Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: August, 2019

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 27 August 2019

Leaders selling short our future

As has been happening for the past few week’s today’s column comes from far-off Palestine, where I’m undertaking volunteer work in a refugee camp.

Given the ease of keeping up with Australian news courtesy of the internet I’m not short of topical issues for my DA opinion pieces, but last week my attention was taken not by stories from any of the Australian media to which I subscribe, but by a BBC headline which loudly proclaimed “Pacific forum turns into row with Australia over climate goals”.

A row! That’s not the usual diplomatic process. Read on, I thought. It wasn’t the BBC resorting to tabloid-like sensationalism, for as Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama explained, Mr Morrison’s behaviour was “Very insulting” and the Tongan PM was brought to tears.

And as Greens Climate spokesperson Adam Bandt said, when calling for the PM to declare a climate emergency in Australia, “Scott Morrison has made Australia the bad neighbour in the Pacific. He’s spent the entire Pacific Islands Forum lobbying to remove the words “climate crisis” and “coal” from plans to tackle the impacts of climate change.”

What actually transpired at the forum was indeed insulting to our neighbours. The majority of the 18 nations at the forum agreed to stronger climate goals, with only Australia holding objections. It fell far short of a more ambitious communiqué endorsed by many Pacific states earlier that week, which had demanded an immediate end to coal mining. Australia refused to agree.

We did pledge $A500m to Pacific island nations for renewable energy projects. Clearly an attempt to buy them off, this paltry bribe was taken from Canberra’s existing foreign aid budget, adding insult to injury.

Reading all this depressing news I had a I “Home thoughts from abroad” Robert Browning-esque moment as I thought of what has happened to Wagga’s attempts to respond to the climate crisis.

I initially thought of Michael McCormack’s appalling response to Mr Morrison’s attempt to buy and bully our Pacific neighbours into acquiescence.  Our local MP, leader of the Nationals and Acting Prime Minister in Mr Morrison’s absence actually said Pacific island nations affected by the climate crisis will continue to survive “because many of their workers come here to pick our fruit”. I’m left wondering if he thinks before he speaks, and if he does, if he really believes Australians will actually believe such arrant nonsense.

As my column makes its way closer to home the behaviour of five councillors on Wagga Wagga City Council who voted to rescind the climate emergency declaration matches that of Messrs Morrison and McCormack, in that they not only ignore the ‘bleeding obvious’ but actively work towards worsening the situation. Come the 2020 local government elections their perfidy will not be forgotten.

Our City Council could at least act on Dr Trudi Beck’s call to implement a local strategy to implement a heat plan under the guidance of the NSW State Emergency Management Plan (EMPLAN) and its sub plans. Some adaptation plans are better than nothing, as I have previously advocated.

However, depressing though the Council news was, since then our climate emergency campaigners have increased their energy and output.

These local activists include Fridays for Future, Climate Action Wagga, Stop Adani Wagga, Extinction Rebellion, Riverina Greens, Climate Rescue of Wagga, our two Labor councillors, and Erin Earth. My apologies to any organisations I have missed naming.

These organisations are busy researching, lobbying, agitating, providing resources to others, and of course, getting out there and spreading the word.

Lest any readers wonder how they can join this rising tide of action there are two ways coming up. The weekly Fridays for Future 9:30 am picnic protest in front of Michael McCormack’s office on the bank of the Wollundry Lagoon is open to all, and of course on the horizon is the latest iteration of the Schoolies’ Strike on 20th September, this time around dubbed the Global Climate Strike.Everyone can participate in what will be a truly people’s event.

We can’t all sail in a solar-powered yacht to the UN climate emergency conference in New York, as young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg is doing, but we can all march down Baylis Street, lobby our councillors and MPs, and, of course, vote.

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My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 20 April 2019

Religious conservatives hijack the abortion debate

The spark for today’s column was last Monday’s Daily Advertiser editorial, which commented on Wagga’s state MP Joe McGirr’s opposition to the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 (aka the Abortion Law Reform Bill) being “inextricably linked to his “position as a Catholic and a doctor”.

It sparked my interest because today I had planned to focus on the growing power of religious conservatism. I don’t wish to tar Mr McGirr with that particular brush, unless of course he feels he belongs in that category. If he does let’s hope he comes clean by the time the next state election rolls around.

As I should now: I believe it is high time abortion was removed from the criminal code, firmly approve of the bill, would in truth like it to have gone further, and strongly support a woman’s right to choose.

Now to the main thrust of today’s column, which is the way the hard-right of American religious conservatism hijacked our abortion debate to suit its own political ends. Here I am not referring to the traditional opposition to abortion felt some religious denominations for their own, if to my mind misguided, reasoning.

Some current and former federal politicians weighed in on the issue. Barnaby Joyce, who seems to have forgotten his own recent personal history to now pose as a self-appointed moral champion said that his new baby son Tom had rights in the womb and no state parliament should take them away.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott really ramped up the rhetoric to a truly poisonous level by calling the reform bill “death on demand”. I guess it gave him another three-word slogan to add to his list.

Abbott linked the abortion bill to Victoria’s assisted-dying laws and said the nation had lost its “moral anchor points” which “used to be anchored in the Christian faith”.

“Faith is a gift,” he said. “Some people have it, some people don’t.” Faith is a club, apparently. It’s very clear what he thinks of those not in it, but I often wonder what he would do if he didn’t have people to vilify.

Now, to the gist of today’s column. Mr Abbott made the comments at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Sydney, which is a new Australian offshoot of a powerful American libertarian movement.

The US original of CPAC launched Donald Trump as a presidential contender when he spoke there in 2011. It is as American as the stars and stripes, and its importation to Australia is fitting, because increasingly the far-right and religious-right conservatives in this country seem to be expropriating most of their ideas from the Americans.

Indeed, the objections to our long overdue NSW abortion bill were lifted straight from the songbook of the US pro-life lobby: focus on rare late-term abortions, induce fear about women aborting babies a few weeks before their due dates, and, when it looks like you’ve lost the main battle, erect administrative and medical barriers to accessing terminations.

There was even a late attempt by one MP to move amendments to prevent ‘sex-selection’ abortions, which we were told occur in Australian Indian and Chinese communities. This was totally dishonest at best and blatantly racist at worst.

It was of course a total furphy, for there is no evidence sex selection occurs in NSW and was directly imported from the American pro-lifers.

“They were trying to put Alabama-style anti-abortion talking points into the legislation,” noted NSW MP Alex Greenwich, the independent who brought on the bill after years of lobbying by the Greens NSW.

This branch of conservatism implies that the decline of religion in developed democracies is responsible for a fragmentation of social order. It is nonsensical and very divisive, for it sees religious people as the only ones fighting a war against that decline.

It is reactionary rather than conservative. It doesn’t seek to carefully manage social change; instead, as a reflex, it opposes change absolutely.

But most importantly, it is very nasty. It combines the worst parts of Trump’s rhetoric with a religiosity that denies the humanity of anyone who doesn’t adhere to it. It is one American import we could do without, and I hope to goodness it doesn’t catch on here.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 13 August 2019

Alcohol industry undermines reform plans

Alcohol industry lobbying has undermined Australia’s new key plan to tackle alcohol-related harm, a new report by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) suggests.

The federal government has spent years developing a national alcohol strategy to address the harm of excessive alcohol consumption, which remains one of the major contributors to our dysfunctional society, illness and death.

Experts, health campaigners and the World Health Organisation have consistently urged governments to exclude the alcohol industry from any role in developing such policies.

But, after releasing an initial draft for public consultation in 2017, the government promptly approached the alcohol industry for feedback.

And so it is not surprising that the revised draft, thankfully leaked to the ABC last month, watered the strategy down to such an extent that the ACT government, noting meddling from the alcohol industry, declined to endorse it.

FARE has now analysed the differences between the drafts and allege they have “alcohol industry fingerprints all over” them. Language in the draft has been changed to allow for industry involvement in the reform process, for example.

The original draft had stated that “Australia does not support any ongoing role for industry” in developing alcohol policy and that industry should not be part of the reference group that was helping guide reform. Those statements were deleted in the revised version.

A section warning that Australia’s drinking culture was leading to dangerous consumption was also weakened. The language instead discussed drinking as a positive part of Australian culture.

The revised draft also weakened the language around the government’s imperative to act, and softened proposed policies on pricing and advertising regulation.

The last national alcohol strategy expired in 2011. The FARE chief executive, Michael Thorn, said he had fundamental concerns about the level of influence the alcohol industry was able to exert on government.

“It’s quite remarkable how politicians and governments want to cosy up to the alcohol industry,” Thorn said. “Yes, donations are part of explaining that. Yes, there is soft power that the alcohol industry’s lobbyists peddle around the parliament with their gifts and their events and their frequent access to members across all sides, not just with ministers, but also with backbenchers.

“It’s persistence, it’s organised, and it’s about building those relationships. In the end, it seems to overwhelm the system” he told the Guardian Australia.

Previous studies have shown the extent of alcohol industry donations to major political parties in Australia. Research published in the Drug and Alcohol Review last year showed the alcohol industry donated $7,650,858 in the 10 years to June 2015.

Though difficult to believe, it gets worse, for donations tended to increase during debates on potential reforms. Alcohol industry donations to the Labor government, for example, increased in 2008 and 2009 during the alcopops tax debate.

