Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

My Daily Advertiser column for 22 January 2019

Citizenship ceremonies directive the start of a dirty election campaign

No one will be surprised that as we approach Australia Day the debate about whether 26th January is the right day ramps up.

To add fuel to the fire Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s latest example of government by thought bubble has threatened local councils that don’t hold their citizenship ceremonies on 26th January. He’s also laid down the law on how we should dress for the ceremonies, an odd one from someone who seems to be vying for the title of Australia’s most well-known ‘daggy dad’.

The debate is heating up not just because Australia Day is almost here, but also because the PM has already kicked off the 2019 federal election campaign by clearly ratcheting up the ‘culture wars’ as one of his campaign tools, through an appeal to our patriotism. As such this promises to be a particularly ugly campaign, replete with racist dog whistles.

As Greens leader Richard Di Natale said, warnings on people-smuggling operations and forcing local councils to hold citizenship ceremonies on January 26 was evidence that the coalition plans to fight dirty.

“No question we’ve got an election coming up which will be fought on fear and division,” Senator Di Natale told reporters in Melbourne last Monday.

“They’ll try and divide and conquer the Australian community in an effort to win the next election, that’s what they do,” he said.

The coalition is also warning people-smuggling operations could ramp up again if Labor wins the next election, after a boat was intercepted off Malaysia 10 days ago.

Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge also pointed out another link when he tweeted “This is some serious culture war nonsense from a PM who wants to cover up for the disaster in the Murray Darling among other things.”

The PM’s directives were met with mixed reactions. Most of the commercial mainstream media, reflecting its conservative bias, was strongly in support, though it was pleasing to see the DA reflect Mayor Greg Conkey’s sensible response.

Social media was a different story, with many posts quite rightly pouring scorn on Mr Morrison’s instructions.

Labor’s Bill Shorten, probably because he didn’t want to frighten the horses in this election year opposed ‘changing the date’, though he did quite rightly point out that “The Government’s trying to play a bit of politics. It’s what the conservatives do to keep their base happy, talking about this.”

Thankfully though the Greens responded in force, promising to make changing the date a major focus this year. Predictably the Federal Government hit back, calling it a publicity stunt that aims to divide the nation. In my book it is a sensible suggestion to improve the situation.

Di Natale said January 26 “was a difficult day for many Indigenous Australians.” As such is frequently referred to as either ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Survival Day.

He said changing the date would acknowledge the effect the day has on our First People.

“I think we’re at the start of a very important conversation across the country, and I’m very optimistic that over time we will see momentum for this change grow,” he said.

There are specific, more appropriate ‘change the date’ solutions to this problem including the anniversary of the proclamation of the independence of the Commonwealth of Australia, though as that’s 1st January it could also be problematic.

27th May is an option, referring to the 1967 referendum to include Indigenous Australians as citizens. Almost 91 per cent of Australians voted Yes. It also marks the beginning of National Reconciliation Week every year.

We could of course consider whether we really need a national day at all. Not all nations do, and perhaps the world would be a better place without all the hyper nationalistic chest beating and flag waving that goes on during such days.

And have we really much to celebrate? As Luke Pearson said “I have come to the opinion that there are too many people who seem to think the problem with Australia Day rests solely on the day we celebrate it, not with what we are celebrating” (The Guardian). “I don’t really feel that Australia, where we sit right now, is worth celebrating”. Well said Luke.

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My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 15 January 2019

Fish deaths due to poor water management

Last Thursday the Daily Advertiser reported that the fish deaths in the River Darling/Menindee Lakes are a “man-made disaster”. Though man-made could perhaps have been better expressed as ‘anthropomorphic’ to avoid charges of sexism the reportage is accurate in that the deaths are largely due to human mismanagement of the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) river system, which has largely been in the hands of white men.

Let’s look at the causes of this disaster. NSW Premier Ms Berejiklian has the nerve to make the argument that the state government carries no responsibility. Pull the other one, Gladys.

NSW Regional Water Minister Neil Blair parroted the same nonsense when he said the drought was to blame for blue-green algae and fish deaths.

Many however are fighting this position, calling it a man-made disaster and telling the ABC it is a symptom of mismanagement.

The Nature Conservation Council noted that “Scientists, locals and environment groups have all attributed the mass fish kill to the mismanagement of the river, yet the NSW Government denies responsibility.”

