Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: February, 2018

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today, Tuesday 27 February 2018

The Florida tragedy demonstrates the need to tighten up our gun laws

In the aftermath of the Florida high school mass shooting I once again heard and read much commentary proposing that the USA would benefit by adopting Australian style gun laws.

In the USA the problem is in part the constitution’s 2nd Amendment, which reads ”A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The amendment wasn’t meant to give the right of everyone who felt like it to buy as many automatic assault weapons as they liked, but unfortunately that is how it has been interpreted by the National Rifle Association (NRA), most politicians (many of whom received millions of dollars in campaign funds from the NRA), and of course, the courts over the past 200 years or so.

At the time of writing however, there appears to be some movement to tighten up background checks in the USA, thanks to student activism, which will certainly help, but not solve the problem. President Trump’s proposal to arm teachers certainly won’t help, it would only make things worse.

However, rather than devote my column to American gun control my column inches would be better spent on looking at how well our much daunted gun laws stand up over 20 years since the John Howard gun control laws of 1996.

My interest was sparked in part by a media release from Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, which pointed out that to a large degree that important work had come undone. “While the work of former prime minister John Howard on gun control was outstanding, the ban on semi-automatic longarms now needs to be expanded to include semi-automatic hand guns” Senator Rhiannon said.

So let’s see how the Howard era guns laws are faring now. “It is easy to become complacent, to feel reassured when our guns policy is wheeled out as an example of sensible law whenever yet another mass murder highlights the lethal consequences of legal paralysis in America” (Lenore Taylor, Guardian Australia).

Indeed, an Australian gun control audit found that the states failed to fully comply with the 1996 agreement. The details of our firearms laws aren’t nearly as uniform, or secure, or stringent, as we might believe. They are under constant challenge from gun manufacturers devising weapons that fire far more shots, far more rapidly, than the legal categorisations ever imagined, and from a gun lobby that fervently believes those categories were too restrictive in the first place.

A review of gun laws ordered after the 2014 Lindt cafe siege in took 18 months of fraught negotiation for the federal and state governments to revise the agreement. Adler imports were supposed to be banned while governments worked things out, but the Nationals senators crossed the floor to support a motion lifting the ban.

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party in New South Wales wants to repeal the national firearms agreement altogether, as does One Nation in Queensland.

In contrast, the Greens are calling for a the ban on semi-automatic longarms to be expanded to include semi-automatic hand guns.

It is high time politicians from the Liberal, Nationals, One Nation and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers parties got back to the spirit of 1996 and showed the courage of John Howard and Tim Fischer.

Advertisements

My Daily Advertiser column for today, 20 February 2018

It’s time – for a universal basic income

I’m spoilt for choice of topic this week, as many recent events are in need of commentary. Lack of space prevents detailed analysis of all bar one, so for the others I’ll confine my comments to brief remarks.

With regard to the Barnaby Joyce saga the one outstanding response for me is the overwhelming hypocrisy of the man. Having a consensual relationship while married to another woman is not the issue, for thousands have been there, but rather his massive, staggering hypocrisy when passing judgement on the LGBTIQ community. Mr Joyce also thought that preventing the risk of cervical cancer would encourage promiscuity in young women and so shouldn’t be supported. His gall beggars belief!

Another topic of note is that Mr Turnbull proudly announced that three ‘Closing the Gap’ categories were indeed closing, but glossed over those that were still miles apart for our First Nations’ young people. This is a cause for shame rather than celebration. Progress on only three?

Also last week came the revelation by the ABC that Qantas, BHP, Foxtel and Energy Australia are among hundreds of companies that haven’t paid corporate tax in Australia for the past decade. Mr Turnbull should forget about lowering the corporate tax rate and instead focus on closing the loopholes these companies exploit to avoid paying any tax at all!

However, in the number of words left in today’s column I’d like to focus on something that needs to be high up on the agenda of our social and political discourse, but sadly isn’t, and that is the concept of a universal basic income.

It has been advocated for some time by economists and social scientists. Politicians in some countries have actually put it into practice. In Australia it has floated in and out of our political arena for years, but until now has remained only an idea.

Essentially the notion of a universal basic income proposes that the government should pay everyone a regular payment to meet their basic needs, despite their income. It is proposed as a solution to inequality.

Here in Australia it was first seriously considered when the Whitlam government tasked Professor Ronald Henderson, the inaugural Director of the Melbourne Institute, to investigate all aspects of poverty affecting Australians, including race, education, health and law.

It’s report noted that “Poverty is not just a personal attribute: it arises out of the organisation of society.”

 

At the heart of the Henderson inquiry’s final recommendations was a guaranteed minimum income scheme, in which payments to pensioners (at a high rate) and payments to all other income units (at a lower rate) would be balanced by a proportional tax on all private income.

However, the Whitlam government was dismissed in 1975, six months after the final report. The new government of Malcolm Fraser hardly considered its recommendations.

Since then no government had paid any attention to the topic, but reflecting what is happening elsewhere, at least one Australian politician has put it firmly back on the agenda. Speaking at the National Press Club recently Senator Richard Di Natale said “Wages are flat, but corporate profits are booming. Inequality is out of control. Is there another way we can secure prosperity (for all)? We should not be afraid to follow those countries trialling a universal income.” Quite – it’s time to put an end to poverty.

