The utopian dream versus the dystopian nightmare: Part 2

Dystopia, the opposite of utopia, describes a society that has strongly undesirable characteristics. It is translated as “not a good place”, and would be possibly similar to what George Orwell describes in his novel “1984” where society is distinctly unwelcoming in all facets.

Whereas a utopian society would not allow a disaster like the Grenfell tower fire in London or the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown to happen, a dystopian society would make a major effort to cover up the disaster, arresting people who asked too many questions, blocking media from finding out what happened. Instead of asking for assistance, the authorities might decide to uniformly evacuate the area around the disaster and turn it into a no go zone. If it involves civilian attempts at showing dissent, the response may be decidedly ugly with a military response like the Chinese employed in Tiananmen Square, with thousands being rounded up.

Agencies relating to social welfare, housing, justice and so forth may be disempowered or completely disbanded. Any remaining functions simple to dispense to those who can afford it. If one cannot afford rental accommodation it is not the problem of the state.

The range of powers and responsibilities that the police have will expand so that a degree of immunity to infractions such as arbitrary detention of those classed as undesirables, denial of legal aid and so forth exists. Rather than being a force for societal good, they start to become the visible enforcement of the state’s will.

The economics of a dystopian society are distinctly unfriendly to all but the wealthiest. Power and wealth assist each other in a relationship that becomes addictive: more wealth means more power and vice versa. A distinct few have near complete control of all of the natural resources, the infrastructure and media. The state assets such as the electricity grid, the railways, the telecommunications are all sold off to investors not based in the country. The wealthy few live a clearly disconnected life from the rest, with trappings that 99% of people probably do know about.

A dystopian techno-state where traditional forms of media simply disappear – newspapers die out or are subsumed – might form. Radio is either taken over and digitized or taken off air altogether. So-called undesirables can be electronically blocked on a system so that they are completely cut off from information and news. Pay screens that only open up to paid subscribers becomes the norm. The same state might use electronic algorithms to monitor peoples internet and media worth, building up a profile as China is currently doing that form a profile on a completely unsuspecting target human

Fear is an instrument used to keep the masses in line. It might be expressed in subtle things such as running adverts asking if you trust your neighbour, your family and friends. Are certain types of activity such as social activism, community groups and the like some sort of menace? Cameras are watching your every move in public. You have no say over what they see and what happens to the footage, or who can use it. To give effect to this, enforcement instruments such as curfews where one has to be in their house by a certain time; segregated areas where ethnic or social minorities are banished to with notably poorer infrastructure and amenities may show up.

Dystopian society can creep in, slowly like the shadows moving. It might be confused at times with increasing authoritarianism, as some of the traits are distinctly so. It does not make overt moves unless politicians with authoritarian ideas have managed to take power.

New Zealand has fortunately not shown any overtly dystopian notions but we only have to look across the Tasman Sea to Australia to see flashes of dystopia manifesting. The out pouring of grief following the 15 March 2019 terrorist attacks might not have happened in another western country. In Australia a combination of traditional conservatism mixing with overt hatred of minorities, topped off with a burning paranoia about refugees and asylum seekers, has seen Australian Government ministers show almost callous disregard for minorities.



The election result no one saw coming

Nobody saw it coming: An Australian Liberal Party victory that even stunned its leader, Scott Morrison, who whilst hoping for a miracle, must have been a nervous man throughout Saturday as millions of Australians voted in the Federal Government elections.

I was just as stunned this morning when I read that Australia had returned the Liberal National coalition to office for a third term as I imagine most of the left-wing of Australia’s political spectrum were last night. It reminded me of New Zealand Labour’s slump to their disastrous 2014 defeat against New Zealand National, where Labour barely managed to hold its ground, let alone make inroads into National. In the aftermath of that election Labour leader David Cunliffe found himself walking the gang plank as Labour plunged into another round of blood letting. After a while they settled on giving Andrew Little a go.

It does not look like there will be any of that in this Australian Labor Party. At the same time he was making his concession speech, Labor leader Bill Shorten also announced his resignation as leader of the Party and indicated that he would maintain his seat in Maribyrnong. Already deputy leader Tanya Pilbersek and fellow Labor M.P. Anthony Albanese are lining up as candidates, and with the dust still settling on the election, it is possible that others may yet join.

For Labor and Green party candidates this will have been a horrible night. A night in which, right up to the close of polls Labor had been expected to take office had been snatched from right beneath their feet. Apparently climate change, refugees, Australia’s support of Trump, the Centre Link debacle and the hugely disproportionate spread of wealth across the country are not priorities to Australia. Far better to listen to Peter Dutton rabbiting on about refugees taking Australian jobs and offering nothing but criminal activity appears to be the verdict of Dickson voters.

In some respects though this has actually been a very modest swing to the centre. Shorn of Toxic Tony (Abbott), the Liberals appear to have realized some of their fringe members are a liability. But most of the swing has probably come from the apparent demise of One Nation, a refugee and Aborigine hating, gun loving, climate change denying mob from the Queensland woop woops, led by Pauline Hanson. I guess that is the price paid for having a certain Member of Parliament launch a ferocious and totally uncalled for attack on refugees on the same day 50 were slaughtered at Al Noor mosque in Christchurch. No great loss to see him getting egged by the electorate.

So, in conclusion, much as it pains me to say so, Congratulations must go to Prime Minister-elect Scott Morrison and his Liberal Party who might yet be able to form a government without National assisting. Right through out his time as Prime Minister, even when Labour had opened up a 5-point lead in the two party preferred stakes, Mr Morrison consistently led Mr Shorten in the preferred Prime Minister stakes, sometimes by as much as 9 points. And during the last two months whilst Labor still maintained a lead in the polls, Mr Morrison managed to close the two party preferred to within 2 points of Labor.

Where Mr Morrison goes from here with his Liberal or Liberal/__________ coalition remains to be seen. However, tax cuts are a certainty, as is a deadening lack of progress on Australia’s abomination of a refugee and lack of constructive indigenous policy.



Australian election 2019: Uninspiring and typically divisive

So, it has come to this. Two uninspiring parties significantly detuned from the Australian electorate are in a near dead heat for what will either be a miraculous third term of the Liberal National Party coalition or the first term of a Labor led Government.  Australian Labor Party led by Bill Shorten is expected to at least maintain its tight grasp on the throat of the Liberal National Party coalition led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as Australia go to the polls on Saturday. But after months of dysfunction and no real change in politics or policies on offer just how enthusiastic are Australians?

Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten does not strike one as all that inspiring. Indeed for much of the last 3 years Mr Shorten has ridden the consistently superior Labor polling in the two party preferred stakes with a margin of anywhere between a dead heat at 50/50 out to 56/44. Yet at the same time Australians desire for his leadership has consistently shown the leader of the Liberal Party to be the preferred Prime Minister.

But what leader(s) was/is that? Over those same three years that Mr his party has been behind in the polls, Australians have clearly and consistently signalled that they want a conservative leaning Prime Minister. The infighting in Labor between former leader and one time Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was a significant and potentially lasting turn off for many Australians, who would have been hoping it would be better remembered for the apology to the Aboriginal people; acknowledging climate change and moves to keep the Australian economy moving along.

Oh yes, that is who it was. A man by the name of Anthony (Tony)Abbott, who denied climate change, thought that Australia started when the British arrived to establish a penal colony, insisted that Nauru and Manus Island Detention Centres were not only legitimate, but also necessary for Australian protection of its borders. His time as Opposition leader was defined as a man with one mission only: destroy however you can, the Government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. So short on ideas was he and his Government, that before the end of the first term, he was gone, replaced by Malcolm Turnbull though never to yet shut up, sniping, barracking and carrying on from the back bench.

Sadly Mr Turnbull was no better and in terms of the treatment of detainees on Nauru and Manus Island, possibly even worse. A weak Prime Minister whose fledgling government barely escaped being confined to the annals of Australian political history, Mr Turnbull has been shunted by his inept Ministers from one disaster to another growing next to it. With crises ranging from extraordinarily expensive combat jets for the Air Force to Centre Link, Pauline Hanson’s ongoing crusade against Aboriginals, Muslims and Chinese, a wad of by elections causing losses at regional and at State level, Mr Turnbull might be quietly looking forward to a bit of quiet time before deciding how and where to end his career having surrendered to Scott Morrison last year.

And then there is Scott Morrison. The treasurer of the Abbott Government appeared to have only tax cuts for the immediate corporations on his mind, with not any thoughts as to how Australia’s governmental services would operate. And after a tenure trying to find ways to cut the taxes instead of looking at which ones work best an A$326 billion debt grows in the background; Member for Dickson and Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton’s paranoid character assassination of detainees

The Liberal National Party coalition managed to fit all of this into 6 years of Government that was childish, polarizing and showed Australia in a decidedly negative light. I imagine it is dreading Saturday, for all of the above reasons and more. But can the untested and consistently less popular Bill Shorten do any better?

Watch this space!

N.Z and Australia: Elephant in the room is immigration

New Zealand and Australia enjoy a unique relationship that few other countries can come close to matching. Whether it is in history or economic relations, foreign affairs or culture, the similarities are impressive. So how then did other nationalities come to have a direct path to Australian citizenship, but not us?

558,000 New Zealanders live in Australia, up from 345,000 in 2001. Due to the very close relationship between the two countries, New Zealanders only need to arrive in Australia on a valid passport and can live and work in Australia indefinitely.

There is one significant catch though. New Zealanders do not have access as a general rule to Australian citizenship, in that there is not a specific pathway to becoming an Australian in the same way that there is for other nationalities. And this is a significant sticking point in Australia-New Zealand diplomatic relations. Successive Australian Governments whilst referring to New Zealanders and New Zealand as family have made a deliberate case of maintaining a distance using immigration policy.

