Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

My Daily Advertiser column for 23 May 2017: Bad news for our health on two counts during budget week

Last week my commentary on the 2017 budget focussed on its attack on young people, including cuts to university and how Gonski 2.00 represented a huge cut in schools funding compared to the Gillard government’s Gonski 1.0, but in budget week there were two attacks on the health system that need to be exposed.

One of these attacks was included in the budget itself, but another was a separate health issue that snuck up on us largely unnoticed because of the media’s focus on the budget, and so I’ll analyse it first.

What happened was that the Nick Xenophon Team and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation slammed the door on terminally ill patients fighting for faster access to the medical cannabis prescribed by their doctor, the Special Access Scheme would give faster access to medicinal cannabis for terminal patients.

Patients are currently waiting weeks and sometimes months for access to these treatments. This motion could have reduced that to a day or possibly hours. For some of these patients, speedy access to medicinal cannabis is the difference between being able to eat or wasting away.

These changes add time, stress, and difficulty for terminally ill patients accessing medicinal cannabis. Terminally ill patients who are using medicinal cannabis to alleviate their suffering have been let down.

As Australian Greens party room leader Richard Di Natale said, “I am so disappointed that these politicians couldn’t put the needs of terminally ill patients above their own political games”.

This was during the same week that the budget dealt yet another blow to health care, for it really failed Australian patients, had zero vision for the future of the system and was clearly a political fix. The Government’s plan to lift the Medicare freeze will have no impact for patients for at least a year, if not longer.

Indeed, Greg Hunt’s ‘road map’ for health lacks any vision for the future of healthcare in this country. It’s a U-turn that takes us back to where we were three years ago.

Taking the Medicare freeze off ice is an entirely political fix by this Government in response to a very successful campaign run by doctors. It unwinds part of their worst health policy while doing nothing to look to the future of our health system. Sure, they finally listened, but this ‘phased’ removal is meaningless for patients.

I’m left wondering whatever happened to Prime Minister Turnbull’s flagship health reform? This time last year he was out there spruiking his Health Care Homes initiative to revolutionise Medicare for chronic disease, yet last week we saw the funding for this initiative cut and kicked two years down the road while trial sites are delayed until October.

Not only are they unpicking their own reform program designed to treat people with chronic illnesses, there is next to nothing for programs to help prevent Australians developing debilitating chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease in the first place, particularly in children.

Also, in case there was any doubt, this budget also confirms this Government has no commitment to Closing the Gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health.

We all have every right to feel hugely let down, again, by this government on health. This budget is not about patients, for there is not one measure here, apart from cheaper medicine, that would improve health care for those who receive it, that is, patients.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 16 May 2017: What has this federal government got against young people?

Though much media commentary of last week’s federal budget has been generally favourable I can’t see for the life of me why, given that it so strongly penalises our young people, demonstrated by its attacks on education, welfare benefits, penalty rates and housing affordability.

More details of all on all the above below, but to start the ball rolling I was pleased to see that Australian Greens education spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young picked up on the same theme when she tweeted that the “Single biggest cut in the budget is a brutal attack on young people. Malcolm Turnbull has proven he has his priorities wrong if he thinks he can foster a clever country by cutting $3.8 billion from universities, while planning to loan $1 billion to Adani for a useless coalmine”.

Richard Di Natale picked up on the same theme, but then upped the ante then he noted the budget’s total lack of action on climate change. Quite.

If you are under the age of 35, this budget guarantees that you will be the one dealing with the climate mess that your parents and grandparents created and that this Government was too gutless to address.

Indeed, it’s not merely a lack of funds to tackle climate change that is one of the budget’s biggest problem, but rather that it commits $60 million for fracking. Lack of action on climate change is a sin of omission, but funding fracking is also a sin of commission. Wrong on both counts.

The young also miss out on the budget’s response to housing affordability. “The Coalition’s refusal to reform negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount means their plan for housing affordability is doomed. Continuing to allow investor tax concessions to supercharge the housing market is profoundly irresponsible,” Greens spokesperson for housing Senator Lee Rhiannon said.

