Getting a COVID-19 test in NSW, as of May 2020

NSW is encouraging all people with any symptoms of COVID-19 to be tested. Since I have what I assume are seasonal allergies, I meet the testing criteria and probably will continuously for months to come, so I’ve had a few tests. Curious? Here’s what you need to know.

Test access has got much easier. I’ve heard from several people that they don’t understand how to get tested, because a friend of theirs tried in March and their doctor flat-out declined to refer them without clear signs of pneumonia, so what is this stuff and nonsense about how everyone with symptoms should get testing?

If you want to learn about tests before you get one, try and find someone who got tested recently to share their experience. Here’s mine:

  • no referral is required
  • testing is readily available and swiftly administered
  • results are often available same-day

Check the date and location on anyone’s testing story before deciding testing sounds too hard and inaccessible.

You can get tested, in many places without a referral. Here’s the testing sites.

Here’s the testing procedure at the drive-through clinic I went to:

  1. drive up
  2. a person in full PPE approaches the car and takes your personal details: name, address, phone, email, symptoms, employment status (do you work in health or aged care, or no?), risk factors (recent travel, contact with known or suspected cases)
  3. you drive forward to a second person who reads the details back to you
  4. that person does the deeply unpleasant thing you’ve probably seen videos of where they put a swab up your nose and into your sinuses, wave it around, and withdraw it a couple of seconds after it becomes really really difficult to tolerate
  5. you drive away
  6. you are asked to behave as if you are positive until you get that result. This means strictly staying at home and minimising contact with household members.
  7. later that day you get a text message asking if you opt into result-by-text and if you do, usually some hours later you get your result.

I asked them what they do with children and they said, as of late May, for children they are doing throat swabs rather than nasal ones.

They only acted a little bit startled when I reported that I had had a runny nose for 12 weeks. (Some guidance on how regularly to get re-tested with symptoms that don’t change would be handy!)

I’ve not been positive (and hope not to be prior to vaccine or effective anti-virals!) so I do not know what additional things happen if you are positive, presumably contact tracing and fairly high levels of health monitoring kick off from there.

If you do want a doctor to examine you, look for a “Respiratory Clinic” on the same page that lists the testing clinics. The respiratory clinics are clinics where the doctors are already wearing full PPE and have good patient isolation set up (eg, no waiting room, you wait in your car). This saves you and your regular GP considerable fuss around them needing to don full PPE and change their waiting practices for you, and are a good place to head with cold/flu symptoms this year.

Australia Burns: Bells Line of Road, 28 December 2019

Emergency information

Fires Near Me (NSW), Vic Emergency (Victoria)


These photographs were taken on 28 December on Bells Line of Road, which runs between western Sydney and Lithgow. Bells Line of Road is the northernmost of two road crossings of the Blue Mountains between Sydney and western NSW.

Wildnerness and parts of towns were badly burned for a long stretch between Lithgow and Bilpin on Bells Line of Road in the days leading up to and including December 21 by the Gospers Mountain / Grose Valley fire complex. The road re-opened on December 25.

The December 31 2019 eastern bushfire catastrophes were concentrated far to the south east from where these pictures were taken; they were in the South Coast of NSW and East Gippsland in Victoria. These two areas are also currently considered most at risk in the upcoming January 4 heatwave, with tourists asked to leave the South Coast and the evacuation of Kosciuszko National Park (January 2), following the evacuation of East Gippsland (December 29).

Fires are expected to continue in Australia until there’s substantial rainfall.

Supporting firefighters and affected people

Donations are accepted by, among others:

Most affected areas rely heavily on the tourism industry for income, planning to visit after the fire period is also likely to be helpful, you can check NSW road closures and warnings at Live Traffic. Judging from Bilpin on December 28, take cash, phone lines and cell towers aren’t restored until long after power is.


Bare trees, near Bell Trees burned to the crown Burned rail embankment Blackened road sign One side of the road burned Melted road sign Completely burned Burned up

All photos.

Cross-posted to Hoyden About Town.

Book review: The Wife Drought

My quest to be a paid book reviewer remains stalled for two reasons: first, I’ve never once asked anyone for money to do a book review, and second, this book review comes to you express, hot out of the oven, fresh from the year two thousand and fourteen.

Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought: Why women need wives, and men need lives is titled and marketed on the old “women need wives” joke, ie, an adult in their home to make meals and soothe fevers and type manuscripts for free.

