Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Childcare reform package hides stringent welfare cuts: My Daily Advertiser column for February 2017

Almost lost last week amidst the fuss over Senator Bernardi’s resignation from the Liberal Party, whilst at the same time keeping his Senate seat, salary and entitlement, was an important piece of government legislation that rolled welfare cuts into childcare reforms.

In a secret deal between the Government and crossbenchers on the family tax benefit (FTB) sneaked through stringent cuts to the social safety net that hurts families, young people and aged pensioners.

The Turnbull government has been accused of holding parents “hostage” by combining its childcare reforms with $8 billion in cuts to unemployed young people, welfare recipients and families whose employers provide paid parental leave.

The government had previously flagged it would combine its childcare changes with cuts to family tax benefits, but went further last Wednesday by rolling several previously rejected welfare cuts into the same bill. This is of course the oldest trick in the books, burying cuts that are likely to be unpopular within a reform that is otherwise likely to be supported.

 The bill now includes measures such as: increasing the age of eligibility for unemployment benefits from 22 to 25, a move that would cut payments to young jobseekers by $45 a week. People aged under 25 without a job will be receive Youth Allowance worth $438 a fortnight rather than the $528 Newstart Allowance; jobseekers under 25 will have to wait four weeks before accessing income support; abolishing the Energy Supplement, worth up to $14 a fortnight, for new welfare recipients; capping government-funded and employer-paid parental leave at 20 weeks a year and stopping pension payments to Australians who travel for more than six weeks overseas.

Jo Briskey, executive director of parent advocacy group The Parenthood, said the plan was akin to “holding families to ransom”.

Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie said: “The so-called concessions the government has made will be wiped out by other changes in the bill, leaving many low-income people worse off.

“Of course we all want greater support for families to get better-quality childcare but it cannot be funded on the backs of some of the most disadvantaged people in our country.”

Labor families spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said the opposition was opposed to the package, but One Nation leader Pauline Hanson said welfare payments need to be “reined in”.

Also  key crossbench senator Nick Xenophon said the government was “moving in the right direction” by softening its family payment cuts.

“I think the government has improved the package, improved the childcare package and in terms of Indigenous and remote communities there are some real improvements there as well, so that’s welcomed,” he said. 

However, and quite rightly, “Nick Xenaphon and other crossbenchers should think long and hard before getting behind the legislation”, Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said today.”

The Government has painted this legislation as a compromise to get the childcare package through the Senate but it is just a shopping list of the nasty social safety net measures that they have not been able to get through the senate in the past. It is an attack on families, young people and the aged.

Also tucked away in this hodgepodge legislation is the reduction of people receiving their aged pension once out of the country from 26 weeks to six weeks.

The Government is unrelentingly going after young families, and those relying on our social security safety net.

 

 

Trump is certainly no diplomat

Trump certainly no diplomat

Todays column in the Daily Advertiser:

I was spoilt for choice as to my topic this week, as PM Turnbull has blotted his copybook quite spectacularly in three different ways. As they were all of his own making he needs calling out on them.

First came the news that he had timed his $1.75 million donation to the Liberal Party during the 2016 federal election so as to avoid immediate disclosure. “He would have known that his $1.75 million donation would not be publicly disclosed until 19 months after his re-election on 1 February 2018” pointed out Greens Democracy spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon. Regardless of the timing, eventually it would come out, making clear to one and all he had bought his way to power.

Next came his National Press Cub address on the topic of our energy future. Not only did he say that he was ‘agnostic’ on energy policy and did not rule out dumping our Renewable Energy Targets (RET) he also included ‘clean coal’ in our energy mix. As countless scientists have pointed out, there’s no such thing. It doesn’t exist. Far better to fund the CSIRO to develop super batteries that can provide long term storage for electricity generated from renewable energy sources, thereby providing reliable base load power. Or perhaps he’s hoping private enterprise in the form of Tesla will do it for us. If so, say so.

But top of the list comes his first telephone conversation with President Trump. Leaving aside Mr Turnbull’s failure to condemn the President’s refugee and migration executive orders as other world leaders have quite rightly done, what rankles here is Mr Turnbull not letting us know that the conversation was a failure, abruptly ended after 25 minutes instead of the scheduled hour. Of course Mr Turnbull was being diplomatic, but a bit of truth-telling would have been welcome, rather than for us to be told on the front page of the Washington Post.

