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August 29, 2014

closing down of Australia’s renewable energy industry

The Renewable Energy Target has been a success. It's built up a wind and solar power generation industry at a very low cost to electricity users and, along with carbon pricing it has helped to reduce pollution and energy efficiency. It has helped to create Investment in windfarms, solar PV'S and other large-scale renewables, created jobs, and help to start the shift to decarbonize the Australian economy.

But its killing the coal-fired power generation industry. So the Abbott Government comes to the defence of the fossil fuel industry. The abolition of the carbon pricing gave coal-fired power generators a windfall and the proposals to kneecapping the Renewable Energy Target will give them a second windfall.

PopeDRET.jpg David Pope

The Warburton RET Review argues there are cheaper ways to reduce greenhouse emissions than by changing the way we generate electricity – clearly implying no change in electricity generation is necessary. Hence the defence of the fossil fuel industry and the status quo. There is no need to change the dominance of electricity generation by the fossil fuel industry.

The Warburton Review has called for the closure of Australia’s renewable energy target to new entrants as one of two options it is recommending to the government. It is also calling for the immediate closure, or rapid wind back, of the small-scale renewable energy scheme, which supports rooftop solar and solar hot water. Although any legislative changes will be resisted and probably stopped in the Senate, the uncertainty will be enough to kill investment in large scale renewables.

With the mining boom over and mining investment in decline it is clear that 'the what next' is not going to include the development of the renewable energy industry. Nor is it going to come from the digital economy given the Coalition's dumping of fibre broadband to the premises and its replacement with a dogs breakfast of a model.

As Paul Buddle observes that you can still support fibre to the premises (FttP) and praise its virtues while at the same time develop a path towards that ultimate goal through Multi Technology Mix (MtM). However, with the Coalition:

there are no plans, no investment strategies and no vision on how to move Australia on from MtM to FttP; a development that is inevitable. Under the current plans Australia will be stuck in a half way house for quite some time.

In doing so the Coalition is turning away from give Australia a chance, to lead, to innovate, or be at the forefront of the digital developments. Australia, for them, is to be a mediocre country in ICT developments.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:59 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

August 26, 2014

establishing authoritarian rule?

Contrary to the rhetoric from the Abbott Government Australia doesn't have an imminent debt crisis or a budget emergency. Australia has a long-term structural budget problem caused by an ageing population, which the Coalition is not seriously addressing.

An ageing population means the government needs to spend more (on pensions and health care) it will also receive lower income tax. If the government does nothing it will experience a rise in the structural budget deficit.

PopeDbudgetemergency.jpg David Pope

The Coalition is more concerned with using the rhetoric of national security and terrorist threats in Australia to put in place the steps to establish authoritarian rule. One of these steps is the way the proposed national security legislation that ASIO is demanding that journalists could be jailed for revealing intelligence operations. Journalists could face penalties even if they did not explicitly know what they were reporting on was linked to a special intelligence operation.

There are three tranches of counter terrorism legislation being proposed by the Coalition. The first allows ASIO to surveil more computers and whole networks, and cracks down on whistleblowing; the second tranche relates to the prosecution of foreign fighters returning from war zones; and the third concerns a mandatory data retention regime for consumer metadata.

The money to fund counter terrorism will be easily found. The cancer of budget repair miraculously disappears when it comes to the spooks. This suggests that the budget is really a vehicle to start imposing a free market economic model on Australia.

An example of this top-down imposition is the deregulation of universities. In the market-based model a student-consumer can simply buy an education. If things go wrong or the student ends up lacking the promised knowledge and skills, it is the seller’s fault in that the product is deficient. And they will be since the higher education institutions are driven to maximise resources rather than ensure the integrity of the educational services they offer.

It was never foreshadowed prior to, or during, the election campaign. Both Abbott and Pyne ruled them out, as they promised a period of relative policy stability in which changes already made (eg., the move to demand-driven courses) can be digested and adjusted to. The Coalition is trying to bludgeon its neo-liberal reforms through the Senate.

