Thursday, May 31, 2007

Help push the G8 on global warming emissions cuts

Global online campaign group (whom I've mentioned before) are running an online petition campaign to push the upcoming G8+5 summit in Germany to adopt seriously effective cuts to greeehouse gas emission:
From 6-8 June, the leaders of the biggest polluting countries in the world are meeting in Germany at the G8+5 summit. Between them, their countries produce over 70% of global warming emissions. But while climate change is the top issue on their agenda, the Bush administration is trying to prevent any serious commitment to action.
The Germans are pushing for the stronger cuts (inspired in part, I believe, by the success of earlier G8 targeted global warming campaigns), but is saying that the Bush administration is "attempting to derail any serious progress".

They've received 240,645 signatures. Help them to reach their 250 thousand goal and
sign their petition here.

A massive march on global warming in Rostock, Germany, is also expected, timed with the G8+5 summit. Let's see if the 'world' leaders listen.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Seemed like a good idea at the time

Earlier this month, my family and I went to the Werribee Sewage Treatment plant's open day – to find out how the treat sewage, but mainly to catch a glimpse of the water birds that flock to the 'wetlands' and ponds there. I'm sure you may think it odd, but we found it fascinating. Would you believe that the place, especially Lake Borrie, is a significant habitat for something like 270 species of birds? Unfortunately, most of the birds had migrated north for the winter!

While on the coach tour, our guide pointed out the odd telegraph pole-like structures pictured above. No, it wasn't some art installation, though I wouldn't be surprised if it were. Researchers had found that the cormorants that flock to the area were in strife because the gum trees that were their usual perches were dying and collapsing. So they erected these new perches for the cormorants (being a threated species and all) – who flatly refused to use them.

I was struck by how this was a beautiful example of how what seemed like a good idea at the time, and plainly of good intentions, turned out to be absolutely useless – or just not used.

Do you know of any other examples of something well-meant and seeming like a good idea but didn't work as planned?

[Image is one of mine; apologies for its blurriness - it was taken from a moving bus. CC mark lawrence]

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Probably both

Aboriginal leader Lowitja O'Donohue, a member of the Stolen Generations, slammed the Howard government for failing to implement two-thirds of the recommendations of the Bringing Them Home Report. She was speaking at an event at federal Parliament last week. She said:
"The Prime Minister either doesn't get it, or he doesn't care and I'm not sure which is worse."
I think it's both. She also said:
"There has been a failure of moral authority and ethical leadership in Australia over the last 10 years."
She's definitely right.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Many a slip…

American documentary Mike Moore told the media at Cannes recently:
'It's hard to get into their heads about why they [the US government] do anything... This is an administration that flaunts the law, flaunts the constitution.'
Perhaps. (The US National Archive would know.) But it sure as hell flouts them.

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The bias is in the ABC Board

You won't find this reported in the ABC (it's not on their online news service) – ABC radio's highly respected science journalist Robyn Williams has accused the ABC board of putting pressure on the broadcaster's TV programmers to show a documentary that disputes the science of climate change. Fairfax paper The Age carried the story today.

The documentary caused a huge storm in Britain when it was shown on Channel 4 in March – it disputes the climate change science that finds that global warming is caused by human activity, and claims it is caused by changes in sun radiation instead.
Scientists condemned the documentary, saying that "its makers used fabricated data, half-truths and misleading statements".

The Age reports:
ABC science journalist and broadcaster Robyn Williams, who advised the TV division not to buy the program, yesterday accused the broadcaster of "verging on the irresponsible" over its decision to air something that was "demonstrably wrong".
The ABC's Director of TV Kim Dalton rejected the claim of interference from the board, and defended his decision to show the documentary by insisting that there is still a 'debate' about whether global warming is caused by CO2 emissions – i.e. by human activity.

This really gets me – it is hugely mischievous for people to still claim that there is a debate over global warming – either whether it is actually happening, or whether human activity and CO2 emissions cause it. Only this year, the UN's panel of global warming scientists and experts concluded that global warming is 'very likely' to be caused by human activity – and that was coming from a very conservative position. When their report came out in February, The Guardian reported:
The likelihood that the phenomenon has been created by the burning of fossil fuels and other actions is greater than 90%, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded in its fourth report.

"This day marks the removal from the debate over whether human action has anything to do with climate change," Achim Steiner, the head of the UN environment programme, said.
So, if you have the head of a panel of scientists and experts on global warming saying that the debate is over, why is the head of ABC TV saying there is still a debate? Perhaps the conservatives on the ABC Board have a vested interest in perpetuating the myth of the debate? Or is this the ABC's idea of countering bias and providing 'balanced' coverage of current affairs? Does it matter that they're peddling lies?

Now I wonder if Robyn Williams will have to take a 'leave of absence'.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Why is 'Sorry' the hardest word?

Wayne Costelloe is one of the people who has signed the National Sorry Day Committee's online petition calling for PM Howard to say 'sorry' to the Stolen Generations. In the petition, he wrote:
My Mother, may God rest her soul was taken away from her mother when she was 2 years old and spent her growing years without her mother and father. He mother, my Grandmother was taken away when she was a similar age and used to break down and cry whenever she'd tell us the Elders used to put mud on her skin so she'd look darker and wouldn't be taken. This is real human history and the impacts it had on our Family are real. What they both went through was horrendous and deserves an apology.
It is time the Government implemented Recommendation 5a of the Bringing Them Home Report – a national apology.

The National Sorry Day Committee (NSDC) has organised the petition calling for Prime Minister John Howard, "in this Election Year, to Say Sorry to the Indigenous People who have been affected by the Forced Removal Policies". I've heard that the petition is due to be sent to parliament tomorrow, Thursday 24 May, so please hurry and add your name to the online petition.

This Saturday 26 May will be the 10th anniversary of the launch of Bringing Them Home, the Report from the Inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families.

Considering the totally inadequate response by the Howard government to the Stolen Generations report and its recommendations, especially his refusal to offer a national apology to the Stolen Generations, there is still a lot of unfinished business in this matter. Of the Report's 54 recommendations, the NSDC says only two have been fully implemented nationally. 10 years after the report's release, community organisations, church leaders and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities continue to call for a national apology by the Prime Minister.

Personally, I believe that it is never too late to sorry. However, I think it is too late for this Prime Minister.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Remember: the 1967 Referendum and Sorry Day

Awaye!, ABC Radio National's Indigenous current affairs, arts and culture programme, is covering the 40th Anniversary of the Referendum in a special programme.

They've put a number of great resources on their programme website, including audio excerpts from and ABC documentary made and broadcast leading up to the 1967 Referendum.

I think the programme will be broadcast at 6 pm this Saturday 26 May, but the material is already on the website. Check it out.

Saturday 26 May is also Sorry Day, the day for us to remember how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were removed from their families and placed into care by state authorities – with disastrous consequences for whom we now know as the Stolen Generations. It also kicks off Reconciliation Week. Find out about local Sorry Day–Reconciliation activities in your area on the Reconciliation Australia website.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

More money than sense

I know that Australian home-owners are renovation crazy, but when I heard that PM Howard's dining room is going to get a $540 million thousand renovation, I felt sick. This is the dining room at his Canberra office, by the way, not at the official PM's residence in Canberra, or Howard's prime ministerial residence at Kirribilli in Sydney.

Of course, besides the revolting arrogance of such lavish spending, the thing that really bugs me is that this renovation will cost tax payers more than the amount that is needed to significantly address the problems in Indigenous health a lot of money to allow John Howard to schmooze the captains of industry and his various political bedfellows – including the uranium industry.

What makes me angry about such waste is that the money is sorely needed in other areas, such as to address the crisis in Indigenous health.

Despite a concerted
campaign by Oxfam Australia, ANTAR, GetUp Australia and others to convince the government to commit the $450 million needed to address the significant crisis in Indigenous health, the government's May budget was a disaster for Indigenous health as it didn't go anywhere near enough what is needed.

This just proves to me that Howard's government has its priorities wrong. Is Nero fiddling while Rome burns?

By the way, do you think Howard's trying to scare us?

As a reader pointed out, I made a mistake in the amount that Howard's parliamentary dining room reno was going to cost – it is thousands, not millions! That will teach me to write a post in a rush! I've fixed that up, and removed the direct comparison of the amount to be spent with the shortfall in Indigenous health. The ALP's comparison of the expenditure with the cost of buying a suburban house was probable more accurate. I still think this a serious waste and misplaced priorities. Clearly, many others think so too.

News reports on ABC Radio this morning indicated that Howard was backing out of this expenditure because of the criticism he was getting. It's amazing how a slump in the polls can make the PM more receptive/responsive to 'feedback'.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What happened

Staying up the last couple of nights to watch Bastard Boys, the ABC's two part telemovie on the dock workers' dispute back in 1998, my partner and I enjoyed much of the drama and had fun recognising a number of scenes and scenarios of the docks dispute from when we participated in the community picket supporting the MUA (but not knowing each other was there, as we weren't together then). "It was like that the night I was there," my partner called out at one scene.

Yes, a lot of it resonated, and yes, it was enlightening to get a 'sense' of what was happening behind the scenes. But, does that make it a good telemovie?

It was with some relief that I noticed this morning that Barista had already posted a pretty comprehensive review of Bastard Boys, to which I contributed my impressions in the comments, so forgive me for thinking this saves me the trouble of writing a review here. Lazy? Busy!

Seriously, though, it is odd watching a television programme or movie about events in which you're involved, even if only in a very marginal way. Odd, but compelling, and strangely satisfying – like it affirms your memory of the events, or your place in them, by saying, "Yes, this happened". Even if you yell back, "It didn't happen like that". (Actually, no, I didn't yell that.)

By the way, I know it is pretty late (I was busy trying to make my partner's Mother's Day nice to blog), but I'd like to wish all the mothers a happy Mother's Day for last Sunday. I hope you had a great day.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The vicious cycle of stuff

As the debate over federal treasurer Peter Costello's 12th budget continues, pundits are afraid the budget tax cuts will trigger a consumer spending spree and force inflation up (you can also hear an MP3 ABC news piece on this). While Costello may not think that we are spending too much (of course not, our expenditure helps fund his party's election fight) many, including me, think that Australia is in the grip of frenzied over consumption – of stuff.

I was first struck by the image above when I saw it in the paper last year – it heralded the arrival of thousands of containers of consumer goods destined for 2006's Christmas retail spending splurge. The report indicated the goods on that ship were from China.

Then, I was struck by this comment on Australia's environmental record in a piece at Adbusters I came across today:
the reality is that Australia, as a major producer of coal, helps other countries pollute the atmosphere, especially in the Asian region. Eighty percent of the nearly 170 million tons of Australian coal mined annually goes to Asia. Australia continues to push coal consumption in Asia. The Australian government spent nearly $21 million on coal projects in Southeast Asia in the mid-1990s…
In all likelihood, it's Australia's coal burning in this Chinese coal-fired power plant – contributing to the pollution crisis in China and heating up the climate.

And the electricity this plant generates goes to powering the factories, warehouses, and ports than manufacture and ship the consumer goods that make their way aboard container ships bound for Australia (and everywhere else).

It strikes me that we've got a vicious cycle – Australia has gotten very good at digging this stuff out of the ground and shipping it overseas, and then buying everything the manufacturers throw back at us. Thus a cycle of increasing greenhouse gas emissions is fed.

Of course, while the impacts of global warming are experienced locally, the phenomenon poses a crisis of global proportions. And yes, we need a strong, international approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including international instruments such as the Kyoto Protocol, which Australia refuses to sign. I'm also convinced that the old environmental maxim, 'Think globally, act locally', is as relevant as ever. It's unfortunate then that the budget doesn't go anywhere near enough what's needed to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.

Don't get me wrong: I don't begrudge the tax 'relief' being offered to low-income workers in
Australia (too little, too late, if you ask me), nor do I begrudge the opportunities for Chinese workers to get employment in the boom there (though I'm very concerned about labor conditions and rights for workers in China). I am concerned about how unfettered industry and an obsession with economic growth is driving our planet, and the human societies that populate it, to ruin.

If we don't think this through enough, the economy won't be the only thing that overheats.

[Images: the photo of coal power plant in China is by Tobixen, used under GNU Free Documentation License; the photo of the cargo ship carrying freight from China is of 'SS Chadstone' arriving in Australian waters, used under 'fair use', sourced from Blue Wedges, previously published in The Age on 11th November 2006.]

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Join the Sea of Hands

I joined the Sea of Hands today, and pledged my support for real and effective engagement between non-Indigenous Australia and Indigenous Australia to create change that improves the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and recognises Indigenous self-determination.

This was on the recommendation of a
commenter to my previous post on the implications of the Howard government's track record of tax cut election sweeteners in their budgets for the deplorable situation in Indigenous health (amongst other things). The picture above is of my hand, which joined many, many others in the virtual arena.

I urge you to do the same.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Will Costello widen the Gap in Indigenous Health?

While the treasurer Peter Costello is reportedly poised to announce various 'election year sweeteners' in his 12th federal budget tomorrow night, it's worth considering the implications of the government's refusal to spend this money – hence the surplus – and instead cut taxes (in previous years to the rich and upper-middle income earners) in a bid to buy votes.

While both sides of parliament, and business, debates the pros and cons of tax cuts (and for whom), and the media speculates over the extent of Costello's possible spending spree leading up to the elections, it is easy to miss the negatives implications of a governmen refusing to spend public money where it is most urgently required. For instance, it is hard to fathom that last year's tax cuts amounted to roughly the same amount of money that is desperately needed to address the crisis in Indigenous health.

Indigenous Australia's die on average 17 years sooner than non-Indigenous Australians, and Indigenous children suffer a range of illnesses that are avoidable and easily addressed amongst non-Indigenous children.

Oxfam Australia says:
The increase in investment required is modest - evidence suggests that an additional $460 million a year, coupled with carefully targeted policies, would significantly improve access to culturally appropriate primary healthcare to a level commensurate with need.
Oxfam is
one of the large organisations spearheading the campaign 'Close the Gap', along with GetUp Australia and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO). The campaign is channeling public pressure, via online petitions etc, at the government to put desperately needed money into Indigenous health in this year's budget.

