Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Category: Uncategorized

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 26 May 2020

We must not shy away from debt as Australia plans its post coronavirus recovery

In one piece of good news as the major parties haggle over how much to spend (or not) on our coronavirus recovery the Greens are sensibly urging $300bn more debt as they seek to outflank both Labor and the Coalition on a good post Covid-19 recovery.

The party accuses Labor and the Coalition of shrinking from the spending needed to revive our post-coronavirus economy.

Indeed, “The government has fallen back on the most extreme neoliberal nostrums – wage suppression, industrial relations ‘reform’, the return to balanced budgets and a bonfire of sensible environmental and other protections in the hope of generating ‘snapback’ economic growth” noted the Saturday Paper.

In marked contrast Greens Parliamentary leader, Adam Bandt says Australia must not shy away from debt as it plans its recovery from the economic slide brought on by coronavirus restrictions. 

The Greens have proposed increasing government debt by $300bn in a bid to kickstart the economy out of the Covid-19 contraction through investments in industry, infrastructure and renewable energy, reported Pau Karp in the Guardian Australia last week.

The Greens Invest to Recover plan, released last Monday, sets up the Greens’ economic argument leading into the next election as a battle against Coalition austerity and Labor, which it says is “afraid of sensible borrowing to invest in our future”.

The biggest ticket items include a jobs guarantee, free tertiary education for under 30s, $24bn over 10 years for public education, a $12bn manufacturing fund, 500,000 new public and community homes, $25bn on public transport, $6bn to modernise the electricity grid, a $6bn nature fund and $2.3bn for the arts.

The Greens also propose retaining key features of the coronavirus support packages including free childcare and the doubling of unemployment benefits to $1,100 a fortnight.

While the Greens can only achieve policy goals in partnership with other parties, its policies from a banking royal commission, lifting Newstart and preventing cuts to penalty rates have proved influential, especially over Labor.

But Anthony Albanese has warned the shadow front bench that, if elected, Labor would face a “constrained fiscal situation”. Labor’s shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has said that Labor’s highest priority is to “save as many jobs and communities as possible” but in the long run he still believes “debt matters”.

The Greens estimate Australia’s net debt would rise from 30% of GDP to 44% under its plan – an increase of $300bn over 10 years – which it argues is “still less than half of the advanced economies’ average of 95% during the pandemic and well below those countries’ debt levels even before Covid-19 (which was 76%)”.

The Greens believe debt will be less if revenue measures are implemented, such as reversing stage two and three of the Coalition’s income tax cuts and ending fossil fuel subsidies.

The policy document accuses Liberal and Labor governments of “turning public debt into a bogeyman”. But during the Covid-19 crisis government borrowing has saved the day.

The Greens policy argued that governments have access to “the cheapest money in history” with interest rates less than 1% on 10-year bonds, and less than 2% for 30 year bonds.

“There’s never been a better time for governments to borrow to invest given that interest rates are projected to stay at record low levels for many years.”

“Liberal and Labor say that we can’t borrow any further and the cupboard is bare. Of course, they were saying that even before the coronavirus crisis, but history shows that if we borrow to invest and grow a clean economy, we will be able to easily service the debt and ensure our prosperity.”

The Greens cited expansion after the second world war, at which time “debt skyrocketed to record highs” but was “reduced back down to normal levels within a decade because it was invested and grew the economy”.

Adam Bandt said “Depression-era job numbers demand a Depression-era response. That means not shying away from debt, but using it to invest in building a cleaner, fairer Australia.”

“We can’t cut our way out of this crisis. The government and big corporations are calling for more cuts – to company taxes, to public spending, to workers’ rights – but that is a recipe for disaster. We must invest to recover.”

The coronavirus showed that normal life failed us. We need a new economy as we recover.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 19 May 2020

Vale Jack Mundey

Today I’ll devote my column to Jack Mundey, union leader and environmental activist, who died last week.

Mundey led Sydney’s green bans movement which helped save many historic sites in the 1970s. The motives for saving the sites were either environmental or social, or a mixture of both.

This helped save many historic Sydney sites, including The Rocks, in the 1970s. His inspiration led to similar bans in NSW, and spread throughout the world.

The union movement, Labor and Greens politicians paid tribute to the former New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) leader on Monday, including the CFMMEU national secretary Dave Noonan who described Mundey as “a visionary” and “an inspiration to all unionists and activists”.

The Greens leader Adam Bandt said Mundey was a “leader and a visionary”, while Labor’s employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor said he was a “great union leader” known for his courage.

Mundey rose to prominence in Sydney as the leader of the NSW Builders Labourers Federation, a role he assumed in 1968.

As Sydney entered a construction boom in the 1970s, Mundey’s BLF instituted 40 green bans throughout the city, a type of strike in which union members refused to work on projects it viewed socially or environmentally undesirable.

Jack Mundey showed us that fighting for people and the environment went hand in hand.

Greens MP David Shoebridge said “We have lost a champion for the planet and for working people. Jack Mundey, a comrade and as leader, who saved so much of our heritage with the Green Bans. Remembering him and thinking of his family today. Thanks Jack. Thanks so very much”

Lee Rhiannon, Jack’s friend and former Greens Senator for NSW said “Jack was a great visionary. The fundamental principles that unite Greens parties across the globe are the four pillars of social justice, environmental sustainability, grassroots democracy and peace and non-violence. They truly sum up Jack’s world-view.

“Jack made history in 1965 when he was arrested at Australia’s first sit-in protest. On this occasion the action was against the Menzies government which had decided to send conscripts to fight in the Vietnam War.

“As a member of the Communist Party of Australia he spoke up for socialism with a human face. As a member of the Greens Party he stood as a candidate on a number of occasions and helped strengthen the party’s work with unions on a range of issues.

“In the 1980s Jack was elected to Sydney City Council. It was to the regret of many that he was never elected to parliament,” said Ms Rhiannon.

The green bans movement had an influence on the creation of the German Greens, now among the world’s most electorally successful Green parties. When visiting Sydney, Petra Kelly, was intrigued by the term ‘Green Bans’ and, after returning to Germany, founded the German Greens, the world’s first Greens party. In turn the Australian Greens took their name from the German Greens.

The Nature Conservation Council chief executive Chris Gambian said the conservation movement was in mourning on Monday.

“Mundey was a visionary who understood the struggles for social justice and environmental justice are part of the same broader project – to preserve human dignity in the face of unconstrained development,” he said.

In a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald in 1972, Mundey argued that while his members “want to build”, it preferred to construct hospitals, schools, other public utilities and high-quality housing, rather than “ugly unimaginative architecturally-bankrupt blocks of concrete and glass offices”.

“Though we want all our members employed, we will not just become robots directed by developer-builders who value the dollar at the expense of the environment,” he wrote.

More recently, Mundey had been involved in the campaign to save Sydney’s Sirius public housing building from being sold off by the government. 

Greens NSW Co-Convenors Sylvia Hale and Rochelle Flood said “Greens NSW are today mourning the loss of Jack Mundey. The sympathies of our members, staff, councillors and MPs go out to Jack’s wife Judy, his family and friends. Collectively, we send our sincere condolences.”

“Under his leadership of the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) for the first time we saw unity between the struggles of unions and environmentalists. 

He will be missed. It is high time we revived his spirit.

Vale Jack Mundey.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 12 May 2020

Economic growth is incompatible with biodiversity conservation

I have often written that the prevailing business model, which is based on ever expanding growth, is not compatible with environmental health.

Now the conclusions of a recent research project recently published in the scientific journal Conservation Letters provides all the evidence to prove of what we need to do. Accordingly I’ll devote this week’s column to an examination of its findings.

Though the increase in resource consumption and polluting emissions as a result of economic growth is not compatible with biodiversity conservation most international policies on biodiversity and sustainability continue to advocate economic growth. These are the main conclusions of the study “Biodiversity policy beyond economic growth,” just published by the project.

This contradiction became clear after a review of international scientific and policy work on the subject. The scientific article was overseen by Iago Otero, a researcher at the ‘Centre interdisciplinaire de recherche sur la montagne’, of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

The document recommends that the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), incorporate in its reports a scenario that goes beyond economic growth as part of its current work to envision the future of biodiversity. So far, the projections of change in biodiversity assume that the economy has to grow and seek policy options that minimize biodiversity loss without compromising economic growth. Instead, the article recommends beginning with conservation and social welfare objectives and then looking at what economic trajectories might meet them.

Taking the last 170 years in the United States as an example, the research team speculates about the meaning of continued economic growth that is clearly associated with biodiversity loss but whose contribution to social progress has become stagnant since the late 1970s. Our own rate of biodiversity extinction is if anything worse than that of the USA.

The article outlines 7 alternative proposals to ensure prosperity beyond growth and halt the loss of biodiversity. They are realised in the following national and international actions by diverse communities, NGOs, researchers and companies.

Limiting the commercialization of resources at an international level is the first proposal. All products contain a certain amount of resources and land use necessary for their production. The paper proposes establishing absolute caps on these amounts in the products marketed and to allocate them by country. It is argued that less international trade reduces resource extraction and the spread of invasive species.

The second proposal is to restrict the activity of extractive industries in areas of high biodiversity. Putting in place clear limitations and removing subsidies to unsustainable extractive industries helps to curb habitat loss and fragmentation. Moratoriums on extraction could also be introduced in highly sensitive regions.

Next comes slowing down the expansion of some major infrastructure. There is a need to re-examine in detail the need for new major infrastructure such as airports, dams, and motorways, and its impact on sensitive ecosystems and human communities. In addition, protect areas that are still free of roads, to prevent the rapid loss of their biodiversity and endangered cultures.

Reducing and sharing the work is a proposal particularly useful in the post coronavirus world. Promoting legislation that reduces the working week and supporting companies that implement work sharing schemes can reduce environmental pressure and impacts on biodiversity.

Promoting agro-ecological development and food sovereignty is also important. Encourage government support for sustainable agricultural systems and local and organic food, through regulations and subsidies and by adjusting tax systems accordingly. This seeks to shorten production chains, using criteria of biodiversity and sustainability, reduce pressure from agricultural and livestock production and promote diversity within species, between species, and of landscapes.

Prioritising compact urban planning and shared use of housing is another recommendation. We must promote efficient land use through integrated collective housing solutions, rent control and limits on the land available for urbanization and peri-urban expansion. Reduce the pressure of urbanization on peri-urban agricultural land.

Reporting on the impact of production on biodiversity is the final proposal. Tax product advertisements that lead to overexploitation of species and lands. Increase awareness of the effects of products on biodiversity through better labeling and information campaigns. Promote education programs on responsible consumption.

If these proposals are followed there would be a fair chance of preserving biodiversity, on which ultimately human survival depends.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for5 May 2020

If we listen to the science on COVID-19, why can’t we also listen to the science on climate change?

After a period of denialism some world leaders eventually woke up and listened to the science about the coronavirus, but in stark contrast they have failed to listen to what science is telling us about climate change.

With this in mind the coronavirus pandemic should be seen as a dress rehearsal for what the future holds if we continue to ignore the laws of science with regard to looming catastrophic threats such as climate change.

Just as Australia was disturbingly unprepared for the recent bushfires and drought, the globe was unprepared for the coronavirus, even though there had been many warnings of the risk over many years.

Writing in the Guardian Australia John Hewson, John Hewson, a former leader of the Liberal party and a professorial fellow at the Australian National University, demonstrating a grasp of science currently lacking from the Liberal/Nationals party leadership, noted that “Unfortunately, governments and policy authorities seem incapable of accepting scientific evidence and fail to listen to the clear warnings and predictions.”

Such governments are also generally unwilling to think longer-term, and strategically, to plan for how to avoid or manage a series of mounting catastrophic risks that threaten not only our lifestyle, but ultimately human survival. This should make even the most conservative politician wake up, but unfortunately none do.

Since the eighteenth century industrial revolution humans have increasingly threatened significant harm to themselves and to the planet, prioritising economic and population growth but largely ignoring its social, political and environmental consequences.

These consequences include exhaustion of scarce resources, species extinction, pollution, waste, disease, diminished resilience, and of course the big one – climate change. This has been compounded by poor, shortsighted governance that has disadvantaged some countries to the point of ruin and fostered wasteful military and economic competition.

Few would have thought that in the space of just six to eight weeks the world could change so dramatically in response to Covid-19. Politicians, businesses and people have accepted a dramatic change in the norm that would have been unthinkable previously. We have agreed to social distancing, people aren’t flying, we are mostly not commuting to work, and we are staying at home.

Even conservative politicians such as PMs Scott Morrison and the UK’s Boris Johnson have adopted what the Americans normally love to denigrate as ‘big government’. They have thrown neo-liberal ideology to the wind, and have come up with policies that can only be implemented by governments.

The recently established Commission for the Human Future, which Dr Hewson Chairs, has identified 10 key catastrophic risks: an emerging crisis in natural resources; collapse of ecosystems; excessive population growth; global warming; global pollution; food and water insecurity; nuclear war; pandemics; new technologies; and failures in global governance to understand these risks and to be proactive in response. How these risks can be met are outlined in its just released new report.

It notes that though each nation will in a narrow-minded nationalistic way want to address these risks in its own way, as the coronavirus has shown us these risks don’t recognise national boundaries. Countries must work collaboratively, to change behaviours and practices in adapting to new circumstances and in recognising and exploiting new opportunities.

As with the coronavirus in developing policy solutions it is imperative that they be based on science and accepted evidence. This essential process should see the development of a ‘new science’, the science of planetary and human survival.

Given the systemic failure of governments around the world to anticipate and address these great risks, and a consequent decline in public trust and disdain for truth, transparency and accountability in politics and some media, the Commission feels there is an urgent need for sweeping political reform, including new ways to confront corruption by vested interests and the influence they exert over governments. The power exerted by the fossil fuel extractive industries over our government is a case in point.

This situation  means that many existing systems and practices that we take for granted, such as  our economic, food, energy, transport,  production, waste, and governance systems, as well as our community life and our relationship with the Earth’s natural systems, must all undergo searching examination and reform.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 28 April 2020

Green New Deal or Business as Usual?

Recently Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe and Treasury Secretary Steven Kennedy addressed the national cabinet.  PM Morrison said they made it clear “business as usual when it comes to the policy we had prior to the election will need to be reconsidered on the other side”.

That’s a welcome change from Scotty from Marketing, who had previously touted a quick ‘snap back’ to business as usual.

Nonetheless, it raises the question of what form the new economy would take post COVID-19.

Will it be a continuation of neo-liberalism, which essentially means unregulated capitalism, or something more attuned to the needs of the planet and the welfare of its people?

Two recent newspaper stories clearly showed the two opposing paths open to the government, which in its remaining two years could take either route.

One way forward was a story about Energy Minister Angus Taylor, who is moving ahead with a new program that includes measures designed to prop up coal-fired electricity generators and weaken environmental protections.

I won’t devote any more of my precious column inches to such backward-looking nonsense, but instead focus the story of a much more useful proposal. From the Greens, it was a proposal for the Green New Deal, which I have previously mentioned but that now warrants a closer look.

The concept of a Green New Deal originated in the USA. It was taken up by the new young progressive Democrats elected to congress in 2018 and was amplified by Bernie Sanders during his recent presidential nomination campaign. Here in Australia it has been adopted by the Greens and given a specific policy focus.

After the government’s $130 billion JobKeeper legislation had been pushed through Parliament unamended, it was Greens senate leader Larissa Waters who offered an optimistic take on the upheaval Australia is suffering.

“This crisis has highlighted the extent to which Australia’s safety net has been picked away at for 30 years,” she said …  In just a few short weeks we’ve seen the beginnings of a stimulus that could set us up for better things and play to our collective strengths … It’s a chance to think how we want this country to go forward, and hope to dream for a better future.”

Greens parliamentary leader Adam Bandt told the Saturday Paper that this is the moment for Australia to be ambitious in its thinking about the recovery.

“I see a debate looming about the pathway out; it will be a choice between blue austerity or green growth,” he says. “The Green New Deal is about borrowing to invest to make more money and grow out of the crisis, versus others who argue the only way is cutting, [which] will only increase the crisis.”

He is confident that a sweeping “government-led plan of investment and action to create a clean economy and a caring society” is still possible – perhaps even more viable in the wake of Covid-19. “A three-decade-old neoliberal rule book has been thrown out the window,” he says.

He often cites the work of economist and former climate change adviser Professor Ross Garnaut, whose recent book Superpower: Australia’s Low-Carbon Opportunity has captured cross-party support for highlighting the prospect that a combination of cheap and abundant renewable energy and low interest rates could revitalise manufacturing in this country and see us exporting clean power to Asia.

In the next month or two, the Greens will announce their recovery plan, ahead of the release of the full Green New Deal policy next year. “Everything will be costed and funded,” Bandt promised.

