Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: April, 2018

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 24 April 2018

Let’s get real about cannabis – take it out of the hands of criminals. 

Finally a political party with significant numbers in our national parliament has taken the common sense though courageous step towards sensible drug law reform. In what many will regard as a long overdue move, last week Australian Greens party room leader Richard Di Natale announced plans to legalise the recreational use of cannabis to take it ‘out of the hands of criminals and dealers,’ as reported by ABC TV news.

“When will politicians realise the war on drugs has failed? We need to be investing in harm minimisation drug law reforms that work” said Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge.

The Senator is not suggesting a free for all. Instead the proposal calls for the establishment of an Australian Cannabis Agency that would be given a monopoly over the wholesale supply of the drug to shops, while collecting millions of dollars in a tobacco-style tax from consumers.

Staff at the shops selling cannabis would be forced to undergo responsible service of drugs training and varieties of marijuana would come in plain packaging detailing strains and health warnings.

“As someone who was a drug and alcohol doctor, I’ve seen how damaging the tough on drugs approach is to people,” Senator Di Natale told Channel Ten.

“Governments around the world are realising that prohibition of cannabis causes more harm than it prevents,” said Di Natale, a former GP who worked in drug and alcohol addiction.

“We’ve got to take this out of the hands of criminals and dealers, [and] we’ve got to make sure it’s within the hands of health professionals.”

As part of the plan, the agency would be created to be the sole wholesaler of cannabis, as well as the outlet responsible for issuing licenses for prospective growers and retailers. There would be strict penalties for people caught selling cannabis to minors. Adults would be allowed to grow up to six cannabis plants for personal use.

Reaction has on the whole been positive, though Health Minister (the Liberal Party’s) Greg Hunt spun the lie that, “The risk of graduating to ice or to heroin from extended marijuana use is real,” and Murdoch’s the Daily Telegraph labelled the campaign a “Loopy Green pot plan”.

However, Alcohol and Drug Foundation policy manager Geoff Munro said “There may be some positive effect. It could reduce stigma around cannabis use and make it easier for people who are dependent to seek treatment.”

President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation Alex Wodak said banning cannabis hadn’t stopped people using it, had distracted police and helped make some criminals rich.

“Regulating cannabis will give government more control and increase government revenue, which can be used to fund drug prevention and treatment,” Dr Wodak said.

The policy has support from former Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner Mick Palmer.

Di Natale also pointed out that legalising cannabis for recreational use could be a revenue earner. Though media reports noted that no evidence for this had been provided the US state of Colorado earned more than $260 million in tax revenue in 2016 after it sold more than $1.7 billion worth of marijuana, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

And a costing by the Parliamentary Budget Office for independent senator David Leyonhjelm found the budget would be boosted by $259 million over the 2015-16 forward estimates if Australia legalised cannabis. In all counts this proposal could be a win-win outcome to a problem that has bedevilled the world for decades.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 17 April 2018

Ending live sheep exports would boost regional economies

Over the past two weeks live animal exports have been much in the news after the death of 2400 Australian sheep. Many of us were disappointed to read that, as Greens Animal Welfare spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon called on the Turnbull government to end the live animal export trade, both the Federal Government and Opposition firmly resisted calls for such a ban, despite revelations of thousands of sheep routinely dying in inhumane conditions on ships.
True, there have been some small gains. The latest death ship was not allowed to leave Fremantle until conditions were minimally improved, as maritime officials demanded ventilation improvements before they issued a certificate to carry livestock.
In what was at least an improvement on the tactics employed by his predecessor, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud met with animal activists to discuss welfare aboard live export ships.
“I have now engaged with the Attorney-General’s office to help me undertake a review of the skills and capabilities and culture of the regulator, in providing a better investigative powers,” he said.
He also announced the Government would launch a whistle-blower hotline for those wanting dob in dodgy exporters.
He said the Government would also look to impose tougher penalties on dodgy exporter and their management.
But animal activists want an immediate ban on live shipments after TV broadcast footage showed sheep crowded into a small space, workers throwing dead sheep overboard, and faeces-covered pens where animals stood panting or collapsed on the ground.
The case against the way exports are currently handled isn’t limited to ‘bleeding heart’ inner city types. Western Australia farmer Craig Heggaton, for example, said “If we knew that was the situation that sheep were going in, I don’t think anyone would like to see their sheep or animals undergo that situation” though he didn’t call for an outright ban.
Thankfully others, including many sheep farmers, did see that the only solution was to completely end the live export trade. “Riverina famers call for an end to live exports” wrote the Daily Advertiser on 10 April.
Liberal MP Sussan Ley, the member for the regional seat of Farrer, even went so far as to demand that it is “Time to pick a date by which all live sheep exports must end” (DA 11 April).
So it is now acknowledged that live exports are inherently cruel and many agree that no amount of improvements will alter that. As Senator Rhiannon said, “Time and again the cruelty of the live export trade has been proven, with this latest mass death another shocking example with sheep effectively being cooked alive.”
What receives little attention though is another important aspect of this death trade: that live exports economically do not make sense when compared to other alternatives.
Senator Rhiannon also quite correctly pointed out that “Calls to tighten the rules is no solution. It is time to end this horrific practice and transition the industry to processing livestock in Australia and expanding Australia’s trade in boxed, chilled meat. The place to start is banning the live export of sheep.”
Indeed it is. Successive economic reports confirm processing the meat in Australia would create thousands of jobs and boost regional economies. Ending the live export trade would therefore mean the end of this cruel practice whilst at the same time improving the rural and regional economy. A true win-win situation.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 10 April 2018

NSW government puts religion ahead of children’s safety

In what appeared to be good news last week we learnt that paedophiles are to be punished with strengthened sentencing and new laws in changes promised for NSW (ABC TV News).

