Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: July, 2019

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 30 July 2019

An indigenous voice to Parliament can be established

In his National Press Club speech to mark NAIDOC Week, Indigenous Australians minister Ken Wyatt announced his support for a process to co-design a Voice to Parliament, as called for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. His words were cautious, did not over-promise and emphasised the imperative of bringing everyone along in developing a consensus approach to recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution.

As with any political process, a range of views were aired in the following days.

The mainstream political response was predictable. PM Scott Morrison was quick to say that he wouldn’t countenance a third chamber in our national parliament, and arch-conservative Liberal back-bencher MP Craig Kelly said that if the proposal included an idea like a “First Nations voice to Parliament” it would be unacceptable.

Labor’s Pat Dodson said the Uluru Statement needed to be delivered in full, though the ALP itself could only manage to say that it would try and deliver bipartisan support for whatever the outcome of the process begun by Mr Wyatt.

There was, thankfully, no equivocation from the Greens Rachael Siewert, who quickly wrote “We support the call for a First Nations’ Voice to Parliament to be enshrined in the Constitution”.

Let’s look beyond such disparate voices to see if what Mr Wyatt’s Press Club speech called for can be realised.

For some, it seems there is not yet enough detail around the composition and the role of the Voice, but the Uluru Statement itself did not prescribe just how the Voice would look or work, and Wyatt’s speech recognises that there remains work to be done.

It is especially important that this work keeps the faith of the communities that participated in the Uluru Statement. In emphasising the importance of Indigenous communities’ engagement in the process Ken Wyatt highlighted the goal of enhancing “local and regional decision-making through expanding empowered communities and other regional governance models” as a means of realising better outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

Some have suggested that Indigenous Australians are already heard in parliament through Indigenous members, and Barnaby Joyce opined that the solution to boosting Indigenous representation is to give more Senate representation to regional Australia. These kinds of proposals don’t however answer the question of how we can enhance government’s capacity to make a real difference for Indigenous communities, which is the purpose of the Voice.

Others have indeed loudly shouted their belief that a Voice to Parliament will not fix social issues. The PM has also said he wishes to focus on Indigenous health outcomes and education. All these issues certainly need ‘fixing’, but such statements ignore the fact that government has been attempting to “fix” these issues for decades, without success.

In his speech, Wyatt addressed the co-design process independently of constitutional recognition. Indeed, there are two components to establishing the Voice. The first is a referendum to create the institution within the Constitution. The second is the already mentioned co-design process.

Although 70 per cent of Australians support constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, there are of course dissenting views. Constitutional law scholars however, not known for radical inclinations, have confirmed that the change needed to establish the Voice is a conservative one, as it would not be a chamber of parliament in any sense.

One proposed method to introduce the change would be to insert a new section right at the end of the Constitution, section 129, well away from Chapter I, which concerns the parliament.

Instituted this way the Voice need not frighten the conservatives. It would have no power to introduce legislation, or to veto it. It would not affect our parliamentary system. Like other agencies and institutions, it would simply provide a considered opinion. Imagine having such a resource available to legislators and policymakers as they implement laws and policy affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

It would though establish the institution of the Voice in our Constitution, so that a future parliament could not abolish it, and though it would be symbolic, thankfully it would most certainly not be merely so. It would recognise the place of Indigenous Australians within the Australian pollical landscape. It is not a divisive action. Rather, it is inclusive. And put like this it looks so do-able, so let’s do it.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for23 July 2019

The gall of Mr McCormack

Hot on the heels of the ongoing story of raids on journalists by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for simply doing their job of pursuing investigative journalism comes news of another group of professionals being targeted for also just doing their job.

In this case the victims are scientists from the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, who of course also pursue investigative work.

My information for this comes courtesy of the ABC, which has cited emails, obtained under Freedom of Information by the Lock The Gate environment group, showing the Adani coalmining giant demanded the federal government reveal the names of the scientists investigating the groundwater implications of its proposed Carmichael coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

Adani said it had written to the department in January to request “assurance that individuals involved in any review processes were independent”. This is of course a slur on the scientists’ integrity.

This followed “concerning reports at the time that the state environmental regulator had commissioned a review which constituted individuals who had expressed anti-coal, anti-mining sentiments”, Adani said.

Adani’s justification for its request is breathtaking in its audacity, for it read “Adani simply wants to know who is involved in the review to provide it with peace of mind that it is being treated fairly and that the review will not be hijacked by activists with a political, as opposed to scientific, agenda,” Adani told the federal environment department on 25 January.

That was well before scientists from CSIRO and Geoscience Australia reported back to both the Queensland and federal government on their review of Adani’s plans to manage groundwater

Readers will remember that Adani was unable to proceed with building the mine until that plan was approved by both the state and federal governments.

Everyone also no doubt remembers that the plan won federal government ministerial approval on 8th April by Melissa Price, the usually invisible Environment Minister, two days before the 18 May election was called. The Queensland government gave its approval in mid-June.

Adani’s action of requesting the names of the scientists involved has concerned anyone worried that commercial corporations would seek to find the identity of researchers who might find evidence that would put their plans in jeopardy. Clearly the scientists could be at risk of being bullied or otherwise coerced if they did not reach conclusions favourable to the company.

But not so our local MP and Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, for he has  defended Adani after the revelations it tried to get the names of the scientists, fearing they might be anti-coal activists.

The assumption that the scientists might compromise their research integrity is of course a terrible accusation that needs calling out

However, regardless of this ethical slur, last Tuesday Mr McCormack said he could understand the “frustration” of the proponents of the Carmichael mine.

“They were made to jump through more environmental hoops than perhaps any previous project in the nation,” he told ABC’s AM. “And no doubt they wanted to determine … that those arguing against their proposals were not just some quasi anti-development groups or individuals.” Mr McCormack’s gall in making this statement beggars belief.

To give him credit, Mr McCormack said he “appreciated” Adani’s move could be seen as intimidating but defended the company by claiming there were “many, many people under lots and lots of banners saying things and suggesting things about Adani that … weren’t true”.

That’s an assertion that is of questionable veracity, but whether or not it is true, it is quite irrelevant to the issue of research scientists being put at risk of intimidation.

However, when pressed, McCormack did say that the CSIRO was “independent”, adding that he respected its work “and always will”. This sits at odds with his earlier remarks, of course.

CSIRO staff association secretary Sam Popovski told the ABC “We’re very concerned on behalf of our scientists at the CSIRO that a big company would go into looking at the personal lives of our members, including trawling their social media, in order to potentially discredit their work.

“It was clear that Adani seemed to be suggesting bias, or potential bias, way before any of the scientific evidence was actually presented to the department,” he said.

Thankfully the scientists’ names were not handed over, the federal environment department has said.

My Dailky Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 16 July 2019

Tax cuts will be a national disaster

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been pondering the implications of the recent passage of the government’s package of tax cuts through both houses of our national parliament. It is the third tranche, large cuts for very high income earners, that has me concerned, even though it’s not due for a few years.

The outcome of my deliberations is quite frightening for our national well-being, but before I explain how and why let’s look at how our politicians responded to the government’s omnibus bill.

The members of our Liberal/Nationals coalition government naturally enough supported their own package of bills with reckless abandon, rashly promising not just an instant cash splash but also a golden future for all of us.

The ALP was much more circumspect, arguing sensibly and strongly that the second level of cuts should be brought forward to take effect immediately, so as to provide a much-needed stimulus to our faltering economy.

Despite this concern the ALP waved the bills through both houses, but at least the Labor states wrote to the federal Coalition demanding “urgent confirmation that the commonwealth government’s surpluses will not be built on funding cuts to hospitals, schools and infrastructure”.

Cross-bench members were bought off by some rather paltry pork-barrelling, which may or may not eventuate, given the vague wording of the government’s offers.

Only the Greens, accompanied by House of Representatives member Andrew Wilkie, had the fortitude to firmly resist the temptation of the government’s easy money, accusing them of attempting to “bribe” Australian voters, by “giving away cheques like a breakfast TV show trying to increase ratings”, and, of course, of putting at risk future funds for social services including, but not limited to, health and education.

So now let’s look at why and how these tax cuts, especially the third tranche, will be so detrimental to our society. As an Editorial in the Saturday Paper noted, the cuts are “the greatest assault on the safety net from which Australian life is built.”

