Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Facts and lies in media reportage of the Greens

The Greens' four new senators feature in all three Sydney daily newspapers this morning, and as usual each paper has its slant.

The Daily Telegraph goes for fear "Green machine wants to change your world", The Australian has a fairly standard report with a lie at the end and the Sydney Morning Herald has a fairly standard report. This is as expected for each of those publications.

The Australian ends its report by claiming Lee Rhiannon "was a leading light of the Socialist Party of Australia". Really? What sort of leading light? Was she, for example, general secretary, president, editor of the newspaper, some other role?

I've been around the Sydney left for quite a while, and knew most of the "leading lights", or at least knew who they were, and I can't say I ever came across Lee Rhiannon in those circles, so perhaps The Australian should say just what sort of a leading light she was, and how long ago.

A lot of lies are being told about this matter. I saw Gerard Henderson on the Insiders one morning claiming Lee Rhiannon had been involved in the Communist Party "fairly recently". This was when the Communist Party had dissolved itself a good 20 years before. Henderson obviously had no idea what he was talking about, or was lying.

The Australian has form on telling a lie and then repeating that lie as fact after it has been contained in one of its reports, so we'll see how this "leading light" claim goes and whether it resurfaces as established fact on the basis of this so-called report.

A few weeks ago The Australian claimed Bob Brown had variously "carpeted" or "slapped down" Lee Rhiannon over the Israel boycott issue. In fact, Bob Brown has no right or power to carpet or slap down anyone in the Greens.

He is the leader of the federal parliamentary group, although there is disagreement in the Greens that such a position is needed.

The NSW Greens parliamentarians function quite well without such a position, although Cate Faehrmann appears to think that means the Greens are not political heavyweights. If ever there was a case in point, it's Faehrmann's lightweight "reflections", but fortunately some of the other NSW Greens MPs show better political judgment.

Closely examining reports of what Brown actually said, he had a telephone discussion with Lee Rhiannon, in which they no doubt disagreed. Brown supports Palestinian human rights, but not the international boycott campaign, while Rhiannon supports the boycott.

I've done some voluntary work for the Greens in a few election campaigns, and would be disappointed if there were no disagreements in the party. Disagreement and discussion is necessary and normal in politics, as John Faulkner has observed about the Labor Party in the past week or so.

In fact, I'd like to see more discussion and disagreement in the Greens as a contrast to the sterile farce the that the Labor Party has become.

See also:

Responding To Attacks On My Family And Political Background, Lee Rhiannon

The character assassination of Lee Rhiannon, Wendy Bacon

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A corporation's idea of a tree

"I think that I will never see a poem as lovely as a ... powerpole." The world according to Energy Australia.

The electricity supplier in our area, a working class suburb in the St George area of Sydney, has just been through in one of its periodic tree massacres in the name of preventing interruptions to power supplies during windy and stormy weather.

It's hard to argue with that, but it would be nice to think that this corporation had any idea of what a tree should look like, the differences between various trees, and how they should be pruned.

It doesn't, of course. Like all corporations its sole concern is to minimise costs and maximise profits. To that end it seems to issue a contract for tree pruning to the lowest bidder, issue some cursory guidelines as to how far the offending foliage should stay from the power (and cable television) lines and tell them, "gentlemen, start your chainsaws".

Exhibit 1. This is a date palm near my home. It's a type of tree that has adapted over thousands of years to high winds and only drops fronds when they are dead, and even then only after months of hanging beside the tree. In a decade of living near this tree I've never seen it drop anything in a high wind. A sensitive approach would be to come around about twice a year and remove any fronds that are dead or dying and likely to fall in the near future. Instead, our friendly energy corporation gets out the tape measure, deems this miscreant to be breaking the rules, and shears everything off one side. Great stuff, Enery Australia, thanks for your contribution to beautifying our neighbourhood!

Exhibit 2. This is one of a group of trees that provide shade to people walking (yes, people still do that) along the street on hot summer days. It has thick foliage, has been trimmed by Energy Australia many times and doesn't seem to suffer too much, but why oh why have the trimmers left that one lonely branch growing out to the right? Would the execs at Energy Australia trim a tree like that in their own garden? Very unlikely, so why do it to our neighbourhood? No doubt this is the corporation's idea of the perfect tree, observing a respectful distance from the power lines and outside that nothing matters. It obviously doesn't matter to Energy Australia.

Exhibits 3 and 4. A couple of calistemons that have been given the full treatment. (See one of these at the top of this post, a particularly lovely example of Engergy Australia's handiwork). Some trees seem to get reasonable treatment from the Energy Australia contractors, and perhaps skill varies between various operators of the chainsaw, but these trees have been done over brutally. Branches that are nowhere near the powerlines have been cut and almost nothing is left of their foliage. New growth is unlikely until spring, and it will be a struggle for these two trees to survive winter, which is just beginning.

We all use power and don't want interruptions to the power supply, but how about a bit of training for your tree loppers, Energy Australia? Cheap and nasty isn't nearly good enough.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Bad news for Mick Costa

The corporate raiders of the world have a very nasty case of indigestion after overindulging massively for a decade or so, and that's very bad news for Mick Costa, Minister Representing Merchant Banks, in the NSW Labor government.

Costa wants to sell the state's electricity network to corporate raiders, probably with Macquarie Bank in the mix in some way, but as a report in today's Sydney Morning Herald points out, the raiders have a bad attack of gas (for which we all have to suffer the consequences) and have lost their appetite.

The global credit crunch makes loans a lot more expensive, and it will probably be difficult to find a buyer for NSW electricity system, big-end-of-town adviser Standard and Poor's says.

This is extremely bad news for Mick Costa, who is reportedly planning to follow former Labor premier Bob Carr into a financial career. He may have left his run too late. Carr jumped while the bulls were in full cry, but whether Costa will be of much use to his banker mates in the new circumstances is questionable.

Costa is cracking hardy, saying: "Standard and Poor's provided yet more evidence that electricity was an increasingly risky business from which the government should exit".

Hang on a minute, isn't electricity an essential service? Costa seems to be saying it's okay to hand over this essential service to a company that's silly enough to invest in a risky industry. What happens when the company that makes such a bad business decision goes bust?

Costa also repeated the claim that the power generators would not be sold. As Bernie Riordan has already pointed out, leasing the facilities to private companies for 99 years or so amounts to selling them, because at the end of that time the leasors would own any improvements.

All in all, things are not looking good for Costa's jump to the big end of town. Better go now, Mick, if the offer's still on the table. It may not be for long. I hope that doesn't mean we get stuck with you.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Days of Hope

So much has been written and spoken already about yesterday’s formal apology by the Australian Parliament to the stolen generations it has been impossible to absorb and reflect on it all in the way I would like. This is a gift that will keep on giving, its meaning and repercussions long unfolding. We must hope, and ensure, these will be overwhelmingly positive.

That it was a tremendously emotional and important day, both happy and painful, for so many was plain to see from the expressions on faces, particularly those of the 100 indigenous representatives and members of the Stolen Generations invited as special guests to the opening of the new Parliament and to witness the long wished-for apology. And who will soon forget the sight of all those rapt, attentive and finally joyful faces of the people gathered in front of screens at countless sites around the country: in schools, public places from Redfern to Bourke, and at my workplace in Sydney, where I watched the speeches and ceremony in the company of dozens of Aboriginal colleagues.

That it was a political victory and I would say, in the circumstances, a very big political victory, is undeniable. And political victories are important. When the Bringing Them Home report included in its recommendations, an apology, who would have thought that it would have taken more than 10 years for such a simple act to occur? That it has now finally taken place is because there was clear support among a majority of Australians for an apology to take place and because it was patently evident that while it would cost the new Labor government almost nothing to make it, it was unthinkable not to do so when it would mean so much to Aboriginal Australians and be an indispensable part of their healing.

Of course, the much more difficult and complex work now begins. Kevin Rudd’s inclusion of the Leader of the Opposition in his new bipartisan approach to addressing the social and economic needs of Aboriginal people was a master stroke and will help undercut any party political backlash from the significant minority of Australians who think quite enough has been done to help Aborigines and who disagreed with the apology. Many Aboriginal people I spoke with today were very upset and angry at the response in Parliament by the Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson.

As johnQ on the ABC website blog said of his speech:

All Brendan Nelson had to say was that he endorsed Rudd's speech. Instead he long-windedly indulged in justification of harmful actions taken, a dismissal of
impacts, a dismissal of any responsibility, a dismissal of any opportunity to ever be compensated in any way, an attack on Aborigines and cheap political point-scoring on Howard's controversial interventions - effectively seeking to undo the apology. Could there have been a more disingenuous apology?

But I reminded each of these people whose anger I shared that in a day of meaningful symbols perhaps one of the the most beautiful and hopeful was the presentation of a gift to the Australian Parliament from an indigenous woman representing the Stolen Generations, a gift of a coolamon, the carrying vessels generally made by Aboriginal men from a hardwood such as mallee and traditionally used by the women to carry water, fruits, nuts, as well as to cradle babies.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Time's up for the bankers' friend

Breakfast has been a bit quiet at my place for the past week or so. The once deafening crowing of the neocons from the opinion pages of the papers has become the odd cluck here and there.

Minnie Devine, for instance, was reduced to writing about house renovations a day or so ago. Albrechtson and Henderson churned out some ho-hum stuff about the federal government's proposed apology to indigenous Australians. (Yes, we know it's symbolism that doesn't mean much without real policies to back it up, but on Australia Day some at least of the neocons seemed to think symbolism was quite important. Have they really lost interest in symbolism since then or is it just this particular piece of symbolism that sticks in their throats?)

Of the other neocons, Sheridan seems to be missing in inaction (perhaps on leave) and a politically sobered up Shanahan is off to greener pastures in New York, apparently.

Things brightened up this morning with NSW Labor Party president Bernie Riordan's call for Treasurer Mick Costa to resign now, rather than next year, when Costa's fat lifetime parliamentary pension falls due after eight years in Bullshit Castle (sometimes called the NSW Parliament).

Riordan, also secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, said Costa had told him he would retire from the gas house next year and offered him his parliamentary seat. That shows pretty much what the bankers' mate thinks about consulting the ranks of the Labor Party on such matters. Costa apparently thinks he owns the seat and it's his to dispose of.

Riordan was a touch annoyed that Costa had said the NSW Labor government would go ahead with the privatisation of the state electricity system regardless of Labor policy, which already opposes such a sale, and of a proposed Labor Party state conference specifically called to consider the matter. Costa went further and he didn't care if the Labor Party expelled him, the sale would go ahead.

You can see Riordan's point. Parties have policies. In the Labor Party those policies are developed by the ranks of the party, including affiliated unions. Politicians elected to represent the Labor Party are expected to carry out those policies. The process is a bit different in the Liberal Party, which doesn't have many members or affiliates, but which listens very carefully to business-funded think tanks, chambers of commerce, big banks, and the like. Costa appears to have become confused about which party he's in.

Riordan's point seems straightforward enough: parties have policies and elected politicians of those parties work to make those policies law, but a lot of politicians over the years seem to have had a lot of difficulty with it.

Once they've got their bums on the leather benches plenty of MPs seem to think they can do whatever they like. Just to name a couple of famous examples, Billy Hughes, a Labor prime minister, thought he could support conscription for World War I even though the Labor Party opposed it, so Labor expelled him. William Holman, Labor premier of NSW at the time, also supported conscription, was expelled and went over to form a right-wing government with the Nationalists. He survived one election but lost his seat in 1920. Hughes and Holman were known forever after in the labour movement as Labor rats.

Apparently Riordan has ruffled a few feathers at cowards' corner, as the Sydney Morning Herald reports a “senior government source” saying: “there was outrage within Government that the party president is acting that way”. How come it's an anonymous source? Riordan is prepared to speak up for his views, and in support of Labor policy, why is the government source not named? Ashamed would probably be hoping for too much, as moral fibre is not a highly valued quality on Macquarie Street. Keeping options open is more likely.

And just in case the point is lost, let's hear it again: Riordan is speaking up in support of Labor policy and some brave soul high up in the Labor government says the government is outraged.

Costa says he doesn't care if Labor expels him, the privatisation will go ahead. No doubt that's causing the odd bit of outrage among Labor Party members and others who helped to put Costa in parliament thinking he would represent them. If they had thought the big end of town needed more representation, they would have voted Liberal.

Off you go, Mick. You don't represent the labour movement and you shouldn't be in the Labor Party. Your merchant banker mates will look after you, so you don't need the pension. Go now!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Apology to the Stolen Generations: not a moment too soon

Around the traps a few voices are saying Kevin Rudd is being overly hasty in making an apology to the Stolen Generations the first order of business of the new parliament on February 13. He should have consulted more widely, seems to be the criticism, and he should have made the apology something more than just a feel-good statement backed by nothing much else in terms of future commitments to indigenous Australians.

My gut feeling is that an apology is so long and painfully overdue, by at least 10 years, since the foundation of the National Sorry Day Committee, or a year earlier, in 1997, when the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission handed down its shocking report, that it is entirely apt that the apology takes place at the earliest opportunity in the life of the new Parliament. It is an opportunity not to be missed.

I know many indigenous and non-indigenous people, understandably, are cynical and unmoved by the prospect of an apology by the Australian Parliament, or at least by the ALP and Greens MPs (frankly, I doubt that many Aboriginal people, who all agree an apology is at least overdue, will give a toss about what the Liberals do or don't do on the day).

But it would be wrong, too, to underestimate just how important the apology will be to Aboriginal people, when it finally comes, including to the many who strongly support it being accompanied by other measures such as compensation to the Stolen Generations, an end to, or at least review of, the Northern Territory intervention, and the establishment nationally of means of genuine engagement with Aboriginal communities and more serious and properly funded efforts to meet the most pressing economic and social needs of indigenous Australians.

Canberra is definitely going to be the place to be on February 12, the first day of Parliament, when Matilda House the much-loved and indomitable Ngambri-Ngunnawal elder leads the Welcome to Country ceremony in the forecourt of Parliament House.

Please Rudd, make it a really good speech, at least. Think Keating's 1992 Redfern Park speech. It's going to be a very emotional day — a time of mixed and deep emotions — for so many of us.

I wish I could be in the forecourt on the Tuesday and in the public gallery to bear witness to the apology on the following day and be surrounded by all the people, dead and alive, who've ached to see such a day, who lost hope, or who didn't, or who never even dreamt that such an act was remotely possible.

It was possible and it will happen.

Only 13 more sleeps.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Politics at the end of the bayonet: Suharto and the media

You have to search for accurate commentary about the life and times of Suharto, the late former dictator of Indonesia, and the Australian daily media are not the place to look.

Suharto was responsible for about 1 million deaths in the coup d'etat that brought him to power in 1965, probably 200,000 deaths in East Timor, probably 100,000 deaths in West Papua, and tens of thousands more in Aceh.

You won't find any but the most coy reference to all that in Greg Sheridan's paean in The Australian, Farewell to Indonesia's man of steel. One has to note the irony of that title, given Sheridan's writing over many years against the original "man of steel", Stalin.

Joseph Djugashvili first used the pseudonym Stalin (based on the Russian word for steel and meant to imply that he was a man of steel, or hard bastard) about 1912. More recently the term has been used by US President George W. Bush about Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and now by Sheridan about Suharto. Bush, of course, can't be expected to have any historical knowledge, but Sheridan should.

In the case of Suharto, the term is historically appropriate, in that Suharto was a murderous dictator, although Sheridan probably wouldn't agree. Ratna Sari Dewi Sukarno, widow of former Indonesian President Sukarno, goes further, calling Suharto “Indonesia's Pol Pot”, which also is accurate if the main measure is murderous unconcern for other human beings, leaving aside ideological commitments. John Roosa, in a careful and well researched piece of writing in Inside Indonesia, recounts Suharto's soldierly statement in 1948: “My politics are at the end of the bayonet”.

Sheridan eventually can't avoid dealing with Suharto's stature as one of the great mass murderers of the 20th century, but he brushes over that point quickly after extensively praising the dictator's economic achievements. The equivalent in the 1930s might have been those who praised Mussolini for making Italy's trains run on time. For an accurate assessment of Suharto's crimes, it's necessary to look elsewhere. John Passant's Suharto: war criminal and John Pilger's Suharto, the model killer, provide essential background.

John Roosa demolishes the claims for Suharto's economic success:
The economic growth of the Suharto years was largely accomplished by wildly selling off the country’s natural resources. It was a predatory, unsustainable type of growth. The leading sectors were oil and timber. Both were terribly mismanaged because of the corruption. Today Indonesia is an net oil importer and its forests are rapidly disappearing, cut down by loggers or burned up by palm oil plantation owners.

The truth is out there on Suharto the mass murderer, but don't expect it to land on your front porch with the morning paper.

Other links: Ghosts of a genocide