Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: January, 2019

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 29 January 2019

Pill testing safer than current practice

I’m spoilt for choice this week with the many options available for comment. I could begin by assessing the wisdom of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ‘Captain’s Pick’ decision to overturn the local liberal party branch’s preselected candidate for Gilmore and replace him with newly minted liberal party member Warren Mundine, not a local. Previously an ALP President, Mr Mundine is now linked to the conservative right-wing free market unrestricted capitalism loving Sydney Institute, which may explain things.

Equally bizarre was the PM’s announcement that the federal government would fund a circumnavigation of Australia by a replica of Captain Cook’s Endeavour on the 250th anniversary of his voyage in 2020, costing us a cool $6.7 million. Perhaps the PM doesn’t know Captain Cook only sailed up the east coast. The first white fella to circumnavigate the continent was Matthew Flinders.

No doubt Mr Morrison will also peddle the arrant nonsense that Captain Cook ‘discovered’ Australia. Try telling that to our First Peoples, or the Dutch for that matter.

However, rather than focusing on examples of the PM shooting himself in the foot I’ll concentrate on having another look at the vexed topic of pill testing at music festivals.

My decision was prompted by Cate Faehrmann, a Greens NSW MP and drugs and harm minimisation spokesperson, who last Monday courageously came out as a former pill user. “I remember vividly the first time I took MDMA. I was with friends at a club in Brisbane in the early 90s. A month or so later we did it again. And again” she wrote.

Her rationale to speak out reads “As a politician I’ve made the difficult decision to “come out” in this way because the government’s zero-tolerance approach to drugs has not only been a catastrophic failure in stopping drug use, it is costing people their lives. It is so out-of-touch with millions of people’s reality that everyone has stopped listening.

“Young people are not fools. They want us, as politicians, to “get real” about illegal drugs. Their parents want us to stop the moral crusade and listen to the evidence” she said.

This means being honest about the nature and extent of drug use and accepting the evidence that a harm minimisation approach, where illegal drug use is treated as a health issue not a criminal one, works.

We also need to ‘get real’ about the role that alcohol plays in our society generally, and in the life of politicians.

Alcohol has a number of negative effects. It is a major cause of many types of cancer, and other health concerns include damage to the liver, heart and brain, high blood pressure and stroke, and of course, risks to unborn babies.

It is also associated with injury, violence, crime and motor vehicle accidents.

As to politicians and alcohol I could fill umpteen columns with stories of politicians behaving badly because of alcohol. If he hadn’t been drinking at that parliamentary Christmas party a couple of years ago Luke Foley would still be leading Labor into the forthcoming state election, for example.

Last week former ALP senator Sam Dastyari told the world that it was deemed acceptable to be intoxicated during question time in parliament. “I think people would be blown away if they knew what happens in parliament,” he said.

Each year, alcohol abuse is killing 5000 people nationally and hospitalising 150,000 more at a cost to the taxpayer of $36 billion.

With all that in mind Ms Faehrmann’s youthful pill popping pales in comparison with the drinking habits of many politicians.

The hypocrisy of any “don’t do drugs” message from an adult who may smoke, drink alcohol or abuse prescription drugs is clear to see.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale attended a recent pill testing rally to support the harm minimisation approach. “We know testing pills doesn’t guarantee safety but it’s damn safer than what we’re doing now,” Mr Di Natale told the crowd.

The nay-sayers tell us that pill testing sends the wrong message, but what they are really saying is that if somebody makes a choice to take a drug, they should pay for that choice with their lives. No decent society should do that.

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My Daily Advertiser column for 22 January 2019

Citizenship ceremonies directive the start of a dirty election campaign

No one will be surprised that as we approach Australia Day the debate about whether 26th January is the right day ramps up.

To add fuel to the fire Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s latest example of government by thought bubble has threatened local councils that don’t hold their citizenship ceremonies on 26th January. He’s also laid down the law on how we should dress for the ceremonies, an odd one from someone who seems to be vying for the title of Australia’s most well-known ‘daggy dad’.

The debate is heating up not just because Australia Day is almost here, but also because the PM has already kicked off the 2019 federal election campaign by clearly ratcheting up the ‘culture wars’ as one of his campaign tools, through an appeal to our patriotism. As such this promises to be a particularly ugly campaign, replete with racist dog whistles.

As Greens leader Richard Di Natale said, warnings on people-smuggling operations and forcing local councils to hold citizenship ceremonies on January 26 was evidence that the coalition plans to fight dirty.

“No question we’ve got an election coming up which will be fought on fear and division,” Senator Di Natale told reporters in Melbourne last Monday.