With regards to welfare, the only thing that forcing welfare recipients who fail drug tests onto a cashless welfare card will do is further stigmatise people already at the margins and decrease their incentive to get help. It’s a perfect storm of ill-informed, mean-spirited policy.

Social media was predictively alive about the so-called random drug tests , the random-ness of which was soon exposed as a lie when it was discovered that the geo-social areas and types of people’s backgrounds to be subjected to these tests have already been chosen, in a blatant example of profiling, or ‘blame the victim’.

And why just drugs? What about alcohol? I rarely agree with Senator Jacqui Lambie, but having watched hours of MPs behaving badly at Question Time, immediately after what may well have been a ‘liquid lunch’, I’m inclined to agree with her that MPs should also be tested.

I wrote about the savage cuts to university and schools funding in last week’s column, so here just need to point out that they are of course yet another attack on young people.

In short this is a budget with no vision or direction for the country. It isn’t a roadmap for the future, it’s a highway to nowhere. The mean-spirited approach to welfare, demonising anyone unlucky enough to have had a bad break and making it that much harder for them to get back on track, tells you all you need to know about Malcolm Turnbull’s vision for Australia.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column forv today’s Daily Advertiser: A double whammy for education

Last week the pre-budget announcements were coming in thick and fast, no doubt to get thorny issues out of the way, and to soften us up for today’s bad news, and so early last week saw Messrs Turnbull & Co clear the decks of two thorny education issues, school and university funding.

Both were exercises in spin designed to fool the gullible, with the prize going to schools funding, though the propaganda that universities could afford the proposed cuts made it a close second. However, as the schools funding proposal seems vague and clouded in mystery until today’s budget is presented I’ll begin with and focus on university funding.

The government will cut university funding by 2.5 per cent, a decision they have based on the findings of a Deloitte report, which showed that between 2010-15 the cost of course delivery increased by 9.5 per cent, while revenue grew by 15 per cent. So many, but by no means all, universities are running healthy surpluses and, according to Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education, they can take a haircut.

This has been called an “efficiency dividend” but the system of higher education in Australia is anything but efficient.

Even though economic rationalism suggests that competition generates efficiency what passes for efficiency usually compromises the quality of education. It can mean giving students fewer curriculum choices, increasing class sizes, reducing face-to-face hours, teaching them with casual staff and substituting classroom teaching with “digital delivery”. All of these have happened and continue to do so at our own local Charles Sturt University (CSU).

One major problem is that taken individually such measures often provoke relatively little fuss. But in the light of Mr Birmingham’s claims, we all need to be taking notice and speaking out and making a big fuss, loudly and often.

If staff and undergraduates are being short-changed, where is the money going? I’m indebted to George Morgan, Associate Professor at the School of Humanities and Communication Arts and the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University for suggesting three main avenues. In the first instance many universities cross subsidise research with the public money they receive for undergraduate teaching largely because the federal government underfunds research.

Secondly, some universities have undertaken ambitious capital works programs, erecting what are in effect “signature” buildings such as Frank Gehry designed building at UTS, no doubt to communicate the new university’s cultural and intellectual importance.

Thirdly, administrative costs continue to grow inexorably. Most universities employ more administrators than academics

Given all this, what the university system requires is political and economic change, not short term and crude fiscal shocks. The university community (including both students and staff) needs to be given more power over institutional affairs to provide more democratic checks and balances over the excesses, caprice and follies of managerialism.

We also need to reduce the huge discretionary budgets that senior managers currently control.

As to Malcolm Turnbull’s declaration last week that he will “bring the school funding wars to an end” in a stunning turnaround that will see the government pump an extra $19 billion into schools over the next decade, I’m tempted to agree with Greens Education spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young’s comment that “We’ll look at the detail of this announcement, but what we know is that Australia’s school funding system is broken. It’s time our children’s education was prioritised in Australia. It’s a sad reality that many of our kids are being left behind,” which will certainly be the case as the government’s proposal means that less than half of additional federal funding over the next ten years will go to public schools, compared to 80 per cent under the Gonski agreements.

