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Issue 18: The government fiddles while the nation burns

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From the editorIn this issue we examine the Coalition's refusal to face the reality of the bushfire e
 

SundayFocus

November 17 · Issue #18 · View online
Your weekly wrap of national affairs, society, culture and politics, published by UnionsACT.

From the editor
In this issue we examine the Coalition’s refusal to face the reality of the bushfire emergency and how it has used tactics perfected by the NRA to dodge criticism.
Also this issue find out about the Bolivian coup, how Behrouz Boochani escaped Manus Island and read a first-person account of what the merger of United Voice and National Union of Workers means for the Australian trade union movement
And could I please kindly ask you to forward this issue to friends and family, encourage them to read our back catalogue (17 issues already!), and invite them to become a Solidarity Subscriber so we can afford to keep delivering SundayFocus to you every week. We’ve even created a Gift Solidarity Subscription and a Yearly Gift Solidarity Subscription, perfect for someone’s virtual Christmas stocking.
Enjoy the issue!
Guy Mosel, Editor

The government fiddles while the nation burns
by Guy Mosel
Photo by Ian Sanderson | Flickr
Photo by Ian Sanderson | Flickr
Phil Coorey in the Australian Financial Review put it pretty well: “Apart from the United States, it is hard to think of any other educated country where this argument would be raging, let alone one as dumb and nasty as this one.”
Coorey was of course referring to the past week of invective, disingenuousness and outright bullsh*t coming from conservative governments and their media enablers in reaction to people daring to suggest that the horrific bushfires currently laying waste to vast swathes of the country might – just possibly – be linked to climate change.
The relentlessness and aggression with which the Morrison government has countered any attempt by journalists, the Greens, former fire bosses, activists and concerned citizens to link the early onset and severity of this year’s bushfire season with the changing climate has been startling.
As Mike Seccombe in The Saturday Paper has eloquently laid out, the Coalition has taken a page straight from the National Rifle Association in their handling of this. Just like in the US, when discussing the availability of guns in the wake of a mass shooting is posited by the NRA and conservatives as “politicising” a tragedy, Morrison and co have deemed any question about climate change’s connection to increased fire risk as being inappropriate at this moment.
Now, apparently, is not the time. Now, in the thick of the fires, when the full destructive force of an environment catastrophically out of balance is on display, now is not the right time to discuss the reasons why these things are happening.
We’ll do that later. Afterwards. In future. When things have died down.
Going on the attack
Having established that now is most definitely not the time for politicising and finger-pointing, the Coalition then set about doing just that.
Leading the charge was Nationals leader and deputy PM Michael McCormack who helpfully pointed out that Australia has had fires “since time began” and labelled “pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies” as “disgraceful” and “disgusting”.
Former Nationals leader and human gaff-generator Barnaby Joyce backed up his boss. First he repeated the oft-used (and factually incorrect) right-wing talking point that the Greens – who have never been in government anywhere in Australia – are actually to blame for the fires because of their “policies” on backburning.
He followed that up with the frankly weird comment that two victims of the fires were “most likely” Greens voters, and then rounded off a smashing week of stupidity by linking the extreme fires to the sun’s magnetic fields.
All of this deflection, invention and fantasy is employed in the service of preventing us talking about the one thing we can’t talk about: that this government has been captured by fossil fuel extremists intent on keeping the coal train rolling until it crashes into the scorched rubble of a dead planet.
Interviewed by The New York Times last week, Griffith Law School associate professor Susan Harris Rimmer put it pretty starkly: “We still don’t have an energy policy, we don’t have effective climate policy – it’s really very depressing.
“Coal is our NRA.”
And while the Coalition remains shtum on the reality unfolding before us they, and some state governments, are also doing their best to stop the rest of us doing or saying anything about it too. Consider the proposed bans on “indulgent and selfish” secondary boycotts; the anti-protest laws designed to stifle fossil fuel demonstrations in Queensland; and new laws in New South Wales to stop planning authorities considering the climate impact of exported Australian coal when ruling on mining projects.
All of which comes in a climate of fear where whistleblowers are afraid to speak up and journalists face the threat of prosecution for doing their jobs.
This is what it looks like when capital is under siege. And it’s not going down without a fight.
Read more
The history of climate police in Australia doesn’t make for pretty reading, and there remains a lot of tension between Labor and the Greens on just who should wear the blame for the emissions trading failures of the Rudd and Gillard governments. Paddy Manning has the answer.
The week in review
Bad news… The chances of meeting the Paris target of restricting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees dwindle daily. The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2019 says given current trends the world is heading towards a “relentless upward march in energy-related emissions, as well as growing strains on almost all aspects of energy security". Australia isn’t helping: our annual emissions from energy use having risen 8.5 per cent since the Coalition canned the carbon tax.
Good news… Despite the Coalition’s intransigence the vast majority of Australians still want action on climate change. A survey by the Governance Institute of Australia found that 90 per cent of Australians “want the federal government to take action on climate change, and a similar number say organisations must also take action — even if it impacts profits and jobs”.
Bad news… Unemployment continues to creep upwards, with total employment falling by 19,000 in October, the largest drop in employment since September 2016. AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said that unemployment was now “in a clear rising trend”. With the government unwilling to use fiscal policy to boost the economy pressure is mounting on the RBA to slash already historically low interest rates even further. Meanwhile, wages continue to stagnate.
Good news… Behrouz Boochani is free. It took intricate plotting and a serpentine 36-hour journey across multiple time zones, but the Kurdish Iranian journalist and face of Australia’s Manus Island refugee crisis is now in New Zealand to attend a literary festival. His visa is only valid for a month and he hopes to eventually be settled in the US, so nothing is yet certain. But still, Behrouz is free, and speaking as powerfully and urgently as ever.
Bad news… Bolivian president Evo Morales has been deposed in a right-wing military coup, and a white-supremacist Christian extremist has declared herself president. The Trump administration has given the thumbs up to the coup, while Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn have been among the leading voices to denounce it. This interview on the Intercepted podcast provides some great detail on the events leading up to Morales’ ousting.
A bit of both… The 28-year-old policeman who took the life of Yuendumu teenager Kumanjayi Walker has been charged with murder, although it should be noted that no police officer has even been successfully prosecuted for killing an Indigenous person in their custody. More than 400 First Australians have died while in police care since the end of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991. The slaying of Walker sparked rallies across the country.
Act now to defend workers' rights!
The Morrison Government has postponed a senate vote on its proposed anti-worker “Ensuring Integrity” laws, with Pauline Hanson and Jacqui Lambie reluctant to support it. With some crossbenchers already agreeing to back the legislation, one more vote will be enough to clinch the vote for the government.
We need your help to convince these senators to block these laws. Click here to send them a message right now.
The proposed laws are the most regressive in the Western World, and even more draconian than the WorkChoices laws introduced in 2005 by John Howard. Find out more about them here.
Launching the Workers Lottery
UnionsACT is proud to launch the Workers Lottery, created to provide a secure funding source for our Young Workers Centre.
The Young Workers Centre was launched because of the urgent need to tackle the worsening wage-theft crisis and support young workers to learn about the rights in the workplace.
With only 660 tickets for sale and 22 fantastic prizes, including a first prize of $1000 in cash, you’ve got a great chance to win! Tickets are on sale until Monday 16 December, and will be drawn on 17 December, just in time for Christmas.
Longreads
One union, one fight: on the first day of the United Workers Union
The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising
Mass protests in Latin America against the neoliberal model
For your bookshelf
See What You Made Me Do, by Jess Hill
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, by Shoshana Zuboff
Best Australian Political Cartoons 2019, edited by Russ Radcliffe
Shop
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