Category Archives: Politics & Government

Weekly salon 15/2

1. Rupert gets his just deserts

The New Daily has an article News Corp in ‘dangerous times’ as audience and revenues drop in print and digital:

    Audiences deserted Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp mastheads in 2019 with its tabloid tub-thumper The Daily Telegraph losing a massive 15.5 per cent of its readership across both print and digital editions, according to research house Roy Morgan.

Continue reading Weekly salon 15/2

Weekly salon 28/1

1. Australia Day 2020

Australians seem to like doing crazy things on Australia Day, like pie-eating competitions and wrestling crocodiles. This time an innocent lamington-eating competition went horribly wrong when a Hervey Bay woman choked and died.

Laura Tingle asks seriously As we approach Australia Day, do we even know who we are as a nation? Continue reading Weekly salon 28/1

Bridget McKenzie’s sports rorts defence is wrong

Simon Longstaff, Executive Director of The Ethics Centre, is very clear. While what Bridget McKenzie did may not be illegal, ethically it was wrong. Politicians are elected to serve the public interest, not indulge in behaviour to promote private interests, or further the interests of a political party.

Quite simply, she should resign, or be sacked.

Part of Longstaff’s argument in his AFR opinion piece is that corrupt politicians tend to corrupt others:

    Their dodgy behaviour distorts the judgment of citizens. They deploy power in ways that punish the virtuous and reward only those who play their game. We begin by being compromised and end up being complicit.

He says that McKenzie may be a wonderful person, but she has shown herself to be an irresponsible minister who has done wrong and refuses to acknowledge this.

Then:

    Fortunately, we have a Prime Minister who stood for office as a principled man. Hopefully, we can rely on him to uphold the conventions of ministerial responsibility – even when it is difficult or inconvenient to do so.

    The honourable course of action would be for the minister to resign. However, if she fails to do so, then she should be dismissed by Scott Morrison.

PM Scott Morrison gave his answer to Sabra Lane this morning (from 6:30 on the counter) – there are some legal issues the Attorney General is “clarifying”, we may learn from this, but the rules were followed, no ineligible projects were funded, the minister has made the decisions, and they were “actioned in an endorsing way by Sports Australia”.

In a sense he’s right about that last bit. Sports Australia should have refused to action decisions improperly made, and so they have become complicit.

The bottom line is that it looks as though the government is going to get away with this scam.

Which is why legal action should be considered.

Here an opinion piece in the AFR Why McKenzie’s sports rorts defence is wrong by Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Sydney, becomes relevant. The lead-in summary is:

    Australia’s constitutional rulebook doesn’t allow federal governments to splash money on local sports groups without parliamentary approval.

Twomey says that there are at least three areas in which rules are likely to have been broken. Firstly, there is a legal obligation on ministers when acting within the scope of their powers to behave in a manner that is procedurally fair. They can’t take into account irrelevant considerations and they must not act for an improper purpose or in a biased manner.

Clearly there is a basis for what happened to be challenged legally in this regard.

Secondly, there is a question as to whether the minister had any power at all to make these grants. She says:

    The Australian Sports Commission (which includes “Sport Australia”) was established by statute as a corporate entity with its own independent legal powers to enter into contracts and make sporting grants.

    While Bridget McKenzie had power under section 11 of the Act to give “written directions to the Commission with respect to the policies and practices to be followed by the Commission in the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers”, this did not allow her to exercise its function and decide who got the grants. In any case, she made no such direction.

Twomey says:

    If the minister had no power under statute to make the grants, then this was an invalid expenditure of public money, which is an extremely serious matter.

The third reason relates to the constitution itself. The constitution lists the areas where the Commonwealth Parliament may legislate, for example, external affairs, defence and banking. These are known as “heads of power”. There is no head of power for sport.

She says that the school chaplaincy program ran into a similar problem. The High Court found that direct funding by the Commonwealth was invalid.

So the funding must be channelled through the states which tend to have “more stringent accountability measures, such as codes of ethics for MPs and ministers, strong anti-corruption bodies and legal sanctions.”

In NSW what McKenzie did would likely end up with ICAC (the Independent Commission Against Corruption). Furthermore, in NSW it is a criminal offence to give any property or benefit to any person to influence votes.

That is section 209 of the NSW Electoral Act. If breached a Court of Disputed Returns must declare the election void, as actually happened in 1988 in the case of Scott v Martin.

It seems that who won and why is not relevant, it is the act of attempted influence itself that matters.