My weekly Op Ed column for the Daily Advertiser: Has Turnbull forfeited what was left of his political integrity?

Last week saw some really worrying news as PM Turnbull & Co seemed to decide that if they couldn’t beat the likes of One Nation, Australia First and Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives, they would join them by tightening up citizenship requirements and the 457 visa scheme. Indeed, one of the first reactions I saw was Pauline Hanson congratulating the PM for doing as she had told him to do!

Or was Mr Turnbull simply trying to head off the relentless sniping aimed at him by Tony Abbott?

Nick McKim, Greens Senator for Tasmania, whose portfolios include Immigration and Citizenship, appropriately commented that “Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull’s rolling citizenship announcements are a transparently desperate attempt to win back votes from Pauline Hanson and appease the far right of the Liberal Party”.

“We should be bringing people together, not dividing them through patronising citizenship tests and unnecessary waits for permanent residency and citizenship.

“The real problem here is that Peter Dutton’s values are not mainstream Australian values ” he said.

Journalist Michelle Grattan, writing in the Guardian Australia noted that “Malcolm Turnbull’s sudden elevation of “Australian values” raises questions about the Prime Minister’s own values. In particular, has he once again forfeited his political integrity?”

Given all the above, it’s worth looking a little more closely at last week’s targeting of foreign skilled workers and the new citizenship requirements, as they indicate a desperate effort to tap into community concerns and insecurities.

Many of the questions are at least superficially fair enough, though I can’t for the life of me figure out how they prevent problems such as ethnic crime gangs, or terrorism, two of the issues apparently they are designed to redress, as such crimes are perpetrated by native born Australians.

However, what I’d really like to address is what, by looking more closely at the proposed new citizenship test questions, seem designed to target one particular group of migrants. A demographic that incidentally Malcolm Turnbull until recently praised to the skies for their valuable contribution to Australian society. This process is known as ‘racial profiling’, which will no doubt delight the fans of Pauline Hanson, and so it goes by the name of ‘dog whistle’ politics.

The questions I am referring to are those that revealed the true intention of the government when it provided to the media four “sample” questions, though to be fair, it did say they were not necessarily the ones that would be in the test, and there will be some weeks of public consultation.

The “samples” were: “(1) Does Australia’s principle of freedom of religion mean that in some situations it is permissible to force children to marry? (2) In Australia’s multicultural society, under which circumstances is it permissible to cut female genitals? (3) While it is illegal to use violence in public under what circumstances can you strike your spouse in the privacy of your home? (4) Under what circumstances is it appropriate to prohibit girls from education?”

Are these questions not blatantly racist, and don’t they so obviously target migrants from Muslim countries?

Perhaps these questions are a more subtle way of weeding out immigrants the ‘white bread’ society objects to than are Donald Trump’s crude wholesale attempts to ban citizens from a select group of Muslim majority countries, but if so, only just.

Messrs Turnbull and Dutton also need reminding that many migrants to Australia are fleeing countries because such barbarities may be practiced there, and so have no intention of replicating them here.

Trump’s foreign policy proving to be dangerously unpredictable

Though the attack on the Syrian airbase ordered by Donald Trump appears to be an impulsive response to President Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons it also marks an abrupt departure from Trump’s ‘America First’ mantra that so dominated his Presidential campaign and inauguration.

So too does his belated support for NATO, his sudden demonising of Russia, and the sending a flotilla of US warships to the Korean peninsula.

Or the Cruise missile attack on the Syrian airbase could have been a smokescreen designed to draw our attention away from the fact (real. Not ‘alternative’) his meeting with the Chinese Premier last week achieve absolutely nothing – zero, zilch. No resolution to the South China Sea island building dispute, no Chinese currency reform, no end to the ‘One China’ policy, no reversal of the trade balance to make it more equitable, and no end to American industry (and jobs) being ‘exported’ to China.

Last week President Trump even did a total about face, declaring now, after all the bombastic rhetoric to the contrary, that  China is ’’Not a currency manipulator”! (BBC World News 13 April). Really?

And at the same time Mr Trump suddenly announced that NATO is worthwhile and should be supported, rather than abandoned.

