Saturday, November 12, 2011

Faine presses Doyle to support Occupy inquiry

Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle was repeatedly pressed to support an independent inquiry regarding police actions at the first Occupy Melbourne protest when he appeared yesterday on 774 ABC Melbourne's Mornings program with Jon Faine.

In what became a combative interview, Doyle resisted independent scrutiny of the actions of authorities, including himself, in forcibly evicting protesters from City Square back on Friday, 21 October.

Faine's persistent questioning provides a valuable insight into the Lord Mayor's attitude to peaceful, democratic protest.

In my own comment, I sought to refute Doyle's flawed argument that force was justified if the protesters failed to live up to a claimed but disputed agreement to leave. I also considered whether we could have seen a death in similar circumstances to that of Ian Tomlinson at the London G20 protest in April 2009.

Interestingly, The Guardian now reports that Occupy London protesters will be "allowed" to stay at St Paul's Cathedral until the New Year, in stark contrast to the approach adopted by authorities in Melbourne. London authorities have considered legal action to remove protesters, rather than adopt the heavy-handed approach we have seen here.

If you haven't already, I encourage you to go to Faine's blog and make a comment after listening to the audio. Here's the comment I made yesterday:
Thanks for supporting the call for an independent inquiry, Jon.

The question of police protest violence is indeed an urgent matter of public interest that Lord Mayor Robert Doyle seems desperate to avoid.

Even if we grant that there was an agreement for the protesters to leave - which I'm confident they would not grant - their claimed failure to follow through would not licence the kind of excessive force employed by Victoria Police at the Occupy Melbourne protest.

An independent inquiry would examine the evidence and also the legal basis relied on to forcibly evict. If Robert Doyle is so confident that authorities, including himself, acted correctly, he should undertake to resign should an independent inquiry show that action against the protesters was illegal.

Further, it is worth noting that a UK police officer has recently been committed to stand trial for manslaughter over the April 2009 death of an innocent bystander, Ian Tomlinson, at the G20 protest in London.

Comparing footage of that event with footage from the Occupy Melbourne protest, the relative levels of violence suggest we could easily have seen a death here, and for what? To assert arbitary power to crush a peaceful protest?

Thanks again for pursuing this issue.

Cheers, Darren Lewin-Hill
 Comments welcome

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Could London's death by police happen at Melbourne's protests?

The Occupy movement is a global phenomenon, and we should avoid parochialism as we consider responses to the disproportionate use of force by Victoria Police against peaceful protesters last Friday in the City Square.

In the UK a police officer now faces trial for manslaughter over the death of Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper vendor innocently caught up in the 2009 London G20 protests as he walked home from work. Video footage shows Mr Tomlinson being struck on the legs with a baton and pushed to the ground by a police officer. He collapsed and died a short time later.

Even had Mr Tomlinson been a participant in the protests, and even had he broken some minor law, no-one could reasonably argue that he deserved the treatment he received at the hands of police, and he certainly would not have deserved to die. Instead, Mr Tomlinson was not a participant and broke no law, but died anyway.

Everyone concerned about excessive police force at the Occupy Melbourne protest should review the video of the attack on Mr Tomlinson and compare it to the footage taken of the Melbourne protests. The level of force employed here was in many cases quite clearly higher than that which led to Mr Tomlinson's fatal heart attack shortly after the police incident in London.

In normal circumstances, if an ordinary citizen injures or kills an attacker, the law of self-defence calls on them to show their actions are proportional to the threat they seek to avert. With their use of horses, dogs, capsicum spray, pressure holds and even punches, it seems police refused to be bound by the same rules in their claimed defence of public order at the Occupy Melbourne protest.

Premier Ted Baillieu, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle and Acting Chief Commissioner Ken Lay should consider the potential cost when police needlessly disturb the peace in order to keep it with disproportionate force that might easily take a life.

(An excellent opinion piece by Anna Brown has been published in today's Age regarding the likely legal and human rights violations of actions by authorities last Friday. See Civil rights and crossing the line)

Monday, September 19, 2011

"Carbon Party" undermines Gillard on carbon price

John Brumby made a good case for carbon pricing and low-emissions economic opportunities in his Saturday opinion piece in The Age. In it he makes an admission that State and Federal Labor need to act on, not just acknowledge. Standing in the way is the "Carbon Party". Here's my letter, published today (scroll to "Green initiatives are totally cancelled out").
It's good to hear former Victorian Premier John Brumby acknowledge that "Australia won't always be able to rely on what we dig out of the ground". That's true not because of the exhaustion of our large fossil fuel reserves, but because under the inevitable global pricing of carbon, the market for fossil fuels will disappear, and products we produce from emissions-intensive energy sources will become very expensive, and therefore uncompetitive.

Given the greed of large corporations and the short-sightedness of our less reflective investors and shareholders, it is understandable they will seek to capitalise on fossil fuels to the maximum possible extent before this happens. Understandable, but not acceptable.

As they rush to squeeze value out of their dinosaur powerplants and fossil fuel reserves, they push Australia and the world towards or even across the boundary of dangerous climate change. Their misleading campaigns foretelling economic ruin and energy insecurity place dollars above disaster.

While John Brumby argues well for the economic benefits of low-emissions investment and development, the timeframe in which too many Labor governments see the transition would allow the exploitation of fossil fuels and their climate impacts to substantially play out. We are, in fact, expanding our search for oil, coal and gas, and we operate in a deluded two-climate economy - one where we invest in green initiatives, and one where we cancel these out through the headlong pursuit of fossil fuels.

It is this duality within Labor at state and federal levels that is undermining the argument for carbon pricing. With federal Labor MPs like Martin Ferguson, it is almost as if there's an implicit Carbon Party at work in Australia, drawing its members in lesser or greater numbers from Labor and the Coalition respectively. If we're not to lose the race - the human race - that has to stop.

Comments welcome

Sunday, August 7, 2011

OurSay on climate must be more than popularity poll

Today the Sunday Age launched its OurSay initiative on climate change, entitled "You Decide: The Climate Agenda". A Sunday Age team will investigate the ten most popular questions submitted to the OurSay website by 2 September. Here's my first question, which you can comment or vote on at the site (you'll need to scroll down to "The Question").
How will the Sunday Age ensure that questions of little value in terms of the peer-reviewed science do not, through mere popularity, displace genuine questions that can be answered by scientists in a way that will help people understand the climate challenge and the need for urgent action? Perhaps the newspaper's team should investigate the top ten questions assessed as genuinely at issue or judged as subject to popular misconception by an expert scientific panel. The panel could comment on any popular questions they omit from the top ten, giving their reasons for doing so - for example, where a question seems intended to mislead on the science. The panel could also be consulted by your team in responding to the top ten questions that make it through this quality check.
This is a really interesting project, but one that needs to be carefully thought through if its results are to genuinely progress the climate action agenda in Australia.

I hope you will engage with OurSay on climate, and feel welcome to leave your comments here as well. I will be tweeting on progress @NorthcoteIND

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Climate sensitivity over jobs shows double-standard

Two letter-writers in yesterday's edition of The Age wrote about the "invisibility" of workers affected by a carbon price, despite many projections - including by the ACTU - of projected gains in green jobs in the shift to a low-emissions economy.

Today's edition carries my letter in reply, which questions why those opposing a carbon price are so concerned about selective estimates of job losses claimed as likely to result from action on climate, while they are less so to the business-as-usual job losses in the marketplace in pursuit of "efficiencies" and profit. Here's the unedited version:
It is unrealistic to suggest that the transition to a low-emissions economy will be without disruptions that will certainly impact on individuals and families. That's why a principled approach to implementing an environmentally necessary carbon price must take care of those in our communities who will be most affected - workers in the Latrobe Valley, but also in other areas where employment is currently carbon-intensive.

What Damien Cremean and Ben Dziekan fail to acknowledge is that we are routinely impacted by large-scale job losses through the quest of powerful corporates for cost-cutting and market efficiencies that in general have no climate benefits as their goal. It is perverse that many of those corporations, including the big polluters, now project undoubtedly exaggerated job losses from a carbon tax when their usual approach is to strive to cut their workforce to the bone.

Those who will be affected by job losses through pricing carbon should never be "invisible" as these writers claim, but the right to fair compensation would never be denied by the highly visible thousands who demonstrated for a strong carbon price on Sunday. We also know that if we do not act on climate the impacts will be felt by billions.
 Comments welcome.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Say Yes Australia draws big Melbourne crowd

Today more than 10,000 people gathered in Melbourne - and more than 45,000 nationally - to support a strong price on carbon to help tackle climate change at the Say Yes Australia National Day of Climate Action.

Here Don Henry, CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation, makes the case for saying yes to a strong price on carbon.

A great campaign, and a great turn-out, but more needs to be done to define what "strong" means. If it means setting a price, and ultimately emissions targets, that agree with what the science says needs to be done to achieve a safe climate, then I support the campaign wholeheartedly.

The coalition of community groups involved in the campaign need to ensure that saying yes isn't simply construed as saying yes to the inadequate pro-polluter action currently proposed by the Gillard Government, most recently seen in a group hug with industry at the Minerals Council dinner last week.

We need to say yes to something that counts. That said, today was a wonderful show of support for effective action on climate, and I applaud everyone who had a role in organising it. Well done!

This film was not made in association with the Say Yes Australia Campaign.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Labor survival runs second to sustaining the planet

Today's edition of The Age carries my letter, "Bigger issues than an ailing ALP", responding to Michael Pearce's excellent opinion piece on the future of Australian Labor ("Should the ALP labour on, or is the party over?"), which questions the ultimate survival of the party.

There follows my edit of the longer version I submitted, which makes my point more clearly - that sustainability is a common theme among the issues Pearce considers in his search for a Whitlamesque "crusade" that might unify the ALP. It is also one with a strong basis in fairness and social justice - the traditional values of Labor.

I argue, however, that it is more important to consider sustainability as an imperative for the planet than for its potential contribution as a narrative for the renewal of the Labor Party. Sustainability is also a cause being progressed more urgently by social movements, independents and Greens than by a party that has lost its way.
Michael Pearce has written an eloquent and fascinating big-picture analysis of the Labor Party. We should, however, care less for the survival of the party than for the progress of the growing social movements concerning the vital issues it has so badly failed to capture.

Our federal minority government shows that in an era of converging major political parties, minor parties and independents can help steer the course of government back towards the public good. They may be maligned for doing so, but their measure is not the esteem of so-called "mainstream" politicians, but the degree to which their actions are informed by the values that no longer enliven Labor - and certainly not the Coalition - at state or federal level.

Nor is their measure, as Pearce observes, their position inside or outside the "economic paradigm". Increasingly, that paradigm is being recognised as uneconomic in a far deeper sense than questions of surplus or deficit.

One clue lies in what is common between the issues Pearce considers as potential sparks for renewed "crusades" - the national broadband network, the processing of asylum seekers and the carbon tax.

As Melbourne University's Voice supplement [in the same edition] announces a new research centre to "green" the internet, it is also projected that many more asylum seekers will need to be "processed" by Australia as they flee the impacts of dangerous climate change imposed on them by the spiralling emissions of developed and developing nations.

Yet the effective denial of Labor's weak climate action - with its looming capitulation to the big polluters over the carbon tax - is little better than the Coalition's denial outright. We can sustain civilization fairly and with humanity only if we work to sustain the planet on which we live. Shouldn't that be the business of politics across the trivial divisions of party power?
At present, Labor is masquerading as a climate progressive party to hold on to power by attempting to capture the green vote while placating conservative free-marketeers and the big polluters with weak climate action. Prime minister Gillard instead needs to recognise that a vital object of power is not its own preservation, but sustaining civilization itself.

Comments welcome.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

IPA "remedy" for climate suits big polluters

Last week's edition of The Sunday Age carried another missive from the Institute of Public Affairs on how the world can be saved from the impacts of climate change by making countries rich enough to adapt.

Unfortunately, Chris Berg's free-market prescription amounts to little more than a get-rich-quick scheme for poor countries based on the same high-emissions growth that has led to our current climate emergency. This claimed panacea of profit-fuelled adaptation is deeply flawed.

Aside from the certainty with which the big polluters would flee the queue to pay for expensive adaptive measures, recent disasters give the lie to our ability to adapt to large-scale impacts. Among these, floods and bushfires are set to increase in frequency and severity if we do not act to sharply curtail our carbon emissions.

With Fukushima now adding to Windscale, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, there is also a nuclear cloud over Berg's failure to even mention renewables as a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

A full  accounting of the mortality, health and broader environmental impacts of climate change points to the urgent necessity of a strong carbon price. It also highlights the risks of the proposed compensation and current massive subsidies by the Australian Government for the polluters who work against a safe climate future.

The distraction we must resist is not a carbon price, as Berg would have it. Instead, it is the false reassurance of selective statistics and scant scientific support for doing nothing beyond business as usual.

Growing our emissions so we can get rich enough to supposedly adapt to the climate change those emissions cause just doesn't make sense.

It is to be hoped that Julia Gillard and her government recognise this as a basic physical constraint on how the world works - ignoring it could have extreme consequences for our shared global climate.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Gillard's sleight-of-hand on extremism

Friday's edition of The Age carried my letter responding to Julia Gillard's opinion piece the day before calling for the rejection of "extremists" following Wednesday's rally in Canberra against the proposed carbon tax.

The rally, attended by federal Coalition leader, Tony Abbott, featured offensive placards attacking the prime minister. Abbott has drawn much deserved criticism for his attendance, including Friday's Age editorial.  However, Julia Gillard used the opportunity to label as extreme not only those who attended the rally, but those opposing them who are urging stronger, science-based action than is currently being proposed by the Australian Government. Here's my letter:
Gillard lumps all in the extreme basket

IN CALLING for the rejection of extremists, Julia Gillard tries to create a single negative category including not only the ilk of Wednesday's ignorant and offensive rally against a carbon tax, but also those who urge stronger science-based action to achieve a safe climate (Comment, 24/3).

A valid critique of Australia's present weak emissions reduction targets does not render the holders of such a view extreme. They base their case on the same science referenced by Professor Garnaut in his climate review for the federal government. Perhaps Ms Gillard would like to explain her government's more than $12 billion in annual subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, or the recent approval of the largest open-cut coal mine in the southern hemisphere at Wandoan in Queensland?

It is just those kinds of actions that will work against household and industry assistance to choose low-emissions alternatives. This debate shouldn't be about some "fine Australian" calling the Prime Minister a "witch", or worse.
 Comments welcome!