Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ferguson on YouDecide2007

My last post has now been published as an opinion piece on the YouDecide2007 website. YouDecide is publishing local accounts of the important issues in the 2007 Federal Election as part of an Australian Research Council-funded citizen journalist inititaive run by Queensland University of Technology. Let's hope Martin Ferguson is encouraged to respond to the issues I've written about, even if he does hold Batman on 71.3 per cent two-party-preferred as at the last election. He's welcome to comment here, and I'm more than willing to discuss these issues in person and report back on them.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

One question for Martin Ferguson

I read in The Melbourne Times last week about Martin Ferguson's aggressive tactics at a recent Darebin climate change forum, and his disparagement of the low numbers attending. It's a pity, because I don't mind the former unionist and political street-fighter who's always up for a rhetorical punch-up. Unfortunately, on the issue of uranium and climate change, Martin Ferguson is just plain wrong.

Despite unconvincing assertions to the contrary, he's long been pro-nuclear, and is even singled out for special mention by Ian Lowe in Reaction Time, the latest Quarterly Essay, which thoroughly debunks nuclear energy as a solution to future energy demands and climate change (see especially page 67).

I particularly remember a forum on uranium mining held at Northcote Town Hall back in June 2006, where Ferguson's main line seemed to be that, regardless of any change to Labor's three-mines policy (now history following the ditching of this limit at the ALP's national conference in April this year), Australia would be the biggest producer/exporter of uranium by 2013 anyway. As if that were somehow a licence to throw out consideration of a policy change to phase out uranium mining and make the world a safer place.

Some of my recent reading has now coalesced around an ALP policy that would eschew the use of nuclear power in Australia, but allow nuclear risk to be exported around the world to countries subject to insufficient nuclear safeguards, accidents, terrorism and the uncertainties of their own geo-political squabbles.

First, there's the eloquent science of Reaction Time making plain the risks of a nuclear 'solution' to climate change that is uneconomic, slow and dangerous in contrast with a diversity of safe, renewable and timely alternatives. Unlike Martin Ferguson, Lowe dodges none of the issues and, as one who supported nuclear energy early in his scientific career, is prepared to take the nuclear lobby's best shot and show it falling drastically short.

Next is Cormac McCarthy's 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Road. Anyone who has not read the book might question the inclusion of fiction to support the anti-nuclear cause. But the novel's imagining of a post-apocalypse America shows the truth of a suggested but unacknowledged nuclear war, drawn out over the alternately debased and heroic lives of the last survivors of an irrevocably damaged planet. McCarthy's profound imagining should be shared by everyone who makes decisions that literally affect the fate of the earth.

Bringing McCarthy's imagining firmly back to reality, however, is a real-life scenario of how the nuclear dominoes might actually begin to fall.

The ABC News website reports that four senior officers have recently been fired from the USAF following the prohibited transfer in August of six nuclear-armed cruise missiles on the wing of a B-52 bomber flying between bases across America.

No doubt each of the missiles far exceeded the explosive power of the A-bombs detonated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War, yet the missiles were flown over America's domestic rooftops uncontrolled by clearly fallible procedures. More alarming still was the news that permission to handle nuclear weapons was withdrawn from 65 USAF personnel. How many actually have permission, and what is shown by the scope for error that entails?

Yet Martin Ferguson thinks it's OK to export uranium that will be enriched by the same processes that can be carried further to produce weapons-grade material. It's OK to provide uranium for energy purposes that might allow the diversion of part of a country's total stores of the radioactive ore to weapons programs. It's OK to poison the world with nuclear waste that, once released, can't be put back in its atomic bottle. Martin, as one of your Batman constituents, I'm asking you why it's OK.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Planning on the web in Darebin

This week's Northcote Leader reports that, by the end of the year, the City of Darebin will offer a web service to track local planning applications. I agree with the quoted comments of DADA spokesperson, Terry Scully. This is a strong idea, but the success of the proposal will depend on how it improves the ability of residents to genuinely participate in decisions about developments. That, in turn, depends crucially on what information the service offers, and the timeliness of its appearance on the web.

I am unaware of any consultation by Council with residents regarding the features they'd like to see in the service, and it would be interesting to see the brief for its development. Here, however, are a few ideas that I think would make the service better.

Firstly, updating the information online must be built into Council's procedures to process applications. Residents should be able to track who the applicant is, the date of first application, what is being proposed, the advertising period and deadline for resident submissions, the dates of meetings at which an application will be considered, its approval or otherwise, and whether an application is subject to a planning panel or appeal at VCAT. The ability to view planning applications by date, year, location and applicant would also be valuable.

This is not a comprehensive list, but these and similar features would improve the transparency of planning in Darebin. While the service cannot compensate for bad planning laws that allow inappropriate development to occur, a timely, regularly updated service would enable better participation by residents in planning decisions.

Finally, I also agree with Terry Scully regarding more conventional methods of informing residents about developments. There should be broader notification of surrounding residents – especially for larger developments. Terry's idea of listing proposed developments in ward newsletters is also a good idea, again depending on timeliness. To this I'd like to add a way to inform residents whether particular developments are supported or opposed by their local councillor. Whether print or online, this would be a good way of holding councillors accountable for their role in what is built in our local communities.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Introducing the MP for Northcote

The 2 October edition of the Northcote Leader makes a comic connection between a life-size Dalek constructed by a local Dr Who enthusiast and a recent survey showing poor public recognition of Northcote MP, Fiona Richardson, and Darebin Mayor, Marlene Kairouz. The paper amusingly asks whether voters can tell their local politicians from the noisy galactic fiends.

For Northcote's more politically progressive residents, the front-page image of a Dalek poised menacingly over Richardson begs the classic response from Doctor Who's robotic arch enemy. However, in answer to the amusing question posed in the story, it would be far preferable to her current poor recognition if more people could actually recognise their local member and what she stands for. She could then be judged on her merits by people who too often vote simply for a generic ALP brand that no longer lives up to its traditional values.

For those unfamiliar with their local MP, Richardson is firmly on the conservative Right of the ALP, and is married to Labor State Secretary, Stephen Newnham. Newnham would be familiar to readers of the fine print on ALP propaganda campaigns. He authorised the ALP's strident anti-Greens campaign in Northcote during last year's State election, and more recently in the Albert Park byelection. Richardson's link to this misleading campaign is more than a familial one – as recently as last weekend she was displaying the propaganda in her electorate office window (bigger image). That's what she stands for, and it's high time more people were aware of it.

Update, December 2007: The Greens Liberal Deal website appears to be undergoing some sort of rebranding. Gone is the banner featuring John Howard in the Greens logo, along with, it seems, authorisation of the site by the ALP's Stephen Newnham – though as of today (16 December), the site URL is still registered to the Australian Labor Party. No matter, the banner (and an earlier version based on the above photo) and the site have been suitably archived, and a link may appear here when I have a bit of spare time to put one up. I guess the site had become somewhat embarrassing given Labor's sensible preference deal with the Greens to get rid of Howard at the 2007 Federal election. The ALP's reasoning appears to be:

  1. If we're fighting the Greens in a state election (November 2006), we should suggest a link between the Greens and the Liberals.
  2. We'd better stop that for the federal election (November 2007) in which the Greens have a deal with us for purposes of getting rid of John Howard.
  3. That achieved, let's go back to our silly propganda and start attacking the Greens again.

As well as the embarrassing URL that suggests an ongoing link between the Greens and the Liberals, the site has started posting again after its brief hiatus for the federal election. This time they're criticising Victorian Upper House MP for the Greens, Sue Pennicuik, for suggesting that not all graffiti is bad.

Is that the way to engage in political debate? Why doesn't the ALP try to win the argument instead of relying on shallow propaganda? That might actually get them more votes, but it isn't what they stand for.

Update 21 December: It appears the changes in the site were temporary. The Howard–Greens logo is back, but comments are still closed and the 'arguments' are still pitifully week. I can see why the authors are anonymous, even if the ALP's Stephen Newnham is willing to put his name to authorising the site. What does it say about the political climate in Victoria that this site isn't exposed for the sad embarrassment that it is? Who knows, that may change in coming months. A happy thought for Christmas and the New Year!

A nice day for herbicide

It was pretty windy this morning before 9.00am (and still is), but that didn't stop the City of Darebin spraying herbicide on the western side of High Street south of Westgarth Street in Northcote. With City of Darebin truck number 505 nearby, a City of Darebin worker sprayed the herbicide from a backpack. True, he was using a 'wand', but chances are the herbicide was well and truly distributed where it was never intended to go.

What's the Council policy on herbicide use on windy days? You'd think a reasonable approach would be to call it off, but that might cut across the economic 'efficiencies' of getting our nature-strips covered with toxic chemicals. Got any herbicide stories? Feel free to comment using the link below.