Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

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My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 24 April 2018

Let’s get real about cannabis – take it out of the hands of criminals. 

Finally a political party with significant numbers in our national parliament has taken the common sense though courageous step towards sensible drug law reform. In what many will regard as a long overdue move, last week Australian Greens party room leader Richard Di Natale announced plans to legalise the recreational use of cannabis to take it ‘out of the hands of criminals and dealers,’ as reported by ABC TV news.

“When will politicians realise the war on drugs has failed? We need to be investing in harm minimisation drug law reforms that work” said Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge.

The Senator is not suggesting a free for all. Instead the proposal calls for the establishment of an Australian Cannabis Agency that would be given a monopoly over the wholesale supply of the drug to shops, while collecting millions of dollars in a tobacco-style tax from consumers.

Staff at the shops selling cannabis would be forced to undergo responsible service of drugs training and varieties of marijuana would come in plain packaging detailing strains and health warnings.

“As someone who was a drug and alcohol doctor, I’ve seen how damaging the tough on drugs approach is to people,” Senator Di Natale told Channel Ten.

“Governments around the world are realising that prohibition of cannabis causes more harm than it prevents,” said Di Natale, a former GP who worked in drug and alcohol addiction.

“We’ve got to take this out of the hands of criminals and dealers, [and] we’ve got to make sure it’s within the hands of health professionals.”

As part of the plan, the agency would be created to be the sole wholesaler of cannabis, as well as the outlet responsible for issuing licenses for prospective growers and retailers. There would be strict penalties for people caught selling cannabis to minors. Adults would be allowed to grow up to six cannabis plants for personal use.

Reaction has on the whole been positive, though Health Minister (the Liberal Party’s) Greg Hunt spun the lie that, “The risk of graduating to ice or to heroin from extended marijuana use is real,” and Murdoch’s the Daily Telegraph labelled the campaign a “Loopy Green pot plan”.

However, Alcohol and Drug Foundation policy manager Geoff Munro said “There may be some positive effect. It could reduce stigma around cannabis use and make it easier for people who are dependent to seek treatment.”

President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation Alex Wodak said banning cannabis hadn’t stopped people using it, had distracted police and helped make some criminals rich.

“Regulating cannabis will give government more control and increase government revenue, which can be used to fund drug prevention and treatment,” Dr Wodak said.

The policy has support from former Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner Mick Palmer.

Di Natale also pointed out that legalising cannabis for recreational use could be a revenue earner. Though media reports noted that no evidence for this had been provided the US state of Colorado earned more than $260 million in tax revenue in 2016 after it sold more than $1.7 billion worth of marijuana, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

And a costing by the Parliamentary Budget Office for independent senator David Leyonhjelm found the budget would be boosted by $259 million over the 2015-16 forward estimates if Australia legalised cannabis. In all counts this proposal could be a win-win outcome to a problem that has bedevilled the world for decades.

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My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 17 April 2018

