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Letitia McQuade is a writer, business person, and an award winning screenwriter and film maker. As a post grad, she studied creative writing at Melbourne University, and has a BA in Film and TV from VCA. Letitia has owned and run numerous small businesses in retail, manufacturing and real estate.

The world is turning its back on our coal, so what’s Abbott’s plan for our future?

The coalition are right about one thing, coal is one of Australia’s top earners. Coal brought in roughly AU $46 Billion in the 2013 fiscal year, and is currently our second biggest export; no matter how much we love renewables no one could argue that a fall off in demand could be very damaging for our nations bottom line. But that is exactly what is happening, our 2013 coal revenue, while still quite robust, was actually down by 3.6% from 2012. And while some may posit that this is just a statistical anomaly, (the 5 year growth trend was up 16% until 2012), not everyone is convinced that what we are seeing isn’t just the first dip on a imminent free fall decline.

Coking coal contract prices that peaked in 2011 at $US330 per tonne, have now dropped to below $US120 a tonne, which is threateningly close to the wrong side of a break even price. So, with demand falling, prices dropping, and mines closing it’s not totally ridiculous to assume that things could be about to get worse for those of us heavily invested in the world of coal.

The sign posts are clearly out there for everyone to see. China has banned the building of new coal plants and has begun dismantling those that it already has, (in fact Chinese experts expect Beijing’s coal use to shrink to less than 10 per cent by 2017). That’s about two and half years away; which is, Mr Abbott, (in case you missed it), alarmingly close.

Base load renewables have been advancing at a rapid pace and are set to take over. As of 2011 the Gemasolar project, located in the Spanish province of Andalucia, (the first fully-operational commercial-scale solar farm in the world) has provided base load electricity generation – 24 hours a day.  Since then the technology has been improving, and new installations like the 394MW Ivanpah Solar Power Facility are being put on drawing boards across the globe.

The fact is coal is in its death throws, the only question is how fast will it die? While the Coalition clearly think it will stagger on long enough to see out their parliamentary terms (and secure any post parliamentary perks they may be set to receive from their big mining buddies), trying to hold back the tide of change is not likely to be in the best interests of the nation going forward. We will simply be left behind in the wash up.

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It is not enough for the government to scream “budget emergency” and try to cut all of its expenditure on middle and low income earners. We need a plan for how Australia intends to earn its living into the future! Coal, no matter how much the coalition may wish it, is not going to sustain us into the coming century, (and as things look it may not even sustain us as far as the next decade).  This is the REAL fiscal emergency, and making pensioners pay at the doctors, or cutting young folk off the dole is not going to come even close to addressing this issue.

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So what are our options? First thing is to look at what we already do well. Education is our third highest export earner, (after iron ore and coal), and unlike iron ore or coal (which we export as raw commodities) the education sector is one in which we do a high level of value adding. It is a sector into which we could expand exponentially. We have so many advantages, from being an English speaking nation, low crime levels, high degree of cultural diversity, and of course a quality product.

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fund our future

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But what is the coalitions vision? Cutting course funding and hiking costs for local students is hardly likely to raise the quality of our educational institutions or their international standing. We have Christopher Pyne disingenuously citing the global league tables for universities, ignoring the fact that the system of academic ranking is weighted heavily toward research institutions, where as our universities are more geared toward teaching and employment outcomes. (Although that said Melbourne University is still ranked in the top 50).

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NBN

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Infrastructure projects that could bring in off shore students, increase international partnerships, advance research outcomes and encourage course sharing, like an effective NBN, have been scuppered with a heedless disregard for their economic potential or their necessity. Instead we are building more roads and dredging in the Great Barrier reef.

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RIP REEF

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Which brings me to number six on our list of top exports (or number two on our list of non-mining earners), tourism and travel. Has Greg hunt got rocks in his head? Unlock the pristine Tasmanian wilderness (one of the states greatest tourism assets), dredge the great barrier reef, for a coal port? What the hell is thinking? Tourism’s “brand Australia” is not primarily our cities; we don’t have the museums and galleries full of cultural treasures like London, New York, Paris or Berlin. We can not compete with the ancient ruins of Greece or Rome or Egypt, what we have is pristine wilderness. We have the reef, the rock, the beaches, the forests, kangaroos, kolas and the outback. So why would we put our wining hand in the environmental cross hairs? This is utter madness.

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Another sector that has a great deal of as yet untapped potential is agriculture, (when aggregated Australia’s agricultural exports are actually our third largest earner). Australia is uniquely placed, as an island continent, to provide high demand heirloom agricultural products, that are untainted by GMO and GMO pollen drift, (an issue that has seen much of the USA’s agricultural output banned from sale in the EU and other markets across the globe). It is also an area in which there are huge opportunities for value adding. And yet what is the government doing? Cashing in on the issuing licenses for coal seam gas exploration and extraction across swathes of our best farming land. Recklessly ignoring the issues of ground water contamination, massive releases of the greenhouse gas methane, and post extraction land contamination. They are cynically trying to assuage public opinion by quarantining minute portions of “farmland”, while actually leaving most of our farms up the proverbial polluted creek.

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FARMS NOT GASS

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There are so many things we do well. Scientific research for example; although we don’t even have a science minister at the moment, and the government is trying desparately to cut funding to the CSIRO. Biotech, or retooling the automotive industry toward the burgeoning renewable sector, Australia has a lot of options, but the government appears to be ignoring them all in favor of throwing its support behind the coal and broader mining sectors.

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Untitled 2

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In spite of Hobbott’s hysterical rhetoric we don’t have a lot of debt, so is it really prudent to put the brakes on the broader economy, and pull large amounts of money out of the system just when are facing seriously declining sales of one of our lead products?

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Granted I am not an economist, (although they seem to get it wrong often as not), but I am someone who has been in business, and I know this much, if the market for what you are selling is falling you need to invest in new product lines, and sooner rather than later. Selling down what you have, not investing in new product lines, and keeping your fingers crossed in the vain hope your customers will return is a sure fire recipe for business failure.

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Just as Christopher Pyne keeps telling us (vis a vis education), those that invest in their future will earn more in the long run; but for some reason the government seems incapable of rationally applying this logic to our nations’ current account. Instead they are trying to convince us the world is not actually moving forwards, and we Aussies will be happily shipping coal for years to come.

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Maybe they are right, and we will all ride the wave of coal fired global warming to infinite wealth and happiness, but just in case that does’t work out for us, I for one would like to know, what’s the plan B? Because simply cutting all government spending is not going to help us if the bottom suddenly drops out of the coal market, and we’ve failed to make other plans.

So please, tell us Mr Abbott, where’s the vision, and what is the plan?

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“Feminist Bitches” Who Needs Them?

There’s no denying it, Australian women have come a long way. From the married women’s property act to the criminalisation of marital rape. From the right to vote, or attend university to the triumph of Joyce Barry, (who became Melbourne’s first female tram driver in 1975), western women have made massive strides forward in our right to self determination.

