Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: December, 2019

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today

2019 showed the structural weak points in our political system

There are several tempting topics for this week’s column. There’s ‘Smoko’s’ ill-judged disappearing trick. Our Clayton’s PM declaration of Wagga as the capital of Australia. Or his about-face when he finally admitted that “in the context of the fires raging throughout the country, further action must be taken on climate change” as the DA noted.

Not to mention, of course, Mr Morrison quickly dashing our hopes as he firmly announced that there would be no change to the government’s climate change policy.

The best he could manage was to say that Commonwealth public servants who volunteer would get four weeks of paid leave to help fight the fires. But ever the advertising con man that he is, ScoMo didn’t mention that it this leave is already in the public servants’ Enterprise Bargaining Agreement, so he gave us nothing.

Then at long last came a much overdue announcement from Mr. Morrison that NSW volunteers would be paid a paltry $6,000.00 compensation for all the work they have been doing over the past many months. Too little, too late, and limited to only your state, ScoMo.

But instead I will use this final column of the year to review the year just passed. Not a review in the sense of listing what happened, but rather the underlying structural issues of our so-called democracy that the year demonstrated.

As Crikey.com pointed out, systems that rely on the presence of good people to function effectively will always fail, and ours is such a system. Eventually some duds will come along.

In 2019 the failures of the duds demonstrated two big structural weak points in our political system.

The first is the lack of transparency. That is, the lack of transparency that enables powerful interests to purchase access and influence over policymakers, out of sight of voters.

The second is the lack of any protection for citizens against their own government.

The lack of transparency allows political donors to buy their way into private contact with key decision-makers where they can influence policy, without any scrutiny or accountability. The major donors to the Liberals and Nationals are corporations that serve the interests of shareholders, foreign investors and corporate executives.

If you have good political leaders, who are motivated by the national interest as much as by their desire for power, this lack of transparency is less of a problem.

That’s why, until the groundswell of public opinion meant it had to establish a Royal Commission, the Liberal Party ran a protection racket for the big banks which had donated so much, allowing them to operate virtually unchecked.

That’s why it continues to refuse to take action on climate change, which would harm the mining and energy companies that provide a steady flow of money.

The lack of any protection for citizens against their government is the other main structural weakness 2019 demonstrated. Unlike in the USA, where the idea of a bill of rights to protect people from government is the subject of universal consensus, here a bill of rights is regarded as left-wing extremism.

Here in fact we have a government that isn’t merely mediocre in its view of basic freedoms, but is actively hostile. It uses the powers of the state to harass, intimidate and jail citizens who might embarrass it, as was amply demonstrated this year by the AFP raids on Annika Smethurst and the ABC.

Usually analysis of all this revolves around people and personalities. Our media is very good in Australia at focusing on people and appallingly bad at focusing on systems and structures. Ninety-five per cent of political coverage is about people; only 5% is about the system that enables or fails to check them.

But focusing on personalities is just the way the powerful like it, since it reduces the chances of anyone noticing the system is the real problem and leaves them free to deal with decision-makers unfettered by accountability or transparency.

There’s no point sitting back and waiting for the media, or the Coalition, or Labor, to fix things. Things won’t improve until the system is changed, to reduce the influence of powerful interests and shed much more light on them, and to put in place basic protections for Australians against the actions of their government.

Political donations and funding reform, published meeting diaries, and a proper federal ICAC, as urged by the Greens, would be a good start. As would radically wider freedom of information laws and a US-style bill of rights, all of which are crucial fixes for a broken political system that 2019 has shown us that we need if we are to survive dud politicians.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today

Many harbingers of the climate change problem

The past weeks have really put climate change centre stage on the world’s agenda. First came the news that we may have already crossed several ‘tipping points’, which I will explore in some detail below.

Then came news that the European Union had declared a ‘climate emergency’, which was followed by last week’s opening of the next UN Climate Summit COP 25, in Madrid. And as the summit opened the former Tuvalu Prime Minister said on the special Pacific Islands edition of ABC TV’s Q&A that Scott Morrison denies climate change is happening in Pacific. Then we learnt of the government’s plan to produce hydrogen from ‘dirty’ brown coal.

Let’s look first at the ‘tipping points’. The world may already have crossed a series of climate tipping points, according to a stark warning from scientists. This risk is “an existential threat to civilisation”, they say, meaning “we are in a state of planetary emergency”.

Tipping points are reached when particular impacts of global heating become unstoppable, such as the runaway loss of ice sheets or forests. In the past, extreme heating of 5c was thought necessary to pass tipping points, but the latest evidence suggests this could happen between 1cand 2c.

Also ahead of the UN COP25 Climate Change Conference in Madrid, the European Parliament approved a resolution declaring a climate and environmental emergency.

Like the EU, a number of countries and local administrations have declared that our planet is facing a climate emergency. But, closer to home, not the Australian parliament and Wagga Wagga City Council.

At the opening of the UN climate summit UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres introductory remarks showed that he is well aware of looming tipping points when he warned that Governments risked sleepwalking “past a point of no return” if they remained idle.

Mr Guterres warned that existing pledges made under the Paris accord fall far short of the kind of transformational action needed to avert the most disastrous consequences of global warming in terms of sea-level rise, drought, storms and other impacts, according to scientists.

