Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 12 February 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 5 February 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 20 April 2019

Religious conservatives hijack the abortion debate

The spark for today’s column was last Monday’s Daily Advertiser editorial, which commented on Wagga’s state MP Joe McGirr’s opposition to the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 (aka the Abortion Law Reform Bill) being “inextricably linked to his “position as a Catholic and a doctor”.

It sparked my interest because today I had planned to focus on the growing power of religious conservatism. I don’t wish to tar Mr McGirr with that particular brush, unless of course he feels he belongs in that category. If he does let’s hope he comes clean by the time the next state election rolls around.

As I should now: I believe it is high time abortion was removed from the criminal code, firmly approve of the bill, would in truth like it to have gone further, and strongly support a woman’s right to choose.

Now to the main thrust of today’s column, which is the way the hard-right of American religious conservatism hijacked our abortion debate to suit its own political ends. Here I am not referring to the traditional opposition to abortion felt some religious denominations for their own, if to my mind misguided, reasoning.

Some current and former federal politicians weighed in on the issue. Barnaby Joyce, who seems to have forgotten his own recent personal history to now pose as a self-appointed moral champion said that his new baby son Tom had rights in the womb and no state parliament should take them away.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott really ramped up the rhetoric to a truly poisonous level by calling the reform bill “death on demand”. I guess it gave him another three-word slogan to add to his list.

Abbott linked the abortion bill to Victoria’s assisted-dying laws and said the nation had lost its “moral anchor points” which “used to be anchored in the Christian faith”.

“Faith is a gift,” he said. “Some people have it, some people don’t.” Faith is a club, apparently. It’s very clear what he thinks of those not in it, but I often wonder what he would do if he didn’t have people to vilify.

Now, to the gist of today’s column. Mr Abbott made the comments at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Sydney, which is a new Australian offshoot of a powerful American libertarian movement.

The US original of CPAC launched Donald Trump as a presidential contender when he spoke there in 2011. It is as American as the stars and stripes, and its importation to Australia is fitting, because increasingly the far-right and religious-right conservatives in this country seem to be expropriating most of their ideas from the Americans.

Indeed, the objections to our long overdue NSW abortion bill were lifted straight from the songbook of the US pro-life lobby: focus on rare late-term abortions, induce fear about women aborting babies a few weeks before their due dates, and, when it looks like you’ve lost the main battle, erect administrative and medical barriers to accessing terminations.

There was even a late attempt by one MP to move amendments to prevent ‘sex-selection’ abortions, which we were told occur in Australian Indian and Chinese communities. This was totally dishonest at best and blatantly racist at worst.

It was of course a total furphy, for there is no evidence sex selection occurs in NSW and was directly imported from the American pro-lifers.

“They were trying to put Alabama-style anti-abortion talking points into the legislation,” noted NSW MP Alex Greenwich, the independent who brought on the bill after years of lobbying by the Greens NSW.

This branch of conservatism implies that the decline of religion in developed democracies is responsible for a fragmentation of social order. It is nonsensical and very divisive, for it sees religious people as the only ones fighting a war against that decline.

It is reactionary rather than conservative. It doesn’t seek to carefully manage social change; instead, as a reflex, it opposes change absolutely.

But most importantly, it is very nasty. It combines the worst parts of Trump’s rhetoric with a religiosity that denies the humanity of anyone who doesn’t adhere to it. It is one American import we could do without, and I hope to goodness it doesn’t catch on here.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 13 August 2019

Alcohol industry undermines reform plans

Alcohol industry lobbying has undermined Australia’s new key plan to tackle alcohol-related harm, a new report by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) suggests.

The federal government has spent years developing a national alcohol strategy to address the harm of excessive alcohol consumption, which remains one of the major contributors to our dysfunctional society, illness and death.

Experts, health campaigners and the World Health Organisation have consistently urged governments to exclude the alcohol industry from any role in developing such policies.

But, after releasing an initial draft for public consultation in 2017, the government promptly approached the alcohol industry for feedback.

And so it is not surprising that the revised draft, thankfully leaked to the ABC last month, watered the strategy down to such an extent that the ACT government, noting meddling from the alcohol industry, declined to endorse it.

