The drubbing that the Mark McGowan-led Labor Party gave the Barnett government in Western Australia’s recent election will continue the secular slide in public policy.
Pro-lifers Margaret Quirk, left, and Kate Doust
missed out on ministries.
Two ALP pro-lifers, Margaret Quirk and Kate Doust, did not make the cut when it came to appointments in the 17-strong ministry, with 11 of those ministers coming from a trade union background. And Mr McGowan has pledged S1.4 million over the next four years to push the ill-named Safe Schools program into WA secondary schools.
This program, which can only be described as putrid, teaches among other things:
That the terms boys and girls should not be used and that being heterosexual is not the norm.
That they have two virginities, the first time with a boy and the first time with a girl (seemingly a contradiction given that terms like boys and girls are not deemed to be normative).
That homosexuality and transgenderism should be celebrated while traditional cultural, moral and religious beliefs are unacceptable.
A trivialisation of early sexual activity and the risk of STIs.
In short, it is not an anti-bullying program at all but rather a gender and sexual diversity plan and just another example of the Marxist-Gramsci adherents’ long march through educational institutions.
The ALP Left is firmly in control, holding three of the four top parliamentary positions in the Parliament, the Premier himself being the odd man out.
The Deputy Government Leader in the Legislative Council, Stephen Dawson (Environment and Disabilities), is the first homosexual minister in WA.
Ben Wyatt (unaligned) is the first Aborigine to occupy the Treasurer’s position in any Australian parliament. With total public debt heading past $40 billion, the new Treasurer will be sorely tested within a party not noted for restraint. There was little probing of him, and the ALP, during the election campaign by a media that ran dead on the issue.
The far left political action group, Emily’s List, now has 15 (of 23), female ALP parliamentarians as members.
Deputy Premier and Health Minister Roger Cook has already signaled that assisted suicide will be legislated on after a “conscience vote” in the Parliament. As Labor once supported a “conscience vote” on marriage, before it became binding on all ALP parliamentarians to accept the destruction of traditional marriage, one wonders how much tolerance will be shown towards dissenters on the death issue.
It now seems to be conventional wisdom that after two terms a government becomes stale and needs to be changed. While the previous three WA administrations – of Court, Gallop/Carpenter, and Barnett – have seemingly given proof of that dictum, it has not always been so and at present, in South Australia, Labor has been at the helm for 14 years.
There was a lot of pre-poll huffing and puffing over the Liberals’ preference deal with One Nation. Just who were the Liberals supposed to preference: the Greens?
The Liberals refusal in 2001 to deal with One Nation cost Richard Court his government. As it turned out, there was a 40 per cent drift in One Nation preferences to the ALP, thus proving voters can make their own decisions, particularly in parties like One Nation, which are not tied to left-wing orthodoxy.
The Labor and the Greens preference swap was apparently not worthy of mention. As Richard Nixon once said, if you are going to give a candidate (or party) the shaft, at least put one lone reporter on the job to give a modicum of fairness in the electoral battle.
There was no mention of the Barnett government’s achievement, building two desalination plants that have picked up the slack of providing WA with water as dams provide as only 7 per cent of the driest state’s needs.
Malcolm Turnbull also left Barnett in the lurch. Mr Turnbull completely reneged on his promise to fix WA’s GST predicament: WA receives only 34¢ back in every dollar raised in the state.
Mr Turnbull may find that WA voters have turned against him over this issue. If so WA will no longer be the “jewel in the crown” for the Liberals, who currently hold 11 of the 16 WA House of Representative seats at the federal level. The Coalition has a bare majority in the House of Representatives (76-74).
The McGowan Government, despite the big victory in the Legislative Assembly (41-18), will not control the Legislative Council. Labor and Greens (4) have 18 seats in the upper house and the other 18 seats are shared between Liberals, Nationals and three smaller parties.
Mr McGowan had hoped to tempt a Liberal to be council president, which would have given him a floor majority as the president only has a casting vote if there is a deadlock on the floor.
Liberal veteran Simon O’Brien MLC (most decently) refused that carrot.
Muslims protesting against an American movie on their way to the US consulate in Sydney in 2012. James Brickwood
18C debate highlights the ethnic threat to free speech
by Senator David Leyonhjelm 1 April 2017 Australian Financial ReviewWhen Labor, the Greens and certain Liberals in western Sydney seats seek to explain their reasons for opposing changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, they mostly refer to the concerns of ethnic, religious and racial minority groups.
Representatives of Armenian, Hellenic, Indian, Chinese and Vietnamese groups have joined Jewish, Lebanese Muslim and Arab groups to oppose any changes apart from procedural, arguing that amending section 18C will unleash a torrent of “hate speech”.
While we occasionally hear half-hearted claims that minorities require special protection from hurt feelings, the main driver of opposition is the political clout of these groups. A dozen or so federal seats are held on margins smaller than the populations of these groups. And in the recent WA state election, certain Muslim leaders openly endorsed the Greens.
Instead of embracing the values of their adopted country, these ethnic, religious and immigrant representatives want Australia to become more like the countries they left behind.
Australia has a deeply rooted tradition of freedom in which free speech is central. Our legal and cultural origins lie in Britain, where the primacy of individuals over collectivism first took root. The same values led the US to make free speech the first amendment in its Bill of Rights.
Australia has been a leading supporter of free speech internationally. It was a founding member of the United Nations under the leadership of former Labor minister Dr Herbert Vere Evatt, who became president of the UN General Assembly and was instrumental in drafting and having adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 19 of the Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Equality and freedom
Freedom of association, worship and movement, freedom from arbitrary arrest, equality before the law and free speech are generally regarded as the bedrock of a free society. On top of these, Australia has embraced equality and respect, irrespective of gender or personal attributes, and rejected claims of inherited status and class.
These values are not necessarily shared by those who come to Australia. Certain Armenians accuse Turkey of genocide but want to suppress its response; Greeks can have issues with Turks and Macedonians; Indians can be racist when it comes to West Indian cricketers but are sensitive to the same speech themselves; those from Arabic and Lebanese Muslim cultures can hold abhorrent views about women and gays and resolve matters of feelings and honour through violence; and many Jews want to suppress Holocaust denialism.
After World War II, immigrants who arrived in Australia either abandoned their historic grievances or chose not to share them with others. Millions of post-war immigrants from dozens of countries integrated, assimilated, and did their best to become true-blue Aussies. For their part, Australians welcomed these immigrants as “New Australians” and embraced their food, music and dance.
A threat to liberal values
The fact that leaders of immigrant, ethnic and religious groups are now flexing their political muscle in pursuit of different values is a major concern. Not only does it threaten traditional liberal values, it fuels opposition to immigration among the general community and gives credence to demands to block certain types of immigrants.
Australia cannot afford this; its economic growth depends on a substantial flow of skilled immigrants. (Family reunion immigrants are less beneficial). It would cost us dearly if we were to close our borders to the talents and expertise that immigration delivers.
Other countries have addressed this problem by raising the bar on citizenship. Switzerland, for example, has a relatively relaxed attitude to immigrants provided they find a job. However, becoming a Swiss citizen and eligible to vote in elections requires 10 years of residence, no criminal record, a solid employment history and endorsement by the applicant’s Canton (equivalent to state/local government). In practical terms, unless they have embraced “Swiss values”, they do not become citizens.
Opposition to changes to 18C is a wake-up call. Australia’s traditional liberal values are under siege like never before. With one side of politics already in full retreat, it is vital the other side steps up to protect those values before it is too late.
David Leyonhjelm is a Senator for the Liberal Democrats
A special unit in this prison houses Australia’s most dangerous extremists. We gain rare access and discover a ticking time-bomb
The Muslim yard at Goulburn SuperMax.
THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN MAGAZINE, APRIL 1-2, 2017
STORY: PAUL MALEY | PHOTOGRAPHY: GUY BAILEY
Five times a day, Goulburn’s SuperMax goes quiet. The din of jail life stops as the 30-odd Muslim inmates angle their bottle-green prayer mats towards Mecca. Standing alone in their narrow cells, they raise their arms in supplication and, with eyes closed, recite the holy incantations of the Surah Al-Fatiha, the first verse of the Holy Koran and the beginning of the Muslims’ Divine Communion with God. Bismillaahir Rahmaanir Raheem. Alhamdu lillaahi Rabbil ’aalameen…
A few hundred metres away, in the general prison, dozens more inmates are doing the same thing. Under a soggy grey sky, they kneel in the exercise yard and pray as guards carrying high-powered assault rifles patrol the 5.5m-high walls around them. There’s no trouble today; there rarely is during prayers.
Out in the main prison population, religion is a source of comfort or just another diversion from the drudgery of jail life. Not so in the SuperMax. Here, religion remains an obsession. It is the reason most of the inmates were locked up and, as the years tick over on their time here, it’s what’s kept them going.
Anyone who thinks Australia does not have a problem with prison radicalisation should visit SuperMax during prayer time. They are all here. The names and faces behind a thousand headlines heralding mayhem and death. And with a handful of exceptions, the entire population of the SuperMax observes this daily ritual. They all believe the same thing: “There is no God but Allah and this is where He wants me.” For now.
When Islamic State broke through the Syrian border in June 2014, annexing northern Iraq and declaring a caliphate, Australia’s prisons filled with a new generation of Muslim extremists ensnared by the ISIS ideology of do-it-yourself violence. In Australia, 62 people were charged after 27 separate counter-terrorism operations in little more than two years. A problem that once lurked in mosques, chat rooms and obscure prayer halls was transferred, en masse, into the prison system. That was the good news. The bad news is they are more dangerous than they have ever been, their radical beliefs entrenched in the same system that locked them up in the first place.
And soon, some of them will be up for release. A system that is supposed to remove threats from the community is, in fact, incubating them for future generations.
The first thing you notice about Goulburn’s High Risk Management Correctional Centre, to give the SuperMax its official name, is that it looks nothing like a prison. Built in 2001 in the NSW city 90km north-east of Canberra as a place to house the state’s most violent offenders, it is concealed behind the soaring walls and grim Victorian façade of Goulburn’s historic jail, a fortress within a fortress. The corridors are wide, the lights are bright and cherry-red doors with observation windows provide access to every cell. There is no mess hall, no shower block. No tattooed cons pumping iron in the yard. Common areas don’t exist in SuperMax. On some days it might be possible to walk the entire length of the prison without encountering a single inmate.
Glen Piazza, SuperMax’s manager of security, is our guide for this rare glimpse into Australia’s most secretive prison. Piazza is an affable 50-something who’s been working in Corrections for nearly 30 years, five in the pressure-cooker of SuperMax. He’s got a broad Australian accent and a black sense of humour. “Remember, if you get raped, it’s just jail sex,” he says, as we’re about to enter the prison. You get the feeling it’s not the first time he’s used this line.
Glenn Piazza speaks with a prison inmate.
SuperMax is divided into three units, Piazza explains. Unit Nine is where unsentenced prisoners are kept. Unit Eight holds convicted prisoners serving out long sentences up to 20 years or more. Unit Seven houses prisoners for the first 14 days of their sentence while they are being assessed. Nobody is sentenced to SuperMax. Everybody here has been sent because they were too hard to manage in other prisons or because of their link to terrorism. Thirty of the prison’s 48 inmates are here for terrorist-related offences.
We head first to Unit Nine, a horseshoe-shaped row of cells with an enclosed observation area in the middle where the prison officers huddle like soldiers in a pillbox. This is effectively a remand centre for NSW’s most dangerous men. We have been here just a few minutes and already the shouting from the banks of locked cells has begun. “Why don’t you tell them about the oppression inside SuperMax!”
In some countries, radical inmates are dispersed across the prison system, an approach that is supposed to make deradicalisation easier. But here in NSW they are grouped together, quarantined from other prisoners like patients stricken with a deadly virus. The idea is they can’t radicalise other prisoners and in practice it works well enough. They radicalise each other instead. The names of prisoners are written on cards outside their cells along with the details of their sentence. Virtually all are of Middle Eastern background.
One of the conditions of our visit is that we do not name inmates, but they are recognisable enough. Australia’s most notorious serial killer is here. The fearsome muscles and piercing black eyes that terrified his seven known victims in their last moments are gone. More than 20 years into his sentence, he’s an old man now. He is sitting at a concrete desk writing letters, something he does incessantly. He mops the floors for extra milk rations. In any other jail he’d be just another sad old crim seeing out the years, but here in the SuperMax he looks oddly out of place. It says much about the transformation of SuperMax from high-risk prison to holding pen for Muslim radicals that not even the serial killers fit in. Piazza says this prisoner would normally be up on Deck Eight, but they brought him down here because he’s been doing it tough. Some break.