Which may be due to another U turn, i.e. the rapidly deteriorating relationship with Russia. During the election campaign and in the first weeks of the Trump presidency there was much speculation and justifiable concern that Trump & Co were much too close to Putin & Co, and even that Russia had intervened in the American election. Best friends are now apparently worst enemies.

The Syria and North Korea interventions may be nothing more than Trump suddenly deciding to act ’Presidential’, or perhaps it is the same old tendency to ‘beat the drums of war’ when domestic policy goes belly up, but the impulsiveness in itself is also a cause for concern as it indicates a worrying level of instability. Just to prove that point came news on Good Friday of all days that he had dropped ‘the mother of all bombs’ on Afghanistan! Go

With regard to Syria specifically, Trump’s reactive response to the disputed use of chemical weapons could lead to that country’s civil war becoming at best a proxy war between the USA and Russia, and at worst a wider regional or even world-wide conflict.

“Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally bomb Syrian airbases with more than fifty Tomahawk cruise missiles is deeply fraught. The horror of the chemical weapons attack in Syria this week requires a credible, independent investigation, not a random barrage of missiles ordered by a clueless President,” Acting Australian Greens Leader Senator Scott Ludlam said.

Perhaps former Labor Foreign Minister Gareth Evans was right when he told the National Press Club last week that Trump is “the most ill-informed, ill prepared ethically challenged and psychologically ill- equipped president in US history”.

Yes indeed. This type of dangerous and impetuous action is exactly what the Greens have been concerned about since the election of Donald Trump. Here in Australia we are shackled to an ally which has no foresight, no strategy, and a deeply insecure and erratic President.

Which leads to the obvious point that it’s also time to ramp up the campaign that Parliament rather than the PM and Cabinet should decide whether or not Australia goes to war.

e response to the disputed use of chemical weapons could lead to that country’s civil war becoming at best a proxy war between the USA and Russia, and at worst a wider regional or even world-wide conflict.

“Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally bomb Syrian airbases with more than fifty Tomahawk cruise missiles is deeply fraught. The horror of the chemical weapons attack in Syria this week requires a credible, independent investigation, not a random barrage of missiles ordered by a clueless President,” Acting Australian Greens Leader Senator Scott Ludlam said.

Perhaps former Labor Foreign Minister Gareth Evans was right when he told the National Press Club last week that Trump is “the most ill-informed, ill prepared ethically challenged and psychologically ill- equipped president in US history”.

Yes indeed. This type of dangerous and impetuous action is exactly what the Greens have been concerned about since the election of Donald Trump. Here in Australia we are shackled to an ally which has no foresight, no strategy, and a deeply insecure and erratic President.

Which leads to the obvious point that it’s also time to ramp up the campaign that Parliament rather than the PM and Cabinet should decide whether or not Australia goes to war.

 

 

 

My weekly Op Ed column in today’s Daily Advertiser: Housing affordability crisis can and must be solved

It seems as though we are bombarded every day with stories about rising house prices in the east coast capital cities, with Sydney taking the prize. Though such stories may seem irrelevant to Riverina residents they do have implications for us.

To a much smaller degree the capital city price rises do trickle down to regional cities and towns, but that’s not their broader significance. Rather what we all need to be concerned about is its ramifications for social services such as the old age pension.

More of that later, but before examining it the reasons for the price rises and governmental lack of action to curb them need looking at.

Whether house prices have been inflated by the government’s extremely weak argument of limited supply or because of policies such as negative gearing and the current shape of the capital gains tax have created incentives to investors rather than family based homeowners, government policy is now trapped in a vicious cycle. The wealth accumulated in our houses has become a central part of the retirement system, and the government itself can’t afford for prices to fall.

Generous tax subsidies and asset test concessions on the family home have incentivised the accumulation of wealth in property and fuelled demand pressures in the housing market for decades.

As a result the family home has become a cornerstone of the Australian retirement system. Sustained house price increases have allowed government income support to be set at historically low levels, based on the assumption that the low-income elderly will be housing asset-rich, and can therefore get by on smaller pensions. That’s why our pensions are, compared with many other countries, so low.