FARE has now analysed the differences between the drafts and allege they have “alcohol industry fingerprints all over” them. Language in the draft has been changed to allow for industry involvement in the reform process, for example.

The original draft had stated that “Australia does not support any ongoing role for industry” in developing alcohol policy and that industry should not be part of the reference group that was helping guide reform. Those statements were deleted in the revised version.

A section warning that Australia’s drinking culture was leading to dangerous consumption was also weakened. The language instead discussed drinking as a positive part of Australian culture.

The revised draft also weakened the language around the government’s imperative to act, and softened proposed policies on pricing and advertising regulation.

The last national alcohol strategy expired in 2011. The FARE chief executive, Michael Thorn, said he had fundamental concerns about the level of influence the alcohol industry was able to exert on government.

“It’s quite remarkable how politicians and governments want to cosy up to the alcohol industry,” Thorn said. “Yes, donations are part of explaining that. Yes, there is soft power that the alcohol industry’s lobbyists peddle around the parliament with their gifts and their events and their frequent access to members across all sides, not just with ministers, but also with backbenchers.

“It’s persistence, it’s organised, and it’s about building those relationships. In the end, it seems to overwhelm the system” he told the Guardian Australia.

Previous studies have shown the extent of alcohol industry donations to major political parties in Australia. Research published in the Drug and Alcohol Review last year showed the alcohol industry donated $7,650,858 in the 10 years to June 2015.

Though difficult to believe, it gets worse, for donations tended to increase during debates on potential reforms. Alcohol industry donations to the Labor government, for example, increased in 2008 and 2009 during the alcopops tax debate.

The FARE report comes as a newly published study suggests regulatory capture by the alcohol industry played a role in changes to the NSW alcohol supply laws introduced to state parliament in late 2015.

The University of Newcastle researcher Tony Brown developed a tool to test whether industry had achieved what he sensibly termed ‘legislative capture’.

“The industry’s power lies in its latent capacity to also influence and mobilise its many patrons, i.e. voters, and related third-party vocal interest groups to oppose any proposed laws that may inhibit their drinking patterns, a crucial factor in industry profits,” his study found.

The 2015 changes were “indicative of legislative capture and associated clientele corruption”, he found. Clientele corruption refers to the making of decisions not according to the best wishes of a government’s constituency, but in the best interests of those who have made sizeable financial contributions.

“The research found significant encroachment of the public interest and alcohol industry capture of the legislative process,” Brown said in a statement.

“Through this research I have developed a prototype legislative capture test, which identifies that the alcohol industry’s practise of making large political donations to buy influence fits the elements of regulatory capture, and may extend into the realm of ‘clientele corruption’ recognised by the high court of Australia,” he said.

At the time of writing, Health Minister Greg Hunt has declined to comment, though it is uncorrupted action that is needed, and needed now, before it is too late.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 6 August 2019

Welcome to the real world, Mr Joyce (sort of)

Pressure is mounting on the Coalition to increase the Newstart payment, as a new survey shows some recipients are skipping meals, going without heating during winter, and cutting back on showers.

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has released the findings of its research as part of its push to increase the benefit, which is only a paltry $282 per week for a single person without children, by at least $75 a week.

The ACOSS survey of 489 people on Newstart or Youth Allowance found more than four-out-of-five respondents skipped meals to save money, and about 44 per cent went without more than five meals a week.

Two-thirds could not afford to use heating during winter, while 68 per cent only had enough money to buy second-hand clothes.

More than half had less than $100 left per week after housing costs alone.

“People can’t afford rent, food, energy, clothing, transport, haircuts, dental care or internet access, which severely hampers their chances of getting a job,” ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie said.

“Especially as there is only one job available for every eight people looking.” This is a point Mr Morrison et al should note.

But sticking to its guns, as well as putting its head in the sand, the Government has refused to consider a Newstart increase despite repeated calls from ACOSS, business groups, unions, other politicians, and economists.

Meanwhile, former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce tells us that he has to count every dollar of his parliamentary salary of well over $200,000 and says he understands the struggle of Newstart recipients who skip meals and medication to save money.

More on Mr Joyce’s supposed hard-luck story later, but in the meantime let’s look at the reaction to the ACOSS report from politicians, other than those prone to carelessly producing even more children, of course.

