The radical right, and in particular, Murdoch’s News Corp, are laundering the dirty ideas of the people deploying fascistic politics to make them seem normal “conservative” thought.
News Corp’s James Morrow recently said the quiet part out loud. In his News Corp column “Fascist label for Italy’s PM misses the message” [paywalled] on the 28th September, he advised that “successful politicians on the right” around the world can offer Coalition politicians a game-plan for how to “cut through.” This would be less concerning if the politicians he used as models were not Italy’s Giorgia Meloni and Florida’s Ron De Santis.
Morrow disdained the label “fascist” for Meloni. He asserted that using it in her case is “to strip the word of any meaning and turns it into an epithet for anything more conservative than the most bland centre-right politics.” Whether the label itself fits her ideology, Morrow continues the radical right’s tendency to normalise the extremity of their position as merely right of centre. In this way most formerly centre-right Australians (and defeated Liberal politicians) become labelled left. The more progressive citizenry then become “socialists.” Thus is the neutered ABC denoted as activist left by the right. This constant effort to centre the Overton Window over their increasingly radical position aims to naturalise their ideology for the electorate.
Disguising this drift towards authoritarian politics as “normal” rather than a lurch towards fascism should frighten us all. We must resist the lure of that numbing repetition.
Morrow selected a number of positions held by Meloni (and De Santis) to celebrate as goals for Australian politicians. In particular, he selected: family, national identity, religious identity and gender identity.
Meloni and De Santis want national identity to be as close to monotone as possible: patriotic and uncritically supportive of a mythical nation that never existed in the way their nostalgia recreates it. In this lens, religious identity is intricately tied to that mythical national identity. Their nations are white Christian nations, they assert, whatever other versions of history will say. Anyone with a contrary story should remain invisible. There is little ambiguity in the fascist politics evoked by these dogwhistle terms.
Morrow wrote of targeting “high migration.” He is surrounded in Australian “conservative” politics by figures who proudly espouse western chauvinism and spruik elements of the “Great Replacement” conspiracy. More strident voices in this tribe, even on moderated Twitter, are discussing plans such as “when it is time to repatriate people en masse from Europe.”
In attempting to strip the “fascist” label from Meloni, Morrow aims Australian politicians at the European “traditionalists.” This, he believes, is the “bread and butter” politics that can “cut through” for families at home hoping for rescue from their children who need, apparently, to be deprogramed from “activist rot.”
His emphasis on “family” – and gender – is part of the Eastern European “traditionalist” ideology. Putin and Orban, like Meloni, both put defence of the family at the forefront of their missions. That aspect of their politics is at the core of De Santis’s repressive policies. De Santis is recorded as overtly copying these from Orban. The European “traditionalists” have worked with the “family values” religious right movement from America since the 1990s; it is not difficult for De Santis to bring them together.
To fight for “the family” sounds anodyne but is freighted with threat for many.
“Family values” for Meloni and De Santis, for Putin and Pence, means “traditional” sex roles with no deviation. Men are to be returned to their leadership of the home and the country (for all that the occasional woman manages to share power). Women are intended to abandon the civic space; their presence there is loathed as “feminism.” Abortion (and contraception) is targeted because it is seen as enabling women’s civic and sexual autonomy. It also entails the destruction of European seed for a faction that believes that Western civilisation is doomed and set to be overrun in the “Great Replacement” panic.
The greatest target for all these men, and Meloni, is gender and sexual fluidity. Just as the Third Reich aimed to purify the “sexually aberrant” from the Aryan people, these modern politicians target LGBTQI people more broadly, with the tiny trans community used as a vulnerable wedge to begin the campaign.
Selecting the targeted outsider to unify the mythologised nation is, again, classic fascist politics. While stripping women of reproductive autonomy, and the right to enter the civic space, is a threat to be feared, the implied violence (legal and physical) against the LGBTQI communities is far more concerning in the near-term. Putin uses the language of ridding Ukraine of its perverted western liberalism as part of his justification for war in the same year that American politicians have introduced over 240 hundred bills limiting the LGBTQI community. The Texan Attorney-General has said he would be “comfortable” allowing the Supreme Court to adjudicate his state’s defunct rule making homosexuality illegal. Preachers in America are demanding the right to execute, or have executed, LGBTQI people. There is no coexistence possible.
Morrow is not, to be clear, advocating that “conservative” politicians in Australia become fascist or make erasing LGBTQI Australians part of their platform. What he has said here, however, is that the way for Australian “conservative” politicians to “cut through” is to adopt the strategies deployed by their considerably more extreme international counterparts.
Morrow quoted Meloni bemoaning: “why is the family an enemy? Why is the family so frightening?” The family is neither an enemy nor frightening, except in the besieged mindset embraced by the radical right. The deployment of the word “family” to mean that women must cede equality and, more urgently, that LGBTQI people must be erased is indeed frightening.
Losing solid gold Liberal seats to progressive candidates underlines that the Liberal Party has already absorbed far too many talking points, policies and strategies from the increasingly radical and religious international right. It is to be hoped that taking Morrow’s advice would continue this political decline.
The fear of ‘the others’ permeates everything lately. Social media, politicians, commentators and the mainstream media are enabling a culture of stigma and ‘othering’. Fear of people we don’t understand shuffles beneath the surface of individual thought. These fears have a parasitic grip on beliefs, ideas and thought. It channels thought, word and deed through the prism of fear. This fear is a man-made construct, developed by conservatives to destroy the working class. It can be framed as the pre-agenda of the real agenda. The real agenda for the conservatives is as always – to destroy the working class. The pre-agenda is to establish a base, through fear of others, to help them get there.
Racism, Fear and Work Choices
This pre-agenda was first tried in the 1990’s with the aim to support the real agenda. That was to see more people embrace Howard’s Work Choices. In the 1990’s the stigma and fear of Indigenous people and Asian people was developed with a particular aim. That is fear would grip people. They would turn to those speaking out loudest against Indigenous people and Asian people. This would then, see people turn to the Government’s ‘paternalist-guiding hand’ agenda. In other words, stand with the Government to destroy the unions and destroy the working class. Even better if you were working class yourself and you left the union.
It was not going according to plan. To save some face, Howard had to terminate his association with the person he mentored, developed and gave a platform to, to be the voice of the pre-agenda. The agenda of racism. A person so ‘brave’ her voice shook when she spoke. A person dressed as an everyday Australian suburban woman. The mother at school, the tuckshop lady, the shop owner, the corner store worker. The person we don’t really know but feel comfortable ‘having a chat to.’ This person was Pauline Hanson. Pauline Hanson was to be the very voice to create a culture of fear, stigma and racism. This fear was to be so great that people’s attention would divert away from the atrocity of Work Choices. So blinded by fear of others, they would support it.
Work Choices Enabled
As history has shown us, this backfired. It was the wrong time and the wrong targets of racism for longevity. It did work in part. A conservative Government was in for four terms and the biggest defining piece of anti-worker legislation was enabled.
However, the uptake was not strong enough for people to be blinded to the plight of the worker and the destructive anti-worker policies put forward by the Howard Government.The Rights at Work movement was the light of the working class fighting against the darkness of Work Choices. Good trumped Evil and in 2007 the working class won. We are seeing no such movement today. No such swell of deep angst organising to take up the cause. The ‘fear of other’s’ is blinding people to the real agenda. There appears to be no lessons learnt from the Work Choices era.
The Agenda of Fear Enables Attacks on the Working Class
Prejudice, intolerance, bigotry, racism, hatred and xenophobia suck the life from rational decision-making like an insidious contagious disease. Once it has obtained its grip, this fear underpins and drives people to agree and believe in political ideology and political direction and policies, they would normally not have agreed with or believed in. The fear that we must stay safe from ‘the others’ now underpins agreement. Agreement to attack the worker and demonise and denigrating the poor. Those who choose to do so defend this stance vehemently. They see this as the just thing to do. It does not matter what the consequences are.
The Howard Government, along with the Abbott-Turnbull-(?) Government underpins their policy decisions with the idea that the working class do not know what is good for the country. That is, to allow the free market to flourish, by allowing the owners of the capital to tell the owners of the labour what they will be paid, how they will work and the conditions they will work in. Not to stand in they way of big business.
This is a Disturbing Reality
The fear of others is so great that some of the people who fought against this in the 1990’s are not remotely interested in what is happening to the working class, the jobless and the poor. They are too busy battling the ghosts the agenda of fear has conjured. The conservatives appear to have chosen the right time and the right targets of racism and stigma.
Muslims, in the minds of the fearful, are far more frightening than Indigenous people or Asians. In the 90’s these targets of victimisation were “stealing our social security money, stealing our jobs and stealing our land.” Today, in a nutshell, the belief among the fearful is that Muslims will take over the world and force us to become ISIS.”
Therefore, they must seek solace in ‘the brave’ – find their ‘protector.’ When Pauline Hanson’s voice shakes today it sounds much more brave to fearful ears, as the fear is much more magnified today with Muslims as the target. Hanson is indeed much more appealing as a consoling leader, as she speaks the loudest and the media makes her the centre of attention, which reinforces her words as ‘normal and justified.’ This is a disturbing reality towards the success of the conservative agenda of destroying the working class.
Too Busy Battling Ghosts
Today in 2017, the fear of others is so great that some of the people who fought against Work Choices in the 1990’s are not remotely interested in what is happening to the working class, the jobless and the poor. They are too busy battling the ghosts the agenda of fear has conjured. The fear of things that may never, ever happen and are not happening underpins their decisions to support anti-worker, anti-welfare and anti-community policies. They will even argue that these things are not happening, although the nightly news will tell the stories of what has been passed in parliament and although they can watch both houses live. It is a case of blanket denial, because ‘Pauline stands up for us Aussies against those Muzzie Bastards – Have you even read the Koran?‘
They will scream, yell, insult and rant at those who are awake to the fact that these policies are being passed and are deeply concerned about their implications, and call them liars or ‘too sensitive’. They are practised at standing firm with everyone who agrees with them and calling it ‘the right’ and those who they shun and don’t agree with them ‘the left.’
For Hanson voters, Attacking Workers Is Pro-Worker
Hanson advocates appear to have a twisted belief that Hanson, a conservative, Christian, nationalist, ex-member of the Liberal party, who shows immense support for the Liberal Party and who wants to abolish all penalty rates, abolish holiday leave loading and voted for the ABCC, somehow is ‘for the worker.’ This would indeed make Hanson ‘left’ on the political spectrum.
Yes, the pro-working class voter of yesteryear, now see being angry at the passing of legislation that will increase worker deaths, where a worker has no right to silence, that removes mandatory employment of apprentices, that sees income ripped from low paid workers and harsh and unjust punitive measures on the jobless, as weak and ‘not concerned enough about ‘the others’ (who will destroy our freedoms). Workers rights have become secondary to many people who are actually good working class people, simply blinded by unfounded fear. That is a disturbing reality.