Menindee farmer Kate McBride said, “The Menindee lakes were drained twice within four years and each time it was drained it should have had seven to eight years’ worth of water”.

The Menindee Lakes are at 5 per cent capacity and are expected to be empty by the end of January.

Mr Blair, showing his skill at blame-shifting, said it was a Federal Government decision to drain water from Menindee, and that the NSW Government only took control of their management when there was more than 480 gigalitres of water in them.

Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud was equally adept at blame-shifting when he shot back with “NSW is managing the Menindee Lakes system because of the drought and they are responsible for water management in their catchments, including water allocation and compliance enforcement.”

As Sarah Hanson-Young, Australian Greens spokesperson for the MDB pointed out “Without adequate environmental flows, there is no irrigation, no water coming out of the tap for thousands of families and no tourism.”

Inland Rivers Network president Bev Smiles said this problem at Menindee started before the drought, and pointed the finger at the water-thirsty cotton industry.

“The cotton industry is capturing all the water and everyone downstream is left with no water,” she said.

Chief executive of the Murray Darling Basin Authority Phillip Glyde said his team was getting the balance between environment and agriculture right.

“We are reducing the amount of water used by farmers by 20 per cent and that’s had a huge impact on those industries and the communities that depend on those industries,” he said. That’s misleading wishful thinking, as it is clearly not enough.

However, accurate though Ms Smiles’ reference to the cotton industry is, there is another major instance of water mismanagement I’d like to emphasise, which is floodplain water harvesting.

This is a formal NSW Government policy, which it is currently implementing under the title of the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy, as part of its broader water management reforms across the Murray-Darling Basin.

The policy’s stated aims are to provide clarity and certainty around how floodplain harvesting is managed in NSW, protect downstream users and the environment from the effects of unconstrained floodplain harvesting, secure the social licence for legitimate floodplain harvesting activities to continue, and provide a licensing regime that will form the basis for effective compliance and enforcement.

As this outbreak of blue-green algae and the fish deaths show its aim of protecting the environment from “the effects of unconstrained floodplain harvesting” has demonstratively failed.

As a recent Facebook post from Tolarno Station pointed out “This NSW government has already done more damage than any government in Australian history to the survival of (the) river system and Menindee lakes. It appears that the NSW Government policies (have been) created not only to undermine the MDB Plan but also the very basis of the rivers’ survival (for the) financial benefit of a select few at the expense of the river system’s future.”

So it seems that the Floodplain Water Harvesting policy is yet another example of the problem that has bedevilled the way we provide water for agriculture since the earliest days of white fella water management: over allocation of water for irrigation.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 8 January 2019

Billions wasted on false Law and Order policies that make us less safe

As 2019 gets under way the reaction of some of our politicians to proposals to prevent music festival deaths through the very sensible introduction of harm minimisation practices such as pill testing reminds me that the Law and Order brigade, colloquially known as our old friend ‘Laura Norder’, is still with us in the new year. Indeed, and regrettably, she is alive and well.

That thought brought to mind a NSW government report released last December that for most of us was probably lost in the lead up to Christmas, or buried by tales of errant National Party MP Andrew Broad’s ‘Sugar Daddy’ affair and the scurrilous tweets he was foolish enough to send boasting of his sexual prowess while at the same time championing traditional family values. Or perhaps it got lost in news of the verdict in the case of a prominent cleric’s child sexual abuse case that we aren’t allowed to know about, but that everybody did, and most couldn’t resist talking about, even though they were told not to.

It was the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research report on Trends in Violent and Property Crimes. It showed that despite scare mongering reports to the contrary, the crime rate was again lower, but, as Greens NSW Justice spokesperson David Shoebridge MP sensibly commented “Crime is down again, but we’re still throwing billions more at law and order policies”.

Let’s look at the facts (real ones, not Trump-like ‘alternative’ ones) before checking to see if the Liberal/National state coalition government is indeed wasting our tax payer dollars on the false but electorally advantageous premise of being tough on crime.

The report shows that the long-term trend has been going down since 2003. It shows that certain crimes, such as murder, domestic violence assault and sexual assault as being ‘stable’. So are robbery and fraud.

However, some crime statistics have actually fallen. Down are breaking and entering, motor vehicle thefts, and stealing from a person. That one is down by a massive 8.4%

Yet despite the evidence that all major criminal offences are falling or stable across NSW the NSW Liberal/Nationals coalition government, together with the support of the Labor “opposition” continue to throw billions of dollars of public money into funding a failed and flawed law and order agenda.