However, apart from the theatre provided by the conflict of the loud, bullying New York real estate developer approach of the President versus the honeyed words of merchant banker Turnbull, I’m concerned about this issue on two counts, and both will apply even if the issue is settled by the time this column goes to print.

If President Trump scuttles the, deal what will come of the refugees stranded in the hell-holes on Nauru and Mannus Island? There is one clear solution, and that is to do the right thing and settle them here. It is extremely doubtful if that will re-start the boats, as the original announcement of the American deal certainly didn’t, so the right wing of the Liberals, Nationals and ALP need not bother us with that argument.

But if President Trump agrees to go ahead, at what price will it be? There certainly will be one, for one thing we know about the President is that he is a deal maker. It will almost certainly be secret, the details not to be revealed for decades. For the past week commentators have speculated that it will be an increased Australian military commitment, perhaps in the Middle East, or in the South China Sea. Anyone fancy having the RAN join in a blockade of the sea lanes?

To conclude on a bright note rather than one pointing towards Armageddon, in the past week I had a day procedure at the (newish) Wagga Wagga Rural Referral Hospital, and I’m pleased to report that is appears to be an excellent facility, light, bright, airy, spacious, and well decorated. High praise too to all the staff, from clerical to aides, technicians, nurses, doctors and specialists. Exemplary service with a smile all round.g he needs calling out on them.

 

 

 

 

 

Newspeak is alive and well and living in the White House

My Daily Advertiser column for Tuesday 31 January 2017

There is much about the Trump administration that is eerily and frighteningly reminiscent of totalitarian regimes, including the Fascist and Nazi ones of the 1930s.

Extreme nationalism, xenophobia and racism are some examples, as are exclusivist immigration policies and the call to by-pass democratic processes and rule by decree or ‘executive orders’. War mongering is another example, as is the adoption of protectionist economic policies.

Wall building, either to keep people in or out, is another example, yet President Trump is going ahead with his Mexican Wall. Presumably he is blind to the problems such walls have caused over the decades.

Trump’s plans to return factory jobs to America also includes the rampant overturning of environmental protection policies, most notably, for the moment, approval of the Keystone pipeline, which President Obama had banned. Obama also did ameliorate, albeit to a small degree, America’s use of torture, which Trump seems hell bent on reviving.

However, the totalitarian trait exhibited by President Trump I would like to focus on in this week’s column is his use, by both himself and by members of his Administration, of what George Orwell’s satirical masterpiece of totalitarian dystopias, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ referred to as Newspeak.

It was the official language of Oceania, a totalitarian state portrayed in the novel, created to meet the ideological needs of the all-controlling Party in power. It was designed to limit freedom of thought by eliminating political concepts such as free will, self-expression, personal individuality, peace, and so forth that were ideological threats to the regime of Big Brother and the Party.

Newspeak loudly, aggressively and boorishly surfaced in Trump’s vocabulary when he and his Administration tried to defend the blatant lie that his inauguration crowd numbers were as large as former President Obama’s.

Of course, we all saw the evidence as we watched coverage of the event. Every media outlet ran contrasting pictures, and it was as clear as the noses on all our faces that Trump’s numbers were way down on Obama’s. Trump’s numbers were also much smaller than the number of women who marched in protest both in Washington and across the country the following day – and world-wide too, of course. There were also very large crowds here in Australia

How did Trump & Co react? By blatantly lying, repeating over and over that his crowd numbers were larger, and when pressed by journalists to explain how this could be so by claiming to be in possession of ‘Alternative Facts’.

Of course, outright lies are what we have come to expect from Trump himself, but soon members of his newly appointed team chimed in, and the Newspeak Prize must go to Trump’s former campaign manager and now White House counsellor KellyAnne Conway when interviewed on NBC a couple of days later.

Tackling her on Press Secretary Spicer’s bizarre press conference the previous day, host Chuck Todd wanted her to explain the absurdity of Spicer being sent before the cameras to argue what Todd said were “provable falsehoods”. Conway was quick to respond by saying “You’re saying it’s a falsehood, but our press secretary Spicer gave alternative facts.” Alternative Facts are Newspeak for lies, Ms Conway.

George Orwell, you didn’t know how worse it could get, for in what claims to be “The land of the free and the home of the brave” Newspeak is clearly flourishing.

There is much about the Trump administration that is eerily and frighteningly reminiscent of totalitarian regimes, including the Fascist and Nazi ones of the 1930s.

