Federal Election 2016

Recording Neil
A few weeks ago I wrote a letter of support to a political candidate. Here’s how this exciting series of events unfolded.

Continue reading Federal Election 2016

Nailing My Colours

Browns Creek
We have a state election in Queensland on 31 January.

I’ve decided to support the Greens, even though I’ve been a conservative voter for the last 30 years, own a small business, and care about our economy.

I could give you a long manifesto about why I’ve come to this decision, but I’ll keep it simple:

For the last six years I’ve immersed myself in the environment of South East Queensland. My bicycle tyre tracks are all over it. You can read more about that here. That experience has changed me. To misquote the old hymn,

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:

…. then I must do something about it. I can’t stand idly by and let property developers and miners consume it all.

I love where I live. I don’t want to see it destroyed in the name of profit.

The “conservative” me from a few decades ago would probably quip – “But what about the cost? Don’t you want lower taxes and less government intervention?”.

In short, the answer is “No”. I think from a tax perspective, we get an absolute bargain for the life we live. We have awesome hospitals, great public schools, and a great way of life. I’d be willing support higher taxes if that mean protecting this way of life. And to ask for “less government intervention” is naive. One of the responsibilities of government should be to protect what we have. Reducing the influence of government on corporations makes it easier for those corporations to gobble up our environmental heritage and convert it into profits.

So the bottom line for me: I love this place, and I want to protect it.

I have one request of the Greens: Get more involved with local politics. I understand your desire to elect members to the Senate. But much of the damage to our environment is done because of State and Local Government laws – not Federal laws. Voters might feel “tribal” about Federal issues, but they quickly drop their political affiliation when a state or local government decision affects bushland in their street, or a CSG site on their farm.

The most powerful politics is local – because that’s where we live.

Joining the Dots on Indonesia

Indonesia's Obama Celebration by Daniel Giovanni

Indonesia’s Obama Celebration by Daniel Giovanni


When the ABC started quizzing John Kerry about the recent phone tapping of Indonesian Leaders by Australia, the penny finnally dropped for me.

This whole episode has a simple explanation, and I don’t think it’s that sinister.

As a country, Indonesia faces difficult security challenges.

It has suffered a number of terrorist attacks over the last ten years including:

  1. The Jakartaa Stock Exchange bombing in 2000.
  2. The Bali Bombing in 2002 targeting Western Tourists, which killed 202 people including 164 tourists.
  3. The Jakarta Mariott Hotel bombing in 2003 killing 12 people.
  4. The suicide car bombing of the Australian embassy in 2004 killing 11 people.
  5. The bombing og the Tentena markets in 2005 killing 22 people.
  6. The bombing of three restaurants in Bali in 2005, killing 25 people.
  7. The twin bombing of the Carlton and Mariott hotels in Jakarta in 2009 killing several people.

US President Barack Obama planned to visit Indonesia in March 2010.  This visit had to be postponed until November for U.S. domestic reasons.  All presidential visits for foreign countries demand huge security operations.  When Obama visited India in 2010, a fleet of 34 warships patrolled the nearby coastline.   13 heavy-lift aircraft, three helicopters and 500 security personnel arrived in Mumbai ahead of Obama’s visit.

It would be fair to say that when it comes to presidential security, the Americans don’t leave anything to chance.

And it would be reasonable to assume in a security-challenged country like Indonesia, the Americans made no exceptions.

US security whistle-blower Edward Snowden says Australian Intelligence Personnel harvested cellphone metadata of Indoneian leaders in 2009.  He also says they attempted (but failed) to actually “tap” the phone of Indonesian leader SBY.

Just an aside here: Cellphone Metadata records the time, date, duration, source and target of a phone call.  It doesn’t record the content of a phone call.  Metadata is easily obtainable by governments claiming to act in the interests of national security.  Without trying to sound alarmist, if the government suspects you, they would have no difficulty in obtaining a detailed list of phone calls made to / from your phone.

Joining these dots, I think it’s pretty obvious what happened.

US Security was trying to be as thorough as possible, “sweeping” Indonesia for potential security risks ahead of Obama’s visit.

US Security knew Australia had close ties with Indonesia.

US Security asked Australia to gather cellphone metadata of Indonesian leaders.

Australia complied.

That metadata ended up in US Security records.

That metadata was leaked by Edward Snowden.

I don’t think this assumption makes too many huge leaps.

What conclusions can we draw?

As far as the US ws concerned, the security sweep of Indonesia was essential before Obama arrived.  Both the US and Indonesia wanted the visit to go ahead.

Australia is a faithful ally of the US, and complied willingly to US requests.

The US failed Australia in allowing this information to see the light of day.

And the final conclusion?

I don’t have super powers.  If I can figure this out based on news reports, I’m sure that the Indonesian Government can as well.  And I am sure in a candid moment they would agree that the security sweep was necessary.  Which leads me to conclude that they’re not surprised it happened.  They’re surprised that the media found out, and they’re reacting strongly to placate the anger of the Indonesian people ahead of presidential elections next year.

I hope I am correct, as this would imply that the furore will abate after those presidential elections.


Thanks Gough

Gough Whitlam, 1955 (National Archives of Australia)

Edward G. (Gough) Whitlam was prime ministor of Australia from 1972 to 1975.

I was only ten years old when he became PM, and a pimply young teen in high school when he made his exit, but during his time he made some tectonic changes to the fabric of Australian life.

Before I start, I should point out that politically I’m a bit of an economic conservative. I once ran as a federal candidtate for the Liberal Party in the 1990’s – a political party directly opposed to many of the philosophies of the Labor Party, of which Gough was a member, and luminary.

After watching an excellent two-part series on Gough Whitlam by the ABC : “Whitlam. The Power and the Passion“, I felt like I needed to express my gratitude to this amazing man for his legacy, of which I am a beneficiary – even though he was only Prime Minister for three years, and left office over 40 years ago.

So, Mr Whitlam, here are the things I’d like to thank you for, in no particular order:

1. Free University Education. What an amazing gift from a country to its youth. I came from a low-income family. I doubt I would have been able to go to uni if I or my parents had to pay full fees. But I got to study at one of the best Universities in Australia (University of Queensland) and didn’t have to pay a single cent. After three years I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree and was able to work in my chosen field. My uni degree opened up wonderful opportunities for me, and today allows me to enjoy a much better lifestyle than I would have otherwise had.

2. Universal Health Care. Occasionally, when we have been ill, my family and I have free access to some of the best doctors in the country. Sometimes our health system is criticized, but I am grateful for our doctors and hospitals. In this family, they have saved our lives on several occasions. I can’t imagine ever living under a system where you could only get quality health care if you could afford it, or if an insurance company gave its imprimatur.

3. No-Fault Divorce. As anyone who has ever been through it will tell you, divorce is an unpleasant experience. Gough Whitlam introduced the “No fault” doctrine into Australian Family Law so that divorce proceedings were no longer a witch-hunt to find out whose “fault” it was that a marriage ended, but (more importantly) what outcome would be fairest for all, including the children of the marriage. While I don’t think you’ll ever come up with a system where divorcees come out of the proceedings happy with the process, I think today’s system is much more humane because of the reforms brought in by Whitlam.

4. Ending Conscription. As a primary school kid, I remember the anguish suffered by friends of my parents, whose sons had been “Called up” for military service in the Viet-Nam war. While I wasn’t of military age myself, I’m grateful that Whitlam ended conscription which had, till then, forced young men fight in wars, even though they weren’t old enoughn to vote.

5. The Trade Practices Act. Yep – it might sound like a crusty bit of legislation, but this act gave consumers a whole swag of new rights when dealing with corporations, which till then were almost impossible for average mums and dads to pursue. If you enjoy reasable guarantees and warranties on your purchases today, thank Whitlam for it.

6. Aboriginal Land Rights. What’s that got to do with a whitefella like me? When Gough poured a hand-full of dirt into the hands of Vincent Lingiari, and said “This is your land”, he helped white Australians realize that this continent was not a British outpost. It wasn’t a commodity that was bought and sold by corporations. It had a wonderful heritage that reached back to the dawn of time. Although Aborigines were the custodians of that heritage, all Australians were spiritual beneficiaries.

7. Equal pay for women. I was a kid growing up in a low income family where both parents worked full-time. This law recognized that the work my mum did was just as valuable as the work done by her male counterparts. Our family benefited directly from this recognition. Today, my daughters benefit from this same recognition. They won’t be treated as second-class workers

Yes – there were economic problems associated with the Whitlam government: Inflation, Debt, Unemployment, Scandals. But, for me, the important thing is that that Whitlam made some bold decisions, and those decisions still benefit all of us four decades later.

Tom Petrie Memorial

Originally published at http://blog.neilennis.com/index.php/tom-petrie-memorial/

The unveiling of the refurbished Tom Petrie memorial was an amazing experience for many reasons.

I’ve written several articles here previously about Tom Petrie. The man was remarkable for the way he learned the ways and language of the local Turrbal Aboriginal people, and showed them a respect and honor that was more than a century ahead of his time. It was fitting to remember him on the 100th anniversary of his death.

I also had the chance to meet Maroochy Barambah, an elder, Songwoman and Law-Woman of the Turrbal Aboriginal people. This talented and dignified woman is the great grand-daughter of Kulkarawa, a young Aboriginal girl who ran off with a Sri Lankan man named Shake Brown in the 1840’s. Brown was killed in the 1840’s on the banks of what is now called Browns Creek. By some strange co-incidence I actually took some photos of this area and wrote an article about it a few months ago. So I was overwhelmed to meet someone who was actually related to Kulkarawa (Granny Kitty) and Shake Brown (Grandfather Brown).

This event was the first formal occasion that descendants of Tom Petrie and the Turrbal people had met face to face since Petrie’s death. It gives me hope that things like this happen. The mutual history of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia is something that can unite us, and strengthen our souls. It reminds us how precious is the place in which we live. It gives us continuity and reminds us that each of us is here for such a brief time, while the land is always here.
Tom Petrie Memorial - 26 August 2010Tom Petrie Memorial - 26 August 2010Tom Petrie Memorial - 26 August 2010
Tom Petrie Memorial - 26 August 2010Tom Petrie Memorial - 26 August 2010Tom Petrie Memorial - 26 August 2010

Why I think the ALP will win this election

One Dollar, Sir!

"One Dollar, Sir!" by Trey Ratcliff

Last election I predicted the Coalition would win the election, and I was wrong 🙂

This time, although I hope I’m wrong, I think the ALP will win with a reduced majority of 5 to 10 seats.

I believe the people will not vote in a Coalition Government this election for one simple reason.  Tony Abbott has failed to outline his vision for Australia.

He’s told us all how bad the ALP is, and how wrong their policies are, and why we can’t trust them.  He’s probably right.

But I think voters want a prospective leader to do more.  We want to know what a leader is passionate about.  Where do they want to take us?  What is the burning dream in their heart that drives them?  What makes their face light up with enthusiasm and say “This is what it’s all about – follow me and I’ll take you there!!!!”.  The prime example in recent memory was Barack Obama (“Yes we can!”) in 2008.  Tony Abbott hasn’t done this.

Which makes me ask “Why hasn’t he?”.  Either he doesn’t have a burning dream inside, or he (or his minders) decided to just run a negative campaign hoping we’d vote Labor out rather than vote him in.

It’s sad – the ALP has some pretty shonky policies on new taxes (Mining Tax, Carbon Tax etc), the internet filter, and borrowing to spend huge amounts of money on public projects.  And the Coalition’s failure to enunciate its vision means the ALP is going to get a chance to implement these policies over the next three years.

There’s a non-political lesson in this for all of us.  Find out what you love, what you’re passionate about, and go for it with all your heart.  BE passionate about something.  You’ll generate an energy which will attract followers, and you’ll get something worthwhile done, and have fun at the same time.

Or…. find something you don’t like, and complain about it, and tell everyone how bad it is.

I know which one I’d rather do!

Aboriginal Anthems

Red Hand Cave, Glenbrook National Park. NSW. Australia by Jeannie Fletcher

Queensland beat NSW last night in the annual State of Original rugby league series.  This year was special for a number of reasons.

It was a clean sweep.  Queensland won all three of the games played this year – the first time they’ve done this in fifteen years.  I think State of Origin football is Rugby League in its highest form.  It doesn’t get much better than this, and to see your state win a series so comprehensively feels great!

But this series was overshadowed by some ugly racist overtones when the NSW assistant coach, Andrew Johns tried to inspire his team by making some racist jibes about some of the aboriginal players on the Queensland team.  Stupidly, he didn’t realize that those jibes would offend some of the aboriginal players on his own team.  Some people must be slow learners when it comes to interpersonal sensitivities.  The end result was that Andrew John’s racist comments galvanized the Queensland team, and tore his own team apart.

The highlight (in my opinion) came last night when the Australian National Anthem (“Advance Australia Fair”) was sung at the start of the game, first in an Aboriginal language and then in English.  Although not unusual by world standards (for example the New Zealand and South African national anthems) , it was a new experience for some Aussies.  In fact, some of them found it a bit hard to take.

Some of my friends made comments such as:

“Excuse me but since when was our AUSSIE national anthem in any language other than English?”

“In Australia we speak ENGLISH. Deal with it or piss off I say.”

“I have a personal issue, with the ones around here that come and steal ya shit while you are at work to pay for thier (sic) rent, drugs and booze”

It seems like a lot of people share Andrew Johns’ attitude towards Aborigines, and feel insulted that something as sacred as our national anthem should be sung in a language other than English.  After all, English is the only true Australian language, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

Admittedly, English was the native language of the boat people who arrived here  in the eighteenth century.  But before they arrived there were more than two hundred and fifty Aboriginal languages in use throughout this continent.  Most of those languages have become extinct, while a handful remain and are still spoken.  Indeed there are some Aboriginal people for whom English is only a second or third language after their own traditional languages.

For many of us who only speak, read, write and hear English everyday, we forget the importance of one’s own language.  Our mother tongue is bound inextricably with our culture and self-identity.  It is the language of our soul.  Without it we’re just foreigners trying to express the cries of our spirit in words we don’t fully understand.

Ian Waldron’s aboriginal ancestors come from around Normanton in western Queensland.  He says “I can’t speak my language properly. And that hurts. It was supposed to be mine. It unlocks the Kurtjar world and connects us to the stars and the rivers and everything. It came out of that country near Normanton. Just like we did.”

Perhaps the colonial masters of nineteenth and twentieth century Australia understood the importance of the traditional language when they tried to stamp out all use of Aboriginal languages.  Patsy Fourmile is an elder of the Yirrganydji Aboriginal people.  At a language revival workshop in Cairns she said, “If you were caught speaking language, you were dressed in a rations sack, had your head shaved and locked in the dormitory”.

Perhaps I should make this a bit more personal.  I’m  a whitefella who wasn’t even born in Australia.  I don’t know much about aboriginal culture.  The only language I speak is English, and a bit of high-school French.  I love Australia passionately.  Liz and I own a suburban block to the north of Brisbane.  But the more I fall in love with where I live, the more I realize that I belong to my country – not the other way round.  The words on the title deed to my home say that I own a bit of land, but the reality for me is that it owns me.  No matter where I go in the world, my guts tell me that this place is home.

And as this land infects who I am, I want to know more about it.  Whose feet stood in this dirt before mine did? Fifty years ago?  Two hundred years ago?  Two thousand years ago?  What stories did they tell?  What was important to them? It matters to me because it’s part of the story of my place.  It’s part of me.

And that’s the bottom line.

Whitefella’s like me who love our country need Aboriginal people, their stories, and their dreams.  We need the spiritual link to the land we love, and we can’t get that from a meager two hundred years of European-style land title and tenure.  We are blessed when an aboriginal woman sings our national anthem in an ancient language that was spoken thousands of years before Rome was built, before the Old Testament was written, when Englishmen were still daubing themselves with blue clay.  It gives Australians a sense of spiritual continuity that nothing else can.

The sooner we embrace Aboriginal culture as something that is part of us as a nation, the better.

(More info about Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Languages is available at http://www.fatsil.org.au/)

UPDATE 9-Jul-2010

I found these videos on youtube of the performance:

Australian Health Care – Simply The Best

"Chest X-ray" by Aidan Jones

"Chest X-ray" by Aidan Jones

My mother had open heart surgery recently.

It was a big deal. She’s almost 70 years old, and had one valve replaced, one valve repaired, and a hole in her heart closed up.

She was in a world-class private hospital in Brisbane for a week in a private room with the heart surgeon of her choice.

She’s only in an average health fund which costs her and Dad a total of about $350 per month.

And she recently got the bill.

Including drugs, pharmaceuticals, theatre and anesthetists fees, the total cost to her and dad was….Nothing. Not a cent.

The hospital costs were covered by the public health care system (Medicare) and the other stuff was covered the private insurer (MBF).

Mum raves about the quality of care she received. She can’t praise highly enough the dedication and attention she got from the nurses and doctors.

Neither can I. This is amazing. And it makes me realize we’re lucky to live in a country that has such fantastic health care. You measure it by the quality of care that average (not wealthy) people receive.

Some of the redneck yee-ha’s in the USA would call this socialism and throw tantrums about it. But when I look around here, I see dozens of health care insurers thriving. Hospitals – private and public are doing what they’re supposed to do most of the time, and average people are getting good care for a decent price.

All I can say is thank goodness we live in Australia. The health care system isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it works well.

And Mum…. she’s recovering well!

Protecting Our Genome

Human Genome by Dollar Bin

Human Genome by Dollar Bin

Mapping the Human Genome was probably one of the greatest achievements of our time.

Scientists were able to unravel our DNA and gain an understanding of how its building blocks, chromosomes, specifically affected our lives.  For the first time we were able to find out if we were susceptible to various diseases, where our ancestors came from, what might happen to us physically as we aged.  Companies like 23 and me, and deCode have sprung up offering a comprehensive low cost service to analyze and help you understand your own DNA for around $USD 500.  This is an exciting development which is changing the lives of many people, and offering hope to others.

At the same time, multinational drug companies such as Myriad Genetics obtained their own genomic information for use with tests such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 which can determine a woman’s susceptibility to Breast Cancer and Ovarian Cancer.  The problem was they claimed exclusive ownership of the information, and legally threatened anyone else who tried to use this genomic information to do their own tests.  They charged women in the USA $3,700 for the test.

In other words, Myriad was saying “Information about this part of your genetic material belongs to our company, you’re not allowed to use it, but we’ll do the tests for you if you pay us a lot of money.  And if you try to do the testing yourself, we’ll sue you”.

Thankfully, a district court judge in the USA has ruled that Myriad’s patents are invalid.  The judge said that the company didn’t invent the genetic information – they just discovered it.  And you can’t patent something you discover, only something you invent.

The bigger issue in all of this is that the Human Genome belongs to all of us.  In computer jargon, it should be “Open Source”.  It’s abhorrent that a company can come along and try to hoodwink you into thinking that they own information about your genome.  Multinational drug companies try to tell us that unless they can own and exploit that information, they won’t develop life saving tests.

Rubbish!  These charlatans are building upon the freely available work of groups such as the Human Genome Project. They can’t then claim ownership of it, and bully anyone who disagrees with them.  If they don’t like the situation, too bad.  Some other organization will come along and quickly fill the gap.

This information belongs to the human race.  It’s inappropriate for it to be traded around like MP3’s or computer games.

I have become a AGW skeptic

Question mark by Marco Bellucci

“Question mark” by Marco Bellucci

 NOTE. In the seven years since I first published this post about global warming, I have since changed my mind.  I believe the decisions we make about our use of energy and fossil fuels affects our planet.  The levels of CO2 in our atmosphere affect global temperatures.  Rather than delete this post, I have decided to leave it here in the interests of transparency, and to admit that in 2009 I got it wrong.  Besides, the un-professional actions of a few academics does not change the science.
Neil. May 2016.

At first I wasn’t sure.

Were humans really heating the planet up through carbon emissions?

I thought perhaps the best thing was to play it safe.  Slap a tax on CO2 emissions, and hopefully the planet would be better off.

I have now decided I am a skeptic of Anthropogenic Global Warming.  I am not convinced that human activity is increasing the temperature of the planet.

Furthermore I am disgusted at the level of obfuscation and political spin that has crept into the “science” behind this issue as is evidenced by the Email Archives of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.  The scientific process must be an open, peer reviewed process where political spin has nothing to do with the process, where criticism is welcomed and openly debated, and where the data is made available in its entity without editing for all to see.  The email archives I allude to show that this has not been happening.

I passionately believe we must reduce pollution and other environmental damage.  We must preserve wilderness and bio-diversity.  We must put a check on unmitigated development and land clearing.  We must develop cleaner and greener ways of producing energy.

But, I don’t think that the government’s plan to impose a new tax on Carbon Dioxide will achieve any of this.

The skeptic in me thinks:
1. The government has borrowed and spent more than was prudent as part of a knee-jerk, poorly targeted stimulus package to try and stem the affects of the Global Financial Crisis.
2. The government needs more money.
3. The tax behind the Emissions Trading Scheme is money for jam – an easy way to raise money, by scaring people into believing that if we don’t pay more tax, the planet is doomed.
4. The government would happily participate in a misinformation campaign to secure future tax revenue.

I will be happy to be proven wrong.