As David Shoebridge said, “When the data shows that crime is going down we must reassess money this Government has committed to funding their flawed law and order agenda”.

Indeed, given such clear evidence that the crime rate is falling, it makes no sense that our prison population continues to grow and that we’re spending $3.8 billion on new prisons and paying for 1500 new police.

Yet for decades public policy and the evidence on crime have drifted apart in NSW.

As Mr Shoebridge commented, “This money would better be spent helping children in need by providing early intervention in our child protection system, funding community programs and protecting our environment”.

Indeed, this data should is cause for a radical rethink in the billions of dollars we spend every year on more police, longer court lists and more prison cells.

Why is there this disconnect between the clear as daylight evidence and the government and opposition’s policy?

Most likely because announcing more jails or police plays well in the tabloids, on the evening television news, and in commercial radio shock-jock interviews. And with a state election looming in March being seen to be ‘tough on crime’ is judged to be electorally advantageous – the old Law and Order policy that is trotted out every time an election comes around.

The problem is that all this is actually making us less safe because it’s diverting funds from justice reinvestment projects that we know make communities stronger and safer.

So rather than reintroduce us to their friend Laura Norder yet again it is high time the NSW Government immediately reassessed its funding priorities, given this data. Use the money instead to treat the causes of anti-social behaviour rather than put increasingly heavily militarised band aids on a steadily diminishing problem. But with state and federal elections due soon unfortunately that may be a forlorn hope.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 1 January 2019

2018 nothing to crow about

One of my favourite songs at this time of year is John Lennon’s ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’, which certainly dates me but also encourages feelings of hope as he ushers in the New Year with “Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear”.

We’ve certainly had plenty to fear in the year past, from a federal government apparently oblivious to the dangers of climate change and happy to ditch the closest it came to a national energy plan.

However, the year began with something we hadn’t expected to fear – seemingly libidinous National Party MPs, as news broke that then Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was expecting a baby with his former staffer Vikki Campion, followed later in the month with news that he was stepping down as Deputy PM.

Which ushered in our very own federal MP Michael McCormack becoming leader of the Nats and therefore Deputy PM.

It’s probably too early to tell how history will judge Mr McCormack in that position, but there have been murmurings of concern about how he handled the Nats’ other sex scandal, the Andrew Broad ‘Sugar Daddy’ affair, which neatly book-ended the year for us.

Both disgraced MPs championed ‘traditional family values’ during the Marriage Equality campaign, which by their conduct presumably means cheating on your wife.

The Nats aren’t the only party to suffer sex scandals. The ALP’s Dirt Unit found some ammunition with which to attack the Victorian Greens in the state election, and here the Greens NSW Jeremy Buckingham eventually resigned from the party after allegedly “bringing it into disrepute”. Thankfully, after some equivocation, Labor’s Luke Foley left the scene quickly.

These sexually charged shenanigans point towards a much bigger picture that dominated our political news this year, which is the position of women in the Lib/Nats coalition, and how they are treated. It really does beggar belief that there are only two female National Party federal MPs!

The change in Liberal Party parliamentary leadership from Malcolm Turnbul to Scott Morrison via an attempted coup by the apparently innumerate Peter Dutton brought to light accusations of bullying by the men of the coalition towards the women in their respective parties, highlighted by the move of Julia Banks to the cross bench, thereby further cementing the government’s loss of its majority in the House of Representatives.

That was of course achieved earlier by the Liberals losing the Wentworth by-election to Dr Kerryn Phelps, triggered by Malcolm Turnbull’s resignation after he lost the above-mentioned Liberal Party parliamentary leadership.

The Wentworth by-election highlighted the disenchantment by voters of the major parties, certainly on the conservative side of politics, a trend initiated a month earlier by our very own Dr Joe McGirr winning the Wagga by-election following the resignation of the disgraced Daryl Maguire.

It will be interesting to see if Dr McGirr’s victory carries over to the general election next March, especially as the Nationals are running a candidate for the first time in decades.

Another major development this past year was the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, which finally opened in February. It provided an ongoing series of revelations of misconduct, most notably of billing customers for services not provided, blatantly bad financial advice given in order to gain commissions, and billing deceased persons, again often for services not provided.

