t object when I did it.

I arrived in Australia with no money

Many people who have concerns about immigration suggest that immigrants are a drain on the economy. It’s okay for wealthy people to migrate because they are able to support themselves, but people who do not have healthy bank balances should not migrate. They don’t have concerns about immigration per se; just about people who have little money migrating.

When I moved to Australia, I arrived with little more than enough money for a flight back to the UK in case some emergency meant I needed it. That’s all I had. And from people I know who have concerns about immigration I received words of encouragement and offers of support. That’s how I know you do not object to the concept of a person migrating with no money – you didn’t object when I did it.

When I arrived, welfare supported my family

When I moved to Australia I was unemployed and my partner was studying and receiving Austudy – a welfare benefit. For the time that I was unemployed, this was the majority of the money our family of two had coming in. People I told about this – people who have concerns about immigration – didn’t voice any objection to this. Some told me how it was good that we had some money coming in. That’s how I know you don’t object to the concept of immigrants relying on welfare – you didn’t object when I did it.

Shortly after arriving, I took a low-skilled job

Quite a lot of people who have concerns about immigration base this concern on unemployment. There aren’t enough jobs, and immigrants are taking those jobs. Immigrants are the cause of unemployment. Especially when immigrants are taking low-skilled jobs. It’s okay for highly-skilled immigrants: nurses, sports players, scientists – we need those kind of people, but low-skilled immigrants just contribute to unemployment.

When I arrived, after a couple of weeks of unemployment, I took a job cleaning ashtrays in a leagues club. A low-paid, low-skilled job that anyone could do. The response I got when I told people I know who have concerns about immigration was, strangely, a positive one. “That’s great!”; “Good on you!”; “It’s good that you’re earning money”. Nobody told me that I was stuffing up the economy and contributing to unemployment amongst Australian citizens. Nobody suggested I resign for moral reasons. That’s how I know you don’t object to immigrants taking jobs – you didn’t object when I did it.

There are probably a myriad other reasons people cite for having concerns about immigration – things that the faceless hypothetical immigrant does that cause untold damage to society and to the economy. I’ve probably done most of them. I arrived with no money but I had a mobile phone (I can’t have been that poor if I had a mobile phone!); I spend money outside of the Australian economy, sending gifts to my family overseas; I hang on to my culture and traditions, doing things I did in England; I haven’t adopted Christianity; I eat English food; not applicable here, but wherever I moved, I would have continued to speak my mother language; I watch English TV; I lived rent-free with adopted family for a while when I moved here; I’ve been a burden on the health service. Nobody has ever objected to any of it. Nobody.

So I know your concerns about immigration are really concerns about something else. Because you only have concerns about things that I have done when you strip away my privilege. When you take away my whiteness, you start having concerns. When you take away my middle-class upbringing, you start having concerns. When you take away my native speaker level of English, my childlessness, now my income, my abled body, my lack of religion, all of it. That’s when you start having concerns.

So let’s be honest – what are you really concerned about? And are you quite comfortable holding those concerns?

This is what the fuck just happened in Australia

I’m fairly sure a lot of people who have half an eye on world events and international current affairs are wondering what the fuck happened in Australia yesterday and today. So here’s a two minute primer.

Why you’re confused

Almost without any warning at all, Australia got a new prime minister. There was no prime-ministerial death, no public election, no campaigning, just all of a sudden, boom, “In international news, Australia has a new prime minister for some reason”. There was a flurry of activity on twitter (read: twitter fucking blew up) and, and, and, something happened.

What happened: a brief timeline

Yesterday morning it was business as usual in Canberra. Government ministers were doing their obligatory popping up in various places around the country. At one of these pop-ups the Prime Minister was asked about a potential leadership challenge, which he dismissed as gossip and “Canberra games”. Other ministers were asked about the same thing, they all said it was nonsense.

During Question Time in parliament between 2pm and 3pm, the Leader of the Opposition asked a question implying that the Prime Minister did not enjoy the support of his party (the Liberals).

After Question Time the Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, went for a meeting with the Prime Minister. Shortly afterwards the Deputy Leader of the Liberals went for a meeting with him.

