Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 12 February 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 5 February 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today, 28 January 2020

Insect extinction a major problem for humanity

That over a billion native animals perished in the current bushfires has been a hot topic recently. Apart from that statistic being itself food for thought it was a salutary reminder that it could push many species to extinction.

It also reminded me of another world-wide extinction crisis happening now. I’m referring to insects. Their extinction is a cause for concern in its own right, but as the Guardian Australia reported, “Plummeting insect numbers threaten collapse of nature”.

Some misguided souls might think the collapse of nature is no big deal, but it is, for our own species survival depends totally on the natural world. That’s a frightening thought, which provoked me to look further into the topic.

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review, published in the journal Biological Conservation.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

Though the planet is at the start of the sixth mass extinction in its history through huge losses reported in larger animals, insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals. Apparently they outnumber humanity by 17 times.

Some may mistakenly feel their extinction is to be welcomed, as it will means less pesky flied buzzing around our heads. However, insects are essential for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients. And food for us.

The review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: “The (insect) trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting on life forms on our planet.

“Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” they write. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.”

Their analysis says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors.

“The main cause of the decline is agricultural intensification,” said Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney. “That means the elimination of all trees and shrubs that normally surround the fields, so there are plain, bare fields that are treated with synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.”

He thinks new classes of insecticides introduced in the last 20 years, including neonicotinoids and fipronil, have been particularly damaging as they are used routinely and persist in the environment. “They sterilise the soil, killing all the grubs.” This has effects even in nature reserves nearby. The 75% insect losses in Germany, for example, were in protected areas.

“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” he said.

This is of course very worrying news, which led me to investigate further to see if anything could be done about it.

It can. The world must eradicate pesticide use, prioritise nature-based farming methods and urgently reduce water, light and noise pollution to save plummeting insect populations, according to a new “roadmap to insect recovery” compiled by experts and published in the Nature Ecology and Evolution journal.

Phasing out synthetic pesticides and fertilisers used in industrial farming and aggressive greenhouse gas emission reductions are among a series of urgent “no-regret” solutions to reverse what conservationists have called the ‘unnoticed insect apocalypse’ as the researchers put it.

Alongside these measures, scientists must urgently establish which herbivores, detritivores, parasitoids, predators and pollinators are priority species for conservation.

Of course, until the world listens to the scientific research and decides to act on it nothing will happen. The failure of much of the world to listen and act on the science of human-made climate change unfortunately doesn’t fill me with confidence that it will act on this new research.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today, 21 January 2020

 

 

Religious Freedom bill gives licence to discriminate

The second draft of the government’s religious discrimination bill was released just before Christmas.

This follows the Morrison government’s usual policy of ‘hiding’ issues likely to be unpopular or controversial at a time when our attention is elsewhere.

The plan to bury the issue of course also benefited from the unprecedented bushfires, which deservedly took all our attention. But as we seem, at the time of writing, to be reaching a point of slightly more favourable weather and the prospect of containment, now is the time to look at the draft bill and see if it is an improvement on the first draft.

The short answer is that it is no better than the Attorney-General’s first attempt.

The second draft was intended to appease critics of the contentious legislation. But many experts still fear that if it passes parliament, Australians will have greater liberty to discriminate. This is a curious outcome for anti-discrimination legislation.

Geoffrey Robertson, QC said “It should be unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of religion, as well as on race, sex, sexual orientation, age and so forth. Such prohibitions are best contained in a human rights act.”

“This is George Brandis’s ‘right to be a bigot’ on steroids,” says Associate Professor Luke Beck of Monash University, a leading authority on freedom of religion.

The problem is the government has taken a standard anti-discrimination law template, already applied in the context of race, sex, disability and age, and mutated it with several unprecedented additions. If the bill is enacted, religious rights will be elevated above other rights.

Most controversial within this bill are protections for religiously motivated statements and actions, even when these would otherwise amount to unlawful discrimination. This will enable a range of organisations, including charities, hospitals and aged-care bodies, to hire and fire based on religion. They also enable any individual to make statements of belief, free from the spectre of anti-discrimination laws. And they permit doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists and psychologists to decline to provide healthcare on religious grounds.

More specifically, if passed, the legislation would mean that a religious doctor could tell a transgender patient that gender is binary, a Catholic doctor could refuse to provide contraceptives and a Jewish school could insist that staff must be Jewish and act consistently with Judaism. These examples are not far-fetched, for each is taken from the draft bill’s own explanatory notes.

