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 24 March 2020

Bigots must stop weaponising religious faith

My column this week begins with the cancellation of Wagga’s LGBTIQ Mardi Gras parade, but it leads towards a major issue – levels of discrimination still existing in Australia, and then on to an impending law that will legislate the right to discriminate.

Though the cancellation of the parade was a sad if necessary solution to a major health crisis it reminded me that much more was at stake beyond an excuse to dress up and party.

The campaign for LGBTI rights is by no means over. The plastering of the Wagga CBD with stickers in the week leading up to the parade violently expressing extreme hostility to trans people is an indication of how much further we have to go. Its cruelty was doubly distressingly given that Wagga’s Mardi Gras is organised by Holly Conroy, a very strong and proud trans woman.

The successful attacks on safe school programs and gender free bathrooms are other examples.

I have also become all too aware in recent weeks that the heterosexual community here in Wagga is also suffering from discrimination, for a month-long investigation by The Saturday Paper into abortion access in the city of Wagga Wagga found it is almost impossible for a woman to get an abortion locally – in part due to “ doctors’ fear of professional and personal backlash from the town’s deeply religious community.”

Jan Roberts, who helped found the Wagga Women’s Health Centre 40 years ago, blames not only the town’s strong Catholic community for the lack of reproductive services, but also an influx of doctors from other Christian denominations, for creating “a more conservative medical world here”. Ms Roberts is deservedly the recipient of this year’s Wagga City Council Peace Award.

Neither of Wagga’s two hospitals, nor its private day surgery, provides surgical terminations to women who want one for social, financial or personal reasons. Very few local GPs prescribe the MS-2 Step – two tablets to induce a medical abortion – which can be used up to nine weeks into the pregnancy.

This brought to mind something that could make matters even worse: the federal government’s proposed Religious Freedom Bill.

During the Sydney Mardi Gras parade I proudly marched with the Greens float, where our placards read “Don’t give bigots a licence to discriminate: No Religious Freedom Law”.

A revised bill is due to come before federal parliament soon, but as columnist Van Badham wrote recently in the Guardian Australia “The government of Australia is pushing a so-called religious discrimination bill that has nothing to do with religion. It excludes it and discriminates”. Indeed it does.

The religious discrimination bill will allow schools, employers and the medical profession to discriminate against LGBTIQ people and women. Advocacy organisations have made the point that under the bill’s proposals, hospitals and healthcare providers could abrogate medical responsibility towards LGBTQIA+ patients and simply refuse them healthcare, citing naught but the will of a self-designed god.

“Specifically, they say this could have an impact on transgender people accessing hormone therapies or lesbian couples wanting fertility treatment,” a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald said.

The religious discrimination bill is a Trojan horse that undermines the few gains that have been made. The Human Rights Law Centre called it “the biggest threat to reproductive healthcare access in decades”. Various state laws already enfranchise doctors a right to conscientious objection in regard to abortion, but oblige the doctor to make a referral elsewhere so patient care is not compromised. The new bill will remove this obligation.

Should a doctor cite ‘religious belief’, the existing professional duty to provide referrals or information to women seeking reproductive healthcare services or products, would be undermined. The whole country could easily become like Wagga.

Furthermore, not only do Wagga’s strongly conservative religious doctors not perform abortions, they weaponise their faith to prevent other doctors performing this important aspect of a woman’s reproductive rights. The religious freedom bill will enshrine that weaponisation as law.

And let’s not forget that our state MP, Joe McGirr, voted against the abortion law reform bill in state parliament late last year.

This is bigotry in practice, and it is something we should all be resisting with all our might.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today

Why don’t we treat the climate crisis with the same urgency as coronavirus?

It is a global emergency that has already killed on a mass scale and threatens to send millions more to early graves. As its effects spread, it will destabilise entire economies and overwhelm poorer countries lacking resources and infrastructure.

