How will those displaced by technology survive?



Twenty Twenty-Four – our Orwellian destiny? drew parallels between the disturbing prophesies in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and the disquieting situation we are now experiencing as sophisticated technologies – robots and algorithms – are enabling the collection of more and more personal data that is being used increasingly by companies and political parties to manipulate our thinking, our behaviour and our decision-making. This is alarming because it threatens the very fabric of our society. You can read the details in Twenty Twenty-Four – our Orwellian destiny?

There is though an even more distressing accompaniment to these technological advances – the displacement of human workers by robots and algorithms. This piece addresses this issue. It is rather long because the ramifications are so complex. Please be patient.

We have already seen in our own country robots enter manufacturing to do work that previously was done by people. Thousands have been displaced, and made redundant. The number displaced by algorithms though will be greater still. Just look at some relevant facts from Twenty Twenty-Four – our Orwellian destiny?:

In the coming 10 to 20 years around half of today's jobs will be threatened by algorithms.

Even today, algorithms perform 70% of all financial transactions.


People, who thereby earned a living to support themselves and their families, previously carried out those transactions. It won’t be long before virtually all such transactions will be algorithm-driven. The only ones left employed will be those who write the algorithms, and don’t be surprised if automatically generated algorithms appear that require even fewer humans.

As a result of automation and algorithm driven processes 40% of today's top 500 companies will have vanished in a decade.

Reflect on that – during the next ten years, by 2027, 200 of the top 500 companies will disappear.


The top 10 global companies listed in the Fortune Top 500, and their current revenues in millions of US dollars, are:
  1. Walmart $482,130 (i.e. $482.13 billion)
  2. State Grid Corporation of China $329,601
  3. 
China National Petroleum
 $299,271
  4. 
Sinopec Group 
(China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation) $294,344
  5. Royal Dutch Shell
 $272,156
  6. 
Exxon Mobil 
$246,204
  7. 
Volkswagen
 $236,600
  8. Toyota Motor
 $236,592
  9. 
Apple 
$233,715
  10. 
BP
 $225,982
Note that three are in China, one is the world’s largest electric utility company in the world (State Grid Corporation of China), five are oil companies, two are automobile manufacturers, one is a giant retail outlet, and one an IT company.

Imagine how many workers they employ to do both manual and cognitive work.

Nobody knows whether any of these will be among the 200 of the top 500 companies that will disappear in the next decade; the list is provided simply to illustrate the size and financial strength of companies in the Top 500, so that an idea of their current workforce can be contemplated.

When such companies disappear, what, if anything, will replace them? What will workers in those companies do after their employers have gone? Will there be alternative work? If not, how will they live? Are governments planning for this eventuality? Are there any who are doing so? Is our federal government doing so?

Futurists assure us that as old jobs disappear new jobs will be created; many will be jobs that have never been heard of. Even as that is the case, it seems inevitable that there will be a net loss of jobs. It seems inescapable that many, many millions of workers around the world will lose their jobs; Richard di Natale asserts that 5 million Australian jobs will be lost in the next decade. Unless alternative jobs can be created, there will be vast numbers of unemployed. Many may never be able to work again, earn again, support a family again, or prepare for retirement. As job opportunities dry up permanently, some will never have a job. The desolation will be stupefying, and deeply distressing.



None of us can escape this unfolding tragedy. Even those with a job will rub shoulders with those without a job – in the streets, in the supermarkets, in shopping centres, at sporting venues, at meetings, and at church. Society risks being fractured. Tensions will rise as those who work are called upon to support those who don’t and can’t. Governments will have more calls on their social welfare support than ever.

Given the magnitude of the emerging problem of an expanding body of unemployed, what can be done? The unemployed can’t be abandoned to wallow in poverty and sink into homelessness. Yet that is what is already happening. Did you see Four Corners on Monday 13 March: The Price of the American Dream produced by French film-maker Helene Eckmann?

The episode was promoted with these words:
"I never figured I'd be in this kind of situation, for my kids to be in this kind of situation...I'm dumbfounded."

"Make America Great Again!" was the catch cry that propelled President Donald Trump all the way to The White House. He tapped into the deep sense of unease felt by many Americans, that despite the nation's economic recovery after the global financial crisis, they have been left behind. "It's a struggle every day. How am I gonna make it today? How am I gonna make money to buy food, how am I gonna make money to cook my kids dinner at night?"
Four Corners portrayed the distressing story of those Americans desperately hoping for change – America's shrinking middle class – who are fast joining the swelling ranks of the working poor. You will be surprised and disturbed by what you see.

Yet this is just what we can anticipate in our own country.

What can and should be done?

The response of the LNP has been dismal. Where is the evidence that it even recognizes this emerging problem let alone is doing something about it?

Not satisfied with making matters worse for the poorest sections of our community via the punitive 2104 Abbott/Hockey Budget, the then employment minister Eric Abetz came up with the brilliant requirement that the unemployed be required to apply for 40 jobs a month, a hopelessly unrealistic impost (especially in Abetz’ home state of Tasmania), designed to further humiliate those without a job. Then along came the requirement that job seekers applying for Newstart or Youth Allowance, who have not been previously employed, should face a six-month waiting period of no income support before they are eligible for payments.

More recently we had the Centrelink's disastrous data matching program that targetted pensioners and the disabled demanding repayment of alleged overpayments. For a royal flush, add to these assaults the threatened Medicare co-payment system, and the LNP-approved reduction of penalty rates at weekends.

Why does the LNP do such things?

Because their political philosophy is grounded in the ‘Strict Father’ model of parenting that conservatives embrace, a concept explained in The myth of political sameness published on The Political Sword in December 2013. George Lakoff, who has studied American politics for decades, uses this metaphor:

The Nation is a Family.
The Government is a Parent.
The Citizens are the Children.

Building on the Nation as Family metaphor, Lakoff identifies two types of family based upon two distinct styles of parenting, which he assigns to conservatives and progressives respectively. When applied to the Nation as Family metaphor, they result in vastly different behaviours.

The two parenting styles are:
The Strict Father model, and
The Nurturant Parent model.

He’s what he has to say about the ‘Strict Parent’:
”In the conservative moral worldview, model citizens are those who best fit all the conservative categories for moral action. They are those who have conservative values and act to support them; who are self-disciplined and self-reliant; who uphold the morality of reward and punishment; who work to protect moral citizens; and who act in support of the moral order.

"Those who best fit all these categories are successful, wealthy, law-abiding conservative businessmen who support a strong military and a strict criminal justice system, who are against government regulation, and who are against affirmative action. They are the model citizens. They are the people whom all Americans should emulate and from whom we have nothing to fear. They deserve to be rewarded and respected.

“The American Dream is that any honest, self-disciplined, hard-working person can do the same. These model citizens are seen by conservatives as the Ideal Americans in the American Dream.”
By contrast, the unemployed, those who don’t or can’t work, are anathema to conservatives. They do not fulfill these criteria.

Lakoff summarises:
The conservative/liberal [progressive] division is ultimately a division between strictness and nurturance as ideals at all levels – from the family to morality to religion and, ultimately, to politics. It is a division at the center of our democracy and our public lives, and yet there is no overt discussion of it in public discourse. Yet it is vitally important that we do so if Americans are to understand, and come to grips with, the deepest fundamental division in our country, one that transcends and lies behind all the individual issues: the role of government, social programs, taxation, education, the environment, energy, gun control, abortion, the death penalty, and so on. These are ultimately not different issues, but manifestations of a single issue: strictness versus nurturance.
In Australia, an identical and just as fundamental division exists between the Coalition, the conservatives, and Labor and the Greens, the progressives. This division results in the striking differences in attitude, behaviour, rhetoric, policy, and indeed morality, which day after day define our own conservatives and our own progressives. It explains so much of the contrast we see.

How then will the unfolding tragedy of increasing and intractable unemployment be managed? What will the LNP do in the face of its overbearing conservative elements? What will progressives, such as Labor and the Greens, do? Will they simply follow the Strict Father and Nurturant Parent models respectively that so govern their behaviour?

Already we have seen the LNP punitively apply the Strict Father model to the unemployed and the never employed. They see them as ‘leaners’ and ‘dole bludgers’ who are uninterested in finding work, lazy about applying for jobs, fussy about what work they will do, quick to quit if they don’t like a job, preferring instead to sleep in, watch TV and drink VBs. They aggressively tell them, indeed all of us, that ‘the age of entitlement is over’. Except, of course, for them!

The LNP exhibits anger towards those without a job, believes that those who don’t have one are lesser beings that ought to be hounded, demeaned, humiliated, and left minimally supported. How on earth can the LNP, while harbouring such attitudes, manage the tsunami of job losses that we know is coming as automation and algorithms sweep across our nation and the globe? They have not uttered one word about this peril. Do they have any idea what to do? Will their Strict Father approach permanently disable them politically? Will they ever be able to offer a solution? I doubt it.

Yet there are solutions, there are ways of managing the inevitable changes to our society.

What then is possible?

Two concepts are gaining momentum:
A universal minimum basic wage for all working age citizens, whether or not they have a job.
A shorter working week, so that more people can be employed to do the work that is available.


Richard di Natale promoted the latter in his National Press Club address on 13 March. It’s an idea, but it is embryonic. I won’t expand on it here. Instead, I’ll focus on the concept of a universal basic wage as a counter to the rising unemployment resulting from automation.

In the July/August 2014 issue of Politico Magazine there was a seminal article by Nick Hanauer, billionaire investor in Amazon titled: The Pitchforks Are Coming – For Us Plutocrats

His long article that extends over several web pages, is well worth reading in full, but here are some excerpts:

He advocates a minimum basic wage for everyone. .

To highlight the need for it, he begins by contrasting extremely rich oligarchs like himself with the rest of US society to demonstrate the rapidly rising inequality there, something that will progressively worsen as job losses and unemployment due to automation bite:

"The divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse really, really fast. In 1980, the top 1 percent controlled about 8 percent of U.S. national income. The bottom 50 percent shared about 18 percent. Today, the top 1 percent share about 20 percent; the bottom 50 percent, just 12 percent.

"But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution!

"And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: "Wake up, people. It won’t last."

"If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when."
Here is his argument for a minimum basic wage:
"The model for us rich guys here should be Henry Ford, who realized that all his autoworkers in Michigan weren’t only cheap labor to be exploited; they were consumers, too. Ford figured that if he raised their wages, to a then-exorbitant $5 a day, they’d be able to afford his Model Ts.

"What a great idea. My suggestion to you is: Let’s do it all over again. We’ve got to try something. These idiotic trickle-down policies are destroying my customer base. And yours too.

"It’s when I realized this that I decided I had to leave my insulated world of the super-rich and get involved in politics. Not directly, by running for office or becoming one of the big-money billionaires who back candidates in an election. Instead, I wanted to try to change the conversation with ideas—by advancing what my co-author, Eric Liu, and I call “middle-out” economics. It’s the long-overdue rebuttal to the trickle-down economics worldview that has become economic orthodoxy across party lines – and has so screwed the American middle class and our economy generally. Middle-out economics rejects the old misconception that an economy is a perfectly efficient, mechanistic system and embraces the much more accurate idea of an economy as a complex ecosystem made up of real people who are dependent on one another.

"Which is why the fundamental law of capitalism must be: If workers have more money, businesses have more customers. Which makes middle-class consumers, not rich businesspeople like us, the true job creators. Which means a thriving middle class is the source of American prosperity, not a consequence of it. The middle class creates us rich people, not the other way around."
Subsequently, he was interviewed about his ideas on Lateline by Steve Cannane, which you may find interesting viewing.

Many are thinking along this line.

Another article you may enjoy reading is in The Guardian of 6 March 2017 titled: Utopian thinking: the easy way to eradicate poverty by Rutger Bregman, subtitled: Keeping people poor is a political choice we can no longer afford, with so much human potential wasted. We need a universal basic income..

He concludes: "It’s an incredibly simple idea: universal basic income – a monthly allowance of enough to pay for your basic needs: food, shelter, education. And it’s completely unconditional: not a favour, but a right. But could it really be that simple? In the last three years, I have read all I could find about basic income. I researched dozens of experiments that have been conducted across the globe. And it didn’t take long before I stumbled upon the story of a town that had done it, had eradicated poverty – after which nearly everyone forgot about it."

He goes on to describe what happened in the Canadian town of Dauphine, northwest of Winnipeg, beginning in 1974. It makes exciting reading.

Richard di Natale mentioned the concept in an answer to a question at his National Press Club address, the only federal politician I have heard to do so. He mentioned that it is being trialled in several countries, notably Scandinavian nations.

So there is an answer to the question: How will those displaced by technology survive?

One is the idea of a universal minimum basic wage for all whose income is insufficient to meet basic needs for food, shelter, education and healthcare.

Another is the idea of job sharing so that some who are overworked relinquish work to those who, displaced by technology, have none, or too little – Richard di Natale’s ‘shorter working week’.

There are solutions to the growth of technology-induced unemployment, ones that have already been shown to be effective, and others that are worth a trial.

But who is even thinking about the problem, let alone doing anything?

The Greens have begun, but what of our government and our opposition? So far, oppressive silence and indolence is all we have seen from the major players. With their Strict Father mindset, we can expect nothing from the LNP, but where is Labor with its Nurturant Parent mindset?


What do you think?
Does this scenario scare you?

What should governments be doing to prepare for the unemployment that technology will unleash?

Let us know in comments below.

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Vale Ken Wolff

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our close colleague and dear friend, Ken Wolff. His last published article at The Political Sword was What to watch for in 2017: his sudden death was not what we anticipated.

Ken joined the team at The Political Sword in September 2013 at a time when its future was uncertain. Keeping a political blog site vibrant over a long period takes a lot of effort. Those who contribute to it come and go. It was just when we wondered how the site could be sustained that Ken joined us.

At that time Jan Mahyuddin (@j4gypsy) was deeply involved in the reorganization of the site, and in establishing a protocol for editing. Ken contributed much sound advice about how The Political Sword could be managed by a team. Then it was but a small team, comprising Ken, Bacchus, who codes pieces for the site, 2353NM, who writes pieces regularly, Jan Mahyuddin who at that time assisted with editing, Casablanca, who took up Lyn’s role of posting links in a segment titled ‘Casablanca’s Cache’, Web Monkey, who keeps the site running behind the scene, and updates it regularly, and Ad Astra, who created the site in 2008. Ken quickly became an enthusiastic writer of penetrating articles that contributed so much to the vibrancy and appeal of The Political Sword.

Here is a selection of Ken’s outstanding pieces, from the last six months:

The barbie bigot looks back on the year 
The buck stops where? 
The rise of political staffers: how people disappeared from policy advice
Statistics are people too
All hail the mighty banks
An economy without people
Modern economics has lost sight of people
A once and future Senate
The election in numbers
The election in numbers 2: minor parties and independents
The democratization of opinion
The Liberals are dreaming
The Liberal lie continues
Turnbull’s Medicare backflip – or is it?
Time for a new economic model
What economic plan?

