Animals, Big Cats, Wildlife Photographer of the Year, World, Middle East, Australia, Refugees, Sharks, Koalas, Tech Revolution, Adani Mine etc.
October 23, 2015
The winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year have just been announced. This annual competition is run by London’s Natural History Museum and attracted 42,000 entries from almost 100 countries. A selection of entries tour internationally. Broken Cats by Britta Jaschinski won the Wildlife Photojournalist Award. The deadness in the faces of these humiliated animals performing in China, reminds me of the depression I saw in the lions bred for canned hunting in the recent documentary Blood Lions. I was horrified by the recent photograph of another animal being dissected in front of school children at a zoo in Denmark – this time a lion.
I suppose my blog is a sort of diary of what I have found interesting – or scary – over the last few weeks. I think most people would find the present times uncertain and this blog articulates many of my worries! In addition to family and friends, I know many of us find great solace in animals: as companion pets; working for their welfare and rights and to protect their habitats; or just for their sheer beauty and company. I always look forward to the Wildlife Photographers Awards touring to Sydney (usually early in the year), and the beauty of most of the photographs is extraordinary – and very contemplative and soothing. The winner of the Wildlife Photograph of this year (below) is both beautiful and rather grisly, and reminds us, as we learnt with Christian the lion and his on-going battle with the local wild lions, life in the wild can be tough!
While many of you have winter approaching, in Australia our spring, like autumn, can be fleeting, and we have already had summer temperatures of 30+. Native plants like grevilleas and bottle brushes are flowering and gardening is even more of a pleasure. Bush-fire warnings have already begun. The sea looks inviting – although none of the protection measures suggested recently to protect against sharks convinces me yet.
WORLD: I suppose we have all been concerned post GFC that our leaders are failing to properly address both the old fundamental problems and weaknesses in our global economic and financial systems and structures, but also new challenges, transitions and necessary reforms. There is even more inequality. Most leaders seem to be floundering on most fronts, and some are confronted with the many millions of displaced people at present on the move and overwhelming Europe on a scale unseen in the life times of many. Read my extended view and comments on the Middle East, ISIS, Russia, China, and other anxiety-inducing topics HERE.
TECH REVOLUTION: It is obvious that we are going through a technologically driven social and knowledge revolution – apparently this sort of movement happens every 50 – 60 years. The potential for sharing knowledge, education, the global connectivity, the shaping of opinion, the changing of laws etc, is very exciting and transforming. For various reasons I resist Facebook and I know I miss excellent articles, and more concerning, the dates of protests, or marches in support of animals. It will be so interesting to see the ramifications of this new – and not face to face, changing social interaction.
I love the potential of “citizen science” – from the reporting and data collection on bird populations, to “nodders” who, for example, are at present tracking forest fires in South East Asia online. I also believe in the power of “aggregate voices” – and clickitivism, and some of us have contributed to the success of some animal campaigns via this blog.
I have to say, despite efforts by so many people, the campaign to free Tony the Tiger has so far failed, and his continuing imprisonment haunts me. He is now 15 years old. Dee de Santis tells me she visited Tony twice last month. This must be so heart breaking and I admire Dee enormously for her commitment to Tony. She says “Sorry there are no updates concerning his case, his petition remains open”. If you haven’t already, sign THIS PETITION to help free Tony.
By the way, it was a very successful March for Rhinos, Elephants and Lions on a recent lovely sunny day. We were addressed by Mark Pearson, the first member in the world for an Animal Justice Party.
Other implications of the internet concern espionage and cyber warfare. Apparently the Chinese are very active hackers politically, militarily and economically. State-backed theft of Western Intellectual properties is on a huge ‘industrial” scale and is bankrupting many companies.
But some people are also warning about the “undemocratic” power and monopolies of Facebook, Google and Amazon etc – so called “economic choke points”.
Edward Snowden informed us that as of last week, in Australia “everything you do online is being tracked and retained for two years”.
AUSTRALIA: We have had great news in Australia! A cloud has lifted. Tony Abbott was thrown out in a surprise coup and Malcolm Turnbull is our new Prime Minister.
In his challenge for the leadership Turnbull said Tony Abbott “has not been capable of providing the economic leadership the nation requires”. Abbott was very unpopular – he broke election promises, he was inept and gaffe-prone, and tried to inflict unfair policies. His world view was very out of date, like another dinosaur, Stephen Harper in Canada who has also just been thrown out. Harper has been replaced as PM by the refreshing Justin Trudeau.
In The Saturday Paper editorial Abbott was described as the “worst prime minister ever”. See – it wasn’t just me! Read my extended view and comments on Australian politics HERE.
ADANI COAL MINE: Despite the enchantment with our new PM, the government still has many distasteful policies, and has been especially shocking in relation to action on climate change. The government has just given permission for the huge Adani coal mine to go ahead in Queensland. Immediately the Australian Conservation Foundation announced a nation-wide People Climate March – see here for details in Australian cities. In Sydney we meet in The Domain at 1pm on Sunday 29th November. This mine just cannot go ahead as it will be an environmental disaster. Coal will be a “stranded asset” and several banks have already refused to finance the mine. As for the Indians without power who are supposedly the beneficiaries, they are off the grid, and domestic solar panels with battery storage is a much cheaper and cleaner option.
SHARKS: Eight Great White sharks have recently been tagged to try and understand the “spike” in shark sightings and attacks along the 2000 kilometres of our NSW coast. While those sharks have now scattered far away, there are still plenty of other shark sightings close to shore. The recent Sydney Shark Summit discussed netting (which some Sydney beaches have) and other physical and visual barriers, electric deterrents, physical aerial surveillance, and sonar, satellite and acoustic technologies. At this stage none are 100% safe – but are preferable to culling.
A recent report by researchers at the University of Adelaide states that warmer and more acidic oceans will lead to a food change collapse with large ocean animals like sharks, the most vulnerable.
KOALAS: Many of our koalas are suffering from a chlamydia infection that can result in infertility, blindness and death, and there is an alarming proposal to dramatically cull koala populations in the hope of eliminating the disease. Koalas “moderately” sick could be treated with antibiotics, but the others would be euthanised. Apparently the population would recover in 5-10 years. Koala populations also face the threat of deforestation, habitat reduction, and the dangers of cars and dogs.
SOUL SEARCHING: In Australia we have lately had to confront some very frightening statistics and home truths. There has recently been a spate of deaths of women through domestic violence which has illustrated the horrifying extent of this with one in four women having been the victim of domestic violence. The government has just allotted what seems to be a lot of money to fight DV, and while it has been welcomed, in general, funding to many essential front-line services such as Legal Aid, the Courts, shelters etc has been reduced. Drug addiction, and we are in an ice epidemic, is also under resourced. We have just had Mental Health Week which again highlighted the failure to adequately deal with the extent of mental health problems within the community.
A Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has continued to reveal the equally horrifying extent of this abuse. The Catholic Church has just described its own history regarding child abuse in Australia as “shameful, corrosive and complicit”.
This treatment of women and children has finally made more Australians also outraged about the women and children (and men) we imprison on our off-shore detention centres.
A 15 year old boy shot and killed a police worker here recently which has heightened the debate around terrorism, the tightening of security laws, and the radicalisation of youth. The new PM’s much more moderate and considered language (compared to Abbott’s fear mongering) has led to a more productive cooperation with Muslim leaders. We did not need the divisive Geert Wilders, the ultra right MP from Holland, to come to Australia to support the formation of an Anti Islam party.
Rebellious teenagers, especially from Middle Eastern backgrounds could feel marginalised in Australia – because they are. They do not feel they belong here, and they could find ISIS attractive – until they get there I imagine. Parents, church figures and schools often have very little influence on youth going through these stages – that’s the point of rebellion! The most insightful and realistic article I have read about teenagers and the “radicalisation” of Muslim youth was by Hussain Nadim in the SMH – see it here.
Racism in sport has also been a huge debate here. It is interesting the role sport plays in the national psyche, especially in the absence of an as yet defined Australian national identity. The Rugby League Final (NRL) was thrilling – a match none of us will forget. Both teams were led by charismatic Indigenous captains and the NRL is about to be dominated by Aboriginal, Islander, and Pacific Islander players. In comparison, while the Australian Football League (AFL) also has many Indigenous star players, a champion Sydney Swans player Adam Goodes, was booed by opposing teams and ended his illustrious career on a depressing note. He has lately also had to endure racist insults on social media for his promotional role with a leading department store. Adam was an articulate and outspoken Australian of the Year in 2014, and I hope he plays an important public leadership role in the future….
Thanks for reaching the end of an over-due and over-long post. I appreciate your interest and patience.
Christian, Harrods, Lions, Exotic Animals, Ivory, Whales, Great Barrier Reef, Tasmanian Forests, GetUp! campaigns, Climate, Tennis, Phillip Adams, Deborah Cheetham, Peter Singer, Christine Townend, Gene Robinson, Australia etc
February 17, 2014
CHRISTIAN: Christian was in the news last month when Harrods announced they were closing down Pet Kingdom which had opened in the London department store in 1917. At the end of this London Evening Standard article, there is a link to lovely footage of Christian and the other lions at Kora in 1971. While Christian received quite a lot of press attention, apparently the most “famous” purchase from Harrods was by the (then) Governor Reagan of California, who in 1967 ordered an elephant, the Republican Party symbol. I am pleased it has closed even though I am eternally grateful for that day in 1969 when we wandered into the Zoo – as I’m sure it was then called – and met Christian. Last time I visited Harrods a few years ago I was upset to see it was full of the most expensive and unnecessary pet accessories, and offering pet pedicures and haircuts.
The Endangered Species Act of 1976 in the UK prevented some of the trade in exotic animals. As I have said before, we did come to realise how we were perpetuating the trade in exotic animals by buying Christian, and we have been criticised for this. I would not want Christian’s story to ever encourage other private ownership of exotic animals. I am very concerned about the number and inappropriate breeding of so many tigers in private hands in the USA for example. Some say we saved Christian, but truthfully, we could not resist him. While we vowed to secure him the best future we could, we did not imagine he would miraculously be returned to a natural life in Africa.
The indefatigable Aidan Basnett has added more photographs to the Facebook page which is a feast of George and Joy Adamson and lion-related photographs.
LIONS: In Africa there are 70% fewer lions than in Christian’s time. In West Africa, there may be as few as 400 lions left, with only 250 mature age lions, according to the organisation Panthera. Like so many other animals, these leaner-looking lions are facing shrinking habitats from encroaching human use.
STANDING UP: I was glad to see prominent people standing up for animal causes: Caroline Kennedy objected to the annual horrific capture and slaughter of 250 bottlenose dolphins in Taiji, Japan, and Hillary Clinton spoke up against the trade in ivory – primarily to China, which is forcing elephants towards extinction. Prince Charles, William, and Harry have just spoken up against the illegal wildlife trade in a campaign which actually might have an effect. WILDAID certainly has highly influential (and wealthy) supporters like the princes and David Beckham. From their website http://www.wildaid.org/ I gather they concentrate primarily on education to change attitudes towards the illegal animal trade, ivory, and the use of traditional medicines.
The London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade has discussed the lack of action by the Chinese on the trade in ivory, tiger bones and rhino horns. However, China has saved the panda, and stabilised populations of Tibetan antelopes and snub-nosed monkeys. Also, after a media campaign and a new government policy, trade in shark fins has fallen dramatically.
IVORY: A 30 tonne stockpile of seized elephant ivory is to be destroyed in Hong Kong, a major transit point into China. Read the media release from the International Fund for Animal Welfare here. The appetite for ivory (particularly from the expanding Chinese middle class), resulted in an estimated 22,000 elephants illegally killed in Africa in 2012. Both the US and China (for the first time) have also burned stockpiles of ivory.
BEARS: Recently I saw the most horrific footage of bile being extracted from the gall bladders of roped bears. This seems to happen predominantly in Asia, where it is estimated up to 20,000 bears are caged, with an estimated 3600 in Vietnam. Visit the World Society for the Protection of Animals website for more information. There is also a flourishing trade in animal body parts for traditional medicines. Changing attitudes will be difficult, and require sustained and strategic education and public awareness campaigns.
WHALES: the annual hunt and slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean by Japan began last month. It is truly shocking to see footage of the blood and slaughtered whales in this unecessary exercise in stubborn nationalism. The Sea Shepherd fleet has been shadowing the Japanese, and despite one skirmish, seems to have quite peacefully prevented the slaughter of any more whales. The Australian Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb was very blunt, saying said that the government won’t be complaining to Japan as we don’t want to jeopardise a proposed free trade agreement!
The annual slaughter and capture of the dolphins at Taiji, Japan, unfortunately proceeded despite world condemnation.
SHARKS: 6 people have been taken by sharks off the West Australian coast in the last 2 years. The recently introduced W.A. Government’s shark culling program is using baited drum lines. There were 16 Australia-wide protests by people against the culling. Swimmers are philosophical about the danger, and conservationists say the baits will just attract more sharks and the culling will be ineffective.
HOLIDAY: January used to be the long traditional annual summer holiday. I certainly relaxed, and watched lots of sport. Without my laptop and often out of mobile range, I loved a few short trips travelling around parts of NSW visiting family and friends: the Goulburn district; through attractive Braidwood to Batemans Bay; up the spectacular south coast back to Sydney; and around Bathurst, including the picturesque old mining towns of Sofala and Carcoar. Much of the state is in drought, but it is a very beautiful country. I saw towns that were thriving, but many – like Bourke, are losing people to the cities with the subsequent loss of services and transport which only exacerbate their problems. A convoy of 18 semi trailers with 500 tonnes of hay has just driven to Bourke – a gesture of support from farmers in the south for farmers in the drought stricken north-west of the state. Queensland is 70% in drought.
I think there is a growing movement to at least discuss the idea of repopulating some of these dying country towns and local businesses with asylum seekers and refugees. Both political parties have demonised them. Perhaps we should regard them as “opportunities”, beneficial for the community, and we would also be fulfilling our international obligations.
I think wind turbines are very beautiful in their way, especially up close. They have elegant lines and are monumentally tall. However, they are an imposition, indeed a visual pollution on our marvellous landscape. I hope wind farms generate enough power to justify themselves, as apparently they are in South Australia, and countries like Denmark and Germany.
CLIMATE: All of us around the world are continuing to experience unnatural weather – from the violent storms and continuing floods in Europe, to freezing conditions again in the USA. Australia has had the hottest year and temperatures since recorded observations began in 1859. In Sydney we had the driest January. I believe the 95% of scientists that say data demonstrates human induced global warming from carbon emissions is taking place, and contributing to the more frequent and more extreme weather. Unfortunately Australia’s government is defiantly going in a retrograde direction by proposing to cut the carbon tax/price which looked as if it would be effective in cutting emissions. Since the carbon tax was introduced, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector are down 7.6%.
The government’s proposed replacement Direct Action is unexamined, untested and unexplained. Unlike the carbon tax, there is no incentive for polluters to change their behaviour and reduce their emissions.
Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, has just embarrassed the government by asking it not to abandon Australia’s role as a “pioneer” in the debate on climate change.
See here for a video on climate change, with beautiful images of the earth from space.
ENVIRONMENT: As many feared, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority has authorised the dumping of 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil from the coal port expansion at Abbot Point into the World Heritage Area Reef waters. Given some of the appointments to the Authority, this unfortunately was not unexpected. This is environmental vandalism in an already endangered area and GetUp! is asking for funding to mount a legal challenge to this. You can contribute funds here or sign the petition here.
A historic Forestry Agreement in Tasmania in 2012 ended 20 years of fighting between the forestry industry, unions and conservationists which had divided the community. The Federal Government is now winding back the protection against logging offered by World Heritage Status, by delisting 74,000 hectares, which includes rain forests and old growth forests. This will jeopardise the new Agreement which seems to be working. This decision is related to local politics and the upcoming state election, and is unhelpful to the state Labor Government who are in difficulties already over the parlous economy.
GetUp! has a petition to the Minister of the Environment opposing this Tasmanian Forest delisting.
MIDDLE EAST: The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 divided the collapsing Ottoman Empire between the British and the French interests in the Middle East. As Anthony Loyd wrote in The Australian, these few “hastily drawn lines” were an “imperial clumsiness that ignored the nuances of tribes and restive minorities” which was “shrouded by subsequent dictators”. With many of them now overthrown, the colonial constructs are unravelling. The proposed Islamic State of Iraq and Levant which would include parts of Iraq and Syria, is an example of this.
Julian Assange’s father, John Shipton, chief executive of the bitcoin funded Australian WikiLeaks Party, intends to return soon to SYRIA with medicines. He was part of a rather bizarre delegation a few months ago who had a cup of tea with Assad in Damascus. But as one of them said “is it better to talk with Assad or talk of assassinating him?”, as our ex-Foreign Minister Carr had suggested. I think Assad is indefensible, and just continuing his father’s contempt for Syrian lives.
One can only be pessimistic about the outcome of current talks aimed at resolving the Syrian conflict, or easing the conditions for millions of entrapped or displaced people. It is very difficult to understand all the competing groups that constitute the “Syrian Opposition”. It is unlikely they would ever be united, and some groups are very extreme.
Photographic evidence of 11,000 bodies tortured and executed by the Syrian regime recently surfaced. There has just been a “humanitarian evacuation” for some starving people from Homs, but apparently some young men among them have consequently been detained. One commented “I decided I’d rather be shot in the head than continue to starve to death”.
ISRAEL: Actress Scarlett Johansson became enmeshed in the debate over the economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel and the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. She stood down as ambassador for Oxfam, unable to reconcile Oxfam’s opposition to all trade from Israeli settlements, with her role as spokeswoman for a company called SodaStream.
A recent Four Corners program on the ABC investigated allegations about young Palestinian children being arrested by the Israeli security forces, for intelligence gathering. These children have mostly been accused of throwing stones and have been arrested in night time raids, followed by intimidating interrogations, and even allegations of torture. An average 700 Palestinian children are arrested, some further detained, each year. UNICEF has found that the ill treatment of children who came into contact with the military detention system was “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”.
Just as alarming was to see a map of Israeli settlements scattered throughout the West Bank. An extreme Israeli settler, Daniella Weiss, claimed that since the 1970s land was deliberately occupied to block the creation of a Palestinian state. Seeing the hundreds of strategically placed settlements, I can’t envisage where a Palestinian state could be located. Until Palestinians have better lives and futures, Israelis will not have the safety and security they too deserve.
SPORT: I watched all five tests in the cricket Ashes series against England, unexpectedly won well by Australia, and we are now playing the South Africans. January is always a big tennis month, with several lead up tournaments to the Australian Open. The dangerous heat in Melbourne was the initial dominating story – 52.3 degrees on the outside courts. Top seeds were defeated, talented juniors emerged (Kyrgios, Kokkinakis, Bourchard, Pironkova, Muguruza), while Dimitrov, Nishikori, and particularly winner Warwrinka stepped up. Li Na was third time lucky – and sees her racket (x 8) as a friend. “If you look after her, she will look after you”. I think Jim Courier is a good commentator, as is Leyton Hewitt who has a disarmingly sweet laugh/giggle. It was a feast of previous stars – Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Chris Evert, Yvonne Goolagong Cawley etc. Several are now coaches – some looking better than others: Edberg, Lendl, Chang, Becker, and Ivanisevic. Rafa made it through to the final but was injured early, making it painful to watch in all respects. He graciously said “Yes it was tough today. But many people in the world have a very tough day every day”.
All our sporting events have saturation alcohol advertising, and alcohol is usually involved in the celebrations – and we wonder why we have an alcohol-fuelled violence epidemic?
INTERVIEWS: I have been listening to classical music much more again (encouraged by William from Florida), but I have also heard many fascinating radio interviews, some repeats. Broadcaster Phillip Adams is one of our few public intellectuals and has had a fascinating and very important career. He seems to have just worked on through his recent ill health. His interviews on Radio National are always very informative, and he and all of us were dazzled by the intelligence, humour and fascinating life story of Aboriginal Opera singer DEBORAH CHEETHAM. Deborah sang at the opening of my colonial family exhibition Flesh & Blood at the Museum of Sydney in 1998. To me, it was an electrifying, beautiful, haunting cry from the heart for the Aboriginal people dispossessed by families such as my own.
Adams also interviewed GENE ROBINSON. His ordination as Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 nearly split the Anglican Church because he is an openly gay man, married to his partner. He is very intelligent, understanding, honest and courageous. He reminded us that change does happen. Up until 1967 interracial marriage was illegal in the US. That same-sex marriages are taking place, and that the majority of the population in many countries are not against it, would have been unimaginable not many years ago.
Colorado has become the first state in the US to begin the legal and regulated growth, processing and sale of marijuana for recreational use. Support for legalisation has grown from 16% in 1987 to 55% today. So community attitudes can change over time….
I also heard Australian philosopher PETER SINGER interviewed. The three most important subjects to him are: poverty; animal liberation; and climate change. He was talking about his recent book The Life You Can Save, which is a growing movement. According to the World Bank, over 1 billion people live in extreme poverty, with 1900 children dying a day. In this annual letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they argue there is less poverty in the world today and that by 2035 there will be almost no poor countries. There is a “new class of middle-income nations”. Bill and Melinda also write that they believe foreign aid has been much more effective than is sometimes claimed.
WORKING FOR ANIMALS: Christine Townend convened the first meeting of Animal Liberation Australia in 1976. She had been profoundly affected by Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation. In 1980 they established Animals Australia. In 2010 I visited the animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong in India, overseen since their inception by Christine and Jeremy Townend. I was very impressed with the care of animals by both shelters, located in the spectacular foothills of the Eastern Himalayas. I could see that animals just adored Christine, and that she adored them. Their Working for Animals newsletter is now online and you can read the January edition here. Vaccinations, birth control measures and many animal treatments have controlled the spread of rabies, and saved the lives of thousands of animals.
PETS: I heard a very interesting program about grieving for our companion pets. An animal shelter and hospital in Melbourne even has a Pastor specifically for grieving. According to some of those interviewed, the hardest thing is that many people around you, family, friends and work mates, just do not understand how devastating the loss of a pet can be. Of course, animals experience their own grief and loss.
Jeffrey Masson’s seminal book When Elephants Weep about the emotional life of animals was praised and referenced in the interview about grieving. On his latest blog Jeffrey discusses the horrific recent “murder” of the young giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo. Children (and adults) were especially assembled to watch the dissection. I’m very much looking forward to Jeffrey Masson’s next book BEASTS What animals can teach us about the origins of good and evil, due out in March.
I have only read reviews of Peter Bradshaw’s book Cat Sense. It is a bold promise to “reveal the feline enigma”! Bradshaw is a biologist who previously wrote In Defence of Dogs. We are very aware cats are a law unto themselves, are far less domesticated than dogs, and are much less dependent. Most cat lovers like this. Cats were worshipped by the Egyptians, and historically they actually DID something – they were used to catch rats and mice in houses. Now they have taken up residence and are waited on! Bradshaw does not think that domestic cats are habitual predators of birds and native wildlife. While feral cats are no doubt very destructive, domestic cats are so well fed with balanced diets that there is no real need to hunt, and many spend a lot of time indoors.
MAIL: thanks to Sara, Deb, MoonieBlues, Michelle, Elaine, Helene, Heulwen, Jonny, Sylvia, and others for sending me great images, messages and information. I am still to respond to some of you and I apologise. I keep being told Christian’s story is big on Facebook again.
MISC STATS: The world’s 85 richest people are worth US$1.7 trillion (Oxfam); Mark Zuckerburg is worth $US19 billion but gave away nearly $US1 billion; Tiger Woods earned $78 million last year; Sochi Games cost $51 billion.
AUSTRALIA: Australia is quite polarised politically at the moment and the level of our discourse is unfortunately not very sophisticated. I am extremely disappointed by the new Abbott government so far. I could list many examples: clumsy diplomacy, especially worsening relations with our prickly neighbour Indonesia; climate change denial; threats against the ABC; broken promises; inappropriate appointments; excessive secrecy, and none of the promised transparency or accountability. We are yet to see any economic blueprint other than some slogans like “open for business” or “infrastructure”, and their industry-assistance policy appears ad hoc and inconsistent. The Government was caught embarrassingly off guard and literally speechless at the announcement that Toyota would cease manufacturing in Australia.
I find it hard to understand how it could be perceived that Abbott is doing a good job. Even one of his chief cheer leaders at The Australian, Dennis Shanahan has finally admitted that “the post-election politics were ragged, rusty and understandably clunky for the Coalition”, and that even Coalition MPs are worrying that they are appearing “hard-hearted”.
Australia could be such a modern, clever, even cool country, and play a major role in the world. Many of the present cabinet served in the previous conservative government, and I don’t want a return to the depressingly reactionary HOWARD years: the sabotage of aboriginal reconciliation opportunities and the attempted discrediting of the “black armband” historians; jingoism; holding Australia back from becoming a Republic; and taking Australia unnecessarily into 2 disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yes, John Howard delivered a surplus, but he has been criticised for not taking greater advantage of the now ending mining boom, and for buying votes with “middle class welfare”.
I’ll let Sally McManus (and others) keep adding to this growing list of BROKEN PROMISES by the government, who in opposition hounded Julia Gillard from office over one supposed “lie”. I was particularly horrified by their early attempt to break their election pledge for fairer and more equitable education funding.
Predictably, the government has rushed to set up an expensive Royal Commission into allegations of corruption and intimidation in the TRADE UNION movement. It is the perfect issue to wedge the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, a former trade union official. Previous commissions have led to exposing corrupt links between unions, builders, developers and businesses. I admire what the trade unions have achieved historically for workers, and I think workers often need protection and representation in negotiations with employers, who are in positions of power. However, in 1992 40% of the workforce was unionised, but by 2012 it had dropped to 18.8%. The unions undoubtedly have an inordinate influence on the Labor Party, and although this should be curtailed, it is very unlikely to happen. I hope the ALP will be an effective Opposition, have the strength to undertake necessary reforms, and do some soul-searching.
I’m now off to Hobart, Tasmania, to visit MONA, the now famous privately-funded Museum of Old and New Art.
Tony the Tiger, Christian, Australia, Environment, Energy, Gittins, China, Israel, Obama, Australian Art etc
February 26, 2013
I love the photographs each year of this Harbour event for intrepid swimmers of all ages.
BLOG: I realise my mix of interests isn’t necessarily yours, and I try not to let my politics and layman attempts to understand world events alienate those of you who are more interested in animals and wildlife issues. That’s why I have my paragraph headings – so you can skip. However, I don’t think a love and concern for animals, wildlife, and the environment can actually be separated out from the political, social and economic issues that are facing the world. Is the present rate of economic growth sustainable? Can there be a balance rather than competition between humans and animals for diminishing resources and habitats? What sort of society are we becoming and do we care for the less fortunate and for other related social justice issues? Trying to understand these questions inevitably leads to asking which leaders, or political parties, in one’s own opinion, are best equipped to grapple with these very difficult questions. So to me, all these issues I am concerned about are related, and any solutions have to be holistic.
TONY THE TIGER: Thanks to Dee de Santis for this very comprehensive update on Tony. Many comments left by people were touching. It was quite a thrill to see new photographs of him, and then heart breaking to think how much more time will he waste in that cage? Let’s hope for some action after the 19th February court case. There is a petition to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries which I urge you to sign and publicise – this is an easy way we can help. I’ve also renewed my membership of the ALDF.
TIGERS: Several of my friends have loved the book Life of Pi, contrary to my earlier assertion that many did not finish the book. The film is beautifully made and deserves the Awards it has won. I am unsettled by both the film and the book but find it hard to describe why – I got a little waterlogged in both. I’m concerned about the portrayal and role in the human/animal relationship of aggression, domination and training, fear and self –preservation notwithstanding. However, perhaps that is the power of this story/fable to raise questions which I am still thinking about.
I loved the tiger not being particularly grateful. What cat ever says thank you! I’m always rather annoyed by my cats’ behaviour at dinner time. They love me and rub themselves against my legs in anticipation of dinner, but once fed, they never say thank-you, and groom themselves with their backs to me and make me feel I am completely irrelevant, which for the time being, I am.
TIGER STATS: 3,062 to 3,948 in the wild; 40,000 in captivity; 1,571 to 1,875 in India; 923 killed by poachers in India between 1994 and 2010.
BOURKE: I was appalled recently to see the headline in the SMH: Bourke tops list: more dangerous than any country in the world. This country town in the remote north west of NSW has the highest assault rate in the state, along with break ins and car theft. Most crime is opportunistic and committed by disadvantaged youth. The population of 3000 consists of a large indigenous population made up of 22 different language groups who seem to have been failed by both Federal and State Governments for many generations. Unfortunately, many country towns face similar problems and challenges.
My ancestor Richard Bourke has given our name to the town and I feel personally ashamed that people in Australia have to try and live under these conditions. When surveyor and explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell visited the area in 1835, after “tensions” with the local aboriginals, a stockade was built for protection, and as Bourke was Governor of NSW at this time (1831-1837), Fort Bourke was named after him. A fort or stockade was not an auspicious start.
John Lindt took these photographs in the Grafton area in the 1870s. Carefully staged studio photographs like this were popular in Europe, and helped to make Lindt’s reputation. The local community has been trying with some difficulty to identify the subjects and unfortunately this shows how successfully Aboriginal people were dispossessed from their land, and their family histories and ties broken.
Aboriginals make up a disproportionate percentage of our prison populations. Although they are only 2.3% of the population, 45% of male prisoners, 33% of women prisoners and 50% of juvenile detainees are indigenous. Unfortunately for some it is a rite of passage, or a respite from tough home lives. There are very few community based diversionary programs focused on drug or alcohol prevention or rehabilitation.
ASYLUM SEEKERS: While our treatment of Aborigines is an historical, and ongoing national disgrace, our treatment of asylum seekers is a present one. Both parties are competing to be as mean as each other. There have been recent scathing reports and accounts of conditions at the off-shore detention centres on Manus Island (PNG) and Nauru. As of November 2012, 10,000 asylum seekers were held in detention centres or in the community. 591 have been in detention for more than 2 years, and 923 detained for more than 12 months. Many children are included in these statistics, and unsurprisingly, people are developing serious mental problems and self-harming.
ENVIRONMENT: Both major political parties in Australia seem to be intent on “cutting it down, digging it up and shipping it out”. The Federal Government has just given the go ahead for several highly contentious projects. Five thousand hectares of old growth forests in the Leard Forest will be cut down for the Maules Creek mine, threatening koala habitats and much else, and forcing farmers off their land by soil and water damage. The Boggabri mine will be expanded and permission has been given for a massive Coal Seam Gas development for Gloucester. These projects will produce 47 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – more than some countries produce.
Christine Milne, leader of the Greens, recently said the decisions was further proof that the Labor Party was in the pockets of the big miners. “They have not only sold out the Great Barrier Reef to the mining industry, James Price Point to the gas industry, some of Australia’s best farmland to coal seam gas, but now they have also given over the Tarkine”. The Tarkine is a pristine wilderness area in Tasmania and the Government has just ruled out giving it a natural heritage listing which would offer some protection against exploitation.
Without any fuss and arousing little concern, the “agreement” between the Greens and the ALP has been dissolved.
The NSW Government has been forced by community outcry to create a 2 kilometer buffer between residential zones and mining. Tensions also seem to be escalating as the date for hunting in some National Parks and reserves draws close.
The highly contentious Mining Tax which the miners spent $22 million opposing, and contributed towards Rudd losing his Prime Ministership, has only raised a paltry $126 million as opposed to the projected $2 billion – but I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of that. Unfortunately it contributes to making the government look incompetent and combined with bad polls for Julia Gillard, feeds the incessant leadership speculation. The amount of “look at me” media attention Kevin Rudd generates each day is just appalling and counter productive. Interestingly, both parties have ex leaders who are much more popular with the public.
Joy and George Adamson were among the first to warn of the fragility of the environment and could see from experience how animal numbers were dwindling and the many challenges that lay ahead. There are 70% fewer lions in Africa since Christian’s time. I think this is one of the last photographs of Christian and shows what a huge lion he was growing into.
I think the conservation movement in Australia is getting stronger and stronger and with a new constituency – conservative land owning people who have never protested in their life but do not want to live with the effects of mining and the contamination of their land – by dust, or destruction of the water aquifers etc. They also want to farm sustainably and care for their animals humanely. They are finding common ground with the Greens and environmentalists, and overall many people are just no longer prepared to vote for parties that have so little disregard for our long term sustainability or viability.
AUSTRALIAN POLITICS: Nate Silver correctly forecast the results in 50 states in the last American election. He has been in Australia playing poker and based on opinion polls he thinks the Coalition Opposition should win our next election on 14 September 2013. He did say however, he needs to see polls closer to the election. I think Julia Gillard has been amazingly resilient and hard working – but she has no vision beyond the cliche “working families”. The ALP can’t construct a positive narrative for themselves from their successful economic management in troubled times, they make unnecessary mistakes, and are dogged by several unsavoury scandals. The Opposition leader Tony Abbott has few policies and none seem costed, but somehow he promises to return to a budget surplus. It is becoming very obvious he is avoiding any serious interviews or scrutiny – he specialises in macho sports shots or in a hard hat at various places most days, although lately he has been trying to look “presidential”. Removing the carbon tax as he has promised already looks problematic and complex, apart from being reactionary. Although Tony Abbott was a Rhodes Scholar, we just can’t have a PM that says “somethink”!
If I can find one, I’m going to vote for a party or a politician that has values beyond their own short term interests (usually getting into parliament, and then hanging on), and obviously with views I agree with. I want to see a genuine concern for the environment and it’s sustainability ( I can live with less if that is what is required); fair access to education for all; reconciliation and compensation to Aboriginals; Australia becoming a republic; leadership on social justice and human rights issues, and genuine care of the less fortunate.
GITTINS: Ross Gittins is always interesting as an economist who appreciates all the other factors which contribute to our lives and well being. He wrote a perceptive article about how people’s perceptions about the government’s management of the economy comes down to their own political alignment and acceptance of the “party line”, even if it doesn’t really reflect their own experience or independent observation. The Opposition have successfully frightened Australians into believing we are on the verge of bankruptcy, while most countries in the world would kill for our triple AAA credit rating. We the general public also have trouble distinguishing between cyclical and structural factors in the economy. Another factor is the media who of course love bad news stories. In another article Gittins says he had a big reaction to his discussion of Jeffrey Sach’s book The Price of Civilization on the take-over of political power by the “corporatocracy” that I mentioned last blog. Gittins discusses a new report in Australia which argues that “big business exerts influence through campaign contributions, influence over university funding, sponsorship of think tanks and in other ways”. The four most disproportionally influential industries in Australia, are apparently superannuation, banking, mining and gambling.
STIGLITZ: Joseph Stiglitz’s book The Price of Inequality examines the complex issues of income and wealth inequality. His thesis, which influenced the Occupy Wall Street movement is
“The simple story of America is this: the rich are getting richer, the richest of the rich are getting still richer, the poor are becoming poorer and more numerous, and the middle class is being hollowed out”. Read a review in Murdoch’s The Australian by Frank Carrigan here.
SPORT: We are having our own Lance Armstrong moment with reports of widespread use of performance enhancing drugs amongst our sportmen, a huge growth in betting on all stages of games as they are played, reports of match fixing, and links with organised crime.
POPE: It is most unusual for a Pope to retire – none have in the last 600 years and I wonder what the real reason is. It isn’t meant to be a job you can just retire from! Like our Cardinal Pell here in Australia, Benedict XVI certainly put the interests of the Catholic Church ahead of any real action on behalf of those victims sexually abused by their own clergy. If I was a Catholic I would be very embarrassed by issues that seem to be in the secret dossier on the Vatican – sex and financial scandals, in-fighting and an atmosphere very unconducive I would think to God’s work. My main objection is their opposition to contraception which may have cost many millions of lives from AIDS.
I did like two things about the Pope; unlike our Cardinal Pell, he has the intelligence to acknowledge that climate change is real and that it needs addressing, and he loves cats!
God protect Italy from that buffoon Silvio Berlusconi.
CHINA: Happy Chinese New Year. I am trying to work out what the Year of the Snake may bring – from “steady progress and attention to detail” to “shedding a skin” to “I shall arise the same though changed”.
China’s decade long boom in coal driven industry is apparently about to end and energy conservation is being prioritised by the government. China installed more than a third of the world’s new wind turbines last year. China is estimated to have burnt 3.9 billion tonnes last year which is nearly as much as the rest of the world combined. This government directive is good news for global warming – and the pollution in Chinese cities. This has economic implications in Australia as the world’s biggest exporter of coal and iron ore, and the Australian coal industry doubts that China will be able to cap its coal use given their commitment to economic growth.
China is now the world’s largest trading nation. Last year total trade was $US 3.87 trillion, compared to the USA’s $US 3.82 trillion.
I don’t think anyone is surprised that Unit 61398 in Shanghai seems to be the base of comprehensive and covert cyber-hacking networks into the computers of governments and commercial organisations that China feels are a “threat to their prosperity”.
China’s labour market of former farm workers will face a deficit or 140 million by 2030. The working age population will go into a “precipitous decline” within 7 years. With people living much longer most countries are not addressing this issue – Australia’s spoiled and demanding baby boomer generation are retiring, and Japan’s new government is grappling with how to afford their aging and long living population.
ISRAEL: Louis Theroux visited Israel in one of his TV programs called The Ultra Zionists. It was terrifying and fascinating to actually see the settlements and the shocking conditions and tension some people live under. The hatred between the Palestinians and Israelis in some disputed areas was appalling. It is impossible to imagine what it is like to live like that day by day. For example, some Jewish settlers have moved into Arab areas in Jerusalem as a means of gradually taking them over, but have to live with security guards. Louis – in a bullet proof vest, understandably jumped at every stone thrown at their vehicle by Palestinian youths.
The goal of Greater Israel for these Ultra Zionists ensures they will allow nothing to stand in their way – from Palestinians who have lived there for many generations, their own government, moderate Jews or world opinion. Their zeal was both quite beautiful – pure really, in their belief in what they think is God’s plan – and completely scary.
I am always particularly upset when the settlers cut down Palestinian olive trees. It seems so symbolic of a destruction of lives and livelihoods.
A UN human rights investigation is examining the construction of Israeli settlements and their “creeping annexation” which is in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Complaints may be taken to the International Criminal Court in The Hague which may lead to Israel’s accountability – or prosecution, for “gross violations of human rights law and serious violations of International humanitarian law”.
The Israelis recently bombed Syria when they moved surface to air missiles and now that weapons can reach all parts of Israel, they will have to be extremely vigilant 24/7 – or build radically different relationships with their neighbours.
A recent program in Australia exposed the mysterious detention and suicide of a dual Australian-Israeli citizen Ben Zygier in Israel called Prisoner X. There had been a total censorship of the case in Israel, then suddenly this week a sanitised statement by the Israeli Government, while the Australian Government has so far “revised” their version of event and what they knews three times. Zygier’s multiple identities and passports probably indicate he had been involved in travelling on his Australian passport to countries where it would be dangerous for Israeli citizens, and Australian passports have been used in previous espionage exercises and assassinations.
JULIAN ASSANGE: The Australian Government seems to have cared as much about Prisoner X as they do about Julian Assange, who has announced he definitely intends standing for the Australian Senate at the next election.
OBAMA: Many of us in Australia are surprised by the hostility towards Obama in the US – some people just don’t seem to accept a majority of Americans voted for him in the election. In Australia he is popular even with more conservative voters. I am however horrified by the drones and the 1500 targeted assassinations no doubt with civilian collateral damage. I am also horrified by the huge numbers of Americans still facing homelessness and poverty. In his State of the Union address Obama seemed to make a concern for them a priority, and he did again talk about action on climate change and gun control. The relationship between the Republicans and Democrats is so toxic at a time when some level of responsible cooperation is necessary to address and try and solve the urgent fiscal and economic problems facing Americans today.
I watched a program on mining for gas in the USA called Gasland. The country seemed pock marked by these ubiquitous mines – with many people and their stock suffering mysterious illnesses. Their tap water was actually flammable! Dear old Dick Cheney apparently ensured previously protected areas were opened up to mining, and ensured environmental protections were removed. Not surprisingly, “fracking” for coal seam gas was actually invented by his old company Halliburton. The situation is similar in Australia where the Coal Seam Gas industry seemed to arrive by stealth a few years ago and was operational on a large scale before many people were even aware of it. There has as yet been no definitive examination in Australia of the various side effects of this mining, and possible long term damage, especially to the water aquifers. Environmental safeguards have been loosened rather than strengthened, and it is only determined community opposition (and the Greens) putting pressure on the government. Community protests work!
LAVERTY COLLECTION: Colin and Liz Laverty assembled one of the finest and most comprehensive private collections of contemporary Australian and Aboriginal art. Unfortunately Colin died recently. A selection of works from their collection is being offered for auction, through Bonham’s on the 24th March at the MCA, Sydney. Above is a painting by Aboriginal artist Emily Kngawarray (c.1916-1996), an exceptional and famous artist who only began painting in old age, and below, a painting by Ildiko Kovacs one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists.