Medevac and the Politics of Fear

Medevac and the Politics of Fear

In line with the various desperate and dogmatic moves made by the federal government, rhetoric has shifted increasingly to the area of final resort. From the last preponderances on dealing with climate change under Malcolm Turnbull, to the current threatening hyperbole of Scott Morrison spreading fear of “paedophiles and rapists” coming in their “thousands” to our shores, the massive shift from a position of attempting to govern to just pure politicking is fully self-evident. Whereas Turnbull initially built his leadership on an attempted departure from the reactionary conservative politics of his predecessor — of abandoning the three-word slogans — the Morrison government has been defined by its return to the roots of modern Coalition politics. Cajoling and rabble-rousing over the issue of refugees is always a fraught area and prone to borderline racism, but it too often pays dividends for conservative politicians to be passed over by a desperate conservative government which lacks any real policies; which has to concoct crises for which they can contend to hold the anecdote.1 The dangerous consequence is the vile rhetoric and the justification of hate and prejudice which follows.

The Migration Amendment (Urgent Medical Treatment) Bill 2018 or “Medevac Bill,” is a relatively benign amendment to the Migration Act which allows for refugees being detained in offshore “processing facilities”2 to be treated for medical illnesses in Australia. What makes the legislation so benign (watered down) are the various caveats that have been attached: 1) seeking medical treatment in Australia is contained to those refugees who a) cannot be otherwise treated by the inadequate facilities in PNG or Nauru, b) are not marked as a national security threat by Home Affairs, c) are already being detained, meaning that the law does not apply to future arrivals, d) are subject to a multi-week process of objection and review if the Minister chooses to interfere on any grounds, and 2) the refugee remains, for all intents and purposes, under detention for the duration of their onshore medical treatment, meaning they will be handcuffed and/or imprisoned and segregated from the public as would be a criminal.

In spite of the massively watered-down nature of the legislation, which was itself a prerequisite to attain the support of the more right-leaning independent members of the House of Representatives, the government has had to react by way of open warfare. The defeat — any defeat — on the floor of the house is a major political blunder for any government. It was secured, at all costs, by Labor for the hoped-for political dividends that would be repaid by having the government on the back-foot.3 The result has not been the calling of an early election, nor even the humane treatment of refugees, but rather a more vitriolic rhetoric from the government as it ramps up the dog whistle. Layered in alleged bleeding-heartedness for those who have drowned in transit, is a deep seated racism at its core that the government hopes the low-education and low-information voters who constitute the hard-swinging section of the electorate will hear and respond to with fear and votes for the government. The obfuscation of this nasty racism by a proclamation of supposed humanity for “preventing drownings at sea” serves as the sweet-tasting veneer needed by the rest of the more educated swinging voters in order to make the hardline anti-refugee policies of the government palatable and even justifiable.

This, notwithstanding the fact that the drownings at sea are in fact encouraged by current border security arrangements. Towing unseaworthy vessels back out into the open ocean, refusing entry to Australia via safer means of transport, and actively buying up or destroying seaworthy vessels, are all aspects of a policy that has never in fact been predicated on the supposed good-will of preventing drownings. It has always been about subtly hinting at the public that they are safely protected from the fear-inducing other; the brown-skinned and non-English-speaking desparates who maliciously await their opportunity to displace the white working class and recolonise Australia as a Sharia haven. In truth, the fear of displacement and recolonisation is a fear based on a mis-truth spread with the aim of distracting the general public from those whom they should truly fear: the wealthy and powerful elites who readily abandon any morality and brutalise and imprison the weak and infirm just to secure their own prosperity and the poverty of others. More dangerous to Australians than the possibility of desperate human beings being given some humanity, dignity, and the opportunity for a new life, is the desperate dogma of a dying government and the politics of fear which it uses to divide and destroy the lives of those detained on remote tropical islands and those who dare to question the basis of the at-its-core racist and inhumane border security policies.

Notes


  1. The only alternatives being to either develop policies to address real issues, or to admit self-defeat and resign. ↩︎

  2. This is the offical term for these places. However, if you have no alternative and are compelled to the confines of these under-resourced and over-crowded tropical camps, you cease to define the facility as a processing centre and instead refer to it as what it has become — a prison. ↩︎

  3. It would have been a tough debate internally for Labor. They recognise any issues around refugees to be an Achilles heel for them; but the potential consequences of a monumental legislative defeat for the government including greater instability and a potentially earlier election, are just too good to pass up, especially whilst they remain ahead in the polls and can take risks. ↩︎

Mobile Myki

Mobile Myki

Starting from a couple weeks ago, PTV has been running a trial of Myki on smartphones1 which will continue until the end of March. For the time being, the trial is limited to an initial sample of four thousand participants, and is only available through Google Pay, making it Android-only. I was one of those randomly selected to participate in the trial, and so I'd like to offer a few thoughts on the matter.

Getting Started

nexus6-myki-googlepay.jpeg

Firstly, the initial set-up is super painless; much easier than getting a Myki through the conventional means. It's also cheaper as you (of course) do not have to pay the $62 for the physical card. You simply open up the Google Pay app and select Myki under the 'passes' tab. You select the amount for your initial top-up, which is charged through whatever payment method you have associated with Google Pay, and the app communes with PTV to generate a 'card' with a unique ID like those on the reverse side of physical cards.3

The Local/Remote Conundrum

The end result is that the operating system can use its NFC chip as a Myki card when presented at a Myki reader. The balance, as with regular cards, is stored on-device. Whilst PTV maintains transaction records, its database is not a live indicator of the amount on your card, that information is stored on the card itself. This differs from a credit or debit card where your balance is stored remotely (with the bank/creditor) and the remote balance is considered the live balance. When using a credit/debit card you are simply authorising the reader to access the remote database and perform a transaction. Myki cards perform the transaction locally with the reader.

There are plusses and minuses to each of these approaches. Remotely-located balances (credit/debit cards) rely on an Internet connection.4 Local balance storage (Myki) guarantees you can always make use of your card even when there is no Internet connection available to the reader.5 The main drawback with local-only is that you have only one 'key' with which to make transactions. In practice, this means that if you lose your card you have to go through a refund or balance transfer process which relies on the possibly out-of-date remote database which may leave you out of pocket a few dollars. It also requires that you have registered your card so as to verify ownership. If you lose your credit card, you call your bank and they cancel it and send you a new one. In the meantime, you can continue to make certain transactions by accessing your online account. Your gym membership and phone bill will continue to debit seamlessly.

Continuing on with this, let's say you forgot your wallet at home one morning. You then realise you need to buy some supplies from the local corner store. Supposing you already set-up your credit/debit card on your phone using Apple or Google Pay, you can make transactions with your phone or smartwatch instead. You can have virtually unlimited 'keys' to access your balance.

PTV has attempted to mend this issue by way of Mobile Myki. You forgot your wallet at home? Then you can use your phone instead! Except you can't because the balance is locally stored, meaning that you effectively have an entirely separate card on your phone from what you had in your wallet. Any balance on your exisiting Myki card is not pooled with the balance on your phone. This means redundant transactions, extra money converted into Myki money, and so on. Overall, there is less flexibility than what is offered with a remote-oriented system, but more than what was offered before with the “card only” locally-oriented system.

Anyway, it is that which most displeased me with the initial set-up; that I was unable to use the balance on the Myki card I already own, and that I could not digitise the card at all. Creating a new card was the only option.

Using the Card

On my first day commuting with Mobile Myki I got a good spread of experience with which to judge the overall performance. I travelled on both trains and busses, and interacted with both the classic Myki readers and the new Vix-designed readers.

The Good

Touching on with a classic reader using a Nexus 6.

My day started with a touch on at my local train station using a classic reader. The speed was roughly equivalent to a physical card, perhaps a few milliseconds slower. However, that may just be a psychological effect from having to unlock the phone first before touching it on.6 However, the double assurance of a check-mark across your phone screen is certainly pleasing. It's also nice to be able to see the transaction history immediately, rather than delayed by up to 24 hours. Whereas previously you could access your transaction history online, only if you registered7 your Myki, because your balance is stored locally (as discussed above) you can see your touch on/off history immediately including with location and the amount debited/credited.8

The Bad

A ‘next-gen’ Vix-built reader

A ‘next-gen’ Vix-built reader

The rest of my commute went fine until I changed for a bus and encountered one of the new-generation Vix readers. I made multiple attempts to touch on but no transaction was made. Multiple different error messages were presented by both the phone and the reader, including "multiple cards detected" and "move your phone closer." I concluded that the latter error message had to be a false-positive as my phone was in direct physical contact with the reader. I extrapolated that the new readers must not have been updated for the trial and so were not signalling to the phone the exact card that it wanted, and so was being presented with every card on my device at once,9 hence "multiple cards detected."

Therefore, when making the reverse trip, I opened the Google Pay app on my phone and selected the Myki card specifically, before presenting it to the reader. The same problems, with no transaction made.

Bugs are to be expected, and it's perfectly possible that I was unlucky enough to have encountered two readers that hadn't been updated for the new mechanism, or the specific mechanics of which had not been considered in the programming for the digital card. Nonetheless, as a good beta tester, I made a report including as much detail as I could to PTV. Hopefully they can work out this issue, however a good working week on from the report I still haven’t heard back from PTV. That said, I’ve heard from others in the trial that they’ve had success with Vix readers by holding the phone in certain positions.10

Conclusion

When it works, it's a pleasure. There are certainly flaws, but these are mainly owing to the fundamental nature of Myki such as the above-mentioned issues around a locally stored balance. There’s also the problem of mixed technologies such as old and new generation readers, as well as portable (tram and bus) and stationary (train) readers. Finally, as an Apple devotee, I’m disappointed to see that PTV and Apple weren’t able to work out an arrangement prior to the launching of this beta to see an iOS Myki trial take place concurrently.11 However, I expect some continued background work to be going on between PTV and Apple on this matter. The latter has been known to make exemptions and workarounds for large enough entities such as governments or corporations.12

In practice, I believe Mobile Myki will be a net-good for the public transport system. Both for locals and for visitors. Mobile allows tourists to set up a card without the un-refundable outlay of $6 for a new card; it serves as an effective bandaid for the abandonment of single-use tickets in the transition from Metcard to Myki. It also provides an easy in-built mechanism for the refunding of a remaining balance. Single-use cards would still be better for tourists, owing to their simplicity but this is almost as good.13 Locals will benefit from having a thinner wallet or a backup mechanism for when they do forget their card or wallet at home.

Notes


  1. PTV is currently branding it as 'Mobile Myki.' I suppose once can't do much better when the starting name is the abominably named 'Myki.' ↩︎

  2. PTV charges $6 for full-fare passengers, $3 for concession/seniors. ↩︎

  3. For all intents and purposes, this is considered a ‘real’ card, meaning it can be registered and managed on the Myki website. ↩︎

  4. Unreliable Internet is a widespread issue in Australia, which probably motivated the preference for locally-stored balances for Myki, which launches well before the NBN was even announced. ↩︎

  5. This is useful for stations and busses/trams that may happen to be in coverage black-spots, as well as for the portable readers used by Authorised Officers. ↩︎

  6. Though the phone has to be unlocked to perform NFC transactions, the Google Pay app does not need to be opened. The purpose is to ensure some sort of authentication to prevent theft. ↩︎

  7. Registering your Myki de-anonymises you, which may concern you if you're privacy-conscious. Being able to view your transaction history without the website circumvents this issue. ↩︎

  8. PTV has recently stated that they will be rolling out auto-top-up and other more in-depth features to the digital card going forward, so things are looking promising and that this isn’t one of those projects that gets up and then abandoned or sees only drive-by updates. ↩︎

  9. I also have my debit and Woolworths loyalty cards loaded into Google Pay. ↩︎

  10. Indicating this may be an irreconcilable hardware issue. ↩︎

  11. My primary phone is an iPhone and I was using an old Android phone specifically for the purpose of the trial. ↩︎

  12. For example, the issuing of enterprise certificates allowing the side-loading of apps for internal use without having to go via the App Store or TestFlight. The issue with iOS devices, as I understand it, relates to the fact that Apple restricts its NFC chips to read-only for readers for security purposes. Myki needs the ability to write to the chip to transact an updated balance to the card. ↩︎

  13. It also has the added benefit of by forcing the person to use their phone, it will provide information in the system language. Coming from China and can’t speak English? Set up Myki on your phone with a Mandarin interface. ↩︎

The Danger of Desperate Dogma

As the Coalition government hurtles towards electoral oblivion this year, it has begun the process of spasmodic policy-making which defines a desperate political situation. Almost every move made from here on out is an indicator of either a last-ditch effort to claw back in the polls, to leave behind a ticking time-bomb for the incoming Labor government, or to leave some mark upon Australian society that may better engender its people to conservative politics in the future.

Idiot-in-chief Scott Morrison; credit:  Wikimedia

Idiot-in-chief Scott Morrison; credit: Wikimedia

That last type of move, an attempt to mark Australian society, was made as part of the broader culture and history wars that was launched by John Howard. This week’s prime minister, Scott Morrison1, recently announced the expenditure of $6.7 million to resurrect a replica of Captain Cook’s Endeavour for the purpose of circumnavigating Australia in celebration of the 250th anniversary of Cook’s first voyage to Australia.

First of all, given the two centuries in which European heroism has been celebrated and given room to dominate the public consciousness of Australians, it is firstly questionable whether now is the time to be again celebrating a European explorer. The main reason being that we, as a people, no longer identify as European. Even white Australians of British descent overwhelmingly identify as Australian as confirmed by decades of censuses. If anybody should be celebrated, it's an Australian. However a secondary, and I’m sure obvious reason for questioning the decision of Cook as a figure for reverence is because he’s white. At the very least, an explorer of Australian birth should have been selected, or preferably a black Australian of equal achievement. That, in the lead up to Australia Day, the prime minister would worship at the altar of European heroism is disgracefully unpatriotic. We are antipodeans of a desert continent with our own vernacular and destiny, not pasty poms on a wet, hilly island.

Captain James Cook; credit:  Wikimedia

Captain James Cook; credit: Wikimedia

Let’s be clear here, though. We know why this happened; why Cook in particular was chosen. Aside from the self-evident retrograde attitude, and the fact that Cook himself was not the first to circumnavigate Australia (that was Matthew Flinders), he was chosen in spite of all this because he stands as the historical champion of a dead Australia that the Australian Right is seeking desperately to revive. Identification with Englishmen and British history guarantees the longevity of the monarchy in this country, and of the deference to established norms of casual racism towards ethnic minorities, in particular the indigenous races. The hope and belief in the Anglo-Saxon race as the tamers and cowboys of this wild land directly contradicts the traditional view of indigenous communities of humans as custodians and embryonic entities within the land. This is why they didn’t erect fences, exhaust resource stockpiles, or hunt species into extinction. That, however, is another whole can of worms.

The Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison, and maybe one day soon, Dutton government, has been using as its last tool in its arsenal as it now finds itself exhausted of political capital, desperate dogma. In addition to the Cook matter, the federal Home Affairs department has declared its intention to ramp up its war with local councils across the country who refuse to acknowledge Australia Day by threatening to curtail their delegated powers in areas such as citizenship. Let’s keep in mind that these councils are freely elected and that if their constituents are in disagreement with the way their local council chooses to deal with the thorny matter of Australia Day, they have the power to vote them out. Instead, Queenslander Peter Dutton has used his royal prerogative from the throne in Canberra to disempower elected councils in Melbourne to appease the retrograde and petty commentators and Sydney-siders who constitute the rabid base of the Liberal party.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton; credit:  Wikimedia

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton; credit: Wikimedia

Continuing on with the matter of citizenship, is the use of power granted the executive previously2 in order to strip the citizenship of Australians suspected of engaging in foreign wars, in particular those fighting with Daesh (Islamic State). In effect, once the war in the middle-east is over, we’ve declared we will shirk any responsibility for the judicial consequences for these alleged criminals. Instead, they will be rendered stateless and the responsibility of the already over-stretched United Nations, or else they’ll find themselves heading ‘home’ to a country where they may still have vague familial connection, a country which is then forced to take responsibility for something Australia refused to. Though the law prohibits the rendering of people stateless by international convention, the Home Affairs department has already done so. International law was broken to win a few votes. The government’s official message is that this is justified as some kind of retribution, that it is okay to take away these people’s passports and deny their citizenship on the basis of alleged crimes. Retribution should never form the motivation of customs and border protection. When and if these people attempt to return home they should be welcomed back and promptly put on trial for their crimes so that justice may be served. This is a clear attempt, using the little power left to the government, to win some votes from the low-information swinging constituents and to rally the right-wing media to the government’s side.

All of what has been mentioned so far has limited consequences, but still yet consequences. Like their disgraceful marriage law postal survey, the dog whistling of “white is right” through Cook, hardline border policies, and racial insensitivity around Australia Day, make it more acceptable and normalised to subtly push a message of intolerance and even outright hate towards ethnic minorities, and in particular towards indigenous peoples. It makes a mockery of the rule of law and of liberal democracy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; credit:  Wikimedia

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; credit: Wikimedia

If you’re looking for broader and more impactful consequences of the desperation which has led this Liberal government to use its limited power to propagate its dogma for political purposes, you need only to look to the shiny jewel that was until recently Liberal heartland in the federal division of Wentworth. That a by-election there could somehow be contrived to have real impacts on foreign affairs in the middle-east is something of which only either idiotic or desperate governments could be capable. They did just that, by assuming that the disproportionately large Jewish community in Wentworth would somehow all automatically be Zionists who would consider Israel the prime motivating factor in the casting of their vote. The loss of Wentworth in spite of the Morrison government’s announcement of its intention to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is clear evidence of the aforesaid stupidity and/or desperation of the government. The consequence was an immediate souring of relations with most Muslim-majority countries, in particular Indonesia who is a significant trading partner. When the Morrison government later walked-back its statement saying that it would be only recognising West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel whilst withholding recognition of the East as capital of Palestine, it managed a truly noteworthy feat: of pissing off every single party to the debate. Israel rejected the half-hearted recognition, Palestine expressed disappointment, and Indonesia put trade talks on hold whilst expressing its own concerns to Australian diplomats. These are real and dangerous consequences of a desperate and dogmatic government.

Where the dogma comes in is from the position of Israel as a darling of the Western Right owing to the coalescence of leftist groups around Palestine due to the various breaches of international law committed by Israel in its ongoing efforts to colonise Palestine. This is further complicated by the dimension of religion and scripture. Christians believe and hope for a day of Judgement, the end of the world, which can be brought about only by the building of the Third Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. By recognising Israel’s capital as Jerusalem, Christians see this as a path forward to the rebuilding of the Temple there and the bringing about of Revelations. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is a devout evangelical Christian so I would not discount the notion that this religious dogma may have partly played a role in his calculations on this move.

Next, on a less-heated topic, I would mention also the office of Governor-General ('GG'), which has an upcoming vacancy. GGs generally serve for around five years, though there is no set limit as they "serve at the pleasure of Her Majesty." That said, in practice, the Prime Minister appoints a new one every five years, with the current GG's term due to expire early this year just before the next election is due. Logically, the opposition leader Bill Shorten wrote to the PM asking that the term be temporarily extended past the election so that the new appointment may be made by whoever wins the next election. One wouldn't want to spend five years under a GG appointed by the previous government, considering that the GG still has the same powers he did when the elected Whitlam government was dismissed and a fresh election called in spite of Whitlam having the confidence of the House of Representatives. That another future GG may exercise those powers again isn't entirely out of the question, but the remote likelihood is mostly nullified if the appointee to the office is appointed by the prime minister incumbent for the GG's term of office.

General David Hurley, future Governor-General; credit:  Wikimedia

General David Hurley, future Governor-General; credit: Wikimedia

It is clear that Bill Shorten will be the next prime minister of Australia3 and so he should be able to enjoy the confidence of the GG, whoever that may be. That confidence is eroded when a lame duck prime minister (Morrison) makes a last minute appointment on his way out the door, which is exactly what he's done, when he announced David Hurley, the current Governor of New South Wales4 as his appointee to succeed the current GG. This appointment was made unilaterally without any consultation with the Opposition (as is usually done) and Hurley himself made no attempt to qualify his acceptance of the position on Labor's consent, nor even to attempt to offer some confidence that he will be an impartial GG. Further, the announcement was made, with Hurley present at the press conference, which was purposefully scheduled during Bill Shorten's opening speech to the Labor National Conference, a triennial event used to serve as a circuit breaker and a reinvigoration for the Labor party heading into an election. Morrison's use, and Hurley's consent to be used, calls into question the impartiality of Hurley as well as the motives of Morrison. It is impartiality which is the one attribute of a GG which is of greatest importance, alongside an apolitical disposition. This entire conundrum with the GG is one that would be resolved with any model for a republic, but I'll leave that for another time.

The prime consequence of the GG matter is to undermine the future Labor government, and it is not the only means by which the current government is doing so. The final matter to be mentioned is the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), which can be considered a sort of mini-budget. Like a budget, it is often extremely political and has its numbers manipulated to make things appear rosier than they actually are, with GDP played up, unemployment figures played down, and wages growth ignored altogether. The greater the manipulation, the harder it becomes in the next budget or MYEFO to keep up the charade, especially if there is an economic downturn or unexpected change in economic conditions which underpin the manipulations. This is the other, more significant way in which the government seeks to leave a turd on the desk for Bill when he gets into office. Any budget hereafter will inevitably have to show something nearer reality than fantasy and will provide ammunition for a future Liberal opposition to say "Ha! We told you Labor can't manage the economy!" The real victim here, however, is not Bill Shorten. The Labor party cooked the books when it was in office as well, and has made many decisions that put party before country too. The real victim here is the general public.

Whether it is on the matter of social cohesion, economic certainty, democratic legitimacy, everything goes out the window when you have a desperate and dogmatic government like the one we have today. The only thing curtailing them is that they've lost control of the Parliament, but that doesn't change the immeasurable damage they have and can continue to cause through control of the executive which can only be changed with a fresh election. One can hope the cross-bench in the House of Representatives may use their power to bring about an early election, but that seems doubtful at this point. It seems more likely we will endure months still of posturing and time-wasting by a dying government. Even Liberals are saying Scott's time is up and he needs to put the public out of its misery.

Notes

  1. I refuse to use his moniker ‘Scomo’ as it unfairly humanises the monster who, as Immigration Minister, oversaw the militarisation of customs agencies and the persecution of refugees in violation of international law. I am also not petty enough to use the deserved derivation ‘Scumo.’
  2. When the government was still barely in control of the parliament.
  3. Assuming there isn't another coup in the Liberal party, bringing a certain Queensland policeman into the Lodge. Dutton is certainly desperate for that prime ministerial boost in his marginal division.
  4. New South Wales, of course, because the Liberal party has in recent times pretty much become the Go Sydney and Fuck Melbourne party. Just look at the pathetic infrastructure spending in Victoria by the current government.