Fear, Refugees and Ranjini – Please Explain
How is it that in Australia 2013 a pregnant woman who has committed no crime finds herself in detention?
If you are reading this the chances are you know her name is Ranjini, you know she is pregnant and due to give birth any moment, you know that in detention with her are her two young sons, you know that she has been found to be a refugee (yes, a “genuine” one), you know that she is married to Ganesh and you know that one day they picked up the boys from Mill Park Primary School for a meeting that resulted in Ranjini and the Boys being taken to Villawood Detention Centre where they remain. Ganesh was given just five minutes to say goodbye – “We were happy and the kids were even happier … we wanted to start new life with hope. But now we are shocked…We are separated. There has been too much pain before. Are we going to be put through the same pain in Australia as well?”
And today at this very moment a woman 9 months pregnant and her two little boys are kept out of our community because despite her being found to be a refugee, ASIO says she is a threat to our National Security. We do not know why, we can only guess that it is because her now deceased first husband MAY have been a driver for a Tamil separatist. Guilt by association with no right to appeal, no innocence before guilt and no way of knowing the evidence used.
I want you to look at the picture above you, imagine Ranjini 9 months pregnant, expecting to go into labour at any moment. Imagine her two young son both under the age of 10, imagine them behind the wire separated from Ganesh, who cannot comfort his pregnant wife as she is about to give birth. Now ask yourself this, Do I fear Ranjini? Because ASIO says you should, they say she is a threat to our National Security and nobody, not even Ranjini herself can know why! How is it that a nation like ours, with the decades of peace and prosperity we have enjoyed, an economy the envy of the world and a society the melting pot of so many cultures can be afraid of one woman and her little kids?
The common wisdom goes that the most recent history of fear of refugees goes back to the 2001 election and the cynical manipulation of the Tampa and Children Overboard affairs by the then Government of John Howard. But for the fear of refugees to bite hard enough just weeks out from an election John Howard needed people already afraid that could be tipped over the edge into a state of panic that saw facts lost along with lives. Australian federal elections are generally decided by just a few percentage points nationwide and while appealing to the worst aspects of the swing voter may or may not work a group of people already living in irrational fear were a much surer bet.
To find this group of people we only need to go back to 1996 when newly elected MP Pauline Hanson used her maiden speech to state “I and most Australians want our immigration policy radically reviewed and that of multiculturalism abolished. I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians”. Race politics and the fear of the refugees was ignited again in Australian politics and the easily afraid, particularly on the conservative side of politics, found a new home in Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party. Hanson of course was so short of knowledge on the issue that when asked on 60 Minutes if she was xenophobic, she famously replied, “please explain?” Here was an individual elected to the Federal Parliament with no understanding of the issue other than she felt afraid, for no good reason, and she was laying the blame at the feet of immigration. It seems she wasn’t the only one afraid, fear of Asian immigration and other ludicrous and ill-informed views gained Hanson and her party 1 million votes in the House of Reps. and Senate at the 1998 election.
The Howard Government had seen it coming and then Minister and now Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott set out to destroy Hanson. Not for any love of those Hanson vilified, but to destroy a political opponent who had taken away the base of fearful voters so important at tight elections. Abbott set up a slush fund ironically called “Australians for Honest Politics Trust” and set about ripping One Nation apart from the inside. He says it was intended to expose the misuse of election funds but would later concede the political threat of One Nation was “a very big factor”. It worked, One Nation started to unravel and leading into the 2001 election One Nation voters (1 Million strong) were looking for a new home. Full of fear, mistrust of boat people and those who supported their rights, like a bucket set to overflow the fear spilled over with the arrival of MV Tampa and the Children who were not in fact thrown overboard. But fear needs no facts and in an election Howard was set to lose half of One Nation’s million strong voters joined Howard to narrowly defeat the Beazley led ALP. The One Nation voters had been more than enough to make the difference, Tony Abbott’s efforts had been rewarded and a decade later a nation still so ill-informed, with racism at the edges and cowardly politics still at play a woman named Ranjini will give birth to a baby in detention because our nation is still afraid.
