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Tips and rumours

Sep 24, 2015

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Washington or Tokyo for Joe? While there’s still talk that former treasurer Joe Hockey could be off to Washington to replace Kim Beazley as American ambassador, a tipster tells us there’s still some doubt over where Hockey could end up:

“There is increasing talk in diplomatic circles that Joe Hockey may not be the lock for the US Ambassador’s job that has been reported. As one former senior diplomat said just last night ‘You make deals over London or Paris, not Washington’. Conjecture, and it just that at this stage, is that Michael Thawley, the man Peta ‘two years in a leaky boat’ Credlin brought back to government from his life in US private enterprise to head the PM’s Department, may go back to the job he had under John Howard. It’s a role that needs top drawer gravitas and credibility (Joe Hockey anyone?) and story goes that Thawley has the deep relationships in Washington that would return Australia to DC’s top tables, something the country has struggled to do since Kim Beazley took over, the snipers add.

“The Japan envoy’s job is open now, as well, and more than person has noted that might suit the soon to be former member for North Sydney a little better. As important as that post is, it’s still more about trade and economics — things Hockey knows at least a bit about — than defence and diplomacy. Of course it could just be collective wishful thinking.”

We’ll keep you posted on the postings.

‘Culinary Sharia’ and Bernard Gaynor. Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi has left the door open to leave the Liberal Party, as in yesterday’s weekly newsletter to his supporters he said that conservative voices shouldn’t leave politics:

“Whilst it is easy to walk away, conservatives simply cannot vacate the public square. Our voice is needed now more than ever to ensure the customs, traditions and conventions that have built our civilisation are protected for future generations.”

He didn’t mention the Liberal Party or Malcolm Turnbull at all in the newsletter, saying:

“Political engagement is a critical part of the process — both within the formal party structures and through external organisations. But we must also engage the vast majority of the community who are not politically minded.”

So while we’re still left wondering, Bernardi heads up yet another day of hearings for the third-party food certification inquiry today, focusing on what he wanted it to be on all along — halal certification. The Australian Crime Commission and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission appeared this morning, with former Senate candidate for Family First and secretary for Katter’s Australia Party Bernard Gaynor appearing this afternoon. Gaynor will address his 221-page submission, titled “Halal Certification: Behind the veil of culinary sharia”.

Gaynor writes that his submission shouldn’t be seen as anti-Islamic, because he’s against religious certification of any food, but he starts by saying the first Islamic terror strike on Australian soil was in 1915 and moves onto saying Man Haron Monis attacked the Lindt Cafe in Sydney because it wasn’t halal. We wish we could tell you more, but we couldn’t really bear to read much further.

The inquiry is also hearing from Wayne Karlen, who lodged a complaint against former Fairfax columnist Mike Carlton last year with the Human Rights Commission, saying Carlton’s article and the cartoon accompanying it caused offence to Australian Jews. His submission encourages  the Senate inquiry “to make it clear to the public that foreign laws including Islamic Law have no standing in Australia and that the Australian Government will not bow to Islamic Law or other foreign laws with respect to Third Party Certification of Food in Australia”.

BOM shelter. Documents obtained by the ABC through freedom of information laws show that Tony Abbott’s own department discussed investigating the Bureau of Meteorology over reports in The Australian that the agency was exaggerating the effects of climate change. Weeks after the reports, which the Bureau of Meteorology denied, Abbott’s office considered whether it could use a task force to do “due diligence” on the bureau’s records, a move that was rebuffed by Environment Minister Greg Hunt. Crikey has previously reported that Bureau of Meteorology staff felt under pressure to play down the effects of climate change, with a high level of scrutiny on reports about weather events — if Abbott had succeeded, the pressure would have been even more acute.

PM for rich gays, according to Katter. While we’ve heard quite a bit from the Senate crossbenchers about the change of leadership in the government, very little has made it to the mainstream media from independent federal MP Bob Katter. And that’s probably a good thing. Katter attacked new PM Malcolm Turnbull’s proposals for innovation and liberalism in local newspaper the Herbert River Express last week:

“My friends said innovation and liberalism are code for making homosexuality compulsory,” Katter told reporters.

He also said that poor people didn’t have the luxury of innovation. “Malcolm couldn’t have sent out two worse messages — innovation and liberalism — that’s a luxury that a rich person can get away with, but the poor will punish the people in power.”

Yes, they share the boats. Yesterday we reported that the Australian Border Force had transferred two of its brand-new Cape Class patrol boats to the navy, and a tipster told us that it was because the ABF did not have the staff to crew all eight boats that had recently been handed over to the new paramilitary agency. Border Force media got back to us confirming that two boats had been transferred, but denied that it was because they didn’t have the budget or staff to run the boats.

A spokesperson told Crikey that the Cape Byron boat had been on loan to the navy since July this year, and another would be on loan from October 1, with both vessels returning to the ABF at the end of next year:

“ABF works closely with ADF in protecting Australia’s borders. In particular the ABF Marine Unit (formerly Customs Marine Unit) and the RAN have long standing and complementary capabilities which form a core part of Australia’s border protection arrangements. The temporary transfer of two Cape Class vessels to RAN operations will further enhance inter-operability of personnel and equipment to meet this goal.”