Right Time. Right Targets
This time, the conservatives appear to have chosen the right time and the right targets of racism and stigma. This is also a disturbing reality.
With so much talk about Australian values lately; attacking the worker and denigrating the poor were conservative agendas that people would fight tooth and nail against. It was against our values. They would rise up and join the struggle to ward off this narrative from becoming the norm.
The narrative of the pre-agenda is, however, strong and it has born an entirely new class of voters. Voters who are now welcoming these baseless attacks on the working class and the poor as ‘the new acceptable norm’. Some choose to ignore the implications, such as anti-worker policy passing both houses. Others see it as a ‘sacrifice’ for the greater good, of staying safe and not letting ‘the others’ destroy us, take over our country, our jobs and our freedoms.
Some of these people are true conservatives. Some are the non-union working class, some are union working class and some are jobless and/or are living below the poverty line. The majority of people within the ‘right wing agenda-Hansonite groupings’ supporting this ‘pre-agenda’ are the very people conservative politics attacks.
The Mini Resistance
The desire to keep fear and prejudice strong within individuals has now formed into a collective, via contagion and has formed into a mini-resistance. It is suffocating the empathy and understanding of the plight of the worker, the jobless and the poor. There are those who were in the trenches with the working class in the 1990s, who are now fighting against the worker, shoulder to shoulder, embracing the enemy of the working class.
There are those who fight by shouting their prejudices and wearing them on their sleeve; angrily scream at anyone who dares to ‘not see the real truth.’ Their truth.
Then there are those who consciously or unconsciously deny their prejudices. They don’t want to say these things out loud. They just want to think them. Pauline Hanson, other conservative politicians, conservative commentators and the media will say these things for them. (She speaks for me). This gives them a new confidence to speak these prejudices out loud for the first time. To speak them gives a sense of reinforcement and belonging. For some, the feeling is almost euphoric. A relief beyond comprehension. They feel they are finally part of a collective. A resistance and that they ‘belong.’
This sense of belonging brings a sense of security and protection. A belief that if the ‘protectors’ – the one’s who are loudest attacking ‘the others’ will keep us safe from harm. However, it is through this false sense of reality, that real harm is being ignored, disbelieved. For some who have made the complete transformation to anti-working class – they embrace it.
The Racist Agenda. A Man Made Construct to Destroy the Working Class
What other anti-worker, anti-welfare policies will dedicated ‘Hansonites’ ignore, accept, condone and defend, all in the name of staying true and remaining loyal to the resistance that fights against minorities and speaks loudly to denigrate ‘the others?’
The racist agenda is a man-made construct developed as a pre-agenda to assist the conservative Government to destroy the working class. In 1996, “Howard’s Battlers” of the working class enabled the biggest onslaught on the working class we have ever seen. In 2017, “Pauline’s Battlers” are on the rise.
People must stop allowing the unrealistic fear of others to underpin and guide their beliefs, opinions, and decisions and take notice of the attacks on the working class. They must make a conscious choice. Support the workers and the jobless. Otherwise, support the Christian-Conservative Nationalist anti-worker agenda of Hanson and the rest of the right-wing parties. Supporting Hanson, the Liberals, The Bernardis, the Xenophons and Hinch, gives zero support to the working class.
Otherwise, this time, the conservatives may win and sustain real longevity. The attacks on the working class may completely destroy everything unionists and the working class have fought for, were jailed for and died for.
Way back in 2016, when Donald Trump won his first election, I had sworn never to return to the USA while he was at the helm. I was 61 then, now I’m 74. The age when we attend more funerals than weddings, birthdays and christenings combined. So, it recently came to pass that I wanted very much to attend a dear friend’s funeral. In Mississippi.
Now, in 2030, we don’t know much about the USA. You see, by the time the 2020 election happened, many people were no longer allowed to vote. If a person was unemployed (and there were a LOT of unemployed by 2020), they could not vote. If a person was female, they could not vote. If a person had not been born in the USA, they could not vote. If they were a known LGBTIQ person, they could not vote. Trump was elected again. That was the last election in the USA. Trump, now 83, continued to tweet every morning but everyone except his fans ignored him.
By 2018 California was no longer part of the USA. Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Illinois, Connecticut, Rhode, Island, Vermont and New Jersey had all left the federation by 2021. They were now, if you like, the Ununited States of America. Yet to form a new nation formally, negotiations were ongoing. It was a bit like the Europe of old. Most of the military had aligned with the Ununited States, something that had apparently infuriated Trump because he could no longer threaten to invade other nations. Canada and several of the other Ununited States had built walls. Mexico had built a wall along the Texas/Mexico border, but California and Mexico enjoyed a mutually profitable and politically stable relationship.
I landed in Los Angeles as I always had in the past, to then be interrogated at the USA/California border before continuing my journey into the unknown. Although as an Australian, I could still get a visa waiver for California, the USA demanded to interview every non-citizen at the border. As there were no longer embassies around the world (except in Russia) it was impossible to be interviewed in Sydney or Melbourne prior to travel. Travellers were advised to allow a minimum of five hours for the interrogation.
The alternative of flying into Dallas Fort Worth, Texas was risky. If I got refused a visitor visa in California, I could just go back to my hotel. If I was refused a visitor visa on arrival in Dallas Forth Worth, I’d be incarcerated overnight then put on a return flight. While the chances of my being incarcerated were slim, I hoped, I did have a vocal anti-Trump history – if they found it. My phone was a disposable and I had a little old lady Facebook profile for just this sort of thing. Better not to take the risk.
California didn’t look much different than it had done when I had last visited in September 2016. The airport was just as busy as ever, although security was a little tighter. This, I was told, was to manage the never-ending stream of refugees from the USA. Trump, it seemed, had no problem with people leaving – if they weren’t with the program, they could go. The problem, of course, was California and the other Ununited States just didn’t have the capacity. What had started as a trickle had become a deluge in recent years.
I stayed overnight in LA. The hotel was luxurious without being ostentatious, the service was good, the staff were happy.
The next day I had a contact drive me around. I saw little evidence of homelessness or unemployment. California was a hive of activity. There was not a gun in sight except for the police. I read the local papers and watched the news channels. The crime rate was significantly lower than the peak in 2018, just prior to California leaving the federation.
Then came the time to go to the airport to fly into Trump territory. The queues were short – no-one was going in unless they had to. The five hours involved questioning and the immigration agents delving through the travellers’ phones, iPads, cameras, social media, emails and extended family connections. A lengthy questionnaire was required to be responded to in person. I almost expected to be blood tested. Finally, travellers were fingerprinted and x-rayed. I mean really x-rayed. On a table. At least this obviated the need for an internal examination. At 74 I wasn’t too keen on that idea.
There were plenty of empty seats on the plane. I popped up the armrests after take-off and slept much of the way. The plane wasn’t clean, the toilets smelt, there were not enough cabin attendants. The arrival lounge was grim. The one thing I noticed was no-one was smiling. I mean no-one. There was almost a suspicion of anyone getting off the plane, a “Why would you come here?” expression on peoples’ faces. It was very disconcerting.
In my taxi to the hotel I noticed an odd gender imbalance. There were old white men by the score, many fewer young men of any ethnicity and very few young women. I asked the taxi driver, “Where are all the women?” He scowled. In a deep southern drawl, he told me the women leave. They marry out, mostly to Chinese and Indian men (two countries with a historical shortage of women), he spat. His language was not quite as polite as I have relayed.
The people and the place looked poor, like a third world country. I’ve been to third world countries, I recognised the look, the smell, the facial expressions. The buildings were neglected, the roads badly needed repair, many of the traffic lights no longer worked. Businesses were boarded up.
What children there were (given the shortage of women) didn’t seem to be in school, but roaming the streets aimlessly. Homelessness seemed to be rife – and I was in the better part of town.
The hotel was reasonably clean, but everything was old. It was as if nothing had been replaced or refurbished for fifteen years. The food was passable, the service was sullen. If I had to sum up the atmosphere in one word, it would be despair. No-one seemed to be happy. Everyone seemed to be living hand to mouth.
The television was obviously tightly controlled. As was the internet and print media (yes, it still existed). The news was strictly local and all wonderfully good. Trump’s policies were working, people were happy, wasn’t it terrific. Trump was the best President the world had ever seen. There might have been 1% happy, the faces I was looking at were certainly not.
I had been going to stay a few days, spend time with people I knew. I couldn’t, the place was too depressing. As soon as I had paid my respects at the funeral, I left. I spent those days in California.
I have never been so glad to reach Australian soil as I was today.
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It is no secret I had grave concerns about the suitability of Donald J Trump. Now I’m having trouble sleeping at night. I’d like to pull together several articles I read today. Each paints a concerning picture in its own right. Together, they almost spell Armageddon. I’ve always been concerned about not what is happening today, but where it is leading. This is not just some small country having a few political issues. This is one of most powerful countries in the world – the outcome affects us all, especially other democracies. We’ve already seen our own government embrace Trump’s immigration bans.
The relationship between Donald Trump and Steve Bannon is an unholy alliance, in which the shared goal is the destruction of institutions, and the undermining of the authority of traditional agents of governance and administration in the US.
There is a Twitter hashtag of #PresidentBannon indicating he is seen as the power behind the throne. He may have more difficulty than he thinks, trying to use Trump for his own agenda, as we shall see later in this article. That aside, he is a nasty piece of work with a lot of power as Wilson evidences.
The second article, How to Build an Autocracy, is written by David Frum, who was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush during 2001–02. Not exactly, one suspects, a man wearing a democratic button.
First Frum paints the future.
The business community learned its lesson early. “You work for me, you don’t criticize me,” the president was reported to have told one major federal contractor, after knocking billions off his company’s stock-market valuation with an angry tweet. Wise business leaders take care to credit Trump’s personal leadership for any good news, and to avoid saying anything that might displease the president or his family.
The media have grown noticeably more friendly to Trump as well. The proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner was delayed for more than a year, during which Time Warner’s CNN unit worked ever harder to meet Trump’s definition of fairness. Under the agreement that settled the Department of Justice’s antitrust complaint against Amazon, the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has divested himself of The Washington Post. The paper’s new owner—an investor group based in Slovakia—has closed the printed edition and refocused the paper on municipal politics and lifestyle coverage.
Then he goes on to look at the global situation, citing a “democratic recession” – democracies are in decline.
The exercise of political power is different today than it was then—but perhaps not so different as we might imagine. Larry Diamond, a sociologist at Stanford, has described the past decade as a period of “democratic recession.” Worldwide, the number of democratic states has diminished. Within many of the remaining democracies, the quality of governance has deteriorated.
What has happened in Hungary since 2010 offers an example—and a blueprint for would-be strongmen. Hungary is a member state of the European Union and a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights. It has elections and uncensored internet. Yet Hungary is ceasing to be a free country.
He then looks at Trump’s relationship with the congressional Republicans.
Trump has scant interest in congressional Republicans’ ideas, does not share their ideology, and cares little for their fate. He can—and would—break faith with them in an instant to further his own interests. Yet here they are, on the verge of achieving everything they have hoped to achieve for years, if not decades. They owe this chance solely to Trump’s ability to deliver a crucial margin of votes in a handful of states—Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—which has provided a party that cannot win the national popular vote a fleeting opportunity to act as a decisive national majority. The greatest risk to all their projects and plans is the very same X factor that gave them their opportunity: Donald Trump, and his famously erratic personality. What excites Trump is his approval rating, his wealth, his power. The day could come when those ends would be better served by jettisoning the institutional Republican Party in favor of an ad hoc populist coalition, joining nationalism to generous social spending—a mix that’s worked well for authoritarians in places like Poland. Who doubts Trump would do it? Not Paul Ryan. Not Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. For the first time since the administration of John Tyler in the 1840s, a majority in Congress must worry about their president defecting from them rather than the other way around.
It is a long article, but well worth reading in full.
Social researcher Hugh Mackay has dubbed our times an ‘Age of Anxiety’. All the old certainties have been turned upside down and the only thing that we are told we can rely on is an ever-increasing pace of change.
To a jittery population that is cold comfort. In our existential dread we thrash about for people to blame: the left, the right, Muslims, refugees, feminists, believers, unbelievers, terrorists and that reliable old omnibus – political correctness. The one thing we all agree on is that the future looks alarming and unpredictable. We are, we believe, in uncharted waters.
But perhaps that is not so. Perhaps human beings have been through something like this before.
The recipe for populism is universal. Find a wound common to many, find someone to blame for it, and make up a good story to tell. Mix it all together. Tell the wounded you know how they feel. That you found the bad guys. Label them: the minorities, the politicians, the businessmen. Caricature them. As vermin, evil masterminds, haters and losers, you name it. Then paint yourself as the savior. Capture the people’s imagination. Forget about policies and plans, just enrapture them with a tale. One that starts with anger and ends in vengeance. A vengeance they can participate in.
That’s how it becomes a movement. There’s something soothing in all that anger. Populism is built on the irresistible allure of simplicity. The narcotic of the simple answer to an intractable question. The problem is now made simple.
If we look at all those threads, we can see the interweaving. For days I had been thinking of Mugabe and seeing Trump as the Western version. Then I read about Chávez.
As Frum highlights in his article, it is not now we need to worry about – it is in four, five, six years time. Unless we stop it now. Unless the American people stop it NOW.
There is a another article which is the match that will light the flames: in these days of fake news, however, I am wary. While the article is reported in many places, I can’t find it on a mainstream website such as Washington Post – but then, does that mean anything these days?
John D. Gartner, a practicing psychotherapist who taught psychiatric residents at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, minces as few words as the president in his professional assessment of Trump.
“Donald Trump is dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president,” says Gartner, author of “In Search of Bill Clinton: A Psychological Biography.” Trump, Gartner says, has “malignant narcissism,” which is different from narcissistic personality disorder and which is incurable.
The diagnosis is particularly worrying due to the behaviours of the patient. Behaviours that benefit only themselves – at any cost. Yes, Gartner broke his professional code to speak out, because he believes people need to know.
Only with his lunatic effort to selectively ban refugees (but not from terrorist-sending countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt where Trump has business interests) has Trump discovered that the American system has courts. It has courts. Imagine that.
The more unhinged he becomes, the less will conservative judges be the toadies to ordinary Republican policies that they too often have been. Anybody want to wager that the Supreme Court will be Trump’s whore?
In the past week, Republicans from Mitch McConnell on down have tripped over each other rejecting his view of Putin. They have ridiculed his screwball claim of massive voter fraud.
I believe this was written BEFORE the President fired his acting attorney general. I’m waiting for him to try to fire a judge, which he is not empowered to do.
We have every reason to be concerned. We also need to heed the lessons available to us and ensure this doesn’t happen in Australia.
A departure from my usual post today. Craig Emerson is a Facebook friend and posted this last week. A witty piece of satire indeed. Hope you enjoy.
Friday March 11 2016
A Biblical, satirical piece of mine about the capturing of the tax reform debate by vested interests – the money changers. For those brethren who prefer to cut to the proverbial chase, go straight to the final two verses of the reading.
The second coming…
As commentators attack Prime Minister Turnbull for squibbing bold tax reform and he attacks Bill Shorten for proposing a sensible reform of his own, the public discourse on tax policy has fallen apart. The centre cannot hold against the anarchy being loosed upon the world by the worst – the money changers – full, as they are, of passionate intensity. Everywhere the endeavour of the innocents who offer dispassionate analysis is drowned in a blood-dimmed tide.
While comparing the corruption of the tax reform debate by vested interests with the end of civilisation prophesised by Yeats after the Great War might be slightly melodramatic, it is true that a barrage has been loosed against innocents who simply ask what is best for our country. Defenders of privilege load up their economic models as they would huge howitzers – Big Berthas – bombarding defenseless reformers with explosive findings: it is the working poor who will suffer from closing down tax shelters, not the privileged.
During the apocalyptic second coming of tax reform after the Abbott government’s failure, our freshly anointed leader was confronted by a vast image appearing in the sky out of Spiritus Mundi – a spirit world of images and symbols available only to the most perceptive, such as poets and highly intelligent prime ministers. It was the GST. And it was endowed with mystical qualities: it could pay for cuts in income taxes that would transform the nation into a land of milk and honey, free of famine, pestilence, earthquakes and even locusts.
But the image in the sky troubled the prime minister – and more so his predecessor’s loyal foot soldiers – so he instructed the high priests of the Treasury to inquire further into these mystical powers. With the patience of Job, the prime minister awaited the high priests’ findings. He need not have done so. Half a year ago the high priests of the Treasury had released a scripture titled Understanding the economy-wide efficiency and incidence of major Australian taxes (Isaiah 61:1 “The Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor”). The high priests estimated that the fabled tax-mix switch would produce one litre of milk, no honey and a plague of locusts.
Be-plagued by locusts, the prime minister was handed the scripture 31 days after the most recent celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. He promptly declared the mystical being the shadow of death into whose valley he had no intention of walking. Every money changer in the land and the media scribes and Pharisees attacked the prime minister for this wise decision to dismiss the mystical being in the sky. In his anger, the prime minister expelled the money changers from the temple and enunciated the seven woes of the scribes and Pharisees.
Having been led once into the valley of the shadow of death by the scribes, Pharisees and money changers, the prime minister appears to have become spooked by them. He has turned to attacking his rival, Brother Shorten, who wants to use the proceeds of lower subsidies on the rental incomes the money changers receive on their holdings of houses, apartments and temples to improve the life chances of the meek. Behold, it is the meek who will suffer at the hands of Brother Bill, warns the prime minister.
Yet frightening those who hunger and thirst for righteousness is not in the prime minister’s nature. When the anointed one succeeded his predecessor, his flock looked to him as their shepherd, willing him to lead them and trusting in him to know the way and, ideally, the truth and the light. But now, as the anointed one seeks to fend off his predecessor’s efforts at a second coming, the prime minister risks remaking himself in his predecessor’s own image and likeness.
If ours is to be the land of opportunity where the poor in spirit are given a chance, we must fund their education. If we are to comfort those who mourn, we must support them through hard times. If we are to end domestic violence and persecution, if we are to make peace on earth, then we must pay taxes to finance these noble endeavours. Caring for the sick, the frail and the elderly obliges us to be merciful, to be pure of heart. The people of our great nation are merciful, they are good-hearted and they are willing to pay their fair share in taxes to support those who need a helping hand. So let’s appeal to the better angels of the Australian people instead of promising them tax cuts to be handed down by the spirit in the sky.
My thought for the day
Religion in many ways is akin to Politics in so much as it believes that telling the truth isn’t necessarily in its best interests.
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It is said that in war ‘truth’ is the first causality. Lying is probably one of the most common wrong acts that we perform. In fact lying as we understand it is an unavoidable part of human nature. Therefore it’s worth spending time thinking about it.
Whilst it might be true that truth is the first causality of war, I would contend that over the past ten or twenty years it has become a major causality of our public discourse. If I were asked to pinpoint it I would date it at around, or post, Ronald Reagan’s appointment as president of the US.
It was a period that saw the beginning of the Religious Right’s involvement in Politics and of Neo Conservatism.
In the last US election Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan took lying to an unparalleled level. Fact finders alerted the public to 2019 lies by Romney alone. I watched the first Presidential debate and became fascinated with how Romney could present fiction as fact. It is my contention that President Obama lost the first debate not because he was of his game, or that he was unprepared, but rather he was taken by surprise by the wilful lies that Romney was telling.
Political lying in Australia since Tony Abbott’s appointment as opposition leader reached unprecedented levels and insinuated itself into our public dialogue, including the media. So much so that it is now almost impossible for the average punter to know just who is telling the truth.
Which brings me to my point. What resources does the average punter have to accessing the truth? If we have the time we can do some research? Look up the facts presented by fact checkers. Pay for FOI documents. Who has time for all that?
The truth is that in the absence of readily identifiable evidence we all use what is generally called ‘the pub test or common sense test.’ In other words we digest all the available information and ask ourselves the question ’is it plausible?’ Does what I am being told have the ring of truth about it. We make judgements based on our life’s experience. Unless your personal bias clouds the ’Pub test’ your inner conscience dictates your judgement.
‘I don’t judge people but I do form my own opinion of course’.
‘Life is about perception, not what is but what we perceive it to be’.
Let’s take two current items currently making headlines.
Firstly, there is a National Security leak. There is nothing more serious politically. The story appears in The Australian Newspaper which is a known supporter of former Prime Minister Abbott. The journalist in question, Greg Sheridan is also a personal friend of Abbott. Abbott is also quoted in the piece thus giving the leak credibility. To adhere one’s own words to a leaked document is dangerous.
Everyone knows that our former Prime Minister is a liar. He might even be the worst in our political history. He is certainly the worst this nation has ever seen. Many of our most respected journalists and media commentators have said so. He has even admitted he is a liar himself.
The evidence is so abundant, so overwhelmingly copious that it is beyond contradiction. It is fair to say that in general the populace accepted his lying as a fact. I and many others have listed them, quoted them, itemised, analysed them and exposed them in crystal clarity. Even members of his own party have accepted that he is a liar of nefarious intent.
And his sheer indifference to the fact that he lies together with his lack of conscience about it I found sickening. The list is as long as a toilet roll.
Secondly, Cardinal George Pell gives evidence at the Royal Commission into Child Abuse. Despite at all times being but a breath away from all the vile conduct of the church, the suicides, molesting, families destroyed, he denies everything and blames everyone else pleading that he was told nothing.
In the first instance, the leak, an investigation is being carried out. Leaks of course are not uncommon in politics. John Howard famously leaked to Andrew Bolt at the time of the Iraq war to discredit the outspoken Andrew Wilke. It wasn’t successful because Wilke had too much integrity.
History shows that enquiries reveal nothing. I therefore in the absence of hard evidence I conclude that my common sense tells me that Abbott is still upset with losing the Prime Ministership and is intent on undermining Turnbull’s position. The same as Rudd did to Gillard.
In the case of Pell I conclude, again in the absence of proof, that he could not possibly have been that close to the action, and not be aware of the unmitigated evil being carried out. Time and time again he pleads ignorance. I didn’t know I wasn’t told. Even when he pleads the greyness of the context of the time I deduce that time doesn’t diminish the crime.
‘The standards we walk past are the standards we accept’.
Despite a tendency inherited biologically by all to lie. Truth in politics and society in general matters enormously. It is not a trivial matter in any democracy. Our whole system is based on the assumption that truth prevails over all else and that it is the people who judge its veracity.
Without truth the people cannot give informed accent to office and democracy fails. There are ethical obligations of integrity and coherence upon which society depends. Our leaders when they lie fail the highest standards of social morality.
At this time in our history we are experiencing a toxic tide of leadership mistrust. No other politician has contributed to it more than Tony Abbott. Is he the most dishonest, the most cynical and pathologically perverted liar to ever lead our nation?
Pell may indeed be found to be the worst religious liar this country has seen. A blight on the very essence of the teaching of Christ.
I will leave you to ponder the question. Use your common sense and ask yourself is what they are saying plausible. It’s the pub test.
Two thoughts for the day.
‘Humility is the basis of all intellectual advancement. However, it is truth that enables human progress’.
‘Question everything. What you see, what you feel, what you hear and what you are told until you understand the truth of it. Faith is the residue of things not understood and can never be a substitute for fact’.
1 Tony Abbott said he wore his 2014 Budget like a ‘Badge of Honor’. Veteran economics journalist Ross Gittens put it this way at the time:
’The first and biggest reason the government is having to modify or abandon so many of its measures is the budget’s blatant unfairness. In 40 years of budget-watching I’ve seen plenty of unfair budgets, but never one as bad as this’.
2 I do wish writers, even those on this blog would use the term ‘Abbott/Turnbull’ government.
3 And I do wish that writers would empathise the fact that the Abbott/Turnbull government has been in power for two and a half years.
4 Are the often outlandish statements from the likes of Cory Bernardi, George Christiansen and others about the Safe Schools programme just a forerunner of what we might expect in the plebiscite debate on marriage equality?
Some of what they are saying isn’t even in the programme.
This plebiscite might unearth, without quality leadership, some unwanted social disharmony.
Turnbull is only pursuing his expensive $160m plebiscite as a delaying tactic to satisfy the right of his party — extreme Liberals like Christensen. The fact is, if he were a strong leader, Turnbull would allow a free vote in the parliament on marriage equality next week.
5 I notice ‘The Fixer’ is saying that he is responsible for the defence policy announced last week.
6 Roy and The Fixer are helping police with their enquiries. Found this on Facebook. Can’t name the source.
‘My sources tell me the AFP is acting on a complaint made by the Federal Court that, at the least, Brough, in collusion with Ashby and Harmers Workplace Lawyers, set out to to subvert the court process.
How Harmers has gotten away with its patently false claims in the Originating Document beggars belief. They said they had a sworn, detailed affidavit of Slipper romping indecently with another male when they simply did not. It was total bullshit, but included the precise details of a lurid sick mind.’
7 How could George Pell possibly not have known about the child abuse happening all around him? Those who say there is some sort of vendetta against him are wrong. All they want is for him to tell the truth.
8 My reference to George Christianson and penis tucking yesterday seems to have gone over the heads of those who read my posts. George is indeed an obese man.
It is the misinformed who shout the loudest. The rest of us are content with the truth we enquired about.
9 Thank goodness the latest series of ‘House of Cards’ commences Friday. Back to some reality at last.
10 To quote Paul Kelly: ‘Malcolm is starting to sound like Tony Abbott’.
11 There are some truly some excellent comments on my post yesterday. We are blessed to have some who make a virtue of responding.
12 Changes to Media Rules. This is how Fairfax puts it. Whatever the outcome Murdoch will be the big winner.
‘The reach rule currently prohibits television networks from broadcasting to more than 75 per cent of the population. The two out of three rule bans media proprietors from controlling a newspaper, television and radio station in the same market. Scrapping the two out of three rule is the more controversial change because of concerns about media diversity. Labor MPs are concerned about the change because it could allow a proprietor such as Rupert Murdoch to extend his control in major markets’.
13 Talking about Fairfax, if ever there was an illustration of how journalistic standards have slipped it has to be Paul Sheehan’s recent story ‘Louise’. It was just an unsubstantiated Islamophobia beat-up in an area in which he has substantial form. How he is still in a job is the bigger mystery.
14 John Howard says he shudders at the thought of Donald Trump becoming America’s next President:
‘In part, his success is emblematic of people’s frustration with political correctness. What people like is he seems to call it as it is’.
Does he mean that he agrees with the manner in which he conducts his public discourse?
15 The conservative objection to political correctness it seems to me is in large part sour grapes. I don’t see the right or the extreme right not having a voice or indeed the capacity to use it. What I hear is an incoherent voice that cannot get its point across.
16 Did you know that current wages growth at 2.2% is the lowest ever recorded?
17 Someone emailed this to me without leaving a name:
‘If the Catholic Church was a corporation, or a charity, it would be shut down and its assets sold off. All Catholics are now disenfranchised apologists for an organisation that has utterly betrayed their faith and the god they love. Pity the faithful. They don’t deserve the harm the men within the church have inflicted on them. A new reformation is needed. A revolution in thinking is required’.
18 The Prime Minister was out and about yesterday spruiking his scare campaign against Labor’s Negative Gearing policy. There was not a hint of the explaining he said he would do.
19 Sydney radio station 2GB is conducting a Poll on this question:
‘If you voted Liberal in the last election, who’s your preferred Prime Minister now?’ At 4pm yesterday the count was 96% for Abbott and 4% for Turnbull.
20 Donald Trump has the support of the KKK and Jean-Marie Le Pen. Only in America.
My thought for the day
‘There’s nothing like the certainty of a closed mind’.
I think we would all agree that work is a good thing. I have practiced it all of my life. To a substantial degree it formed a large part of who I became. I was diligent and loyal to whoever employed me. I always demanded a rewarding salary commensurate with what I thought my abilities were. I was unfairly sacked once and immediately formed my own company. I employed others and I demanded of my staff the same principles I had shown as an employee.
For the final 25 years of my working life I experienced the ups and downs of running a small business. Balancing the needs of my business while at the same time harmonising the needs of those I employed was a constant juggling act.
Sacking someone is an unpleasant experience. When I was first required to do so I was filled with trepidation. I sought advice from a friend. ‘There is no best way. However you do it, ‘do it with dignity’ he said.
Later this year many thousands of men and women in the Australian Motor car Industry will lose their jobs. All will be faced with the heartbreak of it. The indignity of not having a job will hit some to the point of suicide. There will be no dignity in their dismissals. How will they find work? How will they feed their children, pay the mortgage. It is a frightening prospect for many.
Ford is due to close its operation this year. General Motors and Toyota in 2017. However, given that new models take on average six years from start to finish and there are no new models on the drawing boards their closures are likely to be brought forward. Already designers and engineers are being laid off.
It is estimated that when all the plants close 12,500 people will join the dole queues. It may prove to be just the tip of the iceberg. When those who supply the components close it will add another 33,000 people.
A school of thought came up with a six-to-one multiplier effect, subsequently endorsed by the 2008 Brack’s report on the car industry. Senator Nick Xenophon calculated, using this method that there will be between 150,000 and 200,000 people out of an automotive-related job.
And if as The Department of Industry suggests 930,000 people are employed in manufacturing. So if 200,000 automotive workers lose their jobs that will represent more than 21 per cent of the entire manufacturing workforce.
A loss of jobs of this magnitude will have a disastrous effect on our economy. Not only on the unemployment levels but welfare payments and manufacturing levels. The trade deficit will rise because we will have to import 150,000 vehicles we will no longer produce. 3.8 billion the money car manufactures had intended to invest in new models will also be lost. In addition $1.5 billion will be lost in income tax receipts from workers in just one year. And remember that Toyota did export 90,000 vehicles to the Middle East.
According to Ian Porter (a manufacturing analyst and a former business editor of The Age) soon after the next election, assuming Turnbull runs the full term, 200,000 people will hit the dole queue.
‘When those people lose their spending power and start drawing on the public purse, there will be a recession all right. It’s just a question of how deep, and for how long’
He may or may not be correct about a recession. And of course given the ABS has, given the complexity of its methodology, a great deal of difficulty with its forecasts we may never know the real unemployment figures.
Having said that, Morgan Research who use a different methodology to measure unemployment say that it is 9.7% as opposed to the ABS 5.8 The number of people in the workforce now totals 13,007,000 (up 106,000 since December 2014), and 11,751,000 Australians are employed (up 252,000 since December 2014). Meanwhile, the number of people who are under-employed has risen by 188,000 in the last 12 months, to a record 1,434,000 (11 per cent of the workforce).
What is being done to counter these job losses and the destruction they will cause to the fabric of society?
Some of course will be absorbed into other areas but talking up the slack will not be easy. Other than a call from the Prime Minister to innovate more and be confident in the future, in practicable terms it seems little is being done.
The problem of course doesn’t end with job losses in the Manufacturing Sector. Have you thought about what 3D Printing, robotics and as yet undiscovered advancements in science and technology will do to the job markets of the future?
Authors Note. Statistical figures for this piece acquired from an article by Ian Porter.
The Future of Work. Part two. Jobs in the Technological Future.
‘Science has made in my lifetime the most staggering achievements and they are embraced, recognised and enjoyed by all sections of society. The only area that I can think of where science is questioned is the religious fever of climate change doubters and unconventional religious belief.’
2 Why did we need a Wind Farm Commissioner? The answer is because Senate cross bench senators Jacqui Lambie, Bob Day, David Leyonhjelm and John Madigan don’t like them. And of course that old wind bag himself, Alan Jones isn’t too fond of them either. So it’s about appeasement. Nothing to do with science and the numerous reports over the years that can’t identify any problems.
The Wind Farm Commissioner Andrew Dyer whose job, according to Mr Hunt’s letter, will be to receive complaints and pass them along to the relevant state authorities? Not a bad part-time job at $200,000 PA.
For Greg Hunt though, I suppose it is an inexpensive measure which creates the impression that he has made a concession, while simultaneously relieving him of the personal hardship of listening to any more whining from cross bench senators and Alan about wind farms.
When will the bullshit ever end? Still I suppose he will have fun reading all the conspiracy theories at our expense.
3 President Obama has yet again said, ‘enough is enough’ after another gun shooting in Colorado killed three people. The problem is that the American people simply cannot comprehend life without guns, in the way we cannot comprehend life with them.
4 So the Government is saying that it will achieve its emission target at very little cost but that the opposition’s policy will send the country broke.
At the risk of repeating myself ‘’We pay a high price for the upkeep of our personal health but at the same time think the cost of the upkeep of the planet should be next to nothing’’
Turnbull may be a very popular Prime Minister but at the same time he must also be the most hypocritical. He simply doesn’t have the guts of his own conviction.
5 Talking about hypocrisy. It’s only a few short weeks ago that any change to the immoral superannuation tax concessions to the rich and privileged was being described as trouser snatching. Meaning the opposition was wanting to steal your wallet from your back pocket. Now current indications seem to signify that the privileged will lose at least part of the concession.
6 Josh Frydenberg has broken ranks with his leader and accused Muslim Dr Ibrahim of trying to “cover up” his first statement after the Paris attacks and not doing enough to counter extremist Islam. Whether he has a case or not he is just another lose cannon Turnbull has to keep under control.
7 The BludgerTrack poll aggregate this week records a correction after what was probably an Ipsos-driven overshoot last week, with a milder result from Newspoll drawing the Coalition two-party lead back 0.7%, and moving the seat projection two points in favor of Labor, with gains in New South Wales and Victoria. However, Newspoll’s leadership ratings have added further distance between Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten on both net approval and preferred prime minister, although Shorten’s own net approval rating comes in slightly higher than last week’s.
53.7-46.3 to the Coalition
8 The Standing Orders for Question Time normally prevent the Opposition from asking questions about actions MPs took prior to becoming a Minister..
Malcolm Turnbull gave Mal Brough the precise portfolio of Special Minister of State, which puts him in charge of the policy area that forms the basis of the allegations made against him. This puts Minister Brough in a special position of accountability.
He is the Minister in charge of parliamentary standards and integrity. A search warrant and an investigation by the AFP and a clear confession on 60 minutes suggest his guilt. However neither he nor Malcolm Turnbull can see why anyone would think there’s a problem. Christopher Pyne even shut down his own speech rather than offer a defence. Enough said.
MY THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
‘There is nothing like the certainty of a closed mind’.
In 1971, Malcom Turnbull was in fourth form at Sydney Grammar. Writing for the school newsletter, he said the Liberal Party was full of “men averse to change of any sort – men whose interests lie solely in the system as it is”.
He said the Liberal approach was “hardly the material needed for a progressive government, which is what Australia as a nation needs above all else”, as he called for higher taxes on the rich. “Twenty years have seen many changes in Australia and the world, but few in the Liberal Party.”
Turnbull was particularly critical of the Liberal’s foreign investment policy which he claimed enticed foreign companies to exploit and own large chunks of Australia’s mineral wealth. More taxes and tariffs would have solved that, he said.
He labelled the twenty year reign of Menzies as “an exceptionally long period in office” producing, “with a few exceptions, nothing original.”
The headmaster of Grammar said of Malcolm, “When he bossed people around he did it in an abrasive way people didn’t like. He makes it clear that he thinks people are perfect fools and haven’t got a brain in their head – that’s not how to make friends and influence people.”
A few years later, while describing then-PM Gough Whitlam as an arrogant egomaniac in an article for the Sydney University student newspaper Honi Soit, Malcolm lauded the Labor Party as a “wealth of opinion and class…diverse and less likely than the conservatives to blindly rally behind one great leader”.
Menzies’ Liberals, on the other hand, had “warmed the treasury benches” for 23 years with “the steak-fed bottoms of the sons of Toorak and the champions of Double Bay”.
Malcolm was so busy writing that he rarely went to class, paying a friend $30 a week (plus carbon paper) to take notes for him.
In the mid-1970s, Turnbull, then 21, told radio broadcaster David Dale he wanted to be Prime Minister by the time he was 40.
“For which party?” asked Dale.
“It doesn’t matter,” responded Malcolm.
Turnbull, in a 1978 article titled “The Vicious World of Student Politics” for The Bulletin magazine, attacked a young conservative Sydney University Student Representative Council member named Tony Abbott, saying:
“The leading light of the right-wingers in NSW is twenty-year-old Tony Abbott. He has written a number of articles on AUS [The Australian Union of Students] in the Australian [newspaper] and his press coverage has accordingly given him a stature his rather boisterous and immature rhetoric doesn’t really deserve… While he can win support from students because of the shocking state of affairs in AUS, he cannot take the next step because of his conservative moral views.”
In 1991 the Good Weekend did a profile on Malcolm. In researching the article, they “encountered fear among business people” for what they say are his threats to sue them if they speak about him. Packer once quipped to a friend that Turnbull frightened even him. (He told the same person he would never stand between Turnbull and a bag of money.)
When asked about his future, Turnbull said he had given away any political ambitions: “I’m not sure that I’m really suited to the democratic process.”
Solidarity is an idea that is in the foundations of the ALP, writes Tim Curtis, and that means sticking together to fight for the common goals.
This weekend, as did many others I presume, I engaged in some Bill-hating as the ALP conference decided to support a boat-turn-back policy.
As I thought about this I was struck by a question: If I was so concerned with boat-turn-backs, why had I not joined the ALP? And then attended the conference so that my vote, my voice could have made a difference. How could I deservedly be annoyed at a group of people who I had tasked with representing me, when I had taken no direct action beyond writing some letters to make my apparently strongly held view known (contrary to populist belief Facebook and online petitions do not count).
As my self-righteous indignation began to subside I wondered to myself … “I wonder”, I wondered, “is this how Cory Bernadi feels when he doesn’t get his way on abortion?”
It has to be noted that Bernardi, and many others on the lunatic fringe of right-wing politics are rarely seen complaining in public that their particular policy wishes have not been taken on as central party platforms.
Instead he and others fall in line behind the mainstream neo-liberals and conservatives to show a solid front. When there is opportunity, Bernardi flies his freak flag high; but even then there is a definite sense that it is part of a larger design, that the timing of his “outbursts” are to draw away from something else, or to otherwise push the conversation further to where the neo-conservatives want them.
This led to a very uncomfortable thought. The thought that the success of the Right in taking government, and in dictating the terms under which progressive governments operated, and ultimately in controlling the narrative on the economy, immigration, defence and security, came from their unity: The Solidarity of the political Right. It sounds contradictory, and yet when do we see the hard-line neo-liberal voters moaning and complaining that job creators are still being overtaxed in the same way that refugee advocates attack their party of choice on a regular basis? And make no mistake; for the true-blood neo-liberal a completely unshackled market attracts just as much fervour on the Right as social justice does on the Left.
The discomfort does not stop there. At the ALP conference there was strong support for renewable energy and for marriage equality. Why not add refugee advocacy and make it triple-threat?
For the simple reason that it is an election loser.
Right now the ALP has a sure winner in marriage equality. It is also on a winner with renewables; it can co-opt many country and farming votes who feel betrayed by the National party on mining and CSG. It can also pitch action on climate change as means of supporting the expansion of Australia’s renewable energy industry, in turn as a means of rebuilding the shattered manufacturing sector in Australia. This is a pro-job platform that will resonate well in town and country and is sure to be a popular idea amongst all those ex-car industry workers and car-part service businesses and smart manufacturing in general across the nation.
Refugees, or boat people as they are known in the tabloids, have no such sympathies. Gone are the Post-Vietnam days where Australians felt responsible, felt culpable for the dire straits that South-East Asian refugees found themselves in after the fall of Saigon. Refugees from Afghanistan or the Arabian Peninsula, fleeing the mess that we in no small part took a hand in creating, are perhaps not as cuddly. Or maybe Australia has become hardened to the hardships of others because ‘we have our own problems’. Unemployment is up, wages are down, the rich get richer, and our great outdoors seems to be up for grabs to any foreign interest with enough cash to open a politician’s pocket.
Whatever the reasons: If the ALP attempted to go to the next election with a new refugee policy it would lose. There is no one who can honestly look at the untrammelled hysteria in political discourse in Australia and say otherwise.
What the ALP can do is the same thing that Tony Abbott has done: make promises, and then … when in power … change the conversation. Look at what Tony Abbott has achieved with countless NBN and ABC inquiries, Royal commissions, the Commission of Audit, and reviews into anything that can possibly change attitudes and direct the conversation.
Imagine how the public view would change after a parliamentary inquiry into refugee policy and into conditions on Manus Island? Complete hard-nosed analysis of the costs to tax-payers, with heart-warming stories about asylum seekers who have saved country towns from oblivion, and heart-breaking stories about how the Taliban came only hours after the Aussie soldiers had flown away home. These are things that can only happen from inside government.
There are many, including myself, who have had a lesson in realpolitik this weekend. As much as anyone in the ALP wants to change the policies toward Australia’s treatment of refugees, they all know that it is a guaranteed way to lose the next election. And despite what many might be saying about The Greens, it is fairly clear that after the last Federal and State elections, and in particular the election in Liverpool Plains, that The Greens are unlikely to be able to field enough candidates or win enough votes to form government alone, and almost certainly will not be able to win in the areas that the ALP need to win to swing the Liberal-National Coalition out of government.
So where does this leave us?
Sad. Angry. Yes, and more. Though I am more saddened by how quickly the level of conversation in Australia has returned to the bad old days of the Yellow Peril, and I am more angry at myself for being so hopefully naïve that Tony Abbott could lose an election with this issue on the table, when in reality it is likely that it would help him retain office in a sequel to Tampa.
What comes next is possibly even harder. I am still dedicated to changing Australia’s Refugee policy, but I now realise that is going to take time. Time to change the way people think so that tabloid radio, television and newspapers, and more importantly their readers are no longer interested in demonising refugees. And the longer that Tony Abbott and his ilk are in power, the longer it is going to take to drag Australia from the precipice of fear and loathing and back into the light. This means that while I will still hold to my beliefs, while I will still critique, I will also get behind the torches that we do have; marriage equality and action on climate change and do everything I can to get a government that will take action on the big social and economic issues. Because if I do not, then Tony Abbott will likely be re-elected and keep selling off public assets, keep selling out to corporate interests, and keep selling us all up the river with a co-payment for the a paddle.
Solidarity is an idea that is in the foundations of the ALP. Solidarity doesn’t mean that we always agree with each other. Indeed nor should we. What it does mean is that we stick together to fight for the common goals, and to forward our personal or factional goals as much as possible. All the while keeping our eye on the big picture, on the greater goal; of regaining an Australia that is the land of the fair go and where we truly do have boundless plains to share.
There is so much to love about Australia. We love living here, and visiting celebrities are wise enough to say how much they love visiting here. We see ourselves as egalitarian, as fair and open-minded, as welcoming, and as free as the kangaroos jumping about in the paddocks. We are also a tad delusional.
Firstly, Australia actually is a great place to live, and nothing that follows can detract from that. The problems lurking just beneath the surface of our mythical landscape do not diminish the possibility of opportunity that exists here. Secondly, even the poor can still, at least for the moment, access our beaches and public BBQs … so our true cultural roots remain homogenous and open to all.
But on with it. What is actually happening in Australia?
Aboriginal People: They remain dispossessed. Our Government is dithering about the wording of the Referendum that is meant to finally acknowledge the very existence of Aboriginal People. Indigenous People have been here for over 60,000 years, and probably a lot more than that, and the rest of us have been here for just over 200 years … so it is fairly clear who should be having a Referendum to recognise whom.
Social Justice: In an all pervading sense, if Social Justice existed here in Australia then we would not have our current dire need for the proliferation of Organisations and Charities who exist to strongly fight for the establishment of social justice here in Australia.
Politics: It would be great to actually have some. Currently we are saddled with a Two Party System where the main focus of either side is the gaining and retention of power. The Liberal and Labor Parties might just as well formalise things and form the LibLab Coalition because it is becoming a little hard to differentiate between them.
The majority of our current crop of politicians are mediocre power junkies and Party sponsored head-nodders.
The Politics of Hate that are emanating out of Canberra are having the inevitable effect … small nationalistic minds are hitting the streets. Fear and suppression are rearing their ugly heads.
The Age of the Independents appears to be coming. Meanwhile, the country lurches onwards to . . .
Gender Equality: Where pay in Australia is concerned it pays to be male. Where securing a position in middle or higher management is concerned it pays to be male. I have always wondered why women don’t simply just all walk off the job and bring the whole lurching unfair edifice to a screeching crumbling halt in a nanosecond. If they all walked out at once then equal opportunity and equal pay would suddenly appear like manna from heaven. Perhaps that will happen one day.
Religion: Some say that it is a mass delusion, some say that it is not. Some religious people do exceptionally good work here in Australia and they fight for victims who exist because of our lack of social justice.
Others simply feather their own nests and rob their congregations blind. Like anything else here in Australia religion is a mixed bag, there is good and bad, but it has strongly insinuated itself into the core of our federal government, and that is quite clearly bad.
War: Putting aside (but never forgetting) the historical attempted genocide of Aboriginal People, and the flattening of the Eureka Stockade, Australia has latterly been free of open warfare on our continental mainland.
We have fought in a couple of major and righteous wars, and we have fought in far too many dodgy and unnecessary wars. No doubt Indigenous People and Asylum Seekers might have a slightly different view to the rest of us when it comes to defining what war actually is. However, we all get to wake up each morning without the smell of cordite in our nostrils, or the sight of a newly created line of bomb craters … and we need to remind our federal government that most of us do not want to jump into the next handiest ‘war coalition’.
Growth: We are told that the world will end without this thing called growth. To gain this growth, and bigger houses, and bigger cars, and bigger televisions, both members of Australian couples have to work full time, and have to bung their children into institutionalised childcare. The kids are probably thinking ‘bugger this growth thing, I would like to grow up in the loving arms of my parents’.
Growth gives us alienated kids and a mega-tonnage of discarded instantly obsolescent electronic technology buried in our landfills. If Australia had smaller houses, smaller cars, and fewer greedy aspirational types – we might have happier kids and we might actually grow as a nation.
Environment: We could lead the world in the uptake of renewable energy technology … but instead of that we lurch about in the coalfields. Australia is madly digging up anything out of the ground that will fuel the engine of ‘growth’ around the world and we continue to gaily contribute to the continual pollution of our planetary atmosphere.
We degrade our own environment and we allow a very small number of people, who are no more important than you or I, to become sickeningly rich on the environmentally destructive proceeds. Money, growth, power, and not giving a stuff, are doing injurious harm to our Australian environment.
Freedom: We are free from starvation, but we are not free. We are free from civil war, but we are not free. We are currently mainly free from totalitarian suppression, but we are not free.
We are a controlled people – controlled by the ‘growth’ wish, controlled and socially engineered by our governments, controlled and manipulated by our advertising industry, controlled and constrained by our own collective small thinking.
We wave and claim our mythical flag of freedom, we wrap ourselves up in it, we broadcast it to the world, and we forget that to an outside observer we simply appear to be using the ephemeral strands of the mythology of Australia to weave a shroud of our own making.
Now, having said all that – there is nowhere else I’d rather live. The wonderful thing about faults … and Australia is replete with them … is that they can be rectified.
So let’s continue to agitate for the establishment of a better Australia!
So it seems that Bill Shorten will be taking a proposal for a 50% renewable target by 2030 to Labor’s national conference in Melbourne this weekend. Accordingly, climate change is shaping up to be a major battleground for the next election – probably much to Abbott’s chagrin. On this argument, the Coalition starts from behind. Tony Abbott would prefer the discussion to be neutralised and as a result the government is stepping up the rhetoric to attack Labor’s history and position on the climate change front. As a result, the laughably-named Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, has been working the airwaves furiously to poison the national consciousness.
Shorten’s laudable goal, as those who have been watching the development of renewable energy and its increasing prevalence in the energy mix of countries and even Australian States will know, is technically not difficult. Labor describes the proposal as “ambitious”, but the main challenge with achieving this is political. The primary difficulty is that the Australian people are skeptical about the ability of renewable energy to be a practical, economical choice for energy generation, and consecutive conservative governments have sought to play up on that uncertainty at the behest of their backers and overlords, the existing fossil fuel oligarchies. The Australian people have been lied to from the outset.
They’re still being lied to now. Greg Hunt has been given saturation coverage on news media outlets, parroting the Government’s official response to the reports of this labor policy proposal. The detail of Hunt’s interviews and discussions has varied slightly from broadcast to broadcast, but the salient points remain the same. Unfortunately but predictably, the Government’s official stance – and thus Hunt’s answers – is a farrago of lies and mistruths that often pass without challenge. The ABC is not immune to this mistreatment: in several ABC news interviews Hunt has made the same baldfaced statements without being challenged. The ABC can’t be blamed for this. In an already fraught environment with the national broadcaster under continual threat, challenge and attack by our government, it is vital for the ABC to retain an appearance of impartiality for its news arm. Rather, the problem is with our laws and systems that contain absolutely no penalty for a Government Minister to lie to a reporter, and to lie to the Australian people, so long as they can get away with it. A Minister can lie with impunity – as long as their lie goes unchallenged.
This is a problem, as we head into an election year in 2016. Standard practice in news reporting is to describe the news item of the day, interview appropriate persons involved with the policy or proposal or scandal, and drill into the detail to as shallow or deep an extent as time allows. Then, in the interest of “balance”, journalism will often seek a response from the other side. In politics, this brings us to a situation where the Coalition, with the benefit of incumbency, can coast with few policy announcements, leaving Labor few opportunities to respond. Labor’s situation is more challenging. Winning back government from opposition is difficult and requires a constant stream of policy announcements. When the last word in a news report comes from a Coalition minister in response, far too often the sound bite the audience will remember is the government’s position. If that position is in error, the voters have been misled.
A news reporter is not in a position to challenge a statement made. That comes down to us – the concerned public. It is incumbent on us to be informed, and to inform others who might otherwise be taken in by the lies.
Because the Coalition adheres to the concept that repeating a lie often enough will convince people to take it as truth, their talking points in response to Labor’s proposed policy are consistent and we will hear them trotted out regularly over the coming weeks. Each one of them is demonstrably untrue and the best response progressives can make is to have ready clear, concise explanations as to why each Coalition argument is based on a falsehood. With that in mind, what follows is a precis of the Coalition’s talking points on Labor’s proposed renewable energy target and ETS.
The centrepiece of the policy will be a new carbon tax.
“Carbon tax – they’ll call it an emissions trading scheme, but it’s the same thing, with the same effect, the same hit on electricity prices…” In a recent interview, asked several times for clarification, Hunt fell back on the government’s agreed attack line: that an ETS is just a carbon tax by another name. This was not true the first time around and it is certainly not true now. The reason why is very simple.
Under a carbon tax, every emitter pays for their emissions. Every tonne of carbon carries a cost. The incentive is obvious for the business to reduce its carbon emissions and pay less tax. All taxes raised go to the government, for use in whatever way it deems appropriate. The government may choose to return some of the taxes to companies in the form of incentives and subsidies, but to do so is to devalue the impact of the tax. Over time, unless you force changes to the tax rates through parliament, the price of carbon remains the same.
In contrast, under an ETS, businesses are permitted to release carbon emissions up to a cap, without any cost to them. If a business holds sufficient carbon permits, it can emit as much carbon as it likes with no financial cost at all. If it emits less carbon than it holds permits for, it can trade the excess permits on the market, allowing other businesses more latitude to emit carbon. This brings you to the question of how the business gets the permits in the first place.
Under the Gillard government’s ETS, initial permits were allocated for free to relevant industries to shield them from the immediate impact. Other organisations were forced to purchase initial permits. Over time, under an ETS, the number of permits available is regulated to decrease, providing incentive to companies to reduce their carbon emissions over time: as time goes on, carbon permits become more expensive, increasing the benefit to the company if it can trade its excess permits on the market, and increasing the cost of permits if it does not.
Due to compromises with the Greens required to get the legislation through a hostile senate, the price of permits was set for an initial three year period and the permits were not eligible to be traded, thus making the scheme’s initital appearance close enough to a “tax” to make it unworth arguing the semantics of “tax” and “ETS”. This led, in short order, to Labor being lambasted as a high-taxing regime (ironic, coming from the party which would soon implement a much more oppressive tax regime) and Julia Gillard as a liar.
Labor has learned its lesson on this front. It is fair to assume its new ETS will not commence with a set price and untradeable permits. For the government to claim that Labor’s new ETS will be “exactly the same” as a carbon tax is misrepresentation of the highest order. The ETS will be a different thing, with a very different effect, working in a very different way.
Greg Hunt knows this very well. This is the same Greg Hunt who won an award for co-authoring a thesis about implementing an ETS in Australia. Until recently some on the left held a grudging respect for Mr Hunt, being forced to toe the party line against his own documented beliefs, and pity, for being one of the few realists in a cabinet laced with flat-earthers. His recent performances have shown that he is a thorough convert to the Coalition’s paradigm that somehow a market-based scheme is far inferior to direct governmental intervention. As a result, his respect has died, leaving him only with pity.
Regardless of his personal beliefs, however, Greg Hunt knows very well that an ETS is not remotely similar to a carbon tax, and to claim that it is is to deliberately mislead Australian voters.
A higher renewable energy target will increase electricity prices
The talking point that a renewable energy puts upwards pressure on power prices seems an article of faith for the Coalition. This also is demonstrably untrue. ETS or carbon tax aside, all experience in Australia to date disproves the idea that renewable energy competition can push the price of electricity up. All models and analysis, including the government’s own modelling, show clearly that renewable energy puts competition and downwards pressure on energy prices. The only group that this hurts is the big energy generators and distributors, who coincidentally are big benefactors of the Coalition.
An ETS did have the expected outcome of pushing up power prices from carbon-heavy power generators. Gillard’s government allowed for this and overcompensated consumers for the expected price increases.
The one thing likely to place significant upwards pressure on energy prices is the effect of Queensland’s previous, liberal government opening its gas markets to export. The result is that gas, one of the major energy sources for much of Australia’s eastern seaboard, will now be traded at the significantly higher international price rather than the domestic one.
The carbon tax “didn’t work”
Perhaps the most egregious lie of all is the continued insistence by the Government and Greg Hunt as their mouthpiece that the carbon tax was ineffective. It has been claimed that during the carbon price, emissions continued to increase. This is true. What is wilfully ignored in that discussion is that, under the influence of the carbon price, emissions rose less than they would have otherwise done. In fact, the carbon price was restricted to a relatively small part of Australia’s economy. In sectors where the carbon price applied, carbon emissions decreased markedly. (And, unsurprisingly, upon the repeal of the carbon price, carbon emissions in these sectors immediately increased again). Hunt has argued that Australia’s carbon emissions were already falling prior to the introduction of the carbon price and that the ETS had little effect. This also is untrue. In short, the government’s overblown claims about the carbon tax are almost universally deliberately misleading or even entirely untrue. The carbon price, even at a high price per tonne and acting like a tax, had little effect on the overall economy, destroyed no country towns, and was being remarkably successful at reducing Australia’s emissions.
A new ETS could do the same again.
Labor is inconsistent
Greg Hunt foamed that the parliament had “…just voted for stability in the renewable energy sector…”, referring to the recent passing through the parliament of a reduced renewable energy target for Australia. This criticism popped its head up but has now subsided; perhaps the Coalition has decided that talking about “the politics” is a little too fraught to be a certain winner. In any case, the fact that Labor reluctantly supported the government’s cut of the renewable energy target to 33,000 GW does not mean that Labor is inconsistent. Labor was able to forge a compromise position for the sake of settling the argument in the short term and giving certainty to the existing renewable energy market, but it was clear that this figure was not Labor’s preference.
Frankly, it seems amazing that Labor was able to secure any kind of a compromise from this government, after more than a year of the government steadfastly refusing to budge from its original position. As this government has shown, any policy agreed to under one government is not sacrosanct to the next.
The truth shall set you free
Armed with the facts, it becomes easier to counter the government’s wilful misinformation. Not easy, of course: there are none so blind as those who will not see, and for many in the Australian public the prevailing narrative being told by the government is emotionally compelling. But there are some who may be persuaded by actual facts and evidence. It is for these people that we must be prepared to call it out when we see the government deliberately distorting history and building straw men on Labor’s commitments. We must be able to point out that they have been lied to, and they are still being lied to.
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Who else but a leader of dubious mental capacity would say something like this?
“This government doesn’t get enough credit, Australia doesn’t get enough credit, for the emissions reduction work that we have already done’’.
A statement like this is hardly plausible in light of the fact that there is not one economist who has come out in support of Direct Action. No one with any expertise in the field thinks it will work even for a 5% emissions cut let alone for a higher percent to be submitted for the Paris agreement.
The independent Climate Change Authority has urged Australia to adopt an emissions reduction target of 30 per cent on 2000 levels by 2025, equating to a 36 per cent reduction on 2005 levels. Following on from his ludicrous comparison of groceries with the Greek debt crisis our Prime Minister for undoing comes up with another captain’s call calculated to offend anyone who believes in the science of climate change.
And as a storm raged over the government’s directive to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to no longer back wind energy projects, it emerged that it has also put a stop to solar investments other than the largest industrial-scale projects.
“Oh no”, I thought. “It’s not just wind turbines”. The Abbott government has opened up another front in its war on renewable energy by pulling the plug on investments in the most common form of alternative energy, rooftop and small-scale solar.
What Luddites they really are. They say they believe in the science of Global Warming but their every action is contrary to that belief. It seems the combined advancement in battery and solar technology has escaped them.
And now the Prime Minister for Coal Mining says that our emissions target for Paris won’t be revealed until after a party room debate. The fact is it will only be as high as the hard-right conservatives in his party will let it be.
Honestly the luddite who gives Turnbull credit for inventing the internet is a fool of the highest order.
He has to come up with a figure high enough to satisfy Paris against a revolt from his backbench, let alone reveal to the Australian public how he intends to pay for it within a budget framework that is already under extreme pressure.
Good luck with that. Do I need to remind you that the Carbon Tax was already doing the job?
We are under pressure internationally to pull our weight because concerns have been expressed about the Abbott’s government’s domestic climate policies.
In other words, they don’t trust him. But then again who does?
“Human-induced climate change is real. The risks of inaction are real and mounting.” So Fairfax editorialised in this week’s papers. The gist of the article is that we still have time to mobilise and get our governments and policymakers to take real action on stymieing climate change. It is probably true, as the article claims, that we are witnessing a slowly dawning awareness of the Australian people and by the global economy. But by some measures, this is significantly too little – and way too late.
“Two degrees Celsius.” How many times have you heard the “two degrees” target proposed as the benchmark? Almost every popular media outlet, when writing about climate change (when they’re not claiming it isn’t happening or isn’t worth our attention) includes a statement like “We can still keep warming below two degrees, but we have to start now.” So we talk about carbon budgets. We talk about carbon capture and storage. We argue about the merits of a cap-and-trade system, an incentives system, a carbon tax – as if we still have time to compromise, time to experiment and find the ideal balance between maintaining our treasured social systems and the rescue of the global environment.
The current climate change narrative is based on a series of mistruths and falsities. We are told that we still have time to turn the ship around. The truth is that we do not.
We are told that two degrees is a hard and fast target, beyond which everything turns to disaster and before which we will be okay, if slightly uncomfortable. The truth is that there is no safe limit, that two degrees is not a magic number, and that two degrees is likely already beyond our prevention. The truth is that we have already emitted more than enough carbon to take us to two degrees and well beyond, and we’re showing no signs of slowing.
We are told that even if we go beyond two degrees, the disruption that results will come in the form of hurricanes and bushfires and rising tides. The truth is that while increased frequency and severity of hurricanes and bushfires will be a part of the outcomes of climate change, this is the merest tip of the iceberg. These visible disasters can be constrained and understood as freak occurrences that interrupt the status quo and from which we can recover. Less so is the permanent loss of arable land, the global starvation that may result, and potentially the tipping of our environment into a hellish morass incapable of supporting human life. That we are now seeing reputable sources raising the spectre of near-term human extinction in public narratives is telling of both how far the public discourse has gone ahead of public policy, and of the potential import of the fact thatwe’ve been so slow to act.
Whilst we have seen that the public and the media are far more accepting of the urgency of action on climate change than any of our leaders are willing to countenance, the public narrative is nevertheless generally years behind the science. Science has been telling us for the better part of a decade that two degrees is both insufficient and unattainable. Meanwhile the news media, and through them the general public, have been absorbed by the question of the reality of climate change, a question that climate researchers put to bed decades ago.
Only in the last few months have we started to see the global narrative start to catch up to reality, which is at the same time optimistic and disheartening. The truth that the media are slowly coming to understand is that two degrees might be possible, but not in the world that we know and live in now. As the media have finally started to catch on that yes, climate change is happening; yes, climate change is deadly serious; and no, we have not acted as quickly and as desperately as required; it begs the question. What is the current state of scientific understanding and how long will it take for the world to catch up to that?
An inevitable outcome?
There are reasons for the lag in public understanding. In years to come the placing of blame might become a hobby, but while attributing responsibility to various groups and individuals is easy, it is also simplistic. The long answer is that our inaction on climate change has been driven by the systems within which we work and live. These systems are well designed to order society and to offer freedom and opportunity to some. They are not effective, however, at providing for philanthropy. Our current systems of democracy and capitalism reward selfishness and self-interest and they pander to our genetic weaknesses. And the unstoppable forces of consumerism encourage and reward immediate gratification not only as a personal pleasure but a social good. The system requires us to buy and consume in order to sustain the order of things. More fundamentally, we need to buy and consume in order to feel good, and we are rewarded by a sense of accomplishment, we are rewarded by social approval and we are rewarded by endorphins. The same psychological tendencies that cause us to become fat and unfit also put barriers in our way to accepting bad news.
Bad news is a climate scientist’s stock in trade. Scientists are conservative by nature – they have to be. Crying wolf leads to a loss of respect and credence, and inevitably to a loss of funding. For a scientist or scientific organisation to decry an oncoming disaster, a high level of proof is required, and this takes time. The rumbling on the tracks isn’t enough: they need to be able to see the oncoming train’s lights before they’re willing to commit.
Scientists are not to blame for their reticence. One of the most constant criticisms of the IPCC’s work is not that the work is flawed, but that the resulting reports are universally conservative. They err on the side of caution. IPCC reports contain a range of projections, using a selection of different assumptions and resulting in very different outcomes, but they do not advise on the relative likelihood of being able to meet these curves. The effect is to allow policymakers to treat each projection as equally possible, and when one or more of the scenarios results in a temperature rise under two degrees, the opportunity arises to claim that this is still in reach. Scientists would say that the contents of the reports are reliable as a best-case scenarios, but that’s not how the reports are received in practice. The policy makers who must take IPCC reports into account largely consider them to be worst-case scenarios, and the urgency of the problem is diminished.
