Twenty Years Ago, Australia Tried To Boot Out The Queen And Failed

God save the Queen.

This time twenty years ago, I was absolutely nowhere near old enough to vote, but people who were were gearing up for the 1999 Australian republic referendum. It was the closest Australians had gotten to booting out the Queen as our head of state, and becoming a republic of our own.

Liz’s inner monologue 24/7

Ultimately the push to become a referendum was shot down, and the Queen stayed in charge of the country. The vote needed a majority of people in a majority of states to pass, but only 45% of people voted for change. In yet another example of Canberra pushing for things like same sex marriage and weed well before the rest of the country, the ACT was the only state that actually favoured a republic. Start as you mean to go on, I guess. 

The Prime Minister at the time was John Howard, a man who was almost our most Queen-loving, anti-republic PM in recent history. I say almost, only because Tony Abbott exists, a dude who genuinely wanted to bring back knights and dames. And then did just that. What a time to be alive. 

Any excuse to use this gif

The result isn’t entirely surprising. It’s notoriously hard to pass a referendum, only 8 out of the 44 Australia has had since 1901 have passed, and when you add a Prime Minister who is vocal against changing the current system, the chances of one passing go down even more.

Back in 2019, the chances that we’re going to see a new republic referendum any time soon aren’t easy to guess at. On the one hand, we had a referendum 20 years ago, and it’s easy to say we decided then and we shouldn’t waste time and money on another vote.

On the other hand, do we really want to be ruled by a country that’s managed to get itself into a mess like Brexit? 

So do we, please don’t get us involved

There seems to be a mostly unspoken agreement to wait until the Queen dies, which is grim af, but Liz is 93 years old and nobody is immortal. 
If we’re going to put our energy into a new referendum though, I think constitutional recognition for Indigenous people is probably a bit more urgent.

When Will Politicians Stop Treating School Teachers Like Babysitters?

Now polllies want them to police mobile phones.

The Western Australian Government has announced that they’re going to bring in a ban on all public school students using mobile phones during school hours. The new rule comes into effect next year. The idea is that it will reduce distractions in the classroom and thus make a much better learning environment for school kids. But did the politicians even talk to the teachers first?

Look, I get it. We all know technology is a distraction in the classroom. Remember when the federal Labor Government decided to give every high school kid a free laptop? I was in year 9 when we got ours, and all we did was take peace-and-pout selfies and play a pirated version of Plants Vs. Zombies. Yeah, I know, there was a reason the government didn’t keep giving kids those computers.

In saying that, do you know what I did when I was bored at school before being given a laptop? Stare at the ceiling and make shapes out of the suspicious stains above our heads. Phones are just something more fun to be distracted by, not the reason kids are distracted.

But all this misses what might be the most important question: why does the government think that this, of all things, is what they should be wasting their time one?

Name me a single school that currently allows kids to scroll through social media on their phones during class time. There aren’t any. Phones have been banned from classrooms since kids started bringing their mum’s old Nokia brick to school and tried to play Snake subtly under the desk. Does the Western Australian Government really think that a stern word from the Premier is what’s going to get students to put away their phone?

It feels like we’re treating teachers as if they’re babysitters, just there to make sure that kids get off their phones, don’t burn the house down, and get to bed on time. The reality obviously couldn’t be further from the truth, and time spent enforcing rules that the government has handed down is time that could be spent actually teaching.

Pat Byrne is the president of the State School Teachers’ Union of WA. She’s got no time for this latest addition to the rule book.

“At a time when teachers are already warning that red tape and administrative demands are taking them away from their core role, the union is concerned this initiative will be yet another impost on teaching time and school budgets as schools devise ways of collection and secure storage of phones during the day.

“There is also a concern from principals and teachers that a blanket ban will be a potential point of conflict between school staff and parents, as well as staff and students.”

Pat Byrne

Teachers work their butts off. People love to talk about how easy they must have it, just hanging out with kids and not having to work on school holidays. If that was the case, then we wouldn’t have results like 40% of new teachers leaving the profession in the first five years, or up to 53% of people with an education degree working in a different field.

Teaching is hard enough, and the last thing teachers need is paternalistic micromanagement making their lives harder. Maybe offer them some support instead, and trust that they know when to take a phone off of a kid without the government telling them to.

Every Front Page Is Redacted Today And You Have A Right To Know Why

It's all for you, really.

If you spotted the newspapers on your way to work today you might have noticed that they all had a striking similarity: the front pages of every major newspaper in the country were all censored with black out. Wondering what it’s all about? Well, it’s all for you, really. You have a Right To Know.

Media organisations – often warring – have joined together to fight against the decline in Australia’s press freedom. Seventy-five pieces of Australia-wide legislation have been introduced since 2002 that intended to protect people from national security threats, but unfortunately haven’t always been used that way. A lot of these laws have instead been used to restrict information telling the public about what the Federal Government is up to.

Stories like abuse of elderly people in aged care homes and the reasons behind foreign investment decisions are getting harder and harder to write about in Australia, and the Right To Know campaign wants to make people aware of it through their front page protest.

The campaign was organised by Australia’s Right To Know Coalition, a group that includes major media powers like Nine, News Corp, the ABC, SBS, and The Guardian. They’re demanding six reforms that they say will protect whistleblowers and journalists, and enshrine press freedom into Australia’s law.

These reforms are:

  • The right to object to any search warrants issued on journalists or news organisations
  • Make changes to the law so that whistleblowers are properly protected
  • Limiting which documents the Government can decide to mark ‘secret’
  • Reviewing the current Freedom of Information laws
  • Exempting journalists from national security laws (like metadata tracking) so that they can’t be put in jail for doing their job
  • And finally reforming our defamation laws

Scott Morrison has responded by saying that the Government “will always believe in the freedom of the press”, but that he also “believes in the rule of law and that no-one is above it”.

The issue of press freedom has been bubbling away for a while now. News Corp Australasia Executive Chairman Michael Miller has said that Australians should be “suspicious” of Governments that hold back any information from the public, and the ABC’s Managing Director David Anderson has said Australia could become “the world’s most secretive democracy” if we aren’t careful.

People outside Australia are noticing, too. Reporters Without Borders ranked Australia 21st in the world for press freedom in 2019, dropping down two places in the list over just 12 months.

The tipping point came earlier this year when the police made two raids in two days. On June 4th, News Corp political journalist Annika Smethurst had her home raided over a story she wrote in April 2018. The story was about a proposal from the Government to make it easier for them to spy on us.

The next day, June 5th, the Sydney headquarters of the ABC were raided over a 2017 report that exposed accusations of war crimes made against Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Another raid was planned on News Corp headquarters for June 6th, but that one never happened.

The news organisations involved in the Right To Know campaign are all competitors, so to see them all come together like this is really something special to watch. Press freedom is invaluable, we can’t afford to let it go without saying anything.

I think I’ll leave the last word to Nine Entertainment’s CEO Hugh Marks:

“This is much bigger than the media. It’s about defending the basic right of every Australian to be properly informed about the important decisions the government is making in their name.”

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