30 December 2013

Discussion paper on inequality

Australia21 today released a discussion paper that has been prepared for a high level roundtable to be held in late January on "What to do about Inequality in Australia? The paper was prepared for Australia21 by Professor Sharon Friel, Professor of Health Equity, National Centre for
Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University and Dr Richard Denniss, Executive Director of The Australia Institute. It is available for free download here.

Please remember that as a small non-profit research organisation Australia21 is dependent upon donations from the public to fund its work. If you would like to make a donation, you can do so by visiting the Australia21 website at www.australia21.org.au. Donations of $2 and over are tax deductible.

28 December 2013

Refugees and asylum seekers: finding a better way

On 17 December 2013, in a Senate Committee Room in Parliament House, Canberra former Governor-General Sir William Deane AC launched a collection of essays entitled Refugees and asylum seekers: Finding a better way. This collection, edited by Bob Douglas and Jo Wodak, marked the completion of the first phase of an Australia21 project designed to contribute to the development of a process for dealing with asylum seekers which is fairer and more humane than the one we have been using in Australia in recent years.

The essays in this volume are in response to an invitation by Australia21 to people who have been actively engaged in various aspects of asylum-seeker policy to take a fresh look at the current dilemma in its global, regional as well as national contexts, and suggest ways in which the Australian community might respond more humanely, more sustainably and more responsibly to it.

Contributions were sought from a wide range of Australians – legal experts, ex-public servants and advisers, international and local agency representatives, ethicists, church representatives, academics and researchers, concerned members of the public and refugees.

In soliciting these contributions Australia21 did not prescribe any particular opinion or critique. It is striking, however, that not one of the contributors expresses support for either the Labor or the Coalition Government’s position on and treatment of asylum seekers or their response to and representation of the problem of asylum-seeking boats arrivals. Instead, there is a striking uniformity of view that current policies are inhumane, uneconomic and unjustified in terms of international, national and social obligations, and that core values of fairness and compassion have been sacrificed for political expediency. In the process there has been a demonisation of asylum seekers arriving by boat as opportunistic queue jumpers.

For information about the contributors see Refugees and asylum seekers: finding a better way on the Australia21 blog. For Sir William’s remarks in launching the publication see Sir William Deane on asylum seekers.

The complete publication can be downloaded as a PDF file at no charge from the Australia21 website  here.

If you would like to buy a hard copy for $25 including postage you may do so from here.

Please remember that Australia21 is dependent upon public donations to continue its work. If you would like to make a donation you can do so by visiting the Australia21 website at www.australia21.org.au.

30 November 2013

Booloominbah, 1950s

This is the 1880s mansion, Booloominbah, that T.R. Forster donated to the State Government of New South Wales, on behalf of the White family, on condition that it be used for the establishment of a university in Armidale. For the background to this gift and the establishment of what is now the University of New England, see my earlier post Booloominbah.

In its original configuration the northern forecourt of the building was accessible from east or west via a circular access road that ran up the hill past the deer park and a cottage on the east side and past where Mary White College and the Psychology Building now stand on the western side. In the 1950s the bus used to run up past the deer park, stop at the main entrance to the building, and return to Armidale via the western approach.

This photo of Booloominbah from the western side of the ring road, taken by my father in the 1950s, gives a view of the building that is no longer available. The road is blocked off and the view is blocked by an administrative building which (criminally in my view) is interposed between the main building and the old laundry which became my father’s EEG laboratory.

13 November 2013

Pay attention to Dewi Fortuna Anwar

My attention was caught by an article in this morning’s edition of The Age, headlined Indonesia considers people-swap. It begins:

A senior Indonesian official has directly contradicted the Abbott government by insisting that a people swap-style deal is on the table as a way of breaking the impasse over asylum-seeker boats.

Dewi Fortuna Anwar, an adviser to Indonesia's Vice-President, repeated her claims on Tuesday afternoon that a deal was being discussed in which Jakarta would allow asylum-seekers stopped at sea to be returned to Indonesia if Australia matched that by taking an equal number of proven refugees.

Her emphatic reiteration that there was a proposal being considered came after Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison hosed down the idea. Such a deal would have strong echoes of Labor's failed Malaysia people swap deal, a policy the Coalition fiercely opposed.

But Ms Anwar said the proposal had come from the Australian embassy in Jakarta via a fax written in Bahasa, the Indonesian language.

One of the more interesting couple of hours of my life was a meeting in early 1999 in the Russell Headquarters of the Department of Defence, at which my colleague Admiral Chris Barrie and I, with (from memory) Vice Chief of the Defence Force Air Marshall Doug Riding, Deputy Secretary Hugh White and Division Head Allan Behm talked to an Indonesian group headed by General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (Chief of Staff for Social-Political Affairs – now President of Indonesia), Lieutenant-General Agus Widjoyo, a leading participant in deliberations leading to the reform of the Indonesian armed forces in the post-Suharto period and the transition to democracy, the late Major-General Agus Wirahadikusumah (Assistant for General Planning to the Armed Forces Commander), and Dewi Fortuna Anwar, Assistant to the Vice-President for Global Affairs and Assistant Minister/State Secretary for Foreign Affairs.

I will not go into the details of the discussion. Suffice it to say that I came away from that meeting with a lasting impression of Dr Anwar as a very capable person with a formidable intellect, and one who is very comfortable working at the highest levels of authority and decision-making. As a Monash Ph.D., she understands Australia better than anyone in the current Government understands Indonesia. I do not read her as a person who would be in the habit of going off half-cocked; she will know exactly what she is doing with this intervention, and the Australian Government and Australian media would be well advised to pay attention. There is a story here.

05 November 2013

UNE Graduation, 25 October 2013

On 24-27 October I went to Armidale to join in the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the University of New England, initially the New England University College of the University of Sydney. On the morning of Friday 25 October I attended the graduation ceremony for people taking degrees in Arts or Science.

UNE graduations have always been happy, family occasions, because they have always been held outside, so there is no limitation on the number of family and friends that can attend, and the fact that so many students have lived on campus means that returning for graduation is an opportunity to catch up with old friends.

I had my trusty iPhone handy, so here are some of the photos:

Early arrivers chatting before the ceremony

 Family gathering
 Booloominbah on Graduation Day

Some assistance with the academic dress

The academic procession gets under way

The academic procession

Deputy Chancellor Geoff Fox and Vice-Chancellor Jim Barber

Esquire Bedell Professor Roley Piggott, bearing the mace donated by former Chancellor P.A. Wright, escorting Chancellor John Watkins

The academic procession passing in front of Booloominbah

View of the dais from the public seating

Chancellor John Watkins chatting to a colleague

Graduates and families departing the ceremony

Happy snaps after the ceremony