I’m not referring to the coronavirus pandemic, but to the climate crisis. In 2018, more than 60 million people suffered the consequences of extreme weather and climate change.

Yet our federal government seems oblivious to the greater threat posed by global warming. For the coronavirus pandemic Scotty from Marketing has launched a $2.4 billion health package, and with much ballyhoo $17.6 billion worth of economic stimulus, which thankfully does include a $750 cash handout at a cost of $4.8 billion to welfare recipients. Too little too late, but better than I was expecting.

As the DA editorial noted last Friday, and only referring to the coronavirus and the bushfires, our government’s “responses are worlds apart”.

Referring to the wider issue of climate change, in contrast to the virus, we have seen zilch about mitigating and adapting to the climate crisis, except waffle about vague future technological developments. Scotty from Marketing’s response to the bushfires was to offer some businesses financial support but did nothing to address the underlying cause, the climate crisis.

Though hundreds of thousands have succumbed to coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization, air pollution alone, just one aspect of our existential planetary climate crisis, kills seven million people every year. There have been no COAG meetings for the climate crisis, no sombre prime ministerial statements detailing the emergency action being taken to reassure the public.

In time we’ll overcome the coronavirus pandemic, but with the climate crisis, we are already out of time. All that is left are hopes of adapting to the inevitably disastrous consequences hurrying towards us.

While coronavirus is understandably and justifiably treated as an imminent danger, the climate crisis is still presented by the government and most media as an abstraction whose consequences are decades away.

Perhaps when unprecedented bushfires ravaged large parts of Australia recently there could have been an urgent conversation about how the climate crisis was fueling extreme weather and a plan to mitigate it, yet there wasn’t. Scientific and veterans’ advice was ignored in favour of stories blaming arsonists or the Greens for having a policy against hazard reduction by burning off, when in fact they have a very definite policy in favour.

But imagine that we felt the same sense of emergency about the climate crisis as we do about coronavirus. What action would we take? A judicious response to global heating would provide affordable transport, well-insulated homes, skilled green jobs and clean air.

The Greens have a plan to reach 100% renewable energy by 2030, and to help get there, in this state PowerNSW will run annual competitive tenders to award contracts for the construction of low cost renewable energy projects in NSW, including wind and solar. Naturally, coal mining will cease by 2030.

A fully costed training program to re-skill affected workers would be implemented, along with schemes to place them in comparable jobs of the new industries.

Which leads to a ‘bleeding obvious’ difference between a medical pandemic and climate change – mitigating the latter will create many new enterprises, including thousands of new jobs, with plenty of opportunities for those affected by closing down the old polluting industries. If the government treats it with the same urgency as it has the coronavirus, that is.

There is a key difference between coronavirus and the climate crisis, of course, and it is in timing. “We didn’t know coronavirus was coming,” said the New Economic Foundation’s Alfie Stirling. “We’ve known the climate crisis was on the cards for 30 or 40 years.” And yet the government can swiftly announce an emergency pandemic plan.

Coronavirus poses many challenges and threats, but few opportunities. Urgent action to prevent a pandemic is of course necessary and pressing. But the climate crisis represents a far graver and deadlier existential threat, and yet the same sense of urgency is absent. Coronavirus shows it can be done. It needed determination and will power but when it comes to the future of our planet, these qualities are desperately lacking.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 10 May 2020

We need to move beyond the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

For decades now we are subjected to a regular measurement of Australia’s well-being known the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

As the total financial output of our economy would not benefit those on low or no income, I have often thought that it is a very misleading way of measuring the well-being of the nation. A high GDP would not improve the lot of those on Newstart or the old age pension, and would be of no value to those enduring stagnant wage growth.

And of course, there are many contributors to the well-being of a nation apart from its economy. Social health, for example, though it will be difficult to persuade Scotty from Marketing & Co to agree to such inclusion.

As almost every coronavirus news story tells us of its impact on the stock market and the GDP my mind turned to alternatives to measuring national well-being.

