Three Letters and some Links

It feels very strange in Melbourne today.  It’s drizzly and dark, and the weather is cold enough to require central heating and winter pyjamas, but the air is absolutely permeated by smoke – from the Tasmanian fires, we are told, though it could just as easily have been from the ones in Gippsland or in northern Victoria or on Kangaroo island.  There are fires in every direction, and yet we are safe, and can go about our lives as normal, except for the stinging in our eyes and throats, the tightness in our chests from the smoke.

I almost welcome it, though.  We’ve had several days of truly glorious weather over the last week (not consecutively, and none of them like any of the others of course – this is Melbourne we’re talking about), and it has felt so surreal to be able to go outside and enjoy the beautiful weather when all this devastation exists just a few hundred kilometres away.  (Clearly, the Catholic upbringing which I did not have has still managed to give me an over-inflated sense of guilt about ever enjoying myself).

Anyway.  I’ve been meaning to write some letters to politicians, but I’ve been running into difficulties, because my letters to Morrison keep on coming out as ‘Dear Prime Minister, Please get f*cked. Sincerely, Catherine,’ or sometimes ‘Dear Prime Minister, What the f*ck is wrong with you?’, which are certainly sincere statements of personal belief, but perhaps not very productive.

I did finally manage to write something slightly more useful, however, and since I thought that some of you might be sharing my difficulties, I figured I’d follow tradition and put my letters here for anyone to use as a starting point for their own missives.  Per my usual disclaimer, they are far from perfect.  And per my usual encouragement, they don’t need to be.  Don’t be crippled by the need to make everything exactly right.  The important thing is to send *something*.

Please note, incidentally, that I’ve seen a few people saying that emails sent through the form on the Prime Minister’s website are not being read, and that it is difficult to get through to him on the phone.  I don’t know if this is true or not, but just in case, let’s break out the envelopes and stamps for this one.

If you can’t bear to write to politicians right now – and honestly, I can’t blame you for that – I’ve also provided some more links at the bottom to charities and other organisations you might want to support.

And of course, wherever you are, I hope you are staying safe from the fires and the smoke, that your loved ones are also safe, and that you have the things you need.

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State of Emergency

The photos and videos coming through from New South Wales and from East Gippsland are honestly hard to comprehend.  They look like scenes from some sort of apocalyptic film, not from reality. The fact that people were literally being told to get into the sea to shelter from the fires is just… I honestly don’t have the words for this.  Four thousand people sheltering on beaches shouldn’t be something that happens.

This is what a climate emergency looks like.

And our government, with their cheerful lines about how Australia “should be proud of its climate change efforts” (it… really shouldn’t), and “there’s no better place to raise kids anywhere on the planet“, while watching the Sydney Harbour fireworks from a harbourside mansion are coming across less as tone-deaf and more like Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

I posted something about the need to declare a climate emergency on Facebook yesterday, and someone replied to ask what would actually happen if such an emergency was declared.  It’s a fair question – even if it is one that is often heard from people who want to use it to show that we inner city Greenies know nothing about what is needed or how disaster relief works – so I figure it’s worth chatting about here. Especially since the alternative is writing another rage-filled post about our government, and I think we can pretty much take that as read at this point. (Incidentally, I have updated my previous rage-filled post about our government with a few more charities to donate to, and would welcome suggestions of any charities I’ve missed from others.)

There are two reasons to declare a state of emergency, one symbolic, and one logistic. I’ll start with the symbolic one, because, unusually, I think it might actually be the more important of the two.

You see, the government is working very, very, hard to preserve a narrative that says ‘this is normal, this is business as usual, we have always had bushfires’.  Which leads inevitably to ‘we don’t need to do anything different to what we are already doing’.

This is normal, so we don’t need to lease waterbombing planes from the US Forest Service.

This is normal, so we don’t need to to upgrade the equipment and respiratory masks provided to our volunteer firefighters.

This is normal, so we don’t need to activate the legislation from 1991 that allows us to pay our volunteer firefighters.

This is normal, so we don’t need to meet with all the fire chiefs to come up with long-term strategies to deal with the situation.

This is normal, so we can keep on mining coal and gas both for our own use and to export to other countries so that everyone can continue emitting carbon while the world burns.

That last one is the reason for all the others, frankly.  We have a government that can’t afford to admit that we are helping to make climate change worse in ways that is affecting us severely, because it’s afraid of the mining industry.

And that’s a problem, because this wilful blindness, this determination to lean on the ‘Australian spirit’ and pretend that everything is just as it always has been means that we can’t do the things that are necessary to protect people right now from the disasters that are already happening, because that would mean admitting that maybe something has changed, maybe this is different, maybe we need to address not just our response to this emergency but the underlying policies that have allowed us to reach this point.

Maybe we need to talk about climate change.

Maybe it’s too late to talk about mitigation, and we need to talk about adaptation.

Maybe we need to do this even though it is going to have an economic cost in the short term.

Maybe we need to accept that, because the alternative is a human cost that cannot be counted.

***

As for logistics, it’s true that I don’t know a lot about how disaster relief works.  But I do know a bit about how organising people works. And it generally works better if everyone is agreed about who is coordinating things, who is in charge of what, and what the priorities are. Our bushfires cross state borders, and we have volunteers coming from other states (and in some cases, other countries) to assist with the effort.  Leaving this to the States to organise piecemeal just isn’t a particularly practical thing to do.

It seems to me that there are several things that a government could do, if it had the will to do so (above and beyond what I’ve mentioned above).  Just off the top of my head, they could…

  • Accept the help we have been offered by other countries
  • Liaise with the state governments and state emergency services to coordinate efforts to fight fires that cross state borders or that are large enough to require help to be brought in from less-affected areas.
  • Convene experts in emergency management, ask for their recommendations, and act on them.
  • Get the Navy and Army Reserve involved in coordinating evacuations and getting supplies to areas that have been isolated by the fires – logistics is a big part of what the army does.  Let’s make use of that. (The Andrews government in Victoria has requested and received military aid for evacuations. But this should be something that is offered up-front where needed, rather than requested ad hoc.)
  • Budget more money for disaster relief, and coordinate with state and local governments to make sure it gets where it needs to go in a timely fashion and with a minimum of red tape.
  • Build a fleet of waterbombing aircraft (we currently lease ours from California, but as our fire seasons get longer and begin to overlap, this will become a logistical issue)
  • Review building standards for new houses, particularly in at risk areas – consider whether some areas are too risky for rebuilding to be wise.
  • Create a strategy to ensure that vulnerable people (the elderly, the disabled, people with low incomes, people without personal transport) are able to be evacuated early and to places with the resources to look after them in an emergency.  Coordinate care needs for people with chronic illnesses or disabilities who have been evacuated.
  • Create a plan for domesticated animals displaced by fire – if you evacuate people but can’t take their pets or livestock, you are going to have issues.
  • Make sure nobody is being kicked off their pension for failing to check in when their house was on fire or when they were off fighting fires themselves
  • Once the fire season is over, sit down and create a serious policy about climate change and how we are going to have a country that is still possible to live in ten years from now.

I don’t want Scott Morrison on the front line holding a hose or making sandwiches.  I don’t want his thoughts and prayers.  There is nothing wrong with any of these things in principle, but they are not his job right now.  His job is to lead, to make decisions, to provide his ministers, the states and the people on the front lines with the support they need to to do their jobs.

That’s what he signed up for, and that’s what he should be doing.  But the first step in the process is to acknowledge the reality of our situation.

This is not normal.

This is new.

And we need to take it seriously.

Burn for you

It’s that time when we look back at what the year and the decade – though this year has felt like a decade – and contemplate where we stand and what has changed.

I’m not going to do that.

Australia is on fire – literally on fire, this is not a metaphor though it certainly makes a good one for the state of our politics generally – and apparently that’s normal now and we don’t need to do anything about it?

Map from Geoscience Australia at 10:48pm on December 29, 2019

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Newstart, Indue, and Raising the Rate

I’ve been meaning for a while to write about the way our government (and to a lesser, but not sufficiently lesser, extent, the media) has been increasingly pushing the idea that people who are poor have miserable lives because they deserve them.  Apparently, our unemployed people are too busy taking drugs, protesting climate change, eating avocado toast, and refusing to move to the country where jobs are supposedly plentiful, to actually job hunt properly and that’s why they remain in poverty.  (Incidentally, if you were considering moving to the country for work, please read this article first.  It turns out that this is bad advice, because moving house can get you cut off from Newstart unless you are very lucky.)

(Incidentally, note how disabled people are sort of… missing from this picture entirely.  Much like the $4.6 billion that wasn’t spent on NDIS funding, so that our budget could be balanced this year.)

On the other hand, the government is full of (fully funded) empathy for the hardship endured by small business owners forced to pay penalty rates, and is indeed wondering whether superannuation ought to be optional for lower-paid workers, too.  I’m sure this won’t place more pressure on the Aged Care pension in the long run.  And speaking of pensions, the government which can’t afford to raise the rate of Newstart can apparently afford to spend $6 billion a year on franking credits, a frankly unsustainable rebate only available to people who have sufficient savings to invest in shares (and the figures attached to this article suggest that the overwhelming majority of these people have savings of $1 million or more).

There are many, MANY, things to write about when it comes to this government’s attitude to poverty.  Hell, I haven’t even started on Robodebt – that’s a whole other post.  But right now, there is a Bill under consideration to expand the Cashless Debit Card trial to cover the entire Northern Territory, Cape York and parts of South Australia, with the goal of eventually expanding the card to all unemployed people, and possibly people on other forms of social security.  There’s a pretty good summary of the situation and how the Bill will work here, or you can read the amendments in their entirety here (honestly not that useful, I found), and an explanatory memorandum here.  The latter goes into some detail regarding concerns about the human rights of people on the card:

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights conducted a review of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card) Bill 2017, which notes that the Cashless Debit Card engages and limits three human rights: the right to social security, the right to a private life and the right to equality and non-discrimination.

But concludes that it’s all fine and definitely non-discriminatory, even though  the areas in which the expansion is taking place are all areas with high indigenous populations (according to this article, more than 80% of those affected will be indigenous Australians).  Fascinating.  Especially as, for all the talk of community consultation, no Australian government in my lifetime has been particularly stellar when it comes to listening to Aboriginal communities. No colonialism going on here, clearly.

I’m going to cut to the chase – the government is accepting submissions regarding the expansion of the Cashless Debit Card up until October 18, and you can make a submission here.  There are some guidelines on how to do so here

Since I’m sure that many of you know far, far more about this than I do, and some of you will have personal stories that are relevant to the submission, I didn’t want to make you read through all my ramblings.  But if you want some numbers and stats and arguments for your submission, as well as a few more other ways to take action on Newstart, keep on reading.  I suspect some of these will form the basis of my own submission. Continue reading

Yes, this sucks. But we can’t afford to despair

If, like me, you live life on the progressive side of politics – or perhaps even if you live on the conservative side but nonetheless view climate change as an emergency, and see racism, poverty, and xenophobia as serious issues – you probably spent the evening staring at the election results in growing horror.

(Honestly, I felt so nauseated after a couple of hours that I switched off the coverage and stuck in our Keating! The Musical DVD. I mean, I figure I did absolutely everything I could to make a difference in this election – I could skip the aftermath with a clear conscience.)

And look, it really is pretty awful. The Coalition is not going to do a single positive thing about climate change, and we now have another three years of people on Newstart living below the poverty line and being harassed by robodebts and programs that are designed to punish rather than help, and people who need the NDIS being unable access it. We will have three more years of cruelty to refugees and three more years of cuts to the ABC, while Murdoch gets free rein over our media.

Also… we have just shown both major parties that running a scare campaign with basically no policies wins over running a policy-driven campaign. And that’s really depressing, because it means we’ve just taught Labor not to bother running on policy.

I’m not going to sit here and try to say that it’s all going to be fine, that we need to stay positive, that it’s alright. A significant proportion of or population voted out of fear or ignorance or just a lack of empathy or imagination, and we are all going to suffer for it, and it’s OK to feel stunned and angry and sickened and upset and depressed. The future looks pretty scary right now, and we need to come to terms with that.

We need to take time to grieve, and to be angry, and to be numb, and to do whatever we need to do to find a way to accept the reality we now find ourselves in.

And, honestly, that’s going to take time. I mean, I’m white, I’m mostly straight, I’m employed and reasonably financially secure, and I’m healthy. I’m several steps away from being directly impacted by most of the government’s awfulness, and I’m still terrified and deeply sad about the direction we are moving in. I can only imagine how people more marginalised than me must be feeling right now.

So I think step one for all of us right now is to grieve as we need to. That doesn’t mean we can’t do other things later – that we shouldn’t find our own ways to fight for what is needed, to protect our friends who are more vulnerable than us, to move forward so that there is still something left to preserve by the time we reach the next election.

But we don’t necessarily have to do all of that right now. And we definitely don’t have to feel guilty about not doing *everything* right now. If you need it, this is me giving you permission to take the time to rest and to find a way to be OK. You can’t fight the good fight when you are desperately wounded. Give yourself time to heal.

Because it’s  going to be a hard three years, and I need you to survive it, OK? Whoever you are, if you are reading this, you are needed, and you are wanted and you deserve to be OK. No matter what the government may say. So step one is definitely doing what you can to make that happen. Hang out with friends, read something fun and escapist, throw yourself into work, go for a bike ride, join a community choir – whatever works for you. Take care of yourself. Please.

Step two… step two is for when you are feeling less fragile. But when you get there, step two is to find the thing that you care about and the thing you can do. Maybe that thing is volunteering or donating money. Maybe it is being a good friend to someone who needs that. Maybe it’s raising the next generation, or maybe it’s joining a political party and taking the fight to them.

(Step Three is recognising that there is only so much that you, personally, can do, and doing that much, and not feeling guilty about not doing all the other things. I’m still working on step three, to be honest.)

For me? I’m going to sleep for four hours and then get up and try to enjoy Eurovision. And then I’m going to have another nap, and avoid news coverage and social media for a bit.

But step two for me is definitely going to include writing to my local member and anyone else in the ALP who I can think of and thank them for running a positive, policy-driven campaign. I don’t know if we’ll see another campaign like that after the way this one failed, but positive behaviour should be rewarded, and this much I can do.

Please take care of yourselves.

(And who knows… maybe the early votes will save us. But I have to admit, I’m not optimistic at this point.)

Edited to add: I wrote a post on self-care a few years ago.  It has belatedly occurred to me that it might be worth linking to from this post.  So here it is!

Make your vote count

So, the election is tomorrow.  You’ve done your reading.  You’ve maybe even listened to a few Eurovision songs along the way.  With luck, you have at least some idea who you are going to vote for.

There are two things I want to write about today.

The first is just to touch on how incredibly fortunate we are in our electoral system.  I’ve been corresponding with a friend in the US recently, and she mentioned in passing that she was in Australia during an election a few years ago and she couldn’t believe how many places there were that you could vote.  Airports!  Hospitals!  Mobile polling booths that go to aged care facilities and remote communities!  Coming from a country where restricting access to the ballot box is an actual strategy for one of their major parties, it was a revelation.

I write about our Australian Electoral Commission at almost every election, because it is a national treasure and we are so lucky to have it.  I think, though, that I’m going to just cheat this time and link you to my last post on the subject rather than writing a new one, because I just did a count and I’ve already written more than 140,000 words in this electoral cycle and I’ll be honest with you, I’m tired and I have a Eurovision party to bake for.

Also, there’s something else I really want to talk about in this post, and that’s about numbering all the boxes on your Senate Ballot, whether you opt for voting above or below the line.

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Voting in Wills – Candidates, Policies, and hey, are we a marginal seat now?

I feel like Wills has entered a new era in the last few years.

We’ve been a safe Labor seat since forever (setting aside that little lapse with Phil Cleary), and have been entirely ignored by both major parties, but in the last couple of elections, the Green vote has been creeping up, and I must say, it has borne dividends.  We got a new local member from the progressive side of Labor, we are suddenly being noticed in infrastructure planning, and in the last two weeks, I’ve been door-knocked by volunteers both for the Greens and for the Victorian Socialists. (The Greens volunteer seemed a little appalled by my interest in politics when we met at the tram stop and even more appalled when he knocked on a door that evening and yes, it was me again; the Socialist volunteer was absolutely lovely, and persuaded us to put up signage for Sue Bolton… and then nobody ever came back to us to deliver it, which is just such a classic Socialist Alliance way to behave – great ideas, no follow through.  Though having said that, Sue has been an excellent local council member.)

On Tuesday night I even got a phone call from my local Labor member, Peter Khalil. He is certainly working hard for my vote – the phone call lasted nearly half an hour, and ranged from climate policy and getting refugees off Nauru and Manus Island, to the need to raise pensions and fix the NDIS, the restoration of penalty rates, and solidarity with workers. He had a lot of good answers, was hardly rude about the Greens at all (!), and was actively positive about Sue Bolton… admittedly, she is also not much of a threat to him, but it was clearly important that she is solidly working class and unionish, unlike those suspiciously middle-class and thus untrustworthy Greens.  (I refrained from mentioning my own suspiciously middle-class background.  I suspect he guessed about my Greens-voting habits nonetheless.).

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The One and Only Cate Speaks Microparty Policy Fantasy League!

I have frequently noted that almost every small party – even the otherwise loathesome ones! – has one policy worth reading about.  Sometimes, you have to look really hard to find it, because it is buried in a sea of horror and revulsion, but that only makes it the more beautiful when you find it.

So this election, as a special treat, I thought it might be fun to make a collection of the policies that our smaller, weirder parties have come up with that stand out from the crowd. A Microparty Fantasy League, if you will.  Now, it should be noted that there are some parties on this list who I wouldn’t trust to legislate their way out of a paper sack, and who definitely shouldn’t be put in charge of policy on anything resembling a regular basis.  And it should also be noted that this in no way constitutes a complete policy platform.  But I think you will agree that there are, in fact, some unexpectedly good ideas on this list.

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Making your Mind Up! The Cate Speaks Summary / Voter Guide

Once again, my final set of voting preferences still requires a bit of tweaking, but I have grouped the parties into eleven categories, to help figure out where to put people on the ballot.  Why eleven categories?  Because that way I can give my favourite parties ‘Douze points’ and award the gun-totin’ racists ‘Nul points’ in best Eurovision style.  Also, it turns out that I do have eleven distinct categories, so there you go.

I’m not really ranking parties within categories – I mean, yes, based on how I feel about them right at this moment, I’ve put my preferred options at the top of each category, but I often make slight changes to my final rankings at the ballot box.  And some of those parties are ones I don’t have the option to vote for anyway.  Besides, I feel it’s good to preserve some minor level of mystique about my actual vote…

Finally, before you start reading this, allow me to draw to your attention the Senate Voting Card Creator website.  This excellent website allows you to list your parties and then your candidates in your order of preference, and then generates a printer-friendly list, so that you can easily see which numbers will go into which box when you vote below the line, and don’t risk missing a number somewhere.  I was very sad when Below the Line closed down, and am delighted to see that this website has now replaced it.

NB: I’ve noted the Group next to parties running in Victoria.  For parties running only outside Victoria, I’ve noted where they are running.

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Federal Election 2019: Meet the Science Party!

Summary

Website: https://www.scienceparty.org.au/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SciencePartyAus/
Previous name:
Future Party
Slogans:
Principles. Evidence. Progress.
Themes: Science, technology, innovation.  Generally progressive policies, extremely ambitious climate change plan, good on equality, excited about space, driverless cars and building a charter city called Turing.
Electorate:
Upper House: NSW
Lower House: Berowra, Grayndler, Kingsford Smith, Mallee, Perth Sydney, Watson
Preferences: The Science Party is standing only in NSW, and I haven’t found their Lower House tickets yet. In the Senate, they are preferencing the Australian Democrats, Animal Justice, Independents for Climate Action Now, the Greens, and Labor.  So a fairly standard left/progressive ticket, with a strong leaning towards climate change policy.
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