Just don’t call him an environmentalist

I was recently in Queensland visiting family and caught up with my Dad and step-mum for a few days. My Dad’s a straight-talking feller. He’ll tell you in no short terms that he doesn’t agree with those environmentalists and greenies. He doesn’t really like them much…

While we were there he reminded me how the three large water tanks they have on site provide all the water they need, year round pretty much. He complained that he was still having to pay council for “the pipes that run past my front door”, as he’s now off the grid for water supply.

Whenever we go fishing he’s very careful to make sure our catch meets the size limits set by government. If something is even close to undersize, it goes back in. He laments the big fishers’ impact on his local fishing grounds, and gets antsy when he spots local fisherman flaunting the rules. He’s friendly with the local patrols, while quietly cursing the Government for introducing Marine Protected Areas.

He’ll often suggest we go for a drive in his Toyota 4WD (on it’s third engine rebuild) around the local area (the Redlands Shire) and talk us through the changes he’s seen as this once rural farming area, with rich, volcanic red soil, is converted into suburban estates, townhouses and apartments. He’ll tell you about the farmers of the area, past and present, and how this productive, now peri-urban, land is being lost to developers. (He’ll also quip that they can’t afford to run the car as much as they used too…)

We’ll walk around his property and he’ll show us with (justifiable) pride the vegetable plot, the fruit trees, the mangoes coming into season, the massive avocado trees, the pineapples, the strawberries. Each season he notes he doesn’t have enough friends with which to share the abundant produce that comes off the land. (Thinking about this I’m lamenting not taking more photos when we were there…)

He shares an anecdote about how a friend got the water in the local creek, which runs through the bushland to the back of his property, tested for pollution and sent the results to his local member. He’ll mention how the recently released government report failed to mention his creek in it’s “report card” and how he and his friend took it to the local media resulting in pressure being applied and the figures being followed up by the local member.

While we’re sitting watching (his 80″ LCD behemoth1 of a) TV he’ll explain how they turn everything off of standby using a remote switch device, and explain with pride how efficient the consultant found their kettle. He explains how they’ve saved a lot on their energy bill (which is about 1/3rd what is being touted in the mainstream press as an “average” bill).

He demonstrated the in-home energy monitor that helps them to work out where their energy usage has gone. He’ll lament how the compact fluoros he installed don’t dim, and how the Government’s impending ban on new electric hot water heaters has forced him to go out and buy one now for when this one reaches its end of life. And don’t get him started on that carbon tax.

My life partner Angela ascribes many of my aspirations and environmental awareness to my Dad’s influence. I have to agree (and something that I’m proud to say). My Dad has more “environmentally friendly” features to his property than I could even dream of achieving. And, as is probably apparent, he’s full of contradictions (as we all are).

Just don’t call him an environmentalist. Or a greenie. He just wouldn’t stand for it…

  1. I actually don’t know what size it is, but it’s bloody huge…

Letter to Tanya Plibersek re: Carbon targets

I received a response from Tanya Plibersek to my previous letter re: clean feed just before I went away on holidays, and just after the Government announced their woefully inadequate targets for CO2 reduction.

Below the fold is my follow-up.

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High petrol prices

Well, those of us that have been focused on the environment have known that petrol prices were likely to rise significantly, so all the hand-wringing and shouting comes as little surprise.

It’s a shame that the emphasis has been on short-term relief by the way of the government dropping the excise on petrol. Although I really feel for the folks that are finding it tough with daily commutes etc. I think that dropping the excise is a terrible idea.

Even if the petrol companies don’t see it as an opportunity to wrestle more profit out of the market (which is a likely scenario) – the price of petrol will only continue to rise, making this a very short-term solution.

Instead the government should announce that it is funneling the revenue generated from the excise into alternatives – public transport in particular, but also better planning of areas to alleviate the need for car transport in the first place.

Another area the government could invest in is building Australia’s R&D capacity in car manufacture. It’s a pet subject of mine – I’ve ranted enough on the topic here that regular readers will know my views. But in a competitive market I find it incredible that the industry, and government in general, continues to subsidise big car development for the middle eastern market at the expense of alternatives like hybrids and electric vehicles.

I did have to laugh, though, reading this article by Richard Glover a few weeks back: Here’s to high petrol prices. Some choice quotes:

HOORAY for high petrol prices. No one wants to say the unpleasant truth, so I’ll say it again. Hooray for high petrol prices. They are changing our behaviour faster than decades worth of hand-wringing over the environment.

… What’s frustrating is that there are real ways in which our politicians could help; not by making false pledges of cheap petrol but by helping us permanently adapt to this new world of highly priced energy.

… Whatever we do, we won’t be able to avoid pain. Australians of past generations showed great fortitude in the face of the global challenges of their time; they proved themselves to be resilient and adaptable.

… Will we need to make sacrifices? Of course. Will those sacrifices be as difficult as those faced by the generation who lived through the Great Depression, or World War II? Um, no.

The biggest irony, of course, is that when I viewed this article, this was the ad that came up:

high-petrol-prices-suv-ad.jpg

An ad for a petrol hungry 4WD…

Uncensor China

This is a cross-post from the Zumio blog.

Just a quick note to mention that yesterday, Amnesty International Australia’s Uncensor site was launched. This is the project I’ve been involved in, though the work I’m doing isn’t on the site yet.

The site is part of Amnesty’s campaign in the lead up to the Olympics being held in August in China, focusing on internet censorship and repression. I’ve been following the blog for a couple of days now and the writing there is excellent – really informative.

The “Search for Freedom” function (in the right sidebar) shows first hand China’s censorship regime at work, and clearly highlights how Google is participating in the “Golden Shield” system.

You may have heard about the Fuwa, the Chinese Olympics mascot. Well it seems that they left someone out – meet Nu Wa the Uncensor mascot. Nu Wa (who’s name means “outraged, angry young boy”, wants to set the record straight by speaking about the human rights abuses suffered by people in China.

I really dig the site, as does Priscilla. Well worth checking out…

Sorry

Priscilla does a wonderful job of not only eloquently expressing her feelings about saying sorry, but also mine (thanks P.)

I too have set my Facebook status to say I’m sorry – but I’ll also repost what Priscilla says ‘coz it’s exactly what I want to say too:

I regret that this happened to you, and I realise that it caused suffering and anguish for you and your family. I hope this never happens again.

P.S. I feel like this new government is sorting out a whole bunch of unfinished business. Still lots to do, but we’ve signed Kyoto, and now said sorry (both of which are far too long overdue). In the coming weeks WorkChoices will be scrapped. It’s progress – but back to the starting-line, not forward. Hopefully the momentum will continue to push across the line…

China’s economic control

I was chatting to a friend the other day and he mentioned this concept, but Andrew Charlton has written a great opinion piece explaining why our economy is Made in China.

Some key quotes that resonated with me:

The former prime minister John Howard claimed during the election that his fiscal discipline was keeping inflation and thereby interest rates down.

This was hogwash. Average inflation was relatively low, but this hid the bipolar nature of our economy. Non-traded goods suffered endemic inflation during the Howard years, but the problem was concealed by disinflation in the traded economy. It is easy to keep inflation low when every year China keeps shipping us more goods at cheaper prices.

I’d not really seen this before, but it makes sense to me. Especially the bit about Howard’s claims being hogwash 😉

He continues:

There are two ways to solve this problem. One is to passively sit back and let the Reserve Bank reduce demand by bludgeoning shoppers with repeated interest rate rises.

The better solution is to improve productivity in non-traded sectors so that our domestic production can grow to meet demand. A wave of competition policy in the early 1990s dramatically improved the efficiency of Australia’s traded economy, stripping away tariffs and opening up the sector to competition. The new Labor Government must now do the same for the non-traded economy. That means improving productivity in formerly neglected sectors like transport and logistics, education, utilities, health and many other services.

I would also add that perhaps we should turn around our long-neglected R&D-related activity, so that we can increase high-value technology-based exports in growth sectors too – like renewable energy and highly-efficient transport (hybrid cars etc.). The investment in education that Andrew mentions is part of this shift.

How often do we hear about bright ideas (and the people behind them) being picked up overseas when their attempts to get funding and support locally had run their course. It’s these ideas and developments that would increase the value of our exports – we have for too long been focused solely on the “resources boom”. Time to start moving eggs into other baskets methinks…

Howard heaved…

Needless to say I’m happy with the election result – not that Labor are in necessarily (they have yet to earn credibility and trust), just that after almost 12 years of lying and sliminess Howard has been turfed out on his backside. I can only hope he loses Bennelong too…

I really wanted to write a longer post outlining the many sins of the Howard government – and I may still have time later this week to expand. But in short (I could write at length about any one of these issues – but look at them all!):

  • abuse of refugee rights – not even upholding the basic principles of the international convention of the rights of refugees
  • the Tampa incident and “Children Overboard”
  • attacks on indigenous rights
  • rolling back of our fundamental legal rights – rights to a fair trial, to privacy
  • abandonment of David Hicks and support for the clearly illegal Guantanamo Bay facility
  • support for the Chinese government despite consistent human rights abuses (not even meeting with the Dalai Lama in 2002 because of fears of offending the Chinese government)
  • the introduction of the GST
  • WorkChoices
  • lack of any meaningful action, or even reasonable dialogue, on climate change
  • continued subsidisation and support for fossil-fuel industries (petrol, R&D support for development of big cars by Australian manufacturers, spending on nuclear instead of true renewable energy)
  • the so-called nuclear “debate”
  • going to war in Iraq
  • uncritical support of the US
  • lies about interest rates being something governments can control
  • the bungling of the privatisation of Telstra
  • lack of action prior to the elections in East Timor
  • the de-teething of the ACCC
  • persistent attacks on the education system, esp. public schools and universities
  • the AWB scandal
  • and probably more that I can’t think of right now…

I feel like a dark cloud has been lifted off of this country – really! I was out celebrating with friends on Saturday night and I was so delighted with the result. Let’s hope that Labor lives up to its promises (and more)…

Not with our money

Not with our money

You may have noticed, like I have, just how many government ads have been on telly the past few months. It’s a long running trend – starting some years ago.

These ads bug me on a number of levels, but I have often wondered just how much public money (our money) is being spent on what often amounts to little more than propaganda for the government’s (mostly unpopular) policies.

GetUp have just launched a campaign that puts the figure at $2 billion since the government took office – $200,000 of that this year.

Yep, you read that right – $2 billion! GetUp claim that that works out to be around $1 million a day.

This is what GetUp are asking for:

GetUp is calling for the introduction of a new law that ensures that:

  1. All future government advertising costs (from focus groups to media buying) are publicly available and easily accessible to the community via an annual report
  2. All advertising above $250,000 is to be approved by an independent auditor who applies strict guidelines to limit advertising to the dissemination of public information
  3. These guidelines are to be developed with public consultation with the final guidelines to be publicly available
  4. These conditions to apply in both the federal and state governments within 1 year
  5. A cap of $100 million p.a for total government advertising spending is to be imposed with any additional money to be approved by parliament.

The $100 million cap even seems high to me – I’m amazed that rules like this don’t already exist. Time we had some methinks…

APEC

APEC Fence - Sydney Indymedia

I keep thinking about the events this weekend here in Sydney as APEC takes hold. There are posters around the city proclaiming “21 world leaders, 1 great city”. Before last week I joked with friends saying it should read “21 world leaders, 1 police state”. After seeing the overkill of police presence in our fair city, it’s unfortunately no joke.

It kind of struck home when I saw a police bus in the city – they’re literally shipping in police – and then saw a bevy of about 30 police at railway square “protecting” us from about 30 odd peaceful protesters. It was ridiculous.

I thought to myself that with all this focus on “security”, there must be gaping holes there. I mean – we had fighter planes and helicopters circling the city, thousands of extra police. Streets closed, transport services canceled. Simply ridiculous.

So I cheered out loud when I saw what the Chasers pulled off. I was watching TV late on Thursday night when I saw it. Priceless.

As it turns out, the Chasers didn’t even know they were in the restricted zone and voluntarily gave themselves up. Puts lie to Alexander Downer’s smug comment that “they were caught weren’t they?”.

What was even more ridiculous is the media feigning indignity about the Chaser’s pranks. Makes me want to support them even more…

After the stunt, the Chinese president Hu Jintao has called for increased security, and Channel Ten then trotted out a line about protests by “the religious cult” Falun Dafa.

Wittingly or unwittingly, I’m not sure which, Channel Ten became party to the Chinese government’s propaganda machine. Falun Dafa is not a cult, but the government uses those terms as justification for imprisoning and torturing Falun Gong practitioners in China. If only it was as unexpected as it was disgusting to hear such rubbish in the mainstream press.

But as a friend pointed out the other day – what does Hu Jintao think they’re going to do – meditate him to death or something? This is a religion founded on the principles of “Truthfulness, Benevolence, Forbearance”. No wonder the Chinese government, which practices none of these, is scared.

The Australian government, and the media, have been painting the protesters as violent and unruly. Most protests in this country, unlike protests overseas, are peaceful. Where violence has occurred, it’s usually been at the hand of a small isolated group, easily contained. There was never any chance of protests turning as violent as those in say, Genoa or Seattle.

But, of course, the government has to demonstrate it’s “tough on terror” – has to assure world leaders that Australia is secure. What better way to demonstrate that than to not lock the city down, to let it operate as it usually does. It seems, we have to see an unprecedented turnout of police.

One argument that I’ve overheard is that security forces had intel on an attack – that it’s because of this security that something bigger didn’t occur. But with such lax security that the Chasers can make it to outside Bush’s hotel without being detected, I find it hard to believe that the emphasis on security this past week is what stopped an attack…

The (big) question that remains unasked in the coverage I’ve seen is what, exactly, are the protesters protesting? The media’s penchant for plainly painting them as “anti-globalisation” protesters masks a plethora of reasons behind the civil disobedience.

From human rights abuses in Russia and China, to the attacks on civil liberties here in Australia, to the devastating (for Iraqi civilians) and mishandled war on Iraq – there are reasons aplenty. But none of those issues made it to the headlines.

(As an aside, I heard at an Amnesty International event that the Chinese government displaced over 1,000 of its own people, without remuneration or repatriation, just to construct the Olympic swimming complex – and that’s just one of the many abuses that have taken place in the lead-up to the Games that were won on the back of a “human rights” message.)

No – it’s not the dangerous men behind closed doors making deals that we’re being warned about. It’s those dangerous, nasty, evil protesters. It’s those people with a conscience that are exercising their rights of free speech – they’re the ones we need to be afraid of.

If it wasn’t so ominous, it would be hilarious. If this is the future, I think we need to turn the car around…

Update: A fascinating Flickr slideshow of the protests to give some sense of the overkill. I also forgot to mention that police stopped anyone from leaving Hyde Park for over an hour – including families with kids – during the protests.

Update 2: NewMatilda.com also has another piece on APEC (from which I grabbed the photo).