Habad, Leadership, and Abdicating Responsibility

I have a confession to make – I am not Habad*.

The reason for this is that I do not believe in certain elements of their ideology, and that is fine. They would say the same about me and that is the reason that they are Habad and not religious-Zionists.

However, I have over the years had a number of interactions with the Habad movement, and have a tremendous amount of respect for them and the work they do.

This brings me to the point of this post, which is less about Habad than it is about all the other Orthodox Jews in the world.

How is it that everyone else has managed to drop the ball so comprehensively that the religious elements of the Melbourne community have been outsourced almost exclusively to the Habad movement?

The Beit Din (Jewish court of law), Kosher food certification, and a majority of the shules (synagogues) and communal institutions all have the stamp of Habad on them. In fact it is rare for an organisation not to have some element of Habad on its clerical team.

For that, Habad should be congratulated. And all other Orthodox Jewish groups should be condemned.

I would like to focus for a moment on the religious-Zionist and modern-Orthodox movement (I am still unsure how to divide them). When was the last time that they produced a rabbi or religious leader in Australia? Why do they need to put on a black hat before they can consider becoming a rabbi? Is the belief in their ideology so weak?

Why is it that there are shules and centres run by Habad popping up all over Melbourne, while the other communities are still loath to leave the Caulfield/East St Kilda area?

Why are there so many shules that claim to be Modern Orthodox, yet their clergy are almost exclusively Habad? And of the few rabbis that are Modern Orthodox almost none are Australian born or raised.

There is an apathy that seems to run through the Melbourne community. No one wants to be the first, no one wants to stick their neck out.

Through this attitide, we have gifted our spiritual legacy to people whose religious beliefs are not ours. Granted they are still Orthodox and Jewish, and I am not suggesting that by appointing Habad rabbis we are leaving our religion, but I would want certain non-Habad ideals preached to me and my family by my rabbi.

There are a number of ways however, that we can redirect our efforts to succeed in changing the course of events.

1) Schools: The Jewish school culture needs to shift from an obsessive focus on elite university courses to a wider variety of vocations. A carpenter, plumber, electrician or even a rabbi need to be presented as legitimate vocations. There should not be a fear of the unknown, rather we should embrace the possibilities and how great our communities could become.

2) Community: We have no reason to fear living outside of the Jewish enclaves. Before opening various bush shules, we can start with areas closer to home. There are significant Jewish communities in all of Caulfield’s surrounding suburbs but few other than Habad are willing to set up shop there.

3) Money: Talk is cheap. If we want our children to believe that we genuinely want them to participate in communal life, we have to prove it. Communal professional positions need to have prestige. We should be giving scholarships to those who wish to follow this path (there are some schools who are beginning this process), and most importantly, such vocations need to be able to compete with other professions in terms of desirability. If a person wants to be either a rabbi or an accountant, the position of rabbi has to compete favourably in conditions and wages.

4) Action: Most important of all is to act. From numerous discussions with many people, I know that many people will agree with the sentiments presented here.  But without concrete action to change things, this will become just another article.

If we really believe in our religious traditions, the schools, institutions and families need to be encouraging our youth to pick up the slack and see communal work as a vocation rather then a bit of volunteer work that needs doing.

And it needs doing here. There is no point running off to Israel – which is thriving Jewishly – while there is a leadership void in Australia that threatens continuity.

The only way we can truly judge our religious education is through its outcomes in adulthood. And outside of Habad, our education in Australia has proven itself to be incredibly selfish. It is now up to us to change it.

*Habad is an ultra-orthodox movement within Judaism.

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Hanging on to Hope for the Hung Parliament

The elections have come and gone, and now we’re launched into the great unknown.

So what have we learned about the politics of Australia in the past few weeks?

1) The Greens have gained the status of a genuine third party and now hold the balance of power in the Senate, and possible in the House of Representatives. But have the seeds of their destruction been sown in their success?

I have argued previously that the Greens are lucky to have Bob Brown and perhaps he will be able to save the Greens from themselves.

Someone mentioned to me that it would seem that the Greens are divided into three factions – not a good situation when their parliamentary party room numbers only 10.

Firstly, there are the disaffected voters looking for a party that is neither Labor nor Liberal. Secondly, there the genuine green warriors who only care about the environment and finally, there are the radicals who are fighting the establishment and Tony Abbott. These are the watermelons – green on the outside, red on the inside.

This dynamic was on display when Bob Brown was standing next to Adam Brandt at a press conference on Sunday. Brown was talking about finding a path to stability and talking to both leaders of the major parties, speaking of a genuine consensus that will be needed if the Greens are to be a real third party.

Bandt, meanwhile, was only willing to consider a Gillard offer.

He will have to be taught the importance of party loyalty as will all the new Senators (such as Lee Rhiannon who has already bucked Browen’s directives regarding her Senate campaign), otherwise the Greens may soon ape the major parties with a leadership spill of their very own.

They will have to be the balance between the two big parties – as opposed to an ideological juggernaut that acts as a spoiler against the major parties – and while Brown has expressed his willingness to fill that space, he will have to bring the rest of his party with him.

2) The new government – whatever its composition – is going to have a hell of a time trying to appease the Greens and Bob Katter.

In Europe there are countries that have parliaments made up of numerous parties and always have minority governments. The difference is that in Europe, there are usually a ‘right block’, a ‘left block’ and then a middle ground of parties that swing both ways. It is usually this middle block that allows stability by supporting the largest party (or block) from either side.

Many times the party with the largest primary vote doesn’t form government if it cannot command the majority of the parliament.

The problem here in Australia is that there is no one sitting in the middle. The Greens are to the left of Labor, while the three independents as a block would probably ideologically fit in with the Liberals. Should one of the blocks not command a majority it would be up to the cross-benchers breaking into two (since I cannot see Bob Katter sitting in a government with the Greens), and making up the numbers for Labor. Uncomfortably.

3) Most people are seeing this election as unprecedented, but it has not emerged from nowhere. This result is the culmination of three years of unprecedented events in the political landscape. Here is an incomplete list of some of the highly unusual goings on:

. Rudd gaining the Labor leadership without being part of a faction.

. Rudd’s incredible rise in popularity.

. The sitting PM (Howard) losing his seat.

. Rudd’s sudden crash in the polls.

. The change of the first term PM due to bad polls (even Gordon Brown was allowed to go to the elections as leader in spite of very obvious public dislike for him).

. The ousted PM remained in parliament and recontested the next election (the last PM to do this was Whitlam in 1972, and he continued as leader of his party).

. The rise of the Greens – eventually gaining a seat in the House of Representatives.

. The hung parliament.

. The high level of informal votes.

The sheer number and importance of these novel events mean that the Australian political landscape no longer resembles any previous maps.

4) Herein lies the main lesson in the election, things will be changing in Australia over the next electoral term (whether it lasts 3 years or not).

Politics in this country lies at the crossroads and the window of opportunity for genuine and meaningful reform lies in this electoral term, where so much can still happen.

The Greens could succeed and become a constructive force in politics, Parliament could be reformed to better suit democracy, and the Greens experiment could even give voters the will to vote for more minor parties with confidence. We could even see the rise of a fourth or fifth party.

This result might even encourage the major parties to reconnect with the people (as opposed to focus groups) via local members looking after their constituents.

There’s legitimate cause for optimism as well as trepidation as we await the results of this unprecedented election.

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Elections 2010 – The Ugly

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Election 2010 - the good , the bad, and the ugly

The ugly get very ugly.
These are the groups that – given any power – would do considerable damage to the country. Beware: there be monsters here.

Senator On-line: D
This party has no policies.
This may sound strange, unless you take the populism that exists in the campaign to the extreme.
The party plans to be merely a bum on a senate seat, and propose that all significant legislation be put to online referenda.
Sounds like a great idea, until…
Who would like to vote for lower taxes? And how about increasing government spending across the board? Most people?
This party is the quickest imaginable route to bankruptcy, as the Californian example of a similar system – though far less radical over there – demonstrates.
Professional politicians are elected precisely to make difficult and at times unpopular decisions in the national interest. This party’s vision transfers that decision making to the realms of narrow self interest.
And the party has yet to outline how it will draft amendments or if it even intends to provide checks and balances for the House of Representatives.
In short, Senator online is a disaster waiting to happen.

Shooters and Fishers: C
This is another single issue party that has sprung up over the past few years.
The focus of the party is fairly self explanatory, except that they seek to elevate the rights of the states over the rights of the federal government. This is essentially taking the nation back to federation where the nation was a committee of fractious states.
They are also focused on the issue of hunting/fishing to the exclusion of all else. Their main platform is: if something goes against the right of someone to hunt or fish it should not be allowed.
Their other point is “an immediate moratorium on (all) new immigration applications. Such moratorium to remain in place until the Commonwealth has carried out an audit of Australia’s natural resources, in particular, water and energy, and until a referendum is held to set the optimum population levels.”
No statement as yet whether they plan to shoot boat people.

One Nation: D
There was the rise of Pauline Hanson, then the fall, and now we have the continued irrelevancy of our very own far-right party. And obscurity suits them.
The party seems to be in complete disarray, and their website is amateurish, providing very little useful information.
Two points should be made about this party:
1) The One Nation candidate at the Higgins by-election actually seemed to improve the perception of the party at an environmentalist event by virtue of the fact that nobody could understand him.
2) On their website the party make the very rational and reasoned argument: “One Nation has no friends in corporate Australia. Mainly because corporate Australia is 90% foreign owned, and they know we represent Australians only.”
Enough said.

Christian Democratic Party: E
The Christian Democrats, or the Fred Nile group, have some wonderful policies.
They support religious freedoms and they advocate managing the environment in a sustainable manner. They are also strong on education and supporting rural communities.
If only they would stop there they might seem like a viable third party; however, as with many unsound groups and philosophies, if you get their proponents talking, the silly ideas escape into the open.
For example they claim as a Christian nation, we should be giving preference to immigration from Christian countries, because such people will have an easier time integrating into Australian society (no comment whether an Ethiopian Coptic Christian will get preference over a Bhuddist from England).
And they are for the internet censorship.
And for a moratorium on all Islamic migration to determine if Islam can viably be integrated into Australian society.
And they are for the state sponsoring Christianity as a state religion.
Mixing Church and state is only seems like a good idea if it is your religion being accepted. It is hell on the others. Especially when those at the mixing bowl are nutters like Fred Nile.

Socialist Equality Party: E
There are a few parties around the country who have not read a newspaper since 1990. For such folk such as members of the Socialist Equality Party, let me sum up the last 20 years. The Cold War is over and Russia (or the USSR as they would prefer it) lost.
The language of the party is the sort used in underground literature from decades past, and calls on the workers of the world to unite, focusing on nationalisation of everything and destruction of all free enterprise…
Then they start to get silly.
Some of the quotes from their election statement:
“The official 2010 election campaign is a fraud. It is not being held to provide the Australian people with a “democratic” choice… The only purpose of the election is to put an electoral stamp of approval on the June 23-24 political coup that removed Kevin Rudd, and on the fashioning of a new, far more right wing, government.”
And yet they are still participating in this fraud.
“Behind the elaborate facade of parliamentary procedure and national elections stands the naked dictatorship of capital.”
“There is no peaceful solution within the existing social and economic order. Once again humanity confronts the danger of imperialist war unless the capitalist profit system is overturned by the international working class”

Socialist Alliance: E
The Socialist Alliance seem to be cut from similar cloth to the Socialist Equality.
They come across as a small group that meets at university campuses to discuss politics with  people who already agree with them.
Still, they manage some beautiful hyperbole:
“The Socialist Alliance stands for socialism – a democratic society run by and for working people, not the greedy, destructive elite that now rules.”
“The Socialist Alliance is made up of people who, like millions of others, are sick of being ruled by warmongers, racists, union-bashers”
Some of their brilliant policy includes:
“Cap rent and mortgage repayments at 20% of income.” Ignoring what will happen when many Australians will not be able to afford rent? Shipped off to government sponsored housing? Who will pay for it? Really, it’s a case of, the same homeless levels, just with far higher taxes.
“Bring back all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan; isolate apartheid Israel.”
I know I promised not to bring Israel into these reviews, but when it is a party’s only fully articulated policy, it is hard to ignore.
The distance between this party’s policies and reality is the equation of the Afghan war and what’s currently happening in Israel. Also, we have to ask, are these socialists against Afghan women’s emancipation? Do they support the brutal anti-intellectualism of the Taliban who are fighting against the Australians?
And of course there is the standard call for a dedicated Israeli war crimes tribunal, along with calling on the end of the occupation, the right of return etc.
And not a word on Darfur. Or Zimbabwe. Or Saudi Arabia. Or China. Or Burma…
Are these socialists concerned with human rights or do they prefer jumping on the the beloved leftist cliches and hobbyhorses.
Don’t forget this is a socialist party concerned with the workers’ ability to take over the means of production, as well as universalism. And yet their only developed policy is about destroying Israel.

Citizen’s Electoral Council: E
How could a party with such an innocent sounding name be so evil and hate filled?
There are many follies to point out, such as their call to nationalise all mineral wealth in the country and much inspiration from notorious Fascist, Lyndon LaRouche. To understand the LaRouche movement, it is worth noting the wording of a placard at a LaRouche rally: “Global Warming – As fake as your girlfriend’s orgasm”. They also support colonising Mars.
They seem to want high spending and lower taxes, but everything that we need to know about this party can be summed up in the first paragraph of their policy on electoral reform:
“The current spate of State and Federal calls for ‘electoral reform’ are a sham, with but one purpose: to negate the rising popular support for the pro-national sovereignty Citizens Electoral Council, and to entrench the existing, private financier-owned “major” parties (including the Greens) in power, as the world and Australia along with it plunge into the greatest economic/financial collapse since the Black Death of the mid-14th Century. ”
Nationally they got 0.22% in the lower house and 0.07% in the upper house. Yep I’m sure it is the major parties preventing their rise.
For other similar gems, browse their website. Comedy gold.

Secular Party: E
If all we had to go on was a name, there would be many people would might find the Secular Party a very good idea: a party to ensure the separation of church and state.
Great! I’d support that.
Unfortunately that does not describe this party. If you want a genuinely secular – as opposed to anti-religious – party, vote for The Australian Sex Party.
The Secular Party is best described as religiously atheist. They hate God and the religious in any manifestation. Their main aim is to legislate for the supreme trust in the power of science. This is, of course a false dichotomy: numerous scientists are religious.
Their philosophical framework isbased on ‘humanistic secular values’ as if these are absolute. They conveniently ignore the clear evolutionary link between such values and the Judeo-Christian tradition.
They also claim that “religious beliefs impose and give rise to an increasing intrusion on civil liberties and provide an unwelcome source of social disharmony.” This is an example of poor logic that is all too common among atheist fundamentalists: the assumption that all evil in the world has its origin in religion.
So how do they plan to ensure that everyone in the world remains rational and irreligious?
Firstly, they assure us that despite their strong language, they do not intend to interfere with individual religious practise. In their own words: “Only secularism can guarantee religious freedom, and we endorse this freedom. However those who adhere to faith-based morality frequently seek to impose their religious views on the entire population”.
Lovely – except such tolerance can only go so far. The Secular Party are vehemently opposed to “religious attire at schools”, so a Muslim woman would not be allowed to cover her head in contradiction to the laws of her religion and Jewish men and boys would be similarly constrained. Truly free. Our great protectors.
Their policy at schools do not end there. “The Secular Party believes that the religious indoctrination of children in schools violates the rights of the child.” I would take this to assume any religious education classes will become illegal, thus opening the way for them to indoctrinate children in their own rational ways.
There are two ways to separate church and state.
The first is to clamp down on all religion so that it does not leave people’s homes. Then the secularists can rule the streets.
The second is to allow everyone the freedom to act in a way that suits them, whether at home, at a government building, or at school.
The secular party have taken the former approach. What would their goals be long term? A delegitimising effort similar to the type taken against smoking? Only selling religious artefacts in plain white wrapping?
And their language is full of bile and venom, bested in this campaign only by Mark Latham.
The language is frankly offensive to anyone with even the smallest amount of religious feeling, and it covers every corner of their website.
Even though I do not want to bring Israel into the discussion, I feel I must share with you all the single most ridiculous solution to the Middle East problem of the entire campaign.
The Secular Party on Israel:
“The only possible long-term solution to the Middle East problem, consistent with principles of honesty, compassion, freedom and justice, is a unitary secular state in which all people have equal rights. This will perhaps require a degree of compromise that all sides will find painful to accept. To allay Jewish fears that a specific homeland is required for their security, the Secular Party proposes that a coalition of countries be formed that will guarantee their asylum in the event of their persecution. [emphasis is mine]”
To keep the stand up routine going they then claim “Astoundingly, it seems that perhaps no political leader anywhere has ever put forward this proposition.”
I wonder why.

Stephen Conroy: E
Ok, I know I already wrote about Labor, but Conroy is a very special case.
He is the architect of the internet filter – that wonderful piece of proposed legislation that allows for the government to hold a secret list of banned sites – not all of them pornographic, and they will decide what is too sensitive for our eyes to see.
Conroy has earned the disgust of the global internet community and even the Obama administration for trying to introduce this filter, which only has parallels in some of the most despotic countries around the world.
The places that enjoy comparable filters are China, Iran and North Korea. Definitely beacons that we should be following.
It is for this reason that every responsible citizen in Victoria should take the time to vote below the line and place Conroy last at number 60 on the Senate ballot paper.

So this concludes the review of parties standing at the coming election. Remember, it’s important to vote below the line on the Senate ballot so that your  preferences are not left to chance. There are two places that can help organise your votes below the line:

And put Stephen Conroy last!

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Elections 2010 – The Bad

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Election 2010 - the good , the bad, and the ugly

This group of parties and individuals – “the bad” – actually comprise the middle band of candidates: they’re not great but shouldn’t wreak too much damage on the country. As before, marks are assigned from A (the best) to F (the worst)

The Greens: D
The Greens are very lucky to have Bob Brown.
Brown presents well and is extremely diplomatic. He lends a veneer of legitimacy to a party that is otherwise littered with serious problems and internal contradictions, that are usually ignored by their supporters and some in the media.
The Greens are much more than Bob Brown. Greens deputy leader, Christine Milne, is actually far more representative of the party. in both style and substance
She exudes a superiority as a birthright and sets herself apart from “ordinary” Australians and will have to reinvent her political persona entirely if she gains the leadership upon Brown’s retirement. Just a few moments of watching her on YouTube or on Q&A should be enough to turn most people off voting Greens for a very long time, and according to some of the twitter responses to her  aggressive and patronising performance on Q&A several weeks ago, that is exactly what she succeeded in doing.
Another example of the gulf between the Greens and the wider electorate comes an environmental forum held in the run up to last year’s Higgins by-election, in which candidates from a number of parties touted their environmental credentials. The audience was almost entirely composed of  environmental activists so winning over the room should have been a given for the Greens candidate. But somehow with  the toxic mix of arrogance and aggressive moral superiority, Clive Hamilton, the Greens candidate, lost everyone within the first minute of speaking.
The final example is Senator Hanson-Young and her igniting the  the ‘no means no’ controversy. All of a sudden the Greens announced that a phrase that thousands of parents use to discipline their children on a daily basis can now only be used in reference rape, and any person who uses it otherwise is insensitive and advocating sexual abuse. Never mind that she said nothing when another Greens Senator, Scott Ludlum, earlier uttered the phrase well within earshot of Hanson-Young. This speaks of hypocrisy and political points scoring that the Greens would like to pretend is only the purview of the major parties.
Hanson-Young’s brand of hysteria is likely to be the future of this party, but the Greens current problems are just as significant.
The party is known for their strong beliefs but not their ability to compromise. In the Senate, the most best type of party to hold the balance of power resembles the old Democrats, genuinely looking for compromise without stopping the governing of the country.
The Greens are the opposite. They are generally obstructionist, slowing the senate – sometimes to a complete stop – so that they can get their opinions on the record. Rather than work, they seem to have more fun showboating for the  media and their constituents. There are some positive signs that they are learning this important lesson in governance, but for the smooth running of the parliament such lessons need to be absorbed far more quickly.
A pretty good rule of thumb in Parliament is, the more you are in the chamber, the less important you are. The Prime Minister and Treasurer are almost never there, since they have work to do in their office. They don’t have time to spend  on the floor of the House, unless they have important business there. The back benchers are there more often but are also not a permanent fixture. Bob Brown and his gang , on the other hand, seem to be a constant feature in the Senate. And it is virtually impossible to go through a day in Parliament without Green members contributing their two cents worth.
And then there are the contradictions in policy. They promote a small, sustainable Australian population but are against restrictions on immigration. They support women’s rights and freedom of choice, but vocally  support of a number of  regimes that actively oppress women.
They are ideologues, unburdened by practical concerns, and proudly take up the area to the left of Labor. But this is not what we need from our third parties. While it is good that the people the Greens represent have a voice, the most useful third parties are in the middle between the two parties pulling them towards the centre, helping to improve legislation based on the greater national good, rather than a narrow ideological position.
Finally, the Greens occupy a luxurious position: they enjoy a considerable public profile and media attention which they use to propound their impractical moralistic agenda. They do not, however, currently wield any real power, so they do not have to worry about coherent and consistent policy. The moment they are in a position in which their platform can be implemented, their internal contradictions will soon be exposed.
There is only one exception to my Greens antipathy: the 6th Greens candidate, Liezl Shnookal will receive a higher preference on my Senate ballot. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a silly name.

Joseph Toscano: C
While a list of anarchists (in the sense of not believing in government) on an election ballot may seem a little contradictory, there is nothing conventional about Toscano, who is standing as an independent.
While some of his policies are in all likelihood unworkable, that is not a reason to ignore him. The most compelling reason to vote for him,  would have to be the degree to which he would shake the government and the electorate out of their lethargy.
His beliefs are mostly anarchist or socialist, advocating mostly small or no government, while still helping out the little guy.
His greatest strength is his strong personality which would bring a number of issues to the fore that would find popular support outside of the parliament. This would raise the profile of issues that are too often ignored in Parliament.
It is important, however, to take into account Toscano’s preferences in order to get a complete picture of the candidate. The main beneficiaries of his preferences are socialist and other far left wing parties. This points to a man who is leaning closer to radical socialism rather then true anarchism.

Carers Alliance: B
The Carers Alliance are essentially a single issue party, who are standing for greater assistance for carers around Australia.
While this is an admirable goal and would lead to a better Australia, they lose marks for being a single issue party. Single issues are better suited to lobbyists, not members of parliament.

Democratic Labor Party (DLP) – D
The DLP are essentially the Labor party with a heavily Catholic influence, except that the members of the party are genuinely labourers rather then the career party functionaries that populate the Labor party.
This gives them a advantages and disadvantages over their hated sibling (and they do hate each other).
They genuinely understand the plight of the average worker, but on the other hand they are very conservative in their social outlook, and are looking for tighter government controls in many areas.
Imagine a Labor party that was conservative, such that they were anti-gay marriage, for an internet filter, pro-life… actually come to think of it, this isn’t all that far from the ALP.

Grant Beale (Independent) – C
Beale seems to be running on local issues for rural Victoria.
The little I could find on him it would indicate that he is mostly harmless, has some good ideas for his local area, but doesn’t really have the depth or breadth necessary for a truly effective Parliamentarian.

Climate Sceptics – C
This would appear at first glance to be another single issue party which is about taking the view that human induced climate change is false.
But when the policies of the party are examined, they do have a fairly good vision for the country  if one looks beyond their primary -  and highly problematic – cause.
Without spelling out their vision in too much detail (a flaw they share with other parties) they call on the government to increase transparency and flexibility while reducing red-tape.
They have a vision for unemployment, housing, water (the “real environmental crisis” of our day as they call it), and good governance to name a few.
Aside from the dubiousness of taking a minority view on climate change, they present themselves as a safe pair of hands for the country with a solid world view.

Family First – D
Family First is not all bad, contrary to what is opinions expressed in the media and the wider community. Their greatest sin seems to be taking a very, very conservative view on life.
They are, however, also for a smaller government,  are looking to boost trade, and small business and their policy regarding asylum seekers is expressed in very sensitive, compassionate terms.
But then we see the bad, and it is there in spades. Ironically, the propose policies that would require more government control (the internet filter, control of public ad campaigns) which directly contradicts their calls for smaller government.
They are vocally against gay rights (are homophobic, even), abortion, and are very conservative with regards to child rearing, all of which would require an increase in government.
When these two sides are weighed up, the negative clearly prevails, but not quite enough to put them in the next category down. If elected there are still positives that they can offer the Australian public.
Now if they could only get their candidates to keep quiet…

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Election 2010: The Good…

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Election 2010 - the good , the bad, and the ugly

Continuing the series on the Australian Federal elections I have done a quick analysis of many of the minor parties contesting these elections, giving them a mark from A to F.

In this section I have listed what I believe are the best of them. These are mostly parties and individuals who are focused on good, constructive, and/or inovative governance.

The Australian Sex Party: B

It’s true: The Australian Sex party promotes sexual – and other – freedoms. And yes, It receives funding from the porn industry.

But let’s be honest – the big parties get money from big oil, big tobacco, and big banks. In the virtue stakes, I’m not sure how much difference there is.

The Australian Sex Party, however, also stands for things that would be very good for Australians, such as the separation of Church and State, strong opposition to the internet filter, government transparency, and individual freedom of choice.

And they have principles. Family First wanted to discuss a preference deal for the Senate such a deal could have worked significantly to The Sex Party’s advantage; however, the Sex Party turned Family First down because the two parties have completely divergent philosophies.

First on the Victorian Senate List for the Sex Party is Fiona Patten whose mark deserves an A mark.

Ms Patten is a very good operator who, from what I have seen of her, deals honestly and on principle. She has the personality, political/lobbying experience, and character to make an important contribution in Canberra.

Australian Democrats: A

That the Democrats are no longer in parliament is a great loss to Australia.

Before losing their way – and all their senate seats – the Democrats had a reputation for being some of the hardest working members in both houses of Parliament.

Their reason for their being was to sit between the two large parties in policy matters, and to weigh up each piece of legislation that came into the parliament. They would then determine the pros and cons and suggest a small number of amendments that would improve the legislation.

They saw their role as not to block legislation, but rather to enhance it. They would take a piece of legislation find the holes and close them.

A good illustration was the GST legislation. The Democrats may not have agreed with it, but they acknowledged that the Coalition had a mandate to legislate. The Democrats therefore took the legislation and negotiated with the government to improve on the final product in the interests of the Australian people – for example, in pushing for the removal of GST from fresh food. And they did it despite knowing it would be unpopular among their voting base. This is a true example of leadership.

Their decline was rapid, but from what I have read about their recent activity, it seems that the political wilderness has helped them return to their original purpose.

Liberal Democrats: A

The Liberal Democrats in Australia are not equivalent to their British namesake. They are indeed closer to the Libertarian Party in the USA.

This party believes in getting the government out of our lives. They believe in the primacy of individual choice and freedom. And of course there is the libertarian mainstay of lower taxes and lower spending.

But with governments today writing more laws and expanding government reach and complexity, it is a good thing to have a party that wants to simplify the system and cut out much of the red tape.

The one danger with libertarian philosophy is their desire to remove too much government involvement. We do need some government control, and there are many instances in which the public good requires intervention from the state. It is a delicate balance and without a track record we have no way of knowing if the Australian Liberal Democrats would successfully negotiate these competing demands.

Building Australia – C

In spite of a long search online, initially I could not find anything about this party, and it seemed that their only policy was to have a strong sounding name.

After more searching, however, the reason for the difficulty in finding them online is dueto the search term “Building Australia” having been purchased by a number of construction companies, pushing the party far down the list.

Once found (at they seemed to be a group of practically minded people from the building industry. They believe in building infrastructure around Australia and streamlining the building industry.

With the discussion on the first weeks of the election centring on sustainable living, I would suggest that the infusion of some practically minded builders into the mix might be useful.

Stephen Mayne – B

Stephen Mayne is running as an independent in this election, with his wife on the ticket with him.

Mayne’s platform is based on an anti-pokies, pro-immigration stand. He is probably viewed as a serial pest by the major parties, having run in a number of elections as an independent.

A journalist by profession, Mayne founded He went on to greater notoriety as a shareholder advocate. He has bought a few shares in numerous large, public companies in order to gain access to their AGMs. He has also run for the boards of these companies.

Mayne uses the media effectively, appearing on TV or radio programmes to call for more principled behaviour from big business, whether that involves serving shareholders better or manufacturing goods in a more ethical way.

Now Mayne is targeting the pokies, and the big parties’ conflicts of interest in this area. For example, the family of Liberal candidate, Julian McGauran, owns a pokies venue while the Labor party owns four such venues.

He is a single individual who is fighting a worthy battle against a much bigger machine.

This list details the good elements in the election. Coming next: the bad and the ugly.

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Election 2010

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Election 2010 - the good , the bad, and the ugly

Alex Fein writes:

When this election was first called, I was worried that Yaron might spontaneously combust from sheer excitement. Instead, he has simply written a comprehensive guide to every political party – major, minor, and batshit crazy – that will contest the Senate election.

We’ll present them here as a series.

Yaron Gottlieb writes:

Ok, I will admit it – I am a troubled soul.

I listen to parliament on the radio.

I vote below the line in the senate.

I knew about the redistribution in the Victorian electorates and that Caulfield will not be in Melbourne Ports after this election as soon as the information was released on the AEC website due to compulsive checking. According to some political insiders, I knew before Michael Danby, federal member for Melbourne Ports.

I will be dedicating the next few posts to reviewing the elections and the parties involved. Not just the ‘big three’, but every party and independent that is running in the senate elections in Victoria.

I will give each of these parties or individuals a grade:

A – A force for good and positive for the country.

B – Reasonably positive for the country with some minor reservations.

C – Harmless.

D – Force for bad and evil.

E – Super-villain.

In this post, I’ll begin with the two major parties (Labor and Liberal).

Labor: D

It isn’t just that they have gone with the American spelling of their name which should be reason enough to vote against them. The Labor party, at both the state and Federal levels, are extremely good at encroaching on our freedoms.

•  In South Australia, just prior to the last election, people commenting on blogs or anywhere else online in political matters had to identify themselves by name. By law. The South Australian Labor government made any anonymous (comments without a full name and postcode) online political statements illegal.

•  In Victoria, our Myki public transport ticketing system will enable the police to track the movements of commuters without warrants or any other checks and balances.

•  In NSW state Labor seems to be using the state as their own private play thing. Often, government business feels more like organised crime – just not so organised.

•  Federally, Labor is proposing an internet filter with a secret blacklist of unacceptable sites. Government determines what is on the list and are not compelled to inform anybody of their actions. When Wikileaks published the leaked list, it too found itself on a revised blacklist. When polling revealed that the filter was a certain vote loser, the party put the proposal on hold (not cancelled, just on hold).

•  The Federal Government also had the brilliant idea of compelling ISPS to store and make available to government the internet history of every Australian. This information will then be available, most likely without without checks and balances, to an unnamed group – possibly just the police or maybe to politicians as well.

We have no idea about the details because when the document was released under a Freedom of Information request, 90% of the document was blacked out. The reason given by the government was that discussion on the topic “may lead to premature unnecessary debate and could potentially prejudice and impede government decision making“.

Then there is Labor’s style.

They made a big show of the moral obligations that climate change demanded of them before scrapping various plans (such as the ETS) as soon as polling showed them as electorally problematic.

I won’t bore you with the stories of wastage, since such stories also exist about the other side of politics and are amply demonstrated by many Howard era policies.

An example of a very specific Labor style of climate change mismanagement unfortunately affected numerous Australian businesses while doing the environment very little good.

Over the past three years, numerous companies have had to contend with extreme uncertainty surrounding the pink batts scheme, that was introduced, then scrapped with a reintroduction promised, before being canned for good.

Then there were the rebates on photovoltaic solar panels that were also scrapped. Solar hot water units experienced a similar treatment.

Instability is the biggest barrier to good governance, and with the government willing to change things so often it bodes very poorly for the country as a whole.

Liberals: B

Now there is probably a fair bit of teeth gnashing and shouting at the computer screens as people look at the mark I give the Liberals compared to Labor, but let me explain myself.

I do not agree with everything that is Liberal party policy. Not even close.

A short list of things that I would like to see done differently would include the environment, water, policies regarding gays and lesbians, asylum seekers, education and regional infrastructure. And this list was made without thinking too hard. I’m sure if I put some effort into it I would come up with many more elements I object to.

Pragmatically speaking, though, there are only two parties with a chance of governing the country. The chances of finding a perfect fit, in terms of policy, is almost nil.

I would be surprised if the candidates themselves believed in all their parties’ policies n totality. At least the intelligent ones.

Australian democracy is about finding the best fit, and not about discovering your perfect match.

My vote will eventually boil down to two factors:

1) Personal freedoms: the Liberal Party has come out against the internet filter. This alone positions it as far more likely to guarantee personal freedom than Labor.

2) Stable government: the Libs proved under Howard that they were able to govern effectively and stably for 11 years. I may not have liked a number of their policies, but Australia was not subject to the daily whims of the prime minister, the party factions, or party pollsters. At least not publicly.

In the next post some of the better smaller parties will be assessed.

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This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Kosher Scandal

In an unprecedented move the Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria (COSV) has come out against the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, demanding transparency in the Rabbi Meir Rabi kashrut debate.
The Galus Australis blog provides a copy of the COSV letter here.
Rabbi Rabi, a Melbourne rabbi, has started his own authority to certify products as kosher and has met with opposition and sometime open hostility from various members of the community.
The Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) released a public statement alleging the standards that Rabbi Rabi had set were not sufficient in their eyes and that their congregants should not eat food prepared under his supervision.
This statement was highly problematic on a number of levels.
The RCV felt there was no need to articulate the actual problems with rabbi Rabi’s procedures. Instead, the RCV preferred to issue general and vague warnings that were intended to strip Rabbi Rabi’s authority of any legitimacy.
Such opaque behaviour only fanned the flames of speculation that powerful elements with the RCV who have their own certification authorities were defaming Rabi in order to protect their own turf from competition.
The president of the COSV, Paul Korbl was sufficiently disturbed by these events to write the unprecedented letter of rebuke to the RCV Rabbis. For this, he should be commended.
As disturbing as the RCV’s possible defamation in order to protect their own interests, is their refusal to provide concrete religious arguments for their campaign.
Such a refusal is entirely out of step with the role and expected behaviour of rabbis in Jewish life.
In Judaism, every rabbi is expected to provide answers to questions that include the logic and the process that they have used to reach the conclusion.
Even the greatest rabbis of each generation will give the reasons for his answers to the most simple of questioners. No question is off limits to the lay person and Judaism does not operate on the basis of blind trust.
Yet there are members of the RCV who have openly stated that they are not willing to publicise their logic. Their reasons are that there are many people who are not well versed in Jewish law and the rabbis therefore do not want such ignoramuses to dismiss the complex rabbinic reasoning because of misunderstanding, and subsequently eat Rabbi Rabi’s food.
Is the RCV proposing the end of the great Jewish traditions of debate, logic and transparency?
The Jews throughout history have lionised the educated layman. The rabbi is not supreme in the religion.
There is nothing from a religious standpoint that a rabbi can do that an educated layperson cannot.
This is our goal as a nation, to know what we must do and how to do it.
It is inevitable that people will make mistakes when given the responsibility of gathering the knowledge themselves instead of relying on the rabbis; but this is preferable to Jews’  mindless acceptance of unreasoned spoon feeding. The latter may ensure the average person keeps the laws in the short term, but it weakens the nation in the long term.
To be absolutely clear – the RCV’s missive was not a Jewish response, and their answer is not sufficient.
The ‘just because’ response has never been good enough in Judaism and it still isn’t. Until some concrete reasons are given for their pronouncement I will consider the RCV statement irrelevant.
Any proper RCV response must be public and transparent. Coming and explaining to me or someone else privately is not enough. What makes one person so much more important than others that that individual deserves a private consultation, while the rest of the community is asked to remain ignorant?
And if the food is really not at an acceptable level of kosher let the sins of those who eat it rest on RCV heads, because they have sat on information and refused to share it with the public.
So to the RCV, release your reasoning and let us see why you feel that Rabbi Rabi’s authority is not acceptable. If it stands up to scrutiny I will follow you. But at the moment you are failing the most basic of Jewish principles: that open debate will lead to the best outcomes.

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Bad Ideas, Bad for the Jews, and Bad for Democracy

Recently the Federal Government re-affirmed their commitment to setting up an internet filter to censor what Australians can view online.

They then decided that this might not be a great policy to spruik right before an election, so they decided to delay it for a year – but they have not scrapped it.

Such a filter would mean that we fall into line with Iran, North Korea and China in government blocks on the internet, or like other liberal democracies, avoid such censorship?

Most people who consider the proposal fully agree that this is a very bad idea.

This consensus exists even on the assumption that the filter would serve its main intended purpose: blocking child pornography. According to just about everyone in the industry, such a filter could be bypassed by anyone with minimal technical skills.

Also, most child pornography is distributed via peer-to-peer mechanisms which no filter could ever block.

But this is not the only cause for concern. The list of banned websites provided by Wikileaks is very troubling.

Some of the sites to be banned are in fact illegal; however, a large number of the sites contain content that is merely objectionable to certain elements in government, such as euthanasia and legal porn. Other, even more innocuous, sites have made it on to the list only to be removed after Wikileaks publicised the list.

Wikileaks itself is out of favour with the Government which has publicly stated that the black list needs to remain secret.

Within the Jewish community there are a number of individuals who I have spoken to who have come out in favour of this filter.

Their main contentions are that, 1) it is good for the government to censor some of the nastier anti-Jewish sites and 2) there are certain elements of society that need to be hidden from view.

I shall deal with each argument in turn:

1)      A bad idea does not become a good idea simply because the bad idea is supporting your point of view.

And this filter is a very bad idea. If the filter promises to block all anti-Semitic sites, what would stop the arbitrators from changing their minds to blocking all Zionist websites should the winds of politics one day blow in that direction?

It is a narrow world view that analyses every political move within the framework of whether something is ‘good for the Jews’. This position’s short sightedness often creates ill will in wider society that ironically ends up being very bad for the Jews.

2)      Placing decisions that should be ours alone to make, in the hands of the government is both an abdication of moral responsibility and very dangerous.

We must not forget the politicians making these decisions are the people who turn on their former ‘friends’ to serve if electorally necessary, and who sacrifice their ideals on the alter of pragmatism every day.

Even if there is an independent group determining what will be censored and what will not, it still presents a problem.

It is possible (even likely) that I disagree with many of the lifestyle choices expressed in the online world. But such disagreement is very different from acting to close down our ability to see and think about these options.

While closing discussion might provide a false sense of security in the short term, it may also creates a population that will be unable to think effectively for itself, and which is therefore vulnerable when confronted – through whatever means – with proscribed material. Essentially our society is weakened without the immunity built up from years of having to make real decisions regarding the content we view.

The biggest worry regarding the filter, however, is how much of a non-story it was.

The news agencies in Australia seemed to bury it and it died as a newsworthy item in only several days. This is in spite of it being close to the most commented on story in both the Australian and The Age online. Similarly, we are yet to hear the Opposition come condemn the filter as a matter of policy.

Even with such little coverage, there was enough public hostility to the filter that the Government decided to delay it until after the election. The filter does, however, is still part of the Government’s agenda.

From the reaction of readers on The Australian and The Age websites, the delay may not be sufficient. Almost unanimously, commenters wrote that this issue had the ability to change their vote.

In addition, Senator Conroy, the architect of the scheme, is now up for election in Victoria, and there are many who are advocating voting below the line on the senate ballot. They hope that in putting Conroy last, there will be a sufficient protest vote that will throw him out of office.

This online advocacy stands in stark contrast with the silence of politicians and the media. It is frightening how easy it will be to give up our freedom.

Genuine historical watersheds are rare in Australia, but this is certainly one. If we ignore it and hand over decision making to those for whom politics trump good sense and morality, we leave ourselves vulnerable to continuous encroachments on our freedom and, perhaps, even greater abuses perpetrated by those in power.

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Kicking ‘Em Whether They’re Up or Down – What Israel Folau and Al Gore Have in Common

In the past week, while reading the papers online, a couple of articles jumped out at me.

The first was a story in the Daily Telegraph about NRL footballer, Israel Folau.

It seems that the big news is that he is a decent person (and in the NRL that is big news).

He is a devout Mormon and donates money to his church. He supports his family financially, lives on only a small allowance, doesn’t drink or take drugs, and comes across as decent and well adjusted.

Nothing too scandalous. Until you read the comments.

There is a sizeable minority of readers who manage to find fault. According to them, Folau should not be supporting his family, the Mormon church should not be taking his money, and unlike the real NRL “stars,” he is just plain boring.

Good deeds seem to make some people very uncomfortable.

This can also be seen in a story in the Jerusalem Post by Shmuley Boteach as he takes Al Gore to task for his environmental activism, but not before pondering at length the nature of Gore’s alleged sexual assault of a woman.

Boteach’s main point, after casting aspersions on the woman at the heart of the scandal in a way that would make any rapist’s defence lawyer proud, is that human welfare should come before concern for the environment, and that Gore’s focus on global warming is responsible for a failure to care about the suffering of fellow human beings.

By itself, this point that can be reasonably debated, although it should be acknowledged that lack of concern for human suffering predates Al Gore’s environmental campaign.

This point, however, is a strange one to raise at this time – especially considering the moralising about not destroying a man’s reputation that begins Boteach’s article.

Quite simply, if Boteach cares so deeply about not being distracted from human suffering, why didn’t he argue this several years ago, when An Inconvenient Truth was first released?

It’s hard to avoid the feeling that Botteach’s article was more about jumping on a bandwagon – kicking a guy while he was down.

Al Gore has spent the last few years campaigning for his view of a better world and was for a while the darling of the media. But then he was accused of sexual abuse and lost his cachet.

Buried in the language of morals is a simple calculus: it is safe to crtiticise Gore now.

Such is the nature of humanity and unfortunately a number of elements within Judaism.

It is not enough to simply do good work. That good work must have some direct benefit for some people before it can be acknowledged.

What the Folau’s detractors and Boteach have in common is the ability to find fault with people who do good in an abstract way that does not directly benefit the snipers.

With Folau, this tall poppy syndrome is expressed as generally anonymous criticism from a chorus that holds little real influence. Most other commenters on the article condemned the nay-sayers.

Shmuely Boteach, however, does wield some influence. His very much self-styled role as moral paragon has unfortunately been accepted by numerous people who buy his – some would say highly cynical – books on sex.

That he uses his position to pontificate on Gore’s unfortunate personal circumstances, and then to imply that Gore is singularly responsible for the world not caring about genocides and other human rights abuses around the world scales the heights of self-righteous chutzpah.

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The flotilla and the downward spiral to Godwin’s law

Over the past week there has been a storm in the media over the incident in which Israeli commandos clashed with activists aboard a flotilla that attempted to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. For the genuinely disinterested observer, sifting between fact and fiction in this instance would seem a near impossible feat. There are, however, a few facts that both sides do agree on:
1) There is an Israeli blockade of the Gaza port that had been supported by the Egyptians until last week.
2) A flotilla containing mainly Turkish activists attempted to break the naval blockade to deliver aid to Gazans.
3) The Israelis sent its military to maintain the blockade.
4) Upon arrival, the Israeli military personnel were attacked by at least 2.5 clubs.
5) The Israeli military killed at least 9 of the flotilla activists all of whom had Turkish citizenship.

Then there are the facts in dispute:
1) Were goods bound for Gaza really blocked in their entirety, or could such goods have crossed the land borders?
2) Were there weapons beyond the 2.5 clubs on the flotilla, such as screwdrivers and knives, and were they used in a organised lynch mob?
3) Did the Israelis fire first deliberately seeking to provoke a response to which they could begin killing protesters?
4) Were the goods being delivered already present in Gaza in sufficient quantities due to the transfer of goods through the land border, making the flotilla nothing more than a publicity stunt?
5) Were the actions of the Israeli government those of piracy or those of a sovereign nation protecting its national rights?
6) Were there soldiers who were speaking with Australian accents?
7) Were there comparisons to the Holocaust by the protesters thus violating Godwin’s law?

These are just some of the major points being disputed, and a quick survey of people sending email, Facebook, or other links to articles seems to bear out that people are only interested in information that backs up their own prejudices.

There are many views on this topic, many of which will not reflect our view whatever it may be. But at present there is hatred from both sides that is unjustly criminalising either a group of protesters or an entire state.

I would call on everyone who wishes to participate in this debate (as opposed to those looking for a convenient location to attach their biases) to search first for the argument on the “other” side – the arguments that differ from your own. Look for your enemy’s justifications, and see if that sways you or allows you to discover a new truth.
It may make you see how unlikely the more shrill voices on your own side would be to convince the opposition of your views. And perhaps there might even be a meeting of the minds at the middle ground.

To view what might be the only genuinely evenhanded opinion-piece on the subject, watch Jon Stewart’s analysis – at about 1 min 15 secs.

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