Initially my wondering often took me to the tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan, which instead of the GDP measures its well-being by its Gross National Happiness (GNH). Its four pillars are sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, environmental conservation and good governance.

This led me to researching if the rest of the world was considering identifying alternative pathways to measure the health and wellbeing of the population and, following on from that, establishing ways to ensure the information is used in policymaking.

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, has put forward the idea that government policies should be directed towards the future wellbeing of our societies and even be influenced by values such as kindness, fairness and compassion.

Over the past two decades the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the UN have been committed to measures other than GDP to evaluate the success of governments in enabling effective, equitable and sustainable societies through its millennium and now sustainable development goals.

At the last OECD global forum on ‘Beyond GDP’, more than 100 nations reported progress on developing indices to measure wellbeing, equity and sustainability as well as economic success.

From the 1950s, some economists and policymakers began to question its limitations as the singular measure of a society’s success. GDP gives the same value to sales of goods that are harmful to our health and well-being, such as alcohol, tobacco and guns,  as to sales that are of benefit. It tells us nothing about standard of living, quality of our environment, our houses, our education system, our health or how our children and disabled are cared for.

And while GDP rises it does not show the costs to the environment or to income inequalities that may result from such activities.

Recently Professor Fiona Stanley, an Australian epidemiologist noted for her public health work said “ How good it would be to identify for all subgroups in the population the best pathways to improve health and wellbeing and to ensure that this information is used in high level federal and local policymaking?”

If we took into account the problems facing society today, including environmental degradation, climate change, water scarcity, suicide, poor mental health and many others, and used data to guide us, our situation would be significantly better than today.

Moving to a system of measuring wellbeing is being tested in many countries with OECD guidance and support. Most models are firmly anchored in a process of citizen engagement. Asking our citizens what they value most and what priorities they want governments to focus on to deliver the kind of Australia they want in the future enhances their participation in the democratic process. Countries as diverse as Italy, Canada, New Zealand, Wales, Bhutan, Ecuador, Costa Rica and many others have shown this approach is feasible.

The most successful models are those which are initiated by and embedded in governments though it is unlikely that this will be attractive to the current federal government. In 2003 the Australian treasury’s mission was to “improve the wellbeing of the Australian people” but by 2017 it had changed to “be the preeminent economic adviser to government”. It also stopped funding the ABS Measuring Australia’s Progress which was admired internationally.

It is high time Australia caught up with the rest of the world.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for this week

We need real action to prevent domestic violence

The gruesome murder of Hannah Clarke and her children in Brisbane emphasises the need for real action to once and for all put a stop to domestic violence.

Rowan Baxter’s treatment of his estranged wife was an act of horrific violence which needs to be viewed in the context of one woman a week being murdered by her current or previous partner.

I’ll first look at the reaction of the Queensland police. Though the extent of police interactions with the couple remains unclear, police detective inspector Mark Thompson did say that domestic violence orders had been granted against Baxter.

“I can confirm Queensland police have engaged with both Hannah and her estranged husband in relation to domestic violence issues,” he said. “When it comes to Hannah, we have dealt with her on a number of occasions and worked with the Brisbane Domestic Violence Centre in supporting Hannah throughout her family issues. And we’ve also referred Rowan Baxter to support services as well.”

Police initially suggested their task was to review interactions between the family with an “open mind”, though the Queensland police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, later apologised on behalf of the officer who had said that Baxter “may have been driven too far”, and stood him aside from the investigation. Thompson was in fact blaming the victims, which was apparent when viewing his to the camera television news interviews.

Baxter’s killing of his family followed a pattern of behaviour familiar to domestic violence specialists. It is pattern of two or three acts known as “changing the project”.

“We know from the research, and what we often tell police and service providers is, to look for evidence that the perpetrator is changing the project,” says Claire Ferguson, a forensic criminologist and homicide researcher. “Whereas the project was most likely previously being about regaining control, we’re looking for those instances where the goal isn’t about regaining control anymore, but it changes to be about punishment and revenge.”

The reference to a ‘pattern’ is important because it shows where the situation is heading. Kerry Carrington, an expert on gendered violence from the Queensland University of Technology, said the murder was preventable because Baxter’s pattern of behaviour was predictable. “Had we had the kind of supports in place to protect and support women in that period, and we don’t have it, then a lot more could have been done.”

Molly Dragiewicz, a domestic violence research professor from Griffith University, said that a period of separation heightened the risk of violence. “What happens is once a couple separates, the abuser loses a lot of routine ways of controlling the family they had before, so that contact around children becomes one of the primary avenues for abuse. Somehow that system doesn’t really recognise the intensity of the risk at separation. We know there is an escalation of risk at separation.”

Angela Lynch, the chief executive of the Women’s Legal Service Queensland, said police often framed domestic violence cases as “tit for tat between two parties, rather than an abusive pattern of violence”. She said domestic violence matters were often not dealt with effectively, and that police and the family law system should act to prioritise the safety of those involved, rather than treating incidents as difficult family law matters.

Lynch said “It’s quite clear we must use these tragic circumstances as the catalyst for change.”

The Morrison/McCormack government seems to be asleep at the wheel on this issue, but commendably Labor leader Anthony Albanese renewed calls for a national summit on domestic violence, and criticised the government for plans to abolish the family court.

The Greens have been very active on the issue. They established a Senate Enquiry into Australia’s domestic violence crisis, exposing harsh cuts the Liberal government made to the sector, resulting in some of those cuts being reversed. Last week Greens spokesperson for Women Senator Larissa Waters condemned the Federal Government’s announcement of a pitiful $2.4 million funding for men’s behaviour change programs to address domestic violence as a drop in the ocean, saying it will not stem the tide of violence against women.

What we need is a target of zero acts of domestic violence by 2021 and, borrowing from Scotty for Marketing, a clear road map of how to get there.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 25 February 2020

McCormack rejects climate summit calls for urgent action

A strong call for governments to set short-term zero emissions target to avoid catastrophic warming was dismissed by Michael McCormack last week.

Mr McCormack spoke stridently against the prospect of the government agreeing to a goal of net zero emissions by 2050 when he spoke to ABC TV’s ‘The Insiders’.

Sounding like he’d borrowed from President Trump’s tweets he said, “I think if you go down that path, what you’re going to do is send factories and industries offshore, send manufacturing jobs offshore.”

“That’s not the Australian way. Regional Australia is more than doing its fair share as far as making sure that we have lower emissions.”

When asked if he accepted warnings from the IPCC that the emissions target was needed to limit global warming, McCormack said the “IPCC is not governing Australia”.

This brought to mind the recent Climate Emergency Summit, held in Melbourne, which released a declaration saying the warming world was a clear threat to Australian society and civilisation.

“The climate is already dangerous. The Earth is unacceptably too hot now,” the declaration said.

It warned that even the Paris agreement emissions reduction targets would put the world on a path to 3.5C warming by 2100, and 4C to 5C warming “when long-term climate-system feedbacks were factored in”.

“National security analysts warn that 3C may result in “outright social chaos”, and 4C is considered incompatible with the maintenance of human civilisation.

The declaration called on governments to commit to rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero, to drawing down carbon concentrations already in the atmosphere, and to integrating adaptation and resilience measures into restructured national and global economies.

The declaration said Australia’s political leaders were especially culpable, guilty of short-term political expediency, which had left Australians acutely exposed to the impacts of climate change.

“The first duty of a government is to protect the people, their well-being and livelihoods. Instead, Australian governments have left the community largely unprepared for the disasters now unfolding, and for the extensive changes required to maintain a cohesive society as climate change impacts escalate.”

Australia was the world’s fourth largest carbon polluter, exports included, and one of the countries most exposed to climate change, the declaration said.

“It makes no sense to build our economy on fossil fuel resources, practices and technologies which are unsustainable, particularly when Australia has some of the best clean energy resources and opportunities in the world.”

Back to where I began. Mr McCormack’s strident denialism about the need to combat climate change is in large part due to the need to ward off attacks from the coal loving duo of Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan, who are hovering around for another go at installing the member for New England as the Nationals’ leader.

They champion coal mines and will not stop advocating new coal fired power stations.

Mr Canavan’s replacement as Resources minister, Keith Pitt is not only demanding new coal fired power stations, but wants nuclear fueled ones as well.

But what really irks about all this rhetoric is the rampant hypocrisy involved. They know that there is no future in coal. Investors won‘t invest and insurers won’t insure. So how about a bit of honesty and some real efforts to future proof the lives of those currently dependent on coal? It’s time they stopped conning their constituents.

Rather than looking backwards and digging their heals in, they’d be better following the lead of Greens leader Adam Bandt, who has pointed to a new future in mining for the minerals needed for a carbon free future.

Mr Bandt is also very aware of the concerns of those still working with coal. He said Australia “owes a debt” to the coal workers who “helped power the Australian economy and contributed to our success.

“We have an obligation to see that no one is left behind. Government needs to take the reins and oversee transition so we grow jobs and industry in areas where coal mines and power stations exist at the moment.

“I want a manufacturing renaissance in Australia, for Australia to be an energy superpower and to process the minerals here which we need for a renewable economy” Mr Bandt concluded.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 18 February 2020

ACT leads the way to be carbon free by 2050

The ACT gets its electricity from 100 per cent renewable sources: wind and solar.

This is something all states and territories should emulate. I have also recently learnt that the ACT is planning to tackle other sources of emissions, 22 per cent of which come from the use of gas for heating and cooking, and 60 per cent from transport.

In an effort to reduce its gas usage the ACT government has rescinded the requirement that new developments be connected to gas, and is aiming to have all premises disconnected from gas within 25 years.

Furthermore, it charges no stamp duty on zero-emissions vehicles, and gives a 20 per cent discount on their registration fees. There is a network of electric vehicle charging stations across the territory.

“The ACT should be totally carbon neutral by 2045,” says Dr Will Steffen, an emeritus professor at the Australian National University.

Steffen says the territory will be one of the few jurisdictions in the world to achieve the carbon reductions necessary to avoid runaway global heating.

“The notion promoted by the Morrison government and its media backers that no one else is doing anything much about climate change is a uniquely Australian bubble phenomenon,” Richard Denniss, chief economist with The Australia Institute told the Saturday Paper,

The prime minister once again refused to commit to anything beyond his government’s current emissions reduction target when he spoke recently at the National Press Club. This doesn’t tally with what is happening at state level, for “Every state and territory in Australia now has a net zero emissions target by 2050,” said Denniss, “which effectively means Australia has a net zero target by 2050. So, it’s meaningless, when every state and territory says it has a net zero target, to have a federal government saying, ‘No, we don’t.’

Of course, it is by no means certain that the states will meet their targets. None have detailed how they will be achieved. There are also plenty of coal and gas lovers in their parliaments fighting hard to keep polluting.

Nonetheless there have been some significant examples of progress towards an emissions free future.

Big batteries to store wind and solar generated electricity are being built.  South Australia’s big battery has been so successful in driving down prices, and stabilising the grid, that its capacity is being expanded by 50 per cent. When the battery was first installed in 2017, Scott Morrison, then Treasurer, ridiculed the project, comparing it to tourist attractions such as the Big Banana.

Equally significant was the news that the Australian Energy Regulator had approved a proposal to build a new $1.5 billion, 900-kilometre interconnector between SA and New South Wales.

The SA government described the new infrastructure as the “foundation piece” of its plans to have 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030.

The SA government is also moving to fit 40,000 houses with batteries to further improve the system’s resilience.

No news though on how SA will tackle the other sources of emissions.

There has also been a significant reduction in solar farm approvals lately. Furthermore, Australia’s coal-fired generators are getting old. Should one of the big ones close, said Professor Andrew Stock, of the government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation, “prices will go very high”.

So the greatest risk is not the one cited by Morrison and his colleagues, the intermittency of renewables when the sun doesn’t shine, or the wind doesn’t blow. Rather it is that the old fossil fuel plants are more likely to fail.

It’s a concern recognised not only by the experts but increasingly by the more progressive elements on Morrison’s side of politics, who are pushing for the government to lift its renewable aspirations. To date, Morrison has sided with the climate reactionaries in his party.

As to why the prime minister is so resistant to transition to renewables, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it’s linked to Australia’s dependence on fossil fuel exports.

Harder to understand is the National Party’s love affair with coal. Some of its federal MPs are pushing for more coal fired power stations. The only answer seems to be that some mines are located in Nationals’ voting electorates. Perhaps the tail is wagging the dog.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 11 February 2020

Gas deal will take us into new dark age

Last week came news that Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian had announced a $2 billion energy deal to add another 70 petajoules of gas per year into the national electricity grid.

The PM claimed this would simultaneously bring down energy prices and reduce our carbon emissions. This struck me as an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Gas is a fossil fuel so how can it reduce our carbon emissions, I asked myself?

I’d also like to ask Michael McCormack, who reiterated the same nonsense in his victory speeches after winning the Nationals leadership ballot.

Most of the mainstream media treated this as the greatest thing since sliced bread, but I could not help but be suspicious, for surely adding to our carbon emissions would increase our contribution to global warming and climate change.

I soon found the evidence I was looking for. As the DA reported, pushing for more gas production will see Australia enter a new “dark age” by shunning scientific advice to lower emissions, Bruce Robertson from the Institute of Energy Economics and Finance Analysis warned.

He pointed out the ‘bleeding obvious’, which had been staring me in the face since I first heard the news. The deal won’t do what the government is promising, which is to simultaneously reduce prices and emissions. “Producing more polluting fuels does not lower emissions,” Mr Robertson said.

Once again Scotty from Marketing is rejecting scientific advice.

“We’re seeing that with climate policy and we’re seeing that with gas policy – we’re seeing evidence thrown out the window,” Mr Robertson said.

This appalling con job gets even worse, for the gas will come from fracking, as the  project hinges on final approvals for Santos’ Narrabri gas project. Options in Port Kembla and Newcastle are also up the state government’s sleeve.

Fracking extracts gas in a water-intensive process which results in excess salt, risking contamination to both land and other water.

Greens MP and Energy Spokesperson David Shoebridge said, “The plan between the Federal and NSW Liberal Government to prop up the failing gas industry will increase the use of unsustainable Coal Seam Gas up to 60% at a time when major industry players have been working on exit plans and the community is demanding real climate action.”
Mr Morrison claimed some of the money would go towards coal innovation to see how power generation and mining can emit less pollution. He’ll be talking about the discredited notion of carbon capture and storage next.

Worryingly, the federal government plans to make similar deals with other states. Apparently this is in lieu of developing a national energy plan. It reminds me of Scotty digging his heels in by insisting bushfire management was purely a state matter at the height of the recent bushfire crisis.

It comes as new Clean Energy Council analysis shows investment in large-scale renewable energy projects has significantly slowed.

Investments plummeted from 51 projects worth $10.7 billion in 2018 down to 28 projects worth $4.5 billion last year.

This is a dangerous plan which will only make matters worse. We are in the middle of a terrible summer of fires, drought and smoke and this is when the Coalition, State and Federal, commits to more coal and gas projects. This is a reckless and illegitimate plan that will make the climate crisis worse.

It’s 2020. We don’t need to be extracting more gas to ‘transition’ to renewable energy, we need to be building solar, wind and renewable storage now.

The plan is typical of Scotty from Marketing, for he is pretending to take action on climate change while committing to more coal, more gas, and worsening the climate crisis.

“We need a transition to 100 percent publicly owned renewable energy now and with it create thousands of highly skilled and well paid green jobs,” Mr Shoebridge said.

Abigail Boyd, Greens MP and Mining Spokesperson said, “The last thing the country needs right now is for Morrison to be advancing the interests of the fossil fuel giants ahead of the community’s needs.”

Pushing the lie that gas is a necessary transition fuel, or that more gas will reduce energy prices, while reducing carbon emissions is more than an oxymoron, it is grossly irresponsible.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today, 4 February 2020

Can climate change deniers really love Australia?

Last week’s Australia Day celebrations set me thinking and provoked this week’s column.

This year it won’t be my usual call to change the date, which of course we should do, but instead a musing on the conundrum posed by those who profess to love Australia but refuse to acknowledge the reality of climate change.

Because as sure as apples are apples, climate change will destroy much of what we love about this country.

It also brought to mind Dorothea Mackellar’s poem ‘My Country’. Not just because I do indeed love a “sunburnt country”, but rather because I am heartily sick of hearing climate change-denying politicians recite it as though it is evidence that climate change has not occurred.

Because here’s one thing I do know: when she published that poem in 1908, the average annual temperature in Australia was about 2c lower than it is now.

Those conservatives who recite that “sunburnt country” ignore that climate change is going to wreak havoc with everything we love, such as the tenuous balance of droughts and flooding rains, the ability of agriculture to exist on “thirsty paddocks”, our rivers, our wildlife where “orchids deck the treetops”, even the crisp air and “pitiless blue sky”. All this will change.

This summer has shown how precarious our Australian environment is. The bushfires that have not stopped since September; the mix of fires, smoke and of course, dust. We are a nation on the extremities, where climate change will affect and strip away what we love much sooner than will occur in Europe and North America.

As the Guardian Australia observed, no self-respecting Australian can be anything but angry to read stories of over a billion native animals killed in the fires. Our wildlife is so exceptional and precious that the upset that comes from climate change will render some habitats unliveable and the species that live there extinct.

Conservative politicians and those who vote for them love to talk up Australia “punching above its weight” on things such as sport or business or war, but they turn to self-hating cowards when it comes to climate change.

They love to remind us that Australia “only” accounts for around 1.3% of emissions. They forget to add that per capita we are the highest ranking producer of carbon emissions.

Given the fragility of our ecosystem, any political leaders who profess to love Australia should be acting on climate change as a matter of extreme urgency.

We should do this even if it is out of purely selfish reasons of loving our country and wanting it to remain in the same state that has caused that love.

However, this year’s Australia Day was characterised by something else that set it apart from business as usual.

For this time the eyes of the world were on us. A headline in the New York Times, “Australia shows the way to hell” questioned whether our economy was as fragile as the landscape we routinely exploit.

I’m not only referring to tourism, which even ‘Scotty from marketing’ has realised could be in big trouble. Apart from Mr Morrison’s $76 million to help that industry the continuing fires have brought little action about our future sustainability from the government, except of course the same old anti-green and pro-coal propaganda.

But this summer from hell has brought the realisation that we are at a crossroads and that a choice needs to be made. We can go on pretending that exploitation is a sustainable way of life. We can pursue this culture of denial, where truths about nature, climate, women, sexuality and gender identity, and Indigenous peoples are held in contempt.

Or we can wise up to the fact that white Australia has always relied on easy exploitation. From the moment the British arrived, we’ve been kidding ourselves that arrogance and theft add up to a lifestyle with a future. We dig stuff up and flog it, no value added, no questions asked. Though some wise farmers are practising regenerative farming most grow food in the most destructive possible manner – clear-felling, monoculturing, irrigating and overgrazing; destroying soil, desertifying land and belching carbon.

This summer has shown how precarious our entire way of life is. We need to seriously address climate change and these exploitative issues if we are to have any sort of future to celebrate.

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.