There is no issue more critical to the success of democratic projects anywhere than the civilian control and accountability of those institutions of state that exercise the capacity for compulsion; the military, police and intelligence services. The two requirements of these institutions of the ‘security sector’ are that they are effective in providing security from external threats and internal law breaking, and that they do not themselves constitute a threat to the state or its citizens. Where the security sector does not comply with these conditions, it can and often does create a hurdle to sustainable development, normative political progress and the sense of security these outcomes are nominally intended to provide.
With waves of Tamil refugees now fleeing Sri Lanka, the question has been raised as to whether any among those seeking asylum are members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known as the Tamil Tigers, a group proscribed as a terrorist organisation in many countries. This question reflects a Western obsession with ‘terrorism’, but not much about what drives people to supporting such ‘terrorism’ or fleeing their own country.
The situation in Sri Lanka has been, since independence in 1948, that the Tamil minority have been increasingly marginalised and persecuted by the Sinhalese majority. Sinhalese was long the official language of state, structurally excluding Tamils from public life, with this situation remaining the situation in practice. There have been numerous anti-Tamil riots and the deaths of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ethnic Tamils at various times over decades.
I did live in hope that we wouldn’t go the way of US schools, but I guess it was always going to be a bit difficult to resist. News that “leading educators” (are these official titles?) are willing to back sponsorship of schools by food companies such as McDonalds, and other commercial brands, puts children at more risk than simply being exposed to what Institute of Public Affairs executive director John Roskam says will be “five minutes of advertising a day”.
Of course, numeracy and literacy programs are critical, but at what cost?
Just two weeks before it recently left office, the outgoing legislature of Aceh, the DPRA, passed the Qanun Jinayat (Islamic Criminal Bylaw). International reporting on this move portrayed the legislation as allowing – or even requiring – the ‘stoning to death’ of adulterers and the torture of women. The international image of Indonesia generally and Aceh in particular suffered greatly, and unfairly.
It is widely assumed that the out-going DPRA passed this law in an unfortunate and misguided attempt to cause problems for the in-coming DPRA. But the real issue concerns the extent to which democratic principles are finding a home in Aceh, and in Indonesia.
As we learned from Foreign Minister Stephen Smith last night (20 October), there is now an agreement between the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for Indonesia to accept asylum seekers bound for Australia. Move over John Howard’s ‘Pacific Solution’, and make way for Kevin Rudd’s ‘Indonesia Solution’. Mr Rudd will take considerable satisfaction from his visit, formally to mark President Yudhoyono’s swearing in for a second term, producing what he will no doubt regard as a diplomatic coup.
Australia’s sometimes difficult relations with Indonesia are travelling fairly well at the moment, in large part due to President Yudhoyono’s democratic reformist tendencies. That Mr Rudd is also comfortable with regional leaders, and has taken an active interest in Indonesia since at least 1997, further assists the relationship.
There’s a lot of talk about ‘alternative’ entry to university at the moment. Debate in this area always makes me smile, particularly when arguments about it are presented as if they are new.
The federal government agenda in relation to widening participation in higher education has led to some excited commentary about moving away from the traditional means of selecting students for university based on numerical, relative rankings derived from their senior high school performance.
What will Australian universities look like in 20 years?
I was asked this recently after giving a keynote address at a conference, during which I outlined the federal government agenda in relation to higher education.
It’s a difficult question to answer but I thought I’d give it a whirl as most people reading this will forget to check back in 20 years so I’m fairly certain I won’t be a laughing stock in 2029 (always a worry).
In 2029, I’ll be in my mid 60s and still working thanks to changes to superannuation laws. My children, now entering their teens, will be in their 30s. It’s hard to imagine.
You know, I really struggle when somebody asks me to define postmodernism. The thing is that by its very conceptual nature, postmodernism surely can't be defined. But I usually come up with something lame like no absolute truths, or postmodern is not modernism, blah, blah, blah.
But last night, on Australian TV, I think we experienced postmodernism in all its tumescent glory.
You see, there was a TV show that was on for 20 years, back in the 80s and 90s, called Hey Hey, It's Saturday. It was cancelled in 1999, mostly because of sagging ratings, but also because the executives decided that Australia was ready for a different form of entertainment. One of the sequences on this program was called Red Faces, where amateur performers could get up and perform in front of an in-studio, and Australia-wide audience.
I am woman, hear me roar.
A conference last week on the future of the academic profession had, according to the associated website, 20 speakers, only 4 of whom were female. I would have gone, but as I prepared to register and read through the line up, I became so irritated that I decided to vote with my feet.
The report that informed the conference (written by 6 men and no women) tells a bleak story about the academic profession’s attractiveness to women.
According to the report, “a higher proportion of women than men have typically been employed as casuals, and a lower proportion have occupied tenured posts”. This is bad news, right?
Reports from SMH and other news outlets are advising that Kraft has responded to consumer “outrage” at the name of Kraft’s new product, iSnack 2.0 (is this Kraft’s Vista?), and decided to re-visit the competition to name the new product. This time, it will be a popularity vote – in the style of Australian Idol – another opportunity perhaps to raise the profile of the new product. Of course, iSnack 2.0 was a dumb name, but the amount of column inches (online, on TV and on-paper) devoted to this issue has been extraordinary.