Pearls and Irritations Policy Series

Link to Fairness, Opportunity and Security.
Policy Series edited by Michael Keating and John Menadue.

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John Menadue. Supporting Adam Goodes.

Adam Goodes has been bullied and vilified because he has reminded us of our dark history and the discrimination that continues against him and many others in Australia today. We don’t like being reminded of the dispossession, killing, poisoning and discrimination against our own indigenous people. We want to forget that 30,000 indigenous people were killed in the Frontier Wars by police and white settlers. Yet we have scarcely am memorial to them in the country. The Australian War Memorial turns its back on the Frontier Wars yet with the Australian Government is spending $700 million on the centenary of WW1.

Why can’t indigenous people behave with respect and go quietly? Why don’t they appreciate what has been done for them? Why can’t they ‘behave well like white persons’ as the CEO of Collingwood Football club said some years ago?

Adam Goodes is proud of his history and so he should be. But that confronts many people. Their power and prejudice is being challenged.

He said “If you say nothing or do nothing, nothing changes”. That statement makes Adam Goodes different and the focus of attacks. So many of us don’t want to change and acknowledge our own history. Adam Goodes has clearly shown that he will not “cop shit”.

He is criticised for what is seen as a war dance, although not carrying any weapons. But we almost all enjoy and respect the Haka and what it means for all New Zealanders, Maoris and non-Maoris. In the struggle between indigenous and non-indigenous people it was Captains Cook and Phillip who introduced guns. Our own society is becoming increasingly militarised and at numerous public occasions, including Anzac, weapons are always on display.

Adam Goodes is confronting us all and it is good that he does so, even though he is paying a heavy price. In a 2008 essay, he spoke of “being the object of racism so many times that you lose count”. .

We are all nervous to some degree about the foreigner, the outsider and the person who is different, whether it be on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or even gender. It is foolish to deny that there is racism in Australia – and indeed in each one of us. It is part of our DNA. But a part of us is also is generous, open and tolerant. Theologian call it the struggle between good and evil.

Differences can be unsettling but we can come to value them and they challenge us to think again about the way we are thinking and acting. Adam Goodes is challenging us to be more generous and accepting of difference in the human family.

In the struggle between the darker and better angels of our nature as Abraham Lincoln called it, leadership is essential. Community and political leadership is critical to keep our prejudices under control and to encourage our better spirits of tolerance and generosity. The statement by over 150 community groups in the last couple of days focuses on this issue. It calls on us all “to stop empowering the worst elements of human nature”. It features in the SMH poster for this weekend. We do respond to good ethical and moral leadership. And we have seen that in the last week from leaders such as Mike Baird and Jay Weatherill. That leadership has come from state capitals but not from Canberra.

We badly need more leadership from our sporting leaders and fortunately we are seeing encouraging signs of it to push aside the comments of people like Shane Warne and Eddie McGuire. It is an old tactic to blame the victim. Only last year McGuire likened Adam Goodes to King Kong.

Many years ago, our footballers were working Monday to Friday in ‘other jobs’ with football on Saturday. Now many of them are well-paid professionals, like celebrities. They could stop the booing if they decided to stop work and stop playing like good unionists until the booing stops. That would show the solidarity we need from sports people today. The booers must be confronted and not allowed to hide in the crowd.

I think that former Sydney Swans player Michael O’Loughlin, explained it all very well in the last week. ‘We won’t sit in silence, we will continue to fight for our mob. We will continue to be proud of who we are, what we stand for and what we are fighting for. We live in a great country and we want it to thrive and get better and better. In doing so you have to recognise what has happened in the past to indigenous people and what they continue to go through. For us to move forward as a great country those are the things we need to keep fighting for.’ I don’t think it could have been said better.

Out of this current orgy of bullying, racism and prejudice we will hopefully become more honest with ourselves and build a more co-operative and tolerant society. The days look black at the moment but we may find in the years ahead that Adam Goodes has done this country another service, even at great cost to himself.

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Marcus Woolombi Waters. We all know and admire the Haka … so why not one of our own?

The first I heard of the Adam Goodes Bumala-y Yuurrama-y (war dance) I was in Aotearoa/New Zealand. I had been watching my son play rugby. It was a carnival (under 12s) and they had just lost the grand final. After leading for the entire game, players and parents alike watched helplessly as the opposing team swept down the field from sideline to sideline, much like the legendary Mark Coyne try in State of Origin.

Every tackle was made but players kept offloading the ball and passes were sticking until a boy went over the try line, taking the corner post with him. We all paused, waiting, before the referee blew the whistle and raised his hand – the try had been scored.

Our players slumped to the ground as whānau (family) and teachers alike from the opposition ran onto the field to celebrate.

An inclusive cultural identity

A young man then screamed a war cry in Māori. That was the signal for parents and teachers to separate in preparation for the children to perform a Haka. As the winners approached our boys, slapping their chests and screaming to their ancestors, our boys raised to take on this second challenge.

The game was over; now it was about “Te Reo Māori”, each school’s representation of the local Iwi (tribe).

Each school has its own Haka and our boys rose to the occasion. Supported by our whānau and teachers as mobile phones immediately uploaded images to Instagram and Facebook, I watched with mana (pride) as my Kamilaroi First Nation Aboriginal Australian boy participated in a celebration of Indigenous culture denied back in his homeland.

These were Pākehā (European), Samoan, Tongan, Cook Island, Indian, Chinese and Māori expressing the culture of Aotearoa as one inclusive cultural identity. It was inspiring and heartbreaking. As a Kamilaroi Aboriginal father, I was left wondering if we will ever see such inclusive cultural practice back in my own traditional homelands.

We drove home and I jumped on Facebook to discover the reaction to Adam Goodes’ Bumala-y Yuurrama-y. That was almost two months ago … but it’s still making headlines around Australia while the celebration of Te Reo Māori by 12-year-old schoolchildren has faded into the cultural landscape of Aotearoa.

Richer for embracing Indigenous culture

Māori culture is embedded in the cultural fabric of New Zealand – it is in evidence everywhere you look, 24 hours a day. Yet, in Australia, no matter what side of the political or culture divide you sit, we all have to admit one thing – ours is a divided nation.

In Aotearoa, presenters, no matter what colour, continually introduce and close shows in the Māori language. My Aboriginal boys think they are in an Indigenous Heaven … or should I say an Indigenous Dreaming. The school handbooks are written in both English and Māori and “Te Reo Māori” is taught in both schools my boys attend.

In Australia, we often hear that Māori speak only one language and that it would be too difficult to implement Aboriginal languages throughout Australia. That is simply not true – Māori has a number of dialects associated with various regions. The differences are overcome with the introduction of a pan-Māori that is spoken and understood throughout the country.

As Aboriginal children, we are taught that when on other people’s land you respect the local culture. Therefore, the fact that many Aboriginal languages are spoken is not problematic; you teach the local language of the region. And with language comes history and place – not just for Aboriginal people but for non-Aboriginal too. Rather than divide the culture, you all become richer.