Just before the Covid-19 shutdown, Bandt began a national tour to promote the Green New Deal, announcing a $28 billion plan to build 500,000 sustainable new homes over the next 15 years, as part of the party’s vision for universal free housing, education and health.

Bandt noted the Morrison government is going to be forced to act under the pressure of the coming downturn. “The government’s going to need to invest even more if we want everyone to have a decent job on the other side of this crisis. Unless the government wants high unemployment to be a permanent feature in Australia, they’re going to have to borrow and invest even more.”

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 21 April 2020

Keep restrictions for as long as it takes

During the last couple of weeks I have heard and read of many people foolishly urging an easing or end of the regulations that have done so much to keep us safe from the worst of COVID-19.

I was particularly concerned by two headlines in last Friday’s Daily Advertiser. One read ‘Easing restrictions could begin within weeks’, and the other ‘Staggered school return’ and ‘The State’s peak teachers’ union warned against a hasty return to the classroom …’.

Nothing could be worse, for we need to keep the restrictions for as long as it takes.

So that doesn’t mean the NRL bouncing back as early as late May, or NSW trialing an easing of the restrictions, as Premiere Gladys Berejiklian has suggested, or, as US President Donald Trump is now saying, ending the regulations in May.

Talk of an early easing of restrictions is contrary to all medical advice. That has to be the voice we listen to and take notice of, rather than politicians touting for votes from the more gullible elements of our population.

Thankfully some are noting caveats before there is any easing. Health experts are urging us to be patient, saying the number of new coronavirus cases in NSW will need to remain stable for at least another fortnight before any restrictions are wound back.

Dr Stephen Duckett, a health economist with the Grattan Institute, said the measures should remain in place until the number of new cases dropped to the single digits, and then held firm.

“The corner has certainly been turned but it’s too early to say when it will be safe to lift the lid,” Dr Duckett said.”

Naturally enough, the business sector is anxious to see signs the government has an exit strategy.

Business NSW Chief executive Stephen Cartwright said it was “still far from certain how much longer the full restrictions will be needed before the medical experts would sanction such changes.”

Pandemic expert Adam Kamradt-Scott, from the University of Sydney’s Centre for International Security Studies, said the government’s approach to winding back the restrictions would depend on what strategy was guiding its response.

“If you’re going for zero transmission rate, you need to get it down to zero and keep it there for an extended period,” Associate Professor Kamradt-Scott said.

“But if the government is willing to accept that a small level of cases is ok because they are manageable, then yes, probably in about three or four weeks you might be able to see a relaxation of these measures.”

Raina MacIntyre, head of the biosecurity program at the UNSW’s Kirby Institute, said the decrease in new daily cases was due to the overseas travel bans and quarantining measures, not the limits on gatherings or stay-at-home orders implemented on March 31.

For her part, Premier Gladys Berejiklian opened the door to a potential easing-off with extreme reticence this week, dodging questions about what measures may be under review.

She spoke of not wanting to “raise expectations” but said there was “a chance” in the coming weeks “to look at some relaxation” but only if the health experts, who were assessing the situation on a monthly basis, “deem it appropriate”.

As a sobering addendum, she added: “Every time you relax a restriction, more people will get sick. More people will die.”

These thoughts took me to another piece of political propaganda, which was Prime Minister Scotty from Marketing touting that the economy would ‘snap back’ as soon as the crisis eased. I guess it is to be expected from someone whose real-world job used to be in advertising, before he was sacked. But such false optimism is very misleading, and Treasury should have been consulted before the PM peddled more false hopes.

As Greg Jericho pointed out in the Guardian Australia, the economic recovery from coronavirus will be slow, rather than a ‘snap back’.

Hopefully that will allow time for sensible heads to prevail. We need to implement a recovery that does not repeat the mistakes of the past half century, when neo-liberal unregulated capitalism ruled. Instead we must replace it with a green new deal that deals effectively with climate change and social justice, thereby saving the planet and its people.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 14 April 2020

Coronavirus presents us with both climate opportunities and risks

The COVID 19 pandemic is both bad and good news for the environment.

The debate over how governments rebuild economies after the peak of the pandemic has become the new front line of the climate war.

We had the bad news well before the coronavirus wreaked havoc throughout the world. As preparations were being made for the COP26 conference it was clear by last year that the aims set in Paris Agreement would not be met unless even more ambitious targets were set in Glasgow.

