Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 12 February 2019

No amount of tinkering around the edges will solve the banking problem

Today I will focus on the banking royal commission, but beforehand there is a good news item that deserves attention.

It came to my notice through a headline in the Sydney Star Observer, a newspaper for the NSW lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community which read ‘Daniel Andrews announces Victorian ban on LGBTI conversion therapy’, followed by the quotation from the Victorian Premier “We’re banning these practices forever and for good.” This very positive move to end the iniquitous practice of gay conversion therapy is most welcome.

Announcing the ban at Melbourne’s Pride March, the Premier went one step further by saying that the state government would criminalise LGBTI conversion practices.

This Australian-first ban follows an investigation into conversion practices by the Health Complaints Commissioner (HCC), which found that those subjected to it experienced long-term psychological harm and distress.

A survey of LGBTI Australians conducted late last year found that banning conversion therapy was a top political priority for members of the community.

Co-leader of the Brave Network, Nathan Despott, welcomed the announcement and delivery of the HCC report.

“We are so pleased that the Victorian Government has chosen to adopt a broad response to this insidious movement that has operated undercover in Victoria’s religious communities for decades,” he said.

“The Victorian Government and Health Complaints Commissioner have listened to survivors and taken time to learn about the complexity involved with the ideology and operations of this harmful movement.”

Chief Executive of Equality Australia, Anna Brown, said the conversion movement’s activities have proven to be very harmful, as well as ineffective.

“Telling someone they are broken or sick because of who they are is profoundly psychologically damaging.

“Once again the state government is leading the nation in advancing LGBTI equality, and keeping our communities safe”, she said.

Federally, a motion put forward by Greens Senator Janet Rice urging the government to advocate to states on banning conversion therapy practices in Australia passed the Senate last September. Let’s hope NSW and the other states and territories follow suit very quickly.

Now to the banks. “The Hayne Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry report should be a mark of shame for the sector”, wrote Greg Jericho in the Guardian Australia. He’s right.

He’s also partly right when he notes that “The very root of the problem is the profit motive of an industry often charging an egregious amount of money for doing nothing”.

That argument however needs to go a step further by pointing out that the problem is also caused by the political and economic fashion for unregulated capitalism known as neo-liberalism, which has dominated since the Thatcher/Reagan era of the 1980s.

Though its flaws are starting to become more and more apparent we still hear the neo-conservatives of the Liberal and Nationals parties disingenuously calling out for cuts to red tape, which of course is code for getting rid of the regulations that protect the workers and consumers.

The final report of the commission indeed shows quite clearly that the profit motive was at the very root of the problem. Of course, they are all privatised, so driven by nothing but profit.

Hayne charged that “in almost every case, the conduct in issue was driven not only by the relevant entity’s pursuit of profit but also by individuals’ pursuit of gain.”

Unfortunately, the report’s recommendations have not gone far enough. The banking and finance systems need more than a tweak. They need a major shake-up, as Australian Greens Senator Richard Di Natale and Adam Bandt, MP for Melbourne, said last week.

They went on to announce a plan that goes much further than tinkering around the edges of a system that will still be prey to the profit motive.

Under this plan, the Greens will establish a people’s bank that offers basic products at a competitive rate, putting people before profit; break up the banks, by separating retail banking, investment banking and wealth management arms; cap the obscene pay packages that banking executives receive; and replace the weak and compromised ASIC with the ACCC to fight for the rights of banking customers. Now that’s talking.

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My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 5 February 2019

A million new jobs isn’t what it’s cracked up to be

“Over the last five years we’ve delivered more than a million jobs,” Scott Morrison crowed when announcing the Federal Government’s claim to have hit that promised milestone last year, ABC news reported.

Last week he also made a new pledge for the Government, “to see 1.25 million jobs created over the next five years”. A sure sign the federal election campaign is underway.

On the face of it, that might sound like an impressive number, but a million or so jobs isn’t at all impressive, especially as our population grows.

The PM’s headline grabbing boast carefully and very disingenuously didn’t say what sort of jobs they would be, that is, whether they would be full-time, part-time, permanent or casual.

I was also reminded that the boast of the million jobs created since Tony Abbott promised them five years ago isn’t all that its cracked up to be by a Facebook post from Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge, who responded by pointing out that the Liberals’ boast about employment growth is largely due to sheer population growth.

Mr Shoebridge also pointed out that in December of last year full-time employment decreased by 3,000, part-time employment increased 24,600, teenage employment decreased 8,600 and, very disturbingly, teenage unemployment increased to 24.7%.

With those disturbing statistics in mind, let’s tease out the real facts behind Mr Morrison’s early federal election campaign boast.

To begin with, economists say Australia needs to add about a million new jobs every five years just to keep pace with rising population growth and stop the unemployment rate from climbing.

“The numbers might sound impressive as a headline rate, but really it has to be put in context of the change in the size of the population,” Commonwealth Bank senior economist Gareth Aird said. In fact, we’ve added 1.7 million people to the population over the past five years.

A million jobs is just about enough to keep the unemployment rate flat, but not enough to bring it down, so it’s cold comfort to the unemployed or those just about to enter the workforce, such as school leavers and TAFE and university graduates.

The Centre for Future Work points out that creating more than a million jobs in five years is far from unusual, their new report shows.

In fact, and exploding the PM’s boast, the one million jobs added to the economy between 2013 and 2018 marked the 10th time in Australia’s history that 1 million-plus net new jobs were created over five years. And of course, nine of those ten years were with a smaller population

Indeed, those historic achievements were a lot better because our population was in fact a lot smaller. One million as a share of Australia’s smaller population was far more significant than recent job creations.

When Australia reached that milestone for the first time 30 years ago, the labour force was little more than half its current level.

“30 years ago it represented an 18 per cent increase in employment, which was pretty good,” said economist Jim Stanford, director of the Centre for Future Work, which is part of the progressive think tank The Australia Institute.

“By comparison, the rate of jobs growth over the past five years is pretty mediocre, barely more than half as good as it was back then.”

“This was the slowest job creation in any of those periods that did not experience a recession or major financial crisis,” said Dr Stanford.

We also need better quality jobs that provide the full time employment people need, for part-time jobs are a rising share of total employment. Almost half of the new jobs created between 2013 and 2018 were part-time, and the share of part-time work in total employment grew notably.

These jobs also need to be permanent, as casualisation is a major problem with today’s job market.

They also need to be decently paid, for wages growth has flatlined at record lows.

So, unless the jobs are well paid permanent full time ones the PM’s boast is nothing more than an empty attempt to fool all of the people all of the time as he kicks off his federal election campaign.

 

My Op Ed column for 14 May 2019

The election must heed this new environment report

As yet another Australian election campaign became mired in squabbling over taxation, health care, and the cost of cutting carbon emissions, last week conservation scientists convened in Paris dropped a bombshell that should change the course of this election. It would be a calamity if our duelling politicians failed to take heed.

The bombshell is a new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) that paints an apocalyptic vision of a world not just battered and ravaged by short-sighted human activity, but irrevocably ruined by land-clearing, overfishing and human-made climate change.

The data in the report is calamitous. Around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, way more than at any time in human history. The number is as brutal as it is mind-boggling. Our planet faces the loss of more than 50 species per day, every day, for the next 50 years.

Compiled by 450 scientists and diplomats over three years, the assessment says accelerating species extinction is likely to have significant implications for human society and urgent systemic change to reverse the decline and restore lost ecosystems.

With countries to meet in Kunming, China next year to set targets as part of the global Convention on Biological Diversity, scientists and environment groups urged the next Australian government to take a lead.

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s nature program manager, Basha Stasak, said Australia, as a developed nation with very diverse native life, should be at the forefront of the push for a meaningful deal.

She said the report made clear protecting species and landscapes would require fundamental change, including increasing funding to the national environmental budget, which has been shrunk by the Coalition government by more than a third since 2013.

“It doesn’t seem to have hit home, the state of emergency we’re facing,” said WWF conservation scientist Martin Taylor.

Martine Maron, a professor of environment management at the University of Queensland, said halting the decline of species and ecosystems would not be enough.

Richard Kingsford, the director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW, said “A lot of our decisions are made based on jobs and export dollars, but we are not looking at the long-term costs of what we’re doing. We know that but we’re still making the same mistakes. We’re passing off the economic costs to future generations” he said.

Meanwhile, what are our political parties proposing? Space only allows room to look at the Coalition, Labor and the Greens, but as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party have nothing to say on the issue that’s no great loss.

The Liberal/Nationals coalition trumpets its Climate Solution Package with cash splashes scattered around here and there but warns us that though it has an obligation to protect our environment for future generations we shouldn’t become too keen on saving the environment because  “We must also ensure a strong economy, so that the next generation can find jobs”. The PM also greeted the report with a commitment not to save the environment, but to cut ‘Green Tape’, and to oppose tighter restrictions on land clearing. He also argued that an improved Environmental Protection Authority would slow down the development of projects around the country. Hopefully his bluster didn’t fool too many people.

Labor’s election commitments include new national environmental laws, a federal environment protection authority and a native species protection fund. They are welcome if superficial promises but at this stage no more than that.

Only the Greens have significant proposals. They will begin by rewriting the outdated Howard-era federal environmental laws, thereby introducing a new generation of environmental laws, to be overseen by a federal regulatory body with expanded responsibility and with real power to enforce the law. Crucially, this national Environmental Protection Authority will operate at arm’s length from politicians and lobbyists, and so providing independent advice, free from political or corporate influence.

The Greens will also expand regulatory responsibility to include regulation of land clearing, invasive species and air pollution. And their climate policy will reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2030, thereby making a significant contribution to saving the environment.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 7 May 2019

Race to the bottom on climate change

Despite the federal election campaign being characterised by the major parties throwing around ‘cash splashes’ like confetti at a wedding, my attention was drawn to those far-sighted souls who have the sense to see that this is, or should be, a climate change election

In particular I noted the School Strike for Climate Action last Friday, and was particularly pleased to see Wagga schoolies joining in. Also last week seven key lower house independents put out a very strong call for action, largely focussed on a call to stop the Adani coal mine, and just to round out the climate action trifecta Stop Adani Wagga carried out its own piece of local activism last Friday with a mass delivery of letters to Michael McCormack’s office.

All this activism prompted me to have a good hard look at what the different parties are offering, if anything, to combat climate change. To begin with I looked at how the need for action on climate change was resonating with voters. I found that by all indications concern for climate change is indeed a decisive issue in this election.

The ABC’s Vote Compass, a survey tool that records Australians political views, showed that climate was a key concern for voters this year more than ever before. 29% of Vote Compass participants have elected the environment as their chief concern, making it the top reported issue. Three years ago it was only 9 per cent.

The evidence all voters need to see comes from the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), which assessed how the parties stack up on their policies. It awarded the Coalition the lowest mark on the scorecard.

Out of a possible score of 100, the Liberal-Nationals received a dismal score of four. The Labor Party was closer to the middle, coming in with 56, while the Greens scored the highest at 99.

“What these results show is that we cover a huge scope when it comes to climate change. Unfortunately though at the moment we are in a race to the bottom,” ACF head of campaigns Paul Sinclair said.

The ACF is an independent, non-partisan national environment organisation, which assessed the major parties by analysing their environmental policies against 50 key tests.

According to the ACF, it is not only the Coalition badly lagging in robust environmental policy. They also said Labor should do more. “They are only halfway there. They scored 59,” Dr Sinclair said.

The party’s commitment to cut carbon and develop the renewable energy sector was viewed favourably, however their uncommitted stance on the Adani coal mine negatively affected their score.

The only party that the ACF said was impressive was, unsurprisingly, the Greens. This election their climate change policies include phasing out coal entirely and establishing a renewable energy export industry.

Of course, we need to look beyond the Coalition, Labor and the Greens. There are several minor parties and independents vying for our votes too.

One Nation’s Pauline Hanson denies that humans are to blame for climate change, claiming the extinction of dinosaurs as proof, supports the Adani coal mine, and has no policies to mitigate climate change.

Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party website lists very few policies and is completely silent on climate change, though his strident advocacy for Queensland coal mining indicates rather conclusively that he is in the same denialist mindset as Ms Hanson.

It was though encouraging to see seven high-profile independents including Kerryn Phelps and Julia Banks promise to pursue climate action if re-elected, including explicit opposition to the Adani coalmine; reinvigorating the national Climate Change Authority; and to “developing a roadmap to power Australia to 100% renewable energy, aiming to achieve at least 50% by 2030”. Only 50% is however a real worry and no better than Labor.