The FARE report comes as a newly published study suggests regulatory capture by the alcohol industry played a role in changes to the NSW alcohol supply laws introduced to state parliament in late 2015.

The University of Newcastle researcher Tony Brown developed a tool to test whether industry had achieved what he sensibly termed ‘legislative capture’.

“The industry’s power lies in its latent capacity to also influence and mobilise its many patrons, i.e. voters, and related third-party vocal interest groups to oppose any proposed laws that may inhibit their drinking patterns, a crucial factor in industry profits,” his study found.

The 2015 changes were “indicative of legislative capture and associated clientele corruption”, he found. Clientele corruption refers to the making of decisions not according to the best wishes of a government’s constituency, but in the best interests of those who have made sizeable financial contributions.

“The research found significant encroachment of the public interest and alcohol industry capture of the legislative process,” Brown said in a statement.

“Through this research I have developed a prototype legislative capture test, which identifies that the alcohol industry’s practise of making large political donations to buy influence fits the elements of regulatory capture, and may extend into the realm of ‘clientele corruption’ recognised by the high court of Australia,” he said.

At the time of writing, Health Minister Greg Hunt has declined to comment, though it is uncorrupted action that is needed, and needed now, before it is too late.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 6 August 2019

Welcome to the real world, Mr Joyce (sort of)

Pressure is mounting on the Coalition to increase the Newstart payment, as a new survey shows some recipients are skipping meals, going without heating during winter, and cutting back on showers.

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has released the findings of its research as part of its push to increase the benefit, which is only a paltry $282 per week for a single person without children, by at least $75 a week.

The ACOSS survey of 489 people on Newstart or Youth Allowance found more than four-out-of-five respondents skipped meals to save money, and about 44 per cent went without more than five meals a week.

Two-thirds could not afford to use heating during winter, while 68 per cent only had enough money to buy second-hand clothes.

More than half had less than $100 left per week after housing costs alone.

“People can’t afford rent, food, energy, clothing, transport, haircuts, dental care or internet access, which severely hampers their chances of getting a job,” ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie said.

“Especially as there is only one job available for every eight people looking.” This is a point Mr Morrison et al should note.

But sticking to its guns, as well as putting its head in the sand, the Government has refused to consider a Newstart increase despite repeated calls from ACOSS, business groups, unions, other politicians, and economists.

Meanwhile, former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce tells us that he has to count every dollar of his parliamentary salary of well over $200,000 and says he understands the struggle of Newstart recipients who skip meals and medication to save money.

More on Mr Joyce’s supposed hard-luck story later, but in the meantime let’s look at the reaction to the ACOSS report from politicians, other than those prone to carelessly producing even more children, of course.

Labor, the Greens, crossbench politicians, and even some Coalition backbenchers have also, and more realistically, called for a rise.

PM Scott Morrison slammed the “unfunded empathy” of the Labor Party on lifting the Newstart rate, even after Barnaby Joyce’s new-found compassion for dole recipients.

And in Parliament, the Prime Minister turned his attack on to Labor’s post-election support for raising the rate of Newstart.

“But what I tell you what I won’t do…when it comes to Newstart I will not engage in the unfunded empathy of the Labor Party” he said. “Our focus has been on helping all Australians get into work.”

He completely fails to accept that, as ACOSS notes, there are eight people vying for every available job, and the living conditions imposed by Newstart make it almost impossible to hunt successfully for work.

Liberal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and arch-conservative Tasmanian back-bencher Eric Abetz both claimed, quite falsely, that Australia could not afford an increase to Newstart.

Now, back to father of six Mr Joyce, who has revealed he’s “counting every dollar” himself despite earning $280,000 a year of basic salary and additional allowances.

His tales of hardship have, thankfully sparked ridicule after revealing he’s doing it tough. Goodness, he even has to turn off his heater at night, look for bargains, and butcher his own meat on his six-figure salary because he’s supporting his current partner Vikki Campion, their two baby sons and his ex-wife Natalie Joyce and their  four daughters.

The former deputy prime minister stressed that his self-induced thrift had made him more aware of the plight of Newstart recipients surviving on $40 a day.

Mr Joyce’s new-found humility may or may not be real, but I’d far sooner see a big dose of genuine compassion and a smaller one of economic common sense.

I don’t think I’ve ever found myself in agreement with One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson, but when she said Mr Joyce’s complaints were a joke, I have to admit that I also laughed sardonically when I first read them.

Thankfully the Greens and Labor joined forces to initiate a Senate inquiry into the adequacy of Newstart, which will report back next year. Unfortunately, that will be far too long a period for those who have already been waiting for years, and of course the chances of the current Parliament agreeing to a significant increase are, let’s face it, zero.