Tuesday, July 30, 2013

'Lower socio-economic' - Australian Media's Preface of Failure

Ahh, the good old 'lower socio-economic' preface on a news story about Australia's poor.

Australian TV journalists in their cosy warm studios must often arrive from their 'higher socio-economic' areas and get cheesy grins when a 'lower socio-economic' story graces their desks.

You see, all of Australian society's ills - obesity, fat kids, sexual abuse, alcoholism, divorce, drug abuse, unemployment, crime, pensioners rotting away in their flats unnoticed, and all manner of other horsemen of the apocalypse, all evidently only exist in 'lower socio-economic' areas.

And don't we just love the term.

It sounds oh-so very scientific, and lends a cheap press release more credence and legitimacy (well, more legitimacy than the children from 'lower socio-economic areas, am I right?!).

Take the latest 'news' story that graced our morning TV screens - that fat kids come from 'lower socio-economic' areas - and the story was discussed by a female mouthy report who started her spiel on the topic with "I once visited a lower socio-economic area..."

Wow! You poor thing, how did you ever survive? I hope she has recovered from her ordeal.

But to the contrary, I've known plenty of big fat people from upper class areas.

Just look at Gina Rinehart - Australia's richest woman, a billionaire, and with her fingers in all the pies, and obviously not just business pies.

However on our morning show, the topic is discussed as if obesity is limited to poor people; to the contrary, some of the fattest people I've known, and I mean REALLY fat people, have come from very, very well-off families.

Why? Because obesity doesn't discriminate - this society is absolutely swimming in cheap fast foods, and as a matter of fact, we waste billions of dollars worth of fresh foods every year.

Australians love to stuff their fat pie holes, whether they be old, young, poor, or rich; 60% of Australians are obese, and it's increasingly rare to come across a naturally thin woman - but that's OKAY, because we don't want to make them feel bad about their body image.

It's the same with all the other topics - I've mentioned before that our news is written purely by upper middle class kids out of university for upper middle class readers and viewers - and so the explanation for everything plaguing society falls into the 'lower socio-economic' preface.

Oh the poor, it's all their fault; why won't they just die?

Hopefully I won't have to pass these lower lifeforms on the street.

You see, the moment someone points out that Australia does indeed have a deeply ingrained social class system, they are immediately told that Australia is a 'classless' society, and that it's all one homogenous block of happy people.

Nothing could be more distant from the truth, and the media needs to stop ignoring it; I would go so far as to say that our class system borders on being that like the United Kingdom's.

But unlike the UK, our class system is far more simplistic: the very poor, and the very rich.

The ones who aren't so rich, but think they are rich, or have stars in their eyes about being wealthy, are what we call the 'aspirational middle class' - the people who are dangled a carrot in front of them, in the belief that they will be one day be kings and queens.

But they too are ridiculed, and they just simply do not realise it, or do not pay enough attention; there's many well-to-do inner city folk that just simply would not dare tread into Western Sydney, as they just see it as a wasteland of mortgages and babies.

I mean look at the big hoopla when Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott visited Penrith; an absolute media circus ensued, as if they were going to the lost ancient civilization of Machu Picchu.

Even a Labor MP poked fun at the people of Western Sydney.

And of course, the venerable members of our beleaguered media machine, such as the social commentator who once visited a 'lower socio-economic' area, are they themselves smack-bang in the middle of the aspirational middle classes.

Not only is that their audience they write for, but they too think that they themselves are above everyone else.

Filled with airs and graces, and pointing the finger at anyone who doesn't fit society's accepted narratives.

Heaven forbid it be a press release about the enormity of growing alcoholism and drug use among middle class professionals; they can do no wrong, and they certainly don't ever get fat, either.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Dreaded 'Youth Vote'

Oh, the impertinences of our wayward youth!

Sure they can't form informed political decisions at the polling booth.

But hark, ye hopeful candidate, you're about to step in a big pile of it if you ignore the youth vote; so ignore it at your peril.

While it's true that in Australia there's swathes of people aged 18-25 not enrolled to vote, this age bracket still can still hold a deciding factor on who becomes Prime Minister.

It's also true that youth are disengaged with politics - I was recently talking to a 22-year-old girl who did not even know what 'Questions Time' was, and could not recall ever seeing it on television.

After re-composing (or is that re-composting) myself at this utter lack of basic political awareness, I scurried back to my lair and considered that in actual fact, why should she have ever heard of it?

Question Time is nothing but an hour or so of rambunctious hooliganism at the cost of the taxpayer - and with Tony Abbott at the helm, we've seen more 'no confidence motions' than a toilet at the retirement home, all of which were entirely pointless spiels.

And of course, the government's own people ask its own people 'questions' - a sort of theatre is good old Question Time, theatre for the people, but a theatre that turns many off politics.

There was also the case of the young lady who asked me what the difference between Liberal and Labor were - I was genuinely stumped in providing an answer, because especially of late, there actually are very little differences.

Abbott himself of course holds a particular 1950s attitude and style towards society and women writ large of course, but between the parties themselves, the only difference is in ideology and not so much in their actual governance.

With no clear difference between, you may well ask 'what's the point in voting?'.

Between Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott, Rudd is a clear favourite amongst the voting youthful public; he's routinely swamped by youngsters, and has 1.3 million Twitter followers, compared to Tony Abbott's dismal 142,000.

And have you seen some of things that Abbott writes on his Twitter? All rather mundane blue-tie stuff, and I'm sure there's a smattering 'we'll stop the boats!' in there somewhere just for good measure.

In other words, Abbott has the personality of cardboard - youth don't like cardboard, unless it forms the silhouette and image of Beyonce or something, and Abbott doesn't strike me as Beyonce - tough luck for Mr. Abbott.

Of course, there are youth that would vote for Abbott; the misguided youth.

These are youth from conservative, upright, righteous, business-owning families, and it's true that a parent's voting pattern heavily influences that of their children, lest they stray from the loins of the conservative father and risk being reprimanded for turning into a smelly, dirty lefty.

Off with his unkempt head!

At Tony Abbott's last big 'press conference' (and I use the term lightly, because they are greatly rehearsed and not at all spontaneous) he was standing in front of a large group of elderly people, who seemingly rallied behind Mr Abbott when he was asked about his senior staffer's drink driving charge.

"Woooaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!" the elderly crowd jeered at the journalist, who was obviously in hot water for not asking pre-rehearsed question.

Can you imagine a similar response if Abbott was surrounded by a group of teenagers?

I would think not, and while Gillard had sandwiches thrown at her at a few high schools, Abbott would be thrown the whole loaf.

Abbott does not know how to approach the youth vote. To him, young people are something that are nothing but trouble, just a bunch of lazy, half-witted, tone deaf rebels who all need to be sequestered down in Gina Rinehart's mines.

'Seen but not heard' would be Abbott's view of youngsters, and not at one point have I heard him painting youth in a positive light; he only ever talks about how they are all unemployed and need a big stick.

So, to both Rudd and Abbott, I would say they need to consider the youth vote very carefully in the upcoming election; they must present a forward-thinking progressive, engaging platform, and not write-off the opinions of young people.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Out of Love with the Australian Greens

During the last Federal Election of 2010, I voted Greens in the Senate - and it was a sensible choice, and probably still is, given the rambunctious and chaotic nature of the two big parties.

Now however, I find them utterly repulsive, and as someone who is of a left-leaning nature, it's made me realise that there is no real sane left alternative in Australia to vote for.

Take for example the circus act surrounding a paid parental leave scheme, which has incidentally been flagged by Abbott as one of his big policy platforms for quite some time.

This morning, Christine Milne, the default leader of the Greens after Bob Brown's retirement, has held a dank press conference to announce their ideal paid parental leave scheme.

The only problem, it's almost a carbon-copy of Mr Abbott's scheme; both include a 1.5% tax on companies who earn over $5 million annually - the only difference being, while Mr Abbott's is capped at $150,000, the Green's want to bring that down to $100,000.

Before getting to the 'detail' of her scheme, Milne cited a recent survey in Australia of employers, of whom a large percentage said they would prefer to employ young men who have no relationships and no children.

'This is wrong' Milne proclaimed.

Keep in mind, it was just a silly survey, and just an opinion of a preference, but apparently facts needs to be savaged.

As a young man with no relationships and no children, and who finds it nigh impossible to find a job, I find this rather entertaining - apparently young single men don't deserve jobs, and we should all bloody well get out of the way so women can fulfill the idealistic rolls of both career and children and sit around the campfire singing Kumbaya.

It's bad enough to be told by Centrelink and the local job seeking places that office work is 'only for women' - despite holding a degree, and despite being relatively literate, and punctual.

Thanks to false identity politics, a woman is more deserving. I believe in a fair deal for everyone, but this is obviously a new breed of favouritism.

Christine Milne and her defacto deputy Sarah-Hanson Young do the calm-yet-stern lecture down the camera lens and expect everyone to beg for more; there's lots of yummy political capital to be gained from left issues, such as gay marriage, asylum seekers, and now parental leave schemes - which ironically - the Liberals have been vying for for a while.

Asylum seekers is all the rave at the moment, especially since Rudd's return to power and his announcement of a hardline plan to settle all (economic) refugees in Papua New Guinea.

1100 people have so far died at sea in the mad rush to try to get to Australia, and still yet, the Greens would want to keep the failed policies that enable this parade of death to happen at our doorstep.

The Greens, like all minor political parties, love to talk big, and love to put vials up to people's eyelids and collect their tears and say they're going to do this and that - in actuality, if they were to govern, they would find it particularly difficult.

When I first saw the polls that show the Greens' vote dropping, from about 12% last election to 9% at the moment, I was confused as to how this could be so given the big parties' dismal performances of late.

But it does actually make sense - Christine Milne and Sarah-Hanson Young are incredibly maddening to listen to - everything is a tragedy, everything is unfair, and only they have all of the possible solutions.

In short, I don't like them, and I change the channel now whenever they have an appearance at one of their characterless press conferences.

Of course, the young folk will vote for them, because they believe in gay marriage, and that's always been a surefire way of late to get the youth vote - but beyond that, there's a vacuum.

I would say their vote has dropped because Australians are becoming increasingly ticked off with political parties of all persuasions.

While I would like to see a minor political party have the balance in the Senate, which is politically healthy, I'm not so sure anymore that I want it to be the Greens.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Making Interest Rates Interesting

On the first Tuesday of every month here in Australia, journalists and business analysts gather around computer monitors to watch a magical number.

If the number changes, it becomes news; if the number does not change, it too becomes news.

Can you guess what this number is?


You're correct - it's the official cash rate set by the Reserve Bank of Australia.

About 2PM the announcement is made, with business-y types sitting at computers shouting out the number in a self-important fashion, making for an excellent soundbite on that evening's news.

Traditionally, politicians, specifically Treasurers and sometimes Prime Ministers, will spin their economic prowess if the number is lowered or stays the same. They will then sternly look down the barrel of the camera, and in a school boyish manner, tell the banks and lenders that they must 'pass the rate on'.

Everyone goes home, and waits for the next first Tuesday of next month, but in the meantime, they will speculate and speculate about what the interest rate will be, and I would dare say, bets are taken on it.

For instance, some data on unemployment and slowing of the economy may come out, which leads to the instant inference that the RBA must be going to lower rates - if they don't, business journalists will ruffle through the meeting minutes, desperately searching for evidence on why they didn't.

Such is the madness of capitalism, isn't it?

So what does it mean for the common man and woman, or woman-man, or man-woman?

If you have a mortgage, obviously it means something - it could mean that you pay $50 less that month, or $100 less, or $50 more a month to live in the bank's house and to make profit for a bank CEO who is  making far more than you.

In the current economic environment however, interest rates are at record lows everywhere, and close to 0% in the United States.

It's a sort of an economic lever - if the economy is growing too fast and inflation becomes a problem, the interest rate is risen - meaning people pay more for the bank's house and therefor spend less on other s***, such as televisions.

If the economy is sluggish, as is the case worldwide, including Australia with our floundering retail sector, the rate is lowered - people pay less for the bank's house and therefor spend more on other s***, such as televisions, maybe if a video game for little Jimmy.

In other words, on a consumer level it plays the workers and consumers like a fiddle - monetary policy, as it's called, would be useless if everyone were rich, which ironically, is the promise that capitalism makes.

But in reality, you're not - that $50 a month becomes a blessing or a curse, depending on whether or not you're paying more or less.

Still and all, the media treat the RBA's announcement as if Moses has come again each month announcing the Ten Commandments with a few additions, either:

"Thout shall spend!"


"Thout shall save!"

It probably garners so much attention religiously because Australians love BIG houses, so along with that, they have big mortgages to pay for the BIG houses.

The floorspace of an average Australian home is marginally bigger than that of America's, and easily up to twice that of a typical Western European home; such is the Great Australian Dream and perhaps the typical Australian male's need to compensate for shortcomings in other areas.

When the kids have all gown up and moved out and have big mortgages of their own, what are ma and pa supposed to do with a big house?

Why, use it as their own personal bank of course - 'refinance' and borrow against the equity of the home and live it up Big Willy style.

And if there's a divorce in the meantime, the house will probably be sold, and the money pissed away on the kids by either parent on anything they want to keep them on 'their side'.

So, the interest rate is intrinsically linked to the marketed Australian way of life - BIG houses with big mortgages - any other pursuit is worthless and not worth the mention.

Unwittingly though, it really boils down to the loyal consumers of Australia being played like suckers through monetary levers - they suck up every announcement and feel a part of the system.

If this is what they mean by 'economic participation' I'm staying on the bench.