The now postponed conference was seen by scientists and many world leaders as the last best chance for governments to set in place critical carbon emissions reduction targets.

The decisions that governments make over the next few weeks over their economies will also decide whether or not the world avoids the worst climate impacts, says Anna Skarbek, director of ClimateWorks, a policy research centre associated with Monash University.

As with other experts Skarbek understands the decision to defer the Glasgow talks, saying that holding them next year gives governments the opportunity to develop stimulus measures in line with Paris goals.

“For the climate this is the time of greatest risk but also of greatest opportunity,” she says.

Should governments spend wisely they can decarbonise their economies even more quickly than they had expected to. “The flipside is that if they don’t, it is a double negative,” she said.

Rather than creating green economies as they seek to spend their way out of the crisis, they will most likely lock in dirty industries, equipment and infrastructure and be left

Last weekend, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, ClimateWorks brought forward the release of a major research project it has conducted into how Australia could use available technology to meet critical emissions targets.

Though couched in determinedly positive terms, the careful language of the report, Decarbonisation Futures, is telling. It outlines how Australians might still have a two in three chance to meet targets consistent with averting the worst predicted climate outcomes.

Decarbonisation Futures scenarios show that Australia can still reduce emissions in line with limiting the temperature rise to 2 degrees – and if governments, businesses and individuals go ‘all-in’, a 1.5-degree limit could be within reach,” it says.

According to the report, over the past five years technological hurdles have already been overcome that allow for drastic decreases in emissions associated with Australia’s power generation, building stock, transport, industry and agriculture sectors.

Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said he remained “committed to the Paris Agreement” and would continue to develop a long-term emissions reduction strategy, to be released sometime before the next round of UN climate talks. However, the Morrison government stops short of a net zero emissions target.

During the UN climate conference last December Australia was widely criticised for its insistence on counting carry-over credits.

Despite overwhelming global support for the efforts there is already evidence that the pandemic is damaging climate action.

Just days before the COP 26 meeting was suspended Japan announced its renewed Paris targets, essentially locking in the same goals it committed to five years ago.

The Trump administration cited coronavirus last month as it announced a sweeping relaxation of regulations against pollution from power stations and industry and the abandonment of Obama-era automobile fuel efficiency standards.

China is also considering abandoning car emissions standards, according to a Bloomberg report. In the first three weeks of March the Chinese government approved more new coal-fired power plants than it did during all of 2019.

The Andrews government in Victoria in mid-March gave the green light to new gas exploration sites.

And even if world leaders do use the postponement of the Glasgow talks to incorporate carbon emissions reductions into their post-pandemic stimulus plans, experts warn that any delay means that subsequent reductions will have to be even steeper and more shocking to economies.

Having locked down almost all industry during the crisis many leaders, including ours, might not want to subject their countries to the steep reductions in the use of fossil fuels needed to arrest climate change, but they must,  before it is too late.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 7 April 2020

This is a time to band together, while observing isolation

The news that the Government will spend $130 billion over the next 6 months to keep about 6 million Australians in jobs by keeping them attached to their workplaces through a JobKeeper payment of a flat fortnightly $1,500 is of course good news.

Welcome though the good news is we need to look below the surface to find both its faults and motivations.

The chief fault eligibility depends on having been in the same job for 12 months. I did some research and soon learnt that casuals are rarely with the same employer for that long – so in effect casuals aren’t really eligible.

And though the payment is great news for workers it’s even better news for employers, for their businesses will be primed to bounce back once this climate abates. So Scotty from Marketing is really giving a life-line to the same old un-regulated capitalism that workers have had to endure for the past forty years.

My other concern is that in order to save the business world the Government has been quite prepared to abandon its much-lauded surplus. Over the past decade it has shortchanged our education, health and welfare services, thereby consigning large sections of the population to a less than decent life.

And at the same time, zilch for combatting climate change or adapting to what is rapidly becoming a world changed very much for the worse.

These thoughts took me to look at how various commentators such as Norm Chomsky and John Pilger have looked at how we are reacting to the crisis. Because she has just published a new book my mind settled on neither of these two wise old men, but instead on Naomi Klein, a Canadian commentator and activist.

Everyone, but especially leading politicians, should heed her calm, wise but undoubtedly alternative words of wisdom.

