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 Tuesday 27 July 2020

Penalties for dodgy recycling not enough

As I hope we are all good recyclers it is disappointing that the Coalition federal government sets such a bad example.

I’m referring to new recycling exports legislation, coming into effect next January.

In what at first appears to be good news, recycling will be subject to sweeping national powers in an imminent federal law that threatens companies with levies, product recalls and other penalties if they breach targets to reduce waste.

The draft law imposes criminal penalties including jail terms for those who defy the Morrison government’s bid to halt waste exports in a staged plan that starts within six months.

However, as Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said, though the government had “finally” chosen to act it really should back the tougher measures in a Greens bill already before Parliament.

And of course, as ever with this environmentally lacklustre government, compliance is voluntary, not mandatory.

The controls are a response to a policy shift in China to turn away shipments of our waste product.

The government has opened talks with industry to back the bill so it can be put to Parliament in the first week of August, but the Greens are attacking the plan for doing too little to stop waste exports.

The draft bill, seen by The Sydney Morning Herald, is the first commonwealth power to control recycling and is being watched closely by companies that will have to submit to new licenses, duties and fees.

“A person may be subject to a criminal offence and civil penalty if export operations that are covered by the suspension are carried out after the suspension took effect,” says a confidential guide to the draft bill.

The jail terms could be for up to three or five years, depending on the provision breached.

As well as imposing export bans, the Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill will update “product stewardship” rules that expand existing rules to recycle products such as televisions and computers.

But a fight is looming in Parliament when the bill is introduced, with the Greens arguing for mandatory recycling targets and stronger powers to force companies to take responsibility for their products and packaging.

Labor recycling spokesman Josh Wilson has accused the government of “repackaging” money from previous measures in its $167 million Recycling Investment Package in March, suggesting more spending is needed.

“The government has a valuable opportunity to do right by our oceans and our environment in putting forward strong legislation that will properly tackle Australia’s waste crisis. The Greens will make sure they do,” Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.

Sadly, but predictably, the Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction, Trevor Evans, said Australians would not accept the intervention being sought by the Greens.

“This is the first time a federal government has stepped so heavily into the waste and recycling sectors,” Mr Evans said.

“Some alternative proposals rely on an ethos of heavy intervention and regulation which, to be frank, Australian businesses and households just won’t bear in the current circumstances.”

Also, and disappointingly the government does not support the Greens’ call for a national container deposit scheme, arguing states are doing this already, and does not want to impose a national ban on plastic bags.

While environmental groups want a mandatory ban on plastic micro-beads used as thickener in cosmetics, the government argues a voluntary code is enough because 94 per cent of products no longer use the beads.

Mr Evans and Environment Minister Sussan Ley announced a $20 million Product Stewardship Investment Fund last week to pay for schemes that return old products.

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council said the export bans appeared “straightforward” and should include strict measures to prevent illegal operators trying to by-pass the controls,” said the council’s chief executive, Rose Read.

However, “The unknowns are still what are the costs for the industry in complying, but the intent is that this will be kept to a minimum,” she added

Consumers can use existing schemes such as “Mobile Muster” to recycle mobile phones but Ms Read said the government had to make sure this was extended to all products with electrical cords and batteries.

She backed the Greens’ call for mandatory rather than voluntary schemes.

“That will give us more confidence that companies would hit their targets,” she said.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 21 July 2020

The Queen did intervene in the dismissal

Last week the hitherto embargoed correspondence between then Governor-General John Kerr and Buckingham Palace were finally released. In the words of political historian and Whitlam biographer Jenny Hocking “The Palace letters are every bit the bombshell they promised to be” (SMH/The Age).

Given that much of the mainstream media, such as the ABC and The Australian vigorously downplayed any suggestion of collusion between Yarralumla and the Palace it is important to take a close look at the correspondence, for other commentators have seen that, as Cikey.com noted “Yes, the Queen did have a hand in the Dismissal. If you can’t see the palace played politics you’re fooling yourself”.

The letters begin with Kerr’s appointment after the 1974 election, starting with trivial issues such as asking the Queen’s Private Secretary, Baron Martin Charteris, whether the curtsy should still be employed.

But by autumn he had turned to the emerging political crisis. The Liberal government of New South Wales and the Nationals government of Queensland broke convention by appointing replacements for departing Labor senators not from Labor, thus giving the Coalition a Senate majority.

