Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: March, 2017

My Op Ed column for the Daily Advertiser this week: Watering Down 18c a Retrograde Step

Malcolm Turnbull has announced a watering down of the Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, in a major victory for the conservatives in the Liberal Party.

The change was introduced on Harmony Day, 21 March.  That might strike readers as an exercise in extreme bad taste, and they’d be right, but the timing is of even greater significance given the origins of Harmony Day, and the political chicanery behind its adoption. It is not a pretty story, for it is a watering down of its original title, the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

True, since its inception 15 years ago the main message of this day is “Everyone Belongs,” a very pro-multiculturalism motto, a praiseworthy sentiment that only the most racist would argue against, even though the original intention of the day has been lost. 

Harmony Day was born from analyses carried out by Eureka Research for the Howard-led Coalition Government that was dealing with the rise of multiculturalism and the resultant racial disharmony. There was internal strife and our international reputation was often being bogged down by the reputation it created.

The Government needed a way out, and it needed to be done without airing any negativity or implying that anyone was racist, despite widespread racism being clearly recognised by 85% of individuals surveyed in Eureka’s report.

The hook came in a recommendation in the Eureka report that the Government build on the belief that harmony in the community already existed, despite the vast majority recognising that racism was widespread. And so in a canny and very Orwellian political masterstroke Harmony Day was born.

However, despite 15 years of celebrating harmony, racism and racial discrimination still exist in Australia, so there is no room for complacency. Work still needs to be done to ensure intercultural harmony and an end to racial discrimination.

Which brings me back to the government’s proposal, under which the words “offend, insult, humiliate” will be replaced by “harass”. The word “intimidate” will remain. So the change will mean that it’s in order to insult and humiliate people because of their skin colour or race. Go figure, and of course, be appalled at this change for the worse that will worsen, not improve the situation.

The Coalition party room overwhelmingly backed the measures, but several MPs, opposed the change in wording. There is concern among some Liberals that the issue will lose them votes in seats with large ethnic communities. Let’s hope so.

Even Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told the party room if MPs kept talking about 18C, votes would be lost because it would distract from the government’s agenda, but not, note, because it was a retrograde step that would legislate for even more bigotry than exists already.

Thankfully Labor, the Nick Xenophon team (if they hold firm) and the Australian Greens say they will keep standing with the community to protect Section 18C.

“In his rush to become Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull sold out those who would face discrimination to secure power for himself. It’s disgraceful,” said Greens Leader Richard Di Natale.

Greens legal affairs spokesperson Senator Nick McKim said “The Greens will fight to retain strong protections against racial discrimination.” Good on them. And while they are on about it, why not fight to bring back Harmony Day’s original and intended name, the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

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My op ed column for 21 March 2017: Privatisation has failed to deliver cheaper electricity

By the time this column appears much water may have passed under the bridge of our energy security, electricity supply and prices debate, but at the time of writing I am struck by one particular aspect of it, namely the collapse of the political consensus that held sway over the last twenty years or so that privatisation of the electricity retail market would lead to lower prices.

And a very good thing too, for evidence shows that privatisation leads to price gouging and deterioration of service levels, as so clearly demonstrated by what has happened to vocational education, child care, job centres, Sydney airport, and many other services.

With regards to electricity pricing, this aspect of neo-liberal deregulated laissez-faire capitalism has elements of the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ about it, and though thankfully some are now seeing through this myth Malcolm Turnbull, Josh Frydenberg & Co fail to see it, unfortunately. They have focussed solely on supply augmentation, with part-solutions such as Snowy Hydro 2.0, which will be beset with problematic issues, all they can do is call for gas companies, and the state governments that regulate drilling, to produce more gas, which can only mean coal seam gas, produced by fracking, just when we thought that one had been firmly put in its box.

Only South Australia is prepared to go look at a public service approach, though as Greens Senator for South Australia Sarah Hanson-Young said: “All kudos to the South Australian state government for standing up to fill the gap left by the missing-in-action “Innovation Prime Minister” Malcolm Turnbull, but they’ve backed the wrong horse in funding a gas-fired power plant and letting rip on fracking.”

Back to electricity pricing. In the latest Grattan Institute report, Price Shock: Is the retail electricity market failing consumers?, Tom Woods, its Energy Program Director, provides evidence that in the electricity retail sector the anticipated price reductions have not happened, and innovation has been very slow in coming.

The privatisation of Australia’s electricity retail markets dates back to 1993. The ensuing decade saw a raft of reforms that initially delivered increases in productivity, lower prices and business innovation. But in the decade after that, this progress became much harder to sustain.

The idea was for states to create regulated monopolies in electricity transmission and distribution (poles and wires), while deregulating the retail side (the supply of gas and electricity to customers).

The competition in electricity generation largely delivered lower wholesale prices through the National Electricity Market (NEM), but not at the retail level.

Yet so far there have been few genuine innovations in electricity pricing. The most common tactic has been a discount for paying on time or by direct debit, although consumers are often frustrated when they discover that at the end of their contract they lose the discount even if they continue to pay the same way.

Products that offer different prices for electricity use at different times of the day have been slow to appear. These products have the potential to deliver major savings, yet the industry has failed to deliver them in a way that makes them easy for customers to understand and adopt.

My Op Ed column in the Daily Advertiser for 14 March 2017Australia set to ramp up the lethal power of its drones?

