Freedom in Azerbaijan
Guest post from Sam Gunders, media and journalism student at the University of Southern Queensland. This report went to air on Phoenix Radio Online on Friday morning, 25 May, and is reproduced here with Sam’s permission.
On Sunday night we might be enjoying a drink or 10 and watching the Eurovision song contest for 2012 from Baku, Azerbaijan. It will of course be a fun night of gratuitous changes of both the musical and costume varieties; there will be a bit of singing and a lot of watching votes being counted and you can bet that it will be an entirely politics free zone.
Politics and Eurovision have mixed in the past, but it is usually frowned upon. In 2009, Georgia withdrew after they were told to change the lyrics to their song “We Don’t Want To Put In” no political grounds.They refused and took no part in the contest.
Beyond the stadium in Baku though there is a nation in need of attention from the wider world. Azerbaijan was rated in the 2011 Freedom in the World Report as being “not free”, scoring 6 out of 7 for political rights and 5 out of 7 for civil liberties. Just to be confusing, a 7 is actually the worst score in that report, 1 is the best. So Azerbaijan is not performing well.
This website comprises a series of interviews with key players in Queensland politics over the last 40 years:
This is the first I’ve heard of this initiative: perhaps it has only just gone live, there is no copyright date on the website. As it describes:
Queensland Speaks is a free website that presents the extraordinary personal and political world of decision making in Queensland over the past 40 years. It aims to enable students, researchers and the general public to gain some understanding of political and bureaucratic decision making in Queensland from the 1970s to the end of the Beattie Government in 2007.
Each interview is clearly summarised, and internally indexed to allow easy access to key points. There is also an extensive tagging system that allows the listener to follow themes across a number of different interviews, and the search mechanism seems to work well. There is also an effective in-text glossary of terms, which provide the explanation of acronyms or background to particular events.
Given the period involved is guess it’s natural that first thing I searched was “Fitzgerald inquiry.” This brought up six pages of references, covering more than twenty interviewees from all sides of politics and including people like Russell Cooper and Wayne Goss.
Coming from the Centre for the Government of Queensland at the University of Queensland, the main drivers of this initiative are Professor Peter Spearritt and Dr Danielle Miller. It is well worth a look.
Working Across Divides
Just lately I’ve been attending organising meetings for the World Refugee Day Rally in Brisbane later this month. The rally is 1pm in Brisbane Square (top of the Queen Street Mall) on Saturday 25 June. You can find further details here if you’re interested.
Some of the things that interest me about these meetings are the dynamics and how different these are at the grass roots to what we see in our political leaders. It makes me sick to the stomach with disgust and despair at the way that our political leaders, especially Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, seem obsessed with each other and the competition to see who can go furthest and fastest in the race to deny asylum seekers and refugees their legal and human rights.
What I see in these meetings is so very different. . .
Sorry . . . for what we’re about to do
Were you proud when Kevin Rudd apologised to Australia’s indigenous peoples on behalf of the nation? Did you, like me, hope that it meant that, at last, progress would really be made on closing the gap in health, education, and employment? So many people were so optimistic, swept away in part by the relief at having Howard and his racist, punitive ways gone at last. Now the honeymoon is over, has the hard work of commitment begun? Was the promise fulfilled?
Yesterday I went to a talk by Mark Fordam, organised by the NTEU and the QUT Student Guild. It is the second time in the past year that I’ve gone to listen to someone with first-hand experience of the Northern Territory Intervention. The first one was by an anthropologist, I think, and what I remember most was her description of how difficult she found it to find fresh food, or afford it even if should could find it, and how much more difficult it was for the indigenous residents who could only use their basics card in approved stores.
Yesterday’s talk was by Mark Fordham. By his own admission, he started off on a good wicket with his early working life, made good money, and had skills that were highly sought after. At the point where his mother asked him to come and work on one of the indigenous communities, he was inclined to believe that those on the new CDEP were probably just lazy. He changed his mind after working with them for a time, seeing their willingness to work, and seeing the odds stacked against them.
The People in the Suburbs
“And for once in my life it’s not the people in the suburbs, It’s me’s got it wrong” – The Whitlams, Life’s a Beach
I put a comment on Twitter this morning that was born out of frustration and generated a bit of discussion that I then didn’t really have the time to participate in.
The comment was: “What is it with middle-class people making fun of bogans? FFS use your time, education, and privilege for something more worthwhile.”
My first point is that the people being disparaged are usually not bogans. Usually, it is the ‘aspirational’ classes in the outer suburbs, “Howard’s Battlers” if you want (although they don’t seem to consider themselves Abbott’s Battlers). Bogans, by my understanding, do not participate to any great extent in the formal economy or have a great deal of aspiration. However, the term has come to be used as a catch-all, derogatory term for what we might once have called the working classes. But, of course, we kid ourselves that class is not a definer in Australian society and in recent years some politicians (Peter Costello, if I recall correctly) have tried to convince us that “working class” simply refers to anyone who goes to work for wages. If that’s not depoliticisation, what is!
And so we have a Government
Unlike most people I know, I’m not sighing “at last”. I think this has possibly been the best thing to happen to Australian politics in many years, as I indicated in my last post.
I caught as much of the press conferences today as I could, even though I’ve been avoiding as much of the speculation and teeth gnashing in the News Limited press as possible over the last three weeks – they shit me beyond belief and have since the early 2000s.
It seems to me that what ultimately decided two of the independents, and what separated them from the third, was vision. And I don’t mean vision of the two major parties; for the most part, that is still seriously lacking.
Bob Katter, love him, is a man of principle and I respect him for that, no less so for his decision today.
Told to ‘Go Get Hung’?
This one is not about religion, I promise.
Among the things that I’ve been reading up on lately are young people’s attitudes to politics, media, and citizenship. Most of the information that I have to date is from the UK, but what I’ve been able to find on Australia so far suggests that many of the same issues are relevant here as well.
For some years now, there has been a concern across Western capitalist democracies that young people are increasingly disinterested in politics, and less likely to become politically or civically engaged. It seems that when this is examined more closely it is not a new phenomenon and it’s really only the political system that they have lost trust in, and party politics that they don’t much care for.
What’s more, it is not just young people. We tend to focus on young people in a form of moral panic about society going to pot (sometimes literally), but when you look more closely at that, whatever we panic about when focusing on young people is usually only a reflection of what is going on in the wider society.
This post is not a dry run for the paper that I’m working on, just some notes from the readings that I’ve been doing because when you take these factors into account and look at trends beyond our shores, the current situation in Australia, where it seems we might end up with a hung parliament, kind of makes sense.
World Humanitarian Day 2010
In 2008 the UN declared 19 August as World Humanitarian Day. I tend to be sceptical about these sorts of things, but in an age where “what’s in it for me?” gets a better run than “how can I help?” these things need saying. The Oxfam Australia website says this:
The day is also held to emphasize current humanitarian needs and challenges worldwide, such as threats to humanitarian aid workers by conflicting parties, challenges in reaching the people we try to assist, and the increasing complexity of the humanitarian environment due to food price shocks, global market turbulence, water shortages and climate change. Particular focus will be placed on the people on whose behalf we work.
The Inter-Agency Standing Committee Principals agreed there would be three main areas of focus for this year’s commemoration of the day:
- To draw attention to humanitarian needs worldwide;
- To explain, in simple, visual terms what humanitarian aid work entails;
- To remember those who have lost their lives in humanitarian service.
As part of the commemoration of the day, the UN has released a short film (an ad, really), which you can watch here. Feel free to spread it far and wide.
Voting on Faith
I know this is a cultural studies blog, not a religious one, but I often blog about politics, and given the attention to the influence of religion in politics in recent years (especially the influence of the so-called “Christian Right”), I’m going to go for it. Besides that, I’m seriously pissed off and this election campaign is not doing anything to soothe me.
I was talking to a relative the other day who said they could not vote for Bob Brown because he screws men (actually, this person said “a poof”), and couldn’t vote for Julia Gillard because she is an atheist. Well, I can’t vote for Tony Abbott because he has a track record of screwing the poor and vulnerable. I’ve also been getting emails from another family member urging me to pray for our leaders, couched in right wing imagery referring to our “Heritage”. The assumption is that of course I will vote for the Coalition, or Family First, because they will uphold our “Christian” values. I won’t.
I will vote on the basis of my faith.
Some Thoughts on Asylum Seekers
A couple of weeks ago, I took part in an Amnesty International campaign objecting to the suspension of asylum applications from people from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. It’s one of these things where you fill in your details and they give you the outline of a letter. Of course, you can personalise the wording and I do so. I figure if I care enough about an issue to send an email, then I should care enough to think about what actually goes in it. I was rather surprised and impressed that my local member (or at least his office) replied very shortly after receiving my emails. Got to give him credit for that. It is years since I’ve received a quick reply from a politician in relation to an organised campaign. He seems to be a decent bloke. Most people are, as individuals.
For those of you who missed it, on 9 April this year the federal government announced that they were suspending the processing of asylum applications from people from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka on the grounds that the situation in each of those countries was improving and is under review by the UNHCR and that the government had denied an increasing number of applications from people from those countries in recent months. The government also intends to reopen the Curtin detention centre, as the offshore centres are overflowing.
Now obviously I have problems with the suspension, but I also have problems with the practice of routine detention, still recognising that a period of quarantine while health checks are carried out is probably in everyone’s interest. What especially gets my goat is the way that asylum seekers have been used as a political football by governments and media in a process that brings out the worst in us as Australians and deters the public expression of compassion.