Susan Ryan, who was involved in the creation of several anti-discrimination laws, is damning about the new draft. “If the government was genuinely interested in advancing equality in Australia, it would create a national bill of rights” she said.

Nonetheless, it is true that some stakeholders appear to have been placated by the changes. “The second draft is a significant improvement over the first,” says Bishop Michael Stead, of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.

But others remain unpersuaded. “Recent amendments have made the bill worse overall,” observes Hugh de Kretser, executive director at the Human Rights Law Centre. “If the major flaws in the bill are not fixed, MPs should reject it. “The bill gives religious bodies a licence to discriminate,” he says.

Speaking to The Saturday Paper, Forum on Australia’s Islamic Relations (FAIR) executive director Kuranda Seyit expressed concern that “The ‘right to be a bigot’ clause could potentially embolden far-right groups to ramp up their vitriol and continue their campaigns of hate.”

The proposed law is likely to cause headaches for employers. One provision would make it unlawful for larger employers to implement codes of conduct that restrict an employee expressing statements of belief outside work hours. This has been dubbed the ‘Israel Folau clause’ because the bill’s explanatory notes offer a familiar example of a Christian stating that “unrepentant sinners will go to hell”.

For Hugh de Kretser, the existence of the Folau clause is striking. “Existing workplace law dealt with this issue in the Rugby Australia case,” he says. “The standard discrimination tests should have been used in the bill.”

The Attorney-General’s Department is now accepting submissions on the second draft until the end of January, so there are only a few days to get them in.

I’m supporting Equity Australia’s campaign, as the bill as drafted would be a disaster for LGBTIQ communities.

Laws which should protect religious people from discrimination will be used to hand a licence to discriminate against LGBTIQ people, threatening our access to healthcare and undermining inclusive workplaces, schools and services.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for this week

Claims of a ‘greenies’ conspiracy to block hazard reduction rejected by bushfire experts

In spite of the evidence, many falsely claim that a major contributing factor of Australia’s devastating fire season is a conspiracy by environmentalists to “lock up” national parks and prevent hazard reduction activities. Such accusations have also been shouted at me in the streets of Wagga. This is despite all the evidence that clearly proves the early arrival and ferocity of the fire season is due to human caused climate change.

It is time to put this dangerous misconception to rest.

The ‘blame the ‘greenies’ rhetoric is rife at several levels, including commercial TV, the Murdoch press’s Daily Telegraph, on social media, and from the very top. At the height of the fires prime minister, Scott Morrison called for more hazard reduction and said “The most constant issue that has been raised with me has been the issue of managing fuel loads in national parks.”

Are greenies really stopping hazard reduction? A look at the evidence proves otherwise.

The Australian Greens policy on hazard reduction quite clearly calls for  “An effective and sustainable strategy for fuel-reduction management that will protect biodiversity and moderate the effects of wildfire for the protection of people and assets, developed in consultation with experts, custodians and land managers”.

The claim of a conspiracy by environmentalists to block hazard reduction activities has also been firmly rejected by bushfire experts, who have unequivocally said it is disproved by hard data on actual hazard reduction activities in national parks.

The head of the NSW Rural Fire Service has dismissed claims by Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce that a lack of hazard reduction burns, not climate change, is the main culprit for Australia’s ongoing bushfire crisis.

Indeed, hazard reduction burning is “not a silver bullet” said Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

As the DA reported, “Scientists have disputed claims a lack of hazard reduction burns have led to the size of the bushfires, with senior fire chiefs blaming the effects of climate change”.

Prof David Bowman, the director of the fire centre research hub at the University of Tasmania, said: “It’s ridiculous. To frame this as an issue of hazard reduction in national parks is just lazy political rhetoric.”

Prof Ross Bradstock, the director of the centre for environmental risk management of bushfires at the University of Wollongong, has said “These are very tired and very old conspiracy theories that get a run after most major fires. They’ve been extensively dealt with in many inquiries.”

In the last full fire season of 2018 and 2019, the National Parks and Wildlife Service in NSW told Guardian Australia it carried out hazard reduction activities across more than 139,000 hectares, slightly above its target.

There are two major restricting factors for carrying out prescribed burning. One is the availability of funds and personnel, and the second is the availability of weather windows.

