Letters to the editor

May 20, 2011
Cartoon: Chris Kelly

Price on carbon crude, wasteful

The illusion of the necessity of capital is one of the most difficult to shake. Capital appears to contribute something in the production process so to the worker appears as indispensable.

This illusion manifests in such beliefs as workers must not ask for too much or the business will go bust and jobs will be lost, jobs will not be created unless capitalists have a free rein, and that the super-profits of the mining companies can't be touched or the companies will take their capital elsewhere and Australia's prosperity will suffer.

The latest example is the belief that renewable energy and a sustainable society won't happen unless it is profitable to do so.

This means that the Labor government is contemplating a price on carbon, with emissions trading to follow, starting at about $20-$40 a tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent, to encourage new investment in gas-fired electricity generation. This is a crude and wasteful method to make this conversion.

This illusion is real enough under the present society, but the point is to change society. At the moment, everything appears as an achievement of capital.

As Michael Lebowitz said, if we are to challenge the rule of capital, we need to challenge the ownership of the products of labour. Therefore, as an intermediate step, we should be directly ordering (by regulation) the electricity generators to convert from coal to gas, and if they won't comply, nationalising them.

We should also be directly investing (by public ownership) in renewable technologies like wind, solar and geothermal. People will see through the illusion to the type of society we would like to build.

David Bastin
Nicholls, ACT

Carbon tax & gas disaster

The Australian government via climate change minister Greg Combet says that a major consequence of the carbon tax will be a coal-to-gas transition for fossil fuel burning for electric power.

Methane leaks (3.3%) are 105 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas (GHG) on a 20-year timeframe and taking aerosol impacts into account.

A coal-to-gas transition for electricity generation assuming 3.3% gas leakage would add an extra 4.5 tonnes CO2 equivalent of GHG pollution for every tonne of coal replaced.

This means that the Gillard Labor government’s carbon tax-driven coal-to-gas transition will actually double GHG pollution from electricity generation as well as killing the steel industry.

There is no point “doing something” if that something is counterproductive. If people won’t take the science seriously then the current Australian carbon tax debate is worse than futile.

What should Australia do? I would suggest phased-down cessation of fossil fuel exports and burning coupled with an urgent shift to biochar production, reafforestation and wind power (the cheapest and most mature renewable energy technology) using Australian-made steel ($144-200 billion for 260,000 gigawatt hours a year), this leaving the agriculture challenge (over 50% of the GHG pollution problem).

Gideon Polya
Macleod, Vic

Peak oil threat ignored

Well, what a week. William and Catherine got married. Bin Laden was killed. And the forecast that in 2014, if not before, oil will be in such short supply that its price will go through the roof very rapidly. The Pentagon has predicted 2015.

The first two items were front page and every page and more, but the third did not get into any newspaper that I saw.

The immient oil crash was covered for 15 minutes on radio and telly and that was it.

Our prime minister attended the wedding and congratulated Obama for getting bin Laden, but there was no mention of the oil news that will change all our lives.

It has long been deemed newsworthy that a member of the monarchy from a long gone empire can get dressed up in an ancient military outfit and get married.

Some have been persuaded to believe that the activities of bin Laden are more significant than the US rampage through Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Libya.

We have been pretty well prevented from knowing that the citizens of industrial societies, completely dependent on oil for employment, food and things, are about to be priced out of life as we have come to know it.

Graham Smith
Point Pass, SA

Pokies reform needed

Before you drive a car your eyesight is tested, you wear seatbelts and you are expected to be sober ,yet too many people wear beer goggles when they try to tango with the one armed bandit and with poker machines there are no seat-belts.

Of course, in such circumstances a sobriety test would be easy to implement but I am writing about something harder to judge.

Two of my now late friends both in their early 50's both lost their life savings to poker machines when they started to suffer the onset of dementia. One of them lost his business and his house because of this.

I think in a pre-commitment card is a minimal safety device that could have saved the families of my two friends a mountain of grief & financial hardship.

Tony Backhouse
Narraweena, NSW

Eureka flag a left-wing icon

The right wing is attempting to hijack the Eureka flag, which really belongs to the socialist left as a historic emblem of revolt.

In Ballarat in 1854, gold miners from 20 different nationalities pledged “to stand true to each other and to defend our rights and liberties under the Southern Cross”, an event which has become a legend.

The spirit of the Eureka Stockade lives on today with the unions and the socialist movement, as a symbol of resistance against racism and injustice. This includes defending workers' rights against the attacks of both ALP and Coalition governments, such as the Australian Building and Construction Commission attempting to smash unions and jail workers and using strong-arm tactics against workers.

It includes Patrick’s and the Howard government's attack on the Maritime Union of Australia in 1998 by sending in strikebreakers and dogs against the unionists.

