Archive for February, 2011

February 25, 2011

What I wrote about a visit to Libya 24 years ago

In the interest of transparency here is a report on a visit to Libya I wrote for the old Direct Action #612, May 27, 1987. With hindsight, I should developed and expanded of some of my criticisms of the Gaddafi regime. But that’s the thing about hindsight — you only get it later!

Giant images of Gaddafi in sunglasses and military uniform were visible on the side of a few buildings. All pics taken by Peter Boyle in 1987.

 

Libya: Modernisation without poverty

TRIPOLI — Most Westerners visiting Libya for the first time probably feel a little nervous because the media have painted such a terrible picture of this country and its revolutionary leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. But once n the land Ronald Reagan callsthe “home of international terrorism” and the Libyans call Jamahariya (Land of the Masses), the carefully crafted international image crumbles in the face of reality.

Most of the members of the small Australian delegation that attended the recent conference of Asia-Pacific peace and liberation groups probably didn’t know what to expect.

On the way our group had been delayed in Pakistan for a day. Our passports had been seized by immigration officials and we had been subjected to countless body searches as we were shuttled from one part of Karachi airport to another.

Every plane in the airport had been surrounded by soldiers bearing submachine guns, which were trained on the passengers.

To add to the drama, the Libyan Arab Airline ject that was to fly us to Tripoli was unmarked. Was this a precaution against attack by United States or Israeli warplanes? Everything suggested we were about to enter a beseiged land that would be bristling with military forces.

But when we landed in Tripoli the airport was near-deserted because it was early in the morning. Not one uniformed or armed person was to be seen. Sleepy officials greeted us, and without so much as a cursory baggage check we were through the formalities.

As we bussed some 200 kilometres to the conference venue, in a coastal town called Mesrata, we saw a peaceful, surprisingly green, landscape. Children were on their way to school, and farmers were at their work on tractors.

This was big change from Pakistan where soldiers bearing automatic rifles with fixed bayonets were posted every 300 metres on major roads. The only uniformed officials visible in the streets of Mesrata and Tripoli were traffic police.

Libya’s armed forces were not deployed against the civilian population, as is the norm in many Third World countries today. Under seige it may be, but this is nevertheless a very relaxed society.

We were free to move around without guides. In two weeks of roaming the streets of Mesrata and Tripoli, I was challenged only twice.

On the first occasion. only a day after arrival in Libya, I had wandered with three other Australian delegates about three kilometres from the conference site in Mesrata. We had begun talking to some people in a block of flats.

In geneneral, people wre quite happy to talk speak to us — to the extent that our modest lingusitic skills permitted — though most women would turn away from men. Some of us had been taking photographs and perhaps some neighbours had complained.

A car pulled up and an official-looking man in plainclothes called us over. He appeared to indicate that we should not take photographs, and told us to accompany him.

We were taken to a building that served as a neighbourhood security office. here too there were no uniformed or armed officials. While we waited for our identities to be checked, we were offered tea and bread rolls.

Eventually, the official who had stopped us returned, apologising profusely, and drove us back to the conference site. When we asked the conference organisers for an explanation of this incident we were told that as the conference had only just begun, the local police had not been briefed and they had reacted to seeing a group of foreigners taking pictures.

We were told that it was generally considered offensive to photograph Libyan women. While we were free to take photographs, we should be sensitive tolocal customs.

The only other time I was prevented from taking photographs was at the Tripoli Suq (taditional market). I was approached by another official who said I needed a permit to take photographs there. At no time was my film confiscated.

These experiences indicated that an effective system of neighbourhood security was in place. According to our hosts, neighbourhood organisations are responsible for local security, and each neighbourhood is potentially an armed unit. In case of emergency anyone knows where to go to to be issued with arms.

A majority of Libyans have some form of military training. High school students — male and female — do one day of military training a week. University students go on three-week training courses at regular intervals.

Students are responsible for security in their schools and campuses. The only other visible security measure in Tripoli consisted of a couple of police roadblocks set up after 11pm to check the identification of drivers. Pedestrians were not stopped. This measure had been adopted after last year’s US bombing raid.

Personal freedom

Most Libyans I spoke to insisted that they felt more free in their country than in any other they had visited. One young doctor, who had studied in the Soviet Union, said ordinary people had more freedom in Libya than in the Soviet Union, and he raised countless examples to prove this.

In capitalist countries, on the other hand, the richer you are the more freedom you have, noted a Libyan postgraduate physics student named Mehdi.

This point is difficult for Western visitors to ignore. In the capitalist Third World, an apartheid of wealth is enforced. The poor are banned from expensive hotels unless they are there to provide obseqious service to the rich. Police and private security guards enforce this caste system.

But in Libya, people felt free to move where they liked. Groups of Libyan youths wandered casually through the most expensive hotels, stopping occasionally for a cup of coffee or a meal.

Privately, some young Libyan men admitted that if they felt restricted in any way it was because of the traditional cultural norms. They missed the discos and neightclubs and freer interaction with women that they had experienced overseas.

A couple of young Libyan men told us that in the two biggest cities, Tripoli and benghazi, some young people lived a more modern lifestyle, though they had to be careful not to offend their families.

Alcohol is banned in Libyan, but some Libyans are reportedly partial to a potet home brew, made from fermented figs and consumed in the privacy of their own homes.

Egalitarianism

The second striking feature of Libya was its egalitarianism. I saw no shantytowns, no bedraggled beggars, and no obviously privileged people in chauffeur-driven limousines. There were expensive cars on the street — BMWs, Mercedes, and even the odd Chevrolet — but these were usually as dusty and roughed up as the other, more modest, vehicles.

The only opulent homes seemed to be those left by the Italian colonialists. These now served as public institutions of one kind or another. Even Colonel Gaddafi’s former Tripoli residence, bombed by US warplanes just over a year ago, was no more than a two-storey, four-bedroom house crowded among older Arab-style dwellings.

Its furnishings were far from extravagant. Gaddafi, it is said, preferred to live in a tent outside his home.

Monument erected outside Gaddafi family home bombed by US in 1986.

Libya’s egalitarianism is not one of shared poverty. It is an oil-rich country with a small population (three million), and this shows. The roads are crowded with private cars and in general the people display a very easy-going attitude to life. It is fairly easy to own a house or a flat and a car, and have more than enough to eat.

“Unless you own your own home, you are not free,” one Libyan said to me. Interest-free home loans are freely available, and buyers can choose between having a home built or moving into a ready-made flat. There is a waiting list of a few months for homes.

Before the 1969 revolution that brought Gaddafi to power, Tripoli was a shantytown, infested with beggars and thieves. Today it is a modern city surrounded by suburbs of flats and houses. Modern highways connect it to other parts of the country, and a bustling port is being extensively renovated.

One feels safe in the streets as the desperate poverty that fuels petty crime is absent.

Salaries range from 150-600 dinar monthly (one dinar equals $3). Pay varies according to skill, time and risk involved in the job.

There are also increments for people with dependants. A system of progressive taxation evens out incomes. Housing costs take up about 25 per cent of most incomes, while it costs a family of two adults and three children about 140 dinar a month to live.

As most Libyans live in extended family groups, households usually have more than one income, and more than enough money to spend. This excess income is often spent on cars and on overseas travel, several Libyans told me.

There is an extensive social security system. After retirement, people are paid their full salary until they die. Widows are entitled to the equivalent of their late husband’s salary until their children are able to support them.

Health care is totally free, and around Tripoli and Mesrata I saw many modern polyclinics. One doctor told me there are actually too many hospitals, and some will not be opened until the population increases.

Remote communities are serviced by a large flying doctor fleet. Strong attention to prventative health care has rid Libya of all the serious communicable disease. In the past leprosy and other skin diseases had posed serious problems.

This prosperous egalitarianism is not simply a product of Libya’s oil wealth. Other Third World countries have small populations and large oil resources , but are marked by great inequality and sometimes by very poor social services.

Revolution

When Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and a group of fellow army officers seized power in 1969, a revolutionary process began. Sonce then there has been a major redistribution of wealth, and considerable investment in agricultural and industrial development.

The Libyan revolution has imposed important restrictions on capitalism, and calls itself socialist.

Unlike other socialist countries, this social transformation has not been carried out under the influence of Marxist views.

Gaddafi’s revolutionary theory, outlined in his Green Book, does not call for the abolition of private property. Rather it seeks to idealise a society of small producers, all of whom own their own land, machinery and plant.

The sector of the Libyan economy that appears to fit this ideal most closely is agriculture. Small private farms appear to be thriving in the narrow belt of arable land. There is no apparent tendency of concentration of privately owned land in a few hands.

A fairly equitable redistribution of resources that was made relatively easy by the fact that until 1969 most of the plantations, and the few industries, that existed, were owned by foreigners (mostly Italians).

After 1969, the plantations were divided into thousands of small farms and sold to Libyans. The buyers were given long-term loans and generous subsidies. Agricultural college graduates were given priority. To prevent reconcentration of the land in a few hands, strict restrictions were placed on the rights of property owners. Land and industrial plant may be bought and sold by individuals, but private owners are generally prohibited from employing people.

Most farmers rely on family members for labour, though special permits are available for temporary employment arrangements. I also heard unconfirmed reports that in some areas illegal migrants from neighbouring countries were employed illegally.

Private farmers are allowed to sell some of their produce on the open market. Along roadsides there are numerous stalls at which poultry, fruit and vegetables, and sometimes fish may be bought directly from the producers.

Nearly 40 per cent of Tripoli’s residents belong to families that own small farms growing dates, figs, citrus fruits, vegetables and some coffee.

In general, older men and women work the farms, while the educated young tend to concentrate in state jobs in the city.

While operating subsidies to private farmers are small, most farming families generate enough income to permit purchase of modern machinery and irrigation systems.

Profit illegal

Private land may not be leased out, and private merchandising is also prohibited. Unused land reverts to the state. These prohibitions prevent the exploitation of one individual by another, say supporters of the Green Book. Profit has been abolished and individuals are only paid for their own labour.

There are strict taxation provisions, and private capital appears to be tightly controlled. In the cities, private businesses mostly involve artisan trades: tailoring, jewelry making, carpet weaving, food and handicraft manufacture. As a result of such restrictions, only one in six shops in Tripoli’s markets are open.

There is apparently some illegal trading with a small blackmarket in imported goods and foreign currency. US dollars reportedly sell for twice the official rate.

In the first nine years of the Libyan revolution, there were major efforts to encourage development of a private industrial sector. Loans and subsidies were offered, but a combination of cultural, economic and political factors resulted in little progress on this front.

Most of the industry that has developed is in the public sector, mainly in food processing, spinning and weaving, clothing and leatherwork, woodwork and building materials.

In 1978, Gaddafi a movement effectively to nationalize all the larger private industries, under the slogan: “Partners not wageworkers.” Many of the restrictions on capital originate from this period.

Only in Benghazi, an old city in the east of the country, does it appear that there has been major dissatisfaction as a result of these restrictions.

In colonial times there had been a greater development of indigenous capital in that city, and hence a class of wealthier merchants and farmers.

According to an Australia who visited Benghazi last year, there was some deployment of the military in that city at that time. Benghazi is said to be the centre of what dissidence there is against the government.
Today, while some disruptions to supply are evident in the big state-owned department stores and supermarkets, these are mostly shortages of foreign goods, due to the US-organised trade embargo.

The Jamahariya Supermarkets, which are scattered around the suburbs of Tripoli, are well-stocked in all the basic requirements of everyday life, and food appeared to be abundant.

In the agricultural sector, there are development programs designed to give Libya self-sufficiency in food grains. Libyan officials say wheat production on large, modern state farms is rising rapidly.

These large farms are either state-owned or cooperatives. They include major irrigation schemes and experimental desert farms. Private fruit and vegetable production is already sufficient for local consumption, and the main food import is now meat.

Heavy industry

The government has begun an attempt to break away from dependence on oil exports through massive investment in heavy industrial plant.

One major project we visited was the Mesrata steel manufacturing complex, a nearly completed US 5 billion project. Construction by leading Japanese, South Korean, Austrian and West German companies began seven years ago. Next year, the first stage should come into production.

The complex has six furnaces, each with a 90-tonne capacity, making it the biggest such plant in Africa.
It is designed to handle an input comprising 20 per cent scrap iron and the rest in ore. It will produce all forms of steel, and it is hoped it will feed future machine and vehicle industries. Already, Libya has a large bus manufacturing plant.

Industry suffers from the fact that Libya as yet has only a small supply of skilled labour. Half of the Mesrata steel complex workforce will be drawn from migrant labour. All the major contruction projects are carried out by contracted foreign firms, using foreign workers.

According to a Libyan engineer working in the Mesrata complex, operational management will be substantially Libyan after two years of foreign technical assistance.

Labour shortage

The labour shortage is one of the most obvious features of Libyan society. The visitor notices it immediately. There is insufficient labour to even maintainthe large amount of plant and construction invested in ongoing development.

Buildings, machinery, and even public housing, appear to be in need of greater care and maintenance. Public tidiness and landscaping are paid scant attention. Few Libyans are prepared to undertake “demeaning” cleaning jobs when well-paid office jobs are available.

Mesrata suburbs.

But the shortage of skilled labour is more critical, if not so obvious. This is one problem Libya shares with other Third World nations.

To redress the neglect of education and other services under colonial rule, the Libyan government has spent huge amounts building schools and campuses, and providing generous allowances to students.

Tripoli’s Al Fateh university is a sprawling, modern campus that is turning out thousands of students with sorely needed skills. It is one of two universities. The other is Qar Younnis in Benghazi.

Education was a major priority of the 1969 revolution. By converting homes into temporary schools, the revolution trebled the number of school students in a year, while modern schools are under construction.

Tens of thousands of students went on to do teacher training. To supplement the local tertiary colleges, many students were sent overseas to study. In 1968, there were only 178 Libyan teachers in training locally.

Like most Third World states, Libya suffers from an ongoing brain drain to the West. The revolution’s critics say this is due to political repression, but I found that most students who had studied abroad had more basic motives for being reluctant to return. The main attraction of the West, for quite a few Libyan men, was its nightclubs and discos.

The priority Libya is forced to place on scientific training is having an effect on the political process. The ideology of the Green Book is inevitably being challenged as the overwhelmingly young and better-educated people running the country confront practical problems.

Women

The contradiction between reality and the Green Book’s theory is very obvious in therole of women in Libya.
In the Green Book, Gaddafi argues that social organization should not be based on “man-made” rules but on “natural” cultural base. In Libya, this is expressed in the teachings of Islam.

With this comes an insistence on the traditional division of labour between men and women. Capitalist society, argues Gaddafi, turns women into commodities and forces them to work. This is oppressive. To be free, he concludes, women must play their “natural” role in life.

While women are promised (and by all accounts given) equal rights to education and property, they are expected to treat childrearing as their primary duty, and many older women remain virtual prisoners in the home, venturing out only totally veiled and chaperoned.

High school students at anti-imperialist rally in Mesrata.

But the younger generation has moved rapidly away from the old customs. Despite the official stance on the role of women, the labour shortage is pushing more and more women into the workforce, and with work comes new ideas and greater independence.

Before the revolution, few women had access to education. In 1968, there were only about 96,000 female school students in the whole country. After a year of revolution this figure had quadrupled.

The priority of education over sexual segregation is another example. Generally, high schools are segregated by sex. But in some remote areas, some schools are out of necessity coeducational.

So are the universities, though I noticed that cafeterias appeared to be either formally or informally divided into women’s and men’s areas. At Al Fateh university, the women students spoke confidently and frankly of their career ambitions.

In some ways, the Libyan revolution has resulted in a more rapid modernization of relations between the sexes, without the degradation of women that has accompanied modernization in capitalist Third World countries. For example, women are not being forced into prostitution in droves as they are in the Philippines and Thailand.

Nevertheless, Libya remains a country dominated by men. The people in power are overwhelmingly men, and only a few women seem to have penetrated political circles.

The atmosphere of sexual repression weighs heavily on many young Libyans, and has predictably fostered a double standard (favouring men) with regard to sexual mores.

Cadres

Among the most politicized people we met in Libya were those heavily involved in the health and education fields. Some appeared to accept a more scientific revolutionary theory than is evident in the Green Book. They were prepared to look at other socialist countries, and to learn from their experiences.

One of the conference organizers, a fulltime surgeon, told Direct Action that the greatest problem facing the Libyan revolution was a shortage of cadre.

“There are just not enough people who have a clear vision of the political process we are going through,” he said.

Ironically, the ideology expressed in the Green Book, while successfully uniting the country in a national liberation struggle, may be inadequate to train the cadres of this revolution.

The Green Book rejects parties and theories of class, and insists that the revolutionary cadre be collected in loose revolutionary committees with no formal leadership.

This leaves the committees under the leadership of informal leaders, not all of whom are necessarily committed to the revolution. It leaves the revolution blind to the potential class conflicts that threaten it.

Gaddafi’s ideas are expressed in absolute rather than scientific terms, and the political forms he suggests are often presented as a final, perfect form, rather than an experimental model.

Participatory democracy

For example, Gaddafi claims to have discovered the perfect model of participatory democracy. And to be fair the system of people’s congresses does allow a degree of control over the government not seen in parliamentary systems.

People’s congresses have sacked ministers and altered Libya’s diplomatic links. Independent observers of congress sessions have noted that the debate is often lovely and heated, and apparently free.

The Green Book insists that this system of participatory democracy means that government no longer exists in Libya, and that the people rule. But this happy assertion can also hide a multitude of problems – for example the problem of bureaucracy that obviously plagues the supposedly nonexistent government.

It also masks an apparent power struggle that is going on within the government between forces that want to shed some of Libya’s revolutionary stances and those who want to continue the revolution.

Most Libyans concede that Gaddafi does not lead the country on a day-to-day basis. His leadership tends to be more of a moral kind. He reputedly has no executive power.

The problems of bureaucracy in Libya are evident both internally and externally. The country’s international isolation is not just the work of Washington.

US imperialism’s task has been made easier by the numerous alliances the Libyan governmenthas made with dubious political groups, governments and factions within other national liberation organizations. Often these links are the work of corrupt and inefficient foreign affairs officials.

Internally, the massive waste of human and material resources attests to the problem of bureaucracy.
Bureaucracy is a problem confronting all socialist societies, and a variety for solutions are being tried in different countries.

It would seem that the survival of and future development of the Libyan revolution couold depend to a great extent on the outcome of the experiments in this area in the socialist countries, and the willingness of Libya’s revolutionaries to learn from them.

In the face of the concerted campaign by the Reagan administration and its allies to destroy the Libyan revolution, this presents a major challenge to the small core of Libyan revolutionaries. END

February 25, 2011

A parade of political ghosts

Masked thug hired by Patrick Stevedoring to lock out maritime workers in 1998.

In the previous issue I wrote about the ghost of Pauline Hanson appearing when the Liberal-National Coalition’s cynical plan to exploit racist fear of Australia’s Muslim minority communities was exposed. But since then there has been a veritable parade of political ghosts!

Ghost number one was former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett who chose to deliver public advice to aspiring NSW premier, Barry “Small-target” O’Farrell, to to sack most departmental heads, rush pre-written legislation through Parliament and unleash a whirlwind of change on half a dozen fronts as soon as he becomes premier. Make that Barry “Red-face” O’Farrell checking his glinting axe is hidden away behind his pudgy backside.

”Go fast early on,” he advised, according to a report in the February 24 Sydney Morning Herald.

”The most important issue is not to try and address one issue on its own and then move to the next. If you do that all of those who oppose you will coalesce around one issue… If you attack all areas of government at the same time, you break your forces and each then settle down to protect their particular patch. You divide your enemy – old military tactic.”

The people of NSW have been reminded what the term “being Jeff-ed” means. NSW Labor deserves to be punished but have no illusions that a Coalition government can and will do worse. The Greens should change their fence-sitting preference policies.

Political ghost number two was Peter “Balaclava” Reith, John Howard’s federal minister for industrial relations from 1996 to 2000 who decided to use masked thugs and attack dogs to try and smash the Maritime Union of Australia through a lockout of union members at Patrick stevedoring wharves.

“Since 2008, no one in the Coalition has put in a sustained effort to prosecute the case for individual agreements,” he grumbled in an opinion piece in February 24 Australian.

“Freedom of choice is an essential element of Liberal values. Coalition MPs have been told to not speak about industrial relations. Work Choices is now dead and buried.”

Yeah freedom to be exploited more ruthlessly by the boss. Workers have learnt through painfully experience that unity and solidarity is strength. That is why workers need unions.

“I understand the political tactic of not making IR an issue in the last election,” Reith continued, risking a dose of the Abbott death stare. “It was an exceptional situation because no opposition has ever won the first election after a new government has been returned to office from opposition. The situation now is different.”

But political ghosts also emerged to haunt the ALP. Former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke thinks the ALP should allow uranium to be sold to India and also have a serious debate about nuclear power in Australia, reported the Melbourne http://www.theage.com.au/national/hawke-backs-uranium-20110224-1b73k.html on February 25.

Hawke said Labor should not get ”hung up on uranium'” after he was chanced upon by journalists while he was “enjoying a quiet cigar with Simon Crean (and before that Bill Kelty) in a Parliament House courtyard”. Apparently Tony Abbott stopped by for a chat and they then found themselves surrounded by journalists.

Like the ghost of Banquo in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the recent parade of political ghosts are a premonition of nasty prospects around the corner.

Politicians hope that people have short memories. One of our objectives at Green Left Weekly is to expose the nasty plans of the conservative politicians, from all the parties which serve the interest of the corporate rich. But another is to keep alive the history of our common struggles for justice and a sustainable future. We help keep alive the collective memory of the progressive movements.

If you would like to help us keep doing these important jobs please make donation online today at greenleft.org.au/donate.php

Direct deposits can be made to Green Left Weekly, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992.

Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or phone in a donation on the toll-free line, 1800 634 206 (within Australia).

February 17, 2011

The ghost of Pauline Hanson

The cat is well and truly out of the bag. On February 17, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Liberal-National immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, had urged the shadow cabinet to capitalise on the electorate’s growing concerns about “Muslim immigration”, “Muslims in Australia” and the alleged “inability” of Muslim migrants to integrate.

Morrison, the report continued, told the shadow cabinet meeting on December 1 at the Ryde Civic Centre that the Coalition should ramp up its questioning of “multiculturalism” and appeal to deep voter concerns about Muslim immigration and “inability” to integrate.

Putting that calculated racist divide-and-rule strategy into practice, Morrison attacked attacked the Guillard Labor government flying 22 asylum seekers from the Christmas Island refugee detention camp to Sydney for the funerals of eight people, including two babies, who died in the tragic shipwreck off the island last December.