At four o’clock Malcolm Turnbull held a press conference and announced he was challenging the Prime Minister for the leadership of the Liberal Party.

Just before seven o’clock, the Prime Minister announced there would be a Liberal party room meeting where an election for the positions of Leader and Deputy Leader would be held. He confirmed he would be a candidate for Leader.

Just after nine o’clock this meeting started, and shortly afterwards it was announced that Malcolm Turnbull had won the election and was now the leader of the Liberal party (and so would by virtue of being the leader of the majority party in parliament become Prime Minister).

The Prime Minister disappeared for fourteen hoursbut turned up at 12:30 this afternoon and gave one of the most ridiculous concession speeches in the history of political defeats, in which he blamed the media for his demise (despite News Limited giving him wall-to-wall support, and Fairfax’s negative coverage being lacklustre at best).

Just after one o’clock this afternoon, Malcolm Turnbull was sworn in as Prime Minister.


I should note there’s been instability for the last 18 months, and this has only intensified since there was a failed “spill” motion in February, so this didn’t come totally without warning. We were expecting one some time soon-ish, but this snap challenge took us all off-guard.

Migrant is not a dirty word

Images of drowned children are horrible to look at. Images of people fleeing war, desperate, scared. It’s painful to look at. And ever more of us want to do something about it. We want to help, and we want to welcome these people – to offer safety.

But on the condition that they are refugees.

It’s certainly not a condition I would impose. I’ve seen countless Facebook posts and tweets reminding us that these people fleeing Syria are refugees and not migrants. And while it’s true that these people are refugees (and really we should use that term – certainly from a legal perspective refugees are entitled to protections that are not offered to migrants), we’re talking as though migrant is a dirty word, as though migration is a shameful thing.

But migration is not a shameful thing. Migration is a good thing, and migration is a human thing. People move about, across all areas and for so many different reasons. Nomadic tribes, family migration, study abroad – and, of course, fleeing war and political persecution. People cross borders, and there is no “invalid” reason.

During the last few weeks, the people who I have seen correcting “migrant” to “refugee” have left me wondering – what if they weren’t refugees? Would we support letting them drown? Would their dead children not matter? Could we justify the cruel and inhumane treatment we are seeing? It saddens me to think how some of us would answer.

Seeking a better life is not a crime. Seeking a better life should not be punishable. We’re not the gatekeepers of The Good Life, and it’s not for us to decide who deserves a better life, and whose life isn’t quite bad enough already. Most of us live where we do by coincidence and circumstance, and that’s no basis to deny others the privileges we enjoy.

I support all forms of migration, and all reasons for migration. Right now there is a crisis in the Mediterranean, with people fleeing war. We urgently need to help them. But because they need help; not because they’re “not migrants”.


Note: for the sake of full clarity, those who seek to smear refugees, and use the term migrant as a slur disgust me. There are people who need our help urgently, and we must help them, urgently. It’s clear that the Syrian refugees in the news right now are not economic migrants, but really – so what if they were.

7-Eleven, [not] Subway and Bill Shorten’s misdirected concern

Following the other day’s revelation that 7-Eleven has been systematically underpaying and generally exploiting employees (mostly those employees who are temporary residents in Australia and on student/limited work visas), Bill Shorten made this comment:

We’ve all been appalled and disgusted by the scenes at Subway, thousands of people are being ripped off.

A dreadful mistake, commenting on Subway (who I’m sure have a wonderful track record on fair employment), when actually 7-Eleven is the subject of this scandal. But although this comment was called out by Mark Di Stefano , and this was the part he apologized for, it is another comment he made that made me sad and frustrated:

We want to make sure that we don’t see people coming here on visas being exploited and undercutting Australian jobs. [emphasis mine]

Exploitative work is bad, and it’s always bad. But this suggestion that the worst result of foreign workers being exploited is that Australian workers may in turn be exploited is insular and jingoistic. The argument that foreign workers undercut Australian workers is a favorite of racists. “They come over here, taking our jobs …” It’s rooted in the idea that people consent to being exploited in order to secure a job that would otherwise be filled by someone who would refuse to be exploited.

It’s racism and xenophobia. It’s victim blaming. And so transferring your concern to hypothetical potential Australian victims of exploitative work, when actual real people are being exploited is shameful.