Federal Opposition leader Billy Snedden, seen as ineffectual, was replaced by Malcolm Fraser, who makes clear he will not be bound by the convention that the Senate does not block money bills. He publicly argued that an extreme and reprehensible circumstance could justify a denial of supply, forcing an election.

He gets it when it’s revealed that Whitlam’s resources minister Rex Connor has misled parliament by using a shadowy agent Tirath Khemlani to find a huge billion dollar loan from oil rich states, which was initially denied in Parliament. By mid-October Australia was in political crisis.

Kerr then began a process of reporting and thinking out loud to Charteris.

On October 17, 1975, Kerr tells the palace “the crisis has broken”, with the misleading of parliament now out in the open. On October 20 he notes that Whitlam has said that he would never give way to the Senate.

He also muses on the possibility that the G-G could use the governor-general’s “reserve powers”, i.e. to act without prime ministerial advice.

Let’s follow this through, for it’s the crux of the matter. By convention, the reserve powers had been supposed to no longer hold. A governor-general was meant to do exactly as a prime minister advised. But in that week the shadow attorney-general Bob Ellicott had issued a paper claiming that the reserve powers still existed in full force.

Then a suspicion by Kerr that Whitlam would ask the Queen to dismiss him came into play.

Kerr was thus left in no doubt that Whitlam would use the direct route to the palace if he had to. The letters show that Kerr is seriously worried he may lose his plum job. But, given that in the 70s Australia still had a powerful left-wing movement with elected communists holding office he was also worried that things were about to get out of control.

In the final week it became really complicated, far too much for the word limit on this article to recount. So to cut to the chase, Charteris wrote to Kerr saying that “It is often argued that such reserve powers no longer exist. I do not believe this to be true. I think those powers do exist”.

This is clearly a political intervention by the Crown in Australian politics. There is no other way to see it. Charteris had the option of saying to Kerr: “It is for your judgement alone, and Her Majesty has complete confidence in you etc.” But he didn’t. He affirmed that the highly contentious idea that reserve powers are still active.

This advice is, as Guy Rundle wrote, the “smoking gun” of the Palace Letters”.

The Whitlam dismissal showed that the monarchy, through the ‘reserve powers’ of the G-G still has a dominant role in what we thought was an independent sovereign state.

The letters show that the old argument against us becoming a republic, i.e. that “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” doesn’t apply, as our system of government certainly is broken.

As the Greens commented after reading the letters, it is high time for Australia to become a republic.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 14 July 2020

Save theatre courses at CSU

Today my column will be devoted to a very specific local issue, the need to preserve the creative industry courses, specifically the theatre ones, at Charles Sturt University’s Wagga Wagga campus.

The column is word for word also a letter I have just written to CSU’s Acting Vice-Chancellor and its Council members, and so takes the form of an ‘Open Letter’.

I am referring to media stories reporting the closure of the Bachelor of Creative Industries (Acting and Performance Design) at CSU’s Wagga Wagga campus, and their reported relocation to the Bathurst campus. The Daily Advertiser has been most diligent in its reporting of this issue.

In arguing so I will acknowledge a personal concern, though it does not in any way form a conflict of interest, as I have had no involvement with CSU since my retirement fourteen years ago. Prior to that I was a Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Course Coordinator for three decades. For several years before my retirement I was also Course Coordinator of the School of Visual and Performing Arts post-graduate programs.

The Wagga Wagga campus has been home to very successful theatre and creative industry courses since the establishment of its predecessor, the Riverina College of Advanced Education. Drama was initially taught as service subjects before becoming a discrete degree level course. For many years separate Bachelor of Arts courses were offered in Acting for Screen and Stage, and also in Theatre Production and Design. Honours years were subsequently added.

Wagga Wagga is ideally suited as a home for the Bachelor of Creative Industries (Acting and Performance Design) because of its more than a century old history of hosting performing arts companies, making for a hospitable, congenial and productive environment. The School of Arts was formed in 1859, and continues to provide high standard theatre today. The Civic Theatre opened in 1963. The Riverina Theatre Company, nee Riverina Trucking Company, the state’s longest running regional professional theatre company, was formed in 1976.

