Professor Gillian Triggs has my confidence, Tony

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has claimed that Human Rights Commissioner Professor Gillian Triggs had lost the confidence of the government and had lost the confidence of the Australian people.

President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs

President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs

That’s pretty rich coming from men who has a 75% disapproval rating in the Australian electorate. And how does a man who is so hopelessly out of touch with most Australians come to this conclusion?

From the attacks on Prof Triggs in the Senate committee, is quite clear that the head-kickers in the government are trying to frame the report from the Human Rights Commission as a matter of confidence (with the implication of political bias and possibly incompetence) rather than simply a message that is politically unacceptable to the current government.

The bully-boy actions of Attorney-General George Brandis and his sidekick Senator Barry O’Sullivan in the select committee are disgraceful.

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It is difficult to understand what political advantage the government thinks it can get from attacking the a Human Rights Commission.   What it does shows is that they are extremely sensitive to criticism of their record on children in detention.

It looks very much like the last-ditch attempts of desperately unpopular and isolated Prime Minister to curry some favour in the party room or in the electorate.

 Tony Abbott has a few things to say about Jillian Triggs

Tony Abbott has a few things to say about Jillian Triggs

However, it is likely that the vast proportion of the Australian population doesn’t care much about this specific issue. Those who do understand will be absolutely appalled.

But it gets worse. It appears that the government, through the Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, Chris Moraitis, may have offered Prof Triggs an inducement to stand down as commissioner. Quite rightly, she refused.

Just imagine the political mileage that Abbott and Brandis would have made had she accepted the offer. “A clear indication of her acceptance  of the fact that she has lost the confidence of the government etc etc etc” you can hear them say.

So what we have here is yet another dismal chapter in the slow but inevitable decline of someone who may well go down in history as Australia’s worst Prime Minister.

God, the Law, Gay Rights and Islamic Terrorism in Alabama

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, Roy Moore decided to defy a federal court judge who ruled Alabama’s stance on gay marriage was unconstitutional by directing Alabama judges not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Judge In 2001 Moore was elected to the office of Chief Justice saying the state of Alabama established justice by “invoking the favour and guidance of Almighty God”. He was later removed from the position for various traditional indiscretions  one of which included installing a two-and-a-half ton stone tablet of the Ten Commandments installed in the central rotunda of the Supreme Court building.

So much to the separation of church and state.

He was re-elected in 2012.

After his stance on gay marriage all crazy people came out from underneath their rocks.

The evangelist preacher Cindy Adams told her flock that God had told her that He was using Alabama as a tool in his fight against Satan. “God says, ‘There will be an anointing come out of Alabama that is going to reserve the judicial activism that has been in this nation,” she explained. “God says. ‘And I’m going to use Alabama to reverse what Satan has done and it will tip the nation.'”

A Mississippi Ku Klux Klan outfit staged a rally and issued a statement in Moore’s support. “The Mississippi Klan salutes Alabama’s chief justice Roy Moore, for refusing to bow to the yoke of Federal tyranny,” Brent Waller, the UDKW’s imperial wizard wrote. “The fudge packers from Hollywood and all major news networks are in shock that the good people from the heart of Dixie are resisting their Imperialist, Communist Homosexual agenda!”

Erick Erickson, the blogger recently named by the Atlantic magazine as the most powerful  the conservative in America, wrote a piece explaining the parallels between gay rights activists and Islamic terrorists.

Erick Erickson links gay marriage to Islamic terrorism

Erick Erickson links gay marriage to Islamic terrorism

Moore argues that “the basic problem in our country has been distancing God from our country and our laws. And you can’t do that. If you do that, you must say that rights and freedoms come not from God, but from Man. If you say they come from Man they will be taken away.”

When you look at these views, it becomes clear why social progress is so difficult in the conservative states of America. It is impossible to argue with people like Roy Moore, Cindy Adams   (who speaks directly to God), Brent Waller or Erick Erickson, because there is no logic or intellectual structure behind their views.  It’s just a series of assertions normally based either on speaking directly to God or on highly subjective or implausible interpretations of the scriptures.