Clearly we need to fix this very broken system. As Peter Wish-Wilson, Greens Treasury spokesperson said last week, the Government needs to end its reckless support for negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts that are fuelling a housing crisis.

Senator Whish-Wilson said, “It doesn’t seem to matter which expert comes out against negative gearing or what happens to house prices, the Government remains in denial about its role in the housing crisis.

“Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison are culpable in locking an entire generation of young people out of home ownership simply to line the pockets of property speculators” he said.

In addition, Senator Lee Rhiannon, who has the Greens Housing portfolio, noted that we get a lot of rubbish from the government designed to blame the victims, “The rubbish that young people should save their money, the rubbish that young people should raid their superannuation accounts, and the rubbish that young people should get a higher paying job”. As the government cuts penalty rates, mind you.

Senator Rhiannon also added “Today the Turnbull government went over the top in terms of their own actions. They came up with the ugliest, most insulting idea on the housing crisis—an idea that not only distracts from the real problems of tax breaks and underinvestment in public housing but also scapegoats communities already under attack from the far right and, increasingly, all sections of the Liberal-National party. The headline in the Murdoch papers said it all: ‘Send migrants bush to ease house prices’.

“The Greens are not against stimulating regional cities”. Indeed they are not. As Wagga Wagga, Griffith and Albury demonstrate our regional cities welcome refugee and migrants. I am sure all of regional Australia would be equally welcoming if it was provided with the proper investment, more jobs, better transport links and improved infrastructure.

Cyclone Debbie the tip of the climate change iceberg

We are all concerned for the welfare of those who have suffered from the fury of Cyclone Debbie and its aftermath, and wish them all a speedy recovery, but our concern should not blind us to the link between extreme weather events, climate change, and the human activity largely responsible for global warming.

Mind you, last week US President Donald Trump exhibited such a trait when he signed yet another executive order, this time scrapping Obama-era climate change regulations that his administration says are costing jobs in the oil and coal industries. This is despite the fact that these industries say that even if deregulated they will produce very few jobs due to increased automation, which of course means larger profits.

If that’s not enough, President Trump’s executive order goes from bad to worse as it will also remove the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions.

Meanwhile, back in Australia it was pleasing to see Greens MP Adam Bandt, who has the party’s Climate Change portfolio, making the link when he connected Cyclone Debbie to a proposed new coal-fired power plant and climate change, saying more people will suffer with the burning of more coal.

The proposed new coal fired power station to which Mr Bandt is referring is a government backed scheme to use taxpayer funds allocated to a $5 billion fund to develop industries in Northern Australia to back a so-called new “clean coal” plant for Rockhampton in Queensland.

Predictably enough, and with the storm already having claimed one life, champions of fossil fuels such as Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg were quick to condemn the Greens’ comments, labelling them as “unconscionable and hysterical”, which itself sounded pretty hysterical when I heard him. He went on to say that any new coal-fired power station would produce “far lower emissions” than an existing plant because it would involve improved technology, which is far too close to the ‘clean coal’ myth championed by President Trump & Co for comfort.

Mr Bandt quite correctly pointed out that “The more coal we burn, the more intense extreme weather events like Cyclone Debbie will be. People will suffer”.

Progressive parties such as the Greens are of course not a lone voice. The Australia Climate Council warned in January that more intense and destructive cyclones were likely in Queensland as a result of climate change and rising global temperatures.

In January even China’s energy regulator told 11 provinces to stop more than 100 coal-fired projects, even though construction had already begun on some.  It follows similar initiatives last year and comes after the government said in November it would eliminate or delay at least 150 GW of coal-fired power projects between 2016 and 2020 and cap coal power generation at 1,100 GW.

A report prepared by the Sierra Club and Greenpeace published last week found there was a 48 per cent decline in the number of planned coal units in India and China and a further 62 per cent decline in construction starts with the drop mainly attributed to changed policies in China and India.

