Carbon Price, GFC, Assange, Rio, The World, Middle East, Asylum Seekers, Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Census etc
July 1, 2012
CARBON PRICE: Congratulations to Australia for the July Ist implementation of the Carbon and Mineral taxes. Both issues have cost the careers and credibility of several political leaders in Australia already, and (unfairly) damaged the reputation of the PM. The Opposition, temporarily silenced by our extraordinary annual growth rate of 4.3%, has been campaigning against it and frightening people for years now. It is actually a carbon price, not a tax, and will transition to an Emissions Trading Scheme in 3 years. It only applies to our top 300 emitters, and has inbuilt and quite generous compensations. The Opposition have promised to rescind both taxes if elected to office next year (which unfortunately seems likely), but hopefully this will be very difficult. They have an alternative “Direct Action” policy on carbon which no-one seems to take seriously. It is admittedly a very complex subject to fully understand and is an example of an issue that requires real leadership and education. It should have bi-partisan support as in the UK and New Zealand. Even if one does not believe in climate change, who can deny that our water and air are unacceptably polluted and that we have to look for alternatives to our 95% dependence on fossil fuels.
Apparently 85% of the businesses likely to be most effected by the new carbon tax have already acted to decrease their emissions, so it is already having an effect, and they accept that the carbon tax is here to stay. Unfortunately the Opposition’s threat to unwind the tax is creating investment uncertainty. The carbon price is $23 per tonne – which is in the middle compared to a lower price in Europe, and higher in Sweden, Norway and Switzerland. A reasonably high price is needed to encourage the transition from coal to renewables.
The Opposition (and miners) have said that these taxes will force businesses to invest elsewhere. The Shell company however, still thinks Australia is a “good place to invest” and will spend $30 billion dollars here over the next five years. The company advocates a price for carbon based on market mechanism, and have costed in a price of $40 per tonne.
Electricity prices have risen 55% in my State over the last 3 years, apparently because of the cost of building “lines and poles” that I understand the government reimburses the energy companies for. The network seems very expensively structured just to be able to handle the few and obvious peak consumer demands. While the new tax and the government will be blamed for our already high electricity prices which are anticipated to rise 9%, the most vulnerable people in the community will be compensated. Already households are becoming much more energy conscious, and the demand is already lower.
Energy accounts for 70% of greenhouse gases and a great deal more money needs to be spent on research into alternatives and renewable energies – while “carbon capture” at this stage remains a remote dream. Australia is exporting $44 billion dollars worth of coal this year!
JAMES LOVELOCK: Interestingly, James Lovelock, the 92 year old scientist, futurist, and inventor of the Gaia hypothesis (that the Earth is a self-regulating, single organism), has surprised environmentalists by his long support for the use of nuclear energy and hatred of wind power. He has now come out in favour of fracking for extracting natural gas as it produces much less CO2 than burning coal. He thinks most renewable energy schemes are hopelessly “inefficient and unpleasant”, and that sustainable development is “meaningless drivel”. He envisages a future where we live in megacities. He gives Singapore (one of my least favourite cities) as an example of a very successful city which was built in a humid and inhospitable climate on a swamp. “It’s so much cheaper to air-condition the cities and let Gaia take care of the world”.
It is hard to support nuclear energy in the shadow of Fukushima. Apparently the supports for the pool containing the spent fuel rods in Nuclear Reactor 4 are very badly damaged, and is a catastrophe just waiting to happen. Radiation levels in fish have been picked up as far away as the US coast, destroying marine life – and livelihoods, for decades to come. TEPCO have deceived the Japanese public from the start and are to be sued for many billions of dollars in compensation. I feel hypocritical however as Australia supplies 16% of the world’s uranium.
RIO+20: One wonders if summits or events like this and the failure rate, only build public cynicism. Only 4 of 70 “targets” from the last Rio Summit 20 years ago were met. Meetings on the sidelines were probably more useful and people are recommending abandoning attempts to get governments to agree, and to take different approaches such as persuading financial institutions to change how they invest money, like the UN- backed Principles for Responsible Investment.
MARINE PARKS: Australia has proposed a giant network of marine parks –the world’s largest marine protection area, which still leaves 2/3rds of our oceans for fishing, recreation etc. Oceans are the life-support system of the planet. Naturally this proposal is contentious and illuminates a philosophical difference between the political Left and Right (a divide that seems to be widening rapidly). The conservatives seem to see the environment as a resource for them to utilise, consume and yes, enjoy, while the Left lean more towards treading lightly on the earth, and derive pleasure in long-term conservation and protection.
SHOOTERS: The newish conservative NSW State government has done a shady deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party to allow shooting in 79 National Parks and reserves. This is supposedly an important “conservation” initiative against feral animals, although experts say this is ridiculous, indeed counterproductive. One of the MPs from this party Robert Borsak goes hunting in Zimbabwe to proudly shoot elephants, also as part of a “conservation” program. His fellow MP Robert Brown, in a debate over this issue in Parliament, said to a Green MP it was a pity he couldn’t take him outside and “beat him to death”.
THE WORLD: The ongoing Global Financial Crisis seems to deepen and some commentators are saying it is the end- game of an economic and financial model, and the end of an era that began with the free market forces espoused by Thatcher and Reagan. It seems to be now finally recognised that “growth”, not just “austerity” has to be a crucial element in any recovery. In the absence so far of any new or innovative approaches to this grave crisis potentially engulfing us all, I did read of a proposal for a Global Rescue “Marshall” Plan (American assistance to Europe after WW2) that everyone would contribute to. There also now seems to be acceptance that the banks have to evolve as soon as possible towards a single European banking supervision system.
While the US is carrying huge debt, good news is that there is some positive movement in the housing sector, and that the economy is “gaining some momentum”. Congratulations to Mr. Obama for the health-care win in the Supreme Court, and that this result will spread coverage to 30 million Americans presently without insurance.
MIDDLE EAST: It is now called a civil war in SYRIA, and defections from the Syrian army seem to be increasing. Violence is escalating and 16,000 Syrians have died in the last 15 months. Given the Russian and Chinese intransigence there is now talk of Assad leaving the country under immunity, or “political transition”. Others are questioning the present“veto” option of the 5 Permanent Members of the UN Security Council and think a “majority vote” would be preferable. We should not forget how the UN was just ignored (and weakened) by the US and UK in their enthusiasm to invade Iraq so disastrously. In LIBYA, while the oil is flowing, groups of heavily-armed militias have a sense of entitlement and are taking control from authorities, and there is very little existing social or political infrastructure to build on post-Gaddafi. Congratulations to EGYPT for their first democratically elected President, although no-one seems to know just what powers the Generals will allow him – and no outcry from the Americans over this or the dissolving of the elected parliament. The Israelis are nervous about the threat to revisit the Camp David Accord between Israel and Egypt, and the Americans will no doubt use their continued annual funding of $1.5 billion to secretly bargain in their own interests.
ASYLUM SEEKERS: Yet another boat has sunk en route to Australia with at least 92 drowned, with other boats still arriving. Both the major parties have played politics on this – one determined to cling to office, the other determined to throw them out, and unfortunately both are pandering to Australian racial prejudices and lack of compassion. Some appalled back-benchers of both parties initiated meetings with each other, but Parliament has concluded for the winter recess without a solution. The Greens are opposed to off-shore processing, and this does raise an interesting and very difficult question. Should one stick to one’s principles or be prepared to compromise in the short term – in this instance to save lives? Again it should be an issue for good leadership and bi-partisanship. Australia actually receives a very small percentage of asylum seekers. We take 3%, while the US take 17%, France 12%, Germany 10%, and Canada 6%. The number one country of origin at the moment is Afghanistan and these people are demonised when they try to reach Australia, although we are fighting the same “enemy” in Afghanistan.
THE INTERVENTION: While we were all diverted by the asylum seeker crisis, or watching Wimbledon, the Senate in the dead of night shamefully passed a 10 year extension to the highly-criticised Intervention in Aboriginal communities. Of course THIS issue has bi-partisan support, and the government did not even allow a Parliamentary Committee to subject the laws to a human rights test. The Labor Party do test my patience and support to the absolute limit, but the alternatives, in my opinion, are much worse!
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: As you have probably gathered the SMH is my favourite paper and I am often quoting from it. It is under threat. They have lost their fabled “rivers of gold” classified advertisements which have mostly moved online and earn much less. One has to suspect that Rupert Murdoch’s splitting of News Corp into Print and Entertainment companies may be a protection against the repercussions of the UK phone hacking scandal. In Australia he owns 70% of the print media, so many of us rely on the mostly good and objective reporting of the Sydney Morning Herald, or The Age in Melbourne. However, Gina Rinehart now nearly the richest person in the world has bought 18.7% of the Fairfax company that owns the SMH and has no compunction in throwing her considerable weight around. The company has not been well run, but Gina has far Right political views and a determination to defeat the elected government, a view that seems to be shared by Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers. The issue has raised very interesting questions about editorial influence, media controls, and the life expectancy of printed papers versus online readership where already 75% of SMH readers have moved. My 90 year old mother is furious and not sure she can make the transition to Apps and iPads – not that I have!
50% of people now get their news through social media and I fear news will be reduced to tweets!
CENSUS: Australia’s 2011 census figures have been released. There are now 21.5 million Australians with 548,370 identifying as Aboriginal. Our average age expectancy is for men 76 (Aboriginal men 67.2), and women 84 (Aboriginal women 72.9). Mandarin has now replacing Italian as the second most used language at home. While Hinduism is the fastest growing religion, “No religion” replaces Protestantism as the second “religion”, behind Catholicism, although their numbers are dropping. This is hardly surprising with the appalling scandals emanating from the Vatican with accusations of drug money laundering, death threats and their failure to address child abuse by clergy.
JULIAN ASSANGE: I’m not sure how he envisaged getting from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and to the airport without arrest for breaking his parole conditions, even if Ecuador offer him asylum. He is ignoring the recent “Surrender Notice”. I would agree that the US Grand Jury most probably has a sealed indictment against him. Apparently poor Bradley Manning has been trying not to implicate Julian over the information he provided to WikiLeaks, and he has virtually sacrificed his life, possibly naively, in the interests of freedom of information. Bradley has been psychologically tortured in solitary confinement, and the US are most likely hoping to make a deal with him to then move on Julian. Apparently the US cannot attempt to extradite him from the UK because the Swedish case takes precedent, as may a “bid for asylum” over “extradition”. See Julian Assange’s interview with President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa here.
The Australian Government seems to be just going through the motions of pretending to care for Assange. He says he has not seen any Australian consular staff since December 2010 – and just gets the occasional text message: “can we do anything for Mr. Assange?” A friend, a little miffed on behalf of the people that have lost their bail surety asks “what exactly is Julian expecting the Australian consular staff to do?”
MISC STATS: There is now LESS social mobility in the UK, and LESS economic mobility in the US where 2 million people are in jail; the Indian economy is slowing; 5 million children smoke in Indonesia; in Australia, 58% think Australia should remain a constitutional monarchy (the Queen looked as if she nearly enjoyed her Jubilee – I’ve got nothing against her personally); 3% of our top ASX 200 companies have female executives and there is only a 14% female representation on boards; there is an obesity epidemic (Nauru 1st, USA 9th, Australia 21st), and we are fast catching up. All our well known billionaires are huge – Rhinehart, Packer, Palmer, Forrest, and Tinkler – is this indicative of their rapacious appetites and attitude to life and our environment?
While 1 billion people live in poverty, the world produces twice as much food as we need.
MAIL: Thanks to Elaine for these photographs (above) and to the photographers concerned, and Jade my Ecuadorian correspondent. Thanks to Deb for the amazing images she sends me too. Several people commented on Ricky Gervais saying in the lead into the BBC interview about Christian (May blog), that animals were not there for our amusement. He was in the studio to promote his latest program Life’s Too Short - and I don’t think dwarves are there for our amusement either. For the record, I have never found him funny.
BIENNALE: The 18th of Biennale of Sydney has opened (above) and is spread around the city in various venues with artists from all over the world – until September 16th.