The United States Supreme Court is set to rule on a gay marriage case sometime before June, settling the issue nationally once and for all. Legal observers expect them to declare it illegal for states to reserve marriage for heterosexual couples. Moore concedes that if it does he will be bound by the decision.

The good thing is that ultimately the rule of law does prevail.

Our minister for international embarrassment and diplomatic head kicking

In an article in The Age today Waheed Ali points out the difficulties of Tony Abbott’s latest ham-fisted and ill-timed incursion into international diplomacy.

At the heart of Abbott’s outburst was an assertion that Indonesia should in some way reciprocate for Australia’s $1b aid contribution following the tsunami by granting some clemency to Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.  This undermines the whole concept of giving aid in the face of humanitarian tragedy. It also adds to the perception that is widely held in Indonesia that Australia is an international and diplomatic bully boy.

What Abbott is saying is “We will give you aid when you need it but we expect a pay back down the track.”  Worse still, he is saying  “We will choose the time and the size of the payback.”

Indonesia’s diplomatic response has been “no one responds well to threats”  and the new Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsud has described the issue as one of ” law and order.” Hardly promising responses to the Prime Minister.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsud

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsud

This is a significant problem for Australian efforts for clemency for the two prisoners. There seems to be widespread support within Indonesia for the execution of drug smugglers and for Indonesian President Joko Widod to grant clemency, he’s going to be able to do so without losing a significant amount of political skin.

 Indonesian President Joko Widodo

Indonesian President Joko Widodo

Granting clemency has the immense downside of making him look weak on law and order and granting clemency to Australian drug dealers may be particularly unpopular amongst Indonesian public.

He may now be seen to be giving in to threat is from a nearby neighbour. There are significant political downsides, and almost no political upside, for him in granting clemency.

Another real problem for Abbott is that the Indonesians may now anchor responsibility for the execution of  Chan and Sukumaran back to his threats.

The problem for Australia  (and for Chan and Sukumaran and the considerable team of people working on their behalf) is having a Prime Minister whose main skill, apart from sledging, is head-kicking. Abbott’s sole reaction to the world around him is to fight.

His strategy for dealing with the Senate in 2015 is informative “We won’t pick fights with the Senate that we cannot win.” It’s not a matter of negotiating, consulting in compromising, its always a matter of fighting.

 Tony Abbott: everything is a fight

Tony Abbott: everything is a fight

So, his response to the Indonesian situation is to come out swinging, to the immense dismay of the people who have been negotiating with the Indonesians over an extended period of time.  Foreign Minister Julie Bishop must be furious with the new  “consultative and collegiate” Tony Abbott, after all this is her portfolio and Abbott shouldn’t be interfering.

 Julie Bishop will probably  a few words to say to Tony Abbott

Julie Bishop will probably a few words to say to Tony Abbott

Where is Peter Credlin when you need her?

  "Tony just stay out of it. Okay?"

“Tony just stay out of it. Okay?”

When I was in Jakarta some years ago, there was an interesting and informative diplomatic showdown between the World Bank and the Indonesian government over the disappearance of some billions of dollars in foreign aid. Clearly, the Indonesian government was embarrassed by this but the World Bank did not sink the boots in. There are a series of very delicately phrased staging  posts that de-escalated the situation and allowed a diplomatic compromise to be negotiated that did not lead to the Indonesian government losing face.

When you look carefully at the strategy that was being used to save Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran it follows the same pattern.

Rather than an outright confrontation, there is widespread public and diplomatic pressure being exerted through Christian and Muslim leaders, Australian jurors, Australian government diplomats, the families of the two prisoners and a wide range of demonstrations of public sympathy within Australia.