Even in the halls of power, from Dorothy Tangney (our first female senator), to Carmen Lawrence (our first female Premier); from Julia Gillard (our first female prime minister), to Quentin Bryce (our first female governor general), it seems that the doors are now occasionally opened to us.

It is much the same for our sisters in Europe and North America. We western women are now so acclimatised to our opportunities, rights and freedoms that some of us feel that feminism is no longer needed; a fact that was recently bought home to me by the face book meme, the “WomenAgainstFeminism” page!

 

women against fem

Yes, you heard it right, a parade of overtly privileged girls have banded together to declare feminism officially no longer necessary. Apparently we women are now all so liberated, so riddled with choices, that the fight for women’s rights can be joyously tossed on the land fill of history. Yeah, kind of makes you want to party!!

feminism1

Trouble is, it’s simply not true.There are so many disturbing facts and figures in the global gender polemic it’s difficult to know where exactly to begin cataloging them. Whether it’s the relatively first world concerns, like media representation, pay disparity, political under-representation, pricing up female products, or even Saudi women not being permitted to drive; or more threatening, pernicious issues like so called honor killings, female infanticide, female genital mutilation, endemic rape, or child marriage, the world is a veritable smorgasbord of discrimination, violence and repression for vast swathes of it’s female inhabitants.

condemn-Honor-killing

Don’t these young ladies know this? Because if they do there is something in this meme I am failing to understand. How can anyone know that there are people are out there killing babies simply because they are girls, or raping 9 year olds under the guise of culturally sanctioned marriage, or murdering their daughters and sisters for the crime of having a boyfriend, and not think that something needs to be done about it?

While the freedom to drive to the mall, wear pretty dresses, stay at home with kids, and have a husband that doesn’t beat them is clearly quite enough liberation for them, do they seriously not give a rats about what happens to other women who are either not as fortunate as they are, or simply want to make different choices?

Seriously, it bothers me. Why are these young women lining up to be the new foot soldiers in the global war against women’s rights? Is it just their wide eyed, self centered ignorance that has them taking the hatchet to the feminist cause, or is there something more sinister at play?

If you look at www.dictionary.com the term Feminist is, by definition, a rather inoffensive, innocuous label to apply to ones self; and certainly not one that should be the cause of any hostility, fear or distress.

fem-i-nist [femuh-nist]

adjective Sometimes, fem-i-nis-tic.

  1. advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.

noun

  1. an advocate of such rights.

But given the stampede of young women wishing to distance themselves from the mere idea of feminism, there can be no doubt that the term “feminist” has been co-opted to mean something quite different.

Just as political opportunists, (and a cynical media), have managed to indelibly fuse the word “Muslim” with impressions of terrorists jihadis in our minds; so they have managed to associate feminism with images of ugly, hairy, ranting, irrational lesbians that want nothing more than to kill all men; meanwhile the true meaning of the word has been obscured. Feminism has been successfully rebranded to a point where young women no longer see it as something that may further their cause, but as something that will actively hinder it.

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Set aside the undeniable human tragedy that is India’s epidemic rates of sexual assault or the enduring practice of bride burning, China’s continued extermination of infant girls, the stoning of women in Afghanistan, the normality of rape in Somalia , the denial of female education in Pakistan, and the human trafficking of 3rd world sex slaves etc etc etc,

Just looking exclusively at how the gender divide plays out for western women, it is difficult to understand how any sane minded person could possibly think that we have reached a position of equality, or for that matter think that feminism is a bad thing.

I don’t know any normal, rational western man that thinks, “I hope my daughter grows up to be paid 20% less than others doing the same job, and gets to pay 20 % more for basic gender targeted items”, or “I hope my daughter gets passed over for promotion, and never gets to fulfill her potential because she is female”, or “I hope she gets stuck in an abusive marriage because she stopped work to look after her kids, and now can’t afford to leave”, or  even “I hope she gets raped for wearing that mini skirt”…. No reasonable person thinks like that, and that is why reasonable men and women both recognise the need for feminism.

But clearly there are still forces of resistance. Believe me “the housewives of Australia know, as they are doing the ironing” that they are not adequately represented in the cabinet room of our government. (Those pesky women may be knocking on the door, but clearly the doorman thinks that cabinet is a sub branch of the Melbourne club).

The fact is business makes a lot of money out of underpaying women, business makes a lot of money out of discriminatory pricing, business makes a lot of money out of sexualising the female form, and business makes a lot of money out of keeping women silent and compliant with the status quo.

men cheaper

And what better way to keep women silent and compliant than to demonize “feminists” (those women who are actively engaged in combating inequality). The mainstream media have expended an inordinate amount of energy cultivating an image of feminists as twisted, antagonistic witches full of bile and vitriol; they have painted such a monstrously grotesque portrait of the modern feminist that we are instinctively repelled by the mere mention of the word. Even less would we want to admit to actually being one! Hell NO!!

But if you read their posts these self professed anti-feminists, are not really anti-feminists so much as they are “pro-male” and “anti-hate”; and the way they express that, (with out any apparent sense of irony), is by declaring their rancorous hatred for all things “feminist”.

fem 3

Clearly what these overwhelmingly youthful little memesters fail to understand that they have been hoodwinked by the powers that be, that their naive good will, and legitimate desire for gender equity has been hijacked; and they are now fully mobilised in a war against their own best interests.

If we can, for a moment, set aside the toxic rhetoric of the marginal feminist radicals, strip away the claptrap about “all feminists being bitches”, and take a sober, rational look what real feminists have actually given us; the right to vote, the right to stand for office, the right to own property, the right to work, the right to an education etc… who could argue that they have not given us a gift of the most profound value? And if you look at what real feminists may give us into the future, things like equal opportunity, equal representation, a pay rise, and a chance to shine on our own merits, what sane person would want less for their daughter or their sister?

While these “Women against Feminism” may be content to cuddle up to the status quo, and bin feminism altogether, I see that there is still much work yet to be done, (particularly in the developing world).

The choice over whether I “need” feminism or not is not now, and nor has it ever been, solely about me.  For no matter how good I think I might have it, (in my comfy little western enclave, with my comparatively high level of self determination), there are hundreds of millions of women who unquestionably need our help and solidarity to get to even the most basic level of equality and self determination. And if standing up for what is clearly right means some one might call me a “feminist bitch”, then so be it. Those feminist bitches, with all their sacrifice and struggle have given me most of the things that make my life free and happy!

So I ask you, who needs feminist bitches? I say we all do!

Abbott’s Warm Fuzzy Melting Pot

Breaking news! “In light of the complex and challenging security environment facing Australia” Abbott has made another captain’s call; the amendments to section 18c of the racial vilification act are now officially “off the table”.

Apparently while it was perfectly OK for shock jocks to indiscriminately hurl racial abuse a few months back, what we NEED now, as a nation, is to set aside what divides us so we can all come together in a big warm fuzzy hug of national unity.

That is, of course, except for when we come together in collective condemnation of anyone who has been to “a designated conflict zone”.

Under new legislation on the Coalition drawing board, any “Aussie” so stupid as to go to “a designated conflict zone” without having the forethought to film their entire visit, (as proof they are not a terrorist), could be jailed without proof, refused re-entry, expelled from the country, or simply have their their citizenship revoked, all without any proof whatsoever they did anything wrong.

While I can’t pretend I am not pleased that the racial vilification act has survived Abbott’s ill thought out onslaught, I must confess to being somewhat skeptical as to the motivations for his back down.

I am quite sure someone within the LNP has pointed out that, given his abysmal standing in the polls, it might be better to pick his battles. With his reforms to 18c almost universally condemned (and looking set to face defeat), and with the budget stench still clouding the air, maybe it might be prudent to throw us a bit of a feel good bone, particularly when a much more Machiavellian ambition – to establish a legal precedent for the removing the burden of proof – could be at play.

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Photo: George Brandis Sydney Morning Herald

But then again maybe I am over thinking this, maybe it is just because, as Guy Rundle wrote this week in the Saturday Paper, “if George Brandis gets rolled on 18C, he will have no honourable choice but to resign as attorney-general”, and Abbott doesn’t want to lose a high profile scalp right now.

 

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Refugee Insanity: The Crippling Cost of Australia’s Cruelty…

There is no arguing, Australia’s policies for dealing with refugees cost us a fortune. Off shore detention costs about $3750 per day, per person. Disposable orange life boats cost us a fortune, (about $7.5 million). To put that in a budget context that’s over $3billion of savings we could make right now, and that’s before one even begins to calculate the resettlement costs promised to Papua New Guinea or Nauru for taking on our responsibility.

But for all the talk of the persecuted innocents incarcerated or tax dollars squandered, there is a cost to us, as Australians, that is rarely spoken of; the cost to our collective humanity. The stories a nation holds about its self are a powerful force. It’s how we define our identity; it’s who we are as a people; and like most stories, tales of national identity usually contain a small grain of truth, mixed with a hefty dose of myth, metaphor and allegory, all neatly tied together with a sparkly bow of pure fiction.

While most of our stories are rousing, feel good little fables like, “Aussies believe in a fair go”, “Australians are great sports”, or “Aussies are an honest, down to earth, no bullsh*t lot”; many of our more common, jingoistic spiels are notedly less charming, such as; “asylum seekers are criminals”, or “asylum seekers are queue jumpers”. (These examples come courtesy of google auto fill).

Asylum seekers

Very rarely do we question where these ditties actually come from; they seem to just mysteriously appear in zeitgeist as fully formed epithets of some larger, unassailable truth. Without a second thought we attach them to our national identity and begin repeating them amongst ourselves ad nauseam. And what’s more, we are very attached to our little yarns abo­ut who we are and how it is; in fact a quick glance through history would suggest that we humans can be willingly led to the depths of hell in defence of our precious national narratives.

But every now and again some nebulous, imperceptible thing shifts; a tipping point is reached, and even the most rigidly defended of our stories give way to a new paradigm. It’s as if the vast majority suddenly wake up one day to realise the world is not as they thought it was; and they are not who they thought they were. This is rarely a pleasant phenomenon; for most nations it is usually the crystallising realisation that they are, (as a nation), significantly less good and right than they thought they were. Admittedly this doesn’t happen often, (most countries would rather wage bloody wars of attrition than accept that they may be on the wrong side of a long held ideology), but when it does happen its effect on the national psyche can be both persistent and profound.

To me Germany is one the most fascinating examples of this. In the early 2000’s I spent a few months writing in Berlin, and was really struck by the enduring resonance of WW2, a war that had ended some 58 years earlier.

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While cities like London have long since cleansed all traces of the war from their streets, Berlin -with an unassuming humility- bares her scars for all to see. From the holocaust photos on the remnants of the wall to the bombed out remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, from the Jewish war museum to the rebuilt synagogue of the infamous crystal nacht, from her ubiquitous machine gun scars to check point Charlie, Berlin – for all her art and culture- provides her citizens with a constant, sobering reminder of the darkest aspects of their human potential.

Even though most Germans today where not even alive at the time of the holocaust, the war seems to have infected their national narrative with such a deep and abiding shame, (and the subsequent need for redemption) that their national discourse still remains largely dominated by ethical and moral imperatives.

And then there’s the USA. It’s over one hundred and fifty years since slavery was popularly considered a good idea, and yet the American story remains blighted by its legacy. To this day the anguish of slavery stalks the American psyche like a cancerous shadow that can never be fully excised..

While many Australians feel personally distanced from the stain that is the Tasmanian genocide, or the stolen generation, (probably because the vast majority of us are not actually descended from those responsible); I sense that we, as a nation, are starting to wake up to the fact that we can not shield ourselves indefinitely from responsibility for what is happening to innocent, persecuted refugees on our watch.

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I feel the worm is starting to turn and it will not be long until we reach the tipping point. Our rhetoric is changing. Even the most fearful and ignorant among us are starting to realise that the callous disregard with which we treat our refugees is extracting a price so high that it can not be measured or quantified; a cost far more profound than dollars spent, or the blow to our international reputation, (although that is undoubtedly taking a pummelling).

As the government’s veil of secrecy is slowly being prized off we are now starting to hear of our wilful neglect of sick children, of babies kept in scorchingly hot dormitories with not even enough room to learn to crawl, of the removal of medicines, spectacles and hearing aids, the reports of rape, torture, piracy and imprisonment in inhumane conditions.

With the UNHCR up in arms over such barbarity – even China is waving a disproving finger at our flagrant disregard for human rights and international law – the reality of what we are doing is starting to feel deeply and profoundly wrong, even to the most ignorant and cruel among us.

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photo by daily telegraph. christmas island

Never in my life have I heard so many people declare that they are ASHAMED to be Australian, although this is hardly surprising. Given our current treatment of refugees there is no measure by which we can convincingly place ourselves on the right side of history/humanity, and deep down we all know it. People are waking up to the fact that we have, with our unbridled selfishness and cruelty, stabbed deeply at the heart of our nation; and in so doing we have inflicted a wound so egregious that our national sense of decency is now slowly bleeding out.

What both Abbott and Shorten fail to realise however, is that their current refugee policies are firmly aligned with yesterdays spin, a story born of Howard’s post 9/11 political opportunism, and supported, up until now, by fear mongering, ignorance and misinformation. But the tide is turning, today that story is vacillating, tomorrow it will be outright rejected for the shamefully barbaric atrocity that it is.

boat count

While I hold little hope that the coalition will shift on this issue, there is still time for Labor to cast a finger to the wind and feel the coming change in public sentiment. I for one hope that Labor can find the courage to come out swinging with a strong policy that favours decency, coupled with a powerful rhetoric that dispels the fear and economic irrationality that has surrounded the issue.

 

The Highway to Hell, Hockey’s Trickle Down Delusion

In spite of the unprecedented budget backlash the Abbott government remains determined to ape America’s hard right neo-con policy agenda. But when the US government finds that it is unable, (or unwilling), to protect its citizens from the ravages of high unemployment, sub-living wages, homelessness, toxic food, unaffordable healthcare, crippling education costs, rampant crime and wholesale environmental destruction, one has to seriously question whether it is a model worth replicating.

While there are those who are reasonably happy with the US system, they tend to be from the top end of town, and not surprisingly they possess a disproportionate voice in the mainstream media. The story is, by and large, what they say it is. And according to these one percenters they are the job creators, the innovators, the saviors; while the millions Americans on food stamps (who can not afford to eat), and the 1/3 of Detroit households who are having their water supply withdrawn (because they can not afford to pay their bills), are a bunch of lazy whiny socialists who just want to suckle off the government teat.

water cut off

Image by The Washington Post

At least that’s the story peddled by Fox News, and it has convinced a lot of people who are currently fortunate enough not to find themselves living on the edge… But surely not ALL Americans who find themselves struggling are simply too lazy or stupid to get out there and make something of themselves? Do they really expect us to believe that millions of Americans find the idea of work so objectionable that they would rather starve in their own filth than hold down a decent job?

If we take the premise that most people, given the choice, would prefer to be able to afford a home, food, water, healthcare and education, (and would be willing to work to achieve those things); then surely the fact that so many people in the US find themselves unable to afford said things could be an indication that maybe, just maybe… their system is the teensiest bit flawed!

So, if we can take it as given that the US system is broken, it begs the question; why are the LNP so determined that we should follow in their footsteps? Who’s interests are they looking out for?

Whether it’s in the US or here in Australia, the sad reality of modern electioneering is that it costs big money, and increasingly that money is coming from big corporations. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that political donations aren’t given merely for fun; they are, in fact, an investment in assuring a favorable legislative agenda.

When it comes to corporate political donations here in Australia the LNP are the undisputed winners, with a war chest so bloated it allowed them to outspend Labor by nearly 4:1 in the final days of the 2013 campaign; a fact that, when coupled with the unbridled support of the Murdoch press, was undoubtedly responsible for the LNP’s 2013 election victory. (I mean let’s face it, if people had actually voted for the current crop of LNP policies then there wouldn’t be the protests, uproar and staggeringly awful polls we are seeing now).

But can a democracy survive the corporate highjacking of it’s legislative agenda and still act in the best interests of it’s citizens? A quick glance at our cousins in the USA would suggest probably not.

For decent minded people it is hard to believe that a government would knowingly, willingly inflict such hardship upon it’s citizenry, and thus some people believe that our government is simply responding to economic factors beyond their control, and that they are genuinely acting in our best interest by trying to balance the books.

There are however many who question the veracity of that story.

Nobel laureate and Columbia University economics professor Joseph Stiglitz for example, says the Abbott government should be looking to spend more rather than making major budget cuts.

“I think there should be some real concern that some of the politics being discussed and promoted by the current government would make things much worse.”

Bill Mitchell, Professor of Economics at Charles Darwin University called the budget ‘irresponsible’, saying the deficit should be increased, not decreased, when the economy is slowing.

So while there remains a consensus of expert opinion outright declaring that:

a). there is no “debt crisis”,

b). the extreme cuts proposed by the Hobbott government are a grave mistake, and

c). a rush to surplus is not only unnecessary, it will disproportionately hurt the poorest among us.

The Government and the Murdoch press keep pushing the spurious argument that we simply can not afford a decent society anymore. Meanwhile billions of dollars in tax revenue have been struck from our balance sheet with the scrapping of the carbon tax; and instead the government plans to GIVE big mining and power our tax dollars under the farce that is the LNP’s “direct action” policy.

And let’s not forget the scheduled abolition of the mining tax… A questionable move given the government’s rhetorical mismatch on the subject… On the one hand we are told “we need structural adjustment in the economy because the investment and construction phase of the mining boom is over and we are now entering the operational phase“, (which is, ironically, when the mining tax is actually supposed to kick in); and on the other hand we are being told “we have to axe the mining tax to keep up investment in the mining sector”…. Ehhhh????…. So let me get this straight; even though we are in the midst of a “budget emergency” we are axing a tax that is just about to start earning for us big time, in order to chase further mining investment, (a ship that has, according to experts, already sailed).

Given the glaring example of how such trickle down policies have worked in the USA, it’s no wonder our government is having trouble selling its “take from the poor and give to the rich” budget.

People instinctively know that strong middle/working class employment and wages are the drivers of strong economy, and if you continually take money out of peoples pockets they spend less, and things naturally start to contract.

Ever played a game of monopoly? While everyone has a stake the game ticks along quite nicely, but once too much wealth gets concentrated in the hands of a single player the other players fall further and further behind until the game collapses.

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Image by legalweb.net

If we don’t want our game to collapse like our cousins in the USA, then Hockey’s budget agenda is clearly not the way to go. Rather the key to our ongoing prosperity would be to adopt more “middle out” economic policies.

The fundamental premise of “middle out” economics is that a prosperous economy doesn’t revolve around the uber rich 1%, but around a great and growing number of middle-class consumers and small businesspeople; and that it is demand from the middle class, not tax cuts for the wealthy, that drive job growth and prosperity.

Counter to the conventional “trickle down” wisdom, rich businesspeople are not the primary job creators; middle-class customers are. The more the middle class can buy, the more jobs they’ll create.

Middle-out economics is the difference between what is good for society as a whole versus what protects the vested interests of a select group of corporations. Rather than cutting services a middle out model invests in the health, education, infrastructure, and purchasing power of the middle class.

Unlike America we don’t worship the uber rich, we don’t value the dollar above all else… We live in a society first, (not an economy), and in spite of the Murdoch/Abbott drive to bring out the cruel and punitive in us, Australians remain, by and large, a fair minded lot. Most of us don’t want to punish the poor and disenfranchised, and we don’t want to persecute refugees. We want a fair go for all.

If Hockey’s budget furor has taught us anything about ourselves, it’s that Australians want the middle out solution, not trickle down squeeze!

Are you listening Mr Hockey?

 

Hockey plays chicken with the back bench

Photo: news.ninemsn.com.au

Photo: news.ninemsn.com.au

Did Hockey really just “threaten” a Double Dissolution? Dare we hope? You can literally hear the collective gasp of anticipation rippling out over social media. The mere possibility we may be able to get out of our electoral contract with “Hobott” (yes I just made a couple contraction of Hockey/Abbott….), before they manage to totally wreck the joint has people right across the nation on the edge of optimism for the first time in months.

Much as I would love to join them in preemptive celebration, I’m fairly certain Hockey is bluffing. It looks to me like “Hobott” are, in the absence of any better plan, playing chicken with their own back bench, and what we have here is an empty threat designed to put the fear of impending unemployment into their own MPs.

Like all new parents, Hobott are deeply proud of their first born budget, and would do almost anything to save its little life; however I believe they will stop well short of a family suicide pact, and opt instead to turn off its life support, and hope their second child might fare a little better.

While Hobott have yet to give up on their first born, (like all good parents, they are prepared to fight like caged tigers to see their child survive, no matter what the collateral damage), Hockey’s recent rhetoric on the senate;

. . . it is disrupting the role of government but if it just continually says no without any capacity to negotiate an improved outcome, then the Senate becomes irrelevant,” he said. “It’s simply a roadblock. We either have to smash through that roadblock or the Australian people get the chance to change the government.

. . . is just their latest desperate salvo in a fight they are now beginning realise they may not be able to win.

Admittedly it’s a brazen move, playing chicken with a DD when the polls are looking totally hideous for them; but I predict Hobott will blink first and abandon their much unloved bruiser of a budget in favor of a more mild mannered progeny.

As Liberal elder statesman Malcom Fraser famously pointed out on QA,”Tony Abbott would do what he needed to do to have power“. According to Fraser Abbott is man who is capable of Olympic level back flips on policy… so watch this space!

More articles by Letitia McQuade:

Abbott’s war on the environment is facing some tough opposition.

Introducing the new “ABC free” AUSTRALIA… now with extra ignorance, selfishness and cruelty

THE CLIMATE OF DENIAL: Why real climate action will NEVER come from big business or government.

Abbott’s war on the environment is facing some tough opposition

Big mining may have put the COAL in the Coalition, but Abbott’s war on the environment is facing some tough opposition.

To spite the Climate Change Authority predicting that the scrapping of the carbon tax will lead to a 17% increase in emissions (over 2000 levels) by 2020, the urgency of the climate situation seems totally lost on our government. It appears the LNP would prefer to destroy the CCA, (and every other climate/renewable agency/initiative in the country) rather than heed their sobering warning.

Mean while, back in the real world, those of us who value scientific consensus over the bloated opinions of fox news, corporate toadying shock jocks and all the other wilfully ignorant, vested interest denialists, are rightly concerned.

The science is in, and it’s not looking good. While a certain amount of climate change is now inevitable, we have a small window in which to avoid the CATASTROPHIC consequences of a major climate shift. Almost everyone  seems to understand this, except our government.

Let’s face it, the profoundly short term “Après moi le déluge”, attitude of Abbott and his cronies is certainly not the quality of response any one with half a brain would want from those at the helm. That is of course unless you are coal miner, in which case Tony is definitely your man on the inside!

In the run up to last years federal election big mining and energy poured over $1,000,000 in declared donations into LNP coffers, (not that anyone would be so bold as to suggest that may have wielded any influence on Coalition policy). It is however worth noting that the LNP’s largest donor, the Cormack Foundation, is an entity designed to shield the identity of donors,which means that the true figure could actually be much larger, but we would never know.

So … in stark contrast to the rest of the developed world, the coalition is determined to push it’s demonstrably ideological position in favour of coal, and wind back, (rather than ramp up), Australia’s climate action. In series of moves,  that could only be described as economically reckless, including the dismantling the PROFITABLE clean energy fund (potentially costing thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in sustainable investment and development), the LNP appear determined to trash the renewable energy industry. While this course seems to defy all logic (especially when one is supposedly managing a “budget emergency”) quick application of Occam’s razor would suggest that the LNP must have been bought and paid for by big mining and energy.

If you look at the coalition’s much ridiculed “direct action” policy, a policy that removes the cost of acquiring carbon credits from big mining and energy and then hands them tax payers money in return for some nebulous promise to behave nicely, it reads like something Energy Australia might have put on their christmas list.

Admittedly with Abbott at the wheel Australia’s environmental landscape appears overwhelmingly bleak, but the outcome is far from a foregone conclusion. The global commitment to acting sensibly is growing fast, with both the US and China moving aggressively to reduce emissions and embrace renewables. Those of us who wish to run along side them should take some heart in the fact that our senate is far from compliant with Tony’s madness, and that it is a long way from policy to legislation.

While we may not hear about it in the Murdoch press there is considerable senate pressure being brought to bear on the government over it’s lunatic climate policies.To wit something rather special happened in parliament recently that I would like to share with you. Amongst all the argy-bargy of the post budget wrangling Greens senator Scott Ludlam, armed with nothing more than intelligent line of questioning, managed to unravel the sad truth behind the LNP’s “direct action” climate policy. Which is, quite counter to all their rhetoric, not even the government expect their direct action policy to actually reduce emissions (in real terms), let alone energy prices in the longer term.

In a stunning display of political acumen Ludlam tore through the LNP’s rhetoric, establishing that not only is the LNP’s direct action policy not expected to reduce emissions, the LNP haven’t actually done the modelling required to give us so much as an estimated reduction in emissions.

While the LNP readily admit “direct action” will cost a lot, about $2 Billion (AU) over the forward estimates (not to mention the revenue lost from abandoning carbon pricing), under Ludlam’s relentless interrogation they were forced to admit that they may even need to “find” a bit more money for the scheme.

It was an eye opening display, and one that warmed my heart. It was a real pleasure to see the quality of interaction elevated above that of school yard cat calling; to actually see intelligent, articulate scrutiny sweep aside the slogans and cut to the heart of the matter. I congratulate Mr Ludlam, and I sincerely hope we may we see many more of his calibre entering politics on all sides!

Is the Coalition driving renewable energy investment overseas?

Introducing the new “ABC free” AUSTRALIA … now with extra ignorance, selfishness and cruelty

(Or why we need the ABC)

abc

Since the coalition’s Murdoch lead victory in last September’s federal election there has been a palpable shift in our national narrative. The images of a sun burnt country forged by convict sweat and hard working immigrants is fading fast, and in its wake a new story is being fashion.

It is a tale of well intentioned, hard working corporations, (who really just want to keep us all employed), being squeezed by draconian regulations and pushed offshore by rampant, out of control wages. It’s the chronicle of a government being driven into the red, not by cutting taxes for the wealthy and turning a blind eye to the corporate “offshoring” of profits (read “legal” tax evasion), but by those lazy unemployed/disabled bludgers on welfare, and their “anti business” environmentalist buddies. It’s the saga of nation overrun by so called “illegals” intent on subverting our immigration laws for the sole purpose of suckling endlessly on OUR government teat, (Ironically most of whom are coming here LEGALLY as refugees).

These new LNP/Murdoch sanctioned mantras are repeated so often, and with such earnest conviction it seems people are finding it pretty damn hard not to buy into it. There are even those in the Labor party who seem quite happy to have joined the chorus.

I hear it everywhere I go, everyday Aussies out there parroting the coalition’s vitriolic hatred for anything even vaguely related to the unions, the unemployed, the environment, asylum seekers, disability pensioners, ABC lefties, foreign aid, etc.

So why all the negative jawboning?

Well, if you read the papers Australia has, up until our recent electoral liberation, been a nation under siege by left wing “special interests”! Because of this evil leftist scourge we have been forced to endure such indignities as the 2nd highest standard of living in the world (after Norway), the planets largest houses, one of the worlds best/most affordable health care systems, quality education, disposable incomes such that we can afford to be the be the worlds leading per capita emitters of of CO2, and the dubious privilege of ranking 69th in our per capita refugee intake (49th in overall terms).

australia__s_contribution_to_the_asylum_seekers_by_wordswithmeaning-d56owrr

When you lay it out like that it’s easy to see why we have all been so unhappy, we have been really suffering! Clearly something had to be done.

But seriously, something has happened to us. If you listen to the rhetoric, it would seem we are no longer a nation that strives for the fair go, but rather one that values our own perceived self interest above all other concerns.

I scratch my head and wonder, how did this happen? When did Australia become a place that embraces the social and political agendas of the most ignorant, selfish and cruel among us?

It wasn’t that long ago that Australian public opinion was DEEPLY CONCERNED with the environmental legacy we are leaving for our children. As recently as last year people seemed happy to talk about the scandal that is corporate tax evasion. There was even a time, in living memory, when refugees that came here by boat were welcomed with a broad smile and a hand up.

So what happened? How did the social and moral imperative get banished from our national narrative? Did it happen by accident, or by design? And if by design, then by who’s hand?

And then there’s the bigger questions. Exactly who’s interests are served by these apparent changes in our attitudes? And is anyone standing against the tide?

The sculpting of public opinion has a long history and there are many tools, such as fear and scapegoating, that have been used to great effect through out the ages. “Group think”, for example is an extraordinarily powerful weapon, (after all who wants to run outside the herd, everyone knows how dangerous that is). The truth however has never been a necessary component when seeking to sway the prevailing sentiments of the masses.

William James, the father of modern Psychology notably once quipped “There’s nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will not believe it”. This rather glib observation was most infamously put into practice by the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, (a man on whom the power of the press was most certainly not lost), who used the simple “lie, repeat, lie, repeat, lie, repeat” principle to whip up the greatest genocidal frenzy in history.

More recently Goebbel’s philosophical musing “Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play” has been turned on it’s head by the irrepressible Rupert Murdoch, our prodigal puppeteer d’jour, who, like some gruesomely wizened “whack a mole” has popped up here again to lead his relentless political cheer squad for which ever side will acquiesce to do his bidding. It would appear that, in spite of his meddling hand being beaten down in UK and much of the USA now being hip to the fact that “FOX NEWS” is an oxymoron, if you hand the old boy a monopoly he’ll show you he’s still got it.

murdoch-puppet_1940215i

One rather startling revelation that came out of the UK’s recent Levinson enquiry into press standards , was was that Murdoch had actively lobbied former UK prime minister John Major to change the Torries policy on the EU, lest he engage in willfully biased coverage in order to “hand the election” to Blair’s New Labor (a party/man seemingly more willing to do his bidding). Major refused to allow Murdoch to dictate policy and was duly slammed by the Murdoch press, who came out swinging hard for Blair.

So in spite of the Torries having had a clear lead in the polls up until Major’s “disagreement” with Murdoch, the Torries, (much like Gillard), found the power of a vindictive, inflammatory press mobilised against them simply too great to overcome. Blair was elected and the rest, as they say, is history.

While the Brits were duly outraged, you would think something so blatantly corrupt as seeking to dictate government policy in return for favourable press would raise a dubious brow from someone back here in Aus; but much like the “March in March” (a mysteriously unnoticed gathering of over 100,000 Australia wide) somehow it failed to be deemed newsworthy enough to make any significant impression on the Australian mainstream media.

So… If a media baron is dictating government policy in return for press support, but no one ever hears about it, is the political process actually being subverted? Probably, (but then who has time to worry about such things when we are all so busy hating and punishing refugees).

no to refugeesNauru Detention Centre

Or… If a crowd gathers in the city and no one is there to report it, did it really gather? Maybe it did in the hearts and minds of those who were there, but for anyone else, or in the archives of history?… Well maybe not.

march in march

We have been told a lot of things recently, (much of it negative), about everything from the unions to environmentalists, from asylum seekers to the NBN. And while it’s easy to put a question mark over anything a politician might say in an effort to popularise their chosen policy agenda; I can not help but wonder if a press core that is practically a monopoly, (and known to actively pursue it’s owners personal agendas), is actually telling us the whole truth, or even any small part of it?

Like many others I can’t quite shake the feeling that we’re being fed a grab bag of skilfully crafted misinformation, half truths and innuendo designed to direct our hostility toward the poor and disenfranchised, or anyone out there pushing for a fairer, more sustainable policy agenda.

According to the official story, Australians are apparently (on average) far richer than we were 10 years ago… but for some rather opaque reason we just don’t feel it.
I can’t help but wonder why that is?

Is it because we feel more entitled than we used to? (If we don’t have a car, a mobile phone, a laptop, an ipad, a kindle, a 50″ TV, Foxtel, Quickflix, a yearly overseas holiday, and at least 3 restaurant meals a week we think we are suffering an intolerable injustice?).

Is it that we are constantly being assaulted by the relentless negativity of a 24 hour news cycle, telling us that our unfettered access to “more stuff” is being threatened by the poor and disenfranchised?

Or maybe it’s that the wealth is only going to the top end of town, and no one else is reaping the benefit?

It’s perfectly understandable that when we are feeling squeezed we like to have someone to blame, but it is worth asking ourselves, is our anger being misplaced?

Here we are, literally seething with contempt for refugees, single mothers, greenies, protesters, students, socialists, the disabled, lefties, intellectuals and the all those former bank and manufacturing workers that have now joined the ranks of the unemployed. Meanwhile the gap between the haves and have nots is at an all time high. Our trusty government is busy reducing taxes for the top end of town, Corporate profits are breaking records left and right, (but strangely corporate tax receipts are not, Google, for example, had revenue of over $1 billion in Australia in 2012, and yet paid only $74k tax). CEO’s wages and share options continue to defy gravity, and our banks, whilst being incredulously profitable, are shipping jobs off shore faster than you can say “transaction fee”, and so it goes…

*(brings to mind a joke I heard recently: A banker, a Daily Telegraph reader and a refugee are out to lunch. The waiter puts down a plate with twelve biscuits on it; the banker takes eleven, nudges the Telegraph reader and says “hey watch it mate, that refugee wants your biscuit”)

Everyone knows trickle down economics is bunk, and yet we keep buying into the myth, lauding the lords and kicking the powerless. The cognitive dissonance simply staggering!

So my question is this…Who’s interests does this new hateful narrative really serve? Murdoch and his buddies in the 1%, or those of us in the mortgage belt?

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not wholly blaming Murdoch. We all lobby for our own interests, and why should he be any different. What I am saying however is that a virtual monopoly concentration of Australia’s media in any ones hands is dangerous. We need visible, diverse mainstream media to give a balanced range of views.

We also need some measure of mainstream media presence that is not driven by profit, or dictated to by advertising revenue and share holder values. We need a media that is prepared to objectively challenge the veracity of the story as told to us by Murdoch, (and given the governments proposed changes to section 18c of the racial vilification act this is now more important than ever).

In short, we need our ABC.

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THE CLIMATE OF DENIAL: Why real climate action will NEVER come from big business or government.

By Letitia McQuade

If a quick study of our industrial age can teach us anything, it is that big business and governments are either not willing, or not able to “fix it”, whatever “it” happens to be. Climate change is no exception.

For the vast majority of us, (who are not making billions of the back of fossil fuel, or other mass polluting industries), the solutions to climate change appear simple enough. We just need to change course, invest differently, get behind renewables, preserve and plant forests etc…

BUT, and this a big but… Most of those in power have a HUGE amount invested in the fossil fuel economy, and surprise surprise……they don’t actually want things to change.

While big business continues to profit from devouring fossil fuels with a rapacious zeal, and governments remain little more than advocates for the corporations that fund their campaigns, should we really be all that surprised that climate summit after climate summit nothing terribly significant is achieved?

It is a curious facet of human nature that when ever circumstances permit almost all of us are driven to acquire wealth well beyond our personal needs, and to that end those of us who find ourselves in power, (be it economic or political), are generally happy to exploit those of us that are not.  This usually continues along merrily until those at the bottom of the heap no longer feel that quietly starving is viable strategy and some form of revolution ensues.

Bear in mind revolutionary change is never a top down process, much like a volcanic eruption the pressure builds from beneath until it becomes an unstoppable force. While those at the top may sense the rumblings they almost never choose to tackle the situation head on. (The relatively harmonious dismantling of South Africa’s apartheid being the only example that readily springs to my mind). Instead, like Louis the XVI, the Rominovs, the Saar of Iran and countless others toppled by revolution they turn a deaf ear to their inevitable demise, and it’s usually not until their lives are quite literally on the line that they realize the gravity of what is actually going on.

 The corporate/political oligarchy seem happy enough to fiddle while Rome burns, knowing they can afford a class can afford a 1st class ticket out of New Orleans, or Tachloban (or wherever the next disaster falls) well ahead of the storm, and what ever consequences ultimately come, they will most likely occur after their lifetime.

But those of us who don’t have a multiple choice of other homes to occupy (or the private jets to take us there), are all too aware that the weight of any future disasters will fall squarely on our (or our children’s) shoulders. And as such I think it’s time we face the fact…THEY ARE NOT GOING TO FIX IT.

Given that we all know, in heart of hearts, that those in power are highly unlikely to act in any meaningful way, it kind of begs the question: Why are we sitting around like Marx’s lumpen proletariat, or the tragic character’s in Beckets “waiting for Godot” doing nothing, waiting in vain them “to do something about climate change”?… and further more, how exactly is that working out for us? If you believe the science then the only possible answer is not too well!

So where exactly does that leave us?

For a start let’s just sweep aside the all the so called “arguments” of the denialist movement; whom, with a staggeringly willful ignorance manage to push aside 99.9% of the science in order to advocate for the status quo. In spite of the fact the mainstream media, (no doubt due to the vested interests of their owners), continues to give these deluded souls ill deserved airtime to espouse their crackpot anti science, if you talk to any sane, educated person they will readily acknowledge that the proof is in and the facts are irrefutable. Climate change is real, we are responsible and it poses a real, tangible threat to us and future generations!

 

On the face of it this may seem a rather bleak prospect, and many rational Australians are in total despair at the governments active dismantling of our national climate action initiatives. But rather than fall into a pit of despair (like the Greek Goddess Cassandra, who was cursed with seeing the future, but was unable to alter events, or convince others of the validity of her predictions), I would suggest it’s time for us to stop wringing our hands and turn our focus on what WE, as individuals can actually do.

We need to be sewing the seeds of a bottom up revolution. (And no I am not suggesting storming the Bastille, or any other kind of armed rebellion. I am talking more of a 100th Monkey kind of revolution*). If we seriously want to address the issues of climate change and environmental degradation then we need to involve our selves in a revolutionary change of our personal habits, attitudes, expectations of ourselves and others, until we reach a tipping point where people just feel too out of step and too ashamed to behave in wasteful ignorance.

The list of things we can do to reduce our personal environmental footprint is exhaustive.  For example I have a tradesman doing work on my house at present. I asked him to take a cup down to the cafe on the corner, rather than add to the pile of cafe cups steadily building up in my bin. While he chose not to take a china cup, he washed out one of his used take away cups and has now had it refilled no less than 15 times. Sure it’s a drop in the ocean, but what is the ocean if not a sea of drops?

For those of you that need a bit of help, here is a short list of changes you can make that WILL help turn the tide… (Remember it is your kids and grand kids that will thank you).

*Eat less meat (even a couple of days meat free is a great start).

*Buy a smaller car and use it less.

*Turn off lights, boycott your down lights (unless they are LED, and change those that are not),

*Use energy efficient lighting ALWAYS.

*Turn appliances off at the wall, don’t leave things on standby.

*Refuse bottled water, drink tap water (buy a filter), don’t drink Soda.

*Eat less take away, and when you do take your rinsed out containers back for a refill.

*Walk to the shop.

*Buy locally made/grown (food co ops and farmers markets are great for this).

*Use reusable bags (make it a habit to refuse plastic shopping bags).

*Read the news on line, don’t buy the print copy.

*Plant trees.

*Use air conditioners sparingly.

*GO SOLAR, (and for any Australian who has a split system air conditioner that says they can’t afford Solar, KNOW that you are lying to yourself… the cost of basic solar is less than the cost of your air conditioner installed. Fact is you just made a selfish choice based on your comfort and convenience; now smile at your kids!!… If you are getting a split system, get the solar to run it FIRST!).

*Buy unpackaged and unprocessed food and actually cook it. You tube is awash with recipes!

*Use phosphate free washing powder and cleaning products (look for the NP logo). Baking soda, white vinegar, borax and lemon juice can also do wonders.

*Next time consciously get a smaller car.

*Don’t sit idling your car while waiting for people, (start it up after they have all arrived).

Add an environmental NGO to your charity list… Personally I like “We Forrest” as a tree planting, environment remediating NGO. $20 can plant enough trees to offset your toilet paper use for a life time… (oh and don’t over use the toilet paper).

While I get that no one can do all of these things all of the time, every little change helps. The more of us that reduce, reuse, and recycle the smaller the problem gets. After all, all revolutions, (both personal and political) start with small acts of change on the part of individuals.

We all know what to do… so why don’t we do it, I am at a loss to understand! Is it because we don’t see it as our responsibility or are we all just too busy waiting for them to fix it?

So, good people I say it’s time for change on a personal level. In the immortal words of John Lennon we all need to “think globally, act locally”. Every one of us has the power to reduce our environmental footprint. What’s more we can do it ourselves, we don’t have to sit about waiting for the likes of Tony Abbott to do it for us!

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WARNING: Beware of Abbott’s “Free Trade” Trojan horse!

Image courtesy of australiahistory.com

Image courtesy of australiahistory.com

Every so often someone does something so totally unfathomable, something so seemingly devoid of common sense that one is left scratching one’s head asking, “Why would anyone do that? What could they possibly hope to gain?”

While there are, to my mind, large swathes of government policy that fall into that category, few things have left me quite as perplexed as the possible inclusion of the so called ISDR provisions in any future Australian free trade agreements.

For those of you that haven’t been following this, ISDR is an acronym for “Investor State Dispute Resolution”, and in a nut shell what that would mean is that any foreign corporation (operating under an ISDR provision), that finds that our laws interfere with their business has the right to sue our governments for damages. Outrageous, right?

Want to ban GMOs? Well stuff you SA and TAS, here comes Monsanto with it’s bully boy lawyers and war chest bigger than your state budget. Hey NSW, want to legislate environmental protections to stop coal seam gas destroying the water table on your precious farm land? Not unless you’re prepared to pay out hundreds of millions in compensation, you don’t!

Since deregulation and FTAs (free trade agreements) came into play in the 80s successive Australian governments – from both sides of the house – have viewed ISDRs as categorically not in Australia’s best interests, and had the good sense to rule them out point blank.

So why has Tony put ISDRs back on the negotiating table? Especially when the US has already accepted our refusal to include them. Given that we currently have a free trade agreement with the US that appears to be working quite well without them, Abbott’s move to include them in the ongoing TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) negotiations seems like total lunacy. I mean really, it’s basic negotiation 101, you never freely offer up something (that will cost you dearly), that the other party is prepared to forgo.

This has been troubling me for weeks now. Why would Abbott do this? ISDR provisions are such a profound threat to our national sovereignty. For Tony to put them back on the table seems to defy all logic.

By all accounts Abbott is not a stupid man, so what it he up to? What is his end game for such a seemingly unfathomable act?

But then it occurred to me, Abbott is a man with an agenda, a largely corporate agenda. After all, it’s no secret where he sits politically. He has found a comfy chair to the right of Turnbull, Howard, Hewson and Fraser, and firmly planted himself at the ultra right table with his corporate buddies Rinehart, Murdoch et al (and with friends like that there can be no doubt he is headed for a VERY lucrative payday after his stint in the lodge).

Abbott has long been known for his antipathy towards any measures that “interfere” with corporate profits, whether it be a fair level of tax on mining companies, legislated environmental protection or plain packaging for cigarettes (a move he was eventually forced to support after a backbench and voter backlash). We all know there is nothing Abbott isn’t prepared to throw under the bus in the name of corporate profits . . . unless, of course, it is politically costly to him!

And this is where ISDR clauses could come in handy for him. Just when we are snuggly tucked up in our beds, feeling confident we are in safe fiscal hands, these ISDRs will crawl out from deep within the belly of our shiny new FTAs, paving the way for legions of corporate lawyers to descend on our states and territories with multi million dollar lawsuits against our public purse . . . That is of course unless the government obligingly removes the offending legislations.

Oh, now I get it! And I think it goes something like this, “the government doesn’t WANT to allow oil wells in the middle of the great barrier reef, but if we don’t do it this big bad international corp will sue us all the way to the poor house, which means cutting services, health and education etc . . . better to just amend the laws and let them put the wells in, and then we can all profit from it”.

While I realise that such a hypothetical scenario may sound a bit extreme, under an ISDR it’s not wholly impossible and it’s the only explanation I can think of that actually makes any sense?. Hmmm . . . Am I being too cynical? Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, doesn’t think so. She was quoted in Huffington Post talking on the EU-US FTA negotiations:

The dirty little secret about ISDR’s is that they are not mainly about trade, but rather target for elimination the strongest consumer, health, safety, privacy, environmental and other public interest policies. The investor-state system empowers individual corporations and investors to skirt domestic courts and laws and drag signatory governments to foreign tribunals.

Let’s face it, no government, left or right, would win the support of the people in actively advocating for the wholesale destruction of our environment in the name of corporate profit; but if our governments were faced with paying billions in damages, many of us might just be tempted to change our minds. After all, the government can’t be expected to pay out all those damages and still afford to keep all those expensive social services going, can they? They would be faced with some tough choices!

Maybe I am being a little dramatic, but a quick look at Canada’s experience with the ISDR is a quite sobering and it should be setting off alarm bells loud enough for us to hear all the way from Ottawa.

For example, Canada recently denied a patent application for a drug that failed to meet the conditions for patent under Canadian law, and this led a US pharma company to demand $100 million in compensation. Whether their claim will be upheld in court is yet to be seen, but one thing is certain, even if the Canadian Government prevails defending the case won’t come cheap.

And this is just one of many law suits Canada has had to contend with. Here are some others:

Dow AgroSciences, a U.S. corporation, served a claim for losses allegedly caused by Quebec’s ban on the sale and certain uses of lawn pesticides containing 2,4-D.

Chemtura Corporation, a US pesticide manufacturer, has alleged that through its Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), Canada wrongfully terminated its pesticide business and issued a claim.

Lone Pine Resources is currently suing Canada for over $250 million in response to Quebec’s moratorium on coal seam gas fracking.

The list goes on an on. In 2012 over 500 multi million dollar law suits where lodged globally under ISDR provisions. In fact Ecuador had to pay out $1.77 billion in a single settlement to Occidental Petroleum, as a result of having ISDR clauses in their FTA.

Be very afraid, as this article, Investor-State Dispute Resolution: The Monster Lurking Inside Free Trade Agreements warns.

And where is the media on this issue? Once again, like the faithful old dog they are, they appear to be napping at the feet of their corporate masters. Have none of them even read the Coalition’s Trade Policy? It’s all there in black and white. Quote:“The Coalition will take a pragmatic approach to trade negotiations and will consult widely with industry bodies and associations to ensure that stakeholder priorities are taken into account.This includes remaining open to utilising investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses as part of Australia’s negotiating position”.

The policy also promises to “fast track the conclusion of free trade agreements with China, South Korea, Japan, India, the Gulf Cooperation Council and Indonesia”, and to “explore the feasibility of free trade agreements with other trading partners including the European Union, Brazil, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, South Africa and Taiwan”.

While it’s possible that ISDS clauses won’t wind up in all of those agreement, they will, as the policy states, form part of Australia’s negotiating position.

So why are the Coalition in such a rush to sign off all these new FTA’s? (Especially the TPP, which could easily usher in the ISDR clauses that are currently excluded in our Australian-US FTA). And why are the Coalition so hell bent on keeping the terms of these negotiations secret?

The Coalition is looking to present this new round FTAs as a shining example of their “getting down to business” and delivering good outcomes for Australia, but we need to seriously ask ourselves, do we really want Tony opening our door to ISDR clauses?

We’ll only get make this mistake once, and we may be stuck with the some very expensive consequences, forever! This is a very dangerous course for Australia to be taking. We need to keep a firm eye on this Trojan horse and slam the door hard in it’s face.

But how?

 

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