Fossil Fuel Subsidies and Free Market Hypocrisy

In an almost unbelievable report released on the 18th of May, the International Monetary Fund has shown that subsidies for fossil fuel companies have reached $10 million dollars a minute. The companies are benefitting from global subsidies of 5.3 trillion dollars a year, more than the total health spending of all the world’s governments. It seems that polluters have been failing to foot the costs imposed on governments by the burning of coal, oil and gas, which include the adverse environmental effects of climate change such as floods and droughts, and the harm caused to local settlements by air pollution.

Quoted in an article over at The Guardian, climate economist Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics said that the figure was likely an understatement.

“A more complete estimate of the costs due to climate change would show the implicit subsidies for fossil fuels are much bigger even than this report suggests.”

The IMF’s projections for outcomes should the subsidies be cut are astounding. It has claimed that ending the subsidies for fossil fuels companies would cut global carbon emissions by a fifth, and slash premature deaths from outdoor air pollution by 50%, equivalent to some 1.6 million lives annually. Resources freed by ending the subsidies could also drive economic growth and reduce poverty through a redirection of the wasted funds into infrastructure, health and education.

A report from February 2015 by the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Global Subsidies Initiative of IISD found that “the removal of fossil fuel subsidies to consumers and to society could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by between 6-13% by 2050.”

So who’s doing all the subsidising? China comes in on top with around 2.3 trillion per year, with the United States trailing not far behind at around 700 billion annually. Other large contributors include India, at 277 billion, Russia at 335 billion, and Japan, with 157 billion spent every year on subsidies to fossil fuels. A quarter of the total costs result from climate change driven by emissions, amounting to 1.27 trillion per year.

The official response in the past to the skyrocketing figures has been typically blustery but without a great deal of effective action. World leaders called for an end to the subsidies at the 2009 G20 conference, but little progress has been made since. While there are economic factors at play, as well as the political influence of big business, governments committed to fulfilling their role as representatives for their citizenry should not balk at the prospect of taking a hard line with organisations harming those they have sworn to advocate for, in fact, it should ideally be their defining characteristic. Whatever short term losses Rio Tinto and Shell can threaten, they pale in comparison to the very real and likely irreversible costs of continuing to throw money at what ultimately amounts to a vehicle for our own extinction.

We are especially culpable, with Australia leading the world in per capita emissions at 28 billion tonnes of CO2 per annum and our political treatment of the issue ranging from toothless opposition to fervent bankrolled support. The president of the World Bank told the Guardian in April that it was ridiculous that governments were still driving the industry. He notes that fossil fuel subsidies effectively act as encouragement for unsustainable practices. “Fossil fuel subsidies send out a terrible signal: burn more carbon.”

With many detailed assessments showing that the world’s energy needs can be met adequately with existing renewable technologies, the cheap, paid-for-by-industry rhetoric of conservative governments is wearing paper thin. A study published by the University of Melbourne claims that Australia could be fully powered by wind and solar alone in around a decade by spending approximately 3% of GDP along the pathways outlined in the report, pathways which are predicted to create some 80,000 jobs. According to the study, the main obstacle to this is a lack of political will. To follow through with a project of this sort would be to join the ranks of Germany, the United Kingdom and Denmark among others in investing in a sustainable and healthy future for ourselves and generations to follow.

In addition to the progressive policymaking of the aforementioned nations, in 2014 almost 30 countries, including Indonesia, India and Egypt, had delivered some form of fossil fuel subsidy reform. Other countries that support the reform of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies are Costa Rica, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland.

As a nation, Australia has denied that it subsidises fossil fuels, however there is strong and compelling data demonstrating that this is not the case.

This 2010 report by the Australian Conservation Foundation suggests that the annual value of fossil fuel subsidies in Australia is currently valued at 7.7 billion, the largest of those subsidies being the Fuel Tax Credits program, which rebates fuel excise tax on diesel fuel consumption for many business users. It is worth 65% of total fossil fuel subsidies, or around 5 billion per annum. Other subsidies include tax concessions for “private use of company cars” and “car parking”, meaning that the people of Australia are effectively paying the travel costs of the wealthy in addition to propping up their failing businesses.

Now, granted, all these figures do seem shocking, but you’ll recall that so far I’ve only given them to you without any direct context. Here’s where your knuckles are going to whiten. This is costing you around a hundred and eighty two dollars a year. That money you probably needed for rent, food or bills is literally lining the pockets of someone who by any honest standard doesn’t need it, so they can continue to grow their personal fortunes with money that you’ll never see a cent of. As stated above, this isn’t even beneficial to you in a roundabout way, as the funds used to subsidise these industries and the people who profit from them could be redirected into services that would confer a tangible benefit to your everyday lives, whether from improved healthcare or simply better infrastructure.

Typically, businesses have been outraged at the notion that they may have to take part in the free markets they so commonly evangelise. The Minerals Council of Australia claims that government funding and tax breaks for exploration are not “subsidies”, which has obviously become a dirty word for corporations, but “legitimate tax deductions for business”. Innes Wilcox of the Australian Industry Group, a blatantly neoconservative organisation that seems to exist almost solely to legitimise illegitimate business practices, has called for subsidies to natural gas export facilities, stating that “the Commonwealth and the states took the decision to allow the eastern gas market to be linked to the high priced Asian and east Asian gas market. Government should not escape responsibility for the unintended consequences of that decision.” Apparently businesses should, according to Mr. Wilcox.

The main argument from those who would see subsidies continued or even expanded is that the practice “supports jobs”. The subsidies are deemed necessary because because if it were not paid, and here comes the kicker, the industry would fail. Ironically these same supporters of what are, in effect, welfare payments to failing businesses from the population of the country they do business in, are also the biggest critics of government intervention. Gina Rinehart, owner of Hancock Prospecting, has argued for Australia to cut it’s “entitlement” mentality. Penning a piece of surrealist fiction Dali would have been proud of, Rinehart claims that “Australians have to… work harder and smarter to pay [the bill created by welfare payments].”

In a remarkable display of cognitive dissonance, Rinehart points out that “we are living beyond our means” and that “we all have a role to play in mitigating the thinking that’s not helping our country’s future, including the entitlement mentality of individuals, companies — and our leaders.” These statements came not six months after Rinehart suggested that parents buy their children books from the likes of Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand, two historical supporters of free market ideology that would have looked down their noses in disgust at the hypocrisy of a woman who preaches the ideals of free market capitalism yet owes her success and fortune to the parasitic relationship she has forged with the Australian government.

Technically speaking, a free market economy is free of subsidies by definition. A subsidy introduced to a previously free market transforms it into what is known as a mixed economy. The authors that Rinehart and her contemporaries cite as major influences would argue that subsidies unnecessarily distort markets and divert resources from more productive uses to less productive uses. Conveniently, the leaders of business in this country and abroad have managed to characterise these arguments as product of scheming leftoids and “greenies”, and it seems no-one in our media or government has the stones to point out how dishonest a statement that actually is.

So what could possibly motivate such staunch supporters of free market ideology to bat for the opposing team? I think this short statement says it all:

“To the extent subsidies raise the profits of those receiving beneficial treatment, a new political incentive is created to lobby for the subsidy even after its usefulness runs out. This potentially allows political interests and business interests to create a mutual benefit at the expense of other taxpayers or competitive firms.”