The cruel inhumanity of the current political exploitation of racism was exposed when footage was widely screened on the television news when footage of a distraught, orphaned nine-year-old boy, Seena, who was flown from Christmas Island to Sydney for his parents’ funerals.

But this is precisely what we are not supposed to see and feel. Those waging the war of hate against refugees seek to prevent us from recognising our common humanity and responding with solidarity. All the better to get the public in Australia to accept that more than 1000 chidren like Seena can be locked up indefinitely in what psychologists have described as “factories for mental illness”. All the better for getting us to accept the unending wars abroad that are killing millions of innocent people and creating entire nations of displaced people and refugees.

Adolf Hitler used race hatred to justify sending millions to the concentration camps and gas chambers and today the politicians who are playing the race card against refugees are up to the same thing. That’s the ugly truth.

Labor treasurer Wayne Swan has accused the Coalition was “stealing sound bites from One Nation” but his government shares culpability for the rise of racism in Australia. The Gillard government’s shameful dogwhistles to racist voters is coming back to bite it.

Here is an example. There is a disgusting anti-Muslim chain email that is worming its way through the internet, entitled “Straight-talking Julia Gillard” and reads in part:

A breath of fresh air to see someone lead. I wish some leaders would step up in Canada & USA..

This woman should be appointed Queen of the World.. Truer words have never been spoken…

The whole world needs a leader like this!

Muslims who want to live under Islamic Sharia law were told on Wednesday to get out of Australia , as the government targeted radicals in a bid to head off potential terror attacks…

Separately, Gillard angered some Australian Muslims on Wednesday by saying she supported spy agencies monitoring the nation’s mosques. Quote:

‘IMMIGRANTS, NOT AUSTRALIANS, MUST ADAPT.. Take It Or Leave It.

‘I am tired of this nation worrying about whether we are offending some individual or their culture. Since the terrorist attacks on Bali , we have experienced a surge in patriotism by the majority of Australians. ‘

‘This culture has been developed over two centuries of struggles, trials and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom’

‘We speak mainly ENGLISH, not Spanish, Lebanese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or any other language. Therefore, if you wish to become part of our society . Learn the language!’

‘Most Australians (but not me) believe in God. This is not some Christian, right wing, political push, but a fact, because Christian men and women, on Christian principles, founded this nation, and this is clearly documented It is certainly appropriate to display it on the walls of our schools. If God offends you, then I suggest you consider another part of the world as your new home, because God is part of our culture.’

‘We will accept your beliefs, and will not question why All we ask is that you accept ours, and live in harmony and peaceful enjoyment with us.’

‘This is OUR COUNTRY, OUR LAND, and OUR LIFESTYLE, and we will allow you every opportunity to enjoy all this. But once you are done complaining, whining, and griping about Our Flag, Our Pledge, Our Christian beliefs, or Our Way of Life, I highly encourage you take advantage of one other great Australian freedom, ‘THE RIGHT TO LEAVE’.’

‘If you aren’t happy here then LEAVE. We didn’t force you to come here. You asked to be here. So accept the country YOU accepted.’

Maybe if we circulate this amongst ourselves in Canada & USA , WE will find the courage to start speaking and voicing the same truths.

If you agree please SEND THIS ON and ON, to as many people as you know.

This is one of many versions of a racist chain letter originally written in 2001 by a right-wing US commentator, Barry Loudermilk. The writer of this version hate chain-email has made up fictitious quotes from the Australian PM. The same quotes were previously attributed to former PM John Howard and later to Kevin Rudd when he was PM.

However, Gillard’s disgraceful political channelling of Pauline Hanson in the wake of her takeover from Kevin Rudd last year is coming back to haunt her and to divide us.

This and this is what PM Gillard has actually said about refugees and spying on mosques.

Green Left Weekly will continue to campaign against the racist divide-and-rule politics now poisoning our society. If you share our rage against the racist hate-mongers than you should generously support our Fighting Fund. We need to raise $250,000 this year to tell the truth and to champion justice and a sustainable future.

Our supporters have raised $$24,753 so far. If you would like to help us get closer to our target you can donate online today at http://www.greenleft.org.au/donate.php

Direct deposits can be made to Green Left Weekly, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992.

Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or phone in a donation on the toll-free line, 1800 634 206 (within Australia).

February 10, 2011

It’s time for serious public investment to address climate change

Gosford election forum on climate change. Photo by Jason Connolly.