The CSU’s (Riverina) Playhouse, recently refurbished by the university at a reported cost of $3.5 million, opened in 1986. The Playhouse’s prime central city location on its own makes a compelling reason for retaining these courses at the Wagga Wagga campus. The university’s own publications note that the Playhouse is a “vital part of the Wagga Wagga creative community and a vital teaching resource for the University.” It beggars belief that the university would squander such a vital resource and community connection by relocating the courses to Bathurst.

Wagga Wagga is also home to a splendid civic Art Gallery and a flourishing visual arts community. The Wagga campus is also the location of the Booranga Writers’ Centre, established in 1994. It serves local, national and international communities through Writers-in-Residences and the publication of its annual anthology fourW. All these institutions have strong links with the Wagga campus’ creative industry courses.

In short, Wagga Wagga’s long history as a community that gives such prominence to the creative arts make it a much more appropriate location for the Bachelor of Creative Industries (Acting and Performance Design) than Bathurst.

Media reports have advised us that CSU’s Wagga Wagga campus will henceforth be devoted to agricultural courses. This is a retrograde move that reverts it to the role of one of the two founding institutions of Riverina Collage of Advanced Education, namely the Wagga Wagga Agricultural College. As CSU consists of several regional campuses there is no logic behind making the Wagga Wagga one the exclusive home of agriculture.

Furthermore, in the case of the Wagga Wagga’s rich cultural history demonstrates, it needs to be pointed out that ‘regional’ does not equate solely with agriculture.

A campus devoted solely to agriculture would be a very barren institution, with none of the myriad interests and activities that make university campuses such vibrant places to pursue a university level education.

Though I cannot agree with the federal government’s claim that the purpose of universities is to ‘train’ job ready graduates, it needs to be pointed out that graduates of the theatre courses at the Wagga Wagga campus of CSU have very successful careers, locally, nationally and internationally in their chosen field.

In a similar vein of thought, it almost seems that a focus on job ready candidates falls into the same category as current federal government’s anti-intellectual/arts approach, as demonstrated by its recent course funding announcement.

In conclusion I must reiterate that the abandonment of the Bachelor of Creative Industries (Acting and Performance Design) at the Wagga Wagga campus of Charles Sturt University should not proceed. It is hardly an economically, pedagogically, or culturally appropriate step.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 7 July 2020

We only have six months to avert climate crisis, but there are solutions

Though our attention has been appropriately focused on COVID-19, the climate change problem has not gone away.

Indeed, the world has six months to avert a climate crisis, said the International Energy Agency (IEA) chief, who warned of the need to prevent post-lockdown surge in emissions. That’s the bad news of today’s column, though there is some good news towards the end of today’s piece, if the Morrison/McCormack government wakes up and takes notice, that is.

“This year is the last time we have, if we are not to see a carbon rebound,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA.

Governments are planning to spend $9tn (£7.2tn) globally in the next few months on rescuing their economies from the coronavirus crisis, the IEA has calculated. The stimulus packages created this year will determine the shape of the global economy for the next three years, according to Birol, and within that time emissions must start to fall sharply and permanently, or climate targets will be out of reach.

“The next three years will determine the course of the next 30 years and beyond,” Birol told the Guardian. “If we do not take action we will surely see a rebound in emissions. If emissions rebound, it is very difficult to see how they will be brought down in future. This is why we are urging governments to have sustainable recovery packages.”

Carbon dioxide emissions plunged by a global average of 17% in April, compared with last year, but have since surged again to within about 5% of last year’s levels.

In its report, the IEA set out the first global blueprint for a green recovery, focusing on reforms to energy generation and consumption. Wind and solar power should be a top focus, the report advised, alongside energy efficiency improvements to buildings and industries, and the modernisation of electricity grids.

Sam Fankhauser, executive director of the Grantham Research Institute on climate change at the London School of Economics, warned that governments must not try to “preserve existing jobs in formaldehyde” through furlough schemes and other efforts to keep people in employment, but provide retraining and other opportunities for people to “move into the jobs of the future”.

Indeed, the money spent world-wide so far has tended to prop up the high carbon economy. At least $33bn has been directed towards airlines, with few or no green strings attached, according to the campaigning group Transport and Environment. According to analyst company Bloomberg New Energy Finance, more than half a trillion dollars worldwide,$509bn, is to be poured into high-carbon industries, with no conditions to ensure they reduce their carbon output.

Birol warned that IEA research shows that by the end of May the amount invested in coal-fired power plants in Asia had accelerated compared with last year. “There are already signs of a rebound in emissions,” he said.