In the cell next to him is a rangy Lebanese boy with a mohawk haircut and a chest full of tatts. I recognise him, too. In April last year he was moved from Kempsey Prison to the SuperMax after he bashed his cellmate, doused him in boiling water and carved “E4E” (eye for an eye) into his forehead. His victim was a former Australian army reservist and it’s believed this was an ISIS-inspired attack. Certainly it was enough to get him transferred to SuperMax, where he has since been charged with plotting a terror attack on Bankstown Police Station. He also allegedly threatened to cut off the head of Peter Severin, the NSW Corrective Services Commissioner. He sweeps the floor and glowers at us malevolently.
A few cells down is a young man at the centre of Australia’s biggest terrorism plot. He was arrested in September 2014 over an alleged conspiracy to abduct and behead a random member of the public. “Why don’t you report the truth and that’s the oppression of your so-called government,” he yells through the glass. There is a lot of this. In the minds of most inmates there is no difference between a targeted military campaign and cutting a bloke’s head off in Sydney’s Martin Place. If anything, they think the former is worse.
Visits like this are rare in SuperMax and already the prisoners are getting toey. Young men with bushy Salafist beards press their faces against the heavy safety glass in their cell doors. Before long the shouting starts. “Power to Islam!” “The truth shall set you free!” and “Allahu Akbar!” Piazza can feel the tension rising; you’d have to be made of granite not to. He doesn’t want the inmates too riled up – it creates problems for staff later in the day. We move on.
Deck Eight is quieter. The prisoners here are older and less excited by our visit. SuperMax rules allow prisoners to consort with no more than one inmate at a time so some are in pairs wandering in and out of each other’s cells. I peer through one cell door and see a man in his 40s sitting alone on his bed reading from a sheaf of papers. He tugs at his beard and makes notes with a pen. On the outside he ran a recruitment network for al-Qa’ida, funnelling dozens of young radicals into the maw of the Syrian jihad. To the cops he was an A-grade coward, content to send countless young Australians to their deaths but lacking the bottle to jump on a plane himself. I’m told he wept uncontrollably when he arrived in SuperMax. He sees us and raises a single hand in greeting.
Prisoners spend at least 16 hours a day in their cells. They eat in them, shower in them, defecate in them. They can have a radio, TV and kettle. No internet. Depending on their behaviour they might be allowed into the exercise yard where they can play handball, basketball or work out on the chin-up bars. If they’re really good they get access to the running track at the centre of the complex. The track’s small but hard to miss. It’s slathered in netting to stop contraband being hurled in – or a helicopter landing.
Security is an obsession inside SuperMax. When prisoners first arrive they are stripped naked and placed in an observation cell. Their entire body is x-rayed using a so-called “boss chair”, a throne-like device that fires x-rays at the head, feet, torso and rectum, the cavity of choice for those wishing to smuggle contraband past the officers. Piazza says that over the years staff have retrieved knives, drugs and phones, which are a valuable commodity in prison. “The best one I’ve seen is a phone and a charger,” he says. “That was in 2006. Imagine how big the phone was.”
Prisoners sit in the boss chair after every visit or court appearance. They move cells every 28 days and when they move through the prison they are accompanied by a minimum of two guards. When their relatives or solicitors visit they must sit, Hannibal Lecter-style, in sealed Perspex boxes, so-called “safe interview spaces”. Their mail is read, scanned and stored. Their conversations with visitors are live-monitored. Conversations in languages other than English are banned.
This is how SuperMax works. Not with muscle or threats but with a rigid adherence to rules and discipline. Strip a life down to its rudiments, take away a man’s contact with the outside world, his possessions, his freedom, force him to seek permission if he wants to hold his wife’s hand during a visit – narrow his life to the point where the most exciting thing that can happen in six months is a visit from a journalist – and you don’t need phone books or rubber hoses to keep order. All you need is extra milk rations.
A SuperMax cell.
It wasn’t supposed to be quite like this. When the Carr government opened SuperMax back in 2001, the plan was for a maximum security prison that would be used to house the state’s most difficult offenders. Escapees, psychopaths, crime bosses – this was SuperMax’s core business. Then came 9/11 and, more than a decade later, the age of ISIS. A prison that had been built to handle the system’s toughest crooks became a holding pen for Muslim terrorists, the most radical square mile in all of Australia. “We’ve got a completely different set of inmates than in the main jail,” says Scott Ryan, SuperMax’s head of intelligence. “There’s very little violence. They’re a lot smarter.”
Working in SuperMax is uniquely stressful for staff. The inmates hate them, calling them kuffars or dogs. Some won’t even talk to the female staff. As we are leaving, one of the officers tells us: “I don’t want my picture. I’ve got a family.”
But as dangerous as these men are, there is a growing view that many do not belong in the SuperMax. Increasingly, experts are questioning the wisdom of housing young offenders in the same facility as older, die-hard extremists. Australian National University deradicalisation expert Dr Clarke Jones says SuperMax is the right place for violent, difficult prisoners but the wrong place for younger inmates who might, under the right circumstances, be separated from their radical ideologies. In Victoria, he adds, radical inmates are spread throughout the system.“
There’s a long history of psychological evidence that it becomes more difficult to rehabilitate prisoners over the age of 25,” Jones says. “But under 25, there’s a good chance.” Vocational training, religious counselling and physical contact with their family – these are the elements that need to be in place if younger inmates are to be diverted from radicalism. “Virtually none of that is available in SuperMax.”
And SuperMax’s population is getting younger, much younger. Across the fence in Goulburn jail proper, the prison population is divided by race or religion. There is a Muslim yard, an Islander yard, an Aboriginal yard and an Asian yard. Multiculturalism might work in the real world but in Goulburn it is segregation that keeps the peace.
In SuperMax, the division is even simpler: al-Qa’ida and Islamic State. The older, sentenced prisoners support al-Qa’ida. The younger ones, energised by the Syrian jihad, support Islamic State. Two tribes. They don’t get along.
“They really have nothing to do with each other,” Ryan tells me. “They’ll be polite to each other. The older fellas will look at [them] as young punks – ‘they know nothing about the Koran, they know nothing about our struggles’ and all of this. The younger ones will look at the older ones, ‘Oh, these old has-beens. This is the new way. All that stuff’s out now.’ There’s a big division in that.” Al-Qa’ida supporters are held in Unit Eight, where the average age of prisoners is 35. Islamic State supporters are in Unit Nine, where the average age is just 21.
The al-Qa’ida terrorists sentenced after 9/11 are starting to come up for parole. A few are already out. Khaled Sharrouf did a brief spell in SuperMax after he was convicted over his involvement in the 2005 terror plot to bomb targets in Sydney and Melbourne. It didn’t do much good. In 2013 Sharrouf fled for Syria, where he was last seen brandishing severed heads and executing Iraqi officials in the sands outside Mosul.
In August this year, Bilal Khazal, a 46-year-old former baggage handler convicted of making a terrorist training manual, will chance his arm before the parole board. There is a reasonable prospect he will get out. In early 2019, Ahmad Naizmand, a 22-year-old convicted of breaching a terrorism control order, will do the same. The others will start dribbling out in the years after that. I ask Ryan how many remain hard-core radicals. He thinks for a moment. “You could probably put on the one hand the ones that aren’t.”
Inmates behind bars.
New federal government laws that would allow authorities to detain unrepentant extremists beyond the term of their sentence would, in theory, apply to many of SuperMax’s inhabitants. NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Severin says that, as it stands, virtually all of SuperMax’s sentenced terrorists would be candidates for the new sanction. But the legislation is untested. Besides, there are 30 Muslim extremists in SuperMax. Locking them all up indefinitely is not a realistic option, not if you want to avoid turning SuperMax into Guantanamo Bay. At some point they’re going to rejoin the community.
Corrective Services NSW offers a voluntary deradicalisation program, the Proactive Integrated Support Model or PRISM, but it is aimed at those at risk of radicalisation, not those already in its grip. Of the 13,000 prisoners in NSW jails, about 20 are signed up to the program. It is hard to know how effective PRISM is, but if it is like any other deradicalisation program the answer is, probably, not very.
The rise of Islamic State has spawned a multi-billion-dollar industry in so-called “countering violent extremism” programs. None claims a convincing success rate; most are abject failures. None of this is news to Piazza. “Nobody in the world knows what to do with these guys,” he says.
For the older terrorists, the point is moot. They’re too far gone. A few won’t talk to the staff anymore, let alone participate in deradicalisation programs. In the years he’s spent walking the corridors of SuperMax, Piazza has seen little evidence the men in his charge are ready to change. “When someone gets to that age of 40, they go, ‘F..k, you know what? I’ve had enough of this shit.’ Well, now we’re getting guys who are 50-51 years of age and they’re still going.” I ask Ryan what would happen if the older ones were thrown in with the general prison population. “They’d recruit. Simple as that.”
But for the younger ones, the picture is different. Ryan estimates that if all the unsentenced prisoners in SuperMax were released tomorrow, around half would never touch a Koran again: “They’re not that committed to the cause.” He thinks some of the younger prisoners might shed their extremist ideology if they could be separated from the older, harder ideologues early into their sentence. He describes what it’s like when prisoners first arrive in SuperMax. “They’ll be down in Unit Seven all by themselves and you can talk to them there,” he says. “After that initial shock, they’re polite. Then you get them up to the other deck with other influences and that’s when you lose them.”
Severin acknowledges the challenges of trying to rehabilitate hardened jihadis inside the SuperMax but to him the priority is clear. “For me, the responsibility to the rest of the system and the broader community, and national security for that matter, outweighs the negative effects that the concentration of those individuals might have.”
He has hinted this will change in the future. Last year Severin said Corrective Services NSW was examining a “differentiated” placement system, one that could see radical inmates separated. A report by NSW Inspector of Custodial Services Fiona Rafter, who was tasked last year with examining prison radicalisation, is likely to make similar recommendations. Corrective Services is also looking at a system that will allow radical inmates to be moved downward through the system prior to release.
Severin says that outside the SuperMax there is no widespread problem of radicalisation across the prison system, and by all accounts he is right. Of the 13,000 inmates confined in NSW, there have been just four confirmed cases where inmates have been radicalised, he says. That’s almost certainly an underestimate, but it’s hard to make the case that the prison system is teeming with murderous jihadis. When we visit the Muslim yard in Goulburn jail proper, the inmates make a show of praying but seem far more interested in horsing around for the cameras. This isn’t to make light of their beliefs or be naive about their crimes, but it seems anything but a hotbed of radical preaching. In two days wandering the yards of Goulburn they are the friendliest bunch of blokes we meet.
But as SuperMax starts disgorging its inmates, the risk to the community will be profound. None of this is the fault of Piazza and his staff. They are not social workers. They are prison officers whose job is to protect the community, something they do exceptionally well and under the most trying conditions. But thinking of the rangy Lebanese boy with the chest full of tatts prowling his cell like a caged animal, it is difficult not to believe we are kicking the can down the road. What happens when we get to the end?
Every time the government puts more money into the system it creates more demands – Senator Cory Bernardi
March 25, 2017
Not for the first time and I suspect not for the last time, on behalf of the Australians Conservatives I am going to take the path less travelled, if I may put it like that.
I may be the only person in this place who thinks that $8.5 billion per annum spent on child care in the last 12 months, rising to $12 billion by 2020, for the government to pay service providers to look after families’ children, is more than enough.
As I said, already the figure is scheduled to rise to in excess of $12 billion in the next three years. That is $12,000 million that is being given to parents effectively to pay other people to look after their children.
It is another significant cost to the budget. It is absolutely created and sustained by delivering more debt that those very children, who all of us in this place want to help and bequeath a good, positive, healthy country to, are going to be forced to repay.
Once again I come back to it. Our debt in this country is spiralling out of control and there does not seem to be any real determination to redress it. That is a moral obligation we owe to our children.
So throwing another couple of billion dollars into child care here and there is not going to solve the problem, but it will indeed create greater problems, which will be magnified by the effect of interest and growth over time. Every child who is purported to benefit from this package will actually end up paying a very hefty price for it from the multibillion-dollar largess that is starting today, and I can promise you the demands will increase in the future for it to continue.
