Mythbusters – Australian voters smash 3 rules of electoral success

30 11 2007

Here are three cardinal rules of modern electoral success that can now be swept away. There are probably many others. 

  1. No government loses office when the economy is in great shape.
  2. Environmental issues are not significant vote winners.
  3. Australians prefer tax cuts to spending on services. 



Skype junk mail

27 11 2007

Just slightly annoyed to receive this Skype message this evening from someone called Li.

hello.I am Li from china. we are the factory to produce the flat speaker. we are the only one here in china to produce the flat speaker. because only we have the technology. If you are interested in it, please contact me.

The story of the internet (and probably communications technology in general) seems to be one of explosive, creative ideas which later become subverted (ruined?) by the desire of some to make a quick buck. We might look at email, blogging, video sharing and social networking as classic examples of this tendency. How many of you remember the internet before advertising became the in-you-face visual pollution that it has become? (especially those friggin’ bandwidth wasting video ads and flash content).

The ability of interested amateurs to shape the internet has always seemed to be its great strength over traditional media and many feel that it is a truly democratic technology in this sense. All of this can be compromised by corporate influence and control.

Fortunately, the little guy hasn’t been squeezed out altogether and independent opinion still flourishes for the most part. In the battle between the individual and the corporation, the corporates have so far always trailed behind, ever slow in capitalising on the latest internet trend. May it ever be the case.

Recent attempts to introduce differential pricing for content providers suggest that there are many in the corporate world who would like very much to exercise unacceptable levels of control over the ether. The effects would be wide ranging and toxic to freedom of expression and undue influence.

Hollow words at a moment of great significance

26 11 2007

Kevin Rudd

The staff at Verdurous are of course overjoyed at the imminent return of Australia to the framework convention on climate change negotiations. I look forward to Australia’s involvement in helping solve all of our global environmental concerns.When I first started writing this blog, Kim Beazley was opposition leader and I felt that, despite his troubles, changing to Rudd would be a disaster. At the time, Labor had already started to improve in the polls on the back of the Iraq war and climate change was emerging as an issue. History now shows I was wrong. Rudd was good for the party. Nevertheless, I’ve found him a very colourless figure, prone to dry pronouncements and speeches laced with what former Keating speech writer Don Watson calls “weasel words” – dull, lifeless cliches, empty platitudes, management speak and cant.I will re-print below Kevin Rudd’s victory speech from Saturday night (source: SMH) and will italicise what I believe to be weasel words or weasel phrases. It is pretty hard to read without the eyes glazing over. For contrast, I link here to a certain politician’s electoral concession speech from 2000 (transcript and audio) to show what Mr Rudd might have aspired to.It seems that David Marr of the SMH agrees with me (and puts it better of course). Other more generous comment on Rudd’s language style is here.

Today Australia has looked to the future. Today the Australian people have decided that we as a nation will move forward – to plan for the future, to prepare for the future, to embrace the future. And together to unite and write a new page in our nation’s history. To make this great country of ours, Australia, even greater.

I want to thank all those people in Australia who have placed their trust in me and my team. And I say tonight to the nation: I will never take their sacred trust for granted.I am determined to honour the confidence which has been extended to us by the people of our great land. And I say to all of those who have voted for us today, I say to each and every one of them: that I will be a prime minister for all Australians; a prime minister for indigenous Australians; Australians who have been born here and Australians who have come here from afar and have contributed to the great diversity that is our nation.

Friends, tomorrow the work begins. Australia’s long-term challenges demand a new consensus across our country. I’m determined to use the office of prime minister to forge that consensus. I want to put aside the old battles of the past: the old battles between business and unions, the old battles between growth and the environment, the old and tired battles between federal and state. The old battles between public and private. The future is too important for us not to work together to embrace the challenges of the future and to carve out our nation’s destiny.

We have put before the Australian people a plan. It’s our agenda for work: To start building a world-class eduction system. To embrace the long-term funding needs of our public hospital system. To act, and act with urgency, on the great challenges of climate change and water. To build a 21st-century infrastructure for a 21st-century economy. And to get the balance right between fairness and flexibility in the workplaces of the nation.And this task as well: to remain ever vigilant in the defence of our nation’s national security.

Yawn.  Am I being too critical?

Go for a goal of less in gaols

20 11 2007

Although departing from green issues briefly, I believe these two items are worth a link:The first, from An Onymous lefty, is a compassionate take  on Australia’s shameful mistreatment of prisoners.  It is so refreshing to hear these views put forward and it is sad to reflect on the state of public discourse in this area.The second is a news item on the prison population in the USA.  The US now imprisons around 2.5 million of its own residents.  I’m left gob-smacked by the last sentence:

Currently one-third of all black males, one-sixth of Latino men and one in 17 white males will go to prison during their lives.  


Election slogan – the real message

17 11 2007

Is it just me, or does anyone else feel that the liberal party slogan is missing a few words which may have revealed the harsh reality?Liberal party slogan  

Latest green scorecards – Australian election

8 11 2007

The Australian Conservation Foundation is keeping a weekly scorecard which is shown below. (Full details here)

Democrats 90/100
Family First 31/100
Greens                             94/100
Labor 56/100
Liberal/National 21/100

The Climate Institute rates the parties as follows:

Democrats 83/100
Family First 57/100
Greens 90/100
Labor 53/100
Liberal/National 26.6/100

More disturbing though is the climate institute’s pollute-o-meter which shows that current policy announcements from major parties have been predicted to raise CO2 emissions substantially. There is an interesting break-down of the effects of each policy proposal in graphical form on the climate institute web


Pollute-o-meter - climate institute

That other environmental crisis

8 11 2007

With all the attention on climate change (and about time), it is easy to forget that there are other global environmental threats which will harm human health and the well-being of all human societies this century. In my view, the one that stands out is the biodiversity contraction that is presently underway.

It is incredible to think that the term “biodiversity” only came into existence around 1986. Since then, the field has opened up enormously and we have learnt a great deal about the web of life, and the functioning and evolutionary history of the natural world. Biodiversity occurs at many levels. Diversity within populations, within species and within and between ecosystems are all important aspects.

There are certain links with climate change of course. Mid-range “business as usual” global warming is predicted to contribute to the extinction of maybe 1/3 of all living species this century. Similarly, there are some common contributors to both dilemmas, for example the loss of forests. Of course, there have been five previous extinction events throughout pre-history, although this one differs in at least two ways. Firstly, the pace of species loss has never been greater. It is thought we are running at between 100 and 1000 times the background or “natural” rate of extinctions. Secondly, it is entirely unprecedented that one species should come to dominate almost every conceivable ecosystem and biological niche. This should worry us greatly, even if just from a selfish perspective.

The drivers of lost biodiversity include – land use change, the spread of exotic pests and weeds, climate change, pollution and poisons, industrial mono-cultural agricultural systems, trade in endangered animal products, gross over-fishing. There are many other indirect drivers.

The health consequences of biodiversity loss will include the loss of medicinal plants and medical models, the emergence of infectious diseases, and weakened global food production. Critical declines in ecosystem services (the things nature does for us) can be expected – water purification, break-down of waste and pollution, pollination, sequestering carbon and so on. We shouldn’t forget the psychological harms of a degraded biosphere, loss of amenity, aesthetics, and sense of place. Ethical considerations also speak to us profoundly. What right do we as a species have to inflict this on the remainder of the world’s living creatures? It is immensely unethical. Extinction is forever.

Australia’s record is worse than any other continent. Since European colonisation, we have lost 19 species of mammals alone, and another 10 exist only on offshore islands after being once widespread on the mainland. We must be particularly careful given that 80% of our plants and animals are found nowhere else in the world. Yet we can walk into any nursery in this country and buy plants known to be frequent garden escapees and noxious, invasive weeds.

In the end, we must remember that saving “life” will take more than a few focussed zoo breeding programs. If the habitat is gone, many such animals could be regarded as the “living dead”. We must target the key drivers head on. It is particularly urgent given that – like climate change – there will be a big lag between action and results. A certain number of extinctions are “built-in” and inevitable no matter what we do from here on. Fortunately, many of the actions that mitigate against climate change also help biodiversity. A holistic approach will be needed and environmental concerns must inform every decision we make, at individual, community, national and international levels – just as economic considerations do now.

So let’s get started.