In 1933 with the depression ravaging America, a quarter of the population unemployed, confidence stripped from the economy and Hitler recently appointed Chancellor of Germany, newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt used his inauguration speech to tell a frightened nation “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The very next day he called a bank holiday and allowed the nation to exhale, he summoned an emergency sitting of Congress and set about reshaping the American economy and dragging them out of the depression. He would hold “fireside chats” communicating directly to the American people in a calm manner via the radio his message of just how he was going to rescue the country. He came to office with 25% unemployment, a devastated economy, a Germany led by Hitler and the campaign song Happy Days Are Here Again. He died in office having served his nation for 12 years as President, the economy was booming, unemployment was below 2% and Hitler’s Nazi Germany was finished!
When a crisis arrives, even a perceived, one a leader has a choice to make. Exploit it for political gain as Australian political leaders have come to do on the Refugee issue or sit their people down, calm the flames and set about guiding their nation back to Happy Days. From his first day in office FDR chose to be a real leader, for Ranjini to live free with her husband and children we need the same in Australia. We will protest, we will write letters, make telephone calls and we will organise. But whether Ranjini’s baby is born free or destined to a life of uncertainty behind bars requires simply that ours leaders lead. Otherwise they too can only answer are you Xenophobic and we can only answer why an innocent pregnant woman is detained, with please explain!
*edit* Ranjini has now given birth to a baby boy Paartheepan (16/01/2013)
Carbongeddon, Clean Energy and an Electric God
Tomorrow the World will end! Australia is putting a price on the carbon contained in hydrocarbon fuels such as coal, petroleum and natural gas. $23 a tonne of emissions on 294 organisations that emit 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide or the equivalent in greenhouse gases. And if you believe Tony Abbott that means Carbongeddon will destroy Australia and probably be the end of the world. Town’s like Whyalla are believe to be the first to sink beneath the earth with the rest of us to follow.
But I don’t believe Tony Abbott, I find him to be a man of limited ideas, fewer policies and a desire to wreck the place if he can’t run it. I think both you and I will wake up just fine tomorrow and go about our regular Sunday routine. With the added plus of knowing Australia has taken a bold step in reducing pollution and doing our part in protecting the planet. I will leave the economics to those far more qualified (I struggle to even get my taxes right) and leave the politics to the politicians.
The goals of the Government are these – Firstly, the establishment of a carbon price. Secondly, support for renewable energy. Thirdly, to support improvements in energy efficiency. And fourthly, to store carbon through changed land-use practices.
The second and the third of these are to me the most exciting, it fires in my belly something we can all relate to and promote the one thing that is guaranteed to create jobs and build a sustainable economy. Innovation!
Aussies are an innovative bunch by nature, from the Hills Hoist to the Victa Lawn Mower we have found ways to do things in a more efficient way. But we also do it in our every day lives, from the Ancient Indigenous Axe head recently found that was over 35000 years old shaped from a simple stone to the coat hanger aerial in the shape of our nation we find a way to solve our daily problems by thinking outside the square and having a little fun with it too.
Transport is obviously a key area that must be addressed in reducing pollution and finding more energy efficient ways of moving around. From Gas to the newer Hybrid vehicles like the Australian built Camry or the world renowned Hipster car the Prius technology for moving around has become greener and cleaner.
But for many these cars are boring, they still use petrol (at a lesser rate than a conventional vehicle) and thus don’t really solve the long term problem. Hydrogen is an exciting prospect but the technology is still in its relative infancy before it could be mass produced, although in the long term it is one of the best solutions. Electric vehicles are another excellent alternative as they offer the chance to reduce running emissions to virtually nil when charged by renewable power such as Solar, Wind, Wave etc.
But what if I told you about the potential for a vehicle that NEVER needed to be recharged or refueled, no gas, no petrol, no emissions and no pollution at all. And to further sweeten the deal this was no boring vehicle with all the sex appeal of a Dunlop Volley, this was a race machine, that looked amazing and left most vehicles in its… well sheer lack of smoke!
The Mugen Shinden (Electric God) is a vehicle with such a potential. Mugen a Japanese company founded by the son of Mr Honda of automotive fame is known for its innovation and now with the Shinden they have entered the clean energy future. This particular bike was raced at this years Isle of Man TT in the electric bike race and took a close second with TT legend John McGuiness on board. Lapping the famous mountain course at an average speed of 160km/h this is not for the faint hearted. But what makes this bike different to the winner of the race and other electric bikes is its ability to recharge its batteries on the go. So how does it do it, mobile fuelling station, Jerry can strapped to the back of the rider? No the Shinden captures the energy created when braking and then regenerates it into usable power to top up the batteries. While far more powerful and complicated, think of it as you would your car’s alternator charging up your battery. Imagine if you only filled up your tank as often as you replaced your battery!
Producing 120hp and a huge amount of torque as soon as the throttle is cracked this engine could power small and medium cars and as Mugen engineers told me during the week of the TT the engine is only working at 40% of its potential. All they have to do is turn the dial and this 200kg motorcycle could be pushing out the sort of power your average HSV V8 owner is more than proud of, with far more torque.
The power regeneration system is still being developed and as a race bike it was only designed to cover 60km. But when you reach speeds close to 300km/h economy was not the aim of the day. What makes this even more remarkable is that the regeneration system is less than 6 months old. Mugen Engineers hope by next year to double the distance the bike is capable of and halve the weight. In a commuter application the technology could carry a rider across Australia without the need for either a fueling stop or an exhaust pipe.
The potential is not just there, it is becoming a reality. Cars and Bikes that you and I could own that would have you waving to the Service Station attendant as you drive on past, only needing to replace the battery once or twice in the life of the vehicle and NEVER having to charge it. Imagine now if an Australian company making vast wealth from the mining boom & especially ones paying the Carbon Price decided to offset this by investing in such technology. So instead of waiting on the German’s or Japanese we were building such vehicles for everyone right here in Australia. Thousands of jobs, a strong/diverse economy, drastically reduced emissions even when accounting for the manufacturing process and a product to export to the rest of the world.
I don’t see the Carbon Price as the looming Carbongeddon that Abbott does, because unlike Tony I believe in Australia’s ability to innovate like we have done a million times before. Tomorrow we don’t wake up to a wiped out Whyalla, we wake up to a new dawn of both a cleaner environment and an exciting future. Bring it on!
In Hardening Their Hearts, They’re Losing Their Minds
A few weeks on from the small drama in Canberra on Australia day that some called a “Race Riot”, we still have a political class who can’t understand why it happened. A class of politicians, businessman and media who simply don’t care about any vulnerable group in Australia.
The spark as we all know was Tony Abbott’s comments that it was time the Embassy move on. His reasoning being that so much progress had been made that… you know… Move on. But while it is true that some progress has been made it is insulting to suggest that we have come so far we don’t need a daily reminder in the form of the Tent Embassy that there is still a long way to go. The issue of land rights has “progressed” but is still very much a work in its infancy and we haven’t even got to the issue of Aboriginal Sovereignty. These were the issues that drove the opening of the Embassy so to suggest the fight is over is absurd. But how about a figure we can all understand. A child born today in Australia has a life expectancy of over 80 years & if you factor in standards of living there really is no better place to be born. However what might hint to the most block headed of individuals that their would be anger in the Aboriginal community comes from the FACT that an Indigenous boy born today in the NT has a life expectancy of just over 60 years. That is a ranking of 150 worldwide, placing alongside strife torn Haiti, Yemen & Burma… not exactly a ringing endorsement of Mr Abbott’s words that the job is done.
At the National Press Club Abbott tried to “end suspicion that the Coalition has a good head but cold heart” when tackling Indigenous issues. It is strange that he would assume anyone believes he has a good head but that cold heart, that I understand. Because it is not just Indigenous issues that seem to harden the hearts of just about every Coalition member about anything to do with anyone in a vulnerable position. Refugees; Razor wire is to kind, “tow the boats back”. Marriage Equality; No! Plus no conscience vote. Victims of violence in Marriage; How does an at-fault divorce sound… you have to prove your fella is doing something wrong!
In that same NPC address Abbott flagged his plan that any National Disability Insurance Scheme under his Government would have to wait until the budget was back in surplus before he could talk turkey. Because nothing says you have a warm heart than telling those with a disability that their care will need to wait till after the global financial crisis has finished. But don’t think it ends there, low-income earner with a bad tooth? Any plans to lift the Commonwealth’s contribution to dental care, let alone a national scheme would again wait till big business is swimming in folding stuff. These things were “aspirational” but nothing he could promise or deliver a promise on. You see we as a country just can’t afford such things in these tough economic times, the purse strings are closed shut and “hand outs” to people not mining is not something that he thinks could or should be entertained.
Speaking of mining, one thing Abbott did promise prospective voters… tax cuts. Especially tax cuts for rich people like those who own mining companies. Because nothing says I care in tough economic times like telling the richest of the rich they don’t have to contribute. Welfare for the vulnerable, the sick, the poor and those with a disability; No can do! Welfare for rich fat cats like Twiggy Forrest, Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer; Urgent! And why would we want more money for people like Gina Rinehart, the woman behind Andrew Bolt’s TV show? So she can make moves on media companies like Fairfax whose views she doesn’t like and who unlike their News Ltd counterparts sometimes dare question the policies of the Coalition.
If I sound a little cynical to you I’m not. I’m angry, there is a very big difference!
I’m angry because social inequality in Australia is growing and Australia day provided the perfect chance to ask “Why are they angry?”. Instead the usual parrots from all sides came out swinging not for the vulnerable but for the status quo. It prompted calls for an AFP investigation, an explosion of racism on social media and one NT politician to call the Aboriginal children at the protest “little pricks”.
This is what happens when a debate flips the switch on just who is and isn’t the oppressed. Suddenly children with a third world life expectancy are “little pricks” and poor Tony Abbott who got a fright when confronted by a handful of rightfully angry people needs a police escort and a quiet place to cry. This is what happens when the media who is supposed to ask the tough questions have become so close to the political class that they rage against those who simply have no platform from which to defend themselves and prop up the fat cats. This is what happens when Twiggy Forrest can fly into Canberra on a private jet and complain to politicians about paying a little more tax on his billions while his company attempts to rip off and steal from an Indigenous community.
This is why people get angry, this is why people burn flags, this is why people bang on the glass of a restaurant. Nobody is asking for an easy hand out nor wants to be on welfare. We all have different needs, some Australians are out of work and require financial assistance, some Australians have a disability, some Australians just want their marriage to be legal, some Australians need a hospital bed and we expect our Government to provide it. You might call it welfare, suggest the Government should be smaller and don’t want your taxes used for any of these programs.
But I don’t see you complaining about welfare when you drive your Porsche, down your tax payer built street, to your tax payer funded corporate welfare company, receiving tax payer funded grants, before toasting your success at a tax payer funded Government booze up, admiring the tax payer funded artwork, in a tax payer built parliament house. No, I’d simply ask that you say thank you and shut the fuck up! I don’t want to see your television networks, your radio stations or your media corporations demonising those less fortunate and promoting policies that would make their lives harder and yours even easier. Because we live in a democracy where the majority decides and we the majority are not rich and we want a “fair go”, that trait you tell us we have to possess to be Australian.
You might claim to believe in a small Government that shouldn’t have to fund any social programs, especially not those that benefit folks who should just “move on”. But here’s the thing, you know what else is Government funded? The police! And when you climb into that Porsche I’m pretty sure you are happy that we have them. Especially when you drive past this 6 foot something, under paid community worker, who needs a trip to the dentist.