Turnbull may be standing in front of the…

Tony Abbott is being widely dismissed in the media as having little…

Emma Husar – Yet another institutional failure

By John TonsBy now most Australians will have moved on from the…

Beware of rabid zealots

By Ad astraLet’s remind ourselves of the meaning of ‘zealot’. Historically, it…

Great Barrier Reef Politics

Australia’s environment has been in precarious hands since European settlement found its…

Never allow racism to disguise itself in the…

Thursday 16 August 2018I don’t think there is a greater societal problem…

Let's Just Remember That Bloke In The Senate…

It's important to keep a sense of perspective here. I read somewhere…

Meaningless Titles and Liveable Cities: Melbourne loses to…

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has gone about its annual business of…

Walk together in respect

We have a choice in Australia.We can succumb to the increasingly shrill…

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Category Archives: News and Politics

Turnbull may be standing in front of the orchestra pit but Abbott composed the cacophony they are playing

Tony Abbott is being widely dismissed in the media as having little influence in the Liberal Party today but I beg to differ.

Abbott is, in fact, very much the architect of today’s Liberal Party strategy.

Malcolm had a go at telling us there was never a more exciting time to be us and that innovation would solve all our problems.

But he failed dismally to excite the nation.  Talk of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists and innovation hubs meant nothing to an electorate struggling to get by with stagnant wages, insecure employment and inadequate welfare.

So Malcolm ripped up the science playbook and adopted the well-honed Abbott strategy of going for character assassination instead, with a fishing expedition hoping to find some mud that would stick.

After all, Tony got Pauline sent to jail when she first posed a threat to siphon off the bigot vote.  He destroyed Thomson and Slipper, and did his durnedest to get something on Rudd, Gillard and Shorten at his royal commissions.

Turnbull, thinking he’d try his hand, sets Michaelia Cash the task to Kill Bill.  Except that didn’t go so well as it is now her office under investigation for illegally tipping off the media about police raids.

In a gutsy play today, Michaelia said testily that she was “not a party to the proceedings, not under investigation.” But she “would like to know why the AWU does not want to show the Australian people, but in particular the members of the AWU, that the money they were spending on their behalf was properly authorised.”

Considering the questions being asked about the gift of almost half a billion dollars to the GBRF, Michaelia is on very shaky ground to try to keep flogging that dead horse.

Page 2 of Tony’s playbook was what his chief of staff called “brutal retail politics” where he adopted a deliberate strategy to fire up anger about power prices by lying about the nature of the carbon price and the impact of renewable energy on price increases.

After several years of rising prices, Malcolm has come up with his own version of Direct Inaction, now known as the NEG.  And by coincidence, we will all save just as much as Tony promised us when he axed the tax.

Tony’s other big one was “stop the boats”.

Since we now turn them around, Malcolm has to find some other way to make us scared of foreigners so he has opted for African gangs, Muslims not integrating, and flags being waved about reducing immigration.

But someone always takes it just that bit too far, trying to be the loudest dog whistler, which makes it hard to push that one now though I am sure Dutton will give it his best shot.

Today in QT, P Duddy was smiling and upbeat – always a worrying sign because it usually means he has one of his excruciatingly weird jokes to tell or some personal slur he thinks is particularly clever.  This time it was directed at Shayne Neumann:

He has been the Shadow Minister for immigration for 120 question times. Now, Mr Speaker, he has not asked any questions on boats or immigration. Mr Speaker, I have got a soft spot for the Member for Blair and, Mr Speaker, I have got to say I have just been advised that after all of this period of time, the Member for Blair has asked for his first briefing from my department on operation sovereign borders. I feel almost, Mr Speaker, like a proud father, you know when your child takes a first step or milestone. Is not yet speaking, he is a little slow at speaking but he has taken one baby step.”

Which is interesting since Perth Now reported Dutton’s time as shadow health minister this way:

Like a commando in deep camouflage entering enemy territory, Peter Dutton’s first task as opposition health spokesman was to shut the health debate down. Health Minister Tanya Plibersek lampooned him for not asking a single question about health in question time.

“Lower company taxes” doesn’t quite have the same punch as “axe the tax”, but Scott is doing his best with “jobs and growth” after they took “debt and deficit disaster” off the play list.

(For the record, gross debt is now over $530 billion and net debt at the end of May was over $336.5 billion)

Turnbull may be standing in front of the orchestra pit but Abbott composed the cacophony they are playing.

Beware of rabid zealots

By Ad astra

Let’s remind ourselves of the meaning of ‘zealot’. Historically, it denoted a member of a fanatical sect in Judea during the first century AD that militantly opposed the Roman domination of Palestine. Today it describes a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of religious, political, or other ideals.

We still have zealots in our midst. This piece exemplifies two instances of zealotry: the zealots that deny the reality of anthropogenic global warming, and those that cling tenaciously to trickle down economics.

Climate zealots
It is hard to contemplate that in the face of steadily mounting evidence that our planet is warming inexorably, there are still those who deny it strenuously.

In early August we saw Europe sweltering in record heat. Climate scientists insist that this was due to the superimposition of contemporary weather events, to wit intensely warm air sweeping up from North Africa, on the established and a well documented increase in global temperatures worldwide. Record high temperatures were experienced in Western Europe, particularly in Spain and Portugal. Fires burned out of control.

How do climate deniers explain that?

This year we saw three of California’s biggest wildfires ever.

In the state of Virginia, after six inches of rain fell in just a few hours, floods resulted that were so severe that the College Lake Dam near Lynchburg that holds back millions of litres of water was threatened with collapse. Should that have occurred, the surrounding countryside would have been flooded to a depth of 17 feet in 10 minutes, wiping out all before it. Mass evacuations were carried out just in case the catastrophe occurred. Fortunately it didn’t.

Could these events be a side effect of global warming?

In our own country, we are experiencing one of the worst droughts in our long history of severe droughts. Again, climate scientists implicate global warming. This week’s Essential Poll shows that 54% of respondents agree; only 25% don’t. The scientists assert that such extreme weather events will increase in frequency and severity as the planet warms. The zealots that deny anthropogenic climate change disagree. They argue that we’ve always had such events, and that they represent just ‘normal climate variability’. And they’re still calling for more heavily polluting ‘base-load’ coal-fired power generators as they debate the NEG.

Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce and Co. are still calling for the NEG to be scrapped on the basis of its inappropriate emphasis on reducing emissions! If you have the stomach for it, take a look at the first seven minutes of Abbott being interviewed by Leigh Sales on 7.30.

There is no way of persuading such zealots to another view. Denying global warming is an entrenched belief; no matter how convincing is the evidence to the contrary.

Trickle down zealots
Lets’ look briefly at another example of zealotry: the entrenched belief that giving tax cuts to large corporations is sound policy. It’s what Australia needs, the Coalition insists. Treasurer Morrison, Finance Minister Cormann, PM Turnbull, and all his ministers push this line every time they are challenged about the wisdom of giving tax cuts to large corporations. The argument goes that with less tax to pay, corporations will become more competitive on the world stage, more investment will result, businesses will expand, more jobs will be created, and wages will rise. It stands to reason they say, and to many who have no evidence to judge the validity of their claim, it does sound reasonable, but it’s just good old trickle down economics all over again.

Predictably, following the revelations of the Banking Royal Commission, the public is strongly opposed to giving tax cuts to large corporations, as the Longman by-election showed. This should hardly be a surprise. Alan Stockman, a Republican in Ronald Reagan’s administration way back in the 1980s, admitted ‘Trickle down is hard to sell’.

So what is the evidence to support the ‘trickle down’ theory of economics? None. From when it was first proposed in the 1890s, then known as the ‘horse and sparrow theory’, it has been consistently debunked. To trickle down zealots this is immaterial.

There is a mountain of evidence that corporate tax cuts do not end up in workers’ pockets. The most recent evidence comes from the US where corporate taxes have been cut under the so-called ‘Tax cuts and Jobs Act’ (TCJA). The US Economic Policy Unit has a helpful analysis of what actually happened. Here is some of the Institute’s analysis:

The Trump administration’s Council of Economic Advisers released a paper last year arguing that cuts in the statutory corporate tax rate would lead to gains in business investment, productivity, and wages. We noted in the report released shortly thereafter why this was unlikely to be true. The simplest reason that cutting corporate taxes will not boost American productivity or wages is that the past history of corporate tax cuts in the United States shows no such relationship.

A figure in the analysis displaying the top corporate tax rate, productivity growth, and growth in typical workers’ hourly pay since the 1950s, shows clearly that productivity and pay actually grew more rapidly when tax rates were higher.

The analysis concluded:

The case that large, deficit-financed corporate tax cuts will boost capital investment, productivity, and wages in the United States is extraordinarily weak. Evidence from past changes in federal taxes, from cross-national comparisons, and from the experiences of individual U.S. states all argue strongly that wages for typical Americans will not benefit from the tax cuts…All in all, the tax cuts will serve to boost incomes for the already-rich while doing nothing to help the wages of typical American workers.

How much more evidence will convince the trickle down zealots that they are wrong? No amount. They will never be moved from their entrenched views.

Beware of rabid zealots!

This article was originally published on The Political Sword.

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Great Barrier Reef Politics

Australia’s environment has been in precarious hands since European settlement found its lengthy and persistent way to the continent. It has been mined, mauled, drained, farmed, deforested and despoiled at a rate that was only restrained by the size of its small but rapacious populace. When environmental matters have made an appearance, they have done so with a veil of political opportunism. Few typify this more than Labor’s environment minister Senator Graham Richardson’s efforts regarding the Tasmanian forests. To win over the conservation-minded voter in marginal, city-based seats, it was good to go green – at least for a bit.

The Great Barrier Reef has not been exempt from the political tussles of a troubled environmental conscience. Its monumental size, and its status as an ecological wonder meant little in the late 1960s, when the appetite for development mattered most. In 1967, it seemed to be facing imminent destruction, another casualty of a predatory mining industry keen for new conquests. The state of Queensland had elected a National Party government hungry to exploit the environment’s wares.