Crikey understands that the navy’s Armidale class patrol boats are still not up to scratch, after it was reported last year that they were “riddled with defects”. So while the ABF maintains that it has the budget and the crew to run the boats, its resources are almost one and the same with the navy.

Border Farce Rules. Speaking of Border Force, the transition from Customs to Border Force has been anything but smooth, but this piece by Australian cartoonist and comedian Jason Chatfield, published this morning, shows just how the changes are affecting service delivery. Chatfield’s passport was confiscated because the United States government, in accordance with protocol, had trimmed a few millimetres off his photo in order to indicate he was an Australian citizen but a US resident.

“The Border Force officer looked at my passport. He then looked at me. He blinked hard. I blinked hard.

He squinted at the fat photo of 21 year-old me, then back at the tired, bedraggled 31 year-old me standing in front of him.

He said ‘Remove your glasses please sir.’ I obliged.

He then said, ‘Well this is your passport, but I’m confiscating it. It’s been tampered with and that’s a Federal Crime.’

I blinked hard.

‘Sorry, what?’”

Read the full article here.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form.

Environment

Sep 18, 2015

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There’s an old Arab proverb that it is easier to get into a hole than to get out of it. When it comes to climate, clean energy and carbon policy in Australia, it is clear we are in a deep hole.

Investment in renewables has crashed by some 88% in Australia, precisely at the time when global clean energy investments have overtaken fossil fuel investments. And it is a matter of fact that since the removal of laws that capped and priced carbon, emissions from the electricity sector have rebounded to levels not seen since Malcolm Turnbull last led the Liberal Party.

Energy and business lobbyists, as well as community groups, have been bemoaning the lack of integration of clean energy policies in Australia. It is now time we stop digging and find a way out.

First and foremost in this task is to be clear on our destination.

That is why yesterday’s statement from Australia’s biggest companies is so important. Companies like BHP, AGL and Santos have now made it clear that avoiding global warming of 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels will deliver substantial benefits to our economy, business and communities.

The companies, also including Mirvac, Unilever, GE, Wesfarmers and Westpac, acknowledged the scientific reality for this goal is that we have to get to net zero emissions of greenhouse gases.

There is growing common ground, both in Australia and globally, about the need to clean up pollution from our electricity sector and the fact that delayed or piecemeal action will increase the costs. This was highlighted by the Australian Climate Roundtable including business, investor, union, welfare and environment groups in June. For pollution-intensive economies like Australia’s, this matters.

Globally, conservative financial institutions like the World Bank and even the G7 group of nations acknowledge avoiding 2 degrees world warming requires a zero-carbon global economy.  This is not being anti-fossil fuel it is being pro-math.

For the new Prime Minister it is an urgent time to take a fresh look and to throw off the shackles and divisions that have beset this policy area. We need to leave behind the attitudes that formed and became deeply entrenched between 2009 and 2012.

It is time for a fresh look at the systemic risks that climate change poses to Australia’s interests, assets, regional security and financial security.

Our new government should have a fresh look at the strength of community support for climate action and agreement that tackling climate change creates opportunities for new jobs and investment.  Over 70% of Australians agreed with that view mid-year.

It is also time for a fresh look not only at the global investment trends surging in favour of clean energy and the thrilling drop in the cost of clean energy alternatives.  It is time to look seriously at the ageing and inefficient fossil fuel power plants, which are now real threats not only to investment in modernising our energy system but also, through declining maintenance investment, to its very stability.

This has been a deeply divisive debate, but we need to leave that behind.

To get out of this hole there are some important steps.

We must first remove the fatwah from key independent agencies that can help bridge these divides. Let the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority get on with their jobs. Together they provide an independent, transparent architecture that develops modern, smart and clean technologies, assists their deployment and reviews our abruptly diminishing carbon budget.

Making clear there are no further threats to Australia’s renewable energy industry would also help.

Even the Abbott government’s initial post-2020 target offer (inadequate in our view) made clear there is significant policy development to be undertaken. Malcolm Turnbull comes to the prime ministership at a time when government policies are at their most fluid.

It is important to make clear that Australia is on a clean energy pathway and a pathway to net zero emissions. A critical step in that direction would be to have a clear plan for replacing our old power plants, some literally with hardware from the 1940s, with modern, smart and clean technologies. This is an exciting opportunity and necessary if we are going to fulfil the full potential of the global clean technology boom.

If Australia is serious about the bipartisan goal of avoiding 2 degrees warming, it, like other countries, will need to make stronger post-2020 pollution reduction targets. The time for that will be after the UN Climate Change conference in Paris this November 30 to December 11, but there are extra financing and other commitments that can be made in Paris.

There is a way out of Australia’s climate, carbon and clean energy holes. Let’s stop digging and start climbing. There is some promising common ground revealed in yesterday’s business statement and the joint policy principles of the Climate Roundtable.

There are exciting opportunities to disrupt the entrenched political model, let’s grasp them.

Tips and rumours

Sep 7, 2015

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Tattle tale mandarins. The recent crackdown on the dress code at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection seems to have led to dobbing at the highest levels:

“In Belconnen the other day, a senior executive of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, which has a strictly enforced new dress code (no onesies), took issue with how an employee of the neighbouring Australian Bureau of Statistics was dressed. The DIBP executive saw the ABS employee in a coffee shop near both offices, and contacted the ABS to dob the person in for being unacceptably attired. The ABS stood by its staff member and told the DIBP executive to mind their own business.”

Ruff justice. Our newest security agency, the Australian Border Force, is working on its softer side, after the botched Operation Fortitude. According to tender documents, ABF is spending $14,877.50 on “2000 plush ABF detetor [sic] dogs”. A spokesperson told Fairfax that the toys were a standard item, mostly used as “corporate gifts” for families who train Customs dogs before they go into service. The tender documents show the contract has gone to a Melbourne company, and its website features a photo of previous Customs plush toys as part of its advertising:

Climate schmimate. The Tasmanian branch of the Liberal Party held its conference this weekend, at which Prime Minister Tony Abbott praised Tasmania and promised $16 million to go towards Tasmanian job creation. The conference also passed a motion encouraging the federal government to focus on adapting to climate change “should it occur”, instead of policies to reduce carbon emissions. Dr John Reid moved the motion, calling climate change “a huge international hysteria”:

“What it really is, is green propaganda but it seems to have caught on with everyone, it feeds into people’s preconceptions of capitalist greed and about humans wrecking the planet, but there is no scientific basis for it.

“Just because scientists say doesn’t mean it’s true. You need to have evidence and there is no evidence.”

What evidence is he waiting for?

Brandis, patron of the arts. A tipster saw the Minister for Arts (that he likes) attending the Brisbane Festival this weekend:

“On Saturday night we attended the opening night of the Brisbane Festival. It was the superb ‘Coup Fatal’ in the QPAC Playhouse. Upstairs awaiting door opening we looked down at the great and the powerful as they entered. Entering together in studied nonchalance were two unaccompanied gentlemen, George Brandis and Philip Bacon (Deputy chair of the Festival and a great Qld arts benefactor). We wondered how much Philip has persuaded George to put into next year’s Brisbane Festival.”

Chris Kenny’s dam past. While Ms Tips misses The Australian‘s “Ten Questions” feature in the media section, its replacement — Media Watch Watch with Chris Kenny — does provide some interesting insight into the right-wing commentator. Apparently he was once quite the environmental activist:

“Long before meeting [Bob] Brown, I admired him. As a trainee park ranger I drove a little green four-wheel drive replete with ‘No Dams’ stickers. True confession; but I digress.”

WA Today hoping for Malcolm? A tipster tells us that the most popular articles on WA Today, Fairfax’s West Australian wing, on Saturday included two articles that are almost six years old. The most popular article ran with the headline “Abbott quits as new leadership revolt escalates”, and the third most popular was also “Abbott quits as new leadership revolt escalates”. While the average reader who spent a day away from the news might have clicked in shock, both were actually links to pieces from 2009, when Malcolm Turnbull faced frontbench resignations over his climate change policy. A Twitter search shows that one of the pieces has been trending on the site off and on for almost two weeks. What could be behind the nostalgia resurgence?

Don’t reply all. A caller to 6PR last week reports that a Western Australian government minister has been “boasting about his manhood”. “The caller had been forwarded an email that was sent to a lot of people in the government featuring the brag. Who could it be? Drop us a line if you know, or forward us the email.

Pick your moment. Ansell Condoms decided to use the occasion of Father’s Day for some err … creative advertising yesterday.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Environment

Sep 3, 2015

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Though it has taken a long time to do so, the climate change debate is slowly turning against the climate change denialists on the right. Denialist is an ugly word in many ways — your correspondent preferred “irrationalists”, but it never took off — but there is no other word for them. They divided easily into several groups: first, the purely corrupt, duchessed by the Heartland Institute and other fronts, undistinguished scientists in late career who wanted fees, first-class flights to conferences, and maybe a bit of attention. Some of these people — gahhh, men, they were practically all men — should have been dismissed from the education institutions that employed them and even faced civil suit for concealing fees.

Second, there was the awkward squad: scientists in areas around climatology, usually in their late 50s or 60s who got a bee in their bonnets, for whatever reason, about the global scientific uprising about climate change, and focused on one or other anomalous piece of evidence, and expanded that into a general “scepticism”. Many seemed to identify with science that centred on imposing human will on the Earth, blowing up big stuff, etc, and to feel hostile to the new green science of planet systems management, and the rising breed of scientists enmeshed with it.

From this group, often rather pathetic, eccentric types, there sprang a third group: the denialist political right, operatives and ideologues who needed to believe that climate change wasn’t happening. Some were deeply invested in the Promethean myth that gives capitalism a meaning beyond mere trade — that there is no outer limit to growth. Former Thatcher chancellor Nigel Lawson is one example. Nick Minchin is another. Some of this new squad were simply rightists with no positive belief of their own — they gained a political identity by defining themselves against the left, usually in a somewhat resentful and put-upon way. Many have now lapsed into tactful silence. Those that haven’t, have become truly unhinged.

Does this mean that this third rank were simply dishonest and cynical? Quite the contrary in many cases. They demonstrated the occult process of “ideology” in modernity, the way in which it will tell you that everything you believe about the world is true and reshape your view and selection of evidence accordingly. Climate change denialism thus brought together farmers, who believed in some concrete kinship with the ever-changing (but never really changing) seasons, with businesspeople, who believed that nothing they were doing individually on their own behalf could be self-defeating or undermining, with political rightists, who believed that the political philosophy they picked up in their teens was right, and no further reflection was required.

Trouble is, over the 30 years since the “greenhouse effect” appeared to the wider public, the world of the individual farmer or bourgeois has shrunk, as the world has become a place of global interlocking systems to be managed. Much of the value “contained” within capital is post-capitalist, in a way that Engels described well in his 1890s writings — the system’s successor is growing in its belly, just as capitalism grew in the feudal merchant towns of the 1500s and 1600s. Everything is standardised, interconnected, dependent on intellect as capital, on endless human capital training and retraining. Since 2008 and the massive financial sector bailouts, planetary systems management has been the only game in town. That’s why the Liberal Party is being dragged under by its “conservative” (i.e. reactionary fantasist) wing, while the Greens, having undertaken a generational shift of leaders and projection, are now taking Liberal Party seats.

It is this, more than anything, that has prompted the slow but steady retreat of the denialists. The most obsessive, like Andrew Bolt et al, are either performing or are wrapped up in a fantasy essential to their psychological continuity and coinciding with their public political role.

Some on the right have retreated to a modified scepticism, seeking out a plausible approach. One such is Tom Switzer, who published a lot of pretty crude denialism in the Oz Spectator, but who now takes a far more circumspect line. Here he is from Q&A this week:

TOM SWITZER: The broad cross section of conservatives, at least in this country, accept the broad science that there is a connection between carbon emissions and warming of the planet. I think there’s a general consensus about that. Where they would disagree is about the level of uncertainty. You know, we all sound like pub bores talking about this subject but it is worth reiterating the IPCC models that predicted that as the carbon emissions would sky rocket as they have during the course of the last 20 years, that would coincide with sky rocketing temperatures. Temperatures are going up but they’re going up marginally. They’re not in accordance with the model. So, this is where the doubt comes about. It’s not denial. It’s just healthy scepticism.

This is of course, bollocks. Global temperatures have risen by 0.5 degrees over the last 30 years, and in line with the rise in CO2 emissions and concentration. That is only “marginal” if you compare to overall temperature — a figure like, say, 20 degrees — rather than the volume of difference. That is to say, we know that a rise of 3 degrees will have huge effects, 4 degrees or more catastrophic — 0.5 degrees is one-sixth of the way there, in a third of a lifetime. Compare “marginal” and “change volume” figures in body temperature, which sits at 37 degrees. A 1-degree change is “marginal”. It is also 50% of the journey to hypothermia, which starts at 35 degrees, and can be fatal. IPCC projections of temperature rise have been highly accurate (as this data ensemble shows), by predicting a uniformly rising (but variable) trend.

So Switzer and others, desperate to create a rear-guard action, use such mishandling of statistics to create what they call “healthy scepticism”. It isn’t. It’s an irrationalism, which has nothing to do with scientific method. The implicit idea of such “scepticism” is that all scientific proof must mimic the form of sensory proof, i.e. that some direct and visible relationship between two entities — a rise in CO2 and a rise in temperature, i.e. energy between air and other particles — must be established for it to be “true”. Until then, doubt — and a policy arising from doubt — is the “rational” approach.

This is, of course, bollocks. Karl Popper — a writer the right used to read and pay attention to — established the point that science works by falsifiable hypotheses of ever-greater simplicity and predictive powers. Theories about matters of imminent life, death and disaster, which show strong correlation — i.e. the graph of CO2 rises and temperature rise matching exactly (unless you take a 10-year sequence at any given point along a 500,000-year range) — can only be falsified by a) showing that an entirely other process is occurring; and b) that it either generates such a correlation as an appearance of causality, or that it is an extraordinary coincidence. In other words, scepticism ain’t enough, where a material relationship has been strongly established. The onus is on the doubter to propose a whole extra layer of embedded (and hidden) causality, or to accept wild coincidence as preferable to a predicted relationship, based on known effects (such as CO2 on heat).

Thus, what Switzer is doing isn’t scientific, “healthy” scepticism. It’s formal scepticism, quite a different thing — the radical anti-epistemological position of someone like David Hume, taking the Cartesian method to its extreme conclusion. It’s not how science works, including all the science that Switzer, or anyone, relies upon in everyday life, from walking across bridges that stay up to taking pills the doctor tells you to take. The broad cross-section of “conservatives” — i.e. hack pollies and opinionistas who scraped together a pass in Commerce — who doubt the connection between human emissions and warming do so by grabbing onto this bogus scepticism, rather than poring over the evidence. People like Switzer spruik it without really understanding it, nor having a desire to. Give it another three major scientific findings, and he’ll peel away, too. The loonies will remain, waving their five-year graphs around, but the “healthy sceptics” crowd will have to do a mea culpa. I’d give Switzer another 12-18 months before he does the ever-popular double-pike, the “I was wrong” article in the Inquirer section, trying to gain a few points from resolute honesty blah blah, i.e. having no alternative. October ’16, I’d say.

But that’s just a forecast.

Environment

Aug 24, 2015

5 comments

An obscure collective of climate change denialists has produced a bizarre research paper presenting the position that economists might be shrieking hysterics prone to alarmist conclusions because of their psychological make-up. And now that research paper has been sent to the Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet in the hopes it will influence Australia’s position leading up to the Paris climate talks.

The Climate Study Group’s study is entitled “Psychology, Behavioural Economists and Climate Change”. Initially it attracted little attention but then a large excerpt appeared as a half-page newspaper advertisement on page 5 of the climate deniers’ bible, The Australian, two weeks ago.

It purports to demonstrate that the psychology of economists influences their attitude to climate change and concludes that they are susceptible to biased interpretation of data and alarmist conclusions.

The research paper categorically states:

“The hypothesis of dangerous global warming caused by human activity has not been substantiated by evidential science.

“This paper has explained how people, despite good intentions, may be influenced by bias.

“The authors of this submission recommend the case for reduction in CO2 emissions is not well founded and certainly no Australian post-2020 emissions reduction target could be justified.”

The authors, John Chambers, Andrew Miller, Richard Morgan, Bob Officer, Mark Rayner, Graham Sellars-Jones and Tom Quirk, have sent their paper to the Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet in the lead-up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris starting on November 30.

DeSmog, a Canadian-based global internet site that “clears the PR pollution that clouds climate science”, rejected the group’s findings, as did the Australian Psychological Society, a peak body representing psychologists.

The society accused the little-known group of misusing psychology-based arguments to “mislead the public” on the science of climate change.

DeSmog also found that Climate Change Group members have “links to mining, finance, agriculture and the free market ‘think tank’, the Institute of Public Affairs”.

The free market-loving Lavoisier Group, founded in March 2000, has endorsed the report to cabinet by posting the full text on its website. Other current Lavoisier contributors are climate denialists Lord Christopher Monckton, former UK chancellor Nigel Lawson, ex-prime minister John Howard and Des Moore, formerly of the IPA.

One particularly worrying aspect of the Climate Study Group’s paper is its reliance on “evidence” from Dr William Sargant and his book, Battle for the Mind, which is cited as a source.

Sargant, 1907-1988, was a cruel fanatic who practised psychosurgery, electroconvulsive therapy, insulin shock and deep sleep treatment on his unsuspecting patients in London in the 1960s. His work was discredited by fellow psychiatrists and the BBC’s science program Tomorrow’s World, but he continued to practise in Harley Street and argue for sadistic physical intervention in the treatment of social disorders.

One of his patients was actress Celia Imrie, star of Calendar Girls and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel, who survived his treatment for an eating disorder at South London’s St Thomas’ Hospital when she was 14.

In a Daily Mail article, “My electric shock nightmare at the hands of the CIA’s evil doctor”, Imrie wrote:

“Now, more than 20 years after his death, Sargant is notorious for his work for MI5 and the CIA, particularly its covert MK-ULTRA mind control programme. Sargant’s methods were simple: electric-shock treatment and insulin-induced comas leading to continuous narcosis, or deep sleep therapy, complete with tape-recorded ‘brainwashing’ orders being played at the patients from beneath their pillows. And to think that all this came free on the NHS!”

Sargant’s Wikipedia entry conceded that “his distaste for all forms of psychotherapy and his reliance on dogma rather than clinical evidence have confirmed his reputation as a controversial figure whose work is seldom cited in modern psychiatric texts”.

That may be so in other countries, but not so in Australia, where the Climate Study Group is only too willing to quote Sargant’s work approvingly while condemning American President Barack Obama for making a speech that “expressed alarm about climate change threatening the future outlook for our children and grandchildren”.

The Climate Study Group observed tartly: “Again, there is a message to cause fear and anxiety without empirical evidence.”

Sargant’s foremost Australian disciple was Dr Harry Bailey, who practised deep sleep therapy at Chelmsford Hospital, killing an estimated 85 patients. A subsequent NSW royal commission (1988-1990) resulted in the closure of the hospital and compensation payments to the survivors. Bailey committed suicide by taking barbiturates.

The Climate Study Group may be unaware of Sargant’s background, but, as I found, it is instantly available with a little research.

*An earlier version of this story misstated one of the names of the authors of the report. It is John Chambers, not John Chalmers.

crikey15

Jul 27, 2015

5 comments

Australian priest Father Mark Raper, the Asia-Pacific head of the Catholic religious order the Society of Jesus (aka the Jesuits), has lambasted the Australian government for being “short term, narrow, self-interested, merciless and out of touch”.

