Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

My Daily Advertiser column for today, 17 January 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Time to end alcohol sport advertising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 


					

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

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

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

Final days of my Bethlehem volunteer project

Excellent final days in Bethlehem, including good days with the Palestine Conflict Resolution Centre. I only discovered this place late in my time here, but it seems a very worthwhile project. Within three days I took a trip with them to the Golan Heights to meet other people (Syrians) also occupied and colonised by the Israelis,, attended a Lecture/Discussion on Northern Ireland/Palestine, and a day earlier I  took a children’s drama class.
Also a terrific final day today at the Aida Refugee Centre’s Alrowwad Culture Centre, where I took my final drama class and met the Director. We discussed a playbuilding project for next year I could do based on a series of story posters on Israel’s appalling Apartheid Wall.
I was also chuffed to get heaps of very positive spontaneous feedback from the kids and also from my interpreter/class teacher.
One worrying thing I’ve noticed here is the number of kids playing with realistic looking toy  pistols that fire a little soft dart. This happened today as I was leaving Aida and when I turned round to jokingly reprimand the shooter he rushed over to me and apologised, and shook hands with me! He was all of ten years old.
So all in all a great way to end this volunteer project.

More on my volunteer work in Bethlehem

My drama classes at Aida Refugee Camp are now happening regularly and are going well, and the kids are great. Because of language difficulties, though I have an interpreter with me who has some English and I have a few words of Arabic, I’m focussing on non-verbal drama games.
 
Because I’m here for three weeks I’m also exploring Bethlehem in more detail than previously, finding much of historical and contemporary cultural, social and political interest. After having found on  previous visits to the Church of the Nativity that tourist crowds made it impossible to see anything in any detail at all, this time, having realised on last week’s visit to the Dome of the Rock that going there early (like 7.30 or 8.00 am) meant there were no crowds, I did get there by 8.00 and was rewarded by a very calm and even spiritual experience, though I’m not a believer in the traditional sense of believing the stories in the bible.
I also went to the Milk Grotto,  which was quiet, calm, and quote beautiful. And later I went to King David’s Wells, which are not only still there, but are still in use. My interest though wasn’t in glorifying David, but in learning that he fought the indigenous people, the Phillistines, to gain control of the City. Phillistine gives us the origin of the word Palestine, which I sometimes see/hear as Falesteen.
 
I’m staying in a very small inexpensive bed-sit flat near the Israeli Apartheid Wall close to Rachel’s Tomb, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, but which the Israeli’s have enclosed by the Apartheid Wall. The Camp is next to it too, so it is ever present in my life, a constant reminder of the situation faced by Palestinians, which I lament.

My Bethlehem project continues

I spent the last two days exploring Jerusalem and then had my first day teaching at the Alrowwad Centre at Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, State of Palestine.
The Jerusalem days came courtesy of Green Olive Tours, as the outfit I organised my adventure through, the Green Olive Collective, is an offshoot of it.  I did wonder if I really needed two days exploring that city, as this is my fourth trip here, but in the end I’m very pleased that I did, because we went to areas that were new to me, and though there was some inclusion of Israeli West Jerusalem even those parts were free of Zionist jingoism.  The Extreme Orthodox Jewish area was in fact positively  pro-Palestinian, as they regard the State of Israel and Zionism as abominations, given that they firmly believe that the Temple will not be restored until God’s Messiah arrives!
 The guide was a youngish Jewish guy who had previously worked for an NGO that investigated, reported and exposed the regular and continuing illegal Israeli government demolitions of Palestinian homes. A good guy, and a reminder that not all Israelis are rabid Zionists.
My first class at Alrowwad wasn’t drama, which I’m supposedly here to do, but helping with a visual art class. Fancy finger painting really, but great fun and the kids were delightful.
 
The drama lessons do though start tomorrow, to which I’m really looking forward. I’ll have to focus on non-verbal drama games because the kids only have a few words of English. They can all say “Hello”, “What’s your name?”, and “Where you from?”, but after that their fluency varies enormously. Should be great fun though!
In several ways it is good to be in Bethlehem, for most of the time it is free of obvious Israeli presence, as it is part of Area A, which means full Palestinian state control. Israeli troops can still come, and do so, “because they can”, having overwhelming military might, and the attitude to go with it.
However, because the largely Christian tourism has not fully picked up from its downturn during the Second Intifada, it is not especially prosperous, but the again, what part of Palestine is, and what part can be given Israel’s stranglehold? It is all very depressing, but the resilience of the people amazes me, as does their hospitality and friendliness.

Now in Bethlehem

Now in Bethlehem, I made my first visit to the Alrowwad Culture Centre at the Aida Refugee Camp, where I will be teaching drama. Everyone is very welcoming and I have a stack of drama games, creative drama activities and play building projects, so hopefully it will all go well.
The Centre seems quite well endowed, with a drama room / small theatre, small library / computer room, a multimedia room for TV , film and radio. They even have an online radio station. I think it is largely funded by EU donor nations, plus its own fundraising from supporters.
The camp itself, which was established by the UN in 1950, is a poor place, with apartment blocks cheek by jowl and most in a very bad state of repair, naturally enough, I guess. Looming over it all is the Israeli Separation Wall, built right alongside the camp as Israel built it well over the 1948 Green Line, taking land from Palestine as it did so. More on the wall below.
 
I’ve rented a small low budget flat for the two weeks I’ll be here. Its a bit shabby but clean, and I have a fridge, kettle, free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, a huge double bed and a functional bathroom – and a fabulous view over large swathes of Bethlehem.
 
Its about a 15 walk to the camp, but the dominant feature here in the north of Bethlehem is the Israel Separation Wall, complete with gun towers and observation points. It is everywhere, looming over everything, at least 6 metres high. Built of grey concrete, but enlivened by fabulous graffiti and Banksy type political illustrations. I’ve even found a Banksy Shop, but have yet to find it open.  
A small but telling point: during an early morning (6.30 am) walk I found a traffic jam on the local main road near my flat. Walking along a bit I could see up ahead the flashing lights of ambulances and what looked like police type cars. Back home in Australia it would have indicated an traffic accident, but here it could have been an Israeli military incursion. Though Bethlehem is in Area A, which is supposed to mean 100% Palestinian control, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) moves in at will. A couple of weeks ago, for example, they killed two Palestinians.
One final point. The name of the IDF is pure propaganda, for it is a tool of expansionist aggression, and so has little to do with defence.