Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: December, 2018

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 1 January 2019

2018 nothing to crow about

One of my favourite songs at this time of year is John Lennon’s ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’, which certainly dates me but also encourages feelings of hope as he ushers in the New Year with “Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear”.

We’ve certainly had plenty to fear in the year past, from a federal government apparently oblivious to the dangers of climate change and happy to ditch the closest it came to a national energy plan.

However, the year began with something we hadn’t expected to fear – seemingly libidinous National Party MPs, as news broke that then Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was expecting a baby with his former staffer Vikki Campion, followed later in the month with news that he was stepping down as Deputy PM.

Which ushered in our very own federal MP Michael McCormack becoming leader of the Nats and therefore Deputy PM.

It’s probably too early to tell how history will judge Mr McCormack in that position, but there have been murmurings of concern about how he handled the Nats’ other sex scandal, the Andrew Broad ‘Sugar Daddy’ affair, which neatly book-ended the year for us.

Both disgraced MPs championed ‘traditional family values’ during the Marriage Equality campaign, which by their conduct presumably means cheating on your wife.

The Nats aren’t the only party to suffer sex scandals. The ALP’s Dirt Unit found some ammunition with which to attack the Victorian Greens in the state election, and here the Greens NSW Jeremy Buckingham eventually resigned from the party after allegedly “bringing it into disrepute”. Thankfully, after some equivocation, Labor’s Luke Foley left the scene quickly.

These sexually charged shenanigans point towards a much bigger picture that dominated our political news this year, which is the position of women in the Lib/Nats coalition, and how they are treated. It really does beggar belief that there are only two female National Party federal MPs!

The change in Liberal Party parliamentary leadership from Malcolm Turnbul to Scott Morrison via an attempted coup by the apparently innumerate Peter Dutton brought to light accusations of bullying by the men of the coalition towards the women in their respective parties, highlighted by the move of Julia Banks to the cross bench, thereby further cementing the government’s loss of its majority in the House of Representatives.

That was of course achieved earlier by the Liberals losing the Wentworth by-election to Dr Kerryn Phelps, triggered by Malcolm Turnbull’s resignation after he lost the above-mentioned Liberal Party parliamentary leadership.

The Wentworth by-election highlighted the disenchantment by voters of the major parties, certainly on the conservative side of politics, a trend initiated a month earlier by our very own Dr Joe McGirr winning the Wagga by-election following the resignation of the disgraced Daryl Maguire.

It will be interesting to see if Dr McGirr’s victory carries over to the general election next March, especially as the Nationals are running a candidate for the first time in decades.

Another major development this past year was the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, which finally opened in February. It provided an ongoing series of revelations of misconduct, most notably of billing customers for services not provided, blatantly bad financial advice given in order to gain commissions, and billing deceased persons, again often for services not provided.

As well as its findings the Royal Commission was characterised by its late arrival after years of the coalition government resisting its establishment despite calls for it to be instituted by the Greens and the ALP. And despite a few heads rolling it is remarkable how many CEOs survived, after only a few formulaic mea culpas.

On the other side of the industrial front it was pleasing to see an estimated 100,000 union workers march through Melbourne’s CBD in protest about workplace conditions, thereby kicking off the Australian Council of Trade Union’s “Change the Rules” campaign, which Sally McManus has successfully rolled out across the country throughout the year.

PM Morrison’s tenure began with a disturbing trend, government by Trump-like thought bubble, when he announced, during the Wentworth by-election, that he would consider recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the Australian embassy there. His eventual decision, after finally consulting cabinet, was a compromise that satisfied no one.

My Daily Advertiser column for this week

MYEFO a smoke and mirrors stunt to fool us

Last week Treasurer Josh Frydenberg presented the Mid-Year Economic Forecast Outlook (MYEFO) as being all good news, but closer analysis shows that most of us won’t benefit.

Indeed, though the forecast is that the budget is heading for surplus it is incredibly divorced from the reality of people’s lives.

It turns out that the prospect of a balanced budget comes from company tax revenue. It certainly didn’t come from workers’ taxes, given that wages have hardly risen at all over the past few years.

The boom in company tax revenue from higher prices for our iron ore and coal exports has enabled the government to forecast a budget surplus while promising more tax cuts, worth $9bn, over the next three years.

