Sunday, August 7, 2011

no such thing as a free lunch


The whole asylum seeker deal with Malaysia leaves a slightly bitter taste in my mouth, probably because the number of refugees [late correction... the number of displaced persons] in the world far exceeds the population of Australia. It’s simply not possible to help everyone, and I can’t help feeling impotent about the problem.

Nor does it help knowing that the whole stop the boats business has been unnecessarily wasteful, or that it was a cheap trick to win votes. On the other hand, this outcome is far better than any we have had to date. There is a queue, in practice if not in the “right form”.

Two reports today make the deal a little more acceptable. The first is great because it finally personalises the issue, by allowing us to meet some real people who will benefit from the arrangement.

Kham Kap Thang Taithoul and his wife Niang Lam Cing with their son, Hau Muon Khai, 2, and daughter, Cing San Lun, 4.Photo: Rahman Roslan
This photo lifted from The Age

The Age tells us this family have waited seven years for placement, since leaving Burma. After watching Go Back to Where You Come From and seeing what life is like for refugees in Malaysia, I think they deserve a break.

The other report is not quite so happy but nonetheless a little reassuring that we have done the right thing. A family of five who arrived on the first boat after the deal took effect reportedly paid $55,000 to get to Australia. 
While I can’t imagine having $55,000 let alone losing it so cruelly in search of basic human rights, it’s reasonable to assume that with $55,000 at their disposal they could have had a far more pleasant 7 year wait than the family in the picture above.

The arrangement is not just about queue jumping, it’s also about the equitable distribution of opportunity.

Apparently late Sunday Oz Time the High Court granted an injunction to stop asylum seekers being flown to Malaysia Monday, pending a case to decide whether the deal is legal.

Trying to get food to starving people can be a nightmare in countries which have been torn apart by rival ethnic or other power groups. In Mogadishu government troops opened fire on famine victims who were protesting that the government troops were stealing food aid.

Our troops shouldn’t be in Afghanistan, they should be doing more constructive work in places like Somalia.

Next year the Government plans to start a 5 year trial, in selected areas, with selected [i.e. vulnerable] clients, of the Income Management imposed on Aboriginals as part of the Northern Territory Intervention. The aim is to ensure people spend most of their welfare payments on essentials like food and clothing.

Again, certain retailers will suffer while others have a vested interest in seeing the policy rolled out. Just one assumption is that the paperwork involved will make it all but impossible for any food retailers other than the largest chains to sell to vulnerable people.

Another problem is that because the system is cumbersome, those whose income is controlled are being publicly stigmatised, because shopkeepers are asking them to form separate queues.

One welfare organisation says Centrelink staff will be making biased judgments about who is vulnerable, and Aboriginals, refugees, migrants and other marginalised groups will be targeted. I don’t wish to sound flippant, but isn’t it possible that marginalised people are the ones most likely to need long-term assistance from Centrelink?

While I’ve no idea how the paperwork works, it will never be foolproof. There are stories that in the Northern Territory, some vouchers are already being treated like discounted bonds, and some people are swapping them for cash at less than face value. In the case of a tie between the law and human nature, human nature will win every time.

Sense of Freshness....
A while ago a new supermarket opened in Topeka , KS

It has an automatic water mister to keep the produce fresh.
Just before it goes on, you hear the sound of distant thunder and the smell of fresh rain.

When you pass the milk cases, you hear cows mooing and you experience the scent of fresh mowed hay.

In the meat department there is the aroma of charcoal grilled steaks with onions.

When you approach the egg case, you hear hens cluck and cackle, and the air is filled with the pleasing aroma of bacon and eggs frying.

The bread department features the tantalizing smell of fresh baked bread and cookies.

I don't buy toilet paper there anymore.


  1. You know what. I have a vague memory of being in a grocery store and hearing thunder or something.

    But maybe I dreamed it. Or maybe other grocery stores in America have that?

    You're funny about the toilets.

  2. Hi Dina,
    I'd like to take credit for the supermarket thing but like all my best ideas, this is not original. On the other hand, I'm happy to share a good story.