Crabb is also a well-known Australian political journalist — the ABC’s chief online political writer — who is best-known for hosting a cooking with politicians TV show, and probably next best known for her comic writing style, eg:

Right then. The parliamentary consideration of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act has concluded. The nation has experienced the special thrill of watching its elected representatives fight like ferrets in a bag over a legislative clause even John Howard couldn’t get excited about, and can now dully register the fact that all this fuss has produced exactly zero changes to the clause in question.

Annabel Crabb, There is nothing free about Mark Latham’s speech, April 1 2017.

One or the other of the title’s reliance on the hackneyed complaint about women needing wives, or Crabb’s journalist persona, caused a lot of people I know to write off this book unread. The marketing runs with this too:

Written in Annabel Crabb’s inimitable style, it’s full of candid and funny stories from the author’s work in and around politics and the media, historical nuggets about the role of ‘The Wife’ in Australia, and intriguing research about the attitudes that pulse beneath the surface of egalitarian Australia.
Penguin Books Australia

I suggest you don’t write it off, at least not for those reasons. It’s quite a serious book, and Penguin has buried the lede: intriguing research about the attitudes that pulse beneath the surface of egalitarian Australia. The research is central to the book: Crabb did a lot of one-on-one work with demographers to extract answers to questions that no one had answers to about gender, work, money, and career progressions in Australia. Some of the findings the book contains are in fact new findings prompted by Crabb’s questioning of demographic collaborators (who are acknowledged by name, although not as co-authors).

I found two discussions especially interesting: the way in which Australia makes part-time work fairly readily available to women with young children and the many limits of that as a solution to pay and career progression disparities between men and women; and the evidence suggesting that, contrary to the widespread perception that men are hailed as heroes by men and women alike for participating in the care of their young children, they are actually discriminated against by their workplaces when they do so.

After that Crabb’s writing style is just an added bonus to keep you going through the book. If you’re going to read a demographic exploration of gender and labour in Australia in the 2010s, it’s certainly a nice bonus that it happens to be written by Annabel Crabb of all people. Instead, the major caution I would give is that it’s very middle-class in both point of view and content, without much discussion of that limitation; and is largely focussed on women partnered with men. Assuming that the work lives of middle-class women partnered with men in Australia is of interest to you, recommended.

Gender and religious discrimination in resettling refugees… in Australia

As folks from the US in particular know, on January 27 Donald Trump signed Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States. It includes this text:

Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.

Trump has explicitly clarified that this is intended to prioritise Christians:

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network earlier Friday, Trump was asked whether he would prioritize persecuted Christians in the Middle East for admission as refugees, and he replied, “Yes.”

Trump signs order temporarily halting admission of refugees, promises priority for Christians, The Washington Post, January 27 2017

Australia has done this too

As my readers may not know, but Australian refugee activists will, this is not novel policy among the US’s friends and allies. It’s policy in Australia, and has been at least mooted in Canada as well. In September 2015, Australia made a commitment to resettle 12,000 Iraqi and Syrian refugees in addition to the existing resettlement quota. (The Sydney Morning Herald, September 2015).

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection says:

Priority for 12,000 Humanitarian Programme places will be given to people displaced by the conflict in Syria and Iraq who are… assessed as being most vulnerable – persecuted minorities, women, children and families with the least prospect of ever returning safely to their homes…

Australia’s response to the Syrian and Iraqi humanitarian crisis, accessed January 29 2017

This discriminates against men, especially single or unaccompanied men, and Muslims. Here’s a (News Corp) press description: Australia will minimise its intake of single Sunni men as it vets the 12,000 Syrian refugees the government has pledged to take from Syria, prioritising instead Christian family groups who can never return home… [t]he government has said it would prioritise persecuted min­orities in choosing the 12,000, widely understood to be code for non-­Islamic migrants [my emphasis]. (The Australian, March 2016)

I haven’t found 2016 or 2017 statements, but discrimination against Muslims has also been floated by Canada (CBC News, December 2014) and as of 2015 Canada also prioritised other refugees before unaccompanied men. (The Guardian, November 2015.)

Action for Australians

In general you can support refugees and asylum seekers (and recall, seeking asylum in Australia rather than being granted a visa through UNHCR processes makes you subject to internment here, in some cases in offshore torture camps) by supporting activists and advocates. A thoroughly non-exhaustive list includes RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-detainees (run and governed by refugees, asylum seekers and ex-detainees), the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Refugee Legal.