The 2018-19 annual report of the NSW Rural Fire Service says: “The ability of the NSW RFS and partner agencies to complete hazard reduction activities is highly weather dependent, with limited windows of opportunity.”

A former NSW fire and rescue commissioner, Greg Mullins, has written that the hotter and drier conditions, and the higher fire danger ratings, were preventing agencies from carrying out prescribed burning.

He said: “There has been lots of hazard reductions done over the years, more by national parks than previous years, but the fires have burned through those hazard reduction areas.”

Mullins dismissed suggestions that the bushfires were down to “greenies” preventing hazard reduction activities. “This is the blame game. We’ll blame arsonists, we’ll blame greenies,” he said.

“When will the penny drop with this government?”

The National Parks Association of NSW’s president, Anne Dickson, has also responded to the attacks on environmentalists. “It may be politically expedient to pretend that conservationists exercise some mythical power over fire legislation and bushfire management committees, but it is not so.”

So let’s stop blaming the ‘greenies’ and instead look to how we can mitigate the bushfire risk by using good management practices. As Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge said, “This will be resolved by careful policy, by proper resourcing and by people putting the science before the politics.” Mr Shoebridge has never voted against hazard reduction burns.

Unfortunately, as with climate change, some people adamantly deny the truth of the science.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today, 7 January 2020

In 2019 the public recognised the climate crisis. When will the politicians?

In 2019 opinion poll after opinion poll showed that the public had become very aware that human-caused climate change was real. We are now living through a climate emergency, as record temperatures and unprecedented bushfires clearly demonstrated, despite Scott Morrison saying “We have faced these disasters before”. We haven’t. This is new, and the way the world is going unless politicians act immediately and decisively.

But at the local, state, federal and international level progress has been deliberately stymied. I’ll use my column this week to examine why no real progress was made in 2019.

Thankfully there are exceptions. Unlike Wagga Wagga, several local governments have declared climate emergencies. Many Pacific Island states are all too very aware of the results of global warming, and even the UK government declared a climate emergency.

In late 2019 Time magazine selected Greta Thunberg as its person of the year. That wouldn’t have been possible even this time last year. The biggest story in climate in 2019 is the way in which, after years of languishing outside the mainstream, climate activism finally broke through.

Young people were the key. Self-organised, serious, and frank about their anger at seeing their futures denied by politicians who won’t even live to see the consequences, they have lent a powerful moral drive to the entire movement.

So now the link between the climate emergency and our own lives has never seemed clearer. Finally, after decades of activists struggling to push the crisis into the larger consciousness, poll after poll shows that public concern, and desire for action, is at an all-time high.

The question that became clearer as 2019 moved on, was it possible to effect any actual political change? The spectacle of Thunberg and the larger youth climate movement arriving at international meetings and parliaments and accusing heads of state of hypocrisy to their faces made for good TV news, but climate politics itself still seems far from any genuine watershed moment.

Indeed, there has been little concrete progress. What the protests have sparked, instead, is that some governments declared a “climate emergency”. A few even reset future emissions targets. In previous years this alone would have seemed radical enough, but now, however, the gap between words and actions has widened too far, and credulity is in short supply.

The climate researcher Rebecca Willis put it very succinctly when she said “Targets don’t reduce carbon. Policies do.”

True, there has been some glimmers of hope on that front. Parties in the recent UK election and candidates in the US Democratic primaries took on comprehensive climate platforms for the first time. These either directly or indirectly reference the concept of a ‘Green New Deal’, pairing increased spending on climate with a larger social transformation, and breaking down the wall that separates climate policy from the rest of national politics. But unfortunately, nothing similar has been brought forward by a government actually in power.

Many had high hopes for the  UN’s 2019 climate change conference, COP, held in Madrid, which fell at the end of the year. It is the forum where countries affirm their climate commitments under the UN framework convention on climate change.

This year’s COP may not have been the worst, but a loose coalition of rightwing governments, very sadly including Australia, effectively sabotaged the conference’s goal of strengthening the Paris agreement.

As the Saturday Paper wrote, in Copenhagen in 2009, Australia took a leadership role in the fight against climate change. Ten years on, at COP25, the winds had changed, and our government tried to use carryover credits from the Kyoto agreement to ‘prove’ we are meeting our Paris commitments.  Countries opposed to Australia’s cheating attempted to insert a ban into the Madrid conference’s final statement, barring Australia from carrying over carbon credits.

Unfortunately, in the end, the ban didn’t succeed.

