The Festive Season is over. Christmas, with all its seasonal trappings, delighted and enriched us. The joy of being with family and friends remains a cherished memory. The summer break refreshed us. Now, the prospect of another long year looms. What does it hold?
How well will the pleasures we’ve enjoyed over Christmas and the New Year sustain us as we enter 2020?
If only we could wipe the 2019 slate clean and start anew!
But the slate is dirty and hard to clean. Think about it, and beware of what’s ahead.
We’ve amassed a plethora of problems during 2019, problems that will not go away while we twiddle our thumbs. Let’s take a look at them and be wary of being indolent.
While our politicians might argue about which is their most pressing problem, for me, and for countless Australians, global warming stands out stridently. It poses an existential threat to the planet and all that lives on it. It has now almost eclipsed voters’ traditional top concern – the economy. Nearly half of all 18-24 year-olds agree with Greta Thunberg when she says: "Adults keep saying that we owe it to the young people to give them hope, but I don’t want your hope. I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.”
Our youth may be the saviours of our world with their insight, their determination, their capacity for action, their strength, their persistence, and their love.
Sadly, so many of our parliamentarians, who do have the power to take action, excoriate the young for expressing their views, and label them ‘alarmist’. The word should be ‘alarming’.
Saddled with the 'climate denial' his colleagues express again and again, our PM can barely bring himself to utter the words ‘climate change’. He baulked at every question that suggested it’s the reason for our prolonged drought or our raging bushfires, arrogantly claimed that he will 'meet and beat' his meagre emission reduction targets, refused to meet fire chiefs to plan for the catastrophic fire season were are now experiencing, then, as temperatures soared and the countryside burned, disappeared secretly overseas for a tropical holiday in Hawaii, leaving his accident-prone deputy (what’s his name?) in charge without bothering to tell us. Forced to return, he ran into to a firestorm of pointed questions about his judgement, which he strongly resented as his arrogance and impatience at his post-return press conference demonstrated. Even his supporters questioned his judgement. His trenchant criticism of Christine Nixon at the time of the'Black Friday' bushfires in Victoria came back to haunt him.
Denial continues to obstruct action even as the UN warns: “Countries must make an unprecedented effort to cut their levels of greenhouse gases in the next decade to avoid climate chaos, as it emerged that emissions hit a new high last year.
The International Monetary Fund now insists that a massive carbon tax of US$75 per tonne is needed by 2030 (it’s now US$2 per tonne) to limit climate change.
According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) annual emissions gap report, carbon dioxide emissions in 2018 rose to more than 55 gigatonnes, and have risen on average by 1.5% a year for the past decade. They must fall by 7.6% every year from now until 2030 to stay within the 1.5C ceiling for temperature rises that scientists say is necessary to avoid disastrous consequences.
Now, even former High Court judge, Kenneth Hayne, so prominent in the royal commission into financial institutions, has chimed in, insisting that directors cannot hide behind ‘learned helplessness’ as an excuse not to act on climate change, and has lashed out at the ‘short-termism’ of the national debate. Encouragingly, commerce and industry is finally waking up and beginning to take positive action. Now, the Australian Climate Roundtable, a coalition of major business, union, research, environment, investor and social groups has come together to put climate policy debate on common ground and offer a way forward.
But do we imagine that any politician, anywhere in the world, will take the action necessary to combat climate change? No. Climate denial will continue through 2020, as evidenced by the appalling indecision and inaction at the UN Climate Change Conference COP 25 in Madrid, and the fatuous promise after the recent World Economic Forum in Davos of 'an exciting agenda of global initiatives and commitments to better the state of our world.' Don't hold your breath!
Like religious zealots, the denialists will not listen to the scientists, nor will they take action because that would be an affront to their deeply held convictions. Expect the ‘climate wars’ to continue. Expect bushfires, tempestuous weather events and drought to persist; expect denial of global warming as a cause to continue.
Inequity is second on my list of pressing problems. Reflect on what you see every night on TV: discord in nation after nation all around the globe. Hong Kong, France, Netherlands, Spain, Germany, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Venezuela, Peru, Chile, Haiti, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and the USA are among nations that have seen conflict, disorder, protests, even rioting. If you think that’s an exaggeration, look here.
What’s all the discord about? The causes vary, but the root cause is inequity. The people are angry about disparities in income and wealth, and in educational and employment opportunities. They are angry about unfair taxes, falling living standards, shortages of life’s necessities, discriminatory citizenship laws, self-serving politicians, corruption, even criminality among some, and the rise of the extremist right with its Nazi-like behaviour.
Last year our folk were furious about the behaviour of our financial institutions. Who amongst us can comprehend the size of the criminal actions of Westpac – 23 million breaches of anti-money laundering laws? Who can explain the arrogance of bank executives who knowingly allowed this to occur, and then tried to play it down and carry on as if nothing much had happened? Cancellation of its Christmas party and the withholding of some bonuses is all the ‘punishment’ Westpac meted out! I guess you won’t want to begin 2020 by reading even more details of this outrage, but should you wish to do so, click here.
Not to be outdone by Westpac’s malfeasance, NAB contrived a scam of its very own. All through 2019 it charged its customers without bothering to provide them with any service! ASIC is now taking court action against the bank for “charging fees for no service and for fee disclosure statement failures”. If you can stomach reading the sordid details, look here.
Inequity is manifest in many ways. Homelessness, gender inequity and gender pay inequality, discrimination against homosexuals and same sex marriage, injustice, racism, bigotry, religious discrimination, hatred, hate-speech and online trolling all portray inequity. It’s everywhere we look and it’s shocking. Who would ever have expected that in our wealthy country homelessness would be so prevalent, particularly among women, older single women, many of whom now live in their cars or on the street?
To finish a gloomy year on the economic front, Josh Frydenberg presented us with a depressing December MYEFO. Despite reciting endlessly his much-practised line that the ‘economy remains strong and continues to grow’ he was forced to admit that his much vaunted ‘back in the black’ forecast of a budget surplus had been slashed by more than $2bn this financial year because of a significant revenue write down of almost $33bn over the next four years. The surpluses for later years too have wilted. As if that wasn't enough gloom in one hit, MYEFO revealed that Australia’s debt has doubled, its economic growth has plummeted since April, and wages growth, inflation, household consumption and business investment are all going downhill.
Moreover, MYEFO revealed that the dismal growth in wages would continue – 2.5 per cent this year and next financial year, despite forecasts before the election that it would reach as high as 3.25 per cent! Wage earners can expect no lift in wages in the foreseeable future; this inequity will continue despite Frydenberg and Cormann continuing to insist that wages are growing! It’s just as well we have journalists like Leigh Sales that are courageous enough to hammer their fictional claims. This account of her interview with Frydenberg may give you some pleasure.
To cap this sorry catalogue, a recent study conducted by the University of Canberra and Ipsos reported in The Conversation of December 5: Australians’ trust in politicians and democracy hits an all-time low, shows us how far we’ve sunk. This is what it says: ”Our findings should give all democrats pause for thought. We continue to find compelling evidence of an increasing trust divide between government and citizens. This is reflected in the decline of democratic satisfaction and receding trust in politicians, political parties and other key institutions (especially media). We also found a lack of public confidence in the capacity of government to address public policy concerns."
In other words, the political system in our country is in a state of disrepute. It has collapsed. Its reputation among the people now hovers dangerously between trust and distrust.
Bernard Keane of Crikey agrees in Australia’s political class no longer fit for purpose.
It is not surprising then that a long list of problems face our nation as we enter 2020. To make you aware rather than despondent, here’s a list for you to scan:
Mental illness, suicide, notably veteran suicide and youth suicide, which young people list as their top concern;
Anxiety about their future among the young;
Workplace bullying and sexual harassment;
Domestic violence - one woman killed every week, yet funding reduced;
Resistance to the decrimilisation of abortion;
Elder abuse, particularly in aged care institutions;
Resistance to assisted dying laws by religious groups;
Widespread historical institutional sexual abuse of children;
Disgraceful aged and dementia care;
Chaos in disability care, and a failing NDIS;
Excessive rates of indigenous imprisonment;
Diminishing inclusivity within our diverse society.
A failing heath insurance industry, now in a ‘death spiral’;
Overcharging by ‘greedy specialists’ that threatens the industry.
A failing economy: debt doubling, consumer confidence falling, stagnant wages growth;
A grossly inadequate Newstart allowance;
A $700 million jobs programme with a 1% success rate.
Overcrowding in cities;
Inertia in infrastructure planning;
Inadequate regional health and other services;
Meager regional planning.
The prospect of increasingly severe weather events: fires, storms, flooding, prolonged severe drought;
The imminent approach of climate ‘tipping points’ that endanger reefs, our land mass, forests and biodiversity;
The risk of extinction of some species;
A failed Murray Darling Plan;
Water theft by irrigators;
The fish kill at Menindee Lakes;
Threats of power shortages and blackouts;
Australia's highest ranking university in environmental science only 26th in world;
Australia's ineffectiveness at international climate change fora;
Misuse of carbon credits to claim emissions reduction;
No energy or climate policies;
No drought or fire policies.
An educational system that is failing by world standards;
Inadequate emphasis on STEM subjects, and insufficient teachers.
An oppressed public service threatened with funding cuts and government 'reform'.
Incompetence among some in the public service who are failing the government by giving faulty advice.
Flagrant corruption in the administration of sports grants, overseen by an incompetent minister, Bridget McKenzie, who arrogantly refuses to acknowledge her malfeasance and resign.
A failed National Broadband Network, with world high Internet prices;
Cuts to ABC funding;
Diminshed ABC voice in Asia.
A harsh immigration policy;
The repeal of ‘Medevac’ to avoid bringing sick refugees to this country;
A scandal-ridden, cruel, illegal, Robodebt scheme;
The re-introduction of defeated ‘union-bashing’ legislation;
Faltering Religious Discrimination legislation;
Faulty defence policy with cost blowouts;
The continuing Angus Taylor imbroglio.
Fraught relations with China;
China's infiltration of the South China Sea and Pacific Islands;
Australia's disregard of the plight of Pacific Islands becoming inundated:
Unequal relations with the USA and its President;
Interference in our affairs by foreign states, conspicuously China;
The misuse of social media for espionage by Russia.
There are others who share my despair. A group of scientists is now warning that the planet is closer to apocalypse than ever before, citing 'existential danger' from nuclear war and climate change as it moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock 20 seconds closer to midnight. The symbolic clock is designed to represent how far the world is from annihilation. It has been moved to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been in its 73 year history.
To cap this lamentable catalogue we now realize we have a failed political system and an incompetent, confused federal government that seems to have no sense of direction, offers no vision of where it seeks to take our nation, and is weighed down by inept, arrogant leadership. Its refusal to answer questions and its secrecy about all manner of issues is taking us inexorably toward an authoritarian police state. As we approach George Orwell territory, BEWARE!
Perhaps then the way to start 2020 is for us all to be our best selves. We know what needs to be done. Let’s do it. Most of all, let’s be wary of the danger of twiddling our thumbs while our nation burns, and our society, with all its cherished Aussie values, disintegrates before our eyes. What has now become an anthem will inspire us:
We are one, but we are many,
And from all the lands on earth we come,
We'll share a dream and sing with one voice,
I am, you are, we are Australian.