All posts tagged Politics

  • The New York Times story: ‘How Australia Bungled Its $36 Billion High-Speed Internet Rollout’, May 2017

    My first story for The New York Times. Excerpt below.

    How Australia Bungled Its $36 Billion High-Speed Internet Rollout

    Its businesses and consumers burdened with some of developed world’s slowest speeds, the country is a cautionary tale about big-money ambitions.

    The New York Times story by Andrew McMillen: 'How Australia Bungled Its $36 Billion High-Speed Internet Rollout', May 2017

    BRISBANE, Australia — Fed up with Australian internet speeds that trail those in most of the developed world, Morgan Jaffit turned to a more reliable method of data transfer: the postal system.

    Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world have downloaded Hand of Fate, an action video game made by his studio in Brisbane, Defiant Development. But when Defiant worked with an audio designer in Melbourne, more than 1,000 miles away, Mr. Jaffit knew it would be quicker to send a hard drive by road than to upload the files, which could take several days.

    “It’s really the big file sizes that kill us,” said Mr. Jaffit, the company’s co-founder and creative director. “When we release an update and there’s a small bug, that can kill us by three or four days.”

    Australia, a wealthy nation with a widely envied quality of life, lags in one essential area of modern life: its internet speed. Eight years after the country began an unprecedented broadband modernization effort that will cost at least 49 billion Australian dollars, or $36 billion, its average internet speed lags that of the United States, most of Western Europe, Japan and South Korea. In the most recent ranking of internet speeds by Akamai, a networking company, Australia came in at an embarrassing No. 51, trailing developing economies like Thailand and Kenya.

    For many here, slow broadband connections are a source of frustration and an inspiration for gallows humor. One parody video ponders what would happen if an American with a passion for Instagram and streaming “Scandal” were to switch places with an Australian resigned to taking bathroom breaks as her shows buffer.

    But the problem goes beyond sluggish Netflix streams and slurred Skype calls. Businesses complain that slow speeds hobble their effectiveness and add to their costs. More broadly, Australia risks being left behind at a time when countries like China and India are looking to nurture their own start-up cultures to match the success of Silicon Valley and keep their economies on the cutting edge.

    “Poor broadband speeds will hold back Australia and its competitive advantage,” said John O’Mahony, an economist at Deloitte Access Economics. A 2015 report by Deloitte valued the nation’s digital economy at $58 billion and estimated that it could be worth 50 percent more by 2020. “The speed of that growth is at risk if we don’t have the broadband to support it,” he said.

    The story of Australia’s costly internet bungle illustrates the hazards of mingling telecommunication infrastructure with the impatience of modern politics. The internet modernization plan has been hobbled by cost overruns, partisan maneuvering and a major technical compromise that put 19th-century technology between the country’s 21st-century digital backbone and many of its homes and businesses.

    For the full story, visit The New York Times. Above photo credit: Jason Reed for Reuters.

  • The Saturday Paper story: ‘Hopes and Prayers: Scott Patterson’s #LetThemStay photograph’, July 2016

    A feature story for The Saturday Paper, published in the July 2 2016 issue. Excerpt below.

    Hopes and Prayers

    A gathering of five community leaders for a photograph in a Brisbane church aims to further focus attention on the plight of offshore asylum seekers.

    The Saturday Paper story: 'Hopes and Prayers: Scott Patterson's Moran Prize photograph' by Andrew McMillen, July 2016

    A reverend, an imam and a freelance photographer walk into Brisbane’s second-oldest Anglican church. Outside on Ann Street, in Brisbane’s city centre, the midday traffic bustles incessantly. Inside the immense stone structure of St John’s Cathedral, the pews are vacant and the building almost empty but for a handful of hushed voices in a far corner. Six people stand before an altar, bathed in warm light beneath a rainbow of stained-glass windows. Leaning against the wall are handmade cardboard signs, which read: Bring them here. Let them stay. Close the camps. There is no punchline. The set-up is for a photograph.

    Though they deviate in their belief in higher powers, the handful of religious and community leaders who meet on this sunny Tuesday in late June all share the same views on how asylum seekers deserve to be treated. In the first week of February, St John’s Cathedral became one of 10 major Anglican churches across the country to open its doors to asylum seekers facing a return to Nauru. Dr Peter Catt, the Anglican Dean of Brisbane, became a national figurehead for invoking the historical idea of sanctuary, which is untested in modern Australia. “We had been talking the talk for a number of years,” he wrote in an article for The Melbourne Anglican, reflecting on his decision. “So now, faced with 267 people about to be removed to a place of harm, I felt it was time to put up or shut up.”

    For three years, Catt has been chairman of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, which has advocated for the closure of the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres. Sanctuary is always an action of last resort, Catt noted in his article, and the Anglican Church was careful to point out that its offer did not carry any legal protection. Centuries ago, people used church buildings to take shelter from oppressive civic authorities. Today, those who seek sanctuary might face five years’ imprisonment; those who offer it could face 10 years’.

    To read the full story, visit The Saturday Paper.

  • GQ Australia story: ‘Does Australia Care About Saving The Great Barrier Reef?’, January 2016

    A story for GQ Australia, published in January 2016. Excerpt below.

    Does Australia Care About Saving The Great Barrier Reef?

    Australia’s most valuable tourist asset grows weaker each year. What’s being done to save the Great Barrier Reef?

    GQ Australia story: 'Does Australia Care About Saving The Great Barrier Reef?' by Andrew McMillen, January 2016

    “Daddy, is the reef dying?”

    Hearing those five words from the mouth of his five year-old son was enough to bring Professor Justin Marshall to tears. Silver-haired, bespectacled and the owner of tanned skin that exhibits his enthusiasm for the outdoors, the 54 year-old is a neuroscientist who specialises in animal vision.

    The son of two marine biologists, Marshall knows the Great Barrier Reef better than most, which is why he had to tell his own son the truth when he was asked this question seven years ago.

    “Yes, Ben, it is,” he replied, eyes welling.

    “Why?” asked Ben, mystified.

    Seeing no point in sugar-coating his answer, Marshall said, “It’s dying because we’ve been poor guardians of it, and we keep doing the wrong thing.”

    A slightly more detailed way of putting it is that rising global sea temperatures are killing the billions of individual corals that comprise the reef. The chief cause? Man-made global warming.

    Or to get a little more technical: it’s dying because of a process called ‘coral bleaching’, in conjunction with complicating factors such as pollution runoff from Queensland’s farmlands, shipping channel activity linked to the state’s coal mining exports, and the proliferation of a tough, hardy critter named the crown of thorns starfish, which eats stony coral polyps and thrives in warmer water climates – such as those linked to the carbon emissions of human industry.