All these unions kept the Eureka flag flying during these disputes.

Also, in the prime of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), its youth wing was called the Eureka Youth League. The EYL helped with the Freedom Ride for Aboriginal rights in the early 1960s, and also gave funding to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy at Old Parliament House in Canberra in the 1970s.

The CPA experienced a split in 1964, as a result of the Sino-Soviet dispute between Beijing and Moscow, which led to the formation of the CPA (Marxist-Leninist). As a Maoist party, they adopted the Eureka flag as their symbol, and the motto for an Independent Australia and Socialism.

The Eureka flag is now carried every May Day by the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union and the Builders Labourers Federation, proudly defending the history of working class struggle.

The People's Flag is not for the racist right wing, but for those whose motto is: Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win.

Sam Bullock
Brisbane, Qld

Open letter to Julia Gillard on refugees

There's a lot of degraded ex-farmland in Australia, thousands of kilometers of country in my district alone that no-one wants to take responsibility for to rehabilitate back to productive use, either growing food or for wildlife habitat in areas where ecosystems are endangered.

One of the many options your government has in dealing with unauthorised arrivals, either by air or by sea, is to process them as quickly as possible on the mainland, and settle genuine refugees in permaculture villages of around 1000, in fenced and gated communities on a few hundred acres of unused land relatively close to towns.

Many refugees, especially from Asia, already have skills in food growing, and any permaculturalist worth their salt (Josh Byrnes of Gardening Australia being just one leading expert in the field) could draw you up a plan whereby the newest Australians can build their own earth-insulated homes (I myself have had plans drawn up to ABA standards for a 5 bedroom coursed adobe dwelling that can be owner-built and furnished for under $100,000) and become mostly self-sufficient in their own food requirements, within ten years, at which time they will be integrating well and contributing to the local community.

Permaculture models adapted to local conditions could be rolled out across rural, regional and remote communities all over Australia, especially Aboriginal ones in dire need of basic shelter and food, so that they can become self-reliant to a large degree … endangered plants and wildlife will benefit also as permaculture integrates with bush tucker and the restoration of habitat.

Permaculture settlement models have been tried and tested for decades, evolving with the latest grass-roots technologies and integrating with indigenous wisdom, and have been proven to work well; this is evidenced by the expanding number of successful ones in Australia and around the world.

It would cost far less than offshore detention and sending desperate souls to a living hell in a remote Malaysian prison for the rest of their lives.

If the government continues with its current asylum-seeker regime, when alternatives such as this are eminently viable, the UN criminal courts will have no option but to prosecute you for your cruelty and inhumanity towards some of the most traumatised and disadvantaged people on Earth.

I personally believe it exposes very sick and depraved minds that would choose such cruel fates for asylum seekers, and that the political regimes that continue with it should be treated by psychiatric professionals.

Maureen Brannan
Cloyna, Qld

Mythical refugee numbers

The Commonwealth government tosses around a lot of figures when it comes to our asylum seekers and refugees. They now claim they will settle in Australia 4000 refugees languishing in Malaysia. Well, if the last 10 years are anything to go by then this history exposes false promises.

During the last couple of years, the government promised to take in 500 each year from Indonesia. This hasn't been happening — at best last year 113 were approved and not all have arrived. The year before it was about fifty odd! From 2001 to 2010 the annual average we have taken in each year from Indonesia is 50.

If Australia can't settle 500 per annum from Indonesia how is it going to achieve the promise of 4,000 each year from Malaysia?

Furthermore, Australia has a bungling bureaucratic lazy process in place. In 2005 Australia settled 109 UN recognised refugees from Malaysia with a peak of 535 in 2008.

However, during 2011 we've only resettled 49 from Malaysia. However, we do not settle our total annual quota which is already embarrassingly low compared to most other countries. We rank 32 out of 71 and twenty OECD countries are ahead of us.

Australia claims to have just raised its annual resettled refugees quota to 14,000 (from 13,500) however did we ever reach 13,500 in any of the preceding ten years?

No. During the last couple of years we have fallen short by near 2000. If we add up the short fall during the last decade we should at least rollover these numbers and bring in another ten thousand immediately.

Logically, the 4000 from Malaysia should be in addition to the mythical 14,000, and we don't need to send, many to their deaths, 800 each year to Malaysia or anywhere else.

The government bandies around a lot of figures. I say set up an ability to at least expedite and achieve these minamilist numbers.

With this dinosaurian bureacracy and regular inactivity by government departments no wonder thousands of asylum seekers have been languishing in suffering in the unlawful detention centres (24) for more than a year.

It appears our asylum seekers do try to hang in there while illegally incarcerated however when it hits the year mark it appears a threshold has been reached and people just begin to break down physically and mentally and endure the onset of acute and chronic disorders.

Gerry Georgatos,
Bridgetown, WA

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