The problem is that employers systematically exploit foreign workers where they would simply not exploit Australian workers. These employers know that temporary residents with limited work visas don’t have easy access to fair work resources. They’re not likely to join – or even want to join – unions. They’re not likely to seek advice when they are being exploited. And after some months or a small number of years, they are likely to go away and never pose a risk of exposure. They don’t “undercut” Australian jobs, because these exploitative positions are just not available for Australian workers. And most importantly, foreign workers whose employers exploit them in these abusive ways are not responsible in any way for any undesirable working conditions that Australian – or any other – workers face.

Bill Shorten should be appalled and disgusted by the way the actual people whose employers have actually abused and exploited them, rather than directing his disgust towards hypothetical Australians who he’d prefer as more ideal victims to be concerned about. Condemn abusive employment because it’s bad, not because it could happen to us.

He should care because it’s worth caring about, not just because it could be worth caring about.

Prepaid Welfare Cards, Drugs, Alcohol, and Fish & Chips

Talk of paying welfare benefits via pre-paid cards comes up again and again. The idea is to ensure that welfare recipients spend their money on “essentials” rather than drugs, alcohol and gambling. I hate the idea.

I think back to when I was claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) in the UK, maybe ten years ago. Money was very, very tight, but I still liked to have fish and chips on a Friday night and a couple of pints in the pub. To me, that was essential: some enjoyment in life, rather than simply meaninglessly existing was essential – essential to my sanity. So for some people it’s fish and chips and a pint in the pub. For some it’s a joint at the weekend, or perhaps playing the pokies, or going out to a nightclub every now and then and doing tequila shots and maybe a couple of pills. For some it’s scraping together whatever money they can to buy some low-quality heroin because it’s a fucking mammoth addiction that the fucking health service is too underfunded to help them with in any way. But whatever, different people have different essentials, but for everyone it is essential for their life to mean something, and not simply to exist.

I think part of the problem is people who have never claimed benefits making decisions on – and passing comment on – welfare policy without consideration of the experiences of the people it affects. For all people, leisure and entertainment are essentials. Yes, not needed for basic survival, but essential nonetheless. To suggest that the poorest in society deserve nothing but survival is unfair and extremely misguided. It’s cruel and unjust. For many, a period claiming welfare benefits comes either after or before a long period in work, paying tax and contributing in a full way to society. If it’s taxpayers’ money it is then by definition their money. They are, were, or will be taxpayers. There are a small minority – a tiny minority – who are chronic welfare recipients (and it really is a tiny minority, despite perceptions caused by media focus). Some consider that to be problematic (I don’t) and something that should be punished. I disagree even there, but either way we have to let that go – otherwise we are punishing the majority simply out of spite.

When I was claiming JSA, the money I received was mine. I didn’t need permission for how to spend it. I needed serious and meticulous budgeting skills, but the money was mine, and mine to spend as I pleased. Often I spent the money on alcohol. Sometimes on drugs. Sometimes existence was painfully hard, and balls to anyone who would have denied me a little pleasure and a little entertainment.

Welfare is not a “lifeline to survive” – it’s a package to ensure that people who find themselves in financially impossible situations are able to maintain a decent and dignified quality of life. By denying those people all but the bare minimum to survive as living organisms, you would deny them dignity and the freedom to exist as humans and valued members of a functioning society. Welfare is there to prevent that – not cause it.

The Thought of a Plebiscite is Truly Scary

As I say at the start of most of these posts, I’m not really a huge advocate of gay marriage, but on balance, I slightly support it. I have written previously about the reasons, and this post is not an argument for or against marriage, rather some musings on the process.

I think it should be fairly clear to everybody that same-sex marriage in Australia is an inevitability. There is no “if”; it’s all about “when”. With large parts of Europe (including most recently Ireland), most of North America, South Africa, Israel and New Zealand all recognizing same-sex marriage, it is inconceivable that Australia will not see it sometime in the near future, despite resistance.

What is now happening is fairly tedious discussion of the process of bringing this about, with the main options being a parliamentary vote and a public vote. And the prospect of a public vote is frightening and offensive.

Frightening because we will be subjected to months of a hurtful and damaging campaign against same-sex marriage. We won’t, of course, hear from queer people for whom marriage represents further oppression and control; rather we’ll hear homophobes attacking our lives, our families and our right to exist. We see this already when there isn’t a vote looming; we will see it tenfold if any plebiscite goes ahead. And these campaigns won’t just be upsetting to us; they won’t just be hugely damaging to our mental health; they’ll rile up homophobes and recruit undecideds, risking our physical safety. We can avoid this and weshould avoid this, but it seems to be government policy that we be subjected to this.

Offensive because we’re being told that we require consent from mainstream society to live our lives how we choose, and to express ourselves the way we choose. Because we’re being told that an administrative change to three words in a piece of legislation is a major upheaval of society, and that we’re to blame. Because our very dignity is deemed suitable to be decided on by the largely disinterested electorate.

Federal MPs will have an opportunity to end this, to protect us from the harm we face by this ongoing campaign – even if they disagree. Will they put our health, our safety, and our dignity before their own careers? Our fight will never end until we win – even if parliament says no; even if the public says no – so I beg them: end this swiftly. End this now.

Another reason I’m on the YES side

I’m in the process of writing something a bit longer on gay marriage/same-sex-marriage (or what you will). I’m not really an advocate of marriage at all (gay or otherwise), but I was just reminded of something which highlights a reason I support amending the Marriage Act to include same-sex couples: a quick story I’d like to share.

About a week before the last federal election in 2013 I was in the break room at work having lunch, and generally minding my own business. A colleage was also there having lunch with her manager (the manager is no longer with us). She said told him she was unsure of how to vote, and if he had any advice. Her dilemma was partly based on a conflict between her support for certain LNP policies and her support for same-sex marriage.

The manager’s (pretty blunt) response was that she should vote Liberal, saying that “if gays want to get married, they can go to New Zealand”.

Like I say, I’m not a huge advocate of gay marriage, but I don’t ever want to have to overhear anything like that again. There are lots of reasons I’m on the “yes” side, and not wanting to be told to fuck off to NZ is one of them.

On Joe Hockey’s Comments

“The starting point for a first home buyer is to get a good job that pays good money”

Joe Hockey, 9 June 2015

I guess, technically, he’s correct. That is the starting point.

Of course, it’s still a deeply insulting thing to say. It shows a complete lack of compassion or understanding about our situations, and the time we live in. This is not the 50s, or the 60s, or even the 80s when having a good job – well anyjob – was all you needed to be able to afford to buy a home. This is 2015, a world where the bulk of property in our cities is owned by baby boomers and private landlords. Even with good jobs, we are locked out

We live in a society obsessed with house prices, and we see growth in the property market (that is, houses becoming more expensive) as a good thing. Government policy is designed to ensure that house prices continue to rise, and anyone who owns property, especially mortgaged property, needs the value of their home to increase over time. Sadly, even with good jobs, our wages are not increasing at the same rate, so homes are becoming increasingly unaffordable. Even with good jobs, we are locked out.

But perhaps what is most insulting about this statement is the sentiment behind it. I live with my partner in a rented two-bedroom unit in Sydney’s Inner West. We can comfortably afford the rent. This suburb suits our lifestyle; we have good public transport links to the city, and I can easily get to work by car. We can afford to live in this suburb. I’ll repeat, because it’s important:

We can afford to live in this suburb.

What we cannot afford to do is own a home in this suburb. There are other suburbs where we almost certainly could afford to buy a home, but we don’t live in other suburbs; we live in this one. So much of the property market revolves around rental – creating suburbs where middle-income families can afford to live (but not buy), funding our landlords. Even with good jobs, we’re locked out: locked out of our own suburbs. It’s the opposite of trickle-down economics; it’s a system designed to have money flowing upwards, and lock us out in the process.

Joe Hockey’s right: having a good job is the starting point, but as long as we’re locked out by astronomical house prices, by such short supply of homes and by our landlords, we will never get off the starting blocks.

Today I like marriage, but not the Bill

Followers will probably know I’m not necessarily the biggest advocate of marriage there is. I’m generally deeply suspicious of the institution, and what it aims to achieve; more often than otherwise I write about same-sex marriage as the opposite of LGB liberation. Followers, however, may also know that I often experience changes of mind, and my opinions on any particular subject can change at the drop of a hat.

As it turns out, today is one of those days. I’m feeling good about marriage, and have it down, with all its drawbacks, as a fairly positive thing. I would say this is the result of having listened to people who are married (in various configurations), as well as people who have less favorable views on marriage.

I also feel that I may sometimes be a downer on people’s individual marriages, and for that I am deeply sorry. For all my mind changes I am consistent in my belief that we shouldn’t judge other people’s relationships or tell them how to live their lives, and to my friends who are married, I do agree with you that you made a genuine choice to enter into your marriages freely; you have not been duped or coerced into a harmful situation. And I also say congratulations.

My friends Adrian and Charlie got married at the weekend (in the UK), and I think it is wonderful. (I also admit that in 2008 I spent many months pursuing Charlie romantically – to no avail, of course – so I did have an “it should have been me” moment.) There’s is a marriage that they have planned for many years, it is based simply on love and commitment, and they wanted to have the nation to which they belong recognize, celebrate and share in that commitment.

Jason and Adam are another couple of friends of mine who are married in the UK. They had a civil partnership, and they chose to convert it into a marriage. No additional rights, no additional duties, but they just wanted to use the word ‘married’, and be correct in every sense. I still cannot get over how completely in love these two guys are. And I know Adam in particular loves being married, and gains a great deal of value in being married.

I have friends who are married primarily for immigration reasons. They are in relationships for love, but although they don’t necessarily believe in marriage, they married for (for want of a better word) convenience. Could they divorce following the grant of a permanent visa? Of course! Will they? I doubt it.

I speak about how marriage excludes polyamorous people, but I have friends who are poly and married. And for no other reason than that they wanted to marry. (And as an aside one particular wedding I was invited to was without a doubt one of the best and most fun days of my life, and it was wonderful to share in the celebration of love, commitment and the formal formation of a family.)

I also recognize that we do live in the society that we actually live in, and marriage is a crucial part of that. One of the major components of our society is the family – and in particular the nuclear family – and that, traditionally is based on marriage. Much though I stand for liberation, and smashing the oppressive nature of society, I’m not so foolish as to think that in a generation, or in my lifetime even, we can tear away one of the traditional building blocks of our society. And marriage is indeed one of those. It is how we form families, join families and recognize families. Of course there are other types of family, but many, many of our families really are based on marriage. And destroying marriage would mean destroying some of the most wonderful families we see in our society.

I should also mention the many protections marriage offers. (And of course, I believe these protections should be offered to all families and relationships without the need for marriage but, again, we live in the world that we live in, so let’s celebrate the protection. For now at least.) Marriage protects us when relationships break down, it protects us from being shut out of our own lives, and it protects us from being completely removed from our own families. Marriage protects us from any oversights we may otherwise make in the total formation of a family – boxes we may otherwise have forgotten to tick giving our spouses permission to make decisions on our behalf when we are incapacitated, or giving our spouses the opportunity to receive the support we wish them to receive when we are gone. Marriage makes that automatic.

So today I am feeling good about marriage, and feeling good about the prospect of people in same-sex (or anything other than man/woman) relationships being able to enter into a marriage which is recognized and celebrated by the state.

What I am not impressed by, however, is what I have seen today and what I will see on June 18th. Political parties, and individual politicians using our relationships for their own political gain. Today Labor introduced a bill into the House of Representatives in the hope of bringing about same-sex marriage in Australia. It sounds like a good thing, but this bill was penned by two or three people maybe, acting alone following Ireland’s referendum on the same subject. It’s a snap response, and the type of response that Labor is using to show that They Are Doing Something. Sadly what they have not done is entered into any detailed consultation with the LGB community, asked us what we want, and responded according to that. Their response has been political gameplay, to try to push the government into a corner. Many of us feel that Labor is doing thisfor us rather than with us, and we are rightly offended.