I’m not sure if that would fly under Commonwealth law, but truly, this matter is quite egregious and there should be some form of restitution. Here’s exhibit A, from the Longstaff article:

Earlier post: Bridget’s dreaming and broken democracy

Weekly salon 20/1

1. Trump’s trade deal will make us collateral damage

Kevin Rudd’s AFR article Trade deal will not stop US and China drifting apart gives us the lowdown. From the URL his heading was probably Trade war truce a symbol of the US unhinged. Seems Trump banged on for an hour about incoherent nonsense at the announcement while the head Chinese trade negotiator stood patiently by.

Rudd says intellectual property theft will be criminalised in China for the first time. Good in principle, but you will need to make your case in Chinese courts. Continue reading Weekly salon 20/1

Weekly salon 12/1

1. Tingle drops the ‘f’ bomb

Yes she did. She commented on Twitter that ABC journo’s had been doing a good job in their coverage of the fires. Someone called YeaNah @YeaNah10 suggested that such a comment lacked balance.

Laura Tingle responded by telling the commenter to “go f**k yourself”, except she spelt it out.

Corrine Barraclough in Luvvie Laura and the(ir) ABC’s problem with abusive behaviour says you can’t do that. Abuse is abuse.

However, swearing is also shorthand way of expressing disgust and disapproval. Moreover, YeaNah is suggesting that ‘balance’ be privileged over the truth. Is Tingle unable to express the truth because she is working for the ABC, so she must demonstrate ‘balance’ at the expense of truth?

Continue reading Weekly salon 12/1

State of the climate 2019

Michael Mann, famous climate scientist, happens to have come to Sydney to study the links between extreme weather and climate change. He tells us Australia, your country is burning – dangerous climate change is here with you now. He took his family to see the Great Barrier Reef while it is still there, and then up into the Blue Mountains, where all they could see was smoke.

He says:

The brown skies I observed in the Blue Mountains this week are a product of human-caused climate change. Take record heat, combine it with unprecedented drought in already dry regions and you get unprecedented bushfires like the ones engulfing the Blue Mountains and spreading across the continent. It’s not complicated.

2019 will always be known for the fires. So how different was the climate?

We now have BOM’s Annual climate statement 2019.

2019 was Australia’s driest year on record with nationally-averaged rainfall 40% below average for the year at 277.6 mm.

2019 was Australia’s warmest year on record. Australia’s area-averaged mean temperature for 2019 was 1.52 °C above the 1961–1990 average, well above the old record: +1.33 °C in 2013. Mean maximum temperatures were the warmest on record at 2.09 °C above average, also well above the previous record, which was +1.59 °C in 2013.

Please note the temperature is referenced against the 1960-1990 average, not pre-industrial.

At 277.6 mm, 2019 rainfall was well below the previous record from 1902 which was 314.5 mm.

The main influence was a very strong positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), one of the strongest on record. The El Niño–Southern Oscillation remained neutral throughout 2019, so I guess things could have been worse.

All this gave us severe fire weather throughout the year; the national annual accumulated Forest Fire Danger Index was the highest since 1950, when national records began.

For images to illustrate, I’ll begin with a temperature trend for the summer months worked out by Tamino:

Looking at the graph, add about 0.5°C to get the anomaly to pre-industrial. This year looks so much an outlier that one would think it unlikely to be repeated for a few years. However, it has shown us what the future may hold.

Here are the maximum temperature deciles:

More than half the continent was the hottest on record, with average and below average bits hard to find.

Here are the rainfall deciles:

The map shows the imprint of the heavy tropical rain and flooding around Townsville, followed by Cyclone Trevor further inland. Nevertheless, every month was below the national average:

The annual bar chart going back to 1900 shows how exceptional 2019 was:

One would expect a better year for 2020, but who knows what the future pattern will be?

However, we have been warned. The BOM report gives the global temperatures for 2019 as the second highest ever:

We’ve had an El Niño contributing to warmth in four out of the last 10 years, including the record 2016. Ominously, El Niño was absent in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Climate scientist Frank Jotzo has suggested that the bushfire crisis has given the Government a political opportunity to change its policy ambition on climate:

Under climate change, the conditions for catastrophic fires will likely be much more frequent — along with the conditions for drought, flooding and storms.

So a nation-building effort to minimise risk would seem prudent.

Morrison is hiding behind the notion that solving climate change requires effort from all nations. His rhetoric is that Labor’s policy would be “economy wrecking”. Yet leading climate scientists, such as Johan Rockström from the Potsdam Institute say:

“Earth observations show that big systems with known tipping points are already now, at 1°C warming, on the move toward potentially irreversible change, such as accelerated melting of Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, drying of rainforests, and thawing of Arctic permafrost”

If we don’t act now, then when?

And in terms of the economy John Quiggin estimates the cost of the fires to be north of $100 billion.

Countries are being asked to come to the 2020 meeting of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties with increased ambition. As preparation the Climate Change Authority published a consultation paper in July, and having heard what came out of the Madrid Conference in December will shortly finalise their advice.

PM Scott Morrison could take that opportunity to show some leadership. Also he has spoken of the possibility of a royal commission on the bushfires. That could be an opportunity to pivot. However, George Megalogenis in Morrison, the political animal who missed the political opportunity to lead thinks Morrison has fluffed it, and simply does not know how to behave faced with an international pile-on.

Ben Jenkins in The people in power will let your country burn says it’s about money, politics and ideology:

this isn’t about people, it’s about ideology, and to accept the unprecedented scale of the fires and act accordingly is to accept that the climate is changing and something needs to be done. That’s it. To me, this is the most striking aspect of the crisis — the debate about how best to douse a burning country has been seamlessly press-ganged into service in the ongoing culture war, all of which is amplified and buttressed by an increasingly demented right-wing media and an absurdly powerful fossil fuels lobby.

Finally:

No one is being told to calm down anymore. The smug reassurances have given way to blind panic as it comes apparent that not even the friendly media can shield the government from the rising ire of the public. But even as the army is called in to assist in the relief effort, even as Morrison agrees to pay volunteer firefighters, even as a two billion dollar recovery fund is pledged, the government refuses to alter its climate change policy.

Political panic or dynamic leadership? Morrison’s bushfire response

That’s a screenshot of an advertisement put out on Twitter, which you can see here authorised by S. Morrison for the Liberal Party to spruik what the Australian Government is doing to in ” response to these terrible #bushfires“.

If you scroll down a bit you will see this:

Katherine Murphy lets fly in Scott Morrison’s political ad is a bizarre act of self-love as firefighters battle to save Australia:

The prime minister’s promotional video was staggeringly objectionable and highlights his failure to lead

It really is hard to keep up with a prime minister who declares one minute disaster management is predominantly a state responsibility, and he won’t be running over the top of state premiers, and then, seemingly, five minutes later, calls out the ADF reserve, deploys military assets and procures more water bombers than anyone asked for.

This kind of plot twist is dizzying stuff in normal conditions, let alone in the middle of a disaster, when the prime ministerial norm is generally one of steadiness and consistency.

Perhaps it was Scott Morrison’s own demonstrable lack of clarity about what his government was, or was not, doing, in response to Australia’s catastrophic summer of bushfires that prompted his communications team to pump out a promotional video – on one of the most perilous days of the disaster – outlining today’s initiatives.”

That was Murphy just warming up.

Perhaps surprisingly news.com.au gives a quite dispassionate account in Scott Morrison slammed after tweeting 50-second ad spruiking new bushfire measures.

That piece ends with Morrison’s own account of the woman at Cobargo refusing to shake his hand and other people yelling at him. Essentially he says there is a lot of emotion around, and the fact that he was the ‘first senior leader’ to enter the town made him a target for people’s anger and fear.

The ABC’s account rounds up criticism from all directions, labelling the ad ‘absolutely obscene’ and ‘It’s like being ‘sold to’ at a funeral’.

More importantly:

‘The Australian Defence Association (ADA) — a public-interest watchdog of Australian defence matters — said on Twitter the video “milking ADF support to civil agencies fighting bushfires” was a “clear breach of the (reciprocal) non-partisanship convention applying to both the ADF & Ministers/MPs”.

The ADA website notes that “politically expedient Government announcements” featuring the ADF “is always wrong”.

On the radio Morrison is arguing that earlier he took the position that fire-fighting was a state matter, and that he had been responding to their requests. Now, he says, they were not asking enough and the situation demands actrion, so he is acting.

However, his style appears to be totally non-consultative, ignoring the appropriate protocols. As John Davidson said on another thread:

” He also said somewhere that he was doing what he was doing without listening to the premiers. The big man has taken over AND IT WILL BE DONE HIS WAY!!!

Sounds like out of control political panicking from someone who doesn’t know how to lead. “

This David Rowe cartoon from mid-November seems apposite:

When people with expertise wanted to meet with him he refused. Now he just goes ahead regardless, although on radio he said that calling in the reserves was planned in November. The Guardian has a useful chronology from May 2018 of how the issue developed over time, although they could have started with scientists’ warnings which Penny Wong says she was given when in government prior to Abbott’s ascension to power in 2013.

Moreover, Australia is already majorly on the nose overseas on matters relating to climate change. An article in the New York Post written after the Cobargo incident – Australia fires: Scott Morrison chased out of scorched town by angry locals – is worth a read, with the PM being called a “scumbag” and told to “piss off”. It gives a full report of the video seen here that went viral.

Paul Bongiorno had already written Morrison’s leadership off in The summer Scott Morrison’s leadership broke. Bongiorno details how Morrison continually gets the decisions, the optics and the words wrong. Whatever political capital he had from the election has been squandered.

On New Year’s Eve we had the PM telling us what a great place Australia is to live when a debate raged as to whether the fireworks should be cancelled and the cricket authorities are spelling out the protocols about who decides whether the players can still see the ball for the smoke. Well before that time the PM had become a bit of a joke. The first comment on this Mumbrella piece says “Morrison is no leader, he couldn’t even lead a choko vine over a dunny wall.! “

Laura Tingle asks a reasonable question in Are the bushfires Scott Morrison’s Hurricane Katrina moment that he can’t live down?

Reflecting on a photo of himself surveying some of the damage from Air Force One, George W Bush said:

That photo of me hovering over the damage suggested I was detached from the suffering on the ground,” Bush wrote later in his book Decision Points.

“That was not how I felt. But once that impression was formed, I couldn’t change it.”

Tingle dismembers the Government’s shallow, perfidious and contradictory climate ‘policies’.

A price we have paid is a general lack of trust in politicians and the institutions of government, which the right side of politics have trashed in Australia over the last 10 years. Joe Hildebrandt comes up with an unusual analysis which nevertheless is built around the central point that we’ve had Liberal and Labor powerbrokers treating the office of the prime minister as a personal plaything and the electorate with contempt in the process. The notable exception, he says, has been Anthony Albanese, but than he says Albo has been attacked by the lunar left for not attacking Morrison.

Must say, I don’t know where or when that happened, or who the ‘lunar left’ are.

I was surprised at Tingle’s report on the scale of the fires:

“To give some scale to what has happened here so far, international media outlets have been reporting the 2018 California fires burnt 2 million acres; the 2019 Amazon fires 2.2 million; and the 2019 Siberian fires 6.7 million.

So far Australia’s 2019/20 fires have burnt 12 million acres.”

As commenter zoot pointed out the New York Times has an excellent piece Why the Fires in Australia Are So Bad. Just in is an excellent graphic explainer from the BBC.

Our problem is that at the UN climate talks in Madrid in December our stance not just a sad, irrelevant joke, we were actively obstructionist.

The world is watching. See also the BBC’s What is Australia doing to tackle climate change?

I think 2019 is the year climate change smacked us in the face. It’s time to act now, urgently and at scale, on immediate and longer term adaptation and mitigation.

On the latter, that should mean net zero CO2 by 2030 at latest, and 350 ppm ASAP thereafter.

SOME STATEMENTS ON 2019 AUSTRALIAN FIRES

Australia has had a history of bushfires stretching back long before the English invasion. There seems to be little doubt that the fire related activities of Aborigines have had a substantial effect on local ecologies and the species that have survived and gone extinct.

This post consists of a number of fire related statements written as a prod to discussion. Continue reading SOME STATEMENTS ON 2019 AUSTRALIAN FIRES

Weekly salon 15/12

1. Thunberg becomes Time Person of the year

From the ABC:


    Time lauded the 16-year-old from Sweden for starting an environmental campaign in August 2018 that became a global movement, initially skipping school and camping in front of the Swedish Parliament to demand action.

    “In the 16 months since, she has addressed heads of state at the UN, met with the Pope, sparred with the President of the United States and inspired 4 million people to join the global climate strike on September 20, 2019, in what was the largest climate demonstration in human history,” the magazine said.

    “Margaret Atwood compared her to Joan of Arc. After noticing a hundredfold increase in its usage, lexicographers at Collins Dictionary named Thunberg’s pioneering idea, climate strike, the word of the year.”

Continue reading Weekly salon 15/12

Weekly salon 9/12

1. Leading scientists condemn political inaction on climate change as Australia ‘literally burns’

    Leading scientists have expressed concern about the lack of focus on the climate crisis as bushfires rage across New South Wales and Queensland, saying it should be a “wake-up call” for the government.

    Climate experts who spoke to Guardian Australia said they were “bewildered” the emergency had grabbed little attention during the final parliamentary sitting week for the year, which was instead taken up by the repeal of medevac laws, a restructure of the public service, and energy minister Angus Taylor’s run-in with the American author Naomi Wolf.

Continue reading Weekly salon 9/12