The NSW Premier and Attorney-General announced a suite of changes in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse final report.

Changes to child sex abusers’ punishment in NSW will include a maximum life sentence introduced for the strengthened offence of persistent child sexual abuse and there will be new offences for failure to report and failure to protect against child abuse. Courts to be required to sentence child sex abusers using current sentencing standards, rather than applying historic sentencing principles and they would not be able to take into account an offender’s good character when sentencing for historic offences.

“We are tightening the laws, we’re making sure NSW is not leaving any stone unturned in the relation to the protection of children,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
Yet in a more than disappointing move the Premier sidestepped introducing state laws to break the seal of confession.

Indeed, the NSW Government is putting questionable religious practices ahead of the welfare and safety of children by failing to abolish the secrecy of the confessional.

The NSW Government has failed to remove the outdated and dangerous practice of priests using the seal of the confessional to avoid reporting child sexual abuse to the police. This was one of the most important symbolic recommendations from the Royal Commission.

This is very disappointing and shows a real lack of courage from the Government. Children must be protected ahead of the interests of any church or religion and surely that means abolishing the ‘sanctity’ of the confession.

Not surprisingly, the Roman Catholic Church was quick to defend the sanctity of the confessional. For example, Denis Hart, the archbishop of Melbourne, responded by saying the sacredness of the confessional was above the law, and he would rather go to jail than report any sin he heard during the sacrament of penance, reported the Guardian Australia.

However, many of us beg to differ, for abolishing the secrecy of the confessional was one of the most important recommendations from the Royal Commission. However, rather than taking leadership, this government pushed this question off to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

So instead of putting children first, failure to remove the sanctity of the confessional shows just how much the NSW government is captured by the religious right in its ranks.
“While we welcome the government finally moving to implement our long-standing proposal to fix the unfairly lenient sentences handed down to historical child sex offenders, there is so much left undone with this announcement” Greens NSW MP and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge said.

What’s most remarkable is that the NSW Government’s headline grabbing plan for life sentences was not even a recommendation of the Royal Commission.

It is good to hear that the Greens will closely review this legislation and move to amend it to “ensure far more of the Royal Commission’s recommendations are implemented as soon as possible,” Mr Shoebridge said. Let’s hope the ALP and the cross benchers do likewise.

My Daily Advertiser column for yesterday, 3 April 2018L Australia’s real shame is in our asylum seeker policy, not in cricket.

Australia’s real shame is in our asylum seeker policy, not in cricket.

The coverage of the recent cricket ball tampering in South Africa last week certainly dominated the media, which also covered the outrage many felt about the incident. The Australian newspaper described it as an act of “shameful ignominy”. The Fairfax press upped the hyperbole when it wrote “This is cricket’s #MeToo moment”.

Even the Prime Minister became involved. The Daily Telegraph reports that “Mr Turnbull said he had spoken to Cricket Australia chairman David Peever and hoped the sport’s governing body would take ‘decisive action’.”

This is the same Malcolm Turnbull who just lost his 29th Newspoll in a row. You’d be justified in thinking that perhaps he’d have “decisive action” of his own to take. But not Malcolm, unless for him this passes as decisive action. “I’ve expressed to (Cricket Australia) very clearly and unequivocally my disappointment and my concern about the events in South Africa,” he said.

It all made me wonder about our priorities. I’m not at all down-playing the seriousness of the incident, and the three cricketers involved certainly deserve the punishments handed down to them, but whilst this story was unfolding on our television screens millions of teenagers in America marched against gun violence. They shut down cities to protest the senseless murder of their school fellows. There are 33,000 Americans who are killed in shooting deaths every year.

In Australia, we are either hanging our heads in shame or having collective apoplexy about the surface texture of a cricket ball. Clearly, we must live in some kind of paradise, or at least our commentariat seems to think we do, given that they can so casually compare scuffing a cricket ball with the experience of stigmatised, systemic sexual harassment, assault, abuse and violent deaths.

This led Barrie Cassidy, the host of ABC TV’s ‘Insiders’ political discussion show to say “I’m sure you’re sometimes gobsmacked at what passes for news in this country”. Quite.
He then told the story of a 10-year-old boy who has lived in the significantly less paradisal circumstances of indefinite detention in Australia’s asylum seeker processing centre on Nauru for the last five years.

As reported in the Guardian Australia and other newspapers of serious intentions, the traumatised child had repeatedly attempted suicide. Human rights lawyers and doctors campaigned to relocate him to Australia for acute psychiatric treatment. The Home Affairs department and its minister Peter Dutton fought the action in court. It needed a judge, deciding that the boy’s life was in immediate danger, to overrule them.
Surely a government minister actively denying care to a suicidal little boy is guilty of something far, far more serious than cheating during a game of cricket?

Shouldn’t a ‘leadership team of Australia’s representatives who abandoned a small, terrified child to violent despair be the ones met with a bare flagpole and silence that met our disgraced cricketers?

Certainly Cameron Bancroft shouldn’t have cheated. Smith and Warner shouldn’t have told him to. We should be ashamed of our national cricket team’s cheating, but what we should really be ashamed of is our nation’s treatment of asylum seekers, from Tampa and Siev X right through to offshore detentions in hell-holes such as the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. This should be our cause of shame.

And those who vote the responsible governments into power are all complicit.