The dog ate my spectacles

Spectacles-Dumped rubbish-Lifeline. photo: Chris McCormack
Dumped rubbish next to the Lifeline bins in Point O’ Halloran Drive, Victoria Point is costing Lifeline thousand to remove the rubbish. Photo: Chris McCormack

Is it wrong to blame a dog, hours after said dog has done something to make you cross? They say dogs have no sense of time, and, clearly cannot distinguish a pair of spectacles from a chewing toy. Staffies get anxious when you leave them alone for a few hours and this one chews things. We have learned to behave as if there is a toddler in the house – every chewable object goes ‘up high.’

Nevertheless, I apparently left my reading specs sitting on top of an unfinished (aren’t they always?) crossword on the dining room table. Dog therefore must have got up on his front paws and grabbed said spectacles, putting a tooth through one lens, scratching the other and chewing the end of a spectacle leg. Making Marge Simpson annoyed-at-Homer noises, I set off to the optometrist and duly ordered a replacement pair. Imagine my ire dissipating on discovering private health insurance covered all but $18 of the cost. First world problem, right?

I was just about to leave with my new specs when I was asked if I’d like to donate the old pair to a charity which collects, repairs, cleans and distributes recycled specs to people who don’t have health insurance (or $18 for that matter).

Curiosity piqued, I set off to learn more about charities which collect and distribute specific items, as opposed to those which operate charity bins and Op Shops (more on the latter later).

Lions chairman (Brisbane) Kenneth Leonard told me Lions in Australia and Japan have been increasing their collections of eyeglasses to more than 500,000 a year. Recycle 4 Sight involves volunteers as well as people on Work for the Dole, inmates from a female community correction facility and people on Community Service Orders from the court. Collectively, they have achieved a nett 400,000 refurbished pairs of spectacles annually.

Since 2000, Recycle 4 Sight has distributed 2.5 million pairs of re-graded spectacles to Africa, Europe, Middle East, China, the Pacific Rim, Southern Asia and Oceania.

Another useful charity, Soles4souls Australia, collects, cleans up and re-distributes ‘gently worn’ and new shoes to needy people around the world. It might seem obvious, but Soles4souls sets out on its home page exactly what types of shoes it wants (and doesn’t want). Sports shoes, kids’ shoes and men’s and women’s fashion, work and business shoes get a tick. They say no to heels of three inches or more, Ugg boots and slippers and women’s fashion boots. It might not need to be said (you’d think) but they also do not want single shoes, damaged shoes or empty shoe boxes.

If only this charity had been around when I decided to ditch my Doc Martens, expensive English leather shoes favoured by 53-year-old songwriters who want to look cool. I’d looked after them but rarely wore them as they were heavy and the narrow-fitting shoe did not suit my wide feet. So one day circa 2004 I put these shoes in a plastic bag and slipped it through the slot of a local charity bin.

Some years ago American songwriter Kristina Olsen, who spends a great deal of time in Australia, told me about a charity which collects old guitar strings. Actually, there are quite a few charities which collect old guitar strings (and musical instruments) to ensure poor people in third world countries get the opportunity to make music in a style we obviously take for granted.

Musician Darryl Purpose and his activist friend Kevin Deam have delivered more than 20,000 sets of used strings since starting the Second String Project in his native Holland. Many professional musicians use a set of strings for a few gigs then replace them and throw the old ones away. The Second String Project collects these lightly used strings and sends them to poor musicians.

Smalls for All was launched in 2009 by Maria Macnamara after she read an article about the problems facing women in Zimbabwe who didn’t have any undies. Donors are asked to purchase a packet of (new) underwear but Smalls for All will accept ‘gently-worn’ bras (which, few men realise, can cost up to $200).

Macnamara says a lack of underwear is a health and hygiene problem for many poor African communities. Many women often only own one pair of tattered pants or have none at all. Underwear is also seen as a status symbol and offers a degree of security.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Charitable Recyclers (NACRO) sent me useful information about illegal dumping at charity bins and Op Shops (see photo above). A report released in May and supported by charities including UnitingCare (owner of Lifeline), NACRO and the Queensland Government, estimated that about 8,200 tonnes of rubbish were dumped at Queensland charity sites in 2014-2015.

The report identified rubbish including soiled mattresses, broken furniture and window blinds, green waste and household waste.