    None of these complicating factors is making the Great Barrier Reef healthier, by any stretch of the imagination, which means that Marshall’s son, now 12 years old, will bear witness to the continual decline of Australia’s greatest natural tourist attraction during his lifetime.

    In 2001, Marshall co-founded a non-profit citizen science project at the University of Queensland named CoralWatch. This program allows visitors to the reef to use the colour of coral as an indicator of its health, and report their findings.

    Equipped with a waterproof chart developed by Marshall and his colleagues, divers and snorkelers can inspect the creatures – which, together, form the planet’s biggest single structure made by living organisms – up close, in order to provide meaningful data on the extent of bleaching.

    In turn, this information is fed back to researchers at the University of Queensland and elsewhere, for the program is used to gather reef data not just in Australia, but in 70 countries.

    Like all citizen science projects, from bird-watching to mapping freshwater turtle activity, CoralWatch is founded on a simple principle of inclusivity. Its ethos is based on a memorable concept: tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I will learn.

    By handing the average punter a simple mechanism to evaluate coral health while diving, then allowing them to upload their findings to a centralised server via website orsmartphone app, the effect is one of empowerment. Rather than the Great Barrier Reef being a faraway, abstract notion that occasionally flashes across our screens before disappearing again, for those involved with CoralWatch, it becomes a three-dimensional, concrete concept.

    Importantly, it becomes something they’ll discuss passionately with those closest to them.

    To read the full story, visit GQ Australia.

  • GQ Australia columns, December 2015: Fear, climate, guns, suicide and cannabis

    In July 2015, I was invited to write occasional online columns for GQ Australia. I’ve collected these five columns as excerpts below, with the publication date noted in brackets beside the title.

    Are We Living In An Australia Led By Fear? (July)

    An increase in national surveillance powers has an equal and opposite reaction of a decline in civil liberties – writes Andrew McMillen

    'Are We Living In An Australia Led By Fear?' by Andrew McMillen for GQ, 2015

    One particular sentence on nationalsecurity.gov.au catches the eye: “Protecting all Australians from terrorism and violent extremism is the Australian Government’s top priority,” it reads.

    This sentence appears on a website which is home to the National Terrorism Public Alert System, among other cracking reads such as a list of ‘foiled Australian attacks’ (four incidents) and ‘overseas terrorist attacks’ (six).

    The National Terrorism Public Alert System informs us that the nation is currently at a ‘high’ level of alert, indicating that a terrorist attack “is likely”. This is just one step down from ‘extreme’ – where a terrorist attack “is imminent or has occurred” – but a step above the previous ranking of ‘medium’, which warned that a terrorist attack “could occur”.

    It was in mid-September 2014 that the alert rating changed from ‘medium’ to ‘high’. The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine captured the change, between September 12 and September 18.

    The switch-over itself was pretty simple stuff, really: the web copy is practically identical, and a blue map of Australia with an ugly black font in the centre was replaced by a white diagram ringed by blue.

    To read the full column, click here.

    Why Australia Is Headed For An Avoidable Climate Calamity (August)

    Climate change is the iceberg of our times and Australia is steering straight into it – writes Andrew McMillen.

    'Why Australia Is Headed For An Avoidable Climate Calamity' by Andrew McMillen for GQ, 2015

    One of mankind’s greatest achievements is the discovery that the energy from coal – ancient sunlight buried in the ground – could be used to drive our technological progress.

    In 2015, we continue to reap the rewards of that discovery, yet most of us acknowledge that coal, like oil and gas, is a finite resource: there’s only so much of it beneath our feet, and sooner or later, the supply will be exhausted.

    There is a simple logic behind this problem. When one generation selfishly chooses to use as much coal, oil and gas as humanly possible, the next generation will suffer the supply shocks, as well as the environmental effects: burning these fossil fuels adds a toxic combination of pollutants to the atmosphere, increasing the speed at which the planet warms.

    Intelligent governance acknowledges this as a fact, and a problem to be solved swiftly, lest future generations suffer for our inaction. For a time, Australia led the developed world in this regard, when then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced in 2007 that climate change was “the great moral, environmental and economic challenge of our age”.

    These were sage words from a leader who ultimately failed to install an effective mechanism to solve that challenge. Politics got in the way of true progress, cruelling an admirable long-term vision.

    To read the full column, click here.

    Why Encouraging More Guns Into Australia Is A Terrible Idea (August)

    In the wake of the Martin Place siege, Australia’s relationship with its long-standing gun laws might be about to change and that’s a very scary thought – writes Andrew McMillen.

    'Why Encouraging More Guns Into Australia Is A Terrible Idea' by Andrew McMillen for GQ, 2015

    A gunman named Martin Bryant forever changed Australia on 28 April 1996, when he used a semi-automatic rifle to kill 35 people at a cafe in the Tasmanian town of Port Arthur.

    Within twelve weeks, John Howard’s government had devised, drafted, debated and implemented legislation which saw the banning of semi-automatic weapons and shotguns, and triggered a compulsory gun buyback scheme. As a result, the ownership and storage of other firearms were tightly restricted, too.

    The Australian approach to gun control was shown in stark contrast to the United States in September 2013, when John Oliver’s brilliant threepart series on The Daily Show neatly skewered gun-mad Americans who mindlessly oppose any change to gun laws.

    “Obviously, gun control doesn’t work. It can’t work. It will never work. So how was your scheme a failure?” Oliver asked a bemused John Howard, who replied, “Well, my scheme was not a failure. We had a massacre at a place called Port Arthur 17 years ago, and there have been none since.” Australia’s rate of gun deaths per 100,000 people was 1.03, compared with 10.69 in the U.S., according to 2012 figures from gunpolicy.org.

    In the 18 years prior to the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 13 mass shooting incidents , where five or more people were killed by a firearm. The gunman’s destructive actions so shocked and appalled the electorate that Howard’s sweeping changes to gun ownership laws were widely supported in the community.

    To read the full column, click here.

    Why Australian Men Need To Talk More About Suicide (September)

    Too many Australians die of suicide – around 2,500 per year, or 48 per week – and too few talk about it, or its surrounding issues – writes Andrew McMillen

    'Why Australian Men Need To Talk More About Suicide' by Andrew McMillen for GQ, 2015

    The numbers are shockingly high: suicide is the leading cause of death for Australian men and woman aged between 15 and 44.

    I’m a member of this demographic, but stating sad facts such as these in plain black-and-white can have a numbing effect. Though mentally healthy myself, I have seen the devastating effects of severe depression up close with someone I love, which is one of the reasons why I’ve made a few attempts as a journalist to uncover stories about Australians who have faced mental illness with courage and openness.

    The first was an article for Australian Penthouse in 2012, The Low Down, about an online campaign named Soften The Fuck Up, which seeks to challenge the low levels of mental health literacy recognised by its founder, Ehon Chan, after he moved to Australia from Malaysia.

