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The role of government versus the role of our government

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

I recently read an article titled ‘The Responsibilities of Government’ and, whilst I did not agree with everything the author said, a few things really struck a chord with me.

“The government of a democracy is accountable to the people. It must fulfil its end of the social contract. And, in a practical sense, government must be accountable because of the severe consequences that may result from its failure. As the outcomes of fighting unjust wars and inadequately responding to critical threats such as global warming illustrate, great power implies great responsibility.”

The veil of secrecy surrounding this government protects them from their duty of accountability. The blue books advising the incoming government were withheld. Operational and intelligence matters will not be discussed. Crucial trade negotiations regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) are kept secret. Ministers are kept away from the media and all interviews must be approved by the Star Chamber. The media are denied access to our on and offshore detention centres, and now the Salvation Army are to be removed as well. The first sitting of Parliament was delayed, debate has been gagged, and the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) report was not presented before Parliament rose.

Public servants are sacked and reviews are outsourced to the private sector, or consultants are engaged, all of whom seem to have a connection with the Liberal Party and/or big business. They are given little time to review or consult, restricted frames of reference, and unrepresentative panels. Much of what they have been asked to review has already been the subject of recent review, or a review is already underway by government bodies like the Productivity Commission. It seems that these people are being paid a lot of money to give the answers the government wants to hear.

The response to the “critical threat” of climate change has been to undo the action already taken in pricing carbon, to disband all climate change advisory bodies, to decimate the CSIRO, and to refuse to co-operate in international initiatives to deal with this global threat.

Instead we have hastened to approve the biggest coal mines in Australia and the port expansion and railways to support them. Two proposed coal mines in the region could be responsible for an estimated 3.7bn tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions over their lifetimes. Greenpeace estimates if all the Galilee Basin mines hit their maximum potential, 705 million tonnes of CO2 will be released each year. For comparison, Australia’s current annual emissions are in the order of 400 million tonnes.

“The coal to be mined from the Galilee basin and exported through Abbot Point each year which will create more CO2 emissions a year than produced by both Denmark and Portugal combined.”

One of the three terminals was proposed by the Indian resource giant Adani, the second by a joint venture between the Indian company GVK and Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Coal, and the third site was to be developed by BHP Billiton. But BHP recently pulled out of its involvement in the project.

Even though port developers Adani note in their environmental impact statement, submitted to the government, “The current developments (proposed and approved) for port expansion will facilitate the export of coal, the combustion of which is recognised as a significant contributor to greenhouse gases and the global effects of climate change”, climate change was not mentioned in the approval documentation.

Adani was not required to assess downstream effects of the coal passing through its port because, it said, two Federal Court cases over previous, unrelated projects, found that it wouldn’t be necessary. They were only required to report on how port operations may interact with climate change. In order to mitigate the effects of port operation on climate change, Adani proposes that it powers up with renewable energy:

“Adani recognises that measures to reduce [greenhouse gas] (GHG) emissions through energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy technologies or low emissions materials make good business sense. Consequently Adani will commit to reducing GHG emissions through its procurement and operations practices.”

Aside from the irony of a coal port being powered by renewable energy, the ultimate ramifications of the coal being unlocked has not been considered by either the developer or the government in the approval process.

Hunt has also approved the Arrow LNG facility on nearby Curtis Island, as well as its associated transmission pipeline.

This year Unesco’s World Heritage Centre warned that the Great Barrier Reef, which has lost half of its coral cover in the past 30 years, would be placed on its “in-danger” list if there were major new port developments. A study commissioned by the previous Labor government found that dredging spoil dumped at sea travelled further than previously thought, potentially endangering coral and other marine life. The approval documents show the spoil from the dredging will be dumped within the Great Barrier Reef marine park area.

On Monday the Coalition passed changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to strip away any repercussions if the government fails to consider expert advice before approving major developments such as mines and ports, removing the ability for community groups to legally challenge new developments if the environment minister failed to consult approved advice, thus removing the protection that the judicial system could have offered.

Which leads me to the second quote about the responsibilities of government.

“The central purpose of government in a democracy is to be the role model for, and protector of, equality and freedom and our associated human rights. For the first, government leaders are social servants, since through completing their specific responsibilities they serve society and the people. But above and beyond this they must set an ethical standard, for the people to emulate. For the second, the legal system and associated regulation are the basic means to such protection, along with the institutions of the military, for defense against foreign threats, and the police.”

Whilst we were quick to accede to America’s request to criticise China about a restricted flight zone, we condoned the human rights abuses in Sri Lanka and West Papua, and hesitated about action in Syria.

Social and income inequity is widening, exacerbated by this government’s preference for removing benefits from the poor whilst increasing them for the rich.

The vilification of Julia Gillard, the poor behaviour in question time in Parliament, and the rorting of MP’s entitlements, have hardly been ethical standards that the people should emulate.

The courts have been used to play politics as in the case of Peter Slipper, and to block equality laws like gay marriage, environmental laws have been changed, our military are being used to hunt down asylum seekers and our police are busily interrogating anyone caught riding a motor bike.

“Government economic responsibility is also linked to protection from the negative consequences of free markets. The government must defend us against unscrupulous merchants and employers, and the extreme class structure that results from their exploitation.

Governments argue that people need to be assisted with the economic competition that now dominates the world. But the real intent of this position is to justify helping corporate interests . . . siding against local workers, consumers and the environment.”

The lack of transparency, consultation, and discussion of possible consequences of our free trade agreements is of great concern. Allowing foreign corporations to dictate to us is a very dangerous path to follow. Instead of protecting us, the government are allowing big business to set the agenda in every area, and facilitating their every request with no thought to legal and social ramifications. There are a few aberrations to this general course. The failure to support Holden will cost many jobs and billions to the economy, and the failure to sell Graincorp has sent a message that we are closed for business.

“Another general role, related to the need for efficiency, is the organization of large-scale projects. It is for this benefit that we accept government involvement in the construction of society’s infrastructure, including roads, posts and telecommunications, and water, sewage and energy utilities. Further, giving government charge over these utilities guarantees that they remain in public hands, and solely dedicated to the common good. If such services are privatized, the owners have a selfish motivation, which could negatively affect the quality of the services.

That such assets should have public ownership is expressed in the idea of the “commons.” They should be owned by and shared between the members of the current population, and preserved for future generations.”

This government’s refusal to accept the necessity of a world class national broadband network (NBN) is baffling. The productivity benefits are huge, and the employment in the construction is significant. The refusal to fund public transport infrastructure is also very short-sighted.

We have already sold many of our valuable assets and the list being suggested for future privatisation seems to grow daily – schools, hospitals, Medibank Private, Australia Post, the ABC, HECS debts. Private businesses must make a profit and are not obliged to continue to provide unprofitable services. This can have dire repercussions for regional Australia, and for the variety of services that can be offered.

“Indeed, while we of course still need a means of defense, including against both external and internal (criminal) aggressors, it seems clear that our greatest need for protection is from other institutions and from the abuses of government itself, particularly its collusion with these other institutions. (Many of the needs that we now have for government are actually to solve the problems that it creates.)”

Who will protect us from this government?


19 comments

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  1. Terry2

    I saw Mr Abbott delivering his 100 day report card and giving himself full marks on his achievements to date which seem to revolve around a legislative program of repeal and reversal but nothing constructive or visionary.

    The Q&A session with the media was a Scott Morrison template; say nothing apart from a few meaningless platitudes and, as we have come to expect, the slogan du jour “cleaning up Labor’s mess” : a slogan that presumably comes from Ms Credlin and will be oft repeated in the coming weeks.

    No. Peter Hamrol, the Constitution cannot save us, we have three years of mediocrity to look forward to.

  2. JohnB

    Thanks Kaye Lee,
    you have excelled with this article, pulling together issues that demonstrate the crass irresponsibility of this worst ever LNP government.
    They are failing to serve the interests of Australia’s (and world) citizens – instead serving their corporate sponsors profit demands.

  3. M. R.

    No-one can save us for the next 3 years, Kaye – unless they create such a stink themselves that even the Murdoch press can’t rescue them. What must occupy us for their only term is ensuring that the current Opposition gets its act together and develops REAL policies and REAL platforms and REAL plans for what it will do in 2016. Unless it does this – unless it stops sitting on its hands, hoping for a default win just as the guvmint did (and got it) – it’s even remotely possible that this rabble could do enough pork-barrelling at election time to achieve re-election. All hands to the pumps, then!

  4. Peter Hamrol

    Surely, the Australian Constitution should give us Australians the protection from governments such as the current Coalition … If it does not, then Australians should demand new amendments to give us the protection from totalitarian interests …

  5. bighead1883

    Love your work Kaye and the article should be correct in a parallel universe,not this one that the LNP and unfortunately us,inhabit.
    The only agenda for the LNP is corporate.

  6. lawrencewinder

    A sober and depressing read…

  7. Cessna 180

    >Also, the government must be extremely sensitive to its innate tendency to resist criticism. <
    I don't think that this innate tendency will be resisted.
    It looks more like all criticisms will be dealt with harshly.

  8. Dan Rowden

    Who will protect us from this government?

    Clive Palmer, obviously. 🙂

  9. Joe Banks

    Kaye, the last sentence of your article poses a question which I have nightmares about… In the past, we could have relied on the MSM to eventually expose the corrupt activities of a government and bring them down. But if the last 6 years is anything to go by, that is not going to happen. Maybe if ‘social media’ explodes with anti-government material it will have enough effect to cause a wave of dissatisfaction within Australia and eventually bring about the desired result.
    But… I fully expect this unscrupulous bunch to try and block or censor social media in the near future. So we have little time to waste.

  10. Sorel S

    Time we followed other countries and had a people revolution. Just watched that idiot Rabbit on TV re his report on 99 days in Government. A pack of lies.

    I am a person who usually tried to work around the mess caused by various Governments. I have lived through the Menzies, Fraser, Holt, Howard (and other various idiot liberal PMs) I remember Mr 10%, (Honest John). I have owned various businesses and worked for others at various times. Funny the businesses always struggled when a Liberal Government was in and succeeded under the Labor Governments.

    My memories of Menzies was as a rampant racist and although he did a lot of good things for Australia he really needed to do more, McMahon and Holt were useless. Gordon I think had his heart in the right place, but was really only a front and not a real politician, Whitlam brought the boys home from Vietnam, for which I am ever grateful, and did try to bring Australia into the 20th century but unfortunately he was well before his time. Hawke and Keating did bring us up to speed, but we as a nation where scared of how fast things were moving,but they taught us that yes we can do it if we all pulled together, they showed us that we can be proud to be Australian, That we are world class, to stop thinking we need to hold on to the shirt tails of the UK and USA. But we were scared so we brought back Mr10%, Honest John into Government, He tried hard and succeeded in takings us back to the mid 1900. He taught us to hate and to be scared of the other bloke you know who might be a bit different to us, different religion, colour those kind of things. .

    Then I actually thought we were growing up under the Rudd and Gillard years. Even Rudd did try to do something, He did make us aware of our environment and fellow man. Gilliard had her head screwed on the right way, wanted our kids to have a good education, the people of the bottom of the heap to earn a reasonable wage, to hold their heads up high. Then we had what I can only say is the worst Government of the lot elected. So to all my ex called friends now acquaintances, do not complain to me, but I TOLD YOU SO.

    I have both run businesses and worked for a boss during these years. I have experienced the ups and downs of both sides of Government. But I have never experienced such a nasty, bumbling and hate filled Government we are now experiencing. May the different Gods worshiped in Australia = save Australia.

  11. James

    And yet I hear so many of the ill-informed spouting the ignorant rhetoric that these idiots want their rusted-on supporters to parrot. The economy is bad and it’s all the ALP’s fault. The ABC is biased. People don’t think for themselves and they rely on Mr Murdoch to tell them what’s right and wrong. WAKE UP!

  12. jasonblog

    A great article that needs to be spread far & wide. It concisely details what is happening and what is at stake.

    Abbott is effectively dismantling democracy. That will become even more apparent as time goes on. He will be allowed to do this due to the apathy and inertia of Australians.

    Government will simply become a tool for select multinational corporations and a handful of billionaires. Government as such will be nothing more than an administration responsible for the military, police, and building roads.

    In this new dystopia order will be maintained through the use of brutality. Any sense of collective action will be crushed. People will be banned from gathering to protest. Fear and paranoia become a vicious cycle and feed on each other until the cannibalistic winner is the one left standing.

    The state is reduced to being nothing more than the convenience with which the totalitarianism of corporate capitalism achieves its endgame of complete and utter control of the populace. If Australia sticks with its present path and its current government then a Police State becomes mandatory. There would be no other way to maintain observance of the new ‘order’.

    What happens within the Liberal Party over the next few months is crucial. If there is enough discontent within the party by the more moderate forces then calamity may be averted. A sensible middle ground may be re-established. This would of course require the elimination of Abbott from the prime-ministership. If the moderate forces within the Liberal Party don’t act and Abbott is retained as leader then Australia is headed for a monumental shit-storm.

    The result of the TPP negotiations become critical. The ISDS provisions have the potential to turn Australia into a complete provincial backwater.

    The Liberal Party at the end of the day are a minority political party who can only form government with a coalition of another minority party. When they are no longer able to form this coalition they will no longer be able to form government democratically. The driving interests of the big financial donors to the Liberal Party are essentially anti-democratic. They are also anti-social and anti-humanist. They are pro-war, pro-oil, pro-tobacco, pro-disease, pro-suffering, pro-Serco profiting from human misery and suffering. It is no longer merely the realm of a fantasists imaginative creativity to consider that the Liberal Party may seek to gain control of Australia for Australia’s own good. I.e. if the forces that fund the Liberal Party cannot achieve influence by democratic means then the overthrow of democracy becomes essential. What happened in Chile with Pinochet provides a precedent. The same forces are at work. Hard-core neoliberalism – which is basically extreme social conservatism tied to economic radicalism. This results in a return to feudalism and a situation of life being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. The paternalistic Abbott and the patriarchal tyranny insistent on a ruthless hierarchy that creates absolutist divisions of master and slave was always going to be a disaster. The big question now is what lengths will he go to so as to keep power.

    Malcolm Fraser was right in his assessment of Tony Abbott. http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/05/26/the-inside-story-on-frasers-resignation-abbott-appealed-to-him-to-stay/

  13. Kaye Lee

    I think we should convince Clive that it would be a really canny business move to invest in the renewable energy sector. It’s the manufacturing business of the future, he will get great PR from it, if he votes the right way he can get a loan from the CEFC to get it started. Trust me Clive, it’s a winner. Use the Galilee Basin for wind and solar farms. You also want tourists coming to Queensland and many of them do so to see the reef. It would be in your best interest to fight for it’s survival.

    You say you are there to represent the best interests of the little people Clive – show us that’s true.

  14. Kaye Lee

    Jason,

    The paper that prompted me to write this post also included this paragraph

    “Even dictatorships regularly have extensive bureaucracy to at least give the appearance of doing something for the people. But the real objectives of dictators are simple: to stay in power, and self-enrichment. The objectives of democratic government are, one would hope, less selfish, and sincere.”

  15. diannaart

    Good work putting together this article, Kaye Lee.

    Please provide links for all your sources, that would be very helpful, thank you.

    On the topic of Australia’s continued digging up of fossil fuels and selling onto the rest of the world, one of the usual rhetorical responses by climate change deniers is that Australia, due to the size of its population produces a small amount of release into the environment of greenhouse gases. The usual responses by those of us supporting reduction of greenhouse gases, include the entirely valid:

    1. Australia can provide leadership by example by reducing polluting technology.

    2. Australia’s greenhouse emissions via population, that is each and everyone one of us, produces one of the highest level of pollution per capita, just squeaking ahead of the USA.

    3. The urgent need to stop mining fossil fuels.

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/datablog/2009/sep/02/carbon-emissions-per-person-capita

    What is not included in the chart provided above is the inclusion of fossil fuel Australia exports to other nations – doubtless these pollutants constitute a part of our trading partners’ emissions, however, how does that justify not only the continued selling of fossil fuels, but the continuation of opening new mining projects (including the highly suspect practice of fracking)? Mining is not even taxed at a level to invest into sustainable energy production, let alone spreading Australia’s wealth to more than just 1% of the wealthy elite. Double whammy with only the oligarchy benefiting.

    Where is the acknowledgement that Australia contributes far more pollution via its exports and continued expansion of mining than even its high per capita release of carbon and other greenhouse gases?

    The current federal government is incapable of understanding that all actions have consequences – who can explain this basic truism to a government that, despite the size of the ears of its leader remains deaf, dumb and blind to its responsibilities?

  16. diannaart

    Thank you Kaye Lee and also for your continued excellent work.

  17. Abbie

    As someone else mentioned here the ability to be a true ‘wordsmith’ should be left to those who do it so well, like you Kaye. I just need sometimes to let you know how much your work/research/wordsmith-ing means to me.
    So much information so little time.
    Your calm positivity is reassuring and humbling.
    Thank you.

  18. Kaye Lee

    Thank you for your kind words Abbie but I think we all learn from each other here. I am inspired by the people who comment here to look further into things they mention. If I can help by passing on information that I learn from that inspiration then good. I am not an expert on anything (but don’t tell my family that – I do have a persona to maintain). Knowledge isn’t private property and the more we know then the more we can contribute to making this an even better country. Without our readers our words are wasted so never underestimate the contribution that every one of you makes. Spread the word and keep asking questions.

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