The federal cabinet is heavily Catholic and contains five Jesuit-educated ministers, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott himself.

Raper’s official title is president of the Conference of Provincials for the Asia-Pacific area, which extends from Myanmar across mainland China to Japan in the north and through south-east Asia, Australasia and the Pacific Islands in the south.

He also praised the recent encyclical by Pope Francis entitled Laudato si’ (Praise Be to You) and subtitled Care for Our Common Home — the Catholic Church’s equivalent of a policy statement and teaching manual on the environment.

“While clearly there must be many constraints on politicians, I have to say it is disconcerting to be an Australian living in Asia today and to be represented by political leaders whose perspectives are so short term, narrow, self-interested, merciless and out of touch with Asian realities, as in the case of migration,” Raper told Crikey at the semi-annual get-together of Jesuit leaders from around the region in the Cambodian town of Siem Reap.

“Australia is not alone in the face of contemporary challenges,” he said. “Yet we rarely get on the front foot, we are seen as isolated from common efforts to find lasting solutions to the dilemma of the contemporary mass movement of people.

“To give just one example, Australia spends more on counterproductive, inhumane detention and redirecting of vulnerable migrants than the whole budget of UNHCR worldwide. How crazy is that?”

The Jesuits are widely seen within the Catholic Church as an elite, educated and more liberal-leaning order. In 2013, Cardinal Jose Mario Bergoglio was elected as the first Jesuit Pope since the extremely influential order was formed by Spanish priest Ignatius Loyola in 1540.

The PM was educated by the Jesuits, completing his primary school years at St Aloysius at Milson’s Point and then his secondary school at St Ignatius College, Riverview.

Also an alumnus of Riverview and school captain there, Raper made his comments two months after an exclusive annual dinner for Jesuit-educated colleagues and friends that the PM hosted in Parliament House on the Wednesday night after the federal budget.

Each year since he became opposition leader, Abbott has held a special dinner in the parliamentary dining room on the Wednesday after the budget meeting. Now as PM, it occurs in his own dining room.

It’s an exclusive, invitation-only list with the singular requirement that the Jesuits have educated all those at the dinner. The dozen or so attendees are a mix of ministers, backbenchers, business folk, Liberal Party staffers and even the odd member of the clergy — in the person of the Liberal Party’s chaplain-at-large and old Abbott mate Father Michael Kelly.

There was only one woman present. No surprises, folks. It was Peta Credlin, the PM’s omnipotent chief of staff, whose Jesuit credentials were her attendance at Melbourne University’s Newman College.

Other Jesuit-educated ministers in the federal cabinet who attended the dinner were Treasurer Joe Hockey (St Aloysius), Christopher Pyne (St Ignatius, Adelaide) Barnaby Joyce (Riverview) and Mathias Cormann (a Jesuit college in Belgium). A number of other Catholic cabinet members did not make the cut, including Kevin Andrews (who also attended Newman College), Andrew Robb, Malcolm Turnbull and George Brandis. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who was educated at Melbourne’s Jesuit Xavier College, didn’t score an invite.

A small group of influential businessmen were at the dinner, including Tony Clark, storied business identity and well known as John Howard’s golfing partner and all-round Liberal Party fixer, as well as Michael Siddle, Riverview old boy and Ramsay Healthcare chairman.

Raper’s description of Laudato si’ as a “tremendous gift” is telling. It places the Jesuits implacably on the other side not just of the government’s refugee policy but its environment policy as well.

“It’s not just a boost, it’s insightful in new ways,” said Raper, adding that the document brought together “solid science, deep theology and quite a radical view of the place of human life in creation. It’s most inspiring.”

Laudato si’ urges faster action to halt poisonous emissions and backs the position of the vast majority of climate scientists that humans have a undeniable part in climate change.

Raper says the problem “is staring you in the face” and says Pope Francis brought his landmark paper forward two months from August to June specifically to target the global climate change conference on Paris in November.

Tony Abbott’s Jesuit and very, very Catholic cabinet can expect plenty of (not so) subtle pressure on this, migration and other policy subjects.

Media

Jul 10, 2015

5 comments

The fallout from an erroneous Daily Mail story that mucked up its maths on global warming continues, with shock jock Alan Jones the latest to be slapped down by the appropriate watchdog for relying on the dodgy figures.

On September 16, 2013, The Australian published a story based on reporting in the British tabloid, which claimed a leaked Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report had revised down global warming to half the rate at which it had previously been occurring. The Mail’s story was quickly debunked, but it was widely picked up in other news outlets, including several outlets in Australia. The Australian was slapped down by the Press Council almost a year ago for its story on the report, with the print media watchdog expressing “considerable concern” over how long the publication took to acknowledge the error.

Jones referred to the assertion in the eye-catching story to his listeners on September 24, 2013, after The Australian had corrected its story three days earlier, on September 21, prompting two complaints to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Continue reading “Alan Jones gets slapped down for climate lies”

crikey15

Jul 9, 2015

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Do progressives need to step backward to finally make some progress?

