Buddy or Bully-Boy? Is it time to Boycott Australia over Human Rights Abuses?

In the shadow of our ANZAC commemorations, it is time to ask whether Australia is still our mate.

This year Australia spent A$145 million on ANZAC commemorations, including the new Australian War Memorial over here in New Zealand. 6500 Australian men enlisted in WW1, but like for us in Aotearoa, Gallipoli is particularly significant. In BBC News article describing the pull of ANZAC day commemorations, Wendy Frew says,

 it is Gallipoli that holds a special place in Australian hearts. Many believe it was here Australians proved themselves the equal of any in the world, heralding the young nation’s emergence onto the world stage.

So, unbeatable odds. Mate-ship. Courage under fire.

Being a mate and having courage in adversity are ingredients my Australian Great-Grandfather would have described as character. In the interests of full disclosure, my Pakeha mother hails from Australian Irish roots. Our family lore includes the fabulous tale of how my Great-Great-Grandmother was the midwife that delivered Ned Kelly. Which goes to show that given the right conditions, you can be proud of anything.

You can even build identity out of it.

Because there is no doubt that Gallipoli holds a special place in our national imaginations, and that commemorations are a form of nation-building. In 1983, theorist Benedict Anderson argued that nations are an ‘imagined political community’. He meant that we don’t have relationships with most people in our nation, but nevertheless have a sense of belonging to a group and sharing particular affinities. Our belonging is most keenly felt through larger events, like rugby games. Or like Gallipoli commemorations. Mate-ship. Courage under fire.

But what happens when a nation commits acts that are at odds with the way we think of them? How are we as New Zealanders to make sense of Australia’s human rights abuses?

There are two areas where Australia is drawing international attention for human rights abuses: in the Australian Government’s treatment of refugees and in their treatment of Indigenous Australians. I can’t help but think that these failures in compassion are intrinsically linked; that they relate to an outdated, racist understanding of who an Australian is. That Australia, one of the strongest global economies, is protecting its wealth for the good of white Australian citizens, at the expense of Indigenous communities.

Let’s get real about how bad Australian human rights abuses have got.

As you may know, on May 1st there were 10,000 protestors in Australian cities protesting the threat of closure of remote communities in Western Australia.  The #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA campaign came about through a call to action from the people of West Kimberley. In November 2014, Colin Barnett, Premier of Western Australia, announced that the State could no longer support 150 remote Aboriginal Communities, which could be removed by the end of 2015. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has backed this statement, saying “What we can’t do, is endlessly subsidise choices, if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have”.

As #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA have pointed out, it is against UN HUMAN RIGHTS LAW for any people to remove another people from their land. The Commonwealth of Australia signed up to this convention in 2009 and is accountable.

Meanwhile, the treatment of refugees to Australia has gone from bizarre to ridiculous with Australia sending refugees from the processing facility at Nauru to Cambodia. Human Right’s Watch  have argued that Cambodia has a bad record with refugees and it’s own serious human rights abuses. Including torture. Meanwhile, Amnesty reminds us that 107 children are amongst those detained on Nauru, with another 60 are detained in Australia.

It’s gone far enough.

Nothing reminds us of our mate-ship with Australia more than ANZAC day. We are close by, used to skipping over the ditch for holidays or work or shopping trips. According to NZTE, we also have one of the closest and broadest trade relationships in the world. Our two-way trade is worth NZ$24 billion.

So if you thought John Key might have a soft word with Tony Abbott about human right’s abuses while they were watching the cricket, you are sorely mistaken. From Key’s perspective, it’s all about  maintaining our trade relationship. Australia is New Zealand’s second biggest export market, worth NZ$13.18 billion, in things like crude oil, gold, wine and cheese.

What about New Zealand as a nation? Is there anything we can do to tell our closest mate that their behaviour is not okay? Is there anything we can do to support the human rights of Indigenous Australians and refugees? Or is it simply a case of New Zealand being the little guy, a small country without the wealth or status to do anything except bear witness?

So, unbeatable odds.

And something my Australian Great-Grandfather might have called character. When you stand up to a bully, even though he is stronger than you. Or even harder, when you speak out to a friend, knowing that your words might cost you their friendship.

I think it’s time we as New Zealanders start boycotting Australian products. We are less significant to them economically – their 7th largest export market, worth NZ$10.9 billion to the Australian economy in things like aluminium, cars, wheat, chocolate and retail medicines. But we as New Zealanders can vote with our wallets and stop buying Australian chocolates, cars and medicines. Unfortunately, this kind of global attention to human rights abuse might make the Australian Government pay attention.