 Hot on the news that President Trump plans to make America’s nuclear arsenal even larger than it already is, and that he is to spend an extra $70 (Aust) billion on America’s conventional defence forces comes news that Australia is moving towards acquiring armed drones, a military tool of questionable ethics.

In detail, it was revealed on the ABC’s 7.30 Report on 7 March that Australia is considering the purchase of possibly armed drones. The two salient points are whether or not the drones will be armed, and if so whether the use of armed drones in warfare is ethical.

Firstly, the ethical issues. Though Australia already uses drones for intelligence and surveillance, adding weaponised ones would represent a significant escalation for the Defence Forces, one which we should oppose.

As part of the war on terror president Barack Obama approved drone strikes mainly in the Middle East, which are estimated to have killed around 7,000 people, some found to be innocent bystanders, otherwise euphemistically known as ‘collateral damage’.

The killings sparked political controversy and ethical concerns, voiced in newspapers and spilling over in to  social media, television documentaries, and film such as ‘Eye in the Sky’, amongst others. Over and over again we have seen these drones piloted and given the order to fire their missiles from bunkers in the Nevada desert, close to Las Vegas, which is no doubt useful for the R&R of these drone jockeys.

Here planning is already well advanced within Defence for future combat missions using remotely piloted aircraft capable of killing. I wonder from where they will be controlled? Pine Gap, perhaps?

Despite such concerns, Defence Minister Marise Payne, in typical double-speak weasel words, said Australia would always consider its legal and ethical obligations “It’s really about extending the impact of what we can do in the Air Force, minus issues like fatigue or those sorts of things and ensuring that we have an Air Force that is as capable as it can possibly be” she told 7.30.

Rather more open and honest was last year’s Defence White Paper, which confirmed that the Government would “introduce enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, including armed medium-altitude unmanned aircraft in the early 2020s, with regular capability upgrades to follow”.

Apart from the inclusion of the word ‘armed’, the strategic document offered very little detail, except to say the “unmanned aircraft will provide enhanced firepower and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to a range of missions including counter-terrorism missions overseas”.

The issue of the two types of armed drones the Defence Force are considering is also of concern, for though one of the  frontrunners in the race for the contract is the MQ-9 Reaper, manufactured by US Company General Atomics, the other is the Heron TP, made by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

IAI, a state-owned company, does not publicly acknowledge its product as an armed drone but stresses the plane can carry “anything” up to 1,000 kilograms, which presumably refers to bombs and/or missiles. It is public knowledge that the Heron TP has most certainly been used in this way against Palestinian targets in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, again often involving the euphemistically termed ‘collateral damage’.

So taking everything into account we have to ask ourselves if the acquisition of these armed drones by the ADF is a step forward or a descent into an unethical quagmire.

Nuclear arsenal: be afraid, be very afraid

Ray’s Reasoning: my column from today’s Daily Advertiser

On top of President Trump’s announcement last week that he is going to raise America’s defence spending by a massive $70 Aus. billion (10% no less), paid for largely by short-sighted cuts to foreign aid, also  came two very disappointing news items about nuclear weapons that added together warrant the much more serious adjective of ‘disturbing’. Downright frightening in fact for anyone who cares about the future of the planet and everything living on it.

Firstly, I read from Washington the President Donald Trump has said he wants to build up the US nuclear arsenal to ensure it is at the “top of the pack,” saying the United States has fallen behind in its atomic weapons capacity. So the scariest Commander in Chief wants to have his finger on the button of even more weapons of mass destruction. We should all not just be alarmed, but very, very afraid.

Secondly, and much closer to home, came the news from Australia’s Paul Barratt’s former secretary of the Department of Defence and Sue Wareham, vice-president of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons that Australia is about to boycott forthcoming major UN multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.

In more detail, on March 27 in New York, negotiations will commence on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, following a strongly supported resolution passed in the General Assembly last December – with 123 nations in favour, 38 against and 16 abstentions – for “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.

The UN resolution and the forthcoming negotiations are the result of intense government and civil society action in recent years that has highlighted the catastrophic humanitarian impacts of these most terrifying and destructive of all weapons, and the imperative to prevent any further use.

Australia’s boycott of these disarmament talks, will have grave implications, quite apart from the unconscionable act of snubbing the most promising disarmament initiative in decades. It calls into question our commitment not only to the UN but also to the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty, article 6 of which obliges all member states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to … nuclear disarmament”.

The key to a ban treaty’s effectiveness lies in its power to delegitimise and stigmatise weapons that kill and maim whole populations indiscriminately. Which nation would boast of a “smallpox deterrent” or a “nerve gas deterrent”? Yet despite the existence of treaties to ban these other weapons of mass destruction, there is still no equivalent treaty to ban the only weapons that can destroy a city in an instant and leave human suffering and environmental devastation on a scale we can’t imagine.

It also beats me how will Australia be able to condemn nuclear missile tests by, say, North Korea, or other possible future proliferators, when we support a nuclear apartheid and oppose efforts to place all nuclear-armed nations on the same legal footing?

So Australia will yet again stick out as merely an appendage to the US rather than an independently minded nation that considers global interests and its own interests above those of its ally. Have we learnt nothing from the recent exposure of John Howard’s sycophantic motives for taking us into the disastrous US invasion of Iraq in 2003? (Secret Iraq Dossier: Australia’s Flawed War, SMH, 25 February 2017)?

Australia’s decision is irresponsible and unworthy of a nation that – notwithstanding our support for extended nuclear deterrence – has had a long history of engaging with UN disarmament initiatives.  his decision should be reversed.