Justice delayed for Indigenous Australians

Australia is the only country in the world, according to Linda Burney, not to have granted First Nation peoples recognition in their Constitution.

She also pointed out that the recent failed attempt of the bipartisan Referendum Council established in 2015 to resolve recognition issues was just the latest of many attempts by Aboriginal groups for recognition and a say in their own affairs. The first person to significantly agitate for change was William Cooper in the early 1930s. At 72, from his home in Footscray, he and the Australian Aborigines’ League he established, obtained 2000 signatures for a petition to King George VI. In 1938 this was formally presented to PM Joseph Lyons who declined on the part of the Australian government, to pass it onto the King.

Linda Burney, of course, is a well known and respected career politician who after 13 years in NSW State politics, as their first Aboriginal member, (becoming indeed for a time Deputy Premier) was elected in 2016 to the federal seat of Barton, as the first Aboriginal woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. She has a Diploma in Teaching from the Mitchell College of Advanced Education, now part of Charles Sturt University, and over 30 years of active involvement in Indigenous Affairs with multiple organizations. Now 62, she is of mixed descent, Scottish and the Wiradjuri people of Central NSW. She brings wide experience, great sensitivity, and a moderate voice to parliament on the thorny question of Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australia, discussed in the Q & A, ABC program of Monday 19 August 2019.

The distinguished panelists were:

Linda Burney, Labor Member for the NSW seat of Barton, and the first Aboriginal woman to be elected to Federal Parliament.

Julian Leeser, Liberal Member for Berowra and Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

Patricia Turner, CEO of ATSIC 1994-8, academic and public servant on numerous aboriginal welfare organizations including Closing the Gap.

Jacinta Price, musician and conservative CLP candidate for the NT seat of Lingiari at the 2019 election.

Sally Scales, Uluru Statement delegate, Deputy Chair of the APY Lands Executive Council.

It was particularly disappointing that Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt was not one of the panelists since at a National Press Club Luncheon on the occasion of NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) week, he had reignited debate on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians by suggesting that over the present term of parliament, the government would consider an adjustment of the constitution that might be acceptable to Australians at a future referendum. After the Garma traditional festival August 2-5 attended by Minister Ken Wyatt, the government announced an important qualification to dampen Indigenous expectations. Any referendum would be limited to putting to the vote a clause recognizing the pre-existence of native races prior to settlement, but the government would not support any change in the Constitution which would embed in it an Indigenous political voice.

Justice delayed is Justice Denied

Undoubtedly, aboriginal elder Bill Rammage spoke for most Australian Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders in asking why, despite multiple inquiries, consultations and reports, it seemed that nothing ever came of them. He stressed that what they wanted was not token changes, nor symbolic acts, but a say that would be listened to on big-ticket items that impinge on their rights as the original, and therefore equally legitimate, residents of Australia. It is only just over 50 years since Indigenous statistics were included in Australia’s census data! More importantly, until the Mabo High Court decision of 1992, they had absolutely no legal ownership rights to inhabitant the lands on which they lived,

They have been virtually in a constitutional limbo since white settlement 231 years ago, surely a national disgrace, and a continuing denial of Justice. Is it too hard to remedy this situation? It should not be, given Australia’s admirable record in bringing Papua-New Guinea to nationhood, but that milestone was achieved without the need to accommodate an overwhelming majority of white settlers claiming total sovereignty over the native peoples.

Australia had had an involvement in the Administration of Papua-New Guinea since the end of the first world war leading up to Independence in September 1975. Its people, similar to Australia’s Torres Strait Islanders, were heavily dependent on Australians to run their country when in 1972 the newly elected Prime Minister of Australia, Gough Whitlam, announced a program for transition to Independence. It seemed at the time an impossibility but the country had an educated elite, valuable natural resources, and the time had come to end what might be considered as colonial occupation. It was not an end to support but a re-deployment of aid.

Political machinations that have bedeviled the progress of Constitutional Recognition

Aboriginal affairs is usually, but not always, approached in a bipartisan way. Unfortunately with changes in government come differences in direction, and the intrusion of purely political considerations into the formulation of indigenous policy.

Labor Prime Minister from 1983 until 1991, Bob Hawke, had a sincere concern for the welfare of Aborigines, and was responsible for the establishment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act (ATSIC) of 1989. It functioned from 1990 up until 2004 and was not just a forum, but a representative body with executive power for the delivery of some Indigenous programs.

