Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: January, 2018

My Daily Advertiser column for this week

Our environmental protection efforts a global embarrassment

In yet another example of burying bad news during the festive season (or the silly one, take your pick) the federal Department of the Environment and Energy quietly released a draft plan in the week before Christmas titled Australia’s Strategy for Nature 2018-2030.

This is a mere 17-page document aiming to “care for nature in all our many environments” against threats such as climate change, feral pests, pollution and urban development. All that in 17 pages.

Not surprisingly then this official plan to protect the nation’s animals and plants has been denounced by critics as a “global embarrassment”, at the same time as a federal government adviser warns that future generations of Australians may never know a world rich in nature.

It comes amid figures showing 134 species have been classed as threatened in the seven years since Australia’s last plan to protect biodiversity was released, including the Cape York rock wallaby, the Australian fairy tern and the blue star sun orchid.

The ever-growing list points to a disastrous failure by successive state and federal governments to reverse the crisis of species loss.

Australia has one of the world’s worst extinction records and a national State of the Environment report last year declared biodiversity, which includes plant and animal species, habitats and ecological communities, was worsening.

Perhaps indicative of the government’s attitude, the new draft plan has dispensed with specific targets, and instead contains sweeping objectives such as “encourage Australians to get out into nature” and “enrich cities and towns with nature”.

Understandably, an alliance of Australia’s biggest environment groups including the Australian Conservation Foundation, The Wilderness Society and WWF described the document as “deeply inadequate” and “a global embarrassment” which shirked Australia’s international obligations to arrest a steep biodiversity decline.

The alliance, known as The Places You Love, decried the absence of measurable targets, and said the strategy contained no new funding or laws, or any other “concrete commitments to save Australia’s precious natural world.”

Humane Society International Australia head of programs Evan Quartermain said rather than addressing the failure to meet previous targets, the Turnbull government “has served up simplistic and unmeasurable dot points that … fall far short of the international commitments to conserve biodiversity we have made at the United Nations”.

Australian Conservation Foundation policy analyst James Trezise described it as a “wafer-thin plan … which reads like a Year 10 school assignment”.

A Sun-Herald editorial on this very topic, trying no doubt to find something of merit in this abysmal document, noted that “We, the people of Australia, are the collective custodians of this land and its future …We are custodians of its fauna, responsible for ensuring there will be flourishing diversity of species for generations to come.

Every one of us must play our part. Yet, when we look to the federal and state governments for leadership on this issue, there is an abysmal retreat under way.”

In a related issue, Greens Senator for Queensland Andrew Bartlett said last week that Malcolm Turnbull’s pledge of millions of dollars to protect the Great Barrier Reef ”is a wasteful publicity stunt aimed at distracting attention away from those who continue to put the Reef at risk.”

If Mr Turnbull was serious about protecting the Great Barrier Reef, he would listen to scientists and transition away from the real reef-killer: the fossil fuel industry.

My Daily Advertiser column for Tuesday 23 January 2018: Most don’t mind what day Australia Day is held

In recent weeks I’ve been gearing up to write today’s column on the topic of Australia Day, preparing to argue that 26 January isn’t an appropriate date, whilst at the same time being subject to a barrage of propaganda from many politicians and commentators firmly denying there should be change.

Though I was heartened by a few lone voices calling for change, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that ‘Most Australians don’t mind what date it’s held, according to new poll’ (ABC Radio AM).

Conducted by Canberra think-tank The Australia Institute, and released amid increased debate about the date, the poll found that 56% of Australians don’t mind when it’s held, and 37% found 26 January to be offensive. Almost half, 49%, felt that it should not be on a date offensive to Indigenous Australians.

In a Daily Advertiser survey of only 400 people the figures didn’t quite match, but even so 35% found the date to be inappropriate.

It’s offensive because to many of us the day Captain Phillip established the British convict settlement at Sydney Cove is quite rightly regarded as ‘Invasion Day’, marking the beginning of the British conquest of a civilisation dating back 60,000 years. That conquest decimated the First Peoples of this land, and as we are all too aware, the consequences are still being felt.