It’s this easy … having returned from Aotearoa, I have made a conscious decision to speak an Indigenous language as often as I could. I end emails with many Kamilaroi terms and begin with Yammaa, which in my language means welcome. I do this with a translation after these words in English.

Work colleagues return in kind. I now have a collection of phrases in German, Greek, Italian and many other languages from colleagues. This builds solidarity and respect, thereby furthering understanding in the workplace.

Rather than Brisbane I now say Meanjin and instead of Sydney I say Warrang. Melbourne isNarrm and Perth is Boorloo. How and why is becoming educated within the local Indigenous culture so threatening?

Ancient culture can find new expressions

To return to Adam Goodes and that contentious dance of pride and defiance, there is a final important point to be made. Some argue that a major difference between the Haka and the Bumala-y Yuurrama-y is that the Haka has a long history and that the Bumala-y Yuurrama-y is a recent invention.

It was only ten years ago that senior All Blacks voiced serious reservations about whether the Haka was a tradition worth preserving. The issue was that some felt the Haka had become divorced from its original significance and meaning in the 21st century as Aotearoa had so many cultures represented within the All Blacks.

All Blacks management and the senior leaders, led by team captain Tana Umaga, held a series of discussions on how the Haka could be maintained and kept relevant. Consultations were held with the Ngāti Toa tribe to whom Ka Mate Ka Mate, the older Haka, belongs. It was decided to commission Derek Lardelli, an expert in Māori customs, to compose a new Haka tailored specifically for the All Blacks.

And so Kapa o Pango was born. This was less than ten years ago.

The Aboriginal Bumala-y Yuurrama-y went through this exact some process, so why is it being dismissed as not having the same cultural standing? The bottom line is that when the All Blacks do the Haka it is as an entire country: Black, White, Polynesian, Māori and Asian all standing together as one. The one time we do our Bumala-y Yuurrama-y, it is in the Aboriginal All Star games of AFL and NRL and it’s our mob against the rest.

Cultures, no matter how ancient, are allowed to adapt and evolve, but that will not happen in Australia while we remain so divided and our Aboriginal culture excluded from mainstream education and popular culture. All Australians have a right to engage in informed discussion, but this opportunity is denied to people when the 60,000-plus years of Aboriginal occupation and culture was excluded from their formal education.

In finishing, I just received a phone call informing me that NRL stars Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis will perform a traditional Aboriginal Bumala-y Yuurrama-y at matches this weekend in a rally cry of support for Adam Goodes. Now that is culture!

Marcus Woolombi Waters, Lecturer, School of Humanities at Griffith University. This article first appeared in The Conversation on 31 July 2015.

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Tim Soutphommasane. Adam Goodes has made some people feel uncomfortable.

Racism comes in many forms: overt and covert, crude and subtle. The harms of racism also come in many forms. We know from a large body of research that racism can lead to stress, negative emotions, psychological damage, even physiological effects.

We don’t always focus, however, on racism’s impact on our civic health. What I mean by this is the impact racism can have on the civility and cohesion of our society. Because when someone is subjected to racism, it can have the effect of undermining their standing as a fellow member of our community, and can have a fundamental impact on their freedom.

Racism can make people feel that they are not able to speak out in a way that they otherwise might. It can inhibit their ability to go out, or feel safe in public places.

In other words, the experience of racism undermines the assurance of security to which every member of a good society is entitled; the sense of confidence that everyone will be treated fairly and justly; that everyone can walk down the street and conduct their business without fear of abuse or assault, or without feeling that they have to keep their heads down.

This dimension of racism should remind us of its connection to power. Racism is something that is used to reduce, diminish and humiliate its victims. And when it does exist, some people benefit from it. The beneficiaries of racism may be direct: often, the perpetrators of racism do what they do because it can make them feel more powerful.

Then there are those who are the passive or indirect beneficiaries of racial power. Some may benefit from the status quo without even realizing it. Some may enjoy the benefits of a social privilege bound up in race.

There is more than one way, of course, that power manifests in conversations about race. Often, race can be brought to the fore when people seek to challenge power.

We have seen this through the example of footballer Adam Goodes, who for much of this year has been subjected to constant booing from opposition supporters at AFL matches. The booing has been a recent phenomenon. It appears only to have begun after Goodes took exception to being called an ape by a young spectator at the MCG in 2013 – and to have grown after Goodes was named Australian of the Year for 2014. The booing has further intensified since May, after Goodes performed an Aboriginal war dance during a match in the AFL’s Indigenous Round.

The booing of Adam Goodes has involved an element of racism, even if some say it occurs because spectators disapprove of Goodes’s playing style. Clearly, the booing has coincided with the public stand that he has taken on matters of racism and Indigenous affairs. If the booing was to do with Goodes’s playing style, why was there not booing for the first decade or so of his career? If Goodes has such an objectionable style, how is that he won the AFL’s Brownlow Medal – the decoration for the league’s best player – on two occasions? How is it that such a champion and statesman of the game is being treated like a pantomime villain?

It is strange, too, that the denial of racism has been typically accompanied by such intense feeling. Some have expressed deep hostility to any accusation that race and racial prejudice could be at play.

Let me be clear. There is no question that the booing is of an ugly and unedifying nature. It has everything to do with Goodes standing up against racism and speaking out about Indigenous issues. Goodes has been a public figure not afraid of challenging prejudice; not afraid of asking questions about Australian history and society. He has done it in ways that have made some people feel uncomfortable.

And it beggars belief to think that those booing somehow don’t know what they are doing. Not when there has been so much debate about it being tied to racial malice (last weekend, for instance, the booing in Perth was accompanied by some spectators being ejected for racial abuse aimed at Goodes). As others have noted, many may be joining in with the booing because they are seeking to put a proud Aboriginal man ‘in his place’ – because he has dared to speak out on issues touching on race.

Whatever the motivations, the booing has gone too far. The vilification has got to stop. Because it is doing damage – not just to the game of AFL but also to our society. With each match, each week, that this booing is tolerated, more and more people are being given licence to degrade, humiliate and intimidate; to believe that they can hound someone who speaks out about racism into silence. It is an unfortunate sign of the times that this has been allowed to go on for too long, to the point where there is now even the prospect that one of the greats of the sport may be booed into retirement.

It was welcome that the AFL has issued a statement making clear that racism had no place in the game, and that the league’s 18 club captains have taken a united stand in calling for an end to the bullying. If things do not improve (and assuming Goodes plays on), it may result in the players having to take matters into their own hands. In Europe, there have been occasions in football when teams have walked off the pitch in protest against racist abuse. What an indictment on our society it would be were things to reach such a point.

We should not forget as well the toll all this is having on the man in question. During the past two years I have had the opportunity to do some work with Adam Goodes. We are proud to have him as an ambassador of our ‘Racism. It Stops with Me’ campaign. His impact has been significant. In taking a stand against racism, he has inspired many, empowering others to do the same. And, partly because of that, he is now the target of despicable behaviour.

