Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: June, 2017

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 27 June 2017: Budget surplus of $4.5 billion nothing to celebrate

The coffers of the NSW government are overflowing with a surplus of $4.5 billion, and billions are to be spent on school and hospital infrastructure, but before you pop the champagne corks think where all that money came from, and whether the announced expenditure is the best that can be done with it.

The money largely came from the government’s privatisation neo-liberal ideology, that is, the sale of public assets, most recently and notably the sale of our electricity supply’s ‘poles and wires’ to private enterprise. This is really bad policy because once such an asset has been sold it is gone forever, along of course with the income it generated for us year in year out.

A large proportion of the surplus was also thanks to stamp duty. This was largely because of the huge surge in Sydney property prices, but the government seems blithely unaware that it can’t last forever. The property boom is looking more and more like a bubble, and as history has taught us, bubbles always burst.

Now on to the cash splash. On the face of it $2.2 billion for school infrastructure seems on face value to be welcome news, but once the distribution of funds is understood, the real benefit of this expenditure can be seen for what it is, the blatant use of public funds to help the Coalition win the next election.

The Liberal/National coalition government has not conducted any sort of needs-based school assessment, for if it had the result would certainly not result in expenditure going to 77 Coalition seats but only 39 to Labour seats, with to 4 independent and Greens seats. It is just another example of the incumbent government using public funds at the expense of our neediest children to improve their electoral chances.

So what more could they have done with this short term surplus? Something to help the environment, which they have been busily trashing, would have been a good start. Greens MP and Environment Spokesperson, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC said that the budget completely failed the environment and ignored climate change while squirreling away billions of dollars in surpluses.

With such a large surplus they could have also done something constructive for first home buyers. Cutting stamp duty on homes up to $650,000 for first home buyers is totally unrealistic in the Sydney market, for with metropolitan median house price of more than $1 million this policy helps very few people living there buy their first home.

Regional public transport has also missed out. Though the Government has acknowledged regional NSW will have a population of 3.4 million by 2031 there is no significant planning or investment in public transport.

The budget has failed yet again to make much needed investment in active transport modes, for cycling and pedestrian infrastructure were allocated less than 0.5% of the total transport spend. An odd omission, given traffic congestion and the ever increasing levels of obesity afflicting our population.

And though the Liberal Party and its Nationals allies are trumpeting Wagga’s wins, one new public school in an undisclosed location, after years of neglect of the existing ones, and a paltry $4 million for the hospital, which is a drop in the ocean towards finishing it, are hardly anything to shout about.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for this week: Some good news in a dismal week

As last week’s news unfolded I thought it would demand a column excoriating our political leaders yet again for their wrong-footed decisions, but as time passed there were some very positive stories, for a welcome change.

But the bad news first. Peter Dutton continues to ramp up his authoritarian ambitions by moving to take over the power to revoke a migrant’s citizenship away from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, PM Turnbull launched his government’s new citizenship plans in the House of Representatives, and the NSW Government announced its plan to build a new “mini max” jail within the Goulburn’s Supermax facility at a cost of $47 million.

All the above are examples of the short-sighted and knee-jerk ‘tough’ approach to combatting terrorism adopted by the major parties, when what instead we need is a ‘smart’ response, including a cohesive strategy for countering violent extremism given that it is a social and political problem. It needs to be tackled by reaching out to Muslim communities and by including them in policy debates, especially the most vulnerable Muslim youth.

The Finkel energy policy review is stuck in limbo as the Liberal’s party room bickers over its downgrading the significance and cost of coal fired power generation. As electricity bills continue to rise feel free to point the finger at Mr. Abbott and his faction.

The bad news continued to roll in with Channel 10’s financial woes being used to talk up the government’s proposed new media ownership laws, which will allow for an increase in the concentration of ownership by a few companies. The last thing we need is the Murdoch Empire (Daily Telegraph, Fox TV, and the Australian) being allowed to also own Channel 10, but that is what is being proposed.

Now to the good news stories. First up, terminally ill patients will get faster access to medicinal marijuana and be able to import their own personal supply after the Greens teamed up with Labor and One Nation to deliver a shock Senate vote to kill off government restrictions.

The Senate vote means terminally ill patients with a doctor’s prescription will be able to personally import up to three months’ supply of the drug from regulated overseas markets.