    “What’s the most common thing that Australian men get when they talk about any kind of weaknesses?” he asked me during our interview. “The response is generally, ‘Harden the fuck up.’ There’s no equivalent phrase for that in Malaysian!” he said with a laugh. Soften The Fuck Up aims to encourage offline conversations, by equipping young people – in particular, men – with ideas of how to recognise signs and symptoms of mental health issues among their peers.

    My most recent story on this topic, Over Troubled Water, was published in The Weekend Australian Magazine in early September 2015, ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10. This article explored the topic of suicide prevention at an iconic location in inner-city Brisbane: the Story Bridge, which is the site of at least four suicides per year, on average. Counterintuitive though it might seem, installing anti-jump barriers on high bridges has been shown to greatly reduce the incidence of suicide, and the problem is not simply shifted to another location.

    To read the full column, click here.

    How We Could All Benefit From Cannabis Regulation (October)

    The potential benefit of legalising cannabis means drug reform in Australia should be taken seriously – argues Andrew McMillen.

    'How We Could All Benefit From Cannabis Regulation' by Andrew McMillen for GQ Australia, 2015

    A few years from today, once other Australian states have followed the lead set by Victoriain early October 2015 to move toward the legalisation of cultivating cannabis for medicinal purposes, the nation might finally be ready to have a conversation that needs to be had. Namely: why don’t we regulate and tax the recreational use of cannabis, our most popular illicit drug?

    At least 1.9 million Australians use cannabis each year, according to the most recent data from the United Nations 2014 World Drug Report. This is a huge proportion of Australians, and it’s significant for a couple of reasons. First, that’s a lot of adults of voting age, who’d probably be keen to support political parties that provide reasonable alternatives to the tired, ineffective tough-on-drugs approach we’ve seen in this country for generations.

    And second, this number represents an enormous amount of disposable income that’s leaking from the national economy into an unregulated market, far beyond the reach of the Australian Taxation Office.

    Given that recreational cannabis use is illegal, the only way to obtain the drug in 2015 is to associate with people who are, by definition, criminals. Once that transaction has been made, and you hand over your cash in exchange for the product, you’ve become a criminal, too. If caught by police, you will face charges of possession which may result in fines or, at the extreme end of the spectrum, imprisonment.

    This reality is known, understood and accepted by most Australians who choose to interface with illicit drug use. Perhaps a small minority of particularly inflammatory cannabis users get a kick out of breaking the law in this way, but most would probably much rather avoid the hassle of potentially being exposed to the criminal justice system purely because of their desire to use a drug that’s increasingly being legalised by state and federal governments throughout the world.

    To read the full column, click here.

  • The Saturday Paper story: ‘Sobering Proposals’, July 2015

    A news feature for The Saturday Paper – my first for that publication – published in the July 4 issue. Excerpt below.

    Sobering Proposals

    Proposed changes to liquor licensing laws in Queensland are ruffling the feathers of venue owners and drinkers alike, but data following strict changes in NSW correlate with a sharp fall in assault rates.

    ++

    For bouncers in pubs and nightclubs, the turn happens about 1am. After that, there is very little good to come.

    “Most of the positive interactions happen by then, in terms of people finding partners,” says Peter Miller. “After that point, the night starts to take a different direction: the later it gets, the uglier people get.”

    Miller knows a bit about this, having spent a decade working security in Melbourne and Geelong. Now a 50-year-old associate professor of psychology at Deakin University, he still spends a fair amount of time in bars, but he has traded his walkie-talkie for an iPhone app, which he and his team use to conduct in-the-field academic research in the form of “unobtrusive observations” of bar-room behaviour and interviews with pub patrons. “I’m not an ivory tower researcher,” he says with a chuckle. “I worked in the industry for a decade, and I’ve spent the last five years on the street.”

    The bouncers’ maxim Miller relays, that ugly behaviour sees a sharp rise after 1am, is particularly pertinent given that the Labor-led Queensland government plans to follow through with its pre-election commitment to curb alcohol-related violence by introducing a raft of statewide changes to liquor licensing. The laws follow similar regulation in New South Wales.

    “We will be bringing legislation before this house to stop pubs and clubs serving alcohol after 3am, and introducing a 1am lockout,” the Queensland attorney-general, Yvette D’Ath, said in state parliament on March 26. “We will be giving police the power to breathalyse drunk or disorderly patrons so they have the evidence they need to prosecute licensees, managers and patrons who breach the Liquor Act.” Also on the agenda was preventing the sale of “high-alcohol-content drinks” – including shots – after midnight.

    The thought of breathalysing patrons to prosecute venues seemed wild and open to police abuse. Drunkenness is not an unknown quantity in any bar at closing time. The Gold Coast Bulletin seized on the claims, running a front-page story headlined “D’Ath Vader”, complete with a Photoshopped image of the minister dressed as the Star Wars villain. The strapline: “Attorney-General using the force to keep the peace … and keep you sober”.

    “Allowing police to breathalyse drunken patrons will help them to build cases for prosecution for court,” D’Ath told the Bulletin. “For example, police consider a [blood-alcohol] reading of 0.15 to be highly intoxicated.” Strangely, D’Ath’s office issued a clarifying statement the same day, which noted, “There is no plan to random breath-test drinkers and there never has been.”

    To read the full story, visit The Saturday Paper.

  • The Monthly story: ‘Queen’s Man: Jarrod Bleijie’, March 2014

    A story for the March 2014 issue of The Monthly, and my first essay for the magazine: a profile of Queensland’s attorney-general, Jarrod Bleijie. Excerpt below.

    Queen’s Man

    The crazy brave populism of Jarrod Bleijie

    The Monthly story: 'Queen's Man: The crazy brave populism of Jarrod Bleijie', March 2014, by Australian freelance journalist Andrew McMillen

    One Friday evening last September, some 60 members of the Bandidos motorcycle gang descended on a busy restaurant in the Gold Coast suburb of Broadbeach to confront a man associated with the Finks, a rival gang. In the ensuing melee, four police officers were injured. Later, a smaller group of Bandidos assembled outside the nearby Southport police watch house in an apparent show of support for their 18 arrested peers.

    For Queensland’s attorney-general, Jarrod Bleijie, that evening was a “line in the sand”. Three weeks later, just before 3 am on 16 October, the Liberal National Party–dominated state parliament passed three pieces of bikie-related legislation, including the bill that would become the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment (VLAD) Act. “Recent events have proved that certain groups have no regard for the Queensland public,” Bleijie said. “Enough is enough. By restricting their movements and operations, the community is protected and it prevents these groups from running their criminal enterprises.”

    Under the VLAD Act, a “vicious lawless associate” found guilty of any criminal offence listed in the legislation, from the smallest drug possession charge up, would serve a mandatory prison term of up to 25 years on top of their sentence. The Tattoo Parlours Act bans members of criminal associations and their associates from operating, working in or owning tattoo parlours. The Criminal Law (Criminal Organisations Disruption) Amendment Act amends various pieces of legislation to label 26 motorcycle clubs as criminal organisations and ban their members from congregating in groups of more than three or meeting at their clubhouses. The Queensland government would go on to establish a “bikies only” prison, where inmates may be dressed in fluoro pink overalls.

    Police have arrested dozens of people under the new laws, including a group of five men drinking beer at the Yandina Hotel on the Sunshine Coast and a group of five Victorian men buying ice-creams on the Gold Coast. Clubhouses were closed; interstate bikies called off their trips north. The United Motorcycle Council Queensland hired a PR firm. Tearful family members hit the airwaves. A High Court challenge was touted (and is in train). Meanwhile, protesters took to the streets, on motorcycles and on foot. The tabloid press, normally so keen to demand a crackdown, any crackdown, on crime, no longer knew which way to turn. Even the Queensland premier, Campbell Newman, appeared to waver for a moment, hinting that the laws might be a temporary measure.

    But Bleijie remained steadfast. As he put it in a radio interview at the time: “These laws are targeting these particular types of grub and thug to make people in Queensland safe in their homes at night. They don’t have to worry about these types of thugs on our streets any more … We’re dealing with a different type of criminal: the toughest of the toughest and the worst of the worst.”

    The VLAD Act, with its broad definition of “vicious lawless associate”, would target not only criminal motorcycle gangs but also organised crime gangs that are not “patched” – “akin to the Mafia in the States”, Bleijie said in the same interview – and paedophile rings “that are grooming and doing all sorts of terrible things to our young kids”.

    In Bleijie (whose Dutch surname rhymes with “play”), Queenslanders suddenly had a tireless warrior for law and order: a former lawyer who could debate the finer points of complicated legislation through the dead of night, then front up to a morning media conference looking no worse for wear. The Courier-Mail dubbed him “boy wonder”, Robin to Newman’s Batman.

    The night after the passing of the anti-bikie legislation, another populist bill was sped through parliament. This one was a response to the case of Robert John Fardon, a 65-year-old who had served time for a number of violent sexual offences against girls and women, including acts committed while on parole. In 2003, Fardon became the first prisoner to be detained indefinitely under Queensland’s Dangerous Prisoners (Sexual Offenders) Act, legislation introduced by Peter Beattie’s Labor government. Last year, a review by the Supreme Court of Queensland ordered that Fardon be released on strict conditions. In response, Bleijie introduced an amendment to the legislation that would allow him to ask the governor to make a “public interest declaration” to keep offenders like Fardon behind bars.

    In legal circles, the amendment was branded a publicity stunt, and Bleijie was ridiculed for not understanding the separation of powers – the courts, not politicians, send people to prison. Tony Fitzgerald, the man who’d led the inquiry that had exposed corruption and political interference at the highest level in Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s government 25 years earlier, was prompted to write in Brisbane’s Courier-Mail: “It is incomprehensible that any rational Queenslander who is even remotely aware of the state’s recent history could for a moment consider reintroducing political interference into the administration of criminal justice, even to the point of making decisions about incarceration.”

    Weeks later, Queensland’s Court of Appeal struck down the new laws, agreeing that they would have required the Supreme Court to “exercise powers repugnant to or incompatible with [its] institutional integrity”.

    “To have any politician alone decide who’s going to be in jail or not is scary,” says Dan O’Gorman, a prominent Brisbane barrister. “I’ve acted for Fardon for seven years. He’s had a terrible life himself, which doesn’t justify his behaviour, of course. But Fardon is not the issue; the issue is the process. [Bleijie] just doesn’t seem to understand the role of an A-G. Unfortunately, not only has this fellow not defended the institutional integrity of the judicial process, he’s the leader of the cheer squad that’s attacking the courts. It’s an unbelievable situation.”

    To read the full 3,000 word story, visit The Monthly’s website.

  • The Monthly story: ‘Chalking The Walk’, May 2013

    A story for The Monthly in the May 2013 issue – my first contribution to the magazine, in ‘The Nation Reviewed’ section. The full story appears below; the illustration is credited to Jeff Fisher.

    Chalking The Walk

    The Monthly story: 'Chalking The Walk' by Andrew McMillen, May 2013On a Tuesday morning in March, 80-odd young people wearing red T-shirts hopped off two buses in Lismore, in northern New South Wales, and began canvassing shoppers and retailers in the central business district. Their quest, as declared on their chests, was to help end extreme poverty. Not in Lismore per se, but globally, by petitioning the federal government to bump up its foreign aid spending.

    The team was one of many converging on Canberra from around the country, as part of “The Roadtrip”, a week-long campaign organised by the Oaktree Foundation, the youth-run group that also arranged the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY concert in 2006. About eight hundred “ambassadors” were taking part all over the country. Their aim was to gather 100,000 signatures, or around 125 each, over the course of the trip via a smartphone app.

    The target didn’t sound overly ambitious. But, by noon, many of the locals out and about in central Lismore had been approached several times. Some were starting to get ticked off. “We’re actually irritating people now,” noted a group leader, Tammy, and the entire team retreated to a McDonald’s restaurant, where the buses were parked. One overweight team member was in tears. A local woman had accosted her, shouting: “If you stopped eating at fuckin’ McDonald’s, there wouldn’t be any poverty!” The canvasser’s peers moved in to soothe her. “That’s really rude,” someone countered.

    Three days earlier, the volunteers, aged from 16 to 26, had met for the first time at the University of Queensland in Brisbane to undertake an intensive course in political campaigning. Most were university students; a handful were still in high school. Ebony from Townsville was a champion skateboarder pining for her board. James, 21, was a soccer-mad Scot. Emily Rose, a petite redhead, showed off an unnerving party trick: the ability to dislocate her limbs at will. Each had stumped up $400 to cover food, travel and accommodation costs.

    The ambassadors had been taught some handy lines: “The door to ending poverty is opened by thousands”; “Two-thirds of the 1.3 billion worldwide living in poverty are our neighbours”; and “Australia’s fair share is just 70 cents in every $100 to fight global poverty”. This last line was central to the campaign. In 2000, Australia agreed to adopt the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, aimed at reducing extreme poverty. This meant setting aside 0.5% of Australia’s gross national income for foreign aid by 2015 (recently put off till 2016) and 0.7% by 2020. Currently, the nation contributes 0.37%.

