Tag Archives: Politics

Why journalists make great pets for corrupt governments

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If the detainment of three Al Jazeera English journalists in Egypt has taught us anything, it’s that journalists make great pets for corrupt governments.

For a preview, all you have to do is Google “journalists in cages” and you’ll get plenty of totally non-sickening images of grown men literally caged like animals in a Cairo court room (note: if your search results have been replaced with pictures of your Supreme Ruler, it’s probably because you live in a heavily internet-filtered country like China or North Korea).

The cute cats and exotic birds of the world better watch out – they’ve got some stiff competition and here’s why:

Caging journalists because you believe they have portrayed you badly in the media is a great way to show the international community how un-bad you are.

Since December last year, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed have been imprisoned in Egypt, accused by the current military government of aiding terrorism and the Muslim Brotherhood by publishing lies.

Egypt has been in political turmoil for the past three years whether it’s been under ousted President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, elected then ousted Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi in 2012-2013 or the current military government who took power in a coup.

There’s no better public relations strategy for restoring your nation’s international reputation than by jailing a few journalists. It’ll be as if the political violence, government retaliation and thousands of deaths never happened.

Like animals, journalists are unable to expressly communicate against any punishment you inflict because your court system is corrupt and refuses to hear any exonerating evidence. That, or you don’t have a court system.

In their fourth hearing in Cairo on Monday March 31, the Al Jazeera journalists denied any connection to the Muslim Brotherhood. “After three hearings, it’s apparent that there’s no case against us. No witness has anything that incriminates us,” Mohamed Fahmy told Agence France-Presse, just before proceedings began.

At the end of the fourth hearing, they were denied bail. Time will tell whether their voices are heard.

Unlike birds, journalists can’t fly so you’re less likely to find yourself in the backyard with flailing arms trying to catch your little sister’s pet budgie journalist that you accidentally let loose.

It has now been around 100 days since the three Al Jazeera English journalists were detained and as of yet, there have been no signs of wing-development.

Journalists eat human food so you don’t have to get your hands dirty with smelly cat food or dead mice.

If you’re lucky, the pet journalist might even go on a hunger strike meaning you can save yourself the effort of cooking. Such is the case with another detained Al Jazeera journalist, Abdullah al-Shami, who has been on a hunger strike for almost 80 of his 240 days in Egyptian prison.

Keeping journalists on a leash rather than letting them run wild means preventing them from airing your dirty laundry

With the latest UN Commission’s findings of North Korea’s atrocities, who would want a journalist cramping their style further by telling the world all their secrets?

If the world heard you’ve been forcing mothers to drown their babies, systematically starving 120,000 political prisoners and getting them to incinerate the dead bodies into fertiliser, the world just wouldn’t get it, ya know? Really, you’re doing everyone a favour. Nobody will feel obligated to do anything if they don’t know about it.

Animal rights abuse is a thing but luckily, human rights abuse isn’t

If anyone ever hurt my dog, I wouldn’t hesitate to go all Legally Blonde 2 on their arse.

Luckily for all the corrupt governments, people don’t care about stuff like free speech and it’s not like there’s a Universal Declaration of Human Rights or anything…

So if you’re the leader of an oppressive, corrupt dictatorship and you happen to be searching for a new pet, look no further than that cute, fluffy journalist. They might need some taming at first, but not to worry! It’s inevitable that they will bow before you O Great and Fearless Leader.

Published in Hijacked, 7 April, 2014.

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Staff super funding detention centre contractors

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USyd staff unions have called for investment in detention centre contractors to cease, writes Ada Lee.

Last Wednesday, the University of Sydney branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) unanimously passed a motion calling on UniSuper to withdraw its investments in companies linked to asylum seeker detention.

UniSuper are the superannuation fund for the majority of USyd’s 7500 staff. Staff super contributions are part of Australia’s detention supply chain, with UniSuper investing in companies such as Transfield services, Serco and Decmil Group Ltd, who build and operate Australia’s detention centres.

The NTEU’s USyd branch has asked the NTEU to pressure UniSuper to reveal any further connections to the detention network and to withdraw all investment.

Michael Thomson, NTEU USyd branch President, was adamant that UniSuper divest from these companies and that Manus Island be shut down.

“Transfield is playing a role in jailing people who are fleeing poverty and persecution and Transfield is making profits from it. As far as I’m concerned, we want to take as much social action as we can to stop them from doing this,” he said.

In February, Transfield Services entered a $1.22 billion contract with the federal government to operate both the Manus Island and Nauru offshore detention centres. UniSuper also has almost 780,000 shares in Decmil, a mining contractor awarded nearly $200 million worth of government contracts to build and expand the Manus Island detention facilities.

The motion, passed at the NTEU USyd general meeting of 50-80 people, calls mandatory detention “wrong and harmful”, and points to UniSuper’s investment profile as a “major point of influence for the NTEU”.

“A decision by UniSuper not to invest in firms that collaborate with the Australian Government in the mandatory detention regime can make a significant difference to the capacity and willingness of those firms to participate in this abusive regime, as well as the capacity of Government to find commercial partners through which to implement the policy,” the motion stated.

The union branch’s move comes after the Sydney Biennale severed ties with Transfield earlier this month due to pressure from artists pulling out. “We have listened to the artists who are the heart of the Biennale and have decided to end our partnership with Transfield effective immediately,” Biennale organisers said in a statement.

The NTEU has one representative on UniSuper’s board. The campaign is only in its early stages, with Michael Thomson holding discussions with NTEU members across NSW and Australia. As to the sway NTEU holds over UniSuper, Thomson says we will have to wait and see.

Published in Honi Soit, p. 4, 25 March 2014.

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Pranking Tharunka – is there a lesson to be learnt?

Published in Honi Soit, p. 9, Wk 10 Semester 1 Edition, 15 May 2013.

Click here to see it online.

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The demonisation of Government lecturer Peter Chen has been largely misinformed and misleading, argues Ada Lee

Recently, some Sydney University students were  given an assignment to submit a fake news article to UNSW’s student paper.

The purpose of the ‘Prank Tharunka’ assignment was to test whether the media is susceptible to manipulation. It was not attempting to raise up the next generation of lying, sensationalist journalists. GOVT2603 (Media Politics) is a politics, not a journalism, subject. Peter Chen is a media critic, not a journalist.

The majority of reactions have oversimplified the issue. At one end, we have the conniving, mohawked Dr Chen, setting out to destroy the media. The Australian suggests that “maybe the lecturer” is what’s wrong with the media. Again, this was not a journalism training exercise. At the other end, we have Tharunka, UNSW’s student publication, maliciously targeted and victimised.

Tharunka admitted to Crikey that they had planned to run a fake story on fare evasion.

Here’s a question for Tharunka: did you check the facts? Would you have noticed the prank if not for the whistleblower? The assignment’s task to post false stories only works if the media is not doing its job properly. Tharunka, if you fact-checked and sifted out all the false stories, then I salute you—for doing your job.

As journalists and editors, if all our sources were entirely truthful with no distortion, no attempts at manipulation, no deliberate omission of facts, then the media world would be a better place. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Journalists and editors have a responsibility to check facts, investigate and sift out spin. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it might suck. But spin happens and the media should be prepared for it.

It is not sufficient to use Peter Chen as a scapegoat. Journalists and editors are not infallible lie detectors, but they also need to take responsibility when they make mistakes.

The argument has been made that as a small university paper with few resources, Tharunka was an unsuitable case study for testing the media’s gatekeeping role. But perhaps there is a  broader point. With highly concentrated media ownership and fewer journalists to fill in a demanding 24-hour news cycle, are our major news providers really better equipped?

Has the journalist watchdog been overtaken by a pack mentality where certain stories are over-emphasised and others completely missed? Is it sufficient that the media often rely on carefully planned press conferences and written statements rather than hard in-depth interviews with our political leaders?

If the big papers were bombarded with falsified stories as Tharunka was, would they pass the test? And if not, can we still trust them to bring the important issues to the surface? These are the questions we were asked to explore.

I don’t know whether encouraging students to post fake stories was the most virtuous thing to do. But what I do know is that I’ve learnt an invaluable amount about the politics of media.

For more of my coverage on the Tharunka prank, click here.

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‘Top-down’ policies in NT ‘destined for failure’

Published in the South Sydney Herald, p. 7, 1 April 2013.

Click here to see it online.

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Ada Lee

BROADWAY: On March 21, Labor was put under intense scrutiny – and not just for its infighting. National Close the Gap Day saw nearly 100 protesters voice their frustration over Labor’s continuation of “top-down” policies in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities. Blocking the Broadway footpath outside Labor MP Tanya Plibersek’s office, campaigners not only called for the repeal of Stronger Futures but also for the protection of suburbs like Bankstown from being swallowed into the system.