As local tour operator Alistair Pike explained to the ABC, “We had a fairly full-on development oriented government … and mate, if they couldn’t drill it, mine it, chop it down or whatever, they really didn’t want to know about it.” It took characters such as that feted “rat bag” of an activist, rogue of action and Mission Beach artist John Büsst to bring angered but focused attention on threats to bulldoze Ellison Reef. An impeccably connected person, he had the ear of Australian prime minister and fellow diver Harold Holt. A cast of characters were duly mobilised: the CSIRO forester Len Webb, and president of the Queensland Wildlife Society Judith Wright became enthusiastic and un-phased recruits.

In the Australian environmental conscience, this gorgeously freakish wonder of ecology has been seen in isolation, its problems a local provenance and interest rather than a global phenomenon of ailing. As the earth continues is warming push, earthbound, and very terrestrially unimaginative politicians have been attempting to treat the Reef’s woes as separately resolvable from the broader challenges of climate change.

Little wonder, then, that a problem viewed in such limited terms could be duly remedied by donations without tender, lump sum payments without review. Narrowly viewed problems tend to lead to narrowly devised solutions. Such was the nature of the Turnbull government’s $444 million “rescue package” to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, one conceived and delivered in a haze.

The issue of who takes the reins and ensures study and conservation was never going to be free of a political push. While common sense suggests that the task be left to government organisations within the scientific community – CSIRO, the Australian Institute for Marine Science and the Marine Park Authority, other contenders have been stalking the scene.

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation was deemed the chosen one, but questions are circulating as to why that outfit got preferment for such largesse. For one thing, it seemed an oddly hasty move, given that it entailed an expenditure of almost the entire spending allocation for the 2050 Reef Partnership program.

Then came the organisation’s profile. Its chief executive Anna Marsden is married to Ben Myers, chief of staff to former Queensland premier Campbell Newman. (Newman can be counted, incidentally, as one of those durable environmental sceptics who prefers the bulldozer to reef hugging conservation). One of the four founding businessmen behind the venture is the current chairman of the foundation, and former chairman of Esso Australia and the Commonwealth Bank. Advocates of barrier reef protection, beware.

That particular non-profit group had a revenue stream of less than $8 million in 2017, a humble outfit with six full time employees. Nothing suggests that those working for it had a clue that this staggering cash supply was coming their way. “We didn’t have much time before the announcement to be prepared for it,” came the perplexed, albeit thrilled Marsden. Easy to understand why Marsden considered this winning the lottery. Overnight, even given a spread of funding over six years, the Foundation has become one of the largest, if not largest NGO in Australia. By way of grim contrast, government employees connected with the science fraternity are facing skint measures to fund their projects.

The bungling has led to Josh Frydenberg, the environment and energy minister, asking the secretary of his department to urge the National Audit Office to give the funding arrangement serious consideration “as a priority”.

This piqued the interest of Tony Burke, Labor’s opposition spokesman, who claimed that it “was an extraordinary step for the secretary of the department to be sending a letter like that to the Auditor-General at the exact same time that Josh Frydenberg is standing up in Parliament saying there is no problem here”.

The outstanding feature of the funding spill to the foundation is its conspicuous absence of any reference to climate change. It is a hermetic form of deliverable rescue sans climate science, an approach that politically factors in the climate change sceptics within the Turnbull government. By all means try to preserve an Australian wonder; but ditch the climate science. The conclusion of one unnamed scientist to the Fairfax press about the nature of this arrangement was elementary and crude: “Obviously this is political – it’s to head off Labor making a big issue of the Great Barrier Reef at the next election.” Woe to the reef.

Never allow racism to disguise itself in the cloak of nationalism

Thursday 16 August 2018

I don’t think there is a greater societal problem in the world today than that of racism.

When a person declares inwardly using self-deceit or ignorance that he or she is superior because, certain factors, such as skin colour make it so, then they are racist.

When a person declares outwardly using self-deceit, ignorance or just blind hatred that he or she is superior just because of the colour of their skin, ethnicity or the faith they follow then they are racist.

Their racism has probably been handed down to them by the sins of the fathers. They are not born into it.

Such racist thoughts were expressed in the maiden speech of Queensland Senator Fraser Anning who called for a “Final Solution” to immigration.

His speech has been widely criticized for its obvious Nazi overtones and blatant racism. The “Final solution” was the phrase used by Hitler for what he called the Jewish problem. It called for the extermination of an entire race of people to satisfy a crazed mind.

To say that Anning’s words were insensitive would be an oversimplification.

Anti-Semitism or the practice of it can be traced back to medieval Europe. Jews were banned from many countries because they refused to practice the faith of their conquerors.

They were also hated because they loaned money and charged interest, which was forbidden in the Christian faith.

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Jews were expelled from France, Germany, Portugal and Spain.

Josh Frydenberg was one of many MPs who were upset by Anning’s speech saying that at least 1.5 million children were killed in the Holocaust.

“Fraser Anning is a father,” Mr Frydenberg said.

“Let alone the 10 million people that were killed by the Nazis, of which six million were Jews.”

Mr Frydenberg said his comments were completely unacceptable and extremely hurtful.

He has no excuse and needs to quickly apologize.

But Anning’s speech wasn’t just about anti-Semitism. It was about trying to save a world that has long passed us by. About trying to save a faith that the facts show will die out in the next 20 to 30 years. About restoring an image of the average Australian of the 50s. About white authority and superiority. About Nationalism and not internationalism.

Men of Anning’s and Bob Katter’s background and vintage, I’m sure, walk through each day singing “Click go the Shears” while the rest of us concede the contribution that immigration has made to the culture of our country and that culture and values are but a work in progress that never gets completed.

And for all the imperfections that must by nature come with it, we just work our way through them.

I mention Bob Katter because during my lunch break I tuned into News 24 to see Bob give Fraser a grouse round of support.

He is the quintessential Australian Ocker who should be cracking his whip in the outback where the crack of his tongue can do no harm.

His press conference was full of factual errors and exaggerated nonsensical talk that, when the camera pulled back, revealed that he may as well have been talking to himself. Which was probably a good thing. Three very young junior journalists constituted the press conference.

We are confronted with yet more odious loathing. This time it is directed at those from Africa. It doesn’t matter what their country of origin if they are Muslim they will suffer the full thrust of minorities xenophobia. Just as 99 per cent of Muslims want peace so do 99 per cent of Australians.

In my piece We cannot let racism win I wrote:

“We have a long history of finding fault with things we don’t understand. At various times we have blamed communists, Jews, women, the devil, indigenous people and witches, even God, for all manner of things.

I have been privy to the ignorance that history has recorded on these matters and I am angry with the likes of Pauline Hanson, Peter Dutton and our Prime Minister who would seek to deny Australia of others who desire to, not only seek their personal freedom, but also the opportunity to give of themselves to the advancement of this great nation.

When I sit on the platform at Flinders Street Station and watch the passing parade of ethnicity I can but only admire a country I could never envisage from the same seat in the 1950s.”

My thought for the day.

Never allow racism to disguise itself in the cloak of nationalism”

PS. Senator Hinch probably best summed up the speech when he said he sat through the speech by Senator Anning. Said he believes in free speech. But it was the most racist, hateful, spiteful diatribe he has heard in 50 years in journalism. “excruciating” and “Pauline Hanson on steroids”.

Let’s Just Remember That Bloke In The Senate Didn’t Get As Many Votes As You Have Friends

It’s important to keep a sense of perspective here. I read somewhere today that Fraser Anning was elected with 19 votes. I’m not prepared to accept that as fact because it’s clearly wrong!

No, it’s not true that Anning was elected to the Senate with less votes than even Malcolm Roberts…

He wasn’t elected.

He was appointed after Malcolm “I thought that I was Australian” Roberts was turfed out because he had dual citizenship. Which makes Anning’s hostility to immigration a little ironic.

After being sworn in, even his own party didn’t want him and so he joined Bob Katter’s party.

When it’s all said and done, I may not have that many friends, and not everyone in my family would vote for me, but I suspect that I’d be able to rustle up more votes than he did.

So why are we all getting so worked up about a loser like this? I mean, why give him the free publicity he must surely be seeking…

Of course, we could accept the explanation of Bob Katter that – owing to his lack of university education – Anning had never heard the phrase “final solution to the Jewish problem” and that it was just an unhappy coincidence that his racism should coincide with one of the best known racists of the 20th Century.

I mean, we shouldn’t be calling him a Nazi. Godwin’s law and all that.

And is this perhaps another case of political correctness gone mad? I mean, free speech. You know, shouldn’t someone be able to call for a referendum on immigration without these attacks because doesn’t free speech mean that privileged white men should be able to say whatever they like without criticism?

But perhaps the time has come to stop arguing with certain people. Perhaps the time has come to simply stop all the “political correctness” that right wing nuph-nuphs complain about and start telling it like it is.

So, Fraser, why on earth should we think that someone who’s so ignorant of history that they’ve never heard the phrase “final solution” would have any ideas about how this country should be organised? And when you say we should introduce the White Australia policy does that include the dictation test*? Come on, Fraser, you must surely know what the dictation test is. Are you bringing that back in, or are you proposing a new,  more restrictive White Australia policy?  And were you aware that your speech contained a number of inaccuracies, or is that part of the whole thing that it’s only the elites who have to worry about things like what’s true and what’s not true? Or don’t I understand that it’s only the educated who have to worry about justifying their position – when you don’t bother finding out what’s true and what’s not true, you’re one of the people.

You know, one of those people who belongs to a party where the leader has their name embedded into the name of the party… like Clive, Pauline and Bob. Where we don’t like elites… Unless they’re the god-like founder of the party.

Fraser, you’re a stupid man and it’s about time we stopped all this “political correctness” and simply told it the way it is: Some people are born stupid, some achieve stupidity, and some have stupidity thrust upon them.

And speaking personally, I’m sick of all the stupidity thrust upon me from politicians, the media and the guy who hasn’t read anything about a topic but thinks that his opinion is just a good as a scientist who’s been studying it for years.

Let’s hear it for the clever, the informed and the thoughtful. Stop pretending that Trump is a good role model and accept that the foolish can be lucky for a while but sooner or later, people who play with matches start fires that they don’t know how to deal with.

*    “The Dictation Test applied to all non-European people entering Australia between 1901 and 1958. The applicant was required to write out 50 words in any European language (after 1905, any prescribed language) dictated by an immigration officer.”

 

Walk together in respect

We have a choice in Australia.

