Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 13 November 2018

Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel

Last week’s announcement that Virgin Airlines would honour our veterans and offer them priority boarding brought many thoughts to mind, one of which was Samuel Johnson’s famous observation of 1775 that ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’.

Johnson’s biographer James Boswell doesn’t provide any context for the remark, but assures us that Johnson was not indicting patriotism in general, only false patriotism.

 

It is false patriotism used for political advantage that I will explore in my column this week.

 

The Virgin scheme followed Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcement of the Veterans Card Initiative and lapel pin.

 

“What this is about is businesses honouring the services by offering them a discount,” he said.

 

“Now we’re putting the details in place over the back of this year and it will be out and running next year and it means veterans will have a card which will entitle them to discounts and services.”

 

The PM announcing something before the details have been finalised is becoming something of a habit of Mr Morrison’s, as was his premature announcement during the Wentworth by-election of Australia moving its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem.

 

However, Mr Morrison’s habit of governing by thought bubble is not my topic this week, rather it is the exploitation of our patriotism for selfish political ends that I’ll concentrate on.

 

But first a note that the Morrison/Virgin ploy thankfully seems to have exploded in their faces.

 

It seems that the veterans themselves saw through these attempts to exploit them, for “Following Virgin Australia’s announcement, Wagga RSL Sub-Branch’s Richard Salcole says veterans need more” reported the Daily Advertiser (6th November 2018).

 

The story in the DA went on to report that Mr Salcole said airlines need to make sure they are not naming veterans. “Veterans with mental health issues are going to struggle to fly as it is without the added spotlight,” he said.

 

He also noted that in 1989 the Defcon Card was introduced as a loyalty program offering discounts to ex-serviceman and it is still active today, and that he hopes to see more support given to veterans looking for a job or accessing medical services, points made by many other veterans after Mr Morrison’s thought bubble.

 

Virgin Australia has since energetically back-pedalled, releasing a statement saying it will consult with community groups following the backlash, but not Mr Morrison.

 

The Scott Morrison and Virgin Australia stunt using returned servicemen and women is of course a marketing ploy, in part a commercial one for the businesses, and a political one for the PM, which is bad enough.

 

But it’s more than that, and much worse. As the New Daily reported “It’s part of a calculated plan to exploit Australians’ respect for people who have taken risks and worse in our armed services.”

Patriotism, jingoism, militarism, national security threats, war memorials, flag waving, border security, medals, warships, policing, $200 billion military equipment budgets, military ceremonies, Captain Cook statues are all right-wing propaganda.

 

The more a reactionary government with low opinion poll ratings faced with the prospect of electoral defeat can associate itself with things military, and tap into the sacrificial ethos of Anzac, the better it hopes it will be.

 

It is very American, calculated to look good on our TV news and in the Murdoch tabloids. The shock jocks will loudly applaud. One Nation, Bob Katter and Australian Conservative voters will certainly lap it up, and so, the perpetrators hope, will Liberal voters thinking of jumping to the alternative right.

 

If the marketing types had really done their homework instead of calculating how good they would look in front of the War Memorial (or throwing money at it), they would have discovered that it wasn’t entirely a flag, a King or Queen or a monument that sustained our troops, it was their colleagues, their mates. As it was in the First World War, the Second World one, and in Vietnam. As it has always been.

 

Australians willingly acknowledge our returned and serving men and women. There’s respect and honour. We want them looked after and repaired if they are damaged.

But don’t use them for political gain or tawdry commercial marketing.

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My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 6 November 2018

Minister’s blocking of university research grants smacks of totalitarianism

Recently we learnt that the previous federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham personally blocked $1.4m grants for humanities research. This quite rightly provoked a strong reaction from universities, individual academics, and the Liberal Party’s political opponents.

Australian Greens Education Spokesperson, Senator Mehreen Faruqi, has called Senator Simon Birmingham’s personal intervention “outrageous”. She also called for a completely independent process, free from Ministerial interference.

Senator Faruqi said: “As a former academic, I am horrified that the Minister intervened to block research grants. This is a massive and outrageous overreach from the Government” she concluded.

As I am also a former academic I share Senator Faruqi’s outrage, though I hope I would be equally appalled if I had not been an academic.

And as a proud member of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) I also share its condemnation of Birmingham’s action.