Independents For Climate Action Now (ICAN) is a very new party that seeks to pursue policies relating to climate change, such as phasing out fossil fuels, to be replaced with renewable energy, though like the other independents it is very light on as to how it will achieve its goals.

So there you have it. An election in which voters are ranking action to combat climate change very highly, but only one party with the policies to achieve it.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 23 April 2019

Morrison’s election Fair Go mantra really benefits the few, not the many

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s endlessly repeated election campaign mantra of “A fair go for those who have a go” is not only becoming mind numbingly boring it is also a quite deliberate attempt to mislead voters into believing his government will implement policies to significantly improve the lot of the ordinary people, the ‘many’, when in fact what he really means is that his policies will enrich the privileged ‘few’.

So let’s examine Mr Morrison’s game so as to make clear how his word play works and what it really means.

The first point to make is that as a sound bite repeated ad infinitum is meant to be taken at face value. Anyone who is prepared to do a bit of work will get a fair go and therefore advance their financial standing. As Dr Goebbels, the Nazis’ Minister for Propaganda taught us, a lie repeated often enough will be believed, and Mr Morrison has clearly learnt that lesson.

Mr Morrison’s ‘Fair Go’ mantra was first articulated during his opening press conference of the 2019 election. He was asked by a journalist how he intended to counter Labor’s campaign messaging about the importance of fairness.

His answer was “I believe in a fair go for those who have a go, and what that means is part of the promise that we all keep as Australians is that we make a contribution and don’t seek to take one. And that involves an obligation on all of us to be able to bring what we have to the table.

“Under my government, under our government, under a Liberal Nationals government, we will always be backing those Australians who are looking to make a contribution, not take one and, together, that’s how we make our country stronger” he concluded.

My initial response on first hearing was that the PM was, among other things, revisiting former Liberal Treasurer Joe Hockey’s condemnation of the ‘leaners’ who weren’t ‘learners’, and took rather than gave to the well-being of the country.

My suspicion was confirmed when Katherine Murphy pointed out in the Guardian Australia that “The prime minister of Australia believes the fair go is conditional”. The fair go applies if you have a go and if you don’t seek to “take” a contribution. It doesn’t automatically apply to everyone equally.

While Morrison’s construction is designed to prompt a nod of belief from the listener, to confirm a resting pre-disposition in the community about conniving welfare cheats and dole bludgers, and encourage ‘strivers’ to feel good about themselves and vaguely resentful about the circumstances of others. If we unpack it, it’s actually a contradiction of what makes our society work.

Many of us “take” contributions frequently through public education and universal health care and family payments and childcare assistance. We do that because it is our Australian way. And throughout our lifetimes we have ‘given’, that is, paid for what we have taken, through taxation. What Mr Morrison deliberately ignores is that there may be some points in everyone’s life when they can’t be earning and so can’t be tax payers. It’s a fundamental construct of modern democratic societies with any semblance of social justice.

And of course many can’t get even a semblance of a fair go if they come from a dysfunctional family blighted by violence and poverty, have a crippling disability, are trying to live on Newstart, or have suffered from a poor education, just to name a few disincentives.

Now the really important point is that these are priorities Australia has set for itself in the way we conceive government, and what it does. Making a contribution without taking one is not what happens in reality. Not in this and many other countries.

Australians work if we can, pay taxes if we are fortune enough to be employed and use a range of government services throughout our lives. If we fall on hard times we look to government to support us. Those are the realities of a long-established social contract, and for many Australians these expectations are not conditional, but instead are the very basis of how societies should work for everyone, the many, not the few.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 16 April 2019

Morrison government mates profit from government advertising

Pope’s cartoon in last Wednesday’s Daily Advertiser mentioned three actions of the Morrison government in response to a fictitious rental house bond clean up: political appointments, approval of the Adani cola mine’s groundwater plans, and government ads. All of course references to the forthcoming federal election and clear evidence that Mr Morrison was delaying calling the election so he could milk every available opportunity to advantage his government, as the rushed appointment of no fewer than 49 Morrison’s Mates to various government bodies and the last minute Adani approval  demonstrate.