This selection of just a sample of Ken’s writings illustrates his versatility, the depth of his knowledge, the variety of his offerings, his expertise in economics, his persuasiveness, and his skill with the pen.

Ken was incisive in his policy analysis and evaluation of the current issues in our polity. This was an innate ability and intelligence further developed and honed during many years as a senior federal public servant. Here is an excerpt from his bio:
Ken is a retired federal public servant who worked for 30 years in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs, mainly in policy areas. That background gives him an understanding of socio-economic issues. An Honours degree in social anthropology also influences his thinking on our society. His politics was moulded in the western suburbs of Sydney where he grew up and where Jack Lang was a local hero.
In addition to his writing role, Ken undertook the responsibility of Production Manager, following the initial re-organisation of the site by Jan Mahyuddin. He was responsible for scheduling pieces for publication on The Political Sword and our companion site TPS Extra. The schedule was documented on TPS Sandpit a separate WordPress site, established by Jan.

His editing of others’ writing was inspired, never putting the author down but providing gentle encouragement and providing that little bit of magic that has made The Political Sword a social commentary site that other blog sites regularly re-publish.

When Ken’s health made it difficult for him to write, he continued as Production Manager, even though undergoing a tough regime of chemotherapy.

We shall be forever indebted to Ken for all he has given to The Political Sword over a long period. He was dedicated to the site and to its mission of holding accountable our politicians and political commentators. So often they let us down through poor decisions and faulty communication. Ken was always ready to call them to account, and to point the way towards better decision-making and more honest communication.

Ken will be irreplaceable. His unique style, his honesty, and his dedication will remain with us as happy memories of a remarkable gentleman who gave so much, even as illness affected his capacity to contribute as he would have wished. He was consistently cheerful, collaborative and helpful; his articles were always very lucid, thought provoking, and constructive.

The team here at The Political Sword extend deepest sympathy to Ken’s wife Gillian, and his family, his extended family, and his friends.

Vale dear Ken. We shall miss you. You are a precious friend and colleague who gave so much so cheerfully despite your long illness. We shall always remember you for the wonderful person you are.

The TPS Team

Ken's service will be held in the Chapel at Norwood Park Crematorium, Sandford Street, Mitchell, ACT on Monday 27 March 2017 at 12:00 noon.

Rest in Peace dear Ken

Thou shalt not hate


In the words of The Monthly, If the name Milo Yiannopoulos means nothing to you, congratulations on being a normal, well-adjusted person. Yiannopoulos is someone we all aspire to be the complete opposite of. He was until very recently, an alt-right figurehead and said all the ‘right’ things. According to The Guardian he did a fine line in Islamophobia, misogyny, transphobia or harassment. Out Magazine, (which takes pride in its LGBTI heritage) called him a ‘super villain’. Recently, The Monthly reported:
Here in Australia, Yiannopoulos has many fans on the right. Andrew Bolt called him “fabulous” in one of his multiple appearances on The Bolt Report. Bolt's Herald Sun colleague Rita Panahi thinks Yiannopoulos is “razor sharp, insightful and funny”. Former Liberal MP Ross Cameron regards him as “an ancient form of genius”. Writing in the Spectator, Daisy Cousens described him as an “intelligent, charismatic, witty, stylish, and unbearably handsome powerhouse of a man”.
However, it seems that even the alt-right has boundaries. A Youtube video recently came out (pun intended – Yiannopoulos is gay) where he seemed to endorse intimate relations between older men and boys. He lost his job as a Senior Editor on the Breitbart (extremely conservative) news website, a book deal and some speaking engagements. Let’s give credit where it is due, those who severed connections with a person who seemed to endorse paedophilia did the right thing. However, it also brings into question why hate speech against religions, gender and those who have a different sexual orientation is permitted by the same organisations – as they are all just as abhorrent as the straw that broke the camel’s back on this occasion. Let’s face it, by supporting Yiannopoulos while he promotes hate speech, the organisations also gave implied support for his positions on those other issues. Severing the connection when Yiannopoulos seemingly ‘crossed the line’ demonstrates the principal.

The Guardian reported that during a meeting of an ultra-conservative group in North Carolina, the ‘Islamification of America’ was being discussed:
The Muslim Brotherhood, a culturally conservative organization founded in 1928 that briefly took power in Egypt after the Arab Spring, is the focal point of paranoid rightwing fears about a supposed Islamic plot to infiltrate and subvert American institutions from within and impose sharia law.

“A tactic that the Brotherhood has established over the years is establishing the presence of Islamic centers or mosques, which for them means a recruitment center for jihad, and forming a permanent foundation wherever they’re allowed to exist,” Jones said, continuing to read from Stakelbeck’s book [The Terrorist Next Door].

Jones’s presentation was repeatedly interrupted by comments about killing Muslims from Frank del Valle, a staunchly anticommunist Cuban immigrant, with little or no pushback from the others in the room.

“Can we not kill them all?” Del Valle asked, about 15 minutes into the presentation, during a discussion about the differences between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam.
But it wouldn’t happen in general society in Australia, would it? Well it does actually. Madonna King wrote an opinion piece for The Brisbane Times recently based on the reaction to Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s recent appearance on ABCTV’s QandA. You may remember that Adbel-Magied contradicted some of the more conservative panellists’ views on the Islamic religion and Sharia Law with some facts based on her understanding of the religion as a practising member of the faith. In the piece, King rightly labelled Australians as haters pointing out that while you and I certainly have the right to decide if we agree with Abdel-Magied’s opinion, she does have the right to vocalise it without people starting petitions for her to be sacked from her job presenting a show on ABCTV’s News 24 station, which is what happened on this occasion.

Let’s look at another example. Pauline Hanson was recently reported as suggesting that young women will deliberately get pregnant to receive some perceived advantage from the LNP Government’s proposed changes to family benefits. Quite probably she is partly right — generally a small minority will take any advantage that they can find and turn it to their perceived advantage. Hanson’s argument seems to be:
I’ve gone through a bloody tough life myself as a single mother and held down a part-time job. I had no assistance, no help from anyone. But we have such a welfare handout mentality.
Apart from the fact that single parent payments, family allowances and tax ‘breaks’ for families have been the practice of Australian Governments of all political persuasions for a number of decades, meaning Hanson could have received help if she met the criteria, her rhetoric seems as shallow and self-serving as her claim not to be a professional politician despite being first elected to the Ipswich City Council in 1994, followed by running for the seat of Oxley in the Federal Parliament in 1996, then failing to be elected at most elections between the end of that Parliament and the commencement of the current one.

The issue here is that considerably more young women will use the benefit as it was intended, to ensure that while babies and their parents are both going through a major change in their living and financial arrangements, there is some assistance from the rest of our society to make the financial transition slightly easier. Remember that the children who benefit from the government’s ‘largesse’ here are those who will be paying for the roads and medical services that the naysayers such as Hanson will consume in twenty to thirty years’ time when they are retired and contributing far less taxation (if any at all). All Hanson is really doing here is inflaming the anger in those who follow her particular brand of politics when they see pregnant women or young families walk past. It’s not healthy for the victims and certainly not healthy to the level of political conversation in Australia.

Of course, our ‘major’ party politicians wouldn’t stoop to using hatred to achieve political ends –would they? Don’t be silly, of course they do. As blogmaster Ad Astra recently noted in his article Abbott’s legacy of destruction, former Prime Minister Abbott’s opposition to action on climate change wasn’t a divine revelation that there was another and better way to mitigate the man-made influence on global temperature increase caused by increasing emissions of carbon dioxide, it was purely political. It is worth looking at Abbott’s head of staff’s (Peta Credlin) statement on Sky News again.
Credlin made her comments during an episode of Sky’s Sunday Agenda: “Along comes a carbon tax. It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax. We made it a fight about the hip pocket and not about the environment. That was brutal retail politics and it took Abbott about six months to cut through and when he cut through, Gillard was gone.”
As Ad Astra wrote,
The article continued with Credlin's comments:
“It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know.

“Okay, okay, okay. Let’s just provide some context. Australia has a complicated history in trying to do what many countries have already done – put a price on carbon emissions.

“Emissions trading scheme proposals contributed to the demise of Malcolm Turnbull as opposition leader in 2009 and Kevin Rudd as prime minister in 2010. Julia Gillard finally introduced a carbon-pricing scheme in 2011.

“It was Tony Abbott who re-framed Gillard’s scheme as a “carbon tax”, even though after the first year the price on carbon emissions was no longer fixed, and was instead set by the market.

“Abbott rode the anti-carbon tax movement all the way into The Lodge and eventually had everyone, including Labor and the media, calling it a carbon tax".
How about we call that for what it is. Abbott lied to get the Prime Ministership. He traded off the future liveability of this country for his personal ambition.

Both Hanson and Abbott (amongst a number of other politicians from all sides of politics) also support or have supported in the past the forcible incarceration of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru while claiming to uphold ‘good Christian values’ not only in their daily lives but in their public lives. While neither ‘Thou shall not hate’ nor ‘Do unto others as you wish others do to you’ are listed in the 10 Commandments, they both have some textual context in the holy book that Abbott, Hanson and others claim to follow. How is changing an environmental imperative to a political argument, denying a benefit the country can obviously afford on the basis that some may abuse it, or treating people poorly in the Australian detention camps, not demonstrating pure and utter hatred to those who don’t meet particular world views of some extremely narrow minded people?

It’s somewhat hypocritical to suggest that ‘good Christian values’ are a part of your life while overseeing hate speech, active persecution of others for daring to hold alternative beliefs or not caring for the world we live in and are leaving for our descendants. You would have to wonder how these people can live with the basic contradiction that is obvious to a large proportion of society – if you have good Christian values, you should live by them.

Someone who should have some idea of what represents ‘good Christian values’ is the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis. He has previously made statements on climate change, education, helping those who need a hand, paying your way in life and recently made a statement on refugees which has been widely reported. Even the extreme right wing Breitbart News (yes, the same august journal that accepted the resignation of Yiannopoulos) headlined their report with:
In powerful language, Pope Francis said Thursday that Jesus abhors hypocrisy and it is hypocritical to call oneself a Christian and at the same time not be welcoming to refugees, even if they belong to a different religion.
Pity those who routinely preach their ‘good Christian values’ will not put two and two together. Thou shall not hate.
What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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Twenty Twenty-Four – our Orwellian destiny?



Have you ever felt overtaken by the velocity of world events? Have your ever felt overwhelmed by the pace of change? Have you ever wondered what the world will be like in Twenty Twenty-Four, forty years after George Orwell’s prophetic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four?

Studying the facts and contemplating what the world will be like in just seven years is alarming, such is the pace of change we see all around us. We can avoid distress by burying our heads in the sand, or we can take a clear-eyed look at the future and reflect on how best to manage it. Many choose the more comfortable option; in this piece let’s choose the latter.

This piece draws heavily on an article in Scientific American on 25 February of this year Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, which carried the subtitle: We are in the middle of a technological upheaval that will transform the way society is organized. We must make decisions right now. The article was written by an illustrious group of authors: Dirk Helbing, Bruno S. Frey, Ger Gigerenzer, Ernst Hafen, Michael Hagner, Yvonne Hofstetter, Jeroen van den Hoven, Roberto V. Zicari and Andrej Zwitter. Their CVs are at the foot of the article.

Most of you will not wish to read the Scientific American article in full, as it is very long. To make this piece readable, I have attempted to distill the essence of it, but to portray its message accurately I have quoted much of it at length. Therefore, this is a rather long piece, but as it focuses on an issue of critical importance to our future, I have not attempted to oversimplify its content. I hope you will have time to digest it.

If you think that our society is light-years away from acting out Orwell’s fantasy, reflect on the current angry debate around clause 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, the way in which the Department of Human Services has given the media personal details of a complainant against Centrelink in order to punish her publicly, and on the recent emergence of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ in the US.

To remind you of the plot of Orwell’s Nineteen Eight-Four, here is the beginning of a summary:
Winston Smith is a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London, in the nation of Oceania. Everywhere Winston goes, even his own home, the Party watches him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of the Party’s seemingly omniscient leader, a figure known only as Big Brother.



The Party controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language. Currently, the Party is forcing the implementation of an invented language called Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Such thought-crime is, in fact, the worst of all crimes.
The rest of the summary, provided by sparknotes can be read here.

First, some facts from the Scientific American article. Remember, some of these are predictions, and therefore may not be accurate. They may, indeed likely will, change over time.

As the digital revolution accelerates, how will it change our world? Here are some statements from the article:
The amount of data we produce doubles every year. In other words, in 2016 we produced as much data as in the entire history of humankind through 2015.

Every minute we produce hundreds of thousands of Google searches and Facebook posts. These contain information that reveals how we think and feel.

Soon, the things around us, possibly even our clothing, also will be connected with the Internet.

It is estimated that in 10 years’ time there will be 150 billion networked measuring sensors, 20 times more than all the people on Earth. Then, the amount of data will double every 12 hours.
This is known in the artificial intelligence world as Big Data, a phrase we will hear more and more.

Everything will become intelligent; soon we will not only have smart phones, but also smart homes, smart factories and smart cities. Should we also expect these developments to result in smart nations and a smarter planet?

Artificial intelligence is contributing to the automation of data analysis. It is now capable of learning, thereby continuously developing itself.

Algorithms can now recognize handwritten language and patterns almost as well as humans and even complete some tasks better than them. They are able to describe the contents of photos and videos.

News content is, in part, automatically generated.

In the coming 10 to 20 years around half of today's jobs will be threatened by algorithms.

Today, algorithms perform 70% of all financial transactions.

40% of today's top 500 companies will have vanished in a decade.
Just reflect on that – during the next ten years, by 2027, 200 of the top 500 companies will disappear – 140 of them in the seven years to 2024!

What will replace them? What will workers in those companies do after they have gone? Will there be alternative work? If not, how will they live? Are governments planning for this eventuality? Are there any who are?


The article continues:
It can be expected that supercomputers will soon surpass human capabilities in almost all areas somewhere between 2020 and 2060.

Technology visionaries, such as Elon Musk from Tesla Motors, Bill Gates from Microsoft, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, and physicist Stephen Hawking are warning that super-intelligence is a serious danger for humanity, possibly even more dangerous than nuclear weapons.

One thing is clear: the way in which we organize the economy and society will change fundamentally. We are experiencing the largest transformation since the end of the Second World War; after the automation of production and the creation of self-driving cars, the automation of society is next.

With this, society is at a crossroads, which promises great opportunities, but also considerable risks. If we take the wrong decisions it could threaten our greatest historical achievements.

In the 1940s, the American mathematician Norbert Wiener invented cybernetics. According to him, the behaviour of systems could be controlled by the means of suitable feedbacks. Very soon, some researchers imagined controlling the economy and society according to this basic principle, but the necessary technology was not available at that time.

Today, Singapore is seen as a perfect example of a data-controlled society. What started as a program to protect its citizens from terrorism has ended up influencing economic and immigration policy, the property market and school curricula.

China is taking a similar route. Recently, Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of Google, invited the military to take part in the China Brain Project. It involves running so-called deep learning algorithms over the search engine data collected about its users. Beyond this, a kind of social control is also planned. According to recent reports, every Chinese citizen will receive a so-called ”Citizen Score”, which will determine under what conditions they may get loans, jobs, or travel visa to other countries. This kind of individual monitoring would include people’s Internet surfing and the behaviour of their social contacts.

With consumers facing increasingly frequent credit checks and some online shops experimenting with personalized prices, we are on a similar path in the West.

It is also increasingly clear that we are all in the focus of institutional surveillance. This was revealed in 2015 when details of the British secret service's "Karma Police" program became public, showing the comprehensive screening of everyone's Internet use.
Is Orwell’s character ‘Big Brother’ now becoming a reality for us?

Under the heading ‘Programmed society, programmed citizen’, the article goes on to describe how all this happened under our very eyes:

Everything started quite harmlessly. Search engines and recommendation platforms began to offer us personalised suggestions for products and services. This was based on personal and metadata that has been gathered from previous searches, purchases and mobility behaviour, as well as social interactions. While officially users’ identity is protected, it can be inferred quite easily.

Today, algorithms know pretty well what we do, what we think and how we feel – possibly even better than our friends and family or even ourselves.

Often the recommendations we are offered fit so well that the resulting decisions feel as if they were our own, even though they are actually not our decisions. In fact, we are being remotely controlled… The more is known about us, the less likely our choices are to be free and not predetermined by others.
This is startling. It is only a small step from manipulating our buying behaviour to manipulating our political and social thinking and behaviour, just as happened to Winston in Nineteen Eighty-Four via the Thought Police.

The alarming predictions continue:
But it won't stop there. Some software platforms are moving towards ‘persuasive computing’. In the future, using sophisticated manipulation technologies, these platforms will be able to steer us through entire courses of action, be it for the execution of complex work processes or to generate free content for Internet platforms, from which corporations earn billions.

The trend goes from programming computers to programming people.
These technologies are also becoming increasingly popular in the world of politics:

Under the label of ‘Nudging’, governments are trying to steer citizens towards healthier or more environmentally friendly behaviour by means of a ‘nudge’ – a modern form of paternalism. The new, caring government is not only interested in what we do, but also wants to make sure that we do the things that it considers to be right.
The magic phrase is ‘Big Nudging’, which is the combination of Big Data and Nudging.

This appears to be a sort of digital sceptre that allows one to govern the masses efficiently, without having to involve citizens in democratic processes. Could this overcome vested interests and optimize the course of the world? If so, then citizens could be governed by a data-empowered ‘wise king’, who would be able to produce desired economic and social outcomes almost as if with a digital magic wand.
Can you imagine how George Brandis would use the metadata he insists he must gather to ‘protect us from harm’. The fact that he is unable to explain what metadata is leaves us exposed to the manipulations of others who do know.

‘Nudging’ is already happening here.

When Centrelink client Andie Fox wrote an opinion piece for Fairfax Media claiming Centrelink had ‘terrorised’ her while chasing her for a debt she believed she did not owe, as reported in ABC News, Fairfax published an article from the Government's perspective, suggesting Centrelink was being ‘unfairly castigated’. In the article Ms Fox's personal information, including her history of claiming the Family Tax Benefit and relationship circumstances was exposed. The Department of Human Services, with the approval of the Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, supplied the information. Subsequently, the Department defended its ‘right’ to expose such intimate details in defence of its position, thereby ‘nudging’ any other potential complainant to back off, or else!

There is a downside though to such ‘nudging’ behaviour.
The scientific literature shows that attempts to control opinions…are doomed to fail because of the complexity of the problem. The dynamics of the formation of opinions are full of surprises. Nobody knows how the digital magic wand, that is to say the manipulative nudging technique, should best be used. What would have been the right or wrong measure often is apparent only afterwards.

During the German swine flu epidemic in 2009, for example, everybody was encouraged to go for vaccination. However, we now know that a certain percentage of those who received the immunization were affected by an unusual disease, narcolepsy. Another example is the recent attempt of health insurance providers to encourage increased exercise by handing out smart fitness bracelets, with the aim of reducing the amount of cardiovascular disease in the population; but in the end, this might result in more hip operations.

In a complex system, such as society, an improvement in one area almost inevitably leads to deterioration in another. Thus, large-scale interventions can sometimes prove to be massive mistakes.

Criminals, terrorists and extremists will try to take control of the digital magic wand sooner or later – perhaps even without us noticing. Almost all companies and institutions have already been hacked.

A further problem arises when adequate transparency and democratic control are lacking: the erosion of the system from the inside. Governments are able to influence the outcomes. During elections, they might nudge undecided voters towards supporting them, a manipulation that would be hard to detect. Therefore, whoever controls this technology can win elections by nudging themselves to power.

In order for manipulation to stay unnoticed, it takes a so-called resonance effect, where nudging is customized to each individual, an ‘echo chamber effect’. In the end, all you might get is your own opinions reflected back at you. This causes social polarization, resulting in the formation of separate groups that no longer understand each other and find themselves increasingly at conflict with one another.

In this way, personalized information can unintentionally destroy social cohesion. This can be currently observed in American politics, where Democrats and Republicans are increasingly drifting apart, so that political compromises become almost impossible. The result is a fragmentation, possibly even a disintegration of society.

Owing to the resonance effect, a large-scale change of opinion in society can be produced only slowly and gradually. The effects occur with a time lag, but they cannot be easily undone.

It is possible, for example, that resentment against minorities or migrants get out of control; too much national sentiment can cause discrimination, extremism and conflict.
Are we not already seeing this play out before our very eyes as Hanson supporters and right wing bigots vent their spleen?

Let us suppose there was a super-intelligent machine with godlike knowledge and superhuman abilities: would we follow its instructions?

This seems possible. But if we did that, then the warnings expressed by Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Stephen Hawking and others would have become true: computers would have taken control of the world. We must be clear that a super-intelligence could also make mistakes, lie, pursue selfish interests or be manipulated. Above all, it could not be compared with the distributed, collective intelligence of the entire population.
Let’s jump to the end of this very long piece to give you ‘the bottom line’. Here is the heavily redacted conclusion written by Yvonne Hofstetter, lawyer and artificial intelligence expert: When intelligent machines take over societal control, Orwell style!

Cybernetics is the science of information and control, regardless of whether a machine or a living organism is being controlled. Cybernetics promises: “Everything is controllable.”

For Norbert Wiener, inventor of cybernetics, the digital era would be a paradise, as the world has never produced such amount of data and information as it does today.

In the digital age, machines steer everyday life to a considerable extent already. We should, therefore, think twice before we share our personal data.

Control refers to the control of machines as well as of individuals or entire social systems like military alliances, financial markets or, pointing to the 21st century, even the electorate. Its major premise: keeping the world under surveillance to collect data. Connecting people and things to the Internet of Everything is a perfect to way to obtain the required mass data as input to cybernetic control strategies.

Wiener proposed a new scientific concept for cybernetics: the closed-loop feedback. Feedback, such as the ‘Likes’ we give, and the online comments we make, is a major concept of digitization. Does that mean digitization is the most perfect implementation of cybernetics? When we use smart devices, we are creating a ceaseless data stream disclosing our intentions, geo position or social environment. While we communicate more thoughtlessly than ever online, in the background, an ecosystem of artificial intelligence is evolving. Today, artificial intelligence is the sole technology being able to profile us and draw conclusions about our future behavior.

An automated control strategy, usually a learning machine, analyzes our actual situation and then computes a stimulus that should draw us closer to a more desirable ‘optimal’ state. Increasingly, such controllers govern our daily lives. As digital assistants they help us making decisions in the vast ocean of options and intimidating uncertainty. Even Google Search is a control strategy. When typing a keyword, a user reveals his intentions. The Google search engine, in turn, will not just present a list with best hits, but also a list of links that embodies the highest (financial) value rather for the company than for the user. Doing it that way, i.e. listing corporate offerings at the very top of the search results, Google controls the user’s next clicks. This, the European Union argues, is a misuse.

But is there any way out? Yes, if we disconnected from the cybernetic loop. Just stop responding to a digital stimulus. Cybernetics will fail if the controllable counterpart steps out of the loop. Yet, we are free to owe a response to a digital controller. However, as digitization further escalates, soon we may have no more choice. Hence, we are called on to fight for our freedom and our rights afresh during the digital era and in particular with the rise of intelligent machines.
Is that frightening enough? It ought to be. Not only are we being subsumed in the cybernetic loop where we inadvertently give the very feedback that the manipulators of our choices crave, but also we are largely unaware that we are being categorized, manipulated, ‘nudged’ and inveigled into positions not of our choosing, but those chosen by others – chosen for their own purposes, whether they be commercial, or more sinisterly, political.

Be afraid, very afraid!

Big Brother is watching you!


Thirty pieces of silver



Disappointment, disillusionment, disgust, desperation, desolation, despondency, and above all simmering anger - these are the emotions so many Australians have had, and still are experiencing when they reflect on Malcolm Turnbull’s period as prime minister. And this applies to many Labor supporters, who welcomed Turnbull’s overturning of Tony Abbott. Surely, they thought, nothing could be worse than the appalling Abbott.

Yet, despite Turnbull looking and speaking like a prime minister, in such stark contrast to the malevolent Abbott, with his reckless abandonment of the values and principles we all know Turnbull once embraced, in just over a year he has killed off any respect he initially had. We deplored so many of Abbott’s principles, but at least he stuck to them. Turnbull has turned out to be a shameful turncoat, ready to betray his beliefs for thirty pieces of silver.

We are astonished, dismayed and saddened.

This piece is a companion to the last published: Abbott’s legacy of destruction. It exposes the other side of the deeply tarnished Abbott/Turnbull coin. The two pieces need to be read in parallel.

Ten pieces of silver to abandon climate change action
Of all his fine principles, shall we ever forget Turnbull's stand on climate change!

He supported Kevin Rudd’s push for an emissions trading scheme – even crossing the floor to do so! You will remember his much publicized proclamation:

I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am.

What a tragedy it was that Rudd reneged on his promise to work with Turnbull to achieve bipartisanship to bring in an ETS. We could have had one many years ago. We now are as far away from an ETS as ever.

In December of last year, Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg was foolish enough to utter the words: “…we know there’s been a large number of bodies that have recommended an emissions intensity scheme, which is effectively a baseline and credit scheme”. Hard right-wingers Cory Bernardi and Craig Kelly went ballistic, Tony Abbott chimed in to repeat his longstanding opposition, and Murdoch’s Chris Kenny wrote a column in The Australian warning Turnbull that it was ‘political madness’ to re-consider an ETS.

Turnbull’s retreat was rapid. Within 24 hours he was insisting: “We will not be imposing a carbon tax and we will not be imposing an emissions trading scheme, however it is called, an emissions intensity scheme is an emissions trading scheme. That is just another name for it. That has been our policy for many years now.”

Suitably chastened, Frydenberg soon echoed Turnbull’s words, adding apologetically: “I have never advocated for a carbon tax and an emissions trading scheme; that is why the Government won’t proceed with one.” Ben Eltham, writing in New Matilda commented: Somewhere...a rooster crowed twice.

Although we all remember Turnbull’s 2009 proclamation, he has made many other utterances, from which he has retreated. They can be found in the archives. Some may surprise you. Take a look at them: You will find them here:

Here are a few of them:
“Climate change is a global problem. The planet is warming because of the growing level of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. If this trend continues, truly catastrophic consequences are likely to ensue from rising sea levels, to reduced water availability, to more heat waves and fires.

“I do not believe we can effectively move Australia to a lower emission economy, which is what we need to do if we're going to make a contribution to a global reduction in greenhouse gases, without putting a price on carbon.”

“…some years from now if there's a global emissions trading scheme agreement, as many have hoped for, then I'm sure Australia would be part of it.”

“The question of whether or to what extent human activities are causing global warming is not a matter of ideology, let alone of belief. The issue is simply one of risk management.”

“If Margaret Thatcher took climate change seriously and believed that we should take action to reduce global greenhouse emissions, then taking action and supporting and accepting the science can hardly be the mark of incipient Bolshevism.”

“We are already experiencing the symptoms of climate change, especially with a hotter and drier climate in southern Australia - the rush to construct desalination plants is an expensive testament to that.”

“Look at countries like China, they are determined to dominate all clean technology areas, putting lots of money into wind, solar, electric vehicles and battery storage. America's political impotence, caused by their terrible partisanship, will see them left behind.”

“Many Liberals are rightly dismayed that on this vital issue of climate change we are not simply without a policy, without any prospect of having a credible policy but we are now without integrity. We have given our opponents the irrefutable, undeniable evidence that we cannot be trusted.”

"Direct Action is “a con, an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing” and a “recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale”.

“First, lets get this straight. You cannot cut emissions without a cost. To replace dirty coal fired power stations with cleaner gas fired ones, or renewables like wind let alone nuclear power or even coal fired power with carbon capture and storage is all going to cost money. To get farmers to change the way they manage their land, or plant trees and vegetation all costs money. Somebody has to pay. So any suggestion that you can dramatically cut emissions without any cost is, to use a favourite term of Mr Abbott, "bullshit." Moreover he knows it.”

“I believe that politicians should speak the truth all the time. Invariably there will be occasions when you make statements that are factually incorrect due to an error.”

“I've been around in public life for a long time. I think people know what I stand for. They know that I have strong convictions, committed principles and I'm prepared to stand up for them.”
How laughable! Turnbull has shown over and again that he will not stand up for his principles when members of his rabid right wing stamp their feet and demand that he toe the line he agreed to get their votes to topple Abbott. We have seen that time and again, but nowhere more flagrantly than over the issue of climate change.

The man who so strongly supported an ETS now refuses to have a bar of one.

After Turnbull replaced Abbott, climate pundits were excited. Corporate advisor, Paul Gilding, insisted that there was great support from Malcolm Turnbull on renewable energy and climate change: “Turnbull actually supports climate action and has long understood the economic implications of the transition required. And rather than being fearful of those implications he embraces them – seeing the inherent opportunity in a transition away from coal and towards a technology-driven transformation of the renewable energy system. The influence of this over time, on the business community and on public attitudes will be long lasting and leave a legacy for a generation.” How disillusioned Gilding must be now!

But as we have seen in the last couple of months, ever since September when in South Australia a ‘once in fifty-year storm’ tore up transmission towers and blacked out the entire state, Turnbull has become a fierce critic of the targets set for the adoption of renewable energy, initially blaming the state’s dependence on renewable energy for the disaster, later capitulating in the face of undeniable evidence to the contrary.

He and his minders, having decided that ‘energy security’ will be the defining issue in the months ahead, have attacked Labor and the Greens relentlessly as ‘ideologically driven’ incompetents whose ‘utterly unrealistic renewable energy targets’ will not be achievable, and will drive energy prices skyward. Turnbull has ruthlessly abandoned his long-held principles in the pursuit of political gain, for himself and the LNP.

Turnbull castigates those who seek to transition to renewables rapidly, and now supports coal mining. He even allowed his Treasurer to bring a lump of coal into parliament to mock Labor. He now talks of ‘clean coal’ technology, as if it was an imminent and financially viable possibility, which experts in the field insist it is not. His behaviour is no different from that of Abbott who proclaimed that ‘coal is good for humanity’ and would be around as a major source of energy for many decades!

He is Abbott personified, but without a skerrick of principle left!

Now, a coalition of eighteen business, energy, investor, climate and welfare groups, including the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Council of Social Services, and the ACTU, has called for an end to partisan energy politics and urgent action on global warming in the knowledge of its devastating effects on business, investment in energy, agriculture, the environment, and indeed life on this planet. But Turnbull and his government are not listening!

This whole piece could be about Turnbull’s shameful retreat from the urgency of global warming, but let’s visit some other of Turnbull’s inglorious retreats.

Ten pieces of silver to ‘demolish the NBN’
Who will ever forget PM Abbott’s infamous instruction to his then Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull: Demolish the NBN? Abbott wanted it destroyed only because Labor had proposed and designed it, a groundbreaking Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) proposal that would have placed Australia at the forefront of modern Internet communications, and would have given it a competitive advantage over its neighbours and overseas' rivals. After the Abbott intervention, thanks to the lily-livered, mendacious response of Turnbull, a tech-head who made his fortune in Internet communications with the sale of his OzEmail, we now rank a lowly 45th in the world for Internet speeds.

Although Turnbull knew full well that FTTP was the superior option, he messed around trying to convince us of the merits of a Multi Technology Mix (MTM) that included Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial (HFC), Fixed Wireless, and a Long Term Satellite Service, as well as Fibre to the Node (FTTN) where fibre was rolled out only to street corner boxes, with ageing copper wire making the connection to the premises. Turnbull’s selling spiel was that Labor’s FTTP was prohibitively expensive, too slow to roll out, and sotto voce unnecessary for Australia’s needs. FTTN, with its lower speeds, would be OK for this nation, which he continually implores to be ‘agile and innovative’.

The facts are that the FTTN rollout is arguably no faster than was planned for Labor’s FTTP, the speeds are poorer, and the cost is likely to be the same as for the FTTP, or higher. In other words, to placate the malevolent Abbott, Turnbull’s counterintuitive interference with the original FTTP plan has resulted in Australia gaining nothing, and we have lost a golden opportunity to be world leaders.

Once more, Turnbull has sacrificed his ideals, abandoned his technical know-how, and deliberately deceived the public about the touted merits of the Coalition’s FTTN MTM hotchpotch, leaving us no better off financially or logistically, but much worse off technically with an already out-of-date NBN that will soon need expensive upgrades.

Moreover, he has tried to convince us that the fast 100Mbps speeds promised by FTTP are not necessary, as many taking up the NBN are choosing slower speeds. But what about business and industry that need to send large files around the world; what about farmers who need to be in rapid touch with world prices and trends? Turnbull seems to be channeling the tech-ignorant Abbott who said that the speeds needed only to be good enough to send an email, or for his daughters to download a movie!

Turnbull, who does know the technical facts better than anyone else in his party, has sold his principles and values simply to gain political advantage for himself and his party. He has lied.

In answer to a question about the Coalition’s NBN on Q&A last year Turnbull obfuscated. Writing about it in Delimiter Renai LeMay said:
“On last night’s episode of Q&A, Turnbull did nothing to address persistent criticism of the Coalition’s NBN policy. Neither did he address – at all – Labor’s reworked NBN vision.

"Instead, what we got was a repeat of the standardised set of talking points which virtually every Coalition MP has been parroting about the NBN for the past two to three years.

"I find this insulting, to say the least.

"Turnbull is clearly aware that the NBN debate has moved on and that the country is now having a nuanced discussion of how the NBN project should proceed over the next decade, incorporating technologies such as HFC cable, FTTP and perhaps even new models such as Fibre to the Distribution Point.

"The Prime Minister’s failure to address that debate in any way, shape or form shows his lack of respect for the public; and also his determination not to meaningfully engage on the matter of the NBN. The increasing likelihood that the Coalition will not refine its NBN policy for the election reinforces that impression."
Once more Turnbull has recklessly sacrificed his ideals for a pottage of political advantage.

Ten pieces of silver to abandon marital equality
This piece is already long enough; so let’s conclude with Turnbull’s shameful retreat from his principles on this contentious matter.

Turnbull has always advocated marriage equality, and believes that a parliamentary vote would secure its legislative passage. Yet, despite public opinion strongly favoring marriage equality, and a majority in favour of a parliamentary vote to settle the matter, Turnbull will not budge from his commitment to the hard right of his party to have a plebiscite, which we all know was Abbott’s delaying mechanism that would give opponents the opportunity to disseminate emotive dissent, thereby creating doubt in voters’ minds, which the religious right hopes will result in a negative vote.

Turnbull has no religious, social or ideological objection to marriage equality – indeed the contrary is the case. Yet he is shamelessly sacrificing his long-held principles on the altar of political expediency, simply to placate the rabid religious right in his party, and thereby hang tenuously onto his prime ministership.

Do you need any more evidence that Turnbull has sold his political soul for thirty pieces of silver? On three crucial fronts: global warming, the NBN, and marriage equality, he has sold out so that he could grasp, and now cling doggedly onto leadership. There are many more of his values that he has sacrificed for silver: The Republic, Medicare, urban planning, and asylum seeker policy. But enough is enough.

What are voters feeling about him now, just eighteen months into his prime ministership?

Disappointment, disillusionment, disgust, disrespect, despair, despondency, desolation, and above all, intense anger.

What a political and personal price he has paid in return for his thirty pieces of silver!


What do you think?
What are your views about Malcolm Turnbull?

Have you other examples of how he has sold out his principles and values?

Let us know in comments below.

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Climate change, power and coal


You may have noticed it’s been a bit hot lately. In fact, if you were born after 1985, you have never experienced a cooler than average month. Let’s just read that again so it really sinks in – if you were born after 1985, you have never experienced a cooler than average month.

The UK Government (amongst a lot of other experts in the field) states that Climate Change is happening, noting that
3 of the 14 warmest years on record have occurred in the 21st century and in the last 30 years each decade has been hotter than the previous one. This change in temperature hasn’t been the same everywhere; the increase has been greater over land than over the oceans and has been particularly fast in the Arctic.
It’s probably stating the obvious to suggest the UK Government is by nature conservative, as the Conservative Party is the ruling party at present. The same UK Government website goes on to list a number of detrimental effects of life (as they know it) changing in the UK as a result of climate change.

Regardless of the date you choose to start to measure from, and the scale of the graph you choose to draw, there is an upward line going to the right. Great if you’re looking at a company’s sales or share price, not so good if you are looking at the health of the world we want to leave for our descendants.