Australian Conservatives know that there is a better way. There are three key areas in which I can believe that this can be more effectively addressed. Firstly, we have to break this nexus between a government subsidy and a rise in the price of child care.
It seems to be a catch 22 where every time the government puts more money into the system it creates more demands for the child-care operators and the prices go up and there does not seem to be that greater benefit for the Australian families under the current guise.
Secondly—and I congratulate the government for its endeavours in this regard—there needs to be a determined effort to stamp out the significant rorts that are in this space.
Thirdly—and this is very important to me and I have communicated it to the minister—we need to remove the mandated prejudicial policies that disadvantage so many families and effectively establish a pecking order of who is allowed into the child-care system first.
Let me deal with the subsidies and costs. From a person who seeks less involvement in government it is far better for us to stretch every government dollar by streamlining processes and deregulating the sector. Every time we add additional compliance, additional requirements, additional reporting or any other additional regulation the cost of administering and providing child care escalates, sometimes exponentially, and I will detail some of those figures in a moment.
We need to end the ‘money shuffle’, if you will, where we collect taxes from people, throw it through the bureaucracy where sometimes it returns 50 or 60 cents in the dollar—sometimes less, sometimes more—and then give it back to those we deem worthy of it to subsidise the care of their children. I think that is inefficient.
It would be far more efficient for the government to allow tax deductibility, up to a maximum threshold, for childcare services. It would enable families to take responsibility for administering those costs themselves. It would allow families to claim it on a weekly or monthly basis with the ATO, as they do with other tax concessions, or on an annual basis. It would make child care more affordable.
With no guaranteed government funding, people could distinguish for themselves the service they want and the hours they want. That would create a much more competitive environment.
You mentioned the link between subsidies and costs. I want to take you back briefly to some research by the Australian National University which demonstrates the runaway price rises attached to child care in recent years.
Starting with March 2000 as our baseline, there was effectively parity between the market price of childcare services and the subsidy; in medical parlance, there was ‘no gap’.
Soon afterwards, a couple of years later, there was a modest gap, which parents were expected to meet, but there was virtually no difference between the subsidy rate and the market rate. But then between July 2002 and July 2007 the gap expanded.
By July 2007 the subsidy rate was 175 per cent of the March 2000 price. Not surprisingly, because of the additional onerous burdens on the childcare sector and the increase in subsidies, the cost of child care had risen by about 225 per cent.
So there was about a 50 basis point difference between the subsidy rising and the cost of child care. So no matter what levels of money were thrown into it, families will pay more.
What happened then was that there were cuts in 2007 and 2008 but the regulations continued to load up on the childcare service providers and there became a huge gap between the subsidy rate and the market price. The market price has continued to track upwards.
It has been higher than inflation ever since 2002, when, dare I say it, the sector recognised that by putting their prices up they could prompt demands in this place for more subsidies to be thrown at them and those demands would inevitably be met—just as we are discussing today. You cannot blame the sector for doing that.
If they can get away with it, they will continue to do it. We have to consider not capping it or putting any other forces on them but putting market forces on them.
We need to allow parents to make determinations about where they send their children so that the market itself will put pressure on the costs and prices.
So the gap—or gulf as it was then—went from about 50 basis points to about 150 points. It tripled in real terms. And then the subsidy rate returned to the March 2000 rate but child care prices keep going up and up and up.
At last check, that gulf is still widening. The market rate is about 460 per cent of the March 2000 price. In 17 years it has gone up 4½ half times, well in excess of inflation, and it has been fuelled by the money that has been thrown at it from this place.
And it is because of compliance. Since 2008, compliance has become so burdensome that the gap between the subsidy and the cost has risen from 50 basis points then to 300 basis points now.
That has a deleterious effect for every family and it is not going to be fixed by us throwing more money into the system. We have to take pressure out of the system. If we can reduce compliance, if we can reduce bureaucracy, if we can reduce regulations and red tape, child care will be more affordable and parents will have more choices.
And that will be sustainable because it means we will not have to throw more than $12 billion a year into the system; every dollar will go a lot further.
The second area in which Australian Conservatives believes there can still be significant improvement is in the area of rorting.
Lest anyone think I be uncomplimentary, I do want to congratulate the government and the minister for making significant efforts in this regard but, dare I say it, they are not enough.
I think there needs to be more diligence and more application to stamp out the rorts that are ripping off the taxpayer. I want to give you a few examples.
In 2015, an investigation in Albury in New South Wales revealed a $4 million family day care fraud in August 2016, authorities swooped on an operation in Lakemba in Sydney.
One of the accused was actually someone with alleged links to Islamic State. That did not stop them from profiting from and ripping off the childcare system. They stood accused of collecting over $27 million since 2012.
A known Islamic State sympathiser has been involved in an operation that has gathered $27 million of taxpayer funds, rorted within the childcare sector since 2012, and there are suggestions that some of that money has found its way to funding Australia’s enemies abroad.
The information I have is that in New South Wales, where these rort occurred, there are 324 services in operation but only 19 of them have been audited. If the other 305 underwent an audit, imagine how much more of this rip-off money they might find. In 2016, at Point Cook in Victoria, authorities raided families in the Somali community who in 18 months had claimed almost $16 million in grandparent childcare benefits.
Remember, these were additional payments brought in to assist grandparents who were looking after their grandchildren. But the $16 million worth of care was never provided— just the money was delivered.
Then the coalition government, to their credit, made the child swapping rort illegal on 12 October—bravo! Child swapping was where a childcare worker put their child in the care of another childcare worker and vice versa.
Before that, an estimated 11,000 parents were receiving $8.2 million per week, swapping over 31,000 children. That is $8.2 million per week of people just saying, ‘You take my child and I’ll take yours, and we’ll both make money out of the operation.’ It is wrong, and congratulations to the government for stopping it.
In 2016 a Melbourne woman of Sudanese origin was accused of claiming $800,000 a fortnight in a western Melbourne system that allegedly took $15.8 million in false payments. That $800,000 a fortnight is not a bad gig if you can get it, unless you are the taxpayer having to fund it. That is what is going on in our current childcare system.
A woman running Aussie Giggles, a family day care centre, was found guilty in 2016 in the New South Wales District Court of 81 fraud and forgery offences designed to defraud childcare benefits to the tune of $3.6 million in special childcare subsidies for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. She claimed that as many as 14 of these children from disadvantaged backgrounds were in her care when they were not. And yet this was never picked up in an audit.
In 2016 the Queensland Labor government confirmed a trend in childcare rorting and noncompliance in ethnic communities.
Nationwide, almost all the family day care services hit with restrictions or closure were run by Somali, Sudanese or other African migrants. One Sudanese migrant received $1.6 million in 16 months to run a family day care network which authorities could not confirm involved people he claimed were employed by him.
There is a problem here. The minimal audits that have taken place and the maximum exposure of rorts—I have highlighted just some of them today—says we can do much, much better and stretch every one of those $12 billion much, much further.
The final aspect of where my concerns lie I raised during estimates. It is that there is a priority list for allocating places in childcare. Some may defend that. I may describe it as prejudice. It was news to the minister and to the department when in estimates I quoted to them words from their own guidelines:
A child care service may require a Priority 3 child to vacate a place to make room for a child with a higher priority.
In simple terms, if you are a white, middle-class person and your child is in child care, and if the government says there is someone more needy—I will get to what neediness is—your child can be removed with 14 days notice to be replaced by that child they think is more needy.
In some of these areas there is genuine need. The first priority for allocating places is ‘a child at risk of serious abuse or neglect’.
Instinctively, a child at serious risk of abuse or neglect needs much more than child care. They should not be put into child care for the day—the eight or 10 hours or whatever it is—and then returned to an environment where they are at serious risk of abuse or neglect. It needs to be dealt with at the very root cause of it. If they are not safe with their own parents they need to be taken out of that environment permanently.
The second priority is ‘a child of a single parent who satisfies, or of parents who both satisfy, the work/training/study test under Section 14 of the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999’. To be honest, I do not get that. I do not understand why one parent working is more important or less important than another parent working or another parent choosing to study or undergo training.
The idea is to provide this resource to Australians so that they can further their careers, their education or whatever the circumstances may be. I just do not buy it that we should all be paying and prioritising one person over another because of the job they are doing.
The third priority, of course, is ‘any other child’.
Within these categories there is even more entrenched prejudice. There is a priority list within the first priority group, the second priority group and the third priority group. If you are a child in an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander family, you get priority. A white kid can be removed from a childcare operation with 14 days notice to be replaced by an Aboriginal kid. I think that is wrong.
A child in a family which includes a disabled person gets priority. I am not making light of the difficulties that disabled people and their carers undergo, but I cannot come to terms with the fact that because you have a disabled sibling or a disabled parent you should have priority and someone should be removed from an existing childcare place because they deem you to be more worthy. I am not underselling the difficulties of it, but who are we to say: ‘I’m sorry, bad luck. Out you go and in you come.’ It is wrong. Even the department eventually admitted it was wrong.
Then, of course, we discriminate on the basis of income.
Apparently, if you do not earn enough money or if you do not have a job you are actually a greater priority for child care than the person who is actually out there earning money, paying more taxes and maybe employing other people—I do not know.
They can lose their place because they are earning above a threshold or they actually have a job—God forbid! Isn’t child care meant to be for getting people back into the workforce?
Finally, this is the one that really strikes me as odd, considering all the rorts I outlined before: children in families from a non-English speaking background get priority. I am not sure where they rank in the list, actually.
I am not sure whether coming from a non-English speaking background trumps being a low-income earner, having a disabled or less abled sibling or parent or having an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander family. I do not know whether it is the colour of your skin or the language your parents speak. I cannot determine this.
What I know is that any critical or reasonable assessment of it says it is wrong to remove someone in an existing place because of the colour of their skin, the language their parents speak or the income their parents have in favour of someone that a government of any stripe or persuasion deems more worthy.
Earlier, Senator Gallagher asked about deals that are done and things, and I have my doubts. I think that is very clear about the wisdom of throwing more money into this sector until other aspects of it are absolutely cleaned up.
I made it very clear to the minister that I have an open mind with respect to this package, but there are some things I would like addressed.
I really believe that if you are going to make child care available to every family, you are going to subsidise it to the cost of $12 billon-plus per year and more on the horizon, then it has to be available equally to every single family.
There should not be a priority allocation. You should not be able to kick a child out because their parents happen to be the wrong colour, speak the wrong language or happen to be able-bodied and earn money.
Malcolm Turnbull would say: “It was a West Australian state election; it was fought on state issues. It was decided on state issues and the result was pretty much as had been expected for quite some time.”
However, the Prime Minister’s unhelpful intervention last year didn’t help. He travelled to Western Australia promising that he would fix the GST distribution issue. He left telling disgruntled Sandgropers that more time was needed before their state could receive any more revenue.
That sort of mealy-mouthed non-response was reinforced by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann telling us on the day after the election: “We have to be realistic on what a national government can do in relation to these sorts of issues. (Can he be serious?)
“The timetable is determined by what happens with the GST sharing arrangements moving forward. There is a flow-through effect, principally from the prices for iron ore and the royalty revenue that is generated on the back of iron ore exports.
“That will play out over the next few years and there is an expectation, in the not too distant future, WA’s share of the GST will start increasing again and, if and when that happens, there are certain options available where the floor can be established without actually taking money away from any other state.”
That pitiful explanation surely would have been one reason many West Australians reached for their baseball bats. But Cormann then added: “That is the way it should happen.”
It’s not just his political tin ear that should worry everyone. It is his complete lack of understanding of the damaging economic consequences of the way GST revenue is distributed.
Just to remind you, Western Australia receives only 30c of every dollar of GST revenue raised in the state. Every West Australian hands over $1736 to the other states and territories. By contrast, every South Australian receives a net $1052 and every Tasmanian receives $1953. Every Northern Territorian receives $10,734 while, wait for it, every ACT resident receives $400. That’s right — the place in the country with the highest incomes and the lowest unemployment receives more money than it hands over.
There is no doubt our system of horizontal fiscal equalisation is broken and has been for some time. It is the most extreme version of the principle implemented in any federation in the world. But all that the risible Finance Minister can say is: “That is the way that it should happen.”
Let’s just run through some of the problems with the system whereby the GST revenue is distributed as run by the arcane Commonwealth Grants Commission, a body that deserves abolition.
• The CGC consistently overstates the real tax bases of the donor states by failing to recognise that their high wages are offset by high living costs.
• Instead of thinking about an overall tax base (and capacity to pay) that the states and territories can tap into, the CGC considers each tax separately. There is no consideration of the impact that levying high taxes on one activity has on the scope to levy taxes on other activities.
• The CGC treats mining royalty income as the equivalent of other state recurrent tax income when clearly royalty income is highly dependent on variable, uncontrollable commodity prices.
• The CGC fails to take into account gambling taxes, so states that chose to limit gambling, such as Western Australia, are disadvantaged. This is just wrong.
At its heart, the system disadvantages states such as Western Australia that go to all the trouble of facilitating a mining boom, for example, but see 70 per cent of the proceeds handed to other states that didn’t lift a finger. So states such as South Australia and Tasmania, which deliberately run anti-business strategies — such as ridiculous renewable energy targets — benefit financially notwithstanding.
The idea this system can continue until Western Australia’ s GST share begins to rise — with the recent resurgence in commodity prices, this will not occur before 2020-21 at the earliest — is political nonsense. No doubt, premier-elect Mark McGowan will have a thing or two to say on the matter.
Even if West Australians were to have the patience of Job, the solution offered by Cormann — just wait — is unworkable. What he thinks can happen is that some sort of collar-and-cap can be imposed on GST relativities — say 0.75 to 1.25 — when the West Australian relativity falls within this range. The trouble with this “solution” is what happens to the Northern Territory because its relativity is above 5 and has been for years. Such a collar-and-cap would involve enormous redistribution away from the Territory.
Here’s a hint, Mathias: the system of GST distribution is broken, beyond repair. Busted. The idea that some states can be compensated to deliver the same standard of services to their citizens but are not required to do so must surely make him realise some political courage is required to fix the system now.
He should not think that West Australians have put away their baseball bats. In all likelihood, those bats will be within easy reach at the next federal election.
Australian Conservatives leader Cory BernardiMAURICE NEWMAN
Maurice Newman The Australian 9 March 2017
What eats at Malcolm Turnbull’s backers is the inescapable realisation that much of what Tony Abbott says resonates with voters across the political divide. Issues such as cuts to immigration, slashing the renewable energy target and making the parliament more workable appeal to voters of all colours. It is why his comments at a recent book launch are judged a threat to the Liberal Party and why the former prime minister is demonised as a “wrecker”.
Indeed, it is a measure of the Prime Minister’s grip on leadership, and the party’s perception of its place in the hearts and minds of the Australian people, that Abbott’s remarks should cause such consternation. When his opinions are labelled “catastrophic”, “unhelpful” and “sad”, what other conclusion can be drawn?
Yet we are told Abbott is friendless. So does it really matter if he harbours ambitions to return to the leadership? By keeping the former prime minister on the backbench, Turnbull should have expected he would speak his mind. But if there is no support and no merit to his arguments, why worry about this latest “outburst”? The party is firmly united behind Turnbull, right?
But Turnbull does worry.
The self-styled “fixer”, former education minister Christopher Pyne, once an irrepressible cheerleader but now a critic of the Abbott government, advised his former boss: “When you’re throwing stones it’s important not to stand in a glass house.”
This adolescent sense of self is a metaphor for what ails the party. It’s a blind, lesser-evil approach. Abbott is worse than Turnbull. Bill Shorten is worse than Turnbull. Labor’s renewable energy target is worse than the Coalition’s. It projects weakness and the people know it.
A confident party should be receptive to fresh ideas, regardless of the author. However, in the current climate of paranoia, the author does matter. If an Abbott recommendation becomes party policy, it may be interpreted as a “win” for him and contrary to the leader’s best interests. Self-preservation trumps principle. Of course, the anti-Abbott forces don’t have to look far for support. The media are first responders. Anxious to nip any latent support in the bud, the old Abbott blame files are being dusted off.
Laura Tingle, writing for Fairfax, channelled Monty Python’s “what have the Romans ever done for us, aside from sanitation, medicine, education, public order …?” when she asked: “Can you remember anything positive he has contributed to our polity that has not involved tearing something down?”
Well, nothing aside from beginning budget repair, stopping the boats, completing beneficial trade deals with Japan, South Korea and China, scrapping the mining and carbon taxes, agreeing to a second Sydney airport, ending wasteful corporate welfare, reducing the public service by 12,000, and abolishing 300 unnecessary government boards and agencies. But fear and loathing run deep in the hate media and facts should never stand in the way of a good story.
In reality, this collective theatre has less to do with any prospect of Abbott’s return to The Lodge than the growing realisation that the Liberals are a stranded party. They are a nebulous grey, in a soft-left kind of way, at a time when the electorate is polarising. To date, the Turnbull Coalition team’s achievements are few and ad hoc.Reflecting its leadership, it lacks conviction and purpose. One day things are on the table, the next they are off. Its instincts are more Rudd than Howard, more Obama than Trump.
The disheartening July 2016 general election result and disastrous polling since point to serious voter disenchantment with the party. The Prime Minister’s strong suspicion that the latest devastating Newspoll was delayed until after Abbott’s book launch speech is, at best, naive. He doesn’t see that casting Abbott as the culprit, rather than acknowledging genuine voter dissatisfaction, insults the voting public. It makes winning back support even more difficult.
Right-wing Liberal senator Cory Bernardi’s defection to set up his Australian Conservatives, citing the Liberals’ abandonment of their party’s conservative principles and heritage, validates voter concern and, carries with it a despair that the leftward drift is irreversible. This seems at odds with an international trend to the right.
In a dramatic turn, Donald Trump is now in the White House. His pledge to “Make America great again” means upsetting the status quo and shaking up vested interests. That he is doing, in the face of fierce opposition from progressive urban elites.
Over the next few months, similar dramatic changes are likely in Europe. General elections in The Netherlands, France and Italy should see new right-wing governments installed. Their agenda, like Trump’s, is far-reaching and much of it is a repudiation of years of leftist ideology. Australia will not be quarantined, yet seems unprepared for the inevitable influence these changes will have on voters and the economy.
While the media presents Tony Abbott’s “outburst” as settling old scores, it is now obvious the last leadership change was ill-conceived and a disservice to the nation. There is a reason that this government scarcely has a mandate. Now most voters no longer trust the present leader to deliver the changes it wants.
Blaming Abbott is futile.
Some Turnbull supporters may hope the present slide in the polls will be arrested by a few good weeks. It is a total misread, as the latest polls and the Prime Minister’s continuing indecisiveness are screaming. Abbott’s manifesto was a good start, but he alone cannot deliver it. Judgment, unity of purpose and, courage, are required, qualities not currently in evidence.
Irrespective of whether Abbott has a pathway to The Lodge, Australia’s future prosperity depends on a fundamental change in leadership and policy direction. Without that, the people’s confidence in this government cannot be restored and the voters’ search for something better will continue.
Pauline Hanson insists addicts must cover the costs of their treatment
The West Australian 4 March 2017 PAUL MURRAY
Based on a recent opinion poll, more than half the West Australians who will vote for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation next weekend are driven by a dislike of both Islam and the major political parties.
So while those who will actually form government continue to spend like drunken sailors buying votes, One Nation gets the bulk of its support at no cost to the taxpayer.
As is usual with protest movements, Pauline Hanson’s is best known for what it opposes rather than for things it supports.
But many voters might be surprised that the fledgling WA arm of PHON has released a range of policies in recent weeks that have escaped widespread media scrutiny.
That’s despite the possibility Hanson could hold the balance of power in the Legislative Council in a week’s time and have an arm lock on the next government.
So even if PHON voters are not interested in policy detail — preferring Hanson’s broadbrush nationalism on things such as foreign ownership and immigration — everyone else should be concerned about the party’s platform.
That’s because the next Parliament might just be dancing on it to Pauline’s tune.
For example, PHON wants methamphetamine-addicted criminals to pay for their own compulsory — and indefinite — treatment. The cash will be taken by force if necessary.
“One Nation WA proposes a ‘two strikes and you’re out’ policy to help tackle the methamphetamine scourge in our community,” the policing and community safety policy says. “If a meth user is caught two times, they will be sent to a rehabilitation facility and kept there until their addiction is under control.
“Addicts must cover the costs of their treatment, either by having assets seized, or if on welfare, payments will be forfeited to the state. No debt will be wiped or worn by the taxpayer, even if the user is on welfare payments after release.
“Monies will be taken from their account until paid in full. If users hold a job, it will be taken from their wages on the same basis as maintenance payments.”
Juvenile criminals, too, are in for a shock, with a promise to introduce controversial “broken windows” laws in WA. They crack down on minor crimes to create an atmosphere of law and order but are criticised for being inherently unjust and not addressing the causes of disorder, which are often racial.
“A philosophy of coming down hard on minor offences with juveniles in particular in order to deter future offending,” is how the PHON policy describes the approach.
The party also promises to examine new laws making parents accountable for the criminal behaviour of their children. It also supports a “Fagin’s Law” approach which targets those procuring young people to commit offences.
PHON also wants to build more prisons, for punishment rather than rehabilitation, and to make life inside tougher.
“Prisons are no longer a deterrent to crime,” the party says. “Society as a whole needs to consider what role prisons play in punishment and rehabilitation.
“Prisons should not be the home prisoners never had. We believe sufficiently punitive measures should exist for lawbreakers.”
Tough-on-crime promises are standard at election time, but the One Nation policies released so far miss several hot-button issues such as debt reduction and WA’s GST share and strangely ignore health, the biggest spending part of the Budget. There’s nothing yet on electricity prices, other than keeping Western Power in State hands — which doesn’t stop costs rising and won’t cut debt — but it wants to drive down gas prices by reserving more for domestic use.
On affordable housing, PHON says the key is to cut immigration levels and deter foreign buyers with a 20 per cent penalty tax. Labor wants a 4 per cent surcharge which it says would raise $21 million.
PHON wants no “racial/ethnic preferences” in public housing allocations and promises a minimum of 15 per cent of all government land and home developments would be targeted at low-to-moderate income households.
The party also blames immigration for Perth’s congested roads and services.
So to “ease congestion, lift productivity, generate economic growth and jobs and keep our assets in Australian hands”, it is proposing to start its own bank.
“A WA Infrastructure Finance Corporation would be financed with seed funding and direct public funding and operate on a commercial basis,” the party says, clearly forgetting Brian Burke’s similar experiment with the WA Development Corporation.
“It would help finance infrastructure projects in our State, at concessional interest rates, thus spreading the costs across the generations who would benefit from these projects.
“This method would allow WA to finance and construct major projects while earning a return for the taxpayer. It would allow the government to cut its Budget expenditure, freeing up funds either to pay down debt or to invest in education, health, families, policing and other areas.”
Most of these policies are highly contentious — and in some cases deeply flawed — deserving scrutiny against the likelihood that One Nation will have enough influence in the coming Parliament to exert substantial pressure on whoever forms government.
One Nation believes that communities and governments must take a strong stance if we are ever to maintain control or stop this epidemic.
Solutions for Ice Addicts
One Nation proposes a three strikes and you’re out . If an ice user is caught three times, they will be sent to a rehabilitation facility and kept there until their addiction is under control.
Addicts must cover the costs of their treatment, either by having assets seized, or if on welfare, payments will be forfeited to the state. No debt will be wiped or worn by the taxpayer, even if the user is on welfare payments after release. Monies will be taken from their account until paid in full. If users hold a job, it will be taken from their wages on the same basis as maintenance payments.
Solutions for Dealers
Extremely harsh penalties should apply to anyone selling ice.
Each gram of ice sold, should equate to a mandatory year in prison.
Their assets will be sold to offset the costs and will be recoverable, even after time spent in prison.
If foreign nationals are convicted of drug crimes, a treaty will be sought for jail time to be done in their own country. Too many foreign nationals commit crimes within Australia because the rewards are far greater, and prison sentences are no deterrent.
It’s widely known as ICE, yet it’s also referred to as Crystal Meth or Methamphetamine. No matter how it’s referred to, the drug is with certainty, followed by misery.
Statistics now show there are 270,000 regular ‘ice’ users in Australia and the numbers are growing rapidly. Wherever I go throughout the country, the main issue raised by people is ice. Nurses and doctors are having to deal with ice users in our already overrun and understaffed hospitals, while other patients are forced to wait. A nurse informed me she was aware of a man losing his life due to a heart attack while waiting for doctors attending an ice user. This is simply unacceptable!
Our police and ambulance officers face regular abuse or attacks from overdosed ice users. Some of you might say this is a State Government issue, however this drug in particular is having national consequences and it’s about time the Federal Government encouraged the states to take a unified approach in combatting ice.
Two young mothers at Tweed Heads (NSW) told me the drug is out of control and ice can be purchased in a matter of 5 minutes in their community. They are in genuine fear for their children and themselves. It appears no place in Australia is free from ice and the devastation that comes with its use. Small country towns in the outback are also under attack. These once peaceful communities are being destroyed by crime, abuse and fear associated with ice. The Vulnerable and youth are being targeted, leaving parents and loved ones not knowing what to do, or where to go.
I have no sympathy for drug users. I do however for their families, friends and communities who deal with the destruction they cause. The ice users are ‘bloody idiots’ to say the least. Everyone has a choice in life. Being depressed, out of a job or feeling sorry for yourself is no reason to take ice. There are many people who can claim these ailments that turn to drugs. People have to start taking responsibility for their actions.
I am fed up with the innocent and taxpayers having to pick up the pieces for thugs and idiots, or irresponsible and selfish non-contributors in our society. I cannot understand the reasons why someone who is a hardworking, family person, wants to take ice?
Communities and governments must take a strong stance if we are ever to maintain control or stop this epidemic. I propose three strikes and you’re out. If an ice user is caught three times, they will be sent to a rehabilitation facility and kept there until their addiction is under control. They must cover the costs, either by having assets seized, or if on welfare, payments will be forfeited to the state. No debt will be wiped or worn by the taxpayer, even if the user is on welfare payments after release. Monies will be taken from their account until paid in full. If users hold a job, it will be taken from their wages on the same basis as maintenance payments.
Extremely harsh penalties should apply to anyone selling ice. Each gram of ice sold, should equate to a mandatory year in prison. Their assets will be sold to offset the costs and will be recoverable, even after time spent in prison.
If foreign nationals are convicted of drug crimes, a treaty will be sought for jail time to be done in their own country. Too many foreign nationals commit crimes within Australia because the rewards are far greater, and prison sentences are no deterrent.
I am not interested in do-gooders supporting the ‘rights’ of these criminals. When greed and disregard overshadows the impact on human life and society as a whole, they should forfeit all freedoms.
JUDGES will pocket up to $500 a week extra in plump pay rises next year after blaming ice addicts for worsening workloads and job stress.
Federal Circuit Court judges have demanded a bonus two weeks’ holiday and a doubling of superannuation contributions and service leave.
The Remuneration Tribunal yesterday gave federal judges a 4.8 per cent bonus from January 1, swelling the salary of Australia’s first female High Court chief justice, Susan Kiefel, to $573,046 next year.
Other High Court judges will pocket an extra $23,818 — bumping their pay to $520,028.
Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant told the tribunal cases had “increased in complexity”. Picture: Hollie Adams
Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant told the tribunal cases had “increased in complexity’’ due to an increase in drug use — especially methamphetamine — as well as mental illness and allegations of sexual abuse and family violence.
She said some litigants posed a “real/significant threat’’ to judges.
And she warned the “extraordinary number of cases’’ involving family violence “has put the courts under considerable pressure’’.
“The parenting cases … require difficult fact-finding about contested issues including sexual abuse of children, family violence … mental health issues and substance abuse,’’ Chief Justice Bryant states in her submission, kept secret for a year and made public yesterday after a Freedom of Information request by The Daily Telegraph.
The Chief Judge of the FCC, John Pascoe, told the tribunal that Federal Circuit Court judges receive only four weeks’ holiday a year, compared to eight weeks for Family Court judges and 10 weeks for Federal Court or NSW District court judges.
He called for at least six weeks holidays — as well as six months long service leave after five years in the job.
“Annual leave of four weeks a year is inadequate given the demands of trial judge work,’’ his submission states.
“Failure to deal with these issues to date has had a deleterious effect on the health and wellbeing of judges of the court.’’
Cartoonist Warren’s perspective.
Chief Judge Pascoe said the Federal Circuit Court — which hears family law cases, refugee and migration claims, consumer lawsuits and counter-terrorism issues — was the “primary face of federal justice’’ and its judges should be paid 90 per cent of a Federal Court judge’s salary.
“The average Australian experiencing difficulties in family life, at work, or in their business will appear before this court,’’ he said.
Chief Justice Pascoe said Federal Circuit Court judges’ superannuation contributions should double from 15.4 per cent to 30 per cent of salary, because they were missing out on the usual judicial pension of 60 per cent of their salary after 10 years’ service.
But the tribunal rejected the claim, handing Federal Circuit Court judges a $17,046 pay rise instead of the $23,599 they asked for, and ignoring the holiday and superannuation demands. The Remuneration Tribunal ruled that a 4.8 per cent pay rise “recognises the increased complexities faced by judges … in an environment of continued economic and wages restraint’’.
Federal Circuit Court Chief Judge John Pascoe said superannuation contributions should double from 15.4 per cent to 30 per cent of salary. Picture: Renee Nowytarger
The judges’ pay rise is double the 2.4 per cent awarded to Australia’s poorest workers this year, and comes on top of a 2 per cent pay rise for federal judges in 2016. The federal Attorney- General’s Department fought the proposed increase, noting that Federal Circuit Court judges’ salaries had doubled between 2002 to $355,130 this year, while the average wage had risen 71 per cent to $80,415.
“Given the large number of judicial officers and the generous level of remuneration they receive, any percentage increase in judicial remuneration will affect the government’s budget position,’’ it told the tribunal.
The NSW government complained that any federal pay rises will trigger “me too’’ pay claims from judges in this state. NSW Statutory and Other Offices Remuneration Tribunal head Richard Grellman warned if NSW failed to match federal pay packets, it “may have an adverse impact on the ability of … NSW … to attract and retain the best available people to the NSW courts’’.
NSW judges are paid more than judges interstate, with the Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court earning $482,470 this year.
by John KehoeAmerican author and journalist Thomas Frank strides in carrying a notepad and in a huff as I greet him, seated at a cosy table at the Tabard Inn in Washington DC. He is about 10 minutes late for our lunch date and upset about the unreliable local metro system. “But hey, Kansas City doesn’t have a metro,” he says.
Frank is most renowned for writing What’s the Matter with Kansas?, a 2004 book about how working-class Americans outside the big cities act against their own economic interest by voting Republican, based on cultural grievances on gay rights, guns, abortion and patriotism.
In the 1970s, he grew up in the conservative suburbs of Kansas City, which straddles Missouri’s western edge and the state of Kansas near the Midwest.
In many ways, the book exposes the plight of the forgotten working-class Americans who Donald Trump lured in his famous presidential election boilover in November. Published eight months before election day, the book assails the Democratic Party, particularly Bill and Hillary Clinton, claiming it abandoned the working-class roots in favour of the educated professional class.
Frank, a former university Republican – as the son of a small-business owner – before switching to become a staunch liberal (which means politically left-of-centre in America), is aghast at Trump’s victory, even if he may be entitled to feel a little vindicated on foreseeing how it happened.
“It was very easy for me to understand Trump’s appeal. Democrats don’t understand the issue of inequality and they’re completely out of touch on working-class people. Hillary is the manifestation and personification of it.”
Unleashing more, he says Clinton – who he reluctantly voted for – was “tone deaf” by suggesting that supporting Trump was an act of bigotry and that America was already “great” because the official unemployment rate was low and sharemarket booming.
“The Trump supporters are looking at what’s happening to their communities and saying ‘we don’t see that’. The unemployment rate is low right now, people have jobs; the jobs just don’t pay very well.”
Middle-class wages, allowing for inflation, have barely budged over the past three decades. One in six working-age men are not employed, mainly because they are not looking for a job.
Scourge of trade deals
Frank, who now lives around Bethesda on the outskirts of Washington DC, has recently returned from a trip to Missouri where he undertook field research for a column for The Guardian (he also writes for the American current affairs magazine Harper’s, and was founding editor of The Baffler) about why the regions there supported the New York billionaire Trump in droves.
The waiter asks if we would like a drink. Frank, who has work to do later, passes on the alcohol and opts for “plain old” drip coffee. Typically Australian, I ask if they serve espresso. Today, I am in luck.
Frank laments how farmers no longer vote Democrat and notes that even the leftist president Harry Truman, who was in power 1945-53, was from Missouri. “What’s weird today is you have a prolonged crisis in agriculture in family farming,” he continues. Jimmy Carter was, he says, the last to “care”. “As it gets worse, people vote for a more conservative candidate.”
He’s sharply critical of the big food buyer “monopolies” for paying farmers a pittance for their produce, arguing the government should impose anti-competitive sanctions.
In line with Trump, he lashes the international trade deals that he claims have devastated rural and regional communities, particularly old manufacturing strongholds in the South and Midwest. “There used to be a lot of manufacturing in small towns and now it’s gone.”
I push back and argue that technology through automation – more so than trade – has eliminated American manufacturing jobs. It was a point Obama would echo a few days later in his presidential farewell speech, saying the “next wave of dislocation” would come from automation, not trade. Trump can’t stop those powerful forces. Frank acknowledges robots taking jobs, but is adamant that, to date, trade deals have been the bigger culprit.
Hope and disillusionment
The waiter reapproaches.
Having already eyed the farm-to-table cuisine on the menu, I quickly order the grilled hanger steak, medium rare, imagining the mashed potatoes, broccoli and demi-glace listed on the menu. Frank is planning to eat steak for dinner. He peruses the shrimp grits (“are you serious?”) and pork chops before settling on the seared trout combined with the caesar salad. He declines oysters when I suggest a starter, saying they are “too messy”.
The Tabard Inn opened in 1922 and is now composed of three late-Victorian townhouses linked with internal passages. Featuring a bar and lounge on the ground level, it’s a favourite haunt for journalists and progressive political types. On a cold winter’s day, we’re seated upstairs at a table with a neat white tablecloth and overlooking the outside patio that is popular in summer. Vines crawl over the outdoor fence while back inside carved wooden tulips hang on the wall.
Frank came in for an Obama inauguration party in 2008. “I was so happy when he won,” he says.
How does he feel now? “The hope has curdled.”
Obama was his state senator when Frank lived in Illinois: “You’d go to house parties in Hyde Park and he’d walk into the room and people loved this man. People would say, ‘He’s going to be president some day. He’s so smart and handsome and such a good talker.'”
As our meals arrive, we digress and Frank mentions he’s flying to Australia in late February for the Perth and Adelaide writers festivals, promoting Listen, Liberal (Scribe). His two children, aged 15 and 12, would like to go but he’ll be flying solo.
I remind him that the Liberal Party in Australia is our conservative party, something he’s loosely aware of. Frank is “very excited” about seeing Perth, having missed it on a past trip to Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart. I talk up the world-class West Australian beaches, warm weather and Margaret River winery area. Alas his schedule is too tight. He might have time to visit the Barossa Valley near Adelaide instead for a drop of wine.
Fierce critic of globalisation
The photographer arrives. “Oh shit, I should get the hair spray out like Donald Trump,” Frank muses, patting his hair to one side. His son repeatedly teased him during the campaign that “when Donald Trump wins …” He then lost a bet to his son; if Trump won, Frank was supposed to have to style his hair like the celebrity TV star turned President-elect.
I tell him how throughout the election I arrived in the Washington office on mornings and regularly remarked to the office administration lady, Rachel, “one day closer to president Trump”. It was tongue-in-cheek at the time, but turned out to be true.
“You guys need to learn. It’s gonna come there [Australia] too,” Frank chuckles, referring to the Trump and anti-globalisation phenomenon that has struck Britain with Brexit and is engulfing election races in France and the Netherlands. I mention the resurrection of a nationalist Pauline Hanson in Queensland, who he has not heard of.
“It’s happening all over the world,” he says. “This is freaky what’s going on.”
Frank blames globalisation.
“In America, globalisation means you get what you want and I hit the road. I called bullshit on all that.”
So does he identify with Trump’s blistering message? “His message on trade, yes.
“Trump scares me in all sorts of ways, but I really liked what he did to Carrier,” he says, alluding to the US airconditioning manufacturer which Trump bullied and negotiated with to remain in the United States instead of shifting 800 jobs from Indiana to Mexico.
Frank also adds that “TPP is gone, that’s good”. It’s a reference to the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that Trump has vowed to tear up as soon as he becomes president.
Out in the ‘real’ America
Rudely, I’ve already finished my lunch and he has barely taken a bite of his. As other diners chat noisily in the background, I mention that Australia is unhappy about TPP failingbecause it means the US will be less engaged in Asia, creating space for a rising China to fill the void.
Frank asks where Australians like to visit in the US. I list the usual tourist hotspots of New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles.
“Lame,” he quips. Instead, they should head to see the “real” America in Kansas City, Chicago and St Louis. During the primary and general elections, I ventured to states including Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Ohio and then took a Greyhound through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
I tell him getting out into the small communities held some of the best American memories for me, meeting the Trump, Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters. Frank tells me he spent Christmas with his extended family from the Midwest, some of whom voted for Trump.
“They meant well by it,” he says, sheepishly. “What’s more remarkable is the liberals in my family wouldn’t vote for Hillary.”
But Frank is not finished with his anti-trade tirade and frustration with the Clintons. “Hillary was uniquely weak facing Trump because of his emphasis on trade deals. This [Trump’s win] is payback for [Bill Clinton’s] NAFTA,” he says, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement president Clinton signed with Mexico and Canada.
Trump throughout the campaign railed against NAFTA, blaming the Clintons for manufacturing-plant closures and jobs being shipped over the border to lower-cost Mexico. Helping him win the old “rust belt” states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Trump threatened to impose 35 per cent tariffs on Mexican imports.
The ‘winner’ caused a wipeout
Frank laments that the Democrats didn’t run Vice-President Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders for the presidency instead. “Biden wouldn’t have been beaten in Michigan or Pennsylvania,” he argues.
I suggest Biden probably may have beaten Trump because of his white, working-class background but I cast doubt on whether a socialist such as Sanders could have won. Frank remains “sure” Sanders would have won. He voted for Clinton, but preferred Sanders and backed the 75-year-old Senator in the Democratic primaries.
He says the party chose Clinton because the Clintons have been making promises to Democratic operatives for decades and supporters would be promoted if the former secretary of state was crowned president.
He ridicules the left-leaning US media, including TheNew York Times and MSNBC, for failing to look beyond Clinton’s imposing resume as secretary of state, senator and first lady to see her deep flaws. “They loved her,” he says in despair.
And he laments the electoral “wipeout”. While Clinton won about 2.8 million more votes, she lost the 50-state electoral college; Republicans will control both chambers of Congress, fill a crucial Supreme Court vacancy, rule most state legislatures and state governorships. The electoral map is a sea of conservative red.
“The irony that really gets me is the faction that led them into this catastrophe was the ‘winning faction’, the Clintons,” Frank says, arguing that the Democrats became a party of the affluent, white-collar professional class such as Silicon Valley technologists, Wall Street bankers, lawyers, doctors and journalists who focused too heavily on culture wars and social issues such as gay and gender rights, euthanasia and racial equality.
Trump’s amazing Teflon factor
“I don’t disagree with that stuff. But they have abandoned the other side of liberalism that they’re supposed to be,” Frank says. “Republicans answer to the business elite, Democrats answer to the professional elite and then the working class fit in where they can. With Trump, the working class found somewhere else to go.
“The Republicans do a better job of speaking to them in visceral terms. Look at the way Trump talks,” he says of the brash billionaire. “A lot of this is how you present yourself and talk, which is hard for modern Democrats,” he says, pointing to Hillary and Al Gore.
Frank is amazed how Trump absorbed so many controversies that would have sunk any other candidate, such as the 2005 recording of him boasting of forcing himself on women, calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “murderers”, disparaging a US-born judge presiding over his Trump University fraud trial as “Mexican”, ridiculing women, mocking a disabled reporter and disparaging the parents of an American Muslim soldier killed on duty in Iraq.
“One of those things would kill an ordinary candidacy, but this guy kept going.”
Frank, like me, attended the campaign rallies and saw the passion for Trump, but ultimately believed the polls that said Hillary would win.
“How much can anecdote ‘trump’ statistic?” I pose, reciting my own experience of white, working-class men who said they were lifelong Democrats but voting for Trump.
As the Democrats struggle with an identity crisis, Frank believes they should move harder to the left by bashing the banks, opposing trade agreements and slugging the rich with higher taxes as promoted by Sanders and Massachusetts Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren. “What Warren is selling is very popular.”
I suggest that liberalism has been rejected by Americans and doubling down on a stronger dose of it could be the wrong move.
“What’s being rejected is centrism – Clintonism and Obamaism,” he responds. Frank believes that, beginning in the 1990s, the Clintons moved the party closer to the political centre and not far enough to the left on economic issues such as income inequality, trade and taking on Wall Street. President Bill Clinton brokered deals with Republicans, he says, on cutting government welfare.
However, other observers would dispute Frank’s claim about Hillary and Obama being too centrist. Conservative critics claim the outgoing president loved big government on healthcare and climate change, and that the former first lady shifted to the left of her husband during the campaign.
‘Somehow he [Obama] conspired to lose’
Obama doesn’t escape Frank’s wrath either. He says Obama compromised too much by opting for Republican Mitt Romney’s healthcare plan, rather than publicly funded universal healthcare instead of mandated private insurance.
He also says that Obama proposed cutting social security in return for tax increases for the rich in a grand “fiscal bargain” that ultimately failed, that Obama backed trade deals and he didn’t strengthen the unions by much.
“Obama has always had the passion for centrism, which sat alongside what appeared to be liberalism.”
So how do you assess his presidency? I ask. “He’s been an excellent president in symbolic terms because he was the first black president and an inspiring figure. But in policy terms, this guy came in being dealt four aces in a crisis with both houses of Congress and a massive popular mandate.
“Somehow he conspired to lose.”
He also insists Obama should have broken up the banks and jailed bank executives for their role in fuelling the 2008 financial crisis.
Frank has finally finished his meal an hour into our conversation. I inquire if he’s up for dessert or a wine. “No, I’ve got work to do,” he says, in typical American tradition. A second coffee is ordered.
As for the Trump era with billionaires in his cabinet, Frank says it will be “10 times worse”.
“The horrible joke is: look who’s coming in to run the government now.”
Still, he’s hopeful Democrats will work with Trump on his infrastructure spending plan for roads, rail, bridges and airports to rebuild America, like president Dwight Eisenhower, who built the interstate highway system in the 1950s.
“Infrastructure spending would be really good for working people and the economy. That’s what Obama should have done.”
Obama did try, but Republicans blocked his major infrastructure spending package during the recession.
After paying the bill, we head out via the lounge with Japanese artwork, past the bar and downstairs to a picture of Obama hanging near the exit.
“What a tragedy,” Frank despairs, as he bids me farewell.
Thomas Frank is the author of Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? ($29.99) published by Scribe. He will be appearing at Perth Writers Festival and Adelaide Writers Week.
Microbes living in people’s bodies can tell when you when they died
By John Ross – The Australian 23 Dec 2016
Higher Eduction Report Sydney @JohnRoss49
The balance of bugs in the body is crucial to quality of life. Now scientists are turning to bugs to get a better measure of death.
US researchers have found that the “microbiome” — the bacteria and other microbes living in and on people’s bodies — provides a surprisingly accurate gauge of how long they have been dead.
They say the discovery could sharpen forensic methods, shedding new light on murder investigations and corroborating or disproving alibis.
The team based its findings, outlined in the journal PLOS ONE, on DNA analyses of bacterial swabs from 21 bodies at various stages of decomposition. They used a “machine learning” approach to develop an algorithm equating microbial composition to time since death.
Team leader Nathan Lents said while it was a proof-of-concept study, the results had exceeded expectations.
“In a few years we’ll have a good idea of how to use this in forensic applications,” said Professor Lents, a molecular biologist with City University of New York. Recent research has uncovered links between the microbiome and Parkinson’s disease, bowel cancer, mental illness and autism, with microbes in the gut even harvested for new antibiotics.
Professor Lents said existing methods of determining time of death were accurate to within about six hours for the first two days after life.
From then on they mainly depended on analyses of insects in dead bodies, yielding “solid guesses” that often ranged over a few days.
“Beyond a week, no one really trusts the methods,” he said.
The new approach could estimate time of death to within about two days, even after four weeks of decomposition.
Microbiome analysis could also supply information such as a victim’s drug use, “even when the traces of the drug itself are long gone”.
He said it could possibly help determine cause of death or provide insights into places victims had recently visited.
In a study published last month, Californian researchers showed microbes on people’s mobile phones could be used to help identify their owners.
Queensland’s small-town battlers feel disempowered, disillusioned and angry as hell. Sound familiar?
The Weekend Australian 17 Dec 2016 By Trent Dalton
The chain has snapped on Russell Roberts’ work trike and Malcolm Turnbull’s gonna have to pay. The chain snapped because Roberts was pedalling his heavily modified black tricycle under too much pressure, towing a cart holding a line trimmer, three five-litre cans of petrol, a pair of wicket keeper’s pads and a Masport Utility 460 lawnmower. “Dirty Jobs R Us,” the cart states. “Lawnmowing, odd jobs, yard clean ups, free quotes.” The cart’s rear end bears a personalised plate that Roberts would like to fix above the entry doors to Parliament House, Canberra. “RUTED” the plate reads.
Prick of a day. Blazing Queensland sun. Snapped trike chain. The Masport clapped out three times this morning during a five-hour job that paid a grand total of $50. Five hours of hard sweat and throbbing lower back pain, all for a pineapple, almost a dollar for every one of his 49 years on this contemptible continent. Now that smug and carefree little green man in the traffic lights on Mary Street is taking his sweet time to wake up. “I’m just sick of all the shit,” Roberts says. He’s not alone.
Roberts once made a solid living fencing, building the endless wire and wood borders that criss-crossed Gympie’s fertile and vast dairy farm industry until deregulation of milk prices, drought and floods forced farms across Queensland’s glorious Wide Bay region to close. He was a builder’s labourer until the builders stopped building. He was a storeman until the stores closed. He packed fruit until the fruit arrived from someplace else. “I built this meself six years ago,” he says, kicking the trike’s front tyre. “Converted a tri-axle pushy to hold all the gear. It’s hard to get any jobs in town here so I decided to do this. There was nothing in town for us to do. I had to do this.”
He pushes his burdened and rusty trike up a hill running across Monkland Street, past Gympie’s Royal Hotel, his face purple as a plum, sweat across his cheeks and his calf muscles and his belly. “What are you sick of exactly?” I ask. “You know, all the f..kin’ shit,” he says. “All this bloody shit facin’ the country.”
I do know. Everybody in Gympie keeps telling me about it. The hard-to-crystallise, harder- to-convey frustrations of a regional Australian town existence. The years of being ignored by city bigwigs and sharp grey suits in Canberra. The unemployment rate across Wide Bay that spiked last year at 14.5 per cent, the worst in Queensland. The lives lived between the cracks of the city’s privileged progressives. The throbbing orb of Australia’s left-behinds, the great and growing mass of the voting discontented filling the voids – all those long-forgotten small-town craters – of political disillusionment. The forgotten people. The voiceless who are finding their voice in rogue leaders raised far outside the Canberra cradle. The immigration policies. The crime. The lack of decency. The lack of national pride. The lack of national direction. The broken bloody trike chain. You know, all the f..kin’ shit.
“All they say in Canberra is they want to reform all this and nothin’ gets done,” Roberts says. Then a thought enters his mind and it lights up his eyes. The first kind ray of sunshine he’s had all day. Just one wish, a fantasy really, that Malcolm Turnbull might fly immediately to Brisbane then hop in a hire car and drive two hours north to Gympie by the Mary River and meet Russell Roberts by the traffic lights on Mary Street and Monkland.
“Let me push that for you, Russ,” he would say. And the Prime Minister would haul this rusted apocalyptic trike utility all the way up that Mary Street hill in the blazing Queensland sun. “Just one day,” Roberts says. “I’ll take his job and he can have mine. I’ll show him how bloody hard my life is.”
The PM would probably have to abandon the trike about five shops up Mary Street, somewhere near the Fancy That Op Shop.
“Yeah,” laughs Roberts. And that thought makes him happy.
Ron Owen says the major parties only represent themselves.
“Oh, they’re not happy here,” says Ron Owen, former president of the Firearms Owners Association of Australia, sitting in his office in Owen Guns sipping from an oversized tea cup marked “The Boss”. “People in Gympie are realising they get no representation with the major parties. The major parties only represent themselves; they don’t represent the people anymore.
He’s visibly buoyed by Brexit; doing his best not to belly laugh with glee over Trump. “Well, we knew beforehand,” he says. “It was across Facebook. There was a change and it didn’t occur this year. Last year it happened, the whole thing began swinging around when there was all these images of millions of Muslims going into Europe. And it probably goes right back to 9/11. You might not be racist but you can’t ignore it. And that’s one of the problems. People are really pissed off with not being able to speak out. But the world is realising if it doesn’t pull its finger out, it’s stuffed.
He walks into a back room. It’s a gallery of sorts where he has arranged his jaw-dropping collection of rifles into wall patterns, weaponry art installations in nautilus shapes, guns moving through time like shells in the undertow. He has a whole display dedicated to early 1900s rural life that only exists now in history books and in the minds of more than a few locals who’d like to go back there.
“Don’t worry about Trump’s wall,” he says. “The wall has to be built up just past Black Mountain somewhere.” And the glint in his eye suggests Owen may only be half-joking with this talk. “The cities have got the numbers, but we’ve got the resources,” he says. “If you built a wall around Brisbane and said, ‘Well, you’re not going to get any more of our electricity because you don’t want our coal because you’re all greenies, so we’ll use the coal out here, and all the oil and all the food and all the resources’, I think it would be good.
“This lot down there in Brisbane, they’re building roof-to-roof ghettos. They’re producing rabbit hutches. They got nothing down there but houses.” He laughs. “And lattes. Lots of lattes.
The real wall, of course, is one of misunderstanding, a deep disconnection in towns like Gympie that the major political parties ignore at their peril. Politicians, like the media, have misread Gympie for decades, Owen says. “You all think we’re rednecks and we’re only two hours from Brisbane,” he tells me. “You’ll be the same. You’ll go back and you’ll turn us into potatoes: ‘Look at what these potato rednecks think’. I’ve had that done so many times.
The town remembers an article by Queensland criminologist Paul Wilson in a 1997 issue of Australian Penthouse in which he described Gympie as “Hell Town”, “the most undesirable place to live in all of Australia, full of hypocrisy, sexual violence, fear, drugs, murder, incest, pack rape, economic stagnation and rabid right-wing gun fanatics”. Locals found the piece so laughable they started to place “Hell Town” bumper stickers on their cars. Adam Martin found the name so irresistible he named his hotrod customising and auto fabrication shop just out of town Hell Town Hotrods. No surprises that people here took a keen interest in the recent trial that found Paul Wilson, 75, guilty on four child sex charges dating back to the 1970s.
Last month, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson walked through Gympie’s streets and was welcomed like royalty. “Thank you,” locals said, despite her having done nothing yet in Gympie to give thanks for. One Nation’s candidate ran third in voting at the last federal election in this LNP seat, but Gympie is just one of at least 10 Queensland seats political analysts say could fall to One Nation in the state election to be held in or before 2018. “Gympie is hers to lose,” Owen says. “They would only be negligent and silly if they didn’t win it. Pauline speaks her mind and she appreciates the problems, even though she’s not been able to do anything about them.
He takes a sip from The Boss cup and adds another thought to that sentence. “As yet,” he says.
Elenka Parkin with three of her kids.
Potatoes. Elenka Parkin is a 38-year-old single mother of five children, aged 19 to four, who can tell you a thing or two about the potatoes in Coles on Nash Street: “$3.50 a kilogram!” she roars. That price scares her. That price makes her worry for the future of her children. She was raised in North Queensland, where she dropped out of school to work on cattle properties in her late teens.
“Gave me a perspective to appreciate farmers,” she says. “We can get a 20kg sack of potatoes up there for five dollars and they have to throw away their produce because they can’t sell it. No one wants to buy local produce. I can get you the best mangoes in Australia and they’re dumped because they don’t go overseas and they don’t go to the local market. Pumpkins, watermelons, lychees, we grab by the uteload for horses in the paddocks because no one wants to buy them.
“We need to get a bit more independent. We have enough cattle, we have enough sheep, we have enough fruit and vegetables ourselves. Why do we need to import all this food?
Parkin is wearing a black T-shirt with the words, “Who cares?” stretched across it. She says that message is more hopeful than nihilistic. Who actually cares anymore? Case in point, a boy she knows who suffers a life-threatening illness that his parents have been managing by desperately raising funds for medical treatments adding up to almost $300,000 a year. “I hand-wrote a letter to Gina Rinehart asking if she could help this family out and she couldn’t,” she says. “And I wondered what happened to the Aussie spirit.
“People don’t like Pauline Hanson’s bluntness but she’ll go well here because we’ve had enough. She understands we’ve been dragged around and taken for granted. We’ll see Turnbull’s shovel, a photo of a brand new shovel about to go into the ground, but has he ever busted arse and dug one of those holes for a living? No.
“Pauline, she’s been through hell and back,” says Audi Small, a 35-year-old Gympie mum of three who works in retail. “She understands me better than anyone in Canberra because she’s been me. She’s been a battler. She could have quit a long time ago but she hasn’t.
“I’m not a racist but a lot of what she says makes sense. We don’t treat our own as well as we treat illegal immigrants. Give poor pensioners a house, you know. Give them food, give them cigarette money and all the luxuries these people are getting. It’s not fair. My mum is 74 and the pension she gets is ridiculous. It’s not enough.”
Audi’s mum, Lillian, is a widow. “She lives next door to me,” Audi says. “She has no super because my dad and her lost a printing business and then my dad passed away from cancer. They lost everything. I remember when Mum went to get the pension. She felt so violated, all the questions they asked. She said she felt like she was begging for money.And she had given back to the country her whole life. I’m not against immigrants, but let’s treat our own well, too. Let’s take care of our own before we embrace everyone else.
A young man named Dylan Thomas Ryan exits Gympie’s Busy At Work apprenticeship and employment centre. “You done?” asks his friend, Maddison Brown, 20. “Yeah,” he says, rubbing his eyes. Dylan’s been looking for concreting work. “If you want to work, you gotta go down to Brisbane and start your own business,” he says. “There’s not a lot of work here, unfortunately.
Maddison points at the concrete footpath. “Yep, all the concretin’s done, see,” she laughs. Dylan rolls his head back, laughing. “No, there’s no buildings going up,” he says. “Every building needs a slab to start on but there’s nothing getting built in this place, mate. And it will stay like that.
“I’m gonna start a business one day,” Maddison says. Dylan asks, “What are you going to do?” That’s a hard one to answer because the only business she’s seen prosper in Gympie is drug dealing. “The game,” she says.
Maddison recently went to jail for 11 months. “Attempted murder,” she says, casually, like she’s talking about what she got for Christmas last year. She was embroiled in a shooting in Caboolture that escalated from a dispute over an outstanding debt and left a victim in an induced coma.
“The industry of drugs is real bad here,” she says. “Ice. It’s not the town, it’s some people in it. Before I went to jail it wasn’t so bad. When I got out, it was like, whoah. How much it had changed was incredible.” Dylan and Maddison don’t know where they’d begin to explain their lives in Gympie to any political leader, local or otherwise. “What leaders, mate?” Dylan says.
Adam Martin, whose customising shop is called Hell Town Hotrods.
Frank Huskisson was raised in Gympie, but moved away to work in the coalmines in Queensland’s Central Highlands. “They closed the mines up there and coal went arse over head and I moved back here 15 years ago,” he says. Huskisson is 60, a father of three. He found work in Gympie as a mechanical fitter. “There was a lot of work when I came but that’s all disappeared in the last 10 years,” he says. “Gympie had a great infrastructure when I grew up here. It was self-sufficient. We had all the dairy farms, all the small crops. Everything has closed down. Half of the south side of Gympie was dairy farms and they’re all subdivided now into five and 10-acre blocks. You can’t make a living out of that, trying to milk a cow. The government’s done nothing to help that.”
“Disillusionment,” says Michael Cordie, 57. “We’re getting disgruntled. We’re heading to change because we’re not stupid. We have values.” Values, says Cordie, like the kind Russell Roberts shows every morning when he wakes up to a day of pushing his cumbersome lawnmower cart through the baking streets of Gympie. Roberts has gone into the Empire Hotel to spend almost a quarter of his day’s pay on a couple of cold beers. His trike is parked by an electricity pole on the footpath outside the pub.
Cordie looks the improvised mobile business over with a smile. He ran a lawnmowing business himself before he retired, with cars and trailers to lug his mowers around the suburbs. “But nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he says of Roberts’ initiative. “If he works it right, he’ll save enough to buy himself a vehicle and he might get ahead.
But he fears Roberts faces bigger problems than a broken trike chain. “Australia feels white-anted out,” he says. “The whole system is ready to collapse.I don’t know where the answer is. The country’s not built on what it used to be built on. That’s a worry. You look at Australia and it’s all pristine on the outside and you go and poke a finger through it and she’s ready to fall over.
Steve Handel with Mickey.
Steve Handel wants to fly back to September 27, 1983. That was the day after Australia won the America’s Cup. Australia was beautiful that day. Australia was great that day. “I was driving coal trucks in Wollongong back then and there was hundreds of us on the road,” he smiles, standing outside the Empire Hotel, his chihuahua Mickey on a leash at his feet. “People were on the footpath as you drove by giving you the thumbs up; they were waving to you because they were that happy.”
The memory is so strong and sacred that it brings tears to his eyes, standing right here on the footpath of Mary Street, cars zipping by. “All the trucks were blowing their horns and car drivers were waving to you. They couldn’t believe it had happened.” Handel shakes his head. “I miss that.
He wants to fly back to 1964, the year he started working, back when a young man could walk into any pub in Australia and find a job. He wonders how he’d go walking into the Empire Hotel this very moment and saying to the crowded public bar, “G’day, I’m an honest hard-working man from Wollongong and I’m lookin’ for work”.
“Ha!” he says. Mickey the chihuahua would be the first to be booted out. “Because there might be some health inspector hiding behind a tree around the corner,” he says. “We’re over-governed. We’re over-regulated. Bureaucracy has gone wild. You can’t do anything. This is a country where they’ll show you how you can’t do it, not how you can do it.Open a shop, start a business, nothing but red tape and regulation. Can’t work a forklift without a ticket, can’t use a chainsaw without a ticket, can’t go up a ladder without a ticket, can’t go in confined spaces without a ticket. Certificates of competency for anything you want to do. I feel claustrophobic in this country.
“Australia is stuck in limbo. We keep changing governments. We keep thinking we’re getting a prime minister that will get us somewhere but we’re still just in limbo. We’re going nowhere.
Elenka Parkin feels the same. “We need to bring back the Aussie spirit,” she says. Audi Small agrees. “I want to go back to the way it was when I grew up in the 1980s,” she says. “We had it good. We really did.”
That might well be straight-up nostalgia. That might be rose-tinted spectacles but it’s a strong feeling they all share. They don’t know what exactly they want in a leader but they want someone to bring that old Australia back. They want someone to make Australia great again.
Whilst its tragic that so many people feel left behind, the issue is we can’t go back…we need to find a way forward. These towns out in the middle of very inhospitable country are terrible places to exist. I’ve lived in a few as a boy. Some of the points the people make in the story do hold water, but we need to meet in the middle.
We can’t shut down globalism, it has kept the world safe since World War Two, well in relative terms. We need to decentralise the cites, and build high speed rail. And for those who say it’s too expensive, or too hard…there is no other choice apart from the collapse of Oz. It doesn’t have to be done all at once, but it does need to happen…this would would act as a slow release and get some of these people left behind into jobs. We also need to start thinking about reeducation, and expanding into the jobs of the future…all the high tech stuff that is coming on-line, and which Oz is being left behind on. Most of the people in this article would need to be reeducated for the jobs of the future, and again this would act as a slow release.
Finally we need to redefine the concept of existence, i.e. getting a job and working all our lives because this is about to all change due the coming robotics age. We need to teach creativity, so people can add to society in other ways, culture now is more important than ever…and not the sort of cringe stuff that Oz did in the past…it wont past muster in the globalised world, we need to look back to Europe and The Romantics, along with The Modernists and borrow to create something new. It can still have an Oz flavour but this new cultural renaissance needs to be visionary like the two aforementioned movements, not fearful like Oz culture was in the past of Oz’s place in the world.
We need steel, vision and courage now…and whilst I cringe somewhat at the ill-informed opinions of people in this story, we can’t leave anyone behind.
Every time I read a story like this, I think of the prosperous cities in the dry hot inland deserts of America. Like Phoenix and Las Vegas.
Australia’s press looks down on anybody who does not live in the coastal cities, as though they are dead-beat no-hopers. Useless, Not intelligent. What a massive waste. Its as though any money spent inland is a patronising gift from the coastal elite.
The inland and its people are a massive resource that is going to waste, because of the blind ignorance of the law-makers. Unless a few people like Pauline can make some progress, we will wake up one day, and the inland will belong to those who CAN see its potential. Those people may not be Australians.
Whatever is the matter with our journalists? Why are they not reporting the country’s real problems?.
Our country is bleeding and we used to be very good at quick decisive action to at least enlighten people So help could be forthcoming. Or at least ways around the problem.
. Now the more everyone is engrossed in seeing how many likes journos have achieved on Facebook, twitter etc The less the real country seems to matter to an entire mudswamp of people.
This is not just a problem for America.
Our National Party, has become too silent, too compliant, too politically correct for anyone’s good including their own.
Of course if Pauline selects people with very good communicative skills, who are prepared to stick to their ideals and clearly state what they hope to achieve at the beginning, they will no doubt be the new spokespeople for the areas, most adversely affected by sheer neglect.
The Liberal Party should lift its game in the country, There may well be some very good people who are being ignored. Journalists should take stock of what, insignificant relics they became to Americans when it mattered. That never should be forgotten? by them.
The day that truth died in America coming from Journalists. The day of the truthful reporting of situations, where help is needed, appears to be obsolete in too many quarters..
@BarbaraOur reporters are in unions. That’s the first point. Secondly, granny knickers have more impact than grannies dying. Celebraties will always come first, however the Oz did report the NG tsunami. Where have we gone wrong? Government as we knew it changed when Rudd was knifed by Shorten and Gillard was dropped in his spot. When the election was held, the moral fibre of this country and the respect for our political parties went downhill when three, Oakshott, Windsor and Wilkie gave Gillard the leadership of this country. This was an opportunity for the minor parties and independants to barter and win changes that brought nothing but spending on waste. Our debt soared,Gillard introduced another burden on this country with the carbon tax, illegal migrants stormed into this country, drownings at sea were a regular occurrence and the people of Australia couls see we had lost control of our borders and lost total control with spending.
Further respect for our politicians was lost on another knifing with Gillard deposed and Rudd reinstated. It was too late, the damage was done and the credibility and respect for parliament and its members zeroed. Then we had the election where Abbott took the LNP to an outstanding victory. However, he introduced a tough budget to get the deficit reduced and was howled down and Abbott was rolled by the press and a bunch of gutless party members who placed Turnbull at the top. This was a major blow to the country, a toothless waffler leading the country who took the country to an election and lost the super majority Abbott had won.
Throughout all of the past eight years, dumb politician after dumb politician has failed in leadership and doing what Australia does best…rely on its country folk to bring home the bacon. Exports of sheep, wool, beef, cattle, grains, fruit, vegetables etc etc. are the staples that the world needs, food and more food. But no, we allow our vast areas of arable land to be decimated by tax free multi-nationials that are ripping the guts out of the country.
Pauline Hanson may not be the smooth talking, articulate person like Turnbull, or the sneaky, union promoting, Shorten, but she is listening to the people and that’s more than those other two usurpers.
The common theme in so many of these stories about people who are disillusioned or fed up or angry, etc., is that it is the all the fault of someone else. They expect the Government to fix everything – to give them the lives they want.
Not a lot of self-sufficiency or taking personal responsibility going on. And their answer seems to be to vote in independents or minor parties who by definition cannot implement any real change – they can just keep getting in the road and cause the sort of non-achieving governments that they so dislike.
@Chris The people may be in part responsible for the circumstances they find themselves in, however the answer is NOT SSM, reduction of so-called greenhouse gasses, a back-packer tax, Safe Schools and any other rubbish the latte set like to chatter about and that Malcolm and Bill like to argue about. These people need encouragement to help themselves, not government handouts that LibLab love to handout with other peoples money (hard working-tax payers). We need some leaders like Trump who can give people HOPE!
@martin If you’re interested, why don’t you look the immigration numbers up on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website, martin? It’s no secret, it’s all there in black and smudge under item 3412.0 – Migration, Australia. The statistics on 457 Visas are published each and every quarter by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
The real numbers are readily and publicly available.
If Elenka is keen on reviving the Aussie spirit perhaps she could make a contribution by paying due respect for the Australian flag. Draping the flag upside down over the fence with part of the Southern Cross obscured is highly disrespectful. The upper hoist or canton, the Union Jack in the case of our flag, should always be uppermost and to the left, regardless of whether the flag is draped vertically or flown horizontally.
Our flag is significantly more than a prop for a photo.
@Ian More to the point, are you? Do you think the Australian flag is just a bit of cloth to be dragged out any which way? I don’t. Do you think that flag hangs over the back fence or did they drag it out to make some sort of misguided point?
And exactly what is “the issue“, mate, that takes precedence over respect for our nation’s flag? A bloke who no sooner gets $50 in his hands but he’s off to the pub? A single mum who doesn’t know the actual price of spuds at her local supermarket? A town pining for the good ole days?
@Mick You have the same problem as the politicians, you see the flag, but you don’t see the issue. At least it is an Australian flag and not an ISIS one. The majority of the flag, the Union Jack, most of the Southern Cross is there and it is not on the ground, so let’s look at the issue and not some point scoring.
@John Well, short of time travel, John, no we can’t go back to the good old days; they’re long gone and they’re not coming back. Do you think they are?
And since you ask, no, John, I’m not from the Labor Party. I’d suggest that someone from the Labor Party would be falling all over this story, wringing their hands and calling for immediate government subsidies and grants of all descriptions in the interest of saving people from the consequences of their own poor decisions.
@Ian Ian, I volunteer with a community services organisation that helps people 24/7. I work on a regular basis with people in need, I’ll be there on Christmas day doing just that, so save your exhortations about opening my eyes and heart.
As an ex-serviceman, what I object to is having the Australian flag dragged out like a cheap prop just to Aussie-up a photo to get a bit more sympathy.
Opening your eyes and your heart is all well and good but you need to balance that with your head, mate.
Go One Nation! The sooner you get the balance of power in the State Parliaments and the Federal Parliament, the better this country will be. Word of caution Ms Hanson, spend the time to ensure candidates are thoroughly vetted and are of good calibre because that will be your Achilles Heal.
We had a One Nation State Parliamentarian here in Gympie once , that lasted until she fell out with her party and ran again as an Independent . Never heard of again .
As much as I agree with some of Ms Hanson’s ideas I have absolutely no faith that she can corral a bunch of malcontents into a party that actually works. Just look at the clown from Western Australia she endorsed and now fights with and multiply that ten times.
@Douglas That’s what was said about Brexit and Trump. Do you honestly think this country will elect the union loving thug or the waffler who wants to be hugged? It may not be just PH, however, NXP and his troops could also make a difference.
Why do we need to spend billions on subs?
Why are we closing down the cheapest form of energy?
Why aren’t we escalating the development of the food bowl?
One Nation and the NXP have interests in these issues.
I’m not from a small town and I’m as mad as hell too. After six years of university study I worked as a professional software engineer for over thirty years. After more than four years of looking I have been unable to secure full time work. I have had some work but a long way from full time. I believe my situation is due to my age, I am over 50, and the governments policies on immigration. Allowing 10000 ICT workers into Australia last year on 457 visas is a scandal.The claimed shortage of ICT workers is a nonsense. The 457 visa holders will work for a lot less. I know other people with a similar background who are having a similar experience. In addition one third of computer science graduates have been unable to find full-time work. I know many engineers in the same boat. It does make you wonder why the government is pushing STEM so hard when it is clearly trying to destroy those careers. I’d recommend those who are attending university next year to avoid STEM and seek careers in the medical industry or perhaps property development. Not exactly top export earners for Australia but if the government doesn’t care what should individuals.
@John@John Sorry to hear about your employment problems, John, but let’s try to keep the debate on a factual basis. There were only 6,880 Information, Media and Telecommunications 457 visa holders working in Australia as at the last Subclass 457 quarterly report (not 10,000!); they represent about 15% of all 457 visas issued. The Average nominated total remuneration for primary applications granted in 2015-16 to 30 June 2016 for Information, Media and Telecommunications 457 visa positions was $91,300, that’s 1.6 times the median starting salary for Computer Sciences bachelor degree graduates, so it’s a bit hard to see how 457 visa workers are taking jobs from recent graduates.
The employment rates for bachelor degree graduates in civil, electrical, electronic, mechanical and mining engineering are all significantly better than computer science graduates; only aeronautical amd chemical engineering graduates have employment prospects that are on par with computer science graduates.
Anyone pursuing a career these days needs to be cognisant of their own capabilities and motivations, the growth and development prospects of their preferred career path and, perhaps most importantly, the locational dependence associated with their choice.
The following figures come from a report titled Immigration Overflow : Why it matters by tapri.
17185 ICT workers on both 457 visas and permanent for 2015-2016.
Source: Department of Trade, visas issued data, 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16; Department of Immigration and Border Protection, 2015-16 (BE 10296.01)
According to the ABS, the average Australian salary for full-time non-managerial employees in professional level IT occupations in 2014 was around $100,000.3 For the 5,722 of the total of 7,329 who were Indian nationals in these two occupations in 2014-15, the salary level was very low. Some 61.4 per cent had a nominated base salary below $70,180 — some $30,000 below average ITprofessionals’ salaries (see Appendix I).
A quick look on an online employment website shows over 100 job vacancies paying up to $85,000 a year in and within 80 kilometres of Gympie. Among the vacancies are casual Parks Labourers earning $25 per hour (Russell might be interested but he probably couldn’t go to the pub for a couple of coldies whenever he felt like it), wait staff at local cafes, sorters at the local rubbish tip, cooks assistants, carers and care support workers.
And you can get a 2 kg pack of Red Royale Washed Potatoes at the Coles in Gympie for $4.50; that’s less than the price of one regular Big Mac meal down the road at McDonald’s.
Get back to me when you’ve taken some of the people that figure in the story for a couple of job interviews, gone shopping with Elenka to see what she buys for the kids and had Ron Owen explain how he’s managed to run a gun shop employing three staff if things are so tough in Gympie. Or better still have any one of them tell you what Pauline is going to do to improve their lot.
@Mick In my experience a lot of jobs that are advertised do not exist, agencies place them to collect resumes. Even if the jobs do exist if there are 100 applicants Russell is unlikely to be successful because of his age. I do not believe there is enough work for everyone who wants it. Your assumptions are totally demeaning, Russell is obviously trying to make the best of a bad situation and he should be given credit for that.
@John Yeah, sure, there’s a booming market in collecting resumes for unskilled park labourers. I’ve made no assumptions, demeaning or otherwise, I’ve just stated some facts; inconvenient ones if you want to believe the “poor me” story of “Rum Pig” (that’s his “personalised” plate) Russell working for beer money.
@Mick@John there is a market for resumes… they get binned if they think you are totally unstable and might be kept on file for 6 months if they think you might be useful.. then it’s delete time and no one calls you. You have to be constantly calling them.
Had few tell me there are no jobs it’s almost Xmas, then they advertise … replies from them that client specific.. which means 18-22, preferably traveler.
they need money you see to stay in Straya… no one gives a damn that you have bills and need to eat.
@Anna Yeah, sounds like you’re describing the way most people go about finding a job, Anna. They get off their coit, go looking and chase jobs down; they don’t expect the Job Fairy to sprinkle some magic dust and have employers come looking for you.
Yes, reality check, you do have to have to be constantly calling them. And, well sorry, but we’ve all got bills and need to eat – that’s not going to get you into the priority queue.
@Greg Oh, of course, how silly of me. I guess that the statistic that well over a quarter of people who are placed in new roles nominate “Advertisement on the internet” as the means by which they found out about the role is fake as well.
Well two of my kids went for their first jobs in rural Australia this year and it was frankly too easy. A lot easier than I remember and paying over $25 hr for junior untrained labour with as much overtime as is legal. Still the companies cannot get enough starters.