It’s a question raised by the ever-increasing harshness of asylum seeker policy — and, of course, by the ongoing failure of the refugee movement to gain traction.

Brad Chilcott from the group Welcome to Australia argues that Labor needs to back so-called boat “turn-backs”, on the basis that if it doesn’t, Tony Abbott will enjoy a “free kick” on refugee policy — and refugee advocates will be completely stymied.

“It’s time for us to focus on making life better for all the people we really care about and focusing our attention on achievable change,” he told New Matilda.

Professor of Public Ethics Clive Hamilton takes the argument further. Noting the urgency of the global warming emergency, he asks: “Must child refugees remain incarcerated and brutalised if Australia is to return to a sensible climate policy?”

The answer, he suggests, is yes. “It is no longer likely that the two goals of climate protection and a compassionate refugee policy can be met by electing a government both humane and serious about global warming.”

It’s a bleak assessment, as Hamilton acknowledges. But is it correct? Must we really embrace the bad to fend off the worse? Must we concede ground on one issue to gain on another?

One immediate response comes from the old joke in which the Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and says, “I guess it’s all over. We’re surrounded by hostile Indians.”

Tonto replies: “Who’s we, white man?”

The quip reminds us of a point often forgotten in these debates: simply, whatever progressives on the mainland do, asylum seekers will continue to fight. No one seriously expects a refugee family to accept, say, sexual abuse in Nauru on the basis that, if they protest, they’ll keep Bill Shorten out of the Lodge. Demonstrations will take place in the camps and elsewhere, simply because the people most directly affected by refugee policy have no other choice.

So it’s not simply a matter of keeping schtum about the worst excesses of the border security regime. What happens during the next round of hunger strikes and lip sewing and rooftop protests? A Labor government re-elected on the basis Chilcott and Hamilton suggest will, of necessity, have to break such resistance. Are progressives prepared to support that?

Underlying the arguments about the necessity for a retreat is a despair about winning public support for unpopular ideas. That’s understandable. Nonetheless, it’s worth comparing the pessimism around refugee activism with the increasing sense of inevitability about same-sex marriage, a cause that, not so very long ago, seemed utterly marginal.

These days, with Bill Shorten scrambling to get his name on a marriage equality proposal, it’s easy to forget that, as recently as 2004, Labor supported John Howard’s Marriage Amendment Bill and its definition of matrimony as exclusively heterosexual. If we go back further than that, the notion that two men might be married in Australia would have seemed fantastical — and so, too, would the idea of a government outsourcing refugee processing to a remote facility in Papua New Guinea.

To put it another way, same-sex marriage was once electoral poison. If it’s a vote winner today, that’s because activists didn’t throw in the towel but persisted with a long and bitter struggle.

Common sense holds that, if we give up on one issue, we’ll be better placed to fight elsewhere. But politics doesn’t work like that. Conservatives will not respond to a progressive retreat on refugees by deciding that, in return, they back off on climate policy. On the contrary, they’ll be encouraged to go on the offensive more broadly. Why wouldn’t they be? A Labor left that folds on boat turn-backs signals its weakness, not its strength — and that weakness will be seized upon by the climate-denialist right.

After all, climate change raises profound questions of social justice, since the victims of a warming planet will overwhelmingly be the world’s poorest. There are powerful interests pushing for environmental policies that protect the interests of the few at the expense of the many. A climate change policy devised in isolation from (or at the expense of) other issues may, in fact, be worse than the status quo, serving as the Trojan Horse by which the very rich capitalise further on the disaster they have caused.

Whatever progressives do, the refugee issue isn’t going away. In a world wracked by social, economic and, yes, environmental disasters, there will be more and more people crossing borders in search of safety. That’s just reality. The problem for refugee advocates isn’t some innate conservatism of ordinary Australians, so much as a prevailing sense that no alternatives to the status quo are possible. An acceptance of the cruel logic of the camps only reinforces that perception.

Environment

Jun 4, 2015

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Tonight at the latest round of UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, the Australian government will be on the global stage answering some hard questions from other countries about the credibility of our climate policy.

The questioning tonight will be masked in diplomatic language and the technicalities of the global agreements we have signed up to. But, behind the nuance and UN parlance, the formal questions, which have already been asked in writing by China, Brazil, the US, the EU and others, raise doubts whether Australia’s 2020 emissions reductions targets and domestic policies are internationally credible.

To date, the lack of transparency around Australia’s response to these questions has been deeply disappointing. The government appears to be inflating the impact of its actions to 2020 without providing any estimate of the pollution reductions it will deliver. If we are not prepared to be upfront with the international community, how can we expect China, Brazil and other emerging economies to do the same?

The importance of the process Australia and other developed countries are going through in Bonn extends beyond diplomatic posturing and a few headlines.

All countries, developed and developing, need to be tested on the veracity of their targets and policies to meet them. The current process is a step in that direction.