So even though the election has now been called I was stimulated to investigate further, especially the barrage of advertising in the preceding week or so that has been telling us of massive government expenditure on infrastructure, health and education and so forth.

Most people would, with good reason, wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, we know the election has to be held in May, so why does it matter if it’s called two weeks ago or last week?  There’s one very important reason – until the election is called the government can use taxpayer money to fund advertisements and commercials, which of course is very convenient for a government seeking re-election.

Political chicanery that’s par for the course most readers would probably think, and though that is regrettable it is true. Labor has after all done it in the past.

But what got me thinking was a headline in Crikey, which read “In political advertising, the Liberals have always looked after their mates”. It provoked me to investigate further, and what I found was very disturbing, for indeed, the owners or major shareholders in our media outlets are indeed Liberal Party ‘mates’, and due to Mr Morrison’s delay in calling the election they pocketed millions by running government ads – and that’s taxpayer money, so we are all footing the bill out of our own pockets.

And the media really needs this money, for given that commercial advertising is currently in the doldrums it is struggling for every dollar of government advertising that it can get. By one estimate, a quarter of a billion dollars has been spent by the Commonwealth since January 2018, making the government a key source of revenue for our media barons. According to advertising tender documents, government spending this year is a phenomenal $136 million, or $1 million a day.

A week’s delay in calling the election is therefore a cool $7 million. Of course, the cash cow of taxpayers’ money would dry up instantly the election is formally called. And make no mistake Mr Morrison and his mates have been milking it.

Which lead me to think about who exactly would benefit, and the outcome was very disturbing, for the two big winners from Morrison’s dithering about the election were the Murdoch family media empire and Kerry Stokes. Both are very politically active Liberal Party supporters, and both also regularly provide platforms for right-wing extremists in their media outlets.

The other big winner was Nine, which also owns 50% of radio station 2GB in Sydney, well known as a Liberal Party propaganda outlet through the platform it gives to shock jocks such as Alan Jones and Ray Hadley.

This realisation encouraged me to think beyond this election and look to see if Liberal/National coalition governments have made a habit of billing us, the taxpayers, for their political advertising, and indeed they have. The appalling “Unchain my heart” ads from the introduction of the GST two decades ago are an infamous example, but they aren’t necessarily the worst.

In the later Howard years campaigns such as WorkChoices saw tens of millions of dollars handed to Liberal Party mates at the request of an internal Liberal committee that had no authority to direct spending, even though the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) condemned the practices in a 2009 report. However, because the Howard government was ancient history by then, the media ignored what was clear evidence of, at the very least, outrageous misuse of advertising spending — and, quite possibly, blatant corruption.

All of which reminds me that when Mr Morrison became Prime Minister he said “Remember, my value is: we look after our mates”. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise he meant that quite so literally.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 9 April 2019

Our federal government blatantly buying votes

This week I had intended to devote my column to analysing last week’s federal budget, which was clearly a vote buying exercise that I hope didn’t fool too many people. There is a need to address a couple of contextual points will leave no space for Mr Frydenberg’s actual accounting trickery.

The first point involves the Prime Minister’s timing, and the second is commentary on what are known as pork-barreling, cash splashes and sweeteners.

The timing is nothing more than an attempt to manipulate certain aspects of our electoral schedule to suit the Liberal/Nationals coalition government, given that the election needs to be held in May. As the budget is normally brought down in that month Messrs Morrison and Frydenberg simply brought the budget forward to April, and given that they have plenty of cash to splash around their timing allows them to channel it to where they hope it will win vulnerable seats they are in danger of losing.

In other words, it’s more of a campaign launch for the Liberal/Nationals coalition rather than an economic blueprint for the future.

Which brings me nicely to pork-barreling, cash splashes and sweeteners, something at which Labor is as adept as the Coalition. Essentially, they are all the same thing, using government spending to buy votes in vulnerable areas where its majority is very small, though there are some differences between the three categories.

Pork-barreling is buying votes by targeting one specific electorate with promises of massive spending on infrastructure. We saw that happening in spades at last year’s Wagga by-election as the Liberal and Labor parties tried to outdo each other by promising us very expensive new infrastructure. A $10 million multi-story car park for Wagga Base Hospital was the attention-grabbing promise. However, and this is the problem with pork-barreling, spending that much money on public services such as health and education would almost certainly have been in the better long-term interests of Wagga residents – or of more deserving people somewhere else, for that matter.

