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Political Prop: The 457 Visa

So why, after almost no media attention, has the 457 visa abuse become such a hot topic amongst politicians, and the media who write about them?

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If you hadn’t heard of “457 visas” prior to this month you can rest assured that you are not alone. Until now, it was considered to be one of the more successful and therefore less infamous areas of Australian immigration policy, that is, until earlier this month when Prime Minister Gillard denounced the widespread rorting of the 457 visa and provided the scheme with some political spotlight. 

It was in western Sydney earlier this month, where the Prime Minister spoke of the disgust she felt toward Australian employers rorting the system by providing foreign workers with jobs that could easily be filled by Australians. There were also reports of abuse of vulnerable workers once they arrived by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, who released media statements describing the conditions of some foreign workers on the 457 scheme as “tantamount to slavery”. 

457 visas are those issued by Australian businesses, to foreign workers in order for them to bring specialist skills from overseas into Australia, when they cannot be sourced locally. At any one time, there are around 100 000 people in Australia on 457 visas, they are considered to be relatively uncontroversial (even one of Julia Gillard’s own staff members is employed on one). In her speech however, the uglier side of the system was brought to our attention, and along with it, a glimpse of the uglier side of politics. The 457 visa system, the Prime Minister declared, was “out of control”. And the biggest losers she emphasized, were Australian workers in the “job queue”.

So why, after almost no media attention, has the 457 visa abuse become such a hot topic amongst politicians and the media who write about them? It is by all accounts a fairly niche issue, and the opposition was quick to accuse the government of xenophobia. For starters, the fact that the speech took place in Western Sydney is indicative of the very pivotal role campaigning plays in this issue. The votes in Western Sydney are enough to lose the Labor Party government in the upcoming election, and their prospects there are not looking good. The area reportedly has an unemployment level twice that of the rest of Australia, and their votes are vital. 

By positioning the 457 rorting as one predominant cause of Australian unemployment, the Labor party tactically and deliberately associated a very significant issue for Western Sydney voters, with the very explosive topic of immigration policy in Australia. The “jobs queue” to which Gillard referred in her speech strongly echoed the “queue-jumper” term often used to describe asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat by right wing politicians. Her use of the language was closely associated with the asylum seeker debate, one that divides opinion dramatically, and on which Gillard is keen to appear “strong”.  

The ACTU release detailed the way foreign workers were being abused by Australian employers. Often because of language barriers, and because workers who arrive in Australia on work visas face the tenuous situation of being at the behest of those who employ them, and enjoy less protections because of the necessity of keeping their jobs. They rightly declared this to be deplorable behaviour by a select few employers. But the overwhelming focus by Labor and Prime Minister Gillard has been on the fact that, more importantly it seems, Australian jobs were being filled by these foreigners when they didn’t need to be. 

If unemployment was truly the issue, are the relatively few employers who rort the 457 system really where the government should concentrate their disapproval? It seems like a fairly left of field solution to a more general economic problem in Australia. Those who rort the 457 system should face consequences for doing so, better policing of the 457 system is vital for the protection of foreign workers and Australian workers alike. But how effective is it as a strategy for combatting unemployment? The demonising of foreign workers speaks of other, more deplorable motives.

If the Prime Minister denounces the way Australian employers have taken advantage of some vulnerable members of our society in the same way that she has their rorting of the 457 system, and if she questions why such employers feel like they can commit these abuses with impunity: she need look no further than the xenophobic and charged language her own party uses to pander to the very worst qualities in Australian voters. 

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If U.S. presidential candidates were rock bands they’d be…

Here’s where we think the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates stack up if they were a band headlining a 2020 music fest

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Dem candidates

We still have a long, long, long way to go until the 2020 U.S. presidential election — and the list of candidates seems to get a bit longer every day. So, how do you actually keep track of who’s who? Let’s try turning it into a soundtrack.

Admittedly, the list runs too long to actually break down all of those candidates (there are 20+ actually running in the Democratic primary, though several are polling close to zero percent), so we’ve focused in on the folks who are actually showing a bit of buzz in the polls. Plus, of course, the incumbent who is currently president. From hip-hop to corporate rock and everything else in-between, here’s where we think the current crop of would-be presidents stack up if they were a band headlining a 2020 music fest.

