archive: September 2019

27 September 2019

John Falzon on the need to reclaim ‘aspiration’ as a collective virtue: “Perhaps unions, and indeed progressive grass-roots social movements in general, are hated by neoliberal governments today precisely because they are a vehicle for collective aspiration, historically showing that the real improvements to the lives of ordinary working people come when they are fought for collectively. Rather than limiting aspiration, which is a common neoliberal claim, unions organise aspiration… I cannot think of a single instance where, even though the legislation was fought for in parliament, the struggles that informed the legislation was not fought for by grass-roots movements for social justice and social change, movements that, like the union movement, collectively aspired to create a better society. Many of these achievements have been dismantled by successive governments that have prosecuted a neoliberal agenda, while reframing the concept of aspiration, making it appear as something that happens most authentically at the individual level, with collective activism and advocacy allegedly getting in its way. There’s a difference between aspiration and acquisition. We need to reframe aspiration as the oxygen that working people collectively breathe”.

Jenna Owen on how modelling agencies are using a loophole to avoid child labour regulations: “What these agencies are less likely to talk about is what every one of the models I spoke to also reported: how unprotected models are in their workplace and how deeply concerning that is, because when you are a model you understand one very clear thing about the modelling industry — that it is made up largely of children. The ideal age to start modelling is 15. If you sign with a major agency at this age you will start on their model books in a section called ‘In Development’, which is as close as modelling will get to admitting you are a child. In this time, you will still go to shoots, castings and catwalks, but you are rarely paid because you are not yet ‘developed’ enough. You are also not protected by child safety laws in this country. This is because agencies do not employ these girls from as young as 14, they independently contract them; a loophole under the status quo. When children are employed, like in most other industries, certain standards are necessitated by state law. In New South Wales, any employer who wants to work with children must be authorised by the NSW Children’s Guardian to do so. All authorised employers’ names are published on their website weekly. There are no modelling agencies on the list.”

25 September 2019

While climate denialists continue to post froth-mouthed rants about Greta Thunberg following her remarkable speech to the UN, some are noticing a pattern — it’s girls and women who cop the most vicious abuse. Canada’s environment minister noted, “Misogyny and climate denial seem to go together.” Swedish academics studying climate denialism suggest the problem is that “a certain group of men, and a certain type of masculinity… think of natural resources as something that exists for humans to grab, use, and create value from” and that climate change (and responses to it) poses a threat to “a certain kind of modern industrial society built and dominated by their form of masculinity”. Hettie O’Brien sums up their problem: “Accepting the truth of climate science involves recognising that the supremacy we have long exerted over our natural environment will have to subside. Denialism amounts to a strange form of identity politics among those who feel threatened by the sweeping changes that environmental breakdown makes necessary.” (Ironically, the same men are likely to rant about identity politics…)

Some good news: “In Australia, renewable energy is growing at a per capita rate ten times faster than the world average. Between 2018 and 2020, Australia will install more than 16 gigawatts of wind and solar, an average rate of 220 watts per person per year. This is nearly three times faster than the next fastest country, Germany. Australia is demonstrating to the world how rapidly an industrialised country with a fossil-fuel-dominated electricity system can transition towards low-carbon, renewable power generation. … Last was a record year for renewable energy installations, with 5.1 gigawatts (GW) accredited in 2018, far exceeding the previous record of 2.2GW in 2017. The increase was driven by the dramatic rise of large-scale solar farms… This year is on track to be another record year, with 6.5GW projected to be complete by the end of 2019. The increase is largely attributable to a significant increase in the number of wind farms approaching completion.” Maintaining this pace will require governments to invest in transmission infrastructure. (On the other side of the ledger, we need to stop digging up coal; it doesn’t matter whether we burn it ourselves or export it to be burned elsewhere, it should stay in the ground.)

24 September 2019

Crikey’s Inq investigative reporting project has exposed the shocking degree to which the Coalition has stacked the Administrative Appeals Tribunal with political hacks and Party mates: “66 of the 333 AAT decision-making members are former Liberal Party staffers, former Liberal or National politicians, party donors, members, unsuccessful Liberal candidates or Liberal government employees… 24 of those 66 appointees have no legal qualifications, including six of the AAT’s senior members… In contrast, when the Labor Party left office in 2013, only 16 members … had any sort of political connection.” And when the government’s own review criticised the practice, Christian Porter kept the report secret and continued to stack the tribunal: “Porter received Callinan’s recommendations in December last year, but it was seven months before the report was tabled in July this year. During that seven-month hiatus, in February this year (months away from an election the Coalition was expected to lose), Porter announced 86 new appointments or re-appointments to the AAT. Tellingly, 19 of these appointed members had close Liberal Party connections… Of these, Inq has determined at least eight have no law degree. All this was decided while the Callinan review was sitting, unreleased, inside the attorney-general’s office.”

Jeff Sparrow on the Climate Strike and what comes next: “In day-to-day life, there are few sections of society more powerless than schoolchildren. And yet, despite teachers and parents and politicians, they’ve spurred a movement that’s growing in almost every nation. If they can do that, what else could be possible? What might the rest of us do, if we all act together? Fairly obviously, the strike must be a beginning and not an end. This is not an issue where you can express your disapproval in a single rally and then go back to your daily life. … Will those businesses who encouraged their workers to strike support further stoppages? What about progressive politicians — will they back ongoing actions? How can we prevent protests falling back into tokenism? What kind of alliances might take the movement forward and what kind of deals will set it back? How does civil disobedience relate to the push for a Green New Deal? All of these and other questions must be debated – and the necessary debates will be polarising, fractious and, yes, ugly. Again, though, the climate strike shows the basis for the struggle we need.”

20 September 2019

Tim Flannery is wrong to feel like his decades of climate campaigning have been a failure. As Guy Rundle explains, huge projects take significant time to bear fruit: “No one who really strives for meaningful achievement does so with a single lifetime as a frame. The fact or possibility of one’s actual children, or a more general notion of future generations, is essential to any sort of life that is projected, that involves projects, in which the meaning of work today is underwritten by the future result. In the shadow of the climate catastrophe, cast from future to present, it is clearly still possible to live a life of pure sensualist hedonism — anything from BASE jumping to sex, drugs and hip-hop — and that makes it clear that the need to respond to the climate/biosphere catastrophe has passed from being a merely moral-obligational demand, to being a moral-existential one. It’s either total abandon, or commitment to collective action. There is now no middle space to hide in. Cultures and societies which don’t respond to it — collectively, militantly, non-tokenistically — will simply have the bottom drop out of their world”. We must support the Global Climate Strike today, and build on it tomorrow. Only long-term, sustained organising will achieve what is required of us.

18 September 2019

In a powerful, must-read essay for Meanjin, James Bradley balances Gramscian “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will” in confronting the climate crisis: “We must, [Gramsci] said, be ruthless in our intolerance of wishful thinking, yet we must never lose sight of the potential for change and human possibility. Perhaps we should begin with a similar abandonment of illusion and fantasies of control. Addicts sometimes talk about needing to hit rock bottom before you can really face up to what you are. … Rock bottom is the end of excuses. The final stripping away of illusion, the acceptance of reality. … Transforming our economies and ourselves so fundamentally might seem impossible, especially in such a terrifyingly short space of time. … Yet none of this will happen until we find the courage to let go of evasions and half-truths, and begin to speak openly and honestly about where we are and what lies ahead. This will not be easy. … Will it be enough? I don’t know. What I do know is that doing something — doing anything — is better than doing nothing. That action is the best antidote to despair. And that in the end we have no choice but to try.”

Gordon Legal has announced it will launch a class action against the Robodebt program. Dr Kate Galloway of Bond University Law School provides a succinct explanation of how this extortion scheme works: “The program, operating since mid-2016, matches Centrelink data with data from the Tax Office to reveal ‘inconsistencies’ between income declared to Centrelink with that declared for tax. However, Centrelink is paid fortnightly, and tax is declared as an annual sum. The program therefore averages annual taxable income to compare against Centrelink payments. The effect is that even if you earned nothing for six months while correctly collecting Newstart, the amount you earned in the next six months is averaged over the entire period to make it look as though you were collecting Newstart payments to which you were not entitled. The department automatically generates letters demanding that the former social security recipient prove the calculation to be incorrect. As these calculations span back as far as nine years, it is usually all but impossible to prove the calculation wrong. A debt notice then issues, followed by pursuit of debt collectors, and ultimately tax returns are garnisheed putting alleged debtors in a position where they just cannot win. … The robodebt system… operates … by manufacturing a debt, using unconscionable, and likely unlawful, means to do so.”

Josh Freedman argues that The Great British Bake Off is quietly radical — perhaps a little bit socialist: “The structure of the Bake Off is clearly one of competition. There are judges, time limits, elimination, and, of course, winners. Yet it conspicuously lacks many of the elements we normally associate with competition. The [weekly] title of ‘star baker’ carries no practical value. Star bakers do not get immunity from elimination in the next round, or money, or brownie points from the judges. … For their hard work, [overall] winners receive no money. They don’t get a guaranteed book deal or television show. All they win is a decorative cake stand — and a pretty underwhelming one at that. Yet when contestants reflect on their experience on the show, emotion overwhelms them. They talk about baking the way runners talk about finishing a marathon or setting a new personal best. They are satisfied not because they have pushed others aside and risen to the top, but simply because they are proud of what they have baked.”