It’s not uncommon that, at any given moment, a single issue will escalate online, pulling in scores of participants to battle it out over who has the most “correct” opinion. I’m often searching, consciously and unconsciously, for the voice that can cut through the din and offer respite from the panicked chorus of media. Naomi Klein has often provided me that voice.

I was fortunate enough to be in the audience when Ms Klein was presented with the Sydney Peace Prize in 2018. Her acceptance speech largely focussed on the observations made and solutions proposed in the book “This changes everything: capitalism versus the climate”. I was also privileged to teach that book for the University of the Third Age as a book study group.

Author and activist Klein has long been a critic of consumer culture and its focus on individualism, arguing instead that we need to band together to deal with the world’s crises. “The tricky thing is that we are able to find our best selves in these moments of crisis, of high crisis, but within our economic system, the pressures of the market bear down pretty fast.” Never has this been made more clear than during the coronavirus crisis.

Ever since the publication of her first book, ‘No Logo’, Klein’s precise, impassioned and articulate writing has been a salve for the varied crises of our present moment. She has though continually identified the futility of individualism. “The very idea that we, as atomised individuals, could play a significant part in stabilising the planet’s climate system or changing the global economy is objectively nuts,” she writes in her newest book, ‘On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal’. “We can only meet this tremendous challenge together.”

Klein observes the way that campaigning provides an in-person remedy for young people to the “branding culture, the constant performance of self, the scarcity of the attention economy”, which is so inescapable. Organising has become the most immediate kind of self-care. She acknowledges how Greta Thunberg subverts all of this, for she rejects the social contract entirely, and the sort of “constant mirroring” to others that stops us from doing what’s necessary.

Many have seen parallels between the threat of the coronavirus and climate change, noting how both require action at a dramatic, global scale. The Schoolies’ Strikes engagement of young people over the past year shows what can happen if we do band together.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today

Rebuild after the coronavirus with a Green New Deal

As with the climate crisis, neoliberal capitalism and the governments where it holds sway, such as ours, are proving particularly ill-suited to deal with the coronavirus.

Though the Morrison government seems keen on putting the economy on life support while we ride out the crisis, attention is already turning to how we will rebuild once COVID-19 has passed.

I was though struck by a comment from journalist Niki Savva on ABC TV’s Insiders program. She spoke of the need to resurrect our business system, and how difficult that is going to be.

My response was surely we need to take this opportunity to radically change the system that has so obviously failed both the planet and the people.

This led me to investigating how the Australian economy, and all that flows from it, works.

Since the 1980s privatisation held sway. This is known as neo-liberalism. Championed by Ronald Regan in the USA and Margaret Thatcher in the UK, it was brought to Australia by Labor Prime Ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.

The number of Australians languishing in under-employment or trying to exist on Newstart, stagnant wages, the failure to respond to the bushfire crisis in a timely manner, and the wholesale economic collapse from COVID-19 show that neo-liberalism has so thoroughly failed us

Adopting the old adage of ‘Never waste a crisis’, can we ensure that the 99% come out stronger from this crisis than we did from the global financial crisis, and ensure that this time the structures of inequality are seriously challenged?

Some imperatives come to mind. Top of the list of course is the adoption of the universal basic income, so as to provide everyone with a wage to cover a quality lifestyle.

Closely following is the need for government, not just governance.  Bring the state back in as both a guarantor and a provider of social and economic security and solidarity. Also provide support bailouts for essential industries, but only with strict conditions.

Localism before globalism will be necessary. Support solutions which encourage local and community self-reliance, social networks and local economic exchange, and which reduce our dependence on complex supply-chains.

Also important is real internationalism, as opposed to cosmopolitanism. Promote solidarity across countries and regions and ensuring all emerging treatments are available to all people globally.

We must be prepared to bring into public ownership key sectors that are struggling. Other bailouts should be conditional on adapting corporate activities to the public good.

But we can go further, for as Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt wrote, “We need a political revolution to address the crises in inequality, climate and jobs which are ‘smashing’ Australia, paving the way for a radical ‘Green New Deal’ to overhaul the country’s entire economy.”

It’s a term popularised by progressive American politicians Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; it’s been popular with environmental activists for years before that; and it traces its roots back to the depression era ‘New Deal’.

The Green version is a wide array of proposals, not all related to climate or ‘green’ ideas; but all linked to ideas of fairness, equality and reform

Academic and political economist Tash Heenan explained that “It’s about tackling the climate crisis and an economic crisis at the same time. It’s a structural solution to structural problems that are connected to each other — you can’t separate economy from environment.”