Extreme nationalism, xenophobia and racism are some examples, as are exclusivist immigration policies and the call to by-pass democratic processes and rule by decree or ‘executive orders’. War mongering is another example, as is the adoption of protectionist economic policies.

Wall building, either to keep people in or out, is another example, yet President Trump is going ahead with his Mexican Wall. Presumably he is blind to the problems such walls have caused over the decades.

Trump’s plans to return factory jobs to America also includes the rampant overturning of environmental protection policies, most notably, for the moment, approval of the Keystone pipeline, which President Obama had banned. Obama also did ameliorate, albeit to a small degree, America’s use of torture, which Trump seems hell bent on reviving.

However, the totalitarian trait exhibited by President Trump I would like to focus on in this week’s column is his use, by both himself and by members of his Administration, of what George Orwell’s satirical masterpiece of totalitarian dystopias, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ referred to as Newspeak.

It was the official language of Oceania, a totalitarian state portrayed in the novel, created to meet the ideological needs of the all-controlling Party in power. It was designed to limit freedom of thought by eliminating political concepts such as free will, self-expression, personal individuality, peace, and so forth that were ideological threats to the regime of Big Brother and the Party.

Newspeak loudly, aggressively and boorishly surfaced in Trump’s vocabulary when he and his Administration tried to defend the blatant lie that his inauguration crowd numbers were as large as former President Obama’s.

Of course, we all saw the evidence as we watched coverage of the event. Every media outlet ran contrasting pictures, and it was as clear as the noses on all our faces that Trump’s numbers were way down on Obama’s. Trump’s numbers were also much smaller than the number of women who marched in protest both in Washington and across the country the following day – and world-wide too, of course. There were also very large crowds here in Australia

How did Trump & Co react? By blatantly lying, repeating over and over that his crowd numbers were larger, and when pressed by journalists to explain how this could be so by claiming to be in possession of ‘Alternative Facts’.

Of course, outright lies are what we have come to expect from Trump himself, but soon members of his newly appointed team chimed in, and the Newspeak Prize must go to Trump’s former campaign manager and now White House counsellor KellyAnne Conway when interviewed on NBC a couple of days later.

Tackling her on Press Secretary Spicer’s bizarre press conference the previous day, host Chuck Todd wanted her to explain the absurdity of Spicer being sent before the cameras to argue what Todd said were “provable falsehoods”. Conway was quick to respond by saying “You’re saying it’s a falsehood, but our press secretary Spicer gave alternative facts.” Alternative Facts are Newspeak for lies, Ms Conway.

George Orwell, you didn’t know how worse it could get, for in what claims to be “The land of the free and the home of the brave” Newspeak is clearly flourishing.

Another elephant in a very crowded room

My Daily Advertiser column for today, Tuesday 24 January 2017

Last week an Australia Day billboard showing two girls in hijabs was taken down after the advertiser received threats. The two girls featured amongst revolving images of many other different Australians.

According to the Victorian government the billboard was taken down from a site in Melbourne after threats and abuse were directed at the advertising company, and whilst there is no doubt superficial truth in this its removal also smacks of giving in to intimidation by xenophobic and Islamophobic extremists. From this perspective its removal is shameful and puts a huge dent in our claim to be a multicultural society.

The electronic billboard at Cranbourne, in Melbourne’s south-east, was part of a Victorian Government campaign to promote Australia Day events in the city.

The United Patriots Front, a far-right group opposed to immigration, published an image of the billboard on its Facebook page on January 13, which has since been widely shared.

“State government billboard in Cranbourne spotted by a supporter — they’re making every effort to redefine your nation and gradually erase you from history,” the post read.

Victoria’s Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Robin Scott, said the company that operates the billboard, QMS, took the ad down after receiving a number of complaints. “There were a series of complaints, some of which were of an abusive and threatening nature, that were made to the organisation QMS that put the billboard up,” he said.

“And they’ve made a decision based on the safety of their employees and business infrastructure to temporarily remove the billboard.” Taking Workplace Health and Safety into account such a response is of course appropriate when viewed superficially, but there are other ways of ensuring the wellbeing of staff without pandering to threats from extreme right wing bullies, and it would have been pleasing to have seen some of those tried.

