On Climate Change and Other Government Policy

In the early 1990’s I began work with the Environmental Futures Group, a Ministerial Committee headed by the Australian journalist, George Negus.  The Minister was Nick Bolkus, Minister for Administrative Services for the Keating Labor government.  I quickly learned about CFC’s, the hole in the ozone layer, the parlous situation with water in Australia and, something that was not on everyone’s radar at the time, climate change.

As Secretary to the Committee, and with it’s support, I worked with Dr Darren Phillips from the Department of Environment to develop the ‘Creating An Eco Office’ . It covered recycling in offices, energy conservation (timers on lights and hot water systems etc), use of recycled paper and car pooling, bicycle riding to work.  It resulted in the implementation of recycling and energy conservation throughout the Australian Public Service and the ACT Public Service.

Last year, when the current Australian Government decided to disband the Climate Change Council, I was one of the several thousand people who put their money where their mouthes were, and began to support this important body.

I was very happy to see the acceptance by China and the USA last December, of the need to set targets to reduce pollution and environmental damage even though scientists have been clear about the need for more than 30 years – actually greenhouse gasses were first discussed in the 1960’s.

One thing that is still not as high a profile as it needs to be, to me at least, is the availability of water in Australia. Our water comes from rain, the monsoons up north that feed the Queensland rivers that in turn feed rivers that run into NSW and Victoria,  the Murray/Darling Basin and the Great Artesian Basin. Although on the decrease, Australians use 930KL per person per year. Only the USA and New Zealand use more water per capita than we do. Yet our water availability is sporadic in the driest continent on the planet. Add to that the fact that we haven’t yet won the battle against fracking that has the potential to pollute the Great Artesian Basin and the increased use of agricultural water (it was on the decrease, this government has managed to dilute the policies – pun intended).

And if anyone is in doubt about whether there is such a thing as climate change, just look at the unusual frequency of extreme weather patterns. All these the reports are based on scientific fact.

Then there is the logic, or illogic, of ‘continuous economic growth’. If we use up all the Earth’s resources, while at the same time polluting ourselves into oblivion, all for the almighty $$, what does it achieve? Yes, it will give short term benefits to all the wealthy people who run and invest in the big corporations. For many years now it has been clear the ‘trickle-down’ effect is bogus and no-one benefits from big business except big business. Yet our current government is fanatic about ‘growth’ and removing hard-won gains for those who can least afford it i.e. low-paid workers, pensioners, the disabled and children.

OK, to me less income for the underprivileged and those on low wages means less tax paid, less income to government and this bigger deficit because more will rely on government help and thus increase the deficit (I get dizzy thinking about this). I’d love someone to explain to me how, when there is less money coming in to workers of all kind (high, middle and low income earners), less people working or working full time and more automated manufacturing, who benefits beside big business. Certainly not the people, not even the various varieties of government.

A GST on food will add hugely to the weekly shopping bill of those who are already struggling. A middle income household is one with $41,236 after tax and levies while a low income household is defined as $24,700 a year. And there is no doubt there is inequality in income distribution in Australia (ref: click here). From the 2012 ‘Poverty in Australia’ report that spoke about the situation in 2010 (which is currently worse):

“• The poverty line (50% of median income) for a single adult was $358 per week. For a couple
with 2 children it was $752.
• 2,265,000 people (12.8% of all people) were living below the poverty line, after taking
account of their housing costs.
• 575,000 children (17.3% of all children) were living below the poverty line.
• 37% of people on social security payments lived below the poverty line including 52%
of those on Newstart Allowance, 45% of those on Parenting Payment, 42% of those on
Disability Support Pension, 24% of those on Carer Payment, and 14% of those on Age
• 62% of people below the poverty line had social security as their main income and 29% had
wages as their main income
• 27.4% of people with a disability, approximately 620,600, lived below the poverty line
• The level of poverty was 12.6% in capital cities compared to 13.1% outside capital cities

The proportion of people in poverty rose by approximately one third of a percent from 2003 to 2010.”

Add to that the proposed reduction in Medicare rebates leading to people NOT going to the doctor and, when they do fall seriously ill, put a heavy burden on the hospitals and add to government (note this is probably State not Federal) costs, additional food costs leading to less than optimum food choices for those on low incomes (after all fresh food is currently cheaper to buy than much of the processed food), and the rise in part-time work and thus lower wages and we are beginning to look like a very badly off 3rd world country.

All this stems back to the ‘spin’ provided by the current government when it was in opposition – for it did not provide any policies until 48 hours before the election (and during what was left of the media blackout) and any promises it made have already been broken.  And the media hunt for Julia Gillard and her colleagues because Labor is not all that popular with big business, especially the mining and resources industries.

So the question lies in what do we do now?  Yes, we can vote in another government at the next election and hopefully the Australian public will be sensible and do that.  But much of the damage will already be done.

To my mind, what is really needed is a better education system that allows everyone to understand the way politics really works in Australia – not just people in Canberra who work for, or know someone working for, the Australian Government/any version of State/Territory/Local government.  There is a fundamental difference in the  philosophical underpinnings of the various parties – old and new.  Within that, of course, are the various factions in each party.  I believe if people understood even half of this, than voting would be more informed, provide a better reflection of what it is to be Australian – a fair go for everyone.

I am an idealist, I know.  But taking kids to Canberra in year 6 and then not doing the best to have them understand voting, politics and the rest in years 11 and 12, just when they have to start voting, makes very little sense to me.  I believe it should be part of the curriculum like English and Math.

OK, rant over.  I feel better.  Thanks for reading this far.