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Genetic secrets of kangaroo paws to be revealed

Edith Cowan University Media Release

Western Australian kangaroo paws are under the microscope as part of a quest to understand more about this iconic flower.

Dr David Field from Edith Cowan University’s School of Science is leading an international research team assembling the first kangaroo paw genome.

He said the project would open opportunities to breed plants with new colour varieties and disease resistance and build our understanding of the evolutionary history of kangaroo paws.

“Understanding the genetic basis of traits helps us decipher the blueprint underlying variation we see in nature,” Dr Field said.

“Once we identify some of the genes responsible for traits including flower colour or disease resistance, we can use this information to breed new varieties of resilient plants.

“Some kangaroo paws have desirable floral or growth traits but are highly susceptible to ink spot disease. Understanding the genetic basis of these traits will allow us to mix and match combinations of desirable traits between species.”

Dr Field said despite the status of kangaroo paw as Western Australia’s floral emblem, there was only rudimentary understanding of the genomes of these unusual plants.

“Assembling the genome and comparing the DNA sequence between varieties will unlock vast amounts of information regarding the evolutionary history of the 11 known species of kangaroo paws, helping us understand how new species form and how biodiversity is generated,” he said.

The team, which includes researchers from Kings Park Botanical Gardens, aims to provide the blueprint for the development of new plant varieties to appeal to Western Australia’s annual $50M horticultural market.

The project is expected to be completed by 2024.

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Include the ABC and SBS in media code talks, say the Greens

By William Olson  

In an observation viewed as another episode of neglect towards Australia’s public broadcasters, the Morrison government should include public broadcasters such as the ABC and SBS in their negotiations around shaping new media codes while they seek pay-for-use solutions with digital technology giants Facebook and Google, according to the Greens.

Sarah Hanson-Young, the Greens’ senator from South Australia who holds the party’s communications portfolio, feels that the government’s schemes for a communications update within a Mandatory Code legislation policy with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) would be incomplete without including the nation’s public broadcasters in the codes or even in the conversations.

“The power and greed of the tech giants is threatening journalism and public access to news. The government’s mandatory ACCC code could be part of the solution but the draft needs fixing and additional measures brought to the table,” Hanson-Young said on Monday.

The government’s plans to alter the media codes – as viewed by its intentional directive as a further attack on the ABC and SBS – has come on the heels of years of decay to the public broadcasters, despite the consistent high level of trust the public possesses in the ABC, and all the service that both the ABC and SBS have given over the years to regional and ethnic communities as well as in times of emergencies, such as with the bushfire crises and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 alone.

And many would claim that the decay has been intentional on the part of consecutive LNP governments.

Such as:

And the consequence of these actions has affected not just editorial policy which is deemed as friendly treatment of LNP governments, but something which has diluted the ABC’s reputation for delivering unflinching, no-fear-nor-favour independent public affairs journalism, and damage to its Charter as well.

Moreover, Hanson-Young claims that while the government is seeking for Facebook and Google to pay the nation’s media giants fees to run their content – which has been tried and failed in Spain, France and Germany – they also need to ensure that the reform of any media codes must protect the public broadcasters and enhance freedoms for public interest journalism, its reporters, sources and whistleblowers.

“The ABC is Australia’s most trusted news source and should be included in any reform to tackle the greed of the big tech giants,” she said.

“It was a deliberate decision to lock the public broadcasters out of the draft code, allowing Facebook and Google to profit from their content for free – the Government should reverse this and drop their relentless attack on the ABC,” Hanson-Young added.

And while the ACCC’s notice of reforms remains in its draft stage, it also says that in addition to Facebook and Google, other digital platforms may be added in the future if they pose a threat to Australia’s media giants such as News Corp and Nine/Fairfax.

The considerations of the future of public interest journalism and protections for the ABC and SBS should also stand at the forefront of any reforms, Hanson-Young says.

“Australia’s media landscape is facing unprecedented challenges. Public interest journalism, reliable local news and trustworthy and informed analysis is essential for a robust and accountable democracy. The power imbalance between the big tech giants and Australian news organisations is unsustainable,” said Hanson-Young.

“It is therefore important that key parts of Australia’s media landscape are protected as part of this process. There is no reason for the ABC and SBS to be excluded from the code. Public broadcasters deserve a fair return for what they produce and what the tech platforms benefit from,” she added.

And as the AAP newswire service recently received a reprieve to allow it to continue operating – whereas the alternative had reportedly been for News Corp and Nine/Fairfax to create newswires of their own, and charging higher fees for its services – Hanson-Young maintains that the independence of the AAP also needs to be supported within the reformed code, for all media players large and small.

“It would be unconscionable for the Government not to find a way of supporting AAP while introducing a code that supports other media players. AAP is key media infrastructure that helps new players into the market and diversity across Australia’s media landscape,” she said.

Hanson-Young also stated that through an updated ACCC draft of the media codes, cost-effective benefits via the application of collective bargaining would have to suit small and independent media publishers as well as the likes of News Corp and Nine/Fairfax who are waging battles against Facebook and Google.

“If the aim of this code is to ensure the viability of Australia’s media, then the Government should ensure ABC is included, that AAP doesn’t fail and that small and independent publishers don’t miss out,” Hanson-Young said.

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I reject the premise

By 2353NM  

Have you ever noticed that if a number of politicians don’t really want to answer a question, they ‘reject the premise’ or ‘reject the characterisation’ rather than answer it? Current Prime Minister Morrison is a past master of the ‘art’.

The implied message is that the question for some reason is either beneath their ‘dignity’ to answer or ‘too silly’ to be bothered thinking about. The response gives the impression the question is awkward or will bring up an issue that the particular politician doesn’t want to address. A similar sentiment, popularised by Adam Savage on the TV series Mythbusters is ‘I reject your reality and substitute my own’. As the Urban Dictionary suggests, the

quote basically means “you may be technically right, but you’re not changing my mind.”

While it could be argued that Adam Savage used the line for comedic value, the concept of refusing the premise or the characterisation of a question is not only deflection, it is suggesting that the question is so far way from being meaningful it should never have been asked.

However, if someone is asking the question, there is clearly some interest in a genuine and honest response. Politicians are supposed to be accountable to the people they represent for their entire term, not only for a few months every third or fourth year when it’s time to kiss the babies, shake the hands and promise that their particular beliefs and ideologies are far better than any other choice. If a reporter at a press conference is told the premise of their question is not accepted, more often than not the impression is the politician is trying to hide something, because the politician hasn’t given us any justification to consider another option.

In other parts of our lives, we understand implicitly and accept that a flat “no” is never a good answer. When responding to our partner, employers, employees or children, if we are delivering an unfavourable outcome, most of us innately know that an explanation is required along with the “no” so the person receiving the message is aware of why there has been a negative response.

So why do politicians choose to look tricky, evil and dishonest by refusing the premise of a question or more simply deflecting it? Discussing ‘why we are or not’ rather than just ‘yes or no’ does take a little longer than the length of a soundbite on the nightly news, and there probably are questions asked that make the politician wish for the ground to open up and swallow them. However if politicians put themselves up for ‘no holds barred’ long term interviews more often we all might have a better appreciation of why various decisions are made and what’s in it for us, engendering trust. It also might improve the typical shallow reporting of national events that seems to have been an ongoing issue in Australia (and elsewhere) for a number of years.

It’s just open communication and leadership. Most of us know that while saying what you really think about Aunt Beryl in front of your five year old (who repeats everything verbatim) may not be a particularly clever idea, explaining why something is or isn’t happening is a learning experience for your children. They realise there is more to a decision than the self-evident and should eventually realise you’re not saying ‘no’ just to be vindictive or annoying. In a similar way, if politicians actually explained why decisions were made, the reasonable amongst us would probably consider the evidence provided versus our pre-conceived ideas and understand and accept the basis for the decision — even if we don’t agree with it.

Leadership is the ability to made a decision that is believed to be correct based on a set of circumstances; and then if the circumstances change or are demonstrated to be incorrect, admitting the circumstances have changed and re-assessing the decision. Open communication is discussing the reasons for a decision and if relevant, the reasons the initial decision was incorrect. If people who claimed to be political leaders did admit errors and discuss reasons, the method of operation for ‘shock jock journalists’ would have to change as there would be no fodder for the ‘gotcha’.

Rejecting the premise or the characterisation of the question points to trickiness and deceit. Taking the time to provide an explanation is much more open and a discussion around why the question was inane, irrelevant or pointless demonstrates there is nothing to hide.

While we have seen traces of real leadership and communication during the current pandemic period, at this stage it is certainly too soon to be able to call most of our political ‘leaders’ authentic leaders and communicators. We have an opportunity to embed a ‘new normal’ in political and business life into the future — our future leaders need to answer the question rather than reject or deflect them. Who knows, they might engender trust if they do.

What do you think?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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Seeking the Post-COVID Sunshine: Is Fine-Tuning of National Curriculum Goals a Sufficient Tinkering with School Priorities?

By Denis Bright  

Educational priorities particularly in Humanities (HASS) and both Literary and Environmental Sustainability are key initiatives for the emergence of a more independent and creative Australian society.

Curriculum innovation in HASS ensures that young people are less likely to vote for conservative populists who rely on fear strategies to extend their political influence. The mobilisation of preferences from far-right minor parties in support pf the federal LNP in outer metropolitan and regional seats with high levels of social disadvantage will be an essential strategy to save the Morrison Government at a strategic early election in  late 2021 before the attack on living standards begins in earnest.

Should the LNP achieve endorsement for its future austerity measures, living standards and even civil liberties will be under threat, particularly if the Trump Administration happens to be re-elected on 3 November 2020, this is unlikely but always a possibility until every vote at the US Electoral College is fully counted.

Labor’s challenge to this attempted return to normalcy in a corporate state will require brave initiatives which are comparable to the consciousness raising which produced such good results in the 1960s in areas like health, education, infrastructure planning and greater national independence in defence and foreign policies.

There will be no opposition in Australia to Labor initiatives on behalf of our national curriculum priorities in HASS and improvements to the future focus of literary studies.

However, Labor’s prospects will be diminished if the 2021 poll becomes a khaki election with a focus on national security and a virtual referendum on a deepening relationship with a Republican Administration in the White House with or without President Trump who could be forced to resign as in Nixon’s Watergate years.

Educational priorities in HASS and English literature is always highly political.

Even environmental education can be is highly political. Any creative emphasis on Australia’s links with the Indo Pacific Basin, enhances  Australia’s consensus-roles in international affairs at the expense of conventional strategic relations from the Cold War era.

 

 

A Canberra insider warned me about the excessive costs of our fleets of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters at a  not fully finalised cost (SMH 6 December 2018). The current price tag for each plane is $124 million. The purchase of 141 military planes would certainly purchase a lot of good resources for environmental education and literary studies in our schools (Costs from ABC News 10 December 2018). The federal LNP did not blink at this level of financial commitment.

The pressing demands of disadvantaged schools was easily over-looked by the federal LNP.