It got even worse. Following the positions taken by Australia, Brazil, China, India and others on key issues up for negotiation, the international effort to secure the next stage of global action on climate change didn’t succeed either. The Madrid meeting failed to set any new, binding targets.

It’s a sad end to a year that showed that though the people have got the message many of the politicians, including our own, haven’t. Let’s hope they start not only to listen, but in 2020 develop policies that will mitigate climate change before it is too late.

Despite some last minute and very limited federal assistance Messrs Morrison and McCormack have shown a distinct lack of leadership and should make way for those who can provide it.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today

2019 showed the structural weak points in our political system

There are several tempting topics for this week’s column. There’s ‘Smoko’s’ ill-judged disappearing trick. Our Clayton’s PM declaration of Wagga as the capital of Australia. Or his about-face when he finally admitted that “in the context of the fires raging throughout the country, further action must be taken on climate change” as the DA noted.

Not to mention, of course, Mr Morrison quickly dashing our hopes as he firmly announced that there would be no change to the government’s climate change policy.

The best he could manage was to say that Commonwealth public servants who volunteer would get four weeks of paid leave to help fight the fires. But ever the advertising con man that he is, ScoMo didn’t mention that it this leave is already in the public servants’ Enterprise Bargaining Agreement, so he gave us nothing.

Then at long last came a much overdue announcement from Mr. Morrison that NSW volunteers would be paid a paltry $6,000.00 compensation for all the work they have been doing over the past many months. Too little, too late, and limited to only your state, ScoMo.

But instead I will use this final column of the year to review the year just passed. Not a review in the sense of listing what happened, but rather the underlying structural issues of our so-called democracy that the year demonstrated.

As Crikey.com pointed out, systems that rely on the presence of good people to function effectively will always fail, and ours is such a system. Eventually some duds will come along.

In 2019 the failures of the duds demonstrated two big structural weak points in our political system.

The first is the lack of transparency. That is, the lack of transparency that enables powerful interests to purchase access and influence over policymakers, out of sight of voters.

The second is the lack of any protection for citizens against their own government.

The lack of transparency allows political donors to buy their way into private contact with key decision-makers where they can influence policy, without any scrutiny or accountability. The major donors to the Liberals and Nationals are corporations that serve the interests of shareholders, foreign investors and corporate executives.

If you have good political leaders, who are motivated by the national interest as much as by their desire for power, this lack of transparency is less of a problem.

That’s why, until the groundswell of public opinion meant it had to establish a Royal Commission, the Liberal Party ran a protection racket for the big banks which had donated so much, allowing them to operate virtually unchecked.

That’s why it continues to refuse to take action on climate change, which would harm the mining and energy companies that provide a steady flow of money.

The lack of any protection for citizens against their government is the other main structural weakness 2019 demonstrated. Unlike in the USA, where the idea of a bill of rights to protect people from government is the subject of universal consensus, here a bill of rights is regarded as left-wing extremism.

Here in fact we have a government that isn’t merely mediocre in its view of basic freedoms, but is actively hostile. It uses the powers of the state to harass, intimidate and jail citizens who might embarrass it, as was amply demonstrated this year by the AFP raids on Annika Smethurst and the ABC.

Usually analysis of all this revolves around people and personalities. Our media is very good in Australia at focusing on people and appallingly bad at focusing on systems and structures. Ninety-five per cent of political coverage is about people; only 5% is about the system that enables or fails to check them.

But focusing on personalities is just the way the powerful like it, since it reduces the chances of anyone noticing the system is the real problem and leaves them free to deal with decision-makers unfettered by accountability or transparency.

There’s no point sitting back and waiting for the media, or the Coalition, or Labor, to fix things. Things won’t improve until the system is changed, to reduce the influence of powerful interests and shed much more light on them, and to put in place basic protections for Australians against the actions of their government.

Political donations and funding reform, published meeting diaries, and a proper federal ICAC, as urged by the Greens, would be a good start. As would radically wider freedom of information laws and a US-style bill of rights, all of which are crucial fixes for a broken political system that 2019 has shown us that we need if we are to survive dud politicians.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today

Many harbingers of the climate change problem

The past weeks have really put climate change centre stage on the world’s agenda. First came the news that we may have already crossed several ‘tipping points’, which I will explore in some detail below.

Then came news that the European Union had declared a ‘climate emergency’, which was followed by last week’s opening of the next UN Climate Summit COP 25, in Madrid. And as the summit opened the former Tuvalu Prime Minister said on the special Pacific Islands edition of ABC TV’s Q&A that Scott Morrison denies climate change is happening in Pacific. Then we learnt of the government’s plan to produce hydrogen from ‘dirty’ brown coal.

Let’s look first at the ‘tipping points’. The world may already have crossed a series of climate tipping points, according to a stark warning from scientists. This risk is “an existential threat to civilisation”, they say, meaning “we are in a state of planetary emergency”.

Tipping points are reached when particular impacts of global heating become unstoppable, such as the runaway loss of ice sheets or forests. In the past, extreme heating of 5c was thought necessary to pass tipping points, but the latest evidence suggests this could happen between 1cand 2c.

Also ahead of the UN COP25 Climate Change Conference in Madrid, the European Parliament approved a resolution declaring a climate and environmental emergency.

Like the EU, a number of countries and local administrations have declared that our planet is facing a climate emergency. But, closer to home, not the Australian parliament and Wagga Wagga City Council.

At the opening of the UN climate summit UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres introductory remarks showed that he is well aware of looming tipping points when he warned that Governments risked sleepwalking “past a point of no return” if they remained idle.

Mr Guterres warned that existing pledges made under the Paris accord fall far short of the kind of transformational action needed to avert the most disastrous consequences of global warming in terms of sea-level rise, drought, storms and other impacts, according to scientists.

He also contrasted the “leadership” and “mobilisation” shown by the world’s youth on the climate emergency with the lack of action by governments, which were failing to keep up with the urgency of the problem despite increasing signs that the climate was reaching breakdown.

Australia is one of the countries banned from speaking at the conference. The criteria for being banned include building new coal fired power stations, granting fossil fuel subsidies, and failing to increase national targets for emission reductions.

Countries like Australia, Japan and South Africa who support the coal industry were removed from the summit’s speaking list, along with countries that have been critical of the Paris climate accord, such as the USA, Brazil and Saudi Arabia. What a rogues’ gallery for us to be a member!

Which leads me to note that the former prime minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, who, in reference to the Pacific Islands Forum last August told the special Pacific edition of Q&A he was “taken aback” by Scott Morrison’s behaviour at the meeting.

“Unfortunately, prime minister Scott Morison of Australia [was] expressing views that completely denies there is climate change happening already in the Pacific” he said.

Virisila Buadromo, an advocate for women’s and human rights in Fiji, also urged Australia to take more action. “I think Australia, as the largest emitter of carbon in the region, you need to stand with our family … to fight against climate change,” she said.

These comments paint Australia in general, and our PM in particular, in a very bad light But as I watched Q&A I had just read an equally depressing story in the Saturday Paper, which explained that the PM and Angus Taylor, our Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister plan a great future for our country as an exporter on a grand scale of hydrogen, reputedly the energy source of the future.

However, not by cleanly producing it from water, which can easily be done by using electricity generated from renewables. Instead it seems the government is planning to produce hydrogen by burning brown coal. This would completely negate hydrogen’s one great advantage as an energy source, which is that its only by-product is water.

Are the Liberal and Nationals parties so desperate for funds from the coal industry that they will so willfully contribute to even more global warming, and so bring on the tipping points?

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today

Morrison’s hypocrisy exposed

Recently I was struck by the hypocrisy exhibited by PM Scott Morrison when he addressed the Business Council. In his speech he loudly attacked other political parties for pursing the politics of panic, when evidence clearly shows that he follows exactly the same approach.

One clear example will suffice before looking at Morrison’s modus operandi in more detail. He hammered the argument that now is not the time to discuss the links between climate change and the early arrival and ferocity of the recent bushfires. He went on to   accuse those who argued this was exactly the time of “pressing the panic button”. Yet only a few months earlier, during the federal election, he claimed that those advocating a rational approach to mitigating climate change would ‘end your weekend’ and ‘confiscate your ute’. As well as being a blatant lie that surely is also pressing the panic button.

The prime minister in fact relentlessly pursues the politics of panic.

As the Guardian Australia perceptively wrote, “Scott Morrison can’t attack Australia’s political circus and pretend he isn’t its ringmaster”.

During his address Mr Morrison had two messages. The first was that the government is managing the economy by ‘Not Panicking’. Related to the first message was the second: the Coalition has decided to provide a new round of stimulus spending by bringing forward spending on infrastructure, while at the same time ‘Not Panicking’. The government is ‘Not Panicking’ because it is ‘Not the Opposition’.

