Abbott’s Davos Disaster

By Alan Austin                                                                                                      [h/t IA]

AUSTRALIANS WATCHED TONY ABBOTT fly off to Switzerland this week to deliver an important speech to world leaders with muted anticipation. Commentary in advance ranged between frank pessimism and outright dismay.

It is clear now the PM failed to live up to those expectations.

Fortunately, the damage done to Australia’s reputation was limited by most media declining even to mention the Abbott embarrassment.

The New York Times has extensive coverage of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, with a dedicated web page and many feature articles exploring the key themes and major players. None mentions Abbott — who, by virtue of the high regard for his predecessor, finds himself the accidental president of the G20 for 2014.

Le TélégrammeL’Humanité  and Le Parisien in France published stories from the WEF but completely ignored Abbott. L’Agence France-Presse filed multiple reports profiling the contributors, but excluding Abbott.

Le Figaro focussed on the speech by International Monetary Fund director Christine Lagarde who addressed constructively the new dangers – nouveaux risques – threatening global recovery. These are, she said, deflation in Europe, tapering of US monetary policy and distortions in global financial markets.

With an embarrassed cough, Le Figaro noted Abbott’s address as a footnote, quoting him as calling for more free trade, an idea that was a long way from the agenda – très loin de la thématique – of earlier gatherings.

Les Echos did mention the keynote speech, reporting that the thrust of Australia’s G20 presidency will be free trade. It noted it was odd Abbott didn’t mention the World Trade Organisation.

The Guardian in Britain headlined its piece “Does Tony Abbott always make the same speech?” andreported that it “struck a familiar tone and was criticised for being inappropriately partisan.”

Indeed, Abbott’s reputation as a buffoon appears to have preceded him to Davos.

The Financial Times UK’s economics editor, Chris Giles, tweeted:

‘Sign of the times. [Iran’s President Hassan]Rouhani packed out the hall. Everyone is leaving before Tony Abbott explains Australia’s ambitions for the G20 in 2014.’

Abbott’s speech confirmed the nagging suspicions many have had since he assumed the prime ministership, following one of the most manipulated media campaigns in any democracy in living memory.

It repeated all the trite slogans that worked in Western Sydney:

“You can’t spend what you haven’t got.”

“Markets are the proven answer to the problem of scarcity.”

“No country has ever taxed or subsidised its way to prosperity.”

“People trade with each other because it’s in their interest to do so.”

“Progress usually comes one step at a time.”

Unfortunately, I am not making this up.

Riddled with indicators of ignorance, the speech confirmed Abbott knows little about contemporary economics.

He quoted, for example, statistical measures from China:

“China’s growth is moderating, but likely to remain over seven per cent.”

He seems quite unaware that economists no longer trust statistics from China.

All economies today use strategic borrowings, at different levels, from different sources and for different purposes. Managing borrowings is a major challenge. Abbott’s glib admonition “You don’t address debt and deficit with yet more debt and deficit” displayed a dismissive attitude to this complex reality.

There was no sense of understanding the challenges the WEF faces in 2014, let alone having insights into ways forward.

What little strategy Abbott advocated seemed contradictory. He asserted that the global financial crisis (GFC) “was not a crisis of markets but one of governance.”

And then boasted of Australia,

“To boost private sector growth and employment, the new government is cutting red tape …”

Okay. That makes sense.

The prize blunders arrived, however, when Abbott directly attacked the stimulus packages of the Rudd/Gillard administrations:

“In the decade prior to the Crisis, consistent surpluses and a preference for business helped my country, Australia, to become one of the world’s best-performing economies.”

Partly correct.

In 1996, Australia was the 6th-ranked economy in the world. But by 2007, after 11 years of a Coalition government, it had slipped back to 10th place. Still, that is one of the best.

Abbott continued:

All economies today use strategic borrowings, at different levels, from different sources and for different purposes. Managing borrowings is a major challenge. Abbott’s glib admonition “You don’t address debt and deficit with yet more debt and deficit” displayed a dismissive attitude to this complex reality.

There was no sense of understanding the challenges the WEF faces in 2014, let alone having insights into ways forward.

What little strategy Abbott advocated seemed contradictory. He asserted that the global financial crisis (GFC) “was not a crisis of markets but one of governance.”

And then boasted of Australia,

“To boost private sector growth and employment, the new government is cutting red tape …”

Okay. That makes sense.

The prize blunders arrived, however, when Abbott directly attacked the stimulus packages of the Rudd/Gillard administrations:

“In the decade prior to the Crisis, consistent surpluses and a preference for business helped my country, Australia, to become one of the world’s best-performing economies.”

Partly correct.

In 1996, Australia was the 6th-ranked economy in the world. But by 2007, after 11 years of a Coalition government, it had slipped back to 10th place. Still, that is one of the best.

Abbott continued:

“Then, a subsequent government decided that the Crisis had changed the rules and that we should spend our way to prosperity. The reason for spending soon passed but the spending didn’t stop because, when it comes to spending, governments can be like addicts in search of a fix. But after the recent election, Australia is under new management and open for business.”

Two stupidities.

First, it was precisely that extensive rapid spendingthrough the GFC which saw Australia rise from 10th-ranked economy in 2007 to the world’s top ranking by 2012, a reality all those present with an awareness of the G20 economies would have known.

Secondly, attacks on domestic opponents are never acceptable abroad.

In New York last October, Abbott was roundly condemned for a political attack on Kevin Rudd.

American Academic Clinton Fernandes said he created an image of

“… coarseness, amateurishness and viciousness.”

Political scientist Norman Ornstein surmised:

“Perhaps you can chalk it up to a rookie mistake. But it is a pretty big one.”

Clearly, Abbott has learned nothing from that humiliation three months ago.

Abbott then continued to spruik domestic politics — the commission of audit, paid parental leave, cutting the numbers of pensioners, and infrastructure, especially roads:

“… because time spent in traffic jams is time lost from work and family.”

He concluded with a final hypocrisy — following his attack on Labor for spending so much on infrastructure during the GFC.

He gobsmacked anyone still listening with this:

“Then, there’s the worldwide ‘infrastructure deficit’, with the OECD estimating that over 50 trillion dollars in infrastructure investment is needed by 2030.”

Several questions arise.

Why such an appalling performance? Where are his advisers? Does he think he needs no advice? Or is the whole Coalition this amateurish and oafish — or worse?

And why, as ABC News highlighted, is he still battling Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard?

Does this reflect self-doubt about his capacity in the role? They had a vision for the nation; he does not. They had plans to improve the prospects for pensioners, students and people with disabilities; he does not. They nurtured the economy; he cannot. They had character, integrity and authority; he simply does not.

Perhaps it confirms that Abbott knows deep down that the 2013 ‘win’ was illegitimate — that it was secured only by deception and dishonesty.

Perhaps it is time for his party to consider the matter of leader.

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Hobbling Australian Universities

He was a small man. At 5’8″ I’m no giant myself, but even I looked down on this lanky character. Yet, a decade on, I still remember that smug leer he would wear in response to my stress. He was the manager of another department, a life long friend of the store manager and my tormentor as a retail trainee.

If I knew then the career trajectory I would later take, his bullying would have had less of an impact.

As a trainee, I reported to the head office with frequent reviews of my traineeship. My experience was far from unique, talking with other trainees from other stores when we had our theory lessons.

Anonymously, I decided to report this back where it would be on record and could be audited.

However, as inappropriate as it was, eventually, by my handwriting, I was discovered. In the proceeding conversation, I was informed that my report would be seen by the independent auditors (which was my intention) and that I was risking the possibility of others enjoying this excellent opportunity I currently had.

And so, in that small oppressive room in the basement of my store (the door closed, of course), with two people from the head office looking at sternly at my from across the table, I took it back…

To go on and enjoy that smug leer.

Is it really possible to discuss uncomfortable criticisms about a boss in front of them? Arguably answering this question has been one of the hallmarks to the success of any religion; with the pretext of some invisible Big Brother overhead, capable of unthinkable punishment, why challenge the orthodoxy?

Gagging the free agent

The new government closed the Climate Commission. Of all the discussions relating to that, what interests me most is in response to the governments claim that Australian universities and the CSIRO are enough to provide the scientific evidence regarding climate change.

The response to this questions their ability to do so with the various political pressures placed on such institutes.

I don’t doubt the reality of this concern. Funding being a major concern, for one thing. Budget cuts seem forever on the horizon… Why would an institute want to be very vocal on a topic that the current boss seems at odds with? Especially when this boss is willing to close down vocal scientific organisations?

Politically correcting reality?

This is a real concern. Can we really have much confidence in the potency of Australian universities if their contribution to scientific endeavour and communication are, at least in part, stunted by political favour?

Micheal Mann once noted that a glacier was neither a Democrat or Republican, it just melts. Science is about precision and accuracy of our interpretation of the universe, regardless of its emotional or political ramifications.

How can a scientific institute possibly hope to function if it needs to place emotional or political pressures before precision and accuracy? It may as well offer Bachelors of Science in “Everything is okay” and “Don’t worry, you’re immortal”.

The school of good feelings and bad jokes

As it stands, it seems that Australia finds many of its so-called prime research institutes at the table, expected to respond to an emotional position before power brokers. For many reasons, I can’t help but feel they are stepping away, even if only a little, from uncomfortable conclusions opposing the position of these power brokers.

The smug leer is, as it was for me in retrospect, the least of anyone’s concern. We threaten to lose all respect in ourselves and our research if we allow political or emotional pressures to undermine the process. Research cannot be expected to place politics or emotions before rigour and still command respect.


About Moth
Situated in Victoria, Australia, I have a background in ecology, atmospheric / meteorological monitoring and analysis as well as web / graphic design. On New Anthropocene, my main interest is scientific accuracy and arguing for sound policies so that we can hope to obtain the best quality lives for our species. My work is entirely my own and does not reflect that of my employer nor does it endorse a particular political party. Please read my full statement for further information.

How Not to ‘Save the World’

Some months ago, a senior academic and I talked as we drove the many hours to the project site. He was informing me on his views regarding invasive species, some of which I thought were questionable.

To clarify, I bluntly asked, “What do you think we should do with weeds?”

He replied, with all the authority that he could muster, “Get rid of them.”

I didn’t pursue the conversation any further at that point. I knew from experience that the tone was one baiting me into a debate. I’m usually all for a debate, where I see value. In this case however, the individual is one who likes the fight more than a resolution and I’m not really one for that.

It’s a nice idea to remove weeds and certainly not impossible… as long as you throw enough money at the problem. This is where the environmental debate fails all the time.

It could be in discussions regarding invasive species management, limiting the impact of pollution or even climate change. Whatever the subject, for the most part, we can eventually achieve the currently unthinkable if only we wish to drain enough resources into it.

Those who fall prey to sci-fi resolution to problems, starting the discussion not unlike an Arthur C. Clark story, imagining the problem is soon to be resolve and the discussion should be about what this means for us, just like the environmental romantic, are victims to the results, without object rational on how to reach them.

An excellent example in Australia is the olive. How much money should we spend on managing olives in natural landscapes when the recruitment of these comes from dedicated plantation? I once refused to buy Australian olives for this reason, but is such a protest of any value?

Am I giving up?

This isn’t to be confused with environmental defeatism that Bjørn Lomborg tries to pass off as realism.

Let’s put it this way; it’s not impossible to rebuild your house to correct all the problems, but can you really afford to do so, or does it make more sense to allocate some of your money to repair what you have?

The olive is an assimilated immigrant to Australia. It has its place now in the local culture and environment (is that cringing I hear?).

To this realisation we have two general options that have their relative expenses; we could “get rid of it”, which would close down the industry and outlaw all trees in backyards and public parks as well; or, we give it a citizenship, acknowledging it as a productive food source well suited to Australia in a warming climate.

The former would require a major PR campaign and many years of eradication and monitoring. The latter would likely see us not managing it as a weed, but rather as new competition to endemic species with the aim of promoting biodiversity which would include this new “local”. This would require effort and research.

Paved in good intentions

Environmental discourse has been plagued with romanticism or an unrealistic impression of “indestructibility” ever since the notion that it was a topic worth discussing became established.

The worst part is not that those who discuss environmental management most passionately are the most likely to fall into such a trap while those least likely will typically reject concern altogether, but rather that there is this line drawn in the sand between both extremes.

Either your hopelessly infatuated with a resilient (or fragile) Earth or concede that such musings are little more than a “liberal conspiracy”.

Where is the possibility to even start to discuss the place of the “Australian olive” for instance, in such an absurd and naïve situation?

To Get rid of it?

Over the last century, the Australian government and landholders has spent countless hours and dollars in management of the rabbit. This has included a 1700km rabbit-proof fence (build between 1901-07), two different viruses, warren destruction, chemical control and even explosives (read more here). Even while the most recent virus was having its greatest impact (1998-2003) the management cost for feral rabbits was estimated to be around $1 million (more here).

Yet, I see bunnies throughout Melbourne and right up to central NSW on a daily basis.

Yes, something must be done and our efforts have had an impact, but how much really? We can’t rebuild the house, but equally, electrical tape over the tap isn’t going to stop the leak.

Out with the old

The olive and the rabbit are not good comparisons. Olives will forever spread while they are being farmed where ol’ bugs just has a thing for breeding prolifically.

The point is that the current attitudes and strategies do not reflect the realistic capacities of management options and beneficial outcomes. I’m tired of the blanket eradication message where the reality continually fails to meet the target. I’m just as tired of the dismissal scoffs of the other side of the discussion.

We need approach species management with fresh eyes and very likely, different goals. The promotion of biodiversity would be an excellent target. The promotion of productive ecosystems which thrive while providing services to urban landscapes would be another one.

In short, there is nothing ignoble in rethinking our relationship with other life and in designing ecosystems with which our landscapes actively interact. To be absolutely frank, there is no other multi-cellular organism as invasive as ourselves, but at least we have the capacity to promote ecosystems, rather than out compete all else until we are the last one standing should we choose to.

We need a new dialogue willing to step back, compromise or actively engage where it is needed, without unrealistic ideation or denial. This will start with an internal look on ourselves and our place within ecosystems.


About Moth
Situated in Victoria, Australia, I have a background in ecology, atmospheric / meteorological monitoring and analysis as well as web / graphic design. On New Anthropocene, my main interest is scientific accuracy and arguing for sound policies so that we can hope to obtain the best quality lives for our species. My work is entirely my own and does not reflect that of my employer nor does it endorse a particular political party. Please read my full statement for further information.

Why Australia is doomed: a case study of voting against self-interest

I’ve signed a couple petitions on Change.org and now get the odd email pointing to new petitions that may be of interest.

One that stood out asked for signatures to support the National Broad Band Network as was outlined by the ALP. It was created by Nike Paine, titled, “The Liberal Party of Australia: Reconsider your plan for a ‘FTTN’ NBN in favour of a superior ‘FTTH’ NBN”.

I signed it straight away. How could I not? The Coalition’s FTTN NBN is a joke, offsetting costs to another time to be fixed by a future government.

Yesterday, I received a follow up email regarding this petition, which has done pretty good, gaining 190,000 signees. A figure that the incoming minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has shrugged off. In the email, Turnbull is quoted as saying “wasn’t there an election recently…”

What struck me in this email was that Nick went on to write;


“I voted Liberal this time around, because I felt they would do a better job than Labor overall. I really want them to engage with people on this issue. It’s going to be a tough fight, but one we can win if all of us ensure the new government hear us.”


Ahhh… okay.

The Coalition’s FTTN NBN was far from a minor party platform. The Coalition have been ramping up their criticism of the ALP’s approach for the better part of a year and made their alternative plan one of the few genuine differences by which the voter could identify them… That’s how we got stuck with ‘Mr Internet’ and his dismissal of this petition.

It’s like me voting for Mr Abbott with the expectation that I might be able to sway him to Labour’s stance on, for interest stake, marriage equality or genuine climate change mitigation. I disagree with the Coalition on these two points, their NBN and a military response to refugees, hence why I chose not to vote for them.

It was nothing to do with a generic aligning to a particular party, I am very much a swinging voter (none are particularly likable), but entirely because these were the options. If the Coalition’s NBN plan was bad enough to motivate Nick to create such a petition, then it should have been important enough to vote against on election day.

On hearing that, my interest in this petition waned. Mr Internet has this one pegged.

Nick, you voted for the entire package, not parts of it. Surely you have childhood memories of a caregiver reminding you to eat your vegies as well. The same applies here.

Rudd: Is it clever to call back an angry mob?

Rudd quickly made the call out to Australians, most notably, young Australians, urging them to again be politically engaged.

From my discussions with others in recent weeks, I must conclude that this will largely fall on deaf ears. People that generally share similar views to myself are, put basically, over it. Without doubt the media circus of the past year has stirred up the pot to boiling point and, just like any mob, reason is left somewhere overshadowed by the desire for blood.

Not only are many people resigned to an Abbott government post-2013 federal election, but increasingly, I’m finding people defending it. Why? From the best I can understand, simply because it’s all they feel they have.

Apparently, the ALP, in the public eye, has done nothing but carry on in a like fashion to Neighbours since 2007 and the public seem only too happy to parrot off Abbott’s point about Gillard bringing in a carbon price after saying she wouldn’t (what’s the bet Mr Abbott will now go on and on about Rudd saying that he wouldn’t run against Gillard, only to be repeated by such faithful parrots). Equally, people seem to forget the 2010 election when repeating Tony again in complaining that Australian’s have been denied the chance to vote for their PM twice (obviously incorrect – we voted in 2010 and will so in the coming months).

I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

The truth of the matter has been that in recent years, the current political arena has been largely successful. Even with a wilfully ignorant, if not intentionally hostile media base, more concerned about personalities than policies and in a hung parliament, Gillard’s era saw in 485 new bills, which included the controversial carbon pricing. In such a hostile environment, Gillard did more than most people could.

The type of criticism I’m hearing reminds of that cliché image of the overweight spectator screaming advice at athletes out on the field, spitting out chewed fragments of hotdog along the way.

The inconvenient truth here is that such commentators hold an unreasonable and uncritical distaste for the ALP in general which has done little but inspired a loathsome character to be seen as the lesser evil – about the best he could hope for.

Which brings me back to the point of this piece; the mob is out for blood – ALP blood. I’ve found that people shy away from critically reviewing Abbott’s position or rapidly foam at the mouth when forced to face it.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, with so many abandoning the ALP, they choose to stubbornly support the Coalition… No matter what. To face up to the truth – that Abbott is no Messiah – leaves them in a political void. Where does one turn if they have rejected the apparent wreckage of the ALP and the decidedly unAustralian policies of an Abbott led Coalition?

A sense of unity may help Rudd in his appeal… but then again, it may not. The townsfolk have their torches lit and are sharpening their pitchforks for whatever date this election ends up being held. The print nailed to every door whispers a more tantalising story to reality and could lead us to being the first country in the world to genuinely try to run the economic model of the liberatrians, failing on each step to improve the lives of the majority in favour of the wealthy minority. Only then may the public realised that they were duped by self-serving interests and be forced to own up to the type of parliament that their blind rage voted in.

The Ord River: the unlucky horse shoe in the Coalition’s northern development

Firstly, I have to thank my readers. My previous post, The Great Northern Development: the Coalition’s dead horse, did extremely well. I’ve never had a post that has caught such traction, so thank you to everyone who has shared it via report, twitter, facebook, email, whatever. It’s rewarding to know that my efforts are not in vain.

Yet one criticism has crept up over and over again; I’m ignoring the Ord River Irrigation Area. The commentators think I’m dead wrong, based entirely on this point and so, I figured it was worth writing a detailed reply post.

While I admit that my local knowledge of northern Australia between Cairns and Broome is limited (not a small area, by any means), I know enough about remote sensing, climate and ecology to feel my analysis remains correct.

Productivity

Ecology demonstrates that where there is a resource, species move in to exploit it. Even warm springs full of chemicals that are toxic to most life can be abundant with activity – just look at Yellowstone Park.

The advocates of the northern development talk of the north as being “underdeveloped” and this River Irrigation Area being shockingly impressive for soil quality.

But microbe and plants never organised committees or governments to decide where they will set up home, they do so and to population sizes that the environment allows.

Looking at gross or net primary productivity gives us an idea of how productive an environment is, obviously. Apart from eastern Queensland and the top of the Northern Territory, much of this northern development region has a productivity akin to that of the dry land irrigation regions in southern Australia. Of course, it also lacks the accommodating mild climate of the south as well.

Using the MODIS GPP image, we have the existing Australian food baskets in the south – largely Victoria, Eastern NSW and the southern tip of WA – with a value greater than 0.03; a value this wonderful northern region simply does not reach anywhere.

Gross Primary Productivity - MODIS, LPDAAC MOD17A2 mosaic, Australia coverage
Gross Primary Productivity – MODIS, LPDAAC MOD17A2 mosaic, Australia coverage

If there is wide spread untapped fertile lands just begging for agriculture, how has it managed to hide itself from the most basic microbes, communities of trees (this region is typified by savannah, wetlands and arid landscapes) and most disturbingly, our best monitoring equipment?

I know the tropics can be farmed, but the land in southeast Asia is not as old and depleted as Australian soil. You cannot build complex carbon lifeforms without nutrient rich environments. Australian tropical rainforests are our best teachers to this reality; they are hives of life, yet their soils are depleted, which Australian farmers learned when they cleared them for farming.

In such places, there is a wealth of nutrients, but life lives on the fringe – keeping all the resources in the cycle and leaving none in the ground (ie. rip and burn removes the nutrient base).

So, as was stated in the original article, without vast investments in fertilisers or clearing of the few fertile ecosystems currently there, we do not have an untapped Australian food bowl in the north, as far as productivity is concerned.

Water… again

Again, water is a massive problem. One critic told me about pumping water – but that is a commitment. If one is planning to move hundreds of thousands of people to the north, that is a massive, ongoing, commitment to keep the community hydrated. It is terribly hot, regardless if it is dry or monsoonal, having ample water will be essential.

How is pumping gigatonnes of water to irrigate a low productive environment and to hydrate a heat stressed large community any different to the criticisms regarding desalination plants? In fact, I think it is worse because a political party is willfully wishing to invest in placing such people in such an otherwise avoidable position.

The Ord River Irrigation

This is the root of the dream for the northern Australian food bowl. The Ord River Irrigation area proves the norther is fertile and begging for development.

No, it is one region we have been flooding for more than 50 years, so that the feeding water supply and wetland birds can fertilise. It is also not an ecological risk if extended.

Yet it covers 117km2 of agricultural area – apparently to be extended to 440km2.

Yet a quick GIS polygon of the northern development region norther of Cairns to Broome is a region around 1025700km2. So the Ord River Irrigation area currently amounts for less than 0.0001% of the total region, to be extended to 0.0004%.

Sure, I’m ignoring currently developed regions and places you would not develop for ecological reasons, but are we really willing to bet on “greener pastures” on a sample less than a hundredth of 1% of the entire study region?

Conclusion

My argument was this; it is wishful thinking to bet on the northern development. The Coalition is no stranger to wishful thinking if basic mathematics mean anything, as I demonstrated in my review of the sequestration requirements of the Direct Action Plan or my analysis of their enthusiasm for 100 new dams – a move that would provide as much greenhouse emissions as a city the size of Warrnambool.

The advocates for the northern development, from my opinion, seem to be people who either have no personal interest to endure the harsh tropical climate or are the few locals there that seem to enjoy the prospect of investment potential and a few extra mates at the pub.

The climate is harsh. The soils are old and depleted for the most part. Once the mining investment is done, pumping water, maintaining dams, transporting resources to the middle of nowhere (which will also make them more expensive locally); all these and more will become more and more of a financial burden to be taken up by the locals. It will erode the financial security of the local community and leech the settlements until most move back down south (again the productivity is evident – not just in MODIS data, but in the carrying capacity and economy of a region).

In short, the dead horse is still a stinking rotting mass of bad ideas and wishful thinking. A good punter would be quick to be turned off. However, I do not like instincts. I prefer to test things. I have listened for a heart beat and found none. I have tested for temperature and found it unsuitable for life. I have looked into the eyes of the beast in search for the racers spirit and found nothing but the pale, unfocused glare of an idea that should have been buried a long time ago.

The Ord River Irrigation development is the unlucky horse shoe on the foot of the dead beast. This is not a subject I wish to debunk for the rest of my life, regardless of how many whipping boys are lining up in the vain hope of the norther development.

Part one here.

Abbott’s free ride comes to an end

A brilliant read over at The Drum;

By Mungo Maccallum.

“The mere fact that Tony Abbott isn’t Julia Gillard has propelled him thus far, but as the prospect of him becoming prime minister increases, so too does the scrutiny, writes Mungo MacCallum.

Tony Abbott’s free ride is finally coming to an end, paradoxically because of his apparently assured success.

The fact that the polls now seem to be locked into an easy Coalition win on September 14 has meant that the prospect of Anthony John Abbott, Prime Minister, has finally to be confronted as emerging reality rather than a possible future scenario, so the punters are reluctantly turning away from the easy pickings of the carcase of the Labor Party to take a few cautious sniffs at the fresh meat of an incoming government. And, by and large, they are not too keen on the smell.

Of course, many of them never have been; what the polls also show is that while loathing of the present government has become something of an obsession with a large chunk of the electorate, there is little discernible enthusiasm for the alternative; Abbott is seen not as the long-awaited Messiah but simply as the lesser evil. But so far there has been a willingness to ignore just what he will actually do when he takes over The Lodge. The mere fact that he is not Julia Gillard has been considered enough…”

Continue reading here.
 

Face-Lift Politics: Why The Aussie Voter is Unimpressed

It’s truly disappointing that the term of Australia’s first female Prime Minister (well over due as it is) will be marred in history with enough drama to embarrass Neighbours. With the ALP failing to gain grounds in popularity, even with a fairly successful history, again the knee-jerk reaction is to seriously talk of yet another face-lift.

A quick look around at Hollywood ought to give these detached politicians the necessary slap to the face; plastic surgery isn’t the answer and the more you do, the uglier the results.

By all rights, the ALP should have an easy ride to an election win, with the alternative being an individual screaming of the 1950’s, with a colourful history for sexist comments, scientific ignorance (examples here) and flawed understanding of 21st century technology and yet, this black and white stereotype has even managed to convince the audience that he is a man for Australia’s future.

How on earth has he done it while the supposed more progressive party has managed to look more like the foaming mass from some primary school volcano experiment?

The answer is probably more obvious to the audience, somewhat removed from all the meetings and chest-beating. The ALP has totally lost its way.

To anyone whom has thought about it, it must seem strange that a senior minister stands by her party while they reject her equal rights for acknowledgement of her relationship.

While the party has brought in reforms that ought to be in the best interest for the country – such as forcing barons to part with a small part of the wealth obtained from common resources and implementing a mechanism suitable to bring us into the 21st with a decreasing carbon-based economy – each step forward comes with two backwards.

Major changes to societal structure requires strong, decisive leadership. What we have instead is a paranoid body quick to run for a “nip and tuck” at the faintest hint of a negative word.

The “party line” for either the ALP or LNP is effectively the same nowadays to the voting body. Our vote goes instead to the lesser evil rather than the greatest good.

Neither a Gillard or Rudd leadership is the answer. The answer is to provide a political ideology that people would be proud to support. What is it that they stand for and how is that something that would improve the lives of the average Aussie?

You could kiss the heads of every baby within this country and it wouldn’t help. The answer for the ALP, indeed both major parties, is to draw a deep line in the sand and make it clear what the individual is voting for, or against, with full knowledge that it isn’t simple rehearsed script to be taken with a pinch of salt, but instead a declaration from someone willing to roll their sleeves up and lead.

Until either party stands up, both can expect a fickle voting body.

Australian Media Reforms: How We’re Made into Fools

In Australia, there has been a lot of talk regarding media reform bills. For the most part, I have to conclude further still that the Australian government hasn’t a clue and this is little more than an election stunt.

Only a person with a mind like a tomb would seriously argue that free media is not fundamental to democracy. Fewer still would argue that we do have a problem when popular media increasingly speaks for a minority.

Thus is it easy to conclude that we have a problem in Australia. The reach of any of the major newspapers, for instance, is far greater than the media that attempts to correct such partisan propaganda. Watching the Deniers is a very successful blog, but does Mike come close to matching the range of Andrew Bolt? I doubt it. Likewise I have no doubt that Monckton’s lunch with the AFR was read by many more people than my critique of the article.

However, the way forward cannot be as proposed by these bills and we risk damaging the tatters of our failing democratic process even further.

The Inertia of Ideas

Dawkins “meme” seems revolutionary for the same reason the notion that free will is an illusion, as debated by Harris, sits so uneasy to most. In essence, it comes back to my previous point about the power of ideas.

We hold no ownership of ideas. An individual may provide new insight or invent something that changes how a society functions, but in truth, they only did so because of the background conditions that led to a certain resolution. This is why our ancestors scratched out rudimentary agriculture around ten thousand years ago and not the tablet computer.

Ideas develop, sometimes fuse and eventually evolve, using us as hosts all along. Ideas belong to no-one. For this reason, the transmitter is of little importance while the receiver is everything.

The only the difference (and I mean only) between Chris Monckton and, say, the walking sign, screaming hysterically that the end is near is the audience. The message is manic, obsessive and irrational in both cases, but the audience provide validity to the former over the latter.

What is the public interest?

These proposed media bills suggest that the public interest can be defined, but this is simply untrue. All information that could possibly exist is of public interest. Democratic culture is defined by the the freedom to be audience to certain ideas and not to others.

Infinite ideas exist and the potential for these to be defined by the community to develop their cultural expression, either through acceptance or rejection must remain an inherent right of choice to the society in question.

