The Xmas attack on climate change

Human-caused global warming is the single biggest threat facing humanity today. Solving it requires a rapid worldwide transition to renewable energy economies, leaving the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground. Preserving a habitable climate depends on decisions made in this decade. At less than 1°C of global warming, we’re already experiencing impacts costing human lives, including worsening heatwaves, floods, droughts, and bushfires. Under current policies we’re headed for 4°C warming or greater, a temperature unprecedented for the human species. Civilization has flourished over the past 10,000 years because a stable climate sustained us (global temperature varied but less than 1°C). An increase of 4°C would be an unimaginable catastrophe, probably beyond our capacity to adapt. 

Yet over the Xmas break while you were distracted with seasonal festivities and summer sports, the Abbott government quietly progressed policies which will exacerbate the problem, following a long-standing tradition of avoiding scrutiny by making announcements during the holidays.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt (who would be more appropriately titled the Anti-Environment Minister) approved Adani’s proposed coal export terminal, and dredging for two other new terminals, at the (appropriately named) Abbot Point. Abbot Point will be the world’s biggest coal port and open up the Galilee Basin, whose nine proposed mega-mines would export enough coal to produce potentially 700 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, almost twice Australias domestic emissions and greater than the emissions of all but six countries. Hunt also approved four other fossil fuel projects: an Arrow coal seam gas processing facility on Curtis Island; a transmission pipeline to supply it; billionaire politician Clive Palmer’s China First mine; and the Surat Gas Expansion (the last two on the Friday before Xmas).

They joined two previously approved Galilee coal projects: GVK’s and Hancock’s Kevin’s Corner mine (approved in November), and GVK’s Alpha mine (approved by the former government in 2012).

In his press release approving the Abbot Point expansion, Hunt had the gall to say: ‘Today I am announcing new plans to protect the long-term future of the Great Barrier Reef. His plan consists of ensuring dredging occurs close to the shore — never mind that global warming is killing coral reefs as well as endangering humans. The approval process ignores climate change because emissions from burning the coal will occur overseas. But denying responsibility for those emissions is like believing we won’t be harmed by cigarettes we sell to a chain-smoker in our lounge room.

The industry department released an energy issues paper early in December. Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane has accused the former Labor government of having ‘bungled its Energy White Paper process [by introducing] the carbon tax and mining tax, and new layers of regulation and red tape’ — code for saying it wasn’t fossil-fuel-friendly enough. Macfarlane’s issues paper outlines the Government’s energy policy priorities: fossil fuel industry growth, productivity, environmental deregulation, and marketing fossil fuels to the public. It foreshadows possible consideration of investing in nuclear power and dividing up the Renewable Energy Target (RET) into bands including emerging technologies, reinforcing the Government’s incorrect belief that existing renewables cannot provide 100% of Australia’s energy. It says the major contributor to electricity prices, network costs, will continue rising, revealing the Government’s hypocrisy in complaining about the relatively small price impacts of climate policies. Instead we should invest in energy efficiency and renewables, where prices are falling rapidly as technologies and scale improve. It seems the Government really wants higher electricity prices because that means greater profits for fossil-fuel-fired generators.

Also in December, the prime minister’s department released terms of reference for an agriculture white paper which failed to mention climate change. It is not clear how the Government expects Australian agriculture to prosper in the face of the impacts of the greenhouse gas emissions and coal seam gas development promoted by the Energy White Paper. The Government has since announced a drought policy which also fails to account for climate change.

The Government’s budget update, MYEFO, cut funding to the Australian network of Environmental Defender’s Offices (which provide expert legal advice on environmental issues and are thus opposed by mining companies) and the Energy Efficiencies Opportunities Program (which actually raises public income, but is opposed by generators because reducing energy demand lowers their profits). There were no cuts to fossil fuel subsidies. The document contained no mention of the Emissions Reduction Fund, the centrepiece of the climate Direct Action Plan. The only fully costed climate policy was $800 million over five years for the ‘Green Army’, which would employ 15,000 young people to take feel-good actions like re-vegetation and clearing rivers, which fail to target the main cause of global warming, the fossil fuel industry.

In an interview, Tony Abbott indicated the RET may be scrapped or weakened by an upcoming review, claiming it causes ‘pretty significant price pressures’ and he would consult with his business advisor Maurice Newman, a climate change denier who opposes the RET. In fact, the RET has reduced wholesale electricity prices: a 2012 review found the cost impact of the RET was minuscule, and the major factor in rising retail electricity prices was over-investment in poles and wires. Again, Abbott’s real concern is that the RET reduces profits for coal-fired generators. The RET review will be conducted by a panel including several climate change deniers. It looks like history is going to repeat itself: the last time the Liberals were in government, they colluded with the fossil fuel industry to sabotage their own Renewable Energy Target.

In the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade talks, Australia offered to agree to investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in exchange for greater access to sugar markets, while Trade Minister Andrew Robb announced a Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement also including ISDS. Investor-state dispute settlement would give multinational corporations the power to sue a government for any policy that hurts their profits in an unaccountable tribunal with unlimited powers. Any effective climate policy would threaten corporate profits, and hence could be overturned through ISDS. This represents an attack on national sovereignty and democracy at a time when we need accountable government more than ever.

The Government has refused to publically release the text of either agreement, even after the Senate passed a Greens motion ordering them to release the text of the TPP.* Robb says ISDS will not apply to ‘public welfare, health and the environment’, but similar safeguards in the Peru-US Free Trade Agreement failed to be implemented. It looks like free trade talks are being used as an opaque avenue to sneak through policies advancing corporate power which can’t be achieved through democratic domestic political processes. An Australia Institute survey found that only 11% of Australians know about the TPP, almost 90% want the details of such deals made public before they are signed, and 75% oppose allowing American corporations to sue Australian governments.

At the Council of Australian Governments, all states and territories signed up to take on responsibility for federal environmental assessment powers within 12 months (including Labor governments, despite federal Labor claiming to now oppose the policy). This made official what began in September as a secret agreement between the federal Government and the coal state Queensland. State governments are notoriously pro-development: that is, even more so than federal ones. As Greens Senator Larissa Waters pointed out, "If states had this power in the past, the Franklin River would be dammed, cattle would be grazing in the Alpine National Park and there would be oil rigs on the Great Barrier Reef.’

In Parliament, Labor helped the Government pass legislation through the lower house preventing Australians from legally challenging projects approved before 1 January 2014 on environmental grounds. (The bill is now before the Senate.) This effectively allowed the Government to dodge accountability for ignoring expert advice on the environmental impacts of any project approved prior to 2014.

Attorney-General George Brandis appointed the IPA’s Tim Wilson as ‘freedom commissioner’ at the Human Rights Commission (which the IPA want abolished). Unlike other commissioners, Wilson did not have to apply for the job; Brandis just rang him up and asked if he wanted it. Wilson argues he is qualified because ‘Private property is in itself a human right, and one of the things that I have always focused on is free trade which is ultimately an extension of private property’ and suggests that critics of his appointment ‘look at human rights as some sort of legal gift from government’. Wilson’s comment on Occupy Melbourne was ‘send in the water cannons‘. Brandis also announced a law reform inquirywhich will focus largely on the supposed infringement of corporate rights by environmental regulations. Destroying the environment we depend on apparently does not count as an infringement of freedom.

Finally, on 20 December the environment department released the Emissions Reduction Fund Green Paper, which essentially remains the ineffective voluntary climate policy the government took to the election. Also announced was an Expert Reference Group to advise on the Fund’s design, whose members are almost all corporate lobbyists who oppose strong climate action. And of course Abbott continues to push legislation to repeal the carbon price, Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and Climate Change Authority.

With no remaining legal avenue to challenge approved mining projects, protestors blocked construction at Whitehaven’s Maules Creek coal mine in NSW. Simon Copland from wrote about it afterwards:

It is unfortunate that it has to come to this, but we have no choice. When the Government fails, as it has so drastically with this mine and with so many other coal and gas mines around the country, it is up for [sic] the community to take a stand.

This government is only a few months old and already its level of secrecy, deception, misdirection, and irresponsibility on climate policy is staggering. Abbott says, ‘Happy is the country which is more interested in sport than in politics.’ But the game our future depends on is being played out in Canberra, as far from a public audience as Tony Abbott can get.

* The details of the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement (KAFTA) were finally released on 17 February and it does include the ISDS.

Green parasols

'You have come down here to see an election - eh? Spirited contest, my dear sir, very much so indeed. We have opened all the public-houses in the place. It has left our opponent nothing but the beer-shops — masterly policy, my dear sir, eh?' The little man smiled complacently, and took a large pinch of snuff.

'And what is the likely result of the contest?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.

'Why, doubtful, my dear sir, rather doubtful as yet,' replied the little man. 'Fizkin's people have got three-and-thirty voters in the lock-up coach-house at the White Hart.'

'In the coach-house!' said Mr. Pickwick, much astonished.

'They keep 'em locked up there till they want 'em,' resumed the little man. 'The effect, you see, is to prevent our getting at them. Even if we could, it would be of no use, for they keep them very drunk on purpose. Smart fellow, Fizkin's agent very smart fellow indeed.

'We are pretty confident, though,' said Mr. Perker, his voice sinking almost to a whisper. 'We had a little tea-party here last night, five-and-forty women, my dear sir and gave every one of 'em a green parasol when she went away. Five and-forty green parasols, at 7/6d each. Got the votes of all their husbands, and half their brothers. You can't walk half a dozen yards up the street, without encountering half a dozen green parasols.'

'Is everything ready?' said Samuel Slumkey to Mr. Perker.

'Nothing has been left undone, my dear sir. There are twenty washed men at the street door for you to shake hands with; and six children in arms that you're to pat on the head, and ask the age of. Be particular about the children, my dear sir. It always has a great effect, that sort of thing.

'And perhaps if you could manage to kiss one of 'em, it would produce a very great impression on the crowd. I think it would make you very popular.'

[from Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers, the Eatanswill election]

Well, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, eh? Oh the details of elections may vary a little from 1827, but the same tactics apply — get the voters stupefied, lock them in to voting for you, carry out some mindless stunts for the media. Gain power by whatever it takes. But, whatever you do, don't mention policies.

The way it worked for the conservatives (‘Liberals’ is one of the most misleading political names in history) in Australia in 2013 was very similar.

Before the election they engage endlessly in stunts for tv cameras, in fancy dress they lob into some known-to-be-friendly site, hold something mindlessly for the cameras, and repeat, yet again, one of a small set of focus-group-tested three word slogans.

The slogans relate to one or two policies that can be made to seem appealing to people stupefied by a diet of commercial television and News Ltd papers. Reducing electricity prices by dropping a price on carbon (‘axe the tax’), punishing brown-skinned desperate asylum seekers (‘stop the boats’), creating a Budget surplus (‘cut the waste’).

Just two other things they need to do. Claim that, apart from those few policies, in every other respect they and the (then) government are as one. Promise, implicitly or explicitly, that all the popular programs the government introduced in education, health, social services, environment, foreign affairs, workplace relations, and so on, will be retained. That in fact a change in government will be, with the exception of those popular slogan-based promises, almost un-noticeable. But better of course, because of their other claim — of competence, experience, professionalism, a ‘grown-up government’.

Home and hosed, with a lot of help from their media friends who promote slogans and stunts and grown-upness, and we have a brand new day.

After the election, while they will indeed aim to get rid of the carbon price and screw the refugees, it will suddenly appear that there were dozens, hundreds of policies never mentioned in the election campaign which are of extreme urgency. Beginning immediately, all climate change and renewable energy programs are slashed or marked for slashing; the Gonski school funding plan rejected; disability schemes abandoned; work place relations marked for big change; Medicare co-payments flagged; Australia Post set up for privatising; environmentally damaging projects approved; racial vilification laws removed; aged care damaged; NBN dismantled; ABC attacked and threatened; Indonesia insulted and her borders breached; Same Sex marriage challenged in the High Court; Aboriginal programs combined and cut, and so on. Commissions and Reviews are established to rewrite the national curriculum with a right wing and religious bias, and to slash all government spending, notably social services.

That is, just as in Eatanswill, the election of 2013 (like that of 1996) was marked by a total disconnect between a campaign aimed at winning power, and the subsequent use of that power. John Howard established the principle with his ‘core and non-core promises’, a distinction unmentioned before the election, and Abbott has continued with his proposition that only things he read out from a piece of paper, not things he said in an interview, carried any implication of reality.

The approach the Right has adopted is this: their ideology, in reality, is unpalatable to all except a tiny number of very rich people plus the small audiences of rabid shock jocks — that is, if they told people up front, during an election campaign, what they actually intended to do they could never win.

So they don't. They find a couple of policies that their rich supporters will like and which can be made popular to the masses with the help of that section of rich people who own media outlets. They engage in baby-kissing type stunts. They promise green parasols to those who vote for them. The media run interference by destabilising, attacking, delegitimising, the existing government. At the same time they totally cover-up the real ideology and agenda of the Opposition. With no reason not to vote for them, and with the green parasol tantalisingly in reach, sufficient votes are moved to get the conservative party into power.

At which point, rather like aliens (say the Slitheen of Dr Who) who rip away a human mask to reveal their true nature, the Liberal Party goes to work, as outlined above. Fake enquiries staffed by business mates will be set up to provide an alibi for the slashing and burning of the economy to disadvantage the poor and reward the rich. But generally, these days, with an acquiescent media and journalism for the rich, even the old ‘budget in worse shape than we thought’ lie isn't really needed. They can proceed quite confidently to do many things they never mentioned in the campaign, and the opposite of some things they did, knowing that the media will point out neither surprises nor contradictions. Oh, and it will turn out, so sorry, budget problems you understand, that the green parasols will only go to the rich who already have parasols of other colours.

But, you say, all very well, and a lot of damage can be done in the first term of office of a government. But obviously, after three, four, five years, depending, these vandals, masks long since ripped away, will have to face the voters who will be ready, surely, to vote early and vote often, in a fury, in order to wipe these conservatives from the political map? Er, no, sorry.

For several reasons it is very common for these conservative governments to be voted back in for several terms of office. First, come election time, they will have the advantages of incumbency — control (in Australia) of election timing, of public service, of ‘public information’ advertising, of spending, of media appearances. They can in fact go through the whole kissing babies/green parasols routine more effectively this time, and the media will keep voters stupefied; will fail to talk about the record of the government and its implications, and the public, if not reminded, forgets; will set the shock jocks to work damning the Opposition and praising the government.

Generally speaking all of that is enough to get even the most vicious and destructive government at least a second term, probably more. But these people, and their promoters, don't take chances — far too much money is at stake, far too many glittering prizes for political and business winners. So to make sure it is not uncommon to bring out the big guns. From time immemorial electoral success for an incumbent government can be guaranteed by the Falkland Gambit — rumours of war, border incidents, and, at times, the full monty, actual war, preferably, indeed invariably, against a weaker opponent.

And so Thatcher had her Falklands, Bush had his Iraq, John Howard had his Tampa incident, then Iraq, and so on.

Tony Abbott has already begun, astonishingly early, to irritate Indonesia with border incursions, and ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’, Three Star General on board. Probably no coincidence given that he has gone in much harder and earlier (than, say, John Howard) in his program to turn Australia into a neo-con paradise, starting by changing 2013 to Year 0. The only question remaining is where will he find a weaker opponent for the Falkland Gambit in 2016. Make no mistake, the billionaire backers of Tony Abbott have absolutely no intention of losing him after one term.

Oh, and also get ready in 2016 for more green parasols like Paid Parental Leave. And plenty of baby kissing by a man wearing rather odd costumes and head gear!

The thought thief

Two events occurred in January that have alarming parallels.

The Book Thief was released in cinemas across the country and Education Minister Christopher Pyne announced yet another review of the school curriculum.

The movie is based on the book by Australian author Markus Zusak. A synopsis of the story is here. While one would assume that there is some literary licence in both the book and movie, the burning of books in 1930’s Germany is fact. The ‘book burning’ was a staged event to remove ‘unGerman spirit’ from society and is discussed on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website:

In a symbolic act of ominous significance, on May 10, 1933, university students burned upwards of 25,000 volumes of ‘un-German’ books, presaging an era of state censorship and control of culture. On the evening of May 10, in most university towns, right-wing students marched in torchlight parades ‘against the un-German spirit’. The scripted rituals called for high Nazi officials, professors, university rectors, and university student leaders to address the participants and spectators. At the meeting places, students threw the pillaged and ‘unwanted’ books onto bonfires with great ceremony, band-playing, and so-called ‘fire oaths’. In Berlin, some 40,000 persons gathered in the Opernplatz to hear Joseph Goebbels deliver a fiery address: ‘No to decadence and moral corruption!’ Goebbels enjoined the crowd. ‘Yes to decency and morality in family and state!’

It is well documented that the Nazi Party was very successful in modifying the mindset of the German population in the lead up to World War 2. Communication in the ‘teen years of the 21st century is considerably better than the 1930’s with the internet and faster travel across the globe allowing people from different countries and cultures to meet and interact on a regular basis. It is a common occurrence for events around the world to be reported as they occur in 2014 due to the use of satellites and the internet — Goebbels' practices would need to be updated if they were attempted now.

While some countries do attempt to restrict the use of common electronic communication technologies, the results are variable. For example, North Korea severely restricts use of the internet but there is a domestic communications framework and some links to the ‘outside world’. There was considerable reporting of Dennis Rodman’s recent basketball tour of North Korea — including singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Kim Jong-un, the North Korean Leader (here is a link in case you want to relive this momentous event). North Korea also thought it was a good practice to remove all public references to Kim Jong-un’s uncle who was recently executed for a crime against the state. Unfortunately, the alterations were discovered and the story reported worldwide in The Guardian.

If book burning and restriction of communications won’t work to alter the mindset of a population in 2014, what will?

Stockholm syndrome’, sometimes referred to as ‘capture bonding’, relates to a situation from which people cannot escape and may bond with their abductors or abusers and demonstrates one intriguing way that mindsets can be changed. It was first described after some bank staff were held captive in a bank vault for six days in 1973 while the criminals were negotiating with police. The bank staff identified with the criminals and refused assistance to leave the vault, as well as defending them once the stand-off had ended. In a similar fashion, you could argue that the mass displays of ‘affection’ for Kim Jong-un and similar leaders that do get reported in Australia demonstrate some level of acceptance of the status quo despite documented hardships, such as lack of food or shelter; and it could also be said of the German population of the 1930’s when it accepted the need to ‘cleanse their culture’.

Education is another way. School age people are impressionable as they rely on their ‘teachers’, both inside and outside the classroom, to guide them. Harry Chapin (a US singer/songwriter who tragically died in a car accident in the 1980’s) wrote a song about altering the mindset of school children.

In announcing the curriculum review Christopher Pyne said he wanted the national school curriculum to have a greater focus on the benefits of Western civilization.

Also, in an opinion piece written for The Australian (reported in Fairfax media outlets) Pyne wrote:

concerns have been raised about the history curriculum not recognising the legacy of Western civilisation and not giving important events in Australia's history and culture the prominence they deserve, such as Anzac Day.

Australia’s national curriculum is developed and written by an organisation called ACARA (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority). The body is funded by government and is also responsible for the national annual NAPLAN testing and ‘My School’ website. Professor Barry McGaw AO is Chair of the ACARA Board, Mr Tony Mackay is the Deputy Chair, and it has 11 other members, representing the Australian Government and all education systems (independent, government and Catholic) across states and territories.

Yet Christopher Pyne, an MP since 1993 — he was 25 at the time — and prior to that a ‘practicing solicitor … and senior member of the Liberal Party’ tells us that ‘ACARA is ‘not the final arbiter on everything that is good in education'. Pyne obviously thinks he knows better than an eminent panel of educational professionals.

Christopher Pyne’s announced review of the Australian national curriculum will be headed by Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire. Donnelly was Chief of Staff in 2004 for Kevin Andrews (of ‘Workchoices’ and recently ‘the $200 for marriage counselling’ fame). They each come to the review with strong pre-existing views on what should be done.

Donnelly has stated:

In recent years several education groups have sought to introduce gay, lesbian and transgender studies in the classroom and to convince schoolchildren that such practices, along with being heterosexual, are simply lifestyle choices open to all.
Multiculturalism is based on the mistaken belief that all cultures are of equal worth and that it is unfair to discriminate and argue that some practices are wrong.

Perhaps of more concern is Donnelly’s work in designing a school program to discuss peer pressure and decision making funded by Phillip Morris — the manufacturers of a number of cigarette brands. Donnelly is also on the record as saying that Australian education has become too secular, and the Federation's Judeo-Christian heritage should be better reflected in the curriculum.

Wiltshire has described the current educational funding system as a failure and suggested in 2010 that the independent politicians holding the balance of power should support the Coalition.

Pyne acknowledges that not everyone will be pleased with his choice of who will review the curriculum, but insists it will be ‘objective and fair’.

‘It's not possible to appoint anybody to review the national curriculum who doesn't have a view on education,’ Mr Pyne said.

‘The important point is to appoint people who are going to bring an intelligent and considered approach to the review, and both Kevin and Ken have a long history and experience in education.’

Various state education ministers, teaching unions, other political parties, as well as at least one state’s Parents & Citizens association, have rubbished this claim. The former Tasmanian Education Minister (a member of the Greens) stated: 'The Abbott government’s overhaul of the national curriculum appears to be a ‘brainwashing and propaganda mission'. 
It is said that the sum total of human knowledge increased exponentially in the 20th century, and continues to do so. As evidence, your car, provided it is not an ‘old banger’, has more computing power than NASA relied on to get Apollo 11 to the moon.

In 2008 all Australian education ministers agreed to the ‘Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians’. It commits to supporting ‘all young Australians to become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens’. This document provides the principles and scope for the development of the Australian Curriculum. Many educational institutions promote and pride themselves on producing ‘successful lifetime learners’ as a result. The reality, with human knowledge increasing at an exponential rate (as the comparison between Apollo 11 and the modern car demonstrates), is that no one person can ‘know everything’. Or as Michael Legrand said: ‘The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize the less I know.’

Book burning and the imposition of restrictions on the use of online material doesn’t work. If books are removed from circulation, the book is either available for sale from another jurisdiction or can be accessed online. Australians apparently excel in the breach of copyright laws through downloading entertainment from the internet: it stands to reason that if people are being encouraged to become ‘successful learners’ and ‘active and informed citizens’, as planned by Australia’s education ministers in 2008, they will be skilled in the tools and knowledge necessary to discover for themselves information that they are interested in or need to know. A part of this process will be the ability to determine if the information is reliable.

So how does a government develop a compliant citizenship that believes the myth of the superiority of ‘western civilisation’ or the ‘evil’ of alternative lifestyle choices? It withholds teaching of the ability to discover and assess information that is relevant to the individual while the individual is impressionable. The Jesuit premise of ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man’ has been tested by the 7 Up English television series since 1964 and, admittedly from a small sample, seems to have some basis of truth. (Australia’s current prime minister received a Jesuit education.)

While the concept of reminding our school students of Australian historical events rather than the date Columbus ‘discovered’ America has merit, should we be concerned about the deliberate choice of two conservative ‘experts’ to conduct a review of the educational system? Of course we should! While Pyne, Donnelly and Wiltshire are entitled to their opinions, where are the differing opinions that would promote balance and integrity in this proposed review?

Why the urgency to replace portions of a national curriculum that is so new parts of it have not yet been implemented?

How do we ensure that our children have the ability to think critically rather than just absorb (sometimes useless) information as was done in the past?

How do we justify to our children that a government minister with a clearly ideological agenda sidelines the body set up to manage a national curriculum?

What do you think?

Do you not remember the Twentieth Century?

Dear Mr Abbott,

You promised to take us back to the halcyon days of your Liberal Prime Ministerial predecessor John Howard and, like him, hoped to put sport rather than politics back on the front pages. I fear, however, your time machine has overshot the mark and we are heading rapidly towards the 1800s.

Do you not remember the Twentieth Century?

First: On 15 September 2013 you proudly announced your new Cabinet — with one woman!

Do you not recall Australia gave women the vote in federal elections in 1902 after campaigning by Australian suffragettes such as Vida Goldstein, Mary Lee, Henrietta Dugdale and Rose Scott? If not those names, you must remember Edith Cowan who went on to become the first female elected to any Australian parliament.

Women, however, did not get the vote quite so easily in the United Kingdom. Do you not recall Mrs Pankhurst and the British suffragettes who, from 1908, had to resort to militant tactics to achieve the vote?

Do you not remember Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch and the ‘women’s lib’ movement (or second wave of feminism) of the 1960s and 1970s; the creation of the Women’s Electoral Lobby early in 1972; or the equal pay case of 1969; or women being allowed to drink in public bars and breaking down other social barriers?

Do you not remember that women have already fought much of this battle? Perhaps not, for they still have to fight to get into your Cabinet.

Second: During the 2013 election campaign you treated Indonesia like a colony, saying what Australia would do to protect its sovereignty and its borders from the evils of people smuggling without first asking Indonesia about your approaches that encroached on its sovereignty.

When in Opposition you attacked human rights in Malaysia and after you were elected were forced to apologise.

Did you not remember that south-east Asia was decolonised after WWII, that Indonesia first declared independence on 17 August 1945 but the Dutch tried to return? Do you not recall how from March 1946 Australia supported Indonesia’s independence and played a significant role in having the United Nations involved in negotiating an agreement leading to the Dutch withdrawal in 1949? Perhaps you would prefer not to, for that was a Labor government.

Did you not recall that Malaysia became completely independent from the UK in 1957 after a few years as a self-governing protectorate; that Australia sent military personnel to support Malaysia during ‘the emergency’ in the 1950s?

Why did you think that you could speak about our Asian neighbours in the way you did? Was it simply that you did not remember the Twentieth Century?

Third: You and your Ministers have demonised refugees arriving by boat, now making it official policy that they be referred to as ‘illegal arrivals’, despite Australia being a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees. Admittedly we did sign it during the Twentieth Century, which may make it somewhat difficult for you to recall.

Do you not remember that we are a nation of migrants and refugees? From what I can find out, you may have arrived as a ‘£10 Pom’. Was your family seeking a better life when they left England behind? What is it that the boat people say — oh, yes, they are looking for a better life? It does have an air of familiarity that you should recall. Or in overlooking the Twentieth Century have you also forgotten your own arrival?

Have you forgotten that people escaping war-torn Europe after World War II were welcomed — about 171,000 arrived between 1947 and 1954 under the migration program operating at the time. In fact, in those years the total net overseas migration was about 680,000. So we not only sponsored migrants, we welcomed four times as many.

One of your Liberal predecessors, Malcolm Fraser, supported the Vietnamese boat people who came to Australia in the mid-1970s. He sent migration officials to the refugee camps to speed the processing of claims and, you may be surprised to learn, that kept down the number arriving by boat — 2,059 boat arrivals between 1976 and 1981 compared to total net migration of 442,000, including about 56,000 Vietnamese who applied as refugees. Not a bad plan in my opinion.

Perhaps it is something you could consider. But then again, I imagine you don’t like to recall that part of the Twentieth Century because Fraser resigned from your Party when he saw how refugees were being treated.

Fourth: You have hidden from and, indeed, run away from interviews and gagged your Ministers.

Do you not remember that, after an initial decision in 1992, the High Court confirmed in 1997 an ‘implied right’ of constitutional freedom of political communication?

… ss 7 and 24 and the related sections of the Constitution necessarily protect that freedom of communication between the people concerning political or government matters which enables the people to exercise a free and informed choice as electors …

The High Court created a nexus between political communication and federal voting choices. This right of political communication is not restricted to election periods but can include any political communication between elections that may influence voting.

As electors we need to be informed what each party stands for, to know what the Australian Government is doing. There are also political communications with the Government to express our views, to try to change a policy or have new policies considered. How can we have political communication with you if you don’t even tell us what you are doing? We are not informed by your Government’s silence!

I can take you back to something you should remember because it occurred before the Twentieth Century.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1804:

… man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is therefore, the first shut up by those who fear investigation of their actions.

A free press is considered a cornerstone of democracy (leaving aside for now discussion of the Murdoch press) by providing information to the people and creating an informed electorate. If you persist with keeping information from the people, we will be left to assume you ‘fear investigation of [your] actions’ or are hiding something from us — perhaps you already are!

Fifth: You have re-introduced ‘flexible workplace relations’ into the administrative orders for the Department of Employment, although in searching your pre-election policies I can find no reference to it. Is this double-speak for more of WorkChoices or at least individual bargaining between employer and employee? You are obviously aware, being a Rhodes scholar, that in that relationship the employer holds all the power — it can be a very one-sided negotiation.

Do you not recall what Justice Higgins said in the ‘Harvester case’ in November 1907:

The provision of fair and reasonable remuneration is obviously designed for the benefit of the employees in the industry; and it must be meant to secure to them something which they cannot get by the ordinary system of individual bargaining.

That is my emphasis to Justice Higgins’ words but, yes, back in those times individual bargaining was the norm. Even then, however, it was seen not to work well for the employee. But I suppose that is another part of the Twentieth Century you have overlooked in your hurry to take us back in time.

Do you not recall the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York in 1911? One hundred and forty six workers — mostly women — died, leading to changes in factory conditions and safety in the US.

Here in Australia, do you not remember the Mt Kembla colliery disaster in the Illawarra in NSW in July 1902 when 96 workers, men and boys, were killed, or the collapse of the Westgate Bridge in Melbourne in 1970, killing 35 construction workers and seriously injuring 17?

Do you not recall that it was the workers represented by their unions who fought for workplace safety for decades, yet still over 100 workers die at their work every year in Australia and over 100,000 serious worker’s compensation claims are made. In fact, 212 died in 2012 and 185 in 2013.

How can an employee demand a safe workplace through individual bargaining? Would you allow, in the name of flexibility and reducing regulation, lesser health and safety standards for businesses? Would you take us back to those times when the bosses decided what was ‘safe’? How many more lives will be lost if you allow that?

Sixth: You have promised $70 million to encourage 1,500 existing public schools to become independent. And you launched your education policy at a fundamentalist Christian school in Sydney’s western suburbs. You said you did not agree with its views on homosexuality and respectfully disagreed with a number of other pronouncements in its Statement of Faith — but not all of them? Perhaps you do agree with some because, after all, they are (or at least appear to me) more akin to Christian views of the 1800s.

Do you not recall Australia’s long history of a free secular education at the primary and secondary levels? New South Wales has been doing it since late in the 1800s (so perhaps that should be within your ken) and in 1912 Queensland began creating high schools for all when it worked out it was cheaper than their previous model of ‘grammar schools’.

Do you want to take us back to the mid-1800s when the Catholic and Protestant churches provided the schooling and there was competition between them to gain pupils?

Just as an example of those times, a Dr Braim JP wrote to the Anglican Bishop of Melbourne in 1849 complaining about a Jesuit priest in his local area (and I understand, you do know something about the Jesuits):

He is to be found in every house, where he has a chance of effecting an entrance, and is very active in trying to persuade parents to prefer his school to ours for the education of their children.*

*You can find this quote in the section ‘Orphan girls’ near the end of a very long letter on the Bishop’s travels through his Diocese.

Do you not remember that the Twentieth Century placed a high priority on education and that government schools made it accessible to all?

Your Minister for Education floated the idea of reintroducing ‘caps’ on university places. You did contradict him and said it would not happen but, given your approach to promises (only what is written; only what we do, not what we said we would do — ring any bells?) I’m not sure I can believe you. It smells to me of re-creating an elite and making sure the rest of us know our place.

Last, at least for now: You said in your book Battlelines that conservatism prefers facts to theory; practical demonstration to metaphysical abstraction; what works to what’s in the mind’s eye.

Do you not recall George Bernard Shaw’s words, famously quoted by Robert Kennedy in 1968:

Some men see things as they are and say why; I dream things that never were and say why not?

In your world, things would change ever so slowly. It is the dreamers who drive progress. Even you should understand that it is also the dreamers who drive capitalism.

Do you not remember it was Henry Ford who dreamed of making cars affordable for ordinary people and from 1908 made that dream real? Or in the 1980s, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who had a similar dream of making computing available to all? If you only believe in what already works, your much loved capitalism would grind to a halt!

I will finish there but only because I have better things to do with my time and no inclination to continue this list: it could take me weeks.

You may be a conservative but you seem to be ignoring the past, ignoring what has already been done and already shown to work. You seem to have forgotten most of the Twentieth Century in your rush to take us back in time.

Perhaps your vision is of a late Victorian patriarchal upper middle-class family following correct etiquette and manners, with the elite paternalistically watching over the rest of us. It may reduce our cost of living if we no longer need televisions, computers or cars; you will not need to spend billions on motorways but perhaps more on trams — and horses! We may, however, need to use more coal and timber and, in the twenty-first century, other nations may not thank us for that.

I am sorry to remind you, but those times are gone. The Twentieth Century did happen!

Yours faithfully

Ken Wolff

PS: If I have some of my details wrong, I apologise, but at least I can recall the Twentieth Century.

What can you add to my letter?

What else has Abbott forgotten from the Twentieth Century?

What do you think?

Who killed Cock Robin?

I read that opening stanza of the old rhyme as a metaphor of the continued and repeatedly frustrated human progress toward social advancement. It is the most disappointing certainty that as soon as the human collective gets its act together and starts to achieve really useful advances in all things supportive and advantageous to the promotion of the human condition, along come those who set it all back a generation or two, or worse. The person who first wrote the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden must have felt the same way. Take away the biblical language and I think it could go like this:

Here we have two people, a young man and a young woman, attractive and attracted to each other, living in the best of any world, a veritable Garden of Eden: no worries, all the food they can want, all the time in the world; nothing to do but eat, drink and make love; and what to they do but screw it all up! I tell you, it's a mug's game!

So let's forget about the many, many thousands of like-managed scenarios throughout history where exactly the same action has been repeated ad-nauseam with exactly the same result. Cut to the recent election where a majority of our own society, our own people, voted in just such a destroyer of many good policies even against their own interests. No-one can deny that Gonski was for the benefit of the vast majority of citizens; no-one can deny the NBN was for the benefit of the vast majority of citizens; no-one can deny that action on climate change in a coordinated policy with the rest of the world was for the benefit of a vast majority of citizens. So why do we always screw it up? What is this inherent 'evil' that, like some incubus, sitting, waiting for the favourable moment, then strikes to undo and demolish any or all good works that have taken years to put in place?

Who killed Cock Robin?
‘I’ said the Sparrow, ‘with my little bow and arrow’

Sadly, dear friends, it is the collective ‘We’, ‘We the people’ who kill the ideas that enhance a society. Take the NBN for instance. Under Malcolm Turnbull, who just a couple of years ago we would have considered a moderate liberal, a reasonable man, we see the total destruction of any meaningful future for a high-speed broadband network for a majority of Australians. Who would have thought when voting in such a person as the current minister, himself a self- and publicly proclaimed citizen loyal to the republican cause and the nation, he would descend to such a level as to destroy the best system so as to build an inferior system more favourable to a foreign national citizen and corporation — a corporation whose former highest executives, at this very moment, are before the Old Bailey on charges of grave criminal concern. Who would have thought this ‘honourable man’, this ‘everyman’, would cheerfully work with such players to destroy infrastructure put in place for the benefit of the nation?

‘...with my little bow and arrow, I killed Cock Robin.’

Of course, this methodical destruction of government institutions is all to serve the ideology of economic rationalism, a crude, barbaric system that favours individual speculation over government stimulus and investment; that favours corporate structures over what is spoken of in the economic rationalist circles as ‘socialist intervention’ by government. So we now weirdly have a free enterprise government that scorns public sentiment and investment but was voted in on a media-manipulated social platform of ‘all-inclusive democracy’. Even more strangely, it is now withdrawing what it sees as democratic-state social obligations toward the citizen body in favour of corporate entrepreneurial speculation that in itself is, in theory, a body wholly and completely founded on an all inclusive social-democratic principle of multi-shareholder citizens, valued employee citizens, serviced customer citizens and corporate responsibility ethics. If that doesn't sound like a humble all-for-one/one-for-all socialist principle, then nothing is!

When Margaret Thatcher said, ‘There is no such thing as society...’ when talking to Woman’s Own magazine, a magazine that delivered news and views to a broad English society, it had to be one of the most fatuous statements ever made! She might as well have said: ‘There is no such thing as sunshine: there are only beams of light’. Her comment reflects the contradictions in the perceptions of the right-wing mind, as in a society where the entire corporate success story is totally reliant on mutual cooperation between the executive, middle-management, shop-floor production and sales and distribution; and that is only sustainable over the long-term by employing fair-wage workers within a stable society. Surely a marvellous example of mutually beneficial socialist democracy at work! So what those in the right-wing think-tanks and those in the current government have not realised, even in their most lucid moments, is that all their cynical dismantling is doing is putting themselves out of perhaps the only job they are capable of, replacing themselves with corporate socialism. Murdoch/Rinehart/Forrest et al must be laughing at those pollies all the way to their ‘comrade investor’ shareholder cooperatives!

The contradictions of the corporate mind are evident in the ‘confected’ conflict between corporations and labour and that conflict must be addressed. It must be addressed by those two players as they are the crux of power in a modern democracy. The politicians are now just the bull-horn mouthpieces of these centres of power. While the Labour unions may seem decimated at the moment, they are still the ‘eye of the storm’ in their capacity to organise and negotiate outcomes. The capacity to recruit is there, as is a future recruitment pool — labour is labour is labour! Ever since the collapse of aristocratic control of parliament, the corporate middle classes have exerted their power on parliament and democracy. Given a full head of steam, we have seen them rise on the wings of fascism to seek total dominance over all forms of wages and labour. It is in their DNA to try and dominate. It is a necessity of the ‘bottom line’ profit margin to skim and skin, always looking for the ‘cheap-labour’ demographic and then to capitalise, coerce and govern through it.

But back to the rhyme …

Who caught his blood?
‘I’ said the fish ‘with my little dish’

What do the politicians supporting these people think will be the end result of their destructive machinations? Do they think the citizen body will respect them?

‘The Mateship’ from Keating; The Musical

Do they think the corporate body will even consider them as useful after they have done the dirty work? Do they think their lot in life will be a peaceful retirement after they have reduced the living standard of many of those fellow citizens around them? They have to go to the shops. They will want to go to the beach, to the hotel or restaurant. They will be noticed, they will be pointed out. Will they demand some sort of security to accompany them every time? If we consult The Discourse of Titus Livius by Niccolò Machiavelli, we will read where he recommends, ‘To deal judgement on a person of power, first remove him from his position of power and then deal with him at your leisure.’ Such will be the reward of those who spite and cruel the citizen body. There are few examples in history where vengeful memory has not brought some sort of rough-justice to such perpetrators of injury.

Who'll toll the bell?
‘I’ said the Bullfinch ‘cause I can pull, I'll toll the bell.’

There is an inherent truth in the line, ‘No man is an island unto himself ’. What we do unto one, we do unto all and only a child or the fool will delude themselves that they can get away with a secret deception. We of aged years know from rich experience that there are no secrets; there is no devious act nor kindness that is not noted and reciprocated. There is a hunger in the honest soul for justice. There is a hunger in the virtuous soul for kindness. There is a hunger in the community soul for equality in labour and reward. Those who would deny or willingly destroy such ambition in the spirit of a nation, history notes, will be culled from the citizen body before they infect the entire life-blood of a nation. History shows us there are two methods this can be done. One is the taking up of arms — an ugly result! The other is a better justice, a more resounding justice: to vote the bullies out in no uncertain terms at the ballot box. That is the greater justice, for that tells them to their face, ‘You are not wanted in this House’.

Who killed Cock Robin? 'I' said the sparrow 'with my little bow and arrow'.

Who'll be the mourner?
‘I’ said the Dove.
‘I'll mourn for my love,
I'll be the mourner.’

Maintain the rage!

What do you think?