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Kim Beazley elected Chair of Australian War Memorial Council

Australian War Memorial Media Release

The Honourable Kim Beazley AC has been appointed as Chair of the Australian War Memorial Council.

Mr Beazley, a former Labor Leader, Defence Minister and Governor of Western Australia first served as a member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial from July 2009 to December 2009 – leaving the position to take up an appointment as Ambassador to the United States of America.

The Memorial welcomed Mr Beazley back to Council in October this year, following the departure of former Chair, Dr Brendan Nelson, AO.

“I am pleased to congratulate Mr Kim Beazley on his appointment as Chair of the Australian War Memorial Council,” Director Matt Anderson said.

“Mr Beazley is one of the longest serving Defence Ministers of this nation and he has an in-depth knowledge of military history.”

“Given his impeccable record during his years of public service, including as Governor of Western Australia, Ambassador to the United States and a distinguished career in politics and academia, Mr Beazley will make a valuable contribution in leading the Council as our new Chair.”

“He has an obvious and long held passion for supporting Australian veterans and for our current service men and women and I am sure his empathy and intellect will shine through in his leadership of Council.”

“I look forward to preserving and sharing the stories of Australian service with Mr Beazley as we deliver the Memorial Development project, together.”

Mr Beazley was elected Chair by his fellow members of the Australian War Memorial Council.

In October, the Albanese Government recommended the Governor-General appoint the Hon Kim Beazley AC as a member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial.

More information about the Australian War Memorial and its Council can be found on the Australian War Memorial website.

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Floods of Challenges: The Victorian Election Saga of Australia’s Transition from Neoliberalism and Guided Democracy

By Denis Bright

Victorians rejected the instability of minority government in favour of a third term for Labor’s Premier Daniel Andrews. He joins the ranks of just three Victorian Labor premiers who have achieved three consecutive election victories.

This Labor Government will have a comfortable majority in the Legislative Assembly with a likely 54 seats. Only the seat of Pakenham is still in the doubtful category with the Liberal Party just five votes ahead on preference estimates.

The Greens will have a stronger rhetorical voice in both houses of parliament. An additional fourth Green representative will represent Hawthorn at the expense of a local Independent. There will be a two additional Green Legislative Councillors. Under Victoria’s proportional voting system, the Andrew’s government has always lacked a majority in the upper house and will have to look beyond the Greens (3) to pass legislation perhaps with the support of pragmatic or progressive councillors from the Legalise Cannabis Party (2) or Democratic Labor (1).

The ABC News site has a full analysis of the swings and round-abouts from the Victorian elections including the results in the La Trobe Valley electorate of Morwell.

With a populist conservative campaign, the National Party (9) won three additional seats mainly at the expense of regional Independents. The National Party will take the Labor seat of Morwell in the La Trobe Valley on a primary vote of just 23.5 per cent with the support of preferences from the Liberals, One Nation (6 per cent) and a mix of local independents and far-right minor parties.

 

Photo from the ABC

 

Despite the weakness of the Labor Party’s vote outside the Geelong-Ballarat-Bendigo Triangle, one of the strengths of the Labor Party in Victoria is its formal and accountable policy committee structure covering fourteen policy chapters. Membership of these policy committees is decided by State Conference.

This committee structure has the capacity to zoom in on the policy concerns of voters between state elections. It can bring policy debates to branch networks particularly if it is supported by grassroots policy associations. This is a big change from the negative news about branch stacking which affects both sides of Australian politics including the NSW Liberal Party as noted by Anne Davies in The Guardian (23 January 2022).

Underlying the problem of branch stacking is the vacuous nature of political activity at the grass roots level. Victoria Labor’s Committee system could liven up grassroots politics through the formation of policy associations to extend the outreach of formal committee networks.

In contrast, the National Party offers a return to old time populism as emphasized by Nationals for Regional Victoria:

I’m a Traralgon boy, born and bred. I’m a plumber, run my own small business and I have had a lifelong involvement in the Traralgon Football Netball Club.

One thing I’m not, is a career politician. I come to this role as a genuine community candidate and I’m running because we need a strong voice in State Parliament to stand up for the Latrobe Valley.

​I’ve been a plumber for 35 years, running the business that my dad and mum set up myself for the past 20. I come from a strong family that values and rewards hard work and enterprise.

​Running my own small business means I know what it takes to create jobs in our community and the value of young people learning a trade. Life is tough for tradies and all businesses currently, with shortages of workers, endless government red tape and a lack of understanding of our region by decision makers in Spring Street.

Ali Cupper was prepared to co-operate with the Andrews Government to bring the Mildura Hospital back into public ownership after its privatization by the Kennett Liberal Government in 1992. The change back to publicly operated hospital was an quite amicable as the contracts for Ramsay Health’s operations was ready for renewal after twenty years. Ali Cupper just disagreed with Victoria Health’s new master plan for the hospital.

In that macro-theme of Floods of Challenges in Australian politics at all levels, progressive leaders can and should take up issues which appear to be insurmountable. Members of the broad Labor movement would surely welcome opportunities for involvement in policy formation even if their participation is through policy associations rather than formal committee structures.

The street art of Fintan Magee and others should encourage political elites to anticipate the need for greater community involvement in the fine tuning of grand plans.

Surely, the transition from guided democracy and political elitism is a plus for Australia’s slow transition from neoliberalism and demands for blind loyalty within the branch structures of mainstream political networks which raise money for those mindless political jingles at election time.

 

Image: The Pillars Art Gallery

 

Denis Bright is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback by using the Reply button on The AIMN site is always most appreciated. It can liven up discussion. I appreciate your little intrusions with comments and from other insiders at The AIMN. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Reply button.

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Virtual tourists can now teleport back 600 million years, exploring the Flinders Ranges’ ancient beginnings

University of South Australia Media Release

Fancy donning a VR headset and taking a journey through deep geological time? From today it’s possible, with the launch of a 360-degree virtual tour of the 600-million-year-old Flinders Ranges in South Australia.

One of Australia’s most captivating landscapes can now be explored virtually, thanks to a University of South Australia project that documents the geological and cultural significance of the Flinders Ranges.

Led by UniSA geologist Professor Tom Raimondo, the project is supporting the SA Government’s bid for World Heritage status of the region, expected to be submitted in 2024.

“The launch of this immersive virtual tour marks a significant step towards opening the Flinders Ranges to the international community,” Prof Raimondo says. “Ultimately, UNESCO World Heritage status will allow it to stand alongside icons like the Great Barrier Reef and Yosemite National Park.”

“The Flinders Ranges has a remarkable history, cultural heritage and scientific value. It is home to our earliest animal ancestors, the Ediacaran biota, and we’ve unlocked half a billion years of the story of life through the power of virtual reality. Now, anyone from across the globe can see why this landscape is so special and unique.”

The virtual tour takes viewers on a flight over rugged mountain ranges, discovering how Ikara (Wilpena Pound) was formed; transporting viewers underground through historic tunnels to experience the challenges of early copper miners; and including a virtual swim on the Ediacaran seabed, home to the first animals on Earth.

The Ediacaran fossils are unique to the Flinders Ranges and a key element of the World Heritage nomination.

From 2023, South Australia’s school children will become very familiar with their significance, learning about these incredible fossils as part of the Year 8 science curriculum.

 

Sacred Canyon, Wilpena Pound (Image from glamadelaide.com.au)

 

“We have worked with the South Australian Science Teachers Association, the Department for Education and the Ediacara Foundation to produce content for this new resource that is drawn from the virtual tour.

“Students will be able to view 3D reconstructions of the ancient animals and virtually swim through their seafloor habitat. It will be the next best thing to bringing 600-million-year-old fossils back to life, and hopefully inspire a new generation of budding geologists to follow in the footsteps of Douglas Mawson and Reg Sprigg.”