NACRO told FOMM the research found 50% of donors were ‘unintentional dumpers’ who didn’t understand the consequences; 40% were ‘champion donors’ and just 10% were ‘deliberate dumpers’. These people are (charitably) perceived to be the least informed about the consequences and ‘may not respect charity work’.

NACRO chief executive officer Kerryn Caulfield told FOMM people may think they are doing the right thing by leaving items outside donation bins and Op Shops.

“But in fact they are dumping a huge burden on the charity they are seeking to help. Sadly, people pilfer these donations if they are worth anything and not already damaged by the weather and in the process damage other items. The charities are left to clean up the mess.”

Sources told me about worst case scenarios: prawn shells wrapped in newspaper dumped in a charity bin, contaminating everything inside. How about people who help their smallest child climb through the slot to retrieve the DVD player that still works!

The main problem for someone wishing to donate to a charity is where to take it. Most major charities have depots in the city but in smaller towns you should probably ask at your local Op Shop. Coincidentally, it is National Op Shop week August 21-27. So, dear reader, go carefully through your wardrobe and bookshelves and see if you can come up with useful books, ‘gently worn’ clothing, and other (clean) items in good condition. (See above re: unwanted spectacles, shoes, guitar strings or bras.)

So in a week when a deranged man killed 84 people in Nice, when there was an attempted coup in Turkey, when Sonia Kruger (someone whose utterances we are supposed to take seriously, apparently), said uninformed things about Muslims, when Pauline Hanson went on Q&A, Bob wrote about the dog chewing his spectacles.

But as those who read to the end would know, there is usually a relevant sub-text to Friday on My Mind. In this instance, despite callous acts of terrorism and madness, political stupidity, racism and egregious behaviours here and abroad, people are still capable of acts of kindness and charity.


Time capsule tips

Photo of Colin Meads: Commons wiki/File:Colin_Meads_Sheep.jpg

From the misty annals of childhood comes a memory of the town fathers burying a time capsule, not to be opened for 100 years. They had asked the townsfolk for suggestions as to what the capsule should contain and our little urchin’s cabal suggested such items as an alarm clock (with two bells atop), a gob-stopper, that famous photo of All Black Colin Meads with a sheep under each arm, a train ticket and a can of pick-up-sticks. Somebody said we should get an episode of Life with Dexter and put that in too.

Digression alert: it is untrue that Meads (1960s rugby version of Paul Gallen), kept fit running up and down hills on his farm with a sheep under each arm.

Historians and archivists may scoff, but the practice of encapsulating the trivial lives of a cross-section of society for future generations is still in vogue. Time capsules are often buried beneath the foundations of a new building to mark a special occasion, a centenary, perhaps. The idea is to set a date in the future when they should be dug up and opened.

General interest in the concept increased after Westinghouse created one as part of its exhibit for the 1939 New York World Fair.

The 2.3 metre long, 360kg capsule, made of copper, chromium and silver alloy, contained items including a spool of thread and doll, a vial of food crop seeds, a microscope and a 15-minute newsreel. There were also microfilm spools containing such prosaic fare as a Sears Roebuck catalogue.

Wikipedia’s entry says Westinghouse buried a second capsule in 1965. Both are set to be opened in 6939, that is, 4,922 years from now.

Sometimes time capsules rise to the surface before the appointed time. When the statue of John Robert Godley, the founder of Christchurch, toppled to the ground during the 2011 earthquake, workers pawing through the rubble found two time capsules under the plinth. A glass bottle containing parchment and a long metal container were handed to the Christchurch museum.

Director Anthony Wright told the Daily Mail a third capsule was discovered beneath the base of the cross of the badly damaged Christchurch Cathedral. All three capsules were opened a month later and were found to contain items including old newspapers and photographs, a City of Christchurch handbook (1922-23), what appears to be a civic balance sheet, a few coins and a brass plate.

So what’s it all about, then? As self-confessed time capsule nerd Matt Novak writes, time capsules rarely reveal anything of historical value. In many ways, time capsules are like small private museums which are locked up for 100 years or more and nobody is allowed to visit.

The exemplar of the genre so far is the 200-year old Boston time capsule, discovered in January by construction crews. The capsule was set into the cornerstone of a building by one of the nation’s founding fathers, Samuel Adams, and patriot silversmith Paul Revere. The contents of the capsule (coins, newspapers, photographs and a silver plaque inscribed by Revere), now belong to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

The National Archives of Australia maintains a web page dedicated to serving people who are planning to bury a time capsule for posterity.

The NAA says careful choice of materials to be included in a time capsule will contribute to the longevity of both contents and capsule.

The latter is worth bearing in mind, given that witnesses to the Christchurch unearthing said one of the capsules ‘smelled like blue cheese.’

The International Time Capsule Society estimates there are between 10,000 and 15,000 time capsules worldwide.

The notion is popular with schools, particularly those with a strong sense of tradition. In celebration of its golden jubilee in 2007, Epping Boys High School of Sydney (whose alumni includes rock musician Iva Davies and barrister and TV presenter Geoffrey Robertson) invited Prime Minister John Howard to plant a new time capsule but also, as the Old Boys Union reported, open the one buried in 1982 (the silver jubilee). Alas, the school was closed for the holidays, so your intrepid reporter was unable to unearth a description of the capsule’s contents.

This set me to thinking just what should be inside a time capsule buried, for example, in the foundations of a massive new public housing eco village planned for, say, Wentworth.

It would have to be a big-arse capsule, because I’d be recommending items for posterity include the mechanical rabbit from Wentworth Park. If that is not possible, then at least include a Dapto Dogs racebook, so citizens 100 years hence can ponder the curious sport of dog racing.

The capsule should contain a large lump of brown coal (they won’t miss it, honest), so future generations can see why the planet went amiss.

She Who is Glass Half Full This Week says we ought to include some Aussie inventions: plastic money, the electronic pacemaker, the black box recorder, the cochlear implant…

Countering all this world-changing innovation, we need to show the substance abuse issues of the 21st century – a hemp shoulder bag filled with all the illicit drugs of the day, and for good measure a bottle of whatever young kids turn to when binge drinking, and a packet of fags, adorned with graphic images of tongue and lip cancer.

It might not work in a hundred years’ time, but we should include a smart phone, charger and spare battery, along with a hard-copy cheat sheet. And yes, what 2016 time capsule would be complete without a victorious Queensland State of Origin team photo, hunkering down, singing aye-yai-yippy-yippy in 17 different keys, making odd, triumphant finger gestures.

The NAA might warn us not to use ephemeral recording materials, but what else do we have? I’d suggest a special DVD edition of Q&A with Alan Jones, Steve Price, Andrew Bolt, Phillip Adams, John Pilger and Marcia Langton discussing indigenous land rights, refugees and free speech, with Tony Jones trying to keep them all on point.

One could have such fun filling a time capsule. Items bound to puzzle people in 2116 could include: a (new) disposable nappy, a coffee pod, a Go Card, a government-issue hearing aid, one of those ear-expanding discs some young people wear so they can look like primitive tribes from darkest Africa. We could employ a taxidermist to stuff a cane toad and a feral cat and include literature explaining their stories. I’d be tempted to Include copies of every newspaper editorial before (and after) the 2016 election, just to show that whatever passes for punditry 100 years from now was always thus.

It could be fun to somehow preserve a ‘best of Facebook photo album’ to show future generations what people did with their spare time. It would not take long to curate images of tattooed people, pierced people, nude bike riders, hipsters, cats and dogs doing odd but cute things, photos of what people had for lunch, independent bands nobody ever heard of (now or in 100 years’ time), absolute proof that the earth is flat, out of focus selfies, a video of a serious young dude performing a handfarting cover of a Pink Floyd song (this really is on YouTube. Ed) and 17 versions of the same sunset.

Oh, and let’s not forget to include a laminated copy of that Friday guy’s take on time capsules.




Parish pump vs big media

Unsold newspaper returns
Unsold newspaper ‘returns’ await collection. Photo Bob Wilson

While our free local weekly, The Range News, had by default become a localised version of the Sunshine Coast Daily, we sorely miss our weekly news. At Crystal Waters Markets last Saturday a few of us were discussing things that happened in the village we did not hear about, partly because the Maleny-based TRN had gone, but also because the closure of the UpFront Club, a reliable source of gossip, had to some extent broken up the information network.

TRN’s owner, Australian Regional Media, chose to fold the paper on May 12, rather than include it in the portfolio of publications it had recently put up for sale. In the final edition, Sunshine Coast General Manager Ken Woods said that despite the paper being well embedded in the community, his team had been unable to revitalise the business, which had suffered from dwindling commercial support.

TRN had a long history of independent owners over 34 years. In 2006, it was sold to ARM which, through its listed parent company Australian Provincial Newspapers (APN), owns a stable of titles in Australia, including 12 regional dailies in Queensland and NSW and 60 community newspapers and specialist publications.

ARM’s 2015 annual report claims 87% penetration in its local markets and 1.6 million readers a week (newspapers and online). ARM’s audience growth was driven by increased digital audiences. Total online audiences grew 20% year-on-year, mobile audiences grew 43% and social audiences grew 20%, contributing to overall digital revenue growth of 36%.

The bad news would sound familiar to most media organisations.

“National agency revenues finished the year challenged, following an accelerated drop in top 10 national advertising client advertising spend. All other revenue from national advertising clients was flat year-on-year.”

 APN let the market know in February it wanted to sell its regional and non-daily titles, while keeping its radio network, outdoor advertising business and numerous websites.

Along came Rupert Murdoch, wielding his 14.9% holding in ARM and offering $37 million to take it off APN’s hands. That happened in June and the sale is subject to shareholder approval, a foreign investment review and an ACCC ruling on market dominance.

If this transaction takes place, News Ltd will then own every daily newspaper in Queensland, along with most of the non-dailies and all the suburban weeklies in Brisbane.

The closure of community newspapers does not appear to bother profit-motivated publishing companies. A spokeswoman said ARM had closed ‘a handful’ of newspapers in the past year for similar reasons.

ARM would tell you they still cover Maleny news (and they do). Recently they wrote about a former Maleny school girl who had gone through a gender crisis and emerged as a policeman. There was also a story about the long-term owners of Maleny Newsagency selling their business. Then there was the controversial yarn about plans to stage a motorcycle race through the hinterland. I read those stories on ARM’s website, and here’s the thing: you will never read provincial stories like these on Huffington Post, Yahoo News or the Daily Mail.

There are still independent free newspapers circulating on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, including the weekly Glasshouse Country and Maleny News, Sunshine Valley Gazette and the monthly Hinterland Times. The removal of TRN puts additional pressure on these publications for editorial and advertising space. Being a commercial enterprise, the number of pages in the newspaper that sells advertising is entirely governed by how much advertising is sold.

Meanwhile the dedicated internet browser can, with self-discipline, canvas a very wide sample of national and world news each day, for no cost, or a token amount. So many publications allow their content to be shared on social media there is a constant stream of news and commentary hour by hour, depending on your tolerance level for staring at a computer screen or a tablet device.

But the Net is not an easy place for media companies to make money. The New Internationalist’s cover story about internet billionaires tells us that 85% of every new dollar spent on Internet advertising goes to Google or Facebook rather than those generating the content.

A June 13 special edition of Media Watch investigated the multiple problems facing online news websites. Host Paul Barry began by reporting that in the past seven months, online news sites including Vice, Salon, Mashable and Gawker had all laid off staff. Buzzfeed has been forced to cut its 2016 revenue forecast by half. The Guardian lost 59 million pounds last year and is laying off 250 staff, even though 42 million readers a month visit its international digital news sites. The Daily Mail (53 million digital readers a month), is also struggling.

As independent publisher Eric Beecher told Barry, it is getting harder for news sites to sell ads for decent money “because everyone on the internet has an electronic billboard to fill”.

Business Spectator chief Alan Kohler had this to say about the challenges of persuading online readers to pay:

“The trouble with subscriptions is that there’s just so much free stuff still available; that getting people to pay for content that’s basically the same as what you can get for free is never going to work. I mean, it’s got to be very special to get people to pay.”

The other major obstacle to making a living through online news is the ubiquitous Ad blocker, a (free) piece of software that banishes ads from pages as you browse. Research in the US suggests one in three internet users employ Ad blockers, estimated to cost publishers $22 billion in 2015.

ARM’s regional media online subscription offers subscribers unlimited access to ARM titles across all platforms, unrestricted access to The Courier‐Mail, digital subscription access to FOX SPORTS online, free multi‐platform digital access to The Washington Post and access to the Presto Entertainment bundle. That’s a lot of access for $6 a week.

Despite the impressive numbers around ARM’s online strategy, I suspect there is still a place for free a community newspaper.

I started my journalism career as a country newspaper reporter and my first boss described local news as answering your neighbour’s question: “Who is digging up the road into the park and why, and when will whatever they are doing be finished?”

Call it parish pump if you must, but if people want to know who cut down five roadside trees in Freestone Road, and why. Only the Warwick Daily News (and FOMM) will tell them that. (Main Roads, under the policy of removing any tree that is within one metre of the roadway).

Many of the large circulation newspapers are resorting to what used to be called ‘yellow journalism’ in a bid to attract/retain readers. To wit, the Daily Telegraph’s bizarre page one depiction of Labor leader Bill Shorten as “Billnocchio” – portraying him with a long wooden nose.

Big media, with its obsessions about politics, crime and corruption, big business and celebrities, not to mention haplessly editorialising in favour of a Coalition election victory, are missing the market.

The informal donkey voter

Eeyore's winter onesie
“Eeyore’ in his winter onesie! Photo by Penny Davies

On Saturday, an estimated 2.724 million Australians will either not cast a vote or will vote incorrectly, either by choice or by accident. I say estimate, because it’s my estimate, drawn from official Australian Electoral Commission statistics plus sums based on donkey voter research.

The AEC says there were 15.468 million people on the electoral roll as of March 31, 2016. That’s 94% of eligible voters, which means there are 978,933 people ‘missing’ from the roll. That’s a lower number than in 2013 (1.22 million), but it could still sway a tight election either way.

The second part of the equation is the informal vote, votes which for one reason or another do not get past scrutineers because the ballot papers have been filled out incorrectly or deliberately spoiled.

In 2013, there were 739,872 informal votes or 5.92% of enrolled voters, the highest proportion since 1984 (6.34%), which coincided with the introduction of above-the-line voting in the Senate.

According to Melbourne University’s Election Watch website, the majority of informal voters vote (1) only or fail to fill in all the preference boxes. Others use a tick or a cross instead of numbers. A few write their name on the ballot box (also a no-no). Some informal voters scribble slogans or graffiti on their ballot papers.

After meeting sources in dark corners of underground car parks, I can confirm that drawing penises is a favourite, suggesting (a) the voter thinks all politicians are dicks or (b) likes drawing penises.

The AEC did an analysis of informal voting after the 2013 election. The AEC estimates that just over half of informal voters meant to vote for someone, showing a preference for one or more candidates. But more than a third were disqualified due to incomplete numbering.

One alarming trend is a steady rise in the proportion of informal voters who put blank papers in the ballot box. This rose from 16% in 1987 to 21% in 2001, peaked at 29% in 2010 and dropped to 20% in 2013.

Meanwhile in Brexit

An analysis of the elusive 34% of Brits who did not vote in the 2010 election by Votenone observed that in the 2010 General Election, the UK total of protest and ‘spoilt’ votes was around 295,000, or 1% of voters. However, 34% of registered voters (16 million) just didn’t vote. Votenone advocate these people take direct action by doing just that, ie writing ‘None’ on the ballot paper.

“There have been petitions asking for ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) on the ballot paper for many years.  However, like the demand for votes for women in the early 20th century, success doesn’t come just from asking.”

The UK system is different from ours in several ways, not the least of which is that voting is not compulsory.

Meanwhile, the uniquely Australian phenomenon, the donkey vote, continues to ignore both the carrot and the stick, despite changes to the electoral system post-1984 which should have diminished the influence of the donkey vote. The so-called donkey vote is an anomaly of the preferential voting system. It describes the voter who simply numbers the ballot sheet from the left, or top down, without discernment.

Prior to 1984, the donkey vote was crucial in some seats as candidate names were listed alphabetically and party names did not appear on ballot papers. So numbering your candidates from the left meant that Aaron Aardvark, the Independent candidate for Aarons Pass, collected more votes than he ever thought possible. Some political pundits think the donkey vote is worth as much as 2% of any contest. On that basis, 309,360 votes will be wasted on Saturday.

Mr Shiraz found a 2006 study by the Australian National University which suggests the donkey vote is 1 in 70 or 227,114 votes.

If you want a clear example of how the donkey vote can skew results, look no further than the 2005 by-election for former Labor leader Mark Latham’s seat of Werriwa. There were 16 candidates, listed randomly on the ballot paper. In this instance the donkey vote was reflected in the high vote (4.83%) for Australians Against Further Immigration, a minor party who were placed first on the ballot. (Then again, maybe people meant to vote for them).

To compel or not to compel

The other slab of humanity missing at the polls is the 4.5% or so (696,060) people who are on the roll but don’t bother. A $20 fine applies if you are enrolled but do not vote – a potential $13.92 million windfall.

Australia is one of 22 countries where voting is mandatory, yet our voter turnout has been below 96% every year since 1946. In 2013, the figure was 93.23%; in 2010 93.22% and in the year of Our Kevin it was 94.76%. Nevertheless, we have the largest voter turnout of 34 OECD countries including the US, UK and Canada. In neighbouring New Zealand, where voting is optional, the turnout has only nudged above 80% once since 2002.

But getting back to our specific problem – how to engage the 2.724 million people who are apparently disaffected, uninterested, don’t understand, are too busy mowing lawns, chainsawing storm-tossed trees or having sex on polling day or misguidedly waste their democratic right in voiceless protest.

I heard Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull on radio yesterday urging people not to vote Independent as this could cause “chaos and instability in government”. Fair go Mal (and Bill), we’ve had five different PMs in six years, yet we only voted for two of them.

Meanwhile, a record 1.16 million people had taken advantage of pre-poll voting as of last Saturday (it was 775,000 at the same point in 2013). The speculation is that the increase in pre-poll voting (you qualify if you are going to be away from your electorate on the day, are 8kms or more away from a polling booth or have religious reasons for not voting on a Saturday), is because the government, in its wisdom, picked a date during school and university holidays.

In practical terms, however, nobody is enforcing these rules; you just get asked if you are qualified to vote pre-poll and if you say yes, then in you go. Rod Smith, a professor at the University of Sydney, who specialises in political parties and elections, told the Sydney Morning Herald electoral commissions encourage early voting.

“The categories are out-of-date and it is one of those instances where lawmakers are turning a blind eye to the way the legislation is being implemented.” Smith says.

The latest poll shows the Coalition is ahead of the Opposition 51/49, although other polls suggest 50/50 on a primary vote basis. The bookies have the LNP at $1.08, Labor at 8-1 and odds of a hung parliament at 4-1.

The challenge now is for someone to come up with what language guru Professor Roly Sussex calls a ‘portmanteau’ word (blending the sounds and meanings of two others, for example motel, brunch or Brexit), to describe Australia’s 2016 poll. Here’s a couple to get you started on election night: Texit, Sexit. Let’s hope there is no need to coin a post-election term like the one now widespread in the UK: Bregret.


A few myths about refugees

Sri Lankan and Tamil refugees
Sri Lankan and Tamil Refugees image by

My conscience would be burdened if anyone went to the polls on July 2 believing some of the persistent myths and misunderstandings about asylum seekers and refugees. First, let’s set out a few facts in the interests of perspective:

  • Asylum seekers are people seeking international protection but whose claims for refugee status have not yet been determined;
  • Australia is the only nation with a policy of indefinite mandatory detention for people it has identified as illegal or irregular arrivals. This policy was introduced by then Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating in 1992 (it had bipartisan support);
  • Refugees receive the same social security benefits as permanent residents, although they are exempt from the standard social security waiting period that applies to migrants;

These facts sit uneasily amidst the seriously heated debate between refugee advocacy groups and supporters of groups like Rise Up Australia, the Australian Liberty Alliance and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

Many Australians believe (and resent) the story perpetuated by hoax emails that refugees receive more Social Security payments than permanent residents. You might also hear that refugees are given (free) houses, cars and big screen TVs, the latter one of the first things spotted on A Current Affair’s expose on Nauru. (Gasp. They have microwaves too).

There is also a persistent myth perpetuated by talkback radio jocks and right-wing commentators that our shoreline (all 25,670 kilometres of it), will be over-run if the current border protection policy does not remain in place.

Over-stayers outnumber boat people

In Australia, visa over-stayers greatly outnumber asylum seekers. According to an Immigration Department report, Migration Trends 2012-2013, 44,800 visitors and 10,720 students overstayed their visit, led by people from China (7,690), Malaysia (6,420), the US (5,220) and the UK (3,780).

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s statistical report for April 30, 2016 says there were 1,695 people in immigration detention facilities, including 1,509 in immigration detention on the mainland and 186 in immigration detention on Christmas Island. However, the report also states that there were 469 people, including 56 women and 50 children, at the Nauru Regional Processing Centre and 898 men at the Manus Island RPC. So in sum, the total numbers of people in detention (including on and off shore) at the behest of the Federal Government is 3,062.

Of the 1,695 people in detention on the mainland, 60% (1,025) arrived in Australia lawfully but were subsequently taken into immigration detention either for over staying or breaching their visa conditions. 548, or fewer than 40%, were ‘Irregular Maritime Arrivals’ (some terminology refers to these as ‘Illegals’).

On face value, Labor’s asylum seeker and refugee policies are not that far removed from those of the LNP.  Both remain committed to offshore processing, regional settlement and stopping people smuggling by turning boats away. However, Labor has a plan to provide $450 million over three years to support the UN’s refugee agency. Labor will abolish temporary protection visas, re-instate access to the Refugee Review Tribunal and abolish the Independent Assessment Authority.  Labor states it will also reinstate a statutory requirement for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to report on how many claims were processed within 90 days of a completed application being received. This ‘90 day rule’ was removed by the Abbott Government last year.

Labor also wants to increase Australia’s annual humanitarian intake from the current 13,750 to 27,000 per annum by 2025. The Australian Greens want to ramp this number up to 50,000, while the LNP aims to increase it to 18,000 ‘within a couple of years’.

In September 2015 the Abbott Government responded to the Middle East humanitarian crisis by announcing that Australia would take an additional 12,000 refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq.

In February this year, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Canada’s exceptional response to Syrian refugees, resettling 20,490 in just three months. Labor called on Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to explain why, as revealed in a Senate Estimates hearing, that Australia had resettled only 26 Syrian refugees since the emergency intake was announced. A spokesman for Mr Dutton said the government was conducting rigorous security and other checks that could not be rushed.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter has since told the ABC (on April 6), that 187 refugees had now been resettled in Australia and an additional 1,600 visas had been issued overseas. Meanwhile, Canada’s intake of refugees from Syria topped 26,000.

The indefatigable Refugee Action Collective is staging one last peak hour vigil next Thursday outside Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s office on Gympie Road Strathpine. The aim is to bring the Minister to account and remind people of comments made on Sky News when he criticised Labor and Greens’ proposals to lift the intake to 27,000 or 50,000 respectively.

“For many people, they won’t be numerate or literate in their own language let alone English,” he told Sky News.

“These people would be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that.”

Greens lead refugees reform agenda

The Australian Greens is the only political party with a truly reformist answer to the asylum seeker/refugee question. The Greens say it is a better (economic) proposition to allow refugees to live in the community. The Parliamentary Budget Office estimates the average cost of allowing someone to live in the general community at $35,000, compared to $225,000 on Manus Island or Nauru.

The Greens’ plan to close down offshore detention on Manus Island and Nauru and to close ‘the worst’ Australian detention centres on the mainland and on Christmas Island. They would establish 30-day time limits on detention in Australia, with ‘periodic judicial review’ of any detention thereafter.

A few of the minor parties are less forgiving: The Rise Up Party says it would implement legislation that will send all illegal asylum seekers back to where they came from’.

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has a policy of ‘zero net immigration’. By that is meant, if a migrant goes home, you let another one in. Sustainable Australia also has a ‘low immigration’ policy.

The Australian Liberty Alliance is running candidates in the Upper and Lower houses for the first time on a platform which includes stopping the ‘Islamisation of Australia’. You can read about the ALA here and watch their 15-second advertisement which has been banned from television. *

All you need is love (ra-ta-ta-ta-tah)

Sigh. It’s Refugee Week, did you know? I often wonder how this country lost its multicultural way after we welcomed and resettled 57,700 Vietnamese refugees between 1975 and 1982. Of these, only 2,100 or so were unauthorised arrivals by boat, although many more set out by sea and never made it to shore. The 1971 Census revealed there were just 700 Vietnamese in Australia.

Fifteen years later it was 80,000 and at the 2011 Census, the numbers of Vietnamese-born living in Australia rose to 185,039. Despite language barriers and religious differences (the main religion is Mahayana Buddhism), these new migrants were widely accepted.

Imagine an Australia without Luke Nguyen (chef and TV presenter), Anh Do (comedian), Nam Le (author), Caroline Tran (Triple J announcer), Hieu Van Le, (Lieutenant Governor of South Australia) or Vincent Long Van Nguyen (Parramatta’s Catholic Archbishop).

The Beatles were strongly opposed to the Vietnam War, or rather, western involvement in it. At the peak of the conflict, John Lennon wrote a famous song, which in Vietnam is known as Tất cả những gì bạn cần có là tình yêu.

*policy points drawn from the websites of political parties





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