Greens Leader Richard Di Natale spearheaded the motion, which failed when he first put it to the Senate in May.

The motion passed 40 votes to 30 this time, but that didn’t prevent a furious Health Minister Greg Hunt calling the move “reckless and irresponsible”, saying it would put lives at risk by paving the way for dodgy unregulated products, and also make it easier for criminals to get their hands on drugs. But he would, wouldn’t he

The second good news story was hearing that almost 2000 Manus Island detainees will receive $70 million in compensation after the Australian government agreed to settle a class action.

The detainees sought compensation for alleged physical and psychological injuries they claimed to have suffered as a result of the conditions in which they were held.

The Australian government and the companies that have managed the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre (G4S Australia and Broadspectrum, formerly Transfield Services) denied the claims.

A six-month trial was due to begin in the Victorian Supreme Court last Wednesday. The barrister for the detainees, David Curtain QC, told the court the parties had instead been able to reach agreement in the matter.

Settlement of class action is an admission by Peter Dutton, despite his strenuous denials, that he is responsible for the illegal detention and deliberate harm of people seeking asylum in Australia, Greens Immigration spokesperson Nick McKim quite correctly said.

He also added what many here believe, “Justice demands that these men now be brought to Australia.”

At the end of the week more good news as the government announced a gun amnesty, though it would probably be more effective if it included a buy back component.

My Op Ed column in today’s Daily Advertiser: Adani’s mine fails the public opinion test, let alone the pub test.

Last week Indian mining firm Adani announced that its board had decided to proceed with the controversial Carmichael coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin

However it is still not known if Adani has actually obtained the finance to proceed with the A$16.5 billion project, or whether it has secured the necessary A$1.1 billion loan from the federal government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to build the mine’s railway.

That hasn’t stopped the Queensland’s state Labor government boasting that the announcement is an economic win for Queensland, on the basis of job creation and for the signals it provides to potential investors in the region. But this amounts to little more than short-sighted politics.

The government appears to be steadfastly ignoring the realities of both the current energy landscape and the contemporary economics of coalmining.

For example, it seems as though Qld Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and federal ALP leader Bill Shorten have fallen for the lie being peddled by US President Donald Trump that coal mining is a job intensive industry, or are simply busily promoting the same ‘alternative fact’ entirely of their own blinkered imagining.

In contrast it was pleasing to see Greens NSW MP Jeremy Buckingham mounting a strenuous camapign against the mine, and Qld Greens Senator Larissa Waters pointing out the ‘bleeding obvious’, which that there are many more jobs on the Great Barrier Reef, if we can save it from the consequences of global warming and industrial/agricultural run-off.

The truth is that due to increasing mechanisation and automation, mining is no longer the job rich industry it used to be. Far from it in fact. True, there will be a spike in employment created by the mine’s start-up and the building of the railway liner to the port, but after that very few jobs.

Now let’s examine coal mining in the constraints of a global carbon budget, which clearly demonstrates that it is not economically viable, while renewable energy production is rapidly expanding as the world moves to more sustainable investments. The result is that coal projects could become stranded assets, with price tags that may already exceed what would have been the costs of a timely implementation of climate action.

The ‘ownership’ of coal is another issue to be factored into this equation. As Samantha Hepburn of Deakin University pointed out in The Conversation last week, we the people in fact own the coal, though it’s rather complicated, so please bear with me.

The state government owns the coal resource, but it is a special type of ownership. This is “public resource” ownership, meaning that all decisions made by the state government to exploit it must be in the interest of the public as a whole.

Issuing resource titles that allow Adani to proceed with a vast coal mine, in defiance of the social, economic and environmental impacts of such a project within a carbon-constrained economy, in fact represents a dereliction of the state’s duty to act in the public interest.

It also ignores the fact that in order to have just a 50% chance of keeping global warming within 2℃, a key aim of the Paris climate agreement, 90% of Australia’s current coal reserves must stay in the ground.

So, noting that the economics of the Adani coal mine simply do not make sense, it also fails dismally on the public interest side of things. Whether it goes ahead or falls over consideration must be given to whether the government should be held accountable for breaching public interest responsibilities in issuing the resource titles in the first place.