The virtual tour has been created as part of UniSA STEM’s Project LIVE initiative. More details here: 360° Flinders Ranges.

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Mangroves: environmental guardians of our coastline

University of South Australia Media Release

They are the salt-tolerant shrubs that thrive in the toughest of conditions, but according to new UniSA research, mangroves are also avid coastal protectors, capable of surviving in heavy metal contaminated environments.

The researchers found that grey mangroves (Avicennia marina) can tolerate high lead, zinc, arsenic, cadmium and copper in contaminated sediment – without sustaining adverse health impacts themselves.

The study tested the health of grey mangroves living around the Port Pirie smelter. Using leaf chlorophyll content as a proxy to plant health, mangroves were found to be unaffected by metallic contaminants, despite lead and zinc levels being 60 and 151-fold higher than regulatory guidance values.

The findings highlight the vital role of mangroves in stabilising polluted regions, and the importance of protecting these ‘coastal guardians’ around the world.

The study also coincides with a $3 million federal government initiative to restore mangrove forests in Adelaide’s north.

Dr Farzana Kastury from UniSA’s Future Industries Institute says that ability of mangroves to withstand high metal concentrations make them invaluable in managing polluted environments.

“Mangroves are the ideal eco-defender: they protect our coastlines from erosion and sustain biodiversity, but they also have an incredible ability to trap toxic contaminants in their sediments,” Dr Farzana says.

“Grey mangroves are known for their tolerance of potentially toxic elements, but until now, little has been known about the health of these plants in the Upper Spencer Gulf.

“Our research found that grey mangroves were able to adapt and survive exposure to very high levels of lead and zinc – without adverse health effects in their chlorophyll content – demonstrating how valuable they are to coastal ecosystems.”

Other, ongoing work being done at Port Pirie by UniSA’s Associate Professor Craig Styan suggests there may be 4-7 times more metals stored in the sediments in mangroves than in adjacent unvegetated mudflats. Assoc Prof Styan said that, generally, a greater concentration of metals found in sediments means greater contamination risk for the animals and plants living on/in them.

“The levels of bioavailable metals we measured in the surface sediments in mangrove stands are the same as adjacent mudflats, meaning that although mangroves storing significantly more metals this doesn’t appear to increase the risk of contamination for the many animals that use mangrove habitats,” Prof Styan says.

“People should nonetheless still refer to the SA Department of Health’s advice if they are considering eating fish caught near the smelter.”

Mangroves (along with tidal marshes and seagrasses) are part of the blue carbon ecosystem; when protected or restored, they sequester and store carbon, but when degraded or destroyed, they emit stored carbon into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases.

Dr Kastury says understanding the role of mangrove forests in safely stabilising metallic contaminants in highly polluted areas is imperative – not only for South Australian communities, but also around the world.

“Globally, over a third of mangrove forests have disappeared, mostly due to human impact such as reclaiming land for agriculture and industrial development and infrastructure projects,” Dr Kastury says.

“We must protect our mangrove forests so that they can continue their job in protecting our environment.”

Notes:

 

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Was Amtrak Joe derailed?

By 2353NM

Prior to becoming President, Joe Biden was a US Senator for around 36 years. He is known as Amtrak Joe as he routinely took the daily 90 minute each way train trip (on the USA’s national passenger train network – Amtrak) from his home in Delaware to Washington DC to represent his state. If you listened to the predictions of Donald Trump and his allies, the ‘great red wave’ would ensure Biden was going to be derailed after the election with a reinvigorated Republican controlled Congress pursuing an agenda that is only partly based on reality.

Chalk one up for reality. As The New Yorker reported

There had been no red wave, never mind Donald Trump’s promised “great red wave.” Was it a red ripple or merely a red drizzle? A blue escape? Purple rain? Even Fox News decreed the results to be no more than a pro-Republican “trickle.” Whatever it was called, President Biden and his Democrats, by limiting their losses in the House to less than the average for such elections and likely keeping the Senate as well, scored an against-the-odds political upset that suggests the country remains deeply skeptical of handing too much national power to the Trumpified Republican Party.

However, The Guardian suggests we should

Expect the Republican majority to launch an array of congressional investigations ranging from the reasonable (Biden’s botched withdrawal to Afghanistan) to the grandstanding (Anthony Fauci’s coronavirus pandemic measures and Biden’s son Hunter’s laptop).

Expect a battle over lifting the limit on US debt with the potential to cause havoc in the economy. Expect a possible attempt by the Maga wing of the party to impeach Biden on spurious grounds, effectively as payback for Democrats having twice hit Trump with the ultimate sanction.

The New Yorker also suggests that Biden will have some problems in the next couple of years.

The biggest immediate problem for Biden and the Democrats, however, is that a win for the Republicans, even if it’s not a wave, is still a win. A one-vote margin in the House would still give subpoena power to Jim Jordan as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. It would still mean the difference between Biden being able to advance his legislative agenda with a Democratic Speaker or the impossibility of doing so with a Republican one. A narrow Republican majority in the House might even further empower the crazies in the chamber, making a Speaker Kevin McCarthy beholden to the Trumpian extremists’ every whim if he does not want to be deposed by them – if, that is, McCarthy is even able to win the Speakership.

So yes, there’s a real risk of irrational exuberance from the folks who insisted in 2021 that Biden, governing with a fifty-fifty Senate and a single-digit majority in the House, could somehow legislate his way into the progressive pantheon with the likes of F.D.R. and L.B.J.

If a train is derailed, it has come off the track and can’t move. Usually it takes quite a lot of time, effort and machinery to put the train back on the track, only to be taken slowly back to the maintenance depot and inspected prior to being condemned or returned to regular service after a long and costly repair process. Joe Biden and his Presidency has certainly not been derailed as he still has a Presidential veto which can only be overruled by a two thirds majority of the House. Unlike Australia where voting against your party’s wishes is at best frowned upon and at worst a sackable offence, the Members and Senators can and frequently do vote with the opposition party if they think they should, there is a real probability that some Republican’s will vote with Biden’s Democrats during the next two years. Biden’s train seems to be still on the tracks, but it’s certainly hit an obstacle and the driver is out of the cab inspecting the damage.

Trump and his allies also have lost the momentum for a Presidential run in 2024 that a ‘red wave’ in the mid-terms would have given. There are various reports that Trump was furious with the result, especially the apparent popularity of the Governor of Florida, Ron De Santis, a former Trump acolyte and now potentially feared competitor in the Presidential Primaries. Nevertheless, he chose to make an announcement that he was running for President in 2024, regardless of the damage the Trump sideshow could do to the Republicans’ chances in a Senate runoff in Georgia early December.

The New Yorker’s final paragraph is telling

What we learned once again on Tuesday night is that America’s divisions are still America’s divisions. Democrats avoided a wipeout. But there was no knockout punch that would finally prove the folly of the Republicans’ Trumpian turn. Which means that democracy, as Biden would put it, is still very much on the line.

Which should be a concern for all of us on this side of the Pacific as well.

What do you think?

 

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

For Facebook users, The Political Sword has a Facebook page:
Putting politicians and commentators to the verbal sword

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Coming to Terms with Floods of Challenges

By Denis Bright

Finton Magee’s Street Art on the railway underpass at Merivale Street, South Brisbane is a tribute to Brisbane’s survival after the January floods of 2011. In early summer, Brisbane is in temporary remission from disastrous recent and historic floods. Although river heights have not approached the 7 metres mark since 1893, the 1974 floods contributed to eight fatalities, mass inundation of property and enormous financial losses.

Dams on the Brisbane River and its catchments have contributed to a lowering of flood heights. The Flood of Challenges from the increasing frequency of intensive rainfall episodes arise largely from the neoliberal commitments to settlements and subdivisions in flood-prone areas in the post-1974 era.

On this theme of human follies, it is a good time to search for street art that expose the soul of Riverside City perhaps with assistance of the street art from Sarah Mattson (2021).

If you are really into your urban art you won’t want to miss the back streets of West End, South Bank, and South Brisbane. The highlight of street art in South Brisbane is the Pillars Project on the corner of Merivale Street and Montague Road. Created by eight local artists, the Pillars Project was launched in 2014 as part of the G20 celebrations. Artists include Guido Van Helton, Gus Eagleton, John Beer (aka Gimiks Born), Simon Degroot, Fintan Magee and Mik Shida.

Riverside Cities like Memphis, Tennessee are often eulogized in the American popular musical traditions. Marc Cohn’s Walking in Memphis encoded the transformative nature of Memphis with its reference to the Ghost of Elvis and the surreal effects of the city. Its entertainment precinct has been powerful enough to raise him ten feet off the Beale.

Readers might want to set out on a virtual tour of other riverside cities on their computers. Decide if cities in more neoliberal societies offer a better life for residents.

Historically, Colonial Australia provided more recognition of local environs in song. Brisbane gained a mention in the Irish folk traditions in The Convict’s Lament attributed to Francis McNamara (1810-61). The Commissariat Building remains as a tribute to the Convict era in the Moreton Bay Settlement (1825-42) near the ethically compromised Queen’s Wharf Casino Project.

Within our prevailing neoliberal economy, the transition of South Brisbane and West End from a flood-prone industrial riverside suburb and quite diverse residential area has been in progress for generations. The state government will buy out the Visy factory in West End and assist in transferring its recycling activities to outer suburban and portside areas at a cost of $165 million. The site will be used as a media centre for the 2032 Olympics. Meanwhile, progress at clearing ugly industrial sites out of South Brisbane and West End needs to be fast-tracked with financial support from state and local government agencies. This increasingly gentrified inner-city precinct is no place for a bulk-cement depot generating heavy traffic flows.

This population influx continues to attract new retail and commercial services along popular bus lines serving Montague Road. Montague Markets is in a commercial Transport Oriented Development (TOD) with diverse commercial functions including the main ground floor retail anchor, commercial and professional services on the first floor as well as several storeys of largely upper-income housing units. This project was a very capital-intensive investment requiring a low-risk outlay of $400 million through Pradella Developments.

Montague Markets is an architecturally innovative development with a breezeway food courtyard with access to underground parking facilities accessible by travelators.

Image: Montague Markets

In contrast to the high-security presence in more regimented shopping centres, security personnel maintain a low profile. The retail anchor and shopping centre management rely mainly on electronic robotic security, particularly at check-out terminals as well as the usual camera surveillance.

Almost 54 per cent of the issued capital in the Woolworth’s network is controlled by major global financial institutions such as HSBS Custody Nominees (24 per cent), JP Morgan Nominees (16 per cent), Citicorp Nominees (8 per cent) and Paris National Bank Nominees (BNP) (6 per cent). However, this Woolworth’s anchor store has a very Australian character. It promotes youthful talent in its selection of flexible local managers and acting managers. Woolworths also welcomes trade union membership of the two retail unions which is a big plus for working conditions of casualized employees who often use this employment to assist with their incomes during high school or university studies.

A particular aspect of Woolworth’s commitment to the Australian social market is this firms association with reverse shopping for recycling efforts through the Norwegian firm Tomra and other recycling firms. Recycling efforts by customers are convertible to cash or discounts off items purchased in this retail network. Woolworths does its share of legalized tax minimization to focus on commercial expansion. This services a corporate debt of almost $3 billion in 2022. Living with debt is indeed a tool of corporate expansion that is deliberately overlooked by the LNP’s saturation election advertising themes.

All sides of politics could indeed extend the TOD model of commercial development to more disadvantaged outer suburban and regional communities with some financial support from the Future Fund and the various state investment funds to attract local and overseas corporate capital to assist with planning and development.

Here in Queensland, the Queensland Investment Fund (QIC) has seen the commercial advantage of investing in retail assets in Australia and the USA to generate dividends which support superannuation returns and other vital public sector priorities. Some details of this investment are available on the QIC website.

With superannuation now recovering from the slowdown in the Australian and global economies, most funds have minimal returns depending on their level of exposure to market forces. Superannuants chose this level of exposure. The returns from most funds like the Australian Retirement Trust in negative territory for the past year to 21 October 2021.

Fund managers cannot possibly risk maintaining current low rates of return for superannuants by investments in less profitable social market projects. However, the Future Fund and the various state investment funds might consider taking hedge-fund investment, particularly from overseas firms and entrepreneurs to support new social market investment projects which do not guarantee dividends. Overseas investment would still be attracted by the strength of the Australian dollar in difficult times and the possibilities of discretionary dividends. Such investment policies would not affect the profitability of funds for superannuants as these investments would operate as social market funds.

Historically, government-guaranteed loans offered fixed rates of interest like the Electricity Loans in most states.

SEC Loan Float Joins Brisbane’s May Day Parade in 1953.

For today’s families and other householders who are burdened by unaffordable housing costs including rates, body corporate fees, water, insurance and electricity charges these personal stresses detract from community political involvement. Neoliberalism has succeeded in extending public debt to householders. Australia is in the top ten league table for large household debts (Yahoo News 25 August 2022).

Australian conservatives of all shades of blue are always concerned about public sector debt levels but largely ignore private and corporate debt levels or the unsustainable wage rates arising from casualized employment.

Labor’s profile in financially challenging times requires more emphasis on its pragmatic economic agenda as articulated by Jim Chalmers. Rediscovering Labor’s commitment to a sustainable social market is an important process in the rehabilitation of these credentials.

Vital issues such as the upsurge of global militarism do not trouble most householders who are struggling from day to day. Even affluent families make new commitments to add to that private debt such as fees at elitist private schools, state-of-the-art vehicles or that extra holiday in the sun.

As a riverside city with port facilities in the estuary of the Brisbane River, our state government offers protection from the hazards of nuclear ship visits from allied countries through Emergency Management Queensland. Details of these contingencies have been released for public discussion but are seldom reported in the mainstream media where the emphasis is on family visits to the vessels as an extension of hospitality towards allied countries and on the commercial value of visits by naval crews to Brisbane night spots. Emergency Management Queensland has some anecdotes of these nuclear-powered ship visits but remains silent on the intrusion of nuclear weapons into our ports:

“Nuclear-powered warships have visited Queensland for over 30 years. Analysis of monitoring devices and environmental samples has revealed that no releases of radioactive material were detected, nor were any radiation levels recorded in excess of normal background levels of ionising radiation, either during or subsequent to these visits.

Visits to Australian ports by either conventionally powered or nuclear-powered warships (NPW) of allied nations are one of the most visible means of demonstrating Australia’s commitment to defence cooperation agreements with those nations. For this reason, it is the Australian Government’s clear policy that these visits be welcomed. At this time, only NPW belonging to the United States Navy, Royal Navy and French Navy are allowed to visit Australian ports. Because of the nature of their propulsion plants, and despite the excellent safety record of their countries with respect to the operation of these vessels, it is a Government requirement that contingency arrangements be in place for all Australian ports visited by NPW in the unlikely event of an accident resulting in the hazardous release of radioactivity to the environment.”

There is an additional problem when and if Australia proceeds with the purchase of nuclear-powered submarines which was covered by Ben Smee for The Guardian (11 March 2022):

“Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines would “inevitably” be forced into an emergency reactor shutdown by swarms of jellyfish if the fleet was based in Brisbane, a leading marine scientist says.

The Australian government this week released a shortlist of three sites – Brisbane, Newcastle and Wollongong – as a potential east-coast home port for the nuclear submarine fleet, which will arrive in about 2036 under the Aukus partnership with the US and the UK.

The Queensland government has been cagey when asked whether it supports a base in Brisbane, a position described as “very strange” by the federal defence minister, Peter Dutton, whose electorate is in Brisbane.

In 2006, the US nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan was forced into an emergency reactor shutdown in Brisbane after it sucked more than 800kg of jellyfish into its condensers, hindering coolant from reaching the main reactors.”

While Peter Dutton eulogises the strategic and commercial benefits from visits by nuclear-powered vessels carrying nuclear weapons into our ports, there are also hazards from such visits, particularly if the technology used on these vessels has passed its use-by date as with the ageing French nuclear submarine Emeraude which was commissioned in 1988 to be upgraded between May 1994 and December 1995. The French submarine Rubis has been operational since 1993 during the era when France had a more strident socialist government that was still committed to the US Global Alliance.

Our beloved allies in France sought to be on the Australian supply chain for new submarines and military equipment and sent the Emeraude operating in stealth mode through the Taiwan Straits to test Chinese surveillance. In hindsight, President Macron has a quite different viewpoint on the need for greater French independence in strategic policies within the US Global Alliance (AFR 18 November 2022):

Bangkok: Emmanuel Macron has doubled down on his criticism of Australia’s decision to dump French submarines for nuclear vessels, increasing pressure on Anthony Albanese to more strongly repudiate the French president he claims to be his friend.

Just hours after Mr Albanese dismissed initial claims by Mr Macron that nuclear-powered subs would increase the risk of nuclear confrontation with China, and could not be serviced or maintained, Mr Macron told Bloomberg the agreement with the US and UK under the AUKUS pact “will not deliver”.

Still trying to sell Australia conventionally powered French submarines, Mr Macron first criticised the AUKUS arrangements on Thursday.

“The strategy we had with Australia was a strategy that was fully aligned with this logic of the Indo-Pacific…meaning that of freedom and sovereignty,” said Mr Macron, who is at the APEC summit in Thailand as a guest.

“We were helping and accompanying Australia in building a submarine fleet in-house, an industrial cooperation.”

So those Floods of Problems continue. The lament of our beloved convict is ever more relevant. Will our neoliberal society stop a moment to work through some real alternatives to political non-participation and alienation in this brand new world constructed in the post-1989 era?

Strike Up the Beats For Change.

Denis Bright is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback by using the Reply button on The AIMN site is always most appreciated. It can liven up discussion. I appreciate your little intrusions with comments and from other insiders at The AIMN. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Reply button.

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If Employers Can Measure Well-Being

By 2353NM

Last September, you might have seen Qantas CEO Alan Joyce receive a pay increase of $278,000 per annum. It seems that Joyce has met or exceeded the performance goals set by his employers and contractually has earned the reward. It does, however, raise a larger question.

Joyce’s pay increase for the year is around 5% of his annual salary, which on the face of it is not excessive in the current environment where government employees are routinely receiving 4% increases. However, there has been plenty of adverse comment on the actions of Alan Joyce. When he is managing the outsourcing to the lowest bidder of some of the services required to get their planes off the ground, regardless of the damage to former employees or the company ‘brand’, not to mention claims of the unreliability of Qantas flights operating to the timetable (if at all), you can understand why his pay increase made headlines.

While the Qantas Board has clearly looked after their CEO’s interests and well-being, they seem to be far less concerned with the well-being of a considerable number of now former employees that have been outsourced and retrenched over the years. It seems the CEO and Board have made decisions based entirely on economics when it comes to the continued employment of thousands of other staff.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers is discussing the concept of promoting ‘well-being’ as a required outcome in the budget process, a position that some, including the Coalition, can’t see any benefit in discussing. But what would you expect? The Coalition drove the Robodebt process that is currently under investigation by a Royal Commission. While the Commissioner is scheduled to report next April, so far there seems to be nothing positive for the former government from the inquiry, with evidence pointing to the relevant ministers, including Scott Morrison, encouraging the implementation of the system despite the concept being flagged as potentially illegal prior to introduction.

Despite this, it seems that the Coalition continued with the introduction of the Robodebt system to save money and perpetuate the myth that all recipients of income support payments were rorting the system to the detriment of the Australian community. In addition, the introduction of income management measures such as the Basics Card and the Indue Card was supported to add more weight to the claim that those on income support would otherwise waste their money and did not deserve our help. As this opinion article in The Guardian suggests, the outcomes are devastating.

The introduction of well-being measurements into the Budget process will assist the government of the day in correctly targeting economic measurements. Most large employers now run surveys of staff on a routine basis that measure to some extent the well-being of staff. From the measurements, employers have some quantifiable information that assists them in ensuring that staff feel valued and as a result more likely to stay in their current position, seek internal promotion from their current role as well as the staff perception of the ethics and practices of the company. Employers can and do also seek input from others on various third-party websites. Obviously measuring well-being also makes economic sense otherwise profit-driven companies wouldn’t bother funding the time and expense required for the work to be done.

If for no other reasons than it is common business practice and there are economic benefits in employers finding out what their employees think, why wouldn’t a government implement similar processes to determine where they can get the best ‘bang for their buck’ when targeting measures to improve the community they are supposed to be supporting? The previous government claimed they wanted government to act more like a business. They also supported programs that targeted electors they thought could be convinced to trade their vote for a new railway station car park, sporting facility, or similar community grant. Fortunately, enough voters didn’t take the bait for it to make a difference at the last election. Yet the same group of politicians are suggesting that finding better ways of targeting support to improve the conditions for those that need some help is a waste of time. In reality, well-being measurements can demonstrate how government assistance is improving lives.

Well-being measurement is a work in progress and undoubtedly there will be mistakes made and blind alleys traversed before the system is perfected. It seriously can’t hurt that the government knows if they have correctly identified and filled a gap in supporting the community — in reality, it’s their job to understand, locate and fill the gaps. After all, we know when income support payments were doubled during the pandemic lockdowns, recipients’ well-being, mental health, and engagement with their communities increased. There’s nothing wrong with that.

What do you think?

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Corporate Malfeasance and its Control

By Andrew Klein

Making Shareholder Liable to the value of their Share Holding – an easy guide to encourage ethical investment.

Much has been written and said about the damage done to this Planet by Corporations that act solely to create profit for shareholders. The ugly reality is that those in charge of Corporations have a duty to ensure that shareholder profits are maximised at whatever they can get away with and shareholders are limited in their liability. Many a keen legal mind has made a personal fortune to ensure that this status quo remains as if these ideas were cast in stone or possibly represented the latest directions of the Almighty.

This all perversely goes back to the hay day of production and manufacturing in the United States, where the Ford Company sought to give some benefits to its employees.

The result is briefly and well summed up in Wikipedia;-

“Dodge v. Ford Motor Company, 170 NW 668 (Mich 1919)[1] is a case in which the Michigan Supreme Court held that Henry Ford had to operate the Ford Motor Company in the interests of its shareholders, rather than in a charitable manner for the benefit of his employees or customers. It is often cited as affirming the principle of “shareholder primacy” in corporate America. At the same time, the case affirmed the business judgment rule, leaving Ford an extremely wide latitude about how to run the company.

More recent cases such as AP Smith Manufacturing Co v. Barlow[2] or Shlensky v. Wrigley[3] suggest that the business judgment is very expansive, i.e., that management decisions will not be challenged under almost any circumstances where one can point to any rational link to shareholder benefits.

By 1916, the Ford Motor Company had accumulated a capital surplus of $60 million. The price of the Model T, Ford’s mainstay product, had been successively cut over the years while the cost of the workers had dramatically, and quite publicly, increased. The company’s president and majority stockholder, Henry Ford, sought to end special dividends for shareholders in favour of massive investments in new plants that would enable Ford to dramatically increase production, and the number of people employed at his plants, while continuing to cut the costs and prices of his cars. In public defence of this strategy, Ford declared, “My ambition is to employ still more men, to spread the benefits of this industrial system to the greatest possible number, to help them build up their lives and their homes. To do this we are putting the greatest share of our profits back in the business.”

This vision that Ford had to benefit both his company and its employees makes good business sense and has a touch of the humanitarian about it. Common sense approach that would have probably kept many people happy. The damage done to our world occurred just when Shareholder Benefits are impacted. The Michigan Supreme Court held that Henry Ford could not lower consumer prices and raise employee salaries. “A business corporation is organized and carried on primarily for the profit of the stockholders. The powers of the directors are to be employed for that end. The discretion of directors is to be exercised in the choice of means to attain that end, and does not extend to a change, in the end, itself, to the reduction of profits, or to the non-distribution of profits among stockholders in order to devote them to other purposes…”

Well, it is time to re-organize the very culture that has delivered us into the hands of sociopathic directors reaping huge fortunes and in turn doing little for either their employees or the planet. Corporate greed is no more than a precedent-based behaviour that the west has bought into. Of course, it is possible that the parties involved at the time considered the world an infinite resource and that the impact of mindless conspicuous consumption had not even been considered.

Though the impacts of colonial rule and the control of assets had allowed Empire Builders to flourish and one major result of World War One was simply to shift the control of the competing interests of the Old World into those of the New.

I digress here. It would take a very simple Act of Federal Parliament to change the behaviours of Corporations in Australia. The current immunity that shareholders have from the damages done by directors and or companies should be removed.

I can hear economists whining about this, their theories much akin to astronomy and only seriously viable in hindsight to fill books to annoy students with. Shareholders should be jointly and individually liable to the level of the shareholding when a company they own shares is derelict in its duties, pollutes the planet, or allows other crimes against humanity to occur.

This is not rocket science and given the unstable nature of this world and the damage that has been done, such an ethical approach should be considered as soon as possible. Bad investment decisions would be punished by not only losses in financial distributions but possibly by fines imposed per share. As for the Capital Value of shares, greedy short-term planning will reap its own reward. No doubt our huge ‘Superannuation Industry’ would tremble at the thought that monies could no longer be apportioned to a plethora of companies and Financial Advisers would have to know what they are doing. On the other hand, such Superannuation Funds that have been built up by Australian Workers could in theory be lent to the Government to reduce the need for foreign borrowings for local infrastructure development.

All these transactions would have to be totally transparent and every cent accounted for. The other positive of this approach is that it would require top-class accountants and bean counters to see this done, people currently sitting in Parliament could be offered jobs in areas that suit them better and we might even have Political Leaders with a real vision rather than relying on the Thesaurus for ideas.

I have no doubt that this simple idea will be dismissed as a dream or simply too big to implement. I also have no doubt that there are plenty of fingers in the ever-shrinking pie that would not like to see such an approach taken.

It because it challenges the core values of any particular society but because greed and corruption do exist, short-sighted policymakers profit in their own ways, and many political leaders are beholden to the very system that is morally bankrupt.

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Veggie waste offers green solution to single-use packaging

Victoria University Media Release

Australia’s mounting packaging stockpile could soon shrink with a little help from greener packaging made from vegetable waste.

With an Australian Government target for all packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, Victoria University researchers have been looking at how agricultural waste from vegetables such as zucchini, broccoli, celery and lettuce could be used to create affordable and easily compostable packaging.

Known as ‘biopackaging,’ the global environment-friendly food packaging market is expected to reach about $184 billion by 2026, according to Modor Intelligence as increasing bans on plastic and growing consumer awareness affect markets worldwide.

As a solution, polymer expert Dr Marlene Cran and her team have been working in the research labs at VU’s Werribee Campus with the unusable produce provided by a nearby Werribee South market-farm. Leaves, stems and rejected produce is normally used as animal feed, composted, or can be sent to landfill where it decomposes and produces methane gas.

Instead, the team has created a range of food packaging products using the waste vegetables.

VU Sustainable Packaging researchers found celery’s high cellulose content makes ideal food trays, whereas zucchini, broccoli and lettuce can be processed into thick films that could be suitable as a tray insert or produce separator.

Mycelium – the root structure of mushrooms – can be grown on the partially dried waste materials to make good replacement for styrofoam boxes.

The team’s goal is to use minimal interventions such as intensive drying or the use of excessive additives so that the processes are as natural and inexpensive as possible, and easier to scale-up in the future.

Pea starch has starring role in film-making

Away from the farm, the team is using starch waste material left over from the extraction of proteins from yellow peas to create a flexible film that could become the new plastic in a true circular economy.

“In future there could be protein powders or dried peas sold in a bag made from the leftover starch sourced from the vegetables… inside the bag,” said Dr Cran. “That’s the dream.”

Despite the lack of industry-grade testing facilities and the expense to test alternative packaging – meaning a possible long road ahead – Dr Cran says it just makes sense to replace throw-away packaging with sustainable natural products.

“Designing something that can compete on price and effectiveness with plastic and foam is the work of decades. But the investment needs to start now.”

VU’s sustainable packaging solutions project is funded by the Victorian government’s higher education state investment fund.

 

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Dirt-cheap solar evaporation could provide soil pollution solution

Media Release from the University of South Australia

A team led by University of South Australia researchers has pioneered a new soil remediation technique that is significantly faster, simpler, safer, and more cost-effective than currently available methods.

A recent report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization identifies soil pollution as a major threat to the global production of safe and sufficient food, and notes that removing pollutants from soil is currently “a technically complex and costly undertaking, [with costs] ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of millions of USD per year.”

A UniSA-led team including Associate Professor Haolan Xu and Dr Gary Owens has developed a new remediation technique that uses a super-efficient solar evaporation surface to draw water from the soil through a sponge-like filter that traps contaminants, mimicking the process of transpiration that occurs in natural plants, but at a greatly accelerated rate.

“Plants naturally draw mineral components out of the soil when they move water from their roots into their stems, leaves and flowers, where those mineral components are trapped,” Dr Owens says.

“This means plants can be used to extract contaminants from soil, but the process is very, very slow, often taking multiple growing seasons, particularly in heavily contaminated situations, where the soil toxicity means the plants struggle to grow and often die.

“We have created a system that mimics this process – a form of biomimetic plant – but one that does so at a much faster rate and without any of the problems caused by toxicity.”

Worldwide, more than 10 million sites are considered soil polluted, with more than half contaminated by heavy metals such as cadmium and lead, or metalloids such as arsenic.

The new system can remove such contaminants in as little as two weeks by using a super-efficient solar evaporation surface to rapidly draw water and contaminants from the soil into the biomimetic plant body.

“The solar evaporator used in this system is a variation of technology we are developing for many purposes, including desalination and wastewater purification,” Assoc Prof Xu says.

“We are achieving world-leading evaporation rates with this technology in many other areas, and as far as we know, this is the first time this approach has been applied to soil remediation.

“It is a very exciting adaptation of solar evaporation techniques, with huge potential for addressing a growing global problem.”

Both the evaporator and the contaminant-capture component are made from cheap, abundantly available materials with extremely long operational lives, and the system requires very little maintenance, with minimal setup and running costs.

“Installing this system is about as easy as driving some stakes into the ground,” Assoc Prof Xu says, “and unlike some existing soil washing techniques, it doesn’t disturb or destroy the soil composition.

“Also, the water that is added to the soil could be captured from the evaporator and recycled, meaning this could operate as a closed system, with almost no running costs.”

Further adding value to the technique, Dr Owens says it is a relatively simple process to remove the captured contaminants from the biomimetic plant body.

“This means those materials can be harvested for reuse, and the adsorption material, which has a very high saturation point, can be reused over and over again,” he says.

The remediation technique has currently been successfully tested on a range of heavy metals including lead, chromium, cadmium and zinc, and the research team believes it will also prove a viable approach to removing other major soil contaminants.

“By adjusting the properties of the adsorption material, we could use this to remove antibiotics or PFAS from soil, and to reduce soil salinity,” Assoc Prof Xu says.

“As it is so simple and adaptable, this really could be a complete game changer – a paradigm shift ­– for soil remediation,” Dr Owens says.

“And that could have a massive impact on millions of people around the world.”

Related journal articles:

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Science vs Lies – We have been Conned

By Keith Antonysen

Mr Dutton has stated that Australia should not help poor Nations which have done little to increase global warming, while Prime Minister Albanese has left the question open at present. Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of greenhouse gases; hence Australia is partially responsible for the plight of millions of people overseas. The LNP view of having “No Duty of Care” for young people falls into a similar belief as not caring for people when the emissions exported by Australian fossil fuels corporations is deadly for people especially in poorer countries, and to a lesser extent for Australians. The effect of greenhouse gases knows no borders.

In 2019 New York Times journalist David Wallace-Wells wrote a very long article titled “The Uninhabitable Earth” which was published twice in the New York Times magazine. When first published the article gained much criticism, the second presentation provided annotations providing references which supported his views.

A seemingly very frustrated Professor Ian Lowe speaking on Radio National’s Big Ideas drew attention to how science is hardly taken notice of by politicians, it is the economy that rates far higher. Major comment made by Professor Lowe are that we are dependent on the health of the environment and on biodiversity. The loss of one species has an impact on the food chain providing problems for other species. How much damage can Nations sustain from flooding, drought and wildfire before they can no longer cope, Bangladesh is said to be close to the edge.

Already in 1912, the problems of coal were discussed in a short article in a New Zealand paper, the article had been archived.

The Mining Congress Journal in 1966 also warned about the influence greenhouse gases emanating from coal have negative impacts on climate.

Since the 1960s more studies were displaying the damage greenhouse gases have on climate.

The concerns about greenhouse gases became more public when James Hansen testified to Congress in 1988 about greenhouse gases changing climate.

In his opening remarks Professor Hansen stated “I would like to draw three main conclusions. Number one, the earth is warmer in 1988 than at any time in the history of instrumental measurements. Number two, the global warming is now large enough that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause-and-effect relationship to the greenhouse effect. And number three, our computer climate simulations indicate that the greenhouse effect is already large enough to begin to effect the probability of extreme events such as summer heat waves.”

After Professor Hansen’s comments, greed was displayed by fossil fuel corporations seeking to scotch science through misinformation, lies and misrepresenting science studies through using third parties such as Heartlands. The fossil fuel corporations sadly have been very successful along with their political mates in pushing science to the sidelines. We are all now paying the price.

The question is, are governments responsible for providing financial support poorer nations for the problems created by climate change; or, is it a combination of rich countries and fossil fuel corporations? The products of fossil fuel corporations do all the damage!!

Keith Antonysen has been researching climate change for decades. Apart from reading about climate science, Keith also views pseudo-science presented by contrarians. It seems that the material referenced by contrarians is continually recycled. Immense problems will be created unless real efforts are made to thwart the worst climate can throw at us. Nature bats last.

 

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Do Not Obsess About Debt, Obsess About the Vitals

By Darren Quinn

Professors Edmond, Holden, and Preston are mistaken in that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) says we should not worry about budget deficits. The effects of budget deficits are significant. As Stephanie Kelton, the most well-known MMT economist in the world, says, we should focus on the deficits that matter. The jobs deficit, the environmental deficit, the deficit of affordable housing for homelessness, and many more. The financial deficit from the budget is the private sector surplus, the money in your pocket and mine.

Keynes used financial praxis to argue for fiscal stimulus in severe recessions, and since financial praxis is always and everywhere an MMT phenomenon, Keynes used MMT.

The professors are also mistaken to say that it is a well-accepted idea that the spending comes first. Many politicians and commentators who talk as if the government spending is like a household budget are economists or have worked in the central bank and Treasury, among other public service jobs. So the television talking heads like financial commentators and public-facing economists such as Stephen Koukoulas and Saul Eslake are not saying these things.

The professors have not been paying attention if they think MMT proponents and economists do not explain when the inflation constraint binds. Every time MMT talks about real resources and their availability, MMT proponents are talking about inflation constraints. The real resource constraint is the inflation constraint.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that central banks do not have a working theory of inflation. Therefore, they must be in want of an excellent post-Keynesian economist like Joan Robinson or an MMT economist like Australia’s Bill Mitchell. After all, those economists have a working theory of inflation that matches reality.

The professors claim that conventional economics has a comprehensive analysis of what causes inflation; however, they would have to elaborate on this to prove that claim. Perhaps the professors are just thinking of the debunked monetary and neoclassical theories of inflation. Daniel Tarullo, a former Federal Reserve Bank board member in the United States, explains [The Financial Times, paywalled] that central banks do not have a working theory of inflation.

MMT has always acknowledged that inflation can occur below full employment, as currently demonstrated through the coronavirus pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, with Australian unemployment at 3.5% and still 1.3 million people looking for work. As the professors should know, bottlenecks can occur in various sectors from spending before full employment is reached. This congestion can occur in the form of a resource shortage in a greater supply chain of production. It is currently being demonstrated by the lack of oil and natural gas supply in the Australian production chain.

If the Ukraine conflict had not affected oil supplies, then automotive fuel would not have been ever-increasing in price. The price increase was alleviated by the temporary excise cut in fuel. Who would have thought that reducing prices reduces inflation? Inflation is a measure of prices, so of course, lowering prices reduces inflation.

What about price rises for natural gas? These rises have occurred because we have sold our industries off to foreign owners who demand world prices for our gas instead of us owning our energy industry and setting our own prices. Putting aside environmental concerns with these fossil fuels, we are not in control of our energy resources. What we need is an Australian strategic reserve of our energy, owned by Australians and priced in Australian dollars. We briefly saw this achieved when the government activated the Gas Supply Guarantee Mechanism.

As stated earlier, we should focus on the deficits that matter, so yes, if you want to implement policies from the Green New Deal or a larger social safety net with increased social security payments, they should be argued for on their own terms. This conflicts with the professors agreeing that spending comes first (meaning that there is no purely financial constraint) but then saying that implementing any given progressive policy may cause politically unacceptable inflation. MMT explains that keeping an eye on resources and/or expanding capacity in domestic production can minimise inflation risk.

It is worth noting that neither Treasurer Chalmers nor Finance Minister Gallagher has formal training in economics or finance, but they have public service experience in these fields. These Labor ministers have concerns about increased expenditure on Health, NDIS, Aged Care, and Defence. It is an exaggeration to say these are a political concern. As the professors have previously explained, they are reasonable goals that the public can argue for on their own terms.

The professors have not disputed nor disproved Modern Monetary Theory but, in effect, agreed with it. It is clear that Modern Monetary Theory’s time is now. The time to flick the switch is now!

Darren is a leader in educating people in modern macroeconomics. He played a founding role in educating Australians via social media channels and has engaged some prominent Australians on commentary about Modern Monetary Theory. Darren is a member of Modern Money Australia, Australian Real Progressives and has been involved with the Modern Money Network. You can see more of his work at https://www.darren-quinn.net and https://www.realausprogressives.com

You can find him on Twitter @AusMMT @dquinn03

 

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The good economic units

By 2353NM

Wellbeing and politics have collided in the past couple of weeks. Federal Treasurer Dr Jim Chalmers has started a conversation about measuring the ‘wellbeing’ of the nation as a result of the measures in the budget. The Opposition, as you would expect, has poured scorn on the idea.

On a purely logical level, we have been measuring the economic effects of the budget measures for decades – even before the days of ‘the price of beer and smokes is up again’ so beloved of the headline writers in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Both sides of the political fence have promised to deliver economic nirvana on a number of occasions, some more successfully than others. We’ve also had the ‘debt and deficit disaster’, the tautologically impossible ‘already back in the black next year’, and those of a certain age probably will never forget the infamous ‘J Curve’ so beloved of Paul Keating when he was Treasurer. All of these measures were solely around the dollars and cents. How we all felt about austerity, recessions and so on that accompanied the mantras has never been recorded (or even seriously considered in all likelihood). We were all considered to be economic units that contribute in some way to make an economy work.

Going out to the expensive restaurant for dinner to experience the work of a talented chef rather than cooking at home, buying the 65-inch TV rather than the 43-inch version, adopting a pet or purchasing the battery with your solar panels usually makes no economic sense – but feeling good about your purchase is sometimes a valid reason to make the decision. That’s the difference between economic rationality and wellbeing. According to economists, the consumer is perfectly rational. Each decision may not be rational to others, but that’s not the point. Some will make a decision to purchase or do something to improve their wellbeing rather than improve their perceived economic condition by paying down the mortgage or saving for bills.

Measuring wellbeing rather than just the economic indicators will assist all in our community to feel safe, comfortable, validated and supported. We should believe we are living in a community that starts with those nearest and dearest to us, with a sense of belonging to our local area, our regional city, our state, Australia and the world. Each individual’s wellbeing and sense of belonging is more important in the long run than measuring if Australia has $999Million or $1Billion of debt.

Research

…conducted in the first week of October, shows 69 per cent of the 1020 respondents support a wellbeing budget, where the majority have defined “wellbeing” as keeping your mind and body healthy. Moreover, the economic imperatives of a focus on wellbeing are not lost on the Australian public, given just over a third of respondents felt their mental and physical health was “just okay”.

Drilling down to where the government should concentrate its efforts, an overwhelming majority of respondents – 73 per cent – wanted housing to be the priority, just in front of mental and physical health (71 per cent) and job and income security (70 per cent). Women rated these factors and others, including prioritising education and environmental quality, as extremely important focuses for the government – a crucial message given the prominent role women played in effecting change in the last election.

None of this should be a surprise, there are a number of theories expounding that humans have specific needs such as food, shelter and clothing to feel safe, secure and healthy. Governments in general have a role to play in the provision of these necessities, whether it be ensuring that food is safe to eat and affordable, ensuring adequate housing is available for citizens as well as provision of services such as energy, education, transportation and so on. In return the citizens are more productive, which in turn helps the economy.

The Governments of the ACT, New Zealand, NSW and other jurisdictions around the world are using, or planning to use, ‘wellbeing’ as an indicator of the effectiveness of their targeted budget economic measures. It is very easy for governments to deliver cash to those that they believe need the assistance, it is far more difficult to accurately assess who really needs the assistance in the first place. Use of wellbeing measurements can direct funding to where it is needed as well as assisting in deflecting claims the undeserving get all the government money.

During the pandemic, we found out quickly the important workers weren’t the senior management or directors of financial institutions, law firms, government agencies and the like. We found out the really important workers were the transport drivers, the carers of our aged, young and infirm and the producers of food, medicine and shelter, most of which are poorly paid and didn’t have the option to work at home, with genuine concerns about their health and ability to earn money. A lot of them are ‘just coping’ with day-to-day life. Measuring the country’s wellbeing can only help us identify if all sections of our community are ‘in a good place’ and if they’re not, take steps to make it happen.

The conservatives won’t like wellbeing measurements, because it won’t redistribute wealth upwards and they are still trying to convince us to be good economic units.

What do you think?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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Special Budget in Retrospect: Let’s Hasten the Progressive National Conversations

By Denis Bright

Stan Grant’s Q&A forum with Treasurer Jim Chalmers offered a sound rearview perspective on reactions to the Special Budget. The studio audience acted as a virtual focus group to express concerns about the burdens being imposed on disadvantaged Australians to carry other Australians out of the current inflation spiral and the effects of the forthcoming global economic downturn.

Jim Chalmers enjoyed the whole Q&A feedback process. Generating a national conversation about the options for a way out of the neoliberal era was clearly his own agenda as Labor’s representative in Rankin with its electorate office in outer Brisbane’s southside suburb of Woodridge where Labor gained over 50 per cent of primary votes at the last election. As a politically sharp representative from Logan City, Jim Chalmers would be fully aware of the social divide in Labor’s outer suburban heartland and the detachment of many working people from mainstream politics through failure to enrol or even to vote at election time. This local sentiment was covered in my initial post-election article for The AIM Network on 1 June 2022.

Jim Chalmers is quite well aware of the tidal wave of neoliberal values in mainstream politics. While maintaining a misplaced nostalgia for the discredited neoliberal era in global politics, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton dared to offer some qualified support for budget initiatives in childcare subsidies, lower PBS co-payments, housing support for veterans, flood relief and measures to combat domestic violence in his Address in Reply speech on 27 October 2022.

In the short-term, the Special Budget offered a chance of fine tuning of the original 2022-23 budget with one third of the current financial year already history. In the seven months since the delivery of the first budget on 29 March 2022, improved commodity prices have done more to assist the budget processes than real policy decision-making. These improvements are unlikely to weather the storms of a forthcoming global recession and the return of inflationary pressures for the first time in thirty years. Within the major portfolios, the longer-term fine tuning processes had commenced to deliver election promises in social housing, childcare services and paid parental leave and the delivery of new energy commitments.

Despite some relief measures offered to battlers and First Nations’ Australians in the Special Budget, the Q&A audience clearly wanted more commitment to the wealth divide in housing costs, rising energy charges, increased unemployment, more environmental degradation and threats of global international conflicts. All these major issues were touched upon by the Q&A audience. Jim Chalmers empathized with these concerns and needs more feedback from grassroots Australia to proceed with a more progressive national conversation.

Concerns about the implementation of Stage 3 Tax Concessions commencing in 2024 were expressed by the studio audience. Full implementation of these tax changes will cost $254 billion according to estimates by Nick Evershed and Amy Remeikis in The Guardian (25 October 2022).

These follies include some aspects of Stage 3 Tax Concessions which will cost future budgets $254 billion over ten years. These expected and regressive changes include:

  • The higher tax threshold will increase from $180,000 to $200,000
  • The $120,001 – $180,000 tax bracket will cease
  • Income between $45,001 and $200,000 will be taxed at 30%

As noted by Jim Chalmers, Labor tried to amend the tax concessions but did not have the numbers to change the Stage 3 Tax Package from Opposition. The alternative scenario of promising a reversal in the Stage 3 Package would have turned the federal election into a shrill campaign on taxation which might have been more favourable to the LNP.

There is a similar problem with the financial burdens imposed by the purchase of US nuclear submarines at a cost of at least $67 billion as estimated by the article in The Guardian. The electorate is clearly conditioned by mainstream news services to welcome this expenditure plus additional costs for the training of crews and the construction of safe shore installations.

Closer ties with the US military through structural updates at the Pine Gap Communications Base, rotation of troops through the Northern Territory and the transiting of nuclear capable bombers through the Tindal Base have not generated significant debate in the community. Polling by the Lowy Institute suggests that support for the US Global Alliance by the Albanese Government is in line with public opinion.

