Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

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My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 11 February 2020

Gas deal will take us into new dark age

Last week came news that Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian had announced a $2 billion energy deal to add another 70 petajoules of gas per year into the national electricity grid.

The PM claimed this would simultaneously bring down energy prices and reduce our carbon emissions. This struck me as an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Gas is a fossil fuel so how can it reduce our carbon emissions, I asked myself?

I’d also like to ask Michael McCormack, who reiterated the same nonsense in his victory speeches after winning the Nationals leadership ballot.

Most of the mainstream media treated this as the greatest thing since sliced bread, but I could not help but be suspicious, for surely adding to our carbon emissions would increase our contribution to global warming and climate change.

I soon found the evidence I was looking for. As the DA reported, pushing for more gas production will see Australia enter a new “dark age” by shunning scientific advice to lower emissions, Bruce Robertson from the Institute of Energy Economics and Finance Analysis warned.

He pointed out the ‘bleeding obvious’, which had been staring me in the face since I first heard the news. The deal won’t do what the government is promising, which is to simultaneously reduce prices and emissions. “Producing more polluting fuels does not lower emissions,” Mr Robertson said.

Once again Scotty from Marketing is rejecting scientific advice.

“We’re seeing that with climate policy and we’re seeing that with gas policy – we’re seeing evidence thrown out the window,” Mr Robertson said.

This appalling con job gets even worse, for the gas will come from fracking, as the  project hinges on final approvals for Santos’ Narrabri gas project. Options in Port Kembla and Newcastle are also up the state government’s sleeve.

Fracking extracts gas in a water-intensive process which results in excess salt, risking contamination to both land and other water.

Greens MP and Energy Spokesperson David Shoebridge said, “The plan between the Federal and NSW Liberal Government to prop up the failing gas industry will increase the use of unsustainable Coal Seam Gas up to 60% at a time when major industry players have been working on exit plans and the community is demanding real climate action.”
Mr Morrison claimed some of the money would go towards coal innovation to see how power generation and mining can emit less pollution. He’ll be talking about the discredited notion of carbon capture and storage next.

Worryingly, the federal government plans to make similar deals with other states. Apparently this is in lieu of developing a national energy plan. It reminds me of Scotty digging his heels in by insisting bushfire management was purely a state matter at the height of the recent bushfire crisis.

It comes as new Clean Energy Council analysis shows investment in large-scale renewable energy projects has significantly slowed.

Investments plummeted from 51 projects worth $10.7 billion in 2018 down to 28 projects worth $4.5 billion last year.

This is a dangerous plan which will only make matters worse. We are in the middle of a terrible summer of fires, drought and smoke and this is when the Coalition, State and Federal, commits to more coal and gas projects. This is a reckless and illegitimate plan that will make the climate crisis worse.

It’s 2020. We don’t need to be extracting more gas to ‘transition’ to renewable energy, we need to be building solar, wind and renewable storage now.

The plan is typical of Scotty from Marketing, for he is pretending to take action on climate change while committing to more coal, more gas, and worsening the climate crisis.

“We need a transition to 100 percent publicly owned renewable energy now and with it create thousands of highly skilled and well paid green jobs,” Mr Shoebridge said.

Abigail Boyd, Greens MP and Mining Spokesperson said, “The last thing the country needs right now is for Morrison to be advancing the interests of the fossil fuel giants ahead of the community’s needs.”

Pushing the lie that gas is a necessary transition fuel, or that more gas will reduce energy prices, while reducing carbon emissions is more than an oxymoron, it is grossly irresponsible.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today, 4 February 2020

Can climate change deniers really love Australia?

Last week’s Australia Day celebrations set me thinking and provoked this week’s column.

This year it won’t be my usual call to change the date, which of course we should do, but instead a musing on the conundrum posed by those who profess to love Australia but refuse to acknowledge the reality of climate change.

Because as sure as apples are apples, climate change will destroy much of what we love about this country.

It also brought to mind Dorothea Mackellar’s poem ‘My Country’. Not just because I do indeed love a “sunburnt country”, but rather because I am heartily sick of hearing climate change-denying politicians recite it as though it is evidence that climate change has not occurred.