Below is my presentation to Climate Action Central Coast hosted election forum on climate change for the State Candidates for Gosford on Wednesday February 9. The chief guest speaker was Matthew Wright, founder and Executive Director of the groundbreaking group Beyond Zero Emissions. Matthew was the recipient of the 2010 Environment Minister’s Young Environmentalist of the Year award. Beyond Zero Emissions also won the Mercedes Benz Australian Environmental Research Award for the Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Stationary Energy Plan – written in collaboration with the University of Melbourne Energy Research Institute. NSW State Election candidates for Gosford Chris Holstein (Liberal), Katie Smith (Labor), Peter Freewater (Greens) and Peter Boyle (Socialist Alliance lead Legislative Council candidate) were invited to address the forum and answer questions but the Labor candidate pulled out of the Forum at short notice, and declined to send an alternate speaker.

* * *

To begin I acknowldege the traditional owners of this land. This land was never ceded and it always was and always will be Aboriginal land.

I would also like to thank Mira Wroblewski and Climate Action Central Coast for the invitation to address you tonight.

So far tonight nobody has mentioned today’s bad news on climate change.

It should have been front page news but instead it was tucked away on p.9 of the Sydney Morning Herald today:

“Australia’s climate change policies will lead greenhouse gas emissions to balloon out of control in the next few years, the federal government says in an annual report to the United Nations.

“Instead of the 5 to 25 per cent cut being offered by the government, the nation would pump out 24 per cent more carbon dioxide by 2020, the Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, said…”

WRONG WAY – TURN BACK NOW! That’s what we should all be thinking.

The three main things Socialist Alliance would do to address the climate change emergency (that is what it is, an emergency, a global emergency):

1. Begin major investment along the lines proposed in Beyond Zero Emission’s Zero Carbon Australia 2020 plan. (I don’t want to steal Matthew Wright’s thunder but BZE has done a wonderful job in showing Australia the future on climate change. The 100 or so volunteers who have developed this practical and detailed plan for a 10-year transition should strengthen our faith in our society’s capacity to rise to this critical challenge.)

2. No new coal or gas projects in NSW & begin a just transition away from coal and other fossil fuels (so we’d stop the Wallarah 2 coal mine, the offshore gas drilling, coal seam gas drilling, etc). There’s a little good new here because last month Advent Energy’s offshore drilling off the NSW Centrol Coast came up dry. But the bad news is the mess NSW has been put into because of the NSW Labor government’s privatisation of the retail rights in the power industry. It needs to be abandoned, annulled and reversed so that the power industry remains in public hands in order to be shifted fully over to renewabe energy sources.

3. Boost investment in public transport, suburban, regional and inter-regional services, high speed intercity rail, rail freight. Cut fares and transition to a free public transport system to radically shift away from our dependence on road transport.

This is going to cost a lot, most people would respond. Yes it will but not nearly as much as it will cost our society NOT to respond effectively to the climate change crisis.

BZE costs the ZCA 2020 at about $370 billion over 10 years – that’s less than 3% of GDP. It is a necessary and responsible investment.

Socialist Alliance is for public investment in a transition to 100% renewable energy by 2020, based in the main on long-term public borrowing.

This has been done before to build our national rail network and other infrastructure and can be done again.

We are not opposed to using price signals and taxes on carbon polluters but this is not enough, too inefficient and too slow.

Last Thursday, in the first of a series of updates to his 2008 Climate Change Review, Professor Ross Garnaut referred to the unmentioned elephant in the room in the discussion about recent extreme weather events, from Black Saturday to cyclone Yasi, and global warming.

Once again this was important news that never made the headlines. I found buried on p.18 of the business supplement of the February 5-6 Sydney Morning Herald:

”There is a general story of the warming of the world intensifying extreme events,” he said.

”It’s written deeply into the literature.”

What is more, Garnaut said that since his 2008 review the science has only become more alarming. ”The general trend is to confirm that the [UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its fourth assessment report of 2007] underestimated the impacts of climate change. All the measurable impacts … are tracking right at the top of the range of possibilities identified by the [panel], or in some cases above them.

”Bear in mind that we’re just at the beginning of warming process,” he added. With warming now at less than 1 degree above pre-industrial levels, and with the sort of emissions growth that is going to follow from the industrialisation of China, India, Indonesia and other developing countries, ”if we are seeing an intensification of extreme weather events now … you ain’t seen nothing yet”.

Why is it when there is overwhelming scientific consensus that current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are already sufficiently high to carry the climate system past significant tipping points our political establishment is taking Australia backwards in addressing the climate change emergency?

Garnaut warned in his original report that we were coming up against “powerful vested interests”, the fossil fuel companies, the banks that have invested in them, etc.

That’s why Australian governments, state and federal, are not doing not doing what the science says we should.

And it is going to keep going like that until and unless the Australian people build a powerful counter-force to those “powerful vested interests”

What is the most predictable outcome of the coming NSW election?

