Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

My Daily Advertiser column for today, 17 October 2017: The Turnbull government’s national security agenda is all about its own survival.

A government that exploits people’s fears to win elections is nothing new, but that doesn’t mean it is anything to be proud of.

Nonetheless, examples abound, such as Britain’s 1914 ‘Khaki election’, Nazi Germany playing on fears of communist USSR, and most Western governments playing on the same fear during the Cold War.

So it needs to be made very clear what Malcolm Turnbull and his colleagues are up to when the government pushes its national security agenda.

Peter Lewis recently wrote “Are war and terrorism the last hope for a revival of Turnbull’s government?” (The Guardian), which got me thinking that this would be a topic worth teasing out.

More than half of the Australians in a recent Essential poll are quite rightly concerned that the nuclear brinkmanship displayed by both Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un will lead to all-out conflict.

And so as the Turnbull government fails to make any headway on most domestic issues it is increasingly turning to external threats to reset the political agenda to its advantage.

The first issue is the face-off between two crazy-brave hot-heads with their fingers way too close to the button. As this week’s Essential Report shows, most Australians now think war between the US and North Korean is more likely than not.

Today’s reports that President Trump told his national security advisers in July that he wanted to increase the country’s nuclear arsenal by nearly tenfold (The Age) is likely to increase our fear. Trump now of course claims this to be ‘Fake News’, as he invariably does when caught out.

Frighteningly the Turnbull government has already signalled it will follow President Trump wherever he cares to go. Real war on and possibly off the Korean peninsula ironically would relieve the current internal pressure on the Coalition, with all parties except the Greens unifying behind the US alliance.

The second threat likely to benefit Turnbull & Co is the increasing possibility of a home-soil terrorist attack. As last week’s Essential report shows, this still represents the greatest challenge to Australian’s sense of personal safety.

It is here that the Coalition has been pursuing its most proactive groundwork, establishing the truly Orwellian sounding homeland security super ministry and seeking more and more powers in the name of anti-terrorism.

What is frightening is the incrementalism of the government’s approach to its anti-terror legislation. Firstly, because by tightening the screws small bit by small bit the ‘Boiling Frog’ syndrome will apply, that is, they hope we won’t notice each small change, only waking up to the fact when it is too late to realise how many of our civil liberties have been taken away.

In terms of parliamentary politics, the government’s strategy is to probe and push until it finds a point of difference with the Opposition. To date Shorten’s Labor has matched the government each step of the way, conscious that to create a contest on national security opens the attack of being “weak on terror”.

Indeed, as Kim Beazley discovered to his ultimate demise in 2001 when the Howard government confected the Tampa stand-off, there will be a point where Labor will not be prepared to follow and that will become the point on which a winnable Coalition election campaign can be fought, perish the thought.

So war and terror will ironically be the last remaining hopes for a Coalition revival.

Advertisements

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 26 September 2017: The Doomsday Clock inches closer to midnight every time Trump speaks or Tweets about North Korea

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un should take Washington’s threats of possible military action seriously because the world will not accept his state becoming a full nuclear power, Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne chirped recently.

And after Donald Trump’s threat to totally destroy North Korea in last week’s United Nation’s address, which was unprecedented in the diplomacy of the modern world, so should the rest of us, though with different reasoning to Mr Pyne.

President Trump, in his first UN speech, warns US will ‘totally destroy’ North Korea if threatened, bringing “his bullying, populist presidential campaign to the global stage in UN debut” as ABC online news accurately put it.

His comments rattled the world leaders gathered before him in the green-marbled hall, where just minutes earlier, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had appealed for statesmanship and diplomacy.

As loud, startled murmurs filled the hall, Mr Trump added insult to injury by referring to Mr Kim as “rocket man”, despite the international forum and gravity of the situation.

Since then many world leaders have rightly condemned Mr Trump for his undiplomatic and provocative statements, though, much to our shame, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop managed to ignore Mr Trump’s statements, and Malcolm Turnbull went so far as to claim Mr Trump was merely “stating the reality.”

