Turkey: Political Polarisation and Media Laws

I spent an amazing morning with friends observing the Anzac Day commemorations of the many young soldiers who perished over the Gallipoli peninsula during WWI following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. As I prepare for my trip to Turkey in a few months time to film my next documentary, I came to learn more about the difficulties many journalists and filmmakers face in the country.

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Nicaragua: Pigs In Suits?

It seems like a classic Orwellian situation. The Somoza family dictatorship in post-Colonial Nicaragua that led to the communist revolution headed by Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), the civil war lasting between 1979-1990 with additional violence led by the Contras rebels, the latter funded by the United States despite such funding becoming illegal as the Reagan administration facilitated foreign arms sales in Iran to launder funds to Contras. Read More

Turkey: The Seventh Seal

You may or may not have heard it. They are the Christian Zionists – or the Christian Right – a sophisticated political and social movement organised in the United States who are ambitiously attempting to spur the Second Coming of Christ. These evangelical fundamentalists have popularised the idea the Bible must be read literally. While perhaps a portion of the scriptures may clearly articulate laws and behaviour to correspond directly with our reality, to take the poetic and figurative narrative literally in other sections of the book would make the contents of the Book of Revelations, Book of Daniel and the Book of Ezekiel is real.

As such, they are actively participating in the implementation of the coming rapture or Armageddon despite the highly ambiguous and dream-like apocalyptic content by interpreting those descriptions into a physical reality. For instance, Ezekiel’ Temple Vision has been interpreted as the restoration of the temple that replaces the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. While they may appear a strange and insular people driven by eccentric beliefs and a violent do-it-yourself form of salvation, they are a powerful community now even more visible under the leadership of Trump who are committed in their efforts to endorse all the proxy-wars and other terrible activities in the Middle East. Read More

Women and Peace Movements in Israel

I do not identify with feminism because I believe that gender equality falls under the umbrella of human rights which itself broadly explains equality between men and women as a social status. It is a method of discourse that acts as a solution to inequality and does not blame a specific gender but rather enables a platform for both men and women to work together to challenge socially constructed ideologies and ultimately enhance a pluralistic and peaceful society. While it is clear that global data shows physical violence and discrimination against women far outweighs that of men, human rights aims to educate and challenge the causal roots of gender inequality, which I believe can be caused by the ideology of masculinity that is itself a type of socially-inflicted psychological abuse used as a tool to pressure, undermine and manipulate men who then respond and react to that pressure. This can either be by tolerating or conforming to hurting themselves and others, which then leads to a chain reaction that permeates throughout the culture of a society and effects women, children and the next generation. Read More

The Ethics of Nature

 

I remember as a child being completely overcome by the beauty of the Dandenong Ranges, the rain hitting the large ferns that danced to the ambience of the meditative bird sounds echoing from the colossal trees above, the smell of the moisture from the earth below that pirouetted with the scent of plants and wood of the forest and it kindled such joy within me that this emotional affinity continues today. I now often find myself retreating into the cool, forest enclaves across Victoria that ignite the same speechless feeling that I experienced many years ago. There are a number of sources that indicate that our time spent out in nature can improve our physical and mental health, from reducing blood pressure, stress, fatigue and even inflammation that lowers the risk of early death, as well as improvement of mood and even self-esteem that alleviates the symptoms of depression and anxiety and enables improved cognition and increased concentration. But, what is this therapeutic benefit, this strong bond or relationship humans have with nature? Like a person who smokes cigarettes, conscious that this is a major health risk but indifferent to the destructive nature of this pointless habit, humanity has become indifferent to the environment, and the ecosystem – like our body – is slowly being poisoned by the damaging effects of greenhouse gases. Do we have a moral obligation to ensure the preservation of our ecosystem and if so, what does the future of this discipline look like?

Several years ago, I went with friends to the Botanical Gardens to watch a movie at an outdoor ‘moonlight’ cinema they created and the noise from the fruit bats living in the surrounding trees brought to light the reasons for their controversial culling. The colonies of flying foxes are migratory and are both a pest as well as a risk to the plants and flowers of the gardens that make them a potential threat to the survival of many rare botanical species. In addition, the fruit bat – also known as the flying fox – carries the Hendra Virus that is transmitted to horses as it ingests food contaminated by bat droppings and other fluids, causing a number of severe symptoms leading to death. This virus can be transmitted to humans from the horse that causes influenza-like symptoms that potentially lead to death. The mortality rate is high and as a consequence fruit bats were ordered to be culled to reduce the growing numbers that reached crises levels. However, animal rights activists called out against the culling of the fruit-bats on account of their declining numbers and the reason for their migration being due to changes to their original habitat. This calls into question the actual problem that should encourage their protection. Indeed, the fruit bat was soon listed by the Federal Government as an endangered species that required an adequate approval process for culling.

When the Prickly Pear Cacti was introduced to Australia in the early twentieth century, the species quickly became an ecological pest that infested millions of hectares of land and devastated the Australian landscape that a radical method to destroy the outbreak was required in order to reduce the invasive botanical spread. Australia did not have the natural resources that could control the cacti and along with the warm climate and bird species that ate and ultimately distributed the seeds, the prickly pear wrought havoc on the land of the early settlers of New South Wales and Queensland. The tremendous effort required to manage the prickly pear cost more then it was worth that a prickly pear destruction committee was developed! It was until the introduction of the cactoblastis caterpillars that they found a solution to successfully control the outbreak and using this biological method – where the eggs and larvae extracted the plants moisture until the plant died – they were finally able to control the infestation of the weed.

It is clear that human behaviour can shape and control some aspects of our environment and our intellectual activity has enabled us to communicate and alter our decisions that allow us to ascertain our responsibility and forecast a sustainable or improved future scenario. To protect the integrity of our ecosystem, however, can sometimes appear to be bigger than us such as the consumption of natural resources including gas and oil that makes the average individual assume an abstract position in this ethical framework, that we can recycle our cans of drink and paper but still drive cars and use the gas stove. What is the difference in value between the prickly pear and the fruit bat? Why do we place more value on the fruit bat over the prickly pear?

Moral consciousness – what I call “love” or our ability to feel empathy and morally deliberate – originates from our understanding of value, where we give objects a moral status or as David Hume would suggest, that moral value is the value that I attach to the object and therefore relational and dependent on the agent. It is aligned with the theory that love is something that we give or entirely subjective and emotive and that what is value is simply what I believe is valuable and does not have an actual real, objective moral value. I clearly have an issue with this despite the logic behind such relational epistemology, because there is an absence of any value at all and thus if nothing has value then morality does not exist either. It also arouses questions on the exclusivity of moral actions – such as human life is intrinsically better than animal life for instance – or whether one outcome is more morally valuable over another. Intrinsic values are deemed to be valuable for itself or ‘in its own right’ whereas instrumental value are actions that are morally permissible based on a number of variables that leads to a moral outcome. If fruit bats were not an endangered species, would culling them be morally wrong?

Kant suggests that intrinsic moral value is the source of morality, that is, that since humanity exhibits as I suggested earlier the rational or cognitive capacity to deliberate moral agency, they thus contain moral value. Humanity contains intrinsic value and thus the agency to rationally will sufficient moral understanding, and while this may be anthropocentric, rights are also aligned with ethical responsibility or that our moral status is multi-faceted and thus we are enabled with the capacity to question and evaluate objects making values variable in nature. This is the nature of the ethical problem at hand, as human beings as moral agents have intrinsic value and with the criterion of rational cognition place value on objects that otherwise are instrumental in value that abandons the moral status to animals or our environment. What that means is that the effects of deforestation in order to power the economic engine of capitalism has more instrumental value than protecting forests, and those for or against deforestation will raise ethical pros and cons of both sides of the argument to try and justify the instrumental value of the environment.

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Let’s take a look at McDonalds, with what I believe to be the most strategic and incredibly intelligent marketing campaign that attempts to justify the immorality behind their business by pretending that they are actually going to make a difference to what is their global impact on our environment. McDonalds had started adding “healthy options” to the menu to lure a continuity of customers, to try and be open and accountable about their ingredients to remove doubt as to the quality of their meat, and now are perpetrating a marketing campaign that claims that they are going to reduce their emission intensity by 2030 because of the sheer scale of the food chain’s impact on our environment. How is that possible when aligned with this is their global growth strategy that aims to increase consumer and ultimately business profitability? If the predominant item in the McDonalds menu is beef, let us take a look at cows for a moment. Agriculture is the primary reason for deforestation and not only is this destroying the habitats of thousands of species, but cows that make the meat in the burgers people eat contributes to global greenhouse gases since they produce more methane that has a greater impact on the environment than C02 emissions. What shifty bastards. People are now going to think that since McDonalds is being so-called open and accountable to global warming that eating McDonalds will no longer be immoral when any real attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be to completely stop eating McDonalds, which would contradict their profit goals. It is value-nihilism at best.

Like the gas stove or using the car, people believe their ethical position in this network of environmental change is abstract and that buying lunch at Maccas is really not going to change anything. It challenges the anthropocentrism of our moral position. Intrinsic value is not something exclusive to rational beings who symbolically project from their own mental reality, but rather as Henry David Thoreau states, “to be always on the alert to find God in nature,” and there is no symbolic or spiritual relationship but that moral realism is present in the physical world and can be directly perceived. That nature has intrinsic value and this biocentric angle moulds together the schism between good or bad qualities that we force on nature and thus rational thought and values become inseparable. Consciousness is no longer separate from nature. That like McDonalds, the primary cause of our problems with nature is the coercive projection of our irrational suggestion that only humans have intrinsic moral value; we become a part of nature, giving spirituality or that symbolic or metaphysical moral system a concrete reality (excuse the pun). While there may be a number of limitations to this since everything becomes almost morally impermissible, it certainly avoids that disillusioned or disembodied separateness, an us and them, the same disillusionment between a person who smokes cigarettes and their own body that they treat as an inanimate mechanism.

At the rate of global destruction that has reached a point of existential crises, civil disobedience and our duty to protect the environment and engage against injustice is very clear. I am preparing to embrace this reality around us, that I am not distant or abstract in the world but that spirituality and that symbolic connection is physical and real. As said by Thoreau: “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”

 

Turnbull and Privacy of Information: A Deliberate Attempt To Prevent Open Governance?

Whilst Australian politics certainly appears lacklustre in comparison to the complications and political machinations of a number of global powers and a challenge of which I am naturally compelled, nevertheless Australia has and will always remain a country – insofar as human rights and law is concerned – that I am proud of and have an inherent respect for, regularly comparing  when researching or thinking about international relations as a whole. But it is not without its embarrassing moments, no doubt influenced by factious relations whether from powerful industry moguls or promoters of international conservatism. While I was happy to see Tony Abbott ousted, my fears that Malcolm Turnbull – being one who has public support – would cause Australians to overlook the fact that the Liberal Party contains a significant number of policies that have and continue to work against the improvement of Australian civil society. Being one more inclined to the judicial rather than executive elements of public policy, the first budget release of the Liberal government during the rather short period of Abbottism that cut funding for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner [OAIC] proved that an intentional challenge against the very heart of the Australian Constitution appears to exist. Since the OAIC remains a legal entity, the intent of the Abbott government’ proposed abolition uniformly contradicts statutory obligations vis-à-vis section 61 of the Australian Constitution[1] in that to simply bring a legal entity to an end independent of parliament is to usurp the constitutional role of parliament itself, since only the latter has the right to legislate accordingly. This act against the OAIC raises manifold issues particularly with legislative and executive functions and the required separation of powers, the composition of the ministries and ultimately the impact such an implementation of executive powers in defiance to legislative obligations can have on the future of human rights in Australia. The Freedom of Information Act [FOI] itself was established to ensure the principle of an open and accountable government and ultimately the health of Australian democracy without polluting the overall objective of the constitution that gives people the ultimate control of the government.

Are we living in an age where privacy is no longer paramount to our individual happiness? There are complex, dynamic and swift system and processes readily available that can easily locate the details of any one. If one knows how to look, the system of finding private information is not as difficult even for a common person. So imagine that when you make your information on social media public, the technically advanced algorithms and programming can detect that information and combine it with other information in order to establish and predict private, even sensitive information. You google “prams” and suddenly every page you visit has various baby retailers and the more information one is able to attain, the more accurate the predictability. If social networking sites wanted to advantageously use the platform as an opportunity to gain more information – since retailers could use that information to sell their products – they would naturally compel people to give more information. Let’s take it one step further. You download an app that requests access to your friends list, it can detect who your best friend is or a family member because you have suggested it (I can see who last viewed my Facebook profile in less than ten seconds just by scanning through sources codes). It can also detect which page you visit the most  by using more refined systems and together, they can create a personalised facial composite using advanced software of your family or friends, whereby the image of this ‘person’ – a mash between someone you know and someone you don’t know – is used as part of an advertising or marketing strategy that implicitly compels you to a product, because you are unconsciously attracted to the image of that person that happens to be someone that you know.[2]

The abuse of privacy is not uncommon, i.e., the recently exposed News International who hacked phones to obtain sensitive data – Rupert Murdoch being on friendly terms with the Liberal Government – and there currently stands no strict policies that would prevent or protect ourselves from abusers. Whilst I could, in this instance, begin discoursing on the social contract theory and perhaps the rather calculating, Orwellian agenda where society has gradually sacrificed their privacy and freedom for the sake of ‘national security’, in principle the disclosure of even the most basic information that we supply can be used against us. I can say that capitalism and globalisation is at the very heart that compels one to disclose information openly and freely. The incredibly narcissistic marketing stratagems tell us to conform, to not care about privacy, to avoid forming our own opinion, even what we think we should desire, unconsciously manipulating the decision-making process through the inducement of receiving positive things whether it is material, or friends, or popularity, sexual pleasure etc. &c., that we end up buying products that we don’t even need or want. People will eventually believe that material determinism is the only truth when in fact they have unconsciously been told to give up their own autonomy, that we are already living in a ‘A Spacetime Odyssey’ in that the very technological mechanisms we created to advance are – ‘the root of its own destruction’ – actually working against us.

In 1996, the Australian Law Reform Commission published Open Government – A Review of the Federal Freedom of Information Act 1982 (ALRC Report 77) designed with the intent on ensuring the principles of public scrutiny and the accountability of government that encapsulates the quality of democracy is applied viz. the objective of the act itself. “The FOI Act provides a right of access to information in the possession of government departments and agencies. The fundamental reason for providing this right is to ensure open and accountable government.”[3] The publication confirmed the necessity to improve the quality of the decision making process that citizens should possess and as a consequence access to information is a criteria of democracy. Whilst democracy itself is ambiguous in definition, particularly since it poses intractable theoretical issues that limits its conceptual interpretation, broadly speaking the minimalist view of what constitutes a democracy can be defined as the ‘participation of all adult members of society, freedom to formulate and advocate political alternatives, and the credible availability of political alternatives.”[4] During the developmental stages of FOI legislation in the late 1970’s, the Senate committee reported that the significance of implementing FOI laws was to ensure that individuals have access to what information the government may have and to have the capacity to correct what they consider to be misleading; in doing so, it will enhance the transparency of the government and ultimately a community better informed can participate democratically in a more effective manner.”[5] Thus, the Freedom of Information Act 1982, an “Act to give to members of the public rights of access to official documents of the Government of the Commonwealth and of its agencies”[6] was put to force.

Whilst initially accessible, over time the administrative process became problematic and overwhelmed, particularly attributable to compliance. Accordingly, it was recommended by the ALRC[7] that a new statutory position of an FOI Commissioner to act as an “independent person to monitor and promote the FOI Act”[8] should function to ensure compliance with the FOI Act and to raise the profile of the agency to the public through the improvement of the decision-making process. At the time there existed no independent person committed to act and contribute to resolving any difficulties that the agency experienced. Thus in 2010 the freedom of information reforms were implemented by the Australian government particularly concerning the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) and among those reforms included the appointment of the Australian Information Commissioner supported by statutory officers, namely the Privacy Commissioner and the Freedom of Information Commissioner, both appointing Mr. Timothy Pilgrim and Dr. James Popple for a term of five years.[9] Appeals for any rejected FOI claims that previously were dealt by the Administration Appeals Tribunal (AAT) and were in addition an expensive and lengthy process can now be made directly to the Commissioner that ultimately reduced the backlog and turnaround times. It will additionally aid agency compliance, whereby “[t]he reported cost attributable to agency compliance with the FOI Act was $41.719m, an increase of 14.9% on the previous year.”[10]

However, in the budget release of 2014-2015, the Abbott government withdrew the funds necessary to maintain the OAIC with the intention of disbanding the agency by the 31 December 2014. This was challenged by parliament since legislation with the intent of abolishing OAIC was not passed and consequently funds contributing to the agency were partially reinstated in the 2015-2016 budget. The initial objective was to transfer functions over to the Attorney-General Department and the Commonwealth Ombudsman who were already enabled with the powers to exercise the same powers of the OAIC.[11] This is where the controversy lies, that without the approval of parliament for this decision, it has in point of fact exposed a deficit amid the separation of powers and the function of the executive branch of government. The withdrawal of funding and the intent to legislate the abolishment of the OAIC nevertheless appears to be a practice implemented previously. In September 2013, the Climate Commission funding was removed by the Abbott budgetary changes prior to the implementation of its abolishment by parliament.[12] This confirms that the process of abolishing depends ultimately by parliament to be sure but the progression by procedurally defunding prior to any legislative changes confirms that there exists a rather discomforting executive system that stands on a thin line between the required separation of powers.  The doctrine of the separation of powers is a concept that ensures accountability and strengthens the checks and balances through the constitution necessary to ensure a fair and just governance of citizens. Simplified, the legislature enacts, executive applies and the judiciary interprets the law and since the rigidity of the body of rules once enforced is binding, therein requires the appropriate checks that ensure the law is beneficial to society as constitutionally implied, to prohibit and regulate to the effect of protecting and enabling Australian citizens and for the “peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth.”[13]

Thus, to what extent does the removal of a regulator and a specialist low-cost review body undercut the benefits of the 2010 reforms to the Commonwealth FOI regime? The difficulties experienced by the commissioners due to budget cuts is perhaps sufficient enough to show the difficulties they experience performing the key functions of the agency, particularly with the effectiveness that it previously achieved. This is no doubt the reasons behind liberal government’ intent to close down the Commission, since the commissioners have been successful in a very short space of time in changing the structure and processes that have simplified accessibility to Australians and facilitated transparency as the original 1982 FOI Act had purposed. For instance, a strong emphasis on interagency networking all of which are subjected to the act and publications used as part of its information policy was resourcefully published and built, working on reforms implemented viz. the publication of information, “including information about what the agency does and why it does it.”[14] In addition, the resolution of complaints that would otherwise remained fixed in a backlog of lengthy and expensive was significantly questioned and ultimately reduced allowing public access to information that would have remained locked in a loophole. The costs involved to appeal decisions particularly related to public interest cases prohibit the rights of many due to their incapacity to financially afford the associated costs. A recent and landmark decision viz., the ruling in Bare v Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission exposed this problem, whereby the Supreme Court of Victoria granted a protective cost order that limited the costs of Nassir Bare, a 17 year old Ethiopian man who was assaulted by police.[15] Mr. Bare sought his right to have an independent body from the Victoria Police – the distrust that a fair and equitable assessment is clear since Mr. Bare himself was assaulted leaving chipped teeth and cuts along his jaw and thus breaching Section 38(1) of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities – and when consulting the IBAC, the latter deciding not to investigate the claim. Accordingly, public interest is tested and determined when public interest substantially outweighs the entity in question[16] and the court therefore ruled that costs associated with the case do not exceed a maximum of $5000 to allow Mr. Bare to continue with the proceedings.

The costs associated with FOI cases vis-à-vis the principle of the right to freely access information by public bodies establishes a reluctance by a significant portion of those attempting to access information and thus limits or excludes the disclosure of information. A report by the Australian Information Commissioner Prof. John McMillan highlighted the issues related to the scale of charges and the required simplification of its framework.[17] That is to say that to prevent burdens reaching to an unmanageable state, limitations to accessing documents is applied through both the ambiguous practical refusal mechanism under the former ss 24[18] of the FOI Act, along with the power to impose charges.[19] While it is clear that either a full or partial waiver of associated charges for those experiencing financial hardship are taken into account, what is considered ‘financial hardship’ indeed, what is considered ‘public interest’ itself required a more thorough definition to assist agencies with determining on a case by case basis the exemption of applicable fees.[20] The success of the commissioners indeed has caused wide-eyed nervousness amongst more than one quarter in the liberal camp, no doubt the reasons behind the attempt to shut them down as abruptly as they intended. What exactly is it that they have to hide that they sit in trepidation that disclosure of information on matters of public importance is now becoming more efficient? Are the tests that facilitate transparency going to be too transparent?

[1] §61 Australian Constitution, to execute and maintain the constitution and the laws
[2] Sonam Samat. “Visceral Targeting: Using Personalized Face Composites for Implicitly Targeted Marketing” 11 October, 2013.
[3] ARLC 77, 2.2
[4] Sylvia Chan, Liberalism, Democracy and Development, Cambridge University Press, (2002) 10
[5] ARLC 77
[6] The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act)
[7] ARLC 77
[8] ARLC 77, 6.4
[9] Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Act 2010
[10] Dr James Popple, “Message from the Freedom of Information Commissioner” OAIC Annual Report 2011-2012
[11] Office of the Australian Information Commissioner PBS,  §1.1 p471
[12] Thomas J. Goreau, Ronal W. Larson, Joanna Campe, Geotherapy: Innovative Methods of Soil Fertility Restoration, Carbon Sequestration, and Reversing CO2 Increase, CRC Press (2014) 580
[13] The Australian Constitution, 1900 §52(i)
[14] Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Act 2010 (NO. 51, 2010) – Schedule 2: Division 1, §7A
[15] Bare v Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission & Ors [2015] VSCA 197
[16] For instance, see Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Bill 2000 (Cth) Part VI, §72: 2(b)
[17] Prof. John McMillan, Review of charges under the Freedom of Information Act 1982: Report to the Attorney-General, February 2012
[18] This is no longer applicable.
[19] Review of Freedom of Information Legislation: Submission to the Hawke Review, December 2012: Section 198
[20] Freedom of Information Act 1982 – ss11B