Global Insights On Neglected Political Issues


Image: war-time voting at Perth Town Hall, State Library of WA (It’s a long shot but the State Library of WA is keen to identify the people in this war-time photo)

There have been issues aplenty for people to mull over ahead of tomorrow’s Federal election, not all of them as obvious as climate change, refugees or the Murray Darling.

Chair of Australia21, Paul Barratt, named those issues as his top three in a contribution to John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations newsletter. But he also added 10 neglected political issues. They include inequality, reversing the cuts to research and development, early childhood education and a world-class NBN. Barrett, a former Departmental secretary of Defence and Primary Industries and Energy, would be aware of the global statistics on internet speed. Increasing the latter is, after all, the main aim of a world-class NBN.

A report in the Canberra Times last month showed that Australia dropped three places to 62nd for fixed broadband. The latest Ookla Speedtest Global Index showed that Australia is far behind many comparable economies and a few developing nations. The download speed of 35.11 Mbps recorded for March is only 60% of the global average of 57.91 Mbps.

However, a spokesman for Communications Minister Mitch Fifield told the Canberra Times Ookla didn’t measure the speeds of which the NBN is capable.

“It measures the speed packages that households purchase – which is the main determinant of speeds received.” The spokesman said around half of the 5.1 million people connected to the NBN had chosen 25 Mbps or lower, eschewing the faster options.

Australians not yet connected to the NBN network are limited to an average speed of 8 Mbps with an ADSL connection (by way of explanation if I have not replied to your emails).

Barrett points out that faster internet is not just about downloading films or online gaming; it is about the needs of industry in the city and the bush as well as social benefits like remote delivery of medical services.

Coal and climate change

Whether you believe that climate change is the only real issue in this election or not, Australia is demonstrably dragging the chain in terms of mitigation. This is without a doubt the No 1 neglected political issue.

Australia is performing worse than most other advanced countries in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The global SDG Index ranked Australia 37th in the world (down from 26th last year and behind most other wealthy countries including New Zealand, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Efforts to sway the country away from its love-affair with fossil fuels have struggled against the incumbent government’s determination that ‘coal is good for humanity’. There’s no doubt about the growing demand for coal to generate electricity in China and India and there’s no shortage of players, including Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer, poised to open up new mines in the Galilee Basin. It’s not hard to figure out why. Australia exported $US47 billion worth of coal – 36.9% of global trade in 2018. Demand for thermal coal to fuel power stations is highest in China, the US and India. New coal-fired power stations planned by those three nations total 334,773MW of capacity – an increase of about 23%. Research portal exposes the folly of this, saying that CO2 emissions from existing plants alone are enough to ‘breach the carbon budget’ limiting global warming to1.5 or 2C.

The good news, if you are a climate change believer, is that 14 countries (including the UK and Canada), have signed up to phase out coal power generation by 2030.The Stop Adani campaign had its genesis in 2007 when environmental campaigner Tim Flannery alerted people to the likelihood of the Galilee Basin in central west Queensland being exploited. The arguments against development of the 27 billion-tonne thermal coal resource include the low quality of Galilee Basin coal, a required expansion of an export port too close to the Great Barrier Reef for comfort and the environmental record of the applicant (Adani).

As the above infographic explains in detail, there are concerns about the amount of water required to operate (a) the mine and (b) the port. The Indian coal and power company has posted a rebuttal of claims that it will take 12 gigalitres of water from the Great Artesian Basin.

Refugees and border paranoia

The United Nations Association of Australia set out its position on refugees and asylum seekers in April last year, saying that current policies and measures need to be reviewed.

“Australia’s current policy only shifts the problem to other countries.”

“Australia’s reputation as a welcoming host country and as a responsible global citizen is diminished by our current treatment of asylum seekers and refugees arriving spontaneously, as evidenced by arguments from within the Australian community and from the UNHCR. There are alternatives.”

The UNAA states the obvious – processing arrivals offshore is not cost-effective. Between 2012 and 2016, the cost to Australia was an estimated $9.6 billion. Though costs have reduced as arrivals have decreased, the estimated cost of offshore processing for 2017-18 was $714 million.

(Offshore processing costs blew out by 52% during 2018-19. The latest Budget records that estimated actual spending in 2018-19 on offshore processing will be $1.158 billion – Ed)

Despite the weight of international criticism, Australia has persisted with the practice of detaining refugees offshore and turning boats around.

It is important to know that the Labor Party has largely promised to maintain the status quo, although it would look at New Zealand’s offer to resettle refugees from Manus and Nauru,

Australian expat musician James Fagan, who has been living in the UK for 20 years, has often had to wear criticism of Australia’s refugee policies.

But he is being asked less often, since the Brexit campaign revealed what he called the “dark underbelly of xenophobia and racism in the UK”.

“Five or 10 years ago, when Tampa and all that stuff was in the news, I used to get a lot of questions in the UK.  The one that sticks in my mind was the Armenian delicatessen owner who asked me about how I felt about my homeland’s treatment of refugees. He had Armenian friends and relatives in Australia and had been following the Tampa situation closely. He asked me if I was embarrassed. I said yes!

“But I’ve stopped being asked the question and the sad truth of it is that the longer a country persists in a particular course of action, the less it becomes newsworthy.”

Which brings us to No 10 in Paul Barratt’s list of neglected political issues – the need for empathy and compassion in government.

It should be a matter of conscious public policy that empathy and compassion underpin everything we do in the public sphere,” he writes.

“Recent Royal Commissions have demonstrated how strongly human motivations drive behaviour. Humans have a powerful competitive and acquiring motivation, which tends to turn off other motivational systems that link to caring and supporting others.

“So developing a compassionate mindset is important because it has shown that this mind-set organises our motives, emotions and actions in ways that are conducive for our own and other people’s wellbeing.”

“Recognising the needs and aspirations of every human being necessarily implies refraining from demonising any social group – refugees, the unemployed, the poor, the homeless, etc.”

Mr Speaker, I commend the Mindful Futures Network to the House (and the Senate).


(The above quote could well have come from the late ex-Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Valé to a great Australian politician who was respected by both sides of politics. SWETB) (SheWhoEditsThisBlog)

More reading – what Labor and the Greens were saying about a coalition before the 2016 election.

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