Shortly before Mr Trump’s speech, Mr Guterres appealed from the General Assembly lectern for statesmanship to avoid war with North Korea. “We must not sleepwalk our way into war,” he said. Mr. Trump isn’t sleepwalking into it, he’s wide awake and charging full tilt with eyes (and mouth) wide open.

Trump and his war-mongering mates should take heed of the number of times since he was let loose in the White House that atomic scientists have reset their symbolic “Doomsday Clock” closer to midnight, each time pointing out that the world is moving closer to catastrophe due to threats such as nuclear weapons, climate change and Donald Trump’s election as US president.

The timepiece, devised by the Chicago-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists immediately after WWII is widely viewed as an indicator of the world’s vulnerability to disaster.

Recently its hands were moved to two minutes and 30 seconds to midnight, from three minutes.

“The Doomsday Clock is closer to midnight than it’s ever been in the lifetime of almost everyone in this room,” Lawrence Krauss, the bulletin’s chair, recently told a news conference in Washington.

Even during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 at the height of the Cold War the clock was only set at three minutes to nuclear catastrophe, meaning that now we are closer than ever to Armageddon.

But unlike Jack Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, who had the smarts to handle the crisis without obliterating most of the world, Donald Trump and Kim Jung-un are impulsive neophytes likely to blow us all to bits in order to satisfy their deluded egos.

However, the problem isn’t so much that a Kim Jong-un rocket launch/bomb test, or a Trump reactive fit of pique will result in immediate nuclear war, though it’s certainly possible, but rather that both sides will miscalculate and that a spiral of escalation will lead to a catastrophe that no one really wants, not even those two vainglorious fools.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 19 September 2017: Australia rightly condemned for trying to make asylum seekers ‘homeless and destitute’

Though the Turnbull government’s decision to withdraw financial support and housing from asylum seekers and refugees to encourage them to return to Manus Island or Nauru is ‘old’ news in recent days I’ve been heartened by details coming to light of the local and international criticism it has drawn and the formal complaints it has generated to three senior rapporteurs at the United Nations (Guardian Australia. This new news prompted my topic for today.

As Peter Dutton’s decision ranks as an act of supreme bastardry these new details are worth a column.

So, what did the government actually do? Last month, the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, announced the imposition of a new “final departure bridging visa” for refugees and asylum seekers brought to Australia from Nauru or Manus Island for medical treatment.

I would have hoped that even Minister Dutton wouldn’t stoop as low as using the expression ‘final departure’, as it brings to mind the Nazi’s ‘Final Solution’ and all the horrors of the holocaust, but use it he did.

It is understood up to 400 people, including families with infant children born in Australia, face having government support withdrawn in an effort to encourage them to abandon their protection claims, or return to Australia’s offshore detention islands of Manus and Nauru.

Now, on to the reaction. Firstly, Victoria stepped in to help 100 of the asylum seekers as the Andrews government announced a $600,000 package, which includes accommodation and basic living costs for the affected group

However, in relation to the bigger picture the Human Rights Law Centre in Australia and the Geneva-based Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are set to send urgent submissions to three relevant United Nations special rapporteurs: on the right to adequate housing; on extreme poverty and human rights; and on torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The UN’s special rapporteurs are individuals who are officially appointed by the organisation’s Human Rights Council to investigate a problem or issue and then to report on it.

The joint submissions call on the rapporteurs to urge the Australian government to abandon the final departure bridging visas, reinstate housing and income support, and allow those seeking asylum to apply for refugee status in Australia. It also asks the rapporteurs to publicly condemn the government’s actions.

“The purpose and effect of these government actions is to cut off vulnerable people from basic supports as a means of pressuring them to return to a place where they fear serious physical and/or psychological harm,” they say.

“The government actions risk rendering affected people homeless and destitute as they will have no income support and little chance of finding work to provide for their food, housing, clothing and other basic needs.”

The submissions argue the government’s imposition of the final departure visa is a breach of its international obligations under several international treaties, including the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

These excoriating submissions to the UN special rapporteurs are especially awkward for Australia at present, for it appears we are certain to win election to the UN’s Human Rights Council in November. Given our track record of flouting the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights, especially in relation to asylum seekers and our First Peoples, the irony of us gaining a spot on the Council won’t be remotely amusing, as ironies usually are, it will be embarrassingly cringe making.