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher, the Grand Mufti, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad of the Australian National Imams Council and cleric Hassan Elsetohy

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher, the Grand Mufti, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad of the Australian National Imams Council and cleric Hassan Elsetohy

All this would be to no avail without the critical ingredient of a series of diplomatic staging post that allow the Indonesian government t retreat to a position other than execution. These staging posts need to be small, progressive and persistent, allowing a series of concessions that appear reasonable and don’t involve losing face.

The first of these was to suggest that there may have been some administrative mistakes made in the processing of their case. Significantly this was followed by a decision to delay the removal of the two prisoners to the island where they would be executed. So the process appeared to be working.

What Abbott has done is to disrupt the strategy completely by reducing everything to a win lose situation.

This is the new collegiate and consultative Tony Abbott. He is clearly not consulting with his colleague Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and he may have undermined the best efforts of a group of dedicated people who wish to save these two foolish young men from a barbaric death.

Power costs rising despite Tony Abbott’s promises.

This morning, The Age reported “The number of homes having gas and electricity disconnected has hit staggering levels with more than 58,000 disconnections in one year”

Many people will remember that Prime Minister Tony Abbott assured the nation that with the repeal of the Carbon Tax, electricity bills would come down by roughly $700 per household. But they appear to be going up and disastrously so for some families.

It was a stupid thing to promise in the first place and rates alongside the other stupid things that the Prime Minister has said during his term in office. But is very sad commentary that electricity, which is something we all take for granted in a civilised society, is now beyond the means of the poorest Victorians.

In part, it comes back to the misguided policies of the Kennett government which privatised the provision of the transport, power and water supplies to Victorians.

There was a fundamental misunderstanding of the dynamics of privatisation. Private investors will add a profit margin to the product which the state-owned enterprise did not have to earn.  And the desire for a healthy return on investment leads to continual price increases.

And there’s really no accountability for the politicians like Stockdale and Kennett  whose lack of understanding of the nature of the social contract between the state and the electorate has landed us in this particular mess.

Is greyhound racing still a bloodsport?

There will be predictable outrage over the Four Corners program on the use of live animals as bait in the greyhound industry.   Many people would have found the images presented in the programme sickening.  The use of live animals to encourage greyhounds to chase is likely to be far more widespread than the small number of examples found by the animal rights groups, despite the protestations of the industry.

The program also highlights one of the fundamental paradox is about the greyhound. They are a docile and quite lazy animal and the Greyhound Adoption Programme graduates make wonderful pets. On the coursing track,  they are one of the most efficient killers in the animal kingdom.

The many greyhound owners who play by the rules will probably be horrified, but not surprised, by what was shown in the programme. The reasons for these abuses are historic and systemic. Greyhounds have been used as coursing  (or hunting) dogs from time immemorial.

 Diana that huntress and  her coursing greyhound

Diana that huntress and her coursing greyhound

In mediaeval times, only the aristocrats were allowed to own hunting (or coursing) greyhounds and they would often have competitions to see whose dog was the best courser.  Being the best courser entailed running the game down and killing it. Often large sums of money would change hands on the outcome of these competitions.  This was a time when hunting dogs were used to kill food for their owners.

Over time, these competitions attracted spectators and often large sums of money were wagered on the outcome.  Eventually, coursing was held in a large enclosure where the  greyhounds pursued the hares who were trying to run the course and if possible to stay alive by finding in burrow. A good result was always one where one of greyhounds caught and killed the hare. This form of causing was common throughout Australia in the 19th and early 20th century and continues in Ireland to this day.

Plumpton coursing began in Victoria in 1881

Plumpton coursing began in Victoria in 1881

Greyhound racing in evolved into its modern form: racing around a track. But the fundamental idea of the dogs chasing, and possibly killing, a hare remained.

Two greyhounds coursing a hare. The judge on horseback counted the number of times the dogs turned the hare

Two greyhounds coursing a hare. The judge on horseback counted the number of times the dogs turned the hare

By the mid-1960s, there was public outrage and a concerted campaign by the Truth newspaper and animal liberation groups over the barbaric practices of the greyhound industry.

