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It’s the forest, silly!

By David C Paull The Pilliga forests are a significant water, biodiversity and…

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It’s the forest, silly!

By David C Paull

The Pilliga forests are a significant water, biodiversity and carbon sink resource, yet our governments want to turn it into a gas-field. Now is the time to rethink how we value and manage our irreplaceable natural resources.

Following the ecological catastrophe of the fire season of 2019/20, when it is estimated that 12.6 million hectares of our eastern Australian eucalypt forests burnt, a much larger proportion than any fire season previously in any one season, there has been growing public attention on conserving what is left of our vulnerable ecosystems. Australia has one of the worst records in biodiversity decline in the world, these fires pushed many ecosystems to the limit and the species reliant on them, many now pushed into the threatened with extinction category, if not across their range but certainly the loss of many populations is not disputed.

What is doubly concerning is the ongoing loss of remnant vegetation through land-clearing and the logging of burnt and unburnt forest remnants in Victoria and New South Wales. These actions have compounded our biodiversity crisis by hindering the recovery of burnt forests and further limiting the ability of many species to disperse across the landscape, necessary to maintain populations and genetic diversity. Clearly, state and Commonwealth laws designed to protect our natural heritage are failing. Not a surprise when it seems many politicians today have the view that the only good animals are ones inside a fence, where they can’t cause any trouble to development.

With signs of climate tipping points being reached, we need to take stock of what natural assets we have, the same assets provide refuge not only for declining wildlife but are important carbon sinks helping us reduce the impacts of runaway climate change. Governments have failed to incorporate these assets into their cost-benefit analysis, unless we do so urgently, we may selfishly forego future generations of a chance to enjoy and benefit those assets. More pertinent when you consider that this continent has one of the most unique biodiversity in the world.

One large area of forest largely left unburnt by the 2019/20 season, with only a relatively small burn (10,000) are the forests which comprise what is known as the Pilliga. Given the above context of massive biodiversity loss, the importance of these 500,000 ha of forest on both public and private lands is now self-evident.

The largest continuous remnant of temperate forest west of the Great Dividing Range, the Pilliga forests have not benefitted from a high level of public attention in the past and this needs to change because its natural assets and services are much more important than generally recognized.

Not only this but following above average rains over the last 16 months, the forest is recovering from drought conditions at an exceptional rate of growth. This is particularly noticeable in previously burnt areas (the Pilliga Forests are well-known for their large wildfires) – where previous fire had reduced large areas of forest to a black and grey moonscape, now living trees are flourishing, new one germinating and the undergrowth is as diverse and thick as it has been for a long time. Usually dry creeks and drainage lines are running with water and water holes and depressions are filling up, and the native fauna is responding to these conditions.

 

 

What is frequently misunderstood is the true nature of these forests. Often characterized as being mono-typically barren or over-exploited for its timber and rendered biodiversity poor, this is not the case as scientific studies have subsequently shown. It is true that massive amounts of trees have been harvested from many parts of the forest over the last 100 years, particularly ironbark, valued hardwood for structural timber, and cypress pine, Callitris, valued as a naturally softwood for building. This, along with past fires, has resulted in a forest depauperate of hollows over large areas, but the species diversity is still there as studies have shown. Parts of the forest containing non-commercial eucalypt species such as boxes, largely retain their natural density of large trees.

I first became acquainted with the biodiversity of these forests in 1993 as a contracted ecologist for the then State Forests of NSW. The forest of the ‘North-west Cypress/ironbark Belt as it was known, had never before been subject to a detailed and comprehensive fauna survey. What I found was a wildlife wonderland, which prompted me to devote many years of work and professional research into the fauna and flora of this forest.

The facts speak for themselves, rather than being species poor, it is very diverse, with 240 recorded bird species, 50 reptile, 17 frog and over 30 native mammal species. It has about 1,500 plant species according to (NSW database records) and about 50 distinct vegetation communities. It became obvious, these communities and species diversity had not just appeared in the last 100 years, as many subscribing to what can be described as the ‘Rollsian’(i)* view may believe, but more likely has been present in its current complexity over millennium.

This is not completely accurate of course, because levels of diversity, particularly in the mammal fauna, were much higher in pre-European times, as owl pellet studies and searches of historical records have shown. Much of this loss can be attributed largely to habitat modification, stock grazing, inappropriate fire regimes and of course the penetration of feral carnivores and herbivores. This is partly being addressed through a mammal re-introduction program administered by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Nevertheless, the Pilliga Forests remains a jewel in Australia’s natural assets. Also containing endemic species such as the Pilliga Mouse and the Pilliga Wattle, its value as a biodiversity refuge, carbon sink and recharge zone for the artesian basin is almost unequalled.

 

A Pilliga Mouse

 

But the threat of coal seam gas development in the forest presents a significant risk to the biodiversity and ecological function of the forest.

Coal seam gas activities commenced in 1998, with the first ‘fracturing stimulation’ well site undertaken by an US exploration company, assisted by Halliburton. The license over the forest was quickly bought up by Eastern Star Gas, who stepped up exploration activities, including further ‘fracking’ at about 10 sites in the forest. Santos, a part-owner, bought up the exploration license in 2011 and has continued to expand operations in the forest such that approximately 50 wells have now been drilled, looking for that gas-gold.

Coal seam gas fever has set in the minds of many entrepreneurs and politicians, such as former deputy-PM John Anderson, and to this day we hear how necessary the ‘Narrabri Gas’ field is to our future energy needs. However, the evidence to its energy value remains elusive and rising gas prices have made it an expensive alternative.

Still the myopic view prevails, not the least from Canberra, at least two Prime Ministers have intervened to herald the necessity of the Project for development. Now the NSW Government has staked a last stand in its recent ‘Future of Gas’ Statement, while extinguishing many exploration licenses, is attempting to shore up development of this precious natural asset.

As with most major project developments today, the impacts of the Narrabri gas project upon the air, water and biodiversity will not be dealt with adequately, due in equal measure to the failure of the environmental assessment and offset system and to the insufficiency of reliable data from Santos.

It is estimated that the Project will produce 5 million tonnes of greenhouse emissions per year, though no carbon offset has been proposed. Direct impacts upon terrestrial ecosystems include the direct loss of 300 hectares of Pilliga Mouse habitat and up to 100 hectares of Koala habitat. Indirect impacts from a diffuse and extensive network of tracks and well sites has not dealt with adequately, internal forest fragmentation is one of the key threats to biodiversity today.

And importantly threats the quality of ground and surface water and to water table levels are real but poorly modelled. The track record of the industry with leaks and groundwater contamination is not good.

It is time to rethink how we use and value or irreplaceable natural assets in this country. The benefit of retaining and allowing complex biodiverse ecosystems such as the Pilliga forests to recover and thrive into the future out-ways the short-term benefit of gas by any measure of sustainability you care to consider. Let’s allow it to carry on the ecosystem services it provides for us and future generations. That would be worthwhile legacy for the future.

(i) “All the rest of the area, perhaps 600,000 hectares, was a pine forest, broken in places by Bimble Box or Yellow Box flats or stretches of Belah or oak … Over much of the area they (pine) were spaced even wider apart than the ironbarks”. ‘A Million Wild Acres’ p. 128.

All photos by David C Paull.

 

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Seeking the Post-COVID Sunshine: Returning to Henry Kissinger’s Diplomatic Magic

By Denis Bright

The upsurge in international tensions favouring the containment of China has alarmed former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger. Henry Kissinger has recently participated in a virtual meeting organized by the Chinese Institute of Foreign Affairs (CPIFA) to mark the fiftieth anniversary of his epic trip in July 1971. This initiative paved the way for the normalization of relations with the Nixon Administration.

A video from The Economist covers Henry Kissinger’s recent take on the consequences of deteriorating relations between the US and China.

Not all the magic generated by US diplomatic relations with China some years after President Nixon’s visit has completely evaporated in the dangerous rhetoric from the Trump era. Local officials on the Taiwanese island of Kinmen just off the Chinese City of Xiamen insist on keeping tourist services operating to and from China although the Taiwanese government is now opposed to the construction of a six kilometre long suspension bridge across the divide. Bookings are still open for day trips from Xiamen to Kinmen Island.

According to Henry Kissinger, a new normalization in relations between the US and China is likely to come from the sheer necessity of working with the emergent Asian superpower which was first out of the block in its sustained recovery from a quarter of negative economic growth in March 2020:

 

Percentage Changes in Chinese Economic Growth

 

Regrettably, the normalization of relations with China is still politically hazardous venture for the Biden Administration. The far right populism of the Trump era has not fully subsided. Mid-term US congressional elections in November 2022 are far from an epoch away. The domestic challenges to an incoming US administration in its first mid-term political test were apparent under Eisenhower, Kennedy, Clinton and Barack Obama. Tensions with China might simmer until 2023. Even Richard Nixon waited until after the 1970 mid-term election before sending Henry Kissinger off to China. The Republicans retained control of both houses of congress despite substantial net gains by the Democratic Party in house seats.