My Daily Advertiser column for today, Tuesday 12 September 2017: Now is not the time for new coal fired power stations

Last week I saw Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’, a powerful and persuasive follow up to his ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ film of ten years ago, which made it very clear to one and all that the world is in grave danger from climate change caused by human use of fossil fuels, while in the same week Houston, the ‘oil city’ of Texas, was reeling from Hurricane Harvey.

What struck me most about the film was that convergence, for at no time during the relentless TV news coverage of the disaster was there any mention of our addiction to coal, gas and oil being responsible. Certainly not from President Trump, who was keen to splash around billions of dollars to rebuild this bastion of prosperous and largely white addiction to fossil fuels.

But last week was also when here at home the Turnbull government failed the test it has been urging the rest of us to follow since the advent of unregulated capitalism in the 1980s, namely to listen to the market, and make decisions based on what it is telling us.

I’ve never had any truck with such anti-social neo-liberal nonsense, but at the moment I do wish Turnbull & Co would heed their own advice, for the market is telling them to get out of coal fired electricity generation.

‘Electricity crisis: AGL boss rebukes Turnbull government plan to keep coal power stations operating for longer’ headlined the Sydney Morning Herald. The smaller print told us that Australia’s largest electricity generator had strongly dismissed a new push by the Turnbull government to make the country’s coal-fired power stations run for years longer than originally planned.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull raised the prospect in Parliament of keeping the Liddell power station open beyond 2022, and also in a phone call to AGL chief executive Andy Vesey, who has ruled out keeping it open beyond that date.

Government sources say that the PM stared down resistance from the company, which has repeatedly said that it will start exiting coal-fired power generation from 2022, and complete the transition by 2050.

This is despite business, environment groups, the Greens and Labor demanding the government implement the post 2020 Clean Energy target, recommended by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, to help drive investment in new generation and put downward pressure on soaring power prices.

That recommendation has not been welcomed by conservative sections of the Coalition party room, stirred up by Tony Abbott, who oppose a Clean Energy Target and back the construction of a new coal-fired power plant, something Mr Turnbull has not ruled out.

As Adam Bandt, the Australian Greens energy spokesperson pointed out “The Turnbull government, hounded by Tony Abbott and the coal industry, is set to kill off the Chief Scientist’s plan for a Clean Energy Target and instead pay dirty and ageing coal fired stations to stay open longer”.

Worryingly, instead of opposing subsidies to dirty energy, Bill Shorten and Labor have said they are open to supporting them. With the government crumbling and Labor likely to win the next election, now is not the time to sign on to an energy policy that will lock in coal and lock out renewable energy.

We know that only new investment in wind and solar, together with battery storage, will cut pollution and bring down energy prices, and so it was good to see Mr Bandt introduce a bill to Parliament to continue and extend the Renewable Energy Target.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today, 5 September 2017: The ‘No’ campaign morphs from dirty tricks into outright lies

A TV advertisement urging a ‘No’ vote in the Same-Sex Marriage postal survey from the Coalition for Marriage has featured mothers speaking out against gay marriage. For example, “The school told my son that he could wear a dress to school next year if he wanted,” Ms White says in the 30-second commercial.

But the principal of the school in question, Frankston High, said Ms White’s claim had no substance – in other words, her claim is an outright lie. ‘It never happened’ he said.

Like many commentators and also those without a public voice, I expected the anti-same sex marriage campaign to resort to dirty tricks, including prejudiced clichés, exaggerations, and mis-truths, but not to peddling outright lies. The ‘Vote No’ campaign could clearly teach President Trump’s team a thing or two about how to invent ‘alternative facts’.

The false claims were made by Cella White, who has previously appeared in videos attacking the Safe Schools program and whose claims have been heavily promoted by the Australian Christian Lobby.

“We checked with all the teachers; it never happened,” Principal John Albiston said.

He went on to ask “I have never had any complaints that we advised the boys they could wear dresses. We didn’t offer them that option”.

This leaves many of us wondering why this so-called incident that never happened would have anything to do with marriage equality.

Mr Albiston said Ms White had raised concerns with him about the Safe Schools program, but the school’s uniform had never cropped up as an issue.

The TV ad alleges that in countries which have legalised same-sex marriage, “parents have lost their rights to choose”.

On its website, the group claims that the ad will help Australians understand that “saying ‘yes’ to gay marriage would mean saying ‘yes’ to radical gay sex education in schools”.

Both these statements imply that it is okay for parents to condemn the sexuality of their children. Apparently even in the twenty first century the people behind this ad think that is in order. As I write this a research project has shown that 50% of Australian trans children have attempted suicide. It is attitudes and actions held by groups like this that result in such disturbing statistics.

The political motivation behind the ad isn’t hard to find, for Mrs McIvor is a former journalist who has worked for former Nationals MP and federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran, state Liberal MP Philip Davis and Family First Senator Steve Fielding.

Last year she was also the master of ceremonies at an anti-abortion rally on the steps of State Parliament and posed alongside Democratic Labour Party MP Rachel Carling-Jenkins.

“Removing gender from our marriage laws means removing gender from the classroom,” it said in a statement on its website. Totally untrue of course – what the Safe Schools program aims to do is to help reduce prejudicial attitudes towards those who weren’t born into the heterosexual binary.

Thankfully the ad has been criticised by Opposition leader Bill Shorten, who said it was “offensive and hurtful to LGBTI Australians and their families”.

“This is exactly what was predicted when Malcolm Turnbull decided to waste $122 million on a postal survey. He gave the green light to this rubbish,” Mr Shorten said.

The Equality Campaign quite rightly labelled the ad as “disgraceful and dishonest”. But where is Mr Turnbull’s rebuttal? He has spent the last few months claiming his postal survey would not result in such lies.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 29 August 2017

Our monuments need to reflect the unvarnished truth of our history

During the last couple of weeks or so I’ve followed the stories of the progressively minded in the United States calling for the removal of the statues of Confederate Civil War generals such as Robert E Lee, silently cheering on those cities that quite rightly tore down these monuments to racism.

I wondered how long it would take for a similar movement to take hold here? After a great deal of Twitter sphere squawking the first flesh and blood instance I came across was an ABC news story in The World Today (24 August) headlined ‘South Sea Islanders say statue of Townsville founder ‘whitewashes’ slave history’.

The statue in the northern Queensland city has appropriately raised the ire of Australian South Sea Islanders, who say it should be changed to better reflect the region’s slave history, for the monument to Robert Towns, who made his name by ‘blackbirding’ (aka people trafficking or the slave trade) South Sea Islanders in 19th century Queensland, stands in Townsville’s main street.

Like many in Australia the descendants of those who were black birded aren’t necessarily calling for the statue to be pulled down, but instead asking for the site to include a plaque and statue to pay tribute to those who were kidnapped, brought to Queensland and forced into labour on the cane fields.

This story and the US statue removing events provoked the ABC’s Indigenous Affairs reporter, Wiradjuri elder and Riverina boy Stan Grant to note that ‘America tears down its racist history, we ignore ours’.

Like Stan, I and many others have often noticed the statue of Captain James Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park. On the base of the statue is an inscription in bold letters reading: DISCOVERED THIS TERRITORY 1770

Think of those words for a minute: “Discovered this territory.” They are nonsense, of course, for Stan’s ancestors were here when Cook dropped anchor. They, and the rest of us who have been paying attention, know now that the first peoples of this continent had been here for at least 65,000 years.

Yet this statue indicates white fellas thought of this as an empty continent, of an entire civilisation’s invisibility. It says that nothing truly mattered, nothing truly counted until a white English sailor first set foot on these shores.

The statue continues to imply ‘terra nullius’ and the violent rupture of over 500 Aboriginal nations, as well as referring to a legacy of pain and suffering that still endures today.

And as a quick side-note, if we are wanting to commemorate the finding of an Australia that had been known to its Indigenous inhabitants for over 60 thousand years, let’s not forget that the Dutch beat James Cook by over 100 years!

This whole business has led many of us to ponder the questions of heritage and hate. Hopefully we can avoid the excesses of the American alt-right (Neo-Nazis etc.) here, though given the likes of Pauline Hanson and the slightly more urbane though equally appalling Cory Bernardi I have some serious doubts.

Given their ‘white’ Australia first attitude we need to quickly, squarely and fairly address the role of those who knowingly contributed to a white invasion, settlement and almost total obliteration of our indigenous people.

All of which reminds me that our own local university is very inappropriately named after an English explorer who ‘opened up’ Wiradjuri Country to white settlement, not that it was ever ‘closed’ of course.

There are many fictions in what passed for our history, which is not surprising, as history is usually written by the victors, but if we are honest we should no longer maintain them.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 22 August 2017: Parliament should decide if we go to war, not just the PM

At the time of writing it seems that both President Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un have toned down their war-mongering rhetoric and so for the moment at least we are spared the threat of a nuclear Armageddon.

However, my topic this weak isn’t so much the dangers posed to the world by vainglorious, unhinged and delusional leaders, but rather the dangerous foolishness of two related local news stories. Firstly that Australian defence forces will join US-Korean war games, and secondly a very prompt announcement from PM Turnbull that Australia would honour its ANZUS treaty commitments and join the US in any military action it might embark on.

Defence Minister Marise Payne told the ABC that just over two dozen ADF members would take part in the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian war games.

Rather naively, she played down the chances of the games provoking a response from North Korea. “I think given their regularity and history, they should not be seen in any way as a provocative exercise” she said with a straight face. Really?

Next week’s planned military exercises have already sparked protests in the South Korean capital Seoul, and are again expected to draw condemnation from North Korea. Indeed, following last year’s Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, the North conducted a nuclear test.

To add to the dangerous chest-beating going on, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week quickly confirmed that Australia would join the US in any conflict with North Korea if it carries out its threat to fire missiles towards the strategic American territory of Guam in the Pacific.

However, not all Australian political parties are ready to jump on the war making bandwagon. Indeed the Australian Greens called for a War Powers act so that our Prime Minister could not commit us to war without Parliamentary approval.

Richard Di Natale, joined by Greens Defence Spokesperson Sen. Peter Whish-Wilson said “Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to commit Australian troops to a possible war against North Korea puts Australia at risk and shows why Parliament needs to urgently pass a war powers act and renegotiate the alliance with the United States”.

As they pointed out, our alliance with the United States is making us less safe, not more, and this war of words with North Korea is the latest and most frightening example. Donald Trump is completely unhinged and his irresponsible rhetoric is putting the entire world in danger.

Nuclear war is a nightmare scenario that must be avoided at all costs, not a bargaining chip to be tossed around in the media by Trump, Turnbull or Tony Abbott. Any responsible leader would be seeking to calm the situation, not inflame it, and risk nuclear war.

“Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to unilaterally offer Australian military support in a war with North Korea – a position that could drag us into the middle of a nuclear war – is exactly why Parliament must urgently pass a war powers bill so that decisions of this magnitude aren’t being made by just one person,” Di Natale said.

“Australia doesn’t need a missile shield, no matter what Tony Abbott says. The best way Australia can protect itself in this situation is to distance itself from Donald Trump’s belligerent statements,” Whish-Wilson added.

Indeed, we need to be working towards a world free of nuclear weapons, not joining a nuclear arms race that risks spiralling out of control. Now is the time for all sides in this conflict, including China and Russia, to come back to the table and seek a peaceful solution to the crisis.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 15 August 2017: Marriage equality should be unifying, not divisive

As I listened to Tony Abbott take to the air waves after the federal government resolved to press ahead with its postal plebiscite I couldn’t help but notice that he could teach President Trump and his team a thing or two about ‘alternative facts’, for of the three reasons Mr Abbott advised us to vote ‘No’, only one bore any semblance to reality.

That was the one about ‘If you are against same sex marriage, vote No’. Superficially this may look fair enough, but of course what Mr Abbott doesn’t mention is that if you believe in equality and a fair go for all, supposedly Australian values, you would vote ‘Yes’.

But it was Mr Abbott’s other two reasons for voting No that turned his remarks into ‘Alternative Facts’. The first of these was “If you believe in free speech vote No’. How on earth does that make any sort of logical sense? It doesn’t of course, but what Mr Abbott is doing is engaging in ‘Dog Whistle Politics’. That means sending out a coded message that only those for whom it is intended will ‘get’. In this particular example Mr Abbott is really saying ‘If you believe in hate speech vote No’.

The third example is ‘If you are fed up with Political Correctness vote No’. This is nothing more than a cheap slur, as well of course being another example of Mr Abbott blowing his dog whistle. It is also without any foundation, as politic correctness is simply an expression used by the likes of Mr Abbott when they really have nothing substantive left to argue with.

Of course, Mr Abbott’s thought bubbles were only the beginning of a campaign that promises to be full of homophobia, hate, bigotry, and other slurs against the LGBTIQ community. The so called Australian Christian Lobby, a body with a very misleading name given that not one of the major Christina churches is a member, has already started, and will no doubt ramp up its homophobic hate-filled rhetoric in the weeks to come.

With all the above in mind it was pleasing to note that Senator Mathias Cormann, in his role as Acting Special Minister of State offered to draft a bill that would subject the campaign to the usual electoral rules, including protections against malicious publications and bribery.

All well and good, and we will be grateful for small mercies, but this could of course have been avoided if Mr Turnbull had demonstrated a bit of internal fortitude and stared down the extreme right wing of the Liberal Party.

Marriage equality can and should be a unifying moment for our country. But rather than doing their jobs and voting in Parliament, this Government has decided to delay, distract and divide Australia. They have decided to waste $122 million of taxpayers’ money on an unnecessary and unacceptable postal opinion poll.

Australian Marriage Equality is preparing to seek an injunction to stop the postal plebiscite and will launch a legal challenge once it knows the full details, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFAG) has already launched a High Court challenge, and Australian Greens LGBTIQ spokesperson Senator Janet Rice has lodged a notice of motion in the Senate requesting documents that lay out the advice the government has used to arrive at the postal plebiscite plan.

“The rights of a minority group should never be put to a public vote. John Howard didn’t go to a public vote when he changed the Marriage Act in 2004, so why does Malcolm Turnbull want to?” said Senator Rice.

My Daily Advertiser column for Tuesday 8 August 2017: It’s time for real reform on political donations

Labor senator Sam Dastyari, reportedly with a straight face, has called for an end to the way in which parties compete for donations, and a total ban on all future political donations (Senator calls for end to all political donations, Daily Advertiser, 1 August) in the ABC TV’s Australian Story last Monday.

On the surface, it’s a stunning about-face after his resignation from Labor’s front bench last September in the wake of a political donations scandal.

“I come at this from someone who wasn’t just part of the arms race … I was one of the weapon suppliers in this arms race … and responsible for fundraising across the party. It needs to come to an end, and the time for that is now,” Senator Dastyari somewhat disingenuously told Australian Story.

“I’m a realist on this and saying this needs to change. We must reform. We need to ban, to limit, to restrict donations in so far as it’s constitutionally possible to do so” he said, seemingly unsure exactly what he thought should be done. Ban, limit or restrict? Which? Make up your mind, Sam.

And in a very weak reaction Labor leader Bill Shorten said his party should not take money from foreign donors and has asked his party to implement that very limited standard.

“I’m happy to reiterate my invitation to Malcolm Turnbull. Malcolm … we should shake hands and make it a gentleman’s agreement — No foreign money in our election process. Labor’s happy to work with the Liberals and implement a standard even in advance of the law,” he said. Pull the other one, Bill.

However, Mr Shorten fell very short of supporting Senator Dastyari’s call for a ban on all donations. “I’m not sure that the public is ready to pick up the tab for elections. “I do think it’s okay for people to make donations, for Australians and Australian organisations to contribute to the political process, but there’s no doubt that we need transparency” he said.

Greens democracy spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon has accused Labor of using their classic tactic of different messages for different audiences on political donation reform.

“While Senator Dastyari is going for the ‘full Monty’ version calling for a total ban on political donations, Mr Shorten is pushing the minimalist version of reform that goes no further than some transparency changes to reporting and a ban on foreign donations.”

“The Dastyari donation scandal that broke last year should have jolted Mr Shorten into backing a thorough clean-up of electoral funding laws” Senator Rhiannon said.

It is ludicrous to assert that only foreign donations have an adverse impact on Australian democracy. Domestic corporate political donations can be just as dangerous in terms of buying influence.

Labor’s official position will not clean up politics or end the corrupting influence of political donations.

In fact, the opposition leader’s weak stance on reform is similar to the approach of earlier Labor leaders.

For example, when Labor was in government from 2007 to 2013 they had the opportunity to work with the Greens in parliament for an overhaul of political donations. However, they failed to act.

The Greens long held position is for a suite of complimentary measures that include caps on election expenditure, bans on donations from for-profit organisations and overseas donations, caps on donations from individuals and improved disclosure of all donations of $1000 or more in real time. That’s unequivocal straight talk, compared with the Labor and the Lib/Nat’s wishy-washy policies.

My Daily Advertiser column for Tuesday 1 August 2017: Water is a public resource, not a private one

In far off Palestine my news from home was dominated by a week of reactions to allegations of water theft in the Murray-Darling basin by the ABC’s Four Corners showing that taxpayer-bought water was being illegally pumped out for cotton growing, thereby ripping off the Murray Darling Basin’s environmental water supply.

And about time too, given that extracting water from the river system for irrigation has been one of great contention for decades. It’s contentious firstly because contrary to what some think, the water is a public resource, not a private one. Secondly, because historically we have inherited a water allocation system from a century ago that was way too generous and optimistic towards irrigation. When sensible measures were adopted to restore at least a semblance of balance some irrigators irrationally reacted as through ‘their’ water was being taken away from them.

With this in mind it is pleasing to see the report say that government needs to restart water buybacks and invest in regional development projects

Reaction to the report was swift. The director of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Paul Sinclair, called for ICAC to investigate allegations which could amount to one of the largest known cases of alleged water theft in Australia’s history, as well as evidence that the NSW government did nothing to stop it.

The SA water minister, Ian Hunter, wants a judicial inquiry, Senate crossbencher Nick Xenophon wants the New South Wales ICAC to investigate “stolen” water, and joined South Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young in calling for a Senate inquiry with full parliamentary privilege to protect witnesses.

Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon appropriately pointed out that “The NSW government has been caught out. Major cotton corporations have stolen billions of litres of water from the Murray-Darling Basin that was purchased with public money. This water was earmarked for downstream communities and environmental flows. Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young will move for a Senate inquiry when Parliament resumes” Senator Rhiannon concluded.

Our First Peoples brothers and sisters were onto this scandal too, as the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) called for an ICAC investigation, an overhaul of water planning and the removal of the water ministry from the NSW Nationals.

Deputy PM, the Nationals Barnaby Joyce said it was a state issue and the federal government had ensured under the Northern Basin Review that measures were more efficient to get water back to the environment.

Yet sadly, and all too predictably, the NSW water minister, Niall Blair, denied that his government was abandoning its commitment to the Murray-Darling basin plan.

Thankfully NSW Greens water spokesman Jeremy Buckingham challenged Mr Blair, calling on him to explain why investigations into water stealing were cancelled and why senior bureaucrats were conspiring with large irrigators to give them access to key documents to undermine the Murray Darling Basin Plan. He also called on Minister Blair to explain why the NSW Government has just introduced regulations that legalise all illegal flood diversion works built in the Barwon-Darling Valley Flood Plain. All this comes as the entire world moves inexorably towards one of the major crises only a few seem to be aware is coming: international conflict over one of the world’s scarcest resources, clean fresh water. As I write this in Palestine I am all too aware that Israel’s claim to ‘have made the desert bloom‘ has only been possible through its theft of Palestinian and Jordanian water from the River Jordan, and from the West Bank’s aquifers.