As well as its findings the Royal Commission was characterised by its late arrival after years of the coalition government resisting its establishment despite calls for it to be instituted by the Greens and the ALP. And despite a few heads rolling it is remarkable how many CEOs survived, after only a few formulaic mea culpas.

On the other side of the industrial front it was pleasing to see an estimated 100,000 union workers march through Melbourne’s CBD in protest about workplace conditions, thereby kicking off the Australian Council of Trade Union’s “Change the Rules” campaign, which Sally McManus has successfully rolled out across the country throughout the year.

PM Morrison’s tenure began with a disturbing trend, government by Trump-like thought bubble, when he announced, during the Wentworth by-election, that he would consider recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the Australian embassy there. His eventual decision, after finally consulting cabinet, was a compromise that satisfied no one.

My Daily Advertiser column for this week

MYEFO a smoke and mirrors stunt to fool us

Last week Treasurer Josh Frydenberg presented the Mid-Year Economic Forecast Outlook (MYEFO) as being all good news, but closer analysis shows that most of us won’t benefit.

Indeed, though the forecast is that the budget is heading for surplus it is incredibly divorced from the reality of people’s lives.

It turns out that the prospect of a balanced budget comes from company tax revenue. It certainly didn’t come from workers’ taxes, given that wages have hardly risen at all over the past few years.

The boom in company tax revenue from higher prices for our iron ore and coal exports has enabled the government to forecast a budget surplus while promising more tax cuts, worth $9bn, over the next three years.

The big picture message the government hopes people will look at and not enquire further about is that the budget is now projected to be back in surplus in 2019-20 to the tune of $5bn (The Guardian Australia).

This good news will allow the government to introduce some pre-election sweeteners, without even having to wait for the budget next April.

So in what looks like the start of a five-month election campaign Scott Morrison has already earmarked a $10 billion pork barrel for “secret” tax cuts and spending promises.

That’s what the “decisions made but not announced” are worth in the MYEFO statement. And of course the likelihood of more election spending in the April budget.

Of course there are good reasons for governments keeping the details secret once such major decisions have been made. For example, there’s the possibility of insider trading if some people know what the new programs might be, noted The New Daily.

But to state the bleedin’ obvious, the details are being kept under wraps for purely political purposes, awaiting the chance to get the most publicity, hoping voters will remember the giveaways closer to the election. Perhaps also the government is keeping some powder dry just in case something turns up to warrant a March rather than May election. And of course there’s always the possibility of an unexpected ScoMo-style stunt from the PM.

Let’s hope not, given the sour taste many of us felt about some of those recent stunts, such as the Jerusalem announcement, the Big Blue Bus that the PM used only for photo opportunities, the integrity commission that is a clayton’s one worthy of Morrison’s pre-politics advertising career, and the way the next Governor-General was announced. Here’s hoping the PM resists his stunting urges.

However, all the suggestions of pork barrelling won’t hide the fact that the economic forecast to be experienced by most Australians is the poor wages growth outlook. Indeed, the interaction of our tax and transfer system (family benefits for example) means real take-home wages continue to fall, as wage rises are stuck around the inflation rate.

That is the reality most people are facing, and with that reality the government would need particularly cunning stunts to distract an electorate that quite rightly senses it’s not getting ahead.

Greens employment spokesperson Adam Bandt MP noted that pigs will fly before MYEFO wage growth forecasts come true.

He pointed out that this year’s MYEFO joins a string of 8 years of wage growth forecasts that have never happened.

“If history is anything to go by, we’ll see pigs at 35,000 feet before these wage growth forecasts come true,” said Mr Bandt. “We’re now in our 8th year of broken wage growth promises”.

Getting a budget surplus off the back of a $385.5 million cut to university research funding isn’t ‘good economic management’, it is vandalism, as Mr Bandt also noted.

This government, and previous Labor ones too for that matter, are committed to neoliberalism, but the premise of that economic philosophy is that it does not deliver decent wage rises.

We need parliament to legislate a floor under the minimum wage, restore cuts to penalty rates and recalibrate the economy so it serves working people.

“Working people are entitled to be sick and tired of this government, but there’s no guarantee that Labor will deliver either. If the market won’t deliver wages growth, the next government needs to implement policies to generate it” concluded Mr Bandt in a refreshing note of common sense.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed for Tuesday 18 December 2018

Our government refuses to sign UN Migration Agreement

Last week over 150 countries signed a United Nations agreement in Morocco to help improve the way the world copes with mass migration, but without Australia as a signatory (ABC News 11th December).