So the point of the prime ministerial was expounding was not so much what he was not doing, i.e. panicking, but what Labor and the Greens would be doing if anyone was ever foolish enough to allow them back into government – panicking, of course.

Morrison’s approach is to latch on to underlying voter anxiety and profit from it. He often tells us that he knows we are anxious, and sick of the noise in the ‘Canberra bubble’, but he wants us to direct our anxiety to his political opponents, not the government.

So he says, with great persistence, that he knows we are worried, but we don’t have to worry, because Daddy is here, he won the election, and he’s ‘Not Panicking’. This is also where his ‘Daggy Dad’ masquerade comes into the picture. In essence he says “Hello, I’m Scott, and I’m not panicking”. On anyone else it would come across as quite ridiculous, but it works for ScoMo.

Clearly Morrison is a fully rusted-on part of the circus he decries, and a significant beneficiary of it, not a disinterested observer, or a prophet who will save politics from itself, as he so often claims to be. Morrison is pure politics.

The second point is the economy isn’t doing that well, and while Morrison likes to present the Opposition as economic panic merchants, recent history shows it was a Labor government, not a Coalition one, that kept Australia out of recession during the global financial crisis.

So what the government is doing to ally our fears about Australia’s sluggish economy, is to gradually introduce a series of policies that added together are in effect pressing the panic button, but without it being obvious: tax cuts, low interest rates, drought spending, a grab bag of infrastructure spending, and most recently, half a billion thrown at aged care, all  while still maintaining the surplus. And of course, the need to maintain a budget surplus is the greatest panic button of all. Superficially it is made to sound like economic responsibility, when in truth it is exactly the opposite.

Australians, however they vote, are more likely going to care more about whether they have a job than whether or not the budget is in surplus, however much ScoMo presses that panic button.

Most recently Mr Morrison is pressing the panic button on allegation of Chinese spying (“Morrison deeply disturbed over spy claims”, DA 26 November). This is an easy one for him, because as all insecure leaders are wont to do, he can press the fear of foreigners xenophobia panic button.

So Mr Morrison, while claiming not to panic, is doing just that, and so once again is channeling his hero Donald Trump, who rode to victory in 2016 panicking the American people about hordes of criminal Mexicans who could only be stopped if he was elected and built a wall.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today

Now is the time to talk about bushfires and climate change

As the bushfire crisis unfolded whenever anyone raised the possibility that their early arrival and ferocity might be connected to climate change they were shouted down by many politicians who loudly proclaimed that ‘now is not the time’. Yet what better time is there when public attention is firmly focussed on the issue?

Saying so will put me firmly in the sights of Michael McCormack, our local federal MP, the leader of the Nationals and Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, who raged on ABC radio at those who dared to ask such questions are “inner city raving lunatic” and “pure, enlightened and woke capital-city greenies”.

The host of ABC Radio National Breakfast, Hamish Macdonald, then pointed out it wasn’t just the Greens Richard Di Natale and Adam Bandt discussing the well documented link between climate change and bushfires, it was Carol Sparks, the Mayor of Glenn Innes, who linked drought, climate change and fires together after her northern New South Wales town battled a wall of flame that killed two locals.

Mr McCormack’s abusive comments are an insult to the many Australians who can read the science. Indeed, as a recent survey from JWS research found climate change was the number one voter concern.

Barnaby Joyce, not to be outdone, opined that two tragic bushfire deaths were probably because the deceased voted Green. That makes as much sense as the claim from sacked rugby union player Israel Folau that the bushfires are due to the legalisation of same-sex marriage and NSW’s decriminalisation of abortion.

Back to those politicians who are so vigorously arguing that now is not the time to talk about the link between climate change and the increasing frequency and ferocity of bushfire, let’s look at their argument.

As the Guardian Australia wrote, “Let’s be clear about what this line of argument is. It’s self-serving crap.”

For it is entirely possible to have a sensible discussion about climate change and the risks it poses, including the likelihood of longer and more intense fire seasons, and still do all the things that need to be done to protect lives and property.

We have that capability. In fact, Australia demonstrated amply over the course of the past few weeks our collective capacity to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Despite all the finger waggling from politicians the climate conversation happened in tandem with heroic efforts by emergency services workers to save lives and contain the damage when a coalition of former fire chiefs firmly refused various invitations from politicians to shut up.