    “The government has made a commitment,” the Roadtrip ambassadors pitched to shoppers. “We’re here to keep them true to that.” At night, the team slept rough in local church and sports club halls. By day, when not canvassing or on the buses, the team courted the local media, debriefed, attended further campaigning lessons and enjoyed “personal energising time”, as spare hours were denoted on the itinerary. Some members worried that they were falling behind on their petition targets. “Relax, it’s not about the signatures,” said a group leader. “It’s about the movement.”

    The day before they were in Lismore, the team had detoured briefly to the retirees’ paradise of Bribie Island, where half the group “chalked the boardwalk” with messages – “Help keep the promise of a fair share!” – while the other half were assigned the task of “painting the town red”, by asking local businesses to display campaign posters in their shop windows.

    Many shop owners were charmed enough to comply. “I don’t think they’ll achieve anything, but good luck to them,” a 74-year-old manager said. A girl serving ice-cream next door could barely remember the pitch – “something about foreign aid?” – but said she assented to their request because “they were young, and looked like they were important”.

    Wyatt Roy, the 22-year-old local MP, joined the ambassadors for a barbecue lunch. Wearing sunglasses and a crisp white shirt with rolled-up sleeves, he stood on a picnic table and said, “In this job, very often do people come to me with problems, and very rarely do they come with solutions. Thanks so much for doing what you’re doing.” As the team left Bribie, a sudden downpour washed away the chalked messages. The ambassadors coasted into Canberra two days later, via Kempsey and Port Macquarie, late on Wednesday afternoon, with 47,000 digital signatures.

    The next morning, at seven o’clock, the various busloads from around the country assembled at Parliament House. A giant map of Australia had been painted on the lawn, and the eight hundred ambassadors stood within their respective state boundaries. Chanting slogans, they made a lot of noise. Greens MPs hung around. A cherry picker was on hand so that TV crews and Oaktree’s media team could take shots from above. Bob Carr, the foreign minister, addressed them. “We are on target for 0.5%,” he said, before turning and gesturing behind him. “It’s up to you to persuade everyone in that building that they’ve got to act!”

    Scores of meetings had been scheduled between ambassadors and their local MPs, but many representatives either cancelled or sent staff in their place. Julie Bishop, the shadow foreign minister, slated to speak at the morning assembly, sent her apologies, too.

    The bus trip home, via Sydney, was a long one. A question kept coming up: had they actually made a difference? Was Wayne Swan, the treasurer, any more inclined to heed their call to increase spending on foreign aid by a third, to 0.5% of gross national income? His sixth federal budget will answer that, on 14 May. No one is holding their breath.

  • A Conversation With Damian Kulash, OK Go singer/guitarist

    OK Go singer/guitarist Damian KulashOK Go are an American pop band. I don’t want to cheapen their career by naming just its apex, but it’s the easiest way to refresh your memory: they’re the band behind ‘Here It Goes Again‘, better known as ‘the treadmill video‘.

    On February 13 2010, I spoke to OK Go’s singer/guitarist Damian Kulash [pictured right] on behalf of Rolling Stone Australia. He’d been up all night shooting a second music video for their song ‘This Too Shall Pass’. The first video couldn’t be embedded anywhere outside of YouTube because of the restrictions put in place by their parent label, Capitol Records, which is owned by EMI Music. The band’s response was to upload an embeddable version to Vimeo, write an open letter to their fans explaining the situation, and seek outside funding to conceptualise and film an entirely different music video. [You should click the above links to watch the videos, if you haven’t already seen them.]

    Shortly before Rolling Stone’s May issue went to print at the end of February – confusing, right? – OK Go left Capitol Records, effectively undermining my story’s relevance. [More on that experience here.]

    Below is the full conversation I had with Damian, which is one of the last interviews the band gave while still signed to a major label.

    Andrew: Before we start, are you totally sick of talking about this whole issue?

    Damian: The politics of the music industry are… tiresome. I’ll put it that way. It’s important to me and I’m fascinated by it, but I’d much rather be thinking about making things, than how to distribute them.

    What kind of response have you seen from your fans in regard to your letter?

    It’s been pretty positive. My letter has been received by some people as a polemic, or as a big screed, but truly, the letter was just an explanation to our fans about why certain things weren’t available to them, because I think people really didn’t understand what was going on. I didn’t see it as a big political move; it was just an explanation to our fans, and we’ve gotten very good response from them. I think they’re just happy that we treat them like adults.

    What kind of response have you seen from the record label? I read your interview on New TeeVee where you said your main contact at the label wants as badly as you do for the video to be embeddable.

    I think most folks at the label probably share our opinion that things should be easily distributed. There are a lot of competing agendas within the record label, so I’ve gotten a wide range of responses. The digital department of EMI France actually tweeted the letter and was distributing it because they felt it was a defense of their position. Other people felt like it was an attack. It’s a big company, so there’s been a wide range of responses.

    Beyond your fan base and record label industry people, the general public has also paid attention to the letter. I refer to your quote in Time about how you think there is a quiet majority who are just interested in seeing how the music industry works these days, and seeing your explanation from the inside.

    That’s definitely been the basic response that I’ve felt. I obviously can’t quantify it, but the loudest comments in the music industry in general are mostly from people who hate labels and who hate major labels and feel the industry is set up to screw musicians. I don’t feel like that’s generally representative. I think it’s easy to hate the machine. You really get those comments from people that actually try to make a living making music. It’s mostly people who have this purist idea of what music should be to them; give up their day jobs because they want their musicians to be absolutely conceptually totally pure and not ever have to worry about money for them.

    I read your Mashable interview where you said that a year or two ago, EMI switched the embedding stuff on all of your videos, but you didn’t pay much attention as you were making your new record at the time. Looking back, do you wish that you had paid attention? Would you have done anything differently back then?

    OK Go singer/guitarist Damian KulashWe have to pay attention to how our records and our videos and everything is distributed because we make ‘em and we care about how they get out there, but I wouldn’t be a student of the music industry’s technicalities if I wasn’t convinced that the animating passion in my life is making things, and how the distribution of them affects that. I know it sounds incredibly circular, but I don’t particularly care if the music industry works until I make something and it fucks up the way I want that thing to be shared with the world.

    I’m glad that when I’m writing music and recording music, in between records, I’m not spending my time trying to figure out the solution to the logistical problems of the music industry. Those are some things that we have to pay attention to out of necessity, not because we like paying attention to them.

    There is a quote from you in the letter where you say, “Unbelievably, we’re stuck in the position of arguing with our own label about the merits of sharing videos. It’s like the world has gone backwards.” As musicians, you must feel that having these kinds of conversations about the business side of music drains your creativity or your time that could be better spent creating music.