Contacting politicians in support of Muslim and single male refugees: the Refugee Council of Australia suggests contacting your representatives, relevant Ministers, and the Prime Minister and other party leaders. They suggest contact by postal mail, asking questions that require a response. I am writing to Peter Dutton, the Minister for Border Protection and Immigration; Shayne Neumann, the Shadow* Minister for Border Protection and Immigration, and my local member Anthony Albanese (who is also a member of the opposition).

The Refugee Action Coalition (Twitter, Facebook) is one place to find out about rallies and protests in Sydney.

Incidentally, Australians, if Australia was ever to start turning back residency visa holders at the border, would we end up rallying on the streets outside Kingsford-Smith and Tullamarine?

* For readers outside Australia/the Westminster system, the opposition appoints a Shadow Minister to each portfolio, who speaks about how the opposition would approach that ministry, if it were the government, and pay special attention to the actions of that Minister and department. Since the opposition isn’t the government, the Shadow Ministers do not actually have a department reporting to them.

US tech resistance cheatsheet for Australians

I gave an Australian friend a rundown on my sources of information about US opposition to the incoming Trump administration, focussed on tech workers, and she pointed out that my resources were worth sharing; the “Australian technology worker following US tech industry organising” position is not very common. Here’s my little collection of links:

Tech Solidarity. Tech Solidarity is a series of meetings being run in major US cities for technology industry workers on the subject of solidarity with other workers and with technology users, against an authoritarian Trump regime. There’s a Tech Solidarity website, but the best place to find out about their meetings is their Twitter account, and the best place to find out about their politics is the @Pinboard Twitter account run by Tech Solidarity co-organiser Maciej Cegłowski. This is a specific pledge by technology industry workers to not be involved in building technology for the US government to target individuals based on race, religion, or national origin, as well as advocating for specific policies in our workplaces and protesting unethical practices. I am a signatory and several of my friends are organisers. A Tech Solidarity meeting was key in launching the pledge.

Indivisible Guide. A guide to influencing members of Congress when your goals are largely defensive and obstructionist, ie, to hinder the dominant party in Congress or the President’s party in implementing their policy platform.

While this guide is interesting, I think considerable caution is called for in applying much of it to Australian politics without asking Australian activists and staffers for their advice. For example, party discipline in Australia is extremely strong — your representatives, if members of a major party, almost invariably vote with that party — and Cabinet and the ministry are appointed from amidst the members rather than separately. The executive being drawn from the legislature is very very different to how the US executive branch works. The chapter on four local advocacy tactics that actually work may have some inspiration for beginning to engage with your state or federal MP’s local activities if you haven’t done so before.

There are several guides to opposing specific Trump administration policies and initiatives, such as Resistance Manual and the re:act newsletter. There must be more of these appearing every day; I’m not following them closely since the calls to action usually require being a constituent of US members of congress and/or being a US resident.

Moving to Australia as a progressive in 2016: discrimination, violence, and activism

This article is the conclusion of a short series on one person’s perspective on what people might want to know before considering immigrating to Australia as a person with progressive politics, in 2016.

The goal of this series is, if there’s issues that affect you and/or you are active in and/or you want to know more about, to give you a capsule summary of the issue from my point of view, with links for further reading. Where I have them, I’ve given details of activists and organisations I follow in the space, and in some cases well known organisations that I don’t personally follow. In this last entry, I’m dealing mostly with identities and rights where I am not in the affected group and where I have no specific expertise. (Being a woman is the major exception to this, but even there I’m not a specific expert on women’s rights in Australia.) So rather than attempt to do justice to anything in detail, in most cases I’ve listed up to five things to learn more about, and then some follows of groups and individuals you can learn from.

Thanks to the many folks over the years who’ve developed the resources I relied on for this, ranging from Twitter to Wikipedia to our beleagured ABC. Most links from this entry are to Wikipedia; this is due to my limitations in finding the best sources. I strongly encourage you to treat Wikipedia articles as an overview and one source of further reading, not the last word.

Indigenous dispossession and oppression

Warning: this section uses the surnames of deceased Indigenous Australians, and links from this section may contain images and names of deceased Indigenous Australians.

In moving to Australia, unless you are an Indigenous Australian, you are inevitably taking part in the dispossession of Australia’s Indigenous peoples, who lived here for tens of thousands of years prior to European invasion two centuries ago.

Four things to learn more about:

Follow: The Land Councils (the list seems very incomplete, it is missing eg the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council), Black Australia Tumblr (see their FAQ on non-Indigenous readers), Celeste Liddle at Black Feminist Ranter and Daily Life, the @IndigenousX tweeters together with @TheKooriWoman, the 2015 IQ2 Racism Debate and 2016 Wallace Wurth lecture speeches and ‘The Australian Dream’ Quarterly Essay by Stan Grant. National Indigenous Television is made by and for Indigenous Australians under the auspices of the public Special Broadcasting Service, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation maintains an Indigenous news portal and The Koori Mail is an Aboriginal-owned and operated national newspaper.

