To spend or not to spend? That is the question

There’s no denying it: this is a tough spot for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Actually, it’s a tough call for all politicians at the moment.

To spend or not to spend? That is the question.

After former Health Minister Sussan Ley publicly fell on sword and tendered her resignation last week, politicians across the country are panicking about the validity of their tax-payer funded expense claims.

Panicking, because it seems that the people of Australia are FINALLY fed up with the entitled attitude our elected leaders appear to have when it comes to spending from our collective coffers.

As just one of millions of lowly constituents, I understand that our politicians need to mingle. They need to attend sporting events, and show up at art exhibitions, and fly business class on cross-country jaunts, and put their bums on seats at various launches and lunches.

I get it. This is where they build and develop relationships with our captains of industry. (God forbid they fly cabin class and actually mingle with the people they represent, but I digress!)

I also can appreciate that their public and private lives intersect somewhat. If, say, Steve Ciobo attends an AFL match and pays for himself as a private citizen, he’s still representing his seat and his party and as such he’s kind of ‘on the clock’. He can’t rip through the beer and start chanting from his seat under a cloak of anonymity like everyone else.

In saying that… while I understand the need for politicians to attend these events, I don’t understand why they need to fly across the country business class at a cost of $5k simply to watch the cricket. Or why they need to charter expensive private flights to get around; Bob Katter has a passable excuse, but the rest of them can flight commercial readily enough.

But back to Jules, who was all set to go to the Portsea Polo match over the weekend – an event that cost taxpayers $2,700 for her to attend last year.

She quietly told event organisers on Friday night that she wouldn’t be attending, because the Japanese Prime Minister was visiting Sydney. The timing was suspect, considering Ley had resigned in the wake of the spending scandal hours earlier.

But how would the people have reacted if she actually went? If she blew another few grand to air kiss at the polo this weekend, people would have been baying for blood.

One thing seems certain: our politicians are finally starting to get the message that we don’t like it when they spend federal dollars recklessly.

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, journalists are going to be trawling loads more expense reports – and I suspect Ley’s won’t be the only head to roll.

Men Friends Bar

It’s about time Australia got a new best mate

What do you do when one of your good friends – perhaps your best friend in the world – starts down a dangerous, dark path?

A path of hate and fear and lies.

It’s a question I never thought I’d have to face.

You see, as a kid I never had that much trouble making friends.

I was a sporty kid, easy to talk to and had a huge backyard to run around and swim in – what’s not to like right?!

But even the reasonably well-adjusted kids have moments of doubt and drops in self-confidence.

We all want to be like that cool / popular / funny / really good looking guy or girl at school – but failing being like them, we would absolutely settle for being liked by them!

Everyone needs a friend and most people look to that person who struts around with a smile looking like they have all the answers to life’s big questions.

That was Johnny.

Charismatic, confident (some might say arrogant) and really funny – everyone called him Yankee.

The second he started talking to me it was like a tractor beam.

We became close – as close as that sporty kid who lives out of town and speaks a little funny gets to the most popular kid in school.

Helping out when the fisticuffs start, sharing (somewhat disproportionately) our lunches – listening to his cool new cd’s and movies.

In many ways he lifted me up and I felt this profound sense of safety and strength when I was around him.

It also gave me the validation and self-worth that I so desperately needed at that age.

They were good times.

But it’s just not the same now.

Johnny is changing. He has changed.

I think he is still the same person deep down, but right now we’re just going in different directions.

He has just got really fake. Really false. No one knows if he is telling the truth and he is burning a lot of bridges with friends and even family.

And he is into some nasty stuff.

Sure I have done things I’m not proud of (some of it very recently!) but deep down I think I’m still that pretty good kid who just needs the good influence of a good friend.

These guys I knew from my Uni days, Jorgen and Johan, they are still studying and still learning but also putting this knowledge to amazing uses.

Sometimes they still invite me around. But I almost never go.

If I’m being honest I’m a bit Johnny-obsessed. He still takes up so much of my time. He needs me now more than ever right?

This stuff he is into though, this new stuff; lies, hate, wall-building, unconsented crotch grabbing and secret showers of gold.

He was never like this when I first met him.

Sure he did some dumb sh*t when we were kids – I always remember mum saying ‘just because Johnny did it doesn’t mean you have to, if Johnny jumped off a cliff would you do it?’

I want to be there for my mate but I’m scared about being dragged down into this crazy new world he’s embracing.

Sometimes I think that I could still be there for Johnny, to talk to him, to support him if he comes to his senses, but also I could hang out with Jorgen and Johan and their mates more often.

They’re just so nice. Really great blokes.

Really friendly and always have time for me – and the things I learn when I’m around them!

I really should make more efforts to hang out with them I think.

Job Computer Laptop Data

The robots are coming – for your job

It’s started. It’s happening. The robots are taking over. You heard it here first.

I’m not just being alarmist – this is really happening, you guys.

By now, you’ve all heard about the progress of automated cars. If you haven’t, all you need to know is that self-driving cars are on their way, and they’re going to eliminate plenty of jobs once they settle in.

In the United States, the White House has even gone on record to confirm that they expect at least 3 million drivers will lose their jobs in the years to come, as they’ll be replaced by autonomous vehicles.

This is disconcerting, especially for all of the taxi drivers and truck drivers reading along. But the writing has been on the wall in this industry for a number of years, so these forecasts are hardly surprising.

It’s the other work that robots are now capable of doing that should have us really concerned, however, because the work they’re doing would ordinarily be considered ‘human work’.

I’m talking white collar, administrative, professional-type jobs that many millions of us rely on to make a living, type of work.

Case in point: a Japanese insurance company, Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance, is set to replace 34 staff with ‘IBM Watson Explorer’, an artificial intelligence (AI) unit that will scan hospital records, claim documents and other records to help determine insurance payouts.

According to the official press release, which was buried in the busy Christmas news cycle, the system has the ability to review complex variables including injuries and individual medical histories.

This data will then be analysed and fed into a system whereby human workers will tap back in to arrange the final payout.

“By introducing this system, we anticipate that we can reduce the burden of business process[es] by about 30%,” Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance reports.

It’s going to cost them a couple of million dollars to install, but the company will save around $1m annually on employee salaries.

Do you ever get the feeling we’re at the beginning of something big? Some kind of technologically-based industrial revolution that has the power to change the way we live and work and interact as a human race forever?

Yeah, me neither. This AI stuff is probably just a phase…

Private School Uniform

School dress ‘debate’ is a nonsense: just have a range of options, and let students choose

Lauren Rosewarne, University of Melbourne

For Australians growing up on a diet of American film and TV, seeing their parade of chic and shocking school outfits can only ever bristle. Here, uniform is king; over yonder it’s been a rarity since the 1960s.

In recent days a debate has been reignited about girls being “forced” to wear skirts and dresses to school. A debate that feels less like a gender firestorm and more like a disregard for history and widespread school policy.

2017 marks my 20th year out of high school; I finished with that whole shindig back in 1997. Twenty years ago, while my public school offered a delightfully fetching brown kilt or fawn shirt dress, we ladies could also don the charming green pants.

The idea that girls are being forced into chub-rub garments that they can’t easily run in seems to ignore the developments that have transpired in the great majority of schools over a great number of years. Options exist. Pick the slacks, pick the shorts. Alternate.

In researching this article I’ve spoken to friends who are teachers, school counsellors. Parents. In the private sector, in the public. No dress distress that I could locate. At all. I don’t doubt there are exceptions. To suggest, however, that there’s a widespread catastrophe here is folly.

I’m not, therefore, devoting 800 words to selling a case on why school dresses are or aren’t sexist. We’re in an education system where they aren’t commonly compulsory, so there’d be no point. This doesn’t, however, make them uninteresting. Particularly in our current social climate.

As a high schooler I vacillated between believing that having to wear the itchy green school jumper was malarkey, to actually enjoying not having to think about outfits. Sure, I likely harboured vague notions of wanting to “express” the blackness of my soul through apparel I’d self-selected, but even then I knew that having to do so daily would have soon worn thin.

Schools like uniforms for branding purposes. For social cohesion. For classroom control. In a world of teenagers with beards and boobs, they also likely help distinguish teachers from the underlings.

Parents equally favour the fixed costs, the dodged drama about fitting in, the avoided arguments.

In 2017 the uniform story has become complicated, but not because of the mystical properties of any specific garment in a school’s ensemble. Rather, we’re at the part in our social journey where the individual is king. Where freedom of expression consumes more oxygen than all those economic and social factors that once justified the uniform.