Joe Biden: The Rolling Stones

Uncle Joe has been a fixture of American politics for decades, and he’s launched failed bids for president over the past few decades. But with 2020 in sight, Biden is — by far — the most popular Democratic candidate on the ballot. He’s leading most polls by a mile, thanks in large part to the good will he accumulated as President Obama’s vice-president and a solid legislative record (though it does have some troublesome bits in there, too). But, pretty much everyone sees him as likable, solid and — keyword here — “electable.” Translating that to music, Biden feels like The Rolling Stones of this election cycle. Most everybody likes The Stones, from your granddaddy to your aunts and uncles. They also run pretty high on a bunch of those lists of the best band ever. They’re a solid bet, and pop in just about any Stones record, and you’re bound to get something pretty darn good. Sure, it can get a bit worn at times, but even after all these decades, it’s still good stuff.

Bernie Sanders: Big Star

Bernie has been around the scene for decades, much like Biden, but despite the name recognition he’s still not polling as well as Biden. He was huge in the last primary running against Hillary Clinton, and briefly hailed as the Next Big Thing for a while there. He also introduced some forward-thinking policy ideas, many of which have been adopted by a bevy of candidates now running against him this time around. Take that resume to the music world, and Bernie feels a whole lot like Big Star. The Memphis-based rock band burst onto the scene in the early 1970s, and sadly flamed out not long after. Much like Bernie, it took a while for folks to really latch onto just how great Big Star was at the time. They found a cult following a few years later in the 1980s, and went on to influence pretty much every decent band that’s formed ever since. That said, there are still plenty of people who still love and appreciate Big Star to this day. But, they’ll never be as big as bands like the Stones, or The Beatles.

Elizabeth Warren: Radiohead

Elizabeth Warren is a smart, smart candidate. Of the folks vying for the Democratic candidacy, she arguably has the best ideas and platform concepts laid out in detail. Oddly enough, she’s also polling well below folks like Biden and Sanders. Turning to music, she feels like the Radiohead of this election. She’s smart, probably one of the smartest if not the smartest candidate out there. That feels a lot like Radiohead, an indie band that puts out some clever music and has developed a strong, loyal fanbase with their excellent output (a lot like Warren has these past few years).

Kamala Harris: Tupac

This may seem a bit obvious, considering Harris has spoken publicly about her affinity for Tupac’s music, but hear us out. Much like Tupac, Harris has some OG bona fides. Before running for the senate she served as a district attorney and attorney general in California, leading an up-tick in the conviction rate for homicides and overall felonies. She also took on hate crimes during that time. As a senator, she’s taken full advantage of her DA roots to ask the smart, hard questions — without backing down. She has guts, much like Tupac did. Tupac also has a ton of name recognition, something Harris is quickly working to acquire as the campaign heats up.

Pete Buttigieg: Conor Oberst

As a city mayor in Indiana, Buttigieg has exploded onto the scene as a bit of a wunderkind candidate over the past few months. He’s young, smart, energetic and almost always knows the right thing to say when the moment comes. He comes off as accessible and fresh, much like the Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst has during his career. Sure, Oberst’s output has always been a bit niche, but if it’s your flavor it’s fantastic stuff. Buttigieg has had much the same kind of run in the lead-up to the primary. In certain circles, he’s quickly becoming a buzzy, respected voice. But, ask random folks on the street, and odds are they have no idea about Mayor Pete. That said, Oberst has always had the potential to blow out the Top 40 with a chart-topper — and Buttigieg is in the hunt to do much the same in the presidential race.

Beto O’Rourke: Foss (just kidding, Weezer)

The handsome, punk rock candidate from Texas became a national sensation when he gave Ted Cruz a scare — but ultimately lost. So, he used that buzz to launch a presidential bid. He’s had some missteps, but there’s no doubt O’Rourke is a tall, charismatic dude. He was also literally in the little-known punk band called Foss back in the day, but we won’t go with that one. Instead, O’Rourke feels more like the Weezer of this election. He’s the dude bro, and is largely popular in a broad, thoughtless, “Oh It’s On The Radio So Just Listen To It And Idly Tap Your Toe” kind of way. Weezer is sometimes the butt of jokes (like that run SNL skit), but they’re still huge — and Beto has much that same kind of potential

Donald Trump: Kid Rock

Time for the big, loud Commander-in-Chief himself. Trump isn’t refined, he’s not all that bright, and he typically just beats you over the head with whatever he’s saying. Kind of like one of his biggest supporters and golf buddies, Kid Rock. He appeals to a certain conservative type of redneck, which is where most of his popularity lies (that applies to both of ‘em, to be clear). There’s also the fact that, if you actually listen to what he says, it’s typically really stupid and nonsensical. We’re just waiting for the presidential radio edit.

