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Thursday, May 19, 2016

No McDonalds in Glebe? Not so fast

Now, I've spent a lot of time in Glebe over the years, including an 8 month stint living in the place. So when I heard about the proposal for McDonald's to set up a pop-up outlet in the old Valhalla cinema on Glebe Point Road, with a view to a possible permanent store, my first reaction was to think "no! No way! Glebe doesn't want McDonalds. Keep your rampant multinational commercialisation out of Glebe".

So I went to join up with the opposition campaign on Facebook, and what I saw there actually changed my mind.

Comments against the commercialisation encroaching on Glebe, sure. But there were also comments that McDonalds is just too downmarket. Glebe has a sophisticated café culture, wrote one poster. We don't want the likes of McDonalds in our suburb. Well, sure, a sophisticated café culture is great...if you can afford it.

Glebe is a very socio-economically diverse suburb; or as the Sydney Morning Herald put it, "an almost schizophrenic mix of wealth and poverty". Glebe is home to some of Sydney's most expensive harbourview properties, and also to a large concentration of public housing. These people are often elderly, disadvantaged and living with disabilities; many of them have been living in the area since Gough Whitlam purchased the former church properties for public housing in the 1970s. A lot of them find it difficult to travel. And what they see, right under their noses, is Glebe's sophisticated café culture, enjoyed by people who come from all over Sydney to experience the good life that they themselves, the residents, cannot afford.

There's a Dominoes on Glebe Point Road that does a roaring trade. I've often heard outsiders question how Dominoes can thrive in the area when there are so many better options for pizza close by. Well, it's simple; Dominoes charges $5 for a basic pizza, compared to around $22 for a pie at a traditional pizzeria. And a lot of people who could never afford the pizzeria like Dominoes from time to time. Poor people like treats too! (And Gary Johns can kiss my patootie.   "The poor in Australia are so poor that they can eat, drink, and smoke themselves to death"? How many packs of cigarettes do you think a disadvantaged person can give up for financial security? But that's a subject for another post).

It's easy to say McDonald's would ruin the cafe culture of Glebe when you can afford the $22 for breakfast at one of these cafes. But the less well off might like a chance to go out for a meal, too. There's no loose change menu at Badde Manors or Well Co. Hipsters and gentrifiers can sneer at McDonald's for the terrible food, but there's a massive streak of classism in it too, and I wonder how much of the opposition to McDonald's will come from outsiders who think they know Glebe because they venture in on the weekends for brunch and the markets, and have no idea of the lived reality of the residents of the estates.

Look, I'm not saying McDonald's should be built in Glebe. There are a lot of issues to consider - the all-pervasive rubbish the chain invariably leaves wherever it goes is a prime one for me. But there's a lot more going on here than just the cafe set turning up their noses at the encroachment of fast food; big questions about the fallout from  gentrification, the true cost of food and who owns a community. But I know that if a McDonald's was opened, whilst some locals would moan and denigrate, a whole different group of locals would be grateful. And which group should we privilege in the decision?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Labor vs Greens (This Can't End Well)

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"Greens leader Richard Di Natale floats Greens alliance with the Liberals" proclaimed the headlines a week ago. The quote was all over twitter; Di Natale had said of an alliance "never say never". That doesn't sound right, I thought, so I did what I always do in these circumstances: go straight to the source - an interview Di Natale did with GQ magazine - to get the full quote, in context. Here's what Di Natale actually said about a possible Liberal alliance:

"It’s a question for the party but I think it’s never going to happen. I don’t see a time when we can form a coalition with the Liberal Party, particularly this Liberal Party, because our views are so far apart. [Still], 'Never say never' is the quote I'd use about everything in politics." 

That's it, I thought? An alliance is nearly impossible, but taking a pragmatic view on politics generally? I could see why "Greens-Liberal alliance" would prove irresistible to headline writers, with it's "no, really?" clickbait allure but surely no intelligent person  or observer of politics would actually believe it?

It turns out that lots of people whose intelligence I respected believed it, or at least claimed to. For the next few days, Twitter and Facebook were awash with Labor supporters who endlessly posted hundreds of versions of "a-ha! Greens in bed with the Liberals all along! We are the true party of progress!" At first it seemed as incredulous as those who believe the hot days of their youth disprove global warming. But it went on and on. It didn't matter if the quote was given in full context, or it was pointed out that Labor votes with the Coalition six times more than the Greens (including just this year on government data retention and in favour of returning a group of asylum seekers including Baby Asha and her family to Nauru).

Why were they doing this? You'd think Labor would have learned something from the saga of the carbon tax "lie" (which I and many other Greens supporters spent years pointing out was not a lie at all) about the importance of nuance and full context. So why were Labor and its supporters misquoting, distorting, so determined to insist that something that isn't and wasn't true was and is?

It got pretty nasty, down to Labor senator Sam Dastyari calling the Greens a cancer over the weekend (delightful - I haven't seen any other Labor politicians or supporters condemn this). But it died down as these things always do, and I hoped it was a forgotten blip on the road to this year's election, until yesterday when Labor and their supporters on social media caught fire again. "Greens vote against same sex marriage!"

If the notion of an alliance was founded on distortion and lack of context, the same sex marriage thing was a blatant lie. There was always a Senate debate on same sex marriage on the calendar for Thursday. Monday was scheduled for debate on Senate voting reform. Senator David Leyonhjelm attempted to bring the marriage equality debate forward to Monday, partially to prevent debate on the reforms which if enacted could well cost him his Senate seat. The Greens, spotting this as a stunt, simply sought to have both debates on the original intended dates.

Not according to Labor. The line went forward that the Greens voted against same sex marriage (there was no vote)  or at the very least, delayed discussion in order to impress their new BFFs in the Liberal party. Penny Wong, who I'd quite liked - in spite of that she was a prominent member of a Labor government that did nothing to advance marriage equality for six years - went off like a frog in a sock, claiming that she'd never seen "leadership without backbone like this" (umm...this is awkward). The Greens, who have supported same sex marriage since it was seen as a fringe issue of the far left, delayed a debate by three days, and Labor ran with the line that Di Natale was ditching the cherished belief of marriage equality to protect an alliance with the Liberals that doesn't exist. Claiming outrage and personal offence at something you know damn well to be untrue, well that's dirty politics. There's no nice way to put it.

Some Labor supporters, when the truth of what the Greens actually said and did was pointed out, replied "well, it's still not a good look." Not a good look that they are being lied about? That's victim blaming, no more or less. Meanwhile, the actual debate is on Thursday. It would be awkward for Labor if any of their number voted against the bill, wouldn't it? Really darn awkward. Except that it would be dismissed with Labor's excuse for everything - pragmatism.

Why are they doing this? What do they hope to achieve? One of two things I believe, and the first you can almost forgive them for. Being a left leaning Labor supporter means walking some pretty tricky moral ground. You have to reconcile yourself with that the party supports mandatory detention of children, takes donations from fossil fuel polluters, and was in government for six years without taking action on marriage equality, amongst much else; the usual coping mechanism seems to be reminding each other of "the big picture" and the need to be pragmatic and what Labor can achieve as a party with the ability to form government. Slandering the Greens gives Labor supporters the chance to reaffirm their own ideological purity. The Greens only care about their own self interest! The progressive policies were just for show! We're the real champions of the oppressed.

But the main motive would be fear. The Greens vote has increased in real terms since the 2013 Federal election; despite inner Liberal chaos, Labor's has not. Labor has decided an election winning strategy is to go after the Greens'. But what votes they can get from former Labor voters returning to the fold won't compensate for several negatives to their strategy. First, what Greens votes they might lose from hoodwinked and deluded supporters returning to vote Labor may well be countered by loyal Greens who are so angry at Labor's lies and distortions we no longer wish to preference them. I haven't decided what I'm going to do yet. If not preferencing was an option at the Federal election, as it is in NSW state election's, I think I would exhaust my vote after giving my first preference to the Greens. I used to be a Labor voter and volunteer, and if they were ever to win my vote back, it would be on policies, not lies. I could never preference the Liberals, but just don't want to reward Labor's deceit either.

As it stands electorally right now, Labor would almost certainly need Greens support to govern if not pass legislation in the Senate - the same support Di Natale said is a far more natural alliance for the Greens. I know it should and will never happen, but it is amusing to imagine Labor needing this support after a tight election and Di Natale telling them to go piss up a rope.

But the main reason Labor needs to knock this nonsense off is to remember who is the real enemy here - the Liberal-National Coalition - and take the fight to them. Labor needs to be calling the Coalition out on its dire economic record and austerity plans. But more than that, Labor have displayed astonishing hypocrisy in many of the things they've attacked the Greens for. Do they think the Liberals are just going to let it slide? At least with the Coalition you know where you stand - knee deep in dung. I think it's in their party charter. "Fuck you, we're arseholes". They won't care if their terrible record is pointed out, it's their whole point. But for Labor to be attacking the Greens over matters of principle, the Liberals will lose no time pointing out the inconsistencies. The Liberals won't waste time or money attacking the Greens; they'll go straight after Labor. And we'll be stuck for another three years of incompetence and bigotry.

This fight has been bizarre and depressing. I really, really hope this ends soon. We need to fight the real enemy. Come on, ALP. Do you want Tony Abbott to come back?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Let's do the decent thing and change the date of Australia Day

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Quite a lot of debate about the celebration of Australia Day on January 26 at the moment. There's little point trying to reason with the hard core nutters who think the invasion was good for the indigenous population, brought civilisation to primitive wretches. Those people are too far gone.

But what about the moderates who object to the use of the term Invasion Day, who are proud to be Australian and see criticism of their day to celebrate being Australian as an attack on Australia itself?

To them I say, sure we should have a day to celebrate all that's great about being Australian - and wouldn't it be great to have a day to celebrate freely, a day without negative connotations and a tragic history? Because for Aboriginal people, 26 January marks not a day to celebrate Australia by getting drunk in Australian flag boardies, but the day that began the slaughter, the dispossession, the loss of land and home and rights and children and culture and spirituality, the effects of which - the pain of which - are being felt to this day.

 Think about the worst day of your life, if you can. The day you lost a loved one, maybe, or realised with a sudden thump your marriage was over, or your business failed and you were going to need to declare bankruptcy and lose your house. And whilst you were mourning, your best friend announced they were going to mark the date with their huge wedding. A party! Yay! And when you said you were too sad and it's kinda insensitive to your pain, they told you to get over it and asked why you hate them.

That would be weird and gross and most probably end the friendship.

Well now imagine it's not your best friend being insensitive and uncaring, but your country. Every damn year. Wouldn't it be better to have a day to celebrate the didn't cause pain and sorrow to your fellow Australians, the first people of this nation? Wouldn't it be better to leave January 26 to reflection of the wrongs of the past and pick another day, a day when we can all celebrate peace and a tolerant society and iced vovos? 

I think so anyway.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Teachable Moment

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A belated Merry Christmas everyone. Like many of you I've been eating, drinking and spending time with family, including my 60ish, conservative leaning, Liberal voting, talkback radio listening father. Now, he knows I'm a massive lefty, so keeps most of his views quiet when I'm around (and certainly I like to avoid political arguments at Christmas, in front of Mr G) .

Nonetheless, in a discussion over coffee and cake about the changing face of Sydney, Dad did mention that he finds the full face burqa confronting.

And as a straight white middle aged man, he's probably never been confronted by anything in public.

So I said "it's interesting that you find yourself confronted by someone in public, because as women, we are aware of risk and danger when we go out in public all the time, constantly, every single time. Because the risk of something happening is real, and that's why you don't sit next to the lone man on the bus, or cross the street when you see a group of guys you think have had a few drinks."

I could see he was incredulous, so I told him. I told him of some of the instances of street harassment and assault that I, my sisters, and women I know have faced over the years.

The man on a crowded Sydney New Years Eve who stuck his hand between my legs than vanished before I  could confront him.

The Seven-Eleven clerk who pocketed my sister's keys when she held out a loyalty card on her keyring to be swiped.

The stranger at Strathfield station who called me a "lezzo" when I refused his invitation to go home with him.

The time I was pulled into a laneway in Newcastle and groped.

The man on the bus who groped my sister, underage at the time.

The many times I was called some variant on "ugly bitch" for politely declining to talk to strange men.

That this sort of thing has died down for me in recent years as I've gotten older and worn a wedding ring, but there was the Saturday morning a year or so ago I was taking the bus to uni to get the peace and quiet studying that having a small child in the house does not afford, and a guy sat next to me despite that there were lots of empty seats available, pressed his body up against me and said "I just want to take you out of your comfort zone". I climbed to an empty seat and when I arrived at the university library, sat too shocked to study, tears of indignant rage in my eyes, thinking how dare you do that to...anyone.

And as I told him all this, I could see my father going from incredulous to shocked, and angry.

I explained this is what happens, in a culture that still sees women as a commodity of men. Which asks what a woman was doing out at that hour, or wearing that. Which will apologise to the male partner of the woman he has propositioned, not the woman herself. Which angrily accuses women of destroying the joint. Who points to this or that politician's untrustworthiness as being emblematic of her sex, not her character. In that culture, it's hardly surprising that so many men feel they can get away with harassing and assaulting women. It's not like they'll be called out on it. It's not like they'll be reported to the police.

"Why don't women talk about this?" Dad asked.

Well, women are starting to talk about it, now, finally; I've noticed a real increase in women sharing their experiences of street harassment since I wrote the post I linked about in December 2012 (not saying I had anything to do with it of course, just that the dialogue has opened up since then).

Let's talk about it more. Let's not be ashamed. If we're groped on a bus, let's stand up and shout "hey everyone, check out this creep". Let's talk about it, so we can all - men and women - be aware of what goes on and be able to step in to support anyone we see facing this. Let's make perpetrators know they can't do this, they can't harass and grope women in public, that they will be called out and shamed and held to account. Let's make them think, and stop before they even start.

Anyway, I wrapped up my teachable moment by saying "you know, next time you hear someone say men and women are equal under the law so we don't need feminism and feminists just want superiority, remember this is why I'm a feminist, this is what feminism is fighting for, because women are still facing this shit everyday".

I'm glad we had this conversation.

Edit: I received this message from a friend who read this post:

Every woman has these stories. The time I was called a slut in year 9 (I was 14) because I wouldn’t have sex with one of the boys. The time I was verbally abused (called an ugly cunt) at Summernats because I wouldn’t have sex with one of the men. The countless times where I’ve been felt up in clubs & bars. The times men have walked out of their way to come & sit next to me when there are other seats around. When I am at the shops & I’m leered at by other customers. When I am in a shop & the assistant stares at my breasts while putting my items through the till.

Every woman, I believe. I'd like to share our stories, so if you'd like to share, drop me a line. Of course you can be anonymous if you wish.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

My Tempestuous Relationship With Opal

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Ignore the haters who say an arts degree won't get you anywhere. Photo: Business Insider

So the Opal card system turned three this week. And it doesn't look a day over what do you mean the bloody Opal reader isn't working.

I have a love-hate relationship with Opal. God knows Sydney was long overdue for an automated ticketing system - it was first proposed to have one in place for the 2000 Olympics, but the final product wasn't implemented until 12 years later - and the Byzantine array of weeklies, monthlies, travel tens and excursions needed fixing. Now there's just one reusable card for everything, tap on, tap off, what could be easier and you don't even have to talk to anyone. Tremendous, right?

But there are some...issues. The system is infamous for the number of non-functioning readers. Sometimes this means a free journey (though that can be frustrating itself when you're trying to get reward, on which more shortly). But more often, because you can't tap off, a non-functioning reader means you get slugged the default maximum fare for the trip; sure, you can ring up and dispute it, but who has the time? There's also issues with topping up the balance; I was once housebound for several days after spending the last $20 in my bank account topping up my Opal then learning a glitch in the system meant it would take days for the money to show up on my card.

My biggest problem though is with the travel reward system. The way it works is that once you have made 8 paid journeys in a week, your travel is free for the rest of the week. I travel regularly to Sydney, Newcastle and points in between, so this can save me a lot of money if done right. The cheapest way to do it is by making lots of the cheapest journeys early in the week. When I lived in Sydney, I'd do the light rail Opal card cheat most Mondays, but now, if I can be bothered, I spend my Mondays confounding the bus drivers and irritating fellow passengers by walking down the road, catching the bus one stop, then walking back home again once an hour for 8 hours, It's pretty tedious, so I don't always get around to it.

But it's expensive if I don't. It can take me a bus, a long train ride, then another bus to get to uni, say, and Opal has this annoying quirk where if you change modes of transport, you get charged for a separate trip but it does not count as a paid journey.

Also, I liked the "set and forget" option of a monthly or longer ticket. I like knowing I've got unlimited travel. With the Opal reward system, I feel like I'm playing a game and every Monday morning at 4am my score gets reset to zero. No matter how hard I work to get that reward, I've only got a few days to enjoy the free travel before I have to start all over again. Combined with that I have Mr G on the weekends, and all my day-dreamed trips to Kiama and the Blue Mountains and the Southern Highlands just never seem to happen.

Plus, and it's a minor quibble, but tapping off for myself and a four year old who refuses to co-operate when trying to wrangle said four year old, textbooks and shopping is a pain in the tuckus.

Hopefully they work out some of these kinks soon (although after initially encouraging people to "cheat" by racking up cheap journeys to get free travel later, there have been some noises from the government that they intend to close the loophole). Allowing for switching of transport modes to count as separate journeys for the reward would be great. An option to pay a set sum for a longer period would be even better. Fix the malfunctioning readers. Then bring back the dancing foam Opal Man.