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University Fee Deregulation

28 May

The universities — even the Go8 — don’t plan to increase fees more than they have to. This is simply because they are opposed in principle to high fees with high HECS interest rates. University administration don’t like it. In fact, universities would barely raise fees at all if it weren’t for the corresponding cut in Commonwealth contributions. We will end up with the (unexpected) result that universities will be sacrificing millions in possible funding as a voluntary concession to students.

The consequences of fee deregulation can’t be fully known until the details of the policy are clearer. But here’s my prediction:

  • Fees will rise by 10-30%. They will not double.
  • Science and medicine will increase by more than other degrees
  • HECS interest increases won’t go ahead

Unfortunately, the more that student contributions increase, the more it will fuel that peculiarly Australian conception of higher education as having a necessarily vocational function.



Criticising the Other

29 Apr

I will have in an undergraduate class, let’s say, a young, white, male student, politically-correct, who will say: “I am only a bourgeois white male, I can’t speak.” In that situation – it’s peculiar, because I am in the position of power and their teacher and, on the other hand, I am not a bourgeois white male – I say to them: “Why not develop a certain degree of rage against the history that has written such an abject script for you that you are silenced?” Then you begin to investigate what it is that silences you, rather than take this very deterministic position – since my skin colour is this, since my sex is this, I cannot speak. I call these things, as you know, somewhat derisively, chromatism: basing everything on skin colour – “I am white, I can’t speak” – and genitalism: depending on what genitals you have, you can or cannot speak in certain situations.

From this position, then, I say you will of course not speak in the same way about the Third World material, but if you make it your task not only to learn what is going on there through language, through specific programmes of study, but also at the same time through a historical critique of your position as the investigating person, then you will see that you have earned the right to criticize, and you will be heard. When you take the position of not doing your homework – “I will not criticize because of my accident of birth, the historical accident” – that is a much more pernicious position.

In one way you take a risk to criticize, of criticizing something which is Other – something which you used to dominate. I say that you have to take a certain risk: to say “I won’t criticize” is salving your conscience, and allowing you not to do any homework. On the other hand, if you criticize having earned the right to do so, then you are indeed taking a risk and you will probably be made welcome, and can hope to be judged with respect.

Gayatri Spivak (1990) The Postcolonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues. Routledge: London, pp. 62f.

I don’t agree entirely with this. But it’s thoughtful and makes a sound point.

Terrorism and the Global Financial Crisis

4 Oct

The notion that terrorism and 9/11 led to the Global Financial Crisis was conveyed at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival by author, journalist, economist and expert on terrorism financing Loretta Napoleoni. She divided the evolution of terrorism in the 20th century into three parts — state-sponsored terrorism, privatised terrorism and transnational terrorism — and claims that the economic behaviour of terrorists combined with the aggressive foreign, monetary and economic policy of the United States to bring the world’s economy to ruins. This post is a consolidation of the ideas she discussed at the Festival.

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union employed state-sponsored terrorism to further their ideological goals around each superpower’s sphere of influence, fighting wars by proxy in the third world and influencing regime changes in other countries wherever possible. The innate desire for the United States to affect the governance of states that are by no means under its jurisdiction continues to this day. The independent financing and operation of terrorist organisations, a concept pioneered by the PLO, replaced the state-sponsored model.

By the end of the 20th century, economic deregulation allowed for the globalisation of terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda. With this terrorism model, attacks can be funded, coordinated and undertaken on a transnational basis, and coordination and cooperation between separate organisations becomes more propitious. The best example of this is the 9/11 attacks: the operation was funded in the Gulf, financially managed in Afghanistan and the attacks themselves took place in the United States.

The economic consequences of 9/11 were more expansive than are frequently acknowledged. This is the case at least in part to the Patriot Act 2001 (Imp), passed just weeks after the attacks, which extended government supervision of economic transactions. Terrorists’ actions are financed largely through the trade of drugs and arms. They previously used the United States as a venue for large-scale money laundering, which was economically beneficial for the US, but in response to the expanding powers of American regulators these activities were moved to Europe. Similarly, normal Muslims also repatriated their funds to the East or moved them to Europe in response to perceived discrimination that might have influenced how they conducted business in the light of the Patriot Act. As a result, Islamic banking was the only financial sector in the world that was not damaged by the Global Financial Crisis. More consequentially, however, the Euro began to rise in value and the US Dollar fell over the next six months. With a decrease in air travel, spending and investment in the United States, the country entered a small-scale domestic recession. To understand how this would eventually lead to the Global Financial Crisis we need to travel back eight years.

In 1993, as Secretary of Defense under the presidency of George H. W. Bush, Dick Cheney began to envision an expansion of American hegemony. This was furthered by the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century, which had the stated goal of “promot[ing] American global leadership”. 9/11 was the perfect justification for furthering his foreign policy goals, and so the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were immanent. To fund the wars, the United States sold government bonds on the international capital market. To allow these bonds to be competitive, interest rates had to be low; fortunately, Alan Greenspan lowered them at an alarming rate after 9/11 to counter the minor recession that ensued. As is expected when interest rates fall, however, Americans quickly bought a lot of property with large mortgages, the value of which began to fall after 2006 at which point interest rates had risen once more. At the same time, economic developments encouraged the debt owed on that property to be bought and sold as securities. The rest is history. The subprime mortgage crisis, together with multiple inchoate bubbles from the 1990’s that had their impact delayed by effective monetary policy, took hold and the Global Financial Crisis emerged.

The ramifications of the American response to 9/11 will remain with the international community for many years to come. There exists an anti-imperialist Islamic movement channeling the ideology of al-Qaeda, its unabated hatred of the West having been engendered by United States foreign policy in the Middle East since 9/11. This includes not only its invasions, but also its support for Israel despite the oppressive and illegal policies Israel enforces in the Occupied Territories. The most effective method by which to mitigate the ever-expanding influence of terrorist organisations would have been to inhibit their finances, but neither the Bush nor Obama administrations chose to do this. Instead, the world will live with the results of the heavy-handed approach taken by the United States for decades.

Wild Rivers

1 Oct

Today the federal government announced a comprehensive parliamentary inquiry into the Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld) and whether it should be overturned by the Commonwealth. The legislation states:

The purpose of this Act is to preserve the natural values of rivers that have all, or almost all, of their natural values intact.

[by] providing for the regulation of particular activities and taking of natural resources in a wild river and its catchment to preserve the wild river’s natural values; and having a precautionary approach to minimise adverse effects on known natural values and reduce the possibility of adversely affecting poorly understood ecological functions; and treating a wild river and its catchment as a single entity, linking the condition of the river to the health of the catchment; and considering the effect of individual activities and taking of natural resources on a wild river’s natural values.

The Act is controversial because despite the fact that it is an environmentally beneficial law, it detracts from the ability of aboriginal peoples to enjoy the use of their land. Opponents of the Queensland Act claim that aboriginal custodians have successfully maintained the rivers in the past and that the Act is an offense to the concept of native title. As Wilderness Society spokesman Tim Seelig points out, however –

“The Wild Rivers Act does not stop all development. We have to be absolutely clear about what it does. It stops large-scale development like mining, like damming, like intensive irrigation in and very close to some of the most pristine rivers in the country.”

Land rights activist Noel Pearson takes a different view. He believes it imperative that we preserve the ancient traditional rights of Aboriginal peoples to use intensive irrigation techniques for large-scale agriculture, construction of high-density houses and open cut mining that allows minerals to be exported to China. These activities have been practised uninterrupted for millennia before the colonial hegemony that is Peter Beattie arrived to deprive them of these important rights.

Some people might suggest that Abbot is seeking to remove the Act because he’s in bed with the business lobby. And that he is using the cover of aboriginal rights to allow mining companies such as Cape Alumina and Rio Tinto to establish a bauxite mine near the Wenlock River (below). But that’s just cynical.

The Wenlock River

The question of whether or not the federal government should feel entitled to overrule Queensland’s legislation is one that has received little attention. With some legislation, such as that concerning euthanasia, it is logical for the federal government to impose its will on the states given how easily people could move between states to subject themselves to euthanasia. With matters such as stationary rivers, which are of no importance outside Queensland, justification of any action at a federal level becomes a feeble exercise. A question of whether a decision by federal Parliament to overrule the Act would be constitutionally permissible was raised in the earlier Senate inquiry.

While Abbott is demanding the issue be addressed immediately, the completion of the report commissioned by Gillard is a lengthy process that serves as an ingenious political manoeuvre. If a vote on the issue can be delayed until after the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate, the passage of the bill is granted a guaranteed impediment. The Wild Rivers Act certainly has a future, and this fact is a welcome blessing for the environment.

Not Shaven

30 Sep

Once upon an August dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over a bland and boring voting ballot, I so softly swore:
“Here I’m nodding, nearly napping, they say that I’m to start remapping
The future of Australia – well I must say it is quite a bore!
All this candidate selection – all of it is quite a chore!”
This I said, and nothing more.

Ah distinctly I remember, having been a union member,
I thought I’d vote for Labor, for they may stop the dreaded war.
“Half-bred fool!” I told myself, “What about the Ross Ice Shelf?”
Greens may still fight global warming – warming, yes, and so much more –
Greens may save this planet from the carbon, yes, and so much more –
And they may stop the dreaded war.

And the soft and certain scratching of my pen to vote for Greens
Excited me somewhat, for it’s the Liberals that I do deplore;
Then I noticed, much to my despair, that when I saved the polar bear,
I’d forgotten that the Greens smoke pot – a practice I abhor –
A nasty habit I deplore: now they deserve my vote no more!
Global warming I’ll ignore.

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“I’ll save my vote, not having known this rampant drug use heretofore.”
I reached into the vote collection, not trying to sway the just election,
But merely trying to reach the vote I’d duly cast seconds before.
Just as I held it in my hand, the precious vote I did adore,
Said the officer: “Nevermore.”

Back towards my dwelling turning, all my soul within me burning,
I felt anger and felt sadness beyond what I had felt before;
I did not want their marajuiana in my government, my Parliament,
Each second grew my discontent, I felt myself a voting whore –
Tricked by the left, the Greens and commies, tricked to do this voting chore –
There came a sound at my front door.

Suddenly there came a tapping, an ostentatious, angry rapping,
And then a sudden, bitter snapping: “Open up your wide front door!”
I went to see the sullen stranger, wary of whatever danger
He may may feel he must impose on me and my outrage galore.
Much to my disgust and horror, it was Bob Brown at my front door –
This I saw, and nothing more.

“Begone, foul beast!” I cried towards it. “And also I’d like to submit
A request that you might stop your drug use, I ask of you, I do implore!”
The Honourable Member, smoking grass, said duly unto me, alas,
“Capitalist! I demand your silence – go back to your department store.”
And I replied: “Poor commie scum, smoke your filthy pot no more!”
To which he said: “No, nevermore.”

Although the Senator was yelling, trying to break into my dwelling,
The Greens got many seats and had much power on the floor.
Their governance was good – I found I voted how I should,
For soon they brought a carbon tax and other measures I adore.
All in all the Greens did well, despite the hemp they always wore,
I’ll not vote Labor anymore.