That mutual benefit seems to be the driving principle behind government relations with fossil fuel companies in Australia, and it stands out like a sore thumb despite bungling efforts to minimise its visibility to the public. In 2013, Barnaby Joyce claimed that Gina Rinehart fronted the cost of a flight to Hyderabad for the wedding of the granddaughter of Rinehart’s business partner. Another story from the Sydney Morning Herald shows Rinehart meeting a small group of Coalition members in her private hotel suite, including Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi. I’m sure there is an infinite stream of spurious justification just waiting to dribble forth from the maws of their respective supporters, but I fail to see how secretive meetings between the captains of industry and the leaders of government can result in anything but a conflict of interest.

One of the world’s leading public intellectuals, MIT linguist Noam Chomsky, has spoken at some length about the relationship of the idealist notion of free markets and their real world counterparts. Chomsky states in his talk, Free Market Fantasies, that the overarching political rhetoric of our age is that the poor and needy must learn responsibility through exposure to the pressures and forces of the free market, while the rich demand a nanny state to protect them from market discipline, minimise competitive risk and maximise profits. What Chomsky notes is that when something goes wrong in the affairs of one of these large businesses, the state intervenes using tax dollars to “bail out” the corporation. According to Fortune magazine, not a single one of the top one hundred transnational corporations missed out on such beneficial state intervention. Here’s a short excerpt from his talk:

“Well “subsidy” is another interesting word, kind of like reform. It’s a subsidy if public funds are used for public purposes. That’s called a subsidy. It’s not called a subsidy when they go to private wealth. That’s reform. So they’re cutting down subsidies for public transportation. Well, that’s just a tax. If you pay 20 percent more for getting on the subway, that’s a tax. Same if you pay higher tuition at City College. And that’s a highly regressive tax. So, who rides the subways, and who goes to City College?

So what they’re doing is shifting- is cutting taxes for business — for the rich, and increasing taxes for the poor, which are going to compensate for that. And that’s called fiscal conservatism, and cutting government. Well, so it is across the board. Take a close look at the things that are called cutting government, and you notice that they quite characteristically have this property.”

So what are we going to do about this? There are numerous avenues for interested persons to organise and present a united front against these practices. 

On the side of politics, the Australian Greens count among their principles the notion that “subsidies to the fossil fuel sector, including funding for research and development, should be transferred to the renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable transport sectors.” There are other minor parties that support an end to fossil fuel subsidies and run on a platform including other targets for sustainable and renewable energy practices.

For a more direct approach, non-governmental organisations such as 350.org and Market Forces offer ways for the average citizen to get involved and take direct action to affect change in business and government.

Finally, simply talking about the issue with friends and family can be an invaluable way to spread awareness about the reality of our situation with regards to fossil fuels. Social media groups and online communities are a great way to network with likeminded people and organise activism in your local area.

Although the situation seems grim, and it is, all hope is not lost. We are at a point in the history of our species where our access to information is as free as it has ever been, where democratic structures exist and can be used for their intended purpose with enough popular support. We have thrown off the shackles of the church and hereditary leadership, and made enormous progress in securing the rights of marginalised sections of the human population. We have been to space.

I have no doubt that an informed and motivated citizenry can bring about radical change despite moneyed opposition from big business. We are an incredible phenomenon of life. Let’s not let the least of us snuff that out.

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Beyond the Bali 9: Indonesia’s Ongoing Contempt for Human Rights

After ten years of languishing in the Indonesian penal system, Myuran Sukumuran and Andrew Chan have been executed for drug smuggling on Wednesday the 29th of April 2015.

The executions came after months of diplomatic back and forth between Australia and Indonesia, high profile social media campaigns and even weigh-ins from celebrities around the world. Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s decision to go through with the killings is sure to deeply alter the future of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and cause international debate on the legitimacy of the death penalty and the so-called justice systems that administer it.

Hours after the event, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Prime Minister Tony Abbott made the decision to remove Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia, an unprecedented response to the death penalty being carried out on a citizen. It is currently unknown how long the measures will last, according to The Age, senior government sources say that all aspects of the diplomatic relationship are “on the table”.

Australian politicians say that the Australian public should not “boycott” Indonesia and that the relationship between the two countries, although facing a “dark period”, should remain strong in the future.

Tony Abbott made statements today to the effect that he, or perhaps he means “us”, respects the Indonesian system of justice. All well and good. Diplomacy at times like these is, of course, an important consideration to avoid loss of relations, trade, and potential hostilities.

In saying this without qualification, however, we’ve missed our chance to stand up for our national values in a very real sense. Why has the administration not overtly and clearly denounced the death penalty? We can respect the Indonesian system as a sovereign judicial construct, but this does not imply that we must swallow it whole.

There are aspects of Indonesia’s justice system, as there are of our own, that are simply not good enough. The death penalty is one of them. More than half of the world’s countries have now abolished the punishment, and it is counted as a violation of section five of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

There is also the issue of Indonesia’s legal hypocrisy when it comes to their treatment of Indonesian nationals facing the death penalty overseas. Their government, under Widodo’s leadership, has launched a formal appeal to acquit an Indonesia domestic worker on death row in Saudi Arabia for murdering her Saudi employer’s wife.

If President Widodo cannot practice universality in his treatment of human beings, we cannot take him seriously as a democratic leader. The rule of law is one of the most important foundations of the modern democratic state, and to skew the process so that some are treated more fairly than others is to hold democracy, and it’s values, in contempt.

His treatment of the issue has been frivolous at best, declining even to read each separate clemency application as he is required to by law.

To uphold the legitimacy of the death penalty is to state that, under certain circumstances, crimes committed are so reprehensible that their perpetrators are beyond redemption and worthless as human beings. For a crime far worse than this, that argument may hold some weight with some of the less astute moral thinkers among us, but if we are to be sensible in our appraisal of these Chan and Sukumuran, we must recognise that trafficking even a drug as dangerous as heroin is no cause for a state to engage in murder.

We must also acknowledge that these two young men were, factually, not beyond redemption. They had spent ten years in the Indonesian prison system, which is more than enough time to rethink the actions that landed them there. And so they did, Chan becoming a pastor with aspirations of starting a family with his new wife, whom he married on Monday this week, and Sukumuran a qualified artist using his talent to draw attention to the human costs of the Indonesian justice system.

The response from the opposition and from the Greens has been more strident in condemnation of the executions, with Christine Milne stating, “Capital punishment must be abolished wherever in the world it is still carried out. We in Australia must continue to advocate for an end to capital punishment and promote human rights around the world, especially in our region.”

Labour leader Bill Shorten and deputy leader Tanya Plibersek condemned the executions in “the strongest possible terms”, in a joint statement today, questioning their commitment to the rule of law and the impact the killings will have on Indonesia’s reputation.

“Indonesia has not just robbed two young men of their lives but robbed itself of two examples of the strengths of its justice system.”

It has also robbed itself of two men who could have served as mentors to Indonesia’s underfunded and mistreated prison population, giving hope to human beings in a situation that is, for all intents and purposes, hopeless.