Labor’s Stronger Futures legislation will leave Aboriginal people “without a cultural future”, said Aboriginal activist, Ray Jackson. At the rally, he said: “We have no intention of being assimilated by this government, previous governments or future governments. We are Aboriginal and we are proudly so. We will not become a darker version of white Australia.”

Bankstown Aboriginal activist, Sue Gillett, believes “Stolen Futures” is “all about control and making people feel that they are hopeless, helpless and cannot make decisions to save their own lives,” she said.

Protesters are particularly dissatisfied with the expansion of income management beyond the NT into trial sites, including Bankstown NSW. Federal Greens candidate for Sydney, Dianne Hiles, criticised income management as ineffective. “To dictate where people can shop is … going to build up more resentment and be counterproductive.”

Income management places 50-70 per cent of welfare payments onto a BasicsCard, which disallows purchase of certain goods such as alcohol, tobacco, pornography and gambling products. It can be compulsorily implemented on people deemed vulnerable by a social worker.

However, the Department of Community Services (DoCS) has refused to implement the scheme in Bankstown. Robin Croon from the Public Service Association said: “Since the introduction in NSW, not one single family or person has been referred for income management from the Department of Community Services.” The crowd applauded. “That ban will remain,” Ms Croon confirmed. “If we are taken to court, then that’s my role to battle that out there.” Ms Hiles says she supports the move.

Key protest organiser, Paddy Gibson, advocates for the empowerment of community-run organisations in the NT through a “huge injection of resources into the [Aboriginal] communities”. Asked whether this may be seen as unfair special treatment, Mr Gibson said, “There needs to be a special treatment but not the sort of special treatment we get from the government [under Stronger Futures].”

“[Remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory] are denied what mainstream Australia enjoys,” Mr Gibson said. “They are literally living in third world conditions. The suggestion that [Aboriginal] people are asking for some sort of special treatment in terms of getting more than your average Australian, it’s just ridiculous, really, when you consider the oppression that [Aboriginal] people are living under.”

The Greens’ Ms Hiles suggests that funding should be redirected rather than increased. “We’re already spending an obscene amount of money on this. It’s just not producing any deliverables.”

Howard’s Liberal government introduced the Northern Territory Intervention in 2007. In June 2012, Gillard’s Labor government replaced it with Stronger Futures. Ms Hiles criticised Rudd and Gillard as failing to dismantle Howard’s “top-down, paternalistic” approach, which is “destined for failure”.

Ms Plibersek was at Federal Parliament in Canberra during the Stronger Futures rally on March 21.

For a previous story on this issue, click here.

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A Decision to Discriminate: Book Review

Published in the South Sydney Herald, p. 12, 2 April 2013.

Click here to see it online.

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Ada Lee

Michele Harris (ed.)
Concerned Australians, 2012

Throughout Australian history, the government has often been accused of paternalism, of imposing policy in respect of Aboriginal entities. A contemporary equivalent can be found in the scrutiny exercised towards Howard’s NT Intervention, now Labor’s Stronger Futures legislation.

Trying to grapple with complex political issues such as this when bombarded by a multitude of statistics, reports and testimonies all claiming different things, with the government telling you one thing and activists telling you another, it’s often difficult to know where you stand. This book adds another piece to the puzzle.

Condemning the government’s consultation process as a failure, A Decision to Discriminate (which focuses on the Senate Committee Inquiry into the Stronger Futures legislation) aims to shed light on the unheard voices, the stories ignored and lost in the sea of political rhetoric and government policy.

Edited by Michele Harris, the book is a sequel to This Is What We Said (February 2010), Walk With Us (August 2011) and NT Consultations Report 2011: By Quotations (February 2012). It is a compilation of testimonies from a wide range of Aboriginal communities directly impacted by the Intervention and Stronger Futures. These personal stories are accompanied by helpful explanations of government consultations, complex legislation and the parliamentary process.

Views expressed are overwhelmingly critical of the government’s approach. Many testify to the disempowerment of Aboriginal communities under measures that are said to be punitive, blanketing and a severe impediment to self-determination.

At times, the book can seem repetitive – perhaps an expression of shared frustration. However, the book isn’t completely one-sided. Most notably, some people expressed support for income management.

A Decision to Discriminate is an easy read in terms of its well-structured format, accessible language and helpful summaries at the end of each section. Where it gets uncomfortable is in the way it forces Australians to re-evaluate government rhetoric about reconciliation, consultations and self-determination.

Non-fiction books can often be harrowing. They invite confrontation with reality.

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Stronger Futures ‘fundamentally racist’

Published in the South Sydney Herald, front page, 4 March 2013.

Click here to see it online.

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Ada Lee

On March 21, Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney (STICS) plans to rally outside Tanya Plibersek’s office in protest against Labor’s Stronger Futures legislation and the expansion of income management.

On February 13, the House of Representatives passed the Act of Recognition, a symbolic move to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as Australia’s first peoples. Sydney Labor MP, Tanya Plibersek, expressed her support: “Aboriginal rights should be an election issue for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. Constitutional recognition of Australia’s first peoples is an essential next step in our journey towards reconciliation.”

On the ground, however, the detrimental effects of the controversial Northern Territory Intervention and now Stronger Futures legislation are felt by thousands of Aboriginal people.

In June 2012, the Gillard government passed the Stronger Futures legislation with a 10-year funding commitment of $3.4 billion, which Ms Plibersek said, “will help close the gap”.

According to Ms Plibersek, Stronger Futures “repeals in full” John Howard’s NT Emergency Response Act 2007. “Unlike the Howard government’s approach, the Stronger Futures legislation does not suspend the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act.”

However, President of the Amoonguna community near Alice Springs, Marie Ellis, has called Stronger Futures merely a “fancy new name”. “All the racist policies are still in place,” she said in a STICS press release.

Under Howard’s Intervention, government statistics show increased Aboriginal incarceration, increased suicide attempts and self harm, decreased school attendance and a loss of jobs. 

Ms Ellis has passionately testified to the damaging effects of the Intervention on her community. “Minister Jenny Macklin has us stuck in the welfare days, treats us like children being breast-fed by the government,” she said.

Under Stronger Futures, there are total alcohol and pornography bans on Aboriginal land. The phasing out of Community Development Employment Projects continues, blamed for the loss of thousands of jobs. Kids who miss school more than five times over two terms can cause their family’s welfare payments to be suspended under the expanded School Enrolment and Attendance Measure.

Founding member and organiser of STICS, Paddy Gibson, accused Stronger Futures of holding Aboriginal people in “apartheid conditions”. Mr Gibson says the mindset behind this legislation is “fundamentally racist”. “They’re essentially saying that Aboriginal people can’t take care of themselves,” he said.

In particular, the STICS rally will denounce the expansion of income management to five trial sites outside the NT including Bankstown, NSW.

Introduced under the Intervention, the government says income management is designed to help people manage their money to meet essential household needs and expenses. Welfare payments, stored on a BasicsCard, disallow purchase of certain goods such as alcohol, tobacco, pornography and gambling products. It can be compulsorily implemented on people deemed vulnerable by a social worker or child protection authorities.

Mr Gibson called on all people to join the protest against Stronger Futures outside Ms Plibersek’s Chippendale office on March 21. STICS condemns “punitive” methods and advocates for the self-determination and empowerment of community-run organisations through larger funding. “If things are going to change on the ground in those [Aboriginal] communities, it’s going to be the people themselves that actually lead those initiatives,” he said.

Ms Plibersek said, “The government is considerably increasing the number of local Aboriginal people we employ as Indigenous Engagement Officers.”

Click here for the follow-up story.

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Student Housing Action Collective takes to the streets

Published in Honi Soit, p. 6, Week 12 Semester 2 Edition, 24 October 2012.

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Ada Lee reports from the front line

Last Wednesday October 17, around 100 campaigners marched from outside the Carslaw building to Sydney University Village (SUV), demanding affordable student housing. Accompanied by police, protestors carried ‘SHAME ON $UV’ banners, chanting “It’s not inflation, that’s a lie. The rent is too damn high!”

They demanded that SUV maintain current rent levels, provides greater transparency from administration, and that the University take over the Abercrombie Street housing project from a private company.

After the rally, campaigners sat on the lawns at SUV and discussed future actions. Undergraduate Fellow of Senate Patrick Massarani told protesters that to increase rent by 22 per cent over two years when inflation is at two per cent was “extortionate”.*

“It is unconscionable and we won’t stand for it,” he said.

Figures for September 2011 show an average rent increase of 11.6 per cent in Newtown, compared to SUV’s 2011 increase of 12.8 per cent. Sydney University Village’s General Manager Ron De Haan explained an independent market review indicated SUV was undercharging compared to the market. This year’s rental increases reflect management “catching up,” he said.

According to Mr De Haan, annual rents at SUV are set in consultation with the University as a minor financial co-owner. He believes the university’s presence on the management board has a positive impact in keeping increases lower than a totally privately operated facility.

But protesters are not satisfied. SRC Student Housing Officer, Eleanor Morley, told the crowd: “SUV proved what a disaster it is if the Uni sells to a private company.”

SRC Welfare Officer Rafi Alam told fellow campaigners their efforts must also be directed at the government, encouraging it to provide students with affordable housing.

Around campus, Mr De Haan points to a lack of beds driving the housing market. “If new facilities open up in the bracket of affordable housing,” he said, “people will gravitate towards the new beds whilst more expensive facilities will suffer.”

Not everyone is happy with the prospect of more university-provided housing. Residents’ concerns about the Abercrombie St Housing Project led the University into negotiations with community groups such as REDwatch (covering Redfern, Everleigh, Darlington, and Waterloo).

A spokesman for REDwatch, Geoff Turnbull, believes the negotiations haven’t been successful. Miscommunication had left residents with cold feet, he said. “Many residents feel manipulated rather than respected,” he told the South Sydney Herald. “The uni needs to revisit its approach if it really wants good neighbourly relations, not continued demonisation.”

Co-convener of the campus Greens and Student Housing Action Collective protestor Mr Wallin says something needs to be done about the situation. “University housing needs to go somewhere. The inner-west of Sydney is highly dense. There aren’t many free spaces. There is a way to strike a balance between [residents and students]… it certainly motivates us to do it better, to take into account their needs and rightly so.”

*Correction

For a previous story on the $UV movement, click here.

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SUV rental jumps again to $256.80

Published in Honi Soit, p. 4, Week 10 Semester 2 Edition, 10 October 2012.
Click here to see it online.

honi p4 oct 10

Price hikes at Sydney University Village have set campaigners into battle against a lack of affordable student housing, writes Ada Lee

The minimum cost for a single bed in a four or five bedroom apartment at Sydney University Village has risen by more than 21 per cent over the past two years and will cost $256.80 a week in 2013. Rent prices jumped from $211.50 per week in 2011 to $238.50 in 2012 and now the announced rate for 2013 has increased by a further $18.30 per week including a $8.80 utility fee.

SRC Student Housing Officer, Eleanor Morley, believes the new fees are “well above market price.” She is now leading a ‘$UV’ campaign with a petition that has gathered 122 signatures. The petition says rental increases outstrip the rate of inflation and that the Village administration has “behaved abominably.”

Ms Morley stressed the need for the university to provide budget student accommodation in order to assist students from outside of Sydney, particularly those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, in gaining access to higher education. “You want to get the brightest minds around the country,” Ms Morley said. “Brightest minds don’t necessarily mean the richest parents.”

SUV General Manager, Ron De Haan, insists that according to what they deliver and what the market requires, SUV’s prices are fair. “It’s not price gouging and trying to take advantage of students by taking all the money and running,” he said. SUV determines ‘affordability’ as what is reasonable according to Australia’s property market, which recently, has “gone up and up and up. It can’t go on forever”, Mr De Haan said.

Every three years, the Village hires an external consultant to conduct a market review on student housing and privately owned rental properties in the area (including UTS housing).  Mr De Haan explains that the 2011 market review “indicated that this facility was way behind where the market dictated it to be”. The decision was made to align with market pricing over three years rather than in one leap so as not to punish a single cohort of residents. This year’s increase represents another step towards “catching up”, he said.

But the SRC petition suggests the new rates are “laughable.” “They’re not short of funds,” says Ms Morley. “They’re just trying to squeeze out as much money as possible.”

Mr De Haan points out he is running a business and has an obligation to the asset owners who expect returns from their investment. But he said he is happy to receive student feedback and will flag complaints to the owners. Though it will be difficult to change the 2013 rates, he says in the past increases have been withheld if the market has proven unwilling to pay.

Click here for the follow-up story.

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