Editor’s Note: To be clear, this is all meant in good fun. The presidential race in 2020 looks to be one of the most contentious and important in the modern history of the United States. It’s a big deal, and everyone should take it very, very seriously. But, between all that seriousness, there should be a bit of space to have some fun musing about the folks who want to lead the free world.

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Make Dodgeball Great Again

Dodgeball is not an ‘unethical tool of oppression’ and to label it so is both ludicrous and dangerous. Have we lost our minds?

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I remember it as if it was yesterday. The recently completed gym floor was crisp, clean, and squeaked with almost every step of the overpriced sneakers that graced it. Battle lines had been drawn and there I was, locked and loaded in the far right corner of the gym. I had scanned the battlefield ahead, and saw that the opposition numbers were dwindling- falling like the cannon fodder they were. My fellow combatants were more than capable, some in fact, excelled like this game was art, like it was real battle.

Then I saw my target, arms to her side, nervously looking across from her side of diminishing numbers. Her eyes screamed ‘fear’ (or maybe indifference, but in my mind, it was fear) and I knew that there was only one thing to do. I gripped the foam of the ball with a vengeful firmness, loaded my arm with the fury of a Nolan Ryan fastball and let loose. My memory says the sound of the noisy gym was broken, and that all the fellow combatants and fallen brethren fell silent, stopped and followed this one moment as the ball left my hand to its intended destination. It was a glorious moment. Glorious because unlike most times, the ball flew through the air with unmatched grace. Unlike most times I threw the ball, there was no deviation, no broken flight plan. And unlike most times, where I’d luckily hit my target on the leg, or on the arm, it zeroed in with laser-like precision and exploded itself right in Annie’s* face. Bullseye. Like a bird exploding from a Randy Johnson fastball.

Did I revel in the glory of that standstill moment? Was the brazen destruction of a fellow combatant as cinematically award-winning as a Spielberg movie? The truth is, that wasn’t the case. Amongst the fleeting chaos of the game, no one saw. No one stopped and watched my moment, and that in reality, it was a split second that remains animated only in mind. I recoiled in shock, partly because it was not my intention to hit someone in the face, no matter how unintentionally glorious it was. But partly because my gut instinct was to slink away into the back of the pack to hide unseen- like a cowardly saboteur responsible for the wreckage, eager to hide from the blame. I didn’t even look back at what I had done.

I don’t remember who won this particular game (safe to say it wasn’t Annie), but it was all part and parcel to the wonderful school-time game of dodgeball.

One that has come under scrutiny, and under the threat, by the researchers discussed in this National Post article, who have labeled it an “unethical tool of oppression”. With such hyperbole, you’d think they were talking about a population who lived under a military dictatorship, or a segment of that population threatened during mass rioting. Not surprisingly, I lived through both of the latter, and no, dodgeball is nothing like either. They are talking about dodgeball- a mostly harmless game (unless you are Annie) played by children during recess and PE class.

The article goes on to say how dodgeball, along with other forms of games played during PE class are sports of “sport of violence, exclusion and degradation” and that dodgeball in particular, is “not just unhelpful to the development of kind and gentle children who will become decent citizens of a liberal democracy. It is actively harmful to this process.” Sounds like it was written by someone picked last in gym class.

We can argue endlessly about the participation-trophy culture that has permeated the discourse of children’s sports (they couldn’t even settle on a winner at the Spelling Bee). But the truth is, I fear greatly for the future of democracy if we equate the game of dodgeball to actual, real oppression. Sure, Annie probably doesn’t like dodgeball all that much, but I too was hit plenty on the dodgeball court. Like I was on the basketball court. But it’s all part of growing some thick skin in this very real world where people don’t throw soft, red balls at you. The truth is, most kids would probably benefit from getting hit in the face with a dodgeball a few times, it’ll be good for them in the long run. This I’m certain of.

I had a lot of fun playing dodgeball as a kid. It’s an absolute shame that there are “scholars” and “researchers” who equate it to very real life issues this world faces. Teaching kids that life isn’t fair from a young age is a good thing. Participation-trophy culture is not. I don’t need a Ph.D. to know so.

Dodgeball teaches you a great deal in a simple game. And if dodgeball supposedly teaches children lessons of democracy, then I sure as hell would want the future leaders of whatever world we venture towards to be able to dodge a wrench when someone throws one at their heads.

*Annie is not her real name. C’mon, how much of an asshole do you think I am?

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