Ending live sheep exports would boost regional economies

Over the past two weeks live animal exports have been much in the news after the death of 2400 Australian sheep. Many of us were disappointed to read that, as Greens Animal Welfare spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon called on the Turnbull government to end the live animal export trade, both the Federal Government and Opposition firmly resisted calls for such a ban, despite revelations of thousands of sheep routinely dying in inhumane conditions on ships.
True, there have been some small gains. The latest death ship was not allowed to leave Fremantle until conditions were minimally improved, as maritime officials demanded ventilation improvements before they issued a certificate to carry livestock.
In what was at least an improvement on the tactics employed by his predecessor, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud met with animal activists to discuss welfare aboard live export ships.
“I have now engaged with the Attorney-General’s office to help me undertake a review of the skills and capabilities and culture of the regulator, in providing a better investigative powers,” he said.
He also announced the Government would launch a whistle-blower hotline for those wanting dob in dodgy exporters.
He said the Government would also look to impose tougher penalties on dodgy exporter and their management.
But animal activists want an immediate ban on live shipments after TV broadcast footage showed sheep crowded into a small space, workers throwing dead sheep overboard, and faeces-covered pens where animals stood panting or collapsed on the ground.
The case against the way exports are currently handled isn’t limited to ‘bleeding heart’ inner city types. Western Australia farmer Craig Heggaton, for example, said “If we knew that was the situation that sheep were going in, I don’t think anyone would like to see their sheep or animals undergo that situation” though he didn’t call for an outright ban.
Thankfully others, including many sheep farmers, did see that the only solution was to completely end the live export trade. “Riverina famers call for an end to live exports” wrote the Daily Advertiser on 10 April.
Liberal MP Sussan Ley, the member for the regional seat of Farrer, even went so far as to demand that it is “Time to pick a date by which all live sheep exports must end” (DA 11 April).
So it is now acknowledged that live exports are inherently cruel and many agree that no amount of improvements will alter that. As Senator Rhiannon said, “Time and again the cruelty of the live export trade has been proven, with this latest mass death another shocking example with sheep effectively being cooked alive.”
What receives little attention though is another important aspect of this death trade: that live exports economically do not make sense when compared to other alternatives.
Senator Rhiannon also quite correctly pointed out that “Calls to tighten the rules is no solution. It is time to end this horrific practice and transition the industry to processing livestock in Australia and expanding Australia’s trade in boxed, chilled meat. The place to start is banning the live export of sheep.”
Indeed it is. Successive economic reports confirm processing the meat in Australia would create thousands of jobs and boost regional economies. Ending the live export trade would therefore mean the end of this cruel practice whilst at the same time improving the rural and regional economy. A true win-win situation.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 10 April 2018

NSW government puts religion ahead of children’s safety

In what appeared to be good news last week we learnt that paedophiles are to be punished with strengthened sentencing and new laws in changes promised for NSW (ABC TV News).

The NSW Premier and Attorney-General announced a suite of changes in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse final report.

Changes to child sex abusers’ punishment in NSW will include a maximum life sentence introduced for the strengthened offence of persistent child sexual abuse and there will be new offences for failure to report and failure to protect against child abuse. Courts to be required to sentence child sex abusers using current sentencing standards, rather than applying historic sentencing principles and they would not be able to take into account an offender’s good character when sentencing for historic offences.

“We are tightening the laws, we’re making sure NSW is not leaving any stone unturned in the relation to the protection of children,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
Yet in a more than disappointing move the Premier sidestepped introducing state laws to break the seal of confession.

Indeed, the NSW Government is putting questionable religious practices ahead of the welfare and safety of children by failing to abolish the secrecy of the confessional.

The NSW Government has failed to remove the outdated and dangerous practice of priests using the seal of the confessional to avoid reporting child sexual abuse to the police. This was one of the most important symbolic recommendations from the Royal Commission.

This is very disappointing and shows a real lack of courage from the Government. Children must be protected ahead of the interests of any church or religion and surely that means abolishing the ‘sanctity’ of the confession.

Not surprisingly, the Roman Catholic Church was quick to defend the sanctity of the confessional. For example, Denis Hart, the archbishop of Melbourne, responded by saying the sacredness of the confessional was above the law, and he would rather go to jail than report any sin he heard during the sacrament of penance, reported the Guardian Australia.

However, many of us beg to differ, for abolishing the secrecy of the confessional was one of the most important recommendations from the Royal Commission. However, rather than taking leadership, this government pushed this question off to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

So instead of putting children first, failure to remove the sanctity of the confessional shows just how much the NSW government is captured by the religious right in its ranks.
“While we welcome the government finally moving to implement our long-standing proposal to fix the unfairly lenient sentences handed down to historical child sex offenders, there is so much left undone with this announcement” Greens NSW MP and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge said.

What’s most remarkable is that the NSW Government’s headline grabbing plan for life sentences was not even a recommendation of the Royal Commission.

