Downs Under #3

August 12, 2006

ModeskiScot-in-exile Alec “modeski” Downs’ weekly summary of Australian news.

Alarmist Alarm Alteration?
All alliteration aside (okay, I’ll stop now), Prime Minister John Howard has warned us that Australia’s threat level may be increased in response to the heightened threat of terrorist attack. Currently, the alert level is medium. I have no idea what “medium” means in this context, nor what practical effect this has on daily life. Oh, that’s right: none at all.

Myself and a few other posters on The Age blog debated this issue at length on Friday’s Your Say. My position basic position is that I choose not to alter my way of life, or be any more fearful as a result of these alerts. To do so would be letting the terrorists get their way. Furthermore, and this needs to be stated more often, the alerts mean nothing. Nothing. All increasing the threat level does is increase fear in the populace and garner more votes for the governing parties.
I would also like to point out that if there was a plot in the UK, not only was the threat level not raised beforehand despite months-in-advance intelligence, but it was stopped; shouldn’t the level go down then?

I can see myself going on at length about this issue, but perhaps we should have that discussion in the forums. I’ll finish by quoting John Howard on the issue of liquid explosives – more inflated nonsense, and let the idiocy of his statement speak for itself.

“Common sense tells you that if people take explosive liquids on board an aircraft, and they’re going to become suicide bombers, and they’re going to blow a hole in a pressurised cabin, you can imagine what the horrific loss of life would be.”

The upshot? I can’t take any contact lens fluid with me when I go to Europe. Marvellous.

Human rights act for Australia?
Former PM Gough Whitlam is rumoured this week to be lending his support to a push by former education minister Susan Ryan to introduce a human rights act into Parliament by the end of this year. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out, especially regarding the current trend for over-zealous anti-terrorism legislation.

The High Court ruled in 2004 that the government was allowed to detain stateless persons indefinitely. Whitlam correctly pointed this out when he said on Friday, “The Australian Government has legislated for the secret detention for purposes of interrogation of people whom it knows to be totally innocent of any wrongdoing.” I’m amazed that more people aren’t up in arms against this kind of thing.
Predictably, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock opposes a human rights act. It baffles me that so many high-profile figures in various governments do this; why are they against human rights? I know that sounds like a facile argument, but then these days, there’s not much room for nuance in public debate. I’ve never been entirely convinced by the reasons for opposition to a HRA. Again, this story is one to keep an eye on in coming months.

Information gravel road
I’ve ranted on this subject in opinionated drivel, but I feel that the subject of Australia’s sub-par internet provision needs another airing. Communications Minister and all-round idiot Helen Coonan this week said that we should be happy with the amount of broadband provision available in our cities.

Of course, she completely fails to address the concerns of most internet users, i.e. that the services are too costly, too slow, not universally available and are generally years behind the rest of the world. My main bugbear isn’t just that the speed I can download torrents at, moreover that it costs me more for a slower connection with a ridiculous data cap and shoddy service than the rest of the planet was paying five years ago. Telstra, our biggest Telco and the owner of the copper infrastructure has cancelled plans to build a fibre network around Australia, basically because they wouldn’t make as much money as they wanted. There is a group of nine competitors, ‘the G9’, who have talked about investing the $4bn needed themselves, and they now have a perfect chance to capitalise. Telstra is half-owned by the Government, and so as long as the share price threatens to go down (as it surely would were more people to use VoIP, for example), then I don’t see anyone sticking their neck out to risk the wrath of shareholders.

Gay marriage back on agenda
This Sunday will see independent MP Andrew Olexander unveiling a new bill amed at giving same-sex couples the opportunity to partake in civil unions, giving them the same rights as married heterosexuals. This follows the recent dismissal of a similar bill by the Federal Government. I regard this issue as a no-brainer, personally – all people should naturally have the same rights as all other people, especially when it comes to things like power of attorney, marriage etc. To say otherwise is discrimination, and has no place in 2006. What I find most interesting about this issue is that it’s being reported as a “distraction” for politicans who are trying to focus on the forthcoming state elections. Of course, it’s not a distraction in the sense that it will be just a matter of procedure for the bill to pass, more that politicans regard such civil rights issues as mere inconveniences as they try to grab more power for themselves.

And finally… On the ‘ead, love
I was unable to find anything for this section from Australia, so I would like to direct your attention to Hong Kong, and the dangers of high-rise buildings. No, not the risk of terrorists flying planes into them, more so from irate hairdressers hurtling their tools out the window in a fit of pique. This actually happened a couple of weeks ago, but ya know, it’s Saturday morning. Leave me be. Apparently, the week of the 24th of July, two people were injured by falling scissors in separate incidents, one an elderly woman who had a gash several centimetres deep in her head, and a 28 year-old man whose forehead was injured. Kind of gives a new meaning to ‘take a little bit off the top’!


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