Thursday, January 31, 2013

Anti-Discrimination Bill

In December I expressed concern about the proposal in the proposed Anti-Discrimination Bill to make it unlawful to offend or insult others. I agreed with ABC Chairman and former New South Wales Chief Justice Jim Spigelman, who said that freedom to offend is integral to free speech and that there is no right not to be offended.

I welcome today’s reports that the Attorney-General is now giving a revised Anti-Discrimination Bill to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee for its consideration. I particularly welcome the fact that section 19(2)(b), which lists “conduct that offends, insults or intimidates”, is to be deleted.

The draft Bill was of course released for public comment, and the fact that the Senate Committee has received 525 submissions shows there has been plenty of public interest in this Bill. The Attorney-General should be congratulated for listening to public concerns.

Like other Australians I will continue to be interested in this issue. In Victoria, for example, for someone to be in breach of the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001, they must incite hatred against, serious contempt for, revulsion, or severe ridicule. This is much less threatening to freedom of speech than “conduct which offends”, and is worthy of consideration.

September 14 Federal Election

The Prime Minister’s announcement of a date for the Federal Election is good news for Australia and Australians. It means both the public and private sectors can plan the next eight months in an organised way. This increased certainty is good for business, good for the public service – both Commonwealth and State – and good for community groups and NGOs.

There should be less focus on whether the Prime Minister’s decision is politically clever or not, and more focus on whether it is a good decision for the nation, which it is.

Indeed it would be a good thing if both Government and Opposition committed to fixing Commonwealth election dates in advance. It already happens in the US, and in a number of Australian States, and it works well.

Labor Leader in Western Australia Supports Chilled Meat Trade

I support and congratulate Western Australia’s Opposition Leader, Mark McGowan, for his commitment to promoting, through consultation with the live export industry, a chilled meat trade as an animal welfare measure if elected as Premier on March 9.

Mr McGowan said on Sunday, January 27 when officially launching WA Labor's campaign that:

“You have to take all the steps you can to create more jobs in Australia, so that's why I'm talking more about processing meat in Australia as opposed to overseas”.

"What the state can do is work with proponents who might want to set up meatworks and help them secure labour to do so”.

The live export trade is not only a failure of ethics but a failure of economics. We should move towards a viable alternative – a local chilled meat export industry that protects and creates more Australian rural jobs, results in higher profitability through value added opportunities and addresses the public’s welfare concerns.

In 2011 the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU), estimated that some 3,500 direct employment meat processing jobs have been lost because of the Australian live animal trade.  World Society for the Protection of Animals research indicates that the direct and indirect jobs created by growing the domestic meat processing industry would in fact exceed those that would be lost from the live export trade.

Transitioning away from live exports and into domestic processing would be better for both animal welfare and for Australian jobs. I commend Mr McGowan for his policy vision.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reforming Question Time

Liberal Manager of Opposition Business Christopher Pyne has suggested a ‘backbench question time’ so that MPs can ask Ministers questions without notice, for example, about important issues in their electorates. The thing is, that’s exactly what we have right now. The problem is that neither Government nor Opposition Parties use it. They use Question Time to pursue their favoured political issue of the day.

Neither Government nor Opposition MPs are permitted to ask questions of their own. Christopher Pyne as Manager of Opposition Business has been one of the worst offenders.

In the last week of Parliament last year the Opposition asked the questions it was allocated –35 questions – about the Australian Workers Union in the mid 1990s when Julia Gillard worked for Slater and Gordon. Their questions concerned an issue which no constituent has ever expressed any interest to me about, and which is nearly twenty years old.

There are no doubt any number of issues which Opposition MPs could have raised and would have liked to have raised instead. Parliament would have been a much more genuinely representative voice of Australian voters if they had been raised.