Strategic initiatives by middle powers in the US Global Alliance could have disastrous consequences if they involve too much risk-taking to snuff out real opportunities for rapprochement in the future. Taking on China might be punching a little above our weight despite the sporting successes at a recent rugby event:

Historical Precedents in the Diplomatic Stakes

When Henry Kissinger visited China in July 1971, Australian perspectives about China were developed through the prism of our embassy in Taiwan. The Nixon Administration did not keep allies informed about Henry Kissinger’s mission to Beijing. The US-China Institute at the University of Southern California offers details of the history of Richard Nixon’s overtures to China which commenced in 1967 when he was just a candidate for president.

Opportunities were available for the normalization of relations between China and the world community in the early Cold War Period through events like the Bandung Conference (Indonesia) in 1955. Domestic tensions in the US and allied countries over the post-Korean war recession prevented the fulfilment of such expectations. This was a wasted opportunity for both China and the countries of South East Asia who were involved for a generation in containment of China.

Diverse Bandung Conference Participants

  • Kingdom of Afghanistan
  • Union of Burma
  • Kingdom of Cambodia
  • Dominion of Ceylon
  • People’s Republic of China
  • Cyprus1
  • Republic of Egypt
  • Ethiopian Empire
  • Gold Coast
  • Republic of India
  • Republic of Indonesia
  • Imperial State of Iran
  • Kingdom of Iraq
  • Japan
  • Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
  • Kingdom of Laos
  • Lebanese Republic
  • Liberia
  • Kingdom of Libya
  • Kingdom of Nepal
  • Dominion of Pakistan
  • Republic of the Philippines
  • Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
  • Syrian Republic
  • Sudan 2
  • Kingdom of Thailand
  • Republic of Turkey
  • State of Vietnam (South)
  • Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North)
  • Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen

1 A pre-independent colonial Cyprus was represented by [the] eventual first president, Makarios III.

2 Pre-independence Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was represented by Chief Minister Ismail al-Azhari and used a provisional flag.

Ironically, it was the Country Party arm of the LNP Coalition in 1955 which was most receptive to the diversification of markets for rural products and mineral resources to countries like China and the predominantly non-aligned group of countries from the Middle East to South East Asia. This opportunism from the Country Party co-existed with support for a Taipei-based Australian embassy and the militarization of South East Asia as a bastion against the advance of communism. Some readers might be able to locate the brochure prepared for school students across Australia to support the war in Vietnam and share this link through the replies option to The AIMN articles.

Middle powers like Australia and France are acting irresponsibly if they stoke up international tensions by provocative manoeuvres on the high seas as well as tit for tat electronic warfare through running the gauntlet operations off Central Queensland and the peripheries of China as well as the latest episodes of cyber warfare.

France’s first submarine expedition to the South China Sea is probably motivated by the prospect of more arms exports to countries in the US Global Alliance such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In the short-term, it has the strategic zeal of testing Chinese electronic surveillance of adjacent seaways through the first underwater venture to the South China Sea which returned safely to Toulon after seven months at sea.

Within DFAT itself, there might be concerns about commercial losses from a deterioration in relations with China. It is surely in Australia’s commercial interests to cool down these tensions as trade and investment ties with China are a key factor in our sustainable prosperity. There are indeed some contradictory policies in relation to ties with China.

Australia retains substantial deposits in the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Relations between Australia and China were quite cordial at the AIIB’s Roundtable Discussions (Australia’s Alternate Governor’s Address to the AIIB’s Roundtable Discussion 2020):

“It is my pleasure to represent Australia at this year’s AIIB Annual Meeting as Australia’s Alternate Governor. We are obviously meeting at a time when the global economy faces unprecedented challenges arising from COVID-19, which has been spoken about. Now whilst the pandemic has affected all countries differently, the need to finance large-scale health responses amidst deteriorating macro-economic conditions has been a common challenge.

Australia commends the AIIB for joining the international community’s efforts to help finance the pandemic response. We particularly welcomed the Bank’s effective use of partnerships with other multilateral development banks to deliver much of this support. The AIIB’s COVID-19 Response Facility is an exceptional response to the extraordinary circumstances that the Bank and the world currently face. The longer the pandemic lasts, the more important it will be, for AIIB, to be clear about where it can best add value to the international community’s efforts to alleviate health and economic impacts, working within its own resource constraints and business model.”

France Balances Commercial and Strategic Priorities

With centre-right governments in charge across most of the thirty member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) states, neoconservative political and military leaders are acting in tandem on containment strategies towards China. President Macron’s government in France is strongly en marche with these global developments but French manoeuvres in the South China Sea are still risky ventures if they involve undersea stealth operations by ageing nuclear attack submarines. France has grand plans to re-equip its submarine fleet with four new generation vessels.

Latest challenges for the French ship-building initiatives include the construction of four new nuclear powered attack submarines for deployment between 2030 and far-off 2080. More export contracts would assist in defraying the costs of the long-term commitments.

 

 

The frankness of France’s commitment to the containment of China was covered in recent soft news from the 20h30 Report from Channel 2 in Paris on 11 July 2021.

A reporter and film crew from Channel 2 in Paris toured the Émeraude when it returned to the Port of Toulon in April 2021. This report offered superficial coverage of the submarine’s Exocet missiles and computer guidance systems. Full details of the epic voyage were still withheld for both the submarine and its Loire-class support vessel Seine. These details excluded places visited on both Indian Ocean crossings and even maneuvers associated with the visit to the Kwinana Naval Base near Perth.

French NavalNews did release an official video. Readers will need to be satisfied with the official version of events from Naval News editor Xavier Vasasseur with Captain Antoine Delaveau, Commanding Officer of the Blue Crew assigned to the Submarine Émeraude.

 

 

Details of the visit of the two French vessels to Perth on 11 November 2020 were also covered by Continental Defence in November 2020.

Historically, France’s small fleet of nuclear powered submarines has a tarnished safety record. The Émeraude has been in service since 1986. Ten crew members from its crew died in a naval exercise off Toulon in 1994.

The use of the ageing Émeraude for the mission to the South China Sea was indeed a risky venture. Even between allied submarines and commercial freighters, there have been accidental collisions in uncontested waters. The risks are increased by passive sonar operations.

The British submarine Vanguard and France’s Triomphant were damaged on the night of 3-4 February 2009 during undersea operations in the Atlantic without any substantial injuries to crew or a reported release of radioactive materials (BBC News 16 February 2009). A French Rubis nuclear submarine also collided with an oil tanker while surfacing off Toulon in 1993 (Journal of Commerce 1 September 1993).

There is a risk of similar incidents in stealth operations near China. Stripes.com (29 January 2021) notes the psychological stresses on Chinese crews who monitor manoeuvres in the name of that freedom of navigation imperative:

A fifth of sailors assigned to Chinese submarines patrolling the South China Sea have experienced some degree of mental health problems, according to a study published this month.

“This study demonstrates for the first time that soldiers and officers in the submarine force in the South China Sea are exposed to a number of mental health risks and are suffering from serious psychological problems,” Chinese researchers concluded in the study published Jan. 7 in the journal Military Medicine.

The study’s five authors are affiliated with the Institute of Military Health Management at Naval Medical University in Shanghai, China.

It assessed the “self-perceived” mental health of Chinese submariners, then compared those findings to “Chinese military male norms,” the study said.

Implications for the Forthcoming Australian Federal Elections

If the trendlines in the latest Newspoll can be maintained Labor can best coast towards the next federal election with a largely bipartisan stance on international relations issues. Missionary idealism over international relations issues cost Dr. Evatt the 1954 House of Representatives which followed the first visit of Queen Elizabeth to Australia and the planned fall-out from the Petrov affair. Both events combined to save the federal LNP from defeat with the assistance of that old gerrymander of regional seats.

 

 

Only Labor in government can sort out the current mess with China as the Biden Administration must first quell its own domestic political ghosts from the Trump era. Staying with the advice from Henry Kissinger to win elections in 2022, it is an imperative to the new generation of leaders across the US Global Alliance from Australia to France, Britain and the USA to be on guard against missionary populism of the left and far right variants.

Hopefully, leaders of both China and the USA are aware that a period of megaphone diplomacy may be necessary to resolve current problems. Hopefully, the ground-rules are better explained to countries like Australia given the history of diplomatic U-turns during the Nixon era to protect political leaders who want to be A Grade Players in global diplomacy with observer status at the recent G7 Forum in Cornwall.

Denis Bright (pictured) is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback from readers advances the cause of citizens’ journalism. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Replies Button.

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Compassion – you’re kidding

By 2353NM

In October 2019, this website discussed the fate of the Murugappen family who were forcibly removed from their home in Biloela, Queensland by Border Force. At the time we questioned how someone who claims to have a fundamentalist Christian view of the Bible as the absolute truth (despite the ‘over 700 inconsistencies’ listed here) could justify his Government’s callous treatment of people while his Christian beliefs apparently direct him to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Since then, the Murugappan family have been detained as the sole inmates at the Christmas Island Detention Centre – costing you and I as taxpayers an estimated $6million. The political need for proof that the Coalition Government is ‘tough’ on falsely claimed ‘queue jumpers’ or ‘illegal immigrants’ has, to borrow a phrase from former Treasurer Joe Hockey, turned the Murugappan family from lifters – as they had jobs, paid their taxes and were active in the Biloela community – to leaners that have soaked up literally millions of dollars with no hope of a return to the ‘investment’. And it’s not the family’s fault – the Morrison Coalition Government is entirely to blame.

We all know the outcome here. The younger daughter, 3 at the time, was airlifted to the Perth Children’s Hospital with her mother on 7 June after her parents had been advising Border Force’s contracted medical staff she was unwell. After a week of continual requests for medical assistance, young Tharnicaa was transferred to the Christmas Island Hospital where doctors unrelated to Border Force determined she had a blood infection, possibly septicaemia. As reported on the 9 News website, Tharnicaa’s father and sister were relocated to Perth a week later for the mental health of both of the sisters. The Morrison Coalition Government relented to public pressure and granted the family temporary approval to stay in Australia with Immigration Minister Alex Hawke claimingIt is the right decision, a compassionate decision.

What complete and utter rubbish. A compassionate decision would have been to leave the family in Biloela some years ago and let them get along with their lives. The Morrison Coalition Government’s hounding of this family have ensured that all members of the family have physical and mental health concerns that they will have to live with for a lifetime.

 

Cartoon by Alan Moir (moir.com.au)

 

And while we’re speaking about ‘compassion’, let’s look at the Morrison Coalition Government’s mandating the ‘cashless welfare card’ for social security recipients in certain ‘trial’ areas around Australia. We also discussed the Morrison Government’s punitive social security system in October 2019, questioning the implied claims that those on welfare couldn’t manage their measly payments without ‘big brother’. While it is probably true that some who collect social security do act in a manner that the Pentecostal Christians in the government consider inappropriate, it’s also true to say that Australians didn’t elect any Government to be the sole determiner of individuals’ moral or ethical views. If this was the case, the Marriage Equality legislation would never have been voted on, let alone passed by Parliament.

The Saturday Paper recently highlighted another concerning aspect of the ‘cashless welfare card’ – the potential dangers of those subject to domestic violence or coercion having ‘big brother’ telling them what they can spend ‘their’ money on

Dr Karen Williams, a psychiatrist who specialises in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and works with many women who have survived long-term abuse, says the cashless card, “mimics exactly what a financial abuser and coercive controller would do”.

Williams points out that women fleeing abuse are at high risk of poverty and homelessness, and that these things in themselves can be used as reasons to take a woman’s children. She says that the welfare system, far from supporting women to leave abusers, is “actively working to keep marginalised women in the relationship while gaslighting her by telling her she should leave.”

Morrison’s Coalition Government has promoted assistance to those who need to escape violent or abusive relationships. The assistance includes $1500 in cash, $3500 in goods and services and a $2000 no interest loan. Women who subsequently are deemed eligible for the single parent payment and live in the ‘wrong’ postcode are made to go onto the ‘cashless welfare card’ – which according to a number of sources is almost impossible to get off (even if you move away from the ‘trial’ areas). As observed in The Saturday Paper

There is a contradiction here. Australia is spending $1.1 billion to help women escape violent and abusive relationships, the country is moving towards legislating against coercive control. Yet if a woman lives in a cashless welfare trial site and manages to leave her partner, she can find the abuse replicated by the very government that claims to want to help her.

Considering these trials have been running for 14 years with little evidence that they achieve their original purpose – preventing welfare recipients spending their money on alcohol, drugs or gambling – it’s hard to see why so many vulnerable women are still being forced to use the cards.

Potentially the reason why vulnerable women are being forced to use the ‘cashless welfare card’ and the Murugappan family are still detained at the ‘pleasure’ of the Minister is the Coalition’s predilection for punitive punishment rather than working with people to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. Making the assumption that those on various social security payments in certain areas of the country are all ‘up to no good’ despite the lack of hard evidence that should easily be apparent in a ‘trial’ that has lasted 14 years to date is criminal and has potentially cost the lives of some women who haven’t been able to escape violence financially. The hospitalisation of a 3-year-old girl with serious health issues despite the parents seeking assistance from contracted staff with claimed medical qualifications working for the government is a horrible indictment and stain on our national history. To claim that these measures are in place to stop tragic outcomes is duplicitous at best and certainly not evidenced in the reality.

Neither side of politics can honestly claim to be above blame here. Both the Coalition and the Labor Party have played their part in the increasingly inhumane immigration and welfare practices imposed in the name of ‘compassion’. Both side of politics have weaponised human lives. It needs to stop.

What do you think?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

For Facebook users, The Political Sword has a Facebook page:
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The Pros and Cons of Unionism in the Pandemic

By Callen Sorensen Karklis

Seventy-seven years ago, the first wage claim in Australia was won by relatives and my great, great grandfather Alfred Martin on North Stradbroke Island for First Australian workers after a gruelling 25-year campaign at the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum. This was fought with the support of the Aborigines Progressive Association.

Years later relatives gained support with the unions while many worked in the sand mines on the island with groups like the ETU, and AWU. Other relatives found solace with the Communist, or ALP as did family of mine from Gympie and Maryborough in the same clicks as far back as the gold rush.

My own background spans since 2008 having been a member of the SDA for a number of years in retail, both NUW and UWU while working in market research and more recently the NTEU in the tertiary field, student unions at university, while also assisting the IWW and AUWU. I was also active in the ALP for a period as well.

Many unions today are concerned about workers’ rights and conditions, social justice issues, economic equality, and issues like climate change. But despite all the years active in the Labour movement I was probably least prepared for 2020 – 2021 when the COVID–19 pandemic hit with full furry globally.

Within the first 3 – 4 months of the pandemic, a wide range of industries and economic sectors shut their doors due to lockdowns and forced closures of fear of contagion spread and safety precautions. This left staff in fields such as tourism, hospitality, tertiary, education, arts, manufacturing, and any exporting, importing trades to left to fend for themselves. Many long-time staff found themselves unemployed for the first time in decades, while others had never been unemployed before. The government and Labour movement agreed to a temporary safety – net stimulus pay and job insurance. But not everyone was lucky particularly casuals, underemployed staff, and VISA workers.

Due to the demand of a huge unemployment rate amid the first recession in 30 years, mainstream trade unions were effectively in overdrive and under considerably strain with an enormous workload of people joining in troves. Essentially, not enough workers were given help at once as waiting lists began much like the same appearing at Centrelink for government assistance. This essentially led to the less mainstream unregistered unions like RAFFWU to capitalize its pull among fast food and retail workers, IWW among workers, and the AUWU among the underemployed and unemployed during the crisis.

I personally saw the good all groups both mainstream and unregistered achieved. Even consulting the Queensland Council of Unions of how dire workers needs were. I was indeed active with both the AUWU, IWW, and my local SRC affiliated to NUS as well. The AUWU received funding from groups in the CFEMEU, the old MUA divisions, and the UWU Victorian division. But it also had a fair share of ex/current ALP as well as communist, socialist, everyday apolitical workers and Greenies. Most the time people got on with the job and did what we could. The same applied to the IWW.

We pushed for wage subsidies for casuals, VISA workers, axing mutual obligations with JSPs, increasing Centrelink payments above the poverty line, and focused on an emphasis to see full employment mixed in with a Green New deal focus in the COVID-19 recovery to all levels of government to incorporate an economic restructure and rebuild.

Now all of this had its moments of highs and lows. We had victories and defeats. To say the least, some of it was looked at and adhered to by policy makers which was good. We also got some employers investigated with Fair Work and higher management of workplaces for inappropriate behaviour and conduct to staff during the pandemic, which was exposed in some cases, but unfortunately so much of this goes on in too many sites and workplaces.

The sad reality, however, was despite the good we did with the assistance and advice of more mainstream unions or unionist or bodies like the Queensland Council of Unions or local trades halls. There were still the instances of infighting and mayhem that goes with politics as well, and these became distractions from otherwise important work and causes.

This was the problem with former rivalries prior to the pandemic spilling over into groups like the AUWU and IWW. Be it political party differences, personalities or just lack of training or different life experiences, particularly as some activist aren’t aware that party politics should be 2nd to unionism. In the IWW the Australasia Secretary has refused to work with activist and unionist nationally, particularly in Queensland, ignoring democratic processes and internal rules.

In some cases certain individuals went against union members and activist democratic say and process which made it difficult for bigger more mainstream unions to take the micro – unregistered groups more seriously or recognized in an official capacity in discussions which made it all the more difficult.

A big path forward for all unions mainstream registered or unregistered would be to follow the ethical educational paths forward for all their activist and teach people the value unions still have in people’s lives. Particularly as unions have been in a spiral decline for decades.

That said, however, if these groups continue in hard times or in future hard times, heed a lesson that these sorts of small union lobby groups must be democratic (always see votes occur for roles or policy), articulate, bold, brave, introduce codes of conduct, official process and rules, introduce disputes tribunals (which are fair and unbiased), handle finances with oversight responsibly and most importantly introduce training with mentors ethically. In some cases, these are the lessons I learnt particularly if unregistered unions are to function and gain recognition in future. Some mainstream unions could learn a lesson, too. There is too much reliance on social media campaigning then there is in person, which only has limited results online.

Don’t get me wrong though, there are great people in some of these groups as well just as there are good and bad eggs in the bigger more recognized mainstream unions as well. But most importantly it should be about the causes or cases you deal with which is why we join a union to start with! I never thought for instance my activism in the pandemic would lead me to helping fellow Indigenous students on my campus when I’ve always had avoided it until recently while studying. It just goes to show you should always expect the unexpected while helping the unions, but in it for the common good of helping others. Without a common cause to help those in need unified… it s game over!

Callen is the Indigenous Officer for the Griffith University Student Representative Council (SRC) student union. He is also the Secretary of the Griffith Indigenous Student Association (GISA) and was the Interim National Coordinator of the AUWU during the 2020 – 21 summer period, the Qld State Coordinator and Secretary during the height of the 2020 COVID–19 pandemic. He has also worked for United Voice, RTBU, QCU having also worked in market research, media, advertising, and retail roles as well. Callen ran for Redlands City Council in Division 2 during the 2020 Local Government Elections and part of the Save Toondah campaign. Callen studies his final trimester of his Bachelor of Government and International Relations and has a Business Diploma.

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Arts and culture workers neglected during COVID, study shows, as sector set to miss out again

University of South Australia Media Release

As NSW and Victoria grapple with a fresh round of lockdowns, advocates including ACOSS and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance are warning new financial assistance measures fail to support arts and cultural industry workers. The warnings coincide with a new report showing the sector has been consistently neglected during the COVID pandemic.

The report, titled Keeping Creative, was authored by Dr Jess Pacella, Professor Susan Luckman and Professor Justin O’Connor from UniSA’s Creative People, Products and Places Research Centre (CP3), and suggests Australia’s response, including the latest disaster payment measures, has been very different to that of many other nations.

Taking the year 2020 as its central focus, Keeping Creative – which is officially launched next week – gives a timeline for the various support schemes provided by Australian governments, analysing their different components and placing them in an international context.

Prof O’Connor says the research indicates states took the lead in responding to the pandemic in the creative sector, often with relatively higher levels of support than the Federal Government.

“It also shows how JobKeeper often missed its mark,” Prof O’Connor says. “This left many in the sector to fend for themselves, and suggests that much of the support, when it came, was for infrastructure rather than artists.”

In addition to detailing funding outcomes, the report also examines the messages sent to the sector by the different levels of government, suggesting these were far more supportive at state than federal level.

“It was often the combination of cuts to livelihoods and blows to individual creatives’ sense of self-worth that was crucial,” Prof O’Connor says.

“Here the contrast with other countries was most marked, with Germany, France, Canada all making strong declaration of the importance and value of the creative sector, while in the UK the experience was more mixed.”

The report suggests that the proximity of the individual states to the arts and culture sector meant more immediate and more detailed support was provided, and the language of their support better attuned to the needs of those affected by the pandemic.

Keeping Creative ends by noting that arts and culture have slipped down the list of public policy priorities at federal level, contrasting sharply with comparable countries overseas.

“This deprioritising of the cultural sector pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic, but the added stress of the current situation has emphasised many of the shortcomings of that policy position,” Prof O’Connor says.

Professor Justin O’Connor is associate director of UniSA’s Creative People, Products and Places Research Centre (CP3). Dr Jess Pacella is a post-doctoral research associate at C3P and Professor Susan Luckman is director of C3P.

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Law Council calls for more clarity about proposed family violence regimes

Law Council of Australia Media Release

While the Law Council of Australia strongly supports the intent of the Family Law Amendment (Federal Family Violence Orders) Bill 2021, there are several issues within the legislation that need clarification.

Speaking after the public hearing before the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, President of the Law Council Dr Jacoba Brasch QC said, “while the Bill is designed to make things easier for vulnerable people, we are looking for some clarity on how the proposed scheme will actually work and how it would interact with existing state and territory Family Violence Order regimes.

“The Law Council is also concerned about the potential impact of this scheme on the workload of federal family law courts.

“It appears that the proposed Bill only allows for a person experiencing family violence, who has proceedings before the family law courts, to seek a final Federal Family Violence Order (FFVO) and not an interim order.

“This means that a person experiencing family violence and who needs urgent or immediate protection, will still seek remedies from the state and territory courts.

“It is also not clear how a person would apply for and obtain a FFVO, and when that might happen.

“It is critical that the government engage closely with the courts and legal assistance bodies to ensure that any measures proposed are accompanied by adequate resourcing for the courts, their support services, and the legal assistance sector, to cope with the additional workload we envisage will arise should the FFVO regime come into effect.

The Law Council is also concerned that the Bill may inadvertently create opportunities for perpetrators of family violence to delay determination of family violence and family law issues, by increasing the number, length and cost of family law and family violence proceedings through an additional FFVO pathway.

Given the serious nature of the Law Council’s concerns, more information about how the scheme will operate and how quickly a final FFVO can be granted is needed.”

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“Get out of the water!” Monster shark movies massacre shark conservation

University of South Australia Media Release

Undeniably the shark movie to end all shark movies, the 1975 blockbuster, Jaws, not only smashed box office expectations, but forever changed the way we felt about going into the water – and how we think about sharks.

Now, more than 40 years (and 100+ shark movies) on, people’s fear of sharks persists, with researchers at the University of South Australia concerned about the negative impact that shark movies are having on conservation efforts of this often-endangered animal.

In a world-first study, conservation psychology researchers, UniSA’s Dr Briana Le Busque and Associate Professor Carla Litchfield have evaluated how sharks are portrayed in movies, finding that 96 per cent of shark films are overtly portraying sharks as a threat to humans.

Dr Le Busque says sensationalised depictions of sharks in popular media can unfairly influence how people perceive sharks and harm conservation efforts.

“Most of what people know about sharks is obtained through movies, or the news, where sharks are typically presented as something to be deeply feared,” Dr Le Busque says.

“Since Jaws, we’ve seen a proliferation of monster shark movies – Open Water, The Meg, 47 Metres Down, Sharknado – all of which overtly present sharks as terrifying creatures with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. This is just not true.

“Sharks are at much greater risk of harm from humans, than humans from sharks, with global shark populations in rapid decline, and many species at risk of extinction.

“Exacerbating a fear of sharks that’s disproportionate to their actual threat, damages conservation efforts, often influencing people to support potentially harmful mitigation strategies.

“There’s no doubt that the legacy of Jaws persists, but we must be mindful of how films portray sharks to capture movie-goers. This is an important step to debunk shark myths and build shark conservation.”

Note:

Shark Week is 12-18 July 2021

Shark Awareness Day is 14 July 2021

 

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Just get the jab(s)

By 2353NM

The wailing and gnashing of teeth that you can currently hear in your community isn’t a product of the sporting results last weekend or the sudden correction of housing prices. Rather it is the anti-vaxxers and their fellow travellers living the experience they feared – namely those who are vaccinated against COVID-19 don’t drop dead a week or so after the injection, they aren’t suddenly 5G transmitters, their wi-fi at home is no better than it was and there isn’t a sudden increase in the number of mindless automatons roaming the world randomly yelling ‘exterminate’. Apart from some usually manageable side effects (using the 2021 version of a ‘cuppa tea, Bex and a good lie down’), pretty much everyone is quite well and capable of continuing with their daily lives. The few who do have blood clots are well treated in the Australian health care system and with (sadly) two possible exceptions to date, have gone home to go on with their lives.

Essentially there are two ways out of a pandemic. Either everyone dies or there is the development of a ‘herd immunity’. Sweden initially chose to naturally develop herd immunity showing us all the strategy was a complete and tragic failure. From a population of around 10 million people, they have recorded 14,451 deaths to the end of May 2021, were forced to introduce restrictions and have vaccinated a far larger proportion of their population than achieved by the ‘world leading’ Australian response. Similar evidence comes from Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Johnson’s UK and Trump’s USA where the ‘business as usual’ attitude ultimately and sadly cost people’s lives. A vaccine creates ‘herd immunity’ provided sufficient people are vaccinated.

Prime Minister Morrison, even while castigating the Premiers of Western Australia and Queensland for closing borders to those from other states introduced severe restrictions on Australian’s leaving and attempting to re-enter the country. As pointed out in the The Australian Frequent Flyer Gazette

Among its peers in the Western world, Australia is unique in banning its residents from leaving the country.

New Zealand, which has adopted a very similar strategy to Australia in dealing with COVID-19, has not banned its citizens from travelling overseas. It just strongly discourages it.

Although it too discourages non-essential travel, Canada does not ban people from exiting the country either. Neither does Singapore, although the Singaporean government won’t cover the medical expenses of nationals who return home with COVID-19.

For a few months earlier this year, the UK government did impose a ban on non-essential travel out of the UK. But anyone with an urgent reason to travel simply had to fill out a form. This restriction was removed earlier this month.

Clearly quarantining works for a period, but there is a cost to it. If you are only allowing a certain number of people into a ‘sterile’ area once certain pre-conditions are met, you need to have sufficient purpose-built space for the expected demand. Clearly, Australia doesn’t. With multiple cases of variants of the COVID-19 virus ‘escaping’ from quarantine in hotels in Australia’s largest cities, the current process isn’t good enough. While hotels are probably a reasonable stop gap as their usual business has been decimated, they are not designed for the purpose of keeping people, their potential illnesses and possible avenues of cross-infection apart forever.

For most of the 20th century, the Federal Government owned and managed quarantine facilities in most states. As they were built in the age of sea travel, most were near ports and as the land became valuable, they were sold off. The quarantine centre at Howard Springs just outside Darwin, apparently the only purpose-built current-day facility in the country has reportedly not let the virus into the community. Morrison has recently, and very reluctantly, agreed to a new quarantine centre in Victoria somewhere near the international standard airport and the construction of a centre in Queensland near Toowoomba should also be progressed. Toowoomba’s Wellcamp Airport is an international standard airport that routinely accepts and dispatches 747 and 777 freight aircraft owned by a number of foreign airlines. Toowoomba is also less than 2 hours from Brisbane by road. The NSW State Government is also asking for a specifically designed and built quarantine facility.

However, we can’t welcome everyone to Australia for the next 20 years by bunging them into quarantine for 2 weeks at a small number of quarantine centres. Despite initial vaccine nationalism and political skullduggery, it now seems that there is an increasing understanding that if the world isn’t protected against COVID19, none of us are. The US Government has announced it will be donating 500million COVID19 vaccine doses as well as the billions in funding that it has already given to the UN’s COVAX initiative. Other G7countries are also playing their part to ensure there is a billion donated COVID-19 vaccine doses available for those countries that can’t afford to vaccinate everyone.

Despite muttering that ‘it’s not a race’, primarily because it shows up Morrison’s lack of action in comparison to his ‘world class response’ promises, vaccinating all those who can be vaccinated is a race. The race that will allow those that want to visit dear Aunt Doris in Dalton-in-Furness (UK) for her 95th birthday; pursue business opportunities with a firm in Talent, OR (USA); introduce the kids to their grandparents in Hue (Vietnam) or even see Niagara Falls in Canada the ghost of a chance to do so. Businesses across Australia will certainly be better off if they are not disposing of perishable stock in trade on a regular basis because of yet another lockdown. Who knows, those that routinely read The Australian Frequent Flyer Gazette may get their kicks by sitting on a plane for 13 hours to Los Angeles again, if that’s how they enjoy themselves!

And it can’t be just a race in one country, it has to be world-wide. Those countries that can afford to do so should be vaccinating their population as quickly as possible. Australia isn’t. The vaccination allocation and booking system is confusing, duplicated and unfathomable to those that really do have other things to do with their lives. There is no transparency on the number of vaccine doses Australia has, where they are and how they are being used. The best way of engendering confidence in the capability of a organisation to deliver a required service is for the organisation to be open and transparent on the process and delivery. We are doing somewhat better in donating funding to COVAX and assisting some countries in the South West Pacific that don’t have the financial means to ensure that their populations are vaccinated.

While some have good and valid reasons, such as allergies to one of the vaccine components to consider in regard to this or any other vaccine, the majority of us have nothing to fear except fear or irrationality itself. Jane Gilmour produced a lot of statistics in The New Daily that proved there is more risk in using a battery drill or driving to the local green box hardware store next weekend than getting a blood clot from the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

So, while this website doesn’t profess to offer medical advice – do yourself (and the rest of us) a favour as soon as you can – just get the jab(s).

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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Immigration does not harm wages outcomes for Australians: CEDA

CEDA Media Statement

Recent commentary from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) perpetuates the myth that immigration harms the employment and wages prospects of local workers, when CEDA analysis of migration data shows otherwise, says CEDA Senior Economist Gabriela D’Souza.

In a speech this week titled The Labour Market and Monetary Policy, RBA Governor Philip Lowe said while Australia’s high levels of migration had helped to boost the economy, in some cases when firms hired overseas workers “to overcome bottlenecks and fill specific gaps” this “dilutes” wage pressures and “can also dilute the incentive for businesses to train workers.”

“It would be great if this question, which has plagued labour economists for decades, was resolved with such certainty, but there’s no evidence to suggest this is true,” Ms D’Souza said.

“The literature shows that the interaction between migration and the labour market is complex.

“Migrants supply labour, but they also consume goods and services, and in so doing they add to broader economic activity.

Research by myself and others has shown that immigration does not harm the employment prospects of local workers, and yet the myth persists.

“So much of Australia’s economy, including our ability to invest in capital and business’ confidence that projects can go ahead, depends on the know-how and skills of our often carefully-selected migrants.

“The existing body of research in this field has shown migration to have a small-to-negligible positive effect on aggregate wages in the economy.

“In addition to this, skilled primary migrants have a positive impact on the Budget. The Federal Government’s latest Intergenerational Report estimates that skilled primary migrants net the Federal Government $319,000 over their lifetime.

“They also add to activity in the economy to the tune of $4.2 million over the course of their lifetime (in net present value terms) through consumption of goods and services.

“In addition to effects like these we can measure, there are also likely to be other spillover benefits that we can’t yet measure.

“Economists know that the true underlying driver of real wage growth will be productivity.

“Governments and businesses need to consider what levers they can pull to increase productivity to fuel wage growth.

“Playing around with immigration targets won’t get us there. In fact, it could move us further away from this ultimate goal.”

About CEDA

CEDA – the Committee for Economic Development of Australia – is an independent, membership-based think tank.

CEDA’s purpose is to identify policy issues that matter for Australia’s future and pursue solutions that deliver better economic and social outcomes for the greater good.

CEDA has almost 700 members including leading Australian businesses, community organisations, government departments and academic institutions. Our cross-sector membership spans every state and territory.

CEDA was founded in 1960 by leading economist Sir Douglas Copland. His legacy of applying economic analysis to practical problems to aid the development of Australia continues to drive our work today.

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Corrupted census data on religion ‘gifts’ billions to Churches

By Brian Morris

On Tuesday 10th August every Australian will be asked to complete the 5-yearly census. A primary objective of each census is to collect accurate data from individuals and households, allowing the federal government to provide, “better services and infrastructure planning – and to responsibly allocate funding and resources.”

One section of the census – over many decades – has been anything but “responsible”. New academic research now validates what secular organisations have known for years – that census Question 23 on Religious Affiliation is a loaded question that corrupts the statistics. It inflates the status of religion and allows billions in unjustified funding to be granted to wealthy church institutions, to the detriment of secular public health and education.

Costing $470 million in 2016, and tipped to be higher this August, taxpayers expect the census to be reliable and accurate. It is not. It’s crystal clear that on one question in particular, census data is hopelessly corrupted.

Research specialist, Neil Francis, has completed an academic analysis of religion in society to produced a 152-page in-depth study; Religiosity in Australia. The findings are stark, with political ramifications that run deep.

“At the 2016 census, 60% of Australians indicated an affiliation with a religious denomination. This is widely assumed a reliable headline indication of Australians’ religiosity. It isn’t. Bias in the census religion question leads to overstatement of affiliation on weak family historical grounds, rather than actual religious belief and practice.”

ABS – the Australian Bureau of Statistics – is responsible for every aspect of each census. They should know their published results are misleading, so the questions to ask are (1) why is that so, and (2) how is it that ABS has for decades rejected calls from nation-wide secular organisations for a more “balanced” question? We shall come to that shortly, but first, what is the census question ABS has been asking for so long, and why is it misleading?

Headlining the religious question is a bold statement; Religious Affiliation. Instinctively, it helps contaminate the data by inferring a family affiliated bias. Then, the loaded question; “What is the person’s religion?” Implicitly it assumes every citizen has a religion, and it sets up a wrong conclusion that Australia is a “Christian nation.”

Following each census since 2006, hundreds of submissions have called for a more ‘open’ question but ABS has rejected them all. They claim the question should not be altered as it requires “continuity” – and their priority is only to test “affiliation”, not a person’s genuine belief or religious commitment.

But the question has indeed been modified in the past, and “affiliation” simply skews the truth of a current religious conviction – or lack of belief. It encourages regression to childhood, and a family-induced faith that is no longer followed or relevant.

Patently, ABS is not interested in collecting current “here and now” data on the religious beliefs of Australians – and we shall ask “why” shortly. In ‘Religiosity in Australia’ Neil Francis again points to how the data is corrupted.

“When expressly asked if they ‘belong’ to their religious organisation, a majority – 62 percent of Australians – say they don’t, including 24 percent Catholics, 44 percent of Anglicans.”

These are alarming statistics when ABS recorded just 30 percent ‘No Religion’ in 2016. And Dr Andy Marks, the vice-chancellor of Western Sydney University, says only 7.5 percent of MPs identify as “No Religion”. Measured against the realistic public figure at 62 percent, citizens are a staggering 8 times less religious than federal MPs.

Creating a false picture of religiosity in Australia has allowed governments to hand out billions in additional taxpayer funds to wealthy churches to run their private religious enterprises in nation-wide education, health, welfare and aged care – most of which has little to do with genuine charity or public service.

Historically, an unhealthy symbiosis between religion and government is well established

Over millennia, it is inescapable that governments foster and support religion as a means of calming the masses – and they continue to do so. It’s the tried-and-true ‘carrot and stick’ philosophy of Imperial Rome – cooperate and prosper, or face the consequences. Countless philosophers have written on the symbiotic relationship between religion and government. One of the first was Lucius Annaeus Seneca – the 1st century CE stoic philosopher – who stated; “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.”

So why has ABS rejected every call for greater transparency?

It is a fair question, given recent events. Church leaders and a host of Christian activists lobby MPs continually for greater religious privileges – and increasingly so since Same Sex Marriage was legalised in 2017. And it’s not unusual that governments, too, will influence sections of the public service. Pork-barrelling has a long tarnished history – most recently with rorts in sport and car park funding.

The ABC’s Insiders program, on 4th July, saw journalist Karen Middleton refer to the growing concern over the “Car Park” rorts – where Scott Morrison is said to have signed off on a swag of car park projects in marginal Liberal seats, just days prior to the 2019 election. Middleton said, “so you’re seeing public servants now making a ‘political’ defence of the government”. She pointed to departments bowing to projects that were critically flawed.

And on 5th July, online journal Independent Australia published a report that senior figures at the Reserve Bank of Australia had made inaccurate statements in support of the government. Public servants are required to serve the nation without partisan bias. There’s concern, too, that Australia has lost its top-10 global anti-corruption ranking.

Has ABS come under any pressure to maintain the status of religion?

The question needs to be asked. All parliamentarians – and mainstream media too – would do well to read the full 152-page Religiosity in Australia. The report has amassed clear evidence that public support for organised religion is not simply “in decline”, it has essentially degraded to half the figure suggested by the 2016 census.

Primarily it’s a rump of devout Catholics, evangelicals, and Pentecostals who believe that only they are qualified to govern – much like PM Scott Morrison, and others, who claim they were called to do “God’s work.”

Combining religion and politics has never ended well – particularly when conservative governments enmesh with the new “puritan” strains of religion that are based on the beliefs of biblical literalism. They deny science, climate change, and human evolution – and tragically, these parents teach their kids the same misinformation.

Regrettably, ABS helps perpetuate this fallacy of a ‘Christian nation’. And they show another bizarre distortion of reality. In this August 10th census ABS will now include ATHEISM as an optional “religion” – the provocative claim of evangelists! Has the Bureau completely lost the plot, or somehow been influenced to play religious politics?

Brian Morris is a former Journalist and Public Relations professional and the author of Sacred to Secular, a critically acclaimed analysis of Christianity, its origins and the harm that it does. You can read more about him here.

 

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Smirkulation

By Kerri

Around this time, last year, when Melbourne was heading into our longest lockdown, I posted a comment; “Not the worst, just the first.”

Last week Dr Norman Swan commented that Melbourne people are more compliant and more likely to follow rules and Sydney people are more complacent, and that is why Melbourne has been better at addressing outbreaks effectively than Sydney.

Read an article yesterday where the writer claimed that NSW is not as bad as everyone is saying! It is simply the old Melbourne vs Sydney rivalry. I didn’t read the last few paragraphs as I had picked the writer for a Sydneysider doing the usual “we are beyond reproach because we are Sydney and are so much better than the rest of Australia.”

Am currently watching a presser with Mark Mc Gowan where he was asked about lack of compliance in NSW and replied that he was horrified by the footage he had seen of beaches and outdoor venues in NSW, and that both Morrison and Berejiklian were basically begging people to be compliant. He also commented that it was not acceptable for any state or territory to let the virus rip then send their infected citizens off to infect other states and that we shouldn’t have to apply hard borders when other states were not being as careful. (Keeping in mind WA’s recent lockdown was from a resident who was infected in NSW.)

So it’s not just a “Melbourne/Sydney” thing! It may well be a LNP/ALP thing but Gold Standard Gladys, whilst being criticised less, is being criticised by more than just Melbourne residents.

It is definitely a political thing because the LNP could not resist painting Dan Andrews as the demon (Dictator Dan) in our first serious lockdown, both to bad mouth Andrews, who has an approval rating Morrison can only dream of, and to deflect blame from the federal authorities who were pretty much abdicating responsibility for anything COVID-19.

#Scottyfrommarketing, just as he did with his vaccine preference, put all his political eggs into the vaccination rollout, figuring it would be a good PR exercise and a sweet little vote-getter. He also figured it would be less work than controlling the virus spread and he would have time to watch the Sharkies or do more photo ops or announcements or maybe even slip off to another tropical island like he did with the bushfires!

From all eggs to eggs all over his face the Machiavellian Morrison just keeps digging and distracting and re-writing history.

I have taken to watching a YouTube channel where a group of highly-experienced body language experts discuss and analyse televised interviews. These guys do military interrogation training and tactics for public speaking so they are not simple daytime TV guests. One phrase that crops up regularly, because it happens regularly, is “chaff and re-direct.” This refers to bringing up useless, pointless narratives and information (chaff) to cloud the topic and send it off in a different direction (re-direct).

Morrison considers himself an expert on this tactic. That is one point on which I would like to agree with him, however, I suspect most Australians are now beginning to see through that play.

Smirkmo is renowned for his regular smirk which has sometimes been credited to “duper’s delight.” “Duper’s delight” is when a person feels they are getting away with their lies and getting one over their opponent.

IMHO Smirkmo suffers from “premature smirkulation” in that he smirks when he thinks he has said something that will fool his audience rather than when his audience shows signs of having been fooled by him.

Meanwhile, the conspiracy theorists and Dan Andrews haters continue with their belief that Dan’s stair fall was a case of him being drunk! As my 27 year old said:

“I still don’t understand why it matters if he was drunk.

We are not in prohibition era America.

It is not a crime to get drunk and fall over hahaha!”

And as I keep saying when this is argued: He was on leave. He was not at work. If he did get drunk it is no-one’s business but his own.

Wishing that Andrews accident could be blamed on something scandalous and 1920s and nefarious or something more befitting our newest 2nd time ‘round deputy PM, does not do much to dent Andrews reputation other than with those who are already happy to swallow the “duper’s delight” the federal politician in chief is offering.

PS: Which is worse?

Getting drunk and falling down some stairs?

Or being perpetually drunk, being accused of groping women and having that complaint covered up by a mate with similar accusations?

Just saying? 🤷🏼‍♂️

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All the suspiciously timed disappearances of Scott Morrison

By Andrew Wicks

Well, he’d done it again. Scott Morrison had vanished, leaving the nation to steer itself through the dangerous waters he’d created.

Where do you go, my Scotty? Once again, we’re in a familiar pickle. We’re not doing well, and the Prime Minister was nowhere to be found. Why? Well, that’s the real question. Yesterday, New South Wales, the state he wasn’t “worried about” quietly decided that it’ll have to exist alongside the Delta variant, with Gladys Berejiklian telling the media that, “you can’t live with the Delta variant unless you have a certain proportion your population vaccinated.”

Again, per Berejiklian, that proportion of the population is 80 per cent. A figure that the state will not be able to reach. So, what does this have to do with Scott Morrison? Well, he made the vaccine rollout a federal responsibility. Right now, we’re either throwing the AstraZeneca vaccine we manufactured in the bin, or giving it to those under 40, or most Australians can receive the Pfizer vaccine, or not. We don’t know. In fact, the only thing we all know, is nothing.

But, putting COVID aside for a minute, Morrison decided to travel to the UK recently (which he could do, as he was the first in line to be vaccinated) to sign a deal with Boris Johnson, and potentially squeeze in a holiday, as he decided to fertilise the Morrison family tree and get on the tins. Upon his return, he entered into a mandatory two week period of quarantine. But, if we can also put that to the side for a moment, what we have is a pattern. It seems that every time there’s bad news afoot, or a dip in the opinion polls, he makes himself scarce. Famously, Scott Morrison travelled to Japan (which required another quarantine period) a week after making international headlines when he answered for Anne Ruston who was asked about whether she experienced misogyny as a woman in parliament. This trip also coincided with the release of the brutal photos (and reports) into the behaviour of our troops in Afghanistan.

While we can exclude the trip to Hawaii during the apocalyptic bushfires of 2019 as the most egregious (and played out) example (which was also his third holiday of 2019), critics have estimated that he took four weeks off in the last six months of 2020. Indeed, in December 2020, when travel restrictions were announced due to the Avalon cluster, he was silent, re-igniting suspicion and causing the #WheresScotty hashtag to trend.

In early January, he announced another week of leave. This was, of course, after he took a separate break over the Christmas period. Now, I’m not saying that our elected officials should work long hours without the possibility of a break, or holidays, but the rest of us are doing exactly that.

Per the January press release, “during my short absence, the Deputy Prime Minister will undertake my duties for this period, including regular health and economic briefings, the planned roll-out of our vaccine program… while away I remain in contact with the Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly.”

In March 2021, faced with the countrywide March 4 Justice (primarily enabled by his serious mishandling of the Brittany Higgins allegations, and clearing Christian Porter without an investigation), he decided to take another break. As Antoinette Latouf wrote for News.com.au, “While Canberra faces allegations of a dangerous culture towards young female staffers, it seems the Prime Minister has again opted to take a break. But with overseas holidays no longer an option, Mr Morrison seems to be chilling out behind his myrtle oak timber desk in Parliament House. When the scenery there gets a little dull, the PM heads to The Lodge. By refusing to go out and meet with the thousands of protesters in Canberra at the March 4 Justice this week, Mr Morrison is refusing to listen to more than 50 per cent of the country. Women.”

Interestingly, this small break coincided with his worst Newspoll results since his famous Hawaiian holiday. In the interest of fairness, he did eventually ask to meet with the women of the nation… but behind closed doors. In an interesting sidebar, he reappeared after the march, calling it a success… because it didn’t end in gunfire.

What we see, obviously, is a tactic… or a constant taking of the piss. As it stands, we’re in the midst of a once-in-a-generation pandemic (and the looming financial crisis to come), one that a heavily flawed vaccine rollout is supposed to solve. There’s also the fact that our relationship with China, our biggest trade partner, is unravelling. Yet, the man we’re paying an estimated $550,000 is acting like a small-town civil servant with a swell to surf.

Whether the estimates are accurate, speaks to the vibe he’s cultivated, considering his level of responsibility, it seems far too many. But, crucially, we don’t know, and thus, it becomes a problem marginalised as an unhelpful gripe. As Labor’s Richard Marles put it (which was carried by Sky News) “What Scott Morrison needs to do is stand up and take responsibility. In the midst of a crisis, in the midst of difficulty or the moment it’s going really tough you can guarantee he will go missing.”

If we consider a transatlantic comparison, I feel we need something close to Trumpgolfcount.com, a website that measures the frequency and taxpayer cost of Donald Trump’s infamously frequent tee-times. For the curious, Donald had 298 golf days in 2020, costing the taxpayer $144,000,000. How good is independent oversight?

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Dude, where’s our federal anti-corruption body?

By TBS Newsbot

As we endure another pork barrelling scandal, we should not forget how our federal anti-corruption watchdog was quietly put down.

This week, the nation has endured the whiff of another acrid pork barrelling scandal, this time involving commuter car parks. As Crikey put it:

“… a report from the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) revealed the government had funnelled money from a program to fund commuter car parks towards projects in Coalition-held or marginal Labor seats ahead of the 2019 election.

“The report found 87% of the projects, funded through the Urban Construction Fund, were in Coalition held electorates or target electorates. The seats with the most projects – like Goldstein and Kooyong in Victoria – are all held by the Coalition. Then-urban infrastructure minister Alan Tudge and staff in the Prime Minister’s Office were involved in the key decisions.”

But while Labor and crossbench ministers clamour for a hearing on the issue, one has to wonder what happened to the anti-corruption watchdog we were repeatedly told was coming.

After promising to establish a federal anti-corruption body in December 2018, the Morrison government finally produced its draft legislation outlining its proposed version of a federal ICAC in November of 2020.

Having dragged his feet for near on two years, the attorney general only produced the exposure draft of the Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) Bill 2020, after Independent Helen Haines introduced her own legislation outlining a more robust version of the watchdog a week earlier.

While all states and territories currently have their own such bodies, there’s no one keeping an eye on politicians at the federal level. So, the CIC would investigate federal level public sector and law enforcement agencies, with an integrity commissioner overseeing it.

The commission would subsume the ACLEI, which already weeds out corrupt practices within federal law enforcement agencies via public hearings. But when it comes to the public sector – 80% of the public service, including politicians – the CIC would hold closed-door hearings.

This lack of transparency has led to it being labelled a toothless watchdog. And while the hidden aspect seems suspect, it’s in keeping with the Coalition’s enhancement of state secrecy, whether that be with the closed-door trialling of whistleblowers or matters of “national security.”

But all of that is now seemingly irrelevant, as there was tiny admission hidden in the recent budget, one that reduced the staff number of the department from 76 to zero.

In conversation with The Guardian, Australia Institute senior researcher Bill Browne suggests the government are trying to “pull a fast one” by sneaking through the erasure in the finest of fine prints. Very simply put, there will be no independent body that will investigate federal corruption either this year, or next; which also means that it will not be done before the election.

 

 

“Clearly something has changed between last October when budget papers revealed 76 CIC staff expected in the coming year, with the budget yesterday revising that figure down to zero,” Browne said.

As MP Tim Watts put it, it is “… yet another example of a Scott Morrison announcement that will never be delivered. Always looking after themselves, not the national interest.”

So, let’s take a closer look at why Morrison and company are so obviously reluctant to establish an anti-corruption body.

Bad weather

“Strategically, any government wants proposed new laws, like a federal ICAC, to be made public and debated in a quiet period,” explained Civil Liberties Australia (CLA) CEO Bill Rowlings. “But the Morrison government is bedevilled by the background climate being so poor.”

This problematic backdrop, Rowlings continued, includes “police excesses” during the COVID lockdown, abuse within the ranks of the “previously godlike SAS,” and the alleged “sexual misogyny of senior cabinet ministers,” which just came to light this week.

The last incident involves attorney-general Christian Porter, the minister responsible for the drafting of the CIC legislation. And there are a number of other issues hounding the nation’s chief lawmaker, such as his prolonged nondisclosure of NSI orders and the gagging of defence contract information.

The Coalition opened up 2020 with the sports rorts affair, which saw the demise of a cabinet minister. Although the PM assures he had nothing to do with the scandal that involved the awarding of grants to community sporting clubs in marginal seats prior to the federal election.

“From their perspective, the last thing AG Porter and PM Morrison want to do is to launch the CIC into such a boisterous and poisonous environment,” Rowlings told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.

A patchwork of deceit

According to Rowlings, Porter has drafted close to 50 versions of the CIC before begrudgingly releasing the current one. And the changes he’s been making along the way have involved removing powers that could hold politicians and senior bureaucrats to account.

“The people don’t want a CIC watchdog which is held on a tight chain,” declared the long-term civil liberties advocate. And he ought to know. His organisation has been proactively lobbying for a federal watchdog over the last 12 months, but, unlike Porter’s, they’re pushing for one with teeth.

“The people want a watchdog that can round up the obvious nasties,” he added, “but also prowl the outer boundaries of propriety, where much of the usually unseen patronage is dispensed by people in power.”

An example of prowling around to unearth suspect behaviour that “would normally fly under the radar” is the “Leppington Triangle” affair. It saw the federal government use $30 million in public money to purchase a strip of land for the Western Sydney Airport that was later valued at $3 million.

And while the Morrison government has finally come to the table with its version of an anti-corruption watchdog after a two-year hiatus, it’s actually guaranteed further delays, as it’s opened up the draft exposure bill to a six month consultation period

Razor-sharp teeth

The NSW ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) is seen as the sterling example of a watchdog with reach. And funnily enough, it was the Liberal Party that oversaw its establishment with Nick Greiner being elected NSW premier in 1988 on a platform that included anti-corruption.

If established, Porter’s CIC would have the same enhanced investigative powers of the ICAC, which include those testifying not having the right to remain silent or the ability to refuse to produce documents.

However, while those powers are on the table, the Coalition model ensures that they won’t be exercised, as public sector hearings will be held in secret, the scope of corruption is limited to criminal offences, there’s an offence allowing for the prosecution of whistleblowers over questionable claims, and basically, only a minister can make a public sector referral.

Indeed, the NSW example might be what’s leading the Liberals to fear instating a body with the ability to sniff out corruption, as within years of its establishment, revelations from the ICAC led Greiner to resign, while it also claimed the scalp of then-premier Barry O’Farrell in 2014.

No shortage of fodder

When asked about recent scandals that might warrant the establishment of a federal anti-corruption commission, Rowlings was not short for words.

“Just in the past year, we have had some classic cases that should attract formal attention for possible corruption,” he said.

Along with the sports rorts grants, he pointed to Angus Taylor’s grassland issue, the alleged use of federal electorate offices for branch stacking – possibly by both major parties – and ASIC’s failure to take action against corporations.

Rowlings also pointed to a few more discrepancies that involve the architect behind the Coalition’s proposed CIC.

There was Porter’s stacking of the Administrative Affairs Tribunal with favourable judicial officers right before the last election, which “he thought the Coalition was going to lose”, and then there’s the attorney general’s decision to approve the prosecution of Witness K and lawyer Bernard Collaery, after his predecessor George Brandis refused to do so.

“The list can go on and on,” Rowlings concluded.

This article was originally published on The Big Smoke.

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Half of our federal laws were passed without oversight

By Paul Gregoire

A Senate inquiry has discovered that the Morrison government has been passing laws in private, using COVID-19 as an excuse.

Executive branches of government are increasingly relying upon a form of law-making that bypasses any input from Parliament, as well as avoiding its veto powers. Known as delegated legislation, this process involves a series of instruments known as regulations, rules, and determinations.

Delegating the executive to draft certain laws is nothing new. What has changed is that governments are increasingly relying on it to the point that around half of all federal laws are now made this way. And another growing aspect is depriving parliament of its ability to vote against these laws.

A Senate committee charged with scrutinising delegated legislation has released its final report into the lack of parliamentary oversight involved in this form of law-making, which has been utilised substantially during the current political and social climate of uncertainty.

Instigated by the committee itself early last year, the inquiry was called to analyse the rising use of delegated legislation, especially as the onset of COVID-19 had provided the Health Minister with extraordinary powers to issue orders – under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth) – without any oversight.

So, against a recent backdrop of the Morrison government having passed a proliferation of rights-eroding national security laws, together with pursuing closed court political prosecutions, and clamping down on press freedoms, the Coalition is now law-making by decree.

A dictatorship of the few

“The laws that govern us should be passed by parliaments – by our own elected representatives,” said Bill Rowlings, president of Civil Liberties Australia (CLA): an organisation that’s long campaigned against the growing practice of allowing the few ministers of the executive to make the rules.

“If new laws can be written, and old ones extended, without the formal approval of parliaments, we’re being ruled by an elite mix of executive government and bureaucrats who can draft the laws that suit them, without supervision by the people, or the people’s representatives,” he made clear.

Rowlings explained that the process of delegating legislation to the executive – meaning the usual power of the parliament to make the law has been set aside – started off as a “very infrequent exception,” yet now this capacity is being abused by government ministers.

For an example of this, we can consider the Biosecurity Act 2015 (NSW). This was drafted by the NSW government and subsequently debated and amended by both houses of state parliament. Following its passing, it became law and the same process would have to be taken to change it.

However, the Act is accompanied by a legislative instrument known as the Biosecurity Regulation 2017 (NSW), which permits the NSW executive to draft new laws to insert within it, without any input from Parliament.

So, when the Berejiklian government wanted to crack down on protests in 2019, it simply changed the regulation.

“A system like that is variously called a dictatorship of the elite, or sometimes a police state when it’s the police who are demanding the new laws, or extensions to old laws,” the civil liberties advocate told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.

Autocratic tendencies

“We must get the house in order, before our ability to do so slips away” is the title of a 16 March media release announcing the tabling of the final report of the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation inquiry into delegated legislation and parliamentary oversight.

The SDLC warns that while “ultimate law-making authority” should rest with parliament, last year it was prevented from scrutinising 299 laws made by the executive, including laws involving travel bans, increasing the debt ceiling to $1.2 trillion, and lowering local TV content requirements.

According to the SDLC, delegated legislation increasingly involves significant policy decisions. And of last year’s delegated legislation, 17.4 per cent of it was exempt from parliamentary disallowance, which means the executive dictated these laws with absolutely no oversight or veto potential.

The SDLC report made 11 recommendations, three of which the Senate resolved to act upon in mid-June. These include sending a strong message to the executive that parliament should retain a veto capacity in relation to all delegated legislation.

Further, the Senate is calling on the attorney general to set out the rationale behind the regulation that permits certain delegated legislation be exempt from disallowance. And the third point is that it reserves the right to scrutinise all such legislation even if it is exempt from disallowance.

Silencing dissent

The government has recently amended the Australian Charities and Not‑for‑Profits Commission Regulation 2013 (Cth), in such a way to make charities liable for any involvement in protests that result in minor offences, or for provoking such actions, via threat of being deregistered.

These new rules became law in late June. And they were subject to a potential veto by either house of parliament as the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission Act 2012 (Cth) – which governs the regulation – requires the approval of both houses when altering the instrument.

However, what did occur was the executive was able to draft these draconian laws stifling the ability of charities and not-for-profits to criticise government, and parliament was not able to debate them or alter them in any way.

Required pushback

“Basically, creating delegated legislation without checks and balances takes power from the parliament,” explained Rowlings. “Under the system, no longer are our MPs in charge of the law of the land.”

According to the CLA president, the system of delegated legislation created a simple process for the government to go back and adjust the rules and regulations relating to specific Acts if they’d overlooked a certain aspect or made a mistake at the time of drafting.

However, there’s since been a significant shift in the understanding of how this “lazy” process can be used to avoid the scrutiny of elected MPs that aren’t members of the executive.

In relation to the pushback coming from the SDLC, Rowlings said, it’s “a healthy and welcome response from responsible parliamentarians of both major parties in particular.”

“It takes courage for them to stand up to bullying tactics by the executive government,” he added.

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on civil rights, drug law reform, gender and Indigenous issues. Along with Sydney Criminal Lawyers, he writes for VICE and is the former news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

 

This article was originally published on The Big Smoke.

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The gas-fired recovery

By 2353NM

One of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s grand announcements early in the pandemic was the formation of a group of business and technical experts to plan the way out of the (then assumed) deep economic pandemic recession. The theory was this group of ‘experts’ would develop the mitigation strategy for managing the economics around COVID-19 and the ‘climb out of the abyss’ when an eventual ‘cure’ to COVID was identified. In September 2020, the glossy marketing information and the press release promoting a ‘gas fired’ recovery was the result. If you want to see the Government’s Press Release it’s here but neither Morrison, Energy Minister Angus Taylor or Northern Australia Minister Keith Pitt mention the environmental impacts of burning more fossil fuels.

While burning gas isn’t as devastating to the environment as burning coal – the end result could be compared to being a ‘little bit pregnant’ – there is no halfway, just as pregnancy is an ‘all or nothing’ event, burning fossil fuels is damaging to the environment. Part of Morrison’s plan was the opening of various probable reserves of natural gas for exploration and exploitation by mining and energy companies, the same group of people that had representation on the Morrison’s advisory panel. Despite the rhetoric, no one seems to be particularly interested in ‘owning’ the decision – except for Morrison.

We recently discussed the lack of private capital interest in the proposed Kurri Kurri (NSW Hunter Valley) gas fired power plant that Morrison claims is absolutely necessary for electricity supply on the almost National Grid despite ‘the market’ claiming it might be switched on for 2% of the year, if at all. Of course the claim of the coal crusaders across both major political parties is that we need fossil fuelled power generation for the baseload.

The recent catastrophic failure of a turbine at the Callide C power station near Biloela in Central Queensland demonstrates that even ‘reliable’ coal fired power generation is not something that we should bank on. Callide C is one of the newest power stations in the country and the turbine in question was overhauled last year to, as the reports suggest, ‘operate safely and reliably’.

While considering the calls from various interest groups for more baseload power, it is actually interesting to read the definition of baseload power – it’s not what you think.

Baseload, however, is not a virtue. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the minimum required amount of electricity to keep the lights on.

It’s the opposite. It instead describes one of the fundamental shortcomings of coal-fired electricity generators and the inflexibility of steam engines. You can only turn them down to a certain point – the baseload – beyond which, you have to shut them down. They then take weeks to fire back up.

The railways swapped to diesel and electric traction decades ago to overcome the same issue. It’s far easier and cheaper for the operator to turn up, turn the machine on and go. A gas-fired power plant can also be switched on and off at will, so Morrison’s gas plan does have one advantage over coal fired power generation. Pity there are also some deal breakers with burning stuff to make electricity.

Where’s the gas coming from? Morrison’s open invitation to prospectors to invest in potential gas-producing assets is probably going nowhere when the large energy companies such as Shell, Chevon and Exxon Mobil are being ordered by courts or their own shareholders to substantially reduce carbon emissions almost immediately. His ‘gas-fired’ power plant will initially operate on diesel as there is no gas extraction in the area and seemingly no private concern that will commit the funding to make it happen.

The economics don’t stack up. Regardless of the traditional wisdom, political will or the honestly held beliefs of some members of the community, renewable energy is cheaper to produce than energy produced by fossil fuel and in most cases is dispatchable, hardly the case with coal fired generators. True, the sun doesn’t shine at midnight, but wind continues as do the action of the waves. There is also existing and well understood technology to store solar power for ’later on’ – not all of it being large scale batteries, although large scale batteries also play a pivotal role in stabilising the grid.

The Australian Federal Court has ruled that the Nation’s Environment Minister and Governmenthas a legal duty not to cause harm to young people of Australia by exacerbating climate change when approving coal mining projects.” While the case will eventually get to the High Court, it is hard to make a logical argument that expansion or creation of infrastructure that produces fossil fuel for consumption doesn’t also increase carbon emissions.

Maybe the answer is literally staring at us in the face. Air is a gas, those that are actively promoting further environmental damage despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary are producing hot air. So is Morrison’s ‘gas-fired’ recovery just hot air and all about impressing those around him while trying to recover from the ‘damage’ he caused to the Conservative’s ‘small government’ and ‘budget surplus’ mantras?

What do you think?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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