It is good to hear that the Greens will closely review this legislation and move to amend it to “ensure far more of the Royal Commission’s recommendations are implemented as soon as possible,” Mr Shoebridge said. Let’s hope the ALP and the cross benchers do likewise.

My Daily Advertiser column for yesterday, 3 April 2018L Australia’s real shame is in our asylum seeker policy, not in cricket.

Australia’s real shame is in our asylum seeker policy, not in cricket.

The coverage of the recent cricket ball tampering in South Africa last week certainly dominated the media, which also covered the outrage many felt about the incident. The Australian newspaper described it as an act of “shameful ignominy”. The Fairfax press upped the hyperbole when it wrote “This is cricket’s #MeToo moment”.

Even the Prime Minister became involved. The Daily Telegraph reports that “Mr Turnbull said he had spoken to Cricket Australia chairman David Peever and hoped the sport’s governing body would take ‘decisive action’.”

This is the same Malcolm Turnbull who just lost his 29th Newspoll in a row. You’d be justified in thinking that perhaps he’d have “decisive action” of his own to take. But not Malcolm, unless for him this passes as decisive action. “I’ve expressed to (Cricket Australia) very clearly and unequivocally my disappointment and my concern about the events in South Africa,” he said.

It all made me wonder about our priorities. I’m not at all down-playing the seriousness of the incident, and the three cricketers involved certainly deserve the punishments handed down to them, but whilst this story was unfolding on our television screens millions of teenagers in America marched against gun violence. They shut down cities to protest the senseless murder of their school fellows. There are 33,000 Americans who are killed in shooting deaths every year.

In Australia, we are either hanging our heads in shame or having collective apoplexy about the surface texture of a cricket ball. Clearly, we must live in some kind of paradise, or at least our commentariat seems to think we do, given that they can so casually compare scuffing a cricket ball with the experience of stigmatised, systemic sexual harassment, assault, abuse and violent deaths.

This led Barrie Cassidy, the host of ABC TV’s ‘Insiders’ political discussion show to say “I’m sure you’re sometimes gobsmacked at what passes for news in this country”. Quite.
He then told the story of a 10-year-old boy who has lived in the significantly less paradisal circumstances of indefinite detention in Australia’s asylum seeker processing centre on Nauru for the last five years.

As reported in the Guardian Australia and other newspapers of serious intentions, the traumatised child had repeatedly attempted suicide. Human rights lawyers and doctors campaigned to relocate him to Australia for acute psychiatric treatment. The Home Affairs department and its minister Peter Dutton fought the action in court. It needed a judge, deciding that the boy’s life was in immediate danger, to overrule them.
Surely a government minister actively denying care to a suicidal little boy is guilty of something far, far more serious than cheating during a game of cricket?

Shouldn’t a ‘leadership team of Australia’s representatives who abandoned a small, terrified child to violent despair be the ones met with a bare flagpole and silence that met our disgraced cricketers?

Certainly Cameron Bancroft shouldn’t have cheated. Smith and Warner shouldn’t have told him to. We should be ashamed of our national cricket team’s cheating, but what we should really be ashamed of is our nation’s treatment of asylum seekers, from Tampa and Siev X right through to offshore detentions in hell-holes such as the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. This should be our cause of shame.

And those who vote the responsible governments into power are all complicit.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today, 27 March 2018

Who’s right and who’s wrong about kangaroo killing?

Recent weeks have seen much media coverage of the news that Australia is planning to kill more than a million kangaroos this year, supposedly to protect both agricultural land and endangered grasslands.

However, we have a complex relationship with ‘our’ kangaroos and many people argue it is a needless slaughter, as the recent and controversial new film ‘Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story’ graphically shows us. Given all the controversy it’s time to bite the bullet and address this thorny topic, as also did Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, who was in Brussels recently to speak at the European premiere of the film.

The movie suggests kangaroos are a “disappearing resource”, and shows footage of the animals being shot en masse, with many dying very slow and painful deaths.
But the National Farmers Federation and meat processors have all slammed the film as a misrepresentation of the situation that ignores the basic facts.

Let’s look at the arguments for and against before reaching a conclusion.

The arguments for are partly driven by agricultural concerns, in that kangaroos eat and otherwise destroy crops. This problem is in part exacerbated by much of our agriculture being irrigated, which no doubt helped to increase the ‘roo population by providing them with more to eat or drink. They are a pest, in other words, putting our food security at risk.

The other main argument for culling is an environmental one, claiming that the increased numbers mean that native vegetation is being destroyed.

Let’s now look at the opposing arguments showing that the culling is unnecessary and needlessly cruel.

The cruelty issue isn’t necessarily that killing any sentient animal is in itself cruel, though of course that case an be made, but rather as the film points out, though shooters are instructed to use a ‘brain shot’ this is not always easy to do to a fast moving animal. There is unfortunately ample evidence that the ‘brain shot’ is often not achieved. So the cruelty argument has validity.

So has the ‘numbers’ issue. Senator Rhiannon addressed this question fairly squarely in a recent Senate address in which she explained that the government’s own data reveals a serious trend of decline in kangaroo numbers since surveys began some 30 years ago. “The published science of kangaroo reproductive biology and population ecology shows that the so-called population explosions described in the data are biologically impossible for this slow-breeding marsupial” she said.

Indeed, current analysis of the survey methodology and raw data is now suggesting systematic and massive deliberately false inflation of kangaroo numbers, from which corresponding excessively inflated commercial shooting quotas are extracted, so that larger numbers may be shot from shrinking populations. In other words, the data is skewed to justify an increased kill quota.

To my mind though the most compelling case against ‘roo culling comes, despite the pro-shooters’ arguments, from an environmental perspective,. The problem arises because we ‘white fellas’ have introduced exotic species such as sheep and cattle that don’t thrive on native grasslands whereas ‘roos do. Most kangaroo shooting in NSW occurs in the dry western rangelands where agricultural productivity is poor.

So instead of the unproductive cull or not cull quarrel wouldn’t it be better to invest in Indigenous peoples and other land managers to manage the least productive portions of the land for the Indigenous suite of species, thereby controlling feral animals, weeds and bushfires ?

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 20 March 2018

Cruel, punitive and unfair treatment of asylum seekers

Last week, in news barely reported, we learnt that asylum seekers living in the Australian community were having their income support summarily cut by Peter Dutton’s Department of Home Affairs, and being left at risk of destitution.

Some of those who have had their status resolution support service (SRSS) cut arrived in Australia as unaccompanied minors and have since graduated from high school here. Some have won scholarships to university. With the withdrawal of financial support, some have been forced to withdraw from university because they cannot survive while studying.

Others who are studying English or training for a work qualification are being forced to choose between continuing their studies or finding immediate work to support themselves

Changes to the SRSS regime were imposed late last year, when individual asylum seekers, who were living legally in the Australian community on bridging visas, were told they were being cut off from their support. But details of the breadth of the policy have become clearer over recent weeks, with more and more asylum seekers affected, reported the Guardian Australia.

In a very cruel and ironic justification the government has outlined its rationale that asylum seekers judged to be “work-ready” will be required to be working: those who are seeking work, but are unable to find it, or who are studying for work qualifications or to improve their English, will not be eligible for assistance.

It is unclear how many people might be caught up in the changes, but agencies supporting asylum seekers estimate it could affect up to 10,000 people across the country, mainly but not entirely in Sydney and Melbourne.

Refugee advocates have said those stripped of their SRSS are vulnerable to exploitation in the workforce, forced to take any job, under any conditions, in order to survive.
Melbourne’s Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said the changes to the payments meant individuals and families waiting for their protection claims to be assessed could not pay rent, buy food or access mental healthcare.