The Morrison government parroted its usual claptrap that the global deal risks reversing ‘hard-won successes in combating the people-smuggling trade.

The Refugee Council of Australia and advocates have strongly rejected the government’s claim, citing the fact the compact is non-binding and has a provision stating that countries retain sovereignty over their migration programs.

Labor offered a mixed reaction to the announcement, with defence spokesman Richard Marles suggesting Labor would “work with the global community” on “migration”.

Speaking on an earlier occasion Senator Richard Di Natale, Australian Greens Foreign Affairs spokesperson, said “It has always been my belief and always will be my belief that we as a rich, prosperous, generous, compassionate nation have an obligation never to turn away people who seek our help and our protection and who seek to make their lives a little bit better”.

The Coalition refused to sign the agreement because of its stance that migration detention should only be used “as a measure of last resort” and that states should work towards alternatives, and so joining the United States, Israel and a group of Eastern European countries that have also refused.

The announcement comes after Scott Morrison signalled that Australia will reduce its migration cap from 190,000. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has also harped on about how Sydney is full and so NSW should reduce its migrant intake, a disguised admission that her government has failed to provide the infrastructure that this state needs.

The global compact aims to address migration issues in a “safe, orderly and regular” way through a “collective commitment to improving cooperation on international migration”.

The final draft includes a commitment to review legislation and policies to ensure “migrants are not detained arbitrarily, that decisions to detain are based on law, are proportionate, have a legitimate purpose, and are taken on an individual basis, in full compliance with due process and procedural safeguards, and that immigration detention is not promoted as a deterrent or used as a form of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment to migrants, in accordance with international human rights law”.

It states that refugees and migrants “are entitled to the same universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, which must be respected, protected and fulfilled at all times”.

The compact nevertheless “reaffirms the sovereign right of states to determine their national migration policy … in conformity with international law”.

Australia runs offshore detention facilities on Manus Island and Nauru designed to deter people from coming to Australia by boat to claim asylum and turns back boats at sea, a practice the UN has said is illegal under international law and “may intentionally put lives at risk”.

In a joint statement PM Scott Morrison, home affairs minister Peter Dutton and foreign affairs minister Marise Payne said the government believed the compact is “inconsistent with our well-established policies and not in Australia’s interest”.

Predictably but without any evidence they warned the compact would “risk encouraging illegal entry to Australia and reverse Australia’s hard-won successes in combating the people-smuggling trade”.

Refugee Council of Australia chief executive Paul Power said the compact recognised both the rights of migrants and the right of sovereign states to set their own policy.

“In refusing to sign the compact, Australia will join a small group of governments which are each trying to appeal to or appease minority far-right political movements within their countries,” Power said.

“It is hard to see the Australian government’s decision as anything other than posturing for some political gain, as the facts do not align with the prime minister’s claims.”

Carolina Gottardo, the director of Jesuit Refugee Service Australia accused the Morrison government of “misinformation” and a “political game” for having argued for stronger protections of sovereignty, only to refuse to sign the non-binding compact on the grounds it harmed sovereignty.

“The final compact is a major achievement, it is measured and constructive.

“It’s a non-binding agreement of great normative importance that does not threaten border protection or efforts to stop people smuggling.” Well put Ms Gottardo.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 11 December 2018

Merchants of hate infest our parliaments

It seems that almost every day we are met with a new far-right conservative movement. The spectrum ranges from straight-up neo-Nazis, or fascists masquerading as libertarians, to the mad hatter brigade with their conspiracy theories. Some of them are in our current federal parliament.

“Collectively, I call these groups ‘merchants of hate’. Perhaps ‘charlatans’ or ‘quacks’ would be better terms,” said Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi (Hansard 14 November 2018).

They prey on the anxieties of Australians and offer solutions that are empty, hateful and divisive. Why? Because they find it easier to destroy communities than to build them. Where is their vision? Where are their big ideas for a better Australia?

True, we have big problems in this country. Wages are stagnant, and corporations refuse to bear their fair share of tax needed to fund essential public services like schools, universities, TAFE, health care and public transport. People are being left behind. More than 116,000 people are homeless, and that number is rising.

A culture of corruption and the revolving door between politics and big business costs us all. The voices of big money, and their donations, echo far more loudly in the corridors of parliament than do the voices of the community.

But these ‘merchants of hate’, instead of offering solutions that will actually help people in our society, choose to whip up hysteria against minorities in this country because it suits their weak-minded political vision that hopes to keep Australia in turmoil.

“It is the classic divide-and-rule, distract-and-act mentality: point to an imaginary enemy and hope that no-one notices you don’t actually want solutions because you thrive on problems, conflict and suffering,” said Dr Faruqi.

They are selling Australians lies, because that is all they have. What else can we conclude when parties like One Nation talk about ‘Aussie battlers’ but then go ahead and vote to strip billions of dollars out of our public schools? They tell their supporters one thing and then do another. I wonder how they sleep at night?

Mario Peucker, a postdoctoral research fellow at Victoria University’s Centre for Cultural Diversity and Wellbeing, has looked at the far right and its emergence. He noted “Australia, the UK and the US have their individual circumstances but there is an underlying root cause and that is there are economic shifts and social shifts that some segments of society aren’t happy with. Some people feel left behind.

Rather than providing ideas that address the root of people’s anxieties and concerns the merchants of hate exploit those anxieties to get themselves elected.

Who is responsible for the rise of the far Right and legitimatising hate? The current government have to bear some responsibility for stoking the flames of division. The media has to bear some responsibility. Sky News, for example, continues the cycle of ‘outrage, apologise, outrage, apologise’, knowingly inviting racists and fascists onto its shows to generate media. Sunrise regularly paid Pauline Hanson to join its show before she was elected to parliament.

The far Right also relies on social media to spread its lies. Social media has become a breeding ground of hate and fake news, but those platforms have not taken seriously their responsibility to protect their users from abuse.

The good news, though, is that it doesn’t have to be this way. There is another way, and there are good people in our communities and local, state and federal parliaments who are firmly standing up against the Far Right.

As Dr Faruqi said recently in the Senate “I got involved in politics because I wanted to give a voice to marginalised and ignored people and to the environment and animals. A core part of the Greens’ mission is to champion the voices of those silenced, to dissent on behalf of the dissenters”.

So don’t believe the Far Right when it blames migrants, ethnic communities, refugees, or Muslims for our decaying social infrastructure, high youth unemployment, insecure work and a rising cost of living. The fault in fact lies with the big end of town and its narrow neoliberal agenda that consistently prioritises the interest of big business and big money above people.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 4 December 2018

School students show the way

Last Friday thousands of students wagged it and converged on MP offices, parliaments around the country, and various public spaces in the Big School Walk Out for Climate Action.

The movement, School Strike 4 Climate Action, has been inspired by a 15-year-old Swedish student, Greta Thunberg, who started boycotting classes before parliamentary elections in her nation on September 9, and continues to skip school every Friday.

Students in each state capital and across 20 regional Australian centres walked out of their classrooms this week to tell politicians that more of the same climate inaction is not good enough.

PM Scott Morrison hectored children to stay in class rather than protesting things that “can be dealt with outside of school”.

Of course, what Mr Morrison overlooked, and has for a very long time, is that climate change isn’t being dealt with outside of school. It certainly isn’t being dealt with by his government.

“What we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools” he said, conveniently forgetting that this student activism isn’t happening in schools, but outside. But Mr Morrison isn’t one to let the truth get in the way of an indignant response, as he regularly demonstrates at press conferences and during Parliamentary Question time.

“The students want and believe that action on climate change is essential, which our parliament seems not to” (Mary Kidson, Letters to the Editor, 1st December).

Naturally enough students aren’t happy with the PM’s response. Melbourne student Jagveer Singh, who will take part in the protest, said Mr Morrison’s broadside made him “want to go on strike even more”. (SBS News)

Indeed, in Question Time Mr Morrison reacted furiously when Greens MP Adam Bandt brought up the protest, angrily saying “Each day I send my kids to school and I know other members’ kids should also go to school but we do not support our schools being turned into parliaments.”

Mr Bandt said he had met with some of the students involved and backed their actions.

“The PM is unbelievably out of touch with young people, not only in Australia but around the world,” he said.

“These students want a leader to protect their future, but they got a hectoring, ungenerous and condescending rebuke from someone even worse than Tony Abbott,” he said.

Students planning to participate in a national school strike last Friday should ignore the Prime Minister’s patronising speech on the matter, said Member for Ballina and Greens NSW Education spokesperson Tamara Smith MP.

“The idea that schools and students should have less activism – how incredibly out of touch is the Prime Minister to suggest that young people are not activists in their own right?” said Ms Smith.

“I will be supporting students from my electorate during their School Strike on Friday at Railway Park at Byron Bay. I am proud to be their local MP” concluded Ms Smith.

Last Tuesday, the Senate also approved a motion to support the students, moved by Steele-John and fellow Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi. Other students around the world have also posted messages of support on social media.

Swedish 15-year-old Greta Thunberg, the inspiration for our Australian students, leaves school each Friday and sits outside her country’s parliament to urge leaders to do more to tackle climate change.

“Countries like mine and Australia must start reducing our emissions dramatically if we believe in equality and climate justice.”

Greta has now seen her Friday vigils for action on climate change copied in many parts of the world, including Finland, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Canada and Britain. “And Australia of course!” she says.

Students from Castlemaine, a town in the Victorian goldfields north-west of Melbourne, were the originators of the School Strike movement in Australia after reading about Greta Thunberg and also the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report.

Tully Boyle, a 15-year-old at Castlemaine Secondary College, has already taken part in several school boycotts. “It’s a massive emergency,” Tully says. “We want all governments to take it seriously.”

I’ll leave the last word to Greta. “And Australia is a huge climate villain, I am sorry to say. Your carbon footprint is way bigger than Sweden and we are among the worst in the world.”

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 27 November 2018

New forced adoptions law will create another stolen generation

Late at night last Wednesday, on its final sitting day for the year, the NSW Liberals voted to pass their cruel forced adoption bill into law.

Child welfare organisations, survivors of past forced removal practices, and thousands of individuals all came together to oppose these laws.

There was opposition from both Labor and the Greens, but sadly not enough to vote down these cruel new laws.

What many expected to happen today has happened despite the united call from Aboriginal people and the child welfare sector.

“These laws will mean more vulnerable, often Aboriginal, children will be forcibly removed and taken permanently from their families” said MP David Shoebridge, the Greens Justice spokesperson.

This is in clear contrast to the advice of almost every single welfare agency, Aboriginal organisations, survivors of past failed removal policies and legal body, who have told the government that these laws take us backwards.

The weeks of campaigning against these damaging laws has given strength to the growing alliance between the community, the Greens, Labor and everyone in the sector who has taken the time to understand the damage these laws will cause.

Let’s look at the detail of this sorry situation. The bill places a two year limit on the amount of time a child can remain in out-of-home care prior to the court having the power to order they be adopted.

These laws are set to disproportionately affect Aboriginal communities that are facing a system that’s increasingly removing their children. First Nations children and youths make up only 5 percent of people in this state under 18, but 37 percent of young people in out-of-home care.

First Nations groups have long asserted that current Indigenous child removal practices are a continuation of the paternalistic policies that saw hundreds of thousands of children taken during the 70-odd years of the Stolen Generations.

And these new laws are just more of the same. Not only does the legislation place an extremely tight maximum time frame on families seeking restoration with their children, but it also seeks to remove the judicial oversight of guardianship arrangements and it restricts provisions around parents applying for variations of court orders.

“This is going to totally annihilate Aboriginal culture,” said Aunty Hazel Collins, a founding member of Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR). “This is genocide in the first degree and it should be abolished.”

And the Gomeroi woman understands all too well how unreasonable the proposed new forced adoption time limit is. “My own daughter fought for seven years to have her child returned,” Aunty Hazel explained. “Families are not going to get their children back within two years.”

“Nobody has the right to sign off on an adoption, when that child is not an orphan,” she added. “That child has parents, grandparents and family that want them back.”

The new law comes despite the findings of the Independent Review of Out-Of-Home Care in NSW report, which NSW family and community services minister Pru Goward stalled the release of for 18 months.

The damning report found that the NSW out-of-home care system “does not improve outcomes for children and families with complex needs”. And the $1.86 billion spent over 2015-16 was “crisis driven” expenditure and “not well aligned to the evidence”.

The report also found that Aboriginal children are overrepresented in the system. It revealed that around 7.5% of Aboriginal children in this state were in out-of-home care with only 1 percent of non-Indigenous kids.

Following the release of the report last June, Ms Goward rejected calls for the establishment of an Aboriginal child and family commissioner. “We’re not creating a separate system for Aboriginal children,” the minister told ABC radio.

However, as far as First Nations groups like GMAR are concerned, there’s already a separate system in place for Indigenous children under the guidance of FACS and it was implemented a very long time ago.

Fortunately this does not mean a permanent victory for the forces of darkness. “With the passage of these laws, the struggle has only begun. The Greens commit to reversing these laws in the first 100 days of a new parliament after the March 2019 election. We invite all MPs to join with us,” said David Shoebridge.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 20 November 2018

There is a simple way to save lives

As summer approaches so too does the music festival season, and regrettably we will read stories of many preventable deaths, which could be avoided if the state government would only adopt a common-sense harm minimisation approach to pill testing.

Instead, Premier Gladys Berejiklian established what she touted as an ‘expert’ panel to address the issue after the deaths at the Defqon 1 dance festival in Penrith. The result was a headline reading ‘NSW to introduce tougher drug penalties, but no pill testing, after festival deaths’ (Guardian Australia).

The new measures recommended by the panel included on-the-spot fines for drug possession and tougher penalties for dealers who supply drugs to people who die are among new measures proposed.

The police commissioner, Mick Fuller, a member of the panel, said the belief that pill-testing was going to save lives in NSW was a “myth”.

Yet doctors, harm minimisation advocates and drug researchers say there’s a simple solution to stop young Australians dying at music festivals, but it’s the one thing authorities refuse to try. That simple solution is pill testing.

Advocacy groups, including STA-Safe and some of the nation’s leading drug researchers, have begged the government to drop its “zero-tolerance” stance, insisting the answer is simple and lives will be saved if the government changed its approach.

“You would hope a tragedy like this would’ve pressed reset on the government’s approach to drugs but it’s clear that hasn’t happened,” Greens MP David Shoebridge told news.com.au.

Few festivals pushed a zero drug tolerance policy harder and had a stronger police presence than Defqon.1, according to Mr Shoebridge.

The festival, which features hardstyle and electronic dance music DJs, reportedly has a stronger drug-taking culture than some other Australian festivals.

But the reputation has led to Defqon.1’s organisers paying for police presence at the festivals in a bid to curb the drug culture.

“Defqon.1 signed on to the most hardcore zero-tolerance drug policy. They actively worked with, and paid for, a lot of police to attend and support them. There was a very active police presence,” Mr Shoebridge said.

Pill testing and amnesty bins have been debated as an option to reduce the risk of potential overdoses or deaths from contaminated pills at music festivals for more than a decade.

However, “Anyone who is advocating pill testing is giving the green light to drugs — that is absolutely unacceptable. Do not take them … Pill testing is not a solution,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Ted Noffs Foundation spokesman Kieran Palmer told Today the Premier had her “head in the sand”.

“We have the evidence. Shutting down festivals, getting tough on drugs, telling kids to ‘just say no’ doesn’t work. It doesn’t change behaviour.”

Indeed. pill testing advocates finally received the home soil evidence they needed in May when a pill testing trial at Canberra’s Groovin The Moo festival revealed two people had been stopped from taking deadly drugs.

The trial, which tested 128 batches, found a number of worrying chemicals, the worst of which was a drug called N-ethyl pentylone.

At the time, emergency doctor and STA-Safe representative David Caldicott told news.com.au the drug was particularly concerning “because it’s killed people”.

“The drug is known to cause mass-casualty overdoses, where you can have groups of 10-20 people just dropping at festivals,” he said.

Working in the emergency department of Calvary Hospital in Canberra, Dr Caldicott has become one of Australia’s most vocal advocates for a harm minimisation approach to illicit drug use.

Thankfully and following David Shoebridge’s comments, the Australian Greens have revealed a plan to open 18 pill-testing services across Australia at a cost of $16m, saying the policy would disrupt drug dealing networks and cut preventable deaths.

The Australian Greens parliamentary leader, Richard Di Natale, a former drug and alcohol doctor, said the war on drugs had failed because 1 million Australians still used ecstasy and cocaine every year and a number of them were dying because they had no idea what they were consuming.

He said the pill-testing services, which would allow people to test drugs for dangerous substances and their level of purity, would help Australians who were going to take drugs anyway make more informed choices.