Eliminating The Competition

Siobhan harrisSiobhan Harris attacks new laws designed to lock out minor parties from the Federal Election:

New laws set to double the deposits lodged by
federal candidates contesting elections may force small parties from
participating in the electoral process.

Small parties including Australian
Sex Party, Australian Democrats and the Hemp Party have questioned the timing,
only ten weeks out from the federal election (Ed: Family First and the Liberal Democrats have also attacked this decision, although not joined in the coalition of minor parties). They believe that this is a
deliberate attempt to reduce competition. The official reasoning given has been
that doubling the deposits "will simplify the ballot"

The coalition of minor parties argues that, “any party who gets
through the rigorous registration procedures administered by the AEC and wants
to run above the line to maximise the registration of their party name, will
now have to stump up an absolute minimum of $32,000 (8 x $4,000) to run a
federal senate ticket”. This however will not be troubling the major parties or
the Greens, because they’ve polled at above 4% their costs are paid by you, the

Minor parties face a lot of hurdles funding
their campaigns and covering their deposits. Major parties receive significant
funding  through businesses and unions, as well as the taxpayer. Minor parties however are hugely
dependant on the donations of involved individuals especially in the early days
of the party’s formation.

A strong democracy needs diversity; it needs a
broad pool of ideas for it to flourish. Punishing small parties for a silly
excuse may threaten this precious democratic system. We should either embrace
other forms of voting that assist minor parties or instead look into the
effects of having an electronic voting system. 

Siobhan Harris is a student at La Trobe University. 







Tax me healthy

Siobhan harrisSiobhan Harris shares her mini compendium of political clichés.

If schadenfreude is more your thing, you’ll be
pleased to know that we’re not the only ones battling the Nanny State. In the
supposed land of the free, the New England Medical Journal has offered some creative new measures that I shall
call lifestyle taxes. Not just one idea, but enough lifestyle taxes that would
make even Nicola Roxon blush.

Excuse the excessive quotations but
no commentator could possibly convey the seriousness of these hilarious
suggestions. Let the quotes speak for themselves.

Beginning any sentence with,
‘Instead of merely taxing tobacco sales…’ should give you an indication.

‘[the federal government could
offer] a tax credit to people who submit documentation that their body-mass
index is in the normal range or has decreased during the year’. That’s right,
trained medical professionals relying on the notoriously unsuitable BMI. As a
super fit rower back in High School (before I learnt about other much more
enjoyable lifestyle choices) I was considered just overweight. Then I took up
those more enjoyable lifestyle choices and lost weight. I could have received
tax credits just by taking up smoking and drinking and ditching the weights.

This one is my favourite. ‘It could
tax individuals who fail to purchase gym memberships’. So if running in the
park is what you love, bad luck. Off to the gym for you, fatty!

‘These strategies depart from
traditional uses of taxes by targeting omissions and noncommercial activities
that are important drivers of chronic disease.’ Thankfully there’s an
acceptance that ‘some interventions we’ve outlined would never survive the political
process, given prevailing antitax sentiment’. Yes, because your ideas are
bonkers. ‘But such sentiment may fade as the economy recovers or become less
important if Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives’. Direct

When Thomas Jefferson said ‘the
price of freedom is eternal vigilance’ we understood, we knew that fighting for
freedom would be an uphill battle. But perhaps we didn’t fully realize how
steep that hill would be.

The piece concludes, ‘this
opportunity now awaits its political moment’. Let’s just hope that ‘moment’ is
far far away. 

Siobhan Harris is a student at La Trobe University.







Let’s Get This Party Stunted

Screen-Shot-2012-07-20-at-5.21.23-PMSiobhan Harris discuses how a proposed ban on nightclubs closing at 1am will lead to more irresponsible drinking and alcohol-fuelled violence:

Melbourne Mayoral candidate John Elliot is calling for nightclubs to close at 1am. He argues that this controversial move will put an end to street violence and keep Melbourne CBD residents safe. This ill-conceived promise will make street violence worse and ensure that residents feel less safe.

Nightclubs in Melbourne typically open around 9pm or 10pm, so if this measure were to come to effect, nightclubbers would only have 3 or 4 hours to enjoy themselves. But of course, nobody goes to a nightclub as soon as it opens (unless free entry before 12pm is offered) because girls and boys are busy getting ready or travelling from suburbia. Plus everybody knows the vibe peaks around 12pm.

When I was a receptionist at a restaurant I used to finish my shift at 2am every weekend. No matter how tired I was I wasn’t going to let another weekend pass me by without hitting the dance floor. So I would head to the nearest club, dance my legs off, drink and head home. It was the perfect system, all of my friends would be there and we shared some very memorable moments.