A number of scientists explain climate change as similar to pouring water into a bath. There is a lot of water in the bath and the water level is continually moving upwards. Dependent on where the spout you are using to pump water into the bath is located, there is a reasonable chance that the waves created by the water entering the bath will appear to reduce the height of the water in the bath on a momentary basis at points along the waveform; your brain will see though that the level is still rising. Climate change is where we are continually pumping chemicals into the atmosphere, which changes the way heat is dissipated. Let’s look at the UK Government’s website again:
Rising levels of carbon dioxide and other gases, such as methane, in the atmosphere create a ‘greenhouse effect’, trapping the Sun’s energy and causing the Earth, and in particular the oceans, to warm. Heating of the oceans accounts for over nine tenths of the trapped energy. Scientists have known about this greenhouse effect since the 19th Century.

The higher the amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the warmer the Earth becomes. Recent climate change is happening largely as a result of this warming, with smaller contributions from natural influences like variations in the Sun’s output.

Carbon dioxide levels have increased by more than 40% since before the industrial revolution. Other greenhouse gases have increased by similarly large amounts. All the evidence shows that this increase in greenhouse gases is almost entirely due to human activity. The increase is mainly caused by:
  • burning of fossil fuels for energy
  • agriculture and deforestation
  • the manufacture of cement, chemicals and metals
About 43% of the carbon dioxide produced goes into the atmosphere; the rest is absorbed by plants and the oceans. Deforestation reduces the number of trees absorbing carbon dioxide and releases the carbon contained in those trees.
So what does our ‘adult’ and ‘mature’ government do when South Australia again suffers electricity shortages? It claims that the fault for the outages is solely due to the state’s high (by Australian standards) use of renewable generation capacity. To emphasise the fact, Treasurer Morrison acts like a 5 year old taking his new toy to show and tell by bringing a lump of coal into Parliament.

Turnbull started this crusade when the entire South Australia power supply went down in September 2016. Turnbull claimed that the network was not secure:
Today, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said several state Labor governments — not just in SA — had set “extremely aggressive, extremely unrealistic” targets for renewable energy use.

“If you are stuck in an elevator, if the lights won’t go on, if your fridge is thawing out, everything in the kitchen is thawing out because the power is gone, you are not going to be concerned about the particular source of that power,” he told reporters in Launceston.

“You want to know that the energy is secure.”
While Energy Minister Frydenberg did acknowledge that the September 2016 power failure was caused by a significant weather event, ‘home town hero’ Senator Xenophon claimed that South Australia had become the laughing stock of the nation.

The reality is that the weather caused significant damage to not only the interconnector from Victoria and the national grid, it also caused significant damage to high voltage towers that took power from the base load generation equipment in South Australia around the state, as well as local cables that feed power into people homes. To make it even better, Turnbull knew that the September 2016 blackout had nothing to do with renewable energy.
Turnbull said: “What we know so far is that there was an extreme weather event that damaged a number of transmission line assets knocking over towers and lines and that was the immediate cause of the blackout.”

However, Turnbull also linked the blackout to South Australia’s use of renewable energy, calling it a “wake-up call” for state leaders who were trying to hit “completely unrealistic” renewable targets.

He said state governments needed to stop the “political gamesmanship” that had seen a state like Queensland set a 50% renewable target when renewables accounted for only 4.5% of its current energy mix.

“What’s the pathway to achieve that? Very hard to see it. It’s a political or ideological statement,” Turnbull said. “We’ve got to recognise that energy security is the key priority and targeting lower emissions is very important but it must be consistent with energy security.”
Seems that the facts weren’t allowed to spoil a good story, as this event preceded President Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway’s invention of the ‘alternative facts’ term by some months.

Fast forward to 8 February 2017 and 40,000 South Australians underwent the torture, euphemistically called ‘load shedding’ – where the electricity supply doesn’t meet the demand. Intelligent Energy Systems have suppled three graphs which explain the problem. The ‘National’ electricity grid (which doesn’t operate in the NT or WA) works on an economic free market system. The economic theory being that if the demand is there, various operators of the (generally) privatised power stations will bid for the ability to supply power. On 9 February, according to the ABC:
South Australian Treasurer and Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis slammed AEMO for choosing not to turn on the second unit at Pelican Point on Wednesday.

"AEMO admitted that they got their demand forecast wrong in SA, and when they realised that, it was easier for them to load shed customers than turn new generators on," he said.

But Mr Koutsantonis also revealed that three generators were out of action due to technical issues.

"There were communication problems on Eyre Peninsula, which meant 75 megawatts of Port Lincoln baseload generation could not be dispatched into the system," he said.
Yes, you read it right, the market regulator chose to ‘load shed’ rather than ask a South Australian power generator to commence generation. In essence, the market regulator chose to withdraw power from 40,000 people rather than generate more power! And Turnbull claims it is because South Australia uses too many renewable energy sources. Isn’t the Liberal Party the party of small business – don’t they understand how the free market works? If they did (and actually wanted to ‘fix’ the problem), surely they would be asking the market regulator A(ustralian) E(nergy) M(arket) O(perator) why it is not allowing the market to operate?

Maybe there is an ulterior motive here. Remember Treasurer Morrison passing a lump of coal around Parliament a couple of weeks ago? Remember Turnbull’s ‘stirring’ speech accusing Opposition Leader Shorten’s apparent desire to live in a waterfront mansion? Remember the brouhaha surrounding the shortage of electricity in a state that does successfully generate a fair proportion of its electricity need from renewables? Perhaps, according to Paula Matthewson, writing on The New Daily’s website they are all related.
Onlookers may have been puzzled to see the coal passed along the government’s frontbench and then among its backbenchers (in direct contravention of the parliamentary rule against the use of props), but the purpose of the Treasurer’s behaviour was clear.

Mr Morrison set out to prove to agitating Liberal conservatives that, if there’s going to be a change of Liberal leader, he is the man to take the fight to Labor on totemic conservative issues such as coal-based electricity.
There are a few points to note here. Apparently Queensland has larger spikes in demand for power than South Australia does. Surely, if there is a reason to question how individual states manage the generation of power, all eyes should be looking at Queensland!
The vast majority of Queensland’s energy is supplied by coal and gas. In 2015, Queensland had just 4% of its supply coming from renewables, compared to South Australia, which had 41%.

“Clearly these figures show that other dynamics like market concentration and gas prices are contributing to these price spikes and volatility, not the penetration of renewable energy,” McConnell [Dylan McConnell from the Climate & Energy College at the University of Melbourne] said.

While the events in Queensland have not raised an eyebrow, the smaller volatility in South Australia last year hit the front page of newspapers around the country, with politicians and rightwing commentators blaming the state’s reliance on renewable energy, calling for a halt to renewable energy expansion.

The push against renewables was supported by the coal lobby too, with the Minerals Council of Australia saying the reliance on renewables “exposed families and businesses to higher prices, supply instability and greater reliance on imported power”.
The right wing of the Liberal Party also genuinely believes that climate change isn’t happening and carbon pollution reduction processes don’t work! Well, no it doesn’t actually:
Peta Credlin admits the climate change policy under Julia Gillard's Labor government was never a carbon tax, but the coalition used that label to stir up brutal retail politics.

Credlin, the former chief of staff to Tony Abbott when he was prime minister and now a political commentator for Sky News, said the coalition made it a "carbon tax" and a fight about the hip pocket rather than the environment.
And finally, Bloomberg New Energy Finance has calculated:
"Clean coal" plants that the Turnbull government has flagged could get clean energy subsidies, are more expensive than solar, wind and gas-fired power and would lead to higher electricity price rises, analysts have warned.

Support for what the government calls "clean coal" stations - ultra-supercritical plants, which still emit greenhouse gas - would also be at odds with a 2015 OECD agreement under which Australia agreed not to fund any type of coal power in developing countries if cleaner options were available.
What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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