archive: October 2020

28 October 2020

Liam Hogan: “Trees are rarely assessed as significant cultural heritage in Australia; the bar is too high. When a project manager gets on the blower and asks ‘now listen, but is it heritage?’, a professional applies the standard frameworks of his or her calling, and decides — with a standardised process — either a yes/no significance answer, or a level of significance (from ‘little’ to ‘exceptional’). Human involvement in the thing or place is the most important: places where historical events happened, buildings made by specific people, artefacts of a known history. The reason trees rarely meet the ‘but is it heritage?’ test is because they’re ephemeral by nature, growing and reproducing themselves and dying by themselves, without people needing to be involved. … The test is a European one, and doesn’t account for Indigenous relationships with specific trees and specific places associated with them. And when the chainsaw teams come in to fell the tree, the Courts are asked to deal with the question of heritage, on significance terms, and on the basis of specific forms which the defendants either did or didn’t correctly fill out, or in the argument of the corporation, ‘previous assessments of the tree …“did not reveal characteristics consistent with cultural modification”’, that is, the involvement of a person in the business of the tree. It’s a racist system… In the 1960s and 1970s the Australian heritage industry came into being with an odd-couple political deal between architecture-fanciers and Communist building workers, both protesting barbarism in their own way. What was obvious then, was that without a protective law, the status of ‘heritage’ was fundamentally decided by power: real people risking the sack or arrest to protect places, and on the other side, real thugs, real fist-fights. … But is it ‘heritage’? If people are willing to be sacked or arrested for it, you already know the answer.“

Jenny Sinclair: “How did it come to this, again? According to Victorian Ombudsman, Deborah Glass, part of the answer is that when the road was being planned, we — the state and the settler people of Victoria — didn’t listen carefully enough. In her report on the road, she says the dispute contains lessons about to how to consult with Indigenous people. The State Government points out that two Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs) for the area have agreed to the road. The protestors, calling themselves the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy, say the RAPs don’t speak for them. … The Ombudsman … questioned how the State’s planning decisions were made, and the human rights implications of the whole process. In careful legal language, she ‘noted’ that there was nothing to stop the government from ‘consulting more broadly with Aboriginal peoples’. ‘The processes under the Aboriginal Heritage Act, while intended to empower traditional custodians … have the potential to exclude some voices,’ she wrote… As Glass points out, the need to identify ‘other Aboriginal parties with connections to and knowledge of the area’ was heightened by the extent to which the Djab Wurrung have been displaced from their land by Western settlement. … If it’s hard to get everyone on the same page, it’s because our arrival scattered the population. … I keep coming back to this: it’s happening on our terms, under our laws, and we seem to be using our power to pick and choose who we listen to. … [I]t’s not too late… [T]he road is yet to be built. … We could recognise the protestors’ two-year occupation as proof of sincerity and passion, and not unjustly require of them that they cede us their country yet again.”

You can read the Ombudsman’s report here.

The Andrews Government has escalated its attack on Aboriginal sacred trees to make way for a big road, cutting down a culturally significant ‘directions tree’ despite the objections of the Djab Wurrung people. Police arrested about 60 people, and used Covid laws to impose fines on Aboriginal people seeking to protect their heritage from irreversible damage. Disturbingly, one of the officers sent to arrest people bore a ‘valknut’ tattoo — a symbol that has been adopted by neo-Nazi groups in Australia as a more subtle symbol than the swastika. The Government justifies its removal of sacred trees based on the approval of the Aboriginal Heritage Council — but this is a hand-picked body whose members are appointed by the Minister; meanwhile, the elected representative of the Djab Wurrung Aboriginal community, Sissy Eileen Austin, has resigned from the Victorian treaty process in protest. She explained: “Victoria claims to be progressive in its relationship with Aboriginal people and communities. There are conflicting agendas here, one where the government is supporting the progression of the treaty and the other where they’re comfortable in proceeding with the irreversible destruction of significant cultural heritage. … Our hearts are broken, our trust in the ‘progressive’ Andrews government is broken. We are experiencing a loss like no other…”

Paul Krugman: “Donald Trump’s disastrous leadership is, of course, an important factor. But I also blame Ayn Rand — or, more generally, libertarianism gone bad, a misunderstanding of what freedom is all about. … But you also see a lot of libertarian rhetoric — a lot of talk about ‘freedom’ and ‘personal responsibility.’ Even politicians willing to say that people should cover their faces and avoid indoor gatherings refuse to use their power to impose rules to that effect, insisting that it should be a matter of individual choice. Which is nonsense. Many things should be matters of individual choice. The government has no business dictating your cultural tastes, your faith or what you decide to do with other consenting adults. But refusing to wear a face covering during a pandemic, or insisting on mingling indoors with large groups, isn’t like following the church of your choice. It’s more like dumping raw sewage into a reservoir that supplies other people’s drinking water.”

27 October 2020

David Harvey, in his new book, The Anti-Capitalist Chronicles: “It is often said that in order to achieve socialism, we have to surrender our individuality and we have to give up something. Well, to some degree, yes, that might be true; but there is, as Polanyi insisted, a greater freedom to be achieved when we go beyond the cruel realities of individualized market freedoms. I read Marx as saying the task is to maximize the realm of individual freedom, but that can only happen when the realm of necessity is taken care of. The task of a socialist society is not to regulate everything that goes on in society; not at all. The task of a socialist society is to make sure that all of the basic necessities are taken care of — freely provided — so that people can then do exactly what they want when they want. If you ask everybody right now, ‘How much free time do you have?’ the typical answer is ‘I have almost no free time whatsoever. It’s all taken up with this, that, and everything else.’ If real freedom is a world in which we have free time to do whatever we want, then the socialist emancipatory project proposes that as central to its political mission. This is something that we can and must all work towards.”

