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Thursday, September 26, 2013

'Naming and shaming' laws - what could possibly go wrong?

Queensland's Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, has announced new 'name and shame' laws in which children as young as 10 years old will be publicly 'named and shamed' if convicted of crimes.

Naming is one thing. But shaming? Shaming is rather subjective. It's personal. What happens if the young criminal isn't shamed by being named? What happens if the young criminal is actually proud of being named? Will they be charged with contempt of court? Will they charged with something like 'failure to be shamed', or at the very least 'failure to appear shamed'.

It's just a thought.

These laws don't just name and shame young offenders, they also result in rejection from the community.

Considering that children are impulsive and rarely, if ever, consider the consequences of their actions. Does Bleijie really think a 10 year old will think of him before doing something that seems like a fun idea at the time. Children do not have the same ability as adults to rationalise good from bad, let alone contemplate consequences.

According to Bleijie, the purpose in naming juvenile criminals is to shame them. Why? Because negative reinforcement and rejection works so well with children. We all know how children love being told that they are bad. They thrive on it. It's the kids who are pampered with love, kindness and positive reinforcement that turn to crime to prove they aren't goody-two-shoes. Don't they? Isn't that how it works?

Children are very impressionable. So driving home how bad they are through 'shaming' them, is only going to reinforce the very behaviour the Government is attempting to counter.

And then there is the issue of litigation. Mr Bleijie has publicly stated that the laws are to 'shame' children. Shame is a negative feeling that can cause emotional and mental distress. Admitting that the laws are designed to shame, Bleiji is admitting to deliberately attempting to cause emotional and mental distress. Surely at some point, one of the targets of the 'name and shame' laws is going to lawyer up and sue the State for deliberately causing harm to children.

In fact, 'naming and shaming' could be a form of child abuse, leading to rejection, teasing, bullying and criticism. All activities that are named as emotional abuse in the Queensland Government's own booklet called 'Child Abuse - What you need to know'. This book points out that responses to abuse include 'delinquency and criminal behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse, low self-esteem, increased fear, guilt and self-blame, distrust of adults, suicidal thoughts and self-harming, aggressive behaviour'.

Yep. Government-sanctioned public shaming of children. What could possibly go wrong?

Here's a thought. Tell a child over and over again that they are a criminal and what sort of life do you think they will grow up to have? When they picture their future, I'm tipping that they won't be picturing a life of university studies and working on saving the world. No. I'm tipping they will be seeing themselves as never having a job and instead, having to resort to crime to survive.

These are lazy laws. Lazy because they will achieve nothing while appearing as though the Government is tough on crime. These laws are useless. In fact, they are worse than useless. they are dangerous, because if anything they will reinforce bad behaviour and set the foundation for a life of crime. Nothing like drumming home to a 10 year old that they are rejected and reviled; a criminal with no future.

There are enough laws in place to punish children who commit crimes. For children, detention should always be a last resort because of the possibility of institutionalising them to a life crime, rather than rehabilitating them.

The Government that Bleijie is a senior member of has significantly cut front-line child safety services and slashed funding to government and non-government child welfare agencies.

Instead of compounding the effects of criminal behaviour by publicly naming and shaming children, the Government should be investing money in child safety agencies, facilitating better school attendance, positive counselling for children and parents, and communicating inspirational messages of a great future for children who behave well and commit to being nice to others.

I guess it's easier to criminalise and marginalise, than protect, nurture and inspire.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Life under Abbott - a prophecy

And so, as predicted, the Liberal Party wins the 2013 Australian federal election.

The inarticulate Tony Abbott is now Prime Minister. A man who stutters and stammers and gets lost for words when under pressure. How can we forget the disturbing and excruciating 24 seconds of head-bobbing incommunicado when he was confronted over saying 'shit happens' when commenting on the death of Australian soldier, Corporal Jared MacKinney:

Abbott's Treasurer will be Joe Hockey. A man who sweats profusely under pressure.

Stammering and sweating. What truly great statesmen we now have leading and representing the country.

This is going to be an interesting parliament.

For the last few years, Abbott has filled the heads of the electorate with the idea that the minority Labor government was incompetent and that parliament was dysfunctional. Yet, under Prime Minister Gillard, the minority government passed a record amount of legislation with bipartisan support, making her the most productive Prime Minister in Australian history as reported by the Guardian:

Some of the great policies of the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments include the National Broadband Network, the Gonski educational reforms, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, an increase in the tax free threshold from $6,000 to $18,000 and record increases in the old age pension.

Abbott has promised to repeal or cancel most of these.

Much of Abbott's rhetoric has mirrored Campbell Newman's promises before he was elected as Queensland's Premier in 2012. Newman promised to deliver within 100 days of election, commission of audit, a four pillar economy (Abbott has a five pillar model), promised that public servants would be more efficient and have nothing to fear, praised Sir Joh (Abbott praised Jeff Kennett who then went on to sack thousands of public servants and slash, burn and sell-off government assets, as he has also praised Newman).

I predict the following during the term of the Abbott government:

  • Undertake an 'independent' commission of audit into Australia's financial position, similar to what Queensland's Premier Campbell Newman did. The commission of audit will claim that Australia's debt position is more dire than thought, and therefore Abbott has to make deeper cuts than he stated before the election. He will be unable to fund a number of his promises and will blame this on Labor.

  • Significant restructure of the public service, including removal of key executive and senior department staff, in parallel with the 'offer' of redundancies which will essentially be a choice of 'jump or drown'. There will be a number of appointments of senior bureacrats who are 'trusted' by the government. Some would call this nepotism. 

  • Increased unemployment through public service job cuts and decreased public expenditure, directly impacting on businesses contracted to the government who will be forced to lay-off staff or face bankruptcy. Similarly, the retail sector will suffer through the loss of government wages and expenditure that would usually flow through.

  • Abbott's NBN will cost as much, if not more, than Labor's once the whole of life costs are factored in, including the costs of maintaining the existing copper network, the cost of consumers paying $5,000 for optic to run from their home to the node, and the cost of rolling out fibre to the node across the country.

  • Abbott and his government will blame Labor every time they address parliament or the media. As Newman does.

  • Abbott has listed a number of low hanging fruit to achieve in his first 100 days. He will make a big deal about these 'achievements' which will distract from the more dire policies he introduces, such as job and funding cuts.

  • An attempt to repeal the carbon price, which will be defeated by the current Senate. Abbott will then attempt to gain mileage by again blaming Labor for supporting increased costs of living.

  • There will be a new industrial relations policy (let's call it WorkChoices Mark II), which will remove or significantly reduce job security and the payment or accessibility to weekend and overtime penalty rates.

  • There will be an attack on unions to significantly weaken their influence and power, as well as the accessibility to union representation. Like Newman, Abbott will attempt to ban unions from donating to the Labor Party without approval of its members. Of course, the simple answer to this is that it is a condition of membership that members accept that part of their fees is paid to the ALP. After all, the ALP was formed out of the unions. Besides this, if Abbott and Newman go down this path, then it should also be compulsory for companies to seek the approval through vote of their membership before making any payments to political parties, such as the Liberal Party.

  • Abbott will ramp up the xenophobic attack on asylum seekers instead of truly implementing processes that help out these most vulnerable of people. He has stated that his government will decrease Australia's already meagre commitment to Foreign Aid. It is a sad indictment on Australia, that a portion of our foreign aid budget was used to fund the xenophobic Pacific Solution and all of Labor's iterations of it, essentially making Australia the largest recipient of its own Foreign Aid budget. He will give credence to the extreme right-wing and racial intolerance will increase. Oh, and the 'Buy the Boats' promise: won't happen. If it does, we'll see an increase in asylum seekers as people smugglers profit from Abbott's idiotic plan to make them rich.

  • Privatisation of the public media, namely the ABC and SBS to fulfil the Murdochracy's desire to control Australia's news networks.

  • Indigenous affairs will suffer, with reduced funding and lack of recognition of the issues affecting indigenous communities.

  • Reduced funding to education and hospitals, followed by privatisation of public schools and hospitals.

  • Increased cost of living as spending cuts and reduction in penalty rates flow through the market, customers will have less money to spend, impacting on business profitability, forcing businesses to increase prices to cover costs.

  • an increase in religious conservatism as fundamentalists find voice to continue attacks on marriage equality, multi-culturalism, Islam, Palestine and anything else that doesn't fit their version of Christianity. 

  • Recession. Abbott has since back-tracked on his promise to return to surplus quickly, stating that the return will be sensible and based on economic conditions: something which Labor had been doing anyway. Nonetheless, if Abbott proceeds with cutting government expenditure and jobs, we could very well see a slow down in growth with the possibility of the country falling into recession. Rudd steered Australia through the GFC while maintaining positive growth, one of the only countries in the OECD to do so. Similarly, Gillard kept the country on course during a minority government and maintained positive growth. This was no small feat given the negative rhetoric of Abbott during this time. With growth at only a couple of per cent, the economy is finely poised. Dramatic cuts will directly impact on growth, plunging the country into recession.

Abbott was a very negative, deceitful and divisive presence in opposition. There is no reason to believe that he will be any different in government.