My Daily Advertiser column for today, 13 February 2018

Coalition’s changes to Murray-Darling basin should and will fail

Thankfully the Turnbull government’s plan to reduce the amount of environmental water recovered each year in the northern basin of the Murray-Darling river by 70 gigalitres, announced last week, will likely be blocked in the Senate after Labor announced it would vote with the Greens to disallow changes to the plan, reported the Guardian Australia.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority proposed a reduction to the water recovery target in the north of the basin (mainly in Queensland and north-west NSW) from 390GL to 320GL. Farming communities in Queensland and north-west NSW had warned that they would suffer economic hardship if the higher water recovery targets were maintained.

Both the Greens and Labor expressed support for the views of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, which warned that the cut to the environmental water recovery target was not supported by the science on the river’s health.

In an advice in January, the Wentworth group warned the cut of 70GL would undermine the objectives of the basin plan and was inconsistent with the Commonwealth Water Act, which called on the authority to act “on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge and socioeconomic analysis”.

It said the amendment would not adequately protect important flow events (such as environmental flows or low flows) from being diverted by irrigators. It pointed to issues with current plans that allowed large legal diversions in some valleys and also pointed out that states had failed to deal with allegations of water theft.

The Wentworth Group called on the federal government to look at ways to mitigate economic impacts on communities, rather than lowering environmental standards.

Back to the politics. The shadow environment minister Tony Burke, when speaking against the proposal tried to have it both ways when he said Labor was not saying it would never support an amendment to the basin plan. However,  he redeemed himself when he said there had not been proper consultation with traditional owners along the river. Good point, Tony.

The heavy political lifting on the issue came from Sarah Hanson-Young, the Greens’ spokeswoman on water,  who called a spade a spade by saying the plan to save the Murray-Darling basin was failing and the river would die without an urgent refocus.

“A full, independent audit of the plan is urgently needed,” she said. “The intervention by economists and scientists today shows that there’s serious lack of trust amongst policy experts” she concluded.

Indeed,  scandals of water theft, tampering of water meters and rorting of public money spent on water and irrigation subsidies with little water being returned to the river has undermined the plan and wasted billions of taxpayers’ dollars. Unfortunately this new proposal looks like another nail in the basin’s coffin.

“Despite these scandals, the Senate is being asked to agree to a further weakening of environmental allocations. The Greens will not stand by and let this happen, which is why we will move to disallow the government’s recent push to weaken the plan’s existing sustainable diversion limits” she concluded.

Scandals of water theft, tampering of water meters and rorting of public money spent on water and irrigation subsidies with little water being returned to the river has undermined the plan and wasted billions of taxpayers’ dollars. This new proposal is yet another nail in the basins coffin.

My Daily Advertiser column for today, 6 February 2018: Australia to become a leading merchant of death

“The government is going to pay us to build cluster bombs to maim the men, women and children of other countries!” read the caption to a cartoon in the Guardian Australia, and how appropriate it was, because that is what Malcolm Turnbull and his cronies are proposing.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Australia is set to become one of the world’s top 10 defence exporters under an ambitious $3.8 billion government plan. The new defence export strategy released by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week aims to put Australia on par with major arms-exporting countries like Britain, France and Germany within 10 years.

The plan will also put us on par with Israel, and so I wasn’t surprised to see Christopher Pine spruiking this proposal as he joined the PM’s line-up, for Mr Pine has made many trips there. Israel is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of military weaponry, both hardware and soft, all of which, according to the Israeli sales pitch, has been ‘battle tested’ (in truth, we know that was in Palestinian Gaza and the West Bank).

If the big stuff only is counted, Israel ranks 10th in the world for arms exports, but if small arms, ammunition and electronic arms components are counted it would rank much, higher.

The government believes the strategy will create new jobs and bolster Australia’s shaky defence manufacturing industry, which struggles to sustain itself based on Australian Defence Force needs alone. A big boost in exports will insulate local manufacturers from the peaks and troughs – sometimes called the “valley of death” – of domestic demand.

“The centrepiece of the strategy will be a new financing facility that will make up to $3.8 billion available to Australian defence companies looking to sell overseas.

“It will provide confidence to our defence industry to identify and pursue new export opportunities, knowing that when a deal stacks up and export finance is needed, it’ll be there,” Mr Turnbull said.

But the government will also seek to boost exports in Europe, and the rapidly growing markets in Asia and the Middle East.

The government will spend a whopping $20 million a year to support the strategy: helping to identify export opportunities, making sure products are export-ready, and opening doors for Australian industry overseas.

A new Australian Defence Export Office will be established to implement the strategy, and an Australian Defence Export Advocate will be appointed to co-ordinate with the industry, and state and territory governments.

Sadly, Labor said it supported defence industry manufacturing jobs and the best way to ensure the industry’s strength was by expanding its export capacity.

The number of jobs this $20 million will create is very questionable, and of course could be invested in less lethal industries, as Richard Di Natale of the Greens said “If Bill Shorten is truly committed to peace in the region, if he’s truly committed to clean energy technology, to health and education services, then [he should say] that the billions this government promises to waste on exporting this technology to the rest of the world needs to be spent on things that really matter.”

 

Not-for-profit organisations are dismayed with the plan, with Tim Costello, the World Vision Australia chief advocate, saying the decision to become a major weapons manufacturer sends a shocking message about Australian values.