11 November 2020

It’s hard to keep up with the revelations of corruption in the ranks of Victoria Police. Using lawyers as informers against their own clients, bribing witnesses for evidence, using police information to carry out complex property fraud, carrying out fake breath tests to game the statistics, high ranking Professional Standards officers posting racial abuse and sexually assaulting peopleand now this [$]: “Sgt Buchhorn, dubbed by the Herald Sun as ‘The Fixer’, begins tying the police accounts together. Statements will be shredded and new statements will replace old ones. Evidence will be left off the police brief, hidden from view, as if it does not exist. And to hide the trail, police will commit perjury. Officer Pullin is put in this unenviable position. When he is approached by Sgt Buchhorn in mid-1999 to make another statement, about 10 months after the shootings, he complies. His account becomes critical to the prosecution case of two offenders. Officer Pullin’s second statement is then fraudulently backdated to the morning of the murders, as if it is a contemporaneous account — the events fresh in his mind. … His original statement made just hours after he comforted and spoke to the dying Sen Constable Miller, was buried. The Court of Appeal on Tuesday said this conduct corrupted the trial ‘to its roots’.” Five original statements have disappeared… Remember — this was only revealed because a whistleblower kept a copy of one of the shredded statements. How deep is this iceberg?

10 November 2020

John Quiggin: “There’s nothing inherently desirable about competition. If the alternative is collusion against the public interest, competition is a necessary evil. Far better, when it can be achieved, is cooperation to be the best we can at what we do. That’s the core value of the service professions, professions derided by market reformers as ‘producer interests’. Much the same is true of choice. As far as flavours of ice cream are concerned, some people will like butterscotch, some will go for mango and some might even prefer Neapolitan. The more choices the better. But for the human services that matter most to us, it’s not a question of how many choices we have. What matters is the quality of the best choice. We want our doctors and nurses to keep us well, our teachers to educate and inspire us, and our carers to give us comfort and dignity. Trying to achieve this with financial incentives will only benefit those who can game the incentive structure. What is needed is not the maximisation of shareholder value but an ethic of service.”

4 November 2020

Sangeetha Thanapal: “[T]he truth about population growth and its impact on the environment is obscured. The places with high levels of population growth account for just 10 per cent of lifestyle consumption emissions while the richest in the world make up half of the total emissions. Activist Naomi Klein points out that the places with ‘… the highest levels of population growth, (are) the poorest parts of the world with the lowest carbon footprints.’ Since most of the people in countries with rapidly growing populations will be poor (by Western standards), this means their consumption of per-capita resources will be low. Simply put, the people having too many babies are not the ones causing environmental degradation. The environmental movement’s focus on reducing population growth does not make sense in the light of the actual numbers. Instead, looking at capitalism and western colonialism makes more sense. The use of resources and pollution levels are not divided equally across the globe. Environmental devastation is not directly caused by individuals or households, but by corporations. Just a hundred companies are responsible for 71 per cent of the world’s emissions. … [E]nvironmental movements that use the overpopulation argument seek to reduce the human population so that the wealthy can continue to plunder the earth’s resources.”

3 November 2020

Scott W Stern responds to various proposals for reform of the US Supreme Court: “[N]o matter the fix, the courts will always be political — law is inherently political — and politics will always be about power. The Right understands this, which is why they have been so successful in court of late. Conservative political and legal activists aren’t looking to fix the courts or even formulate superior legal arguments; they know that winning in court is simply about having more power. … The point of progressive court reform should not be to fix the courts, but rather simply to use the courts to enact left policy goals. And the best way to do that right now is to pack the courts. The problem with the courts is not that they’re too political or too powerful or too partisan — it’s simply that they’re too far right. The structuralists are misguided because the courts can never be made spaces shielded from political struggle. Stronger courts, weaker courts, ideologically balanced courts, ideologically unbalanced courts — all are political courts. The way to achieve a more just world through law, then, is not to try to fix the courts, but for the Left to utterly dominate them — as the Right currently does. The structuralists are probably right that courts have become far more powerful than they were supposed to be, but no matter. Politics is not about achieving some sort of Montesquieuian ideal — it is (or, at least, should be) about improving people’s lives. If the most effective way to do that is to win in court, and the most effective way to do that is to pack the courts, then pack the courts.

While Christine Holgate has resigned from Australia Post before her full corporate credit card expenditures have been investigated, John Quiggin points out that the latest Australia Post scandal is the result of neoliberal reform: ”The biggest public relation misstep in Christine Holgate’s leadership of Australia Post was … her statement to the Senate that she had not used taxpayers’ money to buy the watches, since Australia Post was a commercial organisation. This statement would be odd even if it were made in relation to the shareholders of a private corporation — after all, the company’s money ultimately belongs to them. When applied to a statutory corporation like Australia Post, it created a firestorm. … The advocates of privatisation have repeatedly failed in attempts to sell off Australia Post. The next best thing is to turn it into a quasi-private corporation, with lavish provision for its senior managers… The transaction that brought Holgate undone … involved securing annual payments from major banks in return for Australia Post’s provision of banking services in areas the banks themselves had abandoned… it was merely a continuation of an arrangement that dated back more than 100 years. For most of this long period, … unthinkable would be a suggestion that renewing the arrangement on a regular basis, or arranging the financial transfers necessary to balance the books, was an achievement deserving of a luxury watch, on top of a million-dollar salary. The Australian public has long since seen through the claims made for privatisation, even if the financial and corporate sectors (the real ‘inner city elites’) continue to push the ideas of competition and choice. Australians want basic services to be delivered cheaply and reliably, by organisations set up to serve the public, rather than to maximise profits.”

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.”