I’m not going to write an identity politics essay. It’s January and I’m saving my energies for the start of the academic year when I’ll have to have the debate weekly with my Gender Studies students. Instead, I’ll focus on policy. On how schools can best handle this issue.

Just as Australians don’t really want to steal any of the prom king/homecoming queen/school shooting hideousness from the US education system, my guess is that there’s little impetus here to abandon uniforms. With the endless parade of stories about leggings bans and spaghetti strap scandals, I dare say most Australian schools aren’t the least bit interested in that whole can o’ worms.

So the question that remains is whether uniforms can continue to serve their purpose(s) in a world in where the concept of a “male uniform” and a “female uniform” is complicated, if not even passé, and in a culture that is – rightly – trying to meet the needs of students who don’t always identify as either.

Students not identifying as male, as female, shouldn’t be forced into apparel based on their name or their genitals or their haircut or any of the other markers we used to control gender. Doing so is not only oppressive but will create the capacity for litigation. Something schools most certainly want to avoid.

So the solution – the path of least change, least legal quagmire – is so simple it seems extraordinary that the conversation is still being had. Just have a range of sanctioned options.

Approve the dresses and the blazers and the jumper and the slacks. List the items that constitute the school’s uniform and allow the students to pick. It needn’t be more complicated than this. Get rid of the “girls” list, abandon the “boys” list, and just have a list of approved apparel.

If the primary mission of schools is education, if the primary function of uniforms is cohesion, schools need to enable students – all students – to feel included so that they can concentrate on the learning. The rest is politics and wasted breath.

The Conversationthe-conversation

Lauren Rosewarne, Senior Lecturer, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Police Dog

Dog day afternoon

Over the break I dropped in for a day of musical mayhem at the annual Falls Music & Arts Festival at Byron Bay. There was loads of good music on offer, plenty of deep-fried food, some cool pop-up bars and, as the advertising blurbs promised, “loads of other awesomeness.” I quickly noticed however that the fun-filled affair was not necessarily so awesome for all involved. As I arrived at the gates I witnessed the all-too-familiar sight of a shirtless festival raver, bailed up by police, with two sniffer dogs crawling all over his pants.

These days, the use of police dogs at music festivals has become quite routine, but it seems there is still much confusion, and occasional outrage, about their deployment.

Both in New South Wales and Queensland a police officer can detain and search anyone they reasonably suspect to be in possession of drugs, and they regularly exercise that power at festivals. The question is, what constitutes the requisite “reasonable suspicion.” The answer is potentially lots of things but, in Queensland at least, they include the “indication” of a police drug detection dog.

If a sniffer dog “indicates” to its handler someone has drugs on them, that’s enough, as a matter of law, for police to form a reasonable suspicion sufficient to empower them to detain and search the suspect.

During last year I got a frantic call from a young professional man detained at a Queensland rock concert by a couple of Dog Squad police wanting to search him for drugs. The culprit in question was a highly-respected young partner in a UK-based IT firm, who adamantly assured me he was a clean-living, teetotaling, cat-loving, marathon-running straighty-one-eighty – hardly what one might consider the usual suspect.

When he arrived at the front gate with friends, he was accosted by two policeman, and their obviously-agitated police hounds, and was now outraged by the prospect of ignominious public detention and search, based on no greater evidence than the fact the police dogs had greeted his arrival with uncommon interest.

“They can’t just pull me up and search me, surely,” he protested, going on to speculate whether the dogs’ agitation was due to the fact he had spent that morning cuddling his friend’s tabby cat, curled up on his knee. The answer, unfortunately, was both yes and no. Yes, the police had to have a reasonable suspicion before they could detain him or search him; but, under the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act, if the police dogs “indicated” he had drugs on him, that was enough for a reasonable suspicion, which meant they could go right ahead and search. Clearly the pooches’ excitement indicated they had detected something, but whether that something was a dangerous drug, or just tabby cat hair, was up for debate. Since neither of the dogs in question could tell us exactly what it was that had so sparked their interest, there was no ready answer.

Fortunately, good sense ultimately prevailed and, after more private, sensitive and discrete police enquiry was made, my outraged client was duly released, his dignity intact.

So what’s the moral of the story? Next time you go to a music festival, make sure you first take the dog biscuits out of your pocket.