The NSW ALP is going to get crucified in the polls. But if all that happens is the NSW voters punish the ALP by bringing in a Coalition government fundamentally equally (if not more) committed to serving those same powerful vested interests where is this going to get us with climate change?

The ALP will be pushed into “Opposition” but it won’t be a real opposition.

That’s why, in the coming NSW election, we need to focus on building the real opposition to both the corporate-first parties. If you are fed up of this no choice, you should support parties like the Socialist Alliance and the Greens, which have stood up against that selfish and socially and environmentally destructive agenda.

And we can’t afford to build such an opposition just in parliament. A real opposition that is capable of standing up to the powerful vested interests that are blocking Australia from seriously acting on climate change will have to mobilise in the streets, in the communities and in the trade unions. It will have to develop and grow new institutions of effective and direct democracy, such as the right to recall our political representatives, the right to community-initiated referendums on important issues, the formation of community assemblies to give communities a real say. We need to abolish the dictatorship of developers (embodied most infamously in the Part 3A powers in the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act) and give the right to decide on all major projects and issues – especially climate change – back to the people.

Socialists need to talk more about investment - social investment in our common future. Socialism about more than taking the booty from the capitalist thieves and giving to all a happier lot! Photo by Jason Connolly.

The venue was kindly provided by the Gosford Uniting Church. Photo by Jason Connolly.

Central Coast Express Advocate 16-02-11

February 3, 2011

The elephant in the room


As the Category 5 tropical cyclone Yasi approached the north Queensland coast, a political cyclone was already sweeping Egypt. For days, Australian TV news was dominated by these two stories. Incredibly, in Egypt the main public TV station news failed to report the fact millions of Egyptians had taken to the streets in a monster February 1 protest against the Mubarak dictatorship.

Well you’d expect that from an iron-fisted dictatorship that sub-contracts to the CIA to torture its political prisoners. But surely we wouldn’t expect a whopping elephant in the room to be ignored in a Western democracy like Australia?

Think again.

As ordinary Australians struggle to pick up the pieces of their lives in the wake of a season of historic flooding and cyclones (even as the serious bushfire season is only about to begin), there is an elephant in the room that is barely mentioned by most politicians and the corporate media. It is climate change.

As global warming accelerates so will the frequency and severity of “extreme weather events”. This is the overwhelming scientific consensus and it is now our shared experience. So what is our society doing about it? Are we making the urgently needed major investment in a transition to renewable energy, a radical shift away from our petrol-based transport and a transition to sustainable agriculture?

Incredibly Labor and Coalition leaders are trying to suppress this urgent debate. With the help of reactionary radio shock-jocks and the like, they’ve even tried to intimidate people from making this obvious connection, by asserting that raising climate change is unseemly, a slight to the casualties of these catastrophes and unacceptably “politicising” the disaster.

Meanwhile, these same “mainstream” politicians are loudly sqabbling over who is to pay the clean up bill. The Gillard Labor government is even contemplating axing some of the few environmentally friendly programs it has to pay for the clean up!

If we flip back to the example of Mubarak’s elephant in the room, it is easy to understand his motive to suppress reporting of the giant February 1 protests. He is defending his selfish interest of hanging on to power, and the ill-gotten gains that come with it.

In Australia, it is also powerful interests that are trying their hardest to hold back a dramatic shift in consciousness of the Australian people that should come out of our common experience of the latest “extreme weather events”. It is in the interests of the giant coal, oil and gas exporters (and the banks that have invested in them) to actively turn our eyes away from the elephant in our room.

Ironically, self-interest did move one corporation to refer to the elephant in the room last week – though the story was relegated to the business pages of most newspapers.

“One of the world’s biggest reinsurance companies says Australia has become a riskier place to do business following a string of big natural disasters over the past two years”, reported Eric Johnston in the February 3 Sydney Morning Herald. Reinsurance companies insure insurance companies seeking to offset their risks of extraordinary claims on the policies they have sold.

Swiss Re and Munich Re (another major reinsurance company) have long been charting the escalating cost of extreme weather events and they have acknowledged the serious impact of climate change.

It is taking great courage and tenacity for the immediate victims of the Queensland-NSW-Victoria floods and Cyclone Yasi to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. The explosion of human solidarity that came with these disasters has mightily bolstered their efforts. However, we cannot leave it at that. There will be ever more severe and more frequent extreme weather events unless we address climate change.

These latest catatrophes have hardened the resolve of us in Green Left Weekly to speak up even more loudly in 2011 on the urgency of seriously addressing climate change. You can help us speak out by making a contribution to our $250,000 Fighting Fund appeal.

You can donate online today at Greenleft.org.au/donate.php.

Direct deposits can be made to Green Left Weekly, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992.

Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or phone in a donation on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia).