All posts by John B

Actually, it’s about ethics in plebiscite campaigning

I’ve refrained from long-form comment on the UK’s EU referendum, partly because the debate is generally painful, but also because there are extremely clever people who’ve already made most of the points I’ve wanted to make.

One thing that I think is worth addressing, though, is the current suggestion that people are switching back to Remain because they “don’t know what Brexit looks like” (thanks to Paul Evans for the formulation here). I think this is definitely true; I also think it’s a positive response to a specific failure within the Leave campaigns [1], not just a fear of change.

The reason “we don’t know what it looks like” is that the people who are in favour of it have polar opposite, completely contradictory visions of what it should look like.

When Scots voted on their Remain/Leave decision, the SNP – to its great credit – published a long document containing the details of exactly what it would do in the event of independence. Some of these were criticised for over-the-top optimism about the actions of rUK and the EU, and others on the basis of their effect, but crucially Scots knew what the people in charge after a Leave vote would try to do [2].

That simply doesn’t exist for the UK EU referendum. The Leave campaigns, all of which include people likely to be in government in the event that Leave wins, have adopted positions that range from “staying in the free migration zone and the common market” through to “deporting settled EU migrants and relying solely on WTO basic rules for trade access”.

That – not the inherent uncertainty in doing anything that hasn’t been done before – is the crux of the “not knowing what it looks like” problem.

That deliberate, dishonest ambiguity is also why Leave has done far better than it would have done had it been forced to outline what it would actually be attempting to do in the event of a referendum win. As it is, “build a libertarian paradise with no tariffs and open borders”, and “Britain first, deport all the immigrants” types can rally round the same banner, even though they disagree with each other at least as much as they disagree with the current model.

[1] The existence of “Leave campaigns” with an S is probably the tl/dr of this.

[2] The SNP white paper was flawed and optimistic, but at least it was there for you to be able to critique its optimism and flaws. Similarly, a Leave manifesto that committed to a Norway model could reasonably be critiqued on the basis that the EU might not let us have one – but in the actual campaign we’ve seen every model of multilateralism/autarky from Norway through to North Korea thrown up, dependent on what the politician in question thinks the audience wants to hear. “Is their plan credible” is secondary to “do they even have one”…

Disruptive illegal migrant gets come-uppance

I’ve tended not to blog here about my migration status in Australia, for reasons that are probably obvious. But to my great delight and relief, earlier this month I was sworn in as an Australian citizen [1].

The process, from tourist to citizen, wasn’t super-easy. However:

  • it was a hell of a lot easier for me than for most would-be migrants to Australia because of my nationality, age, education/skill level and income/savings.
  • it was a hell of a lot easier for me to do in Australia than it would be even for someone with my privileged status and position in most mid-to-high-income countries [2].

The first is obvious, I hope. My nationality and age gave me access to Australia’s Working Holiday Visa scheme, which gave me a year of almost-unrestricted work rights (and the option to have a one-off 12 months extension, if I took 90 days of manual labour in remote Australia during the first 12 months. EDIT: I chose not to do this and also not to pretend to the government that I had done it. This digression will become important later).

My education allowed me to navigate a complex system and was directly helpful for certain later migration hurdles, and my access to money allowed me to  study at an Australian university, pay government fees, hire a migration agent, meet various other administrative costs, and pay living expenses during periods when my work rights were limited [3].

The second is perhaps more surprising to people who haven’t tried living across non-EU borders, especially if they’re aware of Australia’s barbaric offshore concentration camps internment camps detention centres for refugees and reputation for being horrifically racist. But compared to most plausible countries outside the EU – certainly the US, Canada, Japan and Singapore – and to most EU countries for non-EU nationals, the path from arrival to Australian citizenship for a skilled migrant [4] is relatively easy.

My particular experience was more bureaucratically difficult than that of many skilled migrants, who are sponsored by an external employer, because I spent most of the time running my own business. In the US or UK, it would have been straight-up impossible for me to get a visa on this basis [5]. In Australia, it was a complex and often expensive but entirely legitimate process, and I’m very grateful for it.

