Friday, 9 December 2016

Religious Cuts Undermine Harmony

Extract from Eureka Street

By Kasy Chambers |  04 December 2016

There has been a slow trickle of news outlets in Australia winding back their coverage of religion over recent years. Some might argue that this is a good thing in a secular democracy, and that discussion of religion creates division.

John ClearyThis however flies in the face of the overwhelming good that religious belief, and religious-based organisations, do in this country. Not to mention the fact that religion and ethics are a major part of the narrative of society, of how we live together and how we form a community.
In 2014, Fairfax was the only media provider in the country with a dedicated religion reporter in Barney Zwartz, who worked for more than 12 years at The Age in Melbourne. In a piece in ABC Religion and Ethics in August this year, Zwartz wrote of the declined coverage of religious affairs:
'I am often asked about a decline in religion journalism. When I began covering religion for The Age in 2002, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian both had highly capable religion reporters, and the ABC a large and active religion department. By the time I finished 12 years later, both the other papers had long been without religion reporters and the ABC had begun its radical truncation of its coverage which is still ongoing.'
In 2011, another well-regarded program, Stephen Crittenden's The Religion Report, was axed from the ABC. The then General Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Fr Brian Lucas said at the time that 'the more people understand religious issues, the more we'll have a tolerant society. I think that is in touch with the way in which religion informs people's lives.'
The bosses at the ABC seemingly do not agree however. Even though The Religion Report returned a year later, rebadged as the Religion and Ethics Report, the broadcaster, which formerly boasted the most comprehensive coverage of religion, has again in recent weeks 'considerably reduced' its religious programming. Music and science programs have also been cut, to significant commentary.
The axed religion programming includes four hours of religion coverage on Sunday Nights, a program hosted for around 14 years by John Cleary (pictured).

Sunday Nights used to get around 20 per cent of available listeners. It is being replaced by a program called God Forbid, which will air on Radio National and will only get, at most, 3 per cent of available listeners. This illustrates the level of what has taken place, and should raise alarm bells about the strategic direction of the national broadcaster.

"The issue is not so much a secularisation of our public media, but the lack of commitment to diversity and fostering harmony that these changes signal."

The Conversation published a comprehensive analysis of the cuts in a piece by Siobhan McHugh, a senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Wollongong. She believes the ABC is going for cheaper content, more talk, and are letting go of a cultural treasure trove. 'Given how much religion has informed the geopolitical landscape since 9/11, it is extraordinary that the ABC would terminate a presenter (Cleary) who is not only manifestly expert in this sensitive area, but whose ratings are also remarkable.'
While there is plenty of evidence to show that religious practice in this country is in decline, those who are interested in religion and profess religion are not a minority in Australia, meaning it makes little sense to cut religious programming. The National Church Life Survey (NCLS) data shows that over the last four decades the proportion of Australians attending church at least once per month has more than halved from 36 per cent (1972) to 15 per cent. However this is still a significant proportion of the Australian population. Indeed twice as many Australians attend church at least once per month than attend games of all football codes combined.
The ABC's religion producers include experts across a number of religious traditions including Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and various Christian denominations. In recent months, they have covered evangelical Christianity and the American election;social justice issues including Anglicare's unemployment report; the Hindu Festival Diwali, and Islam's contribution to public policy.
The journalists involved in this type of programming thoroughly research and back up each of their stories to avoid common mistakes made by inexperienced reporters.
Religious reporting isn't something that can be done in a sloppy way. You have to know the intricacies of what it means to be a Muslim; how to address a Catholic Cardinal; and what the differences are between the various branches of the Anglican Communion. In this, the good also becomes evident. In reporting objectively, and understanding the complexities of faith, tolerance and understanding grows.
It's not just Christian leaders who are concerned about this move. The issue is not so much a secularisation of our public media, but the lack of commitment to diversity and fostering harmony that these changes signal. Social service organisations like Anglicare frequently see the results of lack of understanding in our work. We always say that a good education is worth its weight in gold in creating understanding and going beyond just tolerance, but towards actual kinship.
More and more, our social services (including those provided by Anglicare and other Christian inspired organisations) reflect the growing diversity in this country, and it's important that people can appreciate and understand the richness that this brings.
Presenters and ABC staff have been unable to speak on the record about the cuts, but there is growing discontent among the staff across more than just the religion and ethics producers.
'So toxic is the atmosphere at RN that none of the RN employees I spoke to for this article would be named,' wrote McHugh. 'At the time of writing, a meeting of some 60 Sydney staff had passed a unanimous motion of no confidence in RN management, complaining of a lack of consultation about the changes, an erosion of producer control over program content, an undermining of specialist content and a top-heavy management-to-producer ratio.'
Religious reporting is not the niche market it is being portrayed to be, and its educative and awareness-raising capacity have been a real gift. And, as Joni Mitchell said, we won't know what we've got until it's gone.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

To Fight Racism, We Need to Craft a Better "We" and Ditch the "Us" and "Them"

A sense of alienation is attracting people to populist leaders with simple solutions. But there are better solutions, ones that draw communities together.

Extract from The Guardian
By Tim Hollo
Thursday 22nd September 2016

Pauline Hanson didn’t appear out of a vacuum. Like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, she is a reaction to trends in our society, economy and politics. Their type of nasty firebrand always exists, but they receive greater support at times when people who feel disconnected, disenchanted and disenfranchised are looking for a sense of unity, searching for a “we”.

This is the one thing that Hanson, and those who call for us to understand her and her voters, get right. Our current political and economic system is tearing us apart; it is driving disconnection and disenfranchisement; it is, in fact, designed to benefit a tiny elite at the expense of everybody else.

But the “we” that Hanson and her ilk provide is a negative, exclusive one. It is a sense of identity framed against a scary other. Asians or Muslims, gays or greenies, refugees or Indigenous people: the target can vary, but the frame is the same. “Our” way of life is under threat from “them”. The challenge for those of us who oppose her is not just to respond to her – though we must stand up to and reject her racism. Nor is it even to respond to her voters. Our challenge is to respond to the circumstances which created her by building a more compelling alternative. Our challenge is to craft a better “we”.

Critically, this is not a communications task. It’s not about working out how to speak better to people, or how to respond to misinformation. It’s actually about changing our society, economy and politics to be truly inclusive and for the benefit of all – humans and the natural world we are one small part of. When viewed that way, crafting a better “we” is an enormous task. But it is one which is full of opportunity. Mandating a shorter working week would see us both share work more fairly and grapple better with work-life balance.

At its heart is work. Never in the modern age has work been as precarious as it is today. Automation threatens not just jobs like manufacturing and check outs but also white collar jobs such as legal advice and anaesthetics. The rise of contract and casual work everywhere from cleaning services to academia makes work highly precarious for those who have it and increases the divide between those who are over-worked and those who are under-employed.

These forces combine to increase alienation, with people becoming disconnected from their jobs, feeling like governments do nothing to protect them, succumbing to an us-against-them mentality of blaming others in our society rather than the corporations and governments who enable this to happen.

We can and must look at big picture and innovative responses to this challenge. One option often raised is a universal basic income, which would rewrite the relationship between employees and employers, give people confidence and flexibility, and reinvigorate the idea that we are all in this together. Ideally going hand in hand with this, mandating a shorter working week would see us both share work more fairly and grapple better with work-life balance, which seems to have gone out the window recently.

Another idea in this area is supporting cooperatives, putting workers’ jobs into their own hands.

The obscure legal system that lets corporations sue countries


Then there’s the challenge of reclaiming our politics, our public spaces, our very sense of the “public”, from corporate takeover. This goes far deeper than simply corporate donations to politicians, which one scandal too many has finally put on the agenda. It needs to disentangle the entire web.

One of the most egregious and obvious examples has been the way international trade negotiations have been handed over to private interests. The peak of this trend is investor state dispute resolution, allowing companies to sue governments in a way which individual citizens could never dream of. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the ever increasing handover of public space to private interests through advertising. How about declaring advertising free zones and removing the tax deduction for spending on ads?

Then there’s the way our schools, universities and research institutions are increasingly being run as profit-driven entities, training the next generation of workers and inventing new goods for sale, rather than as public institutions valuing knowledge for its own sake. This needs to be reversed by providing both sufficient funds and the appropriate remit to focus on educating citizens and researching for the public good.

If we want to look really deep, let’s challenge the very concept of corporate personhood, which enables companies’ rights often to trump those of people, and certainly to overrule any rights of nature. If BHP Billiton is a legal person, why shouldn’t the Great Barrier Reef be one, too? Should either of them?

Another central task is learning how to live in – and design – cities which enable people to come together, instead of living next to each other in closed boxes. How can we support communities to thrive within cities and towns? How can we ensure that urban infill is done in a sensitive manner that generates positive community feeling and protects the environment? How can we ensure affordable and accessible housing that benefits communities rather than developers? How can we enable a true sharing economy to develop, where we hold things in common rather than retreat to individual ownership of everything?

There are numerous ideas and models being implemented around the world, from “Buy Nothing” groups to tool libraries, from food gardens to repair cafes, from banning developer donations to supporting cooperative housing developments.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but it gives a flavour of how “we” can beat Senator Hanson by creating a more compelling alternative. Importantly, it can’t – and won’t – happen through politics as usual. Many of these ideas have to be implemented by communities at the level of communities.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Lucinda Sharpe on One-Women-One-Vote ("The Worker", Brisbane, 1891)


(The Original “Lucinda Sharpe”, really Annie Lane, championing women's rights, before it was fashionable to do so!)
Just why one woman shouldn't have one vote as well as one man – you can take this any way you like – is one of those things which this particular woman could never make out. P'r'aps I'm a blue stocking and ought to have a moustache and be as flat as a board for holding such opinions. But then, you see, I haven't a single visible hair on my face, barring eye-brows and eye-lashes, and I'm as presentable-looking as most of us and never wear blue stockings except when that's the fashion and blues are cheap. Yet I want a vote just the same, and so do most women and if there are any who don't then they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

I've just had the pleasure of reading a “proof” of a very furious article on one-man-one-vote which is going to appear in this next issue of the Worker, the same that this epistle of mine is to be in. It was that started me. Of course a very pretty allusion is made to the right of one-woman to one-vote, for which I suppose a properly-minded woman should be properly grateful. Nevertheless it seems to me that we are left out in the cold and that one-man is nursing himself as usual over the fire and leaving one-woman, also as usual, to bring in the wood. It might not be very wise but it would be very much nicer if one-man put his arm round one-woman's waist and said out straight they'd have one-vote together or not at all. Now, wouldn't it? One-a human being even if the maternity which should be her crown and glory has been turned into something very like a curse.

Don't tell me! It has so. It is because working women wear themselves out for their children that they are old and haggard when they ought to be in full bloom. It is just because of the helpless little ones that women submit to ten thousand things they
would never submit to if they had only themselves to think of. And it's for no other reason in the world but because mothers who are poor haven't a moment to spare or an ounce of energy to waste that they can't gabble politics like men and can't make out how very important it is to keep the moon from standing still by having M'Ilwraith and Griffith in office instead of M'Ilwraith and Donaldson. We have stayed at home and minded the children and haven't turned out to shoot the shearers and have shown how little sense we have by trusting to the men to see that things were run right in Parliament. I don't know much about Parliament myself but I'm very sure of this that it's worse than bad and that it'll never be any better so long as men go rolling about drunk in it. And I'll undertake that no drunken candidate would stand much show with woman-one-vote.
 The author, circa 1893

Mind the children! Ah, isn't that just why one-woman should have one-vote, that she may? We've stayed at home and slaved and thought of very little else and what's come of it all? The poor little children! It makes my heart ache to think of them. Must they have the time that most of us have when they grow up? Just to think of what is before our little baby boys, their sweet little faces getting hard and brutal-looking, their innocent little souls getting soot-black because everything is against them, working when they ought to be at school and wandering about looking for work when they are men, no better than their parents, no happier, and worse, probably, far worse, for things get worse in new countries, not better, you know, for the poor. We dream about them, poor fools as we are, when they are at our breasts, and persuade ourselves because we wish it so that they'll be something better than us – but they won't, likely. How can they be? It is working women's babies who grow up to be working men and to go to prison often and to be hungry and wretched and struggling at the best, ninety-nine out of a hundred. How can the little babies help it? They have no chance and the men who have votes and rule the country will not make them a chance.

Of the girl-babies I won't speak. How can one speak of it? The lives in front of them we know. Every mother in the land knows , if she's been brought up to work, the dangers ahead of the little darlings, the insults, the pitfalls, the aching heart and head and limbs, the weeping for very weariness, the dull, hopeless patience that comes at last. What will our girl-babies do, most all of them, but be in the next generation what women are in this? And it isn't good enough. Do you know I could kiss the dead face of that poor mother who drowned herself with her babies the other day because she was afraid for them? If I weren't such a coward I believe I'd like to do that myself supposing I didn't feel any hope.

But I have hope. There must be an end to this somehow. It cannot be that we mothers are going to let it go on always – always. Surely women will say some day that either things must be different or they will not let the little babies come to suffer so. And surely if one woman had one vote she would get things altered some how for it is the laws that are wrong, only the laws, and the way things are managed.


Thursday, 8 September 2016

Australian Politics of Disappointment. Why won't they trust us?

Anthony Abanese was Labor Membership's Choice as Leader

Australia has just had an election which was won by the Liberal Party, by one vote. Deeply divided within itself, this Party is unlikely to be able to work with the diverse New Senate it created with its Double Dissolution "tantrum". A chaotic time lies ahead!

"We could have won with Albo!" Wishful thinking, I know, but as a grassroots member of the Labor Party it's hard to get past this thought. If the Labor Party hierachy had heeded the wishes of its members and chosen the popular and respected Albanese as leader, we could well be in government now. Ordinary people might have hope for the future, with a leader who understood their struggle. Albo comes from a disadvantaged background himself (as described in a recent biography by Karen Middleton Telling it Straight). He might have been able to unite the disparate voices!

Instead, members were over-ruled in favor of Bill Shorten, who is simply not trusted by the electorate. People remember his machinations behind the scenes when two former Labor Prime Ministers (Rudd and Gillard) were deposed. So many friends told me they supported Labor but could not possibly vote for Shorten.

Hence the rush of voters to support Pauline Hanson, who at least seemed like a real person, albeit with some dangerous ideas. There is real desperation in the need for voters to have someone (or something) to believe in. We see this in the UK and US as well as in Australia.

Our lack of trust in our leaders comes from one simple fact. They don't trust us! Parties obviously don't even trust their members, leaving important decisions to an elitist few!

In the end we, the people, have the numbers, not the "numbers-men" of political parties. It is foolish to ignore us! 

Lucinda Sharpe

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Albert Namatjira's Artistic Heritage

Extract from ABC News
By Shuba Krishnan
Posted about 7 hours ago
Artist Gloria Panka who is Namatjira's grand daughter
 Photo: Granddaughter of Albert Namatjira, Gloria Panka is continuing his artistic tradition. (ABC News: Shuba Krishnan)

Rodney Matuschka peels back the framed painting by Albert Namatjira — worth an estimated $30,000 — and runs his fingers along the frame where insects have been boring into the canvas.
"Look at where the painting meets the frame, you can see it's coming away," he says.
"You can see that there's evidence of insects here and dust and that's getting into the back of the painting there."
Mr Matuschka is the site manager at the Hermannsburg Historical Precinct, a National Heritage site built in the 1880s.
Namatjira grew up in Hermannsburg at the Lutheran Mission and the surrounding MacDonnell Ranges were often the main subjects of his paintings.
One of the buildings at the Historical Precinct, once a house for the missionaries and their families, has become a makeshift gallery housing more than 70 watercolour works of Namatjira and his relatives.

The birthplace of modern Aboriginal art

Two original Namatjira paintings hanging in the Namatjira Room are valued at $30,000 to $40,000.
Mr Matuschka says the collection was significant in Australian art history.
"The collection as a whole is really the birth of Aboriginal art, other than the art that they did themselves in rock," he says.
"I guess it was the birth place of modern Aboriginal art."
Albert Namatjira 
 Photo: Albert Namatjira became a household name in the 1940s and 1950s. (Supplied: Joan Woodard)

Mr Matuschka said the paintings are badly deteriorating and are in desperate need of restoration.
With no temperature control, he said the building is not suitable to house paintings.
The paintings are also cased in old, cheap pine frames and are gathering dust, he says.
"The artwork needs cleaning, restoration and framing ... It would be really sad if a collection like this was lost," Mr Matuschka says.
"These paintings are quite wonderful and here they are in a condition that isn't conducive to their survival."
Namatjira was born in 1902 and from an early age he showed an interest in painting, a talent he later developed under the tutelage of a visiting Melbourne artist Rex Battarbee.
Battarbee encouraged Namatjira to pursue a painting career and before long his distinct style — a coupling of popular Western watercolours with his innate ability to capture his country — began turning heads.
Though he travelled often, home was always the Central Australian desert.

Family members protect Namatjira's legacy

It has been around 70 years since his art first captivated the country.
At the height of his success Namatjira had sold out art exhibitions, with his paintings fetching prices he could hardly imagine and earning praise from the Queen.
The 1940s and 1950s saw Namatjira become a household name, with reproductions of his works hung in homes throughout the nation.
But in recent years his unique style of water colour landscape painting have lost ground to dot painting and more contemporary styles.
Iris Bendor manages the Many Hands Art Centre — Namatjira's relatives are directors of the company — and its aim is to continue the Namatjira legacy.

'Important the artistic tradition is transferred to younger generation'

Ms Bendor says Namatjira's relatives were trying to preserve his unique style of painting.
"I would say that we are the only art centre in the world that paints with this tradition, with this style of painting," she says.
"There are probably around 15 artists here at the art centre and I think that most watercolour artists that paint in the traditional Namatjira style do live in Central Australia."
She says with an ageing of Namatjira's descendants the focus has to shift to the younger generation if the unique art form is to survive.
"There are some key artists like Gloria Panka, Lenie Namatjira, who are direct grandchildren of Namatijira, and Ivy Pareroultja, who is the daughter of one of the three Pareroultja brothers, and they continue to paint," she says.
"But they are in their 60s, and there are not many young people that are painting in this style.
"It's very important for the artists that this tradition is transferred to the younger generation and we're taking steps to do that, but our capacity unfortunately is limited."

Restoring the originals

In Hermannsburg, Mr Matuschka says he needs funding to restore the original works to ensure they survive for future generations of artists to take inspiration from.
Mr Matuschka is applying for restoration grants, but estimates he will need $40,000 to $50,000 to restore the collection.
"Through the National Library of Australia there is money available for the restoration and reframing of art collections, but the amount of money that you can actually tap into at any given time is relatively small," he says.
"I believe the figure is around $15,000."
An artist at the Many Hands Art Centre  
Photo: Artist Gloria Panka works on a canvas at the Many Hands Art Centre, home to the Namatjira watercolour artists. (Supplied: Many Hands Art Centre)

Mr Matuschka says the restoration would also help promote the old historical town of Hermannsburg to tourists.
"I guess they're drawn initially by the heritage historic nature of the place, but they are also drawn by the fact that they're familiar with Albert Namatjira," he says.
"So for us this collection is a major part of what people are here to see and that makes it doubly important to look after," he says.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Israel's Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company visits Australia for Sydney Opera House premiere

Extract from: ABC NEWS

By Monique Schafter and Myles Wearring
Updated Thu at 9:50pm

Map: Sydney 2000
Israel's Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company is one of the world's most original and innovative forces in modern dance.
It was founded in 1973 on a kibbutz — a communal settlement — by Yehudit Arnon, an Auschwitz survivor who developed a dance village which continues as the company's home base.
Yehudit Arnon
Photo: Yehudit Arnon, founder of Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, died in 2013.
The company is currently in Australia for the world premiere of a new work called Horses In The Sky at the Sydney Opera House.
Arnon died three years ago, but the dancers continue to live and work together.
"She was a very strong and special woman that I loved," artistic director Rami Be'er says of Arnon.
"She had to stand in the snow (as) punishment by the Nazis because she refused to dance for them. Then she told herself that if she gets out alive from this, she will dedicate herself to dance. And that's how she later founded the company."

Life in a kibbutz

Be'er was three when he was placed in a kibbutz kindergarten where Arnon was the teacher.
"She recognised, that's what she told me, when I was three years old, my talent, my ability, my potential."
Rami Be'er
Photo: Artistic director Rami Be'er says the kibbutz the dancers live in is "a very special place".
He joined the company in 1981 as a dancer, went on to be a choreographer, and became artistic director in 1996.
Be'er's company is based at Kibbutz Ga'aton in northern Israel — one of around 200 kibbutzim around the country.
"It's eight kilometres from the Lebabon border and it's a very special place," he says.
Dancer Nadav Gal describes life on the kibbutz as being like living in small village.
"Everyone knows everyone, you have just one store, or one coffee place, one big centre and this is almost the whole village, the whole kibbutz," she says.
"It's really developed in the past few years as a dance village. Lots of dancers come all over the world to be there.
"Because we are such a small place, the people really get to know each other. Sometimes it's a good thing, sometimes it's a bad thing. It makes us more together."

'I'm not a word person at all'

Roni Ben Simon and Nadav Gal  
Photo: Dancers Roni Ben Simon and Nadav Gal.
Dancer Roni Ben Simon says each member of the company has their own individual style.
"Each one is his own personality and you can really see on stage different movement. We are not like robots, the same.
"Actually every dancer has his own movement, his own colour and I think it's because the kibbutz is allowing this to happen."
"I'm not a word person at all, so it was really a way for me to belong to something, to feel confident, to feel beautiful on stage, this is what it gives me."
"It's the safe place to do and be whatever you want," Gal says.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Let's Bring Back the “Fair Go”! Let's Try a Universal Basic Income!

Australians have always believed in a “fair go”. It is a part of our culture. We've lost sight of this over the past few years with the growing gap between rich and poor, the old and the young, even city dwellers and those who live in the bush.

Perhaps Now is the time for us to think about the dignity of a Universal Basic Income, an unconditional payment given to every citizen to cover essential living costs. With the predicted loss of 40% of jobs in the next ten years (due to technological change), unemployment figures will skyrocket! Our Government will no longer be able to demonize those on welfare as the “leaners”and the“tax-nots”! This number of people cannot be consigned to poverty on Newstart, our unemployment benefit which has not been increased in real terms since 1994.

Universal Basic Income, about to be trialed in Canada, Finland and The Netherlands, would provide the opportunity to work, study, start a small business or be involved in the Arts. This would mean an increased standard of living beyond basic needs. A popular idea in the sixties, it was tried in the US, India, Brazil and Canada with promising results. Workplace participation actually increased, since workers could afford work costs like transport and childcare. Health and education outcomes improved; there was less domestic violence with women having financial independence.

Then, the stumbling block was the fear of inflation. However today many countries around the world are suffering from deflation. With so much money in the hands of the rich, economies are struggling. We all know it is the poor who spend! Our former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd knew this when he gave modest amounts of money to those on low incomes at the time of the GFC. This helped Australia to emerge economically triumphant! Imagine how a Universal Basic Income would boost our economy now!

Imagine,also, the social equity of a system where “the wealth of the country looks after all” (to quote another former Prime Minister, the great Gough Whitlam). Of course, multi-national companies would hate this idea since they want us ordinary people to be fighting each other over the mean bones of what little work will be left to us in the future!

It would of course be very expensive. However, it could be paid for by eliminating almost all need for Social Security. Tax allowances and deductions would go (compensated for by the Universal Basic Income.) A fairer society may well mean less need for police, jails, health services or the current myriad of “bandaid' social programs needed to cope with the lack of a “fair go”for all!

Lucinda Sharpe