Labor, the Greens, crossbench politicians, and even some Coalition backbenchers have also, and more realistically, called for a rise.

PM Scott Morrison slammed the “unfunded empathy” of the Labor Party on lifting the Newstart rate, even after Barnaby Joyce’s new-found compassion for dole recipients.

And in Parliament, the Prime Minister turned his attack on to Labor’s post-election support for raising the rate of Newstart.

“But what I tell you what I won’t do…when it comes to Newstart I will not engage in the unfunded empathy of the Labor Party” he said. “Our focus has been on helping all Australians get into work.”

He completely fails to accept that, as ACOSS notes, there are eight people vying for every available job, and the living conditions imposed by Newstart make it almost impossible to hunt successfully for work.

Liberal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and arch-conservative Tasmanian back-bencher Eric Abetz both claimed, quite falsely, that Australia could not afford an increase to Newstart.

Now, back to father of six Mr Joyce, who has revealed he’s “counting every dollar” himself despite earning $280,000 a year of basic salary and additional allowances.

His tales of hardship have, thankfully sparked ridicule after revealing he’s doing it tough. Goodness, he even has to turn off his heater at night, look for bargains, and butcher his own meat on his six-figure salary because he’s supporting his current partner Vikki Campion, their two baby sons and his ex-wife Natalie Joyce and their  four daughters.

The former deputy prime minister stressed that his self-induced thrift had made him more aware of the plight of Newstart recipients surviving on $40 a day.

Mr Joyce’s new-found humility may or may not be real, but I’d far sooner see a big dose of genuine compassion and a smaller one of economic common sense.

I don’t think I’ve ever found myself in agreement with One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson, but when she said Mr Joyce’s complaints were a joke, I have to admit that I also laughed sardonically when I first read them.

Thankfully the Greens and Labor joined forces to initiate a Senate inquiry into the adequacy of Newstart, which will report back next year. Unfortunately, that will be far too long a period for those who have already been waiting for years, and of course the chances of the current Parliament agreeing to a significant increase are, let’s face it, zero.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 30 July 2019

An indigenous voice to Parliament can be established

In his National Press Club speech to mark NAIDOC Week, Indigenous Australians minister Ken Wyatt announced his support for a process to co-design a Voice to Parliament, as called for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. His words were cautious, did not over-promise and emphasised the imperative of bringing everyone along in developing a consensus approach to recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution.

As with any political process, a range of views were aired in the following days.

The mainstream political response was predictable. PM Scott Morrison was quick to say that he wouldn’t countenance a third chamber in our national parliament, and arch-conservative Liberal back-bencher MP Craig Kelly said that if the proposal included an idea like a “First Nations voice to Parliament” it would be unacceptable.

Labor’s Pat Dodson said the Uluru Statement needed to be delivered in full, though the ALP itself could only manage to say that it would try and deliver bipartisan support for whatever the outcome of the process begun by Mr Wyatt.

There was, thankfully, no equivocation from the Greens Rachael Siewert, who quickly wrote “We support the call for a First Nations’ Voice to Parliament to be enshrined in the Constitution”.

Let’s look beyond such disparate voices to see if what Mr Wyatt’s Press Club speech called for can be realised.

For some, it seems there is not yet enough detail around the composition and the role of the Voice, but the Uluru Statement itself did not prescribe just how the Voice would look or work, and Wyatt’s speech recognises that there remains work to be done.

It is especially important that this work keeps the faith of the communities that participated in the Uluru Statement. In emphasising the importance of Indigenous communities’ engagement in the process Ken Wyatt highlighted the goal of enhancing “local and regional decision-making through expanding empowered communities and other regional governance models” as a means of realising better outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

Some have suggested that Indigenous Australians are already heard in parliament through Indigenous members, and Barnaby Joyce opined that the solution to boosting Indigenous representation is to give more Senate representation to regional Australia. These kinds of proposals don’t however answer the question of how we can enhance government’s capacity to make a real difference for Indigenous communities, which is the purpose of the Voice.

Others have indeed loudly shouted their belief that a Voice to Parliament will not fix social issues. The PM has also said he wishes to focus on Indigenous health outcomes and education. All these issues certainly need ‘fixing’, but such statements ignore the fact that government has been attempting to “fix” these issues for decades, without success.

In his speech, Wyatt addressed the co-design process independently of constitutional recognition. Indeed, there are two components to establishing the Voice. The first is a referendum to create the institution within the Constitution. The second is the already mentioned co-design process.

Although 70 per cent of Australians support constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, there are of course dissenting views. Constitutional law scholars however, not known for radical inclinations, have confirmed that the change needed to establish the Voice is a conservative one, as it would not be a chamber of parliament in any sense.

One proposed method to introduce the change would be to insert a new section right at the end of the Constitution, section 129, well away from Chapter I, which concerns the parliament.

Instituted this way the Voice need not frighten the conservatives. It would have no power to introduce legislation, or to veto it. It would not affect our parliamentary system. Like other agencies and institutions, it would simply provide a considered opinion. Imagine having such a resource available to legislators and policymakers as they implement laws and policy affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

It would though establish the institution of the Voice in our Constitution, so that a future parliament could not abolish it, and though it would be symbolic, thankfully it would most certainly not be merely so. It would recognise the place of Indigenous Australians within the Australian pollical landscape. It is not a divisive action. Rather, it is inclusive. And put like this it looks so do-able, so let’s do it.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for23 July 2019

The gall of Mr McCormack

Hot on the heels of the ongoing story of raids on journalists by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for simply doing their job of pursuing investigative journalism comes news of another group of professionals being targeted for also just doing their job.

In this case the victims are scientists from the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, who of course also pursue investigative work.

My information for this comes courtesy of the ABC, which has cited emails, obtained under Freedom of Information by the Lock The Gate environment group, showing the Adani coalmining giant demanded the federal government reveal the names of the scientists investigating the groundwater implications of its proposed Carmichael coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

Adani said it had written to the department in January to request “assurance that individuals involved in any review processes were independent”. This is of course a slur on the scientists’ integrity.

This followed “concerning reports at the time that the state environmental regulator had commissioned a review which constituted individuals who had expressed anti-coal, anti-mining sentiments”, Adani said.

Adani’s justification for its request is breathtaking in its audacity, for it read “Adani simply wants to know who is involved in the review to provide it with peace of mind that it is being treated fairly and that the review will not be hijacked by activists with a political, as opposed to scientific, agenda,” Adani told the federal environment department on 25 January.

That was well before scientists from CSIRO and Geoscience Australia reported back to both the Queensland and federal government on their review of Adani’s plans to manage groundwater

Readers will remember that Adani was unable to proceed with building the mine until that plan was approved by both the state and federal governments.

Everyone also no doubt remembers that the plan won federal government ministerial approval on 8th April by Melissa Price, the usually invisible Environment Minister, two days before the 18 May election was called. The Queensland government gave its approval in mid-June.

Adani’s action of requesting the names of the scientists involved has concerned anyone worried that commercial corporations would seek to find the identity of researchers who might find evidence that would put their plans in jeopardy. Clearly the scientists could be at risk of being bullied or otherwise coerced if they did not reach conclusions favourable to the company.

But not so our local MP and Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, for he has  defended Adani after the revelations it tried to get the names of the scientists, fearing they might be anti-coal activists.

The assumption that the scientists might compromise their research integrity is of course a terrible accusation that needs calling out

However, regardless of this ethical slur, last Tuesday Mr McCormack said he could understand the “frustration” of the proponents of the Carmichael mine.

“They were made to jump through more environmental hoops than perhaps any previous project in the nation,” he told ABC’s AM. “And no doubt they wanted to determine … that those arguing against their proposals were not just some quasi anti-development groups or individuals.” Mr McCormack’s gall in making this statement beggars belief.

To give him credit, Mr McCormack said he “appreciated” Adani’s move could be seen as intimidating but defended the company by claiming there were “many, many people under lots and lots of banners saying things and suggesting things about Adani that … weren’t true”.

That’s an assertion that is of questionable veracity, but whether or not it is true, it is quite irrelevant to the issue of research scientists being put at risk of intimidation.

However, when pressed, McCormack did say that the CSIRO was “independent”, adding that he respected its work “and always will”. This sits at odds with his earlier remarks, of course.

CSIRO staff association secretary Sam Popovski told the ABC “We’re very concerned on behalf of our scientists at the CSIRO that a big company would go into looking at the personal lives of our members, including trawling their social media, in order to potentially discredit their work.

“It was clear that Adani seemed to be suggesting bias, or potential bias, way before any of the scientific evidence was actually presented to the department,” he said.

Thankfully the scientists’ names were not handed over, the federal environment department has said.

My Dailky Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 16 July 2019

Tax cuts will be a national disaster

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been pondering the implications of the recent passage of the government’s package of tax cuts through both houses of our national parliament. It is the third tranche, large cuts for very high income earners, that has me concerned, even though it’s not due for a few years.

The outcome of my deliberations is quite frightening for our national well-being, but before I explain how and why let’s look at how our politicians responded to the government’s omnibus bill.

The members of our Liberal/Nationals coalition government naturally enough supported their own package of bills with reckless abandon, rashly promising not just an instant cash splash but also a golden future for all of us.

The ALP was much more circumspect, arguing sensibly and strongly that the second level of cuts should be brought forward to take effect immediately, so as to provide a much-needed stimulus to our faltering economy.

Despite this concern the ALP waved the bills through both houses, but at least the Labor states wrote to the federal Coalition demanding “urgent confirmation that the commonwealth government’s surpluses will not be built on funding cuts to hospitals, schools and infrastructure”.

Cross-bench members were bought off by some rather paltry pork-barrelling, which may or may not eventuate, given the vague wording of the government’s offers.

Only the Greens, accompanied by House of Representatives member Andrew Wilkie, had the fortitude to firmly resist the temptation of the government’s easy money, accusing them of attempting to “bribe” Australian voters, by “giving away cheques like a breakfast TV show trying to increase ratings”, and, of course, of putting at risk future funds for social services including, but not limited to, health and education.

So now let’s look at why and how these tax cuts, especially the third tranche, will be so detrimental to our society. As an Editorial in the Saturday Paper noted, the cuts are “the greatest assault on the safety net from which Australian life is built.”

The problem with these cuts is that the revenue base which provides for our health, education and social welfare is being shredded. Our 46th parliament has destroyed the social compact that keeps this country stable.

The budget states that government spending as a percentage of GDP will decrease from 24.9% in 2018-19 to 23.6% in 2029-30.

The Grattan Institute undertook a separate analysis, which projected GDP growth over the decade and calculated that a 23.6% spending to GDP ratio implies that government spending will be $729bn in 2029-30.

If the current level of 24.9% continued, the government would be spending $769bn. So the shrinkage in the spending to GDP ratio implies the government will need to cut spending by about $40bn a year by 2029-30.

The Grattan Institute has warned that “achieving such a reduction would require significant cuts in spending growth across almost every major spending area, during a period when we know that an ageing population will increase spending pressures, particularly in health and welfare”.

So the government’s assumptions are heroic but totally unsustainable. They show an extraordinary indifference to reality. More than that, they are indifferent to need. People will be worse off under these cuts. They will face greater hardship, have less access to health and to quality education. The people worst affected did not vote for Scott Morrison. Half the country didn’t. The damage done is near irreversible. It is infinitely easier to cut taxes than to raise them. This is a triumph of greed and political cowardice.

The cuts are an expression of the conservative neo-liberal economic theory that puts unregulated capitalism above the social good. It includes the notion of trickle-down economics, which is well known to be a con job, as the benefits do not flow down to the workers. As Leonard Cohen sang, “Everybody knows, the rich get richer and the poor stay poor”. They are a lie through which governments give money to the rich while pretending they are helping the poor.

They also show a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of taxation. You don’t pay tax in exchange for services. You pay tax for a society. Under Morrison we will see the extinction of what was once the ‘commonwealth’ of Australia.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 9 July 2019

We urgently need laws to protect press freedom

After weeks of busy commentary, it looks as though we might be getting some action to protect press freedom, though it will be of little real value.

The Lib/Nats coalition government is establishing a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) to investigate the matter, but unfortunately it will be as useful as putting a fox in charge of the hen house, given that the PJCIS will actually be part of the problem it is meant to address.

We don’t need an inquiry to examine the situation behind the raids, and what needs to be done to fix the problem.