“It’s adaptation and mitigation together. It’s an enormous mobilisation of resources and investment, in a way that’s socially fair. This includes giving people good jobs, and investing in energy, housing and health.”

“It recognises we can’t keep going the way we’re going, whether that’s politically, economically or socially,” Dr Natalie Osborne, lecturer in the School of Environment and Science at Griffith University said.

Band explained that “I want to make Australia the renewable energy superpower where people bring their businesses from overseas for cheap, clean electricity as we urgently phase out coal.”

But one thing needs to be clear. A Green New Deal must not be a way of saving free market capitalism. It is an opportunity to both restructure our society and mitigate climate change, thereby saving the planet and the people.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 24 March 2020

Bigots must stop weaponising religious faith

My column this week begins with the cancellation of Wagga’s LGBTIQ Mardi Gras parade, but it leads towards a major issue – levels of discrimination still existing in Australia, and then on to an impending law that will legislate the right to discriminate.

Though the cancellation of the parade was a sad if necessary solution to a major health crisis it reminded me that much more was at stake beyond an excuse to dress up and party.

The campaign for LGBTI rights is by no means over. The plastering of the Wagga CBD with stickers in the week leading up to the parade violently expressing extreme hostility to trans people is an indication of how much further we have to go. Its cruelty was doubly distressingly given that Wagga’s Mardi Gras is organised by Holly Conroy, a very strong and proud trans woman.

The successful attacks on safe school programs and gender free bathrooms are other examples.

I have also become all too aware in recent weeks that the heterosexual community here in Wagga is also suffering from discrimination, for a month-long investigation by The Saturday Paper into abortion access in the city of Wagga Wagga found it is almost impossible for a woman to get an abortion locally – in part due to “ doctors’ fear of professional and personal backlash from the town’s deeply religious community.”

Jan Roberts, who helped found the Wagga Women’s Health Centre 40 years ago, blames not only the town’s strong Catholic community for the lack of reproductive services, but also an influx of doctors from other Christian denominations, for creating “a more conservative medical world here”. Ms Roberts is deservedly the recipient of this year’s Wagga City Council Peace Award.

Neither of Wagga’s two hospitals, nor its private day surgery, provides surgical terminations to women who want one for social, financial or personal reasons. Very few local GPs prescribe the MS-2 Step – two tablets to induce a medical abortion – which can be used up to nine weeks into the pregnancy.

This brought to mind something that could make matters even worse: the federal government’s proposed Religious Freedom Bill.

During the Sydney Mardi Gras parade I proudly marched with the Greens float, where our placards read “Don’t give bigots a licence to discriminate: No Religious Freedom Law”.

A revised bill is due to come before federal parliament soon, but as columnist Van Badham wrote recently in the Guardian Australia “The government of Australia is pushing a so-called religious discrimination bill that has nothing to do with religion. It excludes it and discriminates”. Indeed it does.

The religious discrimination bill will allow schools, employers and the medical profession to discriminate against LGBTIQ people and women. Advocacy organisations have made the point that under the bill’s proposals, hospitals and healthcare providers could abrogate medical responsibility towards LGBTQIA+ patients and simply refuse them healthcare, citing naught but the will of a self-designed god.

“Specifically, they say this could have an impact on transgender people accessing hormone therapies or lesbian couples wanting fertility treatment,” a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald said.

The religious discrimination bill is a Trojan horse that undermines the few gains that have been made. The Human Rights Law Centre called it “the biggest threat to reproductive healthcare access in decades”. Various state laws already enfranchise doctors a right to conscientious objection in regard to abortion, but oblige the doctor to make a referral elsewhere so patient care is not compromised. The new bill will remove this obligation.

Should a doctor cite ‘religious belief’, the existing professional duty to provide referrals or information to women seeking reproductive healthcare services or products, would be undermined. The whole country could easily become like Wagga.

Furthermore, not only do Wagga’s strongly conservative religious doctors not perform abortions, they weaponise their faith to prevent other doctors performing this important aspect of a woman’s reproductive rights. The religious freedom bill will enshrine that weaponisation as law.

And let’s not forget that our state MP, Joe McGirr, voted against the abortion law reform bill in state parliament late last year.

This is bigotry in practice, and it is something we should all be resisting with all our might.