As disturbing as the events in Ottawa were we are entitled to ask whether the political response here in Australia, on the other side of the world, was helpful or merely exploitative, writes Barrie Cassidy.
The threat of terrorism is real, but is it exaggerated?
The need to be vigilant is obvious, but do we have to live in fear?
Every time someone goes berserk overseas, do we have to behave as if it happened around the corner?
Why in 2014 is every act by a crazed gunman immediately interpreted as an act of terrorism?
And when does the rhetoric of politicians cross the boundaries from sensible public safety and security warnings to fear for the sake of it?
As disturbing as the events in Ottawa were, they could have been the actions of a “lone wolf” with a criminal history. Even if it turns out he was part of some sort of organised global terror attack – what the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, described in the Parliament as part of Islamic State’s “war on the world” – we are still entitled to ask whether the response here in Australia, on the other side of the world, was helpful or merely exploitative.
The politicians rushed to the microphones to draw the links with Australia, to underline the similarities between the two countries, and to emphasise how the same thing could so easily happen here.
The presiding officers of almost every parliament in the country put out statements on security. Tony Abbott gave an interview and followed up with a statement to the Parliament. The Opposition Leader Bill Shorten fell in behind. There was a minute’s silence. How often does that happen when a soldier in another country dies at the hands of a gunman?
Of course Australian authorities charged with the safety of the public should be impacted and instructed by the shootings in Ottawa. Of course everybody is disturbed and alarmed when these shootings happen.
But even so, why did the politicians on both sides of the aisle feel the need to see to it that every Australian shared the fear that they were so ready to express? What are we supposed to do?
Why did the politicians tell us that threats of a 17-year-old Year 10 student should leave us “chilled?” The Courier Mail, by contrast, ran a headline: “ISIS Aussie terror threat backfires. He’s just a very naughty boy.” A “naughty boy” that one senator – David Leyonhjelm – dismissed as “an absolute dickhead.”
Eminent social researcher Hugh Mackay in a 2007 speech entitled “Be Afraid” said:
Fear is a complex emotion but it comes in two main forms. There’s anticipatory fear where we perceive a threat, know what to do about it, and take the necessary evasive action.
That happens when you see a dangerous situation looming on the road, or someone threatens you with violence.
Then there’s inhibitory fear, where the threat is too great, too amorphous or too appalling for us to know how to deal with it. Because there’s no way to discharge the fear through action, we are inhibited rather than energised. The term ‘paralysed by fear’ is a good description of inhibitory fear at work.
Terrorism is an inhibitory fear, and yet that never seems to guide the rhetoric of the politicians.
Mackay went on:
It’s no wonder we are afraid and unfocused in our fear. We’re jumpy about everything because we can’t quite get a handle on what is going on, what will happen next, or even what should happen next.
And that’s the point. The politicians ram this home to the public at every opportunity, and yet the safety mechanisms, the essential responses, are not a matter for them. Indeed, quite often after they’ve been told how serious is the risk, they are then told to go about their lives as normal.
Fear sells, and certainly anxiety wins support for anti-terrorism laws no matter how much they infringe on civil liberties.
Fear is the currency of both sides of politics, and not just fear of terrorism.
Labor for years exploited the fear of WorkChoices. They still do. Tony Abbott was elected off the back of a fear campaign over the carbon tax.
One day though – who knows when – terrorism and the fear of it won’t be the central issue. The Abbott Government needs to be better prepared for when that day arrives.
For example, just this week the ABS announced what the Environment Minister Greg Hunt described as “the largest quarterly fall in electricity prices in Australian history”.
“It’s likely,” he said, “that it stretches back to the Second World War, maybe stretches back further.”
In fact, prices dropped by 5 per cent between July and September. That’s a fact. And yet the perception in an Essential Poll coincidentally released this week showed that just 7 per cent of Australians believe electricity is getting cheaper.
Perhaps worse than that, only 6 per cent believe the cost of living is improving and just 6 per cent believe their jobs are more secure than they were 12 months ago.
There is a gulf between reality and perception that at some stage the government will have to tackle.
In opposition Tony Abbott skilfully stoked anxiety about power prices. He’ll find it much harder to persuade the electorate that their bills are coming down – and by extension – their cost of living is improving.
Australians might fear terrorism, but worryingly for the government, they are at the same time – in the words of Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter Hartcher – stuck in a “pessimism trap”.
Hartcher drew on Ipsos research based on 12 discussion groups to observe that the electorate acknowledges the Abbott Government is trying to address a serious problem with debt and deficit.
But he then quotes the research director of the forthcoming Mind and Mood Report, Laura Demasi:
The government’s rhetoric that we’re living beyond our means, that we have to make cuts … doesn’t inspire confidence.
Coupled with that, we have the government saying “we have to make young people pay tens and tens of thousands of dollars for a degree, and to wait for unemployment benefits, and we need you to work until you’re 70. It’s that bad that we have to hit young people and old people.”
That doesn’t make people feel confident about the future.
Clearly, behind the clouds of terrorism, the government has some work to do.
Hugh Mackay’s 2007 speech ended with this advice to voters:
Above all, be afraid of the corrosive and paralysing effect of fear itself. If we allow it to dull the clarity of our focus on the local issues facing us in this election campaign, that will be a huge victory for terrorism.
John Howard lost that election. Perhaps Mackay’s words should be heeded by both the electorate – and Tony Abbott.
Barrie Cassidy is the presenter of the ABC program Insiders. View his full profile here.
Future sea level rises could put more than $200 billion of Australian infrastructure at risk, a report by the Climate Council has found.