You can register your support for the campaign, if it's not too late, but I think we're barking up the wrong tree, considering this government's record.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007


Despite high hopes to mark the occasion with some erudite reflection on blogging or some such, I ended up passing the milestone of my 300th blog post without noticing – until after.

Still, I'm pretty impressed at the fact that I've kept going at blogging for so long, and kept writing and publishing posts, despite a long
break (and a number of short one), temptations to let things slide, and a number of occasions wanting to give the whole thing up and walk away.

The reality is I find blogging compulsive, interesting, and engaging, for all its troubles. I hope you find some of what I write and post here interesting. And more.


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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Happy Birthday Jamie!

Today is my second child's first birthday. Happy birthday, baby boy!

I can't believe this was you soon after you were born. How you have grown! I hope for all the very best for you, but especially a sense of adventure and wonder that continues through life, and may you keep your lovely smile and sense of humour.

Considering how much we love you, we could wish for you so much more. But I think that's a good start, and it would be nice for you to discover more along the way, right?

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What dreams are made of

I thought I'd quickly share some stand-out blog posts I've read recently online – both on the them on Aboriginal dreams and dreaming, of sorts.

Barista has this great piece on the history of the struggle by groups of Aboriginal people in Victoria to establish home and and farming on land of their own choosing – a struggle for self-determination. They formed the settlement at Coranderrk.

And El, at Sarsaparilla, has a thought provoking piece on our capacity to engage critically with Aboriginal art and artists, and about how we could make "value judgements about Aboriginal art and who makes them".

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What was in my postal box today

The May edition of The Monthly had arrived today. In what promises to be the stand-out article, Judith Brett compares the upcoming election with the one in 1949, and what it would mean for the Liberal Party's tactic of attacking the ALP's economic credentials:
“People are better informed about politics and more interested, and so fewer need a party to guide their political opinions and actions. They can find their own way through the issues, and make up their own minds about how to vote. Not only will such people have deaf ears for the party’s traditional rhetoric, but they may well be offended by it as an insult to their intelligence and take it as evidence that the party has little new to offer.”
Yes, people can make up their own minds, but what will be the deciding factors?

Besides Brett's piece, first glances at the magazine, and the blurbs on The Monthly website, promise some other pretty amazing sounding articles and features, including Helen Garner on Raimond Gaita and Richard Flanagan on timber giant Gunns's involvement in state and federal politics (hence the luminescent green cover). I hope I have time to read it this week.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Happy May Day – I hope

If you come from a unionist, left-wing tradition or personal history as I do, May Day holds much in the way of a celebration of successes, sentimentality at things past and lost, and hopefully a promise of more to gain. It is a day for workers around the world to observe a day of rest, struggle or celebration to note what has been won, lost or fought for in workers rights. And to wave about their red flags. Tonight's news will quite likely feature footage of a fair number of worker and activist rallies across Europe and South America.

In Australia under Howard's WorkChoices, workers and trade unions may think that the industrial relations environment couldn't get much worse, and thus supporting the ALP to form government at the next election may be the best thing – for working families, as they say. Considering how bad things have been under Howard, it is hard to not share that attitude.

This May Day, however, it is difficult to digest the extent of this desperation – that not two days ago the ALP National Conference supported Kevin Rudd's changes to ALP IR policy, including attacks on workers' right to strike. Under Rudd's policy, workers will be forced to hold a secret ballot before any strike action can be called. This effectively stymies workers' capacity to take advantage of timing or the momentum in a struggle or 'dispute', and hamstrings their ability to take urgent action. It gives management the upper hand.

Rudd's policy overturns significant ALP policy:
The right to strike did not exist in Australian law until 1993, when the Keating government introduced enterprise bargaining. But unionists have long claimed such a right as crucial, and Australia is a signatory to the International Labour Organisation convention that recognises a universal right to strike.
As a centrist, or a conservative by any other name, Rudd has taken great pains to court the business end of town and reassure them that an ALP government would be pro-industry. To secure any chance of governing, the ALP believes it must appease business. The threat of a business backlash is the last thing Rudd wants or needs. By attacking workers' right to strike, The Age suggests that Rudd is aiming "for the middle ground on the crucial election issue of industrial relations."

As Michelle Grattan wrote in The Age a couple of weeks ago,
Kevin Rudd's industrial relations policy tries to juggle Labor's union backers, voters alienated by the harsher aspects of WorkChoices, and a business community that doesn't want a backward step. He's promising workers this will be a fairer, gentler system, while telling business and economic pundits that union clout won't be wrecking the economy.

Inevitably, neither unions nor business will be satisfied.
I wonder if the union movement feels whether they have much to celebrate today.

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