In national curriculum reform the Morrison Government has already taken Australians into a cul de sac in which students from disadvantaged areas are left behind the success stories of elite private schools and public education initiatives in well-resourced localities such as the ACT.

The hopes of educators were raised after the election of the Rudd Labor Government in 2007 (ACARA 2020):

Development of the Australian Curriculum

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) used an extensive and collaborative curriculum development process to produce the Australian Curriculum.

The Shape of the Australian Curriculumfirst approved by the council of Commonwealth and state and territory education ministers in 2009, guided the development of the Australian Curriculum. The paper reflected the position adopted by ministers collectively in their 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (PDF 978 kb). The Shape of the Australian Curriculum v. 4.0 (PDF 402 kb) was approved by the ACARA Board in late 2012, reflecting the evolving processes used in the development of the Australian Curriculum.

Over a decade later, the federal LNP has moved from innovative educational priorities to a focus on testing of standards in basic areas of reading, writing and numeracy as measured by NAPLAN test results.

COVID-19 has given students and teachers a reprise from this testing regime at least until 2021 or later.

Funded by joint federal and state expenditure, ACARA has moved to extend the back to the basics through fine tuning strategies in relation to new Australian curriculum goals:

“Today, education ministers have agreed to terms of reference for the review of the Foundation – Year 10 (F–10) Australian Curriculum, with the review to be completed by the start of 2022.

“We welcome the opportunity to ensure the national curriculum continues to meet the needs of students. The Australian Curriculum is well regarded, however, as it has been in place for some years now, it is timely that it be reviewed,” said ACARA CEO, David de Carvalho.

“Teachers have told us that, particularly in primary years, the Australian Curriculum is overcrowded and does not allow enough time to teach for deep understanding of core concepts or application of knowledge in the learning areas.

“Schools and teachers want a less crowded curriculum, one that provides flexibility and scope for greater depth of learning – and a more helpful curriculum, one that provides more meaningful connections within and across its three dimensions,” said Mr de Carvalho.

In preparing for the review, ACARA has been consulting with key education stakeholders to define the approach to, and scope of, the review. Through its program of research, ACARA has benchmarked the Australian Curriculum against the curricula of Singapore, Finland, British Columbia and New Zealand, and sought feedback from states and territories on the effectiveness of the Australian Curriculum through its annual monitoring process. This work has informed the terms of reference agreed by education ministers.”

The overall finding from ACARA’s program of research is that there is no need, nor support for, a major overhaul of the F–10 Australian Curriculum, but there is broad-based recognition that the current curriculum needs refining, updating and ‘decluttering’ to better support teachers with implementation.

The new ACARA Annual Report 2019-20 is scheduled for release soon. The latest available report shows a disappointing emphasis on National Assessment of School standards and data collection  at the expense of a mere 26 per cent commitment of funding to National Curriculum.

 

Excessive flexibility in the application of curriculum priorities, makes it extremely difficult for corporate publishers of curriculum providers to cope with the differing demands of schools in the various states and territories. Compared with expenditure on NAPLAN testing, expenditure on Curriculum Development was halved in just one financial year from a slender ACARA Budget:

The back to basics rhetoric sounds good but it is time for a progressive national government to rekindle the spirit of the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians:

 

SchoolGovernance (21 February 2019) reminded everyone that the Melbourne Declaration was not merely about more standardised testing:

The most innovative state and private schools will have the resources needed to advance their own curriculum priorities.

In mainstream schools, attaining these goals without adequate curriculum resources is a great pressure on teachers who are under siege from an over-commitment to standardised NAPLAN testing and wider administrative demands.

The Bricks and Mortar strategies to achieve this in a cost-effective manner might justify the formation of senior school campuses within existing school complexes.

During my teaching career, I was really impressed by behaviour management at schools like Phillip Senior College in the ACT. It is now called Canberra College with its two campuses in the Woden Valley and Weston Creek.

Although it is beyond the resources of most state education authorities to extent the network of such well-resourced senior high schools, it may be possible to expand senior education hubs within existing campuses and new school facilities.

At a recent forum in Mt. Crosby on 12 September 2020, a member of the audience questioned the validity of capping of student enrolments at Kenmore State High School for residents from adjacent suburbs of Ipswich.

The forum was organised by the Kenmore-Bellbowrie Branch of the Labor Party to introduce Roberta Albrecht as ALP Candidate for Moggill at the forthcoming state elections.

Bricks and mortar initiatives to build senior schools within existing 7-12 high school campuses would be a possibility at least for new schools in the Palaszczuk Government ongoing school-buildings programmes:

The Queensland Government’s Building Future Schools (BFS) program is delivering world-class learning environments for Queensland students.

The BFS program is delivering new state schools in growth areas across the state, investing in existing school assets, and making strategic land acquisitions for the future—delivering new and innovative education infrastructure solutions for growing communities.

Over the 10-year period from 2016 to 2026, around 8,000 additional students are forecast to join the Queensland state school networks per year, with a majority of growth within the south–east Queensland region.

Initiatives in the bricks and mortar as well as administrative practices are all necessary to support new curriculum innovations of a new generation of national curriculum programmes.

I was courageous or fool-hardy enough to issue a press release to the Queensland Times in Ipswich during 1983 about the unfortunate state of some local secondary  schools in The Low Tax State.

 

Image: QTU’s Ipswich Secondary Branch Press Release (1983) authorized by Denis Bright with Artistic Work from Teaching Colleague, Rod Cassidy

 

The LNP’s Focus on School Standards

Years later the focus of educational reform has moved from Bricks and Mortar to the issues connected to curriculum standards and transitions from school to work which I covered in the press release that accompanied the cartoon sketch. The LNP,  at both state and federal levels, welcomes this evolution but hardly in the direction that I intended in 1983.

League tables of standardised test results are now scanned as an indicator of comparative school performance to the cheers of the manufacturers of these crude testing indicators both in Australia and overseas.

Australia’s Council for Educational Research (ACER) is now an enthusiastic advocate of the standardised testing model for schools:

Coordinated in Australia by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), the IM2C sees students use their research, mathematical and creative abilities to develop a mathematical model to address a real-world problem.

ACER Principal Research Fellow and IM2C Australia Director, Ross Turner, said this year teams had to review data on goods to be offered during a sale, including the price and discount to be given, in order to identify which items would likely be most popular and the store layout factors that might affect damage risks.

“Teams had to develop and use a model that would predict damage to goods in order to recommend optimal product placement and department locations for the given store layout. Teams were also asked to create and evaluate a new and better floor plan for the flash sale scenario, and to write a one-page letter to the store manager presenting and supporting their findings,” Mr Turner said.

Teams from Caulfield Grammar School in Victoria and North Sydney Boys High School in New South Wales will represent Australia in this year’s International Mathematical Modelling Challenge (IM2C), which requires students to determine how a ‘bricks and mortar’ store should arrange its goods during a flash sale to minimise the risk of damage.

The teams each received a ‘meritorious achievement’ award from the Australian judging panel and will progress to the international judging round for 2020. The international results will be announced in July.

The ACER provides opportunities for corporate sponsorship of such events with differing acknowledgements for Major Partners and Supporting Partners. Perhaps the cultural and political blind spots in some of these activities should be cause for concern at a time of cultural wars in the USA and beyond about the best ways of dealing with problems like violence in our cities and schools.

The excesses of commitment to mathematical models over democratic political processes is reflected in this intriguing problem for the International Mathematical Modelling Challenge. A sample answer provided for students after the event is equally devious in its implied assumptions.

The authors of the test item clearly want a mathematical answer but surely the answer extends well beyond mathematics.

Sample answers developed after the competition produced these correlations between potential contributing variables and rates of violent crime. At least the answers offered were a win for better school and higher graduation rates.

 

In this new era of dislocation from the current pandemic and social unrest across the USA, the young minds can of course work on their problems through Zoom events to avoid the hassles of international travel.

In their new life, our deceased members of the old National Party in Queensland would be cheering on the regressive sentiments about the need to return education to the basics of that old schoolhouse on the prairies (Kevin Donnelly, The Australian 18 December 2016):

Instead of education and the curriculum being objective, whereby students are taught to be critical-minded and to weigh alternative points of view, the AEU’s leadership is only concerned with imposing its politically correct views on controversial issues.

While parents are shocked by the Marxist-inspired Safe Schools LGBTQI program, which teaches children gender is fluid and celebrating being a man or a woman is heteronormative, the AEU gives it full support. Its federal president, Correna Haythorpe, describes critics of the Safe Schools program as “extreme conservatives” opposing a “highly effective and positive program”.

At a time when Australia’s international test results are in free fall, the AEU, instead of focusing on the basics, is more interested in campaigning for “global movements for peace, social justice, nuclear disarmament, justice for refugees and the environment.”

Creative Paths for HASS and Literary Studies?

It seems that only a progressive Labor government will have that balanced curriculum to bring the Humanities and the Social Sciences into a truly well-resourced national curriculum programme. There is rhetorical commitment in the federal LNP’s Australian Curriculum Programme in these key areas for Australia’s future.

 

 

New curriculum resources are needed to assist secondary student to move personal development into a creative social frameworks and meaningful employment. Commercial providers of textbooks and other resources cannot be expected to have the resources to fund the new curriculum in an environment where more emphasis is being placed on league tables of standardised testing results.

In less prestigious schools, there are still high rates of school suspensions as student react to inadequacies in both national curriculum priorities and behaviour management practices. The two state high schools with the highest numerical rates of suspensions in Queensland are indeed in the City of Ipswich. The ratio of suspensions to school enrolments is running at 42.3 per cent from one school and 46 per cent in another. Some smaller schools in the Ipswich area have even higher rates of suspensions.

Full details are published in the Queensland Education Department’s data on school suspensions and exclusions 2015-19. Adjacent state high schools in more advantaged parts of Brisbane West have caps on their enrolment to restrict attempted catchment hopping by parents on behalf of their children and the growth of enrolments in alternative private schools.

Times may have changed since 1983 but the need for broadly based educational initiatives still involves the need for innovative bricks and mortar as well as state of the art curriculum and administrative initiatives on behalf of our future generations particularly from disadvantaged communities with high rates of youth unemployment and a dismal performance in federal funding of TAFE programmes.

This is my first article devoted to educational issues. ACARA in Sydney has made a commitment to keep me informed on the commencement of its timely review of national curriculum priorities which need to extend far-beyond a focus on NAPLAN using standardised testing models which have their origin in that land that is keen about our purchases of F-35 fighters at an undefined price tag.

It is the future of young Australians which should indeed be priceless.

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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Frydenberg’s Folly

By Ad astra  

What’s happened to Josh Frydenberg? As many have commented, Frydenberg’s vicious attack on Victoria’s Premier, Dan Andrews, came as a surprise. It’s intensity was extraordinary. Why?

Only he would know. We can but surmise. What did you conclude?

Here’s my assessment:

First, here are his acerbic words:

”Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg labelled the premier’s handling of the (COVID-19) crisis as ‘the biggest public policy failure by a state government in living memory’”.