From this perspective Mr Scott’s statement that he was not aware of whether the matter had been referred to the police is disappointing, to say the least, and makes his comments that “Whatever background people come from, images of people celebrating their love of this country should not be considered something that is offensive in the society,” and that “I think it is something we should celebrate” somewhat disingenuous, to say the least,

Greens Leader and Victorian Richard Di Natale was slightly more on the ball when he said he was “disgusted” the campaign to remove the billboard was successful.

“Islamophobia is a genuine threat to Australian democracy and to the multicultural society that the vast majority of Australians cherish,” he said.

“We must stand against racial hatred wherever we encounter it, and stand with those communities suffering from its vile effects.” Quite.

This incident brings to mind the wider question of that enormous ‘elephant in the room’, whether or not we should be celebrating Australia Day on 26th January, for to many it was and remains ‘Invasion Day’, and to others (White) ‘Settlement’ Day.

The establishment of the British convict settlement had a devastating impact on the land’s first people, something most politicians and their parties manage to ignore, though thankfully not all, for as Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon said last year, “On Jan 26 thousands of Australians will remember the Frontier Wars when this land’s First Peoples fought against British colonisation. Tragically their struggle continues.”

Indeed it does. We really do need to seriously consider if this is the most appropriate date to celebrate Australia’s diversity.

My Daily Advertiser column for today, 17 January 2017

Ley’s expenses scandal is more evidence that we need a national ICAC

As I pondered my selection of topic for this week’s column I was spoilt for choice, for though we weren’t even hallway through the first month of the year there were several political train wrecks competing for my attention.

There was federal government’s Human Services Minister Alan Tudge stoutly defending Centrelink’s disastrous Debt Recovery program as he firmly denied the agency had made fundamental errors. Perhaps he needs to be reminded of the old adage of “If you are in a hole stop digging”.

Then there was President-Elect Trump’s appalling first press conference since his election, at which he crudely berated the media for doing its job and denied that the Russians had secret ‘dirt files’ on him. Of course, when we find out the sordid details of the contents of those files, as we surely will, it will be everyone else’s fault bar his.

But the political train wreck I’ve chosen to focus on today is (former) Health Minister Sussan Ley’s travel rorts, because it has very significant ramifications. It is not the stories of expensive charter flights on busy capital city routes when she could have simply booked a seat on an existing flight, nor the purchase of an $800,000 property on a tax-payer funded trip to the Gold Coast, nor other tax-payer funded trips to other expensive flesh pots that rankle, nor her eventual resignation, for the demise of Ms Ley’s ministerial career will probably only be for the short term anyway, given the way disgraced minister Arthur Sinodinos has bounced back to favour.

The real significance of the story is that it finally provoked PM Turnbull into a major overhaul of the use of MP allowances, for when after announcing Ms Ley’s resignation he “ also announced a new compliance body to oversee parliamentary expenses, based on a similar system in the United Kingdom” (ABC TV news).

It will monitor and adjudicate all claims by MPs, senators and ministers, ensuring that taxpayers’ funds are spent appropriately and in compliance with the rules. The body will be governed by an independent board including an experienced auditor, someone with experience in remuneration matters, a former judicial officer and a former MP.

The creation of the body will be overseen by Special Minister of State, Scott Ryan, and Mr Turnbull has directed his department to provide urgent attention.

“We’re not slavishly bound to the United Kingdom model, I might add, but that is the very clear direction that we are focused on,” Mr Turnbull said.

Acting Opposition Leader Penny Wong said Labor had given in-principle support for the changes, but criticised the Government for the delayed response to the scandal involving Ms Ley.

However, the delayed response isn’t the only problem, for as Greens democracy spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon quite rightly said “So Turnbull thinks an independent watchdog is useful for entitlement rorts, but not for political corruption? Gutless. Resignations and ‘sunlight’ aren’t enough, we need a watchdog with teeth”.

In other words, what we really need is a National Anti-Corruption Commission, that is, a National ICAC, something I have previously called for in this column. As the exposure of ministerial rorts grows it’s a call that needs to be made until it is implemented.

Mr Turnbull’s response is essentially window dressing. We get an independent watchdog for entitlements, but not for corruption? Politicians once again get off lightly compared to, for example, Centrelink recipients

 

Here’s my Op Ed column today, published in the Daily Advertiser

Time to end alcohol sport advertising

At this time of year media coverage of cricket matches takes me back to my Yorkshire childhood, when the family radio was permanently tuned to the BBC’s ‘Light Program’ coverage of test matches and county cricket.