    It seems to me like there are a couple of things. One, the music industry is very clearly in an incredible crisis and that’s what makes this story complex. There is a lot to talk about because we’re up against what appears to be a sort of unresolvable problem. People want to talk about it. Two, I think a lot of us feel incredibly passionate about music and by its nature – almost by its definition – the important part of music kind of defies words. To me, what makes music sort of magical – what makes music the thing that I live for – is that you can communicate things like music’s four-dimensional emotions instantaneously. It’s like emotional ESP.

    I think when something comes along, something to talk about in music, something very rational or logistical and sort of left-linear logical, that’s attached to the distribution of music or to the manufacturing or production of music, then at least there is something to sink our rational brains into and some people really want to talk about it. Maybe this is something of a stretch as an argument, but we do a lot of interviews and it’s impossible to answer substantive questions about music because music is a feeling, not an argument. Whereas, everything that surrounds music – how it’s distributed, the politics, and the money behind it – gives you something hard and logical to talk about. I think that’s sort of why there is so much fascination on these things.

    Bob Lefsetz wrote in response to this situation that “if the labels want to maintain control, they have to first get the hearts and minds of the artists.” As an artist who deals with labels on a regular basis, do you share his view?

    OK Go singer/guitarist Damian KulashYes, in essence they do. I think that the value in music from which we derive the money in music can no longer be generated by limiting access. The way you assess value in most commodities is related to supply, the whole supply and demand curve. The reason you have to pay to have most things is because someone else restricts your access to them or you have to pay for the access to them. There are certain things that don’t follow that model and music has sort of jumped the barrier, I think.

    Twenty, fifteen, or even ten years ago, music was a physical thing that could be bought and sold. Even if conceptually the music wasn’t, there was a way of controlling access to it: you either owned a CD or you didn’t. Either you had access to it or your friend did, or you got it from a library. More likely, you bought it and had access to music.

    Now that has sort of broken down and the music industry is not going to be able to get that genie back in the bottle. You have to find a different level to work with, and I think that – whatever the financing situation is, no matter which body is financing the logistical mechanics of music – that body will have to have a better relationship with musicians and record labels. Record labels deal in very black-and-white terms with this restricted access thing, and now everyone is going to have to believe in a new model simultaneously, otherwise money won’t be generated for music.

    By now you’re all too familiar with the arguments surrounding this YouTube issue, having lived them out and told the world about it. If you can comment on it, I’d like to know how EMI rationalise the ‘disable embedding’ decision to the average web consumer – the one who just wants to share their cool videos with their friends?

    There has been a conceptual shift between videos being advertisement and videos being product. They’re sort of ‘on the fence’ still. All labels still want their videos to be seen far and wide, but they also want to be paid for them to be seen far and wide. Whereas once upon a time it was just amazing that there was a website out there [YouTube] that would actually help you distribute your advertising. Now, there is a website out there that is actually distributing your product without paying you for it. I think that’s how they justify it. They want people to see it like: “we paid for that thing, how come you won’t pay us for it?”

    Do you think that the thought of the average web user even comes into their equation, or is it all just discussed in terms of profit and shareholders, as you alluded to in your letter?

    They’re not such morons that they can’t take into account what people want. Labels don’t have a singular mind. It’s not like one big beast with one agenda. I think a lot of people at labels understand what people want and are frustrated with the way things are working. I think there hasn’t been a very clear-eyed assessment of that shift in music videos from advertisement to product, or in general, of the attempt to blur promotion and monetization. There used to be an obvious revenue stream, and that was selling records [CDs]. Since that is shrinking so incredibly fast, now all the things that you essentially pay for to promote that revenue stream are now things that they’re trying to turn the tables on and get money for actually having done.

    I don’t think they’re incapable of thinking about what people want. I think everybody suddenly is trying to eat the hamburger at the same time that they’re still milking the cow. You can’t have it both ways.

    Final question Damian, and it’s a bit of a philosophical one, so take a deep breath. If labels continue to herd viewers into absorbing their artists’ content in specific web destinations like on YouTube, what are the wider ramifications for the nature of sharing content online?

    American pop/rock band OK GoFirst of all, I’ve been talking this whole time as if I have a kind of answer, like I know exactly what’s going on and there is an obvious path forward. I don’t know what the ramifications will be. The first step that seems obvious to me is we do need something like record labels to perform some of the functions record labels traditionally have. This is what I think the critics of major labels often miss, is that for all of their exploitative, greedy, and short-sighted policies, they did provide a risk aggregation for the world of music making. They invest in however many young bands a year and most of them fail. Those bands go back to their jobs at the local coffee houses without having to be in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal debt for having gone for it.

    If we don’t want to be just a domain of the independently wealthy and people who can take time off from their jobs for a couple of years to see what happens, or finance their own world tour while they figure out exactly how to make the number at the end of the column black, then somebody has to be doing this risk aggregation.

    Historically, when a band did well, or an artist did well, the profits could be so substantial that they would cover the other nineteen losses that the failed bands meant for a record label. A label could take the very extreme numbers of the music industry: you might have a less than 1% chance of success, but if you do succeed there is a massive reward, and it sort of evens them out over dozens or hundreds of artists a year.

    Something sort of needs to be doing that unless we want music only to be the domain of the independently wealthy. I think then you have to figure out what that means for content distribution. Somehow, some sector of the business has to be able to make a significant reward off of the success of that one-in-twenty, or that one-in-fifty, or that one-in-one hundred in order to keep the system running.

    At the same time, we all want this magical, wonderful, instantaneous global distribution – via the internet – to make music ever easier to get to and to make it more universal and more accessible. We have to figure out how to get the money that people are willing to spend on music into the hands of musicians, and into the hands of those risk aggregation bodies.

    Right now, it seems people are willing to spend money pretty freely on music. They just tend to do it more on hardware or on their broadband connection. People are willing to pay for extremely fast connection to the internet so they can download big files. They just don’t particularly care for paying for the file themselves, or see that as something they should be doing. People will pay a lot for an mp3 player. They don’t expect that part to be free, so to get people to value their music in that way, then we should figure out how to look at the system from a macro perspective and figure out a reasonable way forward.

    Thanks Damian. I admire your ability to speak coherently about the music industry, especially after an all-nighter. [The band had been up working on the second video for ‘This Too Shall Pass‘, which is embedded below.]

    I don’t know how coherent I’ve been, but if you can whip that into shape and make me sound like I was, then more power to you. I appreciate it.

    [You can read more about this story for Rolling Stone Australia here.]