Adam Goodes is a champion of football, an advocate for human rights and a man of integrity. He deserves our respect. It is not him, but those targeting him, who deserve our contempt.

Tim Soutphommasane is Race Discrimination Commissioner. This is an edited extract from a speech delivered at the ANU on 29 July.


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Cathy Alexander. On climate change, the states may yet save the day.

Climate campaigner Al Gore has been in Australia again – but this time he didn’t share a stage with a beaming Clive Palmer. He didn’t go anywhere near Canberra. And he had good reason.

Gore, the former US vice-president who travels the world spruiking action on climate change, wanted to meet with state governments and city councils instead. He has jumped on an emerging trend: a broadening of responsibility for addressing climate change.

Under the United Nations system it is national governments that are supposed to make emissions pledges and enact policies. Some are doing so.

But the reality is it’s often provincial governments or city councils who are the most ambitious, especially where national governments leave a policy void.

From the ground up

A global patchwork of thousands of provinces and councils enacting separate climate policies may sound messy, and it’s very much Plan B for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. But this bottom-up mish-mash might just prove efficient at reducing greenhouse gas emissions – while some national politicians grandstand and dither on the sidelines.

Gore, a Nobel laureate who gave his trademark slideshow to 1,000 staff and students at the University of Melbourne on Monday, talked about states that are “moving” on climate change: California, Washington and Oregon in the United States, and Canada’s British Columbia.

“I have a feeling that some parts of Australia are thinking of moving,” he added in his breezy Tennessee accent. “I’m stoked about that.”

Earlier in the day Gore met with ministers from the Labor states of Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, plus senior public servants from New South Wales and the ACT.

Later he told the university event, organised by the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, that those state governments “understand this crisis and the nature of the opportunity” (such as renewable energy).

It’s a different approach to Gore’s memorable joint press conference with federal MP Clive Palmer in Parliament House a year ago. The pair announced that Palmer would vote to scrap the carbon price, while saving the furniture (the Renewable Energy Target, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation etc).

This time around, Gore didn’t target federal politicians – he could hardly show his slide of a Hawaiian wind farm surrounded by flowers to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who finds them “ugly”. (Gore did have a quick lunch with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.)

Instead, Gore looked to the states to ginger up Australians ahead of the major UN climate summit in Paris in December.

Top of his mind was California, the example he cited frequently on this trip. Former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger got an emissions trading scheme through state parliament and it started under the Democrats in 2012. (The design is fairly similar to Australia’s first emissions trading scheme under Kevin Rudd.)

California now has bills on the table to cut transport emissions and increase renewable energy, as well as a legislated emissions target. The Victorian government is particularly interested in the Californian example.

Gore also name-checked the Canadian province of British Columbia, which has had a carbon tax since 2008, introduced by the centre-Right Liberal Party. Petrol pumps in Vancouver now show the carbon tax ticking over.

British Columbia has relatively strict energy-efficiency regulations on buildings and their contents, a requirement that 93% of new electricity supply be renewable, and all government agencies offset emissions.

Gore didn’t mention Chinese provinces but there are seven state or city-based carbon trading schemes in China; the Beijing ETS covers everyone from Microsoft to news agency Xinhua.

The climate see-saw

So can Australian states follow suit? They already have. NSW had an ETS, which was scrapped in 2012 to avoid duplication with the (now defunct) federal carbon tax.

Victoria’s Labor government passed a bill in 2009 to cut emissions by 20% by 2020 and had a plan for the staged closure of the Hazelwood coal-fired power plant. The Liberals won government in 2010 and reversed those plans.

So there’s an Australian policy pattern best described as messy, regardless of one’s view on climate change. Sometimes the states act, sometimes the federal government does, but governments keep changing. Climate change has been caught in a federal-state see-saw which has left little policy intact.

That’s why Gore’s list of frontrunner states doesn’t include any Australian examples.

That’s also perhaps why no premiers met Gore on Monday. They face a tough choice – are they really ready to ramp up climate ambition, and cope with the risks of a hostile media campaign and a possible voter backlash?

Climate policy has helped see off three Australian prime ministers and two opposition leaders since 2007. The temptation to back away quietly is real.

South Australia and Queensland are talking up their climate ambition, while Victoria is formally reviewing its climate options, including an energy efficiency campaign, new emissions targets, and more renewable energy. (They’re all Labor states.)

Meanwhile, insiders are closely watching the Liberal NSW government, which is a different beast ideologically to the federal Abbott government. Watch to see if ministers from any state go to the UN Paris summit.

So it was perhaps the state premiers, and not the Melbourne University students present, that Gore had in mind when he called for “moral courage” on climate change, as he stood in front of a huge slide of the planet.

Cathy Alexander is Research Fellow. Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at University of Melbourne. This article was first published in The Conversation on 28 July 2015.

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Jon Stanford. Climate Change Policy: a wedging opportunity for the ALP?

For those who believe that Australian elections should be based on a contest of ideas about public policy, developments at the national conference of the ALP in July 2015 will provide some basis for optimism. In contrast to some previous Opposition leaders who have been content to maintain a small target strategy, Bill Shorten is starting to make himself quite a large target in policy areas such as the republic, gender equality and climate change.

Why has Shorten taken this risk? It certainly helps to be opposed by a prime minister who is a high conviction politician, driven by a conservative ideology that many on the progressive side of politics would characterise as swimming hopelessly against the tide of history. Yet Tony Abbott’s ideological self-indulgence only goes so far. There is a warning signal for the opposition in the long list of issues, mainly economic, where the Prime Minister appears to have no particular conviction and is ruthless in his willingness to play politics with those who do. The corollary is that the few issues where his ideology does dominate may not be that significant. To be sure, they make for lively debate around the barbecue and may even give Tony Abbott the look of a ‘mad uncle’, but they do not threaten the punter’s hip pocket. They are not, therefore, likely to be issues where elections are won or lost.

But one of Abbott’s high conviction issues may be different. Climate change is at the forefront of global policy concerns and is highly challenging for national governments encompassing, as it does, complex problems around science, diplomacy, technology and economics. Notably, the Prime Minister has managed to place himself on the wrong side of the debate, not just in one or two of these areas, but in all four. He has lampooned climate science as “absolute crap”, identifying instead a conspiracy to attack the fossil fuel industry. In diplomatic terms, since 2013 Australia has run dead on climate change in international forums, with Abbott not allowing Ministerial representation at UN conferences and thereby eliminating any chance of Australia securing a better deal in the upcoming negotiations. His attitude to new energy technologies is that of a Neo-Luddite; he eulogises coal as “king” while deriding renewable energy and cutting funding for the development of low emissions energy solutions. His economic policy response to climate change has been to move as far as possible away from an efficient, least cost approach to reducing emissions and instead, extraordinarily for a conservative, draws on taxpayers’ money to pay polluters not to pollute.

Little wonder then that the ALP would place climate change at the Schwerpunkt of their political assault on the Coalition leading up to next year’s election. The strategic attractiveness of the issue is also strengthened by the fact that Abbott is not in a position to downplay its significance or remove it from the front pages. With the key Conference of the Parties (COP21) on post-2020 emissions reductions to be held in Paris in December this year, it has developed a transparency and momentum that is all its own.

In the lead up to COP21, nations are required to propose emissions reduction commitments beyond 2020 that are consistent with the agreed international objective of containing global warming to a maximum of two degrees Celsius. These commitments were formally due by end-March 2015. Every other developed country has now published its proposed commitment, but Australia is again playing the laggard. Australia’s commitment, we were originally told, would be published in June this year. Then the date slipped again, first to July and now to August.

These delays might lead one to speculate that the Cabinet is having difficulties in reaching an agreed position on an acceptable commitment. This would not be surprising, because the split in the Coalition on climate change extends beyond the idiosyncratic views of the Prime Minister. On the one hand there is a strong element in the Ministry that is progressive on the issue – and reflective of the attitudes of most conservative parties around the world. On the other hand, there is also a vocal rump of climate change deniers and strong supporters of Australia’s coal industry who, encouraged by the overthrow of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership on this issue, are waiting to claim their pound of flesh.

Nevertheless, as a nation that has acceded to the two degree target, in practical terms Australia cannot put forward a weak abatement target that is seriously out of kilter with the ambitions of other countries. Responsible Ministers such as Julie Bishop and Greg Hunt would be particularly strong on this issue and would point to the ambitious approach of other conservative governments such as those headed by David Cameron and Angela Merkel. Not only would the government be pilloried by other countries, including its allies and friends, but it also seems likely that the domestic reaction would be highly unfavourable.

Pledges by other developed countries to date include:

  • The US, with a commitment to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025
  • The European Union, committing to reduce emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 relative to 1990 levels
  • Canada, proposing a 30 per cent reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2030
  • New Zealand, with a similar commitment to Canada.

In this context it seems unlikely that Australia would be able to get away with a commitment below those of Canada and New Zealand, particularly since emissions reductions of this magnitude, while substantial, still fall well short in aggregate of the abatement required to limit global temperature rises to two degrees Celsius. As Ross Garnaut has suggested, a 30 per cent reduction by 2030 from 2005 levels would be at the bottom end of what Australia could “get away with”. Nevertheless, it may well be a reasonable initial position while providing some comfort to the Prime Minister that he can march bras en bras with his Canadian friend and fellow climate sceptic Stephen Harper. Also, in the context of insufficient ambition overall and the consequent pressure that will be applied to all parties to up the ante in Paris, from a diplomatic perspective it may not be a bad initial negotiating position.

But the big problem for Tony Abbott will be in delineating the policies he will employ in meeting the target. Even a 30 per cent reduction from 2005 levels by 2030 would require significant policy intervention. Abbott has been very successful in the past in demonising almost every approach to emissions abatement by characterising it as a carbon tax or some other sneaky impost that will increase electricity prices and thereby destroy the world as we know it. For example, he was quick this week to attack Shorten’s suggestion that the renewable energy target could be increased (“we’ve got quite enough renewables”) by pointing to the significant increase in electricity prices that would be required.

So what is left? Direct Action may have been acceptable in achieving a minor reduction in emissions at a time when electricity prices were increasing, and thus driving down demand, and energy efficiency was increasing rapidly mainly thanks to LED lighting. But it could never bring about a reduction in emissions on the scale being discussed here without a substantial increase in tax revenue to fund higher subsidies. It would be very difficult to argue that increasing income tax or the GST to pay polluters to reduce emissions would provide a better outcome for the average punter than taxing polluters’ emissions directly.

One option would be for Australia to participate in an international emissions trading system (ETS) that would allow the purchase of emissions permits from overseas, often from developing countries. This option was taken to the 2007 election by the Howard government, of which Tony Abbott was a member. It also consistently featured in the modelling by Treasury of the Rudd and Gillard governments’ carbon reduction policies, which demonstrated that the economic cost of emissions reduction to the Australian community would be substantially reduced by this approach. By purchasing cheaper carbon abatement from overseas, this option would also enable some coal plant to be retained in Australia’s power generation network out almost to 2050 while at the same time we met challenging emissions reduction targets. All this would be balm, one might think, to Tony Abbott’s ears. But no; the Prime Minister has already ruled this option out on the grounds that an ETS is the equivalent of a carbon tax and hence a proscribed instrument under his ideology.

There are, therefore, significant problems, largely of their own making, for the government both in putting forward a commitment for COP21 and then in designing the policies to deliver it. The opportunity for the ALP is clear. But now that Bill Shorten has initiated the debate about climate change policy and invited the Prime Minister to “bring it on”, where should he go from here?

First of all, although he may reasonably criticise the government for a lack of ambition in its commitment and a failure in diplomacy in the process leading up to COP21, Shorten does not need to propose any abatement targets at this point in time. These are subject to negotiation at COP21 and it would be premature for an Opposition to intervene at this stage. Should Australia be regarded by the international community to be a “leaner” rather than a “lifter” during the Paris negotiations it may be appropriate for Shorten to indicate that he would consider a more testing target were the ALP to win government. He may also remind Abbott that a sustained and clever diplomatic effort in the lead up to Kyoto enabled the Howard government to obtain for Australia by far the most generous abatement targets for any significant developed country under that protocol. Australia’s minimalist, if not surly, diplomatic engagement in the lead up to COP21 may well make a repeat performance impossible.

In this context it also needs to be remembered, however, that while it is in Australia’s interests for the world to agree to significant action to counter climate change and even for our delegation to punch above its weight in that discussion, there are no prizes for Australia in exceeding the commitments made by other countries. The impact on climate change from an excess of zeal on Australia’s part would be negligible while the costs to our industry in terms of carbon leakage could be significant.

Secondly, Shorten should propose a policy framework for achieving substantial emissions reductions at least cost to the Australian economy. He has already taken a major step in that direction by endorsing an emissions trading system with the capacity to gain access to international abatement opportunities. But almost immediately Shorten then proposed a policy, fortunately at this stage only as an aspirational goal, in direct contradiction to his ETS, namely a 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030. Such a target would override the least cost approach of the ETS, negate many of the benefits of buying emission permits on the international market and, according to Danny Price of Frontier Economics, have a major impact on electricity prices by requiring a carbon price of up to $200/tonne.

Finally, this illustrates that one lesson Shorten can learn from Abbott is that relying on ideology is unlikely to be effective in determining the most efficient policy solutions. For example, in pursuing carbon abatement, what we need is the most economic lower emissions energy solutions that can be made available. These may be renewable, they may be lower emissions fossil fuel technologies or may even be nuclear. There is no need for religion here. Only the Greens believe that there is anything particularly wonderful about renewable energy and this belief is based not on science but ideology. Managing a grid with half of its generation being provided by interruptible sources would be extremely difficult. Of course it could be managed – but only by simultaneously investing in open cycle gas turbines (OCGT) to provide instant reliable power to the grid when the wind is not blowing and the sun isn’t shining. Overall, by virtually doubling the cost, this can be a very expensive solution and the emissions footprint of OCGT is not far short of coal.

While the punters like renewable energy in the abstract, they clearly don’t like higher electricity prices. Rather than succumbing to simple populism, it would be worthwhile for the ALP to do the hard yards here, such as in working out ways to increase gas supplies so as to bring the price down and thinking about how to respond down the track to the South Australian Royal Commission into nuclear energy. In the latter case, a finding in favour of small modular reactors (think plug-in nuclear submarine power plants) would merit a more considered response than the knee jerk reaction that ideology is likely to dictate.

Jon Stanford headed climate change policy while with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in the 1990s and was chair of the CoAG taskforce that delivered national gas industry reform.

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Gareth Evans. Time for the middle powers to step up.


Leadership is one of those things about which it’s sometimes wise to be careful what you wish for. In the context of Asia Pacific security, there has been far too much preoccupation with who is—and will be in the future—the top dog on the block, and far too little with building the kind of cooperative and collaborative arrangements that will make the region safe and comfortable for all its inhabitants—no matter who has, and for how long, the biggest GDP, the strongest military, the most allies and partners or the most evidently effective soft power.

The unwillingness of US leaders and presidential aspirants to speak publicly in any other terms than the need to maintain ‘dominance’, ‘leadership’, ‘primacy’ or ‘pre-eminence’, both globally and in the region, has its own self-fulfilling momentum, and inevitably generates the kind of chest-beating pushback we are now seeing from Beijing in the South China Sea. Neither side is remotely attracted to settling the issue of who is number one by armed conflict, but one does not have to accept the inevitability of what some US scholars are now breathlessly calling the ‘Thucydides Trap’ to acknowledge that events can all too easily career out of control when nationalist emotion starts overriding rational calculation.

These considerations have long motivated those regional policymakers who have wanted to shift the focus away from bilateral competition to cooperative security through multilateral institution building. All those efforts so far have been disappointing or incomplete, but the arguments for pursuing them remain compelling. And the most useful kind of leadership we can hope for in the years ahead will be from those states—perhaps more likely to be the region’s middle powers than its great ones—who have the vision, energy and stamina to realise the dream of common security: finding our security with others rather than against them.

From the late 1980s on we have seen the evolution of a number of regional mechanisms of varying degrees of formality and effectiveness. APEC, initiated in 1989 with annual leaders’ meetings institutionalised from 1993, remains a largely economic dialogue and policy organisation. But security issues have regularly been discussed in its margins, nowhere more importantly than at the New Zealand meeting in 1999, which mobilised a response to the explosive situation in East Timor.

The ASEAN Regional Forummeeting since 1994 at foreign minister level, and now with 27 members—was intended to evolve through three phases over time, starting with confidence building measures, moving from there to more explicit conflict prevention roles and ultimately conflict management and resolution. It has done some useful work on initiating discussion on a code of conduct for the South China Sea and developing cooperative disaster relief capability, and there has been some useful regular dialogue on issues like counter-terrorism and transnational crime, maritime security and non-proliferation and disarmament. Nonetheless, it would be fair to say that ARF is still largely stuck in the first groove—dialogue about confidence building—rather than living up to the hopes that by now it would be doing something more substantial.

The East Asian Summit was initiated in 2005, involving leaders level meetings. It grew out of the ASEAN+3 grouping, added another 3 (India, Australia and New Zealand), and now, since last year, embracing the US and Russia as well. Although nothing very substantive has yet emerged from the EAS, it has the potential to be the the most significant grouping, not only because it has all the key regional players around the table, but because (unlike ARF)  it  meets at the highest level, and (unlike APEC) it can address both geopolitical and economic issues.

The impulse for all these institutions and processes has been recognition to some extent that multilateral approaches are necessary in addressing security and related issues. There are certainly a number of good reasons for that approach.

Many contemporary problems in Asia and elsewhere are simply beyond the capacity of single countries, however powerful, to resolve unilaterally. These include terrorism, maritime security, arms control, drug and people trafficking, climate change, health pandemics, refugee management, and some major trade and financial imbalances—and all need cooperative and collective action. Global responses may be optimal, but problems that are primarily regional in scope and character are likely to be better dealt with at that level, given limitations of time, attention, commitment and resources at the global level.

Collective action beats unilateral action almost every time. Unilaterally volunteered actions can make an important contribution to problem solving, but unilaterally imposed solutions, even if possible, generate resentment and stress, are inherently more fragile than cooperatively agreed ones, and very susceptible to changes in underlying power balances.

And multilateral action beats bilateral action most of the time. Some problems may appear capable of bilateral resolution but are much better resolved in more multilateral frameworks: for example, free trade agreements, and arms control and disarmament agreements.

Finally, regular meetings between regional leaders, in group as well as bilateral settings, help build close and confident personal relationships, which makes shocks less likely, peaceful accommodation to new power realities more manageable, and stability more sustainable.

Of course, in all of this there is a need to be less preoccupied in the future with issues of form (who sits around what table when) and much more focused on issues of substance: what exactly will the leaders and their ministers talk about, and what practical outcomes can emerge from their discussions that are capable of real-world delivery. We need real dialogue and real policy cooperation, not just another expensive series of photo-opportunities with set-piece speeches endorsing pre-cooked lowest-common denominator communiqués. Improved regional architecture is not an end in itself—all the effort will only be worthwhile if it actually enhances stability, prosperity, state security and human security.

It remains my firm belief, based on my own experience as Australia’s Foreign Minister from 1988 to 1996, working closely with Indonesia in the development of the UN peace plan for Cambodia—as complex a conflict resolution issue as the region is ever likely to face—and with ASEAN and other colleagues in building the initial APEC and ASEAN Regional Forum architecture, that the more energetic and creative of the region’s middle powers may be the most productive players in generating the new generation of cooperative mechanisms required.

The characteristic method of middle power diplomacy is coalition building with like-minded countries, and its characteristic motivation is what I have long described as ‘good international citizenship’. This is a belief in the utility and necessity of acting cooperatively with others in solving international problems, particularly those that by their nature cannot be solved by any country acting alone, however big and powerful., Recognising that being—and being seen to be—a good international citizen is at least as central a component of any country’s national interests as the traditional duo of geostrategic security and economic prosperity.

There is plenty of scope for middle power diplomacy in the Asia Pacific to advance regional security objectives. The biggest dogs on the block won’t always be receptive to the smaller ones nipping at their heels. But—remembering the way the Permanent Five were roped into engagement on Cambodia by the Australia–Indonesia initiative, and how the initially reluctant US, Russia and China were persuaded to endorse and join the APEC, ARF and EAS initiatives—there is good reason to hope that the region’s security leadership will be shared, and its destiny not forever hostage only to great power rivalry.

Gareth Evans is Chancellor of the Australian National University, Co-Chair of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, was President of the International Crisis Group from 2000-2009,  and served as Australia’s Foreign Minister from 1988–1996.

This article appeared in the most recent edition of the East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Leadership in the region‘.

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John Tulloh. Goodbye Syria.


Fifteen years ago this month, Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father to become president of Syria. Having spent some years studying and living in France and England, he had hopes of a Western-style liberalisation and development and turning his country into the Switzerland of the Middle East. Those ambitions proved naively fanciful and now he finds himself inextricably wedged, the country under his control shrinking and the outlook hopeless.

Assad’s report card is a shocking one. A four-year-old civil war. More than 200,000 people killed. A total of 7.6 million Syrians displaced inside their own country, according to the UNHCR. Another 3.9 million driven into exile or living as refugees outside their country. In other words, half the country’s population either dead or driven from their homes.

Two international terrorist groups – ISIS and al-Nusra (an arm of al-Qaeda) – now control much of northern Syria. More than half the country is no longer in government hands. Syria’s armed forces are demoralised. The army is only half the strength it was four years ago due to death and desertion. Syria, which once prided itself on its secularism, is now racked by sectarianism. Christians have fled for their lives. The economy is in a shambles and unemployment is at record levels. Much of the once vibrant Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, is in ruins. Its main allies are only Russia and the leper of most of the Arab world, Iran.

If all this were not bad enough for a country’s ruler, there is more. Assad is said to have locked up 200,000 opponents. He has been implicated by the UN in war crimes and crimes against humanity. The U.S., E.U., Canada and Australia among others have imposed sanctions. Syrian assets in those countries have been frozen.

Despite all this, Assad carries on almost as if it’s business as usual. The U.S., some Arab states and now finally neighbouring Turkey have got involved. But that has been only from the air and their targets have been just ISIS and al-Qaeda and for Ankara the Kurdish PKK militants exploiting the turmoil. President Obama once threatened to intervene when Assad was accused of using chemical weapons, but later thought better of it and still does. The CIA has been training and arming the Free Syrian Army and other anti-Assad rebels, but they are in disarray.

     Last year, a European Council on Foreign Relations report found that: 

   The Syrian economy lies in ruins. Assets and infrastructure have been destroyed, half of the population lives below the poverty line, and the human development index has fallen back to where it stood 37 years ago. It is estimated that even with average annual growth rate of 5 percent it would take nearly 30 years to recover Syrias 2010 GDP value. 

     How did it come to this? Bashar Assad was never meant to be president. His father, Hafez al-Assad, from the minority Alawite sect, ruled Syria for 30 years with the help of patronage, a strong army, the Mukhabarat secret police, smart politics and protecting all religions. His successor was supposed to be his eldest son, Bassel. He was killed in a car crash in 1994.

‘His name (Bassel) summoned images of a vocal, shrewd, dynamic man who was a parachutist, a ladies’ man, an accomplished athlete and an outgoing statesman’, wrote Syrian journalist Majid Rafizadeh in The Atlantic. But ‘Bashar did not seek out recognition or popularity. He had no interest in being in the middle of politics. The people of Syria viewed Bashar as a nerd, not someone with the instincts or drive to lead a country’.

When Bassel died, his father summoned home the next son in line to prepare to replace him. That was Bashar, who had been studying in Paris and London. He wanted to be an ophthalmologist and it was said all he aspired to was to have a family and a comfortable life, probably in Europe. His early introduction to the levers of power was being despatched to Lebanon as an unlikely gauleiter to keep an eye on the Syrian security presence there.

His father died in 2000. Bashar Assad, with his lugubrious looks, diffident manner and beanpole figure, was now in charge. He introduced some of his ideas in what was known as the Damascus Spring. But he tried to run politically before he could walk and within a year those good intentions were scuttled. The Damascus regime settled back into its old ways.

The turning point came in 2011 when Syrians became infected by the Arab Spring demonstrations which began in Tunisia and spread to Libya and Egypt. Enough of that, decided Assad. Egged on by his widowed mother, he cracked down on it in the same way as his father had crushed a Moslem Brotherhood uprising in the Syrian city of Hama in 1982 with the loss of thousands of lives. Little did he realise he had sowed the seeds of a real revolution and now the disintegration of his country as hostile forces surged in to fill the vacuums created in the north.

Assad emerged from the twilight shadows only this week to make his first public speech in a year. He admitted to what most Syrians already knew about the state of their country and the armed forces. ‘The word defeat does not exist in the Syrian army’s dictionary’, he said disingenuously. ‘We will resist and we will win’.

Too late, said Amos Gilad, a senior official at neighbouring Israel’s Defence Ministry. ‘Syria is gone. Syria is dying’, he said as quoted by the Jerusalem Post. The funeral will be declared in due time. This Bashar Assad, he will be remembered in history textbooks as the one who lost Syria’.

Assad’s best hope may be a rump state carved out of his shrinking territory and dominated by his minority Alawites. After all, Syria was an artificial state in the first place, part of the spoils Britain and France cynically divided up as the Ottoman empire crumbled a century ago. Who will run the rest of the country is anyone’s guess as so many fractious parties fight for possession, power and influence.

ISIS with its grandiose caliphate already controls the north-east area along the Iraqi border. It will not want to surrender any influence or territory. The Nusra Front has the backing of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the usual source of support for undesirables in the region. Its intentions are not clear yet. Although it has been involved in suicide bombings, news reports suggest it is trying to ‘rebrand’ itself as a respectable anti-ISIS/Assad Syrian organisation with no links to al-Qaeda.

Then there is Iran. It sees Syria as a conduit to arm its fellow-Shiites, Hezbollah, in Lebanon. Charles Lister, a Syria expert at the Brookings Doha Centre in Qatar, said Iran with the help of Hezbollah and other militias is building ‘a state within a state in Syria, an insurance policy to protect itself against any future Assad demise’.

Then there is Turkey, which shares the longest border of all with Syria. It has exploited the ISIS presence to break its truce with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) which it – along with the West, including Australia – regards as a terrorist organisation. However, the Kurds, with their own sovereign state ambitions, have been doing as much as anyone in resisting ISIS.

As for the U.S., the New York Times editorialised: ‘Having failed to reach a consensus over the scope and nature of an authorisation of war that would have set parameters for Washingtons involvement in Iraq and Syria, lawmakers appear resigned to allow the Obama administration to slide even more deeply into a complex war. 

     In short, it is a fine old mess. None of this will soothe the nerves of Bashar Assad and his family as they view the increasing uncertainty of their future. Even their Alawite stronghold, Syria’s main port of Latakia, is under threat from dissident forces. His father, the Assad patriarch, would have been aghast.

A century later, Syria’s borders can expect to be redrawn no matter what happens, though not as cynically as before.

John Tulloh had a 40-year career in foreign news.




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John Menadue. Our health system is sustainable.

To justify an increase in the GST, Premier Baird has joined the long list of conservatives who keep telling us that our health system is unsustainable. Earlier the Treasurer, Ministers for Health and the Commission of Audit warned us in one way or another that the Australian health service is unsustainable, particularly with an ageing population.

The fact is that it is sustainable. .

We need to keep modernising Medicare but by almost any international comparison we have one of the best and most sustainable health services in the world. We need to keep our problems in perspective.

The Commonwealth Fund publishes a regular research report on health systems in major countries. The Commonwealth Fund is a highly regarded private US foundation that compares major systems around the world to stimulate innovative policies and practices in the US and elsewhere.

In its 2014 report ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall’ it compares the performance of healthcare systems in eleven major countries. The comparisons cover quality of care, access, efficiency, equity,‘healthy lives’ and health expenditures per capita.

Its overall health ratings for these eleven countries were as follows:

  1. UK
  2. Switzerland
  3. Sweden
  4. Australia
  5. Germany and Netherlands (equal)
  6. .
  7. New Zealand and Norway(equal)
  8. .
  9. France
  10. Canada
  11. US

On almost all the measures the UK with its National Health Service is a stand-out performer. . Grounded in primary care and with a single payer it has well and truly stood the test of time. The regular laggard in almost all these rankings is the US. It tells us a great deal about the failure of a health service based on multiple private insurance payers. Our private health insurance lobby is trying to take us down this disastrous US path.

When one looks at the break-down of these rankings, the UK ranks at the top in quality of care, access, efficiency and equity. US ranks last in access, efficiency and equity. What is more, the UK system is the cheapest at $US3,405 per capita in 2011 compared with the US, the most expensive at $US8,508 per capita in that same year.

As indicated, Australia stands at number four in overall rankings amongst the eleven countries. In particular areas we ranked as follows

  • In quality of care we ranked number 2.
  • In access, we are well down the list at number 8. This reflects in part our high level of co-payments or out of pocket costs. The Abbott Government plans will make this worse.
  • In efficiency, we rank number 4.
  • In equity we rank number 5, which reflects in part our failures in mental health, indigenous health and in remote healthcare.
  • In ‘healthy lives’ we rank number 4.
  • In health expenditure per capita in 2011 at $US3,800 we were the third lowest amongst the 11 countries.

Another measure of our success of course is our high life expectancy.

It is quite clear that by world standards we rank quite well. We are behind the UK, but far ahead of the US. . Medicare has served us well but is 40 years old without major review.

But there are ways that we could improve our health services.

  • Mental health, indigenous health and remote healthcare are major shortcomings.
  • Our co-payments are confused and inequitable.
  • Subsidised private health insurance makes it harder for Medicare to control costs.

There are many ways in which the efficiency of our system could be improved and costs better managed.

  • Can we afford the funding we commit to IVF and end of life services at the expense say of indigenous and mental health?
  • The split of commonwealth and state responsibilities adds to costs and hinders integration of hospital and non hospital care. We have in reality two stand-alone health systems, primary care and hospital care. There is little incentive for the Commonwealth to improve primary (GP) care in order to reduce pressure on expensive state run public hospitals. We need joint funding and planning of all health care that I have proposed for many years.
  • The remuneration of doctors, pathologists and radiologist through fee-for-service is a perverse incentive which encourages over-servicing and over-prescribing. It also hinders the treatment of long-term chronic sufferers.
  • The government subsidy to private health insurance adds $10 billion per annum to government costs benefits the wealthy and weakens Medicare.
  • Australian drugs cost at least $2b. Per annum more than similar drugs in NZ because of the clout of Medicines Australia in negotiating prices with the Australian government.
  • With its lobbying power, the Australian Pharmacy Guild protects pharmacists from competition.
  • Our health workforce is riddled with demarcations and restrictive work practices. Nurses are not properly encouraged and employed. Yet they hold the system together.
  • The Productivity Commission has drawn attention to great variations in productivity between public hospitals and between private hospitals.
  • There is no accountability in any meaningful way for what the health industry produces particularly in general practise. There is little effective peer review in private hospitals. Where are the service bench marks in patient outcomes, the use of preventive strategies, and integration of care or even waiting times?

There is clearly a lot we can do to improve healthcare in Australia and better manage costs. But overall, we have a very good and sustainable health service which ranks well against comparable countries.

Sorry if I keep repeating myself on health care but the myths about our unsustainable health care are recycled time and time again and seldom contested.

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David Holmes. Tony Abbott, Rupert Murdoch and coal.

As the latest State of the Climate report reaffirms 2014 to be “the hottest on record”, the NSW Liberal Party is pressing ahead with plans for a “Carnival of Coal” in August. The party’s upper house whip, Peter Phelps, has appealed to members to download a sticker for MP office doors in support of the upcoming carbon love-in. It says:

I loved carbon before it was coal.

The Liberal paleo-love for coal, which Tony Abbott has declared “good for humanity”, is at least a point of differentiation with Labor. Labor does not promote such slogans at all – even if, in Victoria, the Andrews Labor government is still issuing coal exploration licences.

Both parties are capable of romancing the coal industry. But Liberal parties around the country have had much more success in convincing voters that either coal is more important than climate, or have decided that – with a population drip-fed on attention-deficit-consumerism and its reality television advertorials – their connection can be comfortably sublimated.

Whatever its form, the love for coal in Australia is going to end badly, like all relationships based on fantasy. To slightly misquote a 19th-century philosopher: the demand to give up the illusion that coal is good for humanity is the demand to give up a condition which needs such an illusion.

The condition I am referring to is the way our half-formed social democracy has become so captive to the ugliest form of corporate-servicing statism. It is not that the state has completely merged with corporate interests. Australia still has incredibly strong and progressive civic institutions such as its public broadcaster, its schools, universities, bureaus, museums and aspects of the legal system that do not serve capital’s interests.

It is that our governments have become servile – not to voters, but to a conjunction of multinational mining, energy and media interests, who have as their dating agencies the far-right silos of the capitalist class, such as the Institute for Public Affairs, which do not disclose their corporate donors.

Many believe, including perhaps Abbott himself, that he retains his power base at the pleasure of an ageing octogenarian who is well known for obtaining amusement from playing the Freudian Fort-Da game with entire democracies – the power to give and take away power – as long as he has also received something in return.

The same newspaper group that managed to squeeze a “toxic” “carbon tax” through the consciousness of millions of tabloid readers by means of slogan and cartoon did so when it was threatened by the Australian Tax Office (ATO) with having to repay almost A$900 million it had received on the eve of the last federal election.

The infamous “Kick this Mob Out” election blitzkrieg on Labor that started on August 5, 2013, was launched precisely at decision time for the ATO to appeal the Federal Court ruling on the windfall payout News Corp reportedly received by titanic-scale profit-shifting.

Global profit-shifting activities are routine for multinational empires such as Murdoch’s. But, not all have the ability to pressure governments at election times. And it is clear that at least the two major political parties believe they need a media mogul to gain office.

But political parties also need big donors. The largest to the Coalition are the energy and mining companies, who receive the greatest benefits in corporate welfare.

The examples are quite grotesque. Fuel rebate subsidies that mining companies receive run at A$2.2 billion per year. Meanwhile, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) is asked to cancel its A$2.1 billion in subsidies directed exclusively to windfarms – which have the ability to hurt coal.