We can succumb to the increasingly shrill voices of greed, intolerance, bigotry and division or we can rally together to walk forward in respect.

With more than 300 languages spoken in our homes, over 100 religions and more than 300 different ancestries, the 2016 Census highlights Australia’s rich cultural diversity. This wide variety of backgrounds, together with the many cultures of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, has helped to create a uniquely Australian identity.

Our diversity is a unique strength which should be protected.  It should be embraced and celebrated.  It enriches us and keeps us safe from the sectarian and ethnic divisions that cause such pain and violence in other countries.

Here, all are free to flourish within the confines of the common law that allows all of us to raise our children in safety, offering them the opportunity to be happy, healthy participants in our society.

We certainly do not live in some sort of Utopia where life’s struggles have disappeared.  But we are better placed than most to deal with them.

Let’s focus on how we can support those that need it rather than dividing into camps throwing rocks at each other.

Let’s learn from those who have witnessed the greatest change in their homeland.

We seek to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.

In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

Do we care enough to join them in walking together to make Australia a better place?  Can we show the same generosity and forgiveness, the same nurturing of the environment and custodial obligation to future generations?

I hope so – generosity of spirit, forgiveness, and pulling together are Australian qualities worth fighting for.

Stunning Victory For Turnbull – Most Of His Own Side Support His Policy…

It’s not every day that Malcolm can say that the party room agrees with him. In fact, judging by the way he was gloating today, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a pretty rare occurence.

Well, at least Mr Turnbull kept his promise about not being prepared to lead a party that wasn’t as committed to fighting climate change as he was. For a start, nobody could suggest that he’s ever actually led the party but, more obviously, judging from his rhetoric, he seems about as committed to fighting climate change as Tony Abbott. While there was the odd mention of how the NEG was going to reduce emissions, there was no mention of the reason why we wanted to reduce emissions in the first place.

And Malcom and his Malfunctionaries even started to borrow Tony’s line about the “unreliability” of renewables. One businessman said on Sky today when explaining about the need for dispatchable baseload for “when the wind goes down and the sun stops“… Mm, I tend to think that when the sun stops, baseload power will be the furtherest thing from our mind.

You certainly have to give the Liberals credit for their success in making people believe that blackouts are a relatively new phenomenon, solely caused by adding renewables to the mix. At my house, we had a power blackout a few weeks ago, caused by a car hitting a powerpole in the area. I guess the driver must have been blinded by a solar panel. On occasions, car accidents and weather events have caused a loss of power for as long as I remember, but this doesn’t seem to be acknowledged in any discussion about reliability. No, we still hear people banging on about South Australia’s loss of power after the worst storm in decades. And even that wasn’t directly caused by their reliance on wind power.

Of course, the other reason we have power blackouts is when we don’t have enough supply to meet demand. This is never because an aging coal-fired station breaks down.  This often happens in Summer when everyone turns on their airconditioners. I guess, the solar panels that thousands of households have installed don’t help on such days because they don’t work when the sun isn’t shining and we can’t expect the sun to be shining on days when it’s excessively hot.

I’m probably not the only one to notice this but did you think it strange that our bills are going to come down by $550 – the same amount which the abolition of the carbon “tax” reduced our power bills by. Or should I say the same amount that we saved when it was abolished because as we were told a year later, while power prices haven’t come down they would be $550 more if they hadn’t got rid of the carbon tax. Seems as though all their modelling comes up with one number. One presumes that it’s an average, but I’ve only ever heard them tell us that household power bills will drop by that amount. Mm, perhaps it’s actually the total for all of Australia.

Anyway, the government has managed to get the NEG passed the most difficult naysayers, their own backbench. After that, the states should be a piece of cake.

Using the Burka: Boris Johnson’s Bid for Popularity

Comedy, Boris Johnson, and the Tories – these three share a certain comforting, if chaotic affinity, lobbed together in some nightmarish union that risks consuming itself. But times are serious – profoundly so, we are told: Brexit exercises the nerves as if Britannia were a patient about to expire, and there is the cultural irritation posed by those naughty elements who refuse to do the good thing and integrate themselves into the land of her Britannic majesty.

Thus far, Britain has resisted the moves of other states in Europe to impose public bans on such religious coverings as the burka and some of its more expansive cognates. But there is a prevailing appetite for such measures in a climate suffused with notions of civilisation, irate outsiders and insecure insiders. France was a pioneer in that regard, initiating a ban in 2004. In Denmark, rough measures have been implemented punishing those who don such headdress in public spaces.

A perfect chance for Johnson, who remains a smouldering menace to Prime Minister Theresa May, to strike form, even if only to rile critics and keep the blogosphere busy. “In Britain today there is only a tiny, tiny minority of women who wear these odd bits of headgear,” he noted in his regular Daily Telegraph column last week. Confidently, he claimed that, “One day, I am sure, they will go.”

His has little time for assuming that women have any choice in the matter. “If you say that it is weird and bullying to expect women to cover their faces, then I totally agree – and I would add that I can find no scriptural authority for the practice in the Koran.”

Nothing is spared. The whole show is given, and any social or academic nicety is given over to a populist punchiness. “I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.” But Johnson returns to a traditional stance taken to such articles of wear: they should not be banned. The only resort, then, is to mock.

It becomes clear what this exercise was about. The burka, and Islamic dress, might well have found themselves objects of pure, unalloyed opportunism for yet another push for recognition from fellow Tories that Johnson remains a relevant contender for high office. He might have resigned from the front bench in an act of calculated sabotage, but he glows.

The Conservative Party has found itself in a bind. Something needed to be done, as the current wisdom goes, but what? An investigation is currently being taken, a fairly pointless exercise that serves to supply valuable oxygen to Johnson’s flame of embellished martyrdom. Communities and Local Government Secretary James Brokenshire told BBC Breakfast that an investigation into complaints made about Johnson’s comments was taking place and “that’s the right approach”.

If the investigation – being conducted by an individual officer – finds justification for the complaints, an independent panel will be convened (independence being in the eye of the beholders), which might decide to refer Johnson to the party’s board. From there, the power of expulsion can come into play.

At this stage, these are meaningless hypothetical points, and expelling Johnson will add a few streaks of popularity to him. If that ever unreliable metric called polling can be drawn upon, Johnson has allies on the score of whether he should receive some form of disciplinary action. The Sunday Express, noting the findings of its ComRes poll, found 53 per cent of respondents did not feel any such action should be taken.

The Muslim Council of Britain has also added to the exercise of giving Johnson form and profile, sending a letter to Prime Minister May that “no-one should be allowed to victimise minorities with impunity.” The Council was “hopeful” that the Tories “will not allow any whitewashing of this specific inquiry currently in process”.

A few murmurings of support have aired. That ever reliable period-piece Tory prop and member for North East Somerset Jacob Rees-Mogg is certain that the whole exercise against Johnson – a “show trial” no less – is tactical, a measure to protect May and see off a rival. There is envy in the leadership at his “many successes, popularity with voters and charisma.” He speculates: “Could it be that there is a nervousness that a once and probably future leadership contender is becoming too popular and needs to be stopped?”

Another element is the comedy line, suggesting the view that Johnson remains the permanent, immutable joke of British reaction. To censure Johnson would be to censure a certain type of eccentric, if indecent Britain. Rowan Atkinson, the genius behind Mr Bean and a range of comic adaptations, took the freedom-to-joke line in a letter to The Times. “As a lifelong beneficiary of the freedom to make jokes about religion, I do think that Boris Johnson’s joke about wearers of the burka resembling letterboxes is a pretty good one.” Pity that it has been a standard one for some time – was Atkinson perhaps referring to Johnson himself, the joke in harness?

It is all well and good to accept the necessary function of comedy to puncture, deflate and generally mock the role of faith, credulous attitudes and the devout. “All jokes about religion cause offence,” says Atkinson accurately, “so it’s pointless apologising for them.”

But Johnson has never been the font of sincerity in that regard, and his effusion was hardly intended as one of pure humour. He wishes to remain politically relevant, and persists sniping through his columns and from the back bench in the hope that he won’t be forgotten. As Britain leaves its awkward EU marriage, Johnson may well find himself presiding over the ruins of his own handiwork.

Is the ACCC being verballed or has Sharri got it wrong?

According to the Liberal letterbox, Sharri Markson, “The Turnbull government will underwrite multi-billion dollar investments to build new coal-fired power stations…The Daily Telegraph understands Mr Turnbull will announce his support for the ACCC recommendation at [today’s] party room meeting.”

Except the ACCC didn’t recommend that at all Sharri.

Here is what they actually said:

“The National Electricity Market is largely broken and needs to be reset. Previous approaches to policy, regulatory design and competition in this sector over at least the past decade have resulted in a serious electricity affordability problem for consumers and businesses,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“There are many reasons Australia has the electricity affordability issues we are now facing. Wholesale and retail markets are too concentrated. Regulation and poorly designed policy have added significant costs to electricity bills. Retailers’ marketing of discounts are inconsistent and confusing to consumers and have left many consumers on excessively high ‘standing’ offers.”

“While important steps have been taken recently, restoring electricity affordability will require wide ranging and comprehensive action. We believe our changes can and will, if adopted, have a powerful and tangible impact on electricity affordability for all Australians; this will reduce economic inequality and enhance our national welfare.”

“Three further points need to be made. First, our recommendations require some difficult decisions as sound economic reform usually does. Second, despite poor decisions over at least the past decade creating the current electricity affordability problem, it now falls to current Commonwealth and state governments to make the difficult decisions to fix it. Third, we must move away from narrowly focussed debates; addressing affordability requires change across a broad front,” Mr Sims said.

