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Democracy needs reform—The cruelty of poll driven politics

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After a series of sudden and drastic moved initiated by a handful of people within some fractions of the Australia Labor Party on Wednesday evening,  Australians woke up the next morning (24 June 2010) watching their elected Prime Minister (Kevin Rudd) cried in front of the TV screen after he was told by the dozens of his colleagues he was finished as prime minister. (Herald Sun, 25 June 2010)


The cause of his down fall was mainly due to the fact that his popularity has plunged dramatically over the last 6 months. This in part was the direct result of the mining companies $100 million advertising campaign against his government intention to imposed a Super Mining Tax in 2012 to give the average Australians a fairer share of the profit from the resources digging out from Australian soil and seabed. The opposition has sided the miners over the Super Mining Tax and benefited from a huge amount of political donation.


As a result, the first thing our (unelected) new prime minister (Julie Gillard) did was to offer a truce to the miners by withdrawing the government $38 million counter-miner-advertising-campaign and promised to “talk to the industry without pre-conditions,” (The Australian, 25 June 2010 - ‘Miners accept new Prime Minister's offer of a truce’). BHP Billiton being the first miner to suspend its TV advertising campaign and our humble new government reacted immediately by showing appreciation: ‘Gillard thanks BHP for scrapping ads’ (Herald Sun, 25 June 2010).


However, after a mere few hours of excitement, some miners have again decided to continue their relenting advertising campaign: ‘Miners continue working on mining tax ads despite truce’ (News Limited, 25 June 2010). Mining Chief, Keith De Lacy then pressed on the federal government to take the $12 billion revenue from a resource super-profits tax out of the budget's forward estimates. (The Australian, 26 June 2010).


A Sad Day For Democracy


Democracy is supposed to be a system base on the concept of ‘One People One Vote’. However, in this instant, it has became (as a friend of mine put it): an “One Dollar One Vote” system. The reality now are:


1) An elected Prime Minister can be replaced over night by the decision of a few dozens of privilege people within a political party.


2) A mostly foreign owe multi-national corporations like BHP Billiton and  Rio Tinto together with a  couple of local billionaires are able to influence a nation political process, overthrown an elected Prime Minister, and humble the new government by simply throwing their money around.


It would be fair for one to ask: 


a) Have our current form of “democratic” system of government function in accordance to the wish of the people on the street?; Or


b) Have it became a system that favour the wishes of a handful of very rich people and multi-national corporations?


No Need To Feel Sorry For Kevin Rudd


During the last 2 and a half years as Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd has been very much a hated figure among his staffers with “262 ministerial staff - from a total of 444 positions departed since Labor came to office”. However, when a single tear ran down his face as he delivered an emotional farewell to the nation on the TV screen, some of his staffers apparently weep with him. Frankly speaking, when I watched the scene on TV, I do feel sorry for him as I can sense the kind of humiliation and betrayal he had to endure from his own comrades within the party. Their action were sweep, brutal and ruthless.


However, when we put in context Kevin Rudd own ruthless poll driven policies over the last few months, we can only ask ourselves, is this the sub-culture of the current form of democracy? What can we do to make the system more humane, ethical, responsible and civilise?


The Cruelty Of Poll Driven Politics


Example 1: A Sudden change to the ‘In demand’ Skill Migration List


Former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd has always been an enthusiastic supporter of a bigger Australia:


According to a new Immigration Department report on skilled arrivals in 2009, “the Rudd Government has admitted it wants to bring in up to 230,000 migrants annually over the next 40 years,” (Herald Sun, 3 September 2009 - ’Federal Government set to maintain record high immigration levels’).


A month later, in an interview with the 7.30 report, Kevin Rudd unambiguously spoke of the merit of a bigger population. This is what he said: “I actually believe in a big Australia. I make no apology for that,” “I actually think it's good news that our population is growing,'' and “I think it is good for us, it's good for our national security long term, it's good in terms of what we can sustain as a nation. (The Age, 23 Oct 2009)


Merely another 3 months later, Kevin Rudd in his speech to mark the 2010 Australia Day Celebration by again spoken about our aging population and the need for Australia to increase its population from 22 million to 36 million by 2050 to maintain our current standard of living. (‘Kevin Rudd’s speech in full’- News Limited, 20 Jan 2010)


However, when the media begin to publish a series of anti-immigration articles and speeches by the oppositions, activists, and right wingers with strong anti-immigrant sentiment and the public opinion indicated that “Two-thirds of respondents - 66 per cent - think the Federal Government should cap immigration rates” (News Limited, 24 Jan 2010). This is how the Rudd government begin to reverse his immigration policy in a sudden, brutal, ruthless, unethical, inhumane, racist manner with immediate effect:


Creating an ’In demand’ Skill Migration List to attract overseas students


Before the Rudd government won the last election (2007), the previous Australian governments have been using the creation of a list of ’In damand’ skill migration program and knowing that many migration and education agencies have been actively using that ‘favourable list’ as a marketing tools to attract foreign students. 


As a result, our education sector has become our 3rd largest export industry with an annual revenue of $17 billion.


Despite the fact that there are many unscrupulous and dodgy colleges over the years collecting huge amount of tuition fees from overseas students and not offering any proper educational services, for examples,


· ABC Four Corners (27 July 2009) - ‘Holy Cash Cows’:


Last year more than 70,000 Indian students came here to buy an education. Egged on by immigration and education agents, many were told if they enrolled in cooking, hairdressing and accounting courses they would not only get a diploma but they could also qualify for permanent residency in Australia.”


“Four Corners investigation reveals that foreign students in this country have been targeted by unscrupulous businessmen, who have set up training schools that supply qualifications that sometimes aren't worth the paper they are written on.”


We all know that they have sardine type cooking classes where there's sixteen students to a frypan." (Corruption investigator)


“If a student wants to apply for permanent residency they must pass an English language test. Four Corners has found clear evidence that unscrupulous immigration and education agents are offering English language tests for a price. In some cases the exam paper is worth up to $5,000.


“Another requirement for students in vocational courses, seeking residency in Australia, is a work experience certificate. Each student is required to undertake up to 900 hours of on the job training. Some work for nothing creating a source of cheap labour. Others are offered an alternative. Four Corners reveals an immigration agent was prepared to help procure a fake work experience certificate for students if they were prepared to pay between three and four thousand dollars. This practice clearly makes a joke of the vocational qualification and the integrity of the immigration system.”


· The Age (23 July 2009) - ‘College in gross breach of standards’:


A CONFIDENTIAL report on a Melbourne private college has uncovered big education breaches, painting a picture of shambolic practices that failed to meet the most basic educational standards”


“The audit also found:

* Marketing of education and training services was unprofessional

* Students were not provided with information on emergency and health services

* There were no proper checks on overseas education agents

* Students' course progress was not monitored

* Classes were overcrowded”


· The Australian (29 July 2009) - ‘UNE accused of allowing plagiarists to graduate’:


“MORE than 100 overseas students graduated from the University of New England with copied masters theses, creating one of Australia's biggest plagiarism scandals after an academic whistleblower tried to raise the alert.”


The problem with the Australian government is that, they don’t really care as long as the money keep coming in.


· Time of India (23 Jan 2010) - ‘Australian govt ignores advice on Indian students: Report’:


A top body that represents Australia's universities has accused both state and federal governments of ignoring warnings issued by it on problems faced by overseas students, including Indians, in the country. “


“Universities Australia, which represents 39 universities, said it had alerted governments to problems relating to student safety, poor-quality colleges, lack of concessions on public transport and immigration matters for two years ago.”


It (Universities Australia) passed on to Australian authorities warnings from officials in China and India relating to student safety. It also conveyed to governments student disenchantment resulting from a perception they were being treated like cash cows,”


“However, Universities Australia Chief Executive Glenn Withers said that he was disappointed as state and federal governments did not treat the problems as a priority when they were told about them two years ago but acted with urgency only when violent attacks on Indian students attracted intense media attention.”