20 October 2020

John Quiggin: “[S]uppose, instead of private capital, solar projects were financed using thirty-year government bonds. Remarkably, the real rate of interest on these bonds has fallen to zero or below — and if the current judgements of investors are correct, rates will remain at or close to zero for decades to come. … Until recently they have been seen as an anomaly, the result of emergency measures taken in response to the global financial crisis and then the Covid-19 pandemic. But twelve years after the GFC, and with years of low rates ahead of us, emergency conditions have become the norm. … The Australian government recently sold $15 billion in thirty-year bonds offering a yield of 1.7 per cent, less than the likely rate of inflation. … Once a solar module has been installed, a zero rate of interest means that the electricity it generates is virtually free. Spread over the lifetime of the module, the cost is around 2c/kWh (assuming $1/watt cost, 2000 operating hours per year and a twenty-five-year lifetime). That cost would be indexed to the rate of inflation, but would probably never exceed 3c/kWh. … Governments can, and should, invest in projects whenever the total benefits exceed the costs, regardless of how those benefits are spread over time.”

John Falzon: “Just below the surface of the tax-cut splash and the pious promises that the government’s focus is on jobs, we are seeing the architecture of a new austerity. It is evidenced by the government’s dogmatic resistance to lifting incomes, for wage-earners and social security recipients alike. It is also evidenced by the government’s equally dogmatic resistance to building up the public sector. Both of these trajectories are straight out of the neoliberal playbook written by Thatcher and Reagan, both of whom the federal Treasurer has expressed a genuine admiration for. Neither of these trajectories is passive. In both cases the government appears to be committed to playing an active role, in redistributing even greater wealth and power to its mates. … We are going to have to call bullshit when they tell us that austerity is good for us, that we can’t afford to fund a caring society because we have to pay down the debt; when they tell us that we are going to have to forego wage increases or superannuation guarantee increases or social security increases because now is not the time to be greedy… Rather than waiting for the jobs to come and the wealth to trickle down, we are going to need to collectively engage in the organisation of hope. And hope must be organised, if it is to translate into progressive social change.”

15 October 2020

Bernard Keane on the latest ICAC inquiry as the tip of a huge, corrupt iceberg: “Maguire was a two-bit huckster, most of whose endless schemes failed to come off, though not for want of trying. But he was playing the same game played by far bigger, far more successful business and political figures across Australia: rigging the rules for their own benefit. Australian business and politics is pervaded with the mentality that regulations are not to be adhered to but gamed, and if necessary changed by influencing those who make them, and intimidating, overriding or litigating those who enforce them. … Wherever you look, across different industries, even major corporations have profoundly flawed cultures and poor accountability that are only reactively addressed when an external intervention threatens. … They reflect a political culture in which compliant politicians are paid by donors to soften regulation in the name of slashing red tape, help companies, and underfund and disempower regulators where they can. Maguire is only the crude, sordid end of a continuum that extends all the way to the Prime Minister’s office and the board rooms of some of our biggest companies, which encourages a culture of making the gaming of regulatory outcomes the core business model of major corporations.”

Osmond Chiu: “I have followed the debate about our relationship with China, but I did not fully appreciate how toxic it had become until I appeared before the Senate inquiry into issues facing diaspora communities on Wednesday. I spoke to the committee about the underrepresentation of multicultural communities in Australian politics. Australia’s Parliament is significantly less representative of cultural diversity than Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Instead of being asked about complex issues facing multicultural communities or how Australia could benefit from a more diverse Parliament, I was asked by Senator Eric Abetz to ‘unequivocally condemn’ the Chinese Communist Party. Presumably, the association trying to be made was that, by virtue of my ethnicity, there was some likelihood of divided allegiances. It felt like a gotcha loyalty test, an attempt to goad me, reducing me to a foreigner who needed to show which side I was on. … Among the evidence at the hearing on Wednesday was that Chinese Australians were reluctant to appear in public debates because they feared their remarks would be taken out of context and twisted. Is it any wonder when elected representatives treat us with such scepticism and derision?” You would think Abetz — a German-born man with family ties to the Nazi Party — would be more reluctant to engage in this kind of ethnic stereotyping.

14 October 2020

Ronan Burtenshaw: “Winning the argument on policy terms has never been enough. That argument has to echo through society; it has to become a story of what has gone wrong, who is at fault, and how it can change. Capital can impose its explanations on the people from above, we have to cultivate ours from below by building the kind of institutions which give us a presence in their everyday lives. It is through these that experiences are understood to be in common. Once this common understanding is in place, collective organisation becomes possible. Socialism is the project to socialise society’s wealth by building a coalition of working people to take on the concentrated power of ownership. Its potency comes from an ability to unite people across cultural divides on the basis of their common class interests. For decades, the Left has abandoned socialism for progressivism — the attempt to unite people across class divides on the basis of shared social views. Progressivism is not, and will never be, a threat to the system. Its function is to recuperate demands for change within the boundaries of capitalism. It is the politics which allows multinational corporations to embrace Black Lives Matter while paying black workers poverty wages, or women political leaders to impose austerity measures which close domestic violence refuges and force single mothers into foodbanks.”