Friday, December 22, 2006

December Celebrations

As many people prepare to celebrate Christmas, it is worthwhile to reflect on a few questions:

  1. What religious festivals are celebrated around this time? Some of them are:

    Jews celebrate Hanukkah - the festival of lights - recently publicly celebrated in Sydney
    Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day - the day Buddha achieved enlightenment
    Muslims celebrate Id al-Adha - the feast of Sacrifice - celebrating the day Abraham decided to follow God's instructions
    Christians celebrate Christmas - the Feast of Christ's birth

  2. What does Christmas mean in a secular society?

    For Christians, it derives from "the Mass of Christ": the religious celebration of Christ's birth, and all that follows from it. Churches swell with people: it is both a religious and social event.

    A cynic once suggested that the only bells at Christmas time are those of the cash-register. He was making the point that Christmas is a retail event, and that while people profess and wish for peace on earth, they don't practise it during the year. Cynical, because few go out of their way to be violent the rest of t he year!

    Christmas in Australia is both a religious and cultural/social event: a time when those who profess Christianity take part in the religious celebrations, and the people make time for family and friends to wish them well. To many, "Merry Christmas" is a secular greeting of goodwill. No-one should be offended by it: indeed, people should be pleased that someone else wishes them well.
May all people celebrate this "festive season" in peace and with good will.

Merry Christmas to all

The Analyst

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Justice? - You're Joking

Several headlines in the last two days have made me think about our legal system and its relationship to justice. Some would argue there is no relationship between the legal system and justice. A cynical view, perhaps, but consider the following cases, reported in the media on 18/19 Dec 2006.

  1. "Black mark for white man's justice"
    Here was an aboriginal woman's story of domestic violence and sexual assault. It dealt with social attitudes of women and men, aboriginal and otherwise, to reporting domestic violence and rape. It covered perceptions of how Police handled the compalints: a Police Domestic Violence Officer showed the patience and understanding needed for this woman to bring her complaint of rape against her partner.

    During the trial, the defence lawyer is reported to have repeatedly suggested that she made up her injuries, inflicted grievous bodily harm on herself and provoked the defendant into hitting her. At one stage the defendant is alleged to have hit her with an iron bar.

  2. "Brethren member guilty of indecently assaulting girl, 10"
    In this case the defence argued that the offenses were so bad, and because the accused is a member of a religious community, that the jury could not possibly believe a 10 year girl. After the guilty verdict, they also argued that there should be absolutely no reports of the case in the media. Why? To protect whom? (Hint: it wasn't to protect the child, the defence lawyers were not acting in her interests)

These two cases raise the points about our system. Ours is a system of "us versus them"; a system where it is reasonable, even encouraged, for the defence to belittle and character assassinate a victim. Ours is a system concerned not with justice, but with "what can we get away with". If they want, accused can avoid questioning in court; if questioned they can refuse to answer (it might incriminate them); they can provide last-minute alibis, (arranged between charge and court appearance?)

In both the above cases, the defendant was found guilty. The system "worked", but I'm sure those who study law could cite many cases where it didn't.

It is time we changed our system to provide a more appropriate, more just, outcome. To start with, we could look at the NSW Police Association's suggestion of reducing the effects of sudden, last-minute, in-court alibis that have not previously been provided. Those accused of criminal offences ought to answer questions in court. We should look at even better protections for victims of crime, especially those who have suffered violence and sexual assault; and we should look at compelling witnesses to answer more questions. Only then, can courts make more informed decisions: decisions that are more likely to result in justice.

The Analyst

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Education Reform and Unions

The Federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop has again raised the spectre of Australain teacher unions blocking "uniform educational standards" in Australia. She has doen this in response to the Labor opposition statements that the Federal Government should be working cooperatively with the States towards a national curriculum.

Ms Bishop's arguments are of the "reds under the bed" type: the unseen all-powerful enemy wnating to undermine Australian values, as espoused by the current conservative government. It is true that teacher unions in Australia have significant industrial muscle. It is also true that they have resisted John Howard's attempts at determining what view of history he thinks should be taught. That, perhaps, is reasonable: other politicians/governments that have determined the history syllabus include Stalin; and Japan, which has long refused to acknowledge or teach about the atrocities of WWII. Political interference with educational curricula is fraught with danger.

Professor Gordon Stanly, from the NSW Board of Studies, was intervied on ABC Stateline in October, 2006. ( In the interview he gave reasons for the breadth of curriculum in NSW, particularly in the English Syllabus for Years 11 - 12; described the consultative nature of curriculum development; the breadth of representation on the Board of Studies; and the extent and nature of measurement of outcomes in NSW. It is this breadth of curriculum, its attendant examination of multiple views and desire for students to form their own properly-constructed views that seems to so annoy John Howard and his Education Minister.

Both Labor (opposition) and Liberal (government) Parties seem to support the concept of a a national curriculum and consistent term dates. At face value, they are reasonable proposals. It is the political outlook - the Federal Government's desire for political control of education - that should ring alarm bells for us voters.

The Analyst

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Aussie Citizenship Test

Yesterday, Mr Howard announced changes to how people can gain Australian citizenship.

Migrants wanting to become Australian citizens, and accept the responsibilities of loyalty, voting and abiding by the rule of law, will now:
  • have to wait at least 4 years, instead of 3
  • take a "citizenship test" of 30 questions, from a bank of 200, and including understanding of English, history, system of government, sporting traditions and mateship.

I will not debate the merits of these, only the political motives behind them.

Mr Howard had two problems: Kevin Rudd's new leadership was still attracting much media attention, giving the Labor Party much needed "good press"; and the results of polls on voting intentions and preferred Prime Minister. He needed a distraction, and just 1year and 1 day after the Cronulla riots (and associated media coverage), he could give some elements who talk of "Aussie pride" a reason to support him ... this was John Howard's way of jumping up and down, saying "pick me, pick me!"

It's all about timing ... and image.

The Analyst

Sunday, December 10, 2006

NSW $25m Compo for Tunnel Company

NSW Roads Minister announced a $25 million deal with owners of the Lane Cove Tunnel to delay road works . Contracted road closures associated with the (Sydney) Cross City Tunnel caused a voter backlash against the State Government.

However, it should be noted that the lane closures and other associated road works with the Lane Cove Tunnel haven't been scrapped - only delayed! They will happen - after the State election in March next year.

The State Government believes the $25 m is well spent: the Tunnel operators benefit; and the State Government benefits by avoiding voter backlash just before an election.

State Roads Minister Roozendal is reported in media to have said that the NSW Government has "learnt the lessons of the Cross City Tunnel". I wish the State Government would learn the other lessons from the Cross City Tunnel:

  1. Private infrastructure should never interfere with the operation, maintenance & appropriate development of public infrastructure.
  2. Public infrastructure should not be used to funnel people to privately-run, for profit, infrastructure.
  3. No member of the government, ministerial staff or public servants associated with large "public-private" contracts should be able to accept employment with those contractors within 4 years of retirement from government or the Public Service. The potential for conflict of interest is too great. We have had two Premiers of NSW who retired, then took up such employment: one Liberal, and one Labor.
The $25m "compensation" to be paid to the operators of the Lane Cove Tunnel seems to be driven by political expediency and, if so, is a disgrace. ICAC has already declined to investigate, on the basis that the policy change of not starting public roadworks on the day a toll road opens does not constitute corruption, even if it benefits the government. A cynical electorate will make up its own mind.

The Analyst

Damien Martyn Draws Stumps

On Friday, Damien Martyn announced his retirement from cricket, via email to Cricket Australia.

Martyn would have been selected to play in the 3rd Ashes Test in Perth this coming Friday. He leaves with a test batting average of about 47, and cricket-lovers will remember him as an player of elegance, and sometimes effortless class. In that, and other respects, he might well be compared with Mark Waugh.

It was, I think, a smart move on his part to take a two-week holiday to wait till the attention subsides. The press has made something of estimates of how much money this could cost him in the next 12-months. That he made the decision based on how committed he felt to continuing, rather than "the money", is to his credit. I wish him well

The Analyst

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Kevin Rudd Gets His Way

New Federal Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, will get his first wish, and pass the first test of his party leadership, when he gets his wish for the front bench.

In the past, factional interests have determined not only who is appointed to the front bench, but which portfolio they are given. Those who did not belong to a faction, such as Peter Garret, were isolated.

There will be 28 nominations for 28 vacancies at today's meeting. Undoubdedly, there has been much politiking behind the scenes, but at least we have not had the openly hostile factional public brawling that has sometimes marked these occasions.

We voters hope that Kevin Rudd can then allocate the best people to each of the 28 shadow portfolios. [28 ! - we thought government was supposed to be getting smaller, but it seems to be growing]

It is time that Labor ditched the factional intervention in it's leader's ability to choose the best person for each portfolio. I hope that today is the start of that process.

The Analyst

Monday, December 04, 2006

Kevin Rudd Wins ALP Leadership

Today's news is rather dominated by the news that Kevin Rudd has won leadership of the Federal ALP. (the party in Opposition).

He has promised Australian voters a new style of leadership. He said to reporters:
"Today the Australian Labor Party elected a new leadership team with a new leadership style for Australia's future, a new style of leadership"
Some recent polls, including those published in this morning's papers, suggest that Mr Rudd will increase Labor's primary vote, if an election were held today. But that is not enough; and neither is a change of leadership style.

Mr Rudd certainly presents better on visual media than Mr Beazley. He is eloquent, reasoned and measured in his voice. His "media style" seems to have similar traits to that of Mr Howard. This ought to mean that Mr Rudd will show an improvement on Mr Beazley in the "Preferred Prime Minister" polls. He will undoubtedly have a honeymoon period of 1-3 months. It is after that, that Mr Howard will be watching for the most opportune time to call an election.

However, style is insufficient to make the Australian public change its voting pattern. It will certainly help, but some more substance is required, especially nearer election time. The substance has to be positive: what will the ALP do; how will they guide Australia's economic and political interests, both nationally and globally.

He has already identified industrial relations, climate change, education and federation as areas of difference between the Liberal/National and Labor Parties. They are certainly areas where John Howard has sought to exercise and increase his political power. One news report suggested there could be a more interventionist industrial policy. Under John Howard's rule, the proportion of Australia's GDP from industry has fallen to about 10% - the lowest of OECD nations, including lower than NZ.

Mr Rudd has much work to do to convince Australian voters that he has more than "style".

The Analyst