There is also the burning question of whether the Australian Federal Police’s decision to alert Indonesian authorities prior to the arrests of the Bali nine in 2005 was a responsible one to make. It is public knowledge that Indonesia executes drug smugglers, so the AFP cannot plead ignorance. At best, their actions unintentionally sentenced nine people to face a corrupt and brutal system of justice, at worst, it was calculated and intentional.

In the wake of the executions, it has come to public attention that Justice Minister Michael Keenan had omitted a line from the ministerial direction of the organisation outlining the role of the AFP in matters concerning the death penalty. The line reads as follows: “[the Australian Federal Police should] take account of the government’s longstanding opposition to the application of the death penalty, in performing its international liaison functions.”

This seems to run contrary to Julie Bishop’s comments that the government has sought to uphold the values of Australians. The Foreign Minister criticised the attention given to the removal of the line, stating that the AFP guidelines and the ministerial directive were “completely different documents.”

This seems to me to be missing the point. Any removal of strong words condemning the death penalty from government publications is cause for discussion, and those responsible for the changes should be subjected to questioning from the press and the public.

On the topic of discussion, there has been talk about “redemption” in the media with regards to Sukumuran and Chan, and I think that’s patently absurd to talk about with regards to the situation. They were not murderers or rapists, they were drug traffickers, men who engaged in a form of business we have made illegal.

When a banker is caught laundering money, the word “redemption” is suspiciously absent. When a CEO is caught funnelling money out of his shareholders accounts, again the word is nowhere to be seen. To use it in the context of drug smuggling is to characterise the behaviour as in some way a condition, rather than a decision, and that seems to me to be in no-one’s best interests but those of cheap political commentators.

Many of those commentators have failed to use this disturbing waste of human life to draw attention to the wider humanitarian issues taking place in Indonesia today. While the eyes of the world are on Widodo and the people he governs, it is high time to critically examine the legitimacy of the power structures in Indonesia and the ways in which they affect the some 252 million inhabitants of the nation.

Advocates for human rights have noted Indonesian government actions as a concern. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have criticized the Indonesian government on multiple subjects. In it’s 2012 World Report, Human Rights Watch stated that “while senior officials pay lip service to protecting human rights, they seem unwilling to take the steps necessary to ensure compliance by the security forces with international human rights and punishment for those responsible for abuses.”

This contempt for human rights seems to have marred Indonesia since it’s establishment as a democracy. The nations first elected president, Sukarno, employed a form of political control he termed “Guided Democracy”, an oxymoron if there ever was one, and seemed to act as more of a de facto emperor than a democratic leader. After being deposed in a United States-backed military coup on October 1st, 1965, the Indonesian and East Timorese people were subjected to decades of abuse and genocidal murder at the hands of the new kingpin, General Suharto. By most estimates, between 500,000 and a million civilians were murdered, and tens of thousands were detained in concentration camps and prisons.

Journalist Kathy Kadane quoted Robert J. Martens as saying that senior U.S. diplomats and CIA officials provided a list of approximately 5,000 names to the Indonesian Army while it was fighting the Indonesian communist party and its supporters.

One would assume that such violence so close to our own borders would engender strong condemnation from our officials, but the reality is far from it. Internal documents from Australian embassies show that officials were approvingly reporting that army units and Muslim groups were working hand in hand to shoot, hack or club to death at least 1,500 suspected Communist Party sympathisers per day, sometimes parading their heads on sticks.

General Suharto relied heavily on the military to “maintain domestic security”, a synonym for suppressing dissent and quashing resistance to his authoritarian style of governance. By 1969, 70% of Indonesia’s provincial governors and more than half its district chiefs were active military officers. Under these conditions, foreign journalists were murdered for reporting on the abuses taking place, including five Australian men in October 1975.

Corruption in the government was rife during Suharto’s reign, with lucrative government contracts, such as the national toll-expressway market, being awarded to his children. The family is said to control about 36,000 km square of real estate in Indonesia, including 100,000 square metres of prime office space in Jakarta and nearly 40% of the land in East Timor.

From 1983-1985, army death squads murdered up to 10,000 suspected criminals in response to a spike in crime rates. Efforts were made to control the freedom of the press by issuing a law that required all media to possess a press operating license, which could be revoked at any time by the Ministry of Information.

While the situation has improved markedly in the years after Suharto’s leadership, conditions are still less than humane for many living in Indonesia, West Papua and East Timor. Many Papuans will be able to recount stories of friends or family members who have been murdered. A study carried out by the University of Sydney claims that the continuation of current practices in West Papua “may pose serious threats to the survival of the indigenous people”.

Torture is not only a reality for Papuans, it is widespread, with significant documentary evidence including “trophy footage” filmed by Indonesian soldiers that depicts extreme abuses being carried out on helpless individuals. Rape and sexual assault has reportedly been used as a weapon by the military and the police forces, with a 1999 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women concluding that security forces used rape as “an instrument of torture and intimidation” and that “torture of women detained by the Indonesian security forces was widespread.”

There are often limited or no investigation into human rights abuses and if any discipline is handed out it is usually a token gesture, with little effect on the perpetrators of the abuse. West Papua is currently off limits to international journalists, who face deportation, attack or imprisonment if they are discovered. The International Red Cross were expelled from the nation in 2010, and in 2012 Peace Brigades International were also forced to depart.

With all this injustice painfully surrounding the people of Indonesia, we simply cannot stop at a condemnation of the murder of two Australian men at the hands of a corrupt judiciary. If we are to call ourselves a nation that values human rights, where better to demonstrate that valuation than with our closest neighbour?

A clear message needs to be sent to Indonesia by Australian political leaders, that if they are to continue to commit genocidal acts on their citizens, that our economic and political relations will be unable to continue. If Australia garners international support for the movement, there is a good chance that the Indonesian leadership will be forced to comply, and that we can reopen the country to human rights organisations, aid groups and inspectors.

The omission of any mention of the crimes being committed under Widodo’s leadership in the Australian media’s response to the executions of Chan and Sukumuran speaks volumes about our leaders commitment to the goal of ending human rights violations in Indonesia. It is our responsibility as citizens of a somewhat functioning democracy to take action, to raise awareness and to push our elected officials to take a stand in our name against torture, rape, murder and genocide.

It is the least we can do.

The Maintenance of Madness: New Troop Deployments in Iraq

The Federal Cabinet has approved the deployment of about 300 additional Australian troops to the Middle East to help train Iraqi forces in their fight against Islamic State. The deployment will be for two years from the middle of may, and the troops join 200 existing special forces troops already in deployment in the region.

The Australian contingent will be joined by more than 100 New Zealand military personnel. They will be based at Taji military complex north of Baghdad, which is considered an “enduring base” by the United States Military, one of 14 such bases in the country.

Prime Minister Abbott made statements regarding the deployment at a press conference on the 3rd of March this year.

“We won’t have a combat role. It’s a training mission, not a combat mission. This is not just about Iraq, this is about our national security.”

A casual glance at the history of conflict in the Middle East will show that military intervention does not, as the government claims, increase national security, in fact it performs the exact opposite function, creating heavily armed and motivated militia groups with the spurious justification of prior Western aggression for their continued aggression.

Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson has let it slip that highly trained military personnel, likely indirectly trained by US or Coalition forces, make up the leadership of ISIS:

“[ISIS] is led by experienced former Iraqi generals and others with substantial military experience.”

ISIS is, in effect, the current incarnation of AQI, or Al-Qaeda in Iraq, a branch of the central body of Al-Qaeda with links to Osama Bin Laden and notable members of the terrorist organisation. Older readers and the more historically astute will remember that the United States was responsible for training and arming mujahideen forces against the then Soviet Union during its war in Afghanistan, including Bin Laden and his compatriots, who later became instrumental in forming the modern day iteration of Al-Qaeda.

The official reason for deployment is to help the Iraqi government prepare sufficient forces to maintain the momentum of the counter-attack against Islamic State and regain control of its territory.

Abbott noted that Australian personnel will “not be working with irregulars, we don’t work with informal, armed groups.”

It turns out that this statement is entirely false and doesn’t accord with the documentary record.


Around November 2010, under the then Gillard government, six senior militia fighters loyal to Afghan warlord Matiullah Khan were flown to Australia to train with elite special forces as part of a “covert strategy to strengthen military operations against the Taliban.”

Matiullah Khan is known in the press as “Australia’s biggest ally in Afghanistan”. His uncle is former Uruzgan governor Jan Mohammed Khan, who has a reputation for corruption, brutality and double dealing.

In a few short years he went from being a taxi driver to a millionaire running security for NATO convoys in the area. He was appointed chief of police in Uruzgan province, despite numerous allegations of human rights abuses. There are reports that he has dealings with drug smugglers and Taliban insurgents.

We have contracted with his private army, Kandak Amniante Uruzgan, to provide security services to the bases around his compound in the Uruzgan province.

Under an arrangement with the Ministry of the Interior, the Australian Government pays for roughly 600 of Matiullah’s 1,500 fighters, including Matiullah himself, despite the fact that the force is not under government control or oversight.

Matiullah Kahn was killed in Kabul earlier this year in March by a suicide bomber.

From the Pakistani Daily Times:

“Khan’s militia has been involved in mass murder, rape and abductions of men and women.

The New York Times reported that he was earning $ 2.5 million a month through highway robbery, abduction, drug trafficking and extortion. Once, Khan warned his opponents that he could eliminate them by purchasing suicide bombers with the money he received from the Australian army.

WikiLeaks of the US embassy pinned him as a stand-over merchant, a wealthy warlord and drug trafficker.

Australian intelligence knew he was a corrupt war criminal but, despite the US army’s opposition, the Australian army and intelligence corps lobbied to make him an inspector general of the Uruzgan police in 2011.”

From Green Left Weekly, citing a story published in the Dutch Daily, De Pers:

“The extent of Matiullah’s brutality was shown in a massacre reported on by the July 18 Dutch daily De Pers.

The paper said the previous month, Matiullah’s army made a surprise attack on a meeting of 80 people in Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar province. Five people were killed in the ensuing shootout.

The remaining 75 were knifed to death.

Mohammed Daoud, the district chief of Chora, told De Pers: “As torture, they were first stabbed in the shoulders and legs. The corpses were treated with chemicals to make them unrecognisable.””

In this interview released several days before his death, the contents of Matiullah’s office suite are described as containing “plaques of appreciation from the Australian Federal Police” and a “boxed boomerang – a gift from Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, formerly head of the Australian Defence Force.

From the same interview, detailing a raid on a nearby village by Jan Mohammed Khan and Matiullah Khan:

“One man told me how his son was made to lie on the ground – and then they drove a truck over his head.”

These accounts are horrifying, and our complicity in them more so. Indirect involvement in these abuses, though despicable, could be rationalised as a product of the idea that we are working towards some greater good, and indeed, it seems this is the justification for our involvement from many of the sources mentioned in the above interview and publications.

Our direct involvement in war crimes in the region however, cannot be rationalised away.

Reports from The Age in 2009 describe cover-ups by the ADF of attacks on civilians by SAS soldiers in Iraq around 2006-7. The attacks in November 2007 resulted in the murders of three men, two women and one child in a house that allegedly belonged to an insurgent.

In the same month, the newspaper reported the use of SAS patrols as death squads, carrying out assassinations in Afghanistan.


One has to ask the question: how exactly does action of this sort confer an increase in our national security? If the Iraqi military is to be trained by the same forces responsible for the financial support of a local warlord and who have engaged in war crimes of their own, I don’t see it as unreasonable to suppose that ethics and adherence to international law will be covered as an afterthought, if at all.

The approach of fighting fire with fire has been an abject failure in stemming the tide of radicalised Islamic extremism in the Middle Eastern theatre, and this new deployment of troops into the region is simply more of the same.

We cannot hope to bring peace to the Middle East with the sword.

Rebranding Wage Slavery: An Intentional Imbalance

The title of the article, belonging to the Herald Sun, is “Time to Embrace Life’s Imbalance”.

It sits squirrelled away in the bottom corner of the Herald Sun’s business section, a measly couple of hundred words. Easy to overlook.

In it, we are compelled by “business consultant” Judy Reynolds to forfeit a good work-life balance and instead adopt an attitude of “intentional imbalance”.

There’s two words we don’t often hear thrown together. I wonder where else we’d like to implement an “intentional imbalance” in our lives?

The article mentions a study by the Australia Institute, which found that the balance between work and life had worsened for nearly five million workers in the past five years. Five million, in five years. That’s nearly the entire population of Victoria. Imagine, as you’re walking around today, that every person you encounter is part of that group, and then marvel at the size of even the small percentage of that five million you’ve witnessed in a single day. In human terms, we’re not talking about a minority.

Although the piece has been penned in the language of choice, there is nonetheless the sneaking recognition that for those five million people whose work-life balance has worsened, the likely scenario was not one of a comfortable selection between option A or option B, with pros and cons to consider on each side, but rather grim acceptance or financial ruin.

Does the author of the article believe that people will voluntarily choose to increase their own suffering and enjoy it simply by changing the way they talk about it? Who among us stands to benefit from longer work hours and increased job insecurity, the two phenomena listed as “main culprits” for the causation of poor work-life balance?

It seems that the blurring of the lines between our work life and our private existence is a source of some discomfort to many employees. Many companies and workplaces now encourage some form of technological linkage with their hierarchy, whether it’s by smartphone, email or through an intranet/employee website. While many upwardly mobile workers use technology after hours to further their careers, this use of communications technologies after hours has also been correlated with an increased reporting of work-life conflict, and it’s really any wonder. Leaving behind the stresses of the workplace when the clock ticks over to finishing hour is I’m sure a feature of the terrain in the vast majority of employee’s minds.

We like to have clear cut boundaries between when we must be “on” in terms of our responsibilities, persona and outward behaviour, and when we can simply relax and be ourselves. The encroachment of business into our private lives in this way seems likely to cause more than a little existential discomfort in a situation that should ideally be free from unwanted external observation or interaction.

In fact, several studies conducted into the effects of work-life balance on the psychological and physical wellbeing of employees point fairly strongly towards a good work-life balance being a stepping stone to enjoying better health.

A study published in the Journal of Social Service Research indicates that “results show that employees who viewed their work schedules as flexible reported higher levels of work-life balance, which in turn were associated with positive paths to well-being.”

Investigations carried out by the Government of South Australia point to the same conclusion. “Work life balance initiatives increase loyalty and dedication, and decrease employee absenteeism, improving client service and enhancing business reputation overall.”

This 2002 study even suggests a benefit for employers: “Many employees reported clearly benefiting from the flexible policies/practices offered by their organization. HR managers also generally believed that such policies/practices yielded tangible business benefits, including improved employee morale, greater employee commitment and performance, and reduced casual absence and turnover.”

In real economic terms then, supporting employees in their movements towards more balanced schedules gives us happy, committed and productive workers. This seems like a sound investment, a win-win situation that extends beyond the employer/employee dyad and out to the clients and families of the two.

So the question floating to the surface of this muddied pond seems to be, “who stands to benefit from the adoption of an ‘intentional imbalance’ in our work-life arrangements?”, and we don’t have to look far to answer that.

It seems Judy Reynolds is more than comfortable employing doublespeak to gussy up worker suffering.

Rather than addressing the problem itself, namely that five million workers (and more) are dissatisfied with the security of their jobs and the amount of time worked, Reynolds simply entices us to call our suffering by any other name.

The phrase “intentional imbalance” is a re-branding of wage slavery. What it means in real terms, stripped of the doublespeak, is that we are being beckoned by the business community to smilingly accept infringements on our rights at work. We are being told that things are not going to get better, and that rather than calling a turd a turd, we should simply spice it and serve it as gourmet.

Adam Smith’s condemnation of the “vile maxim of the masters of mankind” is as cogent now as it was when it was written. We cannot acquiesce to those who would run the world along the lines of “all for ourselves, and nothing for anyone else”, and this undermining of workers serves to perform exactly that function.

Who benefits from job insecurity? Business, of course, who can simply replace unruly workers with cheap overseas labour should they have the cheek to stand up and exercise their legal rights. They need not even follow through, as the threat of replacement is often more than enough to quash any organised resistance to damaging workplace policies. It may be too obvious to warrant mention, but longer work hours means exhausted workers, and the likelihood of a tired man causing a fuss is significantly lower than that from a well rested individual.

The observant reader will have noticed by now that these negative effects on the lives of workers are anything but good for the economy, so in practice, those businesses without access to government subsidies or the ability to whipsaw labour forces over international boundaries will likely suffer as much as their workers from this justification of abuse.

Ms Reynolds concludes her stunning insights into the topic with the suggestion that we “work out a plan that includes [our] goals for work, family, friends, health and recreation.”

I say we add to that list the direct and active opposition of Ms Reynolds’ absurd attack on the backbone of this country, and that we work to “intentionally imbalance” any attempts to implement it in our own lives and the lives of our friends, family and co-workers.

Online Privacy: A Basic Guide

[For the purposes of getting this out as quickly as possible, I’ll assume you’re all using Google Chrome as your default browser. If not, you can download it easily by googling Chrome. Good luck.]

Alright, so as you all know the new metadata retention laws [have] are likely to pass the senate, so it’s in all our best interests as members of a democratic society who value our freedom of speech to find out how we can communicate privately and without the intrusion of government/corporate surveillance.

To that end, I’m compiling the following short guide to online privacy, which will be by no means comprehensive but rather a starting point for interested parties.

Whether we are involved in criminal or illegal activity or not, we still have a basic right to privacy as human beings, and we must exercise that right if we wish to keep it.

So, where do we start?

BROWSER OPTIONS & EXTENSIONS

There are a few very easy steps to securing your browsing that can be done in-browser, along with some extensions and apps that do the legwork for you.

Firstly we’ll go over a few simple mouse-click changes you can perform in the settings tab in Chrome, which you can find by clicking the three horizontal bars in the top-right corner of your browser.

If your Google account is connected with chrome your data will automatically synchronise and update to google’s servers. Considering Google’s involvement with the NSA it’s wise to disable this feature.

You can do so by selecting “Disconnect your Google Account” under the “Sign In” heading.

If instead you see a box that says “Sign in to Chrome”, you’re not synchronised and have one less thing to worry about.

The next thing you’ll want to do is scroll down to the bottom of the Settings page and click “Show advanced settings…”

The first heading that appears should be “Privacy”. While you’re here, click “Clear browsing data”, check all the boxes and choose “Obliterate the following items from: the beginning of time”.

You’ll have to reinput any passwords and form data after performing this action.

Underneath this heading there is a list of check-boxes. You’ll want to uncheck the second box, “Use a protection service to help…”, and the third box “Predict network actions…”

The last item on the list you’ll want to check, “Send a “Do Not Track” request with your browsing traffic.”

Click on “Content settings”, and under “Cookies”, check the box that says “Block third-party cookies and site data”.

Scroll down to “Plug-ins”, and under this heading choose “Do not run plugins by default”.

The next important heading is “Location”, here you’ll want to select “Do not allow any site to track your physical location”

Under “Notifications”, choose “Ask when a site wants to show desktop notifications.”

Under “Automatic downloads”, select “Do not allow any site to download multiple files automatically.”

Once you’ve done the above, click “Done” to save your changes.

Now, on to the extensions.

HTTPS Everywhere is an extension that automatically shunts your connection from a non-secure http format to a secure https connection wherever possible. You can find it here.

Ghostery allows you to disable trackers from many companies such as Facebook, Google and Apple, just remember to opt out of their option to send data to their servers, which you should be asked to do during setup. You can find it here.

ScriptSafe allows you to choose which active scripts you trust and enable or disable them on the fly, get it here.

CryptoCat is probably the most useful active app we’ll use, as it allows encrypted chat over Facebook and other IM services. To use it with Facebook, install the app and open it from the apps tab in your Chrome bookmarks toolbar, it should be on the far left, then choose the “Facebook” tab.

This Facebook connectivity will expire on April 15th, so this is only going to be usable for two weeks-ish from now. The non-Facebook aspect of the app should be fine to use after that date however so it’s still worth getting. Get the app here.

OTHER GENERAL ADVICE

While these services and tweaks will go some way to anonymising your activity online, they are not magic bullets. If you are discussing anything private, don’t do it online, and if you have to do it by phone, use Wickr, an app which automatically destroys your comms after they’ve been sent. You can get that from the AppStore/GooglePlay.

A better option than using Google Chrome is to use the Tor Browser. You can find the browser and comprehensive info on how to use it and set it up here.

If you want real privacy the only way to get it now is to meet face to face somewhere isolated and soundproof, and to disable all electronic devices by removing their power sources. Even that isn’t necessarily foolproof.

What the above changes will accomplish is to make your metadata harder to collect and store. You should consider changing your internet service provider to a company that upholds good privacy standards, for example iiNet.

Don’t trust providers, buy your devices directly from the manufacturer when you upgrade and remember to disable any location trackers and cookie storage etc upon purchase.

If you have extremely sensitive information, use an “air gapped” machine, i.e. a computer that has no network capability and has never been connected to the web, or even better, don’t digitise it.

All of that said, none of us have too much to worry about, but these actions are statements indicating that we are recognising and exercising our basic human rights, and that we include the right to privacy under that heading.

Stay safe.

Snowy Hydro, Neoliberalism and the NSW Government: The Ugly Visage of Privatisation Rears Again

Hazelwood power station in Victoria's LaTrobe Valley

Hazelwood power station in Victoria’s LaTrobe Valley

Australia’s energy policy is subject to regulatory and fiscal influence from all three levels of government, however only the State and Federal levels determine policy for primary industries such as coal.

Coal, natural gas and oil-based products are currently the primary sources of Australia’s energy usage, despite the fact that 38% of Australia’s total greenhouse emissions stem directly from the coal industry. In the year 2000, Australia was the highest emitter of greenhouse gases per capita in the developed world.

After the Second World War, New South Wales and Victoria began integrating the formerly small and self-contained local and regional power grids into state-wide systems, run centrally by public statutory authorities. Workers were able to confer with one another and pass legislation with the consent and input of the public through these statutory authorities.

Enter the Snowy Mountains Scheme: a hydroelectricity and irrigation complex in south east Australia, sixteen major dams, seven power stations, pumping station and 225 km of tunnels, pipelines and aqueducts. It was largely constructed by European immigrants and is seen by many as “a defining point in Australian history, a symbol of multicultural, resourceful, independent Australia.”

A map of the Snowy Mountain Scheme, not Canberra, top right, and Thredbo, bottom left.

A map of the Snowy Mountain Scheme, note Canberra, top right, and Thredbo, bottom left.

The Scheme generates 67% of all renewable energy in the mainland National Electricity Market and provides approximately 2100 gigalitres per annum to the Murray-Darling Basin, providing additional water for an irrigated agriculture industry worth around $3 billion, representing more than 40% of the gross value of the nations agricultural production

Workers inside tunnels making up part of the Scheme

Workers inside tunnels making up part of the Scheme

The project at the time of it’s implementation was rumoured to be unconstitutional, and eventuated in the deaths of 121 workers. This excerpt from a discussion paper on the Scheme goes into some detail around the political concerns at the time of development and planning:


“Perhaps more daunting than the engineering challenges were the political ones… [then Prime Minister Ben] Chifley saw in the Australian Constitution a simple solution to the bickering that was occurring between the States. Each State wanted the greatest benefit to lie, understandably, within their own borders… There was one ready made solution for the Prime Minister, to invoke the 1909 agreement made between the Commonwealth and NSW, however that would still leave Victoria and South Australia to deal with. However, lurking in the Constitution was a solution, and that was to make the Scheme a national defence issue.

A conversation related by the Governor-General between himself and the Prime Minster summed up the attitude of the day;

McKell – The Snowy is a national work and as Prime Minister I think you should do it as a national work,
Chifley – Yes, but you know I haven’t got the constitutional authority.
McKell – I know you haven’t, but do it. Go ahead and do it. And let’s see what will happen. Don’t forget this Ben, under this Scheme we are going to build generating stations thousands of feet under the earth.
Chifley – What are we going to do that for?
McKell – So the bombs can’t get at them. This is a defence job. This is for the defence of Australia.

Indeed, the Act was introduced into the Federal Parliament under the Commonwealth’s defence power. It was fortunate that the validity of the Act was never challenged, as it would very probably have proved to be unconstitutional. It was not until 1959, ten years later, that the Act was underpinned by appropriate State legislation, with the Snowy Mountains Agreement becoming effective from the 2nd of January 1959. It was during this time of constitutional limbo that the Australian Workers Union secured more favourable working conditions under the threat of a constitutional challenge to the Authorities validity.”


From the same document:

“7. Degree of Public Interest

The possible level of public controversy over the Scheme would be examined under this heading, as well as the possible generation or maintenance of social inequity.”


This is relatively unsurprising except for the obviousness of the language. Statements like these can be found scattered through reports generally only read by rich men whose interests are covered within them.

Tumut 3 Generating Station

Tumut 3 Generating Station

The Scheme, despite being rated by the American Society of Civil Engineers as being a “world class civil-engineering project”, is in the process of being considered for privatisation. In December 2005, the NSW government announced it would sell its 58% share in Snowy Hydro, a publicly unlisted company that operates the Scheme, expecting to yield a billion dollars. This proposal was effectively vetoed by the Federal government in June 2006, by an announcement that the Federal government would no longer sell its 13% stake in the project, which forced the states to follow suit. Interest in privatisation was renewed in Feb 2014, when the National Commission of Audit recommended in its Phase One Report that the Commonwealth sell its interest in Snowy Hydro.

The National Commission of Audit was a commission formed by the Abbott Government on 22 October 2013 as an independent body to review and report on the performance, functions and roles of the Commonwealth government. The Commission has recommended slowing in the increase of the aged pension, an increase in retirement age to 70 by 2035 and the inclusion of the family home in new means testing from 2027. The commission was behind the recommendation of the Medicare copayment, also suggesting cuts to Newstart, NDIS, carers allowances, foreign aid, students, and homeless funding.

In this article over at The Guardian, states that the NCoA’s “few recommendations that affect revenue would pit states against each other with an ultimate aim of further reducing tax revenue in the hope that there will need to be more cuts to services similar to what has happened in the US over the past 30 years.”

These policy recommendations rest on a foundation of abject mythology. Baseline assumptions in the reports include: Australian governments have a lot of debt, that we are a high taxing country, with big spending from government and large deficits. In reality, Australia’s debt levels are historically small, out of 30 OECD countries only six have a lower net debt to GDP, on top of which we are the fourth-lowest-taxed country, paying around 26 percent in tax. We spend around 25% on average of the GDP, and our budget balance, according to this SMH article, is “around the middle to low end of observations elsewhere in the world at 1.8 per cent of GPD.’


SnowyHydro Discovery Centre

SnowyHydro Discovery Centre

So who are Snowy Hydro?

The mission statement at Snowy Hydro reads: “To deliver superior financial returns by being the preferred supplier of risk management products; developing our people, utilising and developing our water resources, physical assets and dual fuel capabilities, and exceeding customer and stakeholder expectations while demonstrating best practice in safety and health, asset and environmental management.”

Noel Cornish on his yacht

Noel Cornish on his yacht

BlueScope Steel’s former Australian and New Zealand steel manufacturing businesses chief executive Noel Cornish is now Interim Chairman of the Board at Snowy Hydro. Cornish is currently on the board of directors for AIG, or the Australian Industry Group, the purpose of which is to represent business interests. It has ties to the mining industry in the form of a partnership with MESCA, the Mining and Energy Services Council of Australia.

Innes Wilcox

Innes Wilcox

Its chief executive Innes Willox penned an opinion piece on the “bogus scourge of job insecurity”, proposing that the situation does not exist and that it is some kind of concerted effort by “misguided” academics, the Greens and labour unions to pursue restrictions on business. It is clear that Willox, and Cornish, subscribe to a neoliberal ideology and that workers rights are, in their minds, considerably less important than the rights of employers.

