Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Today by Nick Feik

Taking out the trash
From Narrabri to Canberra, via the US presidential debate

Image by D. Milledge, Lock the Gate. Via Flickr

All eyes today were on the first US presidential debate, for obvious reasons. It’s not just America’s future that is at stake at the coming election. For the record, the debate was a chaotic mess (mainly courtesy of constant interruptions by President Trump), and a terrible advertisement for American democracy. At times it was like watching two bald men bickering over a comb. The one clear message from the debate was that Trump refused to condemn white supremacy. Pity the world that relies on this “superpower”.

But while attention was diverted there were some alarming developments locally, which will also have major ramifications for Australia’s future. 

The NSW government’s Independent Planning Commission (IPC) today approved blueprints for Santos’s $3.6 billion Narrabri coal seam gas project, for the sinking of 850 coal seam gas wells in the Pilliga region. This proposal has been a source of controversy for years: there are concerns about the potentially devastating effects on the groundwater supply for nearby farmers, not to mention the massive emissions produced by its gas. The IPC said Santos would need to meet “strict conditions” as the project proceeds, but this could mean anything, and, in the case of big resource projects, it usually does. The project still needs final approval under federal environment laws, and its viability will also depend on it being a sound financial investment, which is entirely uncertain

The federal government also announced an overhaul of local-content laws for film and TV. While maintaining that 55 per cent of local TV content must be Australian made, this law will no longer apply to children’s television. Furthermore, the booming streaming services continue to be exempt from local-content obligations, and Foxtel’s local-content quota will be cut from 10 per cent to 5 per cent. The government is throwing in some sweeteners for local film and TV production in the short term, but in the long term it’s bad news for the Australian film and TV industry.

Elsewhere, the government has proposed changes to laws relating to farm labour, allowing backpackers, Pacific Islanders and seasonal workers to extend their visas, but also introducing “incentives” for young unemployed Australians to work at a rate well below the minimum wage to pick the country’s fruit and vegetables. The government had the opportunity to address the fact that fruit picking is terribly exploitative work but instead chose to open the way for the industry to exploit even more people. In coming weeks, we will read dozens of pieces about fruit withering on the vine, but fewer, I predict, about the underpayment of thousands of vulnerable workers.

Also today, the Australian National Audit Office has written to the prime minister saying it will be forced to cut the number of its audits without a budget rescue package. The ANAO was responsible for embarrassing the government via the “sports rorts” audit, and the recent revelation that the federal government paid a Liberal donor 10 times the reasonable price for land adjacent to Western Sydney airport. There are precious few accountability mechanisms for the federal government, and a federal ICAC is not on the cards in the foreseeable future, despite Morrison promising in 2018 to introduce one. So, cross your fingers and hope that the budget will include proper funding for the ANAO.

Finally, a member of the government’s own Indigenous advisory council has slammed the government over the farcical co-design process for a voice to government for Indigenous Australians. Pat Turner, chief executive of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, who also convenes the coalition of peak Indigenous community-controlled organisations, said Indigenous Australians “were not and have not been heard”. The process set out by the government was flawed and convoluted, Turner said, and likely to produce an outcome that is “disjointed, conflicted and thus counterproductive”. How long has this charade been going on for? With how many advisory bodies? What progress has been made? None. Because the federal government has set up obstacles to Indigenous recognition at every point. It’s a sad joke.

None of it is edifying reading, but one hopes that Australians were paying more attention to the local news than the ridiculous American debate.

“Victoria Police said they would review all COVID fines but not one young person we represent has been contacted to explain the context of their fine.”

Ariel Couchman, chief executive of the free legal service Youthlaw, says that fines issued to vulnerable people for breaching Victoria’s coronavirus restrictions are not being waived on appeal, despite her clients having legitimate excuses.

“They want to take out the cows.”

The New York Times had its work cut out fact-checking Donald Trump’s claims in today’s debate. For the record, Trump was arguing that the Green New Deal (which isn’t actually Biden’s policy) calls for the elimination of cars, airplanes and cows. It does not.

The NSW Koala War
When the NSW National Party threatened to break up the state’s Coalition over the issue of koalas, many were mystified. But behind the political fireworks lies a story about a party being squeezed from both the right and the left. Today, Mike Seccombe on the Nationals fight for survival.

The size of the pay rise for workers that the Maritime Union of Australia is willing to agree to as part of a peace deal offered to Patrick Terminals, which would include ending the union’s industrial action at Sydney’s Port Botany.

“The education minister will announce the funding for ‘up to 12,000’ new places … but has failed to provide detail on how they will be distributed.”

Education Minister Dan Tehan has patched up his higher education reforms with an extra $326 million for new places in 2021, following warnings that the government’s proposed package won’t cope with surging demand for local students to attend university.

The list

“At 4pm I couldn’t remember whether or not I’d gone for a walk this morning. Painstakingly I worked my way back through the day and finally eliminated all doubt: yes, I had. Is this cognitive decline? Or is the lockdown blurring time for everybody, squeezing and stretching it like a concertina?”

“No president in the history of the United States has proved so unfit to hold the office, and nothing has exposed his unfitness so calamitously as the coronavirus pandemic … Yet, menace though he is, and fervent as our hopes might be that he will soon be voted out, Donald Trump is not the most alarming thing in the present American debacle. He will go, sooner or later, but whether it’s this November or four years hence, the divisions in American society will remain.”

“When I first messaged Lin Jong on Twitter, I wasn’t sure I’d hear back. I was asking the Western Bulldogs’ midfielder to put his name to a letter calling on Attorney-General Christian Porter to take action on online racial vilification. Over the years, I’ve seen how this kind of relentless harassment on social media affects players. I’ve experienced it myself … Jong replied to my message almost immediately. Yes, he said, he was happy to sign.” 

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.



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