Sudden withdrawal of the favourable Skill migration list


However, when the poll indicated that the Government “Big Australia” policy was unpopular in an election year. This is how the new policy work:


Only 19 days after Kevin Rudd delivered his Australia Day speech about increasing our population to 36 million by 2050, his government suddenly decided to have a ‘Migration U-turn’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Feb 2010), by calling it a ‘Crackdown on skilled migrants’ (WA Today, 7 February), and immediately ‘rejects 20,000 migrants’ (Brisbane Time, 8 Feb 2010).  These are the detail:


1) “The changes to be unveiled today will see 20,000 current applications binned”


2) “The cancelled applications apply to all offshore general skilled migration claims lodged before September 2007. Refunding 20,000 visa applications will cost taxpayers about $14 million.”


3) “Given the changes could have a significant impact on many foreign students already in Australia, the government will introduce transitional arrangements to apply until 2012.”


4) Foreign students who have a qualification for an occupation no longer considered in demand will get to apply for a temporary 18-month visa, allowing them to gain work experience


5) The 18 months will also give a foreign graduate time in which to find an employer willing to sponsor their application as a skilled migrant.


It’s all about money for Australia –Where is the Human Right of those Students who have no voting right?


The only thing the opposition concerned over the government sudden policy’s U-turn is still about money. This is how the Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said:


“there would be big transition costs associated with the changes, which would hit the international education sector hard”, “This is because there are many foreign students already taking courses on the in-demand list, whose study might no longer improve their chances of permanent migration.”."There'll be many students who'll be caught between a rock and a hard place," "It addition ... there'll be a lot of pressure on those colleges [catering to overseas students] and I suspect many will fail” "That will obviously have impacts for jobs." (Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Feb 2010).


Again, an opinion piece article published by the Sydney Morning Herald two months later (13 April 2010) - ‘When Indian students suffer, Australia risks being scarred for life’ with the main focus still about money. For examples,


The country has suffered real reputational damage, real economic cost, and real diplomatic disadvantage,”


The economic cost? Higher education is Australia's third-biggest export sector, worth $17 billion a year. For Victoria, education is the number one source of foreign income at $4.5 billion a year.”


“So far, the known effect of the assaults has been twofold. First, the total number of Indians studying here is down by 5 per cent this year compared to last, about 1500 students, when the numbers from other major source countries are up. With the total average economic benefit to Australia of about $34,000 per student per year, this means an annual cost of about $50 million.”


“Second, there is the loss of potential student numbers. The number of new Indian enrolments is down this year by 40 per cent compared to last. But the potential cost is much bigger than this suggests.”


The reality to these international students are, they have already invested their time and a huge amount of money in Australia  believing in the government in-demand list’. Some have borrowed those money as an investment hoping for a better future. However, if you are not a voters or if you are not the “mainstream” voters , you have no right in this country. This is how Australia, a self claimed “Civilised” country behave against migrants and minorities citizens in virtually each and every election.


Why can’t the government introduce their U-turn policy in a more humane and considerate manner by honouring their in-demand list’ to those students who already completed the courses, half-way through the courses or already enrolled in those courses,  and set a later date as a cut off point? Why it has to do in such a hurry to cancel all applications lodged prior to September 2007 with immediate effect?


The very few people I came across over the last few months that speak for the students and was published by the media is in this news heading: ‘New migrant list will hit business’ (The Age, 18 May 2010):


Andrew Smith, the Chief executive of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training have the following fair comment in favour of the students:


“We have to be absolutely honest about what Australia has done over a number of years now, and that was to link immigration and education,” Students invested tens of thousands of dollars on the basis of a clear government policy. It's unfair to them that the rules have changed during their courses.''


However, at the back of the above statement that published by the mainstream media, it is still all about money and our selfish national interest. For examples,


Some restaurants would go out of business and others be forced to shorten their trading hours without migrant labour.”


“...the industry was already 3000 cooks short before the federal government halved the number of places for which independent skilled migrants could apply.”


Private educators, however, predicted more college closures, thousands of job losses and a flight of international students to other countries.”


“Just a 5 per cent slump in student numbers would lead to more than 6000 job losses and $700 million in lost revenue.”


Remark: So, when is Australia going to stop encouraging overseas migrants on the one hand to solve its own money, skill shortage and employment problem, while one the other hand, continue to abuse its migrant population as and when an election is on the agenda?


Example 2: asylum seeker policy U-Turn


During the Howard era, Australia asylum seeker policy has been widely condemned as racist and inhumane. Amnesty International at that time accused Australia of violating the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. (RTE News, 29 August 2001).


In order to help restore Australia's international reputation after the "shameful" Howard years, the new Rudd government decided to ‘soften Australia asylum seeker laws’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 29 July 2008)


However, when the media begin to run a series of creative news against the arrival of boats people and migrants such as:


Warning on Australian immigration border control’ (ABC Radio, 14 Oct 2009)

Taxpayer bill for Oceanic Viking refugees is set to soar’ (News Limited, 10 Nov 2009)

Australia to take bulk of refugees’ (Adelaide Now, 13 Nov 2009)

Immigration 'will fuel greenhouse gas growth' (Herald Sun, 20 Jan 2010)

Mass immigration kills Aussie culture, says demographer Bob Birrell (Adelaide Now, 24 March 2010)

Coalition wants Aussie babies, but fewer migrants’ (Brisbane Time, 7 April 2010).


Again, this is how our Rudd’s government introducing an ‘U-turn policy’ with the characteristics of sudden, brutal, ruthless, unethical, inhumane and racist. The impact is immediate:


For example, “The federal government has toughened its policy on asylum seekers by immediately suspending the processing of all new refugee claims by Sri Lankans and Afghanis.” (SBS, 9 Apr 2010 - ‘Sri Lankan, Afghan asylum visas suspended’). The immediate outcome is ‘Asylum seekers face years of detention’.


The director of the advocacy group the Edmund Rice Centre, Phil Glendinning is right to point out that the policies are "an appeal to fear and racism" and thatboth sides of politics are attacking asylum seekers in the lead-up to the federal election.” (ABC, 28 May 2010 - ‘Asylum seeker policy 'an appeal to fear and racism').


There is an article with detail research and analysis about the suffering of Asylum seekers during the Howard’s era. For the benefit of those who are interested to know more. I hereby attached the link (Asylum seekers, Australia’s retraumatisation policy, and healthcare ally work’) for you to read as I believe that it is still applicable to the suffering of the asylum seekers now as a result of the Rudd’s government ‘U-turn’ policy.


Conclusion: Democracy needs reform


There are too may of this kind of creative news against migrants and asylum seekers in Australia over the years. It is meaningless to flood this article with such links. I would like to list just a few more examples as follows before writing my conclusion:


Aust legal system may face challenges over migrant attitudes to women’ (ABC, 16 April 2010)

Australian-born families will be minority in 15 years’ (News Limited, 18 April 2010)

Sexist migrants create legal problem’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 16 April 2010)

Majority oppose population growth: survey’ - (The Age, 14 Apr 2010


Australia is the only developed country whose government has been condemned as racist by the United Nations on 13 Oct 2000. Unfortunately, I believe that 10 years on, the above UN assessment is till accurate.


If democracy produce racism, then it need to reform to overcome such human right violation as a result of the racist behaviour during each and every election. How? I believe that we can look to Singapore model as an example. Its education system and government policy in favour of racial interaction, and also the legal frame work against racism by public figures, individuals, religious leaders, etc. I will write a separate article about Singapore model sometime in the future.


Again, if democracy resulted in the reality and effect of ‘One Dollar One Vote’, its also need reform. How? I believe that, we can analyse it from the perspective of our education system, media culture, anti-lobbyist laws and regulations, political donation, the personal quality and integrity of our leaders and bureaucrats, and our political process as a whole. Again, I will write a separate article on that sometime in the future.


Democracy is a very good ideas, but our current form of democracy is definitely far from perfect. China leader is right to point out in March 2009 that: China would draw on the achievements of all cultures but would not "simply copy" the West.


Let’s the world learn from each other achievement and experience of success to improve on our own. Let’s stop demonising another countries or culture simply because they are different from us.


Confucius says: “三人行,必有我 - Where 3 people got together, I will find a teacher.



Written on 28 June 2010.


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