If I wasn’t able to do that, I’d take the party home. House parties would flourish, and what’s more, there’d be no legally responsible person telling you you’ve drunk too much or no security guard to boot you out. You’d just drink until you spewed and probably drink some more. House parties are so much more dangerous than nightclubs, underage drinkers aren’t asked to present identification and the booze is usually a rocket fuel concoction of spirits and soft drink.

But let’s just say nightclub X closed its doors at 1am, this would result in an outpour of club patrons all fired up and angry that they’ve been asked to leave. So they do what fired up and angry men and women do best, fight. Street brawls would be commonplace.

I also used to work as a street club promoter, picking up girls and guys off the street and then bringing them into the club to boost the numbers. I’m more qualified than anybody on this topic because I’ve seen the carnage on the streets when people are rejected from their favourite destination. I asked a guy once if he’d like to come in, he said yes and we headed to the door of the club. Unfortunately for him he was rejected because the bouncer suspected that he was drunk. This man travelled all the way out from the outer suburbs to drink and he was not happy, boy was he not happy. He punched the nearest guy walking past and both of them started throwing punches left right and centre. I’ve also witnessed a stabbing, the guy said it felt like getting punched really hard in the stomach.

I live in Melbourne CBD and I’ve even lived on King St. What I don’t want to see is a mass exodus of drunken idiots annoyed that they can’t party on. I want nightclubs to end when they feel that they should. Not to mention the effect it would have on small businesses. Nightclubs, bars and strip clubs would have to cut corners that would probably include job losses.

We can’t afford the extra street violence, we can’t afford the cost to businesses and we can’t afford to close our clubs just because some misguided candidate has a disproportionate fear towards youths.

Siobhan Harris is a student at La Trobe University. 

Youths and Alcohol: the great moral panic

Screen-Shot-2012-07-20-at-5.21.23-PMSiobhan Harris rejects arguments for further alcohol regulation, and argues we need a return to personal responsibility:

Yesterday the National Summit on Alcohol Marketing to Young
People was held in Parliament House in Canberra. The event was in association
with the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAF).  In attendance were public health experts,
non-government organizations, law enforcement bodies, youth associations and
‘experts in alcohol’.

Together they reached a ‘broad consensus’, that youths were
being exposed to alcohol advertising and marketing. They also list the ways in
which youths were being exposed such as social media platforms like Facebook.
They patted themselves on back for understanding that we’re in a new age of
technology and social media and youths get their information from a variety of

Music, cultural and sporting events and clubs were said to
normalize drinking as it’s promoted as part of a fun and healthy lifestyle. They
found that the current policy is insufficient in addressing the problem of
youth drinking. Together they called for greater regulation along with four
major demands. Greater regulation is always called for when creative measures
are not considered.

So together they set about a list of demands. The first
demand on their list was a comprehensive inquiry into marketing and promotions
exposure to focus on how the marketing is targeted towards youths, assess the
exposure of sporting and cultural events and demanding that the alcohol
industry provide transparency into their annual expenditure on promotions and

The second demand was to conduct an independent review and
analysis of research on promotions and advertising on attitudes and behaviours
of youths in relation to alcohol consumption.

The third demand, arguably the most noteworthy is to produce
a ‘failure analysis’ of the voluntary industry administered code of alcohol
practice that currently operates in Australia. The final demand was, as is
always the case in moral panics, a call for greater regulation by the

So how did they come to recognize youth alcohol consumption
as a public problem? The document makes no mention of trained medical
professionals providing an evidence based approach, nor were reliable
statistics used to supplement their assertions. In fact the document makes no
mention of any reasons for the need to act. Why? Because it was unnecessary,
there was already a broad consensus.

Without blinking an eyelid they have exaggerated the
‘problem’ of alcohol consumption by youths and have blamed the big bad media
for causing further harm. Media theorists can’t even agree on the effects of advertising
let alone a group of morally superior Nanny Statists. Youths have often been
the focus of insidious attempts fuelled by public outcry that leads to
government intervention into the lives of youths. Such intervention is often
punitive, counter-effective and leads to a significant social division.  

The current restrictions on advertising is already a
stranglehold of creative license. Take for instance the Alcohol Beverages
Advertising (and packaging) Code under Section C;

i) must not depict the consumption or presence of alcohol
beverages as a cause of or contributing to the achievement of personal,
business, social, sporting, sexual or other success;

ii) if alcohol beverages are depicted as part of a
celebration, must not imply or suggest that the beverage was a cause of or
contributed to success or achievement; and

iii) must not suggest that the consumption of alcohol
beverages offers any therapeutic benefit or is a necessary aid to relaxation

I mean really, alcohol achieves many of those outcomes, but
we just can’t say that. We can’t say
what we really think because the government has to tell us we’re wrong, tells
us that alcohol is bad for you. The Nanny that cares for us, government knows
what’s best for us.