This led to the Bolte government banning live hare coursing. One of the more abhorrent practices  of the time involved corralling the greyhounds at the end of a race and then throwing a number of live rabbits in for the greyhounds to kill and eat. Young boys were doing a healthy living selling live rabbits to greyhound owners outside the White City racetrack in the 1920s and 1930s.

A flyer for the White City racecourse advertising "live hares under electric lights"

A flyer for the White City racecourse advertising “live hares under electric lights”

The abolition of the use of live animals did not get round the fundamental problem that greyhound is a hunting dog and hunting dogs often kill their prey and will chase hardest at the prospect.

It is obvious that many people continue to think that the best way to train a greyhound to race is to train it to hunt and kill. Despite the ban on the use of live animals in greyhound racing, it has been common practice for many years to “blood” young greyhounds by allowing them a kill on a racetrack. This is done in the belief that makes a greyhound chase harder its race.

There our other fundamental problems that may be impossible to address.

The first is that gambling is endemic in Australia. In a typical year, Australians lose AU$19bn (£12.3bn) betting, with $12bn of that poured into nearly 200,000 poker machines. According to the Economist, Australian adults lose an average of US$1,300 each a year gambling, easily the highest in the world.

The second is that whenever gambling is allowed on sporting events, some form of corruption is not far away.

In Victoria, annual prize money for greyhound racing is just under $40m million and total amount of money spent on wagering is around $500m. With these sums of money, you’d be surprised if there weren’t corruption and chicanery in the industry.

Clearly then needs to be draconian penalties for people caught using live animals to train greyhounds: life suspensions from the industry and prison terms. It will be interesting to see the reaction of the industry and the government to these latest scandals.

 Greyhound Racing Victoria CEO Adam Wallish and  Racing Minister Martin Pakula: this is where the buck stops

Greyhound Racing Victoria CEO Adam Wallish and Racing Minister Martin Pakula: this is where the buck stops

Terrorism and road trauma

Two people were killed in Copenhagan over the weekend in what has been labelled as terrorist attacks.

Later on Sunday, PM Tony Abbott condemned the deaths of people in Denmark during  an attack on a free speech forum saying it “only strengthen[ed] our resolve to combat ISIL, or Daesh, and the evil is represents”.

“The thoughts of all Australians are with the people of Denmark and, in particular, the family of the victim who lost his life and the police officers injured in this brutal act of terror,” Mr Abbott said.

In another incident, two young children have been orphaned in a horror crash that left three dead in Victoria’s west on Sunday.

Yet the Prime Minister was strangely silent on this. Clearly there are no votes in showing sympathy towards children orphaned in road accidents

While road deaths are declining , slightly over 1000 people were killed on our roads last year..

So barring a huge national catastrophe, Australian citizens  a more likely be killed on the roads than in terrorist attacks.

Many Australians will see the the Prime Minister’s comments as shameless scaremongering from a politician completely devoid of any policy ideas for the future of Australia.

Melbourne Rebels’ halfback Nic Stirzaker: I’ve done all the dumb things.

Melbourne Rebels halfback Nic Stirzake was suspended for one match by the SANZAR judiciary on Sunday afternoon on clear evidence that the he “paused and lifted his leg high, before applying a vertical stamp to the groin area” of Crusaders star Richie McCaw.

Now once upon a time, Cooper Quade was the most unpopular player ever to tour New Zealand. Reason: a knee to the head of Richie McCaw, the most revered rugby player in New Zealand history. This cheap shot was not forgotten or forgiven by the New Zealand Rugby public.

But now Nic Stirzake has taken over as Public Villain Number One and you can expect treatment similar to that handed out to Cooper Quade. But it is not the response of the NZ crowds that young Nic should be worried about. Its this:

I’m sure that Richie McCaw is not a vindictive man but he is one of the most ruthlessly efficient and experienced open side flankers that the world has ever seen and personally I wouldn’t want him to come looking for me.