On January 26 each year, Invasion Day protests and Survival Day observances protest the original invasion and celebrate the continuance of Aboriginal communities and culture. If you are visiting or living in Australia on January 26 2017 as a non-Indigenous Australian, observing, supporting, and attending these (where appropriate) is a possible way to begin to support Indigenous activism.

Refugee rights

Australia has a punitive, human rights-violating regime of imprisoning asylum seekers, particularly those who arrive by sea. Many asylum seekers are imprisoned on Papua New Guinea and Nauru where the refugees have less access to basic needs, lawyers, activists, and the media (and as noted in the last entry there are also strong restrictions on media reporting). The government is trying to arrange it so that any refugee held in these prisons will never be offered asylum in Australia, with recent proposals that they would never be allowed entry to Australia under any circumstances on any visa.

The UN has repeatedly condemned this regime, finding that it violates the Convention Against Torture and calling for immediate movement to humane conditions. Among the deaths in offshore detention centres are those of Reza Berati in 2014 at the hands of prison staff and, just recently, Faysal Ishak Ahmed after alleged serious medical neglect.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott (whose party remains in government now, under PM Malcolm Turnbull) has given lectures promoting this system to other countries. At present, while dislike of and protest against our torture of asylum seekers is widespread, it is not a core political issue for many Australians, and it gains support whenever it is relaxed and asylum seekers begin arriving by boat, and dying at sea, in larger numbers. The ALP, currently in opposition, supports offshore imprisonment continuing. The Greens are the largest party committing to ending it in their policy platform (and as best I can tell, even the Greens are not opposing imprisonment within Australian borders).

A selection of detailed reading on Australian refugee policies and immigration detention:

Follow: RISE (Refugees, Survivors and Ex Detainees), Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Human Rights Law Centre, Refugee Action Coalition. Julian Burnside (a barrister who acts pro bono on refugee rights) has assembled a long list of asylum seeker support organisations. In May 2016 No Award published things australians can do to support asylum seekers.

Workers’ rights

Five things to learn more about:

Follow: The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), the ALP’s workers’ policies (see also those of the Greens), the ACTU’s list of individual unions and Diversity Council Australia for equality initiatives in the workplace.

Racial equality and anti-racism

Five things to learn more about:

Follow: I don’t have a solid set of follows in the anti-racism and racial justice space yet. I’d love some suggestions in comments.

LGBTI rights

Five things to learn more about:

Follow: the Star Observer has a list of national and state LGBTI Community Services and Organisations.

Women’s rights

Five things to learn more about:

Follow: the monthly Down Under Feminist Carnival collating feminist writing in Australia and New Zealand

Disability rights

Four things to learn more about:

Follows: Sam Connor, Lauredhel at Hoyden About Town and Feminists With Disabilities, the late Stella Young and other writers at the ABC’s now defunct Ramp Up website, Australian Centre for Disability Law, The Conversation‘s disability rights writing, Our Consumer Place (a guide by and for consumers of mental health care).

Sex work

NSW is one of the few jurisdictions in the world where sex work is decrminialised. Some other states and territories have legal sex work in some circumstances (eg in brothels, or privately) but not others, it varies quite widely. The Scarlet Alliance has a state-by-state breakdown.

Follow: Scarlet Alliance.

Moving to Australia as a progressive in 2016: parliamentary politics, freedom of the press, climate change, surveillance

This article is part of a short (albeit growing at the rate of one entry per entry…) series on one person’s perspective on what people might want to know before considering immigrating to Australia as a person with progressive politics, in 2016.

The goal of this series is, if there’s issues that affect you and/or you are active in and/or you want to know more about, to give you a capsule summary of the issue from my point of view, with links for further reading. Where I have them, I’ll give details of activists and organisations I follow in the space, and in some cases well known organisations that I don’t personally follow.

It’s worth noting that I’m not especially radical; I consider myself a social democrat. If you’re interested in, say, anarchism or communism in Australia, I don’t have pointers here, but it may still give you a sense of some places to begin asking questions. I’m also more accustomed to the lens of intersectional feminism (sometimes badly wielded) than other styles of progressive analysis. I’m not a member of any political party and don’t comment here on what it’s like to get involved in party political activity. I’ve tended to read and write more than I have to organise, or to take to the streets. This may change.