It is supported by the Group of Eight as these neo-liberal reforms will strengthen the Group of Eight at the expense of Australia’s Higher Education sector as a whole. So for the Group of Eight it’s fewer students, more research and higher rankings in the prestigious international university rankings. Teaching students will be concentrated elsewhere, in the non Group of Eight universities, some of which over time will be pressured by competition in the deregulated market to become teaching only institutions.

A free market model for an ageing population is self-reliance. Older Australians are now working longer, possibly due to better health, but most likely because of a realisation that they simply need to keep earning to boost insufficient retirement savings. They realize that the Coalition will cut costs by by reducing the pension--that is what is meant by 'ending the age of entitlement.' However, increased work levels are still not producing a sufficient income for the majority of older Australians to lead comfortable lifestyles.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:45 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 21, 2014

selling austerity

The Coalition has changed its budget rhetoric.

It has dumped the budget crisis/ rhetoric and sovereign risk in favour of there is no need to worry as most of the appropriations bills have passed the Senate and that there is no problem if the Senate doesn't hurry up with the rest of the budget. The rest --Medicare co-payment, deregulation of universities, tough new arrangements for the unemployed etc--- amount to $25 billion.

The bullyboy tactics to impose austerity haven't worked. Australians haven't bought it, and they are skeptical of the government's selling of austerity and the need for a shift to a deregulated market. They see unfairness.

RoweDCorman.jpg David Rowe

There is a medium term (a decade) for a consolidation of the budget, given the end of the mining boom and and the ageing population. There is a need for debate over how that consolidation will happen given the lower income growth than in the past decade.

Should the consolidation involve a shift towards small government, greater scope for the deregulated market and rolling back the welfare state? Or should it retain the targeted welfare state and end corporate welfare?

The Coalition's proposed deregulated university reforms mean that universities no longer function to ameliorate social status and inequality, but are part of a renewed capitalism; the private benefits of higher education to its graduate beneficiaries are today used to justify the removal of public funding and the charging of exorbitant fees. Capitalism’s logic is to widen inequality and, with the re-establishment of inequalities in wealth alongside inequalities in income.

The neo-liberal mode of governance---neo-liberalism is a political project at least as much as it is an economic theory ---means the privatisation of public services. It is ideologically associated with a classically minimal liberal state, with the efficiency of ‘free markets’ as against the ponderous and wasteful outcome of state planned economies and nationalised industries that characterised Keynesian welfare states. In practice neo-liberalism is linked with increasingly authoritarian uses of state power and with re-regulation of the economy to protect financial and mining capital rather than the de-regulation championed by advocates of neo-liberalism.

Increasingly, education is perceived as an object of private capital investment, both through outsourcing of functions to for-profit companies and the direct entry of for-profit providers. Universities are now knowledge corporations, competing in a global market for higher education.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:36 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 13, 2014

the severed head picture

Here's the picture of the child clutching the severed head of the Syrian soldier. According to the mainstream media the young boy (seven years old?) pictured with the severed head is the son of convicted terrorist Khaled Sharrouf, who escaped Australia on his brother’s passport late last year, three months into the Coalition's watch. It's all Labor's fault says the Coalition.

The politician's banging the drums of war are saying its iconic of the horror of the home grown terrorist threat and are the reason for the new anti-terrorism laws and mass surveillance of the Australian citizens, both of which require a lessening of citizens civil liberties.


This brings the threat of the civil war in Syria and Iraq home: our children are threatened by barbaric people who train their children to be terrorists. But the LNP stands resolute and firm to defend Australia's national security against the barbarism and brutal violence of the jihad terrorists. The terrorist attack could be any day now. That's the conservative rhetoric of the picture.

This is not to downplay ASIO's warnings about the domestic threat posed by Australians participating in sectarian conflicts overseas or the need to deal with any returning Australian jihadists on their return from the Middle East. It is to highlight the rhetoric of the severed head in conservative discourse's politics of fear.

This discourse refuses to acknowledge that the US, UK Australia and others who invaded Iraq are responsible for the breakdown and disintegration of the Iraqi state, at least 300,000-500,000 deaths, 1-4 million refugees, mass torture, ethnic cleansing in Iraq over the past decade that then triggered the Sunni revolt and rise of the deeply anti-Shi’a Islamic State (IS) in northern Iraq. Now the western powers are using humanitarian concerns--protection of the Yazidis or the Christians from the Islamic State --for another armed intervention, even though Australia's national interest does not require a major intervention in either Iraq or Syria. It's a regional conflict.