Because here’s one thing I do know: when she published that poem in 1908, the average annual temperature in Australia was about 2c lower than it is now.

Those conservatives who recite that “sunburnt country” ignore that climate change is going to wreak havoc with everything we love, such as the tenuous balance of droughts and flooding rains, the ability of agriculture to exist on “thirsty paddocks”, our rivers, our wildlife where “orchids deck the treetops”, even the crisp air and “pitiless blue sky”. All this will change.

This summer has shown how precarious our Australian environment is. The bushfires that have not stopped since September; the mix of fires, smoke and of course, dust. We are a nation on the extremities, where climate change will affect and strip away what we love much sooner than will occur in Europe and North America.

As the Guardian Australia observed, no self-respecting Australian can be anything but angry to read stories of over a billion native animals killed in the fires. Our wildlife is so exceptional and precious that the upset that comes from climate change will render some habitats unliveable and the species that live there extinct.

Conservative politicians and those who vote for them love to talk up Australia “punching above its weight” on things such as sport or business or war, but they turn to self-hating cowards when it comes to climate change.

They love to remind us that Australia “only” accounts for around 1.3% of emissions. They forget to add that per capita we are the highest ranking producer of carbon emissions.

Given the fragility of our ecosystem, any political leaders who profess to love Australia should be acting on climate change as a matter of extreme urgency.

We should do this even if it is out of purely selfish reasons of loving our country and wanting it to remain in the same state that has caused that love.

However, this year’s Australia Day was characterised by something else that set it apart from business as usual.

For this time the eyes of the world were on us. A headline in the New York Times, “Australia shows the way to hell” questioned whether our economy was as fragile as the landscape we routinely exploit.

I’m not only referring to tourism, which even ‘Scotty from marketing’ has realised could be in big trouble. Apart from Mr Morrison’s $76 million to help that industry the continuing fires have brought little action about our future sustainability from the government, except of course the same old anti-green and pro-coal propaganda.

But this summer from hell has brought the realisation that we are at a crossroads and that a choice needs to be made. We can go on pretending that exploitation is a sustainable way of life. We can pursue this culture of denial, where truths about nature, climate, women, sexuality and gender identity, and Indigenous peoples are held in contempt.

Or we can wise up to the fact that white Australia has always relied on easy exploitation. From the moment the British arrived, we’ve been kidding ourselves that arrogance and theft add up to a lifestyle with a future. We dig stuff up and flog it, no value added, no questions asked. Though some wise farmers are practising regenerative farming most grow food in the most destructive possible manner – clear-felling, monoculturing, irrigating and overgrazing; destroying soil, desertifying land and belching carbon.

This summer has shown how precarious our entire way of life is. We need to seriously address climate change and these exploitative issues if we are to have any sort of future to celebrate.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today, 28 January 2020

Insect extinction a major problem for humanity

That over a billion native animals perished in the current bushfires has been a hot topic recently. Apart from that statistic being itself food for thought it was a salutary reminder that it could push many species to extinction.

It also reminded me of another world-wide extinction crisis happening now. I’m referring to insects. Their extinction is a cause for concern in its own right, but as the Guardian Australia reported, “Plummeting insect numbers threaten collapse of nature”.

Some misguided souls might think the collapse of nature is no big deal, but it is, for our own species survival depends totally on the natural world. That’s a frightening thought, which provoked me to look further into the topic.

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review, published in the journal Biological Conservation.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

Though the planet is at the start of the sixth mass extinction in its history through huge losses reported in larger animals, insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals. Apparently they outnumber humanity by 17 times.

Some may mistakenly feel their extinction is to be welcomed, as it will means less pesky flied buzzing around our heads. However, insects are essential for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients. And food for us.

The review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: “The (insect) trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting on life forms on our planet.

“Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” they write. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.”

Their analysis says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors.

“The main cause of the decline is agricultural intensification,” said Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney. “That means the elimination of all trees and shrubs that normally surround the fields, so there are plain, bare fields that are treated with synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.”

He thinks new classes of insecticides introduced in the last 20 years, including neonicotinoids and fipronil, have been particularly damaging as they are used routinely and persist in the environment. “They sterilise the soil, killing all the grubs.” This has effects even in nature reserves nearby. The 75% insect losses in Germany, for example, were in protected areas.

“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” he said.

This is of course very worrying news, which led me to investigate further to see if anything could be done about it.

It can. The world must eradicate pesticide use, prioritise nature-based farming methods and urgently reduce water, light and noise pollution to save plummeting insect populations, according to a new “roadmap to insect recovery” compiled by experts and published in the Nature Ecology and Evolution journal.

Phasing out synthetic pesticides and fertilisers used in industrial farming and aggressive greenhouse gas emission reductions are among a series of urgent “no-regret” solutions to reverse what conservationists have called the ‘unnoticed insect apocalypse’ as the researchers put it.

Alongside these measures, scientists must urgently establish which herbivores, detritivores, parasitoids, predators and pollinators are priority species for conservation.

Of course, until the world listens to the scientific research and decides to act on it nothing will happen. The failure of much of the world to listen and act on the science of human-made climate change unfortunately doesn’t fill me with confidence that it will act on this new research.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today, 21 January 2020

 

 

Religious Freedom bill gives licence to discriminate

The second draft of the government’s religious discrimination bill was released just before Christmas.

This follows the Morrison government’s usual policy of ‘hiding’ issues likely to be unpopular or controversial at a time when our attention is elsewhere.

The plan to bury the issue of course also benefited from the unprecedented bushfires, which deservedly took all our attention. But as we seem, at the time of writing, to be reaching a point of slightly more favourable weather and the prospect of containment, now is the time to look at the draft bill and see if it is an improvement on the first draft.

The short answer is that it is no better than the Attorney-General’s first attempt.

The second draft was intended to appease critics of the contentious legislation. But many experts still fear that if it passes parliament, Australians will have greater liberty to discriminate. This is a curious outcome for anti-discrimination legislation.

Geoffrey Robertson, QC said “It should be unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of religion, as well as on race, sex, sexual orientation, age and so forth. Such prohibitions are best contained in a human rights act.”

“This is George Brandis’s ‘right to be a bigot’ on steroids,” says Associate Professor Luke Beck of Monash University, a leading authority on freedom of religion.

The problem is the government has taken a standard anti-discrimination law template, already applied in the context of race, sex, disability and age, and mutated it with several unprecedented additions. If the bill is enacted, religious rights will be elevated above other rights.

Most controversial within this bill are protections for religiously motivated statements and actions, even when these would otherwise amount to unlawful discrimination. This will enable a range of organisations, including charities, hospitals and aged-care bodies, to hire and fire based on religion. They also enable any individual to make statements of belief, free from the spectre of anti-discrimination laws. And they permit doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists and psychologists to decline to provide healthcare on religious grounds.

More specifically, if passed, the legislation would mean that a religious doctor could tell a transgender patient that gender is binary, a Catholic doctor could refuse to provide contraceptives and a Jewish school could insist that staff must be Jewish and act consistently with Judaism. These examples are not far-fetched, for each is taken from the draft bill’s own explanatory notes.

Susan Ryan, who was involved in the creation of several anti-discrimination laws, is damning about the new draft. “If the government was genuinely interested in advancing equality in Australia, it would create a national bill of rights” she said.

Nonetheless, it is true that some stakeholders appear to have been placated by the changes. “The second draft is a significant improvement over the first,” says Bishop Michael Stead, of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.

But others remain unpersuaded. “Recent amendments have made the bill worse overall,” observes Hugh de Kretser, executive director at the Human Rights Law Centre. “If the major flaws in the bill are not fixed, MPs should reject it. “The bill gives religious bodies a licence to discriminate,” he says.

Speaking to The Saturday Paper, Forum on Australia’s Islamic Relations (FAIR) executive director Kuranda Seyit expressed concern that “The ‘right to be a bigot’ clause could potentially embolden far-right groups to ramp up their vitriol and continue their campaigns of hate.”

The proposed law is likely to cause headaches for employers. One provision would make it unlawful for larger employers to implement codes of conduct that restrict an employee expressing statements of belief outside work hours. This has been dubbed the ‘Israel Folau clause’ because the bill’s explanatory notes offer a familiar example of a Christian stating that “unrepentant sinners will go to hell”.

For Hugh de Kretser, the existence of the Folau clause is striking. “Existing workplace law dealt with this issue in the Rugby Australia case,” he says. “The standard discrimination tests should have been used in the bill.”

The Attorney-General’s Department is now accepting submissions on the second draft until the end of January, so there are only a few days to get them in.

I’m supporting Equity Australia’s campaign, as the bill as drafted would be a disaster for LGBTIQ communities.

Laws which should protect religious people from discrimination will be used to hand a licence to discriminate against LGBTIQ people, threatening our access to healthcare and undermining inclusive workplaces, schools and services.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for this week

Claims of a ‘greenies’ conspiracy to block hazard reduction rejected by bushfire experts

In spite of the evidence, many falsely claim that a major contributing factor of Australia’s devastating fire season is a conspiracy by environmentalists to “lock up” national parks and prevent hazard reduction activities. Such accusations have also been shouted at me in the streets of Wagga. This is despite all the evidence that clearly proves the early arrival and ferocity of the fire season is due to human caused climate change.

It is time to put this dangerous misconception to rest.

The ‘blame the ‘greenies’ rhetoric is rife at several levels, including commercial TV, the Murdoch press’s Daily Telegraph, on social media, and from the very top. At the height of the fires prime minister, Scott Morrison called for more hazard reduction and said “The most constant issue that has been raised with me has been the issue of managing fuel loads in national parks.”

Are greenies really stopping hazard reduction? A look at the evidence proves otherwise.

The Australian Greens policy on hazard reduction quite clearly calls for  “An effective and sustainable strategy for fuel-reduction management that will protect biodiversity and moderate the effects of wildfire for the protection of people and assets, developed in consultation with experts, custodians and land managers”.

The claim of a conspiracy by environmentalists to block hazard reduction activities has also been firmly rejected by bushfire experts, who have unequivocally said it is disproved by hard data on actual hazard reduction activities in national parks.

The head of the NSW Rural Fire Service has dismissed claims by Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce that a lack of hazard reduction burns, not climate change, is the main culprit for Australia’s ongoing bushfire crisis.

Indeed, hazard reduction burning is “not a silver bullet” said Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

As the DA reported, “Scientists have disputed claims a lack of hazard reduction burns have led to the size of the bushfires, with senior fire chiefs blaming the effects of climate change”.

Prof David Bowman, the director of the fire centre research hub at the University of Tasmania, said: “It’s ridiculous. To frame this as an issue of hazard reduction in national parks is just lazy political rhetoric.”

Prof Ross Bradstock, the director of the centre for environmental risk management of bushfires at the University of Wollongong, has said “These are very tired and very old conspiracy theories that get a run after most major fires. They’ve been extensively dealt with in many inquiries.”

In the last full fire season of 2018 and 2019, the National Parks and Wildlife Service in NSW told Guardian Australia it carried out hazard reduction activities across more than 139,000 hectares, slightly above its target.

There are two major restricting factors for carrying out prescribed burning. One is the availability of funds and personnel, and the second is the availability of weather windows.

The 2018-19 annual report of the NSW Rural Fire Service says: “The ability of the NSW RFS and partner agencies to complete hazard reduction activities is highly weather dependent, with limited windows of opportunity.”

A former NSW fire and rescue commissioner, Greg Mullins, has written that the hotter and drier conditions, and the higher fire danger ratings, were preventing agencies from carrying out prescribed burning.

He said: “There has been lots of hazard reductions done over the years, more by national parks than previous years, but the fires have burned through those hazard reduction areas.”

Mullins dismissed suggestions that the bushfires were down to “greenies” preventing hazard reduction activities. “This is the blame game. We’ll blame arsonists, we’ll blame greenies,” he said.

“When will the penny drop with this government?”

The National Parks Association of NSW’s president, Anne Dickson, has also responded to the attacks on environmentalists. “It may be politically expedient to pretend that conservationists exercise some mythical power over fire legislation and bushfire management committees, but it is not so.”

So let’s stop blaming the ‘greenies’ and instead look to how we can mitigate the bushfire risk by using good management practices. As Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge said, “This will be resolved by careful policy, by proper resourcing and by people putting the science before the politics.” Mr Shoebridge has never voted against hazard reduction burns.

Unfortunately, as with climate change, some people adamantly deny the truth of the science.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today, 7 January 2020

In 2019 the public recognised the climate crisis. When will the politicians?

In 2019 opinion poll after opinion poll showed that the public had become very aware that human-caused climate change was real. We are now living through a climate emergency, as record temperatures and unprecedented bushfires clearly demonstrated, despite Scott Morrison saying “We have faced these disasters before”. We haven’t. This is new, and the way the world is going unless politicians act immediately and decisively.

But at the local, state, federal and international level progress has been deliberately stymied. I’ll use my column this week to examine why no real progress was made in 2019.

Thankfully there are exceptions. Unlike Wagga Wagga, several local governments have declared climate emergencies. Many Pacific Island states are all too very aware of the results of global warming, and even the UK government declared a climate emergency.

In late 2019 Time magazine selected Greta Thunberg as its person of the year. That wouldn’t have been possible even this time last year. The biggest story in climate in 2019 is the way in which, after years of languishing outside the mainstream, climate activism finally broke through.

Young people were the key. Self-organised, serious, and frank about their anger at seeing their futures denied by politicians who won’t even live to see the consequences, they have lent a powerful moral drive to the entire movement.

So now the link between the climate emergency and our own lives has never seemed clearer. Finally, after decades of activists struggling to push the crisis into the larger consciousness, poll after poll shows that public concern, and desire for action, is at an all-time high.

The question that became clearer as 2019 moved on, was it possible to effect any actual political change? The spectacle of Thunberg and the larger youth climate movement arriving at international meetings and parliaments and accusing heads of state of hypocrisy to their faces made for good TV news, but climate politics itself still seems far from any genuine watershed moment.

Indeed, there has been little concrete progress. What the protests have sparked, instead, is that some governments declared a “climate emergency”. A few even reset future emissions targets. In previous years this alone would have seemed radical enough, but now, however, the gap between words and actions has widened too far, and credulity is in short supply.

The climate researcher Rebecca Willis put it very succinctly when she said “Targets don’t reduce carbon. Policies do.”

True, there has been some glimmers of hope on that front. Parties in the recent UK election and candidates in the US Democratic primaries took on comprehensive climate platforms for the first time. These either directly or indirectly reference the concept of a ‘Green New Deal’, pairing increased spending on climate with a larger social transformation, and breaking down the wall that separates climate policy from the rest of national politics. But unfortunately, nothing similar has been brought forward by a government actually in power.

Many had high hopes for the  UN’s 2019 climate change conference, COP, held in Madrid, which fell at the end of the year. It is the forum where countries affirm their climate commitments under the UN framework convention on climate change.

This year’s COP may not have been the worst, but a loose coalition of rightwing governments, very sadly including Australia, effectively sabotaged the conference’s goal of strengthening the Paris agreement.

As the Saturday Paper wrote, in Copenhagen in 2009, Australia took a leadership role in the fight against climate change. Ten years on, at COP25, the winds had changed, and our government tried to use carryover credits from the Kyoto agreement to ‘prove’ we are meeting our Paris commitments.  Countries opposed to Australia’s cheating attempted to insert a ban into the Madrid conference’s final statement, barring Australia from carrying over carbon credits.

Unfortunately, in the end, the ban didn’t succeed.

It got even worse. Following the positions taken by Australia, Brazil, China, India and others on key issues up for negotiation, the international effort to secure the next stage of global action on climate change didn’t succeed either. The Madrid meeting failed to set any new, binding targets.

It’s a sad end to a year that showed that though the people have got the message many of the politicians, including our own, haven’t. Let’s hope they start not only to listen, but in 2020 develop policies that will mitigate climate change before it is too late.

Despite some last minute and very limited federal assistance Messrs Morrison and McCormack have shown a distinct lack of leadership and should make way for those who can provide it.

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.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today

Now is the time to talk about bushfires and climate change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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