I’ve been fairly busy the last few days on various activities which have kept me away from a computer, so I haven’t been able to post anything on this site. Here’s a quick snapshot of some of the things I’ve been working on in recent days – I might expand on some of them in future posts.
The affordable housing crisis, which has been seriously hurting many Australians for years, has finally reached sufficient critical mass for it to start getting persistent mainstream media coverage – and hence generate a few forays from governments on the issue. I’ve been talking with a few people who work in the field about possible solutions, as well as voicing my own concern that the public pressure may just lead to another pre-election band aid solution, such as a small increase in the maximum rate of Rent Assistance.
I was in Sydney on Thursday attending a few events of the animal rights group Voiceless. They had a ceremony to give out grants to a range of projects by a wide range of animal organisations, with movie star Hugo Weaving – an ambassador for Voiceless – there for the presentations. Another upcoming Australian acting talent, Abbie Cornish, was also there to hand out awards to some of the schools who have set up Animal Clubs. I wouldn’t have minded talking with them, but I feel like such a groupie approaching actors and musos, so I left them in peace.
One of the good things about Voiceless is that they rise above some of the bickering than can occur within the animal rights movement (which of course occurs in most social movements and communities), and provide recognition to people across the spectrum purely on the basis that they are making a positive difference. It was good to see two grants being awarded to the Vegetarian/Vegan Society of Queensland – an organisation I’m a patron of.
One of their projects which received some funding is the human sized battery cage, which as the name suggests is a human sized replica which enables people to get bit of a better idea of what it is like for a chicken to be crammed in one of there, usually with 2 or 3 other birds – although they have to spend their whole lives in the cage, not just 20 minutes so. They had a demonstration of the cages for the media that day down near Circular Quay, so I went along to have a look and unexpectedly found myself spending five minutes squished into small cage with Lindsay McDougall (from JJJ and Frenzal Rhomb) and Imogen Bailey.
I’d met Lindsay before a few times as part of the Rock Against Howard stuff he organised before the last election, but I hadn’t met Imogen before – it was a strange place to be introduced to someone. (There is a fundraising auction on EBay at the moment where you can bid to spend 30 minutes in the cage with these two this coming Satruday at Bondi beach – current bid at time of writing is $510)
Later the same day I also went to the opening of an art exhibition around the theme of “I feel therefore I am”, which is at the Sherman galleries in Sydney, which was packed full for the occasion. Hugo Weaving read out a statement by the Nobel Prize winning writer JM Coetzee, who is a patron of Voicless. An edited version of his statement was published in the Sydney Morning Herald (receiving some coverage in his native South Africa). Labor’s shadow Minister for the environment and arts, Peter Garrett, gave a short speech to formally open the exhibition later in the evening. I thought his speech was good, although I got the feeling that, despite his clear credentials as an environmentalist (and in the arts), he hasn’t necessarily engaged a lot with some of the animal rights arguments – something I’ve found to be quite common amongst the environment movement. Another blogger, and longtime Green Party stalwart, Ben Oquist was also there, and I had a brief chat with him about West Papua issues, which he spends a lot of time working on these days, and the current Parliamentary Inquiry into the Australian-Indonesia security Treaty, which I wrote about here.
On Friday, I drove up to Gympie to attend the release of a report commissioned by the Mayors of the local councils in the Mary River catchment, which is threatened by the Traveston mega-dam. The report doesn’t examine the social or environmental impacts, just the economics of the water supply and demand options. However, even just on those grounds, the report made pretty clear what a stupid proposal it is. The state government had already publicly condemned the report as flawed before the function launching it was finished.
On Saturday, the Queensland Democrats held a state conference, focussing on how we get our messages out in the community as much as possible in the lead up to the federal election. We had some good speakers outlining reasons why this was important, including Meeta Iyer, policy officer with the YWCA and Hetty Johnstone, the founder of the child protection organisation Bravehearts.
Another speaker there was human rights lawyer Julian Burnside QC, and by coincidence, asylum seeker issue had once again come into the media spotlight with federal government holding over 80 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka on a Navy vessel while it decided what to do next. I also spent a fair bit of time doing media commentary on this situation, which shows the federal government has gone straight back to the same attitudes it held in 2001. Just as important is trying to ascertain the substance of the stance the ALP was going to take, to see how far they might have progressed from their 2001 position (which was to support the government).
On Sunday morning I drove down to the Gold Coast to attend a Dog’s Breakfast – an annual event put on the Animal Welfare League, which is based on the Coast. (It’s amazing how often it happens that I have little to do with an issue for some time, and then by coincidence find myself doing a number of things in the field all at once – in this case animal welfare). A main focus of the AWL is as an animal shelter and they have been campaigning for many years for compulsory desexing and registering of pet cats and dogs. They’ve had a lot of support locally from the Mayor, Ron Clark, but still no substantive support from the state government, which surprises me, as it seems such an obviously beneficial measure which in the long-term will bring a lot of environmental and social benefits, and save money as well – not to mention prevent a lot of unnecessary animal suffering. I had a little bit of trouble dragging myself out of bed at 6.30 on the Sunday morning to drive down, but I discovered that Ron Clark had just run a marathon the day before, having just turned 70, which made my whinges about having to get out of bed early seem pretty lame.