This New Year Needs A New Climate Attitude

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, New Years Eve is usually my favourite time of the year, but naturally this year was different. The smoke haze covering Canberra is near Dickensian, and I started my night with the news that my aunt and uncle had just lost their home to the bushfires near Ulladulla. In a horrific twist of irony, members of my family regularly gathered there to usher in the new year. To put it incredibly frankly: shit is fucked.

To have all this happening at a time when I’m trying to recover from 18 months of PNES bullshit and some of the most severe depression I’ve had in a long time makes me feel like taking time for myself is selfish and impractical. This is a time when I personally really need to be focusing on the smaller picture rather than the bigger one, but it’s the latter that feels like it needs addressing first.

And the fact that it could have been addressed ten, twenty, even thirty years ago has me infuriated.

On December 11, there was a protest in Sydney’s smoke haze calling for action on climate change. Living in a very, very safe Nationals seat, it felt like anything I could do in solidarity would be pointless, but I still felt like I had to do something. Two days beforehand, I decided I would have a sit in out the front of my local Federal MP’s Dubbo office. I didn’t care if I was doing it alone or with company, still I posted my plan on Facebook to welcome those who wanted to come along. I managed to get six others to join me, and we got a lot of support from people walking and driving past.

What we weren’t expecting was for Mark Coulton MP to be there.

After an hour of standing in the heat, we were beginning to consider going home when our MP walked out of his office, carrying a suitcase.

Coulton asked us what we were doing, and we told him that we were there in solidarity with friends and family marching in Sydney. We asked him if he had any comment to make. He laughed and replied, “No, no comment.”

Our group expressed significant disappointment and frustration as politely as we could. His response? “I support those who do practical things.”

Practical things. What a crock. This is a man who has the ability to write and vote on legislation that could turn this situation around. This is a man who voted to repeal the carbon tax, which was proven to have had a positive impact in terms of reducing Australia’s emissions. This is a man whose entire electorate is in severe drought with no end in sight, and is at incredible risk of longer, hotter droughts in the years to come due to climate change, whose government signed off on giving 12 billion litres of water, caveat free, to Adani for their new coal mine.

As citizens, there’s only so much we can do. One hundred companies are responsible for 70% of the world’s emissions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a significant portion of them currently pay little or no tax. Hell, in Australia they’re likely getting Government funding. We can do all the practical things we can – moving to electric vehicles, putting up solar panels, divesting from companies that invest in fossil fuels, using minimal electricity, going vegan – but all of those things are a drop in the ocean when it comes to the greater picture of the Australian carbon emitting numbers.

We’re doing so little, to the point of actually blocking the motions of other countries trying to do their bit, that we scored the lowest in the world on the Climate Change Performance Index, a scale that measures the effectiveness of governments’ climate policies. We literally got 0.0, and just so you’re aware, they don’t score it like a game of golf. Even India, China and the United States (who were second last) beat us in terms of having better climate policies. How utterly humiliating.

We all came away from the conversation with Coulton feeling like we had been brushed aside and weren’t being taken seriously because we weren’t supporting the Nationals’ position. While I had initially gone into the protest more as a way to feel a little less helpless in the face of the bushfire disaster, climate change and the fact that science keeps getting ignored by our government, Coulton‘s dismissal of our presence, let alone our concerns, as not “practical” only made me angry. I came in passive; I left pissed off.

Just before Christmas, I was interviewed by The Daily Liberal about the protest and what we felt about Mr Coulton’s response. You can read it here, but the worst bit is easily the part where he denies that the current weather events are unprecedented, because people in the 1800’s died because it was hot and they didn’t have air conditioning. (Thankfully, the journalist writing the story linked up a more accurate source to refute his claim that this kind of weather is normal, which is tragically refreshing in the modern commercial media landscape.)

What annoyed me more than anything was that he didn’t even pretend to care. Sure, he seemed to be in a rush to head somewhere given his suitcase, but he could have placated us by recommending we call his office to book an appointment to meet him (and then never followed through on getting back to us), or suggested we put something in writing for his records (so he could send back a dismissive form letter, like he did to another friend of mine before the 2019 election). Instead, we were treated with absolute contempt.

But like I say: I’ve got a bee in my bonnet now. I have friends with young kids who are going to be living on this planet after I’m gone and I want to make sure that they’re not living in a world that’s more reminiscent of the Fallout franchise than the one I grew up in.

So I’m not going quietly.

Edit: due to an increasing number of paralysis attacks, the following project has been postponed until further notice. I did, however, organise a second protest on January 10, and intend to maintain monthly gatherings until the Government makes a decent effort to stop reduce Australia’s carbon emissions and move away from fossil fuels.

Every Wednesday lunchtime from January 8th, I’m going to be hosting a busking singalong somewhere on Macquarie Street in Dubbo. I’m calling it “Wednesdays Against Warming” and there’ll be lots of protest songs, with the emphasis on a different song for the singalong every week. (Week 1 will be “No Longer There” by The Cat Empire.) There’s no Facebook group or event, though maybe I will make one sooner or later – it’s all very ad hoc because I’ve never done this before, organising some sort of resistance.

But I have to try, because we can’t just accept this as the new normal. Our lives depend on it.

Recurring Gas Pain: The Reissuing of Bad Bills

Photo: Jaroslaw Puszczyński
Photo: Jaroslaw Puszczyński

Over the last seven months, a lot of my energy has been taken up by a battle with my gas company. Not only have we been getting huge bills, which I was quite okay with taking on the chin, they developed an infuriating habit of reissuing bills, sometimes up to 6 months after it was originally issued.

Naturally, I was less than impressed.

Firstly, I expect that a company with remote access to my meter readings would be able to get it right the first time. If they had an issue, you’d think they would let me know that there had been an error with the meter, then fix it. Pretty simple premise, but apparently far too difficult to put into practice. In fact, it was so difficult that in two separate cases, they had to revise the bills twice, and the second time, they didn’t even send me a new invoice. Instead, they just put it on my account without telling me, making for an unpleasant surprise in the form of an unexplained “overdue amount”.

Photo: Unknown

During my time doing accounts at two different radio stations, if I had made two major errors on two different bills on the same account in less than six months, I would have been pulled aside and had it recommended to me that I consider a new career path. Three times, and I most likely would have been sacked.

Nope, apparently in the case of my gas supplier, that’s all hunky dory.

Then there was the issue of the time frame. I’m pretty reasonable and I get that mistakes get made, but there were three occasions (one while I was in the middle of the dispute in question) where bills were reissued (usually with a hike in price) more than three months later. That meant that I couldn’t check the reading on the meter, so I couldn’t effectively dispute the charges. It also meant that I couldn’t budget for them – I’d already paid the bill, and these revisions were coming out nowhere. Why were they coming back to haunt me again half a year later?

Those timeframes seem pretty unreasonable, don’t they? Well, it got worse.

A good five months into my correspondence with the company, during which I had asked the question multiple times, they told me that they didn’t have a revision policy in place. That means that there isn’t a maximum number of days between first issue and any revisions, nor a maximum number of revisions that can be issued. I was flabbergasted. Surely there must be some kind of rule in this regard to stop bills being issued with wild abandon?

ACAT logoAfter seven months of this nonsense, and after I got the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) involved to mediate in the matter, I found out that there is a rule. And it stinks.

This is a quote from my gas company about the National Energy Retail Rules as relating to re-billing, with the information confirmed by my contact at ACAT.

“An account can be re-billed at any time, however [it] cannot be charged more than 9 months period (3 billing periods) [sic].”

Thankfully, my case has been resolved – the entire disputed amount was wiped from my account, and I’m satisfied with that for now, though heaven won’t help them if they screw up again.

But now I know the current state of play in regards to re-billing, this is about more than just me.

“The National Energy Retail Rules allow the recovery of undercharges for a period up to 9 months.”

The National Energy Retail Rules regarding re-billing offer inadequate protection for consumers. Despite all these issues, I could still be re-billed for some of the invoices that were issued and corrected, anytime in the next three to six months. If they are reissued, due to the time that has passed, I can’t go back and check that their new readings are correct for that period. That could happen to anyone on their gas or electricity bill, at any time. It’s frustrating, it’s outrageous, and it’s wrong.

I’m currently gathering more information about what departments and individuals I talk to about getting this changed to a more reasonable timeframe. I feel that 30 days is the absolute maximum that is acceptable – if you can’t get your business sorted in that time, there is something seriously wrong, and your customers shouldn’t have to pay extra for your shortcomings.

I suspect this is going to be a long fight, but since I’m currently not working, I’ve got plenty of time on my hands. Once I’ve got my research together, there will be a petition, I’ll be doing my utmost to get meetings with relevant parties, and I won’t stop until these rules reflect more reasonable timeframes for consumers. Stay tuned, and I’ll keep you posted every step of the way.

This isn’t over. This little gas flame has only just started to burn.

*****

Note: The name of the company I’ve been in dispute with has been left out deliberately, only because chances are that your gas or electricity company has the same lack of revisions policy. I’m gradually working my way through the list of Australian gas suppliers, but so far none of them have had a policy regarding a maximum number of days between revisions or a maximum number of revisions.

Have you ever had your gas or electricity bills revised in an untimely manner? Get in touch via the Contact page.

Potentially Problematic Opinion Month: Australia Should Withdraw From the UN Refugee Convention

That’s it. I’ve had it up to here with this nonsense. The race to the bottom has got to stop somewhere and it’s about time both parties spelled out exactly what that means.

The ultimate way to “stop the boats” is to withdraw Australia’s support for the UN Convention for the Rights of the Refugee.

Yes, the idea makes me sick. But really, it’s pretty much the only move that either party can make that can’t be beaten.

At this point, we’re already looking at a pair of parties whose policies on this issue have made me literally retch and cry. (Well, their policies on a lot of issues have pissed me off, but I can’t help feeling that the ones that deal with vulnerable people fleeing persecution are the the ones that make me the most disgusted.) I’m so furious at both of them that I have reached the point where I have refused to vote for either of them.

Both Labor and the Coalition seem to be always trying to one-up each other in terms of scare tactics, seemingly to see who can score the most votes from the southern-cross-tattooed, wife-beater-and-flag-wearing, racist-bumper-sticker-toting dickhead constituency.

So if you have the humane treatment of asylum seekers as an issue that could influence your vote, I’ve got some bad news – these are your options:

  • A government who will send people to a country that we already accept asylum seekers from, robbing them of the right to ever come to Australia, even if they already have family here. This government has already been found guilty by the United Nations of 150 breaches of the Refugee Convention over the treatment of a number of asylum seekers and the use of indefinite detention since the reinstatement of off-shore processing, with five more cases pending.
  • Or you can vote for a potential government that will not only maintain the status quo, but build on it, reinstating Temporary Protection Visas, which only allow certified refugees three years of residency in Australia, after which they have to reapply and be reassessed. This type of visa also rules out the possibility of family reunion, and has been accused of being the cause of a spike of women and children getting on boats to Australia to join male relatives, many of whom died in the SIEV X disaster. They are also suggesting a Work For The Dole-type scheme, which sounds good to the average punter, but if you ask anyone who has actually been on government payments, you’ll discover that these sorts of programs actually reduce the time that could be used to search for work, or to volunteer as part of the community.
Two “leaders”.
No vision. No compassion. No solutions.

Both parties have said they are trying to stop people smugglers by taking away their product, namely permanent residency in Australia, but really they are just trying to pander to poorly informed voters with action that looks like it’s doing something, without having to address the actual problem, which is that there is an increase of people fleeing persecution. Indonesia doesn’t want them, Malaysia doesn’t want them… Where else are they supposed to go? Perhaps to a country that is safe, can offer them support and has signed the UN Convention for the Rights of the Refugee? (Hint: That would be us.)

The fact that we have signed the Convention is the reason why they are coming here, but if we are so keen to breach it, why are we even on board any more?

It seems I’m not the first to ask this question. Kevin Rudd has already indicated he would like to “update” the Convention, saying it no longer addresses the traffic flow of asylum seekers. Tony Abbott has said that he supports the notion of changing the Convention, but experts say that changes to the 1951 Convention, which came about after the Second World War and the exposure of the full effects of the Holocaust, are unlikely.

So what are we waiting for? Well, Australia recently won a seat on the UN Security Council, so pulling out of one of the biggest UN Conventions would probably be a bad look for us right now, especially if the time comes that Australia has to shake a finger at other nations for breaching their human rights obligations.

But really, we don’t need to jump to end point that I have suggested. There is a far better option, but one that neither political party seems to have the balls to float to the electorate.

Human rights campaigner and QC, Julian Burnside has proposed an alternative solution: process asylum seekers in Indonesia using Australia resources, to reduce the waiting time and in turn eliminate the incentive to seek out people smugglers.

I entirely agree with this suggestion because it not only allows us to reduce the burden on our Indonesian neighbours, it also offers a range of opportunities for Australians. Consider this: Australian students studying social sciences like psychology, social work, law and other humanities could go to assist the work in Indonesia, and in return for a set period of work, receive a discount on their HECS/HELP debt. It also gives them priceless professional experience that will serve them throughout their careers, as well as bringing back cultural knowledge that they can share with family and friends, which would slowly spread through the community, making it easier to integrate asylum seekers and refugees into the community.

Julian Burnside also suggests that refugees could be required to live for a period of time in regional and rural areas, working locally and boosting populations in towns that are struggling to survive. This sounds like a brilliant idea to me, especially as it will expose Australians who otherwise might not have had previous interactions with other cultures to new experiences and perspectives.

So we might not need to pull out of the Refugee Convention just yet, but one thing is certain: our political leaders need to shift the focus of the discussion from simply stopping the boats to fixing the broader problem. It’s time to stop freaking out about the symptoms and treat the cause, and in turn, fulfil our obligations not only as a nation, but as human beings.

*****

If you’re looking for a little bit more info on what the difference is between refugees and asylum seekers and roughly how many we take a year, this video is a good place to start. It was produced by the ABC’s Hungry Beast in 2009, so the stats are a bit out of date, but the most important part of the message is pretty clear: for asylum seekers, there is no queue. This is something that is being conveniently left out of the debate by both sides of politics.

The other thing the video notes is that emotions tend to run high on this issue. As you can tell, I am no exception.

Persuading Bob – an idea for my fellow progressives…

It’s very easy for me to say this, what with being a heterosexual cis woman, but watching Bob Katter last night on Q & A really concreted my feelings about marriage equality and how we should be persuading people that it’s the right thing to do.

I can’t say for certain that what I’m about to say will be popular, and there will undoubtedly be those who say I’m attacking the cause. I’m not. The sooner we can all marry the human being we choose (well, we have to draw a line somewhere), the better.

There have been plenty of people willing to call out Katter as a homophobic, sexist, racist ranter and raver in a hat. Watching him last night, I saw something completely different. I saw a man with passion for every Australians rights, a true love for his country who has trouble supporting things he doesn’t understand. His speaking out against the Intervention was inspiring, and I must admit, not what I was expecting. His policy on giving title deeds to land held under native title is one that really knocked the air out of me – a fantastic idea, if he can pull it off, but again, one that totally caught me off my guard.

But it was that passion for the equal rights of the First Australians that really made me come to think that perhaps there’s more to this mad Akubra wearing fellow from Queensland than any of us are comfortable admitting.

His apparent rejection of climate change (it was at that point that my live streaming started cutting in and out, so I missed most of that exchange) seems to come down to a lack of understanding. And why would you want to, when everyone surrounding the issue continues to consider those who don’t support it to be absolute knuckleheads?

There is a massively patronising stance that so many of us with ‘progressive’ political stances take, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. The fact of the matter is that people have gone through thought processes to get to their conclusions. We have to acknowledge and accept that, rather than battering them with “OMG! YOU ARE SO TOTALLY WRONG! WHY CANT YOU SEE WHY YOU’RE SO WRONG?!”

Really, we need to start using our empathy skills to persuade. You can’t fix something if you don’t know why it’s not working in the first place. And to tell people that they’re idiots for not believing what we believe in, even if it does have a basis in science or economics, gets us nowhere. Because (here’s the funny bit) PEOPLE DON’T LIKE BEING CALLED IDIOTS. It only makes them hate the people telling them they are, and therefore hate whatever it is they’re trying to persuade them to think.

So here’s an idea. Next time you come across someone, like Katter, who doesn’t agree with what you think, talk it through. Discuss it. Be passionate, but not overly so. Listen to why they have come to their conclusion, and if you can, rebut it after they’ve said their piece. Don’t get frustrated and call them ‘stupid’, or even insinuate that they are. Talk to them on their terms, not your own.

If I could speak to Mr Katter about marriage equality, I would. I’d ask why he thinks it’s not a valid policy option. I’d ask him to think about all the jobs that could be generated across a huge number of industries by the permission of marriage for the entire LGBTI community. (Heck, let’s just say the entire human race, shall we? No need for labels.) I’d tell him about my friends, who are in some of the longest relationships I’ve come across in my short life. I’d ask, “If it was such a big thing, and homosexuality is such a sin, why didn’t Jesus say something about it?” I’d offer to introduce him to people with their own stories of discrimination because of who they’d fallen in love with, just like the First Australians have encountered discrimination for the colour of their skin.

But if he still refused to agree, I’d be okay with that. At least I’d have said my piece, and I’d know I’d have left him with something to think about in relation to the terms of his own party.

He might even teach me a thing or two, because let’s face it, I’m young and passionate and don’t understand the whole world yet, and never will.

Sure, sometimes you can’t change the way people think about the world. But if you try, and that change doesn’t occur, it doesn’t make them a horrible human being. There’s no need for aggression or making fun or being a dick to them.

As my grandmother says, ‘You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.’

Best of COM340 – Osama Bin Later

Adios Osama!

Well, he always said he wanted to go out with a BANG!

Undoubtedly, the biggest story of the last 12 months has been the capture and killing of the World’s Most Wanted Man, Hide & Seek Champion and All Round Bad Guy, Mr Osama Bin Laden on May 2nd, 2011.

Unlike many of my friends, who heard about it on Twitter, I first heard about Bin Laden’s death on the front page of Google News. The story had only been out about 20 mins, but there were plenty of people reporting it, even though Barack Obama had not yet made his speech to confirm it. It was immediately the talk of the office, with plenty of theories being thrown around. Google’s news feed had the story even before the radio station I was working at had it. (They networked their national news from Sydney, but it hadn’t even come over the air yet.) The speed with which the story hit the front of one of the biggest compilers of online news in the world is mind-blowing, especially when you think that less than a century ago, people would have had to wait at least 24 hours for it to be in the newspaper if it was a local story, possibly weeks or months if the information was coming from overseas.

Unfortunately, due to the fact that I was at work, I was unable to monitor the spread of the news through social media in the way that I had with other major passings, like Michael Jackson back in 2009, but the snippets I did manage to get were astounding. It felt like the whole world was waiting for 1pm AEST, when Obama finally confirmed the death of the World’s Most Wanted Man.

But the death of Bin Laden wasn’t the only thing to celebrate that day. Oh no, there was a new beginning stirring in the meme-melting pot of the internet.

You know the photo I’m talking about. It’s this one:

It’s a pretty awesome photo. It’s certainly one that is going to help define that day in history for the entire world, forever. And they all look so remarkably TENSE. It’s just a perfect representation of what it must have been like, knowing what was happening.

You can’t really improve on it, can you?

Well, the meme-machine did its very best. Here are some of my personal favourites. Unfortunately, due to the nature of posting and reposting, all of the authors of these photo manipulations are unknown.

Taken from The Mary Sue.

Kicking it Royal Wedding style…

Lego makes it all alright… Image by Alex Eylar.

Oh Jersey Shore. I’m really glad I don’t watch you.
The Situation Room feat. The Situation

When memes meet memes…

Absolute WINNER!

And then just to finish it off, something everyone loves – sticking it to Donald Trump. Take it away, Mr Obama.

Damn straight!

Best of COM340 – Google: friend or foe to social media?

Google is our friend. They let us search the internet, look after email for us, give us the opportunity to edit documents with our friends and colleagues anywhere in the world in real time, they give us memes on YouTube, they host our blogs, they give us location based information and recommendations, maps, satellite images… There isn’t much they CAN’T do.

Except decide what it is we read and view on the internet, right?

Well, it might surprise you just how wrong that idea truly is.

To get a good idea of just how much power Google has over what you see online, take a look at this talk from Eli Pariser about the concept of a ‘filter bubble’ – how websites like Facebook and Google tailor your search results and your news feeds to suit what they think you’ll want to read.

I have to say, the comparison between the two different users and their Google results is pretty astonishing. I’ve personally noticed that Google on my work computer already knows to look for Canberra based options when I search for a kind of business. I must admit, I really don’t like that, especially since this week I had all my server details and personal computer settings changed over to a new account. Google still knows where I am, and what I’m likely to search for.

As you can see, this is SO much bigger than social media. Sure, the idea that your new boss can type your name into Google and find every single embarrassing photo ever posted of you on the web is terrifying. The idea that we may not hear about bad things in the world? It’s probably not so big a deal to us right now.

But the fact is that it’s a kind of censorship. With Google having control of so much of our online experience is it really that big a leap to them dictating what we will do in our every day lives? Their CEO Eric Schmidt doesn’t seem to think so. (Also, take a look at this one. This guy’s a bit creepy!)

So, with social media being seen and desired by many as a place where we can choose our own online destinies, especially given its importance in protests in places like Iran and Egypt in recent years, Google is most certainly a foe, but not the only enemy freedom of information and freedom of speech face on the online battlefield.

*****

And as a little PS: here’s the Google Hungry Beast File from 2010. Yes, it’s being hosted by YouTube, a Google company. (You seriously can’t escape these guys!)

Return of the Senator’s Press Release

Guess who’s back, sending me a bucket load of irrelevant e-mails!

*****

Hi,

Senator Queensland thought you may be interested in this press release it is a response to the Comments Wayne Swan made today on the Carbon tax.

Regards

PR Man

*****

Hi PR Man,

Funnily enough, I’m not interested.

Also, your misuse of capital letters and punctuation makes me a little bit sad.

Kind regards,

Noni Doll