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?