The big picture message the government hopes people will look at and not enquire further about is that the budget is now projected to be back in surplus in 2019-20 to the tune of $5bn (The Guardian Australia).

This good news will allow the government to introduce some pre-election sweeteners, without even having to wait for the budget next April.

So in what looks like the start of a five-month election campaign Scott Morrison has already earmarked a $10 billion pork barrel for “secret” tax cuts and spending promises.

That’s what the “decisions made but not announced” are worth in the MYEFO statement. And of course the likelihood of more election spending in the April budget.

Of course there are good reasons for governments keeping the details secret once such major decisions have been made. For example, there’s the possibility of insider trading if some people know what the new programs might be, noted The New Daily.

But to state the bleedin’ obvious, the details are being kept under wraps for purely political purposes, awaiting the chance to get the most publicity, hoping voters will remember the giveaways closer to the election. Perhaps also the government is keeping some powder dry just in case something turns up to warrant a March rather than May election. And of course there’s always the possibility of an unexpected ScoMo-style stunt from the PM.

Let’s hope not, given the sour taste many of us felt about some of those recent stunts, such as the Jerusalem announcement, the Big Blue Bus that the PM used only for photo opportunities, the integrity commission that is a clayton’s one worthy of Morrison’s pre-politics advertising career, and the way the next Governor-General was announced. Here’s hoping the PM resists his stunting urges.

However, all the suggestions of pork barrelling won’t hide the fact that the economic forecast to be experienced by most Australians is the poor wages growth outlook. Indeed, the interaction of our tax and transfer system (family benefits for example) means real take-home wages continue to fall, as wage rises are stuck around the inflation rate.

That is the reality most people are facing, and with that reality the government would need particularly cunning stunts to distract an electorate that quite rightly senses it’s not getting ahead.

Greens employment spokesperson Adam Bandt MP noted that pigs will fly before MYEFO wage growth forecasts come true.

He pointed out that this year’s MYEFO joins a string of 8 years of wage growth forecasts that have never happened.

“If history is anything to go by, we’ll see pigs at 35,000 feet before these wage growth forecasts come true,” said Mr Bandt. “We’re now in our 8th year of broken wage growth promises”.

Getting a budget surplus off the back of a $385.5 million cut to university research funding isn’t ‘good economic management’, it is vandalism, as Mr Bandt also noted.

This government, and previous Labor ones too for that matter, are committed to neoliberalism, but the premise of that economic philosophy is that it does not deliver decent wage rises.

We need parliament to legislate a floor under the minimum wage, restore cuts to penalty rates and recalibrate the economy so it serves working people.

“Working people are entitled to be sick and tired of this government, but there’s no guarantee that Labor will deliver either. If the market won’t deliver wages growth, the next government needs to implement policies to generate it” concluded Mr Bandt in a refreshing note of common sense.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed for Tuesday 18 December 2018

Our government refuses to sign UN Migration Agreement

Last week over 150 countries signed a United Nations agreement in Morocco to help improve the way the world copes with mass migration, but without Australia as a signatory (ABC News 11th December).

The Morrison government parroted its usual claptrap that the global deal risks reversing ‘hard-won successes in combating the people-smuggling trade.

The Refugee Council of Australia and advocates have strongly rejected the government’s claim, citing the fact the compact is non-binding and has a provision stating that countries retain sovereignty over their migration programs.

Labor offered a mixed reaction to the announcement, with defence spokesman Richard Marles suggesting Labor would “work with the global community” on “migration”.

Speaking on an earlier occasion Senator Richard Di Natale, Australian Greens Foreign Affairs spokesperson, said “It has always been my belief and always will be my belief that we as a rich, prosperous, generous, compassionate nation have an obligation never to turn away people who seek our help and our protection and who seek to make their lives a little bit better”.

The Coalition refused to sign the agreement because of its stance that migration detention should only be used “as a measure of last resort” and that states should work towards alternatives, and so joining the United States, Israel and a group of Eastern European countries that have also refused.

The announcement comes after Scott Morrison signalled that Australia will reduce its migration cap from 190,000. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has also harped on about how Sydney is full and so NSW should reduce its migrant intake, a disguised admission that her government has failed to provide the infrastructure that this state needs.

The global compact aims to address migration issues in a “safe, orderly and regular” way through a “collective commitment to improving cooperation on international migration”.

The final draft includes a commitment to review legislation and policies to ensure “migrants are not detained arbitrarily, that decisions to detain are based on law, are proportionate, have a legitimate purpose, and are taken on an individual basis, in full compliance with due process and procedural safeguards, and that immigration detention is not promoted as a deterrent or used as a form of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment to migrants, in accordance with international human rights law”.

It states that refugees and migrants “are entitled to the same universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, which must be respected, protected and fulfilled at all times”.

The compact nevertheless “reaffirms the sovereign right of states to determine their national migration policy … in conformity with international law”.

Australia runs offshore detention facilities on Manus Island and Nauru designed to deter people from coming to Australia by boat to claim asylum and turns back boats at sea, a practice the UN has said is illegal under international law and “may intentionally put lives at risk”.

In a joint statement PM Scott Morrison, home affairs minister Peter Dutton and foreign affairs minister Marise Payne said the government believed the compact is “inconsistent with our well-established policies and not in Australia’s interest”.

Predictably but without any evidence they warned the compact would “risk encouraging illegal entry to Australia and reverse Australia’s hard-won successes in combating the people-smuggling trade”.

Refugee Council of Australia chief executive Paul Power said the compact recognised both the rights of migrants and the right of sovereign states to set their own policy.

“In refusing to sign the compact, Australia will join a small group of governments which are each trying to appeal to or appease minority far-right political movements within their countries,” Power said.

“It is hard to see the Australian government’s decision as anything other than posturing for some political gain, as the facts do not align with the prime minister’s claims.”

Carolina Gottardo, the director of Jesuit Refugee Service Australia accused the Morrison government of “misinformation” and a “political game” for having argued for stronger protections of sovereignty, only to refuse to sign the non-binding compact on the grounds it harmed sovereignty.

“The final compact is a major achievement, it is measured and constructive.

“It’s a non-binding agreement of great normative importance that does not threaten border protection or efforts to stop people smuggling.” Well put Ms Gottardo.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 11 December 2018

Merchants of hate infest our parliaments

It seems that almost every day we are met with a new far-right conservative movement. The spectrum ranges from straight-up neo-Nazis, or fascists masquerading as libertarians, to the mad hatter brigade with their conspiracy theories. Some of them are in our current federal parliament.

“Collectively, I call these groups ‘merchants of hate’. Perhaps ‘charlatans’ or ‘quacks’ would be better terms,” said Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi (Hansard 14 November 2018).

They prey on the anxieties of Australians and offer solutions that are empty, hateful and divisive. Why? Because they find it easier to destroy communities than to build them. Where is their vision? Where are their big ideas for a better Australia?

True, we have big problems in this country. Wages are stagnant, and corporations refuse to bear their fair share of tax needed to fund essential public services like schools, universities, TAFE, health care and public transport. People are being left behind. More than 116,000 people are homeless, and that number is rising.

A culture of corruption and the revolving door between politics and big business costs us all. The voices of big money, and their donations, echo far more loudly in the corridors of parliament than do the voices of the community.

But these ‘merchants of hate’, instead of offering solutions that will actually help people in our society, choose to whip up hysteria against minorities in this country because it suits their weak-minded political vision that hopes to keep Australia in turmoil.

“It is the classic divide-and-rule, distract-and-act mentality: point to an imaginary enemy and hope that no-one notices you don’t actually want solutions because you thrive on problems, conflict and suffering,” said Dr Faruqi.

They are selling Australians lies, because that is all they have. What else can we conclude when parties like One Nation talk about ‘Aussie battlers’ but then go ahead and vote to strip billions of dollars out of our public schools? They tell their supporters one thing and then do another. I wonder how they sleep at night?

Mario Peucker, a postdoctoral research fellow at Victoria University’s Centre for Cultural Diversity and Wellbeing, has looked at the far right and its emergence. He noted “Australia, the UK and the US have their individual circumstances but there is an underlying root cause and that is there are economic shifts and social shifts that some segments of society aren’t happy with. Some people feel left behind.

Rather than providing ideas that address the root of people’s anxieties and concerns the merchants of hate exploit those anxieties to get themselves elected.

Who is responsible for the rise of the far Right and legitimatising hate? The current government have to bear some responsibility for stoking the flames of division. The media has to bear some responsibility. Sky News, for example, continues the cycle of ‘outrage, apologise, outrage, apologise’, knowingly inviting racists and fascists onto its shows to generate media. Sunrise regularly paid Pauline Hanson to join its show before she was elected to parliament.