  • A Conversation With Jess, Sydney Digital Strategy Director and SomethingChanged.com.au blogger

    *facepalm*It just so happens that Jess is Digital Strategy Director at a mysterious Sydney advertising agency. She won’t say which, and she also won’t let me publish her surname. Or at leaIt’s not because she’s scared or nothin’, but on the internets, Jess is best known as the curator of a rather excellent blog called Something Changed, about which I wrote lovingly for FourThousand:

    “Something Changed acts as Jess’ digital scrapbook, where she posts about new media, advertising, online campaigning, representations of the self, kids today, words, writing and books, funny things on the internets, politics, art, ideas, music, work, food, and sydney. The result is an aggregate of content that you’ll probably find either funny or fascinating if you’re a twenty-something who spends a lot of time online – and since you’re reading this, it’s not an unfair assumption to make.”

    Jess, why did you start Something Changed? Was there an influential person or moment that encouraged its creation?

    I started Something Changed almost two years ago because I was fascinated by people’s behaviour on the internet and I wanted to document my discoveries. It was partly so I could archive and remember facts, figures and links more efficiently, and partly to have something to show for the immense amount of reading and research I do! I discovered Tumblr through Gawker’s exhaustive coverage of Jakob Lodwick and Julia Allison‘s relationship which largely played out on the Tumblr platform. Tumblr was perfect for me because I like to present raw data that interests me as I find it, rather than crafting long posts.

    Where do you find the majority of the articles that you link?

    On Tumblr you can post stuff you create, post stuff that you find online, or use their reblog feature (which is sort of an automatic “retweet” feature) to post other’s content with a link crediting them. About 75 per cent of what I blog is from the second category. I find it by either investigating a topic that interests my by searching and following links, setting up RSS feeds to my favourite blogs and websites, and by following people who I respect and who will post things I find interesting.

    Does your exhaustive online presence ever spill into your professional life? Do your workmates know of the blog?

    In fact the internet IS my job, lucky me! I work for an ad agency where I am the digital strategy director. Since I work on campaigns and strategy it’s considered part of my work. My workmates and bosses definitely know of the blog, I bang on about it exhaustively. In fact my boss promised to buy me a cake when I passed a big milestone in the amount of readers I had, but I passed it ages ago and he is still yet to come through. Two of them have started Tumblrs themselves. We all love the internet at work.

    Why the anonymity?

    Well I’m not really sure now! I was doing some big work for clients around which there is some sensitivity, and I didn’t want any posts to be taken out of context and my personal views being ascribed to the client. I think in the next few months I’ll probably get with the times and put up my full name. I’ve noticed all my peers in my industry do.

    Do you often give thought to how you portray yourself online and the legacy you’re building, or do you just throw it all out there?

    RING RING, BANANAPHONE!

    Something Changed started as mainly a vehicle for professional development and research and largely it still is. I barely ever talk about myself (apart from “I saw this, I read this, I ate this, I visited this”) or my feelings. So at worst it will be a record of what interested me at different stages of my life, which is fine. Thank god I have never posted a poem or ruminations on my relationships.

    What do you think Something Changed adds to the web?

    Lots of people in marketing and advertising view the internet from very very far away with a telescope. The world does not need another “how to be a powerblogger” blog or post on “how to measure social media ROI”. I like to think I see the raw internet – the amazing stuff people create, the intense stuff people say about their lives and feelings, the fascinating ways they represent themselves online. Then I try and distill that onto my blog. It’s like a little field study from an anthropologist completely embedded in the culture they observe. Having said that, I don’t recommend people see my blog as anything special – instead they should set up their own!

    As you said, you barely ever talk about yourself. But you also barely ever talk about why you find something interesting, or worthwhile posting.

    You’re right. I tend to like information that I view as primary sources – people who produce things from scratch, whether it’s blog posts about their lives of feelings, collating things that inspire them, producing amazing things likes videos or songs. Or academic analysis- people who take rigorous, well-informed approach to analyzing the internet and its sociology.

    I don’t have time for anything in between, that whole raft of “people who don’t really understand the internet talking in vague general terms about the internet.”

    I have things I definitely won’t post, like anything about swine flu, anything about that Best Job in the World tourism campaign, or tips to become a Twitter poweruser.

    Do many of your non-ad agency friends follow the blog? How do you describe the blog to a real-life friend?

    None of my friends that I’ve known forever are in the ad industry. They all read it, sporadically. When I refer to my blog I adopt a stupid mocking tone and say “my blawg.” If they ask about it I give a knowing smile and say, “I’m so famous on the internet you guys.” If a waiter takes ages to take our drink orders I’m like, “this would never happen to me on the internet.”

    You and I both spend a lot of time online. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve develop a kind of bias in the way that I access information online. I start to overstate the way that I operate and assume that others follow similar methods; if they don’t, I become either amused or frustrated, depending on my mood. But that’s a curious aside. When did you become a heavy internet user, and how did your skills develop to the point that they’re at now? (Because let’s face it, good internets is a skill.)

    I know exactly what you mean. Good internet is definitely a skill. I am totally self taught, I didn’t even have email until 2000 or 2001. In 2003, someone at uni said, “email me a draft of your paper” and I said, “oh it’s pretty long for an email,” and then attachments were explained to me. I couldn’t use a digital camera until 2004. I couldn’t pirate music! It all sounds a bit embarrassing now.

    It was in 2005 then that I started using the internet heavily because I joined some forums. Before that, I had always thought of the “web” quite disparagingly, “who are these people? Read a book, or go outside.” Now it’s completely a part of my daily routine. It’s really changed my life – how I think, what inspires me, how I work, the people I’ve met.

    It’s helped that I can do it all day everyday at my work. Spending ten hours a day on something is a good way to get quite good at something. In every role I’ve had in my career, to do a good job I need insight into what people think and feel, a creative spark to generate ideas, and a plan to my implement strategy. So the internet is crucial to every single element, and my employers have always let me have free reign to work that way.

    Do you keep a private journal?

    No! I’m too self-conscious. If I want to remember how I felt about something, I do a keyword search in my Gmail and cringe at old emails I wrote my friends.

    How did you become digital strategy director at your agency? Was ‘good internets’ part of the job description?

    I met the CEO of my agency when I consulted on online strategy on a big national campaign he was working on. A few months later my position was created for me when I said I was ready for a new job – so there was actually no job description! I’m so lucky now that I get to do what I love with the cleverest team and the best clients.

    Neighbours: Fucking TerribleThe career path to Digital Strategy Director was not an obvious one. I was a journalist, then moved to Melbourne and could not immediately get a journalism job so I got a job doing the overseas publicity for Neighbours [pictured right *snigger*]. I only got the job because at the interview I told the producer, “You know it’s not too late to make Izzie’s baby Jack’s,” or something. Since I was spending my days trying to get freelance writing work I had had plenty of time to watch Neighbours fortunately.