“NTEU members and other researchers expect the Minister to uphold the principles of academic freedom and to not directly interfere in the allocation of research grants,” said NTEU President Dr Alison Barnes.

“There was no transparency around these decisions. Applicants were not notified that their grants successfully navigated and found their way to the top of the extremely tough ARC vetting process only to be rejected by the Minister.”

“We can only speculate on what the reasons were. Was Senator Birmingham’s decision based on perceptions of how his colleagues or conservative commentators might react to these announcements? If this is the case, secretive political interference in the allocation of competitive research grants is totally unacceptable” she concluded.

Research grants are not there for the Minister to pick and choose based on his own political prejudices. The Australian Research Council should be trusted to guide research funding, free from political interference.

Academic research is too valuable to be hijacked by a narrow ideological agenda.

Labor accused Simon Birmingham of pandering to “knuckle-dragging right-wing philistines” by blocking 11 Australian Research Council grants in the humanities totalling $4m.

According to evidence given by Australian Research Council (ARC) officials, Birmingham rejected six Discovery grants worth a total of $1.4m, three Early Career grants ($1.1m) and two Future Fellowships ($1.7m).  The rejected projects are all based in the humanities and social sciences.

The grant projects were proposed by researchers at universities including the Australian Catholic University, the Australian National University as well as Sydney, Melbourne, New South Wales and Monash universities. All grants were independently approved by the Australian Research Council (ARC).

As the grants had been approved by the ARC they had been accepted as being worthy research topics and so should not be able to be blocked by the Minister.

Labor’s innovation spokesman, Kim Carr, accused Birmingham of judging research on its title and targeting the humanities because no research in other disciplines such as science were blocked.

Carr also picked up the ideological justification for blocking the grants. “He’s pandering to right-wing extremism in an attempt to peddle ignorance,” he told Guardian Australia. “There is no case for this blatant political interference to appease the most reactionary elements of the Liberal and National party and the shock-jocks.

“These are grants in arts, culture, music and history which somehow or other in his mind are not acceptable … what is his research expertise to justify interventions of that type?” he noted.

When the former education minister Brendan Nelson vetoed humanities grants in 2004-05 there was “outcry from the Australian research community”.

When in government Labor instituted a protocol that blocking research required a special declaration so the decision was public, which the Lib/Nat Coalition government had rescinded.

In a statement the Australian Academy of the Humanities expressed “shock and anger” that the minister intervened and called for the funding to be restored.

And to add insult to injury last week the Morrison government said academics who want to apply for research council funding will now have to explain how their proposed projects will “advance the national interest.”

The education minister, Dan Tehan, says a “national interest test” will be introduced to the application process for Australian Research Council grants, applying to all future grant rounds.

This is beginning to look like Nazi Germany, or at least fascism.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 30 October 2018

Pro-gun lobby buying its way into state and federal parliaments

In a week packed with important stories that are all worthy of comment one that might have escaped the notice of many really concerned me.

It was the story that the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia (SIFA), a pro-gun lobby, is ‘muscling up’ to change our valuable post-Port Arthur gun laws by buying its way into state and federal parliaments (ABC TV Four Corners).

It wants to change gun laws for the worse, of course. For the very, very worse, as made abundantly clear in their propaganda.

SIFA is a gun industry lobby group backed by five of the largest Australian firearms wholesalers. It has declared its intention to intervene in state and federal elections to hold governments “accountable for the decisions they make”.

Its corporate members have bankrolled its activities with more than $1.2 million since late 2014.

Now it is leading a fresh bid to lobby governments over gun laws, 22 years after the Port Arthur massacre which saw the states and territories sign up to the National Firearms Agreement.

It has sponsored “shooting days” for federal politicians and donated tens of thousands of dollars to firearms-friendly political parties.

SIFA spokeswoman Laura Patterson told the ABC’s Four Corners program that the organisation would consider getting involved in future elections, after doing so in Queensland last year.

During that campaign, called “Flick em”, SIFA contributed $220,000, aimed at forcing a hung parliament by urging voters to place the major parties last.

Among the beneficiaries of the campaign were One Nation and Katter’s Australian Party, whose federal leader, Bob Katter, is the father-in-law of one of the owners of one of the corporations bankrolling SIFA, Robert Nioa.

One of SIFA’s goals was to push for discussions about the re-categorisation of some firearms, including the controversial Adler lever action shotgun the Queensland Government had recently made harder to acquire.

Mr Nioa’s company imports the Adler shotgun into Australia.

SIFA was also part of a firearms consultative committee convened by the Tasmanian Liberal government before the state election in March to come up with a new gun policy.

When the policy was leaked on election eve it caused outrage.

It proposed laws to give better access to high-powered guns to sporting shooters, to double the firearm licence period to 10 years, and allow some shooters access to silencers.

Gun control groups accused the Tasmanian Government of breaching the National Firearms Agreement struck between states and territories after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.

The outcry forced the Government to dump the policy after the election.

Former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer, who as part of the Howard government was an architect of the 1996 firearms agreement, told Four Corners he was concerned about gun industry lobbying.

“There is a muscling up by those making money out of a trade of guns into this country, and we need to watch that very closely lest it lead Australia and the state and territory parliaments, legislatures, and at the federal level, down the wrong path,” Mr Fischer said.

With extremist right wing parties the likely benefit of SIFA’s campaigns there is a fair chance that the Liberals and the Nationals will move to the right to accommodate the lobby, just as they have done to accommodate the likes of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation’s racism.

So it is pleasing to see that one party won’t kotow to SIFA’s bribery. Greens NSW MP and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge was quick off the mark, when he said “After 4 Corners unmasked the gun lobby buying its way into state and federal parliaments the Greens are calling for action, starting with mental health checks before people get access to guns.

“This is a long-standing coronial recommendation that has been ignored and recent tragic shooting deaths have confirmed this reform is urgently needed. We need laws that put community safety before the interests of the gun lobby” he said.

Indeed, no one should get their hands on a gun unless they have had a mental health check to show they pose no risk to the community.

Let’s hope the major parties and independent cross-benchers don’t follow Bob Katter in accepting this tainted money.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 23 October 2018

Berejiklian again promotes alcohol and gambling

In a move frighteningly reminiscent of her approval of advertising the gambling and alcohol promoting Everest horse raise on the sails of the Opera House, last week we learnt that TAFE training facilities and Service NSW kiosks could be located inside registered clubs across the state, under a deal struck between the NSW government and the apparently all-powerful clubs lobby.

This Liberal/National government plan also maintains the special tax treatment for the pokies industry for another four years.

The agreement between the Coalition and Clubs NSW, signed at the conclusion of Responsible Gambling Awareness Week, has quite rightly drawn criticism from anti-gambling advocates and those concerned with alcohol abuse over the government’s relationship with the clubs lobby.

According to its terms, the memorandum of understanding “binds the parties” until the state election in 2023, locking in $3.4 billion of government revenue via the tax paid by clubs on the profits of pokie machines.

Worryingly, as part of the agreement, Premier Gladys Berejiklian committed to “facilitating a partnership between clubs, TAFE and other educational [and] training organisations” if the government is returned in 2019. (Sydney Morning Herald). Placing educational and service facilities in gambling gin palaces, in other words.

The agreement includes “formalising the role clubs can play in providing space for training and education” as well as providing “hands-on experience for trainees in their local communities.”

It also opened the pathway for clubs to become an access point for licences renewal, and birth, deaths and marriage services, with the government agreeing to “consider options for Service NSW kiosks in clubs in isolated communities.

As the full terms of the deal were publicly released on Monday of last week, anti-gambling advocates criticised the government for agreeing to consider setting up services inside venues that derive the bulk of their revenue from poker machines.

Alliance for Gambling Reform director Tim Costello said by freeing pokies taxes for NSW Clubs for the next four years, the NSW Coalition also locked in the lowest tax regime imposed on the industry by any Australian government.

“No other industry gets a special deal like this and when you consider NSW is the most gambling-captured jurisdiction in the world, the NSW Coalition should hang their heads in shame,” Mr Costello said. Indeed they should.

NSW Greens MLC Justin Field slammed the initiative as “an attempt by Clubs NSW to further embed themselves into communities and provide a steady stream of patrons to their pokies rooms”.

“These sorts of agreements are anti-democratic and another example of vested special interests getting the ear of political parties while the community is shut out,” Mr Field said.

Since the last MOU with Clubs NSW was signed in October 2014, about $25 billion has been lost on NSW poker machines because the pokies industry has negotiated and maintained the weakest pokies regulations in the world.

Under the existing tax arrangements, NSW clubs get tax rebates of up to 1.85 per cent of their poker machine profits over $1million each year if they support community development or donate via the Club GRANTS scheme.

Papers from the 2016 budget estimated the policy, which taxes clubs at a lower rate than pubs, cost more than a staggering $13 billion in forgone revenue over a twenty-year period. Easy money for the clubs, and lost revenue for the people.

The government’s claim that “The MOU recognises that clubs are multi-purpose venues with facilities and meeting rooms that can be used to deliver training” conveniently forgets that there may well be other facilities in remote communities, and if there aren’t then they could easily be provided and funded by government if NSW didn’t tax the clubs based pokey industry so leniently.

Given the Liberal Party loss of the seat of Wagga Wagga at the by-election in September, the well-deserved opprobrium heaped on the Premier after her decision to support Alan Jones’ use of the sails of the Sydney Opera House to advertise a horse raise, and the prospect of a loss at the March 2019 state election Ms Berejiklian should take heed of the old saying “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”. But heedlessly, the Premier and her ministers obliviously keep on digging.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 23 October 2018

Berejiklian again promotes alcohol and gambling

In a move frighteningly reminiscent of her approval of advertising the gambling and alcohol promoting Everest horse raise on the sails of the Opera House, last week we learnt that TAFE training facilities and Service NSW kiosks could be located inside registered clubs across the state, under a deal struck between the NSW government and the apparently all-powerful clubs lobby.

This Liberal/National government plan also maintains the special tax treatment for the pokies industry for another four years.

The agreement between the Coalition and Clubs NSW, signed at the conclusion of Responsible Gambling Awareness Week, has quite rightly drawn criticism from anti-gambling advocates and those concerned with alcohol abuse over the government’s relationship with the clubs lobby.

According to its terms, the memorandum of understanding “binds the parties” until the state election in 2023, locking in $3.4 billion of government revenue via the tax paid by clubs on the profits of pokie machines.

Worryingly, as part of the agreement, Premier Gladys Berejiklian committed to “facilitating a partnership between clubs, TAFE and other educational [and] training organisations” if the government is returned in 2019. (Sydney Morning Herald). Placing educational and service facilities in gambling gin palaces, in other words.

The agreement includes “formalising the role clubs can play in providing space for training and education” as well as providing “hands-on experience for trainees in their local communities.”

It also opened the pathway for clubs to become an access point for licences renewal, and birth, deaths and marriage services, with the government agreeing to “consider options for Service NSW kiosks in clubs in isolated communities.

As the full terms of the deal were publicly released on Monday of last week, anti-gambling advocates criticised the government for agreeing to consider setting up services inside venues that derive the bulk of their revenue from poker machines.

Alliance for Gambling Reform director Tim Costello said by freeing pokies taxes for NSW Clubs for the next four years, the NSW Coalition also locked in the lowest tax regime imposed on the industry by any Australian government.

“No other industry gets a special deal like this and when you consider NSW is the most gambling-captured jurisdiction in the world, the NSW Coalition should hang their heads in shame,” Mr Costello said. Indeed they should.

NSW Greens MLC Justin Field slammed the initiative as “an attempt by Clubs NSW to further embed themselves into communities and provide a steady stream of patrons to their pokies rooms”.

“These sorts of agreements are anti-democratic and another example of vested special interests getting the ear of political parties while the community is shut out,” Mr Field said.

Since the last MOU with Clubs NSW was signed in October 2014, about $25 billion has been lost on NSW poker machines because the pokies industry has negotiated and maintained the weakest pokies regulations in the world.

Under the existing tax arrangements, NSW clubs get tax rebates of up to 1.85 per cent of their poker machine profits over $1million each year if they support community development or donate via the Club GRANTS scheme.

Papers from the 2016 budget estimated the policy, which taxes clubs at a lower rate than pubs, cost more than a staggering $13 billion in forgone revenue over a twenty-year period. Easy money for the clubs, and lost revenue for the people.

The government’s claim that “The MOU recognises that clubs are multi-purpose venues with facilities and meeting rooms that can be used to deliver training” conveniently forgets that there may well be other facilities in remote communities, and if there aren’t then they could easily be provided and funded by government if NSW didn’t tax the clubs based pokey industry so leniently.

Given the Liberal Party loss of the seat of Wagga Wagga at the by-election in September, the well-deserved opprobrium heaped on the Premier after her decision to support Alan Jones’ use of the sails of the Sydney Opera House to advertise a horse raise, and the prospect of a loss at the March 2019 state election Ms Berejiklian should take heed of the old saying “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”. But heedlessly, the Premier and her ministers obliviously keep on digging.

My daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 16 October 208

McCormack fiddles while the earth is burning

Ever since the Paris climate agreement was negotiated in 2015, questions have been asked about the feasibility of its ambitious goal to limit global warming to 1.5C. Now we have the answers, courtesy of a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It concludes that the goal is still just within reach, albeit with a ‘transformational’ effort to cut emissions to 45% by 2030 and to zero by 2050.

Most of us are broadly aware of this, if not the exact detail, but not the Australian Deputy Prime Minister and our very own local member, Michael McCormack, who promptly said “Nothing will replace coal soon and policy will not change based on ‘some sort of report’  (Guardian Australia). That Mr McCormack would belittle the IPCC with such a dismissive comment is almost as bad as his woeful ignorance about the science of climate change.

This is frighteningly reminiscent of the way President Trump and his sorry band of cohorts dismiss any sort of expert research findings as elitist and so not to be acknowledged as being of significance – as well as being ‘fake news’, of course.

The Labor leader Bill Shorten also did not commit to the total phase-out of coal.

Greens MP for Melbourne Adam Bandt seems to be the only one who can see what is staring us in the face when he said “The report contained a very clear message: if we don’t quit coal, we are screwed”. Well said, Adam.

Now to the detail what the IPCC is so persuasively arguing. It warns there are only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

Urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target, which they say is affordable and feasible. By mid-century, a shift to the lower goal would require a supercharged roll-back of emissions sources that have built up over the past 250 years.

As the report wrote “We have presented governments with pretty hard choices,” said Jim Skea, a co-chair of the working group on mitigation. “We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will.”

So what are our political parties proposing to do to head off planetary catastrophe?

The Coalition’s official target for 2030 is to have Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions between 26 and 28 per cent below 2005 levels.

It’s main policy to achieve this is the Emissions Reduction Fund, but it is rapidly exhausting its funding and what it can achieve is “a drop in the ocean”.

Under Malcolm Turnbul the Coalition had one other headline policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the National Energy Guarantee, but new prime minister Scott Morrison has scrapped that policy, and replaced it with nothing. He also echoed McCormack’s remarks.

The Coalitions few other emissions reduction schemes will not result in anything meaningful, which means the Coalition is on track to miss its own target by a huge margin.

By 2030, Labor aims to generate 50 per cent of the country’s electricity by renewable sources but unfortunately coal will generate the rest.

The Greens’ policy is by far the most ambitious. They aim for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by “no later than” 2040; the banning of fossil fuel mining; and for 100 per cent of stationary electricity to be generated by renewable energy.

In a direct answer to the coal lobby’s claim that this will mean a huge increase in electricity prices research has shown that combining 100% renewables with a return of electricity generating and distribution to the public sector rather than the profit gouging free for all we have had to live with in recent years will actually keep prices down.

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation plan has no explicit policy to reduce emissions. Instead it is promising to build more coal-fired power plants, which would increase emissions, and so cook the planet, and almost all life on it, though perhaps cockroaches will adapt and survive. Or as Adam Bandt succinctly put it, “Quit coal, or die”.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 9 October 2018

Time for government to come clean about emissions

Last week saw disturbing news about the federal government’s attitude towards carbon emissions and the resulting climate change.

First cab off the rank was PM Scott Morrison’s claim Australia will meet its Paris targets ‘in a canter’, which is not borne out by the facts. So large a re-writing of the truth was this that “Scott Morrison is either lying about carbon emissions, or just plain ignorant” noted the New Daily.

Truth is we are not on track to meet our 2030 emissions reduction target “in a canter”. Mr Morrison is either being blindly optimistic or he is quoting ‘alternative facts’ so extremely untrue they would make even President Trump blush in shame. Is Mr Morrison becoming our Donald Trump?

That’s a big claim, but the real facts do tell the story. To meet the Paris target, by 2030 Australia must reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 26 per cent at the very least on 2005 levels.

But are we on track to meet this? According to the Department of the Environment and Energy, we are not. And not by a long way.

The government’s most recent projections, released in December last year told us that “Total emissions in 2030 are projected to be 570 Mt CO2-e, which is 5 per cent below 2005 levels (597 Mt CO2-e).”

Let’s just dwell on that for a moment. The government’s own environment and energy department projects that Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions will be 5 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Not 26 per cent below 2005 levels; not 20 per cent below 2005 levels; not 15 per cent, not 10 per cent; but 5 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Given that the PM’s assertions about us meeting our emission reduction targets are not borne out by the facts it is not surprising that, as Greg Jericho reported in the Guardian Australia, “The government consistently buries the quarterly figures, and no wonder”.

For Friday of the week before last, under the cover of the release of the first interim report from the Hayne Royal Commission into the financial sector and the day before a long weekend of AFL and NRL grand finals, the government released the latest quarterly data showing that greenhouse gas emissions had once again risen.

Now you can call this government many things, such as a bunch of dolts deluded into believing climate change is a global conspiracy, a bunch of fools lacking the intellectual ability to believe the science, or a bunch of feckless cowards lacking the political acumen to combat the climate change denying fools occupying positions both on the backbench and in cabinet, but you can’t call them subtle.

Ever since taking office this government has sought to release the quarterly greenhouse gas emissions data at times when it will most likely be lost in the news cycle. The usual favourite is the week before Christmas.

The reason the government chooses to release the data at times when it is unlikely to get much attention is because the emissions data is continually awful and utterly shameful.

Perhaps this is not surprising given our emissions have been increasing every quarter since the end of the carbon price period in June 2014.

The good news is electricity emissions have been falling recently, the bad news is that so too has our level of renewable energy production.

And even though emissions from electricity have fallen since June 2016, in that time emissions from all other areas have increased by more than that amount.

Indeed, the government’s own figures reveal not only that we are not going to make the 26% target in a canter, but instead by 2030 our emissions will be about 29% above the level they need to be.

If the prime minister has some data in his back pocket that leads him to believe that Australia will meet its targets, maybe he could give those assessments to the Department of Environment and Energy so they can then publish them for all of us to see.

Though, of course, given how the government hides its emissions data, they’ll probably publish it at a time calculated for maximum exposure, rather than on Christmas or New Year’s Eve at 4.50pm.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 2 October 2018:

Put electricity back in public ownership to reduce prices

It has long been clear that the privatisation of the supply of electricity has been a major reason for our high electricity prices. Once the private sector is involved the need to maximise profits through high prices is of course the result.

It is also clear that retail competition, where companies compete for market share by discounting their prices, has not in any significant way reduced prices. The retailers, after all, still need to make a profit, so their discounts are at best superficial.

For decades, Liberal and Labor governments have sold us out by privatising our public services so big corporations can run them for their own profit, not for the public good.

The energy industry is a perfect example of how privatisation has failed us. While profits for the big three energy companies ballooned out by 54% last year, our wages only grew by 2%.

Putting the retailing of electricity back in public hands would remove the profit imperative and so bring down prices.

Calling for public ownership does not necessarily mean nationalisation, as community owned retailing would be a very attractive option.

Nonetheless, it was pleasing to see Richard Di Natale saying that the Greens would set up a government-owned retailer, Power Australia, that would save households $200 a year on bills.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale announced the policy last Wednesday at the National Press Club, the latest in a series of anti-privatisation pledges including the call for the re-regulation of retail power prices and the creation of a ‘People’s Bank’.

Remember when the Commonwealth Bank was exactly that? Or the State Bank of NSW, previously the Rural Bank, which was eventually privatised and taken over by the equally privatised Commonwealth Bank?

The Liberal/Nationals Coalition federal government has promised a default power price, while Labor has offered a capped price for electricity, as the three major parties bid to whittle away electricity retailers’ profits in favour of consumer savings.

These very welcome more interventionist approaches were sparked by an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) report last July which called for a default electricity price to help households and small businesses compare “misleading” discounts, the Guardian Australia reported.

Di Natale’s speech went a long way to position the Greens as the party of public ownership, which is good to see as Labor seems to have abandoned its previously core principle. The Greens leader said Australians want the government to “take back control of our economy” in essential services including banking, energy, health, education, communications and aged care.

“You don’t need to be an expert to see that big private companies, whose legal requirement is to maximise their own profits, should not also be handed the responsibility of looking after our health, our education, or even our ability to turn the lights on,” Di Natale said.

To put it quite simply, corporate interests should not be in charge of essential public services.

Di Natale argues that for-profit energy retailers have spent “our money mercilessly advertising back to us” allowing them to “capture profits instead of creating value”.

Customers are overwhelmed with information about complex, over-priced packages and often give up on finding a better deal.

The ACCC report, which found that residential customers pay around $273 a year in retail costs and profits, is the justification of the claim that a non-profit public retailer would save an average family around $200 a year.

Di Natale says Power Australia would help drive emissions reduction “by providing a guaranteed buyer for clean energy”. This is good news in that it would provide much needed certainty to the renewables sector.

Another central recommendation of the ACCC report was that the government should support the creation of power generation by underwriting new projects by agreeing to purchase electricity at about $45 to $50 per megawatt hour.

It seems that in addition to his call for the government to play “a much bigger role in the provision of essential services” Di Natale is signalling the reshaping of Australia’s economy so that it works for all of us, not just for the privileged few. It’s high time somebody did.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 25 September 2018: Let’s salute those who won’t stand up for the national anthem The recent story of Harper Nielsen, the nine-year-old child attending Kenmore South state school in Queensland who, like Wagga’s Joe Williams, refused to stand up for the national anthem “sparked an extraordinary bullying campaign from prominent Australian adults in politics and the media” (The Guardian Australia). The Year 4 student refused to stand to sing Australia’s national anthem on the grounds that the anthem erases 60,000 years of Aboriginal history by claiming the nation is “young and free”. She’s spot on. It does. To get to the root of the problem, let’s look at the anthem itself. It was simply a song when it was written in 1878, framed by both British jingoism and the awful colonial fiction of “terra nullius” that claimed, conveniently for the British imperialist project, that Australia was an empty land. Since it officially replaced our former national anthem, God Save the Queen, we’ve managed to edit out some brutal lines about slaughtering foreigners and the song’s sexist repetition that the only people who lived here were men. But no song can be separated from its context, which in this case involved stealing land from First Nations people, and nine-year-old Harper Nielsen knows, we live with its impact today. Indeed, this young child is very publicly learning that standing by your principles and making a symbolic gesture of resistance can incite the violent condemnation of those whose status and authority paradoxically depends on noisy rituals of mindless obedience to the status quo. Nielsen’s understanding, empathy and solidarity with Indigenous Australians has resulted in threats of suspension and orders to submit an apology that she will not sign. For example, extreme conservative shock jock supremo Alan Jones made an incensed condemnation of what he labelled the child’s “defiance” with his usual conviction in his own moral infallibility. His guest, Mark Latham, joined in, accusing the nine-year-old of “behavioural problems”, insisting she should be “kicked out” of Kenmore South, and sent to an old style ‘reform’ school, which of course, thankfully, don’t exist anymore. These tirades inspired, Senator Pauline Hanson to join Jones’ sorry crew. Going so far as to threaten violent punishments of her own. “I’d tell you what, I’d give her a kick up the backside,” said this appalling example of the behaviour of an actual adult Australian senator. Sadly, television show host Karl Stefanovic added his voice to the chorus. The child should “go somewhere else” than a state school it is her civic birthright to attend. Queensland shadow education minister, Jarrod Bleijie who should know better, but clearly doesn’t, determined that the nine-year-old “disrespects our country and our veterans” for desiring an Australia with an honest history, “and suspension should follow if she continues to act like a brat”. Their never-ending demands for ‘free speech’ and ‘individual rights’ fall silent the moment anyone else exercises it, according to this sorry mob, and, one suspects, also to those who take their rants at face value. I won’t labour the point that though this crew promote themselves as rebels sticking up for the ordinary folk the sad truth is that they are addicted to a fawning conformity to authority that their public images in no way resembles, for instead I’d like to devote my remaining column inches to what their response to Harper Nielsen’s brave stance says about our attitude towards our First Nations People. Researcher Megan Boler believes it’s an attempt to protect not only one’s beliefs but one’s “precarious sense of identity”; a defence of one’s investment in the values of the dominant culture”. As Tim Soutphommasane, the outgoing Race Discrimination Commissioner, recently pointed out in The Griffith Review, Australia’s media and political structures are still dominated by white men of Anglo-Celtic or European background. While in reality, Australia is far more culturally diverse, the positions that shape both the nation’s policies and stories we tell about it, are still dominated by Anglo-Australians. It’s high time not only the shock jocks and right-wing politicians woke up to this reality, as should all of us if we are to have a society informed by social justice rather than white male Anglo-Celtic supremacy.


					

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 14 August 2018

Time to end rampant native vegetation clearing

Last week I was alerted to alarming news that “clearing of native vegetation in NSW jumps 800% in three years” courtesy of an exclusive story by Anne Davies based on figures released after an eight-month battle between Guardian Australia and the state tribunal

I learnt that NSW gave permission to clear over 7,000 hectares of native vegetation in 2015-16, the second highest rate of clearing in a decade, while the creation of new conservation areas and restoration of bushland correspondingly slumped under the Berejiklian government. Both are indications that something is seriously going very wrong.

In 2013-14, 900 hectares was cleared in total. In 2014-15 this jumped to 2,730 hectares and by 2015-16 it had increased to 7,390 hectares.

At the same time measures to conserve native vegetation, such as new conservation measures and restoration, slumped to the lowest level in a decade. Restoration of native vegetation areas fell to 116,170 hectares in 2015-16, less than half the decade average.

Weed removal programs also went into reverse, with just a tiny fraction of the areas being managed for weeds – 29,970 hectares compared to the decade average of 182,200 hectares.

The most recent report from 2016-17 has still not been released, with the department claiming it is still not complete.

Because the data had not been released for three years, Guardian Australia attempted to use freedom of information laws to make it public.

The data is particularly important because during that time, the Berejiklian government replaced the Native Vegetation Act, with a much more liberal regime –the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2017 – which allows farms and landholders to self-assess whether they need to make a formal application to clear land using satellite maps.

We should all be concerned, as environmental groups and the government’s own Office of Environment and Heritage have warned, that the new regime will lead to a major increase in loss of habitat, on a scale only seen in Queensland, which is the nation’s worst state for land clearing.

A document obtained by the Nature Conservation Council (NCC) under freedom of information revealed the new land-clearing laws would cause extensive harm to wildlife habitat but pressed ahead with the changes anyway.

“This is damning evidence that the environment minister approved these new laws knowing they would expose 99%of identified koala habitat on private land to clearing” NCC boss, Kate Smolski, said at the time. The department also warned of a 45% spike in land clearing.

“Clearing of native vegetation in NSW jumps 800% in three years. It’s a disgrace this information was hidden. Congratulations to Anne Davies for forcing the release of this material. Now to change the law” said Greens MP David Shoebridge. Spot on, David.

If the knowledge that koalas and other indigenous fauna and flora are seriously at risk isn’t enough to indicate that we are in serious trouble perhaps the knowledge that increased land clearing by a University of Queensland scientist has led ground-breaking research, which shows that clearing of native vegetation has made recent Australian droughts hotter, will convince.

Dr Clive McAlpine of UQ’s Centre for Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Science and Mr Jozef Syktus, principal scientist in the Queensland Natural Resources and Water Department (DNRW), headed a study which will be published later this year in Geophysical Research Letters, the journal of the American Geophysical Union.

In an Australian first, they showed that 150 years of land clearing added significantly to the warming and drying of eastern Australia.

The researchers found that mean summer rainfall decreased by between four percent and twelve percent in eastern Australia, and by four percent and eight percent in southwest Western Australia. These were the regions of most extensive historical clearing.

“Based on this research, it would be fair to say that the current drought has been made worse by past clearing of native vegetation.

“Our findings highlight that it is too simplistic to attribute climate change purely to greenhouse gases.

“Protection and restoration of Australia’s native vegetation needs to be a critical consideration in mitigating climate change” they said.

So, as the drought tightens its grip the knowledge that it is in large part human induced, and that part of that is land clearing, is food for thought.