They were front page newspaper stories too, so there was no escaping them. All very similar to Australia today except for a very significant point, namely that today cricket and some other sports too are now bankrolled by advertising from alcoholic beverages.

This was brought home to me when I caught the ABC news coverage of a recent Australia v Pakistan test when the camera cut to a shot of the scoreboard, which was surrounded by ads for VB. So even if we are not watching on commercial television we are still bombarded by the ‘grog’ message.

It got me thinking about the impact of such adverting. Some research was called for.

A little under two years ago, a study by Cancer Council Victoria and the University of Wollongong found that viewers were exposed to more than 4600 incidents of alcohol promotion in just three one-day international cricket games, reported Toby Hall, CEO St Vincent’s Health Australia (SMH 28 December 2016)

These incidents included ads during commercial breaks, stadium signage, live announcements, broadcast sponsorship announcements, logos on players’ uniforms and team banners.

Such research shows that exposure to repeat high-level alcohol promotion teaches pro-drinking attitudes and increases the likelihood of adult heavy drinking and alcoholism. 

Team merchandise emblazoned with alcohol logos and imagery worn by non-drinking age children and adolescents also predicts both early initiation to alcohol use and binge drinking.

The alcohol industry targets sport because they know children watch it and unless new drinkers are recruited they go out of business.

As alcohol can’t be advertised on TV before 8.30pm there is though a loophole that provides Big Alcohol with a way around the ban: they can still advertise at sporting fixtures, a loophole they exploit to the hilt.

Cricket’s not even the main culprit when it comes to alcohol advertising and sport. Each year there are an estimated 3500 alcohol ads on free-to-air broadcasts of live AFL, NRL and cricket matches. Of the three sports, AFL is the guiltiest party, followed by cricket, then the NRL.

For the future adult lives of our children and young people, this has to stop. All it would take is the stroke of a pen to end all alcohol advertising on free-to-air TV sporting broadcasts. Governments could easily and certainly should go further and prevent its appearance on all publicly-owned infrastructure (e.g. buses, shelters, sporting grounds).

The alcohol sponsorship of teams, clubs or sporting programs and the placement of alcohol brands, logos and slogans or imagery on any sporting merchandise must also be phased out.

It can be done. In 2012, the Gillard government gave major sports codes the chance to replace their alcohol sponsorship from a pool of $25 million.

Many sports, including swimming and soccer, took up the offer. But four of our most popular codes, AFL, NRL, rugby and cricket, declined.

All it would need would be for the government to put a similar dollar amount back on the table to encourage the four big codes to walk away from grog, as they would immediately cry poor if their alcohol funded revenue stream dried up.

 

Finally some good news at the end of a very bleak year: the UN Security Council vote condemning (illegal) Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem. Though it only called on Israel to build no new Settlements rather than dismantle existing ones it was noteworthy because for the first time the USA abstained rather than used its veto to block the vote. So, and again for the first time, the Security Council passed a resolution holding Israel accountable under international law. The UN General Assembly has passed many resolutions calling for a just peace for the Palestinians but this is the first time the Security Council has done so. Here I’ll pause a moment to explain that these Settlements are residential communities illegally built on Occupied Palestinian Territory that are only for Jewish Israelis. There are currently 125 of them (not including ‘settlement outposts’), with a total population of 547,000 (2013 figures from B’Tselem, an Israeli Human Rights organisation). Illegally annexed East Jerusalem has 12 Israeli settlements, with 200,000 residents. Readers please note that these settlements have been built on land conquered and occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War, 50 years ago. To settle one’s population on occupied territory is absolutely illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention and international law. They are in fact creeping annexation for an eventual takeover of the entire Palestinian West Bank. It is certainly true that Israel will most likely blithely ignore the resolution, as it has all the General Assembly ones, but this Security Council one is of enormous importance for several reasons. It has brought the issue of these illegally built Israeli Settlements to widespread public attention, and it has for the first time put a very small dent in the bipartisan ‘Israel at any cost’ mindset that has dominated Washington politics for decades (Rabbi Joseph of Jewish Voices for Peace, Online 26 December). Former ALP Foreign Minister Bob Carr also welcomed the Security Council vote, pointing out that illegal Israeli Settlement building is rendering a viable Palestinian state impossible. (SMH 27 December). Another worrying sign is that the incoming Trump administration promises to be detrimental for Palestinian human rights. The President Elect’s feverish advocacy against this UN resolution, along with his appointment of far-right settlement activist David Friedman as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, show that he’s planning to pursue an extremist pro-Israeli agenda. Israel also uses Settlement building to sabotage any hope of a peace deal. As John Kerry explained, within days of a peace deal in 2014 along came an announcement of 700 new settlement units. “Poof!” he said, the deal got blown sky high. Since the Security Council vote Secretary Kerry has further strongly criticized Israel’s government, and also presented the principles of a future final status agreement: an Israeli and a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines; full rights to all citizens; a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue; Jerusalem as the capital of both states; an end to the occupation, while satisfying Israel’s security needs, and with a demilitarized Palestinian state” (Al Jazeera World News 29 December). Kerry’s vision is certainly achievable. Right now, for example, the Palestinians are offering a demilitarised state – a Palestine without an army – and Western peacekeepers within their borders. It is hard to imagine more explicit security guarantees.

