Repeal of the carbon tax

Today is a sad day for Australia. After years of political wrangling it has come to this: the repeal of the carbon tax.

It is a giant step back from facing up to the encroaching cliff, a turning away from the erosion of solid ground, a denial of a slow-burn but deadly serious threat.

Ian MacDonald and Barnaby Joyce, in the midst of winter, talk about cold weather as though it means something. Their statements are unbelievably crude, and their experience of the cold means nothing in this debate. Are they silly enough to believe that a cold winter’s day is reason to scrap the carbon tax, or are they heartless enough to spin an anti-climate change line for political benefit? I’m not sure which is worse.

I’m angry and there is no outlet for it. Where do you turn, nearly 4000 kilometres from Canberra, to express your disgust? We can only turn to one another – and we have been doing that for years, to no avail.

All around me people have become tired of caring – I’m guilty of it too. Today’s repeal re-energises my anger, but what good is talking about it to the people around me? I know I should be optimistic that talking about the issue does matter, but I, like most of us, exist in an echo chamber and our opinions don’t change the mind of anyone who matters. All around me people are saying how awful the repeal is – yet nonetheless it goes ahead. Whatever voice we may have had in September last year when we voted is utterly lost.

When I began writing this piece around midday today, I felt gutted and betrayed. Outside my window there was a blue sky and the green branches were waving slightly in a gentle winter’s breeze. Now, the sun has set and with the orange on the horizon there comes a stillness in the air. It is a beautiful sight and feels like the calm before a storm.

Perhaps these years are the calm before the storm.

We will look back one day on the nineties and on the first three decades – maybe four if we’re lucky – of the third millenium and see an idyllic life that we could not bear to disturb for the sake of a liveable future. We will see a time when we had knowledge but did not use it. When whole generations were born and grew up while time passed and not enough was done for their future. A time when we prioritised money and business over the life and environment of the planet.

You might say I am being dramatic. But it is hard not to feel that drama is warranted; that fear is warranted. If so little has been achieved in the last thirty years, what’s to say that anything useful will be achieved in the next thirty? If governments and societies cannot make the change that’s needed now, in the calm before the storm, how will we fare during the storm itself, when things become much tougher than they are now?

In a press conference today, Tony Abbott talked about being part of a ‘conservationist government’; being aware that we only have ‘one planet’. The words don’t roll easily off his tongue – perhaps he’s aware just how offensive they are – a contradiction to the action his government has just taken.

Later, he is back in his native discourse with these words, which roll smoothly: ‘We are certainly not going to do anything that damages our economy or that puts our people and our businesses at an unfair competitive disadvantage.’

If there’s anything unfair here it is that a man instrumental in this repeal – Clive Palmer – owns companies which stand to save several million dollars each year due to the removal of the carbon tax. It is a sign of just how mixed up Australian politics have become.

As Lenore Taylor wrote today in The Guardian, the repeal of the carbon tax today is a ‘complete and catastrophic failure of the political system’. Let us hope that this failure is not replicated around the world and on into the future.


Letter to The Age

Getting with the times

The Catholic Church really needs to get with the times – not to be trendy and ‘relevant’ to younger people, but to play a meaningful part in a better future for both humans and for the environment that sustains us. While it seems like a positive move to ask the opinion of Catholics around the world on various issues, some of the underlying assumptions to the questions are simply irresponsible.

The worst offender is the question, ‘How can an increase in births be promoted?’ (‘Catholics to tackle the hard questions’, 4/11). With the global population expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050 and the current population of more than 7 billion already wreaking havoc on the environment, the church’s attitude to contraception and birth rates is irresponsible.

Published in The Age on 5 November 2013, available online here. The full questionnaire [PDF 376KB] is available on the website of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.

On fear and climate change

Image credit: NOAA's National Ocean Service

Image credit: NOAA’s National Ocean Service

You’re not supposed to want to cry about climate change at work, but that’s how I felt this morning.

