Doctor and activist


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Category: Environment

Toll Doesn’t Pay Toll

8 October 2021

Trucking giant Toll Holdings tells its drivers to avoid toll roads as they are not worth the time savings. It might be noted that Air Freight to Melbourne is actually taken by trucks, the only thing being sky high is the prices.The toll roads have the price levels befitting a private monopoly of Transurban. They were sold as lessening congestion. They have taken the money and now we have done nothing for our rail network. There was an article in the SMH of 29/9/21 and also this one:

www.truckandbus.net.au/toll-says-no-to-tolls/

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Uncontested Grants for NT Gas Exploration Despite Court Proceedings in Progress

15 September 2021

Federal Resources Minister Keith Pitt gave $20 million for gas exploration for fracking in the Betaloo Basin in an uncontested grant.  The grant was to Empire Energy that donates to both major parties, but seems to prefer the Liberals as they flew Energy Minister Angus Taylor and Liberal fundraiser, Ryan Arrold around the NT site (Guardian 20/8/21). 

The Betaloo Basin is in the centre of the Northern Territory, and the grant application was the subject of Court proceedings brought by the Environmental Centre (NT) and the Environmental Defenders Office.  It seems that undertakings were given not to give the grants, but they went ahead despite the assurances given to the Court.  The Australian Government Solicitor (AGS) said somewhat lamely that they can only do what their clients say.  The Resources Minister, Keith Pitt was criticised by the Federal Court judge, Justice John Griffiths, but it seems that this will make no difference either to the outcome or to the Minister’s career.  Presumably the idea that he would be charged with contempt of court is fantasy.

We seem to have reached the point of a third world country where the Government gives whatever it likes to its mates and due process is a distant memory.

Labor might be marginally better, but the benchmark has now been set very low.  Companies are becoming accustomed to governments bending to their will and will be reluctant to leave the ‘new norm’.  The only answer is a Swiss-style democracy with referenda as the main source of power and citizens able to overturn government decisions.  We need proportional representation and an end to the two-party duopoly so that all decisions are made on the floor of the parliament, not in back-room deals.  This will take a change to the Constitution, but this well overdue in any case, and we might as well do a thorough job of it.  The Swiss also have provisions to change their constitution without a fuss.

www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/sep/14/no-satisfactory-explanation-court-blasts-keith-pitt-over-grant-agreement-with-gas-company?fbclid=IwAR3v_4oGwTWFkiQ2xYp_l9Mjw2alDLARFN_St8hwoDbEp_MRup44fFbfXaU

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Giving out Jobs to Perpetuate the Status Quo

17 July 2021

The composition of the US High Court, especially on the issue of abortion has had more publicity in Australia than our own stacking of the judiciary and major government bodies.  Where are the records of all this? Has it just continued quietly under the radar with George Brandis and Christian Porter?

The Liberals have been masters of putting conservative people and ?mates in the judiciary and on bodies such as Clean Energy, which they did not manage to abolish. This will naturally make it very hard for the country to move on when they are voted out. The judiciary are appointed for life- about the only people in the country left in that position, and these major Government bodies have appointments with quite long tenure, so that change will be both hard and delayed.   Years ago these problems would have been in the hands of relatively unsackable career public servants. 

We presume that Matthias Cormann had a miraculous change toward clean energy once he got to the OECD and did not have to toe the Morrison government line.  But people who have spent their working life in an industry are unlikely to do the same.  Once again it is the Liberals standing in the way of progress for as long as they can.

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The Resurrection of Barnaby Joyce

23 June 2021

Barnaby is back at the head of the National Party. He was sworn in by the Governor-General, with his new little son running around for the cameras.

The National Party used to fight for the interests of farmers. Now it principally fights for the rights of big miners, even if they are on farmers’ land and likely to destroy it. Joyce is against doing anything on climate change or anything environmental in terms of getting rid of the trading water ‘rights’ and excess extraction.

He is in favour of helping Assange and the Biloela refugee family.


Here is Crikey’s take on it all:

Return of a true blue rural populist: what Beetrooter redux really means for city, country and Labor
GUY RUNDLE
The Beetrooter is back! For lo we hath seen his redness rise in the north, like a shepherd’s warning at morning, and the prophecy has been fulfilled: that a child will come to lead them, and he will be as a shouting bag of blood hooked up on a drip cradle, a rural engorgement.
And it didn’t take him too long to give his supporters what they want, taking the fight back to Labor and progressives in a way that Michael McCrom- McMorc- Mc — that guy never could. McSomething showed why he had been edged out of the leadership, giving a farewell speech that sounded like a dog about to be shot heaping praise on the farmer, and then retiring gracefully into the shadows, as Labor enthusiastically applauded the man who had earlier hoped that a mice plague would invade the cities and bite children in their beds. Gnawing resentment, much?
Leadership change in the National Party doesn’t really have to be explained in factional terms — more ‘Yeah I reckon you’re right’ sort of thing from one quasi-aristocratic grassland lord to another. In switching from Macca (which no one has ever called him) to Barnaby, the party has just chosen one extractionist for another, and one likely to be more effective in channelling not just culture war stuff, but a deeper sense of rural populism and anti-politics. Though various people on the progressive side have tried to portray Scotty and others as Trumpian, that’s always been a mischaracterisation.
But Barnaby’s the only one in Australia with a real touch of that raw, about-to-explode look, scorning all experts, science or even common sense and judgment in the management of his own life. There’s a touch of the old Kingfish there, Huey Long, Louisiana governor in the ’30s, who had run on the principle that he was a rube like all the other rubes.
The Kingfish, yes. But also a touch of Princess Diana. When Barnaby’s affair with Vikki Campion, the worst-kept secret in the world, was revealed by a news org big enough to withstand libel threats and smoke it out, he could have gone the whole “man is a man, man’s got needs” route. He would not be the first National/Country Party leader to do some agisting in the bottom paddock.
Barnaby, or whoever was advising him, went the other way, and it was a stroke of genius. By playing up the emotionality stuff, the depression, angst, guilt blah blah, as told to The Australian Women’s Weekly, he managed to keep that part of the rural vote who don’t care who he roots, but also leapfrog mainstream politics to become the very modern man, vulnerable, pulled off course by love, following his heart. In other words, classically feminine. He has essentially become our modern Tiresias, swapping back and forth across the line as suits.
Those positions may look like polar opposites, but they ain’t. Barnaby’s masculine take — orrrrr I don’t reckon there’s much to this climate science, the Murray-Darling’s doing all right, them fancy city blokes etc etc — is an anti-metropolitan, anti-technocratic one, and so too is the lerrvvv stuff, that one can be blown this way and that by love. The fact that Barnaby had to go because of entirely sexual harassment allegations has been quietly forgotten.
The widespread bewilderment and