Saturday, December 08, 2018

Morrison abandons regions, energy users with Silesia snub

6 December 2018
Morrison abandons regions, energy users with Silesia snub

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has turned his back on energy users and regional communities affected by energy transition with his decision to leave Australia out of the Silesia Agreement on just transition, which has so far been adopted by 45 countries at the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference.

Signatories to the agreement include the EU, UK, most European nations and many other developed and developing nations from around the world, with both progressive and conservative leaders.

The decision of the federal government to continue to resist measures to ensure the future of communities which will be effected by energy transition means it is out of step with international best practice and Queensland, which has recently established a state-based transition authority to manage a just transition for workers in the coal fire power sector.

We need coordinated action to ensure a just transition for workers in the energy sector and the Morrison Government is standing in the way of that to appease its radical right wing.

Quotes attributable to ACTU Assistant Secretary Scott Connolly:  

  • “Workers who are facing an uncertain future as we transition to a renewable energy economy deserve job certainty and security that can only be guaranteed through a just transition.
  • “The Morrison Government is once again putting ideology ahead of the needs of working people. It is pandering to the far right and ignoring regional communities which face serious challenges if no action is taken to ensure that there are jobs in renewable energy and other industries for current energy sector workers.
  • “We know from international examples like the German coal industry that this can work. But the Morrison Government is unwilling to lift a finger to help workers in the energy sector.
  • “We need to change the rules for workers facing an uncertain future in the energy sector. We can ensure that there will be jobs in the future for these workers but the Morrison Government is to captive to the radicals in its ranks to help Australian workers.”

Queensland Land Clearance Frenzy

If a tree falls in the Queensland outback during an election, does any voter care? If you happen to be a besieged koala, you’d definitely hope so.

Queensland farmers suspected to have defied tree clearing controls in 'deforestation frenzy'

With the Queensland election upon us, it has become clear that the rights and wrongs of clearing Queensland’s forests and woodlands have been a polarising issue with all major players releasing dramatically different policies.

The scene was set for this debate when, only weeks before the election, shocking new independent data was released that showed that 400,000 hectares of bush were cleared in Queensland during the year 2015–16.

This is the equivalent to a Gabba cricket pitch-sized area of forest cleared every three minutes every day, all year. Experts from WWF Australia have estimated that 45 million animals were killed as a result of the clearing in 2015through 2016 alone.

Last week it was also revealed that an astounding 945,755 hectares of bush have been targeted, between 20 July 2016 to 30 September 2017, for clearing following a detailed analysis of notifications from landholders received by the Queensland government.

This onslaught was triggered by changes made to the previously stringent vegetation management laws by the Newman government in 2013. These changes were made at the urging of Agforce, the peak agricultural and beef industry lobby group.

The Palaszczuk government attempted to rein in the worst of the clearing last year but its attempts at reform were torpedoed by the combined opposition of the LNP and the crossbenches.

Given this form, it is not surprising that again Labor has put a big ticket policy on the table for the consideration of voters.

Released only a day after the remarkable Adani policy backflip, the Labor policy is built on two foundations. The first is to stop the actual clearing of high conservation value forests and woodlands and the second is to invest $500m in a fund that will encourage farmers and other landholders to both protect and also replant forests to gain financial benefits through carbon farming.

The latter initiative is in fact consistent with, and complementary to, the Turnbull government’s $2bn emission reductions fund, which has seen farmers funded to keep their trees to help reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The LNP in Queensland however has no interest in this sort of policy, despite it being championed by their federal colleagues. The LNP is silent on issue of carbon farming and maintains support for the existing laws, which have delivered the highest rates of land clearing in a generation.

This approach must be causing significant friction within the LNP. Brisbane-based members philosophically aligned to the old Liberal party know that this policy position is poison in their western suburbs Brisbane heartland. Before the LNP merger, the Liberals voted with Peter Beattie’s Labor government to dramatically reduce the rates of land clearing in the 2000s.

Unfortunately the sniff of ministerial leather has forced the ex-Liberals to do the bidding of the ex-Nationals who are spooked and under siege in rural Queensland.

The party doing the spooking is of course One Nation and it is perhaps unsurprising that the Hanson party wants all land clearing laws abolished.

The ghost of Joh Bjelke-Petersen lives on in Hanson’s DNA and her policies speak to the distant past, not the future. Sadly the LNP seems intent in following her down that time tunnel.

While Hanson’s position is predictable, polling commissioned by the Wilderness Society in late 2016 demonstrated that One Nation voters – just like voters from across all party lines – supported strong laws to end land clearing once they understood the size and scale of the clearing taking place across Queensland.

Friday, December 07, 2018

ACOSS – Australian First: Cross Party Support for Raising Newstart

Both of the major parties in South Australia have agreed that Newstart is “far too low” and have called on the Federal Government to make an urgent increase, in the interim report of a Parliamentary Inquiry into poverty, released today. 

The first recommendation of the report, endorsed by Liberal, Labor, Greens and SA Best MPs, states:

The Committee agrees with the overwhelming majority of submissions to the inquiry that the Newstart Allowance is far too low and falls well short of the state-based poverty line. 
The Committee calls on the Federal Government to make a meaningful increase to the rate of the Newstart Allowance (and other base allowances) as a matter of urgency.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said: 

  • “This cross-party support for an increase in Newstart is a national first and we call on the Federal Parliament to urgently follow suit. 
  • “This impressive achievement for South Australia is testament to the hard work of SACOSS, Anti-Poverty Network SA, National Council of Single Mothers and their Children and everyone on allowances who has been sharing their story of how hard it is to get by. 
  • “Nationally, almost 70% of the community, the majority of federal cross bench MPs, the Business Council of Australia and John Howard agree on the need to increase Newstart, the payment for people looking for paid work. 
  • “Federally, the major parties are out of touch on this issue. The Coalition Government has tried to cut the already inadequate rate of Newstart. And the Federal Labor Opposition has promised a review should it win government but we don’t need a review to know that Newstart is trapping people in poverty and must be urgently increased. 
  • “South Australia has the highest rate of poverty in Australia and is the location of the Australian Labor Party’s upcoming National Conference.
  • “We’re calling on the both of the major parties to commit to raising the rate of Newstart and Youth Allowance, which is the single most effective thing they can do to tackle the persistent poverty we have in Australia, despite having the highest median wealth in the world,” Dr Goldie said. 

O’Dwyer Sacks Independent Umpire With Bosses

The peak body for working people in Australia condemns the actions of the Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations Kelly O’Dwyer, who has stacked the independent Fair Work Commission with six new big-business lobbyists in the last days of her failing government.

These appointments are reportedly against the express wishes of the Fair Work Commissioner and go directly against the intended function of the commission as an independent body.

This takes the “balance” of appointments to the commission to 30 business representatives, with only 14 representatives of working people.

Kelly O’Dwyer and her government are grossly out of touch with working people and will stop at nothing to appease their friends in big business.

Quotes attributable to ACTU Secretary Sally McManus:  
  • “This is a disgraceful abuse of power. Kelly O’Dwyer is using the dying days of her ministry to stack the supposedly independent umpire with big business lobbyists.
  • “She is stacking the body that is supposed to protect the pay and rights of working people with representatives from the big business lobby against the wishes of the president of that body.
  • “These six appointments will result in a Fair Work Commission that is almost two-thirds comprised of people who’ve spent their lives attacking working ­people’s rights as big business lawyers and lobbyists.”

Robert Fisk – Khashoggi and CIA Past Crimes

Spare me America's tears for Jamal Khashoggi – this excuse for Trump-bashing ignores the CIA's past crimes

A generation ago, the CIA’s 'Operation Phoenix' torture and assassination programme in Vietnam went way beyond the imaginations of the Saudi intelligence service. And have we forgotten about the thousands of Muslims still perishing under our bombs and missiles and mortars?

Can I be the only one – apart from his own sycophants – to find the sight of America’s finest Republicans and Democrats condemning the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia for murdering Jamal Khashoggi a bit sickening? “Crazy”. “Dangerous”. A “wrecking ball”. A “smoking saw”. These guys are angry. CIA director Gina Haspel, who was happy to sign off on the torture of her Muslim captives in a secret American prison in Thailand, obviously knew what she was talking about when she testified about Mohammed bin Salman and the agony of Jamal Khashoggi.

US government leaks suggest that Haspel knew all about the shrieks of pain, the suffering of Arab men who believed they were drowning, the desperate pleading for life from America’s victims in these sanctuaries of torment in and after 2002. After all, the desperate screams of a man who believes he is drowning and the desperate screams of a man who believes he is suffocating can’t be very different. Except, of course, that the CIA’s victims lived to be tortured another day – indeed several more days – while Jamal Khashoggi’s asphyxiation was intended to end his life. Which it did.

A generation ago, the CIA’s “Operation Phoenix” torture and assassination programme in Vietnam went way beyond the imaginations of the Saudi intelligence service. In spook language, Khashoggi was merely “terminated with maximum prejudice”. If the CIA could sign off on mass murder in Vietnam, why shouldn’t an Arab dictator do the same on a far smaller scale? True, I can’t imagine the Americans went in for bone saws. Testimony suggests that mass rape followed by mass torture did for their enemies in Vietnam. Why play music through the earphones of the murderers?

But still it goes on. Here’s Democrat senator Bob Menendez this week. The US, he told us, must “send a clear and unequivocal message that such actions are not acceptable on the world’s stage”. The “action”, of course, is the murder of Khashoggi. And this from a man who constantly defended Israel after its slaughter of the innocents in Gaza.

So what on earth is going on here? Perhaps the “world’s stage” of which Menendez spoke was the White House – an appropriate phrase, when you come to think about it – where the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has been no stranger. Yet when at least one recent US presidential incumbent of that high office can be considered guilty of war crimes – in Iraq – and the deaths of tens of thousands of Arabs, how come American senators are huffing and puffing about just one man, Mohammed bin Salman, who (for a moment, let us set aside the Yemen war) is only being accused of ordering the murder and dismemberment of one single Arab?

After all, world leaders – and US presidents themselves – have always had rather a soft spot for mass murderers and those who should face war crimes indictments. Trump has infamously met Kim Jong-un and invited him to the White House. We are all waiting for Rodrigo Duterte to take up his own invitation.

Obama lavished hospitality at the White House on a host of bloody autocrats – from Gambia, Burkina Faso and Cameroon – before we even recall Suharto, whose death squads killed up to half a million people; and Hosni Mubarak, whose secret police sometimes raped their prisoners and who sanctioned the hanging of hundreds of Islamists without proper trials, and his ultimate successor, Field Marshal-President al-Sisi, who has around 60,000 political prisoners locked up in Egypt and whose cops appear to have tortured a young Italian student to death. But Giulio Regeni wasn’t murdered in an Egyptian consulate. This list does not even include Ariel Sharon, who as Israeli defence minister was accused by an Israeli inquiry of personal responsibility for the massacre of 1,700 Palestinian civilians at the Sabra and Chatila camps in Beirut in 1982.

So what is this “clear and unequivocal message” that senator Menendez is rambling on about? The message has been clear and unequivocal for decades. The US “national interest” always trumps (in both senses) morality or international crime. Why else did the United States support Saddam Hussein in his attempt to destroy Iran and his use of chemical warfare against Iran? Why else did Donald Rumsfeld plead with Saddam in December 1993 to allow the reopening of the US embassy in Baghdad when the Iraqi dictator (a “strongman” at the time, of course) had already used mustard gas against his opponents? By the time Rumsfeld arrived for his meeting, more than 3,000 victims had fallen amid Iraqi gas clouds. The figure would reach at least 50,000 dead. Which is, in mathematical terms, Jamal Khashoggi times 50,000.

Yet we are supposed to recoil with shock and horror when Haspel – who might herself have a few admissions to make to senators on other matters – suggests that America’s latest favourite Middle Eastern tyrant knew about the forthcoming murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Does Menendez think that Saddam hadn’t signed the death sentences of thousands of Iraqi men and women – which, as we know from his later “trial”, he did – before meeting Rumsfeld? Or that Duterte, who has compared himself to Hitler, doesn’t sign off on the killing of his murdered drug “suspects”? Or that Suharto had absolutely nothing to do with half a million murders in Indonesia?

It’s instructive, indeed, that the thousands of innocents killed in the Yemen war, an offensive undertaken by Mohammed bin Salman himself with logistical support from the US and UK – and it doesn’t need Haspel to tell us this – hasn’t exactly left US senators shocked. Just another bunch of Arabs killing each other, I suppose. Starvation didn’t get mentioned by the senators emerging from Haspel’s closed hearing. Yet the senators know all about the mosque bombings, wedding party bombings, hospital bombings and school bombings in Yemen. Why no tears for these innocents? Or is that a bit difficult when the US military – on every occasion by accident, of course – has bombed mosques, wedding parties, hospitals and schools in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria?

No, the shock and horror and the need for full disclosure about the Saudis is primarily about Trump, and the need to tie him in to the cruel murder of a Washington Post journalist and US resident whose gruesome demise has been blamed by the American president upon a “vicious world”.

But there is something more than this, the appalling fact – albeit only a folk memory, perhaps, for many with scarcely any institutional memory at all – that 15 of those 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, that Osama bin Laden was a Saudi, that George W Bush secretly flew bin Laden family members out of the US after 9/11, that the Saudis themselves are heir to a blighted, rural, cruel version of Sunni Islam – based on the pernicious teachings of the 18th century Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab​ – which has inspired the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Isis and all the other killer cults whom we have proclaimed to be the West’s Enemy No 1.

Nailing Mohammed Bin Salman to a crucifix – a method of execution favoured by the Wahhabis – is an easy kill for US senators, of course. You hit the president and smash those unhappy historical details all in one fell swoop.

But don’t bank on it. Oil and arms are a potent mix. Old Abd al-Wahhab’s home is protected in a new tourist haunt in the suburbs of Riyadh. Come to think of it, the national mosque of Qatar – hostile to rapacious Saudi Arabia but another recipient of US weapons and a supporter of Islamist forces in Syria and Iraq – has a capacity for 30,000 souls, was built only seven years ago and is named after Abd al-Wahhab himself.

This is the dangerous world in which America and its allies now tread, disdainful of the thousands of Muslims who perish under our bombs and missiles and mortars – proxy-delivered by those we should distrust – ignorant of the religious currents which rumble on beneath our feet and beneath the House of Saud. Even the virtually useless information Haspel learned in the CIA’s “black centres” could have told senators this. If they had bothered to ask.