Apologies to everyone for either sketchy or no treatment of things that are important to you; this is a personal overview and necessarily partial and biased. Thanks to the many folks over the years who’ve developed the resources I relied on for this, ranging from Twitter to Wikipedia to our beleagured ABC.

Thumbnail sketch of parliament politics

Australia is a Commonwealth of states, formed in 1901 from British colonies (now our states) that were established by European invasion of Australian lands from 1788 onwards. The colonies were granted limited self-government in the period 1856–1890, and nationalism grew from 1870 onwards leading to federation.

Like other federations, states have some self-governance, maintaining their own parliaments and a substantial body of law. They also provide a great deal of the services. However, since it is the federal government which raises revenue and doles it out to the states, state policy tends to be harmonised more or less willingly under federal pressure. There’s occasional serious commentary calling for the states to be abolished entirely but it’s never been seriously picked up politically and I don’t know how practical it is constitutionally. I don’t expect to see abolition of the states any time soon.

Australia holds federal elections roughly every two and a half to three years largely at the behest of the government at the time (they can’t hold out forever, Parliament has a maximum term limit, but there’s roughly a six month window in which Parliament can be dissolved for an election). States hold separate elections, some on fixed terms, some also based on the government’s choice of timing. It’s broadly speaking normal for a change of government to occur every three terms or so (so every seven to nine years). Australia has a strong two party system formed by the Liberal-National coalition (conservative) and the Australian Labor Party (has ranged from socialist to centre-ish at various times) which have between them held government since 1944 when the Liberal Party was created.

Enrolment to vote and actually voting (in the sense of having your name checked off the register for an election, not in the sense of casting a valid vote) are compulsory for resident Australian citizens aged 18 and over. There are some British citizens also on the roll; they need to have been on it continuously since January 1984. Non-resident Australian citizens lose the right to vote after six years living outside Australia unless/until they return. (Worth noting: non-resident citizens also generally aren’t taxed.)

Some properties of the Australian parliamentary democracy that might not be obvious if you’re from the United States:

  • We don’t have an elected head of state (a president, in other words). We have a monarch who has to date always had an essentially ceremonial role and who lives in the UK, and a vice-regent the Governor-General, who lives in Australia and who is usually ceremonial but see the 1975 constitutional crisis for the major exception.
  • The leader of Australia from the point of view of both domestic politics and foreign affairs is the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is elected from among themselves by government House of Representative MPs when the Coalition has government, and (since 2013) by a combination of the MPs and the ALP party members when the ALP has government. In practice the party leader is determined well before the election and only if that leader doesn’t win a seat would a new leader become PM right away. Prospective Prime Ministers are usually “the face” of an election campaign, but unless you live in their electorate, won’t appear on your ballot paper.
  • The Prime Minister can be and has been (quite regularly, most recently last year) replaced by their party without holding a federal election.
  • Our vote counting system is preferential rather than first past the post. That is, if you vote for Candidate A within an electorate, you can still express a preference between Candidate B and Candidate C, and if the election comes down to B and C, your preference between them counts in the decision. In more detail, it’s usually instant-runoff voting in electorates where only one winner is possible and single transferable voting in electorates where multiple winners are needed (Senate/upper house seats).
  • It’s unusual, although not unheard of, for the party forming federal government (in majority in the House of Representatives) to also have a majority of the Senate. The most usual state is for the government to need to negotiate with either the opposition, or with cross-benchers from smaller parties, to pass legislation through the Senate. To date, oppositions don’t tend to roadblock legislation as a matter of course in Australia; much legislation passes with bipartisan support.
  • Australia does not have proportional or mixed-member elections; that is, candidates still need to be elected within an electorate. If party A wins 5% of the vote nationwide, they don’t get 5% of the seats. They may well get 0% if they didn’t manage to win any electorates.
  • There’s no “natural born” provision or additional age limit for Australian Prime Ministers over voters; as an Australian citizen you can be elected to Parliament and become the Prime Minister any time after your 18th birthday. Former PMs Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard were both born in the UK (in Abbott’s case, to an Australian mother) and are naturalised citizens. However, dual citizens cannot enter Parliament, they need to resign other citizenships first. (There seem to be somewhere between 4–5 million dual citizens here, so close to a quarter of the population.)

