In November last year I made the decision to join the ALP. In what follows I will explain my reasons for doing so.
Having recently stood as an Independent candidate in the Federal Seat of Indi and at the time expressing some strong reservations about the partisan nature of politics in Australia, the decision to join Labor was not taken lightly, and I will no doubt come under some criticism for doing so.

Whilst I think the voice of independents and minor parties remains important to providing dissenting views and diverse voices, I have come to believe it is the nature of Australian politics to be a strong two party system and it is these two parties that have and will continue to have the greatest capacity to shape the future of our nation. I feel I have things to contribute to this future and that I can best do that as a member of the Labor Party.

I am a sociologist and as such I study the links between the structures and institutions of society and the lived experiences of individuals. I have been lucky enough to have travelled to many parts of the world in my life and one thing that is always made clear when I travel is how very lucky we are in Australia in so many ways. But what is increasingly clear to me is how wide the gap is getting between those who can benefit from that luck and those that can’t- be it in health care, education, jobs, housing or community. Rather than the country of the ‘fair go’ we are increasingly becoming a country of deeply entrenched inequality and exclusion that impacts most severely on those who most need our care- our children and our elderly.

For me the Labor Party is the party that has continually had the guts to stare that inequality in the face and make the changes needed to address it. Sometimes efforts to make those changes have been hasty, badly implemented, incomplete and costly. But those are things that can be learned from, improved on, and hopefully better managed in the future. The big changes- the tough things that are worth doing- don’t always run smoothly, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue them.

Labor understands that as individuals we are only as safe, healthy, secure and strong as the communities we live in and that the first and most important role of government is to ensure that its people are cared for and that there is as much equality of opportunity as possible. It understands that unfortunately every child is not born equal, but that the best way to address that is through education and that ‘pulling oneself up by ones bootstraps’ is a lot easier to achieve if you have strong social networks, great role models, self-confidence and a secure safety net. My own research with the children from disadvantaged families provides plenty of evidence about this. You cannot lift a country up by leaving people behind and punishing its weakest and those least able to fight for their rights.

It is my belief that the Coalition in power takes this country backwards economically, socially and most importantly- spiritually. It thrives on the narrow-minded fear of those who have been fooled into believing that if we shut out the things we don’t like then they will just go away and that if we all just protect our own interests then we will be OK. It has been my experience in life that I get the greatest rewards when I put the needs of others ahead of my own and when I open my life to share with others. I believe our country is the same and we need leaders who will articulate that to the electorate. ‘Aspiration’ is word that has become synonymous with the Liberal side of politics, and I think aspiration is essential, but it just can’t be for individuals; we also need to aspire for things as a collective- to be better in our families, our communities and as a nation.

Having said that, I also think the Labor Party has a lot of changing to do. Again, I think as a sociologist I am in a good place to contribute to that. Whilst I whole-heartedly support the rights of workers to secure employment, entitlements and safe working conditions, I also know that the nature of the labour market in a global post-industrial society is vastly different to that of just a few decades ago. As such we need to be adapting our IR approaches and we need to be rethinking our welfare policies, both of which are outdated and no longer viable to meet the changing nature of families and societies with such insecure, and highly casualised and labour markets.

I am strongly opposed to the party’s position on the offshore processing of asylum seekers and think we failed badly in our efforts to build a regional approach to this global problem. Shutting out the desperate and weak will not make them go away, they will just become someone else’s problem – someone with far less ability to provide aid than us. We need to be looking for ways that we can work together to the mutual advantage to both our nation and those who seek to come here. I believe future generations will look back at the cruelty of the current arrangements as a stain on our history.

As a party, Labor appears to be changing, although like most change it will be incremental, sometimes painful and even cathartic. There will no doubt be casualties along the way and sometimes it won’t be pretty. But it is becoming more open, more democratic, more diverse and more inclusive.
I believe I have something to contribute to that process and look forward to seeing how my involvement with the party develops over coming years.

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I haven’t posted on this blog site for a very long time what with my own study and PhD research, commuting weekly between Wodonga and Melbourne, teaching at Melbourne Uni and still trying to be of some help at our business, life has been a bit hectic. 

Some of those things are now off my plate, but I now find myself taking on what could possibly be an even bigger challenge- contesting the Federal seat of Indi as an Independent candidate.  This blog will, for the next few months, be a record of this journey.

Over the past few years I have spent a great deal of time thinking, studying and writing about society: how it works and doesn’t work, who wins and who loses, how the things we think we know come to be known, who has power and who has none, and most importantly for me how the lack of a ‘fair go’  can impact on the lives of children across their life course.    Whilst thinking, studying and writing about these things will very soon result in me being conferred a PhD, it seems to me that this isn’t enough. 

Since I was quite young I have had a strong sense of social justice.  From my teen years I was involved as a volunteer in the community and understood how significant and lasting the impacts of poverty and disadvantage could be.  I could see how the opportunities I was able to provide for my own children through education, sport and recreation, and a strong family support network were not afforded to everyone.  These things have driven my study and now they are one of the things that drive my decision to enter politics.

Children living in rural and regional Australia do not have the same opportunities afforded to them as their city counterparts.  It is harder to access the high levels of education and training, harder for families to afford to send their kids to uni, and harder for them to find jobs.

I believe that the future of this country lies in its regional development.  Our cities are splitting at the seams, but here in places like NE Victoria we have fantastic potential to grow and thrive.  But we need to be smart, look to the future, think sustainably and work to our strengths.

So to this end I have begun my campaign to win the hearts and minds of the people and enough votes to win the seat.  What I would mostly like to share on this blog is what I learn along the way: the people and places; the new ideas, understandings and lessons; and how I grow as a result.

I hope you enjoy being part of this journey with me and look forward to your comments, ideas and suggestions.

This a nice piece by Jo Chandler in The Age.

http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/when-science-is-undone-by-fiction-20110628-1gp26.html

It remains a mystery to me how in the face of so much mounting evidence of the inevitable environmental disasters that appear to be now just around the corner, it is possible for 60% of Australians to think that we don’t need to  act to stop big polluters.  The rates with which we are filling the air with greenhouse gas and taking the globe to carbon dioxide levels that haven’t been around since the dinosaurs is, well, ‘alarming’.  ‘Alarmist’ is now a favoured tag for those who see the evidence and publicly urge us to get on with the job.  Since when has someone who sees smoke coming out of a building and calls the fire brigade been called an ‘alarmist’?  I mean surely they shouldn’t wait until it has been confirmed before they act?  Wait and see if there is any real damage, casualties, maybe even deaths before they rashly go wasting money acting?  

What on earth are we afraid of?  The cost?  I think there is mounting evidence that the cost of not doing anything is gong to be far greater.  Personal inconvenience?  Again, ask the victims of recent flooding about the inconvenience of climate change.  I suspect it is the unkown that we are the most afraid of.  I also think that Australians doubt themsleves.  We are not very good at seeing ourselves as global leaders and initiators.  Maybe it is a hangover from the colonial era.  We are very good at playing the support act- going along with big brother America or sacrificing oursleves adoringly for the Brits, and neither of those things are bad, but we have yet to see ourselves as capable of standing on our own two feet.  The idea of doing something that others are slow to do seems a bit scary, silly even and certainly risky. It is part of a national discourse that sees it as OK to be world leaders on the sporting field but not as thinkers, innovators or political leaders.  If we are to change the minds of Australians we have to change this discourse.  I heard the word ‘preservation’ used by a mining CEO recently in relation to the things we needed to protect.  Number One was his profit I expect.  But it seemed to me to be indicative of our mindset. We can’t think past preserving what we have (except when it comes to the environment of course).  We need to be thinking about how we can make it better.  Making things better requires thought, risk and cost but this is what humans do well; at least we used to.  We need to start thinking about what we can do to make the world better, now and in the future.  We need to be leading the world in how this can be done, not hanging around waiting to be told.  If others are being slow to act then we need to give them the confidence to do so by being bold.  What we need most is a national discourse that inspires this leadership.  We need a ‘little train that could’ discourse that inspires action and confidence and belief that we can not only save the world but make it a far better place for everyone that lives on it now and in the future.