The problem with these cuts is that the revenue base which provides for our health, education and social welfare is being shredded. Our 46th parliament has destroyed the social compact that keeps this country stable.

The budget states that government spending as a percentage of GDP will decrease from 24.9% in 2018-19 to 23.6% in 2029-30.

The Grattan Institute undertook a separate analysis, which projected GDP growth over the decade and calculated that a 23.6% spending to GDP ratio implies that government spending will be $729bn in 2029-30.

If the current level of 24.9% continued, the government would be spending $769bn. So the shrinkage in the spending to GDP ratio implies the government will need to cut spending by about $40bn a year by 2029-30.

The Grattan Institute has warned that “achieving such a reduction would require significant cuts in spending growth across almost every major spending area, during a period when we know that an ageing population will increase spending pressures, particularly in health and welfare”.

So the government’s assumptions are heroic but totally unsustainable. They show an extraordinary indifference to reality. More than that, they are indifferent to need. People will be worse off under these cuts. They will face greater hardship, have less access to health and to quality education. The people worst affected did not vote for Scott Morrison. Half the country didn’t. The damage done is near irreversible. It is infinitely easier to cut taxes than to raise them. This is a triumph of greed and political cowardice.

The cuts are an expression of the conservative neo-liberal economic theory that puts unregulated capitalism above the social good. It includes the notion of trickle-down economics, which is well known to be a con job, as the benefits do not flow down to the workers. As Leonard Cohen sang, “Everybody knows, the rich get richer and the poor stay poor”. They are a lie through which governments give money to the rich while pretending they are helping the poor.

They also show a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of taxation. You don’t pay tax in exchange for services. You pay tax for a society. Under Morrison we will see the extinction of what was once the ‘commonwealth’ of Australia.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 9 July 2019

We urgently need laws to protect press freedom

After weeks of busy commentary, it looks as though we might be getting some action to protect press freedom, though it will be of little real value.

The Lib/Nats coalition government is establishing a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) to investigate the matter, but unfortunately it will be as useful as putting a fox in charge of the hen house, given that the PJCIS will actually be part of the problem it is meant to address.

We don’t need an inquiry to examine the situation behind the raids, and what needs to be done to fix the problem.

As Rebecca Ananian- Welsh reported in the Guardian Australia, researchers at the University of Queensland, together with Peter Greste, are working to assess how the law could better protect both national security and press freedom.

This is a complex process, but much is already known about how the raids were allowed to happen, and what needs to be done to prevent them being repeated, before the research is published.

The raids on the ABC and News Ltd journalist Annika Smethurst’s residence, and the fact that Australian Taxation Office whistle-blower Richard Boyle is facing a prison sentence of 161 years if found guilty all send a clear message: the Australian Federal Police (AFP) is cracking down on whistle-blowers and investigative journalists.

Unfortunately, they also carry much greater meaning: that we need to roll-back the rapidly expanding scope of federal security powers to better protect the health of our democracy.

Since the 11 September attacks in 2001, Australia has gone from zero national counter-terrorism laws to more laws of this type than anywhere else in the world. This process has been helped by our absence of a national charter of human rights.

Without the impediment of legislated rights or freedoms, our national security laws create expansive lists of criminal offences with uniformly severe penalties and confer vast powers on police and intelligence agencies to search, seize, spy, and even detain.

As each new law was introduced, and there are over 60 of them, the Australian people were assured that these measures were necessary to fight terrorism. The vast powers were recognised to be extreme, but they would only be measures of last resort, we were assured.

But these raids clearly demonstrated that some of these powers can and will be harnessed not as a last resort against potential terrorists, but to track down whistle-blowers and to intimidate those engaged in public interest journalism.

This is important because the media gives us the information we need to vote in an informed way. It keeps government accountable through openness and transparency on frequent basis. Everything from policy to the cost of politicians’ travel we know through the media. In an age of fake news and in the only country where the courts cannot provide protection of our rights, the role of a robust, informed, independent press cannot be overstated.

So, what needs to be done? How do we protect public interest journalism from erosion, whether by targeted police raids or by the fear that stifles the bravery it takes to come forward and call out misconduct?

