Tag Archives: Gillard

It’s all just a load of politics

Whilst the Canberra press gallery and broader Australian media mindlessly waste ink and data postulating who “won” Tuesday’s political tussle, I’d suggest the only winner was politics itself.

What about Julia Gillard’s rousing speech effectively obliterating Tony Abbott in his chair with clear examples of his sexism and potential misogyny? That was no watershed feminist moment in Australian politics. It was an opportune time to score a big political point. No one likes a hypocrite so what better time to speak out than when Abbott cries sexist?

There have been a litany of moments in Julia Gillard’s Prime Ministership when she has effectively chosen to ignore Abbott’s overt displays of, and complicity with, sexism towards herself and Australian women in general. By expressing her unquestionably genuine offense now, only when her reputation and minority government is at stake, gives off hints of opportunism and sends the wrong message.

It signals to all Australians that calling out sexist remarks towards women is the last resort and socially unacceptable or god forbid, a bit awkward. “You’ve got to toughen up and move on, that’s just how it is. We’ll respect you more if you don’t complain and just take it on the chin”, right? Wrong. But that social fallacy is what keeps many people silent against gender discrimination.

If the woman who holds the highest office in this country won’t or feels she can’t speak out against the extreme sexism directed at her until nearly 2 years into her tenure and only when it’s related to the credibility of a parliamentary motion against the Speaker, how can other less powerful women do the same and with confidence?

In isolation, Prime Minister Gillard’s speech is a progressive light for Australian women and should be applauded, in reality the message, muddied by context and implicit political associations, changes nothing. It’s all just a load of politics.

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Aim High on Climate Change Action

Hi everyone,

Just wanted to provide a link here to the second article I wrote for The Drum which went up on April 29, 2011. It’s a longer article than usual, and I hope into goes into a good level of depth on the issues of economics and climate change. Full text below.

It draws from a previous post I published here called, Australia’s dubious and enduring political mantra, ‘Go For Growth’.

Aim High on Climate Change Action

Carbon tax. Climate Change. These are terms that now trigger a collective mind-numbing effect on the electorate.

It is unsurprisingly psychologically beneficial and much easier to just switch off. Australians have been patiently waiting for action on climate change for four years, but over that time, public mood and support for action has significantly fallen (you only have to look at the latest ACNielsen Poll). It seems that more and more Australians are willing to be complacent when it comes to taking action on climate change. How did we get to this state? And what is the real unacknowledged reason behind public disillusionment?

To jog your memory, when Kevin Rudd won the federal election in 2007, there was an intoxicating vigour of optimism and consensus alive in the Australian electorate, especially among those Labor and left-leaning voters who had been waiting 11 long (Howard) years to be inspired by a progressive reformist agenda (and I only mean progressive in contrast to Liberal conservative). Rudd’s 2007 election platform was a loud and confident pledge to deliver “New Leadership” and “Fresh Ideas”.

Kevin Rudd’s 2007 election victory speech was a declaration that his government would deliver their reform agenda and that the collective will of the people, as indicated by the decisive election outcome, would be implemented in a continued atmosphere of national unity:
“Today the Australian people have decided that we as a nation will move forward. To plan for the future, to prepare for the future, to embrace the future and together as Australians, to unite and write a new page in our nation’s history.” (Kevin Rudd on election night 2007)

Since that hopeful time we’ve witnessed various failed attempts by the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments to price carbon through an Emissions Trading Scheme, a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and now a carbon tax. Politicians, business leaders, organisations, regular citizens and lobby-groups have fought tooth and nail over the detail of each proposed scheme, not in the aim of achieving a greater reduction in carbon dioxide emissions but, essentially to further their own political and fiscal interests.

What makes this story a particularly sad one is that all of the political posturing which, frankly resembles an ostentatious fencing duel, has been played out in the public arena to no avail. We have (perhaps subconsciously) maintained Australia’s narrowly framed climate drama because at some level, we know that a carbon tax, an ETS or a CPRS just isn’t going to cut it, and if you accept that then you’re really setting yourself up for some tough decision-making. If the Government and the Opposition continue to deal with climate change in such a circumscribed way, our actions will end up as merely token gestures towards a vaguely-imagined carbon-less future.

Who wants to deal with the actual and potentially impossible climate reality we face? It’s certainly not surprising that people aren’t rushing forward with enthusiasm, because actually, looking forensically at the overall situation will mean having to question long-established economic structures and behavioural norms. So what is this deeply embedded and broader problem we haven’t yet faced up to? What is it that we have, perhaps, conveniently ignored?

Economist Tim Jackson says the problem is “the dilemma of growth” which he explores in a recorded lecture delivered at The 2010 Deakin Lecture series in Melbourne. Jackson demonstrates the inexorable link between “the dilemma of growth” and our open struggle to act on climate change in this lecture. He begins by asking the very poignant question: “How can our economy continually expand on a finite planet?” and if you come up trumps on that question then, “Does it (the growth-based model) not carry within it… the seeds of its own destruction?”

To explore these questions in real terms, Jackson constructs a thought exercise by engaging our present economic and environmental realities in a hypothetical scenario:
How hard would we need to try in order to have… a world in the middle of this century of 9 billion human beings, all aspiring to Western-levels of income, all expecting those incomes to grow at 2 per cent per annum (this is the growth-based model that we’re testing here) and yet still achieving stabilisation targets for carbon?

It’s a pretty simple thought exercise. We prize those things; global equity, the growth-based model, our ecological limits… How far and how fast would technology have to run to achieve these goals?

You have to get the carbon intensity of economic activity down from an average of 770 grams of carbon per dollar as it is at the moment, to less than 6 grams of carbon per dollar. [That’s] a 130-fold reduction. Have we ever achieved anything like it? The answer is no, not by an order of [that] magnitude.

And then, of course, if the economy is still growing, then by second half of the century you actually need an economy that is taking carbon out of the atmosphere. The CO2 per dollar goes negative [and] a negative number means what? It means instead of pumping carbon into the atmosphere relentlessly, we have a society that’s pulling carbon out of the atmosphere.

And… when you think about it, just for a moment, you realise we have no idea what this economy looks like. We don’t know what its resource base is. We don’t know what its technology is. We don’t know how its production is organised. We don’t know what its products and services are. We don’t know what life is like in such an economy and yet this is the logical conclusion for a scenario that says, yes we can grow indefinitely, we can achieve global equity and we can meet our carbon targets.

Now it seems to me that unless we want to find ourselves trapped in a form of magical thinking, this is a point at which we need to ask ourselves quite seriously, can this economy… can this society really deliver us that kind of goal? Or should we be thinking more profoundly about the underlying [economic] structures?”

This dilemma of growth is pertinent to Australia and most, if not all, developed countries of the world. Australia may have addressed concerns over economic growth in passing, but I have never once seen a public throw down over the concept of growth, and it almost seems laughable to even suggest this because growth has always been left unquestioned. Have we consciously considered what economic growth means to Australia? Have we asked how much growth is sustainable? What are the positive and negative consequences of growth? In which sectors of the economy and regions of Australia should growth be encouraged? Is there a healthy or unhealthy tension between our economic goals and our environmental ones? What once was a description rightly used decades ago, “growth is good for the economy” has become an economic and political prescription, “we must have growth, it’s always best”.

In the second part of his argument, Jackson engages the field of ‘system dynamics’ to find the crux of the growth-based model; specifically, that part of the model that relentlessly chews through material resources. And that part is business’s constant investment in new products:
The production of novelty [is] incentivised by the pursuit by the firm of expanding markets and achieving profits. [And] this production of novelty by firms… has a perfect counterpart in us, …in consumers… [because] it turns out we have something of an appetite for novelty. We love new stuff.

Investment in the production and consumption of novelty is the second cyclical engine of the growth-based economy. It utilises a socially-driven economic logic that has proved impossible and undesirable to counteract, as:
[The last few decades have seen] a story of us being encouraged, persuaded perhaps, to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to create impressions that won’t last, on people we don’t care about, or worse still, who don’t care about us. Now what was that about? When all we wanted to do was to create a decent place for ourselves in the social world.

Jackson contends that our pursuit of novelty does not only come from a materialistic desire but also from an anxiety to “live a life without shame” and a need to reinforce our genuine hope for a better future. It is the exploitation of this narrow conception of humanity, (that we are dominated by “self-regarding behaviours”) that will lead to our, and the planet’s, ultimate undoing. Jackson concludes that, “what we’ve done is we’ve created economies [and] we’ve created systems, which systematically privilege [and] encourage one narrow quadrant of the human soul”. But being such a multifaceted species, an economic system that appeals to both our “self-regarding behaviours” and our “other-regarding behaviours” (demonstrating altruism, valuing community and conservation), is possible and Jackson explores this de-carbonised and ecologically sustainable economy in his lecture and book, Prosperity Without Growth.

So why don’t we consider a change in our priorities for investment or even just discuss the growth questions raised in this piece? It’s very simple to answer, frustratingly so. There is a compelling trap in the growth-based model which almost guarantees a politicians unwavering support for the necessity of investment in novelty (thus causing the abuse of finite resources) as a fail-safe for growth and low unemployment:
[By] continually pursuing labour productivity [in a growth economy]… [you are] doing more next year with fewer people and driving people out of work, unless what? Unless your economy is growing [and that growth, as we have seen, is strongly aided by the production and consumption of novelty]. Now here is something that politicians understand. That growth equals jobs, that jobs equals votes and any government that doesn’t respond appropriately will find itself out of office.

The “dilemma of growth”, if left unaddressed by this country, will undermine our ability to effectively deal with climate change, to preserve our finite resources, to prevent further biodiversity loss and to construct the future Australia that Julia Gillard so often refers to.

So what are our options?

We can keep enforcing the narrow parameters of Australia’s climate change discourse, which will allow us to merrily continue arguing over carbon tax details and appropriate compensation. And if you accept that deal, we can also happily remain in denial over the fact that there will be climate change collateral no matter what we do. That some jobs will be lost, that many companies will have to adapt and that the majority of citizens will have to make a regular monetary sacrifice. But what this option essentially means is leaving climate change and environmental sustainability issues for future generations to deal with. And choosing this option means betting on the development of currently unimaginable technological advancements.

Or the other option is that we can face up to the reality that modern humanity has left us. We can be empowered and challenged by new ideas and we can have faith in our ability to innovate and advance technologically. This country can, if it so chooses, be a leader in the creation and production of renewable energy technology. There is great potential for Australia to develop a unique energy system tailored to suit this vast continent. And to do so we must break free of Australia’s inferiority complex and prove that we produce (and hopefully retain) some of the smartest scientists, business people and policy thinkers in the world. It requires a more than substantial boost in government support to relevant research projects and for all Australians to place a higher value on knowledge capital. This option essentially calls for all citizens to re-examine their moral position and consciously decide what their responsibility for acting on climate change should be.

So how can Gillard obtain public and consequently, increased political support for this option? Well, there is a reason why many Australians still have particularly fond sentiments for Gough Whitlam, and that is because Gough Whitlam aimed high. Even if he perhaps, aimed unrealistically high at times and made a few economic mistakes along the way, there is no doubt that Whitlam’s reforms landed just below where he had aimed. That is what Kevin Rudd tried to do in 2007 and during his prime ministership, and that is what Julia Gillard and Labor must do now in order to regain public support and garner consensus in order to act on climate change. It’s time to aim higher and land with effective reforms rather than aim low and land with ineffective political folly.

Note: All direct quotes transcribed from Tim Jackson’s 2010 Deakin Lecture, Prosperity Without Growth.

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It’s official, personality in politics is a thing of the past

Love him or loathe him, Bob Hawke has personality in spades. Sunday night’s screening of ‘Hawke’ on Channel Ten and the subsequent Hawke interview was a thought-provoking reminder of this fact. Why so? Well, how many politicians can you think of today that are all of these things: genuine, a visionary, over-qualified and love (and I mean really love) this nation wholeheartedly? (thinking time… … time’s up!) Anyone? No, I didn’t think so. And if you did come up with a name, I’m guessing their credentials are but a shadow of Hawke’s.

Of course, all politicians (and people) have their flaws but Hawke certainly made up for this with his sparkling “man of the people” qualities and charm. Yes, it was a different time, but has Australia and Australian politics changed so much that politicians cannot have a personality? If they do have one, their genuine one, it’s certainly not on display in “campaign mode” at the moment. And this is quite surprising because prior to Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott’s rise to the leadership of their respective political parties, it was their straight-talking and self-deprecating humour that set both of them apart from the rest and was a positive quality admired by many.

Now all that features in political speech is a rehearsed and pre-programmed language which, unfortunately, is on constant loop. Julia Gillard’s interview with Karen Middleton on the day the election was called is a prime example of this. “I believe”, “the Australian people”, “moving forward”, “move Australia forward”, “sustainable population”, “budget into surplus”, and so on. Then there’s Abbott with “dead, buried and cremated”, “stop the boats” “stand up for Australia”, “real action” and an oldie but a goodie “great big new tax.” At least in past campaigns there used to be a little spontaneity in interviews, a capacity for vision (NOTE: you don’t need to spend money to have vision), and a quite a lot of substance in policy proposals. I am yet to see any of this as yet in the Gillard vs. Abbott stoush.

This election campaign has begun as a battle of slogans, baby-kissing, hand-shaking, fear-mongering and hyperbolic slugfests and there’s no evidence to suggest that anything will change. Why? I’m putting it down to the rise and rise of political correctness and hypersensitivity, and hence the permeation of political “surface-speak.” The Australian people (groan…sorry) deserve honesty (as much as is possible in politics anyway), policies laid bare for public scrutiny (not 12 point plans or endless generalisations) and a lot more genuineness from the people that govern and seek to govern this country. Have the times changed so much that the values we still boast to have are now extinct? Or is it just in the nation’s leaders that the values of directness, loyalty and passion are not promoted enough? I hope only the latter is the case, which in itself is a shame.

On a positive note, if you don’t like what you are hearing from your representatives… if slogans, repetitive answers and skeletal policies are an insult to your intelligence and your vote, then make your voice heard (as is already the case on Twitter). Make the media hold politicians to account, instead of asking inane questions and accepting dull, substanceless and scripted answers. We are moving backwards, and it is time to “move forward” to substance, directness, genuineness and PERSONALITY. Australian’s can see right through the crap and in most cases, reward those who are genuine, so Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott… Show us more of the real “you” (because you were impressive and engaging to begin with) and then maybe this campaign won’t be so boring, disenchanting and lifeless for us after all.

Transcript of Julia Gillard’s opening statement at her first election press conference, Parliament House, Canberra, Saturday 17 July

Transcript of Tony Abbott’s statement at his first election press conference, Brisbane, Saturday 17 July

‘Our Action Contract’ Liberal Party Australia’s 12 Point Plan, NOTE: this link will open a PDF file from the Liberal Party’s website

Julia Gillard and the ALP’s Agenda, NOTE: this link will go the the ALP’s policy page on their website

Watch the ‘Hawke’ telemovie on Channel 10’s website

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It’s a Gillard-hunt. Substance: zero.

It seems that nearly all of the Australian media have jumped on the ‘Let’s trip up Julia Gillard’ bandwagon. This is problematic in itself. What is even more problematic is that the media have confused Julia Gillard’s speech by assuming that in naming East Timor as a possible site for an offshore regional processing centre, she was committing to East Timor as the location and announcing a concrete policy. Well, she most certainly wasn’t. But this didn’t stop the media from having a field day all of last week about this issue.

What was most disappointing was the overt bias of some commentators:

Laurie Oakes: Julia Gillard just looked silly and slippery and slimy and shifty in all that and it’s a very, very bad start to her prime ministerial career.

Oakes: I think she’s done herself enormous damage.

And the fact that for nearly one whole week the media was in a constant flurry over two very minor issues:

1. That Gillard supposedly committed to East Timor as a location, and has now backtracked due to constant media attack.
2. That Gillard spoke with the East Timorese President Jose-Ramos Horta first instead of Prime Minister Gusmao.

Hello? Where is the substance? How is this newsworthy? And why do we care about these points so much that they should dominate the entire debate about asylum seekers? Note to the media: Tony Abbott also announced his policy, and where is the proper scrutiny of that?

All of this drama and myth-making can be cleared up quite easily. Let’s have a look at the actual speech made by Gillard at the Lowy Institute. I have included a few lines before and after she first mentions East Timor as a regional processing centre for contextual purposes.

We co-chair the Bali Process with Indonesia, and through this process we are working with our regional neighbours and key organizations like the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration to manage irregular migration and stop people smuggling – and can I say how much we appreciate and value our cooperation of Indonesia as co-chair.

We do these things because we believe that building a sustainable regional protection framework is the most effective way to address irregular migration, including to our country.

Building on the work already underway in the Bali Process, today I announce that we will begin a new initiative. In recent days I have discussed with President Ramos Horta of East Timor the possibility of establishing a regional processing centre for the purpose of receiving and processing irregular entrants to the region.

The purpose would be to ensure that people smugglers have no product to sell. A boat ride to Australia would just be a ticket back to the regional processing centre.

It would be to ensure that everyone is subject to a consistent, fair, assessment process. It would be to ensure that arriving by boat does not give anybody an advantage in the likelihood that they would end up settling in Australia or other countries of the region.

It would, of course, have to be properly run, properly auspiced, properly structured.

President Ramos Horta told me that he welcomed the conversation about this possibility and I look forward to further consultation and dialogue on developing this initiative into a proposal that would advance the proper and consistent treatment of people arriving without authorisation in our region.

I have also spoken to New Zealand’s Prime Minister about this possibility, and John said to me that he would be open to considering this initiative constructively.

East Timor and New Zealand are vital countries in this initiative as they are already signatories to the Refugee Convention, and New Zealand, like Australia, is a key resettlement country.

Her speech leaves nothing open to interpretation. It is as clear as day and Julia Gillard said herself throughout the week, “We’re in a dialogue with East Timor.” What part of dialogue and consultation don’t you understand?

On the point of consulting the President before the Prime Minister, yes, this may have been inappropriate or it may not have been. But it is certainly not the most important detail of Gillard’s entire Lowy speech and initiative announcement. And Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Stephen Smith, offers a reasonable response to this criticism. (See related links below)

So, to the Australian media, instead of trying bring down the newest Prime Minister by trying to find/fabricate a potential “stuff-up”, why don’t you do your job? Which I assume is to report the news, contribute to an intelligent debate, and provide a detailed and impartial analysis of (or considered opinion on) policy announcements by the Government and the Opposition. Thanks a lot.

Related Links:

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Lowy Institute Speech 6/07/2010

ABC PM – Lyndal Curtis interviews Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith 9/07/2010

ABC Insiders Program Transcript 11/07/2010 – Opening segment, featuring quotes from the last week in politics

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Like a bull at a gate…

A response to Paul Colgan’s article, ‘The Dili Proposal’ (6/7/2010), The Punch

With phrases such as “political correctness” and “racist” being bandied about for days, it is no wonder that the immediate response by many online commentators to the government’s new asylum seeker policy was reactionary, emotionally charged, ill-considered, and obscured by left-right posturing.

It seems that, with the increasing reliance upon online sources to provide up-to-the-minute news updates and analysis, accuracy and insight have been compromised. By trying to be the first to report and provide commentary on breaking news stories, such as Gillard’s new policy on asylum seekers, quality of information and journalistic integrity has been seriously compromised. If a journalist or blogger would just wait a moment, consider the primary sources, the emerging off-the-cuff commentary, and ponder deeply the nuances of the issue at hand, then the consumers of such content would be much better off.

It is also crucial to understand how such knee-jerk commentary can affect the tone and dialogue of this contentious national debate. It is time for commentators to attempt to be at their most impartial in order for this debate to involve the facts and practicalities of the situation at hand.

I will now provide a glaring example of such dangerous acts of haste. Paul Colgan, Managing Editor of The Punch, an online news source, posted an article, ‘The Dili Proposal’ at 1.30pm (6/7/10), just under two hours after Julia Gillard finished making her speech at the Lowy Institute. But unfortunately, Colgan’s article reveals a lack of understanding of Gillard’s speech and views, perhaps due to a hastiness in his production of such commentary.

Colgan ties two ideas in Gillard’s speech, Australia’s asylum seeker (not migrant) intake, with population sustainability. Thus, Colgan obscures the nuanced point Gillard actually makes when he writes that, ‘Given Gillard’s furious agreement that yes, the numbers of boat arrivals are tiny, the Prime Minister still casts this as being about “sustainability. Here’s the key part: …”.’

He then quotes (out of context) the first part of Gillard’s speech:

“In many faster growing parts of Australia – like western Sydney, south-east Queensland and the growth corridors of Wyndham and Melton, in my own electorate in Melbourne’s western suburbs – people would laugh if you told them population growth was intended to improve living standards.

People in these communities are on the front line of our population increase and they know that bigger isn’t necessarily better.

At the same time, other parts of Australia are crying out for more people – skilled workers to fill job vacancies in occupations like mining, health and aged care, and community services.

I regard this alone as a giant policy question for Australia.

It is truly the mismatch of modern Australia: communities with too many people and not enough jobs and then other communities with too many jobs and not enough people.

This is reason enough to declare that population policy should not be driven by an arbitrary single number.

Instead, I believe it must be driven by the needs and the circumstances of each region across the nation.”

But Colgan conveniently leaves out the next line:

“Instead, I believe it must be driven by the needs and the circumstances of each region across the nation. With this I have commissioned the Minister for Sustainable Population, Tony Burke, to develop a population strategy for a sustainable Australia.”

As yet, there is still no mention of asylum seekers in Julia Gillard’s speech. And why is this so? Because Julia Gillard did not suggest, directly or indirectly, that the nation’s border control policy and its annual intake of asylum seekers has anything to do with creating a sustainable population policy for Australia. In fact, she agrees with Julian Burnside QC, when he stated that, “it would take about 20 years to fill the MCG with boat people”. In Julia Gillard’s speech, she refers the issue of population sustainability on to the Minister responsible, Tony Burke. She then speaks a little further on the matter, and, completely separately, raises the issue of the government’s border protection policy. Not once in her speech does she link the two issues together. Although these broadly related issues are dealt with in the same speech, Gillard only ever links Australia’s overall migrant intake with the idea of a sustainable population policy, thus making Colgan’s closing two paragraphs incorrect and obsolete:

“But if the numbers are tiny against the total migrant intake, how can they have any effect on growth patterns, sustainable or otherwise?
P
They can’t. Numbers of people arriving by boat are nothing to do with sustainability and everything to do with electability.”

Yes, Paul Colgan, you are right. Boat people have nothing to do with sustainability. And no one, not even Prime Minister Julia Gillard was suggesting that. Thus, in this case, boat people also have nothing to do with electability. Perhaps a closer perusal of the primary information and a more careful consideration of the facts will be helpful next time you attempt to produce an accurate and insightful analysis of a news story. This example reveals the value of a carefully considered yet timely commentary of emerging news events rather than the publishing of a hasty, immediate and often inaccurate (and thus counter-productive) commentary.

RELATED LINKS:
Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Speech to the Lowy Institute, 6 July 2010

‘The Dili Proposal’ by Paul Colgan, The Punch, 6 July 2010

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