Posts Tagged ‘Government’


Liberals Part 5: Are they hiding a radical agenda?

31 January 2013

This is the fifth part of a series examining the Liberal Party of Australia. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 examine the party’s climate policies. Part 4 debunks their allegations that the incumbent government is illegitimate. This part argues they are hiding a radical agenda of deregulation and austerity.

The countdown has begun: 226 days until an Australian federal election in which the Liberals look likely to sweep into office. Yet we still have very little idea what the Liberals would do in government. Leader Tony Abbott contradicts himself from day to day, apparently depending on who he’s speaking to, and even his party’s official policies are not very clearly explained. At this stage, a vote for the Liberals is a blank cheque. In this vacuum of confirmed information, I am forced to resort to informed speculation. You’ll know whether I’m right when the Liberals finally announce their fully detailed policies (which looks like it will be about 5pm on 14 September).

The deregulation agenda

I fear an Abbott government would be a wrecker government. We already know the Liberals would repeal the carbon and mining taxes, axe most other climate change policies, and delegate environmental approval powers to the states. These policies should be disturbing enough for anybody, but increasingly appear to be only part of a broader agenda of deregulation and austerity which should trouble even those unconcerned about climate change. It would follow the precedent set by the Newman government in Queensland, which blindsided the state last year by sneaking into power under cover of opposing a long-lived incumbent then proceeding to implement massive cuts. Read the rest of this entry ?


Liberals Part 4: Australia has a legitimate government

27 January 2013

This is the fourth part of a series examining the Liberal Party of Australia. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 examine the party’s climate policies. This part debunks their allegations that the incumbent government is illegitimate.

Both sidesIllustration: Stephen Wight

There has been a persistent campaign by the conservative Coalition, led by Tony Abbott and his Liberals, assisted by most of the mainstream media, to create the perception that the incumbent Labor minority government, led by Julia Gillard, is illegitimate. Don’t get me wrong: I have a long list of disagreements with the government. But the implication it is somehow illegitimate is simply unjustified. Read the rest of this entry ?


The sabotaging of climate policy

17 July 2012

On this blog I have covered the many flaws in government policies on climate change (I’ve focused on Australia, but similar criticisms could be made of climate policies around the world). There are seemingly endless complexities which might be bewildering to casual observers, but one of the most important things to understand is: the flaws in these policies are generally not accidental. Although stupidity and short-sightedness surely make a contribution to bad policy, I am convinced the main culprits are industry lobbyists constantly trying and so far succeeding, to systematically undermine any policies which might threaten their wealth by filling them with as many holes as Swiss cheese, sometimes even twisting them to have the opposite of the intended effect.

Specific examples are far too numerous to mention, but to be diligent I should mention at least some sources. I have summarized the general state of Australian politics here, including some recent successes and ongoing campaigns by business lobby groups. This information is by no means secret; it’s in the newspapers. The latest example of overt industry lobbying in Australia is a campaign by vertically integrated electricity generators/retailers to weaken the Renewable Energy Target (which I may cover in a future post).

More broadly, the fossil fuel industry has a very long history of bad behavior. The 2009 book Climate Cover Up: The crusade to deny global warming by James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore documents the industry’s multi-decadal effort to spread misinformation discrediting climate science and prevent action (they provide more up-to-date information at The 2007 book High and Dry: John Howard, climate change, and the selling of Australia’s future by former government insider Guy Pearse exposes a decade of successful lobbying by Australia’s polluting industries against climate action (his more recent writings are listed at

Readers might mistake my concerns for perfectionist nitpicking, and respond “we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. But this argument is an obscurantist red herring: strategic decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis, requiring an understanding of the characteristics of the issue at hand. I’m not arguing for perfection; I’m arguing for functionality. The flaws in climate policies are calculated to neuter their effectiveness in addressing the problem. Creative accounting might be tolerable if the issue is whether or not a government’s budget is in surplus, but it is no small matter when the habitability of the entire world is at stake. Read the rest of this entry ?


Why are international negotiations failing?

24 June 2012

There is not much to say about the recent Rio+20 conference. This time, nobody is even pretending anything of significance has been achieved. Two decades after the original conference that was supposed to save the world, countries reaffirmed the commitments they made in 1992 and agreed to agree on some goals in the future. The US lobbied to remove anything of substance from the text. Delegates could not even agree on the seemingly no-brainer proposal to end the $1 trillion spent globally on fossil fuel subsidies (despite a petition signed by over 1 million people calling on them to do so).

Instead of talking about Rio+20 I want to ask: why are these negotiations failing?

Some commentators argue the reason nothing is being achieved is because of the current economic crisis, but this explanation doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. In the last 20 years there have been economic ups and downs, but international negotiations have dragged on pointlessly throughout it all. In that time, far from the negotiators’ constant claims that they were making progress, the situation has in fact deteriorated at an accelerating rate. The economic crisis is just the most recent excuse not to act.

It is not that there is a shortage of money, but that money is going to the wrong priorities. Governments are able to find the money for fossil fuel subsidies. They can find money for tax cuts for corporations and the super-rich. And it didn’t take them decades to find trillions of dollars to bail out banks.

Other commentators argue the problem is conflicting national interests. But that explanation is not sufficient either, because at the end of the day we are all in the same boat. The real problem is the positions of too many governments are determined by big business. In particular, the fossil fuel industry has spent decades funding misinformation to discredit the science of global warming and lobbying to neuter any policy intended to address it.

It is tempting to conclude that governments are incompetent at solving problems, but that’s what big business wants us to think. On the contrary, governments are powerless because they have surrendered too much power to big business. Our politics is not democratic government by the people, for the people, but undemocratic government by the corporations, for the corporations. For example, in the US political donations have reached astronomical amounts, and who wins or loses elections is largely determined by who can raise the most money. Business lobbyists have privileged access to the political system, and are using it to block regulations (and remove existing ones) intended to protect the environment, in the name of reducing the size of government.

Of course, these are generalizations; corporate power doesn’t explain everything. The belief in unlimited economic growth runs even deeper, through all traditional political ideologies. We need to change the way we think to recognize the economy is part of the environment and stands or falls along with it. Nevertheless, in today’s world big business is the main political force standing in the way of action on the environment.

We need to reverse the trend toward small government – not to infringe upon the rights of ordinary people, but to enforce the responsibilities of businesses. I’m not advocating authoritarian state socialism (which is just as growth-oriented as capitalism), but a better democracy: greater political equality. We need to find ways to reduce and counter the influence of money in politics. I don’t have a magic bullet solution, but first we must understand and expose the problem.


Queensland election has disproportionate result

25 March 2012

Yesterday’s Queensland state election result shows the need for a proportional representation system.

The incumbent Labor Government suffered a humiliating defeat, with the Liberal National Party winning an overwhelming majority in the Queensland Parliament. Yet at last count, the Liberal National Party received slightly less than a majority of the vote (49.68%). The rest was split between Labor (26.95%), Katter’s Australian Party (11.50%), Greens (7.27%), Family First (1.37%), and other minor parties and independents (3.23%).

There are 89 seats in the Queensland parliament (and only one house). In a proportional electoral system, yesterday’s result should have distributed those seats approximately as follows: Liberal National 44, Labor 24, Australian 10, Greens 6, Family First 1; with the 3 final seats won by others or perhaps decided by preferences.

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The conspiracy to capture the Australian media

5 February 2012

If you’ve paid attention to the news recently then you may know Australian mining billionaire Gina Rinehart has been buying up shares in TV channels (Network Ten) and newspapers (Fairfax Media). What you may not be aware of is a video of Christopher Monckton and other climate change deniers plotting how to “capture” the Australian media to promote their views.

The video has to be watched to be believed. It’s surreal, almost like something out of a conspiracy thriller: a cabal of crazy people plotting how to control the media, and thus control people’s thoughts. Though Monckton may be prone to delusions of grandeur (this is coming from a man who believes he’s found the cure for AIDS), the things he says in this video are actually plausible. Read the rest of this entry ?


Top 10 Flaws in Government’s “Clean Energy Future”

13 October 2011

Yesterday the Australian House of Representatives passed the Clean Energy Future legislation, but it doesn’t feel like much of a victory.

A carbon price is a first step in Australia’s necessary transition away from its current fossil fuel economy toward the renewable energy one of the future. The Clean Energy Future includes significant improvements on the 2009 version – the creation of the independent Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) should provide some certainty for the renewable energy industry; and the built-in cycle of independent reviews provides opportunities to improve the policy later on. However, the legislation still has many fundamental flaws which we should not be reluctant to point out.

#1 Gas Is Not Clean Energy

The policy risks driving investment in gas-fired electricity generation. As a fossil fuel, gas is part of the problem, not the solution. The only realistic solution is to phase out fossil fuels. A two-staged transition, from coal to gas to renewables, would waste precious time.

For businesses, gas investments carry the risk of eventually being shut down to mitigate climate change. For humanity, the far worse risk is that we build a fleet of polluting gas power plants and run them for their full lifetime of up to 60 years. It is questionable whether gas is even a low-carbon fuel; when “fugitive emissions” (methane leaks) are taken into account, gas may be comparable to coal on a 100-year timescale, and far worse on a 20-year timescale.

#2 Free Permits for Polluters Guaranteed

Australia’s onshore emissions are ~1.5% of global emissions, but our fossil fuel exports account for ~3% of global emissions, and they are planned to double in the next decade. Australia’s carbon price will not cover the emissions from actually burning those exported fossil fuels, only emissions released to the atmosphere before they leave Australia’s ports. Yet the Government sees fit to compensate exporting industries for the majority of their covered emissions. Read the rest of this entry ?