The centre said the changes had not been clearly explained to asylum seekers, and said it was a “cruel twist of irony” to demand higher language requirements of would-be citizens while removing support from those studying English.

“If you don’t support people to meet basic needs, how can they learn to speak English and pass the government’s own proposed language test?” the ASRC’s Jana Favero said.
In Sydney, the principal solicitor with the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, Sarah Dale, said “It’s not just a choice of ‘do I continue my studies?’, this is a choice about their future, we are limiting their ability to build a new life for themselves, and to integrate in Australia” she said.

The Greens’ immigration spokesman, Nick McKim, said cutting support payments to asylum seekers was “unconscionably cruel and punitive”.

Indeed, this is a deeply unfair decision which could force people into poverty, homelessness and exploitative jobs. Many people affected by these cuts are studying, and all of them are trying to rebuild their lives.

To retrospectively punish people in this way is unconscionably cruel, but sadly that’s what we’ve come to expect from Peter Dutton.

To add insult to injury we learnt last week that Mr Dutton is proposing to fast track offers of settlement to white South African farmers, which that government quite rightly described as “Offensive”.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 6 March 2018

Michael McCormack’s climate change views leave constituents high and dry

Michael McCormack’s elevation to the leadership of the Nationals and consequently the Deputy Prime Ministership has been fully commented on in the media over the past week and so there is no need to repeat the commentary here, though there are two issues I think worthy of further discussion.

One is his infamous homophobic Daily Advertiser editorial of 1993, and the other is his views on climate change. Both have implications for both his local and now national constituents.

Firstly, a brief comment in his homophobic editorial. As we all know, Mr McCormack has apologised for the hateful bile he wrote 24 years ago. Apologies are all well and good but they neither repair the damage he did, nor give back those years to those whose lives were lost or blighted by his attack.
I was a Senior Lecturer in Drama at CSU back then, and relatively ‘safe’ in what was essentially a privileged position, but hundreds of young people were not so fortunate, and had their lives blighted by Mr McCormack’s slurs. As a Letter to the Editor (Carl-James Asimus, DA, 1 March) wrote “Too often young gay people take their own lives as a result of hatred voiced against them by such figures as Mr McCormack.”

I challenged Mr McCormack to at least partly make amends by marching with me at the 40th Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade last Saturday, but sadly and unsurprisingly he didn’t show.

Let’s hope Mr McCormack will be more thoughtful in his new role, and may he do less harm, though damaged lives can’t all be repaired by the passage of time.
However, it is Mr McCormack’s views on climate change that will be of greater concern to most of his regional constituents. Last week Greens spokesperson for climate change and energy Adam Bandt MP used Parliamentary Question Time to question the new Deputy Prime Minister about his position on climate change.
“‘It appears that the second most powerful man in the country doesn’t believe in climate change,” said Mr Bandt.
The evidence comes from what Mr McCormack referred to as ‘so-called climate change’ in Parliament in 2012. In his first speech, he stated that just because there is less rain ‘It does not mean we all need to listen to a government grant-seeking academic sprouting doom and gloom about climate changing irreversibly’ he said, despite all the scientific evidence provided annually by the Bureau of Meteriology.
The irony of Mr McCormack’s stance as a climate change denier is plain to see. Climate change will lead to more extreme and more frequent droughts, heatwaves and bushfires, which impact on regional and rural Australia far more than they do on the major cities. His constituents are therefore in for a shock if they expect him to look after their interests.
It seems that Mr McCormack does not understand or does not want to understand the urgency of tackling climate change. As inaction on climate change is an ingrained Turnbull government specialty, the people Michael McCormack claims to represent will be left hot, high and dry.
The rise of the man from Wagga Wagga is a case of new face for a set of neoliberal, selfish policies that don’t serve the needs of rural and regional Australia let alone the office of Deputy Prime Minister.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today, Tuesday 27 February 2018

The Florida tragedy demonstrates the need to tighten up our gun laws

In the aftermath of the Florida high school mass shooting I once again heard and read much commentary proposing that the USA would benefit by adopting Australian style gun laws.

In the USA the problem is in part the constitution’s 2nd Amendment, which reads ”A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The amendment wasn’t meant to give the right of everyone who felt like it to buy as many automatic assault weapons as they liked, but unfortunately that is how it has been interpreted by the National Rifle Association (NRA), most politicians (many of whom received millions of dollars in campaign funds from the NRA), and of course, the courts over the past 200 years or so.

At the time of writing however, there appears to be some movement to tighten up background checks in the USA, thanks to student activism, which will certainly help, but not solve the problem. President Trump’s proposal to arm teachers certainly won’t help, it would only make things worse.

However, rather than devote my column to American gun control my column inches would be better spent on looking at how well our much daunted gun laws stand up over 20 years since the John Howard gun control laws of 1996.

My interest was sparked in part by a media release from Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, which pointed out that to a large degree that important work had come undone. “While the work of former prime minister John Howard on gun control was outstanding, the ban on semi-automatic longarms now needs to be expanded to include semi-automatic hand guns” Senator Rhiannon said.

So let’s see how the Howard era guns laws are faring now. “It is easy to become complacent, to feel reassured when our guns policy is wheeled out as an example of sensible law whenever yet another mass murder highlights the lethal consequences of legal paralysis in America” (Lenore Taylor, Guardian Australia).

Indeed, an Australian gun control audit found that the states failed to fully comply with the 1996 agreement. The details of our firearms laws aren’t nearly as uniform, or secure, or stringent, as we might believe. They are under constant challenge from gun manufacturers devising weapons that fire far more shots, far more rapidly, than the legal categorisations ever imagined, and from a gun lobby that fervently believes those categories were too restrictive in the first place.

A review of gun laws ordered after the 2014 Lindt cafe siege in took 18 months of fraught negotiation for the federal and state governments to revise the agreement. Adler imports were supposed to be banned while governments worked things out, but the Nationals senators crossed the floor to support a motion lifting the ban.

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party in New South Wales wants to repeal the national firearms agreement altogether, as does One Nation in Queensland.

In contrast, the Greens are calling for a the ban on semi-automatic longarms to be expanded to include semi-automatic hand guns.

It is high time politicians from the Liberal, Nationals, One Nation and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers parties got back to the spirit of 1996 and showed the courage of John Howard and Tim Fischer.

My Daily Advertiser column for today, 20 February 2018

It’s time – for a universal basic income

I’m spoilt for choice of topic this week, as many recent events are in need of commentary. Lack of space prevents detailed analysis of all bar one, so for the others I’ll confine my comments to brief remarks.

With regard to the Barnaby Joyce saga the one outstanding response for me is the overwhelming hypocrisy of the man. Having a consensual relationship while married to another woman is not the issue, for thousands have been there, but rather his massive, staggering hypocrisy when passing judgement on the LGBTIQ community. Mr Joyce also thought that preventing the risk of cervical cancer would encourage promiscuity in young women and so shouldn’t be supported. His gall beggars belief!

Another topic of note is that Mr Turnbull proudly announced that three ‘Closing the Gap’ categories were indeed closing, but glossed over those that were still miles apart for our First Nations’ young people. This is a cause for shame rather than celebration. Progress on only three?

Also last week came the revelation by the ABC that Qantas, BHP, Foxtel and Energy Australia are among hundreds of companies that haven’t paid corporate tax in Australia for the past decade. Mr Turnbull should forget about lowering the corporate tax rate and instead focus on closing the loopholes these companies exploit to avoid paying any tax at all!

However, in the number of words left in today’s column I’d like to focus on something that needs to be high up on the agenda of our social and political discourse, but sadly isn’t, and that is the concept of a universal basic income.

It has been advocated for some time by economists and social scientists. Politicians in some countries have actually put it into practice. In Australia it has floated in and out of our political arena for years, but until now has remained only an idea.

Essentially the notion of a universal basic income proposes that the government should pay everyone a regular payment to meet their basic needs, despite their income. It is proposed as a solution to inequality.

Here in Australia it was first seriously considered when the Whitlam government tasked Professor Ronald Henderson, the inaugural Director of the Melbourne Institute, to investigate all aspects of poverty affecting Australians, including race, education, health and law.

It’s report noted that “Poverty is not just a personal attribute: it arises out of the organisation of society.”

 

At the heart of the Henderson inquiry’s final recommendations was a guaranteed minimum income scheme, in which payments to pensioners (at a high rate) and payments to all other income units (at a lower rate) would be balanced by a proportional tax on all private income.

However, the Whitlam government was dismissed in 1975, six months after the final report. The new government of Malcolm Fraser hardly considered its recommendations.

Since then no government had paid any attention to the topic, but reflecting what is happening elsewhere, at least one Australian politician has put it firmly back on the agenda. Speaking at the National Press Club recently Senator Richard Di Natale said “Wages are flat, but corporate profits are booming. Inequality is out of control. Is there another way we can secure prosperity (for all)? We should not be afraid to follow those countries trialling a universal income.” Quite – it’s time to put an end to poverty.

My Daily Advertiser column for today, 13 February 2018

Coalition’s changes to Murray-Darling basin should and will fail

Thankfully the Turnbull government’s plan to reduce the amount of environmental water recovered each year in the northern basin of the Murray-Darling river by 70 gigalitres, announced last week, will likely be blocked in the Senate after Labor announced it would vote with the Greens to disallow changes to the plan, reported the Guardian Australia.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority proposed a reduction to the water recovery target in the north of the basin (mainly in Queensland and north-west NSW) from 390GL to 320GL. Farming communities in Queensland and north-west NSW had warned that they would suffer economic hardship if the higher water recovery targets were maintained.

Both the Greens and Labor expressed support for the views of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, which warned that the cut to the environmental water recovery target was not supported by the science on the river’s health.

In an advice in January, the Wentworth group warned the cut of 70GL would undermine the objectives of the basin plan and was inconsistent with the Commonwealth Water Act, which called on the authority to act “on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge and socioeconomic analysis”.

It said the amendment would not adequately protect important flow events (such as environmental flows or low flows) from being diverted by irrigators. It pointed to issues with current plans that allowed large legal diversions in some valleys and also pointed out that states had failed to deal with allegations of water theft.

The Wentworth Group called on the federal government to look at ways to mitigate economic impacts on communities, rather than lowering environmental standards.

Back to the politics. The shadow environment minister Tony Burke, when speaking against the proposal tried to have it both ways when he said Labor was not saying it would never support an amendment to the basin plan. However,  he redeemed himself when he said there had not been proper consultation with traditional owners along the river. Good point, Tony.

The heavy political lifting on the issue came from Sarah Hanson-Young, the Greens’ spokeswoman on water,  who called a spade a spade by saying the plan to save the Murray-Darling basin was failing and the river would die without an urgent refocus.

“A full, independent audit of the plan is urgently needed,” she said. “The intervention by economists and scientists today shows that there’s serious lack of trust amongst policy experts” she concluded.

Indeed,  scandals of water theft, tampering of water meters and rorting of public money spent on water and irrigation subsidies with little water being returned to the river has undermined the plan and wasted billions of taxpayers’ dollars. Unfortunately this new proposal looks like another nail in the basin’s coffin.

“Despite these scandals, the Senate is being asked to agree to a further weakening of environmental allocations. The Greens will not stand by and let this happen, which is why we will move to disallow the government’s recent push to weaken the plan’s existing sustainable diversion limits” she concluded.

Scandals of water theft, tampering of water meters and rorting of public money spent on water and irrigation subsidies with little water being returned to the river has undermined the plan and wasted billions of taxpayers’ dollars. This new proposal is yet another nail in the basins coffin.