In 1992, when Paul Keating was Prime Minister, the Mabo High Court decision on the validity of native title resulted in large areas of the Northern Territory in particular, being set aside for specific indigenous control, to the consternation of many white Australians who thought the concessions were unnecessarily generous. It was a legal, not a constitutional decision, and individual judgements could presumably be challenged in the courts, including questions of royalties and compensation. It was probably inevitable that there would be a conservative backlash, and it certainly came when John Howard came to office.

He was elected in 1996, and his anti-indigenous bias soon became evident. When pressed to formally apologize to Indigenous peoples over past injustices, he adamantly refused. He would express no regret, even for symbolic reasons, for what happened centuries ago and had nothing to do with the present administration. To do so would be admitting liability, and would risk litigation for compensation. It wasn’t until after his time that Kevin Rudd did precisely this and proved that Howard’s excuse was just that – a convincing excuse.

During his tenure as Prime Minister John Howard had reasons to find fault with the operations of ATSIC. There were disputes involving key personnel, accusations that funds had been misappropriated, and instances in which expenditure had exceeded budgetary provisions without authorization. Most thought such irregularities teething problems, able to be rectified, rather than punishable offences.

At any rate, by 2004 Howard had completely dismantled not only its executive powers, but also its consultative role, terminating entirely the provisions of the 1989 ATSIC act. It had been a promising initiative for Indigenous participation, and its passing left a void in dialogue that all attempts thus far have failed to fill. Why did John Howard act in such a punitive way? He reputedly has explained it by saying that he did not want an indigenous organization dictating what his government could or shouldn’t do. It was a bitter setback to cooperative Aboriginal and Torres Strait involvement, and is why they now seek a say in their own affairs written into the Constitution for permanency.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies in September 2003 published a comprehensive research paper titled “Child Neglect and Abuse in Indigenous Australian Communities”, written by Janet Stanley, Adam M Tomison and Julian Pocock. It was an academic review of the literature and anecdotal accounts, by three non-indigenous authors, and not based on original field studies.

However these allegations of widespread serious sexual abuse in Aboriginal Communities prompted the Northern Territory to commission a research Inquiry in August 2006 to find better ways to protect Aboriginal Children. It was a Territory wide study which conducted more than 260 meetings in 45 communities, and received 65 written submissions. The results were released 15th June 2007 and suggested that education was the key to management:

“School is the way to keep future generations of Aboriginal children safe. Getting children to school every day is essential because: children are safe when they are at school; school is a venue for educating children about child sexual abuse and protective behaviours; education provides opportunity, empowerment and achievement; it offers a way to overcome the social and economic problems which contribute to violence; children can confide in their teachers”.

“The Inquiry urged the government to improve Aboriginal education systems, including local language development, to make education more effective for Aboriginal children”.

http://www.inquirysaac.nt.gov.au/report_summary.html

John Howard notified the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Clare Martin, of his intention to intervene, but declined to meet with her and discuss the findings. Within two weeks, he was dramatically implementing, the “Northern Territory Emergency Response” (NTER).

The report manifestly did not accord with what the Prime Minister wished to hear. Pig-pigheadedly, he launched his Intervention anyway. It had the effect of impugning the morality of all Aborigines;, and punishing them, regardless of fault. Sending in the Army, Police and Medical teams, for a cost in excess of $1 billion, to some 73 NT remote communities has been described by Pat Turner as “a complete violation of the human rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory”.

https://www.news.com.au/finance/economy/federal-budget/nt-intervention-australias-most-costly-political-stunt/news-story/447f93e478da80f35f6ee63f05f81c9e

The Referendum Council’s exploratory work during Malcolm Turnbull‘s three years in office ended abruptly after many conservatives both inside and outside of parliament, stridently vetoed any constitutional change for an Indigenous political Voice, as requested in the Uluru Statement. In the face of such fierce and determined opposition, that a referendum would have been doomed to fail, Malcolm Turnbull capitulated. Virtually the victim of a “gotcha” situation, he was then roundly castigated by the right for lacking leadership on the issue .

Which way will Scott Morrison take the nation on Constitutional Recognition?

The intellectual interest for me in this Q & A episode has been to form a personal perspective, based on the comments of the panelists, as to the present status of the Indigenous Affairs policies of both the government and opposition parties. How genuine is the Morrison government after appointing Ken Wyatt to be Indigenous Affairs Minister, in wanting to advance Constitutional Recognition?

