Category Archives: Politics

Why Victorians should not put Senator Conroy last

There has been quite a campaign to encourage people to put Senator Stephen Conroy last on the Victorian Senate ballot paper, in light of his never-ending attempts to filter the internet in Australia.

I can sympathise – several years ago, I was advising people to put Senator Richard Alston last on the same ballot paper, for similar reasons, and did so myself. I was wrong to do this.

By putting Senator Conroy last, you are effectively saying that his policies are worse than everyone else on the ballot paper. I am utterly against the filter, but, that said, there are plenty of issues just as serious, and there are some absolute nutcases standing for election for Victoria’s senate seats. Let me provide a few examples:

Family First are a group of extreme religious social conservatives, and most of their members belong to strange pentecostal sects. They too want a mandatory filter, but beyond that, they want to ban internet pornography entirely (good luck with that), they’re firmly against abortion and euthanasia, and they believe that “Small Business (are) the True Heroes of the Economy”, whatever that means. Now, I’m not saying that Family First are a front for whack-job churches like Hillsong and the Assembly of God, but whenever Senator Steven Fielding opens his mouth, I’m pretty sure he’s speaking in tongues. Their Queensland lead Senate candidate has, err, issues, and in the last election, the party demonstrated their lack of judgement by endorsing Pastor Danny Nalliah of Victoria’s-bushfires-were-an-act-of-retribution-from-God fame. Stephen Conroy may be a devout Catholic, but he’s not beyond ignoring stupid church doctrine and taking advantage of the NSW surrogacy laws, something which his own state doesn’t allow. He’s far better than the Family First nutters and should be put higher on the ballot paper than them.

The Citizens Electoral Council are a pack of Larouchite loons who should be put absolutely last on any sane human being’s ballot paper. Conroy is far preferable to them.

We all know who One Nation are, and what they stand for. The only reason I put them above the Citizens Electoral Council is that One Nation couldn’t organise a dinner in a room full of fish-and-chip shop owners. They’ve proved that they’re too incompetent to be dangerous. Nevertheless, they’re racist and extreme-right. Conroy is easily better than them.

The Liberal Party of Australia is a socially conservative party with an almost-dead small-l liberal faction. It is led by a man who, when health minister, pulled out all stops to keep RU486 banned in Australia. He believes that “climate change is crap” and is so creepy that he talks to the media about his daughters’ virginity. One of the Liberal Party’s Victorian candidates that is running for re-election is a former National Party member named Julian McGauran. The Age has an interesting article that refers to him. Definitely going below Conroy.

Obviously, there are plenty of good parties to put above Labor: the Greens, The Australian Sex Party and The Australian Democrats are all socially liberal parties. Stephen Mayne (of Crikey fame) is also running for the Senate, and while I disagree with a few things he’s said in the past, he’s shown himself to be honest and generally progressive.

But to put Senator Conroy last on your ballot paper is to say that he’s worse than a herd of far-right, bigoted religious fundamentalists, who want to interfere with your life. Despite his ridiculous stance on the filter, I don’t believe that he is as bad as them.

Voting in Stockholm

So, I’ve finished my mad dash from the north of Norway, to Stockholm, in order to vote in one of the only two locations in Scandinavia and the Baltics that Australia makes available (the other being Copenhagen). Australia typically only provides voting facilities in embassies, and as Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania only have honorary Australian consulates, there’s no opportunity to vote in any of those countries (unless, of course, you have a permanent address there, and thus can get a postal vote).

The voting process was all very straightforward – a room had been set up on the ground floor of the building which houses the embassy, so there was no need to pass through any faux-security measures in order to get in, unlike when I voted in The Hague back in 2001.

No identification was required, as is typical for Australian elections – it was just a matter of completing what was probably a postal vote envelope, and then filling out the ballot papers. The electoral officer then explained how to vote on each paper – the instructions were accurate, though I felt she emphasised a little too strongly that the Senate ballot paper was big, which I suspect caused a couple of people who followed me to vote above the line. That said, she did point out that all the group ticket preference allocations were available for people to read, if they wanted. I always vote below the line, so I didn’t have any need for this.

I was amazed, however, at a question from one of the other voters in the room: “This isn’t for local elections, is it?”. Seriously, I know I’m more attuned to politics than the average person, but a question like this is probably a good argument for compulsory civics lessons in schools. I find it somewhat unbelievable that state schools still brainwash children with religious education, but fail to teach them the basics of how our democracy works.

How to bypass Australia’s forthcoming internet filter.

Just so that it is blindingly obvious how easy it will be to work around Australia’s impending ISP-level internet filter (which, I might add, is expanding its blacklist ever further), I thought I would sum it up in three simple steps. It’s not the cheapest way to bypass a filter – and the information below isn’t going to be new to my blog’s regular readers – but from where I stand (as someone who has access to an offshore Linux server), it certainly beats messing with Tor.

  1. Obtain an account on a Linux or similar Unix-like system in a country outside Australia, preferably one without reactionary politicians who are trying to curry favour with a conservative religious party that shares the balance of power in parliament. If you can’t get access to a server for free, then there are plenty of low-cost virtualized hosting sites such as Mythic Beasts (User Mode Linux) in the UK and Linode (Xen) in the US.
  2. Use ssh’s application-level port forwarding and log in to your new remote system. ssh will act as a SOCKS server on your local machine:
    ssh -N -D 1080

    Under Windows, you can do this with the ssh client provided in Cygwin. I would imagine that Putty provides a similar feature.

  3. Configure your web-browser to talk to the ssh socks proxy on your local machine. For Firefox users, this would mean going to Edit -> Preferences -> Advanced -> Network -> Settings, choosing “Manual Proxy Configuration” and putting localhost and 1080 in the SOCKS fields, and then selecting SOCKS version 5. You can now browse as you would normally, and all HTTP requests will be sent from the remote host, and all Australia’s internet filters will see is a stream of encrypted ssh traffic.

Of course, I am assuming that the Australian government doesn’t plan to block ssh connections out of the country. It would be almost amusing to see the smouldering ruins of Australia’s IT industry if they tried.

104000 ignorant voters

While I don’t want to divert attention from today’s thorough repudiation of eight years of neoconservative, fundamentalist Christian wingnuttery, it has to be asked: what the frell were 104000 Alaskans thinking when they voted for Senator Ted Stevens (and likely re-elected him), when he’s just been convicted of seven corruption charges? Very short memories, sheer bloody-mindedness, or – as I suspect – blatant ignorance?

Geez. And people wonder why I have so much contempt for backwards, rural communities.

Memo: Liberal Party

Dear Liberal Party of Australia,

Go ahead, merge with the National Party. I cannot see any better way for you to entrench your irrelevency in the minds of the small-l liberal voters of Australia than to merge with a group of socially-conservative agricultural-socialists.

With any luck, a merger might be the catalyst for your more progressive members to finally tell your increasingly Taliban-like NSW religious MPs where they can shove their bibles, and form the sort of centrist party that Australia desperately needs.

Enjoy your time in the wilderness,


PS. I think you’ve taken that practical joke of pretending that Brendan Nelson is leader a bit too far now. How’s the poor man going to feel when you tell him what you really think?

Overreactions: banning bikes on trains and Australian internet censorship.

2007 closed with a couple of government overreactions, which mostly escaped scrutiny because the governments involved announced them at a dead time when no-one really gave a bugger:

  1. The Victorian government has banned bicycles on peak-hour trains in Melbourne, and on any V/line service which originates or terminates in Melbourne during peak hour. Now, I hate bicycles on trains as much as the next person (probably more so, given the number of bikes I had to squeeze past on the crowded Amsterdam metro, while I was living there) – but a complete ban seems overly heavy-handed.

    Wouldn’t it be more sensible to remove a few seats from the end of each train and restrict bicycles to the final carriage? It’s not like our public transport operators haven’t stooped to removing seats in order to cram more passengers aboard, in the past.

  2. The new Federal government is channelling the ghost of the old Federal government, dredging up a discredited internet access policy to appease a small group of Christian fundamentalists, who are too irresponsible to monitor what their own children are doing. ISPs in Australia will be compelled to supply a “clean” internet connection (read: no pr0n, violence or anything “inappropriate”) to all customers, and anyone who does not wish to be subject to this must explicitely opt-out (whereupon their ISP may well decide to charge a fee, and presumably flag the connection for easy targetting by Australia’s security services).

    Our new Minister for Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy, then went on to show he comes from the same fine pedigree that produced our previous Communication Ministers, by deliberately confusing pornography (which is legally available) with child pornography (which is already, as it should be, illegal):

    “If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree.”

    Apples and Oranges. As mentioned earlier, this is all being done to appease the Fundies First party, because the government may well need their one vote to kill off Workchoices. A saving grace may be that the government hasn’t got the ISPs on side, as Paul Montgomery notes. The previous government announced these plans several times, and never did anything about it; with luck, this will be just more bluster – because if it’s not, then either their plan will be unworkable, or Australian internet connections will become unusable.

Love me or loath me

I think we’ve sorted that one out now.

Goodbye John.

We live in a society, not an economy.

I have no idea who said it first, but that about sums it up for me.

It’s time to fix a mistake I made eleven years ago.

Where are the public transport promises?

For an election in which environmental considerations have been claimed to
be high on the agenda of both political parties, there has been extremely
little talk of providing any funding to state governments for improved public transport in the major cities. It’s hard
to imagine any solution to the problem of carbon emissions without also attempting
to remove the large number of cars on our roads that simply do not need to be there.

I had a brief look through the transport policies of both the Labor and Liberal parties in the five biggest
states, and found the following policies all directly involved in building or upgrading roads:


  • Westgate Bridge strengthening (Liberal & Labor)
  • new Frankston Bypass (Liberal)
  • Calder Highway upgrade (Liberal)
  • Geelong Ring road completion (Labor)
  • Western Ring Road upgrade (Labor)

South Australia:

  • South Road upgrade (Liberal & Labor)
  • Southern Expressway duplication (Liberal & Labor)
  • Northern Expressway upgrade (Liberal)
  • new Portwakefield Road (Liberal)
  • Gepps Cross intersection upgrade (Liberal)

New South Wales:

  • Building the F3 to M2/M7 Sydney Orbital Link (Liberal & Labor)
  • Widening the F5 (Liberal)
  • F6 Freeway extension (Liberal)
  • Upgrading the Great Western Highway (Liberal)


  • Brisbane ring road (Liberal)
  • Port of Brisbane motorway upgrade (Liberal)
  • Pacific Motorway upgrade (Liberal & Labor)
  • Toowoomba Second Range crossing (Liberal)
  • Gateway motorway southern link (Labor)
  • Northern Link tunnel (Labor)

Western Australia:

  • Upgrade Tonkin Highway (Liberal & Labor)
  • Upgrade Kwinana Freeway (Liberal & Labor)
  • Duplicate Leach Highway (Liberal & Labor)
  • Upgrade roads around Perth airport (Liberal)
  • Upgrade access into Fremantle Port (Liberal & Labor)

I then looked for all policies that directly improved public transport in some way, and could only
come up with the following:


  • Whitehorse/Springvale Rd/railway grade separation (Liberal)
  • Mill Park/South Morang overpass for future railway line (Liberal)

New South Wales:

  • Upgrading Sydney rail freight system to ease congestion on commuter rail (Liberal & Labor)

So, there we have it. The commitment of both major parties comes to … well, not very much at all. Three of
Australia’s major commuter railway systems are currently in crisis (Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide) and desperately need
upgrades. Melbourne needs new railway lines to Doncaster and Rowville, and line extensions to Whittlesea. Adelaide’s system
needs to be electrified (diesel is so 1920s). Sydney … well, NSW needs a completely new government before anything can
be done about that mess.

Perth’s system is the only one that has had any major investment put into it; and I confess not to know anything
about the state of Brisbane’s railway network.

It’s well known that building roads does nothing
to fix congestion
; it simply encourages more cars onto these roads, which leads to demands for more freeways to ease the resulting congestion. Hence, the roads policies of the two major parties
listed above demonstrate just how little commitment that either of them have to reducing greenhouse gases.

The policies of the Democrats and Greens don’t go into specifics, as the major parties do, but they do at least demonstrate their commitment to public transport:

Australian Democrats

  • Substantial funding for integrated public transport – rail, light rail and bus networks and transit lanes on urban freeways with a priority for those metro areas where transport services are poor.
  • Improved public transport frequency, amenity, safety, reliability and accessibility, particularly in outer metropolitan areas. Better scheduling and ticketing coordination.
  • Rail services extended to residential developments on the city fringes and modernised and high quality sub-regional feeder and circumferential bus services provided
  • Fast train services extended to all major airports and regional centres and linking Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide for rapid, low emissions passenger ad freight travel.


  • a comprehensive, integrated public transport system, with critical components publicly owned and controlled.
  • a transport system, including roads, railways, airways and sea-lanes, that is safe, environmentally sound, efficient and reliable.
  • increased opportunities for the community to participate in transport planning.
  • a public transport system that is more attractive than private car use.
  • public transport services to be provided under community service obligations where demand is too low for economically viable services.
  • public ownership of the national rail system.
  • train services that are competitive with road transport – reliable, safe, fast and inexpensive.
  • major airports located to minimise social and environmental impacts.

This election has been a wasted opportunity. The frustration of commuters with delays and cancellations of trains, combined with congestion and petrol prices, added to mounting fears of global warming would have meant a fantastic reception to a comprehensive plan for public transport from one of the major parties. If properly costed – and let’s face it, we can afford it, especially with those huge surpluses that the current government keeps stealing from us – it would have blown the opposite party out of the water.

John, you’re not helping your cause.

From the ABC:

Prime Minister John Howard says if the Coalition wins Saturday’s federal election a future Labor government would never be able to repeal the Government’s controversial WorkChoices legislation.

“They will become part of the furniture. They will become so embedded in our business and workplace culture that no future Labor government would be able to reverse them.”

Doesn’t he get it? Workchoices is the primary reason that this government is so on-the-nose. They over-played their hand, and a statement like this can only serve to make people realise that not only can they now be screwed over, but their children and grandchildren can be, too.