 


					

Unfortunately more wins for the climate change deniers. Last week the Liberal/National federal government got itself in an awful tizz about how best to make sure we meet our Paris climate change emission targets as Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg’s announcement that the government was considering introducing either a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme was swiftly contradicted by the Prime Minister (“Malcolm Turnbull scrambles to back away from any prospect of a carbon tax or ETS under Coalition” SMH 7 December). If that’s not bad enough, at the same time it and the Queensland government seemed hell-bent on increasing our greenhouse gas emissions by their Adani Carmichael mega coalmine approvals. Both these events will not only create difficulties with regards to meeting our agreed upon emissions targets, but at the same time they will increase our contribution to global warming and anthropomorphic induced climate change. Let’s look at the contribution of the Feds first. The Turnbull government has reportedly given “conditional approval” for a $1 billion loan of public money to build the railway for the Reef-destroying Adani Carmichael mega coal mine. “This is in the same year that coal-driven global warming caused the worst ever mass coral bleaching, killing 22% of the Great Barrier Reef, said Australian Greens Deputy Leader and Senator for Queensland, Larissa Waters. The assertion that ‘big coal’ has captured our politics seems to be ringing truer with every passing day. Now to the Queensland government. The $22-billion Carmichael coal and rail project has secured approval for a permanent rail line and a temporary construction camp. Queensland’s Coordinator-General has given “the latest, and final, secondary approval” for about 31.5 kilometres of permanent track, as well as the 300-bed camp. The rail section approved will form part of the 389 kilometre heavy haul railway line from the mine in the Galilee Basin to the Abbot Point port. The mine will consist of six open-cut pits and up to five underground mines, and will supply Indian power plants with enough coal to generate electricity for up to 100 million people. The controversial project involves dredging 1.1 million cubic metres of spoil near the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which will then be disposed of on land. News of the mine’s approval sparked protests in across Australia last week. In Melbourne alone more than 250 gathered at the rally, ahead of a meeting between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Mr Adani. The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Paul Sinclair said the project could still be stopped. “Every day that we stop Adani digging that coal is a day this planet is free from its pollution,” he said. Let’s hope so. As I prepared this column I was wondering if things could get worse, when suddenly they did, with the news that President Elect Trump has appointed a very vocal climate change denier, Scott Pruitt, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a lawyer who in the past has attempted to destroy that very agency. Then last Friday came the news that at the COAG meeting PM Turnbull not only failed to support the call by the states for the Feds to back a uniform national emissions scheme, but also rejected the call by our Chief Scientist Professor Alan Finkel for Australia to adopt an Emissions Intensity Scheme. Things really are going from bad to worse.