Just in case DFAT policy makers stoke up a spark of independence in their assessment of global strategic trends, the Albanese Government has inherited a long period of hiring retired US Officers and civilian defence analysts as strategic consultants according to investigative reporting by Craig Whitlock and Nate Jones of the Washington Post (18 October 2022):

Two retired U.S. admirals and three former U.S. Navy civilian leaders are playing critical but secretive roles as paid advisers to the government of Australia during its negotiations to acquire top-secret nuclear submarine technology from the United States and Britain.

The Americans are among a group of former U.S. Navy officials whom the Australian government has hired as high-dollar consultants to help transform its fleet of ships and submarines, receiving contracts worth as much as $800,000 a person, documents show.

All told, six retired U.S. admirals have worked for the Australian government since 2015, including one who served for two years as Australia’s deputy secretary of defense. In addition, a former U.S. secretary of the Navy has been a paid adviser to three successive Australian prime ministers.

A Washington Post investigation found that the former U.S. Navy officials have benefited financially from a tangle of overlapping interests in their work for a long-time ally of the United States. Some of the retired admirals have worked for the Australian government while simultaneously consulting for U.S. shipbuilders and the U.S. Navy, including on classified programs.

In far-off Washington the Federal Reserve has hiked interest rates by a further 0.75 per cent at its latest meeting. This will further strengthen the US dollar and invite catch up interest rate rises globally as the US economy slides into recession and possible political instability if Republicans make big gains in the mid-term elections on 8 November.

So Australian policy-makers are stuck with global economic and strategic problems which are not of our making. In the short-term, this instability has produced a temporary improvement in commodity export prices which have decreased the size of the budget deficit at least until 2023-24. IMF projections show that Australia will be better off than most other developed countries enough to avoid a recession here.

 

 

 

If Australia’s economic slowdown in 2023-24 is more severe than expected progressive Australians might finally mobilize to support a national conversation which questions the value of Stage 3 Tax Concessions and outrageous purchases from US and British military industrial complexes during a period of growing austerity.

With Germany’s SPD Coalition Government trailing in national opinion polls, Chancellor Scholz will try to restoke economic relations with China on a one day visit to Beijing. Phillip Olterman of The Guardian (3 November 2022) notes that this is the first visit by the leader of a representative government to China since the commencement of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Australian representatives might eventually take a similar diplomatic route. Improved commercial relations with China are not off limits to Jim Chalmers in his responses to questions from the Q&A audience. Chinese factories have assisted in containing costs to public hospitals for supplies of medical equipment, prosthetic devices and specific items such as orthopaedic shoes (Medical Device Network 14 October 2022).

Political changes in Australia are not yet coming in the Whitlamesque style because of the new government’s spending restraints as a protection against future inflationary spirals as well as cautions from our US allies about improved relations with China.

Regrettably, there is little sign of mobilization from across the broader Labor movement to strengthen the national conversation for a spark of greater independence in Australia’s economic and strategic policies to challenge the wisdom of an All the Way With the USA approaches to domestic and foreign policies.

Without this mobilization, progressive changes are dead in the murky waters of economic downturns and strategic manoeuvres. The real problems are not with Jim Chalmer’ s progressive mindset but with national political apathy in this post-election era. Old structures of power and influence are not really changed by a single election victory and require nurturing by a long-term progressive government that can engage confidently with welcome cross-bench opinions.

Denis Bright is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback by using the Reply button on The AIMN site is always most appreciated. It can liven up discussion. I appreciate your little intrusions with comments and from other insiders at The AIMN. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Reply button.

 

 

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Do you want to smile or frown?

By 2353NM

Recently, in what could be described as an epic fail in recruiting practices, the Essendon Football Club hired and accepted the resignation of the same CEO within a day. The issue was that the CEO was also the Chairman of ‘City on the Hill’, a church that seems to promote some conservative views on the way people live their lives. Andrew Thorburn, the CEO in question, chose to resign from the role at Essendon because the football club markets itself as inclusive and accepting of all comers. City on the Hill’s conservative and restrictive views on abortion and same sex relationships are apparently a problem to a lot of Essendon supporters who have supported the club’s inclusivity policy.

You could ask if inclusivity and equity is the Club’s desired culture why they hired Thorburn in the first place. As CEO, Thorburn would have to speak publicly and as a leader he would have been responsible for implementation of the organisational culture of both the Football Club and church as determined by the respective Boards of Directors. The ABCs Stan Grant reported at the time

Thorburn himself says people of faith fear they will lose their jobs because of their beliefs.

Is he right? Well, in his case, he was not just any employee. Thorburn held senior leadership roles in a football club and a church. The values of those institutions clashed and Thorburn, in good conscience, made a decision to side with his church.

The ABC’s Virginia Trioli recently wrote about Thorburn and compared it with

The experience of one private school principal [which] was instructive. He’s trialled and adopted the policy of 15 pieces of uniform – skirts, pants, shorts, blazers etc, winter and summer – and the kids can select whatever they want: summer uniform all year, or boys in skirts, girls in shorts.

Caulfield Grammar principal, Ashleigh Martin, confessed the process had not been easy, but guess who provided some of the greatest pushback against the idea? The so-called Old Boys/Girls.

Some “Grammarians” have given Martin a hell of a time, furious about the look of “their” school diminished by an individualised uniform selection.

Trioli’s conclusion,

And then I realised I had been wondering a similar thing all week – something that had been bothering me really ever since the marriage equality debate: why do churches like Thorburn’s City on the Hill care so much about what’s going on in the bedrooms and GP consulting rooms of people they have absolutely nothing to do with?

Why do some people – overzealous ex-students and overanxious parishioners – have such a powerful need to control others?

Why can’t they live and let live?

And Grant’s conclusion is similar.

The outrage right now comes with its own hypocrisy. Those leaping to the defence of Christians now have not always extended the same religious freedom to people of other faiths.

Those same culture warriors of the political right have characterised Muslims as a threat to all the West deems holy.

Many of these Muslims would hold similar views as the parishioners at Thorburn’s church.

Your personal beliefs have been honed over your lifetime and you have the right to them. You don’t have the right to shove your beliefs down the throat of everyone else and expect absolute compliance. The problem is when the opinions of one particular group are forced on others. For example, it is not acceptable for a US Border Official to determine if a person should be granted entry to the USA based on if they have had an abortion or not as seems to be the case in the linked news report.

Cultural warriors seem to believe they are the only people that can determine the behaviours of society. There are also a number of different methods used to attempt control. There are a number of religious leaders who have fallen from grace because they haven’t lived up to the standards of behaviour they have preached, including Brian Houston from the Hillsong ‘mega-church’.

According to a recent claim on ABC’s Q&A program, the Iranian Morality Police enforce a particular view of their religion that seems to be predicated on women being required to wear certain loose and completely enveloping clothes so they are not a ‘temptation’ to men. Surely men have a responsibility here as well.

Others use conspiracy theories to influence opinion such as Alex Jones.

Jones is an American conspiracy theorist and right-wing host and operator of Infowars.

For years, he claimed the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre – where 20 students and six teachers died – was staged as part of a government plot to take away Americans’ guns.

And

Experts testified that Jones’s audience swelled, as did his revenue from product sales, when he made Sandy Hook a topic on the show.

Jones was recently ordered to pay US$965 million to the Plaintiffs that are immediate family of some of those killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Those who are out to control are really doing it for their purposes, not your benefit. We all have a choice. The first option is to consume ourselves and those close to us in cultural wars to control others such as those who are attempting to manage women’s reproductive rights, uniform choices at schools or even worse, creating business empires based on religion or cynical attempts to build influence and profit margins using the misfortune of others.

The second option is to look for and promote the many inspirational acts of goodness in the world as demonstrated by this recent ABC online story about a Congolese orphan who was brought to Australia as a young child and seems to have received appropriate, holistic care and mentoring from her adopted parents. She seems to be making a valuable contribution to her community.

Which way will you go? It is reputed to take less effort to smile than frown.

What do you think?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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