Regardless of where this governing body of public interest sits, by selecting what information is available for the public, they are in fact deciding for us what is in our interest. This concern is not challenged by the fact that we indeed have a problem of misinformation within many popular media in Australia.

To be sure, there are some horrible ideas that exist, but it is us who have decided it to be abhorrent which gives credit to our cultural ethics. This should be praised.

We are made infantile if this process is stripped from us.

Buttressing Democracy

The power of an idea is in the receiver; in the audience. For this reason, regulating the transmitter is a wasted act. Our politicians may stand around patting themselves on the back over their discussions regarding these bills, but don’t be fooled; it all sounds great in an election year (noting too the fast turn over expected for these bills).

Yes, ensuring that popular media cannot be monopolised is a good idea but apart from that, this media reform is not in the public interest. How on earth could they regulate information in any way that wouldn’t be classified censorship? Such an act is doomed to fail, as nice and virtuous as all the hype now sounds.

The more difficult but more appropriate course of action would be education. The human mind is inherently lousy or lazy with information. One will, without thinking twice, tend to accept information when it is provided by someone the individual deems an authority on the matter or if the information confirms ideas already held.

A seasoned journalist can thus get away with a lot when the audience has come to accept them as an authority on the subject. A clever propagandist can take an already held idea, or a bundle of similar ideas and fuse them into something a primed audience will accept, as Chris Monckton often demonstrates.

Therefore the only course is to teach critical analysis of ideas so that the general public are sceptical, even of the potential for internal biases within them. An idea, a projected reality; such things are not personal, as much as it is seemly evident the opposite. We are not defined by the ideas we play host to if we a taught not to be. We must be taught to let go of such and learn to be inquisitive. It is empowering to do so.

If the Australian government cared truly for the accuracy of information, they would empower the minds of the people to have the ability to critically assess the quality of ideas rather than treat us like infants whom need to be directed through approved information.

Tony Abbott Damming Up the Country

The only conclusion that I can draw is that Tony Abbott and a team of geniuses, work through the wee hours of the night to put together ridiculous plans so that people have something to deconstruct. I mean, no-one could intentionally be so misinformed and be in a position to ask Australians to vote for them as Prime Minister, could they?

Shallow pools of fresh water going to waste
Shallow pools of fresh water going to waste

Yes, water management on an arid continent such as Australia is important. I’ve always questioned the fury from NSW and Queensland farmers in response to the Murray Darling Basin Plan, when it is they who then cover their land with a few inches of water, a large shallow pool, begging to be evaporated, to grow cotton and rice in the dry interior.

However, are dams really the option?

We know that with increasing climate change there is a high chance for drying conditions (Liu et al., 2013). Unlike increasing sun activity, which affects the planet with heat loading disproportionately, an increasing greenhouse effect is likely to increase the heterogeneity of the atmosphere. Basically, it becomes more stable, reducing the potential for your typical rainfall (Liu et al., 2013). That isn’t to say anything about the intensity of storms – a warmer atmosphere can “hold” more water.

So, while we do have a problem already with the boom and bust cycle of Australia, changing between drought and flooding rain, we can expect an increasing amount of water instability the longer we do next to nothing to mitigate anthropogenic climate change.

Abbott is excited to let us know that his team are dabbling with the idea of adding as much as 100 new dams to help with this water insecurity, which will also increase food production and hydro-power production.

Here’s the problem.

Flooding land, covered with biomass (which will die as part of the inundation) provides a nice environment for anaerobic respiration. In short, dams are wonderfully good at producing the potent greenhouse gase, methane (Kemenes et al., 2007). As a side note, this is another issue I have; the sudden new “wetlands” developed as part of every new suburb also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions in much the same way.

So we have a situation where water insecurity is exacerbated by anthropogenic climate change and the Coalition’s plan to help this water insecurity is to increase water capture via methodology that will inevitably exacerbate anthropogenic climate change.

If Australia collectively votes for this party with the coming election, with such wacky logic on the table, surely, are we not eligible as a contender for the Darwin Award?

 References

Liu, J., Wang, B., Cane, M.A., Y, S., and, Lee, J. (2013) Divergent global precipitation changes induced by natural versus anthropogenic forcing. Nature. 493. DOI: 10.1038/nature11784

Kemenes, A., Forsberg, B.R., and, Melack, J.M. (2007) Methane release below a tropical hydroelectric dam. Geophysical Research Letters. DOI: 10.1029/2007GL02476