Contrast that with New Zealand which accepts Australians and offers them a path to New Zealand citizenship. 65,000 Australians live in New Zealand. The restrictions as we shall see on Australians receiving assistance from New Zealand health, education and social welfare are less than those for New Zealanders in Australia.

With 558,000 New Zealand nationals living in Australia, inevitably a few feature in the crime and other unsavoury statistics. Minor offending is not generally something that attracts the attention of Australian officials. However more serious offending such as assault, robbery, and serious ones such as murder are known to attract the attention of the Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Protection Agency among others.

This is where things get dicey. New Zealanders entering Australia long term need to apply for a Special Category Visa. Following law changes in 2001 New Zealanders living long term in Australia wanting access to social, and other services can only receive restricted access after applying and being granted permanent residence through the migrants programme.

A few New Zealanders who moved to Australia when they were very young and have no connection to New Zealand whatsoever have found themselves being deported from Australia for criminal offending to a country where they know no one, have no knowledge of customs, laws or otherwise. They have no official record such as an Inland Revenue Department number, will not have an photo ID available or official statements such as bank statements or utility bills to provide evidence of living. And yet here they find themselves in a completely foreign land, where the only thing in common is that both countries speak English and drive on the left.

Perhaps it is time to re-examine the pathway to nowhere for New Zealanders – we enter Australia, we find our accommodation and get a job. We can set up a bank account and so forth without any problems and can come and go as we please. But the closest we can get to permanent residence or citizenship is the Special Category Visa. After all this time and the generosity we show to Australians living here is it not time for New Zealand to try to draw level?

Perhaps that is something for Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters to take up with his Australian counterpart Marise Payne.

Australia: The lucky country not so lucky anymore

For over 20 years, since before I left high school, I remember people saying how they wanted to move to Australia because there were more economic opportunities. They wanted to move because incomes were better, the pace of life faster – more night clubs, more things to do, more diversity. Some were going to move as soon as they had enough money and others were going to so when they finished University. Few entertained the idea of coming back however distant.

The media maintained this image of New Zealand being Australia’s poor cousin by focussing on the income gap between the two nations, something New Zealand was never really going to close. People would say when asked why they were moving to Australia and not coming back “because the grass is greener”. From a purely economic sense they were probably correct.

At the same time it has to be said that on one hand New Zealanders enjoy benefits that non-Australians do not including not needing a visa to work there. On the flip side there is no clear pathway for New Zealanders to become Australians whilst there is a clear path for Australians to become New Zealanders. This flip side has tempered the New Zealand experience for many in Australia because citizenship is required to access medical, educational and social welfare services.

Economically Australia has been one of the most consistently well performing western economies in the last 30 years and only with a decline in demand for raw minerals from China has it really slowed down. Australia is still a very wealthy country. It has huge mineral reserves that are untapped. It has huge sunlight hours which would enable virtually continuous solar power in the vast interior of the continent where temperatures often reach into the mid 40ºC range in summer.

Australia’s natural environment has been one of its great draw cards with people coming in their millions to see the Great Barrier Reef with its diverse array of coral reefs and fish. They come to see the continent and the amazing array of bird, reptile and mammalian life that inhabits it. It is this same natural environment that is paying a steep price for short term economic gain.

Unfortunately Australia is bleeding itself dry in a hydrological sense. Much of Australia’s natural drainage is confined to one huge river system in the southeast, which takes up 1,000,000 square kilometres or about 400,000 square miles, called the Murray-Darling. This comprises two large rivers, each exceeding 1,000 kilometres in length. The Murray Darling River system held great promise. Over the years it has been used for irrigation, electricity generation, tourism and as a fishery. As demand for its water grew, so did the environmental costs Despite the Murray Darling Basin Authority trying to implement a plan to protect the river as a living system the Murray Darling has steadily declined. Australia has run one of the great river systems in the world into the ground, with flows so low in some places now that the river is virtually stagnant. These conditions mean shallow parts of the river allow the river water to heat up to a point where fish simply cannot survive, where lethal cyanobacteria algae is growing in vast mats and is toxic to dogs, humans and fish alike.

It is not just the decline in water quality though that makes this a particularly sad tale. For years the steady reduction of the water flowing into the sea at its mouth west of Melbourne has enable creeping salinisation of the ground water to occur, so that instead of fresh clean drinking water, increasingly it is more consistent with sea water. For decades the river has also been slowly but systematically diverted for hydro power generation in the Snowy Mountains.

It is unfortunately not just environmental issues that afflict Australia. Its political system more resembles a virus riddled computer than a functional commonwealth. An increasingly fractious federal Government has been virtually crippled by infighting, a lack of accountability and self serving members. Scandals have ranged from Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce having an affair with a lady working in his office to the Murray Darling one mentioned above and giving $400 million of tax payer dollars to a tiny charity with no oversight.

From this side of the Tasman Sea it is sad to watch one of the wealthiest nations in the world that has had so much going for it sliding into a state of decline like this. New Zealanders are still moving to Australia each year in considerable numbers, but the number of New Zealanders returning because they have run up against the limitations that go with not having citizenship, has increased.