Alcoholic brands also help fund sporting clubs in local
communities, all that does is associate the brand with a community focus. To
suggest that people automatically associate alcohol with a fit and healthy
lifestyle is demeaning at best.

Every time we let the Nanny care for us, we sacrifice our
civil liberties, often incrementally over a long period of time. That way we
won’t notice, we accept the next small change. The more we get bossed around
the less likely we are to learn from and experience risk. The more power we
give to the Nanny, the more it will take until eventually regulation is so
strangled that we’re banned from activities, behaviours, speech or appearance.

The government and all Nanny Staters should learn that
sometimes the best action is inaction. Let individuals make their own decisions
about how they consume alcohol, let them experience risky behaviour. Remove the
ridiculous restrictions on advertising and let people make up their own minds. 

Siobhan Harris is a student at La Trobe University. 

The Race for Gold Hits Taxpayers

Screen-Shot-2012-07-20-at-5.21.23-PMSiobhan Harris looks at the burden our Olympic Team places on the taxpayer: 

Watch the Budget Reply in Canberra and you’ll see the Opposition throw their arms up, grind their teeth and clench their fists over Swan’s budget. "What waste! How do you justify spending taxpayers dollars on that rubbish!" They’ll carry on. But when it comes to funding our athletes, our parliamentarians are in agreement; take whatever you want just bring home the gold. And take they did, at a great expense for not much gain.

The Australian Olympic Committee recommended we throw more money at the problem of our dwindling medal count. So the Gillard government, in a fit of national pride, decided to allocate a further $2.5 million including $1 million on swimming. Swimming used to be our medal jackpot but with Stephanie Rice, Ian Thorpe and the much over hyped James “The Missile’ Magnussen in the pool they’ve done nothing but sink our hopes and our wallets.

According to Dr James Connor, Australian taxpayers spent around $588 million on the Australian Sports Commission for Olympic sport, he thinks a generous estimate per gold medal sets us back $49 million. That’s a lot of money for a brief photo opportunity.

We’re as proud as punch when they play our national anthem and our athletes are wearing their daggy green and gold best on the podium. But what about every other athlete that doesn’t get to taste medal victory. The slightly less bendy gymnast, the less synchronised swimmer, the shorter jumper. They’re still enjoying the fruits of our taxpayer dollars.  

We have to tear ourselves away from the spectacle of the games and appreciate just how much money we’re spending. It’s not an easy thing to do and it certainly isn’t popular. But all government funding requires scrutiny, and we can’t afford to be wasteful.

Speaking of scrutiny, let’s look at the composition of the spending, Equestrian rakes in $50,000. Because apparently horse ballet, braids and smartly fitted attire are all part of the Aussie spirit. The government already funds sports that sit on a hierarchy, so who misses out? Softball for one. The point is, if we’re going to be picky about who we fund, we should also be picky about how we fund and why.

The Australian performance has been lacklustre despite large increases in government spending. When Australia throws money at Olympians, they don’t always return the favour. Why is it ok to reward bad athletes? We can’t assume that every mediocre athlete will be able to emulate Stephen Bradbury’s remarkably lucky win.

Australian taxpayers have spent $700 million over the last four years in preparation for the London Olympics. John Coates, president of the Australian Olympic Committee and chairman of the Australian Olympic Foundation doesn’t believe we’ve spent quite enough, and thinks we should be amoungst the heavy weights such as Germany and the UK who’s spending is out of control, splurging $1.2 billion each. Each Australian is forking out $30.97 to support the Aussies whereas each German is only having to pay $14.69. Not a lot of bang for our buck considering we’re dragging behind at 19th place. 

The sponsorship jokes are already running rife. Cadel Evans being sponsored by a vitamin company only to drop out of the Olympics due to ‘fatigue’. Or how about the Commonwealth Bank predicting Magnussen to take home the gold on national television. It’s fine if private companies take a gamble on our athletes but should the Australian people foot the bill for Gillard’s gamble? The real issue is that Olympic funding means we can’t fund better projects or initiatives. Funding in health, education or granting tax cuts would be a far better use of the public revenue.

So the next time the government outlines their spending, think about the Olympics and the real cost to taxpayers. They can dress it up in fancy green and gold costumes, they can distract you as athletes hop, skip, jump, lift, shoot and push but the fact of the matter is, it’s just another cost for Australian households. 

Siobhan Harris is a student at La Trobe University.