A new tradition?

Crude I know, but it was spur of the moment.

IN LIGHT OF recent announcements by various members of the LNP Cabinet, and given Prime Minister Scott (How Good’s Volunteering) Morrison’s attitude to the catastrophic events unfolding throughout the country, perhaps we could look at reworking some old traditions that have faded into obscurity and at the same time celebrate the Pentecostal PM’s famous pledge.

The once anticipated Cracker Night, Empire Night, Guy Fawkes Night – the name varied State by State – and associated mayhem have been replaced by organised, multi-million dollar spectacles aimed more at swelling corporate coffers and earning votes for politicians than celebrating tradition. Halloween has replaced them to a certain extent, but it’s not the same. I doubt kids today get as much as satisfaction out of playing dress-ups and begging as we did in using a gumnut bomb to demolish the letterbox of a detested local dignity.

In my home State, Western Australia, preparations began weeks before “Guy Fawkes Night” on November 5th. Kids scrounged cardboard, wood and anything else combustible, stacking the spoils anywhere they thought they could get away with a bonfire. Old clothes were snaffled and stuffed with rags and grass – with a last-minute addition of Penny Bungers if you were more solvent – and turned into a “Guy”, an effigy of the plotter of whom it was once said that he was the only man ever to enter Parliament with the right intention.

For a couple of weeks or so before the big night, groups of kids dragged their Guy around the streets chanting “Penny for the Guy; Penny for the Guy, Mister,” paying particular attention to barber shops, pubs and shop fronts behind which they knew the SP bookies lurked. Those pennies purchased supplementary cracker supplies.

So, here’s my plan. To mitigate the dangers associated with pyrotechnics and summers that thanks to the climate crisis are beginning ever earlier, we could recognise the Winter Solstice as Scott Morrison Day or, if you’d prefer, Pentecostal Eve, combining the temporal and the holier-than-thou.

On this day, in towns all over Australia, effigies of our hopefully former PM could be set aflame to chants of “Throw another Big Aussie Barbie on the Fire”.

After all, he did say he would burn for Australia.

An ancient story retold

This is not an attempt to copy the joyous art I was privileged to see in the rock-shelter somewhere beyond the
Blue Mountains; that masterpiece is imbued with 60,000 years and more of knowledge and tradition and
is there to commemorate a momentous event, the breaking of a monstrous drought. If any of my Indigenous
friends and readers are offended, please tell me and I will take it down.

I first came across this wonderful legend in Mrs Eve Langloh-Parker‘s Australian Legendary Tales, first published in 1896. I have read and heard abbreviated versions and been shown sites associated with the legend. There are many stories connected to this drought, and various reasons for it. In some versions Tidda-link (the Frog) and Coola (the Koala) are named as two beings who stole the water, and many and various were the ruses by which they were tricked into returning it. In retelling this story, I have added snippets of what I heard. Mrs Parker’s transcript of the version she was given all those years ago is wonderful and worth reading. Despite the criticism she has received, I believe she had a genuine interest in the lore of the people she encountered in her daily life and treated their philosophy and artistry with far more respect than did some of the early reviewers of her work. Some of my Indigenous friends agree with me. You can decide for yourself.

Mulla-mulla photographed in the arid country around Menzies, Western Australia, where my maternal
great-grandparents settled when they came out from Wales.—Photo courtesy Brooke Collins

Drought is a fact of life in Australia and studies have shown that one such event, recent in geological terms, lasted for about 1000 years; this beautiful story from the central west of NSW no doubt recalls that time. Set in the time after the hero, Baiame (or Bayamii), had finished his work on Earth and returned with his wives to his home along the great river that we call the Milky Way, it speaks of the interconnection between all living things, the joy the Indigenous peoples find in flowers, and the importance of social cohesion. Our climate-denialist politicians need to listen to the wisdom in these ancient stories and learn the lessons they impart.

BAYAAMII’S LAST TASK on Earth had been to carve his mark on three giant gums, telling the Bagiin, the Clever Men, that the Bee people who lived among them were never to be raided for their sugar bag, the dark, thin, delicious honey so loved by his people. “No matter what,” he told them, “these are always for the Bees in times of need, for without them many of the flowers will never grow and a time may come when the Bees are needed.”

Bayaamii had gone, taking his wives with him. South-east wind, their earthly relative, missed her kinfolk and began to sulk, causing the rain-bearing winds to cease. As the country dried, so the flowers gradually disappeared until the Bees – sacred to Bayaamii – had only tree sap and the occasional blossom from which to make honey to store in their comibii, their bags.

As the generations passed, the young people became angry with their elders the Lawmen, and scoffed at their stories about a time when the south-easterly brought spring rains and the land was covered in flowers; stories about the delicious sugar bag that could be found in rock overhangs, tree hollows and, in exceptionally good seasons, even in cracks in high ground.

“You are lying,” they would say. “Prove it’s true by letting us raid Bayaamii’s trees for their sugar bag.”

“We must not,” their elders would say, “It is the Law.”

But as the long, bitter years passed, the younger generations became even less inclined to listen to advice and, fearing that the injunctions would be overturned, the Bagiin consulted the Yuurii, the little hairy people who have links to the secret Other World. Feeling the people’s plight and knowing the consequences of breaking Law, the Yuurii pleaded with Bayaamii who told them they could guide a group of Bagiin from every corner of the land up to his home on the great river where he would tell them what to do.

The Bagiin were led to the sacred mountain – where even today you can see the steps Bayaamii cut when he returned to his home – and up to the ancient, sacred Bora, the ceremonial ground, on its summit.

There, the Bagiin and Yuurii danced a great Borraa, driving away obstacles and preparing the path to Bayaamii’s home. As the dancing reached its peak, the men were dragged upward by a great wind, twisting and whirling, sucking them up to the great river. When they had recovered the courage to open their eyes, they found themselves standing on river flats covered in all manner of beautiful flowers stretching away as far as they could see.

Bayaamii’s great voice spoke to them from somewhere along the river: “Go now,” he thundered, “and gather all the flowers you can carry and I will send you with them back to your home in my country on Earth. When you get there, you must give them to the women, who will place them on the ground. Do not,” his voice grew louder, “stop the children in whatever they might do, for you know they are special to me and my wives.” The magic of Bayaamii entered the Bagiin and they collected flowers in huge bundles, enough to cover the land it seemed, but they kept at it until another giant buuli, a willy-willy, swept them and their precious cargo up, returning them to Earth, each to his own country.

Hakea near Menzies, WA —Courtesy Brooke Collins

Back on Earth, the women cried with joy to see the beauty the Bagiin had brought with them and dashed to and fro placing the flowers in great bunches all over the ground.

The children were amazed. Never before had they seen such colours, nor smelled such sweet scents. “It’s true,” they yelled, “what the Old Ones tell us must be true.” Filled with joy, the children leaped and danced and as they did so their feet kicked the bunches of flowers in all directions. So happy was the sound of the youngsters, that the South-East women caused the rain- bearing winds to blow steady and strong, bringing the warm, spring rains to the land. Wherever a particular flower lay, there its children grow to this day.

The dance of the children is remembered for what it returned to the land. Some people will tell you that if a grown-up has a pain in the binjii– a belly ache – it’s because they have been unkind to their children and Bayaamii’s wives are punishing them.

If you visit the sandstone country behind the Blue Mountains, there is a sacred mountain with huge steps cut in one side and with its summit flattened by Bayaamii’s Great Borraa. This is the place where the Bagiin were lifted into the sky.

In the same general area, there is a large rock overhang in which is painted a line of women, 15 or more metres long. Facing the viewer, they are holding hands and dancing with joy at the beauty of their world. Some of this country is in constant danger of disappearing into a great pit.

And last, but not least, all over Australia are old place names commemorating this great event. In the greater Sydney area and again near Tenterfield, NSW, there are localities named Girraween – the place where the flowers returned.

A birds’ war corroboree

We now know that birds, and bird song, originated in that part of Gondwana that is now Australia, which is why this continent and its neighbours are so richly endowed with species – the pigeon and parrot tribes, for example, reached their greatest diversity in this region.

I have admired birds ever since I can remember; the first – and only – request I ever made of Father Christmas was for a galah. All my life I have watched them, kept them, talked to them and marvelled at their diversity, their beauty and their intelligence. And during this, the time of endless burning, I weep for them.

Because I weep for them today, I want to remember the joy they have given me over the years, so I will share a magic interlude nearly forty years ago. It happened in and around a tamarisk tree growing outside a pickers’ hut on a dried-grape block in Coomealla district, New South Wales, near the town of Dareton and not far from where the Murray River is joined by the now imperilled Darling, and featured a tribe of Apostle birds (Struthidea cinerea) and a not-very-bright Collared sparrowhawk (Accipiter cirrocephalus).

A male Apostle bird —Wikipedia Commons/Benjamin Wild 444

Meet the Apostle bird, so named because a popular, though unfounded, belief has it that it is always found in groups of twelve. It is also known as lousy jack, happy jack, grey jumper, and CWA bird, this last a somewhat derogatory reference to its habit of constantly chattering, putting the less charitable in mind of a Country Women’s Association meeting. It is a mud-nest builder and, like so many of Australia’s birds, raises the young communally, a dominant pair breeding and the rest of the tribe helping to feed the offspring – a very useful strategy in Australia’s erratic climate. They are also solicitous of each other. Feeding a group of youngsters in my backyard one day – their babysitter was perched on the clothesline – I noticed that  if the smallest of the brood flapped its wings, its larger siblings would immediately offer food.

Youngsters in a Bourke backyard

They are, like most birds, very intelligent. They also have a sense of humour.

On that day at Coomealla, my then partner/fellow picker and I were sitting on the rickety bench outside the hut, when a tribe of Apostle birds came swaggering up to fossick under the Atholl pine, as tamarisks are called in those parts. They knew us well, so we were pretty much ignored apart from the occasional derogatory remark when a fierce stare failed to produce a handout.

They’d not long been there when a Collared sparrowhawk flew on to the scene, immediately diving into the thick cover of the tamarisk’s higher branches. Rather than flee, a likely fatal manoeuvre, the tribe went into what can only be described as a war dance. Spreading their wings above their backs, they stamped their feet, fluttered and bowed, and raised a cacophony of squawks, causing the sparrowhawk to shift uncomfortably on its perch and peer intently at the dancers as if to see which of this seemingly demented tribe posed the greatest threat.

While its gaze was fixed on the centre of the rowdy mob, the bird closest to the tree quietly slipped around to the other side of the trunk and slowly began to climb towards the hawk’s perch. The closer it got, the more frantic became the dancing. Reaching the enemy’s branch, the Apostle bird seemed to shrink, as a cat does when it goes into the final phase of a stalk. Creeping along till it couldn’t have been more than fifteen centimetres from the target, the Struthidean hero, shrieking like an enraged panther, leaped into the air and with wings flapping and feet forward hit the hawk fair in the back.

The result was dramatic. The hawk literally fell from the branch and for a second we thought it would hit the ground, but at the last minute it spread its wings and fled. Wings beating like the clappers and flying almost at ground level, it disappeared among the rows of sultanas.

And the Apsotle birds? When the warrior returned to the bosom of the family, they began a corroboree of celebration. They bobbed and bowed, flapped and flirted, exchange gentle pecks and, I swear, they laughed. Long and raucously, they laughed. There’s no other word for the noise they were making.

The old hut, scene of the Apostle birds’ victory dance

Australians have been betrayed

Note: This article was written for the Molong Express of June 13, 2019. Since it was published, the LNP Federal and Labor State government of Queensland have signed off on the Adani Carmichael coalmine and the consequent destruction of the Galilee Basin. This decision has sounded the death knell for the Great Barrier Reef and added another grave marker in the cemetery of dashed hopes of today’s youth. This coincides with the announcement that Norway’s “Oil Fund” is divesting itself of some $18 billion in fossil fuel investments.

Now that the election is over, we are being forced to face the fact that the winning side, bereft of many actual policies, snatched victory by riding a bandwagon of lies, half truths and the over-inflated ego of a self-proclaimed billionaire.

Some political commentators have even gone so far as to suggest that many of the government’s policy promises – and I use the word with caution – were laid as traps for an expected future Labor government.


The argument goes that on questions of border security and tax cuts, the Opposition would have to agree to many of the LNP’s promises for fear that it would be seen as “soft on security” and unsupportive of the “battler”, then, when elected, Labor would be faced with budget blowouts that the LNP could use as a cudgel with which to beat them.


Whether or not that is true has no bearing on this article, but what can’t be ignored is the simple fact that after years of growth, rising corporate profits and unprecedented expansion of the mining industry, Australia is no better off than it was prior to the boom years that began in about 2003.


During the recent election campaign, the LNP spent countless hours in trying to convince the voting public of their skill as economic managers, without any real evidence that they are. On the other side, Labor pointed to the fact that they steered the nation through the Global Financial Crisis, escaping with relatively few battle scars and little of the damage sustained by other countries.


Graphs by the score are trotted out to bolster the arguments of both sides but they all miss the point. They tell those who can read them how the economy fared over a given period of time but what they don’t tell us is how a nation’s people are feeling in themselves or, to borrow a marker from our cousins across the Tasman Sea, the wellbeing of the nation.


If we were brave enough to take a really close look at Australia and honest enough to describe what we were seeing, it’s a fair bet that we would describe ourselves as a nation in peril.


Governments ponder falling house prices and their effect on the economy, yet there is little discussion over a survey’s findings that in the whole of Australia, only two rental properties came within financial reach of someone on the Newstart allowance. Just two.


There is little concern expressed over reports showing that rents in Hobart are rapidly becoming the least affordable in the nation and that all over Australia the numbers of homeless people are growing, with mature-age women an increasing percentage of those numbers.


And perhaps that’s the trouble. This new generation of politicians sees the world in bottom lines, in spreadsheets and statistics, not as a living, breathing planet inhabited by people of all social backgrounds and capabilities, each as deserving of consideration as the next.


Using money and minerals as the yardstick, Australia is a rich country. From the first goldrushes to the diverse mineral extraction of the present, billions upon uncounted billions of dollars have been wrested from our ancient land to enrich the world’s industrialists.


Australian coal and iron have fuelled the phenomenal rise of China as an industrial power, just as our gold, wool and wheat enriched the masters of the British Empire.
Yet as a nation, are we any better off? Our public health system is under pressure, government schools are starved of funding, public housing stocks are the lowest in many, many years as homelessness rises and new apartments sit vacant, and wages are stagnant at a time when corporate profits are at an all-time high.


Public assets are flogged off to corporations who then increase the charges to their new customers while the sale proceeds are spent on pork-barrel projects that return a fraction of the original value to the community. Meanwhile the government offers tax cuts then tells voters there is no money to “waste” on social projects. And all the time, the nation’s resources are dug from the ground and shipped overseas at no great benefit to the people as a whole.


What happened to the billions in royalties paid into the “future fund”? It was squandered on tax cuts and handouts, the benefits of which have since evaporated.
It is said that one in every four bulk ore carriers plying the world’s oceans is carrying the Pilbara’s iron ore. Why then is Western Australia begging for a greater slice of the GST take?


