“Girt by sea” and yet we fear an invasion of the desperate

“Our home is girt by sea”

So rings out the fourth line of the Australian anthem, Advance Australia Fair.

visa policy

“Girt” that awkward, uncomfortable word meaning “surrounded”.

But now the line is firmly planted in my head as the national debate about our hardline approach to asylum seekers continues.

I flicked on the radio last weekend and found myself tuning into a conversation on ABC Radio National (3RN) about the new immigration policy announced by our prime minister Kevin Rudd, which will see genuine asylum seekers settled in Papau New Guinea (PNG), a place he says is “an emerging economy with a strong future; a robust democracy which is also a signatory to the United Nations Refugees Convention”.

Not so says the government’s own travel advisory website, Smart Traveller, which has an “Exercise a high degree of caution” warning about PNG and has a list of things to be careful of that includes “high levels of serious crime”, public gatherings that may turn violent, “heightened risk of armed robbery and attack at well-attended shopping centres in urban areas” and an “increase in reported incidents of sexual assault, including gang rape [where] foreigners have been targeted”.

The list goes on and on making me wonder if the South African government should not have stepped in and offered my old town of Johannesburg as an alternative off-shore centre. It actually seems a lot safer and certainly offers better opportunities for economic advancement than PNG.

This apparent government contradiction on the merits of travelling to and residing in PNG fits in just about perfectly with our feverish, illogical, national obsession with asylum seekers who arrive by boats.

Indeed I have blogged about this very issue before – on Crikey.

This point was put most eloquently by professor Michelle Foster, director of the International Refugee Law Research Programme at Melbourne University, who said on the same radio program on 3RN that we have this strange fear of being invaded when in reality – surrounded or “girt” by water – it should be low down on our list of national fears.

Perhaps we should also consider some of the other lines of the anthem:

For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.

Sadly, the spirit encompassed in these words seem to have been forgotten or discarded when it comes to the most desperate in society seeking a new life on Australian shores.

The prime minister says we are punishing the “scourge of people smugglers” by effectively making their illegal trade null and void, but it is refugees who are being punished – banished to a strange island, rife with social problems, and according to this opinion piece in the Fairfax papers, where they will be left to fight for survival in squalid urban conditions, with no rights to own land due to their foreign-born status.

None of this makes any sense and must surely confound human rights advocates looking in from overseas who can only wonder what we mean by a “fair go”.

Asylum seekers are a small problem made huge by something in the national psyche that’s turned it into an enormous political minefield.

For those Australians who say these people will take their jobs – this is apparently the burning issue in the key Western Sydney electorate – consider the facts and do some research.

Official Department of Immigration figures show that 6,004 refugees came to Australia in 2011-12, less than 5% of the 190,000 economic migrants who arrived courtesy of ‘official’ migration programs.

So if anyone is going to take their jobs and jump queues it’s skilled migrants and their families, not refugees arriving by boat or any other means.

Indeed if you have $5 million to invest in Australian bonds or managed investment schemes, the Australian government will give you a visa to stay, without even the requirement that you learn the national language. Just hand over the dosh and the government will throw out the welcome mat, complete with a jar of vegemite and a bowl of lamingtons.

But for those who are the most desperate, who risk their lives on rickety boats, they will be dumped on an inhospitable island, one deemed by our own government to be dangerous and rife with crime to be forgotten.


(For more on this debate, these are some excellent opinion pieces worth reading from former Howard-era immigration minister Amanda Vandstone and Victoria Stead is a researcher at RMIT University’s Globalism Research Centre.)

Back on my bike: Of Essendon Station bicycle vandals and London memories

3645939622_505a2122f2A quick post to faithful readers of my blog, of which I hope there are a few.

I’ve been off air for a while moving house and getting set up with a new internet provider.

Moving has necessitated me buying a bicycle and cycling to the train station at Essendon, about 5 kilometres away, a 10 to 15 minute bike ride depending on how fast I’m pedaling.

It’s been a long time since I’ve cycled regularly and it’s not been the best of experiences to date.

Last Friday night I came back to Essendon Station late after going to the rugby and as I was wheeling my bicycle down the platform, a police officer asked me if I had a lock on my bike as they were on the lookout for thieves – they had set up an unlocked, previously stolen bicycle as a trap.

The news was somewhat unsettling.

Returning to pick up my bike on Monday after work, I found the plastic cover on my lock had been ripped off, apparently, I figure, so that someone could try and manipulate the lock.

On Tuesday evening I returned to the station to find one of the brackets that keep my front wheel on lifted up and the front brake cable pulled out of position, rendering the brakes useless.

These incidents angered me and I could just about imagine a couple of young punks in hoodies, messing with my bike out of boredom or frustration at not being able to steal it. I hope they fall on the train tracks!

Tonight I parked it across the road from the station in the Rose Street shopping strip and it seems to have been left untouched.

Hopefully this new spot – under the gaze of shopkeepers and with constant passing foot traffic – will ensure my bike remains the state in which I leave it in the morning.

I’ve been tempted to put a note on it saying:

“Dear bicycle thieves. This bike cost only $200. Please try steal a more expensive one!”

It’s not quite the London experience I recall, the last time I cycled regularly.

I bought a cheap bike at this enormous French sports store called Decathalon somewhere near Docklands and pedaled it back all the way to Golders Green in north London.

I remember the first time a double-decker bus loomed up behind me, it was terrifying.

But I soon grew used to the buses and London cabs, the traffic build-up on Finchley Road and the other mad cyclists, weaving in and out of the traffic and thundering down the road at crazy speeds.

Cycling was best in the summer, those long London days when it was light till 10pm and I would head out through Soho, up through the cobbled streets towards Goodge Street, sometimes detouring through Regents Park to read a book on the grass for an hour or two or just to people watch. Sometimes I’d cycle past Lords cricket ground with its UFO-like media centre hovering above the stands and then up through Finchley, whizzing past the O2 Centre and then into the thigh-burning upwards climb towards Cricklewood and down into Golders Green.

On other occasions I’d chose a route through grimey Camden Town, but then up the steep climb through the wealthy, leafier, cafe-lined suburbs of Chalk Farm, Belsize Park and Hampstead, zooming down North End way (where once I lost my back and front lights over a bump, the gadgets smashing into pieces on the road) and passed Golders Tube Station.

Sometimes on a Sunday’s I’d hop on my bike and explore the East End with no definite destination in mind (though always with my A-Z guide just in case) exploring the quiet streets, stopping for a pint in a pub and taking detours on a whim.

Other times I’d cycle along the Thames, stopping to eat a sandwich in a park near the river.

Great memories.

My ride now is not quite historic, passed largely uninspiring suburbia, but dotted with a few appealing, squat California bungalows and Victorian-era relics, slowing down at traffic circles, freewheeling where I can and mostly alert to the rushing early morning traffic.

It’s good to finally be doing some regular exercise and feeling the wind rushing past my face.

Let’s hope the bicycle vandals don’t spoil my fun.

Of Federal Elections and fruity flyers…

conspiracy theoryIf anything evenly vaguely interesting happens to me in my life that causes me to write my memoirs, I will be sure to include some ‘rules” for living.

One of these will most likely be:

“If someone hands you a flyer outside a train station or on the street, always take it.”

For the entertainment value anyway.

The corollary to this rule would be:

“Never believe anything you read on a flyer handed out outside a train station or on the street.”

Today, as I headed out of Southern Cross Station and across Spencer Street to work, an innocuous enough chap handed me a one page flyer from the ‘Citizens Electoral Council of Australia’- or ‘CEC’.

The CEC purports to be a political movement, with a post box address in Coburg, not far from where I live and a 1800 number.

The headline of the flyer reads:

“Only Glass-Steagall can head off planned bankers’ coup, genocide!”

This is the first paragraph (you can read the whole document on the CEC website:

“A faction of the British Crown-led City of London-centred ‘Money Power’ has announced its immediate intention to pull the plug on the unpayable global debt bubble by ending “quantitive Easing” and to instead sieze depositors’ bank accounts en mass (‘bail in’ vs ‘bail out’), while ramming through the genocidal austerity measures against the great masses of the population in Europe, the United States and Australia/New Zealand…”

Make any sense to you?

All I can gather is that someone in London is going to do something nasty and seize the money I have in the bank.

Further on I read

The 24 June Bank of International Settlements (BIS) annual report calls for an end to the Bernanke-led quantitive Easing policy and instead demands a regime of Hitlerian levels of vicious austerity….siphoning off the people’s bank accounts to keep selected banks afloat.”

Bankers. Genocide. Hitler. Stealing money. I sense a theme.

Further on in the flyer, there are mentions of a “plot”, a “drive towards outright fascism”, another mention of fascism and a couple more mentions of “Hitler-style austerity”.

The pamphlet mentions another flyer handed out by  the LaRouche Political Action Committee (LPAC) “headed by US statesman and economist Lyndon H. La Rouche Jr, who is fond of talking in terms of “quaddrillions of dollars” (how much is that I wonder?) and mentioning dead German dictators in his call to action.

According to Wikipedia, and not mentioned in the flyer is that LaRouche was “sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in 1988 for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and tax code violations, and was released in 1994 on parole”.

The Wikipedia entry  is worth a ready for one of the most colourful descriptions of personality you will ever read and for this photo, that LaRouche allegedly campaigned under, complete with painted on Hitler moustache:


Anyway, it appears that the CEC has looked beyond these small misgivings and joined LaRouche’s cult-like following.

It certainly appears to be absorbing the ways of its master.

Here’s an extract from the history and philosophy section of the CEC website:

“A major contributing factor to the present economic collapse, is the anti-human, bestial policies represented by the rock-drug-sex counterculture which took off in the 1960s.”

For more information, perhaps by this handy guide on the CEC website for just $5:

children of satanBut back to the bowel-loosening headline in the flyer handed out to me.


What is Glass-Steagall and what does it have to do with Australia?

Well it refers to a 1933 Act of the US Congress, following the onset of the Great Depression, that created the separation of investment and commercial banking activities.

The act was repealed in 1999 and the global financial crisis followed in 2007.

To prevent fascism and genocide, the CEC want it brought back around the world and in Australia to prevent Australia’s four major banks from collapsing due to them “dangerously exposing themselves to the global financial system, including through nearly $20 trillion in derivatives speculation”.

There is clearly some truth buried within this ridiculous statement about reckless mortgage lending and speculation by banks in the US and around the world that caused the banking system to almost collapse.

But to suggest that Australia’s major banks – among the most conservative and profitable in the world – would speculate $20 trillion in derivatives is to believe that Peter Pan truly existed.

Consider that the total size of the Australian economy is around $1.5 trillion (the 12th biggest in the world) and the Big Four banks have a market capitalisation of around $330 billion and you realise that there is no possible way they could ever invest 13 times the size of the Australian economy in high-risk schemes.

Back on planet earth, I prefer the more considered thoughts of Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens, who suggested in a speech today that while challenges lie ahead for the Australian economy we are still a “lucky” country with low unemployment and where households remain cautious, continue to save and act prudently.

Still, if you’re in the mood for a bit of silly, old-fashioned conspiracy theories and scare-mongering, pick up a flyer the next time you’re in the CBD.

And watch out for those fascist bankers!