Indigenous men had voting rights in some but not all of the colonies, and women in South Australia, but almost all Indigenous people were stripped of a federal right to vote in 1902. They were gradually re-enfranchised from 1949–1965. Neville Bonner was the first Indigenous person in federal Parliament, appointed to the Senate in 1971 and later re-elected. Ken Wyatt was the first Indigenous person in the House of Representatives, elected in 2010. Nova Peris was the first Indigenous woman in federal Parliament, elected to the Senate in 2013 with Linda Burney elected the first Indigenous woman in the House of Representatives in 2016. There has not been an Indigenous Prime Minister or leader of the opposition. More on Indigenous politicians in Australia.

Non-Indigenous women have had the right to vote and stand for federal Parliament in Australia since 1902. Enid Lyons became the first woman federal MP in 1943. Julia Gillard became the first and to date only woman Prime Minister in 2010. There has been no woman leading the federal opposition in Parliament to date although minor parties have also had women parliamentary leaders, as have the states. More on women politicians in Australia.

To begin to find out which political party if any you’re aligned with in Australia, check out the ABC’s Vote Compass and Sam Thorp’s Donkey Votie (very snarky, but I found it extremely useful for differentiating the minor parties, which does matter in Australian Senate elections).

Freedom of speech & press

As background, I’m not a free speech absolutist, so might not be the best source of information for those who are. However, a quick selection of statements from the government:

  • “A well established principle of statutory interpretation in Australian courts is that Parliament is presumed not to have intended to limit fundamental rights, unless it indicates this intention in clear terms. This includes freedom of expression.”
  • “The Australian Constitution does not explicitly protect freedom of expression. However, the High Court has held that an implied freedom of political communication exists as an indispensible part of the system of representative and responsible government created by the Constitution. It operates as a freedom from government restraint, rather than a right conferred directly on individuals.”

I think it’s worth noting that the High Court’s finding there only dates from 1992 (Nationwide News Pty Ltd v Wills).

There are hate speech restrictions in Australia both federally and within state law. This is an active political debate, particularly around section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975. Here’s a few links: an explainer from a legal academic who supports the provisions; the parliamentary inquiry into sections 18C and 18D.

Here’s Reporters Without Borders on press freedom in Australia:

Australia has good public media but print media ownership is heavily concentrated. Two media groups – News Corporation (owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch) and Fairfax Media – are responsible for 85 percent of newspaper sales. Overall, the media enjoy a great deal of freedom although protection of journalists’ sources varies from state to state. Coverage of Australia’s refugee detention centres on Manus Island (off Papua New Guinea) and the Pacific Ocean island of Nauru is nonetheless restricted. New laws in 2014 and 2015 provide for prison sentences for whistleblowers who disclose information about conditions in the refugee centres or operations by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization.

I’d add that Australia is regarded as having pretty plaintiff-friendly defamation law, at least relative to the United States. Here’s a review by Electronic Frontiers Australia as of 2006 (after state laws were harmonised) with particular reference to online publication.

The public broadcaster is comprised of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), and National Indigenous Television (NITV). The ABC’s funding is around $1 billion a year, and it tends to serve as something of a focal point for accusations of left-leaning editorial bias. Their editorial policies are here. In the privately owned press, major mastheads of Fairfax Media have maintained editorial independence from their owners for about 25 years.

Australia has content censorship. For books, images, mass media and so on, the Classification Review Board has the ability to refuse classification of content and thus make it illegal to distribute in Australia. There is also a blacklist of websites which is small compared to the web as a whole. As best I understand it, political opinions are currently not a major focus of this regime. Here’s a legal explainer aimed at artists. I’ve found it difficult to find an authoritative source for this, but my understanding is that Australian law criminalises both child pornography showing abuse of children, and fictional child pornography (cartoons etc).

Follow: if you’re thinking of moving to Australia, you probably should start reading our press. The Australian is the biggest selling national newspaper, it’s a Murdoch paper and is right/centre right editorially. Most state capitals have a Murdoch paper and a Fairfax paper (eg the Daily Telegraph and the Sydney Morning Herald in Sydney/NSW) focussed on capital and state news. (Australia is very urbanised into state capitals, and a “the capital and occasionally other areas” approach is common.) The Monthly and The Saturday Paper from Black Inc are often good sources of long form journalism. Crikey grew out of a email newsletter aimed at political and media insiders and while it’s less scrappy and maybe/maybe not more professional now, it is worth a look if you want something with that viewpoint,

Disclosure: my sister works for Fairfax Media.

Climate change

Australia is hardly at the forefront of international action on climate change. The Liberal-National Coalition has a fair few climate change deniers and they have tended to control party policy particularly when in government. Coal mining is a major industry in Australia and coal and fossil fuel in general seem to me to have pretty well aligned themselves with the government.

In terms of international treaties and economic action, Australia signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 but didn’t ratify until 2007. In 2010 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd proposed an emissions trading scheme, which was blocked in the Senate. Malcolm Turnbull (then the leader of the opposition) lost the support of his party in advocating Coalition support for the scheme. In the 2010 election Julia Gillard pledged there was to be no carbon tax during the election campaign, and introduced one in government in 2011. This was very effectively weaponised against her by the Tony Abbott-led opposition. (Here’s a timeline to July 2014.) Once in government the Liberal-National Coalition repealed the tax and generally dismantled what climate change initiatives they could. Turnbull became the Prime Minister in 2015 but it seems to be understood that he remains so, in part, as long as he does not start supporting significant anti-climate change action again.

More recently, this month, the Turnbull Liberal-National government has announced we will ratify the Paris climate change agreement. Here’s our 2030 climate targets and some breaking news of political tensions.

In summary, expect Australia to be shamefully timid on this subject.

Follow: Greens climate change policy, the Climate Council.


Fairly pervasive. Wikipedia has what seems to be a pretty accurate summary as of 2014 (not all the 2014 proposals became law). Mandatory user Internet metadata retention by ISPs began a year ago. Internationally, Australia is a party to Five Eyes.

Follow: Electronic Frontiers Australia, Pirate Party Australia, Greens digital rights policy

Moving to Australia as a progressive in 2016: authoritarianism

This article is part of a short series on one person’s perspective on what people might want to know before considering immigrating to Australia as a person with progressive politics, in 2016.

Someone I discussed this series with said that what they were really looking for was an answer to the question (extremely paraphrased) “which country would let me in, would be physically safe, and has the least chance of being governed by fascists?”

If I could answer it I’d be a much better person in the world, more likely to leave it in a better place than I found it. I’m sorry.

Something I’ve been thinking on, from John Quiggin, Australian Research Council Federation Fellow, University of Queensland, in There’s a lot of ruin in a country:

The political reality, however, is that the initiative is with the other side, not only in the US, but in the UK, Australia and much of Europe. The collapse of neoliberalism as a dominant ideology (though not yet as a policy reality), has so far favored the tribalist right rather than the still disorganised left. The tribalists now have the chance to prove that their policies can work, or be perceived to work. If Trump can create and sustain an illusion of restored national greatness, as Putin has done (so far) in Russia, it won’t matter much what the Democrats do. The same will be true in Britain if Brexit can be made to work, or at least be seen to work.

At the same time I don’t want to fall into a false equivalence; I personally am glad to be a resident of Australia right now rather than of the US, and if I was, as I’ve considered becoming several times, an immigrant worker in the US, I would be at least evaluating and if possible maintaining my ability to move back at short notice. But…

I feel like there’s two questions: how likely is Australia to maintain its current social democracy? and is there any just political system robust against authoritarianism for the next 50–100 years?

I can grab at a few things in the fog on the first question only. So here we are, I’ll give you what I have on authoritarianism and Australian social democracy in all its imperfect and awful reality. It is crumbs. My faith in Australia’s ability to keep its authoritarianism from getting worse in the face of global trends is not high (but I cannot easily think of any other country I think is definitely better placed, I think we all must beware). I hope I can give people with better instincts than me some starting points for their research.

One thing I wasn’t able to assign to a bin here was the way human rights law works in Australia. Here’s how the government itself puts it:

In Australia, human rights are protected in different ways. Unlike most similar liberal democracies, Australia has no Bill of Rights to protect human rights in a single document.

Rather rights may be found in the Constitution, common law and legislation – Acts passed by the Commonwealth Parliament or State or Territory Parliaments.

I’m genuinely unclear which is likely to survive longer: one document, or a bundle of legal traditions.

Likewise, income inequality is markedly lower than in the US or the UK, but is above the OECD average and is getting worse. Here’s a report by the Australian Council of Social Service in 2015.

Positive signs

There isn’t an Australian Federal election due until, at the earliest, August 2018, absent special circumstances (which admittedly aren’t that hard to create, even without anything extra-constitutional going on), and perhaps not until early 2019. This isn’t at all entirely good news — I’m thinking about continued abuse of asylum seekers for example — but the direction and harm caused by the Republican Trump presidency in the US and the Conservative May government in the UK will be clearer by then, and there may be time for increasingly organised ideological opposition to play a role here and for facts on the ground in the US and UK to be incorporated into the campaigns and policies.

Australia is very able, both constitutionally, and in practice, to change Prime Ministers. This has been something of a joke nationally and internationally recently, but does suggest we’re not immediately ideally set up for a charismatic authoritarian strong man to get established free of any pending election or partyroom overthrow.

Australia does not have anything like as strong a union movement as it did in the 20th century, but it is strong enough that it still has significant party-political power in the Australian Labor Party (one of the two majors), and also made a major contribution to an ALP electoral victory comparitively recently.

Australia is a low population country that has never been a singular world leader economically, politically, culturally. We are not a humbled superpower. We have not been defeated in a recent war, suffered a recent economic reversal of fortunes, or had significant loss of territory recently. We were in an empire, its privileged and beloved and spoiled children, but we didn’t run the empire.

We were fairly recently presented with a policy package that represented a significant dismantling of our public infrastructure in health and education, and it was deeply unpopular and could not be implemented by the government. Significant parts of our public spending enjoy widespread support.

Negative signs

We demonise and abuse outsiders, presently asylum seekers and Muslims among others. Our politicians have actively created outgroups and nurtured xenophobic sentiments for political gain. It worked. So they’ll do it again, and probably better.

Individual politicians with structural power, either powerful partyroom members of the (conservative) Federal government or people holding some of the balance of the power in the Federal Senate, were pleased with Donald Trump’s policy platform and were either openly pleased he was elected or signalled their alignment with voters who embraced his platform.. Have some names: Tony Abbott (who was Prime Minister 2013–2015, and who is widely understood to be planning to be so again), Cory Bernardi, Pauline Hanson. Here’s one article for you. (If you’d like to learn more about the electoral popularity of various political parties in one place, I think the 2016 Federal Senate votes would be the first place I’d look.)

There are plenty of people left out of Australia’s economic success and who don’t see themselves portrayed in our national picture of what is good about Australia. And per the last entry, I think we’re at serious risk of the first economic downturn in a generation, and everyone holding more tightly to anything that promises they can keep what they have, or get back what they lost.

Rupert Murdoch was born in Australia and lived here until he was in his forties (he’s now a US citizen and forfeited Australian citizenship), News Corp was founded here and the Australian arm is one of our largest media companies. We do not have a direct equivalent of Fox News, but Murdoch is actively interested in Australian politics and involved to the point of being a kingmaker, both because of his outlets’ editorialising, and through direct regular contact with senior Australian politicians.

Australian Prime Ministerial changes have largely been brought about by party anxiety about medium-term polling of said Prime Minister (particularly in the case where they are also personally disliked by their party colleagues, which has apparently been true of several recent PMs). The kind of charismatic authoritarian strong men we worry about would be popular with the public pretty much by definition and if he (or perhaps she or they, but less likely) had decent partyroom skills, I don’t see any particular reason why he’d necessarily join the rotating line of recent PMs.

Speaking of which, my impression is that polling still seems to work in Australia in a way that wasn’t true of this US presidential election or of the last UK parliamentary election or the Brexit referendum. It may stop working someday soon, perhaps leaving people misled about the popularity of an authoritarian politician or a damaging change to the constitution in the same way as happened in the US and UK. (Australia is one of comparitively few countries where voting is compulsory, whether this makes our polling more robust I don’t know.)

Less immediate negative signs

I separated these into a separate section because they’re much more dependent on unknowable global changes in the coming years and decades.

Australia is a large country with substantial natural resources, including coal, sunshine, and uranium. I have no great sense of our immediate desirability as a conquest target, but some reasons are there.

This may seem a bit out there given the stability of this setup over a couple of lifetimes, but we’re talking world-historical here. So: Australia is a constitutional monarchy. Our head of state is Elizabeth II, the Queen of Australia, the same woman you may know better as the Queen of England. (Or Canada. Or New Zealand. Or 12 other countries.) This arrangement enjoys majority support from the Australian people, and even if it didn’t, amending the Australian constitution is more difficult than winning a majority vote. Elizabeth II is fairly discreet about her political opinions, but she is also 90 years old and I expect to see two or three more monarchs in her line in my lifetime. Her son and heir seems likely to be a more politically active King at least of the United Kingdom. Clearly a constitutional monarchy is not necessarily terrible — it’s keeping me up at night the least of everything here — but it’s authoritarian by definition.


Such as it is: I want to acknowledge again that to many people who live here or are trying to come here, Australia is plenty authoritarian and punitive. I deeply feel my lack of ability to forecast and warn here. I hope I’ve given a starting point to folks who don’t have a lot of Australia-specific political context to do their risk assessment.