Putting the IEA’s recommendations into action would boost the economy, added Rosie Rogers, head of green recovery at Greenpeace UK. “Government putting money behind sustainable solutions really is an economic no-brainer. It can see us build a recovery that both tackles the climate emergency and improves people’s lives through cleaner air and lower bills.”

Here in Australia the good news is that hundreds of thousands of jobs could be created by hurrying the shift to zero greenhouse gas emissions, a study backed by business and investment leaders has found.

Though the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates 835,000 jobs have been lost since the coronavirus pandemic shutdown began in March a report by Beyond Zero Emissions, an energy and climate change thinktank, says practical projects to decarbonise the economy could create 1.78m “job years” over the next five years – on average, 355,000 people in work each year – while modernising Australian industry.

Called the “million jobs plan”, it says further stimulus measures needed to fight the Covid-19 recession are “a unique opportunity to lay the foundations for a globally competitive Australian economy fit for 21st century challenges”.

If the Liberal/Nationals coalition government we are currently saddled with could stir itself to action we could act immediately against climate change and create hundreds of thousands of new ‘green’ jobs at the same time.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 30 June 2020

We need more arts graduates, not less

If the Morrison government expected its plan to alter university fees to favour the STEM courses to be greeted with universal approval it has sadly miscalculated. From far and wide has come strong disapproval of this half-baked scheme.

In fact we need more critical thinkers, not less. Humanities subjects deal with the enduring stuff of life and the culture that enriches us through economic ups and downs. Does our government really want to line up with the types of governments who don’t value history?

The answer to that question is that though Scotty from Marketing might pretend otherwise, the truth is that indeed the government doesn’t value the truth of history. Its support of a whitewashed and anti-worker version clearly demonstrates this.

From Humanities subjects come those best equipped to take a critical look at what the Liberal/Nationals coalition is up to. Those best able to pursue investigative journalism, for example, people we sorely need. Investigative journalists are not of course in favour with those currently forming our government.

A population with a wide cross-section educated in the Humanities would also of course be less gullible, less likely to accept the spin foisted on them by governments such as the sorry one currently in power.

This is not in any way meant to argue against the importance of STEM courses at university level. If we had more of the population with a good understanding of science, for example, we could put enough pressure on the government to convince it of the science of climate change, and so take action.

Now to the detail. Last week Education minister Dan Tehan announced changes that will favour maths, teaching and nursing units over humanities, commerce and law.

The Coalition will double university fees for some future arts students, and also raise them for commerce and law, to fund an expansion of 39,000 places and cheaper degrees for those who study in-demand courses such as teaching, nursing, maths, science and engineering.

The new fees are apparently designed to create more “job-ready graduates”.

Tehan says the student contribution for law and commerce units will increase by 28% and for the humanities by 113%.

The student contribution for a three-year humanities degree would jump from up to $20,400 to $43,500; while law and commerce degrees could increase from $34,000 to $43,500.

The small print of the announcement told us that the new policy effectively reduces the overall government contribution to degrees from 58% to 52%, with student contributions lifting from 42% to 48%. So as well as being an attack on the latte sipping inner city intelligentsia that the Lib/Nats love to denigrate so much, its also a move to further privatise our education system by making the user pay (even more).

Thankfully Australian authors and academics have savaged the Morrison government’s plan.

Award-winning author Richard Flanagan, who studied history at university, said he was tired of defending what other countries regard as the “bedrock” of culture and democracy. ” The government will save a few dollars today and Australia will pay a heavy price in the years to come.”

Clare Wright, a professor of history at La Trobe University and the author of books including The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, said the changes appeared to be “ideological, opportunistic and punitive”.

“The proposals threaten to turn the study of history, politics, anthropology and philosophy into a vanity practice,” Professor Wright said, “An indulgence of the elite rather than promoting the value of liberal arts training as the basis for any professional or creative practice.

Two-time Miles Franklin Award-winning writer Michelle de Kretser said “Australian historians are still doing marvellous work at uncovering uncomfortable truths about Australia’s past.

So there we have it. A university education looking more and more like the TAFE system the Lib/Nats have done so much to destroy. One that is now reduced to serving the needs of the big end of town.

But rather than equitably fund the humanities, we should be biting the bullet and make university education free. “Degrees should cost students zero dollars,” Greens spokesperson for Education, Senator Mehreen Faruqi, said in response to the “government’s pathetic uni fee hikes”. Well said, Senator Faruqi.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 23 June 2020

Let’s not deny the truth of history

As a follow up to my column last week, today I’ll focus on issues of white statues, slavery in Australia, and racism in place names, film and television.

These are controversial topics because many continue to deny the truth of history. That’s because, as Winston Churchill noted when he appropriated an anonymous expression, “History is written by the victors”. Or as Wagga Wagga City councillor Vanessa Keenan aptly commented in the Daily Advertiser, “History is often only told through the voices of privilege and white, powerful men”.

It is high time we listened to others, and acknowledged the true facts of the past.

Which brings me to the first point: statues. The toppling of statues overseas has quite rightly again raised the issue of who we celebrate here in our statuary.

The statue of Captain Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park is the usual example cited when this is discussed. Though he is a significant explorer I’d like to focus on the broader issue of how we acknowledge our past. Written history is not as problematic as statues, for the myths promulgated by white supremacist historians can later be debunked by the less biased ones. The Australian ‘Frontier Wars’ are a good example, for in the early 1980s Henry Reynold corrected the record.

Another myth that needed correcting was the one that our First Peoples were nomadic hunter gatherers. Aboriginal historian Bruce Pascoe has shattered that myth in his ground-breaking work, Dark Emu, which presented irrefutable evidence of permanent agriculture and large settled communities.

So what to make of the statues of ‘privileged white powerful men’? There are several things that could be done, apart from removing them of course, which is one option. More palatable to those who like their history whitewashed would be to add plaques correcting the history.

Another option would be to add other sculptures that corrected the story. In Sydney that could be to add a sculpture honouring Aboriginal resistance to white invasion, such as a statue of Indigenous warrior Pemulwuy. Or we could simply put the current statues in museums.

Now to slavery. The Prime Minister tried to use all his ‘Scotty from Marketing’ skills to work his way out of his statement that slavery had never existed in Australia, but failed, for any true understanding of our past knows that slavery did exist, in the widely practiced form of First Nations peoples being forced to work for only rations, and of course the infamous practice of ‘Blackbirding’.

I was pleased to see the issue of local place names raised in the Daily Advertiser, noting that Wiradjuri man Mark Saddler said that Captain Cook Drive on top of Willans Hill was one name he would like to see changed.

The road was named Captain Cook Drive in 1970 “to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the discovery and exploration of the east coast of Australia”, as its plaque states.

I support Wiradjuri man and Wagga Black Lives Matter organiser Joe Williams, who said Captain Cook Drive should be renamed “after an Aboriginal resistance warrior”.

So on this topic it was pleasing to read in the Daily Advertiser last week that Greens MP Abigail Boyd has been able to prevent local NSW Legislative Council Nationals MP Wes Fang putting a street names motion to the upper house that “the history of our nation should be retained and acknowledged as a guiding light for future generations”. What disingenuous nonsense, Mr Fang.

Finally, but briefly, the equally vexed question of film and television. HBO was right to temporarily removed Gone with the Wind pending the addition of some contextual information that would point out that its depiction of slaves being happy in their servitude was a sign of its times. I couldn’t agree more, for young people new to it might think its racism was approved of these days.

The issue of blackface, such as used by Australian comic performer Chris Lilley is more complex, but surely it is time to acknowledge that blackface is deeply offensive to people of colour. In this day and age it should never be used, just as statues of privileged white men should not be left to stand unexplained and uncorrected.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 16 June 2020

432 victims are 432 too many

I felt privileged to have taken part in the Black Lives Matter march in Wagga on Saturday 6 June, and to write this column about the issue, for silence on such a topic would mean complicity. Like countless others, I do not wish to be complicit with such an appalling situation.

The march observed COVID-19 safety precautions. We wore masks, many were in family groups, and individuals practiced social distancing.

As the march was taking place came news that Police Minister David Elliot was planning to introduce new legislation giving the government powers to ban such demonstrations

“Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to address injustice, Minister Elliot is shamefully seeing it as an opportunity to increase police powers and crack down on
protest,” said David Shoebridge, a Greens NSW MP and the party’s Justice Spokesperson.

We must resist this move as at the same time we work to end the centuries of oppression we have meted out to our First Nations peoples, of which the most recent manifestation has been the 432 deaths in custody since the Royal Commission reported way back in 1993.

Its recommendations have not been acted on, hence the dreadful death rate.

The Australian marches came in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in the US. They were a call by tens of thousands of us that Australia must no longer ignore our brutal legacy of police violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

In the USA the pressure has led to some action: four police officers have since been charged; the officer directly responsible has had his charges upgraded to second-degree murder; and tentative moves are also being made to change the culture and policies of policing.

We are not seeing this in Australia. When Aboriginal people die in custody, there is a national silence.

But it is not for lack of protest, or because there is no black resistance in this country.

But when families held rallies in capital cities, they were not usually well attended. The names of those lost are not repeated over and over so as to become ingrained in the national consciousness. And just as their names disappear in coronial reports, so do their stories.

They are seen by white Australia as “bodies” that are not worthy of grieving, even as their families and Aboriginal people across the country continue to grieve for them.

Indeed, while Australians acknowledged with outrage black deaths overseas we have remained apathetic to the truly appalling situation here.

Yet if we saw the same kind of uproar here as in the US for every black death in custody, for every recommendation from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody that was not fulfilled, for every report that was ignored, would we have so many families still in mourning, still crying out for justice?

Though Prime Minister Scotty from Marketing denied any similarity between our situation and that in the US, the recent marches here have been a welcome acknowledgement, largely forced by Aboriginal people, that any form of solidarity must begin at home.

There is a brutality evident in the statistics that show black jailing rates in parts of Australia are the highest in the world, and they have continued to grow.

This isn’t news to Aboriginal people, and it shouldn’t be news to the rest of the country, wrote the Saturday Paper.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 27 per cent of the national prison population, while only making up 3 per cent of Australia’s population.

While the focus has often been on Aboriginal men, Australia has been locking up Aboriginal women, most of them mothers, most of them victims of violence, at rates that beggar belief.

Nearly three decades after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its report, successive Australian governments have made no attempt to address its recommendations. With law-and-order policies electorally popular, they have only made things worse.

The black deaths have not slowed.

There is a reason the violence inflicted on black bodies in this country is not seen a ‘shocking’. This is because it is ‘normalised’ violence, the violence we have become accustomed to seeing, with deep roots stretching back for over 200 years.

It is high time to right this wrong.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 9 June 2020

Government must restore ABC funding

Recent weeks have seen the closure of many media outlets, many of them local, but in reality none compares with the slow death meted out to the ABC by the Liberal/Nationals coalition government.

In contrast to this recent closure of many local newspapers, the ABC is a public media outlet. We own it, not the government, though unfortunately it controls the funding.

And in its post Covid-19 recovery plans the government must restore the stolen funding.

It sounds like a marketing slogan, almost a cliché, but in times of national crisis, Australians turn to the ABC. But over the past six months or so, it has proved profoundly true.

First came the bushfire crisis, when the ABC’s network of regional reporters distinguished themselves not just in reporting the disaster as it unfolded, but also warning those in harm’s way. No doubt this saved countless lives.

Then came the current coronavirus crisis.

In these dark times is that the ABC has stood out. The Nielsen Digital Content Ratings, which measure online interaction, showed that in December last year, on the back of its bushfire coverage, the ABC surged into second place with an audience of more than 10 million, passing mainstream commercial media.

By January, the ABC was No. 1 in the country, with an audience of 11.2 million, well ahead of the Murdoch news site. The most recent figures, for March, showed its audience up to 15.2 million, a 53 per cent gain in a single month, and almost three million ahead of its closest rival.

In one sense, this is unsurprising. Innumerable surveys over the decades have shown the ABC to be the most trusted media outlet, as well as being one of the most trusted institutions in the country.

On another level, though, it is remarkable that the ABC has done so well during these particular crises, given that it has been working while seriously wounded. Since the current government came to power in 2014, the broadcaster has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and about 1000 jobs.

In March, the organisation’s managing director, David Anderson, was to announce a five-year response to the latest round of funding cuts. It was expected job cuts would be in the hundreds, and major changes would be made to operations and programming.

But the coronavirus prompted a stay of execution. Anderson’s announcement has been put off until July, assuming the course of the virus permits.

A confidential briefing from a meeting with Gaven Morris, the ABC’s director of news, analysis and investigations, seen by The Saturday Paper, itemised several staff concerns, including the dropping of the Friday evening edition of The Business, the decision to run “best of” episodes of the arts program The Mix, and the decision to turn the Saturday edition of AM into a highlights package of the week’s stories.

There is no “fat” left to cut, says a senior ABC journalist. “So, we’re looking at hard cuts to permanent staff.”

The results are plain to see. Lateline has gone, along with the state-based versions of 7.30 on Fridays. The flagship radio current affairs programs The World Today and PM have been halved in length. Staffing at political bureaus has been slashed. The list goes on, and the cuts keep coming.

As well as program losses and an ever-increasing number of repeats, it seems that the ABC is kowtowing to Liberal/Nationals government pressure by adopting a much less inquisitive attitude. The guest commentators on the Insiders Sunday morning current affairs program, for example, seem to be a much more conservative bunch than they were in previous years, and Monday evening’s Q&A certainly seems to have lost its punch.

Nonetheless here I’d like to record our collective indebtedness to the ABC and its profound contribution to our collective wellbeing and the social fabric of our society.

Scott Morrison has nevertheless ruled out any change to his government’s policy of eviscerating the ABC. The reason for the Coalition’s emnity was summed up by John Howard’s former chief of staff, Grahame Morris, who described the national broadcaster as “our enemy, talking to our friends”. That serious, intelligent, evidence-based journalism is perceived as “the enemy” tells us a lot more about the Coalition than it does about the ABC.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 2 June 2020

Government’s energy road map still favours fossil fuel use

The proposed “technology investment roadmap” recently released by the Liberal/Nationals coalition government will not only retain but also expand the role of fossil fuels at the centre of the Australian economy.

This is very bad news for our attempts to mitigate climate change. It also delivers big wins for major Coalition donors such as Santos and Origin Energy. It is very disappointing to see such a naked example of fossil fuel vested interests buying government policy, and as Greens NSW Senator Mehreen Faruqi noted ”The government is bending over backwards to please the fossil fuel lobby. It’s no coincidence these are the businesses and players who have donated enormous amounts of money to both the major parties over decades”.

What this is all about is the discussion paper released last week by the scandal-plagued Energy Minister Angus Taylor. It elevates gas to the centre of Australia’s energy strategy, while also endorsing the thoroughly discredited carbon capture and storage technology, not to mention ridiculously expensive and very dangerous nuclear power.

Mr Taylor argues “switching from coal to gas can provide ‘quick wins’ for global emissions reductions and has the potential to reduce electricity sector emissions by 10%”, echoing claims by Scotty from Marketing earlier this year, Crikey.com reported.

But more accurately Greens Parliamentary Leader Adam Bandt said the government’s energy roadmap will set Australia on “a pathway towards destruction”.

So let’s have a closer look. Though Mr Taylor claimed that “There is no credible energy transition plan for an economy like Australia that does not involve the greater use of gas as an important transition fuel”, in fact gas extraction, storage and distribution produces significant climate damage via emissions such as methane that are much more dangerous than CO2.

And ScoMo’s claim that gas is central to Australia’s “energy transition plan” (if such a plan exists) has been repeatedly discredited, even by the Australian Energy Market Operator. In fact the role of gas in energy generation has been rapidly declining in Australia.

The Business Council of Australia, of which a number of global fossil-fuel companies are members, has also strongly pushed for policies to reverse gas’s role in Australian energy production.

Taylor’s discussion paper also embraces carbon capture and storage (CCS). Yet the Australian Institute calculates more than $1.3 billion has been spent trying and failing to prove CCS in Australia in the past 17 years. In short, CCS doesn’t exist, and isn’t likely to.

Taylor also opens the way for nuclear power. True, this is a proven technology, but is subject to very environmentally damaging mining, severe usage risks, prohibitive delays, cost blowouts, and is uncommercial in Australia without a carbon price. A snowflake in hell would have greater chances of survival than would a carbon price of being introduced by the Liberal/Nationals coalition government.

Angus Taylor, who has a history of opposing renewable energy, particularly wind power, continues to argue that the existing technology is inadequate to meet our future power needs. This is simply a lie. There have been many studies to show that solar panels, wind turbines, pumped hydro and batteries are not only able to provide 100% of our power needs, but are cheaper than fossil fuel based alternatives, and are expanding at a greater rate. All of the above are proven technologies. The only real need is to upgrade the existing distribution networks to meet the needs of generation areas not currently served, and to accommodate distributed generation.

Adam Bandt called on the government to invest further in renewable energy. “Australia has to end its addiction to toxic methane gas which is heavily promoted in this report. Gas, coal and oil are the major causes of climate change and swapping one for another is not the answer,” he said.

“What this report proposes is using public money to fund new gas infrastructure. Now that is taking money from schools and hospitals and putting it into fossil fuels at a time when we’re told we have to quit fossil fuels within the next 10 or 15 years at most otherwise we’re not going to stop the climate crisis. Taking money from schools and hospitals and giving it to gas is like taking money from the health budget to give to asbestos”, Mr Bandt concluded.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 26 May 2020

We must not shy away from debt as Australia plans its post coronavirus recovery

In one piece of good news as the major parties haggle over how much to spend (or not) on our coronavirus recovery the Greens are sensibly urging $300bn more debt as they seek to outflank both Labor and the Coalition on a good post Covid-19 recovery.

The party accuses Labor and the Coalition of shrinking from the spending needed to revive our post-coronavirus economy.

Indeed, “The government has fallen back on the most extreme neoliberal nostrums – wage suppression, industrial relations ‘reform’, the return to balanced budgets and a bonfire of sensible environmental and other protections in the hope of generating ‘snapback’ economic growth” noted the Saturday Paper.

In marked contrast Greens Parliamentary leader, Adam Bandt says Australia must not shy away from debt as it plans its recovery from the economic slide brought on by coronavirus restrictions. 

The Greens have proposed increasing government debt by $300bn in a bid to kickstart the economy out of the Covid-19 contraction through investments in industry, infrastructure and renewable energy, reported Pau Karp in the Guardian Australia last week.

The Greens Invest to Recover plan, released last Monday, sets up the Greens’ economic argument leading into the next election as a battle against Coalition austerity and Labor, which it says is “afraid of sensible borrowing to invest in our future”.

The biggest ticket items include a jobs guarantee, free tertiary education for under 30s, $24bn over 10 years for public education, a $12bn manufacturing fund, 500,000 new public and community homes, $25bn on public transport, $6bn to modernise the electricity grid, a $6bn nature fund and $2.3bn for the arts.

The Greens also propose retaining key features of the coronavirus support packages including free childcare and the doubling of unemployment benefits to $1,100 a fortnight.

While the Greens can only achieve policy goals in partnership with other parties, its policies from a banking royal commission, lifting Newstart and preventing cuts to penalty rates have proved influential, especially over Labor.

But Anthony Albanese has warned the shadow front bench that, if elected, Labor would face a “constrained fiscal situation”. Labor’s shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has said that Labor’s highest priority is to “save as many jobs and communities as possible” but in the long run he still believes “debt matters”.

The Greens estimate Australia’s net debt would rise from 30% of GDP to 44% under its plan – an increase of $300bn over 10 years – which it argues is “still less than half of the advanced economies’ average of 95% during the pandemic and well below those countries’ debt levels even before Covid-19 (which was 76%)”.

The Greens believe debt will be less if revenue measures are implemented, such as reversing stage two and three of the Coalition’s income tax cuts and ending fossil fuel subsidies.

The policy document accuses Liberal and Labor governments of “turning public debt into a bogeyman”. But during the Covid-19 crisis government borrowing has saved the day.

The Greens policy argued that governments have access to “the cheapest money in history” with interest rates less than 1% on 10-year bonds, and less than 2% for 30 year bonds.

“There’s never been a better time for governments to borrow to invest given that interest rates are projected to stay at record low levels for many years.”

“Liberal and Labor say that we can’t borrow any further and the cupboard is bare. Of course, they were saying that even before the coronavirus crisis, but history shows that if we borrow to invest and grow a clean economy, we will be able to easily service the debt and ensure our prosperity.”

The Greens cited expansion after the second world war, at which time “debt skyrocketed to record highs” but was “reduced back down to normal levels within a decade because it was invested and grew the economy”.

Adam Bandt said “Depression-era job numbers demand a Depression-era response. That means not shying away from debt, but using it to invest in building a cleaner, fairer Australia.”

“We can’t cut our way out of this crisis. The government and big corporations are calling for more cuts – to company taxes, to public spending, to workers’ rights – but that is a recipe for disaster. We must invest to recover.”

The coronavirus showed that normal life failed us. We need a new economy as we recover.