Why am I talking about all of this today? Because of this idiot, and his incompetent and dishonest boss, who amusingly ran a company named Disrupt.

In short, a UK citizen came to Australia on a Working Holiday visa and got a job working for a small technology company.

Once the 12 month period during which he was eligible to work in Australia was over, instead of moving to a legal visa class or leaving the country, he lied to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection that he had completed the 90 days of rural labour and was eligible for another 12 months.

All of this was done with his boss’s knowledge, and quite possibly (it reads from the piece) at the boss’s instigation.

Not unsurprisingly, during the second 12-month period, as he tried to return to Australia from a US business trip, DIBP discovered he was lying and deported him.

This would be a straight-up case of illegal immigration, carried out by someone nowhere near in dire enough financial or personal circumstances to justify it, even if it were true that he had no way of legally staying in the country in his status.

But the really particularly dumb and annoying thing is that he did. 

The rules for which companies are eligible to sponsor staff for Class 457 skilled four-year employee visas are complicated, and the DIBP website doesn’t let you link directly to them, but they’re under the ‘sponsors’ tab here.

The very short version is that if you are a real company that isn’t taking the piss, and you can put documents together to show this, then you can sponsor staff for this visa, even if your company is a start-up. A quote from the website:

If your business is new, you can still satisfy this requirement [to be legally operating in Australia] if you can provide evidence that your business is in fact operating, even if this has been for only a short period of time.

I can confirm this is true because I’ve done it. The company had to provide a whole bunch of evidence that it was operating legally, that it had a business plan, that it had a plan to meet training benchmarks, that it paid any existing staff legal wages, and so on. Which it did.

Overall, achieving this required a 10-page document roughly equivalent to what you’d need to get a small business loan from a local bank to buy a van or a café, and took a couple of days to put together.

Meanwhile, at Disrupt (this is shown as a fact rather than a quote in the SMH article, but I’m 99% sure it’s verbatim from the company’s boss):

As a start-up, Disrupt is not recognised as a “business” under the Migration Act for the purpose of sponsoring skilled individuals on temporary work visas.

This just isn’t true. It is nonsense. It is made-up bollocks that any competent migration agent would have told the company was made-up bollocks, suggesting that the CEO didn’t even bother to get a migration agent’s advice before encouraging his deputy to go ahead with his hare-brained illegal scheme.

Which… well, as we’ve seen with many tech start-ups, particular in the financial sphere, tech bros are not exactly renowned for seeking the advice of local experts or for not launching hare-brained illegal schemes, are they?

Generally, but especially in the context of this post, I acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional owners of the land on which I live, the Wangal people of the Eora nation.

[1] And almost immediately, sworn at as an Australian citizen, because Twitter is glorious and this country is glorious.

[2] Except for EU ones, of course. Hurrah for the raging Brexit idiots who want to abolish their own right to do that and the rest of ours along with it.

[3] Paid working hours for full-time overseas students in Australia are limited to 20 per week.

[4] The largest sources of new skilled migrants in Australia are now China and India, with the UK in third place.

[5] Unless you have enough financial wealth to count as a wealthy investor, which in both cases is a hell of a lot more than I do.

Electability and absurd arrogance

I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next US general election. I also didn’t know what was going to happen in the US electoral primaries, although I don’t think there’s any great shame in admitting the current situation isn’t what I anticipated.

It seems highly likely, at this point, that Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate, barring the kind of machinations that haven’t been seen since Andrew Jackson’s day. The Democratic primary process is far closer, although Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders by a comfortable-looking margin at the moment.

Mr Trump is a squalid, crooked neo-fascist – basically Silvio Berlusconi with added racism. Anyone saying they know exactly why he’s popular is full of shit, but it’s clearly a combination of angry white bigotry, disillusionment with Washington’s specific flavour of insider crookery, and susceptibility to the daft concept of career success as a marker of general merit (the latter is also why people unfortunately listen to Richard Dawkins’ views on Muslim theology and Barry Humphries’ views on gender theory).

Various people in the pro-Clinton and pro-Sanders camps have suggested over the last couple of months that their candidate is electable, whilst the other candidate is un-electable. I’ve seen more Clinton fans go down this route than Sanders fans, but not by a huge margin.

There are arguments why this might be the case for either candidate. Mr Trump’s success is based on disillusioned white working class male voters, and these are also Mr Sanders’ strong group by a wide margin. On the other hand, Ms Clinton has managed to combine strong popularity among black voters – whose increased turnout compared to previous years was important in President Obama’s success – with grumpy acceptance among moderate centrist Republicans (including former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg) as a tolerable alternative to Mr Trump.

But with these good arguments on either side, and given the extent to which punditry in this Presidential race has already failed dismally, anyone who says “you should vote for Ms Clinton/Mr Sanders in the primary because they’re the only one who’s electable” is an absurd arrogant fool.

My preference is that the clown show leaves town

Like most countries founded by people with a passionate and blind terror that they might at some point be subjected to democracy, Australia has a Senate with more-or-less absolute veto power over its House of Representatives.

As in many federal countries, Australian Senators are allocated on a state-by-state basis, not on a citizen-by-citizen basis. The result is that a Senate voter in Tasmania (population 550,000) has more than 12 times the say of a Senate voter in New South Wales (population 7.5 million).

In other words, the Senate is entirely unrepresentative by deliberate design, and anyone who cares at all about voter representation should solidly be lobbying to either abolish state-by-state voting or to abolish the Senate itself.

There is currently a mass debate about Senate reform in Australia. Unsurprisingly, it consists of absolutely none of this, but instead is an absurd and unedifying clown show. The net result is that the Green Party and the Liberal (conservative) Party have agreed a reform deal that tinkers slightly with the voting system, and various people on the political left are displeased.

The ABC’s excellent commentator Antony Green has the gory details,  but in short (detail brutalised for clarity; not importantly for these purposes, but make sure to plagiarise Antony and not me for your civics class):

  • Under the current system, you go to the election booth, be given a list of parties standing in the Senate, tick a box for your favourite, and then if they fail to get in, then your preferences are distributed according to a list that they have created in advance, all the way from Candidate #1 to Candidate #200.
  • Under the new system, you will go to the election booth, be given a list of parties standing in the Senate, number your favourites from one to six (and continue after six until you’ve numbered everyone or can’t be bothered to write any more), then your preferences will be distributed according to the order you wrote. If everyone you’ve listed gets eliminated, your vote gets thrown away.
  • Both systems also give you the option to number your own candidates from #1 to #200 if you are weird, but nobody actually does this. Under the current system you must number all boxes; under the new system you will only have to number 12 boxes but can number more if you like.

The most important thing about this change is it makes very little difference to what normal voters do, which is to vote 1 for Labour, Liberal or Greens, preference whichever of the other two they hate the least above the one they hate the most, and then number as many other boxes as they are grumpily made to.

The second most important thing about the change is that it’s a very minor improvement on the status quo. Normal people will be making their own choices, rather than following a dodgy list that’s inevitably compiled for tactical rather than ideological sympathy reasons. Weird people will no longer get hand cramp from numbering 200 boxes.

So why on earth is there an outcry?

Well, the only people who lose out from this process are old-school corrupt party machine politicians who trade votes like commodities… I wonder if these people have privileged access to media platforms at all?

Dropping the dynamic, because everything is awful

Because I am a naive optimist, when I migrated various defunct blog archives from elsewhere to here, I assumed that running them on auto-updated WordPress would be fine. This was a stupid move. Not specifically because WordPress is bad, but because everything is bad, and hacking is easy. And, of course, happened.

After several months of this site being broken and struggling to keep client sites afloat, I’ve finally got everything sorted out.

My main websites, client and personal (this one included) are now signed up with crazy amounts of security. I’ve blocked all kinds of user agents, headers and IPs, and I’ve signed up with Cloudflare. They’ll probably get hacked again because YOLO, but at least less so than before. Meanwhile, the old websites are cloned HTML mirrors of the original with everything set to 644,  so nobody nefarious can nefare with them.

And now I can log into this site, I might even write something substantive here before anyone else dies.