Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: April, 2017

My weekly Op Ed column for the Daily Advertiser: Has Turnbull forfeited what was left of his political integrity?

Last week saw some really worrying news as PM Turnbull & Co seemed to decide that if they couldn’t beat the likes of One Nation, Australia First and Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives, they would join them by tightening up citizenship requirements and the 457 visa scheme. Indeed, one of the first reactions I saw was Pauline Hanson congratulating the PM for doing as she had told him to do!

Or was Mr Turnbull simply trying to head off the relentless sniping aimed at him by Tony Abbott?

Nick McKim, Greens Senator for Tasmania, whose portfolios include Immigration and Citizenship, appropriately commented that “Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull’s rolling citizenship announcements are a transparently desperate attempt to win back votes from Pauline Hanson and appease the far right of the Liberal Party”.

“We should be bringing people together, not dividing them through patronising citizenship tests and unnecessary waits for permanent residency and citizenship.

“The real problem here is that Peter Dutton’s values are not mainstream Australian values ” he said.

Journalist Michelle Grattan, writing in the Guardian Australia noted that “Malcolm Turnbull’s sudden elevation of “Australian values” raises questions about the Prime Minister’s own values. In particular, has he once again forfeited his political integrity?”

Given all the above, it’s worth looking a little more closely at last week’s targeting of foreign skilled workers and the new citizenship requirements, as they indicate a desperate effort to tap into community concerns and insecurities.

Many of the questions are at least superficially fair enough, though I can’t for the life of me figure out how they prevent problems such as ethnic crime gangs, or terrorism, two of the issues apparently they are designed to redress, as such crimes are perpetrated by native born Australians.

However, what I’d really like to address is what, by looking more closely at the proposed new citizenship test questions, seem designed to target one particular group of migrants. A demographic that incidentally Malcolm Turnbull until recently praised to the skies for their valuable contribution to Australian society. This process is known as ‘racial profiling’, which will no doubt delight the fans of Pauline Hanson, and so it goes by the name of ‘dog whistle’ politics.

The questions I am referring to are those that revealed the true intention of the government when it provided to the media four “sample” questions, though to be fair, it did say they were not necessarily the ones that would be in the test, and there will be some weeks of public consultation.

The “samples” were: “(1) Does Australia’s principle of freedom of religion mean that in some situations it is permissible to force children to marry? (2) In Australia’s multicultural society, under which circumstances is it permissible to cut female genitals? (3) While it is illegal to use violence in public under what circumstances can you strike your spouse in the privacy of your home? (4) Under what circumstances is it appropriate to prohibit girls from education?”

Are these questions not blatantly racist, and don’t they so obviously target migrants from Muslim countries?

Perhaps these questions are a more subtle way of weeding out immigrants the ‘white bread’ society objects to than are Donald Trump’s crude wholesale attempts to ban citizens from a select group of Muslim majority countries, but if so, only just.

Messrs Turnbull and Dutton also need reminding that many migrants to Australia are fleeing countries because such barbarities may be practiced there, and so have no intention of replicating them here.

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Trump’s foreign policy proving to be dangerously unpredictable

Though the attack on the Syrian airbase ordered by Donald Trump appears to be an impulsive response to President Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons it also marks an abrupt departure from Trump’s ‘America First’ mantra that so dominated his Presidential campaign and inauguration.

So too does his belated support for NATO, his sudden demonising of Russia, and the sending a flotilla of US warships to the Korean peninsula.

Or the Cruise missile attack on the Syrian airbase could have been a smokescreen designed to draw our attention away from the fact (real. Not ‘alternative’) his meeting with the Chinese Premier last week achieve absolutely nothing – zero, zilch. No resolution to the South China Sea island building dispute, no Chinese currency reform, no end to the ‘One China’ policy, no reversal of the trade balance to make it more equitable, and no end to American industry (and jobs) being ‘exported’ to China.

Last week President Trump even did a total about face, declaring now, after all the bombastic rhetoric to the contrary, that  China is ’’Not a currency manipulator”! (BBC World News 13 April). Really?

And at the same time Mr Trump suddenly announced that NATO is worthwhile and should be supported, rather than abandoned.

Which may be due to another U turn, i.e. the rapidly deteriorating relationship with Russia. During the election campaign and in the first weeks of the Trump presidency there was much speculation and justifiable concern that Trump & Co were much too close to Putin & Co, and even that Russia had intervened in the American election. Best friends are now apparently worst enemies.

The Syria and North Korea interventions may be nothing more than Trump suddenly deciding to act ’Presidential’, or perhaps it is the same old tendency to ‘beat the drums of war’ when domestic policy goes belly up, but the impulsiveness in itself is also a cause for concern as it indicates a worrying level of instability. Just to prove that point came news on Good Friday of all days that he had dropped ‘the mother of all bombs’ on Afghanistan! Go

With regard to Syria specifically, Trump’s reactive response to the disputed use of chemical weapons could lead to that country’s civil war becoming at best a proxy war between the USA and Russia, and at worst a wider regional or even world-wide conflict.

“Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally bomb Syrian airbases with more than fifty Tomahawk cruise missiles is deeply fraught. The horror of the chemical weapons attack in Syria this week requires a credible, independent investigation, not a random barrage of missiles ordered by a clueless President,” Acting Australian Greens Leader Senator Scott Ludlam said.

Perhaps former Labor Foreign Minister Gareth Evans was right when he told the National Press Club last week that Trump is “the most ill-informed, ill prepared ethically challenged and psychologically ill- equipped president in US history”.

Yes indeed. This type of dangerous and impetuous action is exactly what the Greens have been concerned about since the election of Donald Trump. Here in Australia we are shackled to an ally which has no foresight, no strategy, and a deeply insecure and erratic President.

Which leads to the obvious point that it’s also time to ramp up the campaign that Parliament rather than the PM and Cabinet should decide whether or not Australia goes to war.

e response to the disputed use of chemical weapons could lead to that country’s civil war becoming at best a proxy war between the USA and Russia, and at worst a wider regional or even world-wide conflict.

“Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally bomb Syrian airbases with more than fifty Tomahawk cruise missiles is deeply fraught. The horror of the chemical weapons attack in Syria this week requires a credible, independent investigation, not a random barrage of missiles ordered by a clueless President,” Acting Australian Greens Leader Senator Scott Ludlam said.

Perhaps former Labor Foreign Minister Gareth Evans was right when he told the National Press Club last week that Trump is “the most ill-informed, ill prepared ethically challenged and psychologically ill- equipped president in US history”.

Yes indeed. This type of dangerous and impetuous action is exactly what the Greens have been concerned about since the election of Donald Trump. Here in Australia we are shackled to an ally which has no foresight, no strategy, and a deeply insecure and erratic President.

Which leads to the obvious point that it’s also time to ramp up the campaign that Parliament rather than the PM and Cabinet should decide whether or not Australia goes to war.

 

 

 

My weekly Op Ed column in today’s Daily Advertiser: Housing affordability crisis can and must be solved

It seems as though we are bombarded every day with stories about rising house prices in the east coast capital cities, with Sydney taking the prize. Though such stories may seem irrelevant to Riverina residents they do have implications for us.

To a much smaller degree the capital city price rises do trickle down to regional cities and towns, but that’s not their broader significance. Rather what we all need to be concerned about is its ramifications for social services such as the old age pension.

More of that later, but before examining it the reasons for the price rises and governmental lack of action to curb them need looking at.

Whether house prices have been inflated by the government’s extremely weak argument of limited supply or because of policies such as negative gearing and the current shape of the capital gains tax have created incentives to investors rather than family based homeowners, government policy is now trapped in a vicious cycle. The wealth accumulated in our houses has become a central part of the retirement system, and the government itself can’t afford for prices to fall.

Generous tax subsidies and asset test concessions on the family home have incentivised the accumulation of wealth in property and fuelled demand pressures in the housing market for decades.

As a result the family home has become a cornerstone of the Australian retirement system. Sustained house price increases have allowed government income support to be set at historically low levels, based on the assumption that the low-income elderly will be housing asset-rich, and can therefore get by on smaller pensions. That’s why our pensions are, compared with many other countries, so low.

Clearly we need to fix this very broken system. As Peter Wish-Wilson, Greens Treasury spokesperson said last week, the Government needs to end its reckless support for negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts that are fuelling a housing crisis.

Senator Whish-Wilson said, “It doesn’t seem to matter which expert comes out against negative gearing or what happens to house prices, the Government remains in denial about its role in the housing crisis.

“Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison are culpable in locking an entire generation of young people out of home ownership simply to line the pockets of property speculators” he said.

In addition, Senator Lee Rhiannon, who has the Greens Housing portfolio, noted that we get a lot of rubbish from the government designed to blame the victims, “The rubbish that young people should save their money, the rubbish that young people should raid their superannuation accounts, and the rubbish that young people should get a higher paying job”. As the government cuts penalty rates, mind you.

Senator Rhiannon also added “Today the Turnbull government went over the top in terms of their own actions. They came up with the ugliest, most insulting idea on the housing crisis—an idea that not only distracts from the real problems of tax breaks and underinvestment in public housing but also scapegoats communities already under attack from the far right and, increasingly, all sections of the Liberal-National party. The headline in the Murdoch papers said it all: ‘Send migrants bush to ease house prices’.

“The Greens are not against stimulating regional cities”. Indeed they are not. As Wagga Wagga, Griffith and Albury demonstrate our regional cities welcome refugee and migrants. I am sure all of regional Australia would be equally welcoming if it was provided with the proper investment, more jobs, better transport links and improved infrastructure.

Cyclone Debbie the tip of the climate change iceberg

We are all concerned for the welfare of those who have suffered from the fury of Cyclone Debbie and its aftermath, and wish them all a speedy recovery, but our concern should not blind us to the link between extreme weather events, climate change, and the human activity largely responsible for global warming.

Mind you, last week US President Donald Trump exhibited such a trait when he signed yet another executive order, this time scrapping Obama-era climate change regulations that his administration says are costing jobs in the oil and coal industries. This is despite the fact that these industries say that even if deregulated they will produce very few jobs due to increased automation, which of course means larger profits.

If that’s not enough, President Trump’s executive order goes from bad to worse as it will also remove the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions.

Meanwhile, back in Australia it was pleasing to see Greens MP Adam Bandt, who has the party’s Climate Change portfolio, making the link when he connected Cyclone Debbie to a proposed new coal-fired power plant and climate change, saying more people will suffer with the burning of more coal.

The proposed new coal fired power station to which Mr Bandt is referring is a government backed scheme to use taxpayer funds allocated to a $5 billion fund to develop industries in Northern Australia to back a so-called new “clean coal” plant for Rockhampton in Queensland.

Predictably enough, and with the storm already having claimed one life, champions of fossil fuels such as Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg were quick to condemn the Greens’ comments, labelling them as “unconscionable and hysterical”, which itself sounded pretty hysterical when I heard him. He went on to say that any new coal-fired power station would produce “far lower emissions” than an existing plant because it would involve improved technology, which is far too close to the ‘clean coal’ myth championed by President Trump & Co for comfort.

Mr Bandt quite correctly pointed out that “The more coal we burn, the more intense extreme weather events like Cyclone Debbie will be. People will suffer”.

Progressive parties such as the Greens are of course not a lone voice. The Australia Climate Council warned in January that more intense and destructive cyclones were likely in Queensland as a result of climate change and rising global temperatures.

In January even China’s energy regulator told 11 provinces to stop more than 100 coal-fired projects, even though construction had already begun on some.  It follows similar initiatives last year and comes after the government said in November it would eliminate or delay at least 150 GW of coal-fired power projects between 2016 and 2020 and cap coal power generation at 1,100 GW.

A report prepared by the Sierra Club and Greenpeace published last week found there was a 48 per cent decline in the number of planned coal units in India and China and a further 62 per cent decline in construction starts with the drop mainly attributed to changed policies in China and India.

The government’s renewed embrace of coal also appears to be at odds with Australian voters. A Fairfax-IPSOS poll published on Tuesday found just 33 per cent of those surveyed believe Australia should continue backing coal. Clearly it is time for Mr Turnbull et al to listen to the people