Why is the Queensland Labor Government offering royalty freezes for miners if they contribute to community funds, while a former Federal Minister in the Liberal government, speaking for the mining companies, says he welcomes the offer but the LNP has a more attractive plan. What could be more attractive than billions of tax-free dollars in return for a few million spent on footy fields and community halls?
In 2018, Australia’s take from gas exports was expected to be $600 million, the same as is raised by the beer tax, while for the same period Qatar would reap $26.6 billion. We will soon eclipse Qatar as the world’s largest exporter of gas.


According to one source, Australia’s effective tax rate on its gas resources is 21 per cent, while that on the reserves held by the North Sea nations (which include some Scandinavian countries, Germany and the Netherlands) is 35 per cent and more. What is more, our petroleum resource rent tax allows companies to offset the costs of exploration and claim tax credits for future decommissioning of plants.


While eastern States energy prices increase at about six times the rate of wage earner income, record amounts of LNG are shipped overseas to countries whose people pay less for the gas than we do. Interestingly, very little of that gas is reserved for the domestic market – it was all given away to the miners; those same miners who tell us that if they were allowed to extract gas by fracking priceless agricultural land, we would get our domestic supply much cheaper. To add insult to injury, tax and royalty arrangements “negotiated” by governments have ensured that it will be years before the country sees any benefit.


Both miners and politicians seem to forget that it is the nation’s gas and miners should pay for the privilege of extracting and marketing it.


In 2014–15, Australian exports of gold earned about $16 billion; royalties paid during that period were about $317 million. It’s hard not to conclude that governments have given the cake to the miners – and other interests – while the nation is left only the crumbs on the floor. All this is in stark contrast to the situation in Norway, a Scandinavian country of some 5.3 million inhabitants.


In 1990, Norway established the Government Pension Fund Global, popularly known as the Oil Fund and established to invest the surplus revenue from the petroleum sector, both State and privately owned, that exploits the Norwegian sector of the North Sea oilfields.


By 2018 it had about $AU1.5 trillion in assets – $AU280,000 per citizen – assets of which 1.3 per cent are held in global stocks and shares, making it the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund and the largest single investor in European commerce.


The fund only invests in companies that it considers to be environmentally and ethically responsible; tobacco companies and those found to be environmentally irresponsible are not considered, for example. It regularly votes in meetings of stockholders, hoping to influence decisions around environmental and ethical issues.

The fund is kept aside against future eventualities and should not be confused with the Pension Fund. Set up in 1967, its investments are in Norwegian companies only and, as its name implies, is a State controlled superannuation fund.

I suppose it’s never too late to introduce a good idea, but I think the Australian horse has well and truly bolted. The miners – and other corporations – now have such a stranglehold on much of our Parliament that any legislation offering even the remotest perception of a threat to the privileged position that large corporations hold in this country would never see the light of day.

A small matter of water, and headless chooks

Grey box (Eucalyptus microcarpa) woodland, an increasingly scarce ecotype.
Photo Ecolink/Colleen Miller

THERE WAS a revealing interview on ABC Radio’s RN Drive recently. On Friday 24, May, presenter Patricia Karvelas spoke to James McTavish, the NSW Government’s Regional Town Water Supply Coordinator, about the deepening crisis facing towns throughout the State. Mr McTavish told those of us who don’t already know it that towns as far apart as Dubbo and Tenterfield, Bourke and Molong, are facing real problems as water supplies rapidly diminish and restrictions bite deeper.

He told listeners what some of the problems are – the drought figuring significantly – but unfortunately was a bit light on any long-term solutions. To be fair, he was fronting for a government and, generally speaking, state and federal governments have never been too keen on long-term planning that might affect their election prospects.

There was the usual mention of new dams and the sinking of bores to augment water supplies. Carting in water to some places was also mentioned, but as James McTavish pointed out, carting water to a place like Tenterfield would be inordinately expensive and at best a stop-gap measure.

Mr McTavish also reminded listeners that not only farmers and rural towns are affected; industries in the regions are also at risk. He cited the case of Cobar, a mining town that relies on water pumped from the Bogan River at Nyngan. The mines are the largest user of water in the town and both the mines and township will face severe downturns if the supply is restricted.

Strawberry growers around Stanthorpe, a town in the “Granite Belt” just north of Tenterfield and over the Queensland border, are facing financial hardship as water becomes scarcer. During a recent interview, one grower said a solution was to grow the berries hydroponically under cover, a method that uses, and wastes, less water. However, he noted that present returns on the crop don’t justify the expense of such infrastructure. “People will pay $6 for a Big Mac,” he said, “but if the price of a punnet of strawberries goes above $3, they won’t buy them.”

However, neither the grower nor the interviewer mentioned that the horticultural industry regularly ploughs-in or dumps hundreds, sometimes thousands of tonnes of crops if market prices are low.

Just days later, Sydney Water announced that the NSW capital’s water supply – or rather lack of it – was cause for concern.

Again, the bulk of the problem was laid at the feet of the drought. Of course, there is no denying that we are in drought, and for farmer and townie alike it is hard to see past the lack of rain when you are being forced to de-stock or your cherished garden is dying. But is it just the drought and are there solutions, long-term ones?

Drought has our attention because it’s an obvious factor, but there are other things driving the water shortages. Sinking bores to augment water supplies may bring immediate, temporary relief, but in the long term will cause more problems. Most groundwater sources require flooding rivers and good rainfall to replenish them, and they have always been scarce and unreliable commodities in Australia, a continent with the world’s most erratic climate. Groundwater used now may take decades – perhaps centuries – to replenish even if used sparingly. Given the now irrefutable effects of the worsening climate crisis, we have no guarantees either way.

River systems everywhere are suffering badly from misuse, over-extraction and downright mismanagement over the decades and the result is now plain for all to see. What floods do occur are mostly sudden and violent, but long, dry spells are becoming more the norm. The “Bradfield Scheme”, a much-discredited plan to dam tropical rivers and divert their waters into the deserts, is again getting air time – as are proposals to tap “fossil aquifers” in the tropical north.

The lush, sub-tropical north of NSW was in drought until recently, and over the Top End, this year’s monsoon was almost a non-event; This at a time when Darwin authorities are expressing concern over the depletion of groundwater supplies in parts of the city. Our “southern” monsoon has never been as reliable as the rains further north, and even those are now becoming more erratic. In fact, there are fears that changes in Himalaya ice cover and other factors will eventually lead to the failure of the northern monsoon, with catastrophic results for a sizeable chunk of the world’s population, not to mention the global economy and migratory pressures on other regions.

The pity is that the writing has been on the wall for decades, but those who tried to draw attention to it were at best ignored and at worst pilloried and ridiculed. If Australia – and the world – had begun action thirty years ago, then the task ahead would have been easier and the costs spread over a longer period, but that window has closed. Action is required now, and nations are going to have to cooperate as never before in human history. What can Australia do?

The irrigation industry obviously needs an overhaul, along with regulation of the crops grown. It his hard to argue a case for growing crops requiring vast amounts of water – crops such as almonds, wine grapes, cotton and rice – in marginal country on a continent that sits mainly in the Tropic Arid Zone. Yet we do, and in huge quantities. Sadly, the huge increases in plantings of almonds, and to a lesser extent, wine grapes, are, like the national obsession with coffee, in response to a created demand.

Irrigation on the scale at which it is now practiced is unsustainable in this country; dryland cropping and grazing are really the only viable alternatives when it comes to broadacre farming. Aided by scientific research and a growing acceptance of Indigenous land-management techniques, Australia’s farmers and graziers have made an enormous contribution to alleviating, and in some cases almost reversing, the damage done in the past.

Governments at all levels also need to step up; farmers cannot be expected to address the problems of over-clearing and land degradation alone. Reforestation is of vital importance to future drought management strategies and to combat the climate crisis. Remediation projects on an imaginative scale should be viewed as infrastructure projects that would employ many thousands of people. Rather than stigmatising such national efforts as “work for the dole” schemes, they should be promoted as works of national importance.

If we rely on our dryland farmers to produce exports and feed the nation, then insurance must be looked at. Insurance providers are already factoring in the climate crisis and governments must enter into dialogue to ensure our farmers are equitably treated. Funding to the CSIRO must be restored as a matter of national urgency, and the BOM must be adequately resourced.

 And while we wring our hands over dwindling water resources and the plight of farmers, governments continue to issue exploration permits for coal-seam gas exploration and other extractive industries that disrupt or render unusable the water resources on which our agricultural and pastoral industries rely. Political parties praise our “clean green” agriculturalists, weep crocodile tears over the “bush battlers” and “pray for rain” at every photo opportunity, then chide groups such as the Knitting Nannas and Lock The Gate Alliance for trying to protect the resources on which agriculture depends.

The water from town treatment plants needs to be utilised. Adelaide’s “Green Belt” has long been sustained by recycled water, and this is something that should be repeated all over Australia – and not only in the capitals. Smaller centres could be assisted in establishing combined aquaculture and horticulture enterprises based on waste water and other imaginative projects.

Politicians are now carping over the costs of mitigating the climate crisis: “We must reduce emissions but not at the expense of the economy”, is often repeated. If we don’t act now, all else becomes irrelevant. The crisis we are facing is far-reaching and real. Most politicians were silent about the costs of following the USA into Vietnam and Iraq – futile exercises of absolutely no benefit to anybody except perhaps the warlords who control the military-industrial complex – yet it seems that the climate crisis is of lesser importance than the whims of US Presidents.

What now of our future?

This was written for my weekly page in the Molong Express of 23rd May, 2019. It reflects my own views and not necessarily those of either the Molong Express or any other person associated with that paper

Lake Nanine, Western Australia. Once rich in fish and birdlife, the climate crisis and overuse have taken their toll on Nanine – and most of WA’s lakes

Well, the election is for the most part done and dusted and the country is awash with recriminations and back-slapping, with gloating and the gnashing of teeth. The most surprising thing about this election is that the outcome was in large part decided by three very rich, very selfish men whose views on the distribution of wealth just happened to coincide with those of their front man and now the elected Prime Minister. But there are no winners.

Clive Palmer may have achieved his goal of blocking a Labor victory and at the same time guaranteeing he will gain approval for a vast coalmine in Queensland, and the father-and-son team who have all but total control of Australia’s media may have once again proved to themselves and their hangers-on that they are among the world’s most powerful men and answerable to no-one, but they still find themselves in the same leaky boat to which they have likely condemned the rest of us.

Australia has been sentenced to another three years of inaction on the crisis now facing the world. Even if the new government goes to the polls early – over the past 25 years the average time between elections has been 27.5 months – time that could have been spent in mitigating some of the effects of global heating will have been wasted. Time we can ill afford.

The Coalition has already wasted six valuable years, six years spent in argument among its members. The Biblical brigade fought the more progressive bloc over same-sex marriage; members of all factions fought over the climate crisis; the coal at all costs Lignites argued against renewable energy while we experienced the hottest summers on record, rivers ran dry and ordinary citizens donated to farmers whose lives were being crushed by drought. And in the eight months leading up to the election, the People’s House sat for less than a month, largely so the government could avoid scrutiny according to many commentators.

And nothing has changed. The climate crisis has slipped back down the agenda – not that either of the two main parties were really serious about it in the first place – and the government will soon be back to blaming the “latté-sipping city dwellers” for alarming their beloved “battlers”. This conveniently ignores the fact that voters in most blue-ribbon seats would fall in the former category and the latter will continue to be denied penalty rates, meaningful training and, for the unemployed among them, an increase in the unemployment allowance – benefit is too generous a word.

Nationally, we must get our head out of the sand. All the legislation in the world becomes meaningless if the climate crisis is not addressed but this is unlikely to happen. The Coalition seems hell bent on following the lead of the USA in allowing a noisy minority of climate change deniers and born-again Christians, aided and abetted by the very forces that have pulled the rug out from under the “middle classes”, to dictate policy.

A US political commentator once said that when America doesn’t have a war it needs to start one, so great is the political influence of the military-industrialists. Donald Trump seems to be drooling at the prospect of a stoush with Iran, and if he plunges the US into yet another futile conflict, then it’s London to a brick-on that our government will follow him. And it’s not only the industrialists who will celebrate. Fundamentalist and evangelical Christians all over the world, Australia included, would rejoice at the approaching “End Times”, the end-vision of Christian Dominionism made real.

If there is an invasion of Iran, there will be another exodus of refugees at a time when the world is awash with the displaced and desperate. Someone once said that communism flourishes where there are empty bellies. To this I’d add that terrorism flourishes where there is despair and injustice. When the ranks of those displaced by war are swollen by those uprooted by the climate crisis, it will be almost too late to act; governments may be all but powerless against the tide of human misery unless they all join in cooperation, and given the present mood, there seems little likelihood of that happening.

The climate crisis must be addressed now, yet already we see that the government cannot act on any of its election promises until the new financial year. Financial legislation will dominate Parliament for weeks or months after that and it will be another six months at best before our most pressing emergency is even mentioned.

We are in danger of alienating our young people even more than we already have. Worldwide they are demonstrating by their actions that they fear the future they are being left, and soon they will become angry.

And who could blame them?

An apology to Australia’s youth

About fifty per cent of Australia’s adults – if I dare call them that – have just sent you a message: they have told you that your future and the future of the planet on which you live are unimportant. They have told you that their concern for their own wellbeing and way of life overrides any concerns you might have about future employment, education, and a place to live.

They have told you that being able to spend their remaining years on the deck of a pleasure launch – assisted in part by a handout from taxpayers – is more important than contributing to your education and healthcare; more important than fighting to mend the earth you will inherit, an earth so badly damaged by previous generations that your very existence is threatened.

They have told you that education should be only for those who can afford it, as it has been for all but a few years of the last several centuries; that first-class health care is only for the wealthy, and that the environment doesn’t matter. They have told you that self-interest is more important than the good of the nation and the health of our beautiful, ancient land.

They have told you they believe they are more worthy than you.

In a few months’ time, I shall be 79 years old, an age that is beyond your imagining – I know this, because I remember what it was to be young – and I have seen and done a lot of things. Some things I am not proud of, but I don’t regret them; regrets are futile, mistakes are lessons. But one constant in my life has been my love of people and the love of my country.

I love people because they are human, and being human means that they are all different with a different story to tell. One of my grandfathers, a man named George Hamilton, once told me to “never look at the colour of someone’s skin”. That worried me until I was old enough to understand what he meant.

When I was growing up, Australia was a country frightened of difference. The indigenous peoples were different and, having at last become ashamed of our efforts to exterminate them, we tried to change them. We tried to make them whiter by regulating who they were allowed to marry, and when that didn’t work, we used other laws to regulate their lives. The general public just ignored them for the most part.

We were frightened of the Chinese who came to Australia during the great goldrushes and so passed into law the “White Australia” policy. We were frightened of the Italians and Greeks who came here in large numbers after World War II. We were frightened of the “Balts”, the peoples of Eastern Europe who were allowed in as refugees.

Did you know that before these migrants came to Australia, zucchinis, tomato paste, capsicums, egg plant, salami, and a thousand and one other now everyday foods were unheard of? That olive oil was sold in tiny bottles and used as a medicine? It’s true, I know; because it was in my lifetime.

But our country grew up during the 1960s and ‘70s and we became accustomed to different faces and customs. And we came to love different foods and new celebrations. We rejoiced in our diversity.

A Prime Minister named John Howard changed all that. In his time in office, he fought hard to send attitudes back to the 1950s, a trend that continues to this day and has now been reinforced. And like John Howard, many politicians hate the changes that have been made and want us to be frightened of everybody who is not “us”: they want us to demonise people born in Africa and Asia and to mistrust anybody who is a Muslim, regardless of their ethnicity. They would prefer it if we were all white and Christian and certainly not gay or vegetarian.

Conservative governments have always used this fear of “the other” to divide us to their own advantage. But “the other” has broadened. It now includes the unemployed, the less wealthy and those people for whom life has never been easy. For a brief time, the “fair go” was an Australian certainty, it is now a myth.

When the Indigenous peoples indicated that they would like to see a First Nations committee set up to advise government on formulation of any policy affecting them, they were given a blunt refusal. It would, the government said, amount to another Chamber in Parliament. They had become “the other” again; more than 60,000 years occupation of this continent apparently doesn’t entitle them to a voice in government.

When next you attend an Anzac Day ceremony, bear in mind that the men and women whom politicians glorify as wonderful and heroic Australians – particularly those veterans of the two World Wars – are the same people whose votes gave us the benefits that conservative governments are now bent on taking away. Votes for women, health care, free education, pensions, and numberless other things we once took for granted but no longer can. They have become “privileges” not entitlements.

These same politicians are fond of telling you how much they “love Australia”, but what they are saying is that they love it for what they can get out of it, not what it does for them. They really have no concept of the land itself, that mysterious “thing” that sustains both their mental and physical health. They don’t feel its heartbeat through the soles of their feet, for they “have no time to grow; they have no time to waste”*. If they did, they would be in Parliament today and every day, addressing the biggest crisis to face this planet and all creatures that rely on it since the day a hominid first picked up a burning stick.

The people who voted against your future have benefited most from programs put in place by more enlightened governments and it seems those benefits have shortened their memories and made them selfish.

But there is hope. When brave young Greta Thunberg made her appearance on the world stage, my heart lifted; she is, or should be, an inspiration to us all. The door will only be open for a very short time before the processes our politicians ignore become irreversible, and because fifty per cent of your elders – and sadly it seems, some of your contemporaries – refused to put the interests of the nation ahead of their own, this huge burden is now on your shoulders.

Be strong.

My generation and the one just after seem to have forgotten that we took to the streets and stopped a war; we took to the streets and ended apartheid in South Africa; we took to the streets to help our Indigenous brothers and sisters in their fight for dignity. Young people were jailed – and in some countries, the USA among them, killed. But they won. In the end they won. And you can win this fight, you must win, there is no alternative worth contemplating. Fifty per cent of us will be behind you as best we can, but it will be your energy and determination that will save our planet and your future from the barbarians.

*From A B Paterson’s Clancy of the Overflow

A miscellany

My Molong Express page 10 — 16 May, 2019

The lies and selective truths infesting the airwaves and muddying up the newspapers are becoming a bit overwhelming, so I thought I might give the politics a bit of a miss this week. Except for something I recently stumbled across. What follows is only a brief excerpt from an article in National Geographic (NG),that venerable US publication that has been almost a household name since the 19th century. Published in April this year, it looks at the cost of global warming and, in light of our current PM’s ardent desire to be enlightened on the subject, I thought I’d slip the relevant paragraph in. The article refers to the latest findings on warming in the Arctic regions, adds them to what has been estimated as the global cost of the challenge Earth is facing and claims that:

“The $25 to $70 trillion cost of Arctic warming adds four to six percent to the total cost of climate change—which is estimated to reach $1,390 trillion by the year 2300 if emissions cuts are not better than the Paris Agreement. However, the costs of the current business-as-usual path could be more than $2,000 trillion.”

Using the lower estimate, and if my maths is right, that’s about $4.5 trillion a year if we start now. In 2016, the world’s entire GDP was about $76 trillion. I’ll leave it there, but if you’d like to know more, here’s the link to the story: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/04/arctic-climate-change-feedback-loops-cost-trillions/

And now the Namoi

According to the latest scientific reports, the Namoi has now joined the list of threatened rivers in the Murray Darling Basin: “at tipping point” was one description used. Once again, the gross lack of oversight – not to mention foresight – on the part of regulators and legislators has been brought to light. And until real changes are made, until truly independent, science-based, expert bodies are appointed to manage the ecosystems vital to our survival, it will not change. The key word here is manage, not advise. Since when have politicians listened to advice they didn’t want to hear?

No matter how many dams we build, how many aquifers we tap, how many rivers we divert, there will never be enough water. Governments, individual politicians, their corporate backers and good old human greed will see to that. Some day, someone will come up with a scheme to grow roses in the Simpson Desert and will convince a political party that it is vital to the national interest that he do so. The politicians will commission a feasibility study into the damming of the Finke River, and a committee of rural economists will claim that if the scheme doesn’t go ahead, 200 Queensland jobs will be at risk. Back to square one.

Far-fetched? Well not so long ago, a mega-rich American (with no experience in viticulture) planted grapes at Nundroo, in the country abutting the Nullarbor. Now Nundroo gets its water from bores by means of windmill power, using the old-fashioned, traditional type of windmill. Not much forward thinking there. I was through there not so long ago and didn’t see any evidence of a burgeoning wine industry.

If you don’t want to read the linked article, here’s an excerpt:

Case, 72, formed a trust to buy a 50,000-acre spread in South Australia and planted the 10-acre test plot earlier this year. Next, he wants to add some Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The first crop won’t come until 2005, but he is betting that the resulting wine (which he expects to sell for $25 a bottle) will outshine other Australian Cabernets and give Napa a run for its money.

“The Australians don’t know what they’re doing,” sniffed Case. “Their Cabernets are wimpy. I hired some viticulture consultants, and they just wanted to treat the vineyard like they do in McLaren Vale. I hate McLaren Vale Cabernet.”

Case has no prior experience growing grapes or making wine. He is a chemical engineer with four degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds more than 20 patents, and his current big project is to get a catalytic fusion plant working. That’s right, cold fusion. His process involves converting heavy water to helium using palladium and carbon as catalysts.

Note: I’m searching for more up-to-date information on this proposal to put at risk more of Australia’s scarce and fragile natural resources.

Why we used to have proofreaders and copy editors

We all make mistakes, of course we do, but increasingly we are being bombarded with news stories, political handouts and company public-relations releases that make absolutely no sense. They are written in such a way as to obfuscate or at best appear intelligent, educated and well-read, leading to the stripping of any real meaning from the reporting of even the most serious events. This piece I wrote for the USA’s LiketheDew springs to mind:

Writing in Kentucky News Review, Lu-Ann Farrar said that “Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University had told the Detroit Free Press that paramilitary troups are being used more often in police situations.”

Now right there I’m puzzled. What’s a police situation, a job with the service? And do paramilitary services have entertainment units, even misspelled ones? She goes on:

“A Detroit imam, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, was arrested and shot by an elite FBI Hostage Rescue Team.” Arrested and shot? In that order? By a rescue team? She continued: “Abdullah is the first time a religious leader has been killed by government forces since…”

Abdullah is the first time? Wouldn’t “Abdullah’s is the first death of a religious leader at the hands of…” have been a little less confusing? Then Ms Farrar quotes the professor: “We’ve seen…real serious problems with various SWAT tragedies…Real problems arise when it’s misapplied to the wrong circumstances.” Pardon me; could you repeat that, please, professor? Doesn’t writing an article about something this serious warrant a little care?

