Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: November, 2019

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today

Now is the time to talk about bushfires and climate change

As the bushfire crisis unfolded whenever anyone raised the possibility that their early arrival and ferocity might be connected to climate change they were shouted down by many politicians who loudly proclaimed that ‘now is not the time’. Yet what better time is there when public attention is firmly focussed on the issue?

Saying so will put me firmly in the sights of Michael McCormack, our local federal MP, the leader of the Nationals and Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, who raged on ABC radio at those who dared to ask such questions are “inner city raving lunatic” and “pure, enlightened and woke capital-city greenies”.

The host of ABC Radio National Breakfast, Hamish Macdonald, then pointed out it wasn’t just the Greens Richard Di Natale and Adam Bandt discussing the well documented link between climate change and bushfires, it was Carol Sparks, the Mayor of Glenn Innes, who linked drought, climate change and fires together after her northern New South Wales town battled a wall of flame that killed two locals.

Mr McCormack’s abusive comments are an insult to the many Australians who can read the science. Indeed, as a recent survey from JWS research found climate change was the number one voter concern.

Barnaby Joyce, not to be outdone, opined that two tragic bushfire deaths were probably because the deceased voted Green. That makes as much sense as the claim from sacked rugby union player Israel Folau that the bushfires are due to the legalisation of same-sex marriage and NSW’s decriminalisation of abortion.

Back to those politicians who are so vigorously arguing that now is not the time to talk about the link between climate change and the increasing frequency and ferocity of bushfire, let’s look at their argument.

As the Guardian Australia wrote, “Let’s be clear about what this line of argument is. It’s self-serving crap.”

For it is entirely possible to have a sensible discussion about climate change and the risks it poses, including the likelihood of longer and more intense fire seasons, and still do all the things that need to be done to protect lives and property.

We have that capability. In fact, Australia demonstrated amply over the course of the past few weeks our collective capacity to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Despite all the finger waggling from politicians the climate conversation happened in tandem with heroic efforts by emergency services workers to save lives and contain the damage when a coalition of former fire chiefs firmly refused various invitations from politicians to shut up.

Given there is no law that says bushfires preclude sensible, evidence-based policy conversations, it’s reasonable to ask why Messrs McCormack, Morrison, Ms Berejiklian et al persisted with their argument that “now is not the time”.

The answer is simple. The Lib/Nats coalition government does not want its record exposed at a time when Australians are deeply anxious, because it’s hard to control the flow of news stories in those conditions. Goodness, the people might discover how much the Coalition parties are funded by the coal industry.

Morrison & Co won’t allow the climate change discussion because the government’s record is abysmal. The Liberal and National parties have done everything within their collective power to frustrate climate action in Australia for more than a decade. They Coalition repealed the carbon price. They attempted to gut the renewable energy target. They imposed fig-leaf policies costing taxpayers billions that have failed to stop emissions rising every single quarter.

Not content with that, Morrison and his coalition ministers loudly claimed during the May election that an emissions reduction target broadly consistent with climate science would be a wrecking ball on the Australian economy.

What Australian voters needed after the election in May was a government of whatever stripe prepared to put the country on an orderly path towards decarbonisation.

But what the Coalition needed was different. It has no ambitions beyond delaying a response to climate change, maintaining a racist refugee policy and frustrating efforts at reconciliation.

Above all It wants to remain in power, and one of the major ways to power was and continues to be to convince voters that Bill Shorten was crazy and shifty about climate change and would confiscate your ute.

As the Greens and others argued, there was a climate election in May, but unfortunately the climate lost.

My Daily Advertiser Op ED column for this week

Time to introduce pill testing, abandon the use of sniffer dogs, and decriminalise personal drug use.

In closing the inquest into six MDMA-related deaths of people aged 18 to 23 at NSW music festivals Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame recommended pill testing be conducted at NSW festivals, as well as the decriminalisation of personal drug use and the scrapping of sniffer dogs. This, thankfully, is a much-needed call for a radical change in drug policy.

As Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge said, “The Coroners Court findings make it clear the aggressive ongoing police war against young people and the music industry is damaging and unwinnable.

A key finding was that drug detection dogs don’t work to limit supply of illegal drugs but instead are more likely do encourage risky behaviour like pre-loading or panic ingestion. This must spell the end of the drug dog program and police as responders to drugs rather than medical professionals.”

Ms Grahame made a total of 28 recommendations, including eight to NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, four to NSW Police, nine to NSW Health and the rest to government departments and event organisers.

Ms Grahame said pill testing was an evidence-based harm reduction strategy that should be trialled “as soon as possible in NSW”.

She said high-visibility and punitive policing operations at festivals – including drug detection dogs – had “inherent dangers and few if any benefits” and should be scrapped.

