Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: May, 2019

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 28 May 2019

Blatantly false election ads provoke call for truth in advertising laws

Prompted by news that the Australian Electoral Commission found 87 cases of unlawful political advertising after being inundated with almost 500 complaints during the federal election I was prompted to look further.

I soon found that these blatantly false advertisements and commercials have provoked a call for truth in advertising laws, for when it comes to political campaigning Australia does not have “truth in advertising” laws.

This means politicians can literally say whatever they like, provided they do not “mislead or deceive an elector in relation to the casting of a vote” in the eyes of the Australian Electoral Commission.

However, untruths in election advertising go back further than this year. Who can forget the carbon price of Julia Gillard’s’ Labor government became under Tony Abbott the carbon tax, when in truth it was no such thing at all?

That example notwithstanding, this election was littered with claims that were either blatantly false or very exaggerated.

For example, Liberal Party fliers accused the Greens of backing an inheritance tax when in fact the party has no such plan. The Libs also repeatedly used the Coalition’s oft-repeated line that Labor will introduce a “retiree tax”. The removal of franking credit refunds is of course not a tax.

One example was certainly dreamt up by an individual candidate. Warren Mundine, Scott Morrison’s ‘captain’s pick’ for the seat of Gilmore was caught out when he spruiked a plan to “increase the age pension”, when truth is the Liberals had no such plan. Perhaps Mr Mundine was spooked by Clive Palmer’s stated plan to raise pensions by $175.00 per week?

Nonetheless most election lies apparently do most often start on social media. For example, the invention claiming Labor planned to introduce a death tax appears to have begun on unsourced Facebook pages before it spread to other users via direct messages and paid ads. It was then amplified by Coalition politicians. This certainly gives social media a particular importance that to date has received very little analysis.

Another example is the way social media was used to spread a totally false claim that Labor planned to introduce a car tax. The origins of this claim are though different, for it is clear that there were dozens of paid Liberal Party ads spreading the car tax claim into the Facebook newsfeeds of targeted users.

“Bill Shorten and Labor plan to introduce a Car Tax which would increase the cost of nearly all of Australia’s new cars,” one such ad, paid for by the Liberal WA branch, said.

Lest it appears that the Liberals and Nationals are the only ones playing this game it needs to be noted that Labor has also used blatant falsehoods in election campaigns. It is guilty of, for example, spreading the untrue ‘Mediscare’ claim that the Liberals planned to privatise Medicare during the 2016 federal election.

The use of untrue advertising is therefore quite clear, but do we have to put up with it? Reform has routinely been described as unworkable and a potential restriction of free speech. Previous attempts to regulate advertising have failed dramatically. In the 1980s, parliament attempted to introduce such laws before quickly repealing them.

But this year’s campaign has renewed calls for reform, so the answer to my question is a firm ‘No’. The Guardian Australia quoted Integrity campaigner and former New South Wales supreme court justice Anthony Whealy saying that the lies spread through the campaign, particularly through United Australia party’s advertising, were “intolerable”.

“It’s a no-brainer, to use that cliché, that we really need to clean this up,” Whealy said.

Griffith University integrity expert and Transparency International Australia board member Prof AJ Brown said that reform was now increasingly needed, particularly due to the emergence of rogue groups on social media. Brown said the opportunities for manipulation were now too great not to act.

He said reforms could be based on current rules that prevent misleading and deceptive conduct in other, non-political advertising.

It certainly is a no-brainer, and reform could happen if Mr Morrison would only use his comfortable majority to do something about it.


My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today

The Election campaign has been far too presidential

Regardless of the outcome of the federal election just past, one feature stands out that to a degree outweighed the different policy platforms on offer – it has been far too presidential.

We don’t have a presidential system of government and it behoves the parties, candidates and the media to take note. Ours is a parliamentary system and our elected delegates in the House of Representatives and the Senate make decisions on motions that come largely from the cabinet, and those motions are, or should be, based on each party’s policies, which have been thrashed out by party members throughout the country over a considerable period of deliberative time.

In contrast, I was struck last week by the presidential nature of Scott Morrison’s campaign launch for the Liberal Party, which was a first for the Liberals in several ways.

One example was the absence of the Liberal Party hierarchy. Liberal/Nationals Coalitions cabinets have recently been beset by a number of underperforming, very unpopular or accident-prone ministers, some of whom have had to stay at home to fight tooth and nail to hang on to their own seats. Think Melissa Price as our underperforming Minister for the Environment, Peter Dutton as the deeply unpopular Home Affairs Minister, or the over-libidinous Barnaby Joyce and Andrew Broad of the Nationals.

