27 August 2007

Bricks In Their Heads


Watching a particular story on 60 Minutes last night made me pretty furious. No, not the one you might think - that made me unspeakably angry too, but I'm not posting about that today.

What concerns me was the story about what's shaping up to be a major election issue - mortgages and interest rates.
It's terribly sad of course when a family is kicked out of their home for failure to pay the mortgage, but do people often have themselves to blame?
Last night we met Frank and Tess, who have a monthly income of $3000 - and mortgage payments of $1600. They also owe thousands of dollars in other debts, and the couple admit they have nothing left to pay the bills and live on credit with no plan for the future. Oh, and they have three primary school age children. So why on Earth are they hanging on? Frank said, "It is an absolute struggle but, I tell you, it is worth it. You know why it's worth it? Because when you come home and you see those kids, you see the smiles on their faces, mate, that's what makes it worth it."

Frank (and all the other Franks out there), let me tell you - kids really don't care if their house is rented or owned. What they do care about - and I'm speaking from personal experience here - is if they never get to go to the movies, or on school excursions, or have a birthday party, because there's no money. And I'm sure they'll care, a lot, when the spinning monetary plates you've got going finally smash to the ground, and you have to declare bankruptcy and go stay with the in-laws for months. I'm sure you can't really believe this is what's best for your kids?

Sure, Frank and Tess are only an extreme example of what's happening all over Australia - people blaming the Government for high interest rates when it is they themselves who have overextended until there's no room to give. Funnily enough though, while the Liberals are the party of "personal responsibility", you'll never hear them say if you have a mortgage you can't pay off, it's your own damn fault. (Responsibility is never extended to nice, middle class families). Defeaning silence from Labor too. Sure, it'd be electoral suicide, but wouldn't it be nice to hear the truth for once?

15 August 2007

A Sorry State


If you really want to see how Australia has failed in it's foreign policy in recent years, then just read the interview with Xanana Gusmão and José Ramos-Horta of East Timor, in the August issue of The Monthly.

Timor-Leste is obviously a nation facing many problems. Australia finally took action in 1999, after 24 years of shameful ignorance, to aid in Timor Leste's fight for independence from Indonesia. Since then, however, we've contributed little to the economic developement of East Timor.

They're not looking for wads of unsupervised, unallocated money. As José Ramos-Horta has said, "one of the most disgraceful things about Australia's co-operation with East Timor is that only a handful of positions in Australia are open to East Timorese students." Ramos-Horta says that East Timor would benefit greatly from having large numbers of their young people go to Australia to work or study, then bring what they've learnt back home. But at the moment this is almost impossible; the visas aren't available, the scholarships aren't issued, the Howard government doesn't care...and I, like most people, had no idea.

As I've written previously, and to the detriment of the country and their own eternal shame, the Howard government have actively discouraged people from being concerned about the welfare of those less off than themselves, as it doesn't suit their policies or aid their re-election chances.

Would Labor do any better? In this statement, Shadow minister for Foregin Affars Robert McLelland commits Labor to a formal strategy for East Timor - though fails to say what that strategy would be.

It's an urgent issue, but a Government on either side will only take action if they think it will be politically popular. How can we get people to care? Telling them it's our duty as a rich neighbour won't help after 11 years of the Coalition, for the same reason that neither will telling people it's a security issue (that's what they told us about Iraq, after all).

12 August 2007

If God's In The House, Is All Right In The World?


It's Sunday, the Lord's Day, and do you know where our Parilamentary leaders are right now? Sleeping off last night's excesses, did I hear you say? That might be fun, but more likely, they're in church.

As Senator Lyn Allison, leader oF the Australian Democrats, recently pointed out, Christians are dramatically over-represented in Federal Parliament. But Federal Parilament isn't exactly representative of Australian society anyway - too old, too male, too white. The Christians though, are a bit of a worry. Back in the days when Australia was a far more religious country, people generally kept their faith private. Now though, they seem compelled to let everyone know all about it. American influence on Australian culture can be a good or a bad thing, but this seems like a decidedly negative development - the pandering by politicians to the evangelical Christian movement.

A person's faith or the lack of it is their own business. But it's different for politicians. When they start letting their religious beliefs guide the decisions they make that affect us all, then that's no more acceptable in a secular society than for them to be swayed by any other prejudices.

Unlike in America, the Christian influence is not the exclusive domain of the Right. Bob Brown states he believes many Christians will vote Green because of their humanitarian principles. He's probably right - Jesus sure looked like a Greens voter.

I suppose it's not all bad. At least church keeps politicians busy, and out of our hair. If they're in church, it means they're not getting up to anything worse - and we all know politicians have lots of worse tricks.

07 August 2007

A Voter's Perogative


Things are getting better for those of us counting the days till the Federal election. Not only is Labor still ahead in the polls (actually posting about that this year seems as useful as posting about the weather - it's just happening and what else can one say?) but it's now getting personal.

According to a leaked document from the Coalition's own polling firm, showing many voters now
believe Howard is too old and not to be trusted. They see Rudd as "compassionate, human, genuine and likeable", whilst the Coalition is seen as stading for "broken promises and dishonesty".

What's suprising is, this is news? It's been what myself and a lot of other people have been saying for years. Howard isn't doing anything radically different now from what he's done before - he's always been a **** (insert whatever word you like at this stage, adding more letters if necessary). So what has happened to change the average voter's mind?

The tagline for elections is "Australia decides", but in truth, it's the swinging voters who decide. With compulsory voting, the apathetic and the misunderstanding have their say, same as the rest of us; and whilst those of us who spend a lot of mental time* on politics tend to have pretty fixed views on the issues, it's the "(usually) don't know, don't care" brigade who are open to change, and therefore have the future of the country in their hands.

The cliche that's been rolled out is that these people are not so much against Howard, but for Rudd. It's almost certainly true. Something has caused the voters to see Howard lately as a sneaky, lying weasel, and it can't be the contrast between now and his principled, forthright behaviour before (lest we forget, the nickname "honest John" was originally bestowed in irony). Any novelty act can draw a crowd for a while - after all, Mark Latham enjoyed some impressive poll numbers prior to the 2004 election. But with Rudd, it looks like there might be a little more substance to all this. We'll have to see how the fickle minds of the swinging voters tend in the months ahead.

Anyway, John Howard isn't going to take this lying down, though at his age, he probably should. But no, the tactic he's going for is to blame the states (run by the scary Labor governemnts) for all the woes facing Australia. Morris Iemma
says this proves that Howard is losing it (thanks Mr Iemma, it's nice to know you're reading).

You might be wondering about the addition of a Kevin 07 button in the sidebar. Well, go have a look at the site. The whole thing is just so Cute, so cheerful and Generation Y (all the things that I, and Australian politics, are not) I simply had to add it. It's not that I don't applaud them for trying, and Lord knows Kevin 07 is better than the alternative. But let's face it, anything this embarrassing has to have kitsch value.

*And I use this term advisedly.

03 August 2007

Casual Post Day


  • Casual day is a problem for myself and, I've noticed, a lot of other workers. Sure, you're allowed to wear casual clothes, but they have to be work-appropriate casual clothes. My t-shirts with vaguely obscene slogans won't cut it, so on Fridays I end up dressing in a manner that is not only unbusinesslike, but completely different from how I dress at any other time. I'll be damned if I'm buying special outfits just for Casual Day, so on Friday I end up wearing the few things I do have in my wardrobe that are "appropriate". Still, I'm not the only one who shows up every Friday wearing the same thing. It wouldn't be Friday if the office didn't see me in my blue not-quite-jeans.

  • You sure do see some weird things walking around the City every day. Just the other morning I spotted a guy of at least my age, dressed in a coat and business suit, skateboarding down the middle of a moderately busy street (he was in the street, not on the footpath) in the eight-degree chill. I bet he'd have an interesting story to tell, if he could stop hooting whilst he was telling it.

  • Speaking of weird things...there's a male grooming establishment in a building near where I work. Actually, it's official title is a "body workshop". It offers the full range of treatments, although with gender-appropriate names (manicures and pedicures are referred to as hand and foot detail), along with a sleek black-and-chrome interior, manly films such as Gladiator and the kinds of movies which involve a pair of guys together in a car for hours on end playing on the big screen TVs, and the three-year-old copies of New Weekly one would expect to see in the waiting area are instead three-year-old copies of Maxim. But how can I put this nicely? Guys, if you're sitting in a padded chair having goop smeared over your face, it doesn't matter if they're playing Foo Fighters in the background instead of pan pipes; you're at the beauty parlour.

  • After too many mornings of having to choose between being late for work, or going into the office with wet hair, I'm considering converting to Islam. I can see why many Muslim women choose to wear the headscarf. If you're a little overdue with washing your hair, no one has to know.

  • I've been hearing a few stories lately about acquaintances who's relationships have ended due to infidelity. The excuse given most often? "I didn't mean for it to happen/it was an accident". How the hell do you end up having sex by accident? I don't watch porn, but for accidental sex I'll make an exception.

  • Christmas In July is over. Sorry kids.