Before it moved to neuter the CEFC, the Coalition has proposed what has been dubbed the ”Dirty Energy Finance Corporation” for Northern Australia. It will bewilderingly make up to A$5 billion available to subsidise infrastructure projects in northern Australia and Queensland in particular.

A source has suggested to me that the fund is actually an elaborate financial smokescreen to helping out the coal mines in the Galilee basin – particularly the Adani Enterprises mine, but also the GVK Alpha Coalmine. GVK Alpha, the largest coal mine in Australia, was approved 2 months after the Coalition assumed power, is part-owned by Gina Rinehart – and also stands to benefit from billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies. Ms Rhinehart attracted satire in 2011 for flying liberal MPs to India to attend the wedding of the granddaughter of mine co-owner GV Krishna.

With the coal price diving worldwide, the mines – are unlikely to be economically viable without a huge subsidy. They might also surpass the viability threshold if they were able to sell the coal to a nearby newly proposed coal-fired power station that has been endorsed by Abbott personally.

However, competition from renewable energy company Windlab for an adjacent 1.2 gigawatt combined solar and wind farm would be an enormous threat to Alpha and Adani. It is pledging to undercut the price of the coal station by $30 per megawatt hour.

Time for my readers to draw a diagram to figure out which proposal will get funded. A diagram might picture the coincidence that the CEFC was directed to cease subsidising windfarms – for which it actually returns a profit to Australian taxpayers – just as it was realised the Windlab proposal posed a threat to the coal-fired power station.

It is worth considering that, according to Bill McKibben from, the Galilee basin alone has so much coal that if it is all burnt, it would take the world 30% of the way to getting to 2 degrees. You couldn’t invent a more tragic case study on how destructive the Abbott government is on climate.

But then there is Direct Action. This is a government marketing exercise that disguises a further A$2.5 billion giveaway to corporate Australia that works with targets so small as to guarantee Australia’s status as having fallen off the climate action map.

Detailed analysis shows that Direct Action won’t even meet its miniscule targets. It has led to a demonstrable increase in Australias Co2 emissions since the carbon tax was repealed, according to the government’s own figures.

Given the Abbott government’s ongoing love affair with coal, it is little wonder that Australia was publicly scrutinised at climate talks held in Bonn last month about the impact of its domestic policies. The UN talks, attended by representatives of 190 countries, were an important stepping stone to the much-anticipated Paris summit to be held in December.

While the Coalition’s reckless disregard for addressing climate change may not get scrutiny by the tabloid media in Australia, it certainly will in Paris.

David Holmes is Senior Lecturer, Communications and Media Studies at Monash University.  This article was first published in The Conversation on 18 July 2015.

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Shiro Armstrong. A risky Trans-Pacific Partnership deal.

The largest hurdle for the 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement — the US president’s ability to get Trade Promotion Authority, or fast track — has been cleared. Many people think that the TPP can be wrapped up in a few months.

There are still difficult issues to resolve, but they are trivial compared to the ability to get a straight up-or-down vote in the US Congress, without which the deal would be a non-starter. The remaining issues can easily be horse-traded at the political level and compromises can be made in order to complete the deal.

The temptation will be strong to rush across the finish line for what will be a major political trophy — but the risk is that the TPP will be an agreement that does more harm than good for economic and political relations in the Asia Pacific.

A completed TPP will be accompanied by grandiose statements about the deal covering 60 per cent of global GDP and half the world’s trade. This sounds much less impressive when you compare it to groupings like APEC, which includes China and Indonesia, that have even higher global GDP and trade coverage. But the numbers like these don’t tell us anything about what kind of deal it will be or what gains and costs it will bring. The most optimistic estimates suggest trivial increases in GDP.

The TPP aims to write rules for international commerce in the 21st century and includes a large number of chapters that go beyond 20th century trade issues.

There are three major flaws, though, that will likely overwhelm any positives the deal may deliver.

The first is that the core of the new rules involves aspects that further private interests (read: large multinationals) at the expense of general welfare in member countries. The most egregious of these is stronger intellectual property (IP) rights protections, which are anti-development and simply transfer wealth to US pharmaceutical companies and Hollywood. Stronger intellectual property protections stymy innovation. This means a net reduction in trade and a loss in global welfare. If ! countries like Australia think stronger IP protections are in their national interest, they do not need an international treaty to introduce them.

The second flaw is who the TPP leaves out. China, India and Indonesia, among others, are not party to the TPP nor will they be able to join anytime soon. The hurdles to membership are unreasonably high for non-advanced countries, who will pay a cost from being left out with strict rules designed to divert trade from them.

The third major flaw is that even in the win-win trade enhancing areas, the TPP will either entrench protection in some areas — chiefly agriculture — or, where it succeeds in liberalising, will do so at the expense of non-members. Inefficient and unproductive sectors are a drag on economies, and liberalising them would produce real gains. But many countries in the TPP are bringing an overly defensive stance — think Japan and its rice and other ‘sacred’ produce — or are starting with that sector off the negotiating table altogether, as is the case with US sugar.

More egregiously, the TPP will complicate trade and impose serious costs on non-members.

Vietnam is a case in point. The country is paying a high price for entry by adopting standards and rules inappropriate to its stage of development, but it will benefit from increased market access in the United States for its garments exports. Yet Vietnamese exporters will only enjoy that preferential treatment if it procures raw materials from another TPP member instead of from cheaper, more efficient suppliers like China. These and similar provisions that derive from the way TPP has been negotiated bilaterally make it a particularly complex and costly agreement. The trade diversion that will result imposes economic costs on members and non-members alike — and some of the latter are even poorer than Vietnam.

To make matters worse, the trade- and welfare-reducing IP rights provisions are being traded off against and bundled with market access provisions. And some provisions could be disruptive and costly when onerous standards, institutions and reforms — to state-owned enterprises, for example — are imposed and countries are expected to leapfrog stages of development.

As TPP members sprint towards the finish line, they will need to introduce measures to enhance the positives of the agreement — the genuine trade and investment liberalisation that occurs — and over time minimise the negatives. A first step is to limit the scope and reach of the welfare reducing IP protections.

The agreement needs to be expansionary on the win-win trade and investment liberalisation aspects. That involves limiting the complicated preferential deals within the TPP and making it easy to expand membership. That is no easy task given the design of the agreement is to punish non-members into compliance on terms set by the advanced economies. A more productive way forward would be to help build capacity in lower income countries so that they can reach those standards. That is how to further productive economic interdependence and win friends.

If progress can be made in reform and liberalisation unilaterally or through the help of other regional initiatives — and if the WTO and multilateral system can be strengthened — then the benefits of the TPP can be accentuated and some of its more pernicious costs averted.

Shiro Armstrong is co-director of the Australia-Japan Research Centre and co-Editor of East Asia Forum at the Australian National University.

This article was first posted on the East Asia Forum website on 26 July 2015.


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