Another clear reason for changing the date is that it does not in any way mark the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia, which was on 1 January 1901. Between 1788 and 1900 what we know as Australia was simply a series of separate British colonies, beginning with NSW, then Van Diemen’s Land, then the Swan River colony (later WA) and so forth.

Appropriately then Greens leader Richard Di Natale has launched a renewed campaign for change, and quite sensibly jumped on the survey’s figures.

“What it does demonstrate is there is a great opportunity to move the nation forward, to choose a day that allows us to celebrate all the things that it means to be Australian,” he said.

PM Turnbull has been arguing to keep the dater as it is, and Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister Alan Tudge is adamant there is no need for change.

“It is a great unifying moment for this country where we properly celebrate our history, our Indigenous heritage, our British foundations and the multicultural character of this nation,” he said.

It certainly beats me how the settlement of one small penal colony can be a unifying moment for an entire continent and federal nation state, Mr Tudge.

Perhaps we might find the momentum for change coming from the grassroots, as several local government councils have abandoned 26 January. Last year, following the lead of the WA’s Fremantle council, Moreland, Darebin and Yarra councils “The Greens are planning to use their numbers in local governments across the country to spearhead a push to move Australia Day” said Di Natale.

Of course, changing the date begs the question of when the new date should be. 1 January is already a public holiday and so most would probably resent losing a day off, and given that for 67 years the Commonwealth of Australia legally didn’t recognise its First Peoples even as human beings, let alone citizens, it would still be offensive to many.

Perhaps the Australia Institute deputy director Ebony Bennett pointed the way when she noted that “Some people chose events that haven’t happened yet —like signing a treaty with the Aboriginal people of Australia or when Australia becomes a republic”.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column fror today, Tuesday 15 January 2018

New evidence of corruption shows need for a Federal ICAC

Last week it was reported that in the last three years the number of federal public servants who have witnessing corruption in the workplace has doubled. When will Malcolm Turnbull wake up to the need to establish a national anti-corruption watchdog?

Last year, despite endless political scandals, the old parties still teamed up to block a motion from the Greens for an anti-corruption watchdog. What do they have to hide?

The clear majority of our public service sector do important work and conduct themselves with the utmost integrity. Yet more accounts of corruption demonstrate that we desperately need to establish an independent anti-corruption watchdog

Let’s look at the details. A survey of the bureaucracy revealed 5 per cent of respondents said they had seen misconduct, with cronyism and nepotism the most common charge.

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) has admitted there is some corruption in the bureaucracy, but stressed it remained rare and staff were vigilant to the threat.

However, former New South Wales Supreme Court Judge Anthony Whealy said corruption could be more widespread than many realised. “We know that in the public service whistleblowing is absolutely frowned on,” Mr Whealy told the ABC.

“People who work in the public service, in many instances, would be afraid to report their superiors or even their equals who are involved in corruption.”

For the first time, the APSC has asked whether staff believed they worked in a high corruption risk environment. Most respondents in 59 agencies agreed this was the case.

Mr Whealy, who is also the president of Transparency International, said it showed the need for an independent watchdog.

“I think there is a significant chance that these figures are very conservative and the level of inappropriate behaviour amounting in some cases to corruption would be considerably higher than these figures demonstrate,” he said.

Leading administrative law barrister Mark Robinson SC said he had no doubt there was corruption at all levels of government.

“Whenever there is discretionary statutory power exercised that is not openly accountable to external and independent scrutiny, corruption can and will flourish,” he said.

Public servants are subject to Senate estimates hearings and independent audits, but proponents of a federal commission said more oversight was required.

Last month Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull did open the door to a national anti-corruption body, albeit only slightly. Now he should engage with the National Integrity Committee (NIC) set up last month to advise policy makers on the best model.

Commenting on the Prime Minister’s very small policy shift the Greens democracy spokesperson, Senator Lee Rhiannon said, “The Prime Minister will undermine his own announcement that he is considering a national anti-corruption body if he continues to advocate for a model similar to the Victorian IBAC.

“The IBAC itself has acknowledged that it is unable to investigate serious allegations because it lacks legislative teeth”.

With polling consistently showing that about 80 per cent of Australians recognise that there is corruption at a federal level the Prime Minister would be in dangerous territory if he thought he could get away with setting up a weak and restricted oversight body.

“I strongly urge the Prime Minister to follow the advice of the National Integrity Committee. This body can help remove the roadblocks that to date have stopped the formation of a federal corruption watchdog” Senator Rhiannon added.

The federal government should heed this new evidence and move immediately to establish a full federal ICAC.

My Daily Advertiser column for today, 2 January 2018

Despite marriage equality finally being achieved, 2017 otherwise not a good year

Though Australia’s belated recognition of marriage equality was a justifiable cause for celebration, the year just past had little else to shout about. Indeed, politically it was a pretty miserable year all round.

Internationally Saudi Arabia and Iran continue their proxy war in Yemen, slaughtering many and killing millions more through war induced cholera or starvation. The Myanmar military seems intent on the ethnic cleansing of the country’s Rohingya population while Aung San Suu Kyi, previously the heroine of progressives just about everywhere, looks the other way.

Speaking of ethnic cleansing, Donald Trump further extended the United States’ support for Greater Israel by recognising Jerusalem as being solely Israel’s capital, at the expense of the indigenous Palestinians, for he was in fact acknowledging Israel’s illegal annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem, with its vastly expanded boundaries eastward into the West Bank. And just to show two can play at that game, the defeat of IS in Syria has in part resulted in the Assad’s brutal dictatorial regime being confirmed in power, courtesy of Russia’s President Putin.

Here at home the political scene has been messy, to say the least. The Liberals had to contend with sniping from their own back bench (thank you Mr Abbott) and their constantly negative poll trend, while the Nationals ended the year with some spectacular infighting of their own, like a bunch of bulls in a paddock, as the Guardian’s Katherine Murphy memorably put it.

After a year of encouraging opinion polls Labor ended the year by spectacularly underperforming in the Bennelong byelection, no doubt in part due to the Lib/Nats exploitation of the Sam Dastyari mess.

Surely Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Senate stunt of dressing in a full burqa was a real low for Australian politics. It was blatant ‘dog whistle’ designed to appeal to her voters, though perhaps it was more of a ‘fog horn’, so blatant and obviously racist was it.

The Australian Greens also had a spot of bother when the federal party room inexplicably chose to punish Senator Lee Rhiannon for upholding the Greens NSW’s constitutional right to voice that state’s position on Gonski 2.0, a position ultimately found to be spot on when we discovered how much private schools are to profit from Mr Turmbull’s largesse. It was a spat eventually papered over, as was the position of two Greens senators (Ludlum and Waters) being found to be ineligible to sit in Parliament because of just discovered dual citizenship.

The dual citizenship saga is probably the messiest aspect of 2017’s politics, though like many others I’m still waiting for Mr Turnbull to apologise for belittling Senators Ludlum and Waters, given that the Liberal and National party rooms have been found to be awash with dual citizens.

In terms of political achievements, the 1917 outcome is wholly negative, except for marriage equality, that is. Probably the standout was the creation of an American style ‘super ministry’, a massive reorganisation of Australia’s intelligence and security agencies, with Peter Dutton to head a new Home Affairs ministry responsible for ASIO, the AFP, Immigration and Border Security. Even Rupert Murdoch’s usually sycophantic The Australian remarked that it was ‘overstepping the mark’.

This wasn’t the only example of the Americanisation of Australia under the Lib/Nats coalition government. Turnbull’s Gonski 2.0 funding model has privileged private schools over public ones, and his energy policy is hell bent on aping Trump by maintaining the supremacy of coal, as visually illustrated by Treasurer Scott Morrison waving around a lump of coal in the House of Representatives, against all the rules banning the use of props.

Morrison also ended the year by further aping Trump when he called for Australia to follow the US by massively lowering the corporate tax rate, thereby of course benefiting the wealthy.