The ACCC’s recommendations include:

  • Abolishing the current retail ‘standing’ offers (which are not the same between retailers), and replacing them with a new ‘default’ offer consistent across all retailers, set at a price determined by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER).
  • Requiring retailers to reference any discounts to the new ‘default’ offer pricing determined by the AER, making it easier for consumers to genuinely compare offers. Conditional discounts, such as pay-on-time discounts, must not be included in any headline discount claim.
  • A mandatory code for comparator websites be introduced so that offers are recommended based on customer benefit, not commissions paid.
  • Voluntary write downs of network overinvestment, including by the NSW, Queensland and Tasmanian governments (or equivalent rebates). This could save consumers in NSW, Queensland and Tasmania at least $100 per year.
  • Premium solar feed-in-tariff schemes should be funded by state governments and the small scale renewable energy scheme should be phased out, saving non-solar consumers $20-$90 per year.
  • Government support to make bankable new investment by new players in generation capacity to help commercial and industrial customers and drive competition.
  • Restructuring of Queensland generators into three separately owned portfolios to improve competition.
  • Limiting companies with 20 per cent or more market share from acquiring more generation capacity.
  • Improving the transparency of over-the-counter contract trading by requiring reporting of these trades to a central registry.
  • Improving the AER’s powers to investigate and address problems in the market and increasing penalties for serious wrongdoing.

“The ACCC’s affordability measures for consumers also include improvements to state and territory concession schemes, and funding for organisations to assist vulnerable consumers to choose a low-priced electricity offer that suits their circumstances,” Mr Sims said.

“One of the most important recommendations is to move customers off excessively high ‘standing’ offers to a new standard ‘default’ offer to be independently set by the Australian Energy Regulator.”

Moving average residential customers who are still on the range of current ‘standing’ offers to the new ‘default’ offer could result in savings of $500 to $750 per annum (25-35 per cent). Similarly, small and medium businesses could save $1450-$2250 (30-35 per cent) per year by moving to a standard ‘default’ offer. Currently over 20 per cent of small businesses are on high ‘standing’ offers.

“Too many consumers and small business customers have given up trying to understand offers and switch in a confusing retail electricity market. Big changes are required to make it easier for consumers and businesses to understand market offers and improve competition,” Mr Sims said.

Australia has committed, through international treaties, to reduce its carbon emissions. The electricity sector has, understandably, been a key focus for these efforts given the historically carbon-intensive nature of electricity generation. However, various policy failures here have hurt consumers.

As the Finkel review identified, there has been a failure to facilitate an orderly transition from carbon-intensive generation technologies to cleaner ones. This is highlighted by the relatively sudden decisions by the owners of the Northern and Hazelwood power stations to close those plants. The short notice of closure of these plants did not enable the market to respond to expected shortfalls in capacity with adequate and timely investment.

While many incumbents have pointed to the lack of an enduring and stable climate change policy as a cause of investment uncertainty and under-investment, at the same time, they have had little incentive to invest in new capacity when they are reaping the benefits of higher spot and futures prices.

The National Energy Guarantee seeks to more clearly link the introduction of lower emissions generation sources to the ability to call on generators to produce energy when it is most needed. To the extent that this policy can encourage investment in capacity from a diverse range of sources, diluting market concentration and promoting competition to supply retailers, the policy should assist in delivering electricity affordability.

It’s hard to find a recommendation to build new coal-fired power stations in any of that.

Sorry IPA

Australia is still having the discussion on the benefits of waste reduction and until recently it was considered economically rational to send semi-trailers full of household and business waste from New South Wales to Queensland to avoid disposal fees. In other parts of the world (even Trump’s deepest darkest America) there are companies that demonstrate that minimising the production of waste and developing alternate uses for waste products is not only helping the environment, it’s making money.

Subaru makes cars in the USA as well as Japan. There is probably a rational explanation for the American factory that would only partly be justified by the reduction in shipping costs for some 350,000 cars per annum. In 2002 (partly to address observations that Subaru ‘doesn’t do’ hybrid vehicles) they decided to look at how they address waste within and surrounding their plant at Lafayette in Indiana. A USA Today article reports that Subaru executive Tom Easterday claims on his seemingly frequent small group tours showing other companies how to make money by eliminating landfill

“I always like to say that if someone stops for a cup of coffee on their way into the plant,” Easterday said, “then they have put more trash into the landfill than we have for the entire year.”

Actually, that coffee cup would be more than the entire plant — with 5,600 employees producing 350,000 cars annually — has put in a landfill in nearly the last 15 years.

So, Subaru compost waste from their staff cafeteria, they retain and reuse plastic mouldings that are deemed not suitable for installation into cars, they even return cardboard boxes and Styrofoam to component manufacturers for reuse. Apparently, once Styrofoam packaging has made four return trips to the component maker, it is profitable to do so!

While it is probably a point of difference between Subaru in America and some other car plants, it’s not all done to generate a green tinged halo for Subaru either — since 2004 they have made $13 million through elimination of waste to landfill. The program is so successful, they are now looking at becoming carbon neutral, becoming more profitable in the process.

There have obviously been some costs in the conversion to landfill free status and the claim of $13 million is apparently the net profit, so it puts paid to the claim that ‘going the extra mile’ to reduce or eliminate waste used in production processes is costly or will reduce a competitive edge. Unfortunately, in Australia a lot of the pessimism around ‘the cost’ of reducing our impact on the earth we all have to share is spruiked by conservative politicians, business leaders and ‘think tanks’ to suit their own political agenda.

This also became a bit clearer in the past week or so when it was revealed (in unlikely circumstances to do with a family dispute that has reached the court system) that Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting donated around $5 million to the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) in the past couple of years. Ms Rinehart has every right in the world to donate her money to whatever cause she determines is worth her support, just as Graeme Wood has, however in their 2015-16 annual report

the IPA claimed 91 per cent of donations came from individuals, while foundations, companies and “other” sources each contributed 3 per cent. In 2016–17, it claimed 86 per cent of revenue was from individual donations and only 1 per cent from companies.

In words and colourful graphs, they give the impression of broad-based financial support from thousands of individuals, of an organisation not beholden to corporate supporters.

But Hancock Prospecting is clearly a company. By phone and email The Saturday Paper sought an explanation from the IPA for this but did not get one.

As The Saturday Paper also discloses,

The institute’s annual reports tell us its total revenues were $4.96 million in 2015–16 and $6.1 million in 2016-17. Thus Rinehart’s money, given through her company, Hancock Prospecting, made up almost half the IPA’s income in one year and well over a third in the other. She has, in effect, a controlling interest.

The problem here is that while most ‘think tanks’ in Australia will happily disclose their funding sources allowing us to determine intentional or unintentional bias, the IPA doesn’t. It does however contribute staff to provide opinions on television programs and in the media. And a lot of their ‘talent’, including recently failed Liberal Party candidate for Mayo Georgina Downer and current Liberal Party member for Goldstein Tim Wilson, go into politics trying to drag the ‘liberal’ party further to the conservative end of the spectrum.

They too are entitled to their opinions — but it’s a concern when the funding behind their policy position remains hidden.

What do you think?

This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.

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What ACIL Allen really think about the NEG

The Greens are calling on the government to release the full modelling for the proposed final design of the National Energy Guarantee to enable scrutiny of the government’s claim that it will result in lower emissions and power bills.

“The government has only produced a spreadsheet and chart pack, which really doesn’t cut it,” said Adam Bandt.

And there are probably good reasons for not releasing the full modelling carried out by ACIL Allen Consulting considering this article written by Owen Kelp, a Principal of the firm who “has previously undertaken electricity sector emission projections for the Department of the Environment and Energy and commonly undertakes electricity market projections for governments and market participants.”

Kelp writes “There is no identified shortfall in capacity over the coming decade even with the closure of Liddell and AEMO’s own analysis supports this view. Given that the NEG Reliability Obligation is designed only to be triggered in the event of an identified shortfall of dispatchable capacity, then this measure is likely to result in nothing more than administrative overhead for the industry and consumers will bear an additional, unnecessary cost.”

Of more interest to Kelp was the NEG emissions obligation.

“The electricity market modelling that was undertaken for the ESB utilised an emissions budget of 1,352 Mt CO2 for the NEM over the period 2020-21 to 2029-30, the period covering the Paris Agreement. This represents a very small reduction over doing nothing as the Business as Usual (BAU) scenario modelled had emissions of around 1,396 Mt CO2 over the same period. Therefore, the NEG is only seeking to achieve abatement of around 44 Mt CO2-e over a 10-year period. 

Reviewing the Department of Environment and Energy’s latest emission projections report reveals that the cumulative abatement target for Australia for the period 2020-21 to 2029-30 is assessed to be 868 Mt CO2 (down from 990 Mt CO2 in 2016) to meet a 26 percent reduction on 2005 levels by 2030.

Given that the electricity sector accounts for around one-third of national emissions, it must be asked why the Government is only seeking to achieve 5 percent of the required abatement from the National Electricity Market? If the ESB modelling is in accord with current Government policy, it appears that the Government is walking away from undertaking any meaningful abatement in electricity in the post-2020 period. If this is the case, it will burden the other sectors of the economy to do the heavy lifting. 

Achieving abatement in some of these other sectors is extremely challenging and potentially very expensive.

An emissions budget for the NEM of 1,352 Mt CO2 is far too generous and puts too much reliance on other sectors which will likely increase the aggregate cost of meeting our 26% target. The NEM budget should be revised down to around 1,214 Mt CO2 for the emissions obligation of the NEG to make a proportionate contribution.

This approach is the absolute minimum abatement task which should be applied to the NEM as it is likely to be lower cost abatement than other sectors. Decarbonisation of electricity is likely to be a precursor for decarbonisation of other sectors, especially transport where the shift to electric vehicles to reduce transport emissions requires electrical energy from low to zero emissions sources.”

It would be very interesting to see if Mr Kelp expressed the same view to the government when they were paying him for it.  Then again, I suppose that depends on what questions they asked.

Turnbull’s leadership a sham as he seeks to evade GBRF scandal, climate change with a dodgy NEG.

“Our efforts to deal with climate change have been betrayed by a lack of leadership, a political cowardice, the like of which I have never seen” — Malcolm Turnbull 2010

Country folk up and down our fly-blown land give thanks this week for a federal government whose devotion to the plight of stock on drought-stricken New South Wales and Queensland to Tasmania is everywhere on display. Or not as in the case of rural spots still with poor TV or NBN coverage.

Since Will Hodgman upped the supply of pump action shotties and automatic rifles so vital to a good day’s work in the Tassie paddock, an election eve promise, Apple Isle farmers are doing so well they can now truck feed to Tamworth, where the PM comforts cockies battling a baffling absence of rain.

Clearly, in times of continuous national crisis, everyone has to get behind their national or their state government and to that end, Tassie’s Hodgman government has a plan to deal with workers who want to vent online about their stupid boss, low pay or government job. It’s just not on.