The conservative media and political drumbeat is growing louder to move from humanitarian aid drops and begin the military campaign to prevent ISIS from establishing a caliphate through Syria and Iraq. Won't that increase the risk of terror attacks at home?

Along with the external humanitarian airdrops to the Yazidis on Mount Sinjar, and a lifting of the siege, there have been US Navy air-strikes on IS artillery close to Irbil, the capital of the secure Kurdish region; special Forces operating in the Kurdish region, providing intelligence and aiding target acquisition; and a supply or arms going to the Kurds. How long before a US base is established?

It won't be long before the limits of air power is reached---air strikes on their own cannot do any more than momentarily disrupt the advance of IS fighters, and even then only where they are out in the open. As the IS fighters occupy towns, villages and cities, immersing themselves among the local populations, the advantages of air strikes – precision, reach, overwhelming force – almost disappear because of the risk of collateral damage to innocent civilians.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:44 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

August 12, 2014

it's the inequality folks

It is now pretty clear that the Abbott Government, in turning away from the public service, has contracted out its public policy to the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and the Business Council of Australia (BCA) turned away from the public service and that the task of the Abbott Government is to implement the recommended policies. When Hockey refers to the federal government having an overarching plan that will balance the books and avoid a fiscal crisis he means the outsourced plans.

The economy i is being managed for our benefit for the benefit of the big businesses that dominate it. Increasing inequality is the consequence, and people are acutely aware that the 2014 Hockey Budget is designed to increase this inequality. They are seen to be seeking to reduce income support provided to the lowest income earners in Australia.

RoweD EconomicStrategy.jpg David Rowe

As the economy transitions away from its reliance on resources projects the Abbott Government is seen to have little interest in reduce inequality, as it moves to unwind both welfare provisions and the progressive nature of our tax system. Senior ministers imply that inequality (including gender inequality) is not just unavoidable, but also beneficial.

They are seeking to exacerbate it (both income and wealth) rather than lessen it because their position is that greater inequality boosts productivity and economic growth. Hence their unpopularity--the electorate is sold that Australia requires greater inequality to ensure economic growth and prosperity.

However, in the political short term, with the LNP both lacking the Senate majority it needs to pass the budget, and the skills for good negotiating, compromising, and dealing in order to get policy through, it is in Clive Palmer’s political interests for the 2014 budget deadlock to continue, and a sense of chaos to envelop the government.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:54 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

August 11, 2014

a diversionary tactic

The Abbott Government continues to think of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS ) as a terrorist organization along the lines of Al Qaeda, thereby implying that it will conduct terrorist operations in the west and in Australia.

The Islamic State is in fact a state in a region where the European drawn boundaries, that used to mark out Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, are collapsing. The shape of this region is being redrawn by the Islamic State expanding its territory. The Sunni Muslims are using their army to establish their own systems of government in their own territory. Let them. Iraq can collapse.

RoweDMEdeath.jpg David Rowe

Despite the sabre rattling by the Abbott Government Australia will not fight the advance of ISIS. For what national interest reason would it do so? They will just hang onto the coat tails of the US which has just re-engaged militarily with the conflict in the region with its modest airstrikes to protect the Kurdish region.

I would doubt that the American public is keen on US military intervention in Syria or Iraq, even if GOP hawks call for immediate action to arm the rebels in Syria and to launch air strikes in Iraq. The US public is not likely to support another US war in the Middle East, even if the GOP resorts to the traditional Republican attack on Democrats: Obama is weak on national security. Despite the limits to US power the Republicans will exploit the problems overseas for maximum political gain at home.

So will the Coalition. It's a diversionary tactic; one that is designed to encourage Australians to become even more paranoid and xenophobic than they have already been encouraged to become. The justification for this exploitation will be national security.

Sacrifices need to be made and liberty curtailed because of the real or imagined threats to an idealised Australian way of life aliens (jihadists) living in our suburbs.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:01 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

August 7, 2014

a pantomime

The widespread surveillance of activity on the phone and online advocated by the spooks and government allies in the name of security paints us all as potential criminals. Just in case we do the wrong thing, or are up to something, it would be best to keep an eye out.

When we haven't consented to that, the surveillance becomes invasive. WikiLeaks, the phone-hacking scandal, the Snowden files indicate he extent to which our communications are being monitored by the e triumvirate of state, press and data-harvesting corporations.

RoweDTeamAustralia.jpg David Rowe

The menace is within say the spooks. An emergency is threatening. Mass surveillance is needed.

So how wide is the proposed surveillance. It's very unclear what stuff is going to be subject to surveillance. Behind the pantomime and confusing messages the emphasis on security does appear to sacrifice individual liberty through state intrusion into our phone calls, physical location, and our email and browsing history.

The spooks message is that "If you have nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear." However, our rights about our private lives are being handed over so that our secrets are revealed through mining our virtual identities. Yet, we can count on, the two major political parties will stitch together a deal which will sideline all meaningful democratic deliberation. Parliament will be bounced.

The spin will be that a statutory boost to the security services, enabling the trawl through records of private internet and mobile phone traffic, was a draconian anti-terror measure thrust upon the politicians by terrible circumstance. Labor has already decided to support the government position, claiming to be satisfied by the argument that urgent legislation is required and satisfied with the safeguards to protect civil liberties.

The use of the national security argument as an excuse for riding roughshod over fundamental freedoms enshrined in law underscores that the Australian political establishment, which voted for this law, has lost its moral compass.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:17 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

August 6, 2014

the surveillance state's dragnet

The increased security fears about the threat posed by 150 Australians suspected of fighting in Syria and Iraq, if they should they return home has given rise to proposed anti-terrorism legislation. This security threat does not justify the need for the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) to access 2 years of personal data (metadata) about Australians; and to share “bulk” amounts of Australian citizens’ metadata with its 5 Eyes intelligence partners overseas.

PopeDTerrorismAsio.jpg David Pope

Our civil rights are in danger of being eroded in the name of national security. This surveillance, which involves mandatory collecting information in bulk about ordinary citizens' day-to-day activities ---intimate, highly private, social, medical, business, religious etc – without warrant, dismisses the presumption of innocence and accompanying procedures of legal and parliamentary oversight that are supposed to be the hallmarks of democratic societies. We have government stonewalling (both Labor and Liberal) on a more extended regime of checks and balances.

The new slogan is "Team Australia" versus the Muslim community that is supportive of global Islamist jihad fighting the West and homegrown terrorism. The appeal is to fear --the war on terrorism---to justify forcing telecommunications companies to retain customer data for access by government agencies for law enforcement investigations.

The ALP is not going to stop these steps towards a surveillance state that is covered in a veil of counter-terrorism, and arriving in a procession of Australian flags and nationalism. The ALP, under the Gillard Government, were moving towards requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to retain customer data for up to two years but shelved them.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:05 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 1, 2014

tabloid politics

The Abbott Government's tabloid politics is very explicit with respect to the unemployed. That policy is demands, on threat of sanction, that the unemployed apply for 40 jobs per month, do 25 hours of community service a week, and wait six months before getting their first cheque.

The economic reality is that there are 750, 000 unemployed and approximately 140,000 jobs work for the dole is the answer because the dole bludgers are refusing jobs and staying on the dole because the work they are offered doesn’t suit their lifestyle. They are job snobs.

RoweDDole.jpg David Rowe

So the welfare recipients need to be punished and disciplined. No concession is to be made that there are less jobs now for young people than before the 2007 global financial crisis, or that only 36 per cent of job seekers finishing work for the dole obtained employment or education and training – compared with 61 per cent who had been placed in training. Work for the dole is unlikely to help people find jobs.

It is tabloid politics because the unspoken assumption is that recipients of government assistance are somehow conniving to receive something to which they are not entitled. The scapegoat terminology---a lazy piece of scum malingering on the public purse---is designed to malign all welfare recipients. It has nothing to do with what works to promote jobs or that the economy is not growing fast enough to create enough jobs to cover the new entrants into the labour force.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:44 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack