The Good Ship Canberra

You would think that in the week after you were ridiculed for giving Prince Phillip a Knighthood in the Order of Australia, you would take some time to pull your foot out of your mouth.  You and I might – but our esteemed Prime Minister decided to create more amusement across the country by claiming the only reason his government is doing so well is because he is a good captain.

Now Abbott is being completely selfless here.  He is deliberately changing the foot that is currently in his mouth to deflect the interest in some of his ministers that have recently promoted some pretty poor ideas – such as the $20 co-payment when going to the Doctor, the Federal Budget that has still not completely passed Parliament (the next budget is only four months away), the revised NBN rollout, and the restriction of funding to the institutions and non-profits that assist our community to function.  Even a re-shuffle of ministers (to keep the nautical theme, let's call them the Good Ship Canberra’s Officers) hasn’t stemmed the flow of bad news.  Despite his claim that his ‘officers' are high performing, he claims he is the person that steers the ship.  So lets look at a couple of other well known ‘ship captains’ to see if the comparison is justified.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has compared Abbott to Edward Smith, who was Captain of the Titanic when it sunk in the Atlantic in 1912.  Captain Smith RNR was a well respected naval commander who was given the command of the newest White Star Line ships as they were launched.  He was also a member of the British Royal Navy Reserve – achieving the rank of Commander.  This rank allowed him to fly the blue ensign on the ships he commanded rather than the more common red ensign.  Prior to his command of the Titanic, he commanded the Olympic which nearly sunk a tugboat in New York Harbour in 1911 and was on the bridge of the same ship when it took the bow off a British Navy vessel.  When the Titanic hit the iceberg during the night of 14 April 1912, Smith was seen to be directing and assisting the evacuation of women and children from the ship – prior to being seen returning to the bridge as the ship went down.  He is, in the best traditions of maritime heroes, assumed to have gone down with his ship.

Almost 100 years later to the day, lets look at the performance of Francesco Schettino.  He commanded the Costa Concordia which hit an underwater rock off Giglio, Italy on 13 January 2012.  Schettino worked for a ferry company in Italy prior to 2002 when he accepted a security officer’s position with the owners of the Costa Concordia.  When the ship was launched in 2006, Schettino was given command.  The rest, as they say, is history and is still being considered by the Italian legal system.  The prosecutor has requested a 26 year prison sentence, the justification in part being for ‘causing a shipwreck’, ‘abandoning the vessel’ and ‘failing to contact the authorities’.  Schettino claimed that errors were made by others and the reason he left the ship prior to a number of the passengers and crew was because when the ship started to list – he fell into a lifeboat.

So in the context of Smith and Schettino, lets look at Abbott.  In the Howard Government he attempted to change Medicare – and was forced to recant.  He then won the leadership ballot by one vote and embraced a policy of extreme negativity.  Three word slogans and rhetoric were the preferred option of attack, rather that reasoned argument and discussion.  Abbott wasn’t adverse to ‘showing off’ his latest hi-vis vest in a variety of workshops and factories across the land – claiming that actions of the then current government would destroy whichever firm he was visiting, along with the town, state and country.

Once in government, he set about generally introducing the most brutal and inhumane treatment of those that society should be helping; refugees, students, welfare recipients as well as the environment itself.  If the opinion polls are to be believed, a sufficiently large number of the voting population in Australia have considered the actions of 'Captain' Abbott and decided that next time around, they will change their vote.  If so, the current coalition government will sink, potentially without trace.

It could be argued that Captain Edward Smith was a hero, saving the lives of a considerable number of passengers and crew and disregarding his own life.  The same argument could hardly be made for Captain Francesco Schattino – who left his post and his ship before a number of passengers and crew; with the potential of facing prison time for his actions.  Assuming the LNP government will sink at the next election – as the indicators seem to suggest – will Abbott go down with his ship as Smith did, or will the LNP tip him off into a lifeboat as happened to Schattino, before the Good Ship Canberra runs aground?

What do you think?

2353 is a mid 50s male who lives in Brisbane. He is one of the many bank staff who were culled in the mid 1990’s who has gone on to build a career in a completely unrelated field (in this case building and construction). He has a Bachelor of Business degree, a school age family, a mortgage and a fluffy dog. More about 2353 here. 

Australia – the 51st State?

It was Australia Day last Monday. Australia Day has become more prominent in the past 20 years as more Australians show overt patriotism with such pearls of wisdom as the Lamb ads, Australia Day sales, cockroach races, the Triple J ‘Hottest 100’, and the waving or wearing of cheap (usually foreign made) Australian flags at every opportunity.

Sure, we do have a lot to celebrate because we are lucky enough to live in Australia. I’m one of the thousands that have responded positively to the g’day of the flight attendant when boarding an Australian plane at the mess that is politely called “LAX” or more formally - Los Angeles International Airport.

What is it that we are celebrating on Australia Day? Are we celebrating the day that a bunch of societies rejects and their jailers (who in a lot of cases weren’t much better than their charges) arrived by boat and started a settlement despite the wishes of the inhabitants? Are we celebrating that we can’t find more ways to market an image that is a combination of another country’s flag and some stars while reciting the words to “Waltzing Matilda”, “I love a Sunburnt Country” and “Advance Australia Fair” (well the first verse anyway) while driving around with a “If you don’t like it – leave” sticker on the car? Or should we be actually aiming to recognise our progress towards a fair and just society where everyone is welcome, has the opportunity to be the best they can be and we look after those that for some reason need our assistance? .

In a method similar to the ‘one hour a week Christians’ who regularly go to church, publically uphold the values of being Christian and for the rest of the week leave the morals and ethics of their chosen moral and ethical compass under the bed – do a lot of those who wrap themselves up in the flag of patriotism actually practice what they preach? .

Australian governments of all persuasions will tell you that they make laws that reflect the views of their constituents. While there may be some disagreement about how they see their constituents, in general the laws made by a Government reflect to a large degree the ‘middle ground’ view of our society.

Yet – we as a nation seem quite willing to give away our sovereignty and adopt another country’s ethics without question. Those travelling to the USA will be well aware of the ‘extra security’ arrangements for those boarding and travelling in a plane that stops in the USA. The requirements are directed from the USA, not Australian authorities and disregard for the conditions will result in the plane not being given permission to land in the USA.

Most countries in the Pacific Rim are currently negotiating a “Free Trade Agreement” that is supposed to equalise opportunity and trade around the Pacific. The USA is involved in the negotiations. It is being negotiated in secret. Some shreds of the negotiations have been exposed by consumer advocacy organisations such as Australian Consumer Association (Publishers of Choice magazine). One of their concerns is that the USA seems to be requesting and Australia seems to be accepting clauses that allow companies in the USA the right to take civil action against the Australian Government if something that is allowed in the US is not permitted in Australia, in effect overturning our laws by stealth and bypassing this society’s view of the world.

Those Australian firms who work with the American defence industry also have to seek permission (which is usually granted) from Australian Tribunals for discriminatory employment practices. This is to comply with the USA’s ITAR requirements.

While flag waving and overt displays of patriotism has its place, is this Americanisation by stealth the sum total of our achievements in the past 40,000 years? Instead, should we be celebrating our achievements and aspirations towards becoming a truly fair and equitable society?

So while PM Abbott names Prince Phillip and Angus Houston as Knights of the Order of Australia to further enhance his bunyip aristocracy; Rosie Batty, Jackie French, Drisana Levitzke-Gray and Juliette Wright have demonstrably contributed to making Australia a much better and fairer place to live. They are the ones that deserve our recognition and congratulations for helping to create a truly fair and equitable society.

While we’re reflecting on where we as a nation want to be, maybe next time Australia’s Prime Minister and the US President meet, rather than the fawning photograph that screams “look at me Mum, I’m with someone famous”; maybe they should have the conversation about national sovereignty. Perhaps we should also have the conversation about why do we celebrate our ‘Australianness’ on a day that commemorates the day a fleet of ships filled with genuinely illegal boat people invaded what is now Sydney in 1788; and why we need the flag of only one of the 200 or so countries that Australians have come from sitting in the corner of our flag.

What do you think?

Is climate change still crap Tony?

It is holiday time, where your overworked ministers take a 'well earned break' from the turmoil and anguish of trying to work out how to run a vast nation of 23 million with a federal budget near one and a half trillion, so it might be excusable Tony that so far there has been no response from you or your Environment Minister to the the latest alarming report on climate. We will be interested to see how long it takes you to respond, if indeed you bother at all.

Now we all know that what you really said at that fateful meeting in Beaufort was: "the science behind climate change was crap", and that since that unwise utterance, designed to curry favour with your audience, you have backtracked, as you so often do. But we wonder how you regard the latest science that confirms what rational people, who have regard for the facts, already know, namely that the planet is warming steadily and dangerously.

NASA has just released its annual report, which states categorically that: "The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880, according to two separate analyses by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists. The 10 warmest years in the instrumental record, with the exception of 1998, have now occurred since 2000. This trend continues a long-term warming of the planet, according to an analysis of surface temperature measurements by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) in New York. In an independent analysis of the raw data, also released Friday, NOAA scientists also found 2014 to be the warmest on record."

The report goes onto say: "Since 1880, Earth’s average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), a trend that is largely driven by the increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions into the planet’s atmosphere. The majority of that warming has occurred in the past three decades.

"This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades. While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt.

"While 2014 temperatures continue the planet’s long-term warming trend, scientists still expect to see year-to-year fluctuations in average global temperature caused by phenomena such as El Niño or La Niña. These phenomena warm or cool the tropical Pacific and are thought to have played a role in the flattening of the long-term warming trend over the past 15 years. However, 2014’s record warmth occurred during an El Niño-neutral year."

You don't have to believe me Tony - read the report for yourself, and do take the time to play the short video at the top of the page and the graphics in the right panel.  They might startle you; at least I hope they will.

Commenting on the report, our own Professor Will Steffen, Director of the ANU's Climate Change Institute said: "Effects of the steadily warming climate such as heatwaves, bushfires and extreme weather were happening more frequently and closer together. Historically in Australia, more people die from heatwaves than they do from any other type of natural disaster." He told ABC's AM: "It does have consequences and it isn't the meteorological record that scientists and geeks like to look at, it's actually affecting us on the ground, now."

"There is no doubt that to really get on top of this problem we have to have deeper targets, more ambitious targets for 2020."

Professor Steffen said the rise in sea level temperatures was the most significant aspect of the reports: "This is a real cause for concern because 93 per cent of the excess heat - because of the greenhouse gases we're popping into the atmosphere - actually ends up in the ocean. When you start to see the ocean warming up as much as it is, there's a lot more heat down there that's going to come back to bite us."  Hear him for yourself:

We know you've countered arguments supporting the reality of climate change by reminding us that it was hotter in Jesus' time and that in this country we've had bushfires and floods for centuries, although you have conceded that man might have contributed to global warming.  But we are still to be convinced that you or your Environment Minister are taking global warming seriously.  You killed off the carbon tax that was reducing carbon pollution, and you tried unsuccessfully to knock it off the G20 agenda on the spurious grounds that this forum was about the global economy, although we all know climate is global too and affects every economy.

If you can remember any of the chemistry you learned at school, you will recall that when carbon dioxide dissolves in water, as it now is in alarming amounts, it forms carbonic acid, which dissolves calcium, a major component of coral reefs. You may also recall that as water gets warmer it expands, and so the sea level rises.  Warming also melts ice, which falls into the sea and raises its level too, which will lead to inundation of low-lying seafronts, of which we have many in Australia.

For someone as intelligent as you must be to win a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, and to become PM of this nation, it is complete mystery to me why you seem unwilling to acknowledge what climate scientists have been telling us for ages. NASA's report now strongly reinforces the data scientists have assembled for many years.

Instead, you continue to be a vocal advocate for the coal industry, happy to tell us that it will be our main energy source for decades (while our scientists insist it should stay in the ground), and at the same time you have been seemingly prepared to reduce our renewable energy target, leaving environmentalists and the rewewables industry convinced you are determined to put renewables out of business.

The only explanation of this illogic I can muster is that you are so ideologically driven, so wedded to coal interests, so determined to prevent renewables from damaging the coal industry, that you have abandoned scientific facts and logic. Are you really prepared to irreparably damage our planet so that its becomes uninhabitable for your grandchildren and mine?

Tony, do you really still believe that the science behind climate change is crap?

Please awaken; please accept the science; please take decisive action now; please persuade all your counterparts to do so next year in Paris. Otherwise, life on earth is doomed. Seriously!

What do you, the readers, think?

Ad astra is retired medical academic who lives two metres above sea level.

Abbott's carbon tax chickens come home to roost

So imprinted is it in our collective memories that it's hard to forget Abbott's 'Axe the tax' mantra. Over and again he repeated his intent to get rid of this 'toxic tax', which after about nine months in government he finally managed to have repealed by a reluctant Senate following some PUP contortions. It's also hard to forget his promise that 'Australian families would be $550 better off after its repeal'.

He failed to tell us what he already knew - that carbon pollution would rise again, and that the revenue the tax was raising would cease. So the inevitable happened. Carbon emissions, after falling as a result of the tax, began to rise again, and the revenue the tax generated dried up. Soon Joe Hockey was bemoaning his diminishing revenue base, made worse by the fall in iron ore prices and receding demand for that commodity. Suddenly we had a fiscal 'crisis' and a 'budget emergency' that Hockey felt compelled to fix by whatever draconian means he could find.

It could be argued I suppose that the sacrifice of revenue could at least be offset by the benefit that would flow to families as electricity prices plummeted and they pocketed the promised $550. But something funny happened on the way to the $550 bonanza. It hasn't eventuated, and likely won't.  Wouldn't we love to know how that magic figure was generated. Hockey uses Treasury as a cop out, insisting that they generated the estimate, and therefore it must be right.  Mind you, in the past he has repeatedly disparaged Treasury estimates when that suited his political agenda, but on this occasion insists they ought to be trusted without question.

Will anyone in the MSM bother to monitor how many families get their hands on the $550 prize, a reward for voting in the Abbott government? You can lay long odds that the Murdoch media will neither monitor it, nor report it if anyone bothers to check if the $550 ever arrived, and especially if it failed to turn up. So we may never know from any authoritative source what became of the elusive $550.

But there are other information streams.  Talkback radio and social media will not remain silent.

Yesterday morning on 774 radio Melbourne, Steve Martin, standing in for Jon Faine who is on holiday, raised the matter with his listeners, and soon got a flood of responses. Steve (from Ballarat ABC) has been a fine substitute for Jon. Astute and well-informed politically, he is balanced in his appraisals and comments.

Soon a listener was annoyedly telling Steve that his electricity bills were going up, not down. We know that there are reasons for that: higher charges for transmission (the old poles and wires story), and higher charges imposed by electricity providers on the grounds that diminished demand has reduced their profits, and therefore they have to compensate for that by charging consumers more per kilowatt hour. The diminished demand is the result of several factors: consumers are deliberately using less electricity to reduce their bills; many are installing solar panels to augment their domestic supply and are therefore using less coal generated power; and many have opted to receive power from renewable sources. Because electricity companies are steadily reducing the refund on electricity generated from solar panels and fed back into the grid, householders who expected a return on their solar cell investment to offset its cost, are now very angry, and more determined than ever to use alternative energy. Moreover, as electricity prices rise, more and more consumers are reducing their dependence on the grid, resorting to solar power despite fewer inducements and lower feed-in rebates.  

The death spiral of coal generated power companies has begun.  

As it continues, it will become fatal for some providers. The problem for government then will become how to support failing electricity companies who will still need to supply industry and commerce with the power they need. If some of these, for example supermarkets, install solar power to meet some or all of their needs, the crisis will widen, and the death spiral will accelerate.

Talkback callers were uniform in their criticism of the power companies, angry that they have been, and would be further dudded by them, sceptical about whether they would ever see the elusive $550, and generally offside with the Abbott government, who were seen as reneging on yet another promise - the hard to get hold of $550 bonanza.

The solar energy debate continued on ABC radio this morning. It attracted many callers and text messages, portraying the great community interest in solar power. The guest, the CEO of the Australian Solar Council, among fielding many pertinent questions, asserted that some power companies are actively campaigning to end the solar industry and the Abbott government is out to destroy it via reductions to the renewable energy target.  Given Abbott's public support for the coal industry, that assertion is plausible.

Abbott's carbon tax chickens are coming home to roost with deafening wing-flapping. Carbon tax revenue has ceased; carbon pollution is rising again; the price of power is rising, not falling; electricity companies are charging more to offset falling revenue; householders are economising and turning more and more to power from renewables; the death spiral in which power providers are trapped continues relentlessly; the $550 seems as difficult for consumers to grasp as it ever was; yet another of Abbott's pre-election promises is a dud, and Abbott's trustworthiness takes yet another dive.  

None of us are surprised, nor should we be.

What do you think?

Ad astra is retired medical academic.