Christopher Pyne doesn’t need to win an election to reform Question Time. If he is serious about reforming Question Time, it’s in his power already. He can start next week.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Emperor’s New Clothes

The Emperor’s New Clothes is an old fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen about an Emperor who is deceived by two swindlers who pretend to dress him in the finest suit of clothes, while providing him with no clothing at all. They get away with this by saying the ‘fabric’ is invisible to anyone unfit for his position or ‘hopelessly stupid’. The Emperor falls for this, as do his advisers, and he parades naked down the street. The townsfolk, not wishing to appear stupid either, say nothing. Finally the nonsense is exposed by a child in the crowd who yells out “The Emperor has no clothes”.

I was reminded of this story when I read that 14 year old Bindi Irwin, daughter of the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin, had an essay she had been asked to write for US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s e-journal drastically edited before it was to be published.

Why the censorship? Well Bindi was asked to write 1000 words on why she had chosen to devote her life’s work to wildlife conservation. The article was to be part of Secretary Clinton’s Endangered Species Initiative. Bindi wrote her 1000 words mostly about global overpopulation. It came back with the parts about population edited out.

Pity. Because if we genuinely want to help the world’s endangered species, we need to tackle the rapid population growth which has seen the world’s population more than treble from 2 billion to 7 billion in the last hundred years. An Endangered Species Initiative which won’t talk about population is an Emperor wearing no clothes. And it took a 14 year old to point it out.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Martin Luther King Jnr Day

Monday, the 21st of January was Martin Luther King Day, an American national holiday where Americans celebrated his towering contribution to his country, and the rest of the world paused to reflect on his legacy.

Commemorative events for the Martin Luther King Junior Day slid seamlessly into celebrations of the swearing-in Monday of the nation's first black president, Barack Obama, for his second term, with many Americans moved by the reminder of how far the country has come since the 1960s. At the ceremonial inauguration, Obama took the oath on a Bible once owned by King. He called it "a great privilege."

It is worth remembering that Martin Luther King Junior grasped with great clarity that one of the key driving causes of global poverty and misery is overpopulation.

In 1966 he said, “There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available. Family planning, to relate population to world resources, is possible, practical and necessary. Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is solvable by means we have discovered and with resources we possess. What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and education of billions who are its victims.”

We need to heed Martin Luther King’s prescient view from 1966 and heading down a road by which more people will starve, not less, more people will die from water-borne diseases, and more people will die in wars caused by conflict over access to scarce resources.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Animal Cruelty in Indonesia

I am writing to the Indonesian Government about the photographs of cows in East Java being hoisted by a crane using ropes tied to their necks.

I am concerned to read comments by Indonesian Veterinary Association Chairwoman Wiwiek Bagya that animal welfare laws in effect since 2009 do not work because they do not actually lay out what punishment people should face for animal cruelty.

Clearly there was a great outcry in the Australian community following the 2011 revelations of cruelty to Australian animals in Indonesian abattoirs. For the Australian community to have genuine confidence that exported animals will not be mistreated, we need a sense that we are on the same page as people in other countries on the question of animal welfare. These photographs will not give Australians that sense. I hope the Indonesian Government will take action in this case. I hope it will demonstrate, by its enforcement of laws against animal cruelty, that it shares with Australians a real commitment to animal welfare.  

Friday, January 4, 2013

US Fiscal Cliff

Friday 4th January 2012/ac

US Fiscal Cliff

The US fiscal cliff has been avoided, but the fundamental problems are alive and well. The US Budget continues to go deeper and deeper into unsustainable debt, and US society has a depressing level of real poverty and inequality.

As of November 2012 an astonishing 47.7 million Americans were receiving taxpayer funded food stamps. One in four American children is on food stamps, and it is projected that half of all American children will be on food stamps at least once before they turn 18.

The US Census Bureau says the number of Americans living in poverty increased to a record high of 49.7 million last year- an increase of about 6 million in just the past 4 years.

Remarkably, instead of prioritising finding jobs and opportunities for Americans of all backgrounds who are living in poverty, the US Congress imports 100,000 migrants into the US every 30 days- over 1 million a year. It is a recipe for ongoing misery, poverty, and a massive infrastructure- driven national debt which continues to be a burden to both the US and the global economy.

Kelvin Thomson MP
Federal Labor Member for Wills