Australian democracy: why we are fighting back

The word ‘democracy’ means something different to each of us. In short, it represents empowered people, with all else open to debate, as it should be.

In Australia, empowerment is embedded with the belief of fairness; the ‘fair go’ for the individual to make a life for themselves, based not on class, but solely merit. Fair opportunity, not privileged positioning.

I have to admit, for most of my three and a half decades of life, the ‘fair go’ felt to have left polite conversation. I believe it quietly sat within the Australian values goodie bag while the market took our imagination with bling, sprawl and SUV’s.

Yet, so nasty and individualistic has this government’s attitude been that it has reminded us of our core sense of fairness.

Make no mistake; the student protests and the March Australia protests are truly free, democratic processes. The Aussie ‘fair go’, is back.

The right to be free from sickness

For a small cost to taxpayers collectively, we all have the right to genuine healthcare. We are all empowered to seek out quality medical help when we need it, regardless of our social status.

It opens the doors to those most disadvantaged and works to Close the Gap for indigenous people. It gives us all a ‘leg up’ in tough times.

For me, as a young and healthy professional, I know I’ve paid more than my share of use of public healthcare.

So what? There will come a time where I am no longer so young or so healthy. I may suffer illness that limits my capacity to earn. My support for Medicare will, at that point, be returned to me. It’s a personal investment as much as it is a social service.

The co-payments may not currently hurt me personally, but the same cannot be said for those who must struggle to make ends meet. For them, a doctor visit, potentially leading to blood tests, x-rays and/or medicine, all add up. Rather than working to Close the Gap, it rips it a new one.

Some might point out that co-payments are limited to the first 10 visits for concession holders. Does the government really need that $70 from a poor person’s pocket, especially when $50 of it goes to research?

Tertiary education

Gina Rinehart once lamented that she had to compete against companies in Africa where they could get away with paying employees little better than crumbs.

Australia is an expensive country when compared to developing countries in Africa. It is expensive not only to pay wages, but also for workers to make ends meet.

What we trade abroad must meet that challenge. Rather than flogging off iron ore, coal and wood to whoever would buy it, we must refine our resources and develop specialised products that include due premium.

We are also moving towards a service based economy. All of which requires a population with specialised tertiary educated to remain globally competitive. Business needs highly trained people.

The proposed changes to the cost of tertiary education may lead to lifelong debt. It will act as a deterrent to family-orientated women and the disadvantaged, reducing our resource of professionals in contrast to the needs of our changing economy.

As Luke Sulzberger recently wrote [my emphasis]; “Would it not be more logical and efficient (not to mention fair) to increase the income tax rate of the demographic earning this “75 per cent more” [the assumed benefit of tertiary education of personal income] to pay for the hike in education fees?”

This would be today’s successful professions passing on the benefits they enjoyed for all the economic perks that come come along with it for themselves (eg. employees and high quality services) as much the country.

Fair go vs. individualism

Mr. Pyne labelled tertiary student protesters a “socialist alternative“. This must have had Joe Hockey squirming uncomfortably in his seat, known to protest against increased university fees in his own youth.

It gets worst for Pyne. The protesters are not calling for a radical change from current situations, but against changes. Is Christopher Pyne suggesting that Australia currently has a socialist leaning already?

Above I’ve tried to illustrate the clear economic benefits of the systems we now have in place.

Moreover, Australian’s believe in a fair go for all. This isn’t some slippery slope to an alternative government, but the acknowledgement that a population full of healthy bodies and fit minds benefit us all and our local marketplace. The most efficient way to empower the Australian population is for us to contribute to the ‘whip round’ when we are in our prime. It all comes back.

Australian’s have always done the heavy lifting, with our working class roots, which allowed Hockey and Pyne to enjoy cheap tertiary education and free health care when they were young.

We are not ignorant, however, and can spot when our government is removing the mechanisms of general empowerment that remain fundamental to Australian culture.

Advertisement

Sunday Reads #5: All things climate, environmental and politics

Don’t like the budget? Your options aren’t limited to voting

While some in the government are calling the actions of many disappointed Australians “socialism” in truth, civil disobedience and peaceful protesting is an essential element to a fully functional democracy. Of course, the opposition, when they have no genuine rebuke, will resort to name calling, so let them have that, at least.

Pyne short on maths when it comes to ‘prestige’ degrees

For those who care about the quality of the minds of future Australian who will be in charge when we are old and needing assistance (hoping that we haven’t made them selfish and apathetic). The best point of this article, for me is the simple point; if university graduates are likely to earn 75% more, why not add a tax to those currently earning 75% more to support those who follow them?

It avoids the debilitating debt the current proposal will create and it will avoid further insult to the disadvantaged – those who may not make the supposed 75% more, women who take time off to have children, people who suffer an unforeseeable health problem down the track when they have already completed university and are unable to work in the same fashion, etc.

Climate change by any name is economics

A little shameless self promotion…

Why ethics won’t help cut emissions

An excellent article to support a carbon price

Rules to cut carbon emissions also reduce harmful air pollution

What’s more, CO2 isn’t the only thing that comes out of exhaust pipes. Reducing carbon emissions reduces all other relating chemicals and particulates. A decarbonised world makes for healthier lungs!

Carter and de Lange’s GWPF sea level report plagiarises their own heartland funded NIPCC propaganda

This made me laugh… But we must give them a little room. After all, they have such a small resource base to work from that this type of this is inevitable.

‘Damage already done’: Climate Change Authority staff quit amid uncertainty

My initial thought in reading this was, “Well, I’ll happily apply for a role!” (noting, obviously, my skills sets are probably not a great match)

I’ve written numerous articles over the years about the how poorly the Australian Green Sector has established itself. Since 2009 it went downhill for some time and I had a sense last year that again momentum was indeed rebuilding.

Nowadays, I’m careful of whether or not I include the words “climate change” or certain publications in an application. We all have mouths to feed and lives to live. The cuts to research and anything relating to climate by our current government is an effective tool to undermine the confidence of the sector.

Global survey: Climate change now a mainstream part of city planning

And despite the strange behaviours in Australia, the world is building cities to that buffer them from future climate change… it feels a million miles away from sprawling urban Australia.

Abbott pedals against the global climate awakening

And there you have it.

Climate change by any name is economics

The Independent Australia has kindly posted my newest article.

LET’S BE HONEST. We all know the “budget crisis” is little more than spin. We have a minuscule debt, enviable among the OECD countries.

That’s not to say that the budget doesn’t have its problems.

The truth is that Labor successfully navigated us through the global financial crisis and the Coalition has successfully got the nation talking about a spending habit no longer suitable beyond that period…

Continue reading here.

Sunday Reads #4: All things climate, environmental and politics

How green spaces could stop cities from overheating

Biophilic cities provide a wealth of services to the local population

Bank won’t fund port expansion due to reef fears

Telling when those in the money business won’t back a business initiative that the Government approves of.

Australia’s road to a low carbon economy

We have the financial position, the otherwise wasted resources, the ingenuity and the moral imperative (noting that Australia already has a harsh climate) and yet, there isn’t the political will to become a world leader.

This made even more important, due to…

China Targets 70 Gigawatts of Solar Power to Cut Coal Reliance

Seems China is weaning itself off of our dirty fuel. A great thing for a number of reasons. Firstly, the sun gives its energy away for free (damned socialist sun!) and secondly, it will go a long way to improving the air quality and thus health of the population.

Achievements of the Abbott Government To Date

And amazing list for less than a year’s effort. The best thing about this list is the links. It actually serves as a great resource for supporting material.

Budget inequality is bad for business

What does more for the economy; one individual hording $20b, or 10 million families with an extra $2000 over a year to put towards their expenses? Social science is conclusive; large amounts of social inequality negatively impacts everyone – including the top end. Japan and Sweden are better places to live that Australia on a measures that matter to people (eg. child mortality, life span, trust, drug abuse, crime etc) and this budget will only take us further away from those examples.

And if you doubt the inequity of the 2014 Budget, Bernard Keane tweeted this image.

budget distribution

Inequality and the Empathy Gap

This might explain the laps in better judgement illustrated in Abbott’s achievements above and discussed in the link above. Moreover, most of the defense I’ve heard on the 2014 Budget would fit into this category. All in all, I see it daily…

Three Cities Demonstrate the Role of Transport in Shaping Public Space

Abbott wants to be known as the “Infrastructure Prime Minister”. I will know him only as the PM who dedicated future generations to servitude; investing heavily on roads while increasing the cost of fuel; at least one road – the Melbourne East-West link – will be a toll road.

People need to move around their urban landscape and this PM wants to help them… at a cost. A cost “that goes up and up and up” (yes, I’m quoting Abbott on his rejection of the carbon price).

Other cities have a more humane approach to this need to move around cities and what’s more, they are making places where people want to stay.

Sunday Reads: all things climate, environmental and politics

Here’s a list of articles I’ve come across over the past week.

To My Friend the Climate Defeatist: Here’s Why I’m Still In the Fight

Mourn, but don’t give up.

Joe Hockey finds wind turbines offensive

Self-explanatory. My only response; he can make such comments only after spending a week in a country house down the road from wind turbines and a following week in Morwell while the coal mine burned.

Global carbon dioxide levels exceeded historic threshold throughout April

Yep…

Australia will not become Asia’s ‘food bowl’: Rabobank

This is iconic to more than just food production in Australia. I’ve been making this point for years; if we are a high wage country with numerous raw materials found locally, we need to sell these as high-value products (eg. refined, engineered etc).

What about me? Why Abbott’s plea falls on deaf ears

It’s hard to fall in with the sentiment of this government.

Fact file: What Tony Abbott promised on tax

Personally, if the carbon price – which was paid by users based on use – was a “tax” I’d like to go further with the GP “co-payments” to say it is no different.

Lastly, I signed the following petition this week.

End polluter handouts.

If this is a government out to “end waste” we have an example of a $10 billion waste right here.

To my surprise, it actually sent an email to my local member. This chap sent this generic Direct Action reply. I was a little annoyed with this and so replied with these comments.

If this petition is something you support, please do and if you receive a like email to mine, please feel free to reply with my comments.

The Anthropocene Blueprint Forum

As I wrote recent, I have been left with the conclusion that our public representatives have forgotten their role to the public, as public servants, with continual measures that favour the wealthy minority and short term self-gratification.

We need solutions that support climate science, biological science, agricultural science, social science, as we best understand it, and potential threats, today.

There is a lot of talk, but little action from a wide range of agents.

About the only place I have any faith restored is in the public itself. Occupy and the March in March show that many thousands of people are motivated towards change. They see the shortcomings of Business and Usual as well as the potential to a wide range of solutions.

Crowdsourcing

In the days prior to the Information Age the democratic process gave the best weight to the people. It was the original crowdsourcing through the election of individuals that would speak on their behalf. It has never been perfect. It has always spoken for those groups with the most influence, not necessarily the majority.

Modern technology provides the solution. People can be organised to take a stand, to change behaviours and to influence their local culture via social media.

Progressives, with their diversity views, can step in time on shared values and/or mutual disgust of the current power brokers.

With this in mind, I’ve started a forum.

There is no content yet, but for a topic on the forum structure, but it is the platform I wish to develop and take NewAnthro forward.

Welcome to The Anthropocene Blueprint

The new forum is The Anthropocene Blueprint.

It’s a simple, free, forum as the initial test bed.

As the name suggests, it is a place for those who recognise that our influence is lasting. We shape the world. We shape the atmosphere, the lithosphere and the hydrosphere.

Climate will continue to change. Population will continue to grow. Our economy, our technology, indeed our modern world necessarily plays a continuing fundamental role in our modern world. The only point in question is whether all of this will come at a massive cost to those yet unborn or if we can enrich the world through all our modern processes.

Let’s draw up the Blueprint.

The Anthropocene Blueprint thus is all inclusive. Any problem noticed by a member of the community or solution already applied in a personal situation is part of the process. It is the shape of the future we wish to design.

Through a forum, it avoids hierarchical influences and solutions are applied by the individual through their own means and desire (if it so exists). In this space, we can share and influence change than benefits us all and future generations through an entirely grassroots motivated approach.

More importantly, the forum must be the result of an engaged community of users. We need to be involved and we must also encourage others to as well. It is our blueprint and our statement to future generations that we recognised the need for change and worked towards it on their behalf.

I’ve created a new page above that you can use to directly find the forum should you need a quick and easy link to it for others.

The most important part of this project is that it cannot be left to a few of us. We must build a large and motivated community of users. We could, collectively, reduce the burden of living costs as well as our impact on our resources in a scale that would surprise observers.

We must live the example to set the example.

Re-pitching an idea; To do differently, we need to think differently

With the depressing by-election results in WA, we have reason for concern. The by-election handed over the balance of power to a government riddled with broken promises, doublespeak (eg. be careful if the PM wants to be your “best friend”) and agendas aimed at making life easier at the top at the expense of the rest and also the environment.

More concerning is how backwards this government is on a problem that the rest of the world is owning up to; namely, climate change. There are huge expenses that come with allowing climate change to continue unmitigated. Australia already has a harsh, fluctuating climate.

Maybe this government believes Australia will be sufficiently cashed up on coal money as a buffer. Maybe their perspective myopic; stuck on just the next three years.In any case, their attitude and policies regarding climate change is insufficient. We will suffer for it.

Many of us feel that these are not public servants, but private appeasers. They do not represent us, nor do they work for policies to ensure the Australia the average Australian would recognise.

They seem to have forgotten us.

A while ago, Mike Marriott and I built “Generation Adaptation”. While there was not yet enough inertia for the project, there are elements of GenA that could be of great value.

Primarily, the forum. It now seems clear that, at least for the next three years, we will need to fend for ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we need to do it in isolation.

We can build a community.

I want to crowd source ideas and potential solutions to help individuals and communities reduce their living costs, their carbon footprint and improve their lives simultaneously.

I believe it’s possible – or else I wouldn’t have wasted all these years harping on about climate change and sustainability. We need to think differently. In my own life, I’m already making numerous steps in that direction.

Yet, for it to work, I pitch the following to my readership; If I was to make a type of forum on NewAnthro, would you help me make it a valuable resource and discussion platform for all? It would require not only interaction, but SHARING and encouraging others to also get on-board.

One person is a monologue. Two, a dialogue. This would need a community actively engaged in bucking the tend. While I focus on Australia, this platform would be international.

Case studies! If someone provides an excellent case study, it should also be a post (written by a reader, or by myself if it’s easier). The most important this is to show that this is possible, not wishful dreaming. I would think of this forum as proof that how we live isn’t the best it can  be. We can achieve more only if we are willing to think differently.

If you like the idea, please “like” this post or comment. Also share this page to encourage others to do the same. If I can get a small community ready to begin the project, I’ll try to develop the infrastructure required.

‘Urban Australia; not built for the 21st century’

Here are two real world experiences from my own life.

Firstly, four years ago, a friend and I visited Melbourne for a short holiday. After a night out, we caught a cab back to our hotel on the fringe of the inner city.

I am notoriously bad with names, but entirely opposite with directions. One of my favourite warnings to others is, “I never get lost, but I can’t tell you where I am”.

With that in mind, I had to apologise to the driver for not being able to give him an address, but I could easily direct him.

Without a detour, we quickly made it the short distance back to our hotel. The driver was by far the worst driver I have ever come across, rude and unpleasant for the entire trip, with a few snide remarks when we reached the hotel. My friend can be a little hot-headed and the two of them nearly ended up in a physical incident.

I later learned that the driver’s attitude most likely reflected being caught into taking a small fare. They apparently have the reputation for rejecting fares under a certain amount and, by not giving him the address, he might have felt that it was a deliberate attempt to avoid this.

The second experience occurred with the same friend, however this time in his home province of Sichuan, China, this previous April.

We were there for his wedding and on one of the days he wanted his Aussie friends to experience a typical Chinese weekend recreation. This in basic detail is a lazy day in the countryside, playing Mahjong, perhaps doing a little fishing, all while drinking copious cups of tea and enjoying the delicious food of the region.

Again my friend found himself in a war of words with a cab driver. The driver was annoyed by how far we went out into the country, thinking that we would stop at one of the closer country tea houses. It ended with the driver demanding twice as much as he outlined at the start of the trip.

Yet, the drive out from the centre of Dujiangyan to the tea house was less than 15 minutes in total.

While on holiday there, at any hour of the day or night, if my family required something, it was a short walk from our hotel room to all sorts of goods and services. By comparison, in suburban Australia, for most people, without a vehicle, there is a significant separation from even essential goods and services.

More than this, the attitude of the taxi drivers in both cities speaks volumes of the contrast in urban design.

Australians largely are subjected to poor quality, inefficient urban design and yet, when you speak to them about this, the defensive response illustrates just how ingrained into the cultural identity this phenomena actually is.

We Australians have been sold the urban sprawling landscape for so long that anything else seems foreign. However, it’s not the image of suburbia that we really buy into, but rather the semi-rural feel; the escape from the “rat-race”… our little oasis, overlooking parks and golf courses by sunset.

Of course, when we all move there together, value of land increases, driving further development and soon we find ourselves again stuck in peak traffic, far from any open spaces.

How different would it be to live and work within a short commute from one another, with all goods and services within a walking distance? How about having the countryside a relatively short drive out of town, for the weekend getaway?

Throughout Asia and Europe, this is normal for most people, where urban design still reflects times without widespread fast vehicles, yet in the sun scorched Great Southern Land, we are fixated in converting sun-buffering green space into concrete and bitumen, where we waste a lot of our life in commute.

With the cost of petrol and electricity on the rise, this lifestyle already hurts Australians and will increasingly in the coming decades, ultimately devaluing the urban landscape and local economies. It is unsustainable and will, sooner or later, be rejected, either by choice or by necessity.

I have a feeling that, if provided an alternative, innovative urban designers could set the scene for a new urban landscape for future Australians that would be adopted by many and over time, most. This would not be like Asia or Europe, nor would be what most Australians are currently used to, but a combination of both to develop something new, distinctive and unique.

With a changing climate and increasing costs in traditional energy, to act sooner would be timely.

I have a few ideas myself on this and would love to see an increase in this dialogue in an urban landscape already stretched too thin.

A Robust Green Sector Supports Everything

Early last week, I had an article published in the Independent Australia journal. The feedback was a little surprising, I didn’t realise that others would take it as a lament. The article was only based on my personal reflections as a professional ideally suited for a green sector that has failed to eventuate in Australia.

If anything, the difficulties created by this has been valuable to my career. It has provided me avenues to develop a far more diverse skills set in a short amount of time and prove myself time and time again to be highly adaptive within roles with different policies and objectives and to be innovative.

There are no laments personally. I’ve made the most of my skills and managed to navigate a difficult career path to many personal benefits. The article instead expressed concern, based on my observations; concerns for budding professionals who may not be as resourceful (or at least, still trying to find their feet) and concern for a country that seems stuck with cultural preferences that are ever increasingly unsustainable.

This second point was the many focus of the article I had previously appear in the Australian science journal, Solutions; A Viking Legacy and Australian Cuisine.

We have a preference for primary food production that lingers on our largely European and Asian heritage that does not suit the low quality soils and harsher climates of Australia. All while other options are readily available and have proven themselves better suited to Australian agricultural landscapes.

The same must be said about our preference with urban design, which continually impacts and degrades landscapes while increasingly putting peoples lives and properties at risk from flooding and fire events.

For such reasons, the promised green sector should be front and centre in all we do. It’s not a debate about the reality or certainties of climate change, but simply doing what we do better. The green sector is, what I’ve found to be a taboo word in some corners; efficiency. It’s also resilience.

These two lead to increased prosperity. But no-one wants to talk about culture. This is why the failure of the green sector to take off in Australia has little to do with the political debate over climate change or the left-right / environmentalism discussions more broadly.

We lack the vision, the innovation and the confidence to tackle the necessary changes pro-actively.

Interestingly, a few days after I had this article published on IA, my manager approached me to say that with the current budget constraints, my contracted position needed to be downsized for the short-term, with the hopefully expectation that they may be able to offer me something full time in the coming months.

Being the sole earner, with a wife and young baby at home, this conversation was the death knell for this role. I simply couldn’t offer my family enough on a part time wage. Again, it would seem that I have to clean up my CV and hunt around. But, just as with this post and my article; sure, there are negatives and uncertainties ahead, but lingering on such misses the point and potential entirely.

The necessary conversations will not be had unless someone is willing to start, and persistently start, them. Each time I’ve had to move on, it had brought with it new faces, new challenges and exciting opportunities to improve and demonstrate my value. I haven’t had a single employer happy to see me go. Each would happily keep me if the certainty of the role hadn’t been exhausted.

In a small way, it’s a good sign that I’m doing my job well.

I’m certain I’ll do the next one well, as well, all the while seeking out avenues to press the point that Australia is a great place, but luck shouldn’t be expected and indeed runs out; we need to work at the core foundations of our way of life if we want to continue to consider ourselves the lucky ones. The foundations are of course embedded and supported by our landscapes. Having a robust green sector therefore supports everything.