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Many readers will remember the catchy 1972 theme It’s time, which thrust Gough Whitlam into government. It focused on the perceived need for change after 23 years of conservative government, and was underpinned by a raft of major policy proposals. The contributors to this month’s newsletter are each in their own way telling us that again It’s time, not necessarily for change of government, but certainly for change of focus and policy on a range of issues.
In this newsletter, we hear Luke Michael cover the decline of unemployment policies, particularly the tragedy of Newstart. Lionel Orchard writes on the ailments of housing policy and what to do about them. Tim Colebatch examines what Australia could learn from the World Energy Report to reduce emissions quickly and meet our Paris targets. Paul Barratt contends that the power to make war must be returned from bureaucrats to Parliament. And Rowan Ireland explores the crises in the Amazon, with the expanding fires destroying great areas of rainforest, and the efforts by Pope Francis to mobilise defence with the special Synod of the Amazon.
Wednesday 11 December 2019 7pm
Yarra Theological Union Study Centre
34 Bedford Street Box Hill
The AGM will be followed at 7:30 by an address by Bruce Duncan CSsR
Pope Francis’s advocacy on inequality & the climate emergency. Is it proper? Is it enough?
Entry free. Donations welcome. Refreshments afterwards.
Download your invitation.
It wasn’t meant to be this way. Newstart was meant to be – if not a panacea – then at least a new start for tackling entrenched disadvantage in Australia.
The unemployment benefit (or dole) had been in effect since its introduction in 1945, when World War II and memories of the Great Depression were fresh in the nation’s consciousness. It was the brainchild of Prime Minister John Curtin, who was inspired to create a post-war world free from deprivation and discrimination.
This benefits scheme was designed for a labour market in which full-time employment for a male-dominated workforce was the norm, and unemployment was only seen as a short-term issue. The legislation survived mostly untouched until the 1970s, when periods of recession caused an upsurge of people going on the dole, and staying on it.
Back in 1973, 37,000 people (0.5 percent of the working age population) were on unemployment benefits. By June 1993, this had blown out to 914,000 people, or 8 percent of working age people. Unemployment was now to be seen as a fact of Australian life.
The problems which beset the system have been front and centre in recent political and policy debate. The turbulence surrounding the various subsidy policies shaping private housing markets has reached a level of dysfunction and disagreement which has basically disabled the development of sensible ways forward, not an uncommon condition in Australian policy debate.
For many, the subsidy emphasis has fostered excessive private investment in the housing system, fuelling excessive house price inflation. Negative gearing has perhaps been the main focus of attention here. The level of subsidy entailed in negative gearing is very large, and not limited in its application. Many worry about the market distortion which goes with it. Private investment for private investment’s sake trumps private investment for genuine use, as in mainstream home ownership.
The IEA (International Energy Agency) emphasises that there is nothing inevitable about our trajectory. With different priorities, it is feasible to meet the Paris targets by 2040, or at least to come close to meeting them. But it will take the ‘laser-like focus’ urged by Dr Birol, with governments taking the lead.
With the right policies, the Outlook’s ‘sustainable development scenario’ estimates global emissions from energy use could be reduced by almost ten billion tonnes a year by 2030, and from 35.9 to 9.75 billion tonnes a year by 2050. But it estimates that only a third of this would come from increased use of renewable energy.
Rather, on the IEA’s modelling, the biggest potential gains (37 percent) come from improving energy efficiency across the board everywhere: in vehicles, buildings, factories, mines, and other workplaces. A hefty carbon price, around US$100 per tonne in 2030 rising to US$140 by 2040, would be needed to drive this. Finding energy efficiencies means you avoid paying the tax.
Under our parliamentary system, the Administrative Arrangements Order (which sets out which Ministers administer which Acts of Parliament) assigns all of the powers of the relevant legislation to all of the Ministers in a given portfolio. This means each of the Ministers in the Defence portfolio has the power to give the Chief of the Defence Force a direction under section 8 of the Defence Act. The Prime Minister would not even have to replace a Defence minister who refused to order an illegal war but could simply find one who would.
Where we are today is that the custom and practice of the last twenty years has purportedly taken the power to send Australia to war away from the Governor-General and placed it at the disposal of junior ministers in the Defence portfolio.
This cannot be allowed to stand.
In his intervention responding to two days of talks at the Amazon Synod in October, Pope Francis spoke about violence in the Amazon, especially violence against women. Bishops had spoken about how Indigenous leaders have been treated as criminals. Thousands have been killed with impunity, because the state has neither the ability nor the will to defend them. The bishops spoke of those killed as martyrs.
Those forced off their lands, as well as criminal gangs and migrants and refugees from civil wars and criminal gangs, have fled to the cities in the region, and bishops were attentive to their needs. Having been uprooted from their traditional lands and culture, these people are especially at risk of poverty, alcoholism, and drug-taking. In many ways, their situation is worse than that of those who remain in the forest.
The preliminary and final documents of the Synod can be found on the Vatican website. Pope Francis will prepare a formal document responding to the discussions and recommendations for safeguarding the Amazon and its peoples.