The court heard the use of strip searches should be limited to circumstances where there is a “reasonable suspicion”.

Ms Grahame said the NSW government should give “full and genuine consideration” to “decriminalising personal use of drugs, as a mechanism to reduce the harm caused by drug use”.

The NSW Government has reiterated its opposition to pill testing trials after the coroner’s draft recommendations were leaked last month.

Ms Grahame called on Ms Berejiklian’s government to look at drug problems at festivals with “fresh eyes” and examine evidence-based solutions before delivering dozens of recommendations.

The evidence before the inquest “clearly indicated” much can be done to prevent MDMA deaths, she said.

“There are practical solutions,” Ms Grahame noted.

“However, the evidence draws into clear focus the need for the NSW government to look with fresh eyes at the potential dangers associated with drug use at music festivals.”

Immediately after Grahame handed down her findings the NSW commissioner of police, Mick Fuller, released a statement saying he “strongly denied” the suggestion police were “implicit” in the deaths. So strongly did he defend his officers that the Sydney Morning Herald devoted a front page to the headline ‘Coroner, police clash on festivals’ as he denied any link between police methods and drug deaths.

In attempting to do so he said music festivals “create a concentrated market for drug supply and organised criminal groups”.

At the time, the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, dismissed the recommendation to introduce pill-testing on the basis “it would give a false sense of security to festival goers”.

Outside the coroner’s court on Friday, Jennie Ross-King, the mother of Alex Ross-King, urged Berejiklian to “listen to the experts” and introduce pill-testing before the summer.

“Pill-testing is available now. These guys are sitting there waiting for a phone call to turn up,” she said.

Another mother, Julie Tam, urged Berejiklian not to “waste this opportunity”.

“None of us standing here in front of you today want to be here,” she said. “We would give anything to have our children back [but] as parents we stand before you and urge you to embrace the recommendations and implement them.”

Grahame also called for police to limit the use of strip searches to people suspected of supply, and for the government to pay to establish a permanent drug-checking facility outside the festival context.

Locally our sate MP, Joe McGirr said, in relation to the Coroner’s findings “She has made a very strong case for a trial of pill testing”, the Daily Advertiser reported. “I think it’s a very sober and judicial weighing up of the evidence”. It’s also a very big pity that Dr Joe couldn’t go beyond that small step and go as far as supporting the Coroner’s other recommendations, namely abandoning the use of sniffer dogs and the decriminalisation of personal drug use. Implementing those recommendations would solve the largest problems.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today

An incensed Morrison wants to ban protests

In a recent outburst Scott Morrison branded environmental protesters “anarchists” and threatened a radical crackdown on the right to protest in a speech claiming progressives are seeking to “deny the liberties of Australians”. Presumably he hopes that his hyperbolic ranting will fool people into not noticing that what he is really doing is denying us all the liberty to protest, which is surely our democratic right.

In a speech to the Queensland Resources Council, the prime minister said a threat to the future of mining was coming from a “new breed of radical activism” and signalled the government would seek to apply penalties to those targeting businesses who provide services to the resources industry.

Civil society groups, including the Human Rights Law Centre and Australian Conservation Foundation, and the Greens immediately attacked the proposal as undemocratic and a bid to stifle a social movement fighting for Australia to take action on climate change.

Indeed, as Greens MP Adam Bandt said “Scott Morrison is becoming more dangerous by the day. So incensed is the Prime Minister by anyone who disagrees with him, that he’s now pushing to outlaw protests against his big polluting mates. This comes a few weeks after Peter Dutton threatened to fine, jail and strip support payments from people peacefully participating in the Extinction Rebellion protests.  These are the words and threats made by dictators.” Well said Mr Bandt.

So what caused all this concern about a speech by the PM? Mr Morrison told Australian corporations to listen to the “quiet shareholders” and not environmental protesters, who he suggested could shift targets from coal companies to all carbon-intensive industries including power generation, gas projects, abattoirs and airlines.

In his speech, proposing limits on free speech advocating boycotts against polluting companies, Morrison said progressives wanted to tell Australians “what you can say, what you can think and tax you more for the privilege of all of those instructions”.

He claimed that “progressivism”, which he labelled a “new-speak type term”, invoking George Orwell’s 1984, intends “to get in under the radar, but at its heart would deny the liberties of Australians”.

He pointed to what he described as the “worrying development” of environmental groups targeting businesses or firms involved in the mining sector with “secondary boycotts”, such as businesses refusing to provide banking, insurance or consultancy services.

“Together with the attorney general, we are working to identify mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices that threaten the livelihoods of fellow Australians.”

The executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre, Hugh de Kretser, said the plan to crack down on boycotts was “deeply concerning”.