“They’ll try and divide and conquer the Australian community in an effort to win the next election, that’s what they do,” he said.

The coalition is also warning people-smuggling operations could ramp up again if Labor wins the next election, after a boat was intercepted off Malaysia 10 days ago.

Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge also pointed out another link when he tweeted “This is some serious culture war nonsense from a PM who wants to cover up for the disaster in the Murray Darling among other things.”

The PM’s directives were met with mixed reactions. Most of the commercial mainstream media, reflecting its conservative bias, was strongly in support, though it was pleasing to see the DA reflect Mayor Greg Conkey’s sensible response.

Social media was a different story, with many posts quite rightly pouring scorn on Mr Morrison’s instructions.

Labor’s Bill Shorten, probably because he didn’t want to frighten the horses in this election year opposed ‘changing the date’, though he did quite rightly point out that “The Government’s trying to play a bit of politics. It’s what the conservatives do to keep their base happy, talking about this.”

Thankfully though the Greens responded in force, promising to make changing the date a major focus this year. Predictably the Federal Government hit back, calling it a publicity stunt that aims to divide the nation. In my book it is a sensible suggestion to improve the situation.

Di Natale said January 26 “was a difficult day for many Indigenous Australians.” As such is frequently referred to as either ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Survival Day.

He said changing the date would acknowledge the effect the day has on our First People.

“I think we’re at the start of a very important conversation across the country, and I’m very optimistic that over time we will see momentum for this change grow,” he said.

There are specific, more appropriate ‘change the date’ solutions to this problem including the anniversary of the proclamation of the independence of the Commonwealth of Australia, though as that’s 1st January it could also be problematic.

27th May is an option, referring to the 1967 referendum to include Indigenous Australians as citizens. Almost 91 per cent of Australians voted Yes. It also marks the beginning of National Reconciliation Week every year.

We could of course consider whether we really need a national day at all. Not all nations do, and perhaps the world would be a better place without all the hyper nationalistic chest beating and flag waving that goes on during such days.

And have we really much to celebrate? As Luke Pearson said “I have come to the opinion that there are too many people who seem to think the problem with Australia Day rests solely on the day we celebrate it, not with what we are celebrating” (The Guardian). “I don’t really feel that Australia, where we sit right now, is worth celebrating”. Well said Luke.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 15 January 2019

Fish deaths due to poor water management

Last Thursday the Daily Advertiser reported that the fish deaths in the River Darling/Menindee Lakes are a “man-made disaster”. Though man-made could perhaps have been better expressed as ‘anthropomorphic’ to avoid charges of sexism the reportage is accurate in that the deaths are largely due to human mismanagement of the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) river system, which has largely been in the hands of white men.

Let’s look at the causes of this disaster. NSW Premier Ms Berejiklian has the nerve to make the argument that the state government carries no responsibility. Pull the other one, Gladys.

NSW Regional Water Minister Neil Blair parroted the same nonsense when he said the drought was to blame for blue-green algae and fish deaths.

Many however are fighting this position, calling it a man-made disaster and telling the ABC it is a symptom of mismanagement.

The Nature Conservation Council noted that “Scientists, locals and environment groups have all attributed the mass fish kill to the mismanagement of the river, yet the NSW Government denies responsibility.”

Menindee farmer Kate McBride said, “The Menindee lakes were drained twice within four years and each time it was drained it should have had seven to eight years’ worth of water”.

The Menindee Lakes are at 5 per cent capacity and are expected to be empty by the end of January.

Mr Blair, showing his skill at blame-shifting, said it was a Federal Government decision to drain water from Menindee, and that the NSW Government only took control of their management when there was more than 480 gigalitres of water in them.

Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud was equally adept at blame-shifting when he shot back with “NSW is managing the Menindee Lakes system because of the drought and they are responsible for water management in their catchments, including water allocation and compliance enforcement.”

As Sarah Hanson-Young, Australian Greens spokesperson for the MDB pointed out “Without adequate environmental flows, there is no irrigation, no water coming out of the tap for thousands of families and no tourism.”

Inland Rivers Network president Bev Smiles said this problem at Menindee started before the drought, and pointed the finger at the water-thirsty cotton industry.

“The cotton industry is capturing all the water and everyone downstream is left with no water,” she said.

Chief executive of the Murray Darling Basin Authority Phillip Glyde said his team was getting the balance between environment and agriculture right.

“We are reducing the amount of water used by farmers by 20 per cent and that’s had a huge impact on those industries and the communities that depend on those industries,” he said. That’s misleading wishful thinking, as it is clearly not enough.

However, accurate though Ms Smiles’ reference to the cotton industry is, there is another major instance of water mismanagement I’d like to emphasise, which is floodplain water harvesting.

This is a formal NSW Government policy, which it is currently implementing under the title of the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy, as part of its broader water management reforms across the Murray-Darling Basin.

The policy’s stated aims are to provide clarity and certainty around how floodplain harvesting is managed in NSW, protect downstream users and the environment from the effects of unconstrained floodplain harvesting, secure the social licence for legitimate floodplain harvesting activities to continue, and provide a licensing regime that will form the basis for effective compliance and enforcement.

As this outbreak of blue-green algae and the fish deaths show its aim of protecting the environment from “the effects of unconstrained floodplain harvesting” has demonstratively failed.

As a recent Facebook post from Tolarno Station pointed out “This NSW government has already done more damage than any government in Australian history to the survival of (the) river system and Menindee lakes. It appears that the NSW Government policies (have been) created not only to undermine the MDB Plan but also the very basis of the rivers’ survival (for the) financial benefit of a select few at the expense of the river system’s future.”

So it seems that the Floodplain Water Harvesting policy is yet another example of the problem that has bedevilled the way we provide water for agriculture since the earliest days of white fella water management: over allocation of water for irrigation.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 8 January 2019

Billions wasted on false Law and Order policies that make us less safe

As 2019 gets under way the reaction of some of our politicians to proposals to prevent music festival deaths through the very sensible introduction of harm minimisation practices such as pill testing reminds me that the Law and Order brigade, colloquially known as our old friend ‘Laura Norder’, is still with us in the new year. Indeed, and regrettably, she is alive and well.

That thought brought to mind a NSW government report released last December that for most of us was probably lost in the lead up to Christmas, or buried by tales of errant National Party MP Andrew Broad’s ‘Sugar Daddy’ affair and the scurrilous tweets he was foolish enough to send boasting of his sexual prowess while at the same time championing traditional family values. Or perhaps it got lost in news of the verdict in the case of a prominent cleric’s child sexual abuse case that we aren’t allowed to know about, but that everybody did, and most couldn’t resist talking about, even though they were told not to.

It was the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research report on Trends in Violent and Property Crimes. It showed that despite scare mongering reports to the contrary, the crime rate was again lower, but, as Greens NSW Justice spokesperson David Shoebridge MP sensibly commented “Crime is down again, but we’re still throwing billions more at law and order policies”.

Let’s look at the facts (real ones, not Trump-like ‘alternative’ ones) before checking to see if the Liberal/National state coalition government is indeed wasting our tax payer dollars on the false but electorally advantageous premise of being tough on crime.

The report shows that the long-term trend has been going down since 2003. It shows that certain crimes, such as murder, domestic violence assault and sexual assault as being ‘stable’. So are robbery and fraud.

However, some crime statistics have actually fallen. Down are breaking and entering, motor vehicle thefts, and stealing from a person. That one is down by a massive 8.4%

Yet despite the evidence that all major criminal offences are falling or stable across NSW the NSW Liberal/Nationals coalition government, together with the support of the Labor “opposition” continue to throw billions of dollars of public money into funding a failed and flawed law and order agenda.

As David Shoebridge said, “When the data shows that crime is going down we must reassess money this Government has committed to funding their flawed law and order agenda”.

Indeed, given such clear evidence that the crime rate is falling, it makes no sense that our prison population continues to grow and that we’re spending $3.8 billion on new prisons and paying for 1500 new police.

Yet for decades public policy and the evidence on crime have drifted apart in NSW.

As Mr Shoebridge commented, “This money would better be spent helping children in need by providing early intervention in our child protection system, funding community programs and protecting our environment”.

Indeed, this data should is cause for a radical rethink in the billions of dollars we spend every year on more police, longer court lists and more prison cells.

Why is there this disconnect between the clear as daylight evidence and the government and opposition’s policy?

Most likely because announcing more jails or police plays well in the tabloids, on the evening television news, and in commercial radio shock-jock interviews. And with a state election looming in March being seen to be ‘tough on crime’ is judged to be electorally advantageous – the old Law and Order policy that is trotted out every time an election comes around.

The problem is that all this is actually making us less safe because it’s diverting funds from justice reinvestment projects that we know make communities stronger and safer.

So rather than reintroduce us to their friend Laura Norder yet again it is high time the NSW Government immediately reassessed its funding priorities, given this data. Use the money instead to treat the causes of anti-social behaviour rather than put increasingly heavily militarised band aids on a steadily diminishing problem. But with state and federal elections due soon unfortunately that may be a forlorn hope.