Because in the shadow of ANZAC, we could remember that some people gave their lives for a sweet ideal they called freedom. And standing up to your mate when he’s being a nong, well it’s what you do when you’re a mate, isn’t it?

#BOYCOTTAUSTRALIA

 

 

 

 

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Red Post-Election Blues.

There was a kind of depressed lull after the Sept 20 election, none of us on the left had much to say. I was overtaken with post-election blues; a kind of energy-sapping disappointment, frustration and despair. One of my friends posted a fb note saying that he was still processing, so could we please not talk to him about the election. I got together with a group of friends that week to provide mutual solace, and ended up kissing an environmental activist who walked me to my bus-stop. So clearly, there are always silver linings.

But overall I’ve felt that there is more to say –

We are facing an emerging picture of the impact a third National term will have. John Key has come out backing the so-called ‘child poverty’ advice of the Ministry of Social Development, even though MSD officials disregarded the main recommendations of the report. Ignoring research-based findings in favour of right-wing discourse smacks of arrogance, but clearly Key’s government feel they have a clear mandate from the election to keep rolling out quasi austerity policies.

I’ve felt disappointed by the election summations of the left. Chris Trotter gnashed his teeth about the gender quota issue in the Labour party, complaining that less than 1/5 New Zealand men gave their Party Vote to Labour. It’s interesting that even amongst the left, scapegoating marginalised groups – like women – who are more exploited for their labour is an acceptable practice. The failure of New Zealand men to vote Left speaks to the uneven distribution of  emotional labour and nurturing in our culture (i.e. that women are more often responsible for children and elderly) not the failure of feminism. It means New Zealand men largely voted in their own self-interest, rather than voting for the good of dependents. It also reflects New Zealand men’s greater earning power.

Labour is facing a four-way Leadership race between Nanaia Mahuta, David Parker, Andrew Little and Grant Robertson. I’ve felt really irritated by social media calls for people to vote on merit rather than ‘special interests’ or ‘political correctness’. It’s just really embarrassing that left-wing commentators have such a poor understanding of how structural inequalities work. Even if you are a die-hard old-school Marxist who puts the exploitation of the worker at the centre of your analysis, you should know that capitalism effects different groups of people differently, i.e. some workers are more exploited and exploitable than others. Because of the impact of structural racism (in education and the justice system for example) Maori and Pasifika peoples are more vulnerable to exploitation as low-paid workers. Even without that level of analysis, Maori and Pasifika voters did turn out for Labour, and deserve party accountability. That’s not even going near the politics of indigeneity, and what I would want to say about colonisation and Te Tiriti. So pull your heads in.

So is there a better way to theorise National’s landslide win? What stands out to me is the level of saturation of neoliberal discourse after the previous two National terms, and in a global context of ongoing austerity measures. Chomksy’s recent comments about the business classes in America fighting a ‘class war’ to challenge opposition, and discussion of the decimation of the union movement, have made reflect me on the impact on growing income inequality in New Zealand.

What if the failure of Labour to secure voters was less about political claims-making along a mutable political spectrum, and more about the division of haves and have-nots without the buffering “middle-class” we’ve generally seen?  Marx argued that we act in our own self-interest. The interests of the wealthy elite is far removed from the social and economic needs of New Zealand’s working class; perhaps why Cunliffe’s gesture towards raising the minimum wage didn’t make a dent in political consciousness.

What does it mean if New Zealand’s political process has come to represent the interests of the business classes?  We are already in a global environment where corporations have more power than individual governments. The only solutions I can think of lie with mobilising globally across different disenfranchised groups (like the global poor), and directly challenging corporations instead of simply channelling our efforts through government.

I’m really interested in hearing other people’s views on how we can create meaningful social change. Do we need to get radical?

Pasifika, Political, and Proud: Three Reasons Pasifika People Should Vote Out Key

So Three News had a story today June 10th on “Pacific voters” turning out for John Key in Mangere. They included a quote by National candidate Misa-Fia Turner, saying that Gay Marriage is one of the main reasons for Pasifika voters turning from Labour to National. Misa-Fia Turner says

“that’s important to us because that’s really against our moral values”.

For a start, the same-sex marriage bill has already passed in April last year. It was a conscience vote, meaning MPs could vote as they saw fit, not along party lines. It passed by 77 votes to 44, which included 27 National MPs voting for it. John Key voted for it. Misa-Fia Turner was really misrepresenting her own party.

Secondly, when National candidate Misa-Fia Turner says gay marriage is “against our moral values”, I wonder how she has managed to miss out on so much Pasifika gay and fa’afafine awesomeness, like this incredible art and cultural project.

I am a Pasifika voter. I am queer/ bisexual. I am accepted by my family and community. My past partners have been accepted by my family. Get over it. It’s certainly not a voting issue.

Pasifika peoples are pretty diverse, and of course you can’t really presume we have the same values and beliefs. But there are some issues that are significant to Pasifika peoples. Here are my top three reasons for Pasifika people to vote out National by voting Labour or left of Labour (Greens party, Mana and Internet party) based on actual issues facing Pasifika communities, and the things we collectively value.

1) We love our kids. Pasifika people know that we are all responsible for the next generation. We think in terms of our communities. Pasifika peoples in New Zealand are a youthful population, meaning that we have a lot of young people. Under the National government, child poverty has increased. We’ve seen how the children of beneficiaries have been made to suffer through Paula Bennett’s approach to welfare. We’ve seen how many young families are not meeting the cost of living even when there is a full-time earner, because wages are too low and the cost of living is too high.

Labour has policies aimed at increasing employment and minimum wage. Both the Greens and Mana/ the Internet party go even further towards stopping child poverty, by having policy aimed at better supporting beneficiary families. The current government is making things worse. It’s a no brainer.

2) We care about the health and well-being of our communities. Our communities are facing a lot of chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. After adjusting for inflation, the National government is spending less on health across 2015. In real terms, that means cutting services and probably increasing waiting times.

Both Labour and the Greens have health policy aimed at improving health by spending more. The Greens have policy specifically aimed at improving the health of populations with low health status, like Pasifika peoples. Mana is focusing on tobacco restrictions, and would introduce free after-hours medical care for children under 16 years and for senior citizens.

3) We care about the Pacific, the Pacific ocean, and its peoples. Where we come from is so important to us. We are connected to vanua. We are connected to the sea around us. The islands of Kiribati are facing potentially becoming uninhabitable in the next 30-60 years because of the impact of climate change, which is already causing salt water contamination of fresh water and crop soil. People having been talking about being ‘climate voters’ which is bipartisan, but from my perspective the only party significantly engaged with climate change is the Greens.

 

No, Paula: Nits are a Symptom, but Poverty is the Cause.

Paula Bennett has announced the Government will provide nearly $1 million funding through the Ministry of Social Development to KidsCan to manage head lice in low decile schools, see Scoop.

Paula Bennett goes as far as admitting that the cost of nit treatments is prohibitive for poor families:

“Although nits are found in all schools, children from low-decile schools, and particularly their parents, could use help in dealing with nits. Treatment can typically cost $30. Combine that with several heads in the household and the problem becomes extremely expensive. This initiative will allow for whole families to be treated if necessary. It can be a struggle for some families to keep on top of infestations. We hear of children having their heads shaved and severe scalp infections where unsuitable treatments are used”.

My problem with the Government working through KidsCam to treat kids for nits at school (including hairdresser style chairs) is that it is the worst type of “ambulance at the end of the cliff” program typical of poorly conceptualised development programmes.

Nits are a symptom Paula, but poverty is the problem. Only treating the nits does nothing to change the living conditions of the child overall. Kids will be just as hungry and cold and poorly educated, without nits. They will be as vulnerable to the next illness that comes along, that their parent or parents will also not be able to afford to treat.

Changing poverty in New Zealand is a different matter.  You could increase the minimum wage to a living wage so that families can provide the essential costs of living. You could increase the base rate of the unemployment benefit, so that children in beneficiary families are not punished for their parents lack of employment. While you were at it, you could implement changes in the culture of Work and Income New Zealand, so that beneficiaries are not bullied and shamed during the application process. You could create jobs.

It’s hard to say if the programme the Government has announced will even work, here are some problems with it:

  • Nit infestation is about needing treatment, but it is also about overcrowded living conditions where lice can easily be passed from head to head. I think kids are likely to keep getting them back from other family members, who will still not be able to afford to treat them.
  • National loves to pretend it keeps out of people’s lives, but I can’t think of a more “nannying” intervention than treating people’s children for head lice!  What it really means is that they are unable to address the impact of income inequality, but children from lower deciles are able to be subjected to more policing than other children. How are the kids going to feel about having people who aren’t their parents come in and treat them for head lice? How will parents feel about it? How is the potential bullying that might occur towards children who are treated for head lice going to be managed? Will it feel like another instance of micro-agression or minority stress for Pacific kids who are already subject to ongoing micro-agressions?
  • Do you even understand how Pacific communities are going to feel about having people come in and washing their kids hair?
  • Money spent on hairdressing chairs, basins, and either paying or subsidising the travel costs of the hair washers (it’s not clear how the program works) could be spent directly on families in need, who could then treat nits in their own home.
  • It could put more pressure on teachers, and take kids away from learning while they are being checked, washed, dried and nit-combed at school.

Stop Blaming Poor Folk for the Effects of Neoliberalism

Eva Bradley wrote an opinion piece yesterday after some protestors challenged the Prime Minister in Napier, entitled ”Poor’ should Stop playing Blame Game’.

Frankly, I’m too bored and frustrated by vacuous media commentary to want to put any work into eloquently crafting a more analytical response – so excuse my brevity and bad mood.

Bradley mobilises rhetoric about poor people and poverty that is connected to some broader social and political discourses. She tells us ‘the (reputed) poor were having a whinge’. “Having a whinge” – while obviously part of Kiwi slang – is a feminised act. Whinging is usually associated with women (the “whinging wife” or “his girlfriend was having a whinge”), and when it is used in relation to men it is often done to mildly discredit their masculinity as well as their concern (i.e. saying “He’s having a whinge” is comparable to saying “he’s being a wuss”). The phrase “having whinge” is a means of trivialising the concern of the “whinger”. It’s a way of delegitimising their claims.

Why would it be so important for Bradley to delegitimise the claims of some people protesting about poverty in Aotearoa? Why would their chant, “Stop the War on the Poor?” get under her skin? I know some of my friends outside of Aotearoa would be incredibly bemused by the idea of local media in the Hawkes Bay standing up for the Prime Minister. They would expect that media would take the role of critical inquirer in the very least, and at times expect that media might be provocative or deliberately antagonistic towards political leaders. It is about an expectation that our democracy should be robust. Politicians are doing a job, and part of that job is dealing with both media and the public. And yet, mainstream New Zealand often treats John Key as if he is a mix between a celebrity and an affable uncle, whose congeniality makes up for his forgetfulness and contradictory statements.

Bradley’s claim that ‘the “poor” should take a reality check” speaks to the way mainstream New Zealanders often harbour a sense that Aotearoa is ‘a lucky country’ or that we are fairly egalitarian. Our national imaginary is informed by the Pakeha colonial experience of “escaping” from poverty and the class system in Britain. As significant as this was as an affective experience for Pakeha people’s great-grand-parent or grand-parent generation, it doesn’t fit with social reality in Aotearoa. Neoliberal policy reforms in the ’80s and ’90s meant the stripping back of the welfare state that Aotearoa had previously known.

Susan St John’s (2013) research article on income-related child poverty in New Zealand shows that 270,000 New Zealand children live in poverty, some experiencing serious deprivation over extended periods of time (see Child Poverty Action Group).

Bradley drags out the usual tired, truisms about how the poor could avoid poverty; ‘attitude’, ‘hard-work and commitment’, ‘responsibility’ and ‘tough love’. She claims ‘I was free to rise or fall according to my own efforts and decisions’. All of these ideas are examples of neoliberal discourse, that premise the individual and thus seek quasi-psychological solutions for poverty at the level of individual action. The problem with neoliberal discourse is that it obscures the relationships between people and communities; institutions; and social and economic structures. The reality is that within a global system of neoliberal capitalism, New Zealand’s economy is linked to global market forces, flows of capital and financialisation.

People have a right to be angry about the level of poverty in New Zealand. They have a right to hold political leaders to account for their policy decisions. While poverty is complex, there are also tangible steps that governments can take to reduce poverty. So before you vote, how about asking the following of each political party:

  • What would you do to reduce child poverty?
  • What actions will your party take to ensure that children in poor families have the same access to education and health care as other children?
  • Benefit rates are currently too low relative to high housing and food costs in New Zealand, meaning that children in families on benefits are at risk of nutritional lacks and poor health. Will your party consider raising the benefit base rates to account for raised costs of living?
  • Working poor families are also impoverished in New Zealand because of the low minimum wage, and relatively high household costs. Will your party raise the minimum wage?
  • What actions would your party take to create jobs in New Zealand?