For, of course, pork-barreling to buy votes in one electorate means other people miss out, and their needs might be much more important.

Cash splashes are similar, but usually aren’t focussed on a specific electorate but rather a particular demographic, usually one with a real or perceived complaint. The cash handouts by the coalition government to help pensioners and others pay their power bills is an example. They make good headlines but of course they are one-offs and don’t solve in any way at all the ongoing problem – a problem the government has created, though of course it will never admit that.

Sweeteners are very similar to cash splashes, though are usually broader in appeal and less about a particular demographic with a real grouch, and more about simply making the government look good, such as some extra money being spent on, for example, education or health. Such sweeteners always look good superficially but of course they don’t disguise the fact that they government created the problem in the first place through ongoing chronic underfunding, and they don’t do anything to solve the ongoing problem.

The most blatant sweetener in this budget is probably the tax cuts, conveniently brought forward from 2022. Even these are a smoke and mirror exercise as the lowest income earners will receive cents rather than tens or hundreds of dollars.

But all these arguments against pork-barreling, cash splashes and sweeteners are dwarfed by their broader ethical questions. As Peter Hartcher wrote recently in the Sydney Morning Herald, “The third-world backwardness of the politician’s pork-barrel is an abuse of public trust, a waste of money and a form of corruption”. It certainly is.

What we need instead is an independent agency that allocates money to major projects on a needs basis, not political favouritism and marginal seat manipulation. Perhaps Infrastructure Australia, now just an advisory body that is often ignored can be reconstituted as an independent agency that allocates funds on a genuine needs basis.

The level of spending, and where it is allocated, can’t be left to the government in power because, in their desperation to retain office, major party politicians simply can’t restrain their impulse to buy votes.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for this week

Australian gun lobby’s massive political donations circumvent our gun laws

Last week two stories concerning political donations by the gun lobby deservedly made the headlines.

The first story to break, courtesy of Al Jazeera and the ABC, was that One Nation sought millions of dollars from the American National Rifle Association (NRA) to fund its election campaigns.

James Ashby, Pauline Hanson’s Chief of Staff, and Steve Dickson, One Nation’s Queensland leader and a Senate candidate for the forthcoming federal election seemingly deliberately journeyed to the US with the purpose of fundraising. They claim, alternatively, that they were plied with grog and calculatedly set up by Al Jazeera’s investigative journalists, which makes these One Nation operatives appear to be drunken, gullible fools. Either way, neither scenario shows One Nation in a good light.

Nor does Ms Hanson’s seeming claim on the same video that the Port Arthur massacre was a set up job to facilitate the passing of John Howard’s gun laws veers toward conspiracy theory. Ms Hanson has subsequently denied this claim.

Last week a second story broke, showing that the Australian gun lobby is as large and spends as much on political donations and campaigns, per capita, as America’s powerful NRA.

They key points were that pro-gun groups have donated $1.7 million to Australian political parties over the past eight years, and that Bob Katter’s Australian Party was the top recipient, netting more than $800,000

Australia’s pro-gun groups were also mimicking the NRA’s political strategies in a “concerted and secretive” effort to undermine Australia’s strict gun laws, according to Point Blank: The covert lobbying of Australia’s gun lobby report by the progressive think tank, The Australia Institute.

It also tells us that, like the NRA, the gun lobby spends even more on funding specific election campaigns.

The report, obtained exclusively by the ABC, calls for a ban on political donations from the gun lobby. So too did Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi, who promptly tweeted “We need to strengthen gun laws as a priority and ban all political donations from the gun industry”.

This set me wondering how, in a country proud of its gun laws, this could be possible?. The report’s author Bill Browne warned that our stance on gun control was being circumvented because the gun lobby was quietly undermining laws introduced since the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

“Most Australians support stronger gun control,” the report, commissioned by Gun Control Australia and Get Up members, said.

“Despite this, no state or territory fully complies with the National Firearms Agreement and pressure remains for government to allow the import and sale of more powerful and rapid-firing guns.”

“The defiance of the popular will on gun control can be attributed in part to the deep pockets of Australia’s gun lobby, which has a much lower profile than the NRA — despite Australia’s gun lobby spending similar amounts on political campaigns.”

The report found that the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia (SSAA) had almost as many members, per capita, as the National Rifle Association (NRA), almost 200,000 in fact, which is approximately 0.8 per cent of the population.

The other big player in the Australian gun lobby is the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia (SIFA), the peak body for the firearms industry.

The report showed how the gun lobby is able to circumvent our donations laws, which is that much of the gun lobby’s political spending is in the form of election campaigns that are not necessarily captured by disclosure laws. For example, though SIFA only donated $64,000 to political parties in the period 2011 – 2018, it spent $750,000 on two recent state election campaigns alone.

Like political advertising funded by the NRA in the US, the Queensland and Victorian ads did not specifically mention guns, instead covering other hot button issues.

The Australia Institute’s report also calls for a list of all members of a group known as the Parliamentary Friends of Shooters (PFS) to be made public. Only its chair, Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie, and its deputy chair, Labor MP Anthony Byrne, are listed.

However, listing the members of PFS would hardly scratch the surface. We need a full inquiry into how the gun lobby circumvents our political donations regulations if we are to prevent this pernicious activity.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 26 March 2019

Christchurch massacre has a background of deep-seated Aussie racism

Most of our political leaders have been quick to condemn Brendan Tarrant’s murderous rampage in Christchurch.

As well they should, but what rarely gets a mention is that with a bit of thought about the background of Tarrant’s killing spree their condolences ring hollow, for “If you want to know why an Australian man massacred 50 Muslims in a mosque in New Zealand, then you need to understand a little bit about our nation’s dark past and in particular the quality of our present leadership” Chris Graham wrote last week in New Matilda. In other words, Tarrant’s killer-thon didn’t come out of nowhere. It has a background and context.

So let’s unpick both. There are three major elements: mainstream media, social media, and the words of our politicians.

Today space restrictions will only allow room to comment on our politicians. Polllie-speak can be divided into two types. There is overt clearly stated racism, and there is also what is known as ‘dog-whistle’ speak, which, like a high-pitched dog whistle that only dogs can hear, is coded racism that only those with a predilection to wanting to hear it will grasp. Both have ‘normalised’ hatred of the ‘other’.

Let’s look at ‘dog-whistle’ racism first. Who can forget Mr Howard’s “We decide who comes to this country” from the time of the Tampa. He really meant we won’t let any of these brown skinned Muslims in, thereby introducing us to Islamophobia.

Closely following that came Tony Abbott’s infamous “Stop the boats”, using the excuse of drowning deaths at sea to disguise his racism.

Pauline Hanson is also an expert dog-whistler, as evidenced by her Senate speech when she used the famous dog-whistle of “It’s okay to be white”, meaning of course, it is not okay to be the opposite, that is, non-white.

Ms Hanson is also no slouch at the directly racist statement, indeed, they are her favoured utterances. “We’re being swamped by Muslims” she has frequently said in recent years, adroitly joining Islamophobia to her usual hate speech. This slogan replaced her previous favourite, which was to fantasise that we were simply drowning in a sea of ‘Asians’. Neither is of course remotely true.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton gradually morphed from dog whistles to directly demonising the ‘other’ when they claimed that we couldn’t possibly allow refugees from Nauru and Manus Island into Australia for medical treatment as ““They may be paedophiles, rapists, murderers or drug runners” – a direct steal from President Donald Trump.

They were stretching the truth to the point where it verges on being an outright lie, but the claim that ‘they’ would be “taking our place in the hospital waiting line” from Mr Dutton was definitely a blatant falsehood.

Equally distorting the truth was Mr Dutton’s claim that “People are afraid to go out at night because of African gangs” in Melbourne. Arrant nonsense, but it resonated with those who wanted to believe it.

Senator Fraser Anning’s assertion that we would rid ourselves of Muslim immigrants by adopting a “final solution” reminiscent of how the Nazis treated Europe’s Jewish population is probably the absolute pits as far as both dog whistles and direct statements go.

The Christchurch massacre was followed by a very clever but also very reprehensible dog whistle from PM Scott Morrison when he introduced the government’s cuts to immigration. It was clearly meant to read ‘non-white’ immigration to those who wanted to hear that message.

The Greens have responded with a renewed call for a parliamentary code of conduct to stamp out hate speech, a push also backed by Australia’s peak Muslim body.

Richard Di Natale warned that the likes of Senator Anning blaming the Christchurch attack on Muslim immigration was “not a lone voice in our parliament” and more needs to be done to prevent “hateful rhetoric” by calling for a code of conduct requiring parliamentarians to “reject discriminatory or exclusionary statements”.

All well and good, but reining in our parliamentarians won’t stop what they say in the wider community. That’s the real problem, as Senator Anning’s recent very public comment blaming the Christchurch massacre on Muslim immigration horribly shows.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 29 January 2019

Pill testing safer than current practice

I’m spoilt for choice this week with the many options available for comment. I could begin by assessing the wisdom of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ‘Captain’s Pick’ decision to overturn the local liberal party branch’s preselected candidate for Gilmore and replace him with newly minted liberal party member Warren Mundine, not a local. Previously an ALP President, Mr Mundine is now linked to the conservative right-wing free market unrestricted capitalism loving Sydney Institute, which may explain things.

Equally bizarre was the PM’s announcement that the federal government would fund a circumnavigation of Australia by a replica of Captain Cook’s Endeavour on the 250th anniversary of his voyage in 2020, costing us a cool $6.7 million. Perhaps the PM doesn’t know Captain Cook only sailed up the east coast. The first white fella to circumnavigate the continent was Matthew Flinders.

No doubt Mr Morrison will also peddle the arrant nonsense that Captain Cook ‘discovered’ Australia. Try telling that to our First Peoples, or the Dutch for that matter.

However, rather than focusing on examples of the PM shooting himself in the foot I’ll concentrate on having another look at the vexed topic of pill testing at music festivals.

My decision was prompted by Cate Faehrmann, a Greens NSW MP and drugs and harm minimisation spokesperson, who last Monday courageously came out as a former pill user. “I remember vividly the first time I took MDMA. I was with friends at a club in Brisbane in the early 90s. A month or so later we did it again. And again” she wrote.

Her rationale to speak out reads “As a politician I’ve made the difficult decision to “come out” in this way because the government’s zero-tolerance approach to drugs has not only been a catastrophic failure in stopping drug use, it is costing people their lives. It is so out-of-touch with millions of people’s reality that everyone has stopped listening.

“Young people are not fools. They want us, as politicians, to “get real” about illegal drugs. Their parents want us to stop the moral crusade and listen to the evidence” she said.

This means being honest about the nature and extent of drug use and accepting the evidence that a harm minimisation approach, where illegal drug use is treated as a health issue not a criminal one, works.

We also need to ‘get real’ about the role that alcohol plays in our society generally, and in the life of politicians.

Alcohol has a number of negative effects. It is a major cause of many types of cancer, and other health concerns include damage to the liver, heart and brain, high blood pressure and stroke, and of course, risks to unborn babies.

It is also associated with injury, violence, crime and motor vehicle accidents.

As to politicians and alcohol I could fill umpteen columns with stories of politicians behaving badly because of alcohol. If he hadn’t been drinking at that parliamentary Christmas party a couple of years ago Luke Foley would still be leading Labor into the forthcoming state election, for example.

Last week former ALP senator Sam Dastyari told the world that it was deemed acceptable to be intoxicated during question time in parliament. “I think people would be blown away if they knew what happens in parliament,” he said.

Each year, alcohol abuse is killing 5000 people nationally and hospitalising 150,000 more at a cost to the taxpayer of $36 billion.

With all that in mind Ms Faehrmann’s youthful pill popping pales in comparison with the drinking habits of many politicians.

The hypocrisy of any “don’t do drugs” message from an adult who may smoke, drink alcohol or abuse prescription drugs is clear to see.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale attended a recent pill testing rally to support the harm minimisation approach. “We know testing pills doesn’t guarantee safety but it’s damn safer than what we’re doing now,” Mr Di Natale told the crowd.

The nay-sayers tell us that pill testing sends the wrong message, but what they are really saying is that if somebody makes a choice to take a drug, they should pay for that choice with their lives. No decent society should do that.