Hodgman and his crew hand-craft a beaut “new social media policy” to keep its servants civil.  Government employees will be forbidden to whinge or carp online. Ideally there should be no criticism of politicians over the internet at all, just an applause button or an emoji for job well done!

As rigorous as it is vigilant, the Tasmanian government also plans to ban staffers associating online with “groups or individuals”. No likes or shares. To like or share a post is the same as creating it.

By Wednesday, Will walks it back. “The draft social media policy has a number of unintended consequences that are clearly out of step with community expectations,” he says. Tasmanians are overjoyed to hear the policy is to be reviewed to “ensure a common-sense approach prevails”.

Common-sense flies out the window… 

Further north, common-sense flies out the window as Malcolm Turnbull pulls on his RM Williams. Faced with crisis and catastrophe over energy and a Great Barrier Reef debacle, the PM hits the road on a mission to win hearts and minds in places where he’s not going to be asked about coral reefs.

“Stay strong.  We’ve got your back,” our PM consoles teary central NSW farmers, in his role as tribal leader, as he selflessly helps media and agricultural lobby groups establish the dominant narrative that our farmers are merely hapless victims of the worst drought in history.

Not a word is spoken of climate change. And the farmers? They must get as much government support as possible in learning to rely not on welfare but on charity. Take it from the PM.

Moleskin Mal knows all about farming and hardship. He hunkers down. Scoops up a bit of dry, sandy topsoil, lets it trickle through his fingers, in his role as Agronomist-in-chief. Squints into the distance.

“Luce and I are in the sheep and cattle business in the Upper Hunter,” he declares. The Pitt Street farmer instantly wins over local cockies who are “doing it tough” with his self-reliance, his hard graft with fencing and fly-strike; fire, flood and drought. And his reckless generosity.

Taxpayers’ are still agog at Mal’s gift of their money to his pals at the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, (GBRF). The Foundation didn’t even have to ask. Malco always has his mates’ backs; anticipates their every need.  It’s a matter of principle, whatever his principles may be at the time.

He gives to all sorts of worthy causes; looks after the top end of town;

No government handouts for him – just tireless, selfless, self-help, trusts and tax breaks. He gives to all sorts of worthy causes; looks after the top end of town; The Sydney Biennale, The Australian Chamber Orchestra, Rhodes Scholarships and The Scots College. Above all, he looks after the odd needy family – especially his own.

Mal donates all of his $587,852 parliamentary salary to his own charity The Turnbull Foundation, or so he says. Like his pal, Donald Trump, he’s never made his tax returns public.  Unlike his giving. “I’ve always been a philanthropic person. We’ve always been very generous.”

The Turnbull Foundation, appears in the Australian Business Register as a “private ancillary fund”, (PAF) a scam invented by the Howard government, in 2001, with all the tax perks of a charity. Only 5% of the value of such funds need be donated annually to other non-profit organisations, who, themselves, hold deductible gift recipient (DGR) and tax concession charity (TCC) status.

What happens to the rest of the money? Historically, such funds average 8% in donations to such non-profit outfits, a trend which would leave Turnbull a handy 92% tax-free nest-egg. But there’s more. As directors, he and Luce are also entitled to draw tax-free directors’ fees.

Along with modelling altruism and advocating charity over government handout, Turnbull’s out to hose down alarmist speculation that climate change has something to with droughts and that governments have something to do with climate change. Or that the Coalition has no climate policy.

Mal tweaks this part of the official Big Dry story. He channels Abbott’s tin-foil hatter Maurice Newman as he continues to court the Liberal Party dries who don’t get climate change.

“The reality we face is rainfall has always been variable in Australia. It appears to be getting more variable, certainly in this part of the world and back where Lucy and I are in the Hunter,” he says modelling precisely the lack of leadership and political gutlessness he deplored eight years ago.

The coal-lobby sponsored, climate change denying, Coalition lacks the will to do anything but ignore expert consensus… 

Worse, he and his government are adding to the problem. The coal-lobby sponsored, climate change denying, Coalition lacks the will to do anything but ignore expert consensus, be it in the parched paddocks of central NSW and QLD or on the Great Barrier Reef where governments have allowed record levels of bush-clearing for farming to create run-off which is helping to kill the reef.

Enter stage right The Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) whose foundation chairman’s panel comprises big polluters; CEOs of BHP, Commonwealth Bank, Deloitte Australia, Lendlease and Deutsche Bank as well as representatives from Rio Tinto, Shell, AGL and Peabody Energy.

Australian Conservation Foundation’s Matt Rose nails it. “The links to companies such as Peabody Energy, which has funded climate denial groups in the past, doesn’t sit comfortably with us.”

The GBRF is a captain’s call by a PM desperate to greenwash a problem he knows he can’t fix.

Will greenwashing help? Despite Josh Frydenberg’s unbelievable performance on ABC Insiders Sunday, where he claims “extensive due diligence” (like extra virgin snake oil?) led, incredibly, to the selection of a group which just happens to represent the nation’s major polluters, few are bluffed.

Even Barrie Cassidy asks why the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (that word again) got the gig.

“Maximum leverage” Frydenberg blusters. Whatever it means, he hopes to silence the howls of outrage which erupt across the nation. Jargon’s good that way. And he could use a few levers.

Frydenberg … is totally unable to explain to Barrie Cassidy why $444 million was given in a lump sum …

Frydenberg, whose lack of accomplishment has not yet impeded his career, is totally unable to explain to Barrie Cassidy why $444 million was given in a lump sum to be used over six years to an obscure group of six mining and finance industry CEOs whose backgrounds create a palpable conflict of interest, without any tender, invitation, application or any other form of due process.

It doesn’t matter how much Frydenberg may claim that the foundation has delivered excellent results, its aims speak for themselves. There is nothing in the Foundation’s brief which mentions climate change. Immediate aims are to enhance water quality, cull outbreaks of invasive crown of thorns starfish and boost scientific research funds that might aid the reef’s “resilience”.

The reef is dying. It’s lost half its coral in the last two years. Global warming and the strongest El Nino effect ever recorded in 2016 caused the water temperature to rise, killing one third of the coral in a nine-month span between summer and autumn 2016. It would take decades for the coral to regenerate even if rising sea temperatures were brought under control.

A desperate government is wedged between the need to appease its coal-huggers who expect Adani to open and for Abbott Point to expand and an electorate which will not respond well to further bad news about the reef’s decline. It has gone for a spin solution, out of sheer political expediency.

Did Adani collude with Queensland’s state government to break the law? The Guardian reports that as Cyclone Debbie approached, 27 March, Adani leapt into damage control – by changing the rules – obtaining a temporary licence to pollute wetlands near Abbott Point. It’s a worrying sign. Doubtless there’ll be a move to recruit Adani to the GBRF in the light of its environmental concern.

“Shocking and almost mind-blowing” Michael Myer, a former founder of The Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) terms the growing scandal surrounding Mal’s gift of $444 million to a group which is clearly still stunned at the PM’s unexpected, unbidden largesse; reefer madness.

“It was like winning lotto” says MD Anna Marsden. Truly. When you didn’t buy a ticket?

He quit in part over concerns about its “corporate” direction and the growing involvement of figures from the fossil fuels industry.

Myer, a member of the Myer family dynasty, was a financial supporter and board member of the GBRF for two years until 2002. He says he quit in part over concerns about its “corporate” direction and the growing involvement of figures from the fossil fuels industry. Now they run the outfit.

He tells the ABC Thursday that it is “unthinkable” for the Government to award the largest ever non-profit grant to an organisation with six staff members “without due diligence, without a proper tender process, without a request”. The GBRF albatross will rot around the Coalition’s neck.

Luckily, in the week’s good news, conflicted Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg fails to bully the states into accepting the National Energy Guarantee (NEG), Friday, thus avoiding locking in Tony Abbott’s inadequate emissions reduction target of 26% of 2005 levels by 2030.

Frydenberg will now have to battle Abbott’s faction to get Liberal Party Room agreement next Tuesday. Not that you would know from his spin. “We had the victory. The national energy guarantee goes through the gate to the next stage,” he lies.

Expect Josh to talk long; keep questions short – especially from “The Monash Group”, a mutant Monkey Pod, a cabal of anti-Turnbull plotters comprising Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews, Craig Kelly and the resourceful George Christensen whom Matt Canavan sent to Tokyo to badger baffled Japanese bankers with his pitch to put their money in the rebels’ plan to build hugely expensive, new, loss-making, toxic coal-fired power plants.

The COAG rout is touted as a win in principle, a spin repeated by a fawning mainstream media who keep us distracted meanwhile with shocking images of parched paddocks and starving stock. It’s the Lynton Crosby distraction strategy of throwing a dead cat (or dying sheep or cow) on the table.

It’s an artful dodge. A conga-line of camera-men whose shadows appear clearly in-shot; a post-modern chiaroscuro, create a Brechtian alienation effect as Super Mal blitzes our screens last Sunday night, live from Trangie, a quiet, rural service town on the Mitchell Highway between Narromine and Nyngan, 493 km NW of NSW capital, Sydney.

Super Mal is paying a flying visit to Trangie whose name is an indigenous word meaning “quick”.

Sadly, Trangie relies on the Murray Darling Basin for water

But not so fast, Super Mal. Sadly, Trangie relies on the Murray Darling Basin for water and as Karen Middleton notes in The Saturday Paper, its suffering in Australia’s last severe drought in the early 2000s, a “devastating dry spell, the worst on record, prompted calls for a management plan of the basin and the water it holds”.  The basin’s mismanagement cannot be so easily shrugged off.

Given the Coalition government’s record of Murray Darling mismanagement under former Minister for Water and irrigators’ pal, Barnaby Joyce, Turnbull quickly finds himself not waving but drowning. Naturally it doesn’t stop him talking up the ways his government is listening.

Flash Mal’s all care and no responsibility. Keen to escape the GBRF stench, his whirlwind “listening tour” of drought-stricken NSW and QLD allows him to plug an insultingly inadequate “drought relief package” of $12,000 and an easing of Centrelink rules so farmers qualify for a paltry $16,000 PA.

Some locals find his visit offensive. They’re fit to kill over the PM’s do-nothing, self-promoting political photo-opportunity tour, yet there’s more to his caring than exploitation.

Riding shotgun with his PM, Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, surely a world’s best case of nominative determinism is jeered on Q&A Monday when he says that it’s “a big call” to own responsibility for climate change and that he doesn’t “give a rats if it’s man-made or not”.

Littleproud then quickly ducks for cover: There’s no silver bullet to this apart from rain. We can’t make it rain,” he says opting for the bleeding obvious in a dismissive non-sequitur.

No-one expects any mea culpa; acknowledgement that the Coalition’s lack of any real energy policy is boosting global warming nor that anthropogenic climate change is helping to cause the drought. 2017 was NSW’s hottest year ever. Autumn 2017 in southern Australia was the driest for 116 years.

the PM is not about to blind the locals with climate science,

This is all the more remarkable given there was no El Nino effect in 2017.  Yet the PM is not about to blind the locals with climate science, as he would have eight years ago. Now he’s warm and fuzzy.

“We’re here with love and practical help …” Practical help? Or another vacuous platitude? The Coalition has spent years evading any form of practicality when it comes to energy or climate. And meanwhile, its social welfare practices have morphed into an automated Robo call extortion racket.

Thank heaven for the photo-opportunities. Super Mal is all heart and hat as he clutches One Bucket’s Edwina Robertson in a stiff embrace, a medium close-up shot. The Toowoomba wedding photographer, turned drought awareness campaigner, tears up as she confronts the PM.

Ms Robertson, who is on week five of her own drought awareness campaign tour, tells the PM the federal government’s last Sunday morning assistance announcement is “underwhelming.”

Worse. She tells reporters, his package is “short sighted”. “He needs to acknowledge the long term effects of this.” PM and campaigner concur it’s a big bastard; the biggest drought in history.

Yet she’s on song with the Coalition’s creed of small government and in tune with Turnbull’s own crusade for private philanthropy. Robertson calls on people to donate to charities around Australia.

“We all need to be consistent in our message of how bad the drought is,” she said.

“Our money is going to come from charitable help, we need Aussies to get together. [It] is not going to come from the government.” 

Mal bravely takes aim at the rabid black dog of despair down on the drought-stricken farm

A modern Atticus Finch, Mal bravely takes aim at the rabid black dog of despair down on the drought-stricken farm as he reveals his African gang-busting, welfare-cheat-exposing, Emma Husar slut-shaming, Murray Darling Basin Authority bullying, COAG coercing, anti-immigrant racist dog-whistling, Bill-killing, witch-hunting government’s tender, nurturing side.

Mal pats her back in a touching, fatherly, gesture just perfect for TV replay. Nothing too patronising.

For Fiona Simson National Farmers’ Federation head, the show is no substitute for policy.

“We are certainly concerned that as a Commonwealth we don’t have a Federal drought policy in place. The Intergovernmental Agreement on Drought expired in July,” Simson snipes.

Perhaps the former, former Minister for Agriculture, (Malcolm Turnbull held the fort for 57 days) Barnaby Joyce was pre-occupied. Weatherboard and Iron, Joyce’s book launch comes with lurid details of his dissolute behaviour, inspired perhaps, distantly, by the confessions of St Augustine.

When it’s not over-sharing his own battle with booze, suicidal depression and philandering, Weatherboard and iron perpetuates the myth that Joyce and the Nationals somehow represent the interest of the rural worker, or the poor rather than the mining lobby or Big Agriculture. Nothing in Joyce’s voting record suggests he’s interested in preserving penalty rates or increasing Newstart.

Proposals which might benefit the poor he’s voted against. These include increasing housing affordability, the age pension, trade union powers in the workplace, funding for university education, public transport.

He’s opposed the right to protest and the use of natural resource wealth for the benefit of all.

Joyce was happily spruiking on the radio for Santos to develop its coal seam gas project at Narrabri…

Last September, Joyce was happily spruiking on the radio for Santos to develop its coal seam gas project at Narrabri, maybe thirty- maybe fifty kilometres from his own land holdings, he says although he says he won’t make any financial windfall.

Nor will Weatherboard and Iron. Australian readers are not so easily duped. Joyce’s exploiting the rural poor for his own political advancement just as Turnbull is exploiting the drought crisis for photo opportunities and as a distraction to his reef, energy and Royal Commission disasters.

Joyce flogs his book on every channel. He tells Charlie Pickering he needs the money. Charlie is too polite to demur. Barnaby has a wealthy family; whose main property is Rutherglen, in Woolbrook, which sprawls across more than 1780ha north of Tamworth. True, there are other siblings, but The Joyce Family trust fund administered by his parents Beryl and James, has Barnaby as a beneficiary.

Monday, it rains. Trangie receives five millimetres according to the new, sleek, efficiency dividend beneficiaries, The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), currently on the fifth year of a wage-freeze.

Turnbull’s team compassion is all over the airwaves, Monday, with its tough love. “Not everyone is going to survive,” federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud tells ABC’s RN, Monday morning.   “You can’t enjoy the fruits of the market economy without fear of failure.” Toughen up buttercup.

Meanwhile, full of fear of failure, Josh Frydenberg must do without the support of the states. – now he’s going into the party room Tuesday with no “leverage”; even less hope of forging consensus.

The Turnbull government spins another failure as a success – with a switch into vaudeville as Frydenberg “singles out hydrogen as a point of discussion” – about as practical as Greg Hunt’s Direct Action and just as outrageously expensive.

federal and Victorian state government are spending $500 million to build a pilot…

Yet our federal and Victorian state government are spending $500 million to build a pilot plant that will operate for only one year and produce “up to” three tonnes of hydrogen over the whole year.

We are beyond Carbon lock-in” – the self-perpetuating inertia created by large fossil fuel-based energy systems that inhibits public and private efforts to introduce alternative energy technologies.

What we’ve seen instead this week is a PM prepared to seek any distraction from his GBRF scandal and his party divided on the fundamentals of an energy policy which would meet our Paris commitments.

Instead his Energy Minister is peddling a NEG which is so complex and so rushed that no-one fully understands it but one thing is clear, it will lock in Abbott’s inadequate targets for ten years; a NEG which is worse than no NEG at all which is being presented as our only way to move forward and a framework which can be modified into something workable later.

It is neither of these but a shameful attempt to forge Coalition consensus and coerce the states.

Turnbull’s need to seek distraction and his natural evasiveness has led him on a lightning tour of drought-afflicted country towns where the focus is emotive with countless images of suffering animals and distressed farmers but which obscures the link between the big dry and climate change.

It will not be long before his GBRF scandal catches up with him and party disunity erupts over emission targets, and the NEG, like his tour of compassion is exposed as a transparent sham.

 

Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship

Contrary to any popular perceptions of Australia’s legal system, a dislike of rights reigns with pious conviction on both sides of the political aisle. Rights are the stuff of nonsense and nuisance, revocable for those deemed undesirable. The Australian constitution, a heavily dull document, remains silent on many important liberties; the common law is relied upon to fill in gaps (think of that conjuration known as the implied constitutional right to freedom of communication on political subjects). Parliament, mystically wise, is meant to be the grand guardian.

In terms of citizenship, Australia’s parliament has been rather cavalier on the idea of citizenship, exploiting the absence of any specific reference to the term in the arid document that grants it legislative powers. In 2015, national security considerations became the basis for legislation stripping individuals of citizenship in certain instances where terrorism was an issue. While citizenship can be lost in certain instances common to other countries, the arbitrary revocation of citizenship via executive fiat is possible under the Citizenship Act 2007 (Cth).

The relevant minister, goes the wording of s. 35A, “may determine in writing that a person ceases to be an Australian citizen” in various instances involving convictions for certain offences, including terrorism. But convictions might not be necessary; the minister might deem it against the public interest for the person to remain an Australian citizen. This is all made ever vaguer on the issue of what constitutes recruitment and the status of foreign fighters. We remain at the mercy of “security” considerations.

Parliament did stop short of rendering citizens stateless, making the provisions apply to dual nationals. But it yielded two outcomes: that the relevant minister would be effectively governed by the consideration that the Australian citizen might have citizenship of another country, however tenuous that link would be, and that any powers to deprive that person of Australian citizenship could be exercised to limited review.

This curiously venal formulation was always problematic; for one, such laws are not, specifically, “with respect to aliens” or with respect to immigration, terminology that is to be found in the constitution.

Khaled Sharrouf became the debutant to lose his Australian citizenship under the amendments, his reputation marked by a spectacularly gruesome display of images sporting his son holding a severed head.

Five Islamic State supporters can now deem themselves former Australian citizens.  Details are scant. All it took was a decision by the Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton. There was no presiding judge, nor scrutinising judicial proceeding to oversee the merits of the decision. There was no context supplied as to what support was given to Islamic State. “We have taken a decision that these people have been involved in serious terrorist-related activity.” No guidelines were disclosed supporting the decision, no taxing criteria by which we could even say that these supporters should be deprived of their bit of paperwork.

Dutton admits that there was something akin to a process, but openly admits conflict zones present different challengers to the investigator. “Obviously when you are talking about a war zone, it is a very different circumstance than a crime zone in Australia in terms of gathering evidence.”

Not that this evidentiary hurdle troubles him. Intelligence assessments and briefings do not necessarily stand the test of a withering legal examination, but for Dutton they constitute the legal basis for alleviating individuals of their citizenship.

The issues of belonging and involvement in civic life are troubling propositions. Stripping citizenship is an announcement that the time for belonging is over. But it is also an assertion that there is no redemption and challenge. Like the despot’s favour, Dutton can designate individual terrorists with capricious ease, a situation that does not broker appeal except in exceptional cases. That very repellent, illiberal fact runs against the concept of holding an overly zealous executive to account.

All that matters for Dutton is the public safety rationale, a concept of such fuzziness it is susceptible to convenient abuse. “The determination of the Government is to try and keep Australia as safe as possible and we do that by keeping these people far from our shores so if we can deal with foreign fighters away from our shores we do that.”

Such occasions should strike fear into the citizenry of any self-respecting state. Dutton has assumed the position of assessor, deliberator, and executor, his crude paternalism a conspicuous threat to civil liberties. Policing roles have been fused with the judicial, the very definition of an unchecked tyrant. Whatever the nature of those who deemed it necessary to join a cause or find solace in the organisational bosom of an officially designated terrorist group (and the options are many) the ease by which they lost their status is more than troubling. The Magna Carta, it would seem, is a dead letter, a fact that should be a cause for lengthy mourning.

Yes, Prime Minister. Fishy, well not at all, you see …

Sunday 12 August 2018

Aid Memoir: Meeting between the Prime Minister of Australia and the Minister for Energy and the Environment the Rt. Honorable Josh Frydenberg representing the Commonwealth, and Dr. John Schubert representing The Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

April 9 2018

Schubert: “Good afternoon, Prime Minister, Minister Freydenberg. Please take a seat. May I enquire as to the reason for your visit?”

Turnbull: “I want to give your company $440 million. No, it’s closer to half a billion …

Schubert: “Good lord, that’s a lot of money. And might I enquire as to why you have selected us?”

Turnbull: “Do you mind if I close the door. You understand that this is all highly confidential.”

Schubert: “What is?”

Turnbull: “Well you see, in the May budget we managed to cut $500 million from Early Childhood development. Nobody noticed. Nice piece of work by the Treasurer wouldn’t you say, Josh?”

Frydenberg: “Yes, Prime Minister. It went as planned. ‘Save’ might be a better word Prime Minister.”

Turnbull: “Pardon.”

Frydenberg: “A better word than ‘cut,’ Prime Minister.”

Turnbull: “Of course.”

Frydenberg: “Yes, Prime Minister”

Turnbull: “Yes of course, Josh. Well we managed to save some money and we think you are well placed to put it to better use. The reef for example. And some of your directors are friends of ours. A lot of them actually. Lucy even had two of your directors over for lunch. Anyway the money will eventually make its way to the right places.”

Schubert: “The reef, you say. What it needs most is urgent action against climate change.”

Turnbull: “Oh goodness no, we were not thinking along those lines at all.”

Schubert: “Oh I see. I’m beginning to get your drift. Yes we don’t do climate stuff. It upsets some of our donors. Tell me how did you find us?”

Turnbull: “Some of my friends at Goldman Sachs recommended your foundation. Have you had a chance to peruse the agreement?”

Schubert: “Well to be honest it did pass my desk but I thought someone was trying to pull my leg. For example it said we could spend $40 million on administration no questions asked. It sounded well; it looked a little fraudulent if you ask me. If it’s a grant, it would seem to lack process, due diligence is “entirely absent”. There isn’t much transparency.”

Turnbull: “Doctor, if you’re not interested we can … ”

Schubert: “Oh please don’t take me the wrong way, Prime Minister. The agreement also indicated that the CSIRO would have to approach us for funds.”

Turnbull: “Is that correct, Josh?”

Frydenberg: “Yes, Prime Minister.”

Schubert: “A bit like winning tattslotto, isn’t it? Won’t someone find out that $500 million has gone missing from the early childhood development budget. That fellow Shorten is rather smart.”

Turnbull: “Probably not, but if they do the storm should pass in a few days. Any further questions? Anyway it has passed in the budget.”

Schubert: “Well there is the question of transparency. I read that Law professor Tim Stephens has jumped in, saying that cutting greenhouse gas emissions was a key to helping the reef. You know we don’t get involved in that area. Actually we don’t believe in that. Well most of our members don’t.”

Turnbull: “Yes, you said that before.

I thought you would have been better briefed than this.”

Frydenberg: “Yes, Prime Minister.”

Turnbull: “I know you have been busy with energy Josh but how much does John know.”

Frydenberg: “The more he knows the less the better, Prime Minister.”

Turnbull: “Yes I realise that, Josh but … “

Frydenberg: “Yes, Prime Minister, it’s just that the climate, if you will pardon the pun, has gotten a little out of control and I have been trying to fix it so I asked Christopher to do the briefing. He rang this morning to say that what I thought he said was only a figment of my imagination. That what I think I thought he meant is not what he meant at all. That when he says something and I take it to mean one thing he has the option of saying that what I thought I heard was not what I heard at all. Man’s a bloody fool.”

Turnbull: “Yes of course I understand, least I think I do. Josh, you stay behind and brief Mr. Schubert thoroughly. It’s a good chance to pick up a little extra on the allowances. Mr. Schubert has got to understand the end objective here.

And tell Pyne not to worry so much about what people think of him. Jesus, if only he knew how little they did.”

Frydenberg: “I think he needs a manager boss, if you want my opinion he has been handling himself to long. Too busy thinking about what’s in it for him.”

Turnbull: “Umm we have a few like that. Delighted to have you on board, John.”

Schubert: “Thank you, Prime Minister. Well gentlemen if you don’t mind its Friday and I have a luncheon appointment with the CEO.”

Turnbull: “Why don’t you take the staff and break the news? I’m sure the 8 of you will be in for promotions all round.”

Schubert: “Just amazing to think that you would hand responsibility for the reef’s future to one tiny private charity. I’m sure that with former executives from BHP, Origin Energy and GE Mining on the board that we are the right folks for the job.”

Turnbull: “Yes, so are we. That right, Josh?”

Frydenberg: “Yes, Prime Minister.”

Postscript

Frydenberg: “What do you think, Malcolm?”

Turnbull: “Most of it will be up to you, Josh. Just keep everyone as confused as you possibly can. We don’t want anyone to know what the end game is. Especially the public servants.”

Frydenberg: “Yes, Prime Minister. Remember Orwell wrote an excellent book for dyslexics called 1948.”

My thought for the day

“The right to vote is the gift that democracy gives. If a political party is not transparent in supplying all the information necessary to exercise this right. It is destroying the democracy that enables it to exist.”

Britain’s Novichok Poisoning Incidents: Opportunities to Revive Glasnost?

By Denis Bright

In the absence of new leads in the bizarre poisoning cases involving the Novichok nerve agent in Britain, the intensity of reporting in the mainstream media is certainly worth encouraging. While coverage of the Novichok poisonings sells papers and on-air time in Britain, its infotainment value also helps to chip away at some long-term blind-spots in coverage of legitimate national security issues.

Opportunities to Revive Glasnost?

Mainstream media coverage of the misuse of the Novichok nerve agent has focused on the shock of the new and unexpected angles on the Novichok poisonings.

The hospitalization of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia captured international attention on 4 March 2018. Weeks later, Dawn Sturgess died from exposure to Novichok. Partner Charlie Rowley has since been released from the Salisbury District Hospital.

It is a long-shot to attribute the poisonings near Salisbury to unknown Russian agents as claimed by the British government. Just a week after the first Novichok poisoning in Salisbury Prime Minister Theresa May had already rushed to judgement in the preparation of her address to the House of Commons:

It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.

This is part of a group of nerve agents known as ‘Novichok’.

Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down; our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations; the Government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

As a strategic stalwart within the US Global Military Alliance, Britain will always want to protect its intelligence assets at home and abroad. However, the current diplomatic disputes between Britain and Russia are occurring at a time when there are inconsistencies in US Policies towards Russia. Australia too has joined in the domino effect of diplomatic expulsions from Russian embassies worldwide. Two Russian diplomats have been asked to leave Canberra in the wake of the first Novichok poisoning incident in Britain.

Britain’s over-reaction to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal aligns the government of Theresa May with the most hawkish opinion in Washington.

Image from Al Jazeera, 31 March 2018

A higher profile investigative role for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Netherlands was not encouraged after the first Novichok incident. However, the OPCW issued the following statement relating to the second poising incident in Amesbury near Salisbury on 30 June 2018:

THE HAGUE, Netherlands— 18 July 2018 —The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) received a request on 13 July from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) for the OPCW to provide technical assistance regarding the incident in Amesbury.

In response to the request, the OPCW deployed a technical assistance team to independently determine the nature of the substance that is alleged to have resulted in the death of one person and left another person seriously ill. The OPCW team collected samples.

The samples will be sent to two OPCW designated laboratories and once the results of the analysis are received, the report will be submitted to the United Kingdom. The team completed its initial work and returned today, 18 July, from the UK.

Radio National (9 August 2018) noted that the British Government is requesting the extradition of two Russian nationals who are suspected of involvement in the first Novichok incident. The OPCW is also involved in the investigation of the second incident site at Amesbury. The prospects that Russia would volunteer the release of two of its subjects who were tracked leaving the UK is very remote.

The Times of Israel (23 April 2018) aired a less conventional interpretation of events in Salisbury weeks prior to the second Novichok incident:

Moscow has argued that the US, Britain and other Western countries acquired the expertise to make the nerve agent after the Soviet collapse. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an international watchdog group that analyzed the samples in the Skripals’ poisoning, confirmed British conclusions about the identity of the toxic chemical but not its origin.

Uglev and Leonid Rink, another top scientist in the Soviet chemical weapons program interviewed by the AP, gave conflicting theories about the attack.

While Uglev said the nerve agent could have come from Russia, Rink echoed the Kremlin line, alleging British intelligence might have used a less-lethal substance and then faked the evidence to implicate Russia. Britain has denied that. Both scientists agreed, however, that it probably will never be possible to determine the nerve agent’s source …

… When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985, his political reforms and closer ties with the West led to cuts in many military programs and an array of arms control agreements. In a show of openness, authorities even organized a trip to Shikhany for Western diplomats and journalists.

Novichok-class agents were only made in lab quantities and never entered mass production, Uglev and Rink said. Uglev estimated about 100 kilograms (220 pounds) were made for research and military tests.

“It’s hard to imagine that any significant amounts could have been left anywhere, except in researchers’ personal safes, where it was allowed to keep no more than 20 grams” — less than an ounce, he said.

The British Government’s failure to give its own credible interpretation of the poisoning episodes draws attention to the contemporary roles for the Port Down Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). It has been operating since 1916 near one of England’s tourism draw-cards at Stonehenge. Dstl is just 18-27 kms away, depending on the route chosen. It is 14 kms from Porton Down to Salisbury.

The precincts of the Dstl have a sinister history of experiments with poisonous gas and other lethal agents on both animal and human subjects in the wider interests of the defence of the British realm. Expansion of Dstl has continued long after Britain signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1997. This interpretative article from Andrew Griffin in The Independent is worth reading as it covers the new defensive functions of the facility.

To their credit, Rob Evans and Sandra Laville of The Guardian assisted in the quest for justice airman Ronald Maddison. He died at Pdtl in 1953 at the age of 20 years:

The family of an airman who died in government nerve gas experiments more than 50 years ago is demanding an apology from the Ministry of Defence after an inquest ruled he had been unlawfully killed.

After one of the longest lasting cover ups of the cold war, relatives of Ronald Maddison, were yesterday given the justice they sought. They are now calling for compensation from the MoD, as are up to 550 ex-servicemen who claim they too were duped into submitting to the tests. The multiple claims could run into the millions of pounds.

Maddison, from Consett, Co Durham, was aged 20 when he collapsed and died in 1953 after liquid nerve gas was deliberately dripped on to his arm by scientists at the chemical warfare establishment at Porton Down, Wiltshire.

After a hearing which lasted 64 days the inquest jury ruled yesterday he had been unlawfully killed by the “application of a nerve agent in a non-therapeutic experiment”. The unanimous verdict, which came after years of pressure by campaigners, was greeted with cheers and tears of joy by veterans who had also been subjected to similar chemical warfare experiments.

It is worth researching a series of articles from The Guardian on the most sinister aspects of the Pdtl:

From 1945 to 1989, Porton exposed more than 3,400 human “guinea pigs” to nerve gas. It seems probable that Porton has tested more human subjects with nerve gas, for the longest period of time, than any other scientific establishment in the world. Two other nations have admitted testing nerve gas on humans: the American military exposed about 1,100 soldiers between 1945 and 1975, and Canada tested a small number before 1968. Other countries, including France, the old Soviet Union and Iraq, are also likely to have exposed humans to nerve gas, but very little is known about their tests.

The group of chemicals known as nerve gases were first developed as weapons by the Nazis before and during the second world war. German scientists discovered the potency of these organophosphorous compounds which, in tiny quantities, disrupt a key element of the nervous system.

An under-reported event are the new identities being offered to Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the USA away from the prying eyes of Russian GRU military agents:

Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper is reporting that the country is considering offering Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter new identities and a new life in the United States to protect them from further attempts on their life.

Citing unnamed sources, the report published on April 8 said officials of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, have discussed the plan with their counterparts of the CIA.

The close connections between the Skripal Family and Soviet GRU military intelligence networks extended across three generations prior to the fall of the Berlin (BBC News, March 2018).

Sergei Skripal played inconsistent roles during his period in pseudo-retirement in Salisbury. On one hand he was involved in co-operation with Britain’s M16 and security firm Orbis Intelligence from his pseudo-retirement in Salisbury (Daily Mail Online 10 March 2018). However, there are suggestions that Sergei Skripal wanted continued associations with family members in Russia. Britain indeed refused to grant a visa to Yulia Skripal’s cousin Viktoria from Russia during her period of hospitalization after the poisoning incident and a video was released of her appeal to Theresa May (The Mirror, 8 April 2018).

A Synopsis of Historical Intrigues Between Britain and Russia

Today’s frosty relations between Britain and Russia only make sense in the context of a long history of diplomatic intrigues between the UK and Russia which predates the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. At other times, Britain made opportunistic overtures to Russia that ended the League of the Three Emperors of 1873 which could have resulted in a continental military bloc that was hostile to Britain after the Franco-Prussian War.

The last Russian Czarina Alix of Hesse held the title of Empress Consort of All the Russians during the reign of Czar Nicholas II (1894-1917). The Empress was the grand-daughter of Queen Victoria and this dynastic marriage had assisted in bringing Russia back from the cold on the battlefields of Europe during the Great War (1914-18).

Britain was involved in the Crimean War (1853-56) and joined France in supporting the Ottoman Empire against Russian strategic expansion in the Black Sea Region. Britain also provocatively supported Japan during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05.

Opposition to Russia returned with a vengeance after the Bolshevik Russia of 1917. Britain and other allied countries like Japan and the USA supported the White Armies in futile attempts to topple the Bolshevik Regime.

Australian volunteers had joined the fourteen battalions of Commonwealth troops in the North Russian Expedition of the Archangel Campaign (1918-20).

Britain did not establish initially diplomatic relations with Bolshevik Russia. Change came with the election of the Minority Labour Government of Ramsey MacDonald in December 1923. Just prior to an opportunistic early election in 1924 to seek an absolute parliamentary majority for Britain’s first Labour government, British Intelligence released the forged Zinoviev Letter with the assistance of sensational reporting in the Daily Mail.

The Zinoviev Letter falsely claimed that a future MacDonald Labour Government would deepen relations with the Soviet Government to promote the cause of Leninism in Britain and its Empire. Labour was back in the political wilderness with a loss of forty seats and did not secure its absolute parliamentary majority until 1945.

After pragmatic co-operation with Stalin during the Second World War, relations with Soviet Russia deteriorated during the Cold War. The fall of the Berlin Wall should have ended Cold War intrigues with the new Russian Confederation. NATO persisted in the extension of its influence in Eastern Europe, the Ukraine and Central Asia.

By 2007, Russia resumed its long-range air patrols in the North Sea and RAF jets were sometimes scrambled to acknowledge their presence.

Russian defector Alexander Litvineko (1962-2006) was poisoned with lethal plutonium in Britain and the assassination was attributed to the Federal Security Service (FSB) by an official British Inquiry in 2016.

NATO’s strategic expansion in the Balkans and Black Sea Region is still a work in progress:

TIRANA, Albania — The prime minister of Albania says the NATO has decided to build an air base in the country.

Prime Minister Edi Rama on Saturday wrote in his Facebook page that NATO’s North Atlantic Council, the main political decision-making body, has decided to invest 50 million euros ($58 million) “to modernize the air base in Kucove,” 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the capital Tirana. The air base has been there for decades.

The base will serve Albania and also support NATO air supply operations, logistics support, air policing, training and exercises.

The premier also said officials are discussing with the United States on “further modernizing Albanian air capacities.”

Albania joined NATO in 2009 and still is replacing its outdated weaponry. The country lies on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, northwest of Greece.

Opportunities to Build on Issues Raised by Populist Reporting of the Novichok Episodes?

Coverage of the Novichok incidents in Salisbury has a strong element of infotainment value. Innocent people like Dawn Sturgess are hurt when great power games go astray in a climate of international intrigue and hysteria which should be irrelevant in the post-cold war era.

Miscalculations do occur when sabre rattling gets out of control as in the downing of MH Flight 17 over Ukraine on 17 July 2014 or KAL Flight 007 over the Kurile Sea on 1 September 1983.

The unresolved incidents of Novichok poisoning near Salisbury should rightly attract ongoing media investigation:

Image from Daily Mail, 7 July 2018

So far, the real winner of the first incident at Salisbury has not been more objective investigation but a pledge of more funding for research laboratories at Porton Down:

UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson will on Thursday pledge an additional £48m for Britain’s defence science and technology laboratory at Porton Down, in the wake of the poisoning of a former Russian spy with a weapons grade nerve agent. The laboratory was instrumental in identifying Russia as the source of the nerve agent used to target Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia 10 days ago in Salisbury.

21st Century Wire Online notes the new role for Porton Down in the expansion of the Pentagon’s extensive overseas biological and chemical weapons facilities across Europe and Central Asia (28 March 2018):

The Pentagon has spent at least $70 million on military experiments involving tests with deadly viruses and chemical agents at Porton Down – the UK military laboratory near the city of Salisbury. The secretive biological and chemical research facility is located just 13 km from where on 4th March former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a bench following an alleged Novichok nerve agent poisoning.

Information obtained from the US federal contracts registry reveals that the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) has funded a number of military projects performed at the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), or Porton Down, over the last decade. Among them: experimental respiratory infection of non-human primates (marmosets) with Anthrax, Ebola virus, Marburg virus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus, Western equine encephalitis virus, and Eastern equine encephalitis virus. The US Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) has also funded experiments on animals which were exposed to chemical agents such as Sulphur, Mustard and Phosgene gas.

Readers who are fortunate enough to be enjoying the current Golden Summer in Britain should consider a diversion through the leafy back roads and rideways of Wiltshire on road trips to Salisbury and nearby Stonehenge.

Michelin Road Map for That Dream Holiday in Wiltshire Image: Michelin (Estimated Map Scale 1: 100,000 – 1cm represents 1 km)

Australia’s minor diplomatic expulsions from Canberra in support of the British Government are a reminder of once intimate foreign policy ties with British Empire countries with enthusiastic support of both the mainstream media and wider public opinion during the Cold War era.

As a Year 5 student in 1956, I do recall that our class relished in an impromptu art exercise to bring out the colours of the latest British nuclear test in Australia to liven those black and white press images. I am not sure of the date of our art exercise.

Public opinion tolerated two major nuclear tests that year at Monte Bello Island off Broome and two at Maralinga. There were also minor trials of components of both atomic and hydrogen bombs. Major and minor nuclear weapons tests in Australia and nearby Pacific Islands which are now part of Independent Kiribati.

The British development of atomic and hydrogen bombs was consolidated by an improved delivery capacity offered by missile development in Australia.

Confidence associated with Australian involvement in perfecting weapons of mass destruction had obviously extended to primary school art classes.

All this occurred just two years after the Petrov Spy Scandal in Australia just prior to the 1954 federal election. Vladimir Petrov (1907-91), the obscure third secretary of the Soviet embassy in Canberra and his family were given sanctuary and new identities in Australia.

D notices discouraged media speculation on the whereabouts of the Petrov family, critical reporting of British atomic tests in Australia as well as the activities of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) or the Defence Signals Intelligence. Curious readers should check out the advice on D Notices from the National Archives of Australia (NAA).

All this background material does not resolve the intrigue associated with the Novichok poisonings. Perhaps the stand taken by Theresa May will be justified by the release of archival documents a generation from now. In the short-term, the public should be offered more convincing explanations of the bizarre poisoning events near Salisbury while interest in the topic continues in the mainstream media.

Australians still need to be wary of any return to more intimate security and defence ties with Britain in emergent post-Brexit era at a time when Theresa May’s government is allied hawkish opinion in Washington, Israel and Saudi Arabia. In a sluggish British economy with close to zero growth rate at constant prices in per capita terms, arms exports to the Middle East Region outsell cars and luxury items in demand from political elites.

Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in advancing pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalisation.

 

 

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