Same-sex marriage is inevitable, but it needs to come from us, from the LGB community. There needs to be a process of consultation, of discussion and of listening to all ideas before we proceed – to make sure that we get it right. Not just nearly right, but completely right. For instance, are we happy that ministers or religion can exempt themselves from marrying us? Is that a concession that we are willing to make? Labor seems to think it is, but has anyone asked us?

As Tanya Plibersek likes to say, it is time, and really it’s long overdue. But that doesn’t mean we should rush this. It doesn’t mean we should get this done as soon a possible. We should be aiming to get this right. Tony Abbott was close when he said Parliament should own this. But I’d go further than that – we, the LGB community, should own this. We should start it, finish it, and be completely involved along the way, with politicians acting on our advice and instruction, not acting on their beliefs of what our best interests are.

Today I support marriage, but not any form of marriage that is offered. Only the form of marriage that is right.

Names of friends changed, but they probably know who they are. LGB not LGBT or any other acronym because I’m not in a position to speak about how this may affect trans or other LGBTQIA+ people, not because I want to exclude anyone. Labor because they have introduced this bill today, but later this month these thoughts will also apply to the Greens and later this year the Liberal Democrats.)

On why gay marriage advocates see us as the enemy

An ask.fm correspondent asks:

Why do you think those within the gay community who oppose same-sex marriage aren’t allowed to speak without being shouted down or made to feel like a traitor? I confess to being ‘meh’ on the subject but 2 of my uni lecturers (both gay) are very much against it & make extremely valid points.

It does seem strange that there are people in the LGB+ community who oppose gay marriage, at least at first, but we do exist, and most of us have gay rights very much at the center of everything we stand for. However, we do realize that we are very much in the minority. Many of oppose gay marriage because they see it as assimilation into a heteronormative society, which is seen as negative. Others see gay marriage as an an erosion of our rights rather than an advancement, and some simply view the attention the issue gets as erasing other far more important issues, which is harmful.

Still, mainstream proponents of gay marriage perhaps do see us as ‘traitors’, or at least as the enemy. Again it seems strange, given that both sides ultimately are fighting for LGB rights, but I think that there are a few reasons that this would be the case.

Perhaps, most importantly, it is because mainstream society, as well as gay marriage proponents, view marriage as a right – a civil right, a human right, whatever – but either way they see marriage as something that people (should) have a right to access, so in turn, allowing same-sex couples to marry within the law would be an advancement of LGB rights. Naturally this leads to the assumption that opposing gay marriage means opposing LGB rights. Of course many of us do not view marriage as a right – rather as a social responsibility or duty, and we demand our rights without the requirement to marry in order to access them.

Similarly many argue that opposing society’s accepted ways of accessing our rights means that we will never get those rights – and in that way it’s easy to see why opposing gay marriage is seen as an attempt to block LGB rights.

The homophobes of this world have also managed to turn the issue of gay marriage into what is now very much a two-sided issue: gay marriage versus homophobia. And it should be said that the majority of people who oppose gay marriage do so from a position of homophobia – they don’t just oppose legal recognition and protection of our relationships, they oppose our relationships altogether. So when those of us who are part of the LGB+ community oppose gay marriage (for our own positive reasons), we are seen as siding with the enemy. It’s not the case, however. Homophobes are our common enemy, but because we want the same initial outcome (followed then, of course, by very different changes to society), we’re also viewed as the enemy. And of course, given that this has been turned into a two-sided issue, we are put on the same side as homophobes.

Maybe most significantly, we should recognize that the fight for gay marriage to be recognized by the law has been a long, hard fight, and in Australia, that fight is so close to being won. So many people have been fighting, and they have every right to do so. They’ve been fighting for what they truly believe is the best outcome in terms of LGB+ rights. So it’s understandable that when, so close to the end of this long, hard fight, some of the people who they think they’ve been fighting for suddenly stand in opposition, they get a little upset. We know they think we’d benefit – we know that this is a belief that they hold so firmly. But we disagree.

Ultimately gay marriage advocates and LGB opponents of gay marriage want the same thing – the advancement of LGB+ rights, but we propose different ways of achieving that. One side through marriage, the other side without. However when LGB rights and gay marriage are viewed as synonymous, anti-marriage becomes the same enemy as homophobia.