He also contrasted the “leadership” and “mobilisation” shown by the world’s youth on the climate emergency with the lack of action by governments, which were failing to keep up with the urgency of the problem despite increasing signs that the climate was reaching breakdown.

Australia is one of the countries banned from speaking at the conference. The criteria for being banned include building new coal fired power stations, granting fossil fuel subsidies, and failing to increase national targets for emission reductions.

Countries like Australia, Japan and South Africa who support the coal industry were removed from the summit’s speaking list, along with countries that have been critical of the Paris climate accord, such as the USA, Brazil and Saudi Arabia. What a rogues’ gallery for us to be a member!

Which leads me to note that the former prime minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, who, in reference to the Pacific Islands Forum last August told the special Pacific edition of Q&A he was “taken aback” by Scott Morrison’s behaviour at the meeting.

“Unfortunately, prime minister Scott Morison of Australia [was] expressing views that completely denies there is climate change happening already in the Pacific” he said.

Virisila Buadromo, an advocate for women’s and human rights in Fiji, also urged Australia to take more action. “I think Australia, as the largest emitter of carbon in the region, you need to stand with our family … to fight against climate change,” she said.

These comments paint Australia in general, and our PM in particular, in a very bad light But as I watched Q&A I had just read an equally depressing story in the Saturday Paper, which explained that the PM and Angus Taylor, our Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister plan a great future for our country as an exporter on a grand scale of hydrogen, reputedly the energy source of the future.

However, not by cleanly producing it from water, which can easily be done by using electricity generated from renewables. Instead it seems the government is planning to produce hydrogen by burning brown coal. This would completely negate hydrogen’s one great advantage as an energy source, which is that its only by-product is water.

Are the Liberal and Nationals parties so desperate for funds from the coal industry that they will so willfully contribute to even more global warming, and so bring on the tipping points?

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today

Morrison’s hypocrisy exposed

Recently I was struck by the hypocrisy exhibited by PM Scott Morrison when he addressed the Business Council. In his speech he loudly attacked other political parties for pursing the politics of panic, when evidence clearly shows that he follows exactly the same approach.

One clear example will suffice before looking at Morrison’s modus operandi in more detail. He hammered the argument that now is not the time to discuss the links between climate change and the early arrival and ferocity of the recent bushfires. He went on to   accuse those who argued this was exactly the time of “pressing the panic button”. Yet only a few months earlier, during the federal election, he claimed that those advocating a rational approach to mitigating climate change would ‘end your weekend’ and ‘confiscate your ute’. As well as being a blatant lie that surely is also pressing the panic button.

The prime minister in fact relentlessly pursues the politics of panic.

As the Guardian Australia perceptively wrote, “Scott Morrison can’t attack Australia’s political circus and pretend he isn’t its ringmaster”.

During his address Mr Morrison had two messages. The first was that the government is managing the economy by ‘Not Panicking’. Related to the first message was the second: the Coalition has decided to provide a new round of stimulus spending by bringing forward spending on infrastructure, while at the same time ‘Not Panicking’. The government is ‘Not Panicking’ because it is ‘Not the Opposition’.

So the point of the prime ministerial was expounding was not so much what he was not doing, i.e. panicking, but what Labor and the Greens would be doing if anyone was ever foolish enough to allow them back into government – panicking, of course.

Morrison’s approach is to latch on to underlying voter anxiety and profit from it. He often tells us that he knows we are anxious, and sick of the noise in the ‘Canberra bubble’, but he wants us to direct our anxiety to his political opponents, not the government.

So he says, with great persistence, that he knows we are worried, but we don’t have to worry, because Daddy is here, he won the election, and he’s ‘Not Panicking’. This is also where his ‘Daggy Dad’ masquerade comes into the picture. In essence he says “Hello, I’m Scott, and I’m not panicking”. On anyone else it would come across as quite ridiculous, but it works for ScoMo.

Clearly Morrison is a fully rusted-on part of the circus he decries, and a significant beneficiary of it, not a disinterested observer, or a prophet who will save politics from itself, as he so often claims to be. Morrison is pure politics.

The second point is the economy isn’t doing that well, and while Morrison likes to present the Opposition as economic panic merchants, recent history shows it was a Labor government, not a Coalition one, that kept Australia out of recession during the global financial crisis.

So what the government is doing to ally our fears about Australia’s sluggish economy, is to gradually introduce a series of policies that added together are in effect pressing the panic button, but without it being obvious: tax cuts, low interest rates, drought spending, a grab bag of infrastructure spending, and most recently, half a billion thrown at aged care, all  while still maintaining the surplus. And of course, the need to maintain a budget surplus is the greatest panic button of all. Superficially it is made to sound like economic responsibility, when in truth it is exactly the opposite.

Australians, however they vote, are more likely going to care more about whether they have a job than whether or not the budget is in surplus, however much ScoMo presses that panic button.

Most recently Mr Morrison is pressing the panic button on allegation of Chinese spying (“Morrison deeply disturbed over spy claims”, DA 26 November). This is an easy one for him, because as all insecure leaders are wont to do, he can press the fear of foreigners xenophobia panic button.

So Mr Morrison, while claiming not to panic, is doing just that, and so once again is channeling his hero Donald Trump, who rode to victory in 2016 panicking the American people about hordes of criminal Mexicans who could only be stopped if he was elected and built a wall.