ethical advocacy
Some inconvenient truths
                                                                                          28 June 2012  Vol 7, Issue 9
In This Issue
Bits and Pieces
Systems archetype 2 - Fixes that fail
Julian Burnside on boat people
The Higgs Boson
Asylum Seekers - some facts

"Bound" Volumes


All issues of Advocacy Update have now been bookmarked and aggregated into their calendar year volumes.


You may read or download them through the links below. They provide a quirky and personal record of federal politics over this tumultouous period.


Volume 1 2006

Bits and Pieces


With the Parliamentary swallows flying north for the winter the scene has been set for a critical six months to come. We have the trifecta of the Carbon Pricing scheme, the Minerals Resource Rents Tax, both commencing on 1 July plus the continued rollout of the NBN.


IBM entered the NBN debate recently forecasting that the NBN will be generating over $one trillion by 2050. 

It was interesting but chilling to hear Alexander Downer at last weekend's Liberal Party Council meeting describing how he had just turned the boats back without advising Indonesia first "We just did it" he said.

The other day I came across the Coalition Speaker Notes giving their position and script across all portfolios.


I'm happy to share it. Just email me and i will send it to you.

Systems archetype - fixes that fail


Recently I uploaded to my website the first in a series of Backgrounders I am planning on Systems thinking and other Management Tools. It focused on "Escalation" of issues in the standards of political debate and behaviour.


This Backgrounder looks at a problem familiar to most of us - fixes that fail. Is that the sound of sinking boats I hear?   


There are 8 Systems archetypes as noted below.


  • Drifting Goals;
  • Escalation;
  • Fixes that Fail;
  • Growth and underinvestment;
  • Limits to Success;
  • Shifting the Burden/Addiction;
  • Success to the Successful; and
  • Tragedy of the Commons.


As the diagram shows, we become aware of a problem initially, more through its symptoms rather than its causes. Having identified the symptom we then apply what is often known as a "quick fix".   

Fixes that Fail
Fixes that fail
Unfortunately this action, whilst alleviating the symptoms may lead to unintended consequences which exacerbate the underlying problem.


Does this sound familiar? As I type yet another boatload of asylum seekers are floundering in the Indian Ocean. By treating the symptom rather than the cause of the problem - then there will be more deaths at sea. And still the politicians bicker.


Over time after repeated attempts to address the symptoms, the underlying problem actually deteriorates. 

Side Effects

Take a simple example; fixing a hole in an old water hose, might stop the water leaking there, but this increases pressure elsewhere leading to more leaks and eventually total failure of the hose.


At an international level, one can enumerate many examples of where attacking the symptom of an issue, causes the problem to escalate - viz. the war on terror, "regime change" in Iraq to name just two.


The fix relieves the problem symptom in the short run. However, it creates an unintended consequence that makes the problem symptom worse. This requires the fix to be applied again and again each time increasing the severity of the problem's symptom.



The first step in resolving this dilemma is to recognise that you are only attacking the symptom instead of making a commitment to solving the actual problem.


The second step is to map the loop of unintended consequences and acknowledge their existence.


In the long run, the only successful intervention to move away from the quick fix will be to alter the mindset of those making the decisions so that policies shift towards problem-solving - not symptom relief.   






Burnside on boat people


What should we do about boat people?

What we know


Julian Burnside
Julian Burnside QC

We know that boat people come here principally from Afghanistan, where the Hazaras are the target of Taliban genocide, and from Sri Lanka, where the Tamils are being persecuted in the wake of their failed liberation movement.


We know that Hazaras and Tamils are really desperate in their bid for freedom.  You have to be, to take such risks.


We know that most boatpeople who arrive here alive end up being assessed as genuine refugees, entitled to our protection. About 90% of them.


We knowthat when they get on small boats and try to get to Christmas Island (part of Australia) some of the boats sink and some of the refugees drown. Thenumber who have drowned is not clear, but it looks like about 2 - 3% of them.


We know that desperate people will take desperate measures. Experience of the Jews in the 1930s and the Vietnamese in the late 1970s tells us that.


We know that a person facing death or torture is not likely to be deterred by the prospect of being locked up in a detention centre, or even by the risk of drowning. Common sense and ordinary experience tells us that.


What are we to do, knowing what we do?

Our political leaders have expressed concern about refugees drowning, and have condemned the callousness of people smugglers.  They are looking for a Solution.


The problem for which they want a solution is the problem of people drowning.


Fair enough: if refugees from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka are going to risk their lives on small boats, we have to decide what we are going to do about it.


Our options

We can let them drown - our politicians say they don't want that to happen; most Australians would be shocked at that idea.  It's not an option.


We can use "offshore processing".  This has several distinct meanings and one big problem.  As used by Abbott and Gillard, "offshore processing" means sending people to Nauru or Malaysia, and closing the door behind them.  The 'processing' bit is hard to see, because as far as Abbott/Gillard are concerned, we don't care what the result of the processing is: we have solved the problem by giving it to someone else.  But the major parties don't care about that: it's their way of 'stopping the boats', by which they mean stopping the refugees.


The big problem with this is that it only kicks in after the refugees have got on a boat, thus running the very risk Abbott and Gillard say they want to save them from. It's a strange thing that the Pacific Solution and the Malaysian Solution have this in common: they do not solve the problem they are designed to solve.


In short, neither the Pacific Solution nor the Malaysian Solution is a solution at all, unless the politicians come clean and say: "We don't mind about people drowning, we just don't want the ones who get here."  But they are not saying that.


The other meaning of 'offshore processing' is for Australia to process their asylum claim offshore (ie, in Indonesia, where they are before they get on a boat) and promise resettlement in a finite, specified time. By processing refugee claims in Indonesia, and increasing our refugee intake, we would be able to create a queue for orderly, safe resettlement.


There are a couple of necessary caveats: the processing has to be fair; the increase in refugee places has to be sufficient to keep their waiting time in Indonesia to just two or three years; we would have to warn them about the risk of getting on a smuggler's boat; we would have to enlist Indonesia's cooperation so the refugees could live without harassment while they waited for resettlement.


This is genuine offshore processing.  I think it would work: it would certainly stop the boats and the deaths; it would not stop the arrival of refugees. I wonder if Laboror the Coalition will embrace it?


And if not, let's ask them why.

(Published with the permission of the Author)
Large Hadron Collider
Later today (Wed 5 Jul) it is expected that the CERN scientists at the Large Hadron Collider will announce the results of their experiments to discover the Higgs Boson - often referred to as the "God" particle.
In his wonderful book "A short history of nearly everything" a must for every family's bookshelf, Bill Bryson puts the theory of the existence of the Higgs Boson into some context.
He explains what is known as "The Standard Theory" which he describes as a parts kit for the subatomic world. It comprises six quarks, six leptons, five known bosons and a postulated sixth - the Higgs boson, plus three of the four physical forces - strong and weak nuclear forces and electromagnetism.
Come on - pay attention up there at the back!!
The quarks are held together by gluon (really!!) - quarks and gluons form protons and neutrons. Quarks and leptons together are called femions. Bosons produce and carry forces and include photons and gluons.
The Higgs boson - if it exists is what endows atoms with mass. Without it there should be no universe.
If in fact tonight's announcement confirms the existence of the Higgs boson - the God particle - it puts into perspective our own inability to derive a solution for a problem as small is refugee policy.
(PostScript: Do Neutrinos have mass? Hell I didn't even know they were Catholic!!)
Asylum Seekers - some facts


Look at the Table below - it details the numbers of refugees, asylum seekers and stateless people in Malaysia. It puts Australia's "problems" into perspective.

malaysia planning figures 


Almost 150 countries have signed the UNHCR Convention on Refugees. These are the countries which the Coalition would accept as offshore processing locations under its policy. The signatories include:

  • Afghanistan
  • Albania
  • Botswana
  • Burundi
  • Congo
  • Haiti
  • Rwanda
  • Solomon Islands.

Hey wait a minute - aren't many of these countries the sources of asylum seekers?


Three countries which do not meet the Coalition humanitarian standards:

  • United States of America
  • Malaysia
  • Indonesia

Nauru has been a signatory for just over 12 months. It was not a signatory when the Howard Government set it up as the "Pacific Solution".


The Coalition will not process asylum seekers in non-signatory countries - but will turn boats back to non-signatory countries.


The Coalitions' policy is more "out of sight - out of mind" rather than any humanitarian concern for asylum seekers.

Well - there's never a shortage of news to pad out the columns of this little newsletter. I hope my articles make you think - even challenge your assumptions.

As always - feedback is most welcome. 

Cheers for now
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