A few days and a few different issues

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.

Imogen Bailey and Lindsay McDougalI’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.

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25 Comments

  1. Senator.I think now after visiting the info. ,incl.videos,of Mary River,that perhaps you should ask a clinical psychologist after all this evidence is presented wether or not the Queensland government is ill!? The other potential is they are extremely lazy,and again the same professional could offer an opinion.You could also find a Police student somewhere who who has to assess information as legal evidence,and report writing skill in evolving a case. The State of N.S.W. is got a similar problem I am sure,where political intransigency appears an illness,with mining interests and others given the Gung Ho right.I also think Beattie is concerned enough politically to find friends in Liberal Party supporters like Pratt who is a reasonably open business man but,prone to do deals with Labor types if there isnt a great stink from the community.I feel some of his products however,would be worthy to assist the cleaning up of the Mary River to conservation values,as outlined by NoDams and scientist rather than Beattie and sycophants.They might even look at scaffolding technologies to perform work,and remember the Buckminster engineering principles,because scaffolding could be used to create a minidam to stop the weed dyyback under water.I also think ,the critics of the barrage should think again and design more into it,maybe underwater ,and pump water in both directions..solar powered ,perhaps.There maybe some advantage in the erosion by applying even recycled plastics to insure water quality..much can be done with plastic extrusion technology,so asserting creatively may be a a combined high eco-care and environ engineering.The humble waxed cardboard box,a minor enviro hazard could also assist..I hope I am not wasting my time or those involved,with the crazy government you have in Queensland.

  2. Definition of fringe issues = of marginal importance.
    Let’s have a quick look at that ‘melange’ again, Ken:
    – the housing affordability crisis, which conservatively affects hundreds thousands of Australians;
    – the crisis in child protection and abuse, which affects up to one in five children;
    – the destruction of communities around Gympie (thousands of people directly affected and many more indirectly), and the potential extinction in the wild of a number of endangered species for an unnecessary and very expensive dam;
    – the long-standing and serious persecution of West Papuans, which is a potential genocide happening on our doorstep, involving people who supported Australian soldiers during some of the hardest battles of the Second World War;
    – the government’s consideration of sending back of refugees to a government which persecutes them;
    – ongoing shortcomings in animal welfare in Australia and recognising the efforts of those who are dong something about it.

    Yep, nothing of significance in that lot, Ken.

    It is amazing how any mention of animal rights immediately brings out the label of ‘fringe’ – usually this is followed by platitudes about how nobody supports cruelty to animals. But whenever one dares to raise them, even in the most benign way, it is immediately dismissed as fringe. I presume the hundreds of dog owners who came out on a Sunday morning can all be dismissed as ‘fringe’ as well.

  3. Well you ask for feedback – so don;t be agitated if it isn’t to your liking. but good to see some passion (at last some might say).

    Fringe doesn’t necessarily mean of no importance – that’s your interpretation it measn to me of minor interst to the majority of people. And I’m not sure how getting someone to spruik to you about getting your message out, is a serious discussion about child abuse (which you know i have a serious interest in).

    However, if you say crisis and persectuiion enough times I guess they becoem real, your on message – at least in an election year.

  4. Andrew Bartlett:
    Bloody hell. With all that work, you need a good union :-)

    Glad to see the housing crisis come out of the shadows ….. or should I say, escape from quasi-censorship.

    Now that Pauline Hanson has announced her run for The Senate, I hope it is a two-horse race for first and second place —with the LibLabs scratched — and not one between you two for the last Senate seat!!

  5. Australia will be ‘Outsourcing Refoulment’ if it proceeds with the proposed move to send the Sri Lankan asylum seekers back to Indonesia.

    “We are open (to taking the asylum seekers) as long as it is just in transit in preparation to send them back to Sri Lanka,” Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Desra Percaya told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

    If Australia sends them to Nauru we will once again see a great cost and unncessary waste of life and liberty in that flawed and failed system.

    If we keep the Sri Lankans on Christmas Island during processing we overburden a small community with the troubles that mandatory detention brings with it and extend the time cost and taken for processing.

    The most reasonable approach would be to bring this group to the mainland and process their asylum claims in a timely manner.

    Despite the new Immigration Ministers insistance that the Offshore policy is the only avenue for dealing with this matter, there are recent cases for offshore arrivals that have been processed onshore in this manner and the sky hasn’t fallen in.

  6. Not necessarily, evil pundit (sending the Sri Lankans back to Sri Lanka without knowing what we are sending them back too).
    We could be committing murder if we do not first determine whether their claims are valid or not. You are probably unaware, by the tone and contents of your post, that a vicious civil war has been raging in Sri Lanka for a generation now. You could be sending these people straight to a firing squad if they are dropped in the wrong part of that country, depending on who they are and where they are sent.
    Don’t forget, that the groups of boat people who came here several years turned up were villified as queue jumpers, but later DIMIA admitted 98% of those people were in fact genuine refugees.
    Others who were sent back before their claims got a fair hearing went back to certain death in places like Iran and Afghanistan
    Now, I may have been one of those who (briefly) bought Ruddock’s lies the first time around, but this time I hope these people are given a proper assessment. I don’t want further blood on my hands by way of an Australian government claiming to act on my behalf as an Australian.

  7. I find being called a cool guy a bit strange,because I rarely use the word myself,and remember how it took over other ways of addressing alternate names for man,which has now become,as it was, when I was a teenager, a
    strange appellation.If that word is accurate.I believe animal rights are really important,but,I have a few contradictions in my behaviour,now not wanting even to look after unwanted dogs….SoI still, however, think all that is important, to merit Senator support. It is hard to get around the fact a small country like Sri Lanka is engaged in a civil war,and well all the other problems makes the place unique.As a workable cliche hasten slowly, sees me copping out on that,information is so lean I cannot get a sense of this one,much chewing on saying they are economic refugees,and I dont know wether false teeth or gold is involved.Thats Howard for you,and well all issues eventually blend into one,housing,under-unemployment,savings and active thinkers and doers ,whose effects, minimise friction.Papuans, Indonesia and the crazy Premier about dams..Fed.Parliamentary stuff is warranted. Beattie is a loser on the Traveston dam,and other damming issues I am sure.I dont think the Fed.ALP is going to be able to keep its momentum up,and now further failures re uranium mining by the dimwits,its like it doesnt know who would choose it for government anymore,accept its own brand of nod nod wink wink.

  8. What a complex list of problems with no easy solutions in sight! But I do have some questions.

    When is the government going to recognise and do something about children abusing adults?

    With all of the people moving to Queensland from interstate and overseas, where are we going to store the additional water required to sustain them? How will housing become more affordable in the increasingly competitive market thus created?

    As for the human-sized battery cage, why is it necessary for us all to become intellectual trans-species, instead of remaining ordinary human beings?

  9. Well thank goodness Lateline and the two major parties have begun talking about Education and education funding and policy (along with heaps of uneducated rhetoric) I cannot believe both parties are still focussing on the “facts” being taught in schools and learning from memory. When is public policy and politicians ever going to catch up with what has really been going on in schools now for years?

    And why are students and teachers the last place policy developers actually look for advice? Because students and teachers learn and play in the margins in this free and democratic society we live in?

    Can someone please tell all of the overpaid people in Canberra that The Arts, Health and Languages are also 3 of the 8 Key learning Areas in our education system that have their own distinctive and common literacies and that all 8 key Learning Areas teach literacy and Numeracy – not just Maths and English.

    When all of the finger pointing turns away from teachers and parents and onto themselves then maybe Australia will be a place more teachers want to teach in and more Australians feel informed and comfortable sending their children to school in.

    Sean (Brisbane)

    P.S.Sorry for using this blog entry to make my point – although it was titled “different” issues – and I thought education was a different issue to what the press and parliament have been obsessed with in recent weeks.

  10. Evil, there are about 90,000 “illegal immigrants” in Australia and I reckon we have to arrest them all and send them packing. What do you reckon?

    I see the milk of human kindness still flows in your veins and you still haven’t come to grips with the fact that anyone is allowed to arrive here and seek asylum from persecution and it is not illegal to do so.

    2 million Iraqi refugees have just fled the hell we helped to create for them. Should the countries they are in send them packing to be killed do you think mate?

  11. Unfortunately, The United Nations is still not doing its job effectively.

    I’m still hoping for some answers to those questions at post #12.

  12. Coral, mind if I try to answer them?

    When is the government going to recognise and do something about children abusing adults?

    Never. Not that Senator Bartlett speaks for the Government.

    With all of the people moving to Queensland from interstate and overseas, where are we going to store the additional water required to sustain them? Probably with desalination plants and pumping effluent back into the reservoirs.
    How will housing become more affordable in the increasingly competitive market thus created? It wont. And?

    Housing affordability is affected by many things, particularly land versus population growth. One is State, the other federal, so they’ll never talk strategically.

    As for the human-sized battery cage, why is it necessary for us all to become intellectual trans-species, instead of remaining ordinary human beings?

    What??? Humans have a capacity for empathy with others, including non-humans. Is that anything near what you’re asking?

  13. wilful:

    Thanks for your answer.

    I think we might still need additional water storage facilities if the population continues to climb.

    Also, if the number of natural disasters continues to increase, we could lose some dams to earthquakes, which SEQ water continuously monitor.

    In regard to confinement in the battery cage, the effects would be different for a human being than they would be for a chicken. The basis for comparison is small.

    I personally get tired of all of the “intellectual trans-species” around. (The “Queen of the Chimpanzees” is the first to come to mind.)

    They are more of a curse to researchers than any number of religious folk. Scientists almost have to provide feather beds for the animals before they will let them do anything.

    I don’t like animals suffering unnecessarily, but if there is a choice between humans and animals – I still know which species I belong to and wish to support (not to mention eat).

  14. Senator Bartlett, A warm thank you for your support, and attending the HBC launch!
    CORAL,
    In the literal sense of the word “ordinary”, being against the battery cage is quite ordinary – the majority of Australians (73%, Orima Research, September 2005) believe it is a cruel practice and should be banned. Even if this belief was not ordinary is there any ethical reasoning in remaining “ordinary” when “ordinary” paractices are obviously outdated, unnecessary and cruel? Hens producing eggs in battery cages live in cages about 3/4 the size of an A4 sheet of paper, about half the size of each bird’s wingspan. Their beaks are burnt off a few days into their life. All animals, humans included, have the capacity to experience suffering. Attempting to illeviate this suffering certainly may be considered “intellectual” but I don’t see a problem with utilising one’s intellect for this reason.
    The organisers of the HBC realise the vast difference between the conditions hens live in and the conditions experienced in HBC. We are in no way experiencing what battery hens experience – by comparison our visit is a luxury! We don’t have piles of manure coming through the cages at our feet or falling on us from the cages stacked on top of us, and we can get out of the cage when we feel uncomfortable. The basis for comparison is the capacity for all animals to experience suffering when confined. This installation is proving to help people understand that being a confined hen would really suck, and that they don’t want to support this cruelty.
    We are not suggesting that you make a choice between supporting (or eating!?) human and non-human animals. By eating animals you are supporting unnecessary cruelty. Many violent behavioural problems exhibited by people are spawned by cruelty to animals. Compassion for all creatures is not just a healthy act towards the victims, but also to humanity who benefit when its members are of a sound mind.

  15. Heather_HBC:

    You sound like another extremist to me.

    I didn’t say I approved of hens being kept in battery cages, just that the experience would differ markedly from humans.

    By eating animals and birds, I am not supporting unnecessary cruelty. I will not be held personally responsible for the behaviour of producers. It is up to the government to control animal cruelty.

    I try not to be cruel to animals or people. Your link between cruelty to people and cruelty to animals may be valid in some instances – but not all.

  16. I would like to make some comments in relation to the link to Bravehearts.

    As a counsellor, I encountered a number of young adult males who had been sexually abused as children. One had become a sexual abuser himself – learned behaviour in this case.

    In my limited experience, the biggest problem with paedophilia is that it is not reported. Sometimes when kids are brave enough to tell an adult, the adult is gutless.

    Adults with yellow stripes running up their backs protect family members, friends, neighbours and workmates from detection.

    When one of my adult sons dobbed in a workmate recently, his employer told him to keep a lid on it.

    So I am appealing to everyone out there to bite the bullet and do something whenever the need arises. Go to the police, and live in hope that the courts will back you.

    The saying: “All it takes for evil to thrive is for enough good men (and women) to do nothing”, holds true across a long list of issues.

  17. Do vegetariasn eat eggs?

    I thought battery cages were used for egg production, and that meat production chickens, ie the ones we eat were free range?

  18. Ken

    You can buy free range eggs – quite expensive though. A dozen home brand extra large caged eggs cost around $3. A dozen free range eggs cost at least $6. You pay for your values unfortunately, which (which…that…hope the grammar police are not on duty) is getting harder since groceries have increased in price.

    Vegetarians can and do eat eggs and milk.

    Vegans eat no animal product whatsoever.

  19. ken and Donna … and there’s also the lacto-vegetarians who eat dairy products but not eggs, and some as yet unlabelled folk who do vice versa.

    It might be timely to remind readers that people adopt vegetarianism for a variety of motives. Some, like Coral’s friends, do so for religious reasons. Others see the ethical treatment of animals as an important moral issue, and so avoid causing harm to animals via their food choices. Still others avoid meat because they consider a vegetarian diet to be healthier than one that includes meat. Of course it is quite feasible to be motivated by any combination of these reasons.

    ken, I don’t think meat chickens are really free range (other than those explicitly sold as being free range). My understanding is that they live their brief lives entirely within sheds. Perhaps some of the animal welfare people could clarify this.

  20. “Which” and “that” are both acceptable since “values” is not a person.

    Donna is right – those free range eggs cost a mint, which greatly affects consumer choices.

    I have kept a record of all food purchases for the last 10 years (including tuckshop, takeaways etc). Each year, the cost has increased by around 10% – except for 2006, when the annual total went down a bit despite fairly large increases in the prices of a lot of grocery items.

    I put this down to cooking almost all food at home, studying supermarket catalogues and shopping at more than one supermarket within the same complex – with major savings being made on fresh produce, in particular.

    To my knowledge, the fattening of table birds (e.g. chickens) happens at lightning speed due to the administration of hormones. I doubt if they would have the space (or the time) to freely range anywhere before slaughter.

    If they are slaughtered before the last dose of hormones is fully metabolised (illegal), the hormones are ingested by the eater.

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