“Manufacturers in particular are facing considerable headwinds due to the combined impacts of the strong dollar, intense competition from the emerging economies, a legacy low productivity growth, relatively high unit labour costs and considerably higher energy prices. “While there are very exciting opportunities – particularly in the growing markets of Asia – taking advantage of these will require a new phase of investment and innovation,” Mr Cornish said.

In effect this is a stement that rising pay rates for workers and competition from worker run businesses are considerable challenges to the interests Cornish represents. He seems to advocate moving manufacturing to cheaper third world economies in Asia, undercutting the “relatively high unit labour costs” here in Australia. This seems like business speak for moving jobs offshore until Australian workers are prepared to work for third-world pay at third-world conditions.

It seems that the corporation has sought legal indemnity from any “liabilities” incurred by their members:

Consolidated Financial Report for the Reporting Period 30 June 2013 to 28 June 2014, Page 6, Indemnification of Officers and Auditors:

“During the financial year, Snowy Hydro paid a premium in respect of a contract insuring the directors of the Company (as named above), the company secretary and all officers of the Company and of any related body corporate against a liability incurred by a director, secretary or officer to the extent permitted by the Corporations Act 2001(Cwlth). The contract of insurance prohibit disclosure of the nature of the liability and the amount of the premium.”

Even if there was unethical or illegal conduct going on in the upper levels of Snowy Hydro, it seems in my opinion that there would be no way to prosecute those involved, or to legally request details about the offences.

Snowy Hydro was involved in a court case with the Australian Energy Regulator over claims that the company had contravened aspects of the National Electricity Rules. On the 12th of February 2015 the Federal Court of Australia declared that Snowy Hydro had breached clause 4.9.8(a), “A Registered Participant must comply with a dispatch instruction given to it by AEMO unless to do so would, in the Registered Participant’s reasonable opinion, be a hazard to public safety or materially risk damaging equipment.”

The Court declared by consent that the company had breached these rules on nine occasions in 2012-13, by failing to comply with dispatch instruction issued by the AEMO. On each occasion Snowy Hydro generated more power than the dispatch instruction required.

From aer.gov.au:

“The Australian Energy Market Operator issues dispatch instructions to generators, based on offer prices and other market conditions. AMEO’s instructions ensure supply and demand is safely balanced every minute of the day… Compliance with dispatch instructions is essential to maintain power system security. Market outcomes may also be distorted if these instructions are not followed. Where a generator is advantaged by not following dispatch instructions, one or more other players may be financially disadvantaged.”

It seems, in my opinion, that Snowy Hydro have been testing the waters to see how much they can distort the market without attracting suspicion.


A view of the Snowy Mountains from Perisher

A view of the Snowy Mountains from Perisher

What effect could this have on the environment?

The Snowy Scientific Committee is a key body set up through legislation to advise the governments on how to achieve the greatest benefits from the environmental water. The committee’s existence has come under threat from the NSW government, which wants to reform it into an advisory committee funded by Snowy Hydro. According to Environment Victoria, a document published by the NSW government critiques the SSC for being independent from government (which is, in fact, it’s legislated role), for it’s “inflexibility”, and lack of broad expertise. The report also singled out the single source of the committee’s funding and the focus of the committee on environmental issues as being problematic. This is despite the same report admitting on the first page that “projected water recovery entitlements have been achieved, some substantial environmental releases have been made and the Snowy River is showing signs of improved river health.”

The reshuffled committee would boast, instead of it’s current chair who according to Environment Victoria has expert knowledge of aquatic environments, a chair appointed by the NSW Minister for Primary Industry. It seems to me that this is a way to increase industry influence and potentially drown out environmental concerns about development of the region that stem from the public and it’s representatives.

It is clear from the actions of NSW Premier Mike Baird, who has authorised fracking programs that are likely to not only poison the water supplies that feed into major urban areas of NSW, but also permanently contaminate the enormous artesian well underneath the state, that environmental and public safety are not high on the priority list of the current government. There have been reports of children suffering nose-bleeds in towns and suburbs where the fracking has been implemented. Narelle Nothdurft, a farmer hailing from Queensland, in statements to the ABC, said that “I have 11 children and the little children have nose bleeds along with headaches and a metal taste in their mouth all the time and the noise is horrendous.”

It seems unlikely that a NSW government plan for the Snowy River Scheme will result in much more than expanded profits for corporations and further public health and safety risks for the majority of residents.

Choosing to Lie About Indigenous Australia: Why Tony Abbott Should Do More Than Just Apologize

Tony Abbott has, yet again, demonstrated his appalling lack of knowledge on even the most basic aspects of our society with comments made last week that claimed the problems Aboriginal people face are a result of “poor lifestyle choices”.

The irony of a rich, Catholic white male lecturing a people who have routinely been consciously disadvantaged by government after government after government in this country is palpable.

Anglo-saxon relationships with the indigenous people of Australia have been consistently poor, to understate the matter, since our cultures first crossed paths. The response of our “noble forefathers” to the presence of what they considered to be savages was to engage in mass killing, in genocide, to allow easier access to the land and it’s resources.

There are no Tasmanian aborigines left.

Just think about that for a moment.

Imagine what it must be like to know that from an indigenous perspective, to understand that the white man has since the beginning been a force of slaughter, of death, of discord to your people.

Imagine then what it must feel like to hear one of these white men telling the nation he leads that it is the fault of the Aboriginal people that their living conditions rank among the worst in the developed world, that white police officers murder them in custody, that mining magnates such as Lang Hancock, Gina Rinehart’s father, have proposed they be sterilised.

In short, Tony Abbott is blaming the victims, and he’s not apologising for it.

“I’m not going to concede that. I accept people have a right to be critical of me, but I’m certainly not going to concede that.”

This statement made by the prime minister in response to journalists remarking that his framing of indigenous living conditions as a choice may have been a poor choice of words, demonstrates that this monkey in a suit has even less understanding of the situation than he does empathy towards it.

Was it a “lifestyle choice” that resulted in children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders being forcibly removed from their families for over a century?

Does the prime minister believe that these human beings are choosing to live seventeen years less than non-Aboriginal Australians?

This behaviour, from the man who is supposed to represent Australia on the world stage, is despicable. It alone is reason enough to oust Gina Rinehart’s praetorian guardsman and ensure he never holds a position of power in this country again.

For those wanting to learn more about Aboriginal Australia and the horrifying disparity between indigenous people and the rest of the populace, head on over to youtube and watch John Pilger’s excellent film, Utopia.

You can find it here.

Jake Bilardi and the Helen Lovejoy Approach to Justifying War

Front page news in todays Herald Sun:

“PLOT TO BOMB US”

“Jihadi Jake’s plan to attack Melbourne”

The photograph of an eighteen year old boy stares back at us from the right of the headline. The article describes his blog posts, which detailed the boy’s fantasies of bombing Melbourne and carrying out grenade and knife attacks as “chilling”, and states that “chemicals” were found in the boy’s home. Jake Bilardi is now dead, allegedly as part of a suicide bombing which resulted in the deaths of ten or more people.

How hysterical has the media become to trot out this story as if it were proof of an existential threat to Australians everywhere?

In between lazy appeals to the public’s fear of ISIS, the article mentions that Jake Bilardi was intensely interested in world politics, and prior to his ‘radicalisation’ was an atheist. In a blog post Jake penned some weeks before his death, he states that he was “growing tired of the filthiness and corruption of Australian society” and that his research into the war on terror led him to form a “complete hatred and opposition to the entire system Australia and the majority of the world was based upon.”

We can all agree that the path Jake took was not an exemplary one. He chose to side with a group of fascists responsible for horrific crimes against humanity, an act that we must condemn wherever it occurs and whoever it involves.

But why, when context is so key to understanding these complex issues, is the Herald Sun not asking important, difficult questions?

The question we should be asking ourselves as a country is, what could we have done differently to prevent this from happening? We can blame ISIS until we’re blue in the face, the fact of the matter is that in doing so we are accomplishing nothing except for currying a feeling of moral, cultural and nationalistic superiority. Whether this is grounded or not, it confers no benefit to us as a community.

Jake’s mother had died several years prior to his involvement with ISIS, and friends and family point to this as a turning point for the boy, leading an already quiet young man to withdraw even further into himself. Where were the support services this human being needed? Where was the funding that could have provided those services, services which may have prevented his eventual death in a foreign land at the hands of sick old men? It was being spent on fighter jets and defence.

It’s true that we each have personal responsibility for the choices we make, and that as adults we bear the consequences for our actions. But Jake was not an adult. He was eighteen years old, a vulnerable, seemingly confused but intelligent young man looking for a sense of meaning and belonging in a world that had painfully wronged him. Why did we, as a people, not provide that for him? What is it about our culture that makes that search for meaning lead to the ranks of a bizarre quasi-religious militia on the other side of the world?

To use this child’s death as grist for the war mill is despicable behaviour, and the editors of the Herald Sun should be ashamed of the tone of the articles they allowed to be published this morning. We could have used this as an opportunity to ask ourselves what each of us can do to fix the endemic social problems here at home, and in doing so create a society so vastly preferable to religious extremism that it would be next to unthinkable to leave it to engage in such chaotic violence. We could have fostered some empathy with the real victims of this situation, the ten or more innocent human beings who lost their lives because of our inability to constructively criticise our own nation and implement support networks for those most in need, or perhaps with his family, who no doubt will experience vilification and hatred from the strikingly ISIS-like neoconservatives calling for a nuclear genocide in the middle east.

Mark Knight’s cartoon depicts Jake at his computer, surrounded by shadowy figures with culturally incorrect facial hair and overemphasised features, disturbingly reminiscent of antisemitic propaganda from the second world war. The caption reads, “you’re never alone on the internet.” A statement that is all too true, but that applies not just to the violent extremists overseas, but equally to their equivalents in our own parliament.

The Herald Sun’s comment:

“President Barack Obama may have to put American boots on the ground to stop the slaughter.”

Are we so afraid of the spectre of terrorism that it has become an acceptable behaviour for the mainstream media to sell war using the death of a child?

Whatever the answer to that question may be, we can be sure of one thing: if Obama puts American boots on the ground, the last thing we’ll see is an end to slaughter.

Privatisation: Just Who Is It For?

New South Wales is following Canberra’s lead in adopting what the Abbott government is referring to as “asset recycling”, which in practice translates to privatisation, securing 2 billion dollars under the deal.

Abbott’s five billion dollar scheme encourages states and territories to sell assists to fund infrastructure development.

The Baird leadership intends to funnel the money garnered from leasing 49% of the state’s electricity network into road and rail projects, though it is unclear as to whether this will actually take place and if it does, whether the decision is in the public interest.

Proponents of privatisation describe it as conferring a multiplicity of benefits to the public by boosting the efficiency and quality of remaining government activities, reducing taxes and shrinking government. The argument rests on the presumption that the profit seeking behaviour of private sector managers and owners will produce ever more efficient, cheap and customer focused services.

We mustn’t forget that the raison d’être of a business is to provide profit. People do not start up or buy a business for the sole purpose of serving the public, that sort of behaviour is more likely to be found in a monastery than in McDonalds. This basic profiteering function of business is primary in capitalist society, and we often see that rather than being customer or human centric, the businesses that make it to the big time cut corners when it comes to ethics and the treatment of their employees and customers.

It is not unreasonable to assume that the same profit hungry managers and owners the evangelists of privatisation refer to may have no second thoughts about implementing practices that make service unaffordable to large segments of the citizenry. Profit seeking organisations may decide that spending on the disabled or the poor is money wasted, and those affected may find it far more difficult to seek accountability than they would were the services government owned.

It is worth noting that efficiency is not the only goal of services like electricity, healthcare and water. One must also take into account quality, ease of access and sustainability when building a picture of what a successful service should look like.

Privatization was billed under Jeff Kennett’s Victorian government as leading to a more efficient and productive industry, passing on the savings to consumers. Despite Kennett’s comments to the contrary, electricity prices in the state have remained consistent with non-privatised states, only falling below the mean between 2004 and 2008.

There is evidence that companies running Victoria’s electricity services increased prices by up to 175% for “off-peak” periods, a decision which affects a sizeable portion of the populace who conduct their business during those times, perhaps the most notable example being agriculturists and farmers.

The notion that productivity would increase under privatisation has fallen apart, with the industry becoming an anchor on national productivity since the turn of the century. The private sector’s tactic of employing a higher percentage of managers and salespeople has contributed to further bureaucracy rather than having the intended effect of streamlining the industry.

Selling off government assets is typically coupled with the promise of the revenue being funnelled into new and needed infrastructure such as roads and rail networks, however the promise does not always carry through to reality. Economist John Quiggin noted that investment in infrastructure did not occur in Queensland under Bligh’s leadership despite almost ten billion dollars being made from the sale of government assets.

A 1991 report from the Harvard Business Review raised three key conclusions on the issue of privatisation that may help us frame the issue a little better:

1. Neither public nor private managers will always act in the best interests of their shareholders. Privatisation will be effective only if private managers have incentives to act in the public interest, which includes, but is not limited to, efficiency.

2. Profits and the public interest overlap best when the privatized service or asset is in a competitive market. It takes competition from other companies to discipline managerial behavior.

3. When these conditions are not met, continued governmental involvement will likely be necessary. The simple transfer of ownership from public to private hands will not necessarily reduce the cost or enhance the quality of services.

There are hidden costs of privatisation rarely spoken of by the politicians and their friendly counterparts in business. When a public service is privatised, much of the time employees are paid less on average and lose their existing benefits. On the surface this seems like a saving, but the costs of poverty and ill health must fall somewhere, and it seems it’s generally into the waiting arms of another state agency. The profits increase for those at the top of the pyramid, and those underneath carry an ever-increasing burden to support them.

It is also unclear as to whether privatisation actually does save governments money, with a study by the Project on Government Oversight finding that in 33 of 35 occupations, using contractors cost the United States Federal Government billions of dollars more than using government employees.

This seems yet another example of cosy relationships between politicians and businessmen taking priority over the wellbeing of the public. A more thorough, nonpartisan investigation into the history of privatisation in Australia, a cost benefit analysis and a public debate over the issue would go some ways to clarifying the relationship of privatisation to the people it affects.