Showing all posts tagged: politics

Should political leaders be elected to office by sortation?

26 September 2023

Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, writing for The New York Times, suggests sortation, a method of selecting public office holders in Ancient Greece, be given consideration:

People expect leaders chosen at random to be less effective than those picked systematically. But in multiple experiments led by the psychologist Alexander Haslam, the opposite held true. Groups actually made smarter decisions when leaders were chosen at random than when they were elected by a group or chosen based on leadership skill.

Sortition is election by lottery, as Encyclopaedia Britannica explains. While some people “elected” to office may be lacking in a certain degree of experience, they are said to feel a strong sense of responsibility, and take a diligent approach their duties.

Sortition, election by lot, a method of choosing public officials in some ancient Greek city-states. It was used especially in the Athenian democracy, from which most information about the practice is derived. With few exceptions, all magistrates were chosen by lot, beginning with the archons in 487–486 BC; likewise the Boule (council) of 500 and the juries of the law courts were chosen by lot. The practice of sortition obviated electoral races and provided for the regular turnover of officeholders.



An alternative to a Voice: an Indigenous Australian state?

26 September 2023

In a few weeks Australians will vote in a referendum to decide whether the Australian constitution should be amended to include a Voice, an advisory body, for the nation’s Indigenous people. It’s an idea some people are not in favour of though, including a number of First Nations Australians.

Some Indigenous Australians are concerned a Voice may be tantamount to ceding sovereignty. Some would prefer a treaty. Others, the idea of a set number of Indigenous seats in the Australian parliament, along, for instance, the lines of the Māori electorates in New Zealand.

Misha Saul however suggests the interests of Aboriginal people would be better served by the formation of an Indigenous state, rather than ideas such as a Voice, treaties, and even Native title.

Isn’t this the most ambitious and satisfying of objectives? Indigenous Australians could have a state of their own, far larger than the miraculous successes of the twentieth century like Israel of Singapore of South Korea.

This is the first time I’ve heard of such a proposal.


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Four hundred Australian authors back Voice to Parliament

23 August 2023

Four hundred Australian authors have thrown their support behind the campaign that seeks to amend the Australian constitution to include an Indigenous Voice to parliament.

Katherine Brabon, Shankari Chandran (winner of the 2023 Miles Franklin literary award), Mick Cummins, Sophie Cunningham, Peter FitzSimons, Robert Lukins, Andrew Pippos, Christos Tsiolkas, Pip Williams, Tim Winton, and Charlotte Wood, are among authors who have put their name to the Writers for the Voice website:

We, Writers for the Voice, accept the generous, modest invitation of First Nations Peoples in the Uluru Statement from the Heart to walk with them towards a better Australia.

We support their call for recognition via a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament because we believe passionately that this major reform, the product of broad grassroots consultation and supported by the great majority of First Nations Peoples, will lead to better outcomes for First Nations Peoples. It’s only fair.

What a simple, straightforward, to the point, statement. Contrast that with the scare campaign that some people who are opposed to the idea of the voice, are orchestrating.


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The Voice to Parliament Handbook, what an Indigenous voice means

21 June 2023

Australians will be participating in a referendum sometime in the next six months to decide whether a change should be made to the constitution, to create an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Such a Voice would take the form of an independent body made up of Indigenous Australians.

Delegates of this body, who would not be elected members of parliament, would be tasked with advising the Australian government and parliament on matters pertaining to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Their input however would not be binding.

Changes to the Australian constitution are never simple or straightforward. The process, and discussion, involved in making amendments, can be confusing and unsettling. To better understand the purpose of the Voice, and what it means, Hardie Grant have published a book called The Voice to Parliament Handbook.

Written by Thomas Mayo, a Torres Strait Islander, and Uluṟu Statement advocate, and journalist Kerry O’Brien, with illustrations by cartoonist Cathy Wilcox, the handbook aims to answer some of the more commonly asked questions about an Indigenous Voice to the Australian parliament:

A handy tool for people inclined to support a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum, The Voice to Parliament Handbook reflects on this historic opportunity for genuine reconciliation, to right the wrongs and heal the ruptured soul of a nation. This guide offers simple explanations, useful anecdotes, historic analogies and visual representations, so you can share it among friends, family and community networks in the build-up to the referendum.


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Bath image sees Mem Fox children’s book removed from Florida libraries

18 May 2023

Guess What?, a children’s book written in 1988 by Adelaide, South Australia, based Australian author Mem Fox, has reportedly been removed from school libraries in the US state of Florida. An image of a character — drawn by illustrator Vivienne Goodman — taking a bath, apparently contravenes anti-pornography laws in the state:

In one illustration, Daisy sits across a double bowl sink (that she is comically too big to fit in) wearing a scuba mask. The bowls are filled with water, and she sits sideways in one with her feet splashing in the other. She is nude, but not exposed. Limbs cover her breasts and genitalia. The room is busy and pleasantly chaotic: soap on the floor, a frog on a towel, fish pegged to the clothesline that hangs over the sink. It’s far from a sexual image.

That it’s taken thirty-five years for this… transgression to come to light is mind boggling. The offending illustration — safe for work by the way, at least in Australia — can be seen here.


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Trove receives funding to continue ongoing operation

4 April 2023

Trove, Australia’s online library database of historical and cultural documents, which is operated by the National Library of Australia, has received a new round of funding from the Australian federal government. The move ends months of uncertainty that had been shrouding Trove’s future:

The National Library of Australia welcomes the commitment made by the Albanese Government to provide $33m over the next 4 years to maintain Trove, with $9.2m ongoing and indexed funding from July 2027. We are delighted that Trove’s future has been secured.


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Writers’ festivals are for talking books not politics

19 March 2023

Fleur Morrison, writing at Readability:

I have a love/hate relationship with politics. I love that we have a stable form of politics in Australia, even though sometimes it can get a little heated and it certainly isn’t without its problems. But I hate that it has taken over writers festivals to the degree that it is hard to find a session that isn’t overtly political. These festivals have moved from being celebrations of books to become fixated on politics and ideology.

If you argue everything that happens in the world is political to some degree, then keeping politics out of writers’ festivals isn’t going to be easy. Personally though, I’d rather see more talk focus on books, and fiction, at festivals.



A poet laureate will need to bolster interest in Australian poetry

4 February 2023

By 2025 Australia will have a poet laureate, who will presumably be selected and appointed by the proposed Writers Australia peak body. As with many aspects of the National Culture Policy which was unveiled last Monday though, details remain thin on the ground for now.

For instance, how long would an incumbent serve, and what exactly would their role be? Poetry, certainly in Australia, is a niche form of literature, given less than five percent of the population chooses to partake of written rhyme, so one of the mandates of an Australian poet laureate would be to bolster interest in local poetry.

This is something Sarah Holland-Batt, professor of creative writing and literary studies at Queensland University of Technology, advocated for when making submissions to the National Cultural Policy:

“An Australian poet laureate would elevate the status of Australian poetry domestically and internationally,” Holland-Batt says. “Australian literature can struggle on the world stage so there would be a soft diplomacy element to it.” She said the laureate would be an advocate for Australia and Australian writing and the benefits would be beyond only poetry. “It would be a big boost for Australian literature to have someone with that authority invested by the state.”


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Will Writers Australia succeed where other peak bodies have not?

3 February 2023

Writers Australia is a new peak body to be established as part of the National Cultural Policy, which was released by the Australian federal government last Monday. While the exact functions of Writers Australia — which comes into being in 2025 — are yet to be fully detailed, its stated mandate is to provide direct support to the Australian literature sector.

While hopes are high the proposed new entity will improve the lot of local writers, Writers Australia is by no means the first attempt to establish an Australian peak literature body. There have been several attempts to do similar in the past, with some being anything but successful, as Adelaide, South Australia, based author Jessica Alice, writing for Meanjin, explains:

There are two years until the body will come into operation and those working in the field will remember past attempts to create a national literature body. There was Writing Australia, the unsuccessful attempt to create a peak body for writers centres that was defunct within two years, and more recently the Book Council of Australia debacle that heralded the Brandis era.

In that instance, a national body was established to represent the interests of publishers, agents and booksellers, with $6 million in funds taken from the Australia Council’s operating budget. It faced pushback from the broader literary sector culminating in an open letter signed by high profile figures like Nick Cave and JM Coetzee arguing it was a rush-job initiated without proper sector consultation and a limited terms of reference. The body was ultimately abandoned.


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The National Cultural Policy and the role of Writers Australia

1 February 2023

Among initiatives announced this week in the Australian federal government’s National Cultural Policy, is the formation of Writers Australia, a body that will, according to the policy document, “provide direct support to the literature sector from 2025.” Writers Australia will be part of a new peak arts investment and advisory body to be called Creative Australia, which will represent an overhaul of the current Australia Council for the Arts.

While the finer details are still to be made public, it is known Writers Australia will, among other things, administer the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, and make appointments to the (kind of) newly formed role of Australian poet laureate.

It can also be presumed Writers Australia will work to address remuneration for Australian authors, who according to recent research earn about A$18,000 per annum for their work. Australian workers need to earn at least A$25,675 per annum to be living above the poverty line. The income of local writers is a point underlined by Sophie Cunningham, Chair of the Australian Society of Authors (ASA):

“We’re thrilled to see the Government’s affirmation that artists and authors should be paid fairly for their work. This is fundamental to a fair and sustainable arts sector. As I and many other authors made clear in our submissions to Government, authors do not fall under the protection of awards or industrial agreements and, as freelancers, have to negotiate on a case by case basis to be paid fairly. We welcome the recognition of the ASA’s recommended minimum rates of pay in cultural policy.”

While supporting writers and literary organisations through funding, Writers Australia will take a proactive role in boosting incomes for writers and book illustrators, by raising their profile, and growing local and international audiences for their books. One way of achieving this could be to encourage broader promotion of Australian literary awards, in the same way the British publishing industry enthusiastically backs the Booker Prize.

In the meantime poetry can look forward to more prominence in Australia, through the creation of a poet laureate, an appointment Writers Australia will make. There has not been an Australian poet laureate since 1818, when Michael Massey Robinson, a British convict, held the role for about two years.

Poetry is a poorly appreciated form of literature in Australia, with just three and a half percent of local book readers indicating they are inclined to read works of poetry, according to recent research by Amazon Kindle.

Dropbear, a collection of poetry by Melbourne based author Evelyn Araluen, and winner of the 2022 Stella Prize, had sold in the order of fifteen thousand copies as of August 2022. In comparison, Apples Never Fall, by Sydney based novelist Liane Moriarty, was the bestselling book in Australia, with sales of just under two-hundred thousand copies, in 2021.


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