The government’s renewed embrace of coal also appears to be at odds with Australian voters. A Fairfax-IPSOS poll published on Tuesday found just 33 per cent of those surveyed believe Australia should continue backing coal. Clearly it is time for Mr Turnbull et al to listen to the people

My Op Ed column for the Daily Advertiser this week: Watering Down 18c a Retrograde Step

Malcolm Turnbull has announced a watering down of the Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, in a major victory for the conservatives in the Liberal Party.

The change was introduced on Harmony Day, 21 March.  That might strike readers as an exercise in extreme bad taste, and they’d be right, but the timing is of even greater significance given the origins of Harmony Day, and the political chicanery behind its adoption. It is not a pretty story, for it is a watering down of its original title, the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

True, since its inception 15 years ago the main message of this day is “Everyone Belongs,” a very pro-multiculturalism motto, a praiseworthy sentiment that only the most racist would argue against, even though the original intention of the day has been lost. 

Harmony Day was born from analyses carried out by Eureka Research for the Howard-led Coalition Government that was dealing with the rise of multiculturalism and the resultant racial disharmony. There was internal strife and our international reputation was often being bogged down by the reputation it created.

The Government needed a way out, and it needed to be done without airing any negativity or implying that anyone was racist, despite widespread racism being clearly recognised by 85% of individuals surveyed in Eureka’s report.

The hook came in a recommendation in the Eureka report that the Government build on the belief that harmony in the community already existed, despite the vast majority recognising that racism was widespread. And so in a canny and very Orwellian political masterstroke Harmony Day was born.

However, despite 15 years of celebrating harmony, racism and racial discrimination still exist in Australia, so there is no room for complacency. Work still needs to be done to ensure intercultural harmony and an end to racial discrimination.

Which brings me back to the government’s proposal, under which the words “offend, insult, humiliate” will be replaced by “harass”. The word “intimidate” will remain. So the change will mean that it’s in order to insult and humiliate people because of their skin colour or race. Go figure, and of course, be appalled at this change for the worse that will worsen, not improve the situation.

The Coalition party room overwhelmingly backed the measures, but several MPs, opposed the change in wording. There is concern among some Liberals that the issue will lose them votes in seats with large ethnic communities. Let’s hope so.

Even Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told the party room if MPs kept talking about 18C, votes would be lost because it would distract from the government’s agenda, but not, note, because it was a retrograde step that would legislate for even more bigotry than exists already.

Thankfully Labor, the Nick Xenophon team (if they hold firm) and the Australian Greens say they will keep standing with the community to protect Section 18C.

“In his rush to become Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull sold out those who would face discrimination to secure power for himself. It’s disgraceful,” said Greens Leader Richard Di Natale.

Greens legal affairs spokesperson Senator Nick McKim said “The Greens will fight to retain strong protections against racial discrimination.” Good on them. And while they are on about it, why not fight to bring back Harmony Day’s original and intended name, the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

My op ed column for 21 March 2017: Privatisation has failed to deliver cheaper electricity

By the time this column appears much water may have passed under the bridge of our energy security, electricity supply and prices debate, but at the time of writing I am struck by one particular aspect of it, namely the collapse of the political consensus that held sway over the last twenty years or so that privatisation of the electricity retail market would lead to lower prices.

And a very good thing too, for evidence shows that privatisation leads to price gouging and deterioration of service levels, as so clearly demonstrated by what has happened to vocational education, child care, job centres, Sydney airport, and many other services.

With regards to electricity pricing, this aspect of neo-liberal deregulated laissez-faire capitalism has elements of the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ about it, and though thankfully some are now seeing through this myth Malcolm Turnbull, Josh Frydenberg & Co fail to see it, unfortunately. They have focussed solely on supply augmentation, with part-solutions such as Snowy Hydro 2.0, which will be beset with problematic issues, all they can do is call for gas companies, and the state governments that regulate drilling, to produce more gas, which can only mean coal seam gas, produced by fracking, just when we thought that one had been firmly put in its box.

Only South Australia is prepared to go look at a public service approach, though as Greens Senator for South Australia Sarah Hanson-Young said: “All kudos to the South Australian state government for standing up to fill the gap left by the missing-in-action “Innovation Prime Minister” Malcolm Turnbull, but they’ve backed the wrong horse in funding a gas-fired power plant and letting rip on fracking.”

Back to electricity pricing. In the latest Grattan Institute report, Price Shock: Is the retail electricity market failing consumers?, Tom Woods, its Energy Program Director, provides evidence that in the electricity retail sector the anticipated price reductions have not happened, and innovation has been very slow in coming.

The privatisation of Australia’s electricity retail markets dates back to 1993. The ensuing decade saw a raft of reforms that initially delivered increases in productivity, lower prices and business innovation. But in the decade after that, this progress became much harder to sustain.

The idea was for states to create regulated monopolies in electricity transmission and distribution (poles and wires), while deregulating the retail side (the supply of gas and electricity to customers).

The competition in electricity generation largely delivered lower wholesale prices through the National Electricity Market (NEM), but not at the retail level.

Yet so far there have been few genuine innovations in electricity pricing. The most common tactic has been a discount for paying on time or by direct debit, although consumers are often frustrated when they discover that at the end of their contract they lose the discount even if they continue to pay the same way.

Products that offer different prices for electricity use at different times of the day have been slow to appear. These products have the potential to deliver major savings, yet the industry has failed to deliver them in a way that makes them easy for customers to understand and adopt.

My Op Ed column in the Daily Advertiser for 14 March 2017Australia set to ramp up the lethal power of its drones?

 Hot on the news that President Trump plans to make America’s nuclear arsenal even larger than it already is, and that he is to spend an extra $70 (Aust) billion on America’s conventional defence forces comes news that Australia is moving towards acquiring armed drones, a military tool of questionable ethics.

In detail, it was revealed on the ABC’s 7.30 Report on 7 March that Australia is considering the purchase of possibly armed drones. The two salient points are whether or not the drones will be armed, and if so whether the use of armed drones in warfare is ethical.

Firstly, the ethical issues. Though Australia already uses drones for intelligence and surveillance, adding weaponised ones would represent a significant escalation for the Defence Forces, one which we should oppose.

As part of the war on terror president Barack Obama approved drone strikes mainly in the Middle East, which are estimated to have killed around 7,000 people, some found to be innocent bystanders, otherwise euphemistically known as ‘collateral damage’.

The killings sparked political controversy and ethical concerns, voiced in newspapers and spilling over in to  social media, television documentaries, and film such as ‘Eye in the Sky’, amongst others. Over and over again we have seen these drones piloted and given the order to fire their missiles from bunkers in the Nevada desert, close to Las Vegas, which is no doubt useful for the R&R of these drone jockeys.

Here planning is already well advanced within Defence for future combat missions using remotely piloted aircraft capable of killing. I wonder from where they will be controlled? Pine Gap, perhaps?

Despite such concerns, Defence Minister Marise Payne, in typical double-speak weasel words, said Australia would always consider its legal and ethical obligations “It’s really about extending the impact of what we can do in the Air Force, minus issues like fatigue or those sorts of things and ensuring that we have an Air Force that is as capable as it can possibly be” she told 7.30.

Rather more open and honest was last year’s Defence White Paper, which confirmed that the Government would “introduce enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, including armed medium-altitude unmanned aircraft in the early 2020s, with regular capability upgrades to follow”.

Apart from the inclusion of the word ‘armed’, the strategic document offered very little detail, except to say the “unmanned aircraft will provide enhanced firepower and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to a range of missions including counter-terrorism missions overseas”.

The issue of the two types of armed drones the Defence Force are considering is also of concern, for though one of the  frontrunners in the race for the contract is the MQ-9 Reaper, manufactured by US Company General Atomics, the other is the Heron TP, made by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

IAI, a state-owned company, does not publicly acknowledge its product as an armed drone but stresses the plane can carry “anything” up to 1,000 kilograms, which presumably refers to bombs and/or missiles. It is public knowledge that the Heron TP has most certainly been used in this way against Palestinian targets in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, again often involving the euphemistically termed ‘collateral damage’.

So taking everything into account we have to ask ourselves if the acquisition of these armed drones by the ADF is a step forward or a descent into an unethical quagmire.