We are good at staying divorced from painful but distant realities. We are good at ignoring the hurt that’s happening to someone else if they are nothing like us. We are good at enjoying sunny winter days and not asking why.

Even the phrase ‘climate change’ almost rings hollow these days – we hear it so often, in so many cold and unemotional contexts.

But climate change has many faces, and once in a while there’s a face that pulls at the heartstrings. The article last week on The Guardian gave climate change a face that most of us can’t fail to be moved by. A polar bear found dead, ‘skin and bones’; a 16-year old starved to death, when most members of the species live into their early 20s.

It’s awful and moving. Yes, it’s the cute animal effect, but that doesn’t make the emotion meaningless. It’s a good thing if it draws attention to an issue that will change the environment for a whole range of animals – and plants and entire ecosystems.

The Guardian article and this response by Freya Mathews on The Conversation are powerful reminders of the harm we have done and the hurt we have caused as a species.

I am overwhelmed by this hurt. It is almost ungraspable. It is so big as to avoid definition, so very nearly unstoppable, so hard to see, yet if you look even a little bit closely, it’s so tangible and so close.

This hurt hits me more and more regularly these days, and it’s intensified by the lack of concern shown by the Labor party and the Coalition in the lead-up to an election. That the issue is not attracting some focus during a campaign suggests that enough of us don’t care, or aren’t speaking out about it if we do.

It’s all too easy to feel the emotion, for a while, and then let it pass and slip back into one’s day to day life, worrying instead about work or study pressures or  money or family or what to have for dinner. It’s also hard to see how an individual can make a difference – political machinery seems to roll on without paying any attention to our views, and sometimes not even to our vote.

But we have to keep caring and keep trying to do something about this if we want anything to change. It’s individuals who make up the collective, and it’s the collective that can change the direction of the nation.

So if you vote on one issue this federal election, vote according to who takes climate change seriously and is committed to doing something about it.

I’m scared. We all should be sacred. Everything else pales into insignificance.


Read these:

On The Guardian, ‘Starved polar bear perished due to sea ice melt, says expert’

On The Conversation, ‘Wild animals are starving, and it’s our fault, so should we feed them?’ by Freya Mathews

On The Drum, ‘The election that forgot the environment’ by ABC Environment’s Sara Phillips

Letter to The Age

Arrogance on both sides

Kevin Rudd’s promise, like Tony Abbott’s, that there will be no deals in the case of a hung Parliament makes a mockery of our democracy. Our democracy, largely thanks to the upper house, allows for the presence of alternative views in a political situation where the two major parties differ on very little; it is not for Mr Abbott or Mr Rudd to so arrogantly dismiss views that do not correlate precisely with their own.

Mr Rudd’s motivation appears to be to exorcise the ghost of Julia Gillard. He should grow up, and offer her the respect she deserves. She’s the one that got legislation in place to address the ‘greatest moral challenge of our age’, while he skulked in the background biding his time.

Published in The Age on 16 August 2013. It’s the second letter on this page. And the Leunig cartoon here is very good!

The power of words: Love and Fury

Love and FuryI have just finished watching Love and Fury: Judith Wright and ‘Nugget’ Coombs on ABC. It documents the clandestine relationship between these two intellectual Australians, mainly through their letters, which were released from embargo in 2009.

As The Australian’s article in the Review over the weekend warned, this is a powerful documentary, and I am moved to immediately record my thoughts. The relationship between Wright and Coombs is inspiring – the exchange of ideas led to each of them feeding one another’s passions and work.

Their relationship began the year Gough Whitlam came to power, and through the film clips of his three years in power I was first and foremost touched by the intellectual arguments of the day. There is often a sepia hue to the social movements and the radicals of the past, but Whitlam’s legacy has always been about the power of ideas to make change. Coombs was directly part of this, as a consultant to Whitlam.

There is a clip of Gough Whitlam in 1975 with a handful of red dirt, his hand poised over Vincent Lingiari’s as the soil slips from one hand to the other. There is Whitlam speaking of how all Australians are diminished while Aboriginal people remain dispossed of their land. These moments are part of history, yet Whitlam’s actions and words are powerful, and from across the decades I am moved. Continue reading

The good that was buried by the story of Labor’s non-spill

Last Thursday’s events in Canberra demonstrated three things very clearly. One, the hypocrisy of Opposition rhetoric. Two, the successes of feminism, and three, how far feminism still has to travel.

The hypocrisy is evident in the immediate accusations of ‘bad government’ that predictably flowed from Tony Abbott after the leadership near-spill.

Once again came the accusations of a government who is not doing anything, who is not succeeding, who makes bad decisions. Comments that got plenty of air on Thursday and Friday because of the news value placed on leadership.

But in those comments, Tony Abbott intentionally overshadowed the bipartisanship which saw the House of Representatives accept Senate amendments to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, meaning that it had passed into law earlier that day.

Continue reading

Social media: between friends and strangers

Lately I’ve been pondering the situation that all of us using social media or blogs have faced at some stage – or will inevitably face – that of having one’s ideas challenged. Sometimes the challengers are rude, sometimes not; sometimes they are friends or acquaintances, often not.

For me, the challengers on Twitter are almost always strangers. It’s rarely worrying – if the comments are thoughtful and reasonable, I think about it and respond accordingly. It is, after all, what must one expect if putting one’s ideas into a public forum.

If the comments are rude, I ignore it or make a joke of it. I wish that people would express their disagreements by arguing reasonably against the ideas instead of rudely attacking or dismissing, but otherwise it is no big deal, because these rude people are inevitably strangers.

But recently a post of mine on Facebook attracted a comment from a friend that still makes me angry, two weeks later, every time I think of it.

The post was about the suspension of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. I wrote:

Important Queensland programs going down the tube already – less than two weeks since the election. Unbelievable. Axing the QLD Premier’s Literary Awards will save all of $250,000 out of a budget of billions. Watch the cultural exodus begin again.

A friend, who is also a family connection, responded in a manner that wasn’t rude (and compared to most online commentary, is positively innocent). But it was thoughtless and they didn’t offer an argument to support their viewpoint. The comment read:

What’s so important about an award for literary? 250K, no wonder why they scrapped it. I mean come on.

I wrote a few short lines back pointing out that I’m a writer so maybe that would give some clue as to why I think it’s important. My response was completely measured, and in hindsight I think that’s part of the reason I keep thinking about it: because I really wanted to get angry about it. I wanted to say exactly what I thought about the comment’s lack of respect for me as a writer and for the craft of writing.

I’ve let it lie. After all, the comment was not rude and I probably have no right to feel offended. But the fact that it bothered me so much has got me thinking.

As I increase my social media presence, the lines are blurring between friends and strangers, and between the media directed primarily at strangers – this blog and my Twitter account – and that which is open only to “friends”, or at least to people I know – Facebook.

Where once my political opinions mainly stayed on Twitter, they’re now straying onto Facebook. And so it seems I must face the disagreement of people I actually know – far harder than the angry comments of strangers.

Many of my friends are cut from very different political cloth to myself. Some of my friends question why I associate with others who hold an utterly different viewpoint and whose interests, beliefs and even fashion choices are anathema to them.

So there are bound to be disagreements. Mostly, my friends will argue their point with purpose and logic. They’ll have a reason behind their beliefs and to some extent will recognise what lies behind my contrasting beliefs. But sometimes they don’t, and this is when it gets tough.

If I don’t like it, I guess I could stick to bland status updates and photos of cute animals on my Facebook page.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s likely, and in the end I am happy to argue, debate and discuss. I just hate comments that shut others down or that have no valid reasons behind them.

But it’s vital to be exposed to different views in order to be an engaged citizen of a democracy, and if one of the ways that happens is through my social media friends or by strangers on Twitter, then so be it. But along the way I had better hope for patience, and know when to let things go.