As Rebecca Ananian- Welsh reported in the Guardian Australia, researchers at the University of Queensland, together with Peter Greste, are working to assess how the law could better protect both national security and press freedom.

This is a complex process, but much is already known about how the raids were allowed to happen, and what needs to be done to prevent them being repeated, before the research is published.

The raids on the ABC and News Ltd journalist Annika Smethurst’s residence, and the fact that Australian Taxation Office whistle-blower Richard Boyle is facing a prison sentence of 161 years if found guilty all send a clear message: the Australian Federal Police (AFP) is cracking down on whistle-blowers and investigative journalists.

Unfortunately, they also carry much greater meaning: that we need to roll-back the rapidly expanding scope of federal security powers to better protect the health of our democracy.

Since the 11 September attacks in 2001, Australia has gone from zero national counter-terrorism laws to more laws of this type than anywhere else in the world. This process has been helped by our absence of a national charter of human rights.

Without the impediment of legislated rights or freedoms, our national security laws create expansive lists of criminal offences with uniformly severe penalties and confer vast powers on police and intelligence agencies to search, seize, spy, and even detain.

As each new law was introduced, and there are over 60 of them, the Australian people were assured that these measures were necessary to fight terrorism. The vast powers were recognised to be extreme, but they would only be measures of last resort, we were assured.

But these raids clearly demonstrated that some of these powers can and will be harnessed not as a last resort against potential terrorists, but to track down whistle-blowers and to intimidate those engaged in public interest journalism.

This is important because the media gives us the information we need to vote in an informed way. It keeps government accountable through openness and transparency on frequent basis. Everything from policy to the cost of politicians’ travel we know through the media. In an age of fake news and in the only country where the courts cannot provide protection of our rights, the role of a robust, informed, independent press cannot be overstated.

So, what needs to be done? How do we protect public interest journalism from erosion, whether by targeted police raids or by the fear that stifles the bravery it takes to come forward and call out misconduct?

We should enact a federal charter of rights, as the ACT, Victoria and recently Queensland have done. Freedom of speech and the right to privacy are just two rights protected by these charters that are crucial to journalism and democracy.

With or without a federal charter, the government is in a position to make a clear legislative recognition of the importance of a free and independent press to our democracy, requiring that legislation be interpreted and applied in a way that protects the fourth estate as far as is possible and appropriate.

These steps would help, but more fundamentally the government needs to reassess the breadth of our national security law and the agency powers it creates. Better drafting with the benefit of experience and hindsight would narrow the impact of these laws without losing their national security value, something which of course has been touted ad infinitum by both major parties.

In the course of this overhaul, specific protections for the media will be needed. All journalists, not just those associated with large organisations, deserve protection and legislative definitions should reflect this.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 2 July 2019

We must stem the tide of extinction

Last week ABC TV’s Four Corners aired a damning investigation into Australia’s extinction crisis.

Nearly 2000 plants and animals are at risk, thanks to both specific state and federal government policies, but also their deliberate and disgraceful underfunding of much needed remediation policies. These are sins of both commission and omission.

Some of our most iconic animals, like the koala, Leadbeater’s Possum and the Swift Parrot, are on the verge of sliding into the history books.

Instead of taking urgent action to stop the extinction crisis, the Morrison government is hurtling our native animals closer and closer towards extinction by failing to act on climate change and allowing continued land-clearing and logging of our native forests.

Furthermore, Australia’s extinction rate one of the worst on the planet, for we are host to a staggering number of threatened species.

We have some of the most unique flora and fauna on the planet. In Australia, nearly 50% of our birds, 87% of our mammals and 93% of our flowering plants are unique to us.

But much of it is under threat. Climate breakdown, land clearing and invasive species are wreaking havoc on our natural environment. We’re ranked fourth in the world for plant and animal extinctions, as well as holding the terrible record of being the only developed country listed as a deforestation hotspot.

Globally, the UN tells us there are a million species under threat of extinction. Here we have 511 animals, 1,356 plants and 82 distinct ecological communities listed as nationally threatened, and these numbers are trending in the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, we have a government riddled with climate deniers, intent on sitting on its hands about climate action, while delaying the release of emissions data and wilfully lying about our ability to meet even our meagre Paris commitments.

It has allowed broadscale land clearing to continue, destroying habitat.

And it continues to leave our threatened species floundering, delaying additions to the threatened species list and cutting funding from an environment department already struggling to meet its obligations.

Taking over from the most absent environment minister in our nation’s history, Sussan Ley certainly has her work cut out for her. Her track record as Tony Abbott’s Health Minister and subsequently as a demoted backbencher doesn’t however inspire confidence.

Many Australians however do care deeply about this and are taking actions in their lives and homes to do better. From recycling to water tanks, solar panels, battery storage, planting trees and more, people are taking small actions to improve their environment.

But some problems require political solutions, and if we have the political will they can be solved.

For example, our environment laws need updating. They don’t even account for climate change. For all the talk of Adani’s approvals, drilling in the Bight, and widespread land clearing in Queensland and New South Wales, there is no mechanism in Australian law to consider their climate impacts.

To bring about the needed political changes the Greens have launched several parliamentary actions.

In June last year, the Greens established a Senate inquiry into Australia’s threatened species to help bring the extinction crisis to the forefront of political and public attention, chaired by Senator Janet Rice, Australian Greens spokesperson for Forests and Agriculture.

Furthermore, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the Australian Greens’ environment and water spokesperson, will be introducing a private member’s bill for a ‘climate trigger’

As she explained, “Our environment laws have not kept up with environmental reality. Climate change is at the centre of the threats our environment faces today. While a price on carbon looks unlikely in the near future, with Labor crab-walking away and the Coalition seemingly to abandon any market mechanism, we need something that will limit damage to the climate. This climate trigger would give us a mechanism to assess major developments and approve or reject them based on their emissions.”

If only we had had a ‘climate trigger’ in place during the recent Adani coal mine approvals process!

Senator Hanson-Young is also calling on Minister Ley to, as a bare minimum, commit to the $200m a year environment groups say is necessary to fund our threatened species recovery plans. We must stem the tide of extinction.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 25 June 2019

NSW budget fails to address the important issues

Though the NSW budget handed down last week splashed plenty of cash around despite the state suffering a drop in revenue due to a fall in stamp duty income because of the housing downturn, in my column this week I will focus on how it totally missed the big issues.

But first of all, a comment on how the pork barrelling, or should that be the cargo cult mentality, was at work in expectations of millions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure projects being lavished on the electorate. This always strikes me as a misguided way of looking at state or federal budgets, because if one electorate scores big-time, others will of necessity miss out. I guess those of this mind-set aren’t overly concerned with equally sharing the goodies around.

So the morning after the budget was handed down our local headline news read “Hospitals across the Wagga electorate have emerged as the big winners with millions of dollars in works from the 2019/20 NSW Budget handed down on Tuesday afternoon.” (Daily Advertiser, 19 June 2019)

Never mind that the budget failed to address many of the big issues that actually impact on real people, including climate change, homelessness and domestic violence, though by some urgent back-pedalling this latter issue was belatedly addressed, in a small way.

As Greens MP David Shoebridge pointed out, “The Greens would choose to put wellbeing and sustainability at the heart of our budget. We’d put community and the environment ahead of big business and developers” he went on to say.

However, a follow up to the hospitals story gave me my focus for today’s column, which is education, though I will explore it in a more broadly meaningful way than the DA’s story read, which was that “some of the state’s fastest growing regional suburbs, located north of Wagga, have to receive a dollar figure for a planned new school”.

What caught my attention was the realisation that according to the budget the state’s public schools will need to justify their funding by proving that they are lifting standards.

To ensure that taxpayers are getting value for money Mr Perrottet said that education would be the first government department that will need to have a clear focus on outcomes.

This is clearly putting politics into the classroom and is therefore something that should not go unchallenged.

It beasts me how state public schools that have been underfunded for years and that take the vast majority of disadvantaged children are expected to achieve the outcomes the state government demands. I was also dismayed that education had been chosen as the first cab off the rank for this new form of favouring those who are already favoured.

Which brings me to the other very worrying education aspect of the budget I also  need to focus on today, which is its record expenditure on private schools, a rank betrayal of the Gonski plan.