Given there is no law that says bushfires preclude sensible, evidence-based policy conversations, it’s reasonable to ask why Messrs McCormack, Morrison, Ms Berejiklian et al persisted with their argument that “now is not the time”.

The answer is simple. The Lib/Nats coalition government does not want its record exposed at a time when Australians are deeply anxious, because it’s hard to control the flow of news stories in those conditions. Goodness, the people might discover how much the Coalition parties are funded by the coal industry.

Morrison & Co won’t allow the climate change discussion because the government’s record is abysmal. The Liberal and National parties have done everything within their collective power to frustrate climate action in Australia for more than a decade. They Coalition repealed the carbon price. They attempted to gut the renewable energy target. They imposed fig-leaf policies costing taxpayers billions that have failed to stop emissions rising every single quarter.

Not content with that, Morrison and his coalition ministers loudly claimed during the May election that an emissions reduction target broadly consistent with climate science would be a wrecking ball on the Australian economy.

What Australian voters needed after the election in May was a government of whatever stripe prepared to put the country on an orderly path towards decarbonisation.

But what the Coalition needed was different. It has no ambitions beyond delaying a response to climate change, maintaining a racist refugee policy and frustrating efforts at reconciliation.

Above all It wants to remain in power, and one of the major ways to power was and continues to be to convince voters that Bill Shorten was crazy and shifty about climate change and would confiscate your ute.

As the Greens and others argued, there was a climate election in May, but unfortunately the climate lost.

My Daily Advertiser Op ED column for this week

Time to introduce pill testing, abandon the use of sniffer dogs, and decriminalise personal drug use.

In closing the inquest into six MDMA-related deaths of people aged 18 to 23 at NSW music festivals Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame recommended pill testing be conducted at NSW festivals, as well as the decriminalisation of personal drug use and the scrapping of sniffer dogs. This, thankfully, is a much-needed call for a radical change in drug policy.

As Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge said, “The Coroners Court findings make it clear the aggressive ongoing police war against young people and the music industry is damaging and unwinnable.

A key finding was that drug detection dogs don’t work to limit supply of illegal drugs but instead are more likely do encourage risky behaviour like pre-loading or panic ingestion. This must spell the end of the drug dog program and police as responders to drugs rather than medical professionals.”

Ms Grahame made a total of 28 recommendations, including eight to NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, four to NSW Police, nine to NSW Health and the rest to government departments and event organisers.

Ms Grahame said pill testing was an evidence-based harm reduction strategy that should be trialled “as soon as possible in NSW”.

She said high-visibility and punitive policing operations at festivals – including drug detection dogs – had “inherent dangers and few if any benefits” and should be scrapped.

The court heard the use of strip searches should be limited to circumstances where there is a “reasonable suspicion”.

Ms Grahame said the NSW government should give “full and genuine consideration” to “decriminalising personal use of drugs, as a mechanism to reduce the harm caused by drug use”.

The NSW Government has reiterated its opposition to pill testing trials after the coroner’s draft recommendations were leaked last month.

Ms Grahame called on Ms Berejiklian’s government to look at drug problems at festivals with “fresh eyes” and examine evidence-based solutions before delivering dozens of recommendations.

The evidence before the inquest “clearly indicated” much can be done to prevent MDMA deaths, she said.

“There are practical solutions,” Ms Grahame noted.

“However, the evidence draws into clear focus the need for the NSW government to look with fresh eyes at the potential dangers associated with drug use at music festivals.”

Immediately after Grahame handed down her findings the NSW commissioner of police, Mick Fuller, released a statement saying he “strongly denied” the suggestion police were “implicit” in the deaths. So strongly did he defend his officers that the Sydney Morning Herald devoted a front page to the headline ‘Coroner, police clash on festivals’ as he denied any link between police methods and drug deaths.

In attempting to do so he said music festivals “create a concentrated market for drug supply and organised criminal groups”.

At the time, the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, dismissed the recommendation to introduce pill-testing on the basis “it would give a false sense of security to festival goers”.

Outside the coroner’s court on Friday, Jennie Ross-King, the mother of Alex Ross-King, urged Berejiklian to “listen to the experts” and introduce pill-testing before the summer.

“Pill-testing is available now. These guys are sitting there waiting for a phone call to turn up,” she said.

Another mother, Julie Tam, urged Berejiklian not to “waste this opportunity”.

“None of us standing here in front of you today want to be here,” she said. “We would give anything to have our children back [but] as parents we stand before you and urge you to embrace the recommendations and implement them.”

Grahame also called for police to limit the use of strip searches to people suspected of supply, and for the government to pay to establish a permanent drug-checking facility outside the festival context.

Locally our sate MP, Joe McGirr said, in relation to the Coroner’s findings “She has made a very strong case for a trial of pill testing”, the Daily Advertiser reported. “I think it’s a very sober and judicial weighing up of the evidence”. It’s also a very big pity that Dr Joe couldn’t go beyond that small step and go as far as supporting the Coroner’s other recommendations, namely abandoning the use of sniffer dogs and the decriminalisation of personal drug use. Implementing those recommendations would solve the largest problems.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today

An incensed Morrison wants to ban protests

In a recent outburst Scott Morrison branded environmental protesters “anarchists” and threatened a radical crackdown on the right to protest in a speech claiming progressives are seeking to “deny the liberties of Australians”. Presumably he hopes that his hyperbolic ranting will fool people into not noticing that what he is really doing is denying us all the liberty to protest, which is surely our democratic right.

In a speech to the Queensland Resources Council, the prime minister said a threat to the future of mining was coming from a “new breed of radical activism” and signalled the government would seek to apply penalties to those targeting businesses who provide services to the resources industry.

Civil society groups, including the Human Rights Law Centre and Australian Conservation Foundation, and the Greens immediately attacked the proposal as undemocratic and a bid to stifle a social movement fighting for Australia to take action on climate change.

Indeed, as Greens MP Adam Bandt said “Scott Morrison is becoming more dangerous by the day. So incensed is the Prime Minister by anyone who disagrees with him, that he’s now pushing to outlaw protests against his big polluting mates. This comes a few weeks after Peter Dutton threatened to fine, jail and strip support payments from people peacefully participating in the Extinction Rebellion protests.  These are the words and threats made by dictators.” Well said Mr Bandt.

So what caused all this concern about a speech by the PM? Mr Morrison told Australian corporations to listen to the “quiet shareholders” and not environmental protesters, who he suggested could shift targets from coal companies to all carbon-intensive industries including power generation, gas projects, abattoirs and airlines.

In his speech, proposing limits on free speech advocating boycotts against polluting companies, Morrison said progressives wanted to tell Australians “what you can say, what you can think and tax you more for the privilege of all of those instructions”.

He claimed that “progressivism”, which he labelled a “new-speak type term”, invoking George Orwell’s 1984, intends “to get in under the radar, but at its heart would deny the liberties of Australians”.

He pointed to what he described as the “worrying development” of environmental groups targeting businesses or firms involved in the mining sector with “secondary boycotts”, such as businesses refusing to provide banking, insurance or consultancy services.

“Together with the attorney general, we are working to identify mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices that threaten the livelihoods of fellow Australians.”

The executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre, Hugh de Kretser, said the plan to crack down on boycotts was “deeply concerning”.

“Protest is an essential part of our democracy,” he said. “To protect our democracy and help ensure a better future for all Australians, governments should be strengthening our rights to come together and protest, not weakening them.”

The Competition and Consumer Act already contains civil penalties for secondary boycotts, which target one business in order to prevent provision of goods or services to another, including if they cause “substantial loss or damage” or substantially lessen competition.

However, secondary boycotts for the “dominant purpose” of environmental protection or consumer protection are permitted.

The chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Kelly O’Shanassy, said community campaigning was a “legitimate response” voicing the concerns about global heating shared by millions of Australians.

“People protesting in the streets are not the only ones expressing alarm about climate change. The head of the Defence Force, the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank and the Australian Prudential Regulation have all recently raised serious concerns,” she said.

“To paint this broad community concern as being about fringe-dwelling extremists is an insult to all Australians who want a better future for themselves and their children”, O’Shanassy concluded.

So instead of getting tough on the climate crisis, Scott Morrison is dismantling democracy. In his ‘brave new world’, to borrow the title of another dystopian novel, everyday Australian citizens are not allowed to protest, boycott, spend money where we want, blow the whistle or report what the government is up to.

In a strange move from the party that champions individual liberty and free enterprise Mr Morrison will not allow us  to express our freedom in the commercial market place. Surely, politicians have a responsibility to defend our democracy, not degrade it.