Tempting as it may be to do so, politicians also cannot be blamed for their inaction. Politicians are rewarded (in electoral popularity) for populist messages of hope and optimism. Politicians are punished, severely, for being the messenger that tells their people that they will have to make sacrifices (financial, creature comforts, lifestyle changes) for the sake of the public good. Far worse awaits those who attempt to impose these sacrifices. It is entirely reasonable to expect politicians to clutch at any straws offered, be they a possible solution that doesn’t carry electoral cost (e.g. direct action) or a skerrick of doubt about the science. In an environment filled with lobbyists arguing that there will be consequences to climate action, and think tanks and vested interests obscuring the science with manufactured doubt, motivated by a kind of economics that cannot afford to take climate change into account, it takes a special kind of political courage to take a stand. As we saw in the case of the 2013 election, all too often The People will punish such presumption.
We can’t even blame The People. The truth is that our evolution has not equipped us well to handle the kind of challenge that climate change presents. Humans are an immensely adaptable species, and when we cannot adjust our environment to suit our needs, we can adjust our own lifestyle to suit. However, we almost always need to be spurred into action. We evolved from hunter-gatherers who would gorge in the good times, in preparation for the long stretch of privation that would follow. At our core, we’re not prepared to leave the carcass on the ground.
Too little, too late
However it happens, whatever the cause, we are caught by it. Humanity is having a cook-out in a tunnel and we’ve ignored the rumblings underfoot for too long. It’s not until we see the lights of the oncoming train that we even start the engine of our getaway car and there’s no way we’re dodging this express train.
We read that we have, at most ten or fifteen years to turn the ship around. Here’s the thing, though: they told us this ten or fifteen years ago, too. If the problem was that urgent then, if the need for change was so pressing then, how can we still have a decade left to act now? The explanation is that the definition of “action” is changing. Climate scientists, pressured to give an optimistic outcome – to avoid calling “Game Over” – move the goalposts. They adopt increasingly unrealistic assumptions and expectations in their models of climate action. They invent ever more fanciful future technologies – magic bullets, couched in scientific-sounding terminology.
It is finally reaching the point where normal people – journalists, activists, even politicians – are calling them out on it. The likelihood of us being able to meet a trajectory to keep temperature increases below two degrees is presently somewhere between none and laughable. But so long as it is still technically possible to succeed at halting global warming, we keep hearing the “we still have time” message. So let’s have a look at what is actually required to stave off the kind of climate change that runs an even risk of killing every human on the planet.
http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2014/12/two-degrees-will-we-avoid-dangerous-climate-change/ : “In order to get back on track, emissions need to peak and then fall by between 40 and 70 per cent by 2050, the IPCC says, with unabated fossil fuel burning almost entirely phased out by 2100… That would require a never-before seen global effort to be sustained for a generation.”
http://www.vox.com/2015/5/15/8612113/truth-climate-change : “Holding temperature down under 2°C – the widely agreed upon target – would require an utterly unprecedented level of global mobilization and coordination, sustained over decades. There’s no sign of that happening, or reason to think it’s plausible anytime soon.”
http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119757/two-degrees-climate-change-no-longer-possible : “To be sure, the IPCC noted, it’s conceivable the world still could stay below that level – but only if governments immediately imposed stringent and internationally uniform carbon limits, and if a host of new low-carbon energy technologies proved able to scale up. Those are massive “ifs,” and though the IPCC wasn’t so impolite as to say so, there’s little to suggest that perfect trajectory will play out.”
In order to achieve the goal, humanity as a species must put aside national partisanship, untrammelled economic growth as a priority, and our current industrial machinery. Advanced economies must immediately and radically decarbonise their economies, at the same time as effectively building first-world economies in less advanced nations who would otherwise strive to catch up to “modern” standards of living via their own industrial revolutions. Humans in the affluent West must accept a curtailing of their profligate lifestyles and their aspirations.
Some have likened the effort required to the mobilization of the West in the early days of World War II, when entire economies were retooled to face an existential threat. But these similes were raised half a decade ago, and the problem has become even more dire since then. We must, as a species, put the good of the planet and the environment ahead of our own short-term interests. This is something that goes against our very nature.
But even our best intentions are not enough. At this point, there is enough carbon in the atmosphere to blow through two degrees and well beyond – potentially setting off the feedback loops and tipping points that bring us to a very final The End. In order to limit temperature rise to two degrees, current models include assumptions about negative carbon emissions – capturing carbon from the atmosphere and putting it into the ground or into trees. This requires either huge swathes of territory to be converted to forests – and only good, arable, important-for-feeding-seven-billion-humans land will do – or the widespread adoption of technology that doesn’t even exist yet.
Is it time yet to call game over?
You can’t get there from here.
There are a number of good reasons to declare “Game Over” on climate change.
Because there is a point beyond which hope becomes denial.
We see an example with Australian farmers in northern Queensland. Devastated by crippling floods in early 2013, it did not take long before large portions of Queensland were back in the Long Dry. By March 2014, the State’s largest ever drought had been declared, following the failure of the “wet season”. Drought is a largely artificial definition, designed primarily to enable governments to provide assistance to affected areas, predicated on the understanding that this is a “natural disaster” and will come to an end. The terminology of “drought”, at core, assumes that there is a normal state of being, and the lack of rain is an exception, an aberration, on par with storms or cyclones.
More than a year later, the rains have failed again and the drought has not broken – it has become worse. All this in advance of a predicted severe El Nino. The signs are not looking good for relief for our beleaguered Queensland farmers any time soon. And still we hear politicians State and Federal talking about drought assistance, of getting the farmers through the hard patch before the rains return.
According to my calculations, most of Queensland has been officially in drought for fifteen of the last twenty-five years. An El Nino can run for up to seven years, so we may be in for a significant period before the end of this cycle. If you’re living under drought conditions for more years than under wet conditions, can it really be called a drought any longer? At what point do we bow to the inevitable and admit that, rather than being a drought, this is the new normal? That climate change has made these areas untenable for ongoing agriculture? That continuing to support farmers with “drought assistance” is a never-ending battle that cannot be won?
Admitting defeat would mean the departure of farmers from these lands and force an alteration to the economy and markets of the State. It could be argued that reclassifying land as non-arable will destroy the lives of farmers trying to eke out a living on it, but it could as well be argued that those lives are destroyed anyway and farmers seeking support are modern-day King Canutes who will eventually have to move anyway.
Sometimes, it makes more sense to just admit defeat, rather than throwing good money after bad.
Because denial makes us focus on the actions that we need to take to win, rather than getting started on the actions required upon losing
As long as electors are told that two degrees is possible if only we find the right balance of punitive and reward policies the longer the policy debate remains mired in detail and technicality. It allows governments to hold out policies like Direct Action as a valid approach to climate change. It allows an ETS to include a variety of loopholes and concessions designed to protect vulnerable industries at the expense of the scheme’s effectiveness. This author has been a critic of the Greens’ approach to Labor’s ETS, scuttling a plan that might have gotten a foot in the door because it wasn’t ideal at the outset. But that was then, and this is now. It is far too late for half-measures. Unfortunately, we will never see full-strength climate policies as long as politicians can still argue that all will be well if we just cut our emissions by “five percent over 2000 levels”.
If for no other reason, it might be valid to call an end to the charade of climate change action because it’s a colossal waste of time and money on the basis of a lie. It’s a lie, because none of those arguing loudly that we can still save the world are taking the next step and adding “only if we do what the world has never managed to do before and only if all the cards fall our way”. This is a lie of omission, and those telling it are often not even aware of it because they themselves have not been shown the sheer unlikelihood of what they’re proposing. If we reframe the argument in the appropriate terms, at least we can start talking about things with a sense of truth and reality rather than what we hope might be the case.
Reasons not to declare “Game Over”
Because it might not be
There may still be time – if atmospheric sensitivity is lower than modelled, and if we can invent and distribute carbon capture technology, and if the world radically reverses direction. Under the IPCC’s optimistic models, there is still time. Meeting these optimistic assumptions will be a heroic task, but we won’t get there if we don’t try and we won’t try if we’ve already thrown in the towel. An important first step would be the support of research into carbon capture / atmospheric cleaning technologies that will be absolutely fundamental to any kind of success from here.
Because it’s too important
“Declaring “game over” sends the message to those who’d be most harmed by climate change that they aren’t worth saving.” Our mythologies are full of humans in dire circumstances not giving up on hope. If there has ever been a cause around which the world could rally, that has the immediate threat to human survival on a global scale and the fortunes of small groups of people in specific, this is it. To give up on climate action is to give up on a large part of the world, raise the fences around the wagons and wait out the next great Human Extinction. Those most badly affected will be those who contributed to it the least and are least deserving. For the advanced nations to give up while there is still even the ghost of a chance is to add insult to lethal injury.
Because we need the urgency
We need urgency; we need the seriousness. There’s a fine line between panic-inducing immediacy and threat, and inertia-generating fatalism. World War II, in its size and ferocity and its immediacy, was enough to jolt the western world into action. We will see, over the next decade, increasingly dire climate outcomes. At some point, public attitudes and governmental policies will catch up with the exigencies of climate reality. The media and the government may always be a decade behind in understanding the threat, but action taken now on the basis of last decade’s threats will still have a beneficial effect on this decade’s crisis. We don’t know for sure that we can salvage the silverware, but we can be absolutely certain that nothing will survive if we stop fighting for it.
Because game over isn’t necessarily “game over”
We will miss two degrees – but the story doesn’t end there. “Everyone agrees on the general point — risks and damages keep piling up as the world gets hotter. So if the world can’t prevent 2°C of warming, it’s still a good idea to try and avoid 3°C of warming. If we can’t avoid 3°C of warming, it’s still a good idea to avoid 4°C. And so on.” The world doesn’t end at 2 degrees. Tipping points and reinforcing cycles may mean that the world is more fragile than it appears, but every extra degree of warming increases the inhospitability of our future world far more than the degree before it. If we can halt warming at three degrees, it’s still worth doing.
Because victory ain’t what it used to be
In the end, we may be forced to move the goalposts of what constitutes success. The two degrees scenario is aimed at preserving our current civilization. Restrain global warming to two degrees and we may be able to retain our present way of life, our creature comforts, our technology, and our populations. It may be – it probably is – too late for that: our world will change and our way of life must change to suit the new, hotter world we are creating.
But the end of our current, comfortable civilisation does not have to be the end of the human story. If the worst case scenarios are true, then the game is no longer about salvaging a world for our children: it is about salvaging a world for ANY children. If it is too late for current nation-states to survive, it’s not yet too late for modern life somewhere, somehow. If it becomes too late for capitalism as we know it, it’s not yet too late to preserve some kind of civilisation. If it is too late for us, it is not yet too late for humanity. We don’t know where we’ll end up, but however far beyond the point of no return we may have gone, we know that there is more road yet to travel. In the end, the best reason not to call Game Over – not to just stop trying and learn to love the bomb – is that there may yet be time to salvage some kind of future for some of us.
Just probably not all of us.
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