The far Right also relies on social media to spread its lies. Social media has become a breeding ground of hate and fake news, but those platforms have not taken seriously their responsibility to protect their users from abuse.

The good news, though, is that it doesn’t have to be this way. There is another way, and there are good people in our communities and local, state and federal parliaments who are firmly standing up against the Far Right.

As Dr Faruqi said recently in the Senate “I got involved in politics because I wanted to give a voice to marginalised and ignored people and to the environment and animals. A core part of the Greens’ mission is to champion the voices of those silenced, to dissent on behalf of the dissenters”.

So don’t believe the Far Right when it blames migrants, ethnic communities, refugees, or Muslims for our decaying social infrastructure, high youth unemployment, insecure work and a rising cost of living. The fault in fact lies with the big end of town and its narrow neoliberal agenda that consistently prioritises the interest of big business and big money above people.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 4 December 2018

School students show the way

Last Friday thousands of students wagged it and converged on MP offices, parliaments around the country, and various public spaces in the Big School Walk Out for Climate Action.

The movement, School Strike 4 Climate Action, has been inspired by a 15-year-old Swedish student, Greta Thunberg, who started boycotting classes before parliamentary elections in her nation on September 9, and continues to skip school every Friday.

Students in each state capital and across 20 regional Australian centres walked out of their classrooms this week to tell politicians that more of the same climate inaction is not good enough.

PM Scott Morrison hectored children to stay in class rather than protesting things that “can be dealt with outside of school”.

Of course, what Mr Morrison overlooked, and has for a very long time, is that climate change isn’t being dealt with outside of school. It certainly isn’t being dealt with by his government.

“What we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools” he said, conveniently forgetting that this student activism isn’t happening in schools, but outside. But Mr Morrison isn’t one to let the truth get in the way of an indignant response, as he regularly demonstrates at press conferences and during Parliamentary Question time.

“The students want and believe that action on climate change is essential, which our parliament seems not to” (Mary Kidson, Letters to the Editor, 1st December).

Naturally enough students aren’t happy with the PM’s response. Melbourne student Jagveer Singh, who will take part in the protest, said Mr Morrison’s broadside made him “want to go on strike even more”. (SBS News)

Indeed, in Question Time Mr Morrison reacted furiously when Greens MP Adam Bandt brought up the protest, angrily saying “Each day I send my kids to school and I know other members’ kids should also go to school but we do not support our schools being turned into parliaments.”

Mr Bandt said he had met with some of the students involved and backed their actions.

“The PM is unbelievably out of touch with young people, not only in Australia but around the world,” he said.

“These students want a leader to protect their future, but they got a hectoring, ungenerous and condescending rebuke from someone even worse than Tony Abbott,” he said.

Students planning to participate in a national school strike last Friday should ignore the Prime Minister’s patronising speech on the matter, said Member for Ballina and Greens NSW Education spokesperson Tamara Smith MP.

“The idea that schools and students should have less activism – how incredibly out of touch is the Prime Minister to suggest that young people are not activists in their own right?” said Ms Smith.

“I will be supporting students from my electorate during their School Strike on Friday at Railway Park at Byron Bay. I am proud to be their local MP” concluded Ms Smith.

Last Tuesday, the Senate also approved a motion to support the students, moved by Steele-John and fellow Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi. Other students around the world have also posted messages of support on social media.

Swedish 15-year-old Greta Thunberg, the inspiration for our Australian students, leaves school each Friday and sits outside her country’s parliament to urge leaders to do more to tackle climate change.

“Countries like mine and Australia must start reducing our emissions dramatically if we believe in equality and climate justice.”

Greta has now seen her Friday vigils for action on climate change copied in many parts of the world, including Finland, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Canada and Britain. “And Australia of course!” she says.

Students from Castlemaine, a town in the Victorian goldfields north-west of Melbourne, were the originators of the School Strike movement in Australia after reading about Greta Thunberg and also the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report.

Tully Boyle, a 15-year-old at Castlemaine Secondary College, has already taken part in several school boycotts. “It’s a massive emergency,” Tully says. “We want all governments to take it seriously.”

I’ll leave the last word to Greta. “And Australia is a huge climate villain, I am sorry to say. Your carbon footprint is way bigger than Sweden and we are among the worst in the world.”