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.

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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.