“Protest is an essential part of our democracy,” he said. “To protect our democracy and help ensure a better future for all Australians, governments should be strengthening our rights to come together and protest, not weakening them.”

The Competition and Consumer Act already contains civil penalties for secondary boycotts, which target one business in order to prevent provision of goods or services to another, including if they cause “substantial loss or damage” or substantially lessen competition.

However, secondary boycotts for the “dominant purpose” of environmental protection or consumer protection are permitted.

The chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Kelly O’Shanassy, said community campaigning was a “legitimate response” voicing the concerns about global heating shared by millions of Australians.

“People protesting in the streets are not the only ones expressing alarm about climate change. The head of the Defence Force, the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank and the Australian Prudential Regulation have all recently raised serious concerns,” she said.

“To paint this broad community concern as being about fringe-dwelling extremists is an insult to all Australians who want a better future for themselves and their children”, O’Shanassy concluded.

So instead of getting tough on the climate crisis, Scott Morrison is dismantling democracy. In his ‘brave new world’, to borrow the title of another dystopian novel, everyday Australian citizens are not allowed to protest, boycott, spend money where we want, blow the whistle or report what the government is up to.

In a strange move from the party that champions individual liberty and free enterprise Mr Morrison will not allow us  to express our freedom in the commercial market place. Surely, politicians have a responsibility to defend our democracy, not degrade it.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column or Tuesday 5 November 2019

The extinction crisis is all too real

Last week’s Q&A (ABC TV) was aptly timed to coincide with an open letter by 240 leading scientists calling on Scott Morrison to stem the extinction crisis, published as a full page, at great cost, in all mainstream newspapers.

Coincidentally I received a petition to the NSW parliament from Greens MP Cate Faehrmann pointing out that we are facing an extinction crisis and calling on the government to end logging in our public native forests, restore protections for native vegetation on private land, and transition to a net zero emissions economy by 2040.

The use of the word ‘extinction’ should be a wake-up call for all of us – and a timely reminder that the use of the name ‘Extinction Rebellion’ by the protest group isn’t just catchy labelling, for as this open letter made clear, it is all too real.

The letter also emphasised that the extinction crisis is due to anthropogenic (i.e. caused by human activity) global warming and climate change.

Let’s look at the background and detail of the scientists’ letter, to prove my point.

The more than 240 conservation scientists called on Scott Morrison to drop his opposition to stronger environment laws and seize a “once-in-a-decade opportunity” to fix a system that is failing to stem a worsening extinction crisis.

With the federal government due to this week announce a 10 -yearly legislated review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, the scientists open letter to the prime minister urged him to increase spending and back laws to help protect the natural world from further destruction.

The letter says three native species have become extinct in the past decade and another 17 will following the next 20 years. More than 1,800 Australian plants and animals are formally listed as threatened with extinction, but the scientists have said his is an underestimate.

“Since they were established in 1999, 7.7m hectares of threatened species habitat have been destroyed. That’s an area larger than Tasmania. Meanwhile, the number of extinctions continue to climb, while new threats emerge and spread unchecked.”

Environmental law was an issue during this year’s election, with Morrison pledging to cut ‘green tape’ that he falsely claimed cost jobs, while Labor promised a new environment act and a federal environment protection authority. ‘Green tape’ and ‘Red Tape’ are of course code use by the right wing to cover their plans to eliminate regulations that protect workers and consumers, or in this case the environment and threatened species. He is simply responding to the business groups who regularly call for the environmental approval process to be simplified to stop delays to major projects. Don’t be fooled by his glib and oily words.

Lesley Hughes, a distinguished professor of biology at Macquarie University, member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a signatory to the letter, said environmental protections had been consistently wound back over the past decade, most often by conservative governments.

Morrison’s pledge not to increase environmental laws came as a United Nations global assessment found biodiversity was declining at an unprecedented rate, with one million species across the globe at risk of extinction and human populations in jeopardy if the trajectory was not reversed.

The scientists’ letter was organised by the Australian Conservation Foundation and is backed by the Places You Love Alliance, a collection of 57 organisations including BirdLife Australia, Humane Society International and WWF Australia. The letter calls for laws that “safeguard our intact ecosystems and protect the critical areas people and wildlife need to survive”.

Suzanne Milthorpe, nature campaign manager with the Wilderness Society, urged the government to use the review to upgrade the EPBC Act from a piece of legislation that catalogued the loss of nature into one that helps prevent it.

Lest readers think the extinction of a few threatened species is nothing to worry about I must point out that we rely on some of them. The decline in bee numbers, which are needed for pollination not just of pretty flowers but also for the food we eat, is a very telling example. Everything is connected, and if ‘lesser’ species go the entire human race will surely follow them to extinction.