Such a sorry crew meant that caretaker Prime Minister Scott Morrison had no choice but to leave his colleagues out of the Liberal Party’s election campaign.

Mr Morrison also demonstrated a presidential style when he announced new policies that hadn’t even been seen by the Cabinet.

But there is another consequence of the threadbare Liberal team, and it strikes me that it is the most important aspect of this topic: it encouraged Scott Morrison to campaign as though he was a special person who alone could save the day for us.

This attitude is of course very presidential. It smacks of Donald Trump, and also of our Australian minor parties built around a lone individual, such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party, who both claim to be the lone individual who can save us. It is also a very, very sorry day for Australia if they are successful, in that what becomes of us will be the outcome of the whims of one sole individual, who from all observable traits only has their own interests at heart.

Another presidential style aspect of the Liberal’s launch and indeed of the wider campaign was the way Scott Morrison’s family was highlighted: mother, wife, and children. I was initially struck by the sorry fact that, according to the Liberals, these no doubt worthy women’s value seemed to be as an appendage to a man.

That of course may be related to the Liberals appalling track record of its treatment of its female members of Parliament, but it also had similarities with the way the American presidential system features the spouse and children of the President. Having thus castigated the Liberals I should also point out that Labor featured the leader’s wife, who dutifully pointed out what a good dad Bill is.

Scott Morrison also shows all the signs of another way the American presidential system works, the ‘likeability’ factor. This played an enormous role in their 2016 campaign, where Hillary Clinton was frequently castigated as being too ‘unlikeable’.

With Mr Morrison the party’s attempt to prove his ‘likeability’ is demonstrated by countless television images of him playing the smiling role of the ‘suburban daggy dad’, which no doubt is presumably also a deliberate ploy to disguise the fact that he and his party are only serving the interests of the fortunate few from the top end of town.

One very sorry consequence of all this focus on the Leader is the way reflected in the ubiquitous attack advertisements the major parties run against each other, and in how the leaders speak about their opponents in press conferences and interviews. “Bill Shorten lies,” the PM says. “He lies, he lies all the time.” Shades of Trump’s relentless mantra of “Crooked Hillary”.

Scott Morrison’s references to his opponent are personal. They are cutting. They seek to invoke fear.

Whatever happened to play the game, not the man?

My Op Ed column for 14 May 2019

The election must heed this new environment report

As yet another Australian election campaign became mired in squabbling over taxation, health care, and the cost of cutting carbon emissions, last week conservation scientists convened in Paris dropped a bombshell that should change the course of this election. It would be a calamity if our duelling politicians failed to take heed.

The bombshell is a new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) that paints an apocalyptic vision of a world not just battered and ravaged by short-sighted human activity, but irrevocably ruined by land-clearing, overfishing and human-made climate change.

The data in the report is calamitous. Around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, way more than at any time in human history. The number is as brutal as it is mind-boggling. Our planet faces the loss of more than 50 species per day, every day, for the next 50 years.

Compiled by 450 scientists and diplomats over three years, the assessment says accelerating species extinction is likely to have significant implications for human society and urgent systemic change to reverse the decline and restore lost ecosystems.

With countries to meet in Kunming, China next year to set targets as part of the global Convention on Biological Diversity, scientists and environment groups urged the next Australian government to take a lead.

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s nature program manager, Basha Stasak, said Australia, as a developed nation with very diverse native life, should be at the forefront of the push for a meaningful deal.

She said the report made clear protecting species and landscapes would require fundamental change, including increasing funding to the national environmental budget, which has been shrunk by the Coalition government by more than a third since 2013.

“It doesn’t seem to have hit home, the state of emergency we’re facing,” said WWF conservation scientist Martin Taylor.

Martine Maron, a professor of environment management at the University of Queensland, said halting the decline of species and ecosystems would not be enough.

Richard Kingsford, the director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW, said “A lot of our decisions are made based on jobs and export dollars, but we are not looking at the long-term costs of what we’re doing. We know that but we’re still making the same mistakes. We’re passing off the economic costs to future generations” he said.

Meanwhile, what are our political parties proposing? Space only allows room to look at the Coalition, Labor and the Greens, but as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party have nothing to say on the issue that’s no great loss.

The Liberal/Nationals coalition trumpets its Climate Solution Package with cash splashes scattered around here and there but warns us that though it has an obligation to protect our environment for future generations we shouldn’t become too keen on saving the environment because  “We must also ensure a strong economy, so that the next generation can find jobs”. The PM also greeted the report with a commitment not to save the environment, but to cut ‘Green Tape’, and to oppose tighter restrictions on land clearing. He also argued that an improved Environmental Protection Authority would slow down the development of projects around the country. Hopefully his bluster didn’t fool too many people.

Labor’s election commitments include new national environmental laws, a federal environment protection authority and a native species protection fund. They are welcome if superficial promises but at this stage no more than that.

Only the Greens have significant proposals. They will begin by rewriting the outdated Howard-era federal environmental laws, thereby introducing a new generation of environmental laws, to be overseen by a federal regulatory body with expanded responsibility and with real power to enforce the law. Crucially, this national Environmental Protection Authority will operate at arm’s length from politicians and lobbyists, and so providing independent advice, free from political or corporate influence.

The Greens will also expand regulatory responsibility to include regulation of land clearing, invasive species and air pollution. And their climate policy will reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2030, thereby making a significant contribution to saving the environment.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 7 May 2019

Race to the bottom on climate change

Despite the federal election campaign being characterised by the major parties throwing around ‘cash splashes’ like confetti at a wedding, my attention was drawn to those far-sighted souls who have the sense to see that this is, or should be, a climate change election

In particular I noted the School Strike for Climate Action last Friday, and was particularly pleased to see Wagga schoolies joining in. Also last week seven key lower house independents put out a very strong call for action, largely focussed on a call to stop the Adani coal mine, and just to round out the climate action trifecta Stop Adani Wagga carried out its own piece of local activism last Friday with a mass delivery of letters to Michael McCormack’s office.

All this activism prompted me to have a good hard look at what the different parties are offering, if anything, to combat climate change. To begin with I looked at how the need for action on climate change was resonating with voters. I found that by all indications concern for climate change is indeed a decisive issue in this election.

The ABC’s Vote Compass, a survey tool that records Australians political views, showed that climate was a key concern for voters this year more than ever before. 29% of Vote Compass participants have elected the environment as their chief concern, making it the top reported issue. Three years ago it was only 9 per cent.

The evidence all voters need to see comes from the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), which assessed how the parties stack up on their policies. It awarded the Coalition the lowest mark on the scorecard.

Out of a possible score of 100, the Liberal-Nationals received a dismal score of four. The Labor Party was closer to the middle, coming in with 56, while the Greens scored the highest at 99.

“What these results show is that we cover a huge scope when it comes to climate change. Unfortunately though at the moment we are in a race to the bottom,” ACF head of campaigns Paul Sinclair said.

The ACF is an independent, non-partisan national environment organisation, which assessed the major parties by analysing their environmental policies against 50 key tests.

According to the ACF, it is not only the Coalition badly lagging in robust environmental policy. They also said Labor should do more. “They are only halfway there. They scored 59,” Dr Sinclair said.

The party’s commitment to cut carbon and develop the renewable energy sector was viewed favourably, however their uncommitted stance on the Adani coal mine negatively affected their score.

The only party that the ACF said was impressive was, unsurprisingly, the Greens. This election their climate change policies include phasing out coal entirely and establishing a renewable energy export industry.

Of course, we need to look beyond the Coalition, Labor and the Greens. There are several minor parties and independents vying for our votes too.

One Nation’s Pauline Hanson denies that humans are to blame for climate change, claiming the extinction of dinosaurs as proof, supports the Adani coal mine, and has no policies to mitigate climate change.

Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party website lists very few policies and is completely silent on climate change, though his strident advocacy for Queensland coal mining indicates rather conclusively that he is in the same denialist mindset as Ms Hanson.

It was though encouraging to see seven high-profile independents including Kerryn Phelps and Julia Banks promise to pursue climate action if re-elected, including explicit opposition to the Adani coalmine; reinvigorating the national Climate Change Authority; and to “developing a roadmap to power Australia to 100% renewable energy, aiming to achieve at least 50% by 2030”. Only 50% is however a real worry and no better than Labor.

Independents For Climate Action Now (ICAN) is a very new party that seeks to pursue policies relating to climate change, such as phasing out fossil fuels, to be replaced with renewable energy, though like the other independents it is very light on as to how it will achieve its goals.

So there you have it. An election in which voters are ranking action to combat climate change very highly, but only one party with the policies to achieve it.