 

Hidden among admittedly much needed increases in public school funding is a massive increase in private school funding. This is preventing NSW meeting its Gonski funding commitments to public schools.

This budget sees another 7.5% increase in recurrent expenditure to private schools bringing state government spending to $1.4 billion in the 2019/20 budget. Private schools have now received a 15% funding increase from the NSW government in just the last two years.

The NSW Government needs to meet at least 75% of the resource needs of public schools to enable them to meet minimum Gonski standards, but even with increased expenditure they will only meet 71% of this in 2019/20.

“Meanwhile this budget means the NSW government is providing more than 25% of the resource needs of private schools, when its long term commitment is to just 20% under the National Education Agreement” noted David Shoebridge.

Even with the increased funding to public schools in this budget, the NSW government is still billions short in funding for public schools.

It’s an absolute disgrace that while public school students continue to suffer in demountable classrooms and hold outdoor assemblies because they don’t have a hall, that the State government has billions to give to private schools.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 18 June 2019

There is a solution to the high level of gun ownership

A front page story in the Daily Advertiser last week revealed how many guns there are in Wagga Wagga, via figures released by the Greens NSW, obtained through a Freedom of Information application to the NSW Police. It’s a frightening figure, and of course it only refers to legally registered firearms, so the true figure is most likely far higher.

The data shows the number of guns and gun owners in NSW overall and also by postcode. There were 810,023 registered firearms in NSW. Over 100 postcodes have more than 2,000 guns and there are 6 postcodes that contain more than 10,000 guns.

The data also demonstrates the size of the largest 100 private arsenals owned by any one person in NSW, excluding guns owned by firearm dealers and collectors. These 100 people own between 73 and 312 firearms each.

Drilling down to our postcode of 2650 the Greens website detailing private firearms ownership shows that that our city has 10,191 guns and 2121 registered firearm owners.

The Greens think that is too many. I concur, and so too do DA readers, with a survey by Fairfax Media, publishers of the DA, showing 71.43% being of that opinion, whilst only 28.57% find it acceptable.

On 28 April 1996 a gunman killed 35 people and injured a further 23 in the Port Arthur massacre. 20 years on from this tragedy and the historic National Firearms Agreement (NFA) that followed, the data quoted above shows it is time to review the state of our firearms laws.

The 1996 agreement delivered a prohibition on automatic and semi-automatic weapons. For the first time the NFA also made it a universal requirement for people to establish they had a ‘genuine reason” for having a firearms licence and a “good reason” to acquire a firearm.

However there is a serious loophole in these laws that is being exploited by some gun owners so that they can accumulate dozens and dozens, and in some cases hundreds, of guns. Gun owners can endlessly recycle the same “good reason” to get their first gun and then their second gun, their tenth gun and their 300th gun.

This lack of rigour in the law has allowed 100 citizens in NSW to have more than 70 guns each. There are dozens of people in ordinary suburbs and towns who quite literally own private arsenals. The community expects that our firearm laws will put reasonable limits on the number of guns people can own to prevent the build-up of private arsenals in the community.

The NSW permit to acquire a firearm requires a person seeking to acquire a gun to state that “I confirm that the good reason for acquiring this firearm is directly related to the reason for the issue of my firearms licence.”

The main reasons people give for obtaining a firearms licence are that they are a member of a shooting club or the owner of a rural property. Some also rely on their membership of a hunting club. Indeed, these were the very reasons stated by gun owners in the Daily Advertiser last week

The Greens accept that there are people in the community who have a genuine reason to own a gun, and I concur. Farmers on rural properties often require firearms for euthanizing injured stock or controlling wild invasive animals. Target shooting at a registered gun club is also a long-recognised and legitimate sport. Members of a shooting club and farmers may reasonably be able to establish a need for a number of guns to address their different needs.

However it is impossible to see how one citizen can establish a “genuine” or “good reason” to have dozens, or even hundreds of guns.

In the interests of community safety it is time this loophole in the firearms laws was closed, which brings me to a simple solution to this dangerous problem: once any gun owner owns at least 5 guns they have to establish a separate and extraordinary reason for owning each additional gun.

Properly administered this reform would significantly reduce the number of firearms in our community and end the disturbing trend towards people collecting their own private arsenals.