    Of course part of my job was to look after the BBC’s Neighbours website. It was my first taste of a really intense online fan community. They had a forum and everything. I learnt so much from that job. That an official website will never be as fascinating as a fan website unless you let go of the PR reigns (why would you want to read about an actors’ theatre aspirations on our site when you could go to an unofficial site to read about their love life?). That fans create the best material, that fans really get upset if you make changes without consulting them. It was a crash course in Internet.

    Then I got to do my dream job being the Online Director doing national political campaigning, where I learnt about building movements – uniting people around taking action online and offline to achieve social change. Then I consulted on another big campaign, then I got this job. I always think of that thing people say, “the jobs the youth of today will be doing when they grow up haven’t even been invented yet.” At our Careers Centre at school they basically said girls could be Lawyers, Accountants, Gallery Curators or PRs.

    I’m assuming that you went to university. Tell me about your time there.

    I did! I went to uni to study English thinking I would have a career doing some kind of writing. In first year I became interested in social justice issues and for the first time paid attention to politics and current affairs. Before then I was strictly a reading, writing, art galleries, theatre type of person. So uni was fun, I did the student politics/share house/shop at Salvos/“feed yourself on $5 a day” thing until my last year. Then I got a full time newspaper journalism cadetship, and had to do my Honours year full time at the same time.

    Was that a difficult year? Did you ever question what you were doing?

    It was difficult. Fortunately it was things I loved doing – researching and writing. I’m also one of those people who needs to be busy to get things done. I like approaching big tasks (daily deadline of journalism combined with a yearly deadline of handing in a thesis) and strategically breaking them down in an efficient way. Having said that, I am never studying again. And whenever my friends say “I’m thinking of going back to uni,” I always say “NO! YOU FORGET HOW HARD IT IS!”

    How did you land the cadetship? Was it shit or awesome?

    I can't think of an alt-text for this one. It's a pretty sweet photo though, don't you think?

    I decided suddenly I wanted to be a journalist so I got a two week cadetship at a newspaper. I was lucky they gave it to me because I think now they only take people studying Proper Journalism at uni – a bit short sighted in my opinion, but I think it’s because the universities provide insurance. I got a story in the paper almost every day, including a huge feature on mobile phone use that was published in the Features liftout on the Saturday. The story is completely lame and I am so glad it’s not accessible by Google.

    After my two weeks the Chief of Staff said they were hiring a cadet, and would I like to apply? I said “yes”. I interviewed and didn’t get it – someone else did. But a few weeks later they phoned and said I could be a cadet anyway. So that’s how I got the job, and now the other cadet is one of my best friends. The cadetship was amazing. Every day as a general news reporter is different and being a journalist is like having a license to walk up to anyone and ask them anything you want.

    Do you read newspapers? Could you imagine being a full-time news reporter?

    I only read newspapers on the weekends: the Australian, the Sydney Morning Herald, Sunday Sun Herald and Sunday Telegraph. I get rid of all the Drive, Careers, Business and rubbishy sections. Then read the news, then the Lifestyle, then glossy lifestyle supplements. It’s a habit. Print will never die while people have weekend brunch routines to uphold.

    I can’t imagine being a full-time news reporter. I would love the thrill of finding a big story but miss the calming routine of planning and strategising in advance. I get a nice mix of thrillingly busy versus long term planning in my current work, so I wouldn’t go back.

    Lots of people view their time at university as instrumental in their personal development. What did you learn about yourself during that time?

    I learnt the same thing at uni that has proved true in the workplace. Studying and work (doing your actual job as per your job description) teaches you nothing. You have to do it and do it well. But everything fun, amazing, professionally exciting or leading to personal growth has always been thanks to things I do on the side. Whether that’s groups I joined at uni, friends I made on the internet, ideas and projects I’ve suggested at work, or new career opportunities I’ve conjured up. When I think about what my life would be like without my blog that I randomly started a few years ago… I just can’t imagine it!

    Something Changed is my favourite Australian blog. You’d best subscribe via email or RSS. Unsurpisingly, Jess is also quite lively on Twitter. Thanks for the interview, Jess!

  • Taxing The Piss

    “We don’t think there’ll be a simple change-over, because we know many young people simply don’t like the taste of beer, or straight alcohol,” she said.

    “That will be a good thing if it delays some people from having their first introduction to alcohol, or if it puts them off drinking for a number of years. That will have a positive impact.”

    This is the dumbest bunch of bullshit I’ve read in a week. Can you say, “prolonging the inevitable”?

    The Australian Government intends to increase tax on “alcopops” by 70%, as this will supposedly “help to cut teenage drinking, because the so-called alcopops disguise the taste of alcohol”. Up until this point I’d been rather blasé about the issue, but the truckload of bullshit that Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon wheeled into the discussion has prompted me to respond.

    People like to get drunk, regardless of age. It’s been glorified throughout history. It’s glorified everywhere you look in the media. Getting drunk is fun. More importantly, getting drunk teaches individuals to become responsible for their actions.

    My introduction to binge drinking occurred at around age 15, three years before our national legal drinking age allows a person to buy, drink or possess alcohol. It took me around a dozen violent vomit explosions and killer hangovers to realise that my actions, however fun they were at the time, had consequences. I learned that drinking a lot is fun, but it fucks you over. I learned personal accountability for my actions.

    My experience was not uncommon. Beginning binge drinking at the age of 15 was later than a lot of my peers at the time. It’s what teenagers do – experiment, participate in risk-taking behavior, and learn. There’s a small percentage who don’t learn, and who are thus plagued with problems throughout their lives. That’s another discussion entirely, though.

    “Cask wine is the drink of choice for someone who wants to get hammered,” Mr Smeaton told AAP.

    He’s not wrong. From experience, goon is the cheapest, most popular decision for the discerning binge drinker.

    “We need to increase the tax on things like full-strength beer, on cask wine, and on port.”

    Okay, now he’s wrong. Increasing taxes in an attempt to quell an activity that members of society knowingly participate in is an act of social engineering, in its simplest form. And it’s not going to work.

    People are going to binge drink, regardless. Alcopop sales will plummet, and both goon and straight alcoholic spirit sales will soar. And then they’ll attempt to implement further tax hikes, and then where does it end?

    Look. Taxing the shit out of an activity isn’t going to reduce its prevalence. I doubt that the popularity of binge drinking has increased in any other manner than proportionately. There’s more kids than ever, so there’s more of them that binge drink. This has gone on for generations. Hell, wasn’t rum used as a currency during colonial times?

    The act of binge drinking in ingrained into our national culture. Logically, we should teach kids how to handle alcohol from an early age. I don’t mean teaching as in the bullshit hour-a-week program that they probably still receive in early high school, as I did. I mean, really raise, address and discuss the issue with kids from a young age.

    Tax ain’t the answer. You can’t throw money at – or in this case, take money from – an issue to make it go away. The problem’s deeper than that, and it deserves a reasonable, rational response.