Questioner Michael Doyle pointedly asked where the Prime Minister stood on the issue. This was a critical question to ask, since it is most unlikely that there will be any progress without decisive leadership. Is it not time therefore, for him to stand up, express his views, and declare what he will or will not do? More precisely how does he propose to co-design with the Indigenous peoples an acceptable proposition for an Indigenous Voice? Or is it his intention to regally sit back, wait for others to come up with suggestions to be mauled, and declared unworkable? And has he not, by already ruling out any constitutional change as requested, curtailed negotiations, and excluded meaningful outcomes?

Julian Leeser, the co-Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Constitutional Recognition, was the official Liberal spokes-person on the panel. He down-played Scott Morrison’s role in the process, and argued that the reasoning for not supporting the call to establish an entity with an indigenous political voice in any Constitutional change, was simply because of the difficulty of meeting the Referendum requirements for a successful vote. Certainly if the Coalition does not back the proposal, the chance of a positive Referendum result would be zero. Is this position his own, or indicative of his ongoing subservience to to the will of the Conservatives?

Linda Burney on the other hand indicated that Labor’s policy was to accept the Uluru Statement without modification, and to work towards its implementation when in government. This however might prove an impossibility without Coalition support.

Audience participant Clayton Simpson was one of the Uluru attendees who did not agree with the Uluru Statement, which he claimed was written by the Referendum Council, and un-democratically imposed on the convention. He was one of a protest “walk-out group” who evidently wished to agitate for a position of Indigenous sovereignty over their own affairs.

Outstanding young female Aboriginal leader Sally Scales who is Deputy-Chair of the APY Land Council, and was a delegate to the Uluru Convention, did not publicly dispute his allegations, but called for a private exchange of views. She did however emphasize that the 250 attendees at Yulara were a representative group from 13 regional dialogues, representatives from a multiplicity of aboriginal organizations, and ten official delegates.

She backed Bill’s call for action to achieve tangible results based on the Uluru Statement that is not, as some might wish to portray it, an aggressive push for separate indigenous sovereignty, but a plea to all Australians to be accepted just as they are. It is a request to continue to help them find their place in a modern world. The conciliatory tenor of this heartfelt statement must surely awaken the conscience of those of us who have often failed to understand and meet their expectations.

Well known NT politician and anti-domestic violence activist Bess Price, is the mother of multi-talented young Warlpiri/Celtic woman, Jacinta Price. Jacinta grew up in Alice Springs, and has been blessed with talents inherited from both her mother, and father Dave. Speaking as a panelist she pointed out that the Uluru Statement does not cover the diversity of Indigenous opinion. Certainly, she spoke as one of an expanding sub-group of talented, well-educated and articulate Indigenous people who identify strongly with their Aboriginal heritage, and need little if any assistance, to excel in either culture.

Jacinta appeared somewhat ill-at-ease and unsmiling in being rather disparaging of the Uluru Statement, speaking as the Lingiari CLP candidate at the recent election. She failed to win this seat against veteran Labor candidate Warren Snowden, but performed well, receiving 44.54% of the vote and recording a 2.75% swing for the CLP, in this NT seat.

Bill suggested that what she was saying reflected conservative political policy, rather than representing the genuine sentiments of the Indigenous people. She sees herself as one dedicated to assisting her people meet their goals, but she did not think the request for a political voice was necessarily in their best interest. Her position was flexible, and she would endorse workable solutions. However, she was critical of the lack of specificity as to what form a Voice would take, but over-looked the desire expressed in the Uluru Statement, for this to be co-designed.

It would seem that she has offended many in the Indigenous community who see her as condoning the draconian Intervention of the Northern Territory Emergency Response, still fresh in their memories She is seen as being used by Conservatives who continue to denigrate Aboriginal culture and the ABC which gives them valuable television exposure.

Pat Turner encouragingly told of the commitment and diligence of existing government departments for Indigenous involvement at all levels of government. Rather than wasting time arguing, she sees the way forward as coming from the concerted efforts of the various agencies to “Close the Gap” between disadvantaged remote village communities, and privileged white societies. The modus operandi she advocates is lobbying government for adequate funding of operations that would ensure an optimum proportion of Indigenous workers.

What now?

Pragmatically the chances of a Referendum approving Constitutional Recognition for the first peoples of Australia, given the unrelenting anti-Indigenous propaganda of so-called “Sky News after Dark”, are zero.

But I have not altogether abandoned hope for a sensible resolution given the concern of the Catholic Church for Aboriginal welfare, and the programs they sponsor to advance their interests. Some policies have undoubtedly been paternalistic, and have limited spontaneous expressions of Aboriginal culture, but they have been well intentioned, with many of the most prominent Indigenous leaders educated in Catholic schools.

Tony Abbott had a genuine concern for them, frequently visiting Aboriginal communities, and promoting regular school attendance. In addition Barnaby Joyce has shown admirable leadership by renouncing his earlier negative opinions, and suggesting an option for change that would not entail constitutional change. It could improve the lot of all those who live in remote communities, whether black or white, and have to contend with the tyranny of distance.

It surely deserves close scrutiny!

Posted in Political debate

The Third Chamber furphy!

It was a catchy term coined by a little known blogger to draw attention to his post, written as a contribution to a debate on the desire of Indigenous Australians for a political voice in parliament, as expressed in the Uluru Statement from the heart.

It was a poorly chosen but well intentioned suggestion that the people of Australia proudly embrace for example, a small representative body of twelve to eighteen state representatives, within the confines of the Australian Parliament.

It was never envisaged to have a legislative role, and therefore not truly a so-called third chamber, but merely to provide an opportunity for Indigenous leaders to meet together to draw attention to, and discuss ways and means of solving pressing problems in Indigenous society. But should it not also have an ability to express opposition to parliamentary proposals that would unfairly violate their basic human rights, such as parenting rights? The enforced separation of child from parent under the misguided policy of compulsory assimilation, caused great family anguish during the era of the “Stolen Generations”.

Unfortunately the media seized upon the term to galvanize controversy about details that had intentionally not been specified in the Uluru Statement. Constitutional change was however deliberately requested, because an earlier representative body in ATSIC had been completely wound back by John Howard after the alleged misappropriation of some ATSIC funds.

Instead of the feedback they wanted as to what might be feasible, any constitutional change was adamantly rejected by political commentators with the power to adversely influence any referendum outcome. PM Malcolm Turnbull, faced with such a divisive issue could see no way forward, and terminated the initially promising work of the Referendum Council established in 2015.

Despite the rocky road thus far, there is still hope for a favourable outcome for First Nation peoples expressed in an article by Constitutional Expert Professor Anne Twomey.

While the Commonwealth government was initially unsettled by the Uluru proposal, it has allocated money in the most recent budget to develop the detail of that proposal further. This suggests that it has recognised the underlying merit in it and is prepared to contemplate it more seriously. Perhaps with further consideration, both at the political level and across the country, the Uluru proposal which at first seemed so confronting to some, will grow in familiarity and be seen as a natural part of Australia’s evolution.

https://www.smh.com.au/national/why-an-indigenous-voice-would-not-be-third-chamber-of-parliament-20190526-p51r7t.html

Posted in Political debate

Coalition Moratorium on Newstart Challenged by Barnaby Joyce.

Barnaby Joyce may be a threat to PM Scott Morrison’s desire for Coalition unity in rejecting widespread calls for increasing the Newstart Allowance to assist the unemployed to find work.

But his outspoken support for the measure resonates with regional Australia, National Party heartland, and displays an empathy for the plight of isolated rural youth, which Scott Morrison tactlessly ignored by branding the Labor opposition policy on Newstart as “unfunded empathy”. It was a taunt that voters may not soon forget.

The Basic Newstart Allowance of about $288 dollars per week for Australian citizens over 22 years of age carries with it an obligation to be continually active in seeking work. Both major parties acknowledge the impossibility of it meeting modest cost of living requirements, let alone the cost of clothes and transport to job interviews.

The government position presented by Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz in the Q & A program on the 5th August 2019, was that the government could not afford the increase, and that the best form of welfare anyway is a job.

Of course, the Opposition policy supporting higher payments it took to the last election, and had not at that time been able to include in funding proposals, is quite academic now. Only the government can show that it cares sufficiently for the unemployed to perhaps forego a budget surplus it has been trumpeting.

The other consideration in the Newstart issue is access to employment opportunities in regional and urban areas. Is the government willing to effectively tackle this problem, and limit the migration of youth to the cities for work?

Posted in Political debate

The “Original” Issue that won’t go away!

My hope, shared by many Australians, is for our nation:

  • to formally recognize and respect the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the prior occupants of Australia for an estimated 60,000 years.
  • to allow Indigenous Australians to have a greater say in the management of their own affairs.
  • to continue to encourage the preservation of Aboriginal culture and way of life, whilst at the same time enabling them to better integrate into wider Australian society.

Great Britain, during the period of Colonial Rule from 1788 until 1901, failed to sign any Treaty of Occupation as it did with the Maori people of New Zealand in 1840, and progressively dispossessed them of their land arguing that because they were nomadic and primitive, the land was “Terra nullius”.

The fact that 231 years after settlement, the injustices of the past still rankle with them and old problems still linger, suggests that the basic issues of justice and respect will not easily be corrected.

How they still feel has been movingly expressed by Referendum Council Member Galarrwuy Yunupingu in his essay ‘Rom Watangu’ at Appendix D in the Final Report of the Referendum Council of 30 June 2017.

What Aboriginal people ask is that the modern world now makes the sacrifices necessary to give us a real future. To relax its grip on us. To let us breathe, to let us be free of the determined control exerted on us to make us like you. And you should take that a step further and recognise us for who we are, and not who you want us to be. Let us be who we are – Aboriginal people in a modern world – and be proud of us. Acknowledge that we have survived the worst that the past had thrown at us, and we are here with our songs, our ceremonies, our land, our language and our people – our full identity. What a gift this is that we can give you, if you choose to accept us in a meaningful way.

https://www.referendumcouncil.org.au/sites/default/files/report_attachments/Referendum_Council_Final_Report.pdf

The Referendum Council

Each recent Australian Prime Minister since Bob Hawke (1983-1991) has tried with limited success to progress the cause of the Aboriginal peoples as the first Sovereign Nation of the Continent of Australia.

On the 7th December 2015 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten appointed a 16 member Referendum Council to plan for a referendum which would establish for all time recognition of the pre-existence of Australian’s native races

Under this initiative, the Council organized the three-day 2017 National Constitutional Convention attended by 250 tribal representatives to annunciate their wishes for change. The outcome was a Consensus viewpoint entitled “Uluru Statement from the heart” in which there were three specific requests:

  1. Constitutional reforms to recognise their rightful place in the history of Australia.
  2. The establishment of a First Nations Voice in the Constitution that could not be wound back as John Howard did with ATSIC.
  3. The establishment of a Makarrata Commission for ongoing conciliatory dialogue and unity with the full Australian Community.

Whether such constitutional modifications can be brought about will depend not just on the political intent of our leaders, but on convincing a clear majority of the people of Australia on the weight of evidence for change. Prejudicing a successful vote however are the unkind, and vocal objections of those who deliberately misconstrue expressed Indigenous aims as a grab for unfair advantage over others, and the thin edge of a wedge for gaining political power.

It is not compensation or wealth they seek, but respect. They need our assistance, but wish to be heard on how best to solve their own problems, and meet their own aspirations. They are far from being insurgents, seeking only a peaceful dialogue with Australians. . They have long endured inequality and implied inferiority that affects their well-being and way of life.

Why Constitutional Change should be considered.

A formal request has been initiated

There has been an official government of Australia invitation to an appropriately representative group of some three quarters of a million Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to suggest objectives for constitutional changes if the Australian people vote in favour of it at a referendum.

Indigenous polity has not been adequately addressed, or belatedly addressed under previous British and now Australian law and governance.

The High Court’s judgement of the 3rd June 1992 rejected the concept of Terra nullius for Indigenous land dispossession, and established a legal framework for native title claims by Indigenous Australians. It argued that common law as it existed violated human rights norms, and denied the historical reality of Indigenous people’s dispossession. They were even denied basic citizenship rights such as the right to vote, and to be included in statistical records, until 1967.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1467-8500.12361

https://australianstogether.org.au/discover/australian-history/mabo-native-title/

Largely unintended though it may have been, the transportation of an estimated 162,000 convicts between 1788 and 1868 to Australian penal colonies almost completely decimated the native races because;

  • The accompanying marines and soldiers charged with maintaining law and order used excessive force to suppress uprisings by natives agitated at losing their traditional hunting grounds.
  • The influx of new settlers cleared their lands and competed for food and safe water supplies.
  • Is it any wonder that malnourished native people were so vulnerable to introduced diseases such as small-pox, venereal diseases, tuberculosis and influenza?

As a result it is estimated that by Federation in 1901, their population had fallen to about 93,200 in a general population of just over 3 million (3%).

Exploitative and paternalistic policies

Australia’s management has been blemished by inhumane, paternalistic policies that ignored basic human rights. e.g. during the Stolen Generation period, when Aboriginal parents lost control over their own children, and had them forcibly taken from them, for adoption by white families, under well-meaning but misguided policies of assimilation.

During the 1950s and 1960s 7 atomic bombs were detonated at Maralinga in the North-West of South Australia. “In 1985, a survey found that of the 12,500 people involved in the British  nuclear testing program in Australia, 11,000 had died. Hundreds of Maralinga-Tjarutja people were also forced from their homeland during the testing”. And only returned after a second clean-up of the site was completed in 2000 at a cost of $108 million.

In 1994 when less than 1500 of the 12,500 displaced Maralinga-Tjaruta peoples were still alive, the Australian government paid compensation of $13.5 million. However previously an attempt by the legal firm Hickman and Rose acting for the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement was unsuccessful with a class-action claim in the English Courts. They alleged that the claim failed because they were unable to prove that Ionizing Radiation is dangerous to human health. Try telling that to the people of Japan, and of Chernobyl!

https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/tedablogdotcom.wordpress.com/98

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Posted in Political debate

Bring it on Scott!

Known and hated (at least by me) is “Foxtel News after Dark”. One after another, know-all hosts ad nauseum, all with the same pro-coal, climate change denying rhetoric, and ungracious bitter anti-Turnbull tirades. Night after night. Week after week. Same old topics! I’m rarely tuned-in unless I want to be reminded of how violently I disagree with them. In fact, I would be prepared to pay a premium to have their programs excluded from my Foxtel subscription. I often think of cancelling my contract, but could I live without the AFL and the A league football?

I hoped, vainly it turns out, that since the ascension of coalophil Scott Morrison, we might come to enjoy some ABC inspired investigative journalism, and perhaps even a few Indigenous performing arts programs on Foxtel. Not yet. Little has changed, even although the Coalition won an election the polls for the last three years under Turnbull consistently showed they would lose. Surprise! Surprise! They also now have a mandate for coal power up North! How successful is “Foxtel News after Dark”?

Okay! Okay! I get it! You’ve won! Please Foxtel News, give it a rest. Don’t just malign us Environmental Liberals turned Greenies over this issue.  The burden of proof on global warming is with you, not us. Bring it on and show us it can be done safely.. If you are wrong, voters won’t forget.

 Scott Morrison has already presided over what Tony Abbott wanted but hadn’t been able to achieve by the time he lost his safe Liberal seat.  i.e. Regulatory approval for a new thermal coal mine in Central Queensland.

No ordinary mine, Adani is ambitiously the world’s largest, and the probable fore-runner of several others in the coal-rich Galilee Basin. It has been suggested that at full production with the help of other eager would-be developers such as Gina Rhinehart and Clive Palmer, Australia’s coal exports could be doubled to over 600 million tonnes per year.

This, plus the regional new coal-fired power station Clive Palmer is keen to build, how many new jobs might be created?

This is the vision that they argue won the election for the Coalition and has given them a mandate for coal! Jobs it may bring, but at what price?

How many coal miners will lose their lives or health? Who was it that said, don’t be scared of coal? Like asbestos, it is harmless when undisturbed, but potentially lethal when handled, and is carcinogenic.

Will adjacent land owners and others be concerned about depletion of the precious aquifers in drought-prone Central Queensland, and the risk of pollution of the Great Artesian Basin with lethal heavy-metal poisoning?

The Abbot Point Port Terminal operated by Adani (AAPT) has a handling capacity of 50 million tonnes per annum exporting metallurgical coal from mines in the Bowen Basin. To handle stockpiled coal from the Adani mine via the 200 km long Carmichael Railway Network (CRN) with anticipated production of 60 million tonnes per annum, it will be necessary to increase the capacity of the Port entailing dredging and new constructions.

Already under threat, Australia’s unique Great Barrier Reef in the vicinity of Bowen, is highly likely to be damaged from these changes, from shipping accidents and from cyclonic flooding of the huge coal stockpiles.

Over-riding every other consideration however is what effect ramping-up Australia’s thermal coal production will have on global warming and climate change.

Although the Coalition decisively won the May 18 Australian federal election, it can scarcely be viewed as a referendum on climate change. We expect our politicians to be responsible and reduce carbon emissions from the burning of coal for electricity generation.  

Posted in Political debate

How good is Adani Eh?

In his victory speech, Scott Morrison acknowledged the contributions of Tony Abbott who lost his seat after 25 years in parliament, but made no mention of his immediate predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, who had appointed him to the key position of Treasurer in his government.

This omission suggests that Morrison is trying to restore harmony and functionality to the government and is prepared to appease the demands of the Conservative faction to achieve this. But will leaving Joyce in limbo jeopardize this?

ScoMo may believe in miraculous election victories, but he has to acknowledge that it has more likely been the strategies of the Conservatives that has put him in the Lodge. Indeed, it is the Conservatives that have been the big election winners.

Not only have they successfully removed a Prime Minister they disliked, but they have been able to retain office after doing so.  By attaining a working majority, they are now in a position to finally implement the pro-coal policies of Tony Abbott, that ignored climate change concerns, and frustrated Malcolm Turnbull into calling a spill for the leadership.

Some commentators have expressed the view that with the protagonists for the “wets” and the “dries” of the Liberal Party gone, Scott Morrison is free to do as he likes, stamp his authority on the Coalition, and to establish a new political dynasty.  He, however, might well respond “would that it were so simple”.  

He is under some pressure since the election result to fast-track the Central Queensland Carmichael Mine in the Galilee Basin, inland from Rockhampton, in spite of valid environmental concerns. Assuming he agrees, what incentives is his government prepared to give to make it happen?

When Adani was not able to raise the finance for a A$16.5 project they decided to self-fund a much smaller operation of $2 billion with a proposed operational life-span of 60 years, and production of $2.3 billion tonnes of coal, or $60 million tonnes a year.

A relevant unpredictable factor is the future price of coal, and the risk that coal could soon become a stranded asset. It would be prudent if Adani were able to secure firm contracts in the proposed Asian market, before starting operations. Might it not be cheaper for Adani to provide power to poor Indian consumers from renewables, than to import coal from Australia for electricity generation?

Initially slated to provide 10,000 jobs, a more conservative estimate is 1500 but what is Adani’s record in terms of employee Health and Safety?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmichael_coal_mine

For the case against the Adani Mine, North Queenslanders should study Get Up’s website “the Adani files” before pinning their hopes on Adani to find them jobs.

https://adanifiles.com.au/

Another valuable reference source is the website of the Environmental Justice Australia organisation.

Posted in Uncategorized

Naughty News Corp

Three days ago, The Sunshine Coast Daily, published by News Corp Australia, ran a picture of Queensland Premier, Anastacia Palaszczuk with the headline “Anna, you’re next” and the subheadline “Labor rout puts Premier in crosshairs”.

This gives credence to the widespread perception that News Corp engages in bullying and intimidating journalism, to manipulate public opinion and achieve their preferred political outcomes. It is blatantly threatening ongoing poor press unless there is compliance. At best it is in poor taste and trashes their professional reputation.

Posted in Uncategorized

Barnaby Joyce Overlooked

The consensus view is that Scott Morrison did a good job choosing his new ministerial team, managing not to disappoint too many deserving colleagues.

An exception perhaps is former National Party Leader and Deputy Prime Minister between February 2016 and February 2018, Barnaby Joyce.

In deference to his former status, and previous role under Scott Morrison as Envoy for drought mitigation, he surely deserved at least a curtesy call from the PM to discuss his future, instead of having to find-out about his demotion via Twitter.

A year ago, he had been deeply hurt by a very public rebuke from PM Malcolm Turnbull, whom he had served loyally, over his highly publicized unwise relationship with a former staffer.  Others might have concealed their indiscretion by aborting the pregnancy, but Barnaby did not because of his religious scruples. Turnbull’s lack of sensitivity to his Deputy’s plight may have triggered the movement that unseated him.

Scott Morrison’s dilemma in how to accommodate Barnaby Joyce is not too dissimilar from the one which confronted Malcolm Turnbull in September 2015 after he had defeated Tony Abbott in a ballot for the leadership.

Turnbull chose to relegate him to the back-bench, but in retrospect might it have been wiser to give him an appropriate cabinet position or find him a suitable diplomatic post?

As of 27 May 2019, Barnaby Joyce had received in his NSW seat of New England, 59,126 of 111,979 eligible votes or 64.83% of the two-party preferred vote. Clearly his electorate believes in him and thinks that the allegations of sexual impropriety which forced him to resign his ministerial positions 15 months ago, should not now be an issue.

Furthermore, since his demotion, he has lent his support to the Queensland pro-coal lobby that tipped voter support in favour of the Coalition. He deserves kudos for this.

No doubt Barnaby believes he has served his time in the political wilderness and that now he should be seriously considered for return to an important role.

But has Scott Morrison already made his decision? Is Barnaby’s time past, and having tarnished his reputation, will he never receive a second chance?

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Chris Bowen’s Misleading Imputation Example

46-year-old Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen was a panelist on the ABC program Q and A on Monday evening 29/04/2019 defending Labor’s policy proposals should they win the Federal election on May 18.

Although his arguments seemed convincing, the example he gave to justify the massive raiding of retiree funds by ending cash Imputation Credit payments was quite misleading. Savings to the government are expected to exceed $56 billion over a ten-year period and are ear-marked to fund projects Labor thinks are more deserving.

With life-expectancy projected to soon rise into the mid-nineties, retirees wishing to be as independent as possible of government subsidies, must now work out how to make their superannuation last for possibly three decades from retirement, on a reduced dividend income stream.

Chris Bowen’s example to illustrate the purported inequity in the taxation treatment of a salary worker, and the earnings of a retiree with a self-managed superfund:

 “A nurse on $67,000 pays $13,000 in income tax. A retired shareholder with dividend income of $67,000 from shares in their self-managed super fund pays $0 in income tax and gets a tax refund of more than $27,000 from the Government. Same income, different outcome.” #qanda

Criticisms

  1. Is it not outrageously misleading to equate fund earnings with dividend income not taking into account capital losses, which can be substantial in market downturns and crashes?
  2. Wages from personal exertion provide for current financial needs. Superannuation savings on the other hand must meet as much as possible of their expenses in retirement over up to three decades or more of life. The fact is that most retirees qualify within a decade or so of retirement, for a full or part pension.
  3. Superannuants have paid already paid 15% contributions tax, and tax on fund earnings until retirement. They have forfeited the contributions tax they have paid on their capital losses, and seen the value of their savings eroded by inflation. It is therefore unfair to deny them access to Imputation Credits, on the basis of not paying tax.
  4. The nurse’s income of $67,000 p.a. is within the average range.  The Average Wage of all workers, full and part-time, is estimated to be $62,128, whilst the Median Wage for workers is $55,000. The example of the retiree’s dividend income implies a fund balance of 1-2 million dollars if the dividend return on the portfolio is between 3.5% and 7%. I suspect that this is way in excess of the balance of most retirees. In the context of this comparison of the two groups, it implies that SMSFs are vehicles for millionaires and multimillionaires to avoid taxation. At least that is the way Labor is presenting this policy.

Other considerations that I would like clarified.

In flagging their policy on Imputation Credits, Labor has always asserted that the intention is to end cash payments only. Will then Imputation Credits still be availble to offset tax due on SMSFs in the accumulation phase?.

Labor has backed-down on withdrawing Imputation Credits from retirees on the pension. Will this concession also apply to those on a part pension?

It would seem that Labor’s proposal is virtually a tax on recent retirees, and could have the effect of influencing them to run down their fund balance in order to qualify for dependable pensioner benefits. Will measures be taken to stop them doing this?

It is possible that with diminished dividend income, retirees may seek to bolster their earnings with more capital gains. Is there any intention on the part of Labor to then tax their capital gains? If so, retirees should be able to offset imputation credits from their tax liability.

Disclaimer

This post is written from the perspective of a retiree likely to be affected by Labor’s proposed superannuation changes. No claim is made for particular investment or financial expertise, and readers should discuss any issues of concern with their own advisors.

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Should Water Diversion be now reconsidered for North Queensland?

Don’t just unthinkingly blame Barnaby Joyce for reigniting controversy within the Coalition on the eve of the election by spruiking a controversial policy, previously discarded by the Queensland State government, for a government subsidized coal-fired power plant in North Queensland.


It has actually been the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, energetic conservative Queensland Senator Matt Canavan’s idea. He argues that despite the capital cost, it would deliver jobs, and he hopes, cheaper power for consumers. However he discounts environmental risks that are fresh in the minds of many
Queenslanders after a summer of extreme weather with drought, bush-fires, cyclones, floods and coral reef damage.

His admirable unswerving support of coal could prove a brave call, both for him, and the government’s chances of re-election. Has he given any thought to how such disasters could be tackled, rather than aggravated as he proposes?

There is a scheme, moth-balled since 1938, but raised from time to time by politicians including former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, that could deliver benefits for North Queenslanders in the face of climate change. I refer to what is known as the Bradfield Scheme after Queensland born civil engineer Dr John Bradfield, designer of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Brisbane’s Story Bridge.

It is an inland irrigation scheme that diverts some river flow from the upper reaches of the Tully, Herbert and Burdekin rivers into the Thomson River on the Western side of the Great Dividing Range. In a boost for agriculture, it would irrigate more than 7,800 sq. km, cap erosion in Central Queensland, provide hydro-electric power, help control flooding, and likely improve the health of the Reef

It is a project that has hitherto been considered too expensive to implement but in the light of the cost of disaster relief, Matt Canavan for the Coalition, or an incoming Labor Administration, must surely explore the possibility of a modern version of the Bradfield Scheme.

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