The report, Counting the Costs: Climate Change and Coastal Flooding, showed sea levels were likely to rise by between 40 centimetres and one metre over the next century.
The report’s lead author, Professor Will Steffen, warned national income would suffer huge losses if action was not taken to protect against rising sea levels and extreme weather events.
“You’re looking at anywhere from three tenths of a per cent of loss of GDP per year, all the way up to 9 per cent loss of GDP per year,” Professor Steffen said.
At least $226 billion of infrastructure exposed to flooding and erosion (with a 1.1m sea level rise), including:
Source: Climate Council
“That upper scenario is higher than the growth rate of GDP per year, so you’re looking basically at staggering economic costs if we don’t get this under control.”
The Victorian coast, the south-east corner of Queensland and Sydney would be the hardest hit by rising sea levels, the report found.
With more than 75 per cent of Australians living near the coast, Professor Steffen said large swathes of infrastructure were at risk.
“Much of our road, rail, port facilities, airports and so on are on the coast,” he said.
“If you look at a 1.1 metre sea level rise – which is the high-end scenario for 2100 but that’s what we’re tracking towards – you’re looking at more than $200 billion worth of infrastructure that’s at risk.”
Professor Steffen said so-called once-in-a-lifetime natural events could become regular occurrences.
“If you look at some of our most vulnerable areas, and the Sydney region is one of those, you would say toward the end of this century that a one-in-100-year flood is going to be happening every few days,” he said.
“That’s an impossible situation to cope with.”
Professor Steffen said infrastructure projects, like the new runway planned for Brisbane’s airport, needed to factor in future sea rises.
“The people who are investing actually went to the best scientists here in Australia, experts of sea level rises, and took the best science into account and decided they were going to build that third runway higher than previously planned,” he said.
If sea level rises were ignored, by 2050 the report predicted the global the impact of coastal flooding would cost $US1 trillion per year – the same size as the Australian economy.
The Climate Council warned sea level rises would put pressure on home insurance premiums, as rising sea levels fed coastal erosion.
Australian Local Government Association president Felicity-Ann Lewis said erosion was already causing problems for home owners.
“The insurance industry is very interested in this because some of the insurance premiums are becoming such that people can’t afford to take out insurance on their properties,” Dr Lewis said.
“This is a very big issue.”
Dr Lewis said a lack of coordination across all levels of government was impeding action.
“It’s a very mixed bag; there is no consistent view or approach for local government to try to deal with this,” she said.
“Each state and territory association is trying to deal with different guidelines; there is no consensus around that, so for us it’s a very big challenge.”
Hi, it is Monday, the 4th of August 2014, a bit after 7 am.
I just looked up the temperatures for Sydney. It says it is there 7 C at present but it feels like only 5 C which I believe equals 40 F. Here where I am the temperatures are similar to Sydney. In Canberra, which is more inland, the temperatures during night time did go down to below freezing point for the last few days.
It has not rained much the last few weeks. I looks like our fire season starts early this year. This is what out Rural Fire Service states:
“Across NSW there are more than 700 #NSWRFS firefighters working on 84 bush and grass fires. …”
Apparently it burns only in some northern parts of New South Wales at the moment. (NSW is a huge area, about the size of the whole of Germany!) Still, we have to be prepared with warmer weather coming up and not much rain, there is definitely going to be increased risk of bush fires in the coming months or even weeks.
It feels strange to have to think of bush fires when we have such a tremendous cold spell right now!
Two big lessons of economic research over the past 10 years are that inequality is not the result of inexorable laws of economics but rather of policy; and that countries that adopt policies that lead to high inequality pay a high price – inequality not only leads to a divided society and undermines democracy, but it weakens economic performance. Hopefully, as Australia debates its new government’s budget and economic “reforms,” it bears this in mind.
Joseph Stiglitz is the winner of the 2001 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. He is a former chairman of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and Chief Economist of the World Bank. His most recent book is The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future.
If you go to the above link you are going to find a very well written post about social conditions in Australia published by
THE AUSTRALIAN INDEPENDENT MEDIA NETWORK
I received the following as an email already on the 26th of May. I am a bit late in thinking about publishing it. But it might still interest some bloggers in Australia who are interested in Earthsharing & Prosper’s insights on budget, housing and the state of economics
I ask myself, why are capital gains ignored in the budget?
THE ENEWS OF PROSPER & EARTHSHARING AUSTRALIA
The state of economics
Welcome to the second Evolving Economics enews, combining the Earthsharing and Prosper Australia news lists. This knowledge is important in an age of entitlements, where welfare is demonised and unearned incomes (a.k.a. capital gains) are ignored. Take a quick look at these budget costs:
Jobseekers – $10bn p.a
Family Tax Benefits – $19bn
National Disability Insurance – $17bn
Medicare – $20bn
Imputed rents (unrealised capital gains) – $484bn in residential real estate alone.
So why tax students, the poor and the productive when so much revenue potential exists in economic rents?
With much talk about the ‘1996 Howard Costello tough budget’, we are reminded of the change since. In 1996, First Home Owners borrowed just $95,000 on average. Today that has more than tripled to $303,000. Wages have only increased by $214%, compared to 319% in housing (read land) costs.
This federal budget will cost the poorest 20% of the population, the lowest quintile, $2.9 billion over four years. However the wealthiest 20%, those earning $88,000 or more, will pay just $1.78 billion – 40% less.
It is time the public spoke up on the record capital gains occurring in housing, mining and other natural monopolies. That is our specialty here on the Evolving Economics enews. We hope you find this information of use and can join us to maintain this knowledge base, continuing to push governments towards a refined economic system that encourages productive activity over speculative largess. See our recent press releases.