Josh Frydenberg is ambitious. He hopes one day to become PM. He knew that his very public attack on Andrews would propel him into the public limelight and portray him as a strong future leader. Was Morrison watching? Did he feel the need to protect his back? Or was he so sure of himself that he thought he could allow Frydenberg to go out as an attack dog to do his dirty work?

And Dan Andrews was the ideal target – a Labor figure who has been attacked from all sides of the conservative spectrum. Andrews’ daily press reports on the status of COVID-19 in Victoria have been helpful and informative. He stays put at the rostrum until every question has been addressed. You can imagine how irritating his opponents find him! Some express their distaste of him in florid terms in the social media: “I can’t stand the sight of him”. Frydenberg knew that attacking Andrews would draw enthusiastic support from his conservative colleagues.

Frydenberg is politically smart. He knew that any attack he mounted would need to be dressed up in economic garb to give it authenticity. This was easy for him – being Treasurer, he has an abundance of economic bullets in his armoury. But his bullets we not aimed simply at wounding Andrews’ economic credentials; they were intended to wound him personally. The venom of Frydenberg’s words is testimony to that. If you’re sceptical about this assessment of his intentions, read his words again.

So why is this piece titled Frydenberg’s folly?.

Because in one fell swoop he has morphed his image as a credible commentator on the nation’s accounts into just another partisan attack dog. He has replaced his reputation in the area of finance with what we have come to despise so profoundly.

That is his folly!

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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Now the blame game

By Ad astra    

Do you, like me, bristle as you hear the political class playing the blame game?

Seldom have we been so inundated with such a plethora of reports, inquiries, Royal Commissions and sundry investigations into past blunders. The Ruby Princess episode springs to mind, but there are many others. They all have something in common. They address the same question: ‘What happened?’ The oft-repeated rationale for the question is that we need to know this so that we can avoid it happening again. That is nonsense. What has happened is usually patently obvious to anyone reading the report of the event, and how to avoid a recurrence equally obvious. While how to avoid a repetition sounds a reasonable aim, the actual motivation is to apportion blame.

The political class revels in the blame game. It is another form of adversarial behaviour masquerading as legitimate discourse. We wrote about this in Is adversarial behaviour damaging our democracy?

As soon as a report is released, politicians do not ask how ‘How did we mess up so badly’. Instead, they first seek to find someone or some body to blame. They usually begin by asserting: ‘It wasn’t us’. Political opponents are then targeted with vigour. Even-handedness in apportioning blame is not an option. Scoring political points and damaging the reputation of opponents, is all that counts.

We are surprised when a politician concedes an error; we expect that such a concession will be accompanied by ‘Our opponents did the same’. When a minister makes a blunder, no matter how monumental, colleagues spring to his defence. We saw this recently when minister Colbeck showed his ineptitude so starkly. Yet he was defended by his colleagues and his spineless ‘leader’ did not sack him, as he should have.

I won’t burden you with a long recital of examples of the blame game. Just think of Donald Trump.

When did you ever hear him accept blame for anything?

When challenged with America’s surging unemployment, he insists that, rather than being to blame, he is tackling it with outstanding success. When challenged with America’s faltering economy, he not only refuses to accept blame, but asserts that it is booming as never before due to his superior management.

When asked about the wild spread of COVID-19, he insists he’s not to blame, refuses to accept that his unpreparedness is responsible and even disputes the extent of the epidemic in the US, and the hundreds of thousands of deaths that have already occurred. Who will forget the interview he had with aspiring journalist Jonathan Swan, who challenged him so stylishly with a set of uncomfortable facts that laid the blame at his feet. He was not about to accept Swan’s assertions; he had alternative facts of his own, which he lamely offered on pieces of paper. When Swan retorted: ‘You can’t do that’, Trump looked astonished. In his world, he can do or assert whatever he likes.

In our own country the blame game is in full swing. Who is to blame from the spread of the virus in Victoria? Dan Andrews is the prime target of his opponents, but the ‘bungled’ hotel security arrangements comes a close second; again Chairman Dan the culprit. Opposition leader O’Brien has his daily whinge about Andrews’ ‘bungles’, laying the blame heavily on the Premier for anything that is not going well.

Do politicians realise how much voters despise them when they play the blame game? They seem oblivious to the disdain they attract, as they do in so many other instances. They live in their Canberra bubble disconnected from the real world outside. They are elected to understand the issues that affect us and the problems that beset us, yet how often do they offer us understanding, comfort, reassurance and advice. They let us down collectively, and often individually as well.

When politicians play the blame game, they demean themselves. Yet they seem oblivious to the harm they do to the political class, and the disdain they evoke. Will they ever wake up? I doubt it.

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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Seeking the Post-COVID Consensus – A New Emphasis on Preventative Healthcare

By Denis Bright  

The drift to corporate healthcare should be challenged at all levels of government across Australia. It is a treatment model with unintentional costs all in the name of that imperative value of freedom of choice. Interested readers should take in the glowing coverage of the rhetorical commitment to elderly people from the web sites of some LNP federal members and senators.

Commitment to the federal LNP’s competitive model of society will of course generate its own health stresses associated with lifelong mortgage payments and the stresses of working in largely non-unionised workplaces. The corporate healthcare model is embedded a wider social perspective. It places profits before the needs of people.

Permit me to promote some discussion on the hollowness of this rhetoric with a few examples from a recent trip to South West Queensland.

As I passed through Toowoomba, I noticed that the scare campaign against federal Labor from the last federal election was still a feature of the local federal LNP member’s site. The so-called retirees’ tax of course referred to Labor’s plans to remove tax credits for dividend imputation (John McVeigh MP in Groom):

Labor’s plans to tax retirees would have the most impact on those on a low and middle income and could force many people onto the Age Pension.

Federal Member for Groom John McVeigh said Labor’s retiree tax would negatively impact around one million Australians including pensioners.

“This is a disgraceful attack on people who have saved throughout their lives to be independent in retirement including more than 6 300 people who live in my electorate of Groom ” Dr McVeigh said.

“On average individuals adversely impacted by the policy stand to lose $2 300 a year and self-managed super funds will lose on average $12 000 a year. For many the losses will be much higher ” he said.

“Like all Australians the people of the Groom electorate deserve a Government that encourages personal responsibility rewards hard work and allows them to keep more of what they earn.

“Labor’s retiree tax undermines these values ripping over $57 billion out of retirement savings. This is part of Labor’s plan for more than $387 billion in additional taxes to people’s homes incomes business and savings.”

Dr McVeigh said suggestions from Labor that this policy would only hit the wealthy have proven to be completely untrue.

“Many retirees in the Groom electorate rely on tax refunds from share dividends to help pay basic household bills,” he said.

The urban sprawl along the Warrego Highway to Toowoomba and beyond reminded me of what I had seen in the USA, some thirty years ago. This is not a healthy model for personal and community development.

The appeal of the countryside in Virginia south of Washington D.C. was shattered by the construction of the Potomac Mills Shopping Centre in 1985. It defied all principles of sustainable urban planning beside Interstate 95. Interested readers might like to check out the details of this development which is currently operated by the Simon Property Group.

Elements of this style of urban sprawl are evident here as the federal government pushes Australia towards a corporate model of urban subdivision and private motorised transport in the name of our own national competition policies.

Near the exists to the motorways serving the second range crossings north of Toowoomba, I noticed the extent of urban sprawl around natural landmarks like Gowrie Mountain where new housing was allowed on its middle and lower slopes by local urban planning guidelines. There are numerous pictures of this style of outer-suburban development on Google Image. So much for those Dreamtime perspectives about natural landmarks which had sustained Indigenous cultures for millennia.

These days the younger residents and retirees from the bush can be sustained by their own commitments to private healthcare. After payment of five or six thousand dollars a year for premium health care cover, these families must expect these hypothetical conversations when they front to pay for routine health procedures like X-rays and other diagnostic tests:

Reception Staff:

Well your procedure will cost $250 today. Would you like to take advantage of the Medicare rebate when you are making your payments for our procedures? We have your Medicare details on file from last time, so it is just a matter of paying the gap fee which reduces your payment by $130.

Patient:

Oh, I thought all these fees might be covered by Medicare as I have not been able to receive a rebate from my own health insurance in the past.

Staff:

Well, our current apt will enable you to gain the fullest possible Medicare rebates even without the need for private health insurance which covers you for a large proportion of in-hospital care.

Patient:

Yes, I appreciate that. Here is my credit card. It’s a charge of only $120. I always support Medicare and voted LNP this time because our government is fully committed to Medicare. Paying $120 is a small sacrifice to make if it is helping to preserve Medicare.

In the spirit of this self-sacrifice, constituents of the new suburbs on the outskirts of Toowoomba supported the LNP at every booth at both state and federal levels.

For the elderly in adjacent countries towns, the corporate style of healthcare is extended to Commonwealth Home Support Programmes (CHSPs) provided by charities and authorised for profit-making agencies.

Basic accounting strategies to minimise perceived assets through the formation of family trusts, enabled more affluent elderly residents to collect the optimum levels of nursing home bond subsidies and in some cases the full pension although their assets were actually in the millions.

The South Western Hospital and Health Service of the State Health Department has skewed the CHSP guidelines to the needs of local communities. I was pleasantly surprised by some initiatives being taken in Charleville, 750 kilometres west of Brisbane.

Image: South West Hospital and Health Service (2018) Showing Healthy Ageing Client May Williams on that New Public Sector Bike

The South Western Hospital and Health Service offers this best practice in community outreach which extends beyond the dependency model of some aged care practices:

Older residents of Charleville now have a fun way of getting around town after a luxurious new multi-passenger pedal cycle hit town.

Healthy Ageing Charleville Project Officer Deb Alick said the organisation had purchased a Surrey Bike for use locally.

“The Surrey Bike is a 4-6-seat, pedal-powered, covered vehicle which allows everyone to participate in pedalling the vehicle along, while one person steers,’’ Ms Alick said.

“It’s like a bicycle, only bigger and better.’’

Ms Alick said Healthy Ageing had several stationary bicycles in place at its Alfred St premises in
Charleville for use by program participants.

“They will be able to use the skills and muscle power developed on the stationary bicycles to take the
Surrey Bike around town for a spin,’’ she said.

“It will help promote physical activity, cooperation, fun and social interaction in our community.

“We already have a waiting list of very excited participants and some very bright helmets, so keep a look out on the road for us in Charleville!’’

The absence of commercial and charitable providers of age-care packages in remote areas has enabled the state Department of Health to fill some of the void and to skew the services offered towards healthy living over nursing care with the assistance of some other voluntary agencies.

This might be a blessing in disguise to the recipients of these healthy living models which can be delivered at a fraction of the costs of the commercial alternatives offered in larger urban centres.

Local TAFE courses are also being offered to train local people in effective caring strategies.

Latest OECD health data shows that the federal LNP is hell-bent on promoting a model of healthcare with a focus on treatment over preventative health. In whole sectors like mental health, diabetes, drug dependence, care of disabled people and the elderly, the model is drifting Australia towards the US corporate model of healthcare with its unproductive levels of expenditure and out-of-pocket expenditures.

Constituents are still largely in love with the sweet rhetoric in favour of corporate healthcare even though its excesses are a burden on the levels of economic growth and community development to which the LNP aspires.

Medical practices cannot run efficiently on current Medicare bulk-billing rates which represent less than half the over the counter fees charged in most clinics for both medical care and essential ancillary care services.

South West Hospitals and Health Care Services offer a more balanced healthcare model with an emphasis on preventative care that tunes into the local stresses imposed by financial and social disadvantage.

Similar applications could be extended state-wide in Queensland through systematic applications by agencies of the state health department for similar CHSP packages.

Let’s hope that blind-spots created by the use of soothing LNP rhetoric do not bring the state back to the Joh era through the strategic allocation of preferences by far-right political parties at a time when constituents are under siege during the current national recession.

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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Trump doesn’t matter

By Kirsten Tona  

What’s happening in America has already happened and there’s no going back.

Donald Trump is one fucked-up individual. And he’s a problem. But he is not the problem.

He’s a symptom.

What’s the US going to do when they wake up after the election to find they’re still about to crash into the moon, even if that particular piece of trash is in jail?

All those good souls whose eyes have been opened and are still hoping you can close them again if you get rid of this particular Buffoon-In-Chief: you can’t finesse your way out of it this time by signing pro-choice petitions and saying you marched with Dr King. There are too many elements at play and too many lost souls in charge.

You should have listened when revolutionaries warned you against liberals, but you wanted a quiet life and it was too easy to not live in the dark ghettos.

It’s hard to see how Trump can win on the day. Even 21st century democratic republican elections require some degree of input from the voting public, and who will vote for him? His base, of course, but they’re insane, they’d vote for the Cookie Monster if he offered them cookies. Literally. I mean they literally would. They already have. They did with him. And they’re still saying the cookies are tasty even though they’re yet to bite a single one. They’re insane.

The working class vote he captured last time with his “I’m not a politician” spiel have been disillusioned, they know if they have jobs or not and they don’t.

The silence from the nasty evangelists with their nasty Shining City on the Hill agenda has been deafening; maybe they’re all too busy deleting videos they took of them themselves, Mrs Nasty Evangelist, and the 3 Mexican pool boys?

Mind you, the Democratic Party are so far up their own arseholes they are entirely capable of losing; they listen to each other on MSNBC and genuinely seem to believe it matters what is said, but they have no strategists capable of telling them what they need to hear about where the “flyover states”* get their news and information from.

*(What a disgusting term. No wonder the “coastal elites” are hated, they really are vile, arrogant little pos. Second up against the wall.)

Nobody who isn’t being paid comes to the Trump rallies anymore (because COVID-19? Really? The Trump base believe in COVID-19? Do me a favour…) except the absolute die-hard base and there’s not enough of them.

But the ones who jumped off the Trump bandwagon when they realised the ride was too expensive and it was heading for the cliff really, really don’t want to vote Dem. And I don’t blame them.

Some disillusioned ex-Trumpers will vote Dem anyway, they’ll hold their noses and do it. Some of them will hold their noses and vote Trump even though they know what he is now, because change is change and change is needed. It largely depends on what they believe about Portland and Kenosha, which largely depends on where they, their friends, their family and their church folk get their news.

How much longer he can keep the Megachurches, is an issue. They got their payoff for bringing him the numbers last time — the payoff being Mike Pence — but what good did it do them? Tax breaks can’t help you if you don’t pay taxes in the first place, they haven’t had any really major wins in the Supreme Court, a lot of them may be of the opinion that Ted Cruz would have been far better at pretending he’d read the Bible — Cruz probably has read it, the VeggiTales version of it.

And even the religious extremists must be thinking: if Trump-Pence win again Mike Pence may have to move his neck and I don’t know if the Earth’s gravitational field could cope.

For them it’s all about the Supreme Court. If Trump is the Promised One he has to deliver on that, and frankly, he hasn’t. Last month’s decision that Civil RIghts Act covered LQBTQI was a loss for conservatives, and the majority opinion was written by Neil Gorsuch—Trump’s first Supreme Court appointee! The evangelists want their rigid worldview supported by the people they backed into power if they’re expected to support them again. Last week’s decision supporting employers’ rights to religious exemptions from paying for contraception in health care plans was the result they wanted, but don’t even mention June Medical Services v. Russo to them, their narrow little hearts can’t take it. It means no movement on Roe v Wade, the white whale of the anti-choicers… And Ruth Bader Ginsberg keeps refusing to die. Trump has not really delivered.

Big Oil are haemorrhaging money. There’s a hole in their back pocket through which they’re losing a lot of the spare Senators they usually keep there, and Russia with its well-oiled Kompromat machine has been hoovering them up instead. So Big Dirty Energy is not going to be able to sway as much influence as it’s used to. Rats deserting sinking ships over in that quarter, the writings on the wall for US gas and oil companies. Look for a coming influx of female CEOs… it’s called the Glass Cliff.

The cat-and-mouse game between Russian and Chinese social media engineering and those Americans still left in the FBI who are smart and motivated enough to stop them (about 3) will be interesting to watch.

Zuckerberg almost broke a sweat last time he was congressional-hearing-questioned by AOC, and that’s pretty amazing for an actual android.

But however well foreign influencers can use Zuke’s Kompromat, kidnap people’s Chinese relatives, and cook vote-counting machines, they can only move a certain number of percentage points. It may not be enough to counter the anti-Trump feel. Which is pretty fervent. For good reason. The man’s a Russian asset for a start. You’d think that alone would be a fair reason to disqualify him.

I’m not suggesting evangelicals and conservatives will vote for Biden, who despite his Catholicism has firmed as pro-choice. Just that more of them may stay at home. Anti-Trumpers won’t stay at home, believe it.

There will be other factors, of course, but none of them on their own will be enough to control this particular election: the element of surprise has been lost. Now all the players are bunkered down spying on each other and launching counter-offensives to prevent the other side’s counter-offensives from being launched… it’s like a really boring game of chess where people don’t care about winning so much as they just really, really, really don’t want you to win. It makes one nostalgic for the Cold War.

From here, I can’t see the Trump ship people controlling enough of the game for a win, but strange things happen at the one-two point, as they say in the game Go. Nobody really believes Trump will lose, it just hasn’t been that kind of a year, decade, century. And nobody thinks he will go even if the poll numbers are clear. He knows he’s going to jail as soon as he does. He’ll play war games from the underground bunker before he’ll do that willingly.

But Trump doesn’t matter. What’s happening in America was built into its foundation. Genocide and the rape of an entire continent will never and should never end well for the rapist. The Declaration of Independence was a lot of pretty words, from wealthy white men. Hint: fellas, if you want a Constitution and a Declaration of Rights that will last, hand it over to old black women: they’ve got nothing to lose and they care more about their grandchildren’s futures. And they won’t be writing pretty words in pretty libraries while females and slaves cook, clean, and take out the trash. So they’ll remember to include who does those things as a core component. Because that’s what a society boils down to, in the end: who does the work no one wants?

* * * * *

What’s happening in America has already happened.

It happened when Isabella of Castile and her imbecile husband funded Columbus; it happened when that authoritarian compact was signed on the Mayflower, strangling the hope of an inclusive democracy before its birth; it happened when the Puritans massacred the Wampanoag and barbarously called their victory feast “Thanksgiving”; and it happened when Thomas Jefferson took Sally Hemings to France to wash his socks and warm up his bed while he sat in coffee bars planning the writing of the words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

It happened when slave-owners, hypocrites and control freaks ignored their own Bible and tried to build a lasting edifice on genocide and sand.

And it’ll keep happening until the world ends or power-hungry white men get the fuck out of the way, whichever comes first, and this year the smart money is on the former.

* * * * *

I admit I’ll enjoy my schadenfreude moments as much as the next sad, tired, person. I’ll enjoy seeing the Bad Orange Man in a good orange jumpsuit. I’ll especially enjoy seeing Incest Porn Barbie and the Overbite Twins go to jail, they are just horrible. Maybe they’ll finally let Tiffany talk to them then.

But I’m beyond thinking it will help.

If America wants to avoid utter catastrophe it is going to have to do a lot more than throw the First Family Lumpen-Trash in jail. It’s going to have to get rid of the jails, too, and the systems for keeping them full.

It’s going to have to not just re-fund the education system but completely reform it so their children learn not what to think but how.

It’s going to have to jail, exile, or guillotine a lot of billionaires and a lot of their running dogs with them, and those feckers will be slippery to catch.

And it’s going to have to do all that without simply setting up another system of power bases with a new set of tyrants at the top table, a new class of the-animals-that-are-more-equal-than-others.

It could be done, but it would require a lot of humility and I just don’t think there’s enough to go around, in that place.

Good luck, though. We’ll watch the American collapse from Australia with our hearts in our mouths, because it will be our turn next.

© Kirsten Tona

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“Alarmism” vs Denial

“We need an enquiry into climate alarmism,” wrote Chris Kenny in The Weekend Australian, 29/8/2020).

“When it comes to our bushfires, climate change is so close to being irrelevant, it should hardly warrant a passing reference – we have always faced disastrous bushfire conditions and always will. If climate change makes the worst conditions either marginally more or less common, it matters not, we still need to do the same things to protect ourselves.

“In previous articles I have detailed the leading scientific analysis showing the main preconditions for the NSW fires – a long drought – cannot be attributed to climate change. Unless climate activists want to argue Australia could do something to alter the global climate sufficiently to reduce our bushfire threat, they are exposed as cynical campaigners who have used the sure bet of bushfires to advance their political scare campaign.”

Already in this article Kenny has exposed his own cynical campaign to try to prove that large bushfires are not connected with climate change, but have always been “catastrophic” – which is alarmist in itself. He says he has checked with “leading scientific analysis,” but he does not say which.

This suggests another possible enquiry – into climate change denialism. Kenny’s claim is that climate activists are merely being alarmist, catastrophist and apocalyptic – the usual IPA head-in-the-sand anti-science.

“The NSW bushfire enquiry released this week took a dive into the climate science – as it was tasked to do – and found, predictably enough, that climate change ‘clearly played a role in the conditions’ that led up to the fires and helped spread them. But thankfully it did not spend much time in its recommendations, merely suggests that climate trends needed to be monitored and factored in.”

Kenny was quite happy not think about climate change too much – or even think about it at all.

“Apart from exercises in politically correct box ticking – Indigenous training for evacuation centre staff so they are ‘culturally competent’, wildfire rescue training for fire fighters, and signs to promote ABC radio stations – most of the recommendations were practical. Better equipment for firefighters, more water bombers, more communication, public education and most importantly, a range of suggestions on fuel reduction around settled areas and planning controls on building in fire prone areas.”

See how Kenny ignores the climate change aspect. “The bottom line,” he says, “has always been obvious: the one fire input we can control is fuel, so where we want to control blazes or protect properties, we must reduce fuel.”

Such a learned and knowledgeable fire chief. No mention of reducing carbon emissions.

So perhaps we need to have an enquiry into ‘climate alarmism.’ How does it work?

A lengthy article in Wikipedia; 2019-2020 Australian bushfire season, has numerous sections which explain aspects of the subject in a balanced and more detailed way. Aspects examined include: overviews, regions affected, precedents, environmental and ecological effects, causes including drought/temperatures/climate change/disputed causes, misinformation, political responses, controversy. It is essential reading. It has far more balanced information than Kenny has attempted over months. He seems to be restricted to just a few points which tend to exclude climate change.

One of the topics in Bushfires in Australia in Wikipedia is Official Inquiries, which says this in part:

“A parliamentary report from 2010 stated that between 1939 and 2010 there have been 18 major bushfire inquiries, including state and federal parliamentary inquiries, COAG reports, coronial inquiries and Royal Commissions.

Another report published in 2015 stated there had been 51 inquiries into wildfires and wildfire management since 1939. The authors noted that Royal Commissions were not the most effective way to learn from bushfire events. Many of the inquiries have recommended ‘hazard reduction burning’ intended to reduce the available fuel and have set targets to burn a certain percentage of forest each year to reduce risk. Planned burns are difficult to do safely and many of the investigations and Royal Commissions have found these targets are seldom met. At the same time, fire management experts disagree how effective planned burning is.

In January 2020 during the 2019-2020 bushfire season, Prime Minister Scott Morrison raised the prospect of establishing anther Royal Commission. In an interview on ABC-TV 7:30 Morrison stated that any inquiry would need to be comprehensive and investigate climate change as well as other possibilities.”

So Kenny has had his thunder stolen from him on hazard reduction burning and he has been contradicted by Morrison – on the ABC, like a climate catastrophist!

“The push for an enquiry into [the fires] was largely driven by the climate catastrophists…They will be at it again, this fire season. They love making political capital out of disasters, although they go as quiet as Tim Flannery when it comes to full dams and widespread snowflakes.”

Remember how the deniers claimed that Tim Flannery said it would never rain again in Perth? He didn’t say that (see Tim Flannery Did Not Say Australia’s Dams Would Never Fill Again). And deniers love to ask: If there is climate change and global warming, why is there snow? Pathetic.

Kenny goes on to play ecologist about animal and plant recovery. He is also an expert on California; more of which later.

And he is bold enough to bring Michael Shellenberger into the discussion, the nuclear power man, the one who apologised for speaking climate science in the past, widely debunked. Perhaps he could also bring in the IPA, The Spectator, or Benny Peiser and his ‘Global Warming Policy Foundation,’ etc, who will tell us climate change is wildly overstated and that we need to speak with them politely, with calm rationale, gently, gently. Are they serious? Are these the “leading scientific analysis” Kenny mentions early in this article?

He criticises Fran Kelly of the ABC for saying in November that “the fire warning had been increased to catastrophic for the first ever time in this country”- and he says “that was wrong, wildly wrong.” He goes on to list dates of bushfires in Australia back to 1851. “None of this was new,” says Kenny. He quotes dates from 1951 and 1936 when their “bushfire induced shrouds of smoke” blocked Sydney skies, but these fires are not listed by Wikipedia as important fires. In our 2019-2020 fires, smoke spread past New Zealand and beyond to South America.

Let us take up Kenny’s challenge and look at the dates and data for fires in Australia – and not only those, but also across the world. Let us challenge the denier softly, softly approach.

Kenny claims there is “nothing new” about this data.

Black Thursday 1851       Vic.      5mha          12 deaths

1974-75             widespread        117mha       6

Black Saturday   2009      Vic.      450,000      173

Ash Wednesday  1983  SA, Vic    418,000      75

Black Tuesday     1967      Tas.     264,000      62

Black Friday        1939       Vic.      2mha         71

Black Summer 2019-2020 widespread  18.6mha  34 deaths

“Greater areas were burnt in 1851 and 1974-5 and human devastation was either as bad or worse“ (during the fires listed above), Kenny says.

But the 2019-2020 fires, for many people, look clearly the most “unprecedented” by a country mile.

So let us look at the 1851 Black Thursday fire in a Wikipedia article by that name.

It certainly was a “devastating” fire, perhaps “catastrophic” or even “unprecedented” at the time in Australia, burning a quarter of the state of Victoria. “The primary cause,” says the Wiki article, “of the catastrophic fires during this period lies in the poor understanding of local fire regimes and in inappropriate landscape management by settlers.” Along with drought, high temperatures and strong, hot north winds, of course.

And let us look at the 1974-75 fires which burnt 117mha of northern Australia. Wiki again tells us:

“The Australian Bureau of Statistics attributes the extent of the fires to ‘exceptionally heavy rainfall in the previously two years.”

“Stephen J. Pyne qualifies the season as the most destructive in terms of hectares burned among historical fires in Australia but added that ‘the 1974-75 fires had almost no impact and much of the damage was found by satellite after the fact.’”

No impact; “found after the fact,” after it had finished burning; 117mha burnt?

So when we look at Kenny’s last paragraph he wants to point to an inquiry into “climate alarmism, political posturing and media reporting.” We would learn much more from that, he says, “than we have from learning age-old fire preparedness from yet another bushfire enquiry.”

So what is the message? That we have known about “age-old fire preparedness” forever. We do not need another inquiry. We have known about all this without making preparations, he tells us. Not enough back-burning and hazard reduction? Not enough water bombers? Just “politically correct box-ticking” in the latest report? “Wildfire rescue training for fire-fighters“? “Better equipment, more communication”? Nah. Just fuel reduction and better planning control on building in fire prone areas. She’ll be right. No attention to climate change. (That’s the Murdoch/IPA approach.)

Bill Shorten had more preparation planned for fire management than Murdoch and the IPA. For example, he planned to get our own water bombers because it is becoming more difficult when the Californian and the Australian fire seasons are overlapping. But people do not take much notice of those matters – more about tax reductions.

So let us look at some wild fires around the world, keeping in mind we have some of the hottest years in the last ten. Five of the hottest years have occurred since 2015. Nine of the hottest years have been since 2005. There have been 43 consecutive years with land and ocean temperatures at least nominally above average.

A List of Wildfires, from Wikipedia

India, Feb.2019:

Massive forest fires broke out in numerous places across the National Park of Karataka state.

Arctic, June 2019:

Arctic wildfires emitted 50 megatonnes of CO2 – between 2010 – 2018 combined. Most carbon released from Alaska and Siberia but also included other Arctic regions; eg. in Alberta. In Siberia temperature was about 10 degrees higher in June 2019 than the average. In Anchorage, Alaska, on the 4th of July the temperature was 32 degrees, setting an all-time high for the town.

Europe, July 2000:

Fire in Southern Europe consumed forests and buildings in southern France, Iberia, Corsica, and much of Italy including much of the south, caused by the heatwave dominating Southern Europe, with the temperatures at 40-45 degrees.

Croatia, summer 2017:

Croatian wildfires burning in Istria all the way down to Dalmatia, 1500k

Portugal: 2016, 2017, 2018

Sweden, summer 2018:

A large number of wildfires occurred through much of Sweden. According to the Swedish Contingencies Agency, they are the most serious in the country in modern history. The summer was unusually warm and dry, significantly raising the risk of fire.

United Kingdom, 2019:

The UK fires were a series of fires which began on 26 Feb 2019 and ended on 18 May 2019. The series of fires was considered unusual due to the fact they took place early in the year. Areas affected by the wildfires included those that had been already burnt by wildfires in the summer of 2018. The fires have created many air pollution problems for the UK. The causes of many of these fires have been attributed to much higher average temperatures and drought conditions that have prevailed since the spring of 2018.There there were 137 wildfires larger than 25 hectares recorded in the UK in 2019. This beats the previous record of 79 from 2018.

North America:

British Columbia, 2017: The fire season is notable for three reasons: first, for the largest total area burnt in a fire season in recorded history; second, for the largest number of evacuees in a fire season (estimated 65,000 evacuees); and third, for the largest single fire ever in British Columbia.

California, Thomas fire: Largest wildfire in Californian history at the time (1889 Santiago Canyon fire may have been bigger).

British Columbia, 2018: Initial estimates put 2018 as the largest total burn area in any BC wild fire season, surpassing the historic 2017 wildfire season.

California, 2018: California Camp Fire: 18, 804 structures destroyed, 85 confirmed deaths, 2 missing, 17 injured, deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California to date.

South America, 2019:

The 2019 Amazon rainforest wildfires season saw a year-to- year surge in fires occurring in the Amazon rainforest and Amazon bioma with Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru during that year’s Amazonian tropical dry season.

Chile, 2019: The worst in Chile’s history.

What we see here is a small selection of fires across the world. There are all kinds of points of discussion, including climate change, temperature rises, decline in rainfall, too much rain, drought, land care methods and others. Conditions are not all the same in every place.

A good place to start is looking a sites on Wikipedia, especially about our recent fires. One site looking at world wildfires is at carbonbrief.org; Explainer: How climate change is affecting wild fires around the world.

Among the descriptions of wildfires in the world can be seen not just data in terms of extent of the fires and damage done, but also claims that some of these figures represent records – and often occurring not long after the previous record made in recent years. Note also the frequent recurrence of wildfires in particular parts of the world. And how the incidence of fires and their extent often increase in parallel with the increase in temperature over time.

But it is about more than numbers. There is an old saying about lies, damn lies and then there are statistics. Take the 1851 fires mentioned by Kenny. What is not mentioned are the conditions at the time, not just the temperature and the wind direction, but also the firefighting conditions: the lack of motor vehicles to access the fires, roads, equipment, small population, no water bombers, land care.

The Black Summer 2019-2020 fires started in Queensland early in the season and continued down the east coast driven by strong wild winds from the west. Firefighters threw everything at it, but in the end they wished they had more. In a part of Australia with high population, we were lucky to lose only 34 tragic deaths in the midst of massive losses of property.

The Kenny solution rests heavily on the notion of hazard reduction, design of housing, and personal responsibility. Hazard reduction works in northern Australia in mid-year, the driest time of the year there, but not so easy in mid-winter or in the small windows of opportunity between winters and summers. There is controversy over that issue. We already have huge land-clearing which raises its own problems.

Kenny also downplays the role of climate change. For him it is irrelevant. But we know it is happening and its effects are visible and frightening. Even the latest Bushfire Commission Report warns that we can expect more frequent fires in the future.

So, what else is said by the sceptics? Jennifer Marohasy, editor of the Murdoch IPA publication; Climate Change: The Facts 2017, tells us that readers will find many unusual snippets in the range of sceptic authors – in fact, contradictions – which she hopes will be reconciled over time into a coherent explanation of what is happening with climate. How it might be possible to reconcile Ian Plimer’s claim that CO2 has nothing to do with climate change with Bob Carter’s assertion that CO2 is a powerful greenhouse gas is an idea not easily believable. There is no coherent science of denial.

What is plainly obvious is that far from an inquiry into “alarmism” – as Kenny calls IPPC science – what is needed is an inquiry into the miasma of misinformation which is sceptic denial.

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Need for legislation advocated as press freedom inquiry commences

By William Olson  

An almighty battle over press freedoms – and potentially, how that may snowball towards defining the public’s freedom of speech – is currently brewing in the federal Parliament, between pockets of Parliamentarians advocating for greater press freedoms and the body’s Intelligence Committee seeking to restrict them.

While matters have not yet reached a boiling point, the Press Freedom Inquiry hearings in the Senate this week will go a long way to dictating the directions of future press freedoms.

The open hearings, which began on Monday and remain ongoing at this writing, involve submissions and testimonials from a wide spectrum of interested parties.

Being chaired by Sarah Hanson-Young, the Greens senator from South Australia, representatives from the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Department of the Attorney-General speaking on behalf of Christian Porter, the Department of Home Affairs and, representing the unions’ perspective, the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance (MEAA) would be on hand to present views and evidence.

The hearings are occurring under shadows of political suspicions and vested interests on all sides. Raids on the home of NewsCorp journalist Annika Smethurst as well as those on the ABC’s Sydney offices in recent times have sparked rumblings over what is allowable in the public interest and what sort of protections can be afforded to whistleblowers’ contributions to journalists, as a couple of examples.

However, as the case of Smethurst – who herself recently admitted that she is taking a sabbatical leave from her duties at the Sunday Telegraph and Melbourne’s Herald Sun, citing a personal toll suffered during the ordeal – was thrown out by the High Court, the case of ABC journalist Dan Oakes over the network’s “The Afghan Files” documentary report still hangs in the balance, and the decisions lying in the mercy of Porter will determine Oakes’ fate.

This is where the presumption of political bias raises its ugly head. Why would the High Court act relatively quickly on the Smethurst case – given Smethurst’s employer’s relationship with the Morrison government being allegedly as cushy as it is – while Porter’s inaction on the Oakes verdict forces the ABC, amid its contentious relationship with the same body in the past, to endure a nervous wait?

This remains a matter which certainly angers and perplexes the MEAA.

“The ABC’s journalism clearly embarrassed the Government and the Department of Defence because they had classified the war crimes allegations as ‘secret’ so it could be hidden from the public,” Marcus Strom, the MEAA’s president, said at the time when the AFP admitted that it would continue to pursue Oakes’ case – even in the face of legal inconsistencies which remain quite clear to them.

“The story needed to be told because it was clearly in the public interest. We now know, from subsequent news stories, that there are multiple allegations of war crimes under investigation. And yet it is the truth tellers who face jail time,” said Strom.

“We should never forget that the AFP used a dangerously wide-reaching search warrant when it raided the ABC. It allowed the AFP to ‘add, copy, delete or alter’ material in the ABC’s computers. Such powers in the pursuit of whistleblowers and the criminalisation of legitimate public interest journalism should have no place in our democracy,” Strom added.

Fast-forward to this week’s hearings, and nothing has changed in the potential to prosecute journalists and whistleblowers for their work in the public interest.

As the hearings opened on Monday, AFP commissioner Reece Kershaw preached for a status-quo approach, where any new procedures, if enacted via legislation of a proposed “notice to produce” framework to be introduced, would not eliminate the need for search warrants to be executed on journalists or whistleblowers.

“There still will be some instances where it is appropriate for police and law enforcement agencies to seek a search warrant in respect of a journalist or media organisation,” Kershaw told the panel.

“For example, where there is reason to believe material could be concealed or destroyed,” he explained via a broad example.

Meanwhile, both Hanson-Young and Strom entered into this inquiry united in their convictions that – while pursuing greater protections and shield laws for journalists and whistleblowers – that recommendations from the Morrison government laid out prior to the inquiry do not go far enough in order to achieve their aims to serve the public in the common good.

For starters, Strom feels that jail time remains a very real possibility for journalists and whistleblowers without any reform towards stronger shield laws, in the ages-old premise that one should be assumed innocent before proven guilty.

“Despite a year-long inquiry into the impact of security laws on the public’s right to know, journalists still face jail for legitimate news reporting in the public interest,” Strom said.

“We still have a situation where journalists are considered guilty before the law. It should be up to the government agency to prove a case, not for a free media to prove it hasn’t breached any laws,” he added.

The MEAA has also praised the inquiry’s committee for recommending support for defamation law reform, improvements to freedom of information and information flow from government sources, the improvement of public interest disclosure arrangements for public servants in addition to general improvements in press freedom and shield laws.

And in doing so, Strom has advocated greater bipartisan legislation to assure that these goals are met.

“The MEAA has never said that journalists are above the law,” added Strom, “rather that bad laws must be reformed.”

Hanson-Young also feels that journalists’ livelihoods and whistleblowers’ rights need to be protected, even via a solitary piece of legislation.

“The Parliament’s secret Intelligence and Security Committee has failed to protect journalists, democracy and the public’s right to know what the government is doing in their name,” said Hanson-Young last week heading into the final submission stages of the inquiry.

“Journalists should not be charged for doing their jobs full stop. They should not have their homes raided. They should not be intimidated or threatened. They should not be attacked by the government for reporting what is in the public interest.

“A secret process concocted by a secret committee doing the bidding of a secretive government will not protect the public’s right to know. We need a Media Freedom Act to protect public interest journalism and the rights of journalists to do their jobs without fear or favour,” Hanson-Young added.

As Hanson-Young and the Greens have been pushing for a general Bill Of Rights since 2017, that which would define press freedoms along with the general rights for all Australians, it would be expected that a Media Freedom Act could form a least-possible outcome as a legacy of this inquiry, once it has finished.

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The traits of right-wing extremism

By Kathryn

There is so much hatred and violence in an ever-increasingly right-wing world mismanaged by totally corrupt, self-serving, profit-obsessed sociopaths like Donald Trump (USA), aided and abetted by the likes of Scott Morrison (Australia) and Johnson (UK); all of whom love to ramp up hate-speech, encourage turmoil and public disobedience (when it benefits them) and remain silent – even acquiescent – when their fascist police force start brutalising black people, or when minorities are victimised at the hands of right-wing white supremacists!

This is the type of thing happens – inevitably – following the rising amount of hate speech, intolerance, division and victimisation of vulnerable people and minorities under ultra conservative, right-wing extremism.

Right-wing extremists are, truly, the most dangerous and hateful of all forms of political leaders. Add the fact that so many of them are bible-thumping hypocrites into the bargain and it makes them even more offensive!

It doesn’t take much before the worst of them quickly degenerate into power-obsessive fascism, pushing through terrifying policies that whittle away the democratic freedoms of others to protest, to voice their condemnation of the stone cold neo-liberalism that thrives during their tyrannical mismanagement, the escalating nepotism, the increasing lies and staggering waste and misuse of taxpayer funds, the never-ending expenditure on war and weapons of war at the expense of the poor, the disadvantaged and their never-ending attacks and defundment of State education and health care.

Image from nbcnews.com

Hitler and Mussolini are examples of what can happen when right-wing extremism goes horribly wrong – doesn’t take much before it slides into fascism! Right now, we have this form of right-wing terrorism in Brazil under the fascist jackboot of Jair Bolsonaro. The fact that Trump has an increasingly similar style of megalomaniacal, narcissistic sociopathy cannot be ignored!

 

 

The contemptuous arrogance, the despicable declarations of “fake news”, the stubborn refusal to take any responsibility for their appalling recklessness, the increasing incidences of self-serving rorting of taxpayer-funds and blatant corruption that goes on and on without consequence, their total lack of foresight and zero integrity, the absolute determination to rule at any cost no matter how low they have to stoop to maintain their power – all of this is the common thread that seems to bind right-wing extremists around the world.

The only thing useless, non-achieving right-wing parasites are adept at is playing the relentless blame game of anyone and everyone for their own catastrophic ineptitude. Trump goes on and on and on blaming Obama (who was the best President the USA ever had); the lying, conniving LNP (in Australia) never stop blaming everyone but themselves – particularly the Labor government who have not been in government for over seven years; Boris Johnson and the smug Tories never seem to tire of pointing a finger at left-wing or environmentally-aware politicians in the UK (and around the world). The fact that these ruthless, ultra-conservative despots also have a tendency to take over and influence the media is a red flag warning as to their total disregard for our democracy and their contempt for our right to impartiality of the media! In Australia, we have the LNP forming a notorious – and totally undemocratic – alliance with Rupert Murdoch and his IPA (the Institute of Public Affairs). The IPA are a group of self-serving, unelected, multi-millionaire corporate predators who have undue, enormous influence and control over conservative politicians in the LNP in order to promote and encourage policies that will enrich and empower themselves at the expense of ordinary Australians.

The horrendous and unspeakable evil alliance the LNP have formed with the malevolent, non-Australian media overlord, Rupert Murdoch, has done so much damage to our democracy, freedom of the press and factual, fair reporting of our media – it is an unfolding tragedy. Ever since the disreputable John Howard changed the rules that once prohibited a single entity owning a huge majority of our media, Murdoch’s influence – and, by association – the influence of the LNP/IPA Alliance, has infiltrated, influenced and manipulated more than 70% of Australia’s media making it one of the most biased and contaminated forms of media in the free world.

Murdoch is now widely regarded throughout Australia as the totally biased Propaganda Minister to the LNP, doing everything they can to character-assassinate, denigrate and ridicule any opposition to the LNP/Murdoch/IPA Alliance of mutually benefiting multi-millionaire corporate predators. It is right-wing degeneracy at its worst!

Tragically, the above-named ‘traits’ are the modus operandi; what we now know to be the standard procedure of malevolent, self-obsessed, right-wing megalomaniacs who, once seizing power (through fair means and foul), hang on to it with bloodstained fingers, using their political power to openly favour their billionaire corporate donors over everyone else to ensure that they push through cruel, capitalistic policies that will vastly enhance their own personal wealth and power (and the wealth and power of their obscenely wealthy and powerful cronies).

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Politicians with a death wish

By 2353NM  

You have to wonder if some with a high profile in the ALP have a political death wish. Recently, the government’s performance was summed up by the Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck sitting at an enquiry into aged care, speechless for half a minute because he couldn’t answer a pretty obvious question on the number of deaths in aged care homes due to COVID-19. Rather than kicking back and watching the train wreck, Agriculture and Resources Shadow Minister Joel Fitzgibbon sticks his head up the next day and suggests that the ALP will split at some point over environmental issues, but not in his political lifetime.

Fitzgibbon represents a large chunk of the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, and anyone who has ever driven through that area will attest to the extent of the mining infrastructure. Apparently Fitzgibbon has been arguing for a while that the ALP needs to support the continuation of coal mining in Australia. Regardless of Fitzgibbon’s opinion, the use of coal has been falling for years in most parts of the world, with demand likely to fall further — for example Japan has announced it will close its older and inefficient coal fired power stations by 2030. It’s ridiculous to plan to maintain or increase the production of a product when there is no demand.

We live in a world that is constantly changing. If we go back to the beginning of the 20th century there was a considerable industry in horse drawn transport, from farriers to wagon builders to the people who supplied the hay used as ‘fuel’ for horses and those that cleaned the hay up after ‘processing’. While the horse drawn wagons still exist, they are more an advertising medium rather than a genuine attempt to move the product from point A to point B. Those supporting the horse drawn transport industry had to adapt as the internal combustion engine gained popularity.

In the 21st Century, renewable energy production is increasing as evidenced by the Clean Energy Council claiming that 2 million Australian homes now have solar panels on the roof and

An average of six panels per minute are being installed in Australia, with the Australian Energy Market Operator estimating an average of 10-20 panels per minute if large-scale solar projects are factored in.

which suggests we won’t be taking up the slack locally as our coal exports reduce.

Regardless of the machinations of those that want to keep the status quo, a number of institutional investors and financiers have announced that they will no longer invest or insure fossil fuel infrastructure. While there might be a commercial advantage to the promotion of a newly discovered environmental focus, if there wasn’t a business case to be made for a swift exit from fossil fuel investments, it wouldn’t be happening.

Surely, someone like Fitzgibbon is supposed to be a leader in his community. He should be having discussions with concerned residents that his side of the political fence is aware of the problem, working on ways to adapt the local and national economy to ensure continual growth when the inevitable happens. Rather, he seems to be sticking his head in the sand and humming ‘Kumbaya’ in the vain hope that the world will go on as it has without radical change. Is it any wonder that the ALP’s primary vote has declined? About 10% of the population now vote for the Greens — a lot of them probably used to vote for the ALP but shifted on the basis that the environment is changing for the worse and some in the ALP seem to be hoping for a miracle (or even hoping and humming Kumbaya), which really isn’t a great mitigation strategy.

What makes Fitzgibbon’s publicity stunt even less intelligent (if that was possible), the government isn’t looking all that good at the moment. We’ve already mentioned Colbeck’s failure to remember details of his portfolio. Let’s face it, if Colbeck was asked if Mrs Jones’ en-suite door was on the left or right wall in Room 15 at the Happy Valley Aged Care home, he would be forgiven for not having a clue. The number of people who have died from COVID-19 in his care — aged care is a federal responsibly and he is the responsible minister — shouldn’t be an obscure fact that requires the ruffling of what appeared to be numerous briefing notes before he could answer. On August 21 (the day Colbeck couldn’t recall the number), Morrison claimed he had confidence in his Aged Care Minister.

Ahead of the August 21 ‘National Cabinet Meeting’, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton re-entered the fray claiming that Queensland’s ALP Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was playing populist politics in the lead up to the October state election by keeping the borders closed to those from New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT. Queensland’s Chief Medical Officer responded, demonstrating that pandemic management is yet another thing that Dutton is clueless about. Queensland Deputy Premier and Health Minister Steven Miles offered to accompany Dutton around some shopping centres in the northern outskirts of Brisbane (where Dutton is the federal representative and Miles is the state representative) to actually ask the public. Dutton seems to have crawled back into his box and Queensland announced an unknown origin COVID-19 cluster the next morning, giving further fuel to those demanding the borders remain closed.

Morrison has some problems with his trusted ministers which the ALP has been capitalising on by generally keeping quiet and enjoying the show. However, when ‘the other mob’ are continually demonstrating they can’t manage their way out of a wet paper bag, let alone a pandemic, why on earth would you tip a bucket on your own side of the political spectrum as Fitzgibbon did, giving ‘the other mob’ a chance to point and suggest that we all look over there?

We all get that the transition from a fossil fuel economy to one based on renewable energy is not business as usual. Nor will it be stress free for all involved. Certainly, there needs to be a discussion on how the ALP will manage a transition to a renewables based economy while supporting workers that are in sunset industries, but surely it should be behind closed doors until there is a policy.

Then, and only then, there needs to be a public discussion on what the problem is, what the ALP has planned to mitigate the problem and help those adversely affected. That would explain to a lot of their supporters past and present why the ALP is a far safer environmental bet than the Greens who seem to have a problem articulating agreed policy in a number of areas. Both however are a better option than the Coalition that wants to fund the business case for construction of new a coal fired power station as a sop to vested interests who can’t see the wood for the trees.

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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Sneaky changes to Super not in good bargaining faith – ACTU

By William Olson  

As sporadically as the federal Parliament has been meeting in 2020, COVID-19 pandemic or no COVID-19 pandemic, you can count on them to wedge a secret piece or two of legislation which has the potential to be divisive for a majority government versus groups linked to its opponents.

And in the context of the ongoing and quite secretive negotiations over industrial relations reform, this could stoke quite a precedent.

On Tuesday, 25 August, the House of Representatives passed the remaining part of what is termed the Treasury Laws Amendment (TLA), a three-part legislation package generally aimed at general economic reform areas, and especially brought into the breech in light of the emergence of the JobKeeper scheme the Morrison government originally installed in late March.

The passage of the legislation has possessed a stop-start pattern, and understandably so, given the demands of the pandemic as well as the infrequent sitting dates of assembly of the Parliament.

Part 1 passed through both Upper and Lower houses in mid-May, Part 3 was passed by both houses in mid-June, while a wait ensued to witness the Upper House pass Part 2 of the legislation package last week.

And it is that Part 2 – an update of a similar 2019 piece of proposed legislation – which has become debatably the most contentious of the entire package.

It has raised the ire of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), with the language of that Bill stating, “Amends the Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act (1992) to provide that employees under workplace determinations or enterprise agreements have the right to choose their superannuation fund.”

The ACTU has analysed the Parliament’s decision as – at the very heart of the matter – going against the act and basic right of collective bargaining.

It has also been critical of the Bill, on the premise that it favours the banks-run, for-profit superannuation funds over the more successful Industry SuperFunds Australia (ISA) alliance of 15 different funds backed by the ACTU and the union movement – thereby taking the right away from workers to negotiate their choice of their own superannuation funds directly with their employers, whether they be existing employers or when commencing new employment.

“This is an attack on the basic rights of working people to bargain and win better conditions,” said Scott Connolly, an assistant secretary in the ACTU, after Part 2 of the Bill’s passage.

Consequences of the Bill’s collective passage would impact ISA affiliates’ members directly – and specifically, Cbus for the building and trades industry, HostPlus for hospitality, HESTA for the education sector, and TWU Super for those in the transport industry, to name a few.

A prejudice towards superannuation funds being run by the banking sector – such as OnePath from ANZ, Colonial First State from the Commonwealth Bank, MLC Masterkey Super from the NAB, and BT Super For Life from Westpac, to name a few – would thereby become the Bill’s beneficiaries.

The ACTU is not just going to bat for the superannuation funds that it has an interest in seeing succeed, but also points out the inappropriate context of the Bill’s passage in light of the relationship between LNP governments and the banks after the 2018-19 Royal Commission inquiry into the financial services sector.

“The passage of this Bill is a gift to the banks and bank-owned for-profit superannuation funds,” said Connolly.

“Despite years of scandals, decades of under-performance and evidence of shocking misconduct uncovered by the Banking Royal Commission, this Bill directly benefits for-profit superannuation providers,” Connolly added.

The ACTU possesses a support for the ISA funds, because of its ease and simplicity they have to benefits its members, and how the funds are efficiently looked after for its members as well.

“Workers bargain for a single fund in the workplace where they know it is in their best interest. This ensures superannuation is paid in full and on time, that workers have the best insurance available to them and their line of work, as well as access to defined benefit schemes,” said Connolly.

One intangible impact of the passage of the TLA Bills, collectively, begs one big question: in the context of the ongoing industrial relations reform negotiations – and superannuation does fall under the wingspan of the ultimate object in industrial relations, the nation’s workers – if the act of collective bargaining can be restricted in terms of superannuation, what’s stopping other industrial relations elements from meeting the same fate?

“This Bill threatens all of that and will only aid unscrupulous bosses and dodgy banks,” said Connolly, viewing the link of how those types of bosses and employers may treat the concept of superannuation.

“The union movement supported sensible amendments put forward by Labor and the Greens and supported by Jacqui Lambie to protect workers’ rights and is disappointed the Government and some crossbench Senators did not support them,” added Connolly.

The ACTU can only hope that this trend with the government’s interests does not continue into other areas of legislation and negotiations, such as into industrial relations reform.

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Seeking the Post-COVID Sunshine: Consolidating Win-Win Commercial Relationships with China?

By Denis Bright  

What should be Australia’s responses to those mega Chinese commercial and development initiatives which have already transformed the global political economy?

This article merely offers some thoughtful resources relating to the impact of current investment and trade hostilities towards China. This is one of the most vital issues of our times. Badly handled, it could reimpose the heaviest burdens of war and militarism on future generations. Hard-line supporters of military build-ups might be endangering our future security and living standards in difficult times ahead with a focus on defence over sustainable development for the Indo-Pacific Basin.

Better relations with China would indeed be a return to normalcy when, and if, President Trump vacates the White House.

Trump’s gun-boat diplomacy is a return to a bygone era. Colonies like Hong Kong were acquired by force to facilitate exports of opium to China by the British East India Company and other agencies. Colonial expansions worldwide were stained by similar antics and especially in Australia where a whole ancient civilisation became a captive of global capitalism. Revolutionary America once stood up to such antics in the War of Independence (1776-83) and resistance to the British occupation of Washington in 1812-14 when many national monuments were set ablaze.

The fall of the Berlin Wall offered some fond hopes of a return to better times in a century which had been marred by ongoing wars, a global pandemic in 1919 and a Great Depression.

The BRICS partnership between China, Brazil, India, South Africa and Russia and The Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank (AIIB) were both Chinese initiatives that assisted in the stagnant global economy of the post-GFC era. The biggest positive impact of a resurgent China became associated with the  multiplier effects of its global investment and trade in countries,  rich and poor alike.

Australia should be ecstatic with all these economic positives. The lives of a vast swathe of humanity across the Indo Pacific Basin are still in the process of being ameliorated. The immediate benefits for Australians were far-reaching.

China takes almost half our exports. This share has increased since the current COVID-19 crisis as the Chinese economy rebuilds after its own pandemic. Only security controls through the Foreign Investment Review Board and now new powers proposed for use by our Foreign Minister are placing brakes on future Chinese investment (AFR 26 August 2020).

This enthusiasm for a strengthening of relationships between China and Australia was upheld by China’s Deputy Ambassador Wang Xining to the National Press Club on 26 August 2020. Here are some key extracts. The full text is available from the Chinese embassy web site.

China has been Australia’s biggest trade partner for 11 years in a row and is now Australia’s largest source of international students and tourists, and more promisingly, most important collaborator on scientific research on account of the number of university research papers and mentions in the top 1 per cent of most-cited articles.

On top of these impressive statistics, there have been more heartening accomplishments on the human dimensions of our relationship. The constantly growing business connections and cultural exchanges have consequential impact on deepening our mutual understanding and appreciation and forging stronger friendship and affinity between our peoples.

This balanced perspective contrasts with a repeat of that continued bluster against China in The Australian with its scoops from ASIO press releases and other conservative insiders who have the ear of the Murdoch press.

The current emphasis on the Thousand Talents Plan from China should be balanced by consideration of the invitations offered by the US Government to other talented Australians and future leaders:

 

 

Meanwhile, the charm offensive by Chinese leaders seems to be working with fresh winds from a Chinese economy that is recovering from the recent pandemic. Why indeed should only one side of the global political divide be entitled to use a charm offensive?

From the Chinese perspective, the charm offensive has worked well in the recent past.

The Chinese-focused mass investment initiatives complemented the more conventional market-based development priorities of the Washington-based IMF and the World Bank at a time when recovery from the GFC was imperative. US firms could indeed benefit from a consumer-led recovery across the developing world and in affluent consumer societies which make use of Chinese manufactured products to fine-tune their brand names.

Is Australia Now Hedging its Options in Anticipation of a Biden-Harris Victory?

Although the Australian Government always seeks consensus with the Trump Administration, it is not deaf or blind to the possibility of a democratic regime change at this year’s US Presidential elections. There are certainly different currents of opinions within the federal LNP about the leadership qualities of President Trump. I expect that most members of the federal LNP have positive perceptions about the prospects of a Biden-Harris victory. These MPs are keeping very quiet about this vital issue and cite the need for non-interference in the domestic affairs of the USA as their justification for silence about issues like the extent of racism and poverty as precincts of cities go up in flames again.

Foreign minister Julie Bishop suggested at the last presidential election that Hillary Clinton was likely to win in 2016. She correctly warned Australians of the consequences of a Trump Presidency on our commercial outreach to Asian countries (AFR 30 October 2016). Where are the signs of such independent assessments amongst the current crop of federal LNP leaders?

The current trade and investment wars between the Trump Administration and China in the interests of his Make America Great Again (MAGA) strategies will continue to hurt Australia badly. Capital flows to Australia have been headed in the wrong direction for over two years and long before the arrival of the current pandemic (Data is shown in millions of Australian dollars):

 

 

Back in the days when China was a valued partner in post-GFC globalization, the Abbott Government first negotiated our involvement in the AIIB. Its outreach was to assist with Belt and Road Projects across Central Asia and Southern Asia along the New Silk Road to Europe and the Maritime Road to Africa:

 

Image from Asia Green Real Estate

 

As the fifth anniversary of the AIIB approaches in January 2021, there are 102 countries signed up with this major global development bank, including 26 prospective members.

Ironically, the Washington based IMF continues to warn of the financial risks which have been associated with the Trump Administration’s ongoing trade and investment wars with China and EU countries in its latest Annual Report:

 

 

Back in  the Obama-era, former IMF President Christine Lagarde, supported the formation of the AIIB:

“Mrs Lagarde said there was “massive” room for IMF co-operation with the AIIB on infrastructure financing. The US has criticised the UK and other allies for supporting the bank. The US sees the AIIB as a rival to the World Bank, and as a lever for Beijing to extend its influence in the region.”

Meanwhile, it is the AIIB which pushes on with its commitment to progressive globalisation while the Trump Administration has retreated into its bizarre MAGA agendas with threats of punitive tariffs and investment controls which contradict its own free-trade agreements.

 

 

With the Obama Administration well into its second term in 2014, this era was still a very positive phase of contemporary globalisation. With Australia’s support, the US widened its commitment to the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-Operation Forum (APEC).

While Secretary of State John Kerry disagreed with Australia’s commitment to join the AIIB, our choice caused no real problems. Allied countries in Europe had generally made a similar call. Even Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt chose to give the AIIB a chance to spread economic and community development to those areas most in need. There was a similar attitude towards the formation of BRICS. Only Japan followed the US directive to boycott the new AIIB and played no part in BRICS.

Australia’s DFAT was upbeat about the prospects for APEC which had assisted in dissipating Cold War tensions from the Vietnam War era.

 

Image of the APEC Network from Ministry of Trade and Industry Singapore

 

There are no ideological barriers to extend the APEC community of nations. Countries between Peru and Mexico can be expected to join the current 21 members of the APEC community as well as Timor Leste and smaller island states in Micronesia and Melanesia. Even China was gracious enough to allow membership from Taiwan China. It is not just a typo error as both countries are represented separately but co-operatively.

In the favourable climate for international relations in 2013-14, the consolidation of the APEC community was a plus for Australian diplomacy from the 1980s. It was an initiative which both sides of politics supported until the arrival of those MAGA strategies from the Trump administration.

Australia proceeded to foster the integration of China and even Russia into the Pacific community of nations. Membership of the AIIB was not even a subtle challenge to the global role of the IMF and the World Bank in international affairs (AFR 24 October 2014).

US corporations generally welcomed the integration of China into the contemporary globalisation. Only President Trump failed to grasp an appreciation of the symbiotic relationship between the emergence of China as an economic superpower and the longer-term stability of the US economy.

Both sides of politics in Australia can and should work with an incoming Biden-Harris team to expand APEC into a broader Indo-Pacific Basin Forum as a substitute for the current style of gun-boast and megaphone diplomacy.

Current Realities of Australia’s Shareholdings in the AIIB

The latest update on shareholdings in the AIIB is based on the 2019 Annual Report. Australia has a subscribed capital of AU$5.25 billion in 2019. Deposit instalments were not increased this year, possibly under pressure from the Trump Administration.

To Australia’s credit, it has maintained a strong financial association with the AIIB. It has voting rights on the AIIB Board in Beijing at a time when warning bells about the resurgence of China has been noted by the White House:

“China is beginning to erode this financial system by erecting a new institutional system based in economic dependency to Chinese informal economic practices, rather than to the West and its formalized rule of law. Western financial institutions require significant macroeconomic reforms, austerity measures, and other accountability measures to secure investment. However, the Chinese provide credit without such preconditions and even offer their own workforce to deploy such investments through large-scale infrastructure projects. Such an approach increases China’s informal power over a country’s internal economic and political affairs.

China first brought this approach to Africa where they took advantage of perceptions on the continent that the existing Western financial system was exploiting them. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the Paris Club, a group of largely Western creditors, loaned African nations $540 billion from 1970-2002. Despite paying close to $550 billion, these countries still owe $295 billion. As such, African nations increasingly see these loan agreements as punishing them, rather than providing a pathway towards restored economic health.

Leveraging African scepticism of the West, China solidified its influence through investments in Africa’s infrastructure as part of their “One Belt, One Road” initiative, built and funded as a $200 million gift a new headquarters for the African Union, and is writing off or reducing $1.2 billion in African debt — a stark contrast to a Westernized system that Africans perceive is continually indebting them.

China’s infrastructure investments in Africa has already yielded social and political capital returns. Africa increasingly views the Chinese system as an attractive one that advances not just its own economic interests but theirs as well.”

While the Australian Government continues to support all the strategic rhetoric of the Trump Administration against China, our commitment to the AIIB carries a lingering spark of the Whitlamesque in Australian foreign policy.

The more eccentric initiatives of the Trump White House against China at a commercial and strategic level can be negotiated away by an incoming Biden-Harris administration that is supported by a huge mandate in the US House of Representatives. It can probably extend to the senate if some Republicans break ranks by deciding to support a new administration as only one third of the senate plus two casual vacancies will be re-elected in 2020.

 

 

In an opinion piece in the Canberra Times (22 August 2020), Crispin Hull calls on the governments of Australia and New Zealand to distance themselves from the strategic antics of President Trump if he is re-elected this year.

Hopefully, there will be a decisive result in the forthcoming presidential election. China will undoubtedly use its charm offensive to invite a return to normalcy. All significant parties in the Australian parliament will welcome developments as they focus inwardly on their own varied responses to the current public health, economic and wider social problems afflicting the nation.

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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Not-so-Super withdrawals to leave women worse off post-pandemic

By William Olson 

For comparison purposes, August 28 marked the date which commemorates Equal Pay Day, where a total of 59 more days would constitute how many more days from the start of the current financial year that women would have to work in order to find their pay being on an equal footing with that of their male colleagues and counterparts.

A statistical reflection of the disparity of pay between women and men, as pointed out by the Equal Pay Day Alliance (EPDA) and citing data calculated annually by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) and quoting a series of data presented by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), presents some very sobering facts for the 2020 edition of Equal Pay Day:

  • The national gender pay gap is 14%.
  • On average, women working full-time earned $1,558.40 while men working full-time earned $1,812.00.
  • Full-time average weekly earnings difference between women and men is $253.60.

And just some of the institutionalised factors, those dictated by the reality of our society and otherwise, do make suggestions which bring it all into focus:

  • discrimination and bias in hiring and pay decisions
  • women and men working in different industries and different jobs, with female-dominated industries attracting lower wages
  • women’s disproportionate share of unpaid caring and domestic work
  • lack of workforce flexibility to accommodate caring and other responsibilities, especially in senior roles
  • and women’s greater time out of the workforce impacting career progression and opportunities.

The state of the COVID-19 pandemic is only making the gulf of disparity even worse at present. At least parity has reigned in Australia’s unemployment rate up to the month of July sitting at 7.5 per cent, as both men and women have incurred unemployment at that very exact rate for each gender. And as such, the actual number of women being unemployed exists at its highest rate in the nation’s history – and it has even doubled since last December.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has also championed the day not just to talk up the disparities of the present, but how damaging the future for women in the workforce may potentially become.

The ACTU’s concerns naturally address any of the above statistics and trends, but also go on to attack insecure work in the way of casualisation, lack of paid pandemic leave, how women in traditionally female-dominated areas such as healthcare and early childhood education are underpaid by the nature of their awards, and the rates of participation of the Morrison government’s early superannuation withdrawal scheme.

“The refusal of the Morrison Government to address insecure work which disproportionately effects women has left a third of the workforce without sick leave during a pandemic and means that women who are returning to work are returning to jobs which are lower paid and more insecure,” Michele O’Neil, the ACTU’s president, said on Friday.

“[And] the overwhelmingly female workforces in aged care and early childhood education and care are systemically underpaid and deal with extreme levels of insecure work. Women in the community sector are facing funding shortfalls which will undermine equal pay,” O’Neil added.

But the vicious cycle, according to O’Neil and the ACTU, does not end there.

Insofar as the withdrawal of superannuation has happened, over 1.3 million women have accessed their funds early in order to pay bills and – in the case of unemployed and under-employed women – fill the gaps in the commitments of their daily lives.

While this trend has occurred at a higher rate than that of men – and some would contend at a ratio close to two-to-one – in addition to those who have taken advantage of both available windows to withdraw totals of $20,000, more than 300,000 women have completely emptied their superannuation accounts.

And of that, 80 per cent of those, said O’Neil, are 35 years old or younger.

And in that demographic of being female and under 35, she added, members of that group may very well be $95,000 worse off in retirement once fees are taken into account.

“It is essential that the recovery from this crisis address the long-standing issues which have reduced the pay and retirement income of women,” said O’Neil.

O’Neil also implores the Morrison government to examine the ACTU’s National Economic Reconstruction Plan (NERP) as a foundation not just to stimulate the economy in the way of general post-pandemic recovery, but also provide a backdrop towards addressing the disparities women face in employment and wage equality issues.

“Addressing equal pay requires investment in secure jobs, and improving women’s legal rights to win equal pay,” said O’Neil.

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