This sort of stuff crops up all the time these days, and yet just five minutes work by someone could have made the story more readable. Of course, there’s the old Golden Rule to take into account: “Never proofread your own work”. Why? Because you understand what you have written but a reader may not – and there is also a tendency to overlook your own literals, which is trade jargon for spelling mistakes; technically speaking, typos are very different things.

I’ll never forget my chagrin when, on receiving the first edition of a book I’d written (and proofread/copy edited) from the printer, I opened to the Introduction: the first thing to hit my eye was a spelling error. I’d ignored the golden rule I’d always preached to writers whose work I copy edited.

I wonder if, given the chance, the ABC Breakfast News anchor MJ Rowland, would like to do a retake of his part in the “promo” for ABCTV’s election night broadcast, the part in which he says “…you can almost hear the audible sigh”.

Of course you should always review your own work, making improvements and correcting errors where you find them. But if it’s something written for general consumption, then get someone else to cast an eye over it before you send it “out there”.

A long-held passion

I’ve kept pigeons of one sort or another off and on since I was about 13. Even in my most nomadic years, if I looked like being in one spot for more than a couple of months, I’d put together a small flock to keep my hand in.

Why? Because I like them, I suppose is the best I can offer in this brief introduction to that passion. People keep them for all sorts of reasons: some are hooked on racing them, others like to show them, still others enjoy the high-flying or aerobatic varieties. Me, I’ve always liked tumblers, aerial acrobats that do flips of various sorts while in flight. But I also like pigeons for the romance associated with them, the images they conjure up. They were domesticated long before the horse was tamed in Europe and were being bred for special attributes at least contemporarily with ancient Mesopotamia – famous in antiquity for its white ‘doves’. (In the strictest sense, the words ‘dove’ and ‘pigeon’ are interchangeable, the former coming to us from the Germanic languages, the latter from Latin via Old French. These days, however, dove is used mainly to describe the smaller members of its large tribe – except by poets who prefer it over pigeon on every occasion.)

Pigeons figure in the myths and legends of many of the ancient civilisations. To the Hebrews, they were an acceptable sacrifice to their god. The pigeon informed Noah that the waters were subsiding, a story common to all the Abrahamic religions, and the pigeon is still symbolic of the Holy Sprit to Christians.

They were carried with the caravans that plied the Silk Road and traded along the way. The ancient cities of Bokhara, Lahore, Damascus, Istanbul, Iskenderun and others are commemorated in the names of pigeons that first came to the West from them, sometimes carried among the chattels of returning crusaders.

Pigeons are bred in bewildering variety: for their voices; for their speed, endurance and ability to navigate over hundreds of miles; for their plumage; their aerobatic abilities; their colours, and yet they all share many common traits. They are intelligent and affectionate to their keepers, whom they recognise by their facial characteristics, and feral pigeons will remember for years the face of someone who once fed them. Darwin kept pigeons and they helped shape his thinking on evolution.

I once produced and edited the magazines of Australia’s National Pigeon Association and its US counterpart, and was commissioned by Ivy Press (UK) to write the text of a small coffee-table book titled Beautiful Pigeons. These days I keep Iranian Highflyers, an ancient breed of Persian origin, bred for its ability to fly for an extended time at great height, occasionally performing elegant backward somersaults.

If you’d like to learn a little more about what Andrew D Blechman called “the world’s most reviled and revered bird”, please ask me. If not, then forgive us pigeon keepers our passion – it takes all sorts, as my Grandmother would say.

A Jacobin pigeon, one of the more extreme of the feather breeds, with its hood trimmed for the breeding season. One of Queen Victoria’s favourite breeds, the Jacobin was once known as the Cyprus pigeon, having been brought to that island by Crusaders, who had headquarters there. From Cyprus it was introduced to Europe by Crusaders returning home.

A reply to The Other Side

I write a column for the Molong Expresshttp://www.molongexpress.com.au, the newspaper serving Molong and the other villages in the Cabonne Shire of New South Wales. On May 2nd, 2019, we printed an article titled Politicians again show “Real Genius“, and given the subtitle “The view from The Other Side” by me. Sent as an email by a reader, it was harshly critical of governments past and present, and of institutions responsible for the research that often influences government policy.

Prompted by questions from another reader, I carried out some research on sources used in the submitted piece and found that at least some of the statements made were to be found in an online blog by a Joanne Nova, the ‘author of the “Skeptics Handbook”, blogger and “libertarian”,’ and a supporter of the IPA, an ultra-conservative right-wing think tank, with aims as dubious as its published philosophies. Though Ms Nova would appear to agree that there is some degree of global warming, she believes that it is not nearly as serious as the overwhelming majority of scientists argue and that the rise will only be in the vicinity of 0.5°C. In her blogs, she often puts forward the view that the push to renewable energy is nothing but a money grab on the part of governments and some corporations.

Lack of an apostrophe and US spelling aside, “The Skeptics Handbook” raised alarm bells. How can anyone of scientific background (Ms Nova has degrees in, among other things, microbiology) dispute the findings of the overwhelming majority of the world’s climate scientists? Some of her comments also suggest that she believes in conspiracy theories, though whether or not she follows those who accuse NASA, China, the UN and a cartel of Jewish bankers of spreading fear of climate change to aid them in their quest or world domination is not known.

To anyone who cares to think about such things, to deny the scientific evidence on climate change is akin to denying that vaccination has saved millions of lives and untold suffering or believing that the world is under the covert control of a race of lizards from outer space who appear to humans as Jews. Before you spit out your cornflakes over that last statement, one candidate in the forthcoming election believes that it is so.

So, if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to go back to that article and look at some of the points it raises. The first was in connection to the reference to the then Whitlam Labor government’s plan to build a vast network of pipelines to carry gas from the North-West Shelf to every major city in Australia. Obviously it was something Ms Nova doesn’t agree with, something she has in common with the Liberal Party then led by Malcolm Fraser and the English government of the day, though the latter’s objections may have been based more on the fact that Whitlam’s government had said it was going to use loans arranged by “a mysterious Pakistani” (Nova’s words) rather than from a British institution.

Having blasted Whitlam and his government for daring to have a grand plan for Australia, Nova goes on to harshly criticise successive governments for not having one. Of course, all the reasons for Whitlam’s dismissal by the Crown will never be known until the relevant documents are released by Buckingham Palace, but Nova’s view does seem contradictory.

Ms Nova then goes on to criticise renewable energy and the transmission network, delivering “piddling amounts” of power and funded by raising foreign debt, while coal- and nuclear-powered generation plants go unbuilt. Apart from the environmental damage wrought by coal-powered plants and the risks to future generations posed by both, the time involved in building both types of power plant is an important factor. Years, if not decades are involved, by which time the social fabric and economy could be dissolving into chaos unless governments all over the world stop sitting on their hands while Earth undergoes changes on a scale unprecedented in human history.

She also bemoans the fact that no hydro-electric schemes have been built in recent years, and argues for more and bigger dams to trap water that otherwise would go to “irrigate distant oceans”. This is always popular with the proponents of the Bradfield scheme* and the dam-everything school, but it ignores the fact that water flowing into the oceans is not wasted; it is vital for maintaining the health of estuarine and coastal ecosystems. Fisheries depend on these systems to replenish stocks and to maintain inshore populations of species. Equally important, this run off is vital to the survival of mangroves, the first line of defence against storm-surges. Mangroves will become even more important as sea levels rise.

Also ignored is greed-induced blindness, something seemingly hard-wired into politicians and their corporate backers. No matter how many dams are built, or how much water and land are “available”, it will never be enough. Over-allocation of water and the associated cronyism and corruption will lead us exactly to where we now find ourselves, but on a larger scale.

Environmental advocates and Indigenous peoples cop a bit of criticism in the first paragraphs, but more of that later. Ms Nova also blames “Canberra and the states” for the protests against gas exploration – presumably referring to the Lock the Gate movement among others – ignoring the fact that these are people-based protests, often made as a direct result of governments’ pro-mining-at-all-costs policies.

She goes on to criticise the CSIRO for contributing to climate change hysteria and science generally for promoting gender-equality issues and green activism. Not only is this utter rot, it conveniently ignores the fact that under Tony Abbott’s ultra-conservative, anti-science government, the CSIRO was gutted of both funding and staff (as was the Antarctic Division), severely curtailing many of its research programs, climate study among them, and flying in the face of global trends. Abbott then allocated funding to cancer research (presumably “believable science”), a noble initiative but I suspect more in the hope that his name would forever be associated with a “silver bullet cure-all” while at the same time allowing him to deliver a kick in the guts to those involved in what he believes is the “crap science” of climate studies.

Now to Ms Nova’s concluding paragraph: “As Australia’s first people discovered, if today’s Australians lack the will or the knowledge to use our great natural resources, more energetic people will take them off us.”

It’s hard to ignore the racism inherent in this statement, racism also apparent in her reference to uranium deposits “sterilised by the Giant Rainbow Serpent”. Okay, perhaps she’s not racist and just believes Australia’s Indigenous peoples are lazy beings who practice a primitive religion that deifies mythical creatures. What about the recent outpouring of grief in the “energetic” and sophisticated Western world over the loss of a building representing a religious sect whose adherents practice ritual cannibalism, believe virgins can give birth and that people can rise from the dead.

And who are these “more energetic people” poised to seize our coal and uranium? Let me guess…the Chinese? The Indonesians? Well they’d better get a move on; giant global corporations with no loyalty to any particular country are already in there getting our resources out of the ground as fast as governments will allow. There seems a philosophy present in the corporate world that urges its adherents to make as much money as they possibly can before it all hits the fan. Are the few “energetic” people hoping their money will save them and the rest of us will have to cope as best we can?

Perhaps Ms Nova could revisit that last paragraph and alter it to read something like “As Australia’s first people discovered, the land in which we live is capricious and finely balanced. If today’s Australians lack the will or the knowledge to properly care for it, nature will take it from us.”

*The “Bradfield Scheme” was put forward in 1938 as a means of irrigating and “drought-proofing” arid regions of the Queensland and South Australian interiors. Involving damning and “turning back” of northern rivers, calculations were faulty and projections based on European models were unrealistic. Politicians are fond of extolling its virtues, especially when elections are held during periods of drought, as is now the case.

The LNP coalition and Labor must go

Both the Liberal/National coalition and the Australian Labor Party have proved themselves unfit to govern Australia and steps should be taken to remove them both from their positions of power. How this might be achieved I don’t profess to know – perhaps by direct appeal to the Crown – and so leave that for others to ponder, but it is my firm belief that while between them they control the destiny of Australia, our future as a country is at stake.

Why? Well to put it bluntly they are incompetent and deliberately obtuse, or both, and a threat to the future of Australia as a continent and a nation. As I have written previously, none of our politicians or their advisers has any real knowledge of Australian history and are seemingly oblivious to events that have occurred in their own lifetimes. What they do know seems to have been gained not by rubbing shoulders with ordinary people, but plucked from corporate press releases and other politicians’ campaign speeches. These reasons alone should condemn them as unfit to govern.

So without professing to have statistics at my fingertips, and nothing much more to guide me other than folk knowledge and strong gut feelings, I’d like to set out my reasons for calling for their removal from the peoples’ [plural intended] Parliament.

Climate Change

Climate change should be the overarching concern of all sides of politics, yet in all the pontification by both groups over the implications of this or that budget measure or economic strategy, not a single phrase has been uttered that might suggest any allowance has been made for the effects it will have on Australia – let alone the planet and hence our trading partners.

Climate change will have a profound impact on every aspect of society, from social cohesion to health to the economy and everything in between, but listen to our politicians and it’s as if the effects will be perhaps a little bit inconvenient and a touch nasty, but will allow us to continue on our merry way. All we need do is use plenty of sunscreen and not drive on flooded roads or use too much water, and it will be business as usual. The only thing that the political protagonists have done is quarrel over when and how emissions should be cut, and by how much. They have created for the country a new Dark Age in which all they need do is burn enough witches – these days masquerading as scientists and environmentalists – and Eden will be restored.

Science

Australia’s peak scientific body, CSIRO and its sister organisation the Australian Antarctic Division (an arm of the Department of Environment) have both been eviscerated by the current government. And what is worse, they have done so with barely a whimper of protest from the Labor opposition; not once in any of its pronouncements about countermeasures to government misdeeds has the Labor Party said it will restore funding to what are among the two most important research bodies in the country. It is from these organisations and others like them – world renowned for innovation – that solutions to climate-induced problems will come.

The Prime Minister’s opinion of science was laid out for all to see when he cut funding to both these bodies and announced the creation of a medical research fund, no doubt hoping that during his term of office a cure for cancer will be found and he will be lauded, perhaps even beatified, as some sort of visionary. It has been pointed out by others better qualified than I that many of the great medical breakthroughs have come about as a side benefit of other research.

Health and society

Neither political camp has any sort of health policy that can by any stretch of the imagination be deemed realistic. What their attitudes do prove, however, is that neither they nor their advisers have done any reading on likely trends in illnesses and diseases other than that fed to them by purely commercial interests.

Because our major political parties consider maintaining a healthy population to be a burden on the economy, preventive medicine is poorly funded in comparison to reactionary measures. Money that would be better spent on social programs goes to drug companies who provide the chemicals to control the symptoms of modern living.

We are constantly reminded of the economic dangers of an aging population, yet not once do we hear of any research that might suggest climate change will probably have its greatest effect on the elderly and the very young.

Nor do politicians seem aware of the time bomb that is diabetes among the young population. In this century the prevalence of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes among young children and teenagers has increased alarmingly. Some medical scientists have actually postulated that children born today may be the first generation in 200 years that does not outlive its parents. Is either side of politics addressing that?

Taxation reform

The approach of both the Coalition and Labor to this sole source of national income is nothing short of ludicrous. Without taxation no country can exist and to continually use tax cuts as election bait is not only unethical, but stupid also.

So as not to upset global corporations and Chambers of Commerce, corporate taxes have been dropping for years. Why? If a company gains profit in a country – especially by utilising that country’s non-renewable resources – why shouldn’t it pay a reasonable amount of tax? If the country finds itself needing to raise revenue, then shouldn’t the business world also bear its share of the burden along with the population at large? In an age when companies employer fewer and fewer people, and make bigger and bigger profits, surely it stands to reason that those companies should pay more tax to compensate for income taxes lost as a consequence of productivity gains at the expense of jobs.

The current treasurer lauds an expanded GST as a means of increasing the revenue base but apparently can’t see that the accelerating use of robotics in industry and a rapidly falling demand for manual labour will make that a less lucrative source of income.

The mining industry is taking more of our resources yet employing fewer people – trucks, draglines and other operations are now in many cases unmanned vehicles controlled from a computer many hundreds of kilometres away, and I suggest that it won’t be long before even that operation will be shifted to overseas countries hoodwinked or bribed into providing tax havens, a move aided by communications satellites paid for by the people’s taxes.

It is apparent that the government and opposition aren’t mentioning the obvious: if spending is cut to offset lower tax income, then private health insurance will replace our highly regarded public health system. A Medicare levy of just a couple of per cent of taxable income will be replaced by five-figure annual insurance premiums. The top income earners won’t be affected by this of course, and as their numbers include politicians, and politicians control the forces of so-called law and order, the end result seems fairly obvious.

Miscellaneous myopia

The Export Economy: Back in the 60s and 70s when England’s entry into the then European Common Market saw once-guaranteed exports of wool and other agricultural produce crash, government looked for ways to prop up a failing economy. One mantra, oft-repeated by members of what was then the Country Party, went something like: “If everyone in China buys just one pair of woolen socks, the country will be back on its feet again.” It never eventuated of course (nobody noticed that the Chinese much prefer cotton socks) and it was innovations and research by scientists at CSIRO and other institutions that helped agriculture regain its feet and, in some cases, burgeon.

So when the next “sell everything to China” light bulb lit up, this time inspired by the demand for iron ore and coal, our cargo cult mentality swung into action. Politicians who for years had lectured us on the need for caution and chided us for being ignorant on matters of supply and demand, approved mining licenses by the giant yellow truck load, ensuring a massive oversupply of minerals on the world market with the consequences we see today.

But not to worry, Tasmania has approved, and been given funding for irrigation schemes that will allow a massive expansion of dairying based on our most valuable and scarcest resource, water; this despite the fact that irrigation has destroyed vast tracts of Australia’s agricultural landscape and taken much of it out of production. There is evidence, too, that the value of dairy exports to China is falling. Never mind, there’s always horticulture and when that fails we can try woolen socks again.

International Relations Beginning with the Howard government, Australia’s view of non-Western Europeans turned us back to the days of the White Australia Policy, a time when some politicians seriously considered approving only blue-eyed immigrants. “Boat people” were the enemy – back then the Yellow Hordes from South East Asia – and Labor, seeing that there might be a few votes in it, welcomed the idea with open arms. Pauline Hanson and her 19th Century ideals and ideas had a brief surge of popularity among people who didn’t think much about much but was quickly neutralised by Howard incorporating many of her ideas into LNP policy and by a very dubious legal action orchestrated by our current Prime Minister. Tony Abbott, himself an enthusiastic, xenophobic Europhile, is now accusing Australians of mass xenophobia because they are questioning some aspects of very secret, so-called free trade agreements being “negotiated” with our more powerful neighbours, the USA among them.

Tony Abbott’s LNP, with the enthusiastic support of the Labor Party, has again raised the spectre of being overrun by waves of invaders from the north; not the Asiatic Hordes this time, but Arabs and Pakistanis and Iranians and Persians from the Muslim Middle East. These people, we are told, are not really refugees, but freeloading economic migrants, wanting to steal Australian worker’s jobs and lower our standard of living. It is convenient to ignore the fact that many members of the Federal Cabinet – including the PM – along with the CEOs and other top brass in many of our institutions are economic immigrants at best, lifestyle immigrants at worst. It is also apparently easy to overlook the fact that under these free trade deals, foreign countries can bring in their own labour force.

Militarism Was it just coincidence, I wonder, that in the same week that the country was celebrating (when it should have been mourning) the 100th anniversary of the slaughter at Gallipoli, our-testosterone driven PM, with the cooperation of his conservative New Zealand counterpart, announced that a latter-day ANZAC force would be sent to Iraq. No doubt in a few very short years we will be remembering this day also, celebrating or mourning depending on whether you were doing “what seemed best at the time” or being shot at, or weeping over the consequences it had for your family.

When G W Bush, to the great excitement of John Howard, announced we were going to invade Iraq, some commentators warned that we were heading for another Vietnam. The armchair generals in a resurgently militaristic West derided them of course; ‘Peacenik’, ‘Bleeding Heart Lefties’ and other phrases from the Vietnam era were bandied about. And those doomsayers were wrong, sort of; it is now worse, far, far worse than Vietnam, and deteriorating by the day – by the hour. ‘Domino Theory and ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ have been replaced by ‘Islamist Death Cult’ and ‘Fanatical Jihadists’, but the aftermath will be the same: we told oppressed people in countries whose oppressors we for generations created or supported that we were invading them to bring democracy and freedom and instead gave them many good reasons to hate us for another 2000 years. Those who sought a do-it-yourself solution to their problems we labelled ‘of uncertain allegiance’ or ‘terrorists’ and so added fuel to an already out-of-control bonfire.

Indigenous matters More than 200 years have passed since England stole this “uninhabited” continent from the people who have been here for more than 60,000 years, yet we’ve still done very little to attempt to right the great wrong done them. Every good thing done by one government (and there are precious few) is wound back or watered down by the next. In many cases, pressure from the National party members of the Coalition or from mining and agribusiness interests sees policies altered before they even see the light of day.

Our current Prime Minister appointed himself a champion of the Indigenous population and vowed that every year he would venture off into a remote Indigenous community (this year it’s the Torres Strait “TS” and Cape York’s turn) where he could have a jolly British-style Boy Scout jape in the woods with lots of exotic people around him. Fair’s fair, at least he went there I suppose, but what has he achieved? Nothing, other than amply demonstrating his total lack of hand/eye coordination when laying bricks, planting trees and watering gardens.

He blew and blustered about his great Recognition Conference and then was miffed when some of the delegates disagreed with him. When Aboriginal and TS representatives announced they would hold a series of conferences to facilitate the formulation of an Indigenous policy on the wording the referendum should contain, an indignant Abbott complained that they were causing division, that this was a matter for “all Australians”. Apparently the people who will be most affected should once again have no say in matters of vital importance to them.

Then to top it off, the government again displayed its appalling lack of knowledge about the country it governs when it awarded TS veterans service medals for their efforts during WWII. Now I’m not knocking the TSIs, two of my childhood heroes were saltwater men and the islanders per capita had the highest rate of enlistment in the country, 100 per cent of eligible men (and many under- and over-age), but it must have rankled with a few Aboriginal veterans in the north. When it was proposed that Top End Aboriginals be formed into a Coast Watch/Homeland Defence Force, it was at first strongly opposed. Inspired perhaps by subconscious pangs of guilt, it was argued that Aboriginals had no reason to like white Australians and so might aid the Japanese.

They might have stopped to think that just a few short years before, Top End Aboriginals had been massacred by whites in retaliation for the killing of Japanese pearlers and trepang divers who had kidnapped and raped Aboriginal women.

And to cap it all off, this champion of the indigenous underdog recently said that Australia had been nothing but [presumably useless] bush before the English got here. And so it goes on.

A Pause There is more I could say, but I’ll leave it for another time. I’d just add that almost everything I’ve written here probably won’t matter in the end because climate change will have the final word. In a recent TV documentary dealing with the problems created by inequalities of wealth distribution, a multi-billionaire was troubled by the fact that although he had given many millions to charity, when it all hit the fan, as it will, the disgruntled masses would not distinguish between the charitable rich and the selfish: “They will come for all of us,” he said.

I believe that like the self-centred and complacent among the rich, our politicians and their corporate masters feel secure in the thought that they will be all right because they have money for private healthcare and retreats in the more habitable places and vast stocks of food, so they will still be in charge of their destiny.

They are wrong. Inequality has already ignited the kindling in many countries, the increasing accumulation of wealth by a very few is adding fuel and the effects of climate change will fan the flames.

I am tempted to say that something must be done now, but I fear it’s already too late.