But  it’s Richie’s mates that Nic Stirzake should be worried about.  All big blokes.

Now, if you”re a halfback, and a little bloke, you really don’t want to be involved in gratuitous violence against someone like Richie McCaw.

A sad commentary on Australia’s political leadership

It is becoming quite clear that there needs to be by bi-partisan  local and multi-lateral  international agreement  to make progress on the problem of global climate change.

The bitter political division in Australia over climate change has come under fire after Britain’s three main parties made an extraordinary joint commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions, including ending power generation from high-emitting coal plants.

There are now signs that the international consensus is beginning to emerge. Recent agreements between the US and China at the G-20 meeting are an indication of the beginning of international agreement and the British Parliament is beginning the process towards  national agreement on climate change.

It’s a sad commentary that the closest that Australia got to this agreement was when Malcolm Turnbull, as leader of the Opposition, proposed bi-partisan support for climate change legislation. The Liberal party made it quite clear what it thought of this particular idea by electing Tony “climate change is crap” Abbott as their leader.

If we are going to solve issues like climate change will be through consensus, negotiation and agreement.

Which means it pretty much going to be impossible in Australia.

Leopards, spots and Scott Morrison

A news report in The Age states “New  Social Services Minister Scott Morrison shows his colours.”

This is the new warm and cuddly Scott Morrison who want to avoid  “combat” in his new portfolio. His aim, he says is  ” to inspire young people and get them to “engage” with the workforce.”

 Scott Morrison: Get out there and engage with the work force (and get a haircut)

Scott Morrison: Get out there and engage with the work force (and get a haircut)

This indicates that Morrison sees the problem as being “young people”. He clearly does not see the fact that unemployment rates, and in particular youth unemployment rates, are the highest for 13 years ( when, apparently Tony Abbott was Minister for Employment).

This is only one step away from the “dole bludgers” argument  and is a continuation of the constant demonising of minority groups in Australian society by members of the Abbott government.

Wouldn’t it be great if Morrison stood up and said “What we need to do, as a government, is to stimulate the economy to a point where all young people who wish to have a job are able to find employment.”

But that would mean shouldering some of the responsibility for the political and economic situation in Australia and Abbott has made it quite clear that “good government begins today” does not involve accepting responsibility.

Tony Abbott’s response to declining popularity

It was so predictable that was laughable. In the face of declining popularity in the opinion polls and a backbench revolt leading to a spill motion, Tony Abbott came out swinging.

Our problem is national security said Abbott on a YouTube video

“It’s clear to me, that for too long, we have given those who might be a threat to our country the benefit of the doubt.

There’s been the benefit of the doubt at our borders, the benefit of the doubt for residency, the benefit of the doubt for citizenship and the benefit of the doubt at Centrelink.

 Tony Abbott: You want to find terrorists? Just go down to Centrelink  or to a citizenship ceremony.

Tony Abbott: You want to find terrorists? Just go down to Centrelink or to a citizenship ceremony.

The underlying assumptions of this message are extremely concerning. In effect, Abbott is saying our problem lies with immigrants, people have just received citizenship and people who are receiving Centrelink payments. These are the people we need to be keeping under surveillance and who pose a threat to the safety and security of Australians.

The technique of isolating and demonising a group in society and then blaming them for society’s ills has been used to terrible effect of the past. The examples are too numerous and horrendous to list.

Local and international opinion is turning against Abbott.

The Washington Post says Tony Abbott is becoming “one of the world’s most hated PMs”

The US Council on Foreign Relations ranks Abbott as  “the most incompetent leader of any industrialised democracy”

And clearly a large proportion of this parliamentary colleagues don’t think much of him either.

But his pathetic attempts to shore up his popularity by appearing to be strong on “national security” and demonising minority groups in Australian society will ultimately have a hugely detrimental and divisive effect on the social relations that are fundamental to the well-being and safety of all Australians.