We should enact a federal charter of rights, as the ACT, Victoria and recently Queensland have done. Freedom of speech and the right to privacy are just two rights protected by these charters that are crucial to journalism and democracy.

With or without a federal charter, the government is in a position to make a clear legislative recognition of the importance of a free and independent press to our democracy, requiring that legislation be interpreted and applied in a way that protects the fourth estate as far as is possible and appropriate.

These steps would help, but more fundamentally the government needs to reassess the breadth of our national security law and the agency powers it creates. Better drafting with the benefit of experience and hindsight would narrow the impact of these laws without losing their national security value, something which of course has been touted ad infinitum by both major parties.

In the course of this overhaul, specific protections for the media will be needed. All journalists, not just those associated with large organisations, deserve protection and legislative definitions should reflect this.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 2 July 2019

We must stem the tide of extinction

Last week ABC TV’s Four Corners aired a damning investigation into Australia’s extinction crisis.

Nearly 2000 plants and animals are at risk, thanks to both specific state and federal government policies, but also their deliberate and disgraceful underfunding of much needed remediation policies. These are sins of both commission and omission.

Some of our most iconic animals, like the koala, Leadbeater’s Possum and the Swift Parrot, are on the verge of sliding into the history books.

Instead of taking urgent action to stop the extinction crisis, the Morrison government is hurtling our native animals closer and closer towards extinction by failing to act on climate change and allowing continued land-clearing and logging of our native forests.

Furthermore, Australia’s extinction rate one of the worst on the planet, for we are host to a staggering number of threatened species.

We have some of the most unique flora and fauna on the planet. In Australia, nearly 50% of our birds, 87% of our mammals and 93% of our flowering plants are unique to us.

But much of it is under threat. Climate breakdown, land clearing and invasive species are wreaking havoc on our natural environment. We’re ranked fourth in the world for plant and animal extinctions, as well as holding the terrible record of being the only developed country listed as a deforestation hotspot.

Globally, the UN tells us there are a million species under threat of extinction. Here we have 511 animals, 1,356 plants and 82 distinct ecological communities listed as nationally threatened, and these numbers are trending in the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, we have a government riddled with climate deniers, intent on sitting on its hands about climate action, while delaying the release of emissions data and wilfully lying about our ability to meet even our meagre Paris commitments.

It has allowed broadscale land clearing to continue, destroying habitat.

And it continues to leave our threatened species floundering, delaying additions to the threatened species list and cutting funding from an environment department already struggling to meet its obligations.

Taking over from the most absent environment minister in our nation’s history, Sussan Ley certainly has her work cut out for her. Her track record as Tony Abbott’s Health Minister and subsequently as a demoted backbencher doesn’t however inspire confidence.

Many Australians however do care deeply about this and are taking actions in their lives and homes to do better. From recycling to water tanks, solar panels, battery storage, planting trees and more, people are taking small actions to improve their environment.

But some problems require political solutions, and if we have the political will they can be solved.

For example, our environment laws need updating. They don’t even account for climate change. For all the talk of Adani’s approvals, drilling in the Bight, and widespread land clearing in Queensland and New South Wales, there is no mechanism in Australian law to consider their climate impacts.

To bring about the needed political changes the Greens have launched several parliamentary actions.

In June last year, the Greens established a Senate inquiry into Australia’s threatened species to help bring the extinction crisis to the forefront of political and public attention, chaired by Senator Janet Rice, Australian Greens spokesperson for Forests and Agriculture.

Furthermore, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the Australian Greens’ environment and water spokesperson, will be introducing a private member’s bill for a ‘climate trigger’

As she explained, “Our environment laws have not kept up with environmental reality. Climate change is at the centre of the threats our environment faces today. While a price on carbon looks unlikely in the near future, with Labor crab-walking away and the Coalition seemingly to abandon any market mechanism, we need something that will limit damage to the climate. This climate trigger would give us a mechanism to assess major developments and approve or reject them based on their emissions.”

If only we had had a ‘climate trigger’ in place during the recent Adani coal mine approvals process!

Senator Hanson-Young is also calling on Minister Ley to, as a bare minimum, commit to the $200m a year environment groups say is necessary to fund our threatened species recovery plans. We must stem the tide of extinction.