This Bonn meeting is the next step towards the Paris climate meeting in December, which aims to deliver the world’s next agreement for reducing pollution. It will be the first universal agreement that requires targets from all countries to act on global warming. In Bonn, countries are focused on what really matters at the heart of the Paris agreement. The transparency and accountability of countries’ commitments are part of this.

But this is not all about the numbers and targets.

This current stage in climate negotiations is about things that are much harder to measure, but just as meaningful to the ultimate goal of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees, and avoiding or minimising its catastrophic impacts.

Paris will be successful if countries agree to establish a durable and flexible framework that sends a strong signal to business, communities and investors that a zero-emissions economy is inevitable. This is what is needed to limit warming to less than 2 degrees, which is what the more than 190 countries in the process have agreed to.

Paris will be an evolution of the global framework that puts pressure on countries to do more at home. Greater transparency and accountability frameworks are key to building trust that nations are doing what they say, and sharing best practice in pollution-reduction policy.

Paris is not going to save the world. Domestic policies and investment reduce pollution, not international agreements. However, Paris can establish a framework that is bankable, credible and fair. This it can use to hold fire to the feet of the politicians and investors who can make a difference.

Australia

May 14, 2015

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There are many key public issues that we must address, such as climate change, growing inequality, tax avoidance, budget repair, an ageing population, lifting our productivity, and our treatment of asylum seekers.

But our capacity to address these and other important issues is becoming very difficult because of the power of vested interests with their lobbying power to influence governments in a quite disproportionate way.

Lobbying has grown dramatically in recent years, particularly in Canberra. It now represents a growing and serious corruption of good governance and the development of sound public policy. In referring to the so-called “public debate” on climate change, Professor Ross Garnaut highlighted the “diabolical problem” that vested interests brought to bear.

Ken Henry, a former secretary of Treasury, said in the foreword to this policy series: “I can’t remember a time in the last 25 years when the quality of public policy debate has been as bad as it is right now.” He was followed as secretary of Treasury by Martin Parkinson, who warned us about “vested interests”, which seek concessions from government at the expense of ordinary citizens. Former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Graeme Samuel cautioned us: “A new conga line of rent-seekers is lining up to take the place of those that have fallen out of favour.” In referring to opposition to company tax and carbon-pollution reform policies, Ross Gittins in The Sydney Morning Herald said “industry lobby groups [have] become less inhibited in pressing private interests at the expense of the wider public interest. [They] are ferociously resistant to reform proposals.”

These problems are widespread and growing

There are 266 lobbying entities registered in Canberra with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. These entities employ a significant number of lobbyists, e.g. Barton Deakin employs 12 lobbyists, Newgate Communications 12, Crosby Textor 7, Government Relations Solutions 7, and GRACosway 17. Some accounting firms, including three of the majors, that undertake lobbying are not obliged to register. Charitable, religious and non-government organisations do not have to register. On top of these “third-party” lobbyists, there are the special interests who conduct their own lobbying, such as the Minerals Council of Australia, and the Australian Pharmacy Guild.

These lobbyists encompass a range of interests, including mining, clubs, hospitals, private health funds, business and hotels, which have all successfully challenged government policy and the public interest. Just think what the Minerals Council of Australia did to subvert public discussion on the Mining Super Profits Tax and the activities of Clubs Australia to thwart gambling reform, or the polluters over an emissions trading scheme and the carbon tax. I estimate there are over 1000 lobbyists, part time and full time, and of all shapes and sizes operating in Canberra. Secret lobbying is pervasive and insidious. It must be curbed and made transparent.

With journalism under-resourced, the media depends increasingly on the propaganda and promotion put into the public arena by these vested interests. The Australian Centre for Independent Journalism at UTS, in a 2010 collaboration with Crikey, found in a survey of major metropolitan newspapers published in Australia that 55% of content was driven by public relations handouts from lobbyists and their associated public relations arms, and 24% of the content of those metropolitan newspapers had no significant journalistic input whatsoever, relying heavily on public relations handouts.

Many of the so-called economic experts we read, hear and see on our media are in the employment of banks and accounting firms with their own self-interested agendas.

With over 60% of metropolitan newspaper circulations in Australia, News Corp is a major obstacle to informed debate on key public issues like climate change and our role in Iraq. Essential Media found that the ABC and SBS were the most trusted media in Australia. Not surprisingly the least trusted were the Murdoch papers; The Australian, Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph and The Courier-Mail.

For example, the health “debate”’ is really between the Health Minister and the Australian Medical Association, the Australian Pharmacy Guild, Medicines Australia, and the private health insurance companies. The debate is not with the public about health policy and strategy; it is about how the Minister and the department manage the vested interests.

The wealthy private schools with their lobbying and political clout are obstacles to needs-based funding, which is necessary for both equity and efficiency reasons.

Much of the policy skills in Canberra departments have been downgraded, and “policy” work is contracted out to accounting and consultancy firms. Policy work within the government is now undertaken more in specialist organisations such as the Productivity Commission rather than in the departments. Departmental policy capability has been seriously eroded. That is the real story behind the problems of the pink batts scheme.

*Read the rest at John Menadue’s blog, Pearls and Irritations.