More to the refugee deal than meets the eye Last week’s news that the Turnbull government has struck a deal to resettle in the USA up to 1800 refugees held on Nauru and Manus Island is superficially good news in some respects, though of course it cannot trump the fact that morally and ethically they should have been granted asylum here. My apologies for using the ‘trump’ word, but it has a bearing on my column this week. More on that below. The agreement reportedly will involve a people swap from US-overseen refugee camps in Costa Rica, which were established to deter asylum seekers and illegal migrants from trying to enter the US through unofficial channels. In effect Australia would be swapping South American land people for Middle Eastern and Asian boat people, with little change in the total refugee intake for both countries. How ironic it then that President Elect Trump holds in his hands the fate of many Central American migrants and Muslim refugees. Given his harsh rhetoric against both, the US-Australia deal must be on shaky ground. It would have been far, far better for such resettlement deals to be carried out under the auspices of the United Nations. Resettlement is as important to a deterrent refugee policy as humane conditions in offshore centres. The most important detail will be how Mr Trump reacts when he enters the White House in January. There though many more unanswered questions about this ‘deal’ that makes is less than the good news story it superficially appears to be. For example, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection has confirmed that the US is not obliged to accept a particular number of refugees, or indeed any, under the terms of its “deal” with the Australian government. “We learned today that the agreement provides no certainty whatsoever for the men, women and children that Australia has detained on Manus Island and Nauru,” Greens Immigration spokesperson Senator Nick McKim said. Like many of us, the Greens also have serious concerns about the Trump Administration failing to honour this deal and leaving people stranded, particularly given the Department’s evidence today that processing applications will take many months in some cases. Much has been made that the deal will act as a deterrent to people smugglers, but it is also arguable that a back door to the USA could be an added incentive to try for Australia with hopes of a home in another fine place. Malcolm Turnbull says “once only” but he is of the professional expediency class who live in our own fantasy land beside Lake Burley Griffin. Could it be that our bid for a position on the UN Human Rights Council in 2018 might now be free from the inconvenient taint of refugees still incarcerated in offshore detention? There’s also the nagging suspicion that the imminent transfer of power in the US, to a leader outspokenly antagonistic towards immigration of any kind, has given the plans of the Turnbull government here and Democrats in the USA a sense of urgency? Other than the saving of face for our political leaders, how has can this be more practical than finding them a place in our country? They have been proved to be real refugees. Why are we so proudly and stubbornly merciless in this aspect of Australia’s refugee policies

Time to end the cruel Melbourne Cup. Is the first Tuesday in November really something to boast about? Your correspondent Graham correctly summed up the negative aspects of the Melbourne Cup (Web Words, DA 2 November) when he characterised it as being marked by “true blue Aussie pastimes such as not working, irresponsible gambling, excessive drinking and cruelty to animals”. Far be it from me to suggest any society should not be able to celebrate its qualities, but are these really the attributes that we want to endorse? No, they’re not, but as many will no doubt disagree, it’s worth delving deeper into exactly what the ‘race that stops the nation’ involves. Though it’s hard to escape all the hype about this race perhaps, as people become increasingly aware that horses die on racetracks, the Melbourne Cup is quickly turning into the race that divides the nation, as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) pointed out recently. Indeed, ever since Archer became famous for winning the first Melbourne Cup while already injured, in a race in which two other horses died, countless other horses have sustained catastrophic injuries on the racetrack after being whipped mercilessly and pushed past their limits. Last year sentimental favourite Red Cadeaux broke his left foreleg on the track and was later euthanised, and in 2014 the race resulted in the deaths of two horses. Less publicised is the fact that horses are dying at lower-profile races all the time, with a total of 127 horses pronounced dead on Australian tracks over the course of 12 months in 2014 and 2015, according to the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses. All this horror is overshadowed by the glitz and glamour, champagne, fashion, and prize money, but more and more compassionate Aussies are starting to take notice. Attendance at the Melbourne Cup Carnival has fallen for the last four years in a row, it is pleasing to note. Meanwhile, anti-racing “Say Nup to the Cup” events are springing up all over the country. The wastage rate for horses in training or racing is around 40 per cent, and many of those who don’t make the cut are sent to slaughter. Those who do survive are given a gruelling training and racing schedule, many suffering muscle and joint injuries, fractures, internal bleeding, musculoskeletal trauma, and ruptured ligaments. Then there’s the whipping. It causes localised trauma and tissue damage, and is actually of little value, for a 2011 study of Australian horse racing found that it improved the race times of just 2 per cent of horses. Researchers at the University of Melbourne discovered that half of the horses they studied had blood in the windpipe and close to 90 per cent had blood deeper in the lungs. Studies in both Sydney and the US have found that over 85 per cent of horses also had lesions in the stomach lining. Sick and injured horses may also be given steroids, which can mask pain or make a horse run faster. Most broken-down horses don’t make headlines, they’re just quietly shipped interstate to be slaughtered for human consumption or pet food. There’s nothing “sporting” about a pastime in which animals routinely suffer and die. It’s time for the nation to stop “the race that stops the nation”, and to give serious thought to whether or not horse racing, along with that other abomination, greyhound racing, should be banned altogether.