I spent the best part of the last 2 months reading the work and life of William (Bill) Stanner. To be honest I had never heard of the man until serendipity stepped in as it often does when you are researching; one thing led to another and I have just written 5000 words about him. If you are familiar with his work then what I am about to write will come as no surprise, but if like me, you have never head of him, then I would like to share some of what I have learnt.

Stanner was an Australian anthropologist whose work with the culture and religion of indigenous Australians has been described as ‘decisive and influential’. Stanner began his ethnographic research in the 1930’s but it was his Boyer Lecture series in 1968 that was really the catalyst for his rise to prominence. The series entitled, After the Dreaming, raised in the public sphere for the first time not only Stanners concerns for the plight of aboriginal people in this country, but also what he termed ‘the Great Australian Silence’, and what he described as deeply engrained patterns of forgetting, a ‘cult of forgetfulness practiced on a national scale’. Stanner saw that until well into the 1960’s aborigines, their welfare, dispossession and future were absent from the thinking of most Australians, a  hole at the very centre of our social thinking that was a ‘structural matter- a view from a window placed to exclude a whole quadrant of the landscape’. I could go on all day citing Stanner, his work is very readable and moving, obviously the work of a man who was passionate about his subject and that had made a deep connection with the people he studied. Robert Manne writes: Stanner grasped something unresolved at the core of the encounter between aborigines and those who came after, which even now remains at the heart of the debate over what it means to be Australian.
If you get a chance to have a look at any of his work, I recommend the Boyer Lectures, they are well worth a read. Sadly, I think the view from the window has barely moved forty odd years on. Stanner believed that policy could not move far ahead of conviction, nor could the actual workings of a policy, the way in which it bites down upon a problem, have greater strength than the strength of conviction.  This could explain a great deal about aboriginal policy and its outcomes today.

The hesitation in enacting carbon legislation seems endemic of a broader malaise in this country leaning towards mediocrity and preserving the status quo.

A Liberal friend of mine sent me an article by Andrew Bolt. It appeared in the SMH back in February but I have attached the article to the bottom of my comment which is:

I am no climate specialist and I know Andrew Bolt isn’t either.  On the other hand Tim Flannery is; a climate paleontologist I think is his correct title. I know who I’d be listening to.  But here is how I read it.

Following more than 10 years of drought and a continuing  rise in average temperatures, we have this year experienced an El Nino weather pattern which has resulted in us receiving well above average rainfall.  Depsite this our water systems are still only partially full.  That pattern has subsided now and so far this month it appears we are on track to be below average again.   The fact that the catastrophes Flannery predicted haven’t eventuated, yet, is more by good luck, but good luck that resulted in major flooding disasters across vast areas of the country, also a feature of climate change.  I expect that these things are hard to predict accurately but I think that anyone who doesn’t recognize that we are in environmental trouble is burying their head in the sand.

As for geothermal power, I also don’t know much about it either, but I expect that like all new technologies, these things will take a while to perfect, which is why the sooner we start exploring the options the better.  New green technology will take time and money to implement and it is time this planet doesn’t have.

Bolt displays all of the traits of a classic ‘denier’.  Not just climate deniers, but deniers in general.  Deniers generally search out inaccuracies in statistics, discrepancies in predictions and outcomes, or some widely held belief, usually mythical, and use that as ‘evidence’ that the whole thing is a hoax.  Those that deny the holocaust use precisely the same tactic, as do the antagonists in the indigenous debate in the ‘history wars’.

As for the money spent on paying Flannery to consult, frankly I would rather be spending the money on consulting with someone who has a clue than spending millions on a plebiscite to ask the rest of us, who don’t, what we think. Of course many people will vote not to pay for a carbon tax. We can be idiots when it comes to making personal sacrifices for the good of the whole and to set us up better for the future.   Why should we pay now for something in the future, we ask?  Well because we caused the problem, and if we don’t act now,
then by the time it does become urgent, it will be far too late because it is going to take time to change.  We have the largest carbon footprint per capita on the globe, we have to learn to do things better.  That is what humans do; always have done.  We find ways to do things better.  Why do we want to stop now? 

I think our hesitation in acting is endemic of an overall lack of vision in this country.  We have become complacent, happy to just tag along, pick up what others (or the market) throw at us.  I spoke to a mum of three young kids yesterday and asked her about her hopes for her children’s future.  She had none, just so long as they were happy and got a secure job.  It is as if it is a crime in this country to aspire to be the best, to lead, to have ambition, oh unless it is as a mining billionaire or a sportsman.  I say ‘boohoo’ to all the Andrew Bolts of this world who want us to just maintain the status quo, and three cheers to the Tim Flannerys, who challenge us to make this country the most advanced, sustainable and inspiring country on earth.

My friends email:
Interesting reading…

Interesting facts!! (if fact this is a great worry)

It pays to  check out Tim Flannery’s predictions about
climate  change: 

 Andrew  Bolt 
  
Tim Flannery has had years of practice trying to  terrify us into thinking human-made climate change will destroy Earth,  says Andrew Bolt.

TIM Flannery has just  been hired by the Gillard Government to scare us  stupid, and I can’t think of a better man for the job. 
This  Alarmist of the Year is worth every bit of the $180,000 salary he’ll  get as part-time chairman of the Government’s new Climate  Commission.

His job is simple: to advise us that we really,  truly have to accept, say, the new tax on carbon dioxide emissions  that this Government threatens to impose. 
This kind  of work is just up the dark alley of Flannery, author of The Weather  Makers, that bible of booga booga.
He’s had years of practice  trying to terrify us into thinking our exhausts are turning the world  into a fireball that will wipe out civilisation, melt polar ice caps  and drown entire cities under hot seas. 
Small  problem, though: after so many years of hearing Flannery’s  predictions, we’re now able to see if some of the scariest have  actually panned out. 
And we’re  also able to see if people who bet real money on his advice have  cleaned up or been cleaned out. 
So before  we buy a great green tax from Flannery, whose real expertise is  actually in mammology, it may pay to check his record.

Ready?

In 2005,  Flannery predicted Sydney ‘s dams could be dry in as little as two  years because global warming was drying up the rains, leaving the city  “facing extreme difficulties with water”. 
 

Check  Sydney ‘s dam levels today: 73 per cent. Hmm. Not a good start. 

In  2008, Flannery said: “The water problem is so severe for Adelaide that  it may run out of water by early 2009.”

Check  Adelaide ‘s water storage levels today: 77 per cent.

In 2007,  Flannery predicted cities such as Brisbane would never again have  dam-filling rains, as global warming had caused “a 20 per cent  decrease in rainfall in some areas” and made the soil too hot, “so  even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and  river systems … “. 
 

Check the  Murray-Darling system today: in flood. Check Brisbane ‘s dam levels:  100 per cent full.

All this  may seem funny, but some politicians, voters and investors have taken  this kind of warming alarmism very seriously and made expensive  decisions in the belief it was sound.   So let’s check on  them, too.

In 2007,  Flannery predicted global warming would so dry our continent that  desalination plants were needed to save three of our biggest cities  from disaster. As he put it: “Over the past 50 years, southern  Australia has lost about 20 per cent of its rainfall, and one cause is  almost certainly global warming .

“In  Adelaide , Sydney and Brisbane , water supplies are so low they need  desalinated water urgently, possibly in as little as 18  months.”

One  premier, Queensland ‘s Peter Beattie, took such predictions – made by  other warming alarmists, too – so seriously that he spent more than $1  billion of taxpayers’ money on a desalination plant, saying “it is  only prudent to assume at this stage that lower-than-usual rainfalls  could eventuate”. 
 

But check  that desalination plant today: mothballed indefinitely, now that the  rains have returned. (Incidentally, notice how many of Flannery’s big  predictions date from 2007? That was the year warming alarmism reached  its most hysterical pitch and Flannery was named Australian of the  Year.)

Back to  another tip Flannery gave in that year of warming terror. In 2007, he  warned that “the social licence of coal to operate is rapidly being  withdrawn globally” by governments worried by the warming allegedly  caused by burning the stuff. 

We  should switch to “green” power instead, said Flannery, who recommended  geothermal – pumping water on to hot rocks deep underground to create  steam. “There are hot rocks in South Australia that potentially have  enough embedded energy in them to run Australia’s economy for the best  part of a century,” he said.

“The  technology to extract that energy and turn it into electricity is  relatively straightforward.”

Flannery  repeatedly promoted this “straightforward” technology, and in 2009,  the Rudd government awarded $90 million to Geodynamics to build a  geothermal power plant in the Cooper Basin , the very area Flannery  recommended. Coincidentally, Flannery has for years been a Geodynamics  shareholder, a vested interest he sometimes declares.

Time to  check on how that business tip went. Answer: erk. 
The  technology Flannery said was “relatively straighforward” wasn’t. 
One of  Geodynamics’ five wells at Innamincka collapsed in an explosion that  damaged two others. All had to be plugged with cement.

The project  has now been hit by the kind of floods Flannery didn’t predict in a  warming world, with Geodynamics announcing work had been further  “delayed following extensive local rainfall in the Cooper Basin  region”. 
The  technological and financing difficulties mean there is no certainty  now that a commercial-scale plant will ever get built, let alone prove  viable, so it’s no surprise the company’s share price has almost  halved in four months.

Never mind,  here comes Flannery with his latest scares and you-beaut fix. 

His  job as Climate Commission chief, says Climate Change Minister Greg  Combet, is to “provide an authoritative, independent source of  information on climate change to the Australian community” and “build  the consensus about reducing Australia ‘s carbon pollution”. 

That,  translated, means selling us whatever scheme the Government cooks up  to tax carbon dioxide, doing to the economy what the floods have done  to Flannery’s hot-rocks investment.
See why I  say Flannery is the right man for this job? Who better to teach us how  little we really know about global warming and how much it cost.
Incidentally  he [Tim Flannery] is on $3,600 a week of our taxpayers money for  working just three days a week making up more bullshit. 
Please  send this on and tell all Australians about these global warming  imbeciles and in particular this number one idiot Tim  Flannery.

It seems that the biggest concern for those who are deliberating the implementation of a carbon tax in this country is the risk of failure of privately owned companies. I am no economist but wouldn’t this all have been so much easier if we had not privatized vital public utilities? Now we can’t act to save the world because it will affect the profit margins of these massive corporations and they will either pass that burden on to us anyway or go bust. The idea that the supposed efficiency of private enterprise is always the best way seems to fall down somewhat when we are talking about vital services. No doubt government can’t always provide those services as efficiently and cost effectively as the private sector, but in my mind that is a small price to pay for having the ability to guarantee those services. In the end we will pay it anyway. Market-based systems have as their end goal, profit, not service. They will always reduce service when it looks like affecting their bottom line. Only government can factor in a triple bottom line and get away with it. Shareholders aren’t going to accept that their share value is down because the company needs to do the right thing by its customers. That’s the trouble with market based systems. Am I sounding like a socialist? You bet I am! It comes back to the idea of knowledge and discourse. We think market systems are best because we keep hearing that they are. We keep being told that growth, profit and that great word ‘preservation’ of market share are the ultimate goals. The way to make the economy stronger is for us to keep buying new things, and if the economy is stronger then everything will be so much better. We like a strong AUS$ because we can buy more with it, but what about those hard working farmers who are trying to sell things OS? I think the only thing we are preserving are the huge incomes of the wealthy, and yet somehow we keep thinking that if we don’t do this then we are doomed. The trouble with market based systems is they are all about the people at the top of the market and not about the rest of us, except in our capacity to keep feeding it.

I went to a seminar and movie about the life and work of Zygmunt Bauman. I must admit to only being very vaguely familiar with his work before this but I think I am a convert. Some of the main points that stood out for me were:

The idea that Bauman is a pessimist is just not true. He certainly sees a great deal of negative in modernity but his commitment is to keeping on searching, asking and finding answers. He is an utopian, but not in an ideological way. He believes there is a lot of bad in the world but is hopeful that we can make is better. His commitment to a lived sociology is testimony to that. He sees academic who sit in ivory towers, writing academic jargon for other academics as a waste and not unlike Foucault recognizes the power that privileged learning gives to those who have it. He believes that sociologists need to be providing a service for ordinary people, helping people to understand what is happening in their lives.

He does seems a bit of a Luddite when it comes to IT, but perhaps he hasn’t yet grasped its potential. His focus is on its capacity to create inequality- those who have it will have a power and control that is unavailable to those who don’t have it. And also on the way it is adding to the isolation of our lives, creating the illusion that we are more and more individuals who need to solve all our problems by ourselves. I agree with this in one sense but I think that it also provides a way to connect us that is also valuable. One person pointed out the role that IT has played in the Arab ‘spring’,in allowing the networking of masses of people to bring about those huge protests. But as it was also pointed out, bringing people together has yet to produce results in most cases. They still seem powerless to bring about change.
His theory of Liquid Modernity was given a good airing. This isnt that different to Giddens ‘reflexive modernity’, or even Heller’s ‘nihilistic discourse’ or is that Heidegger?. Baumann sees this constant and rapid change as producing a sense of uncertainty and anxiety in society. I think I agree with him about this. Whilst there is certainly infinite possibility there is also so much that is uncertain.
His work on the Holocaust was also discussed, in relation to the features of modernity that facilitate such actions but also as an issue about demographics, displaced peoples, and immigration. There is definitely room to explore this in relation to assylum seekers as well.
The movie was very good but I found his speech very hard to understand and think it would benefit greatly from subtitles. There was also an interview done with him in his home separately from the film, which I found very difficult to understand. I think I am just going to have to read a lot more of his work. There is no doubt he is one of the great minds of our time.

I have been reading a bit of Foucault recently. I like his work on discourse and how it informs history, not only the telling of it but also the living of it. This is particularly relevant in Australia in relation to indigenous affairs I think. The History Wars are a case in point. How our history is told influences government policy across a range of areas; education, welfare, health. But it also changes how we see our role in that history. Politicians clearly use history to sell their own political agenda and there are always intellectuals eager to provide them with the discourses they need to do so.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about how we know what we know and what power, influence, and authority is vested in certain knowledge. I have been thinking about how we can look at academic writing and literature and by doing so observe the cultural history of a given society; what they know, or think they know, and how that influences their practices, who is empowered by that knowledge, how they use that power. This is something I am keen to explore further and I Look forward to hearing from others.
For example, today I was wondering about the Dalai Lama given that he is currently appearing in Melbourne as part of a roadshow, complete with a merchandising entourage of everything Tibetan: how does he become the Dalai Lama? Apparently, he is reincarnated: upon his death his soul will pass to another, probably a child born at around the time of his death, and probably living in Tibet. A search, led by omens and dreams leads them to possible contenders and then something like a guessing game follows in which the child identifies objects that were the personal belongings of the previous Lama, revealing his (of course it is a boy) destiny. He is then taken into a monastery where he is immersed in the teachings, culture and life of a Buddhist monk and not surprisingly comes out the other end believing he is the chosen one. Now I don’t want to sound like I am poo-pooing the big
DL, being that he is a man of enlightenment and peace, but in my mind that is one hell of a socially constructed reality. And yet is a reality that so many seem to be happy to participate in, not just buddhists and Tibetans. Frankly, as method for choosing a leader it probably works as well as any, I mean look at what democracy gets us and hereditary monarchies are even worse, and I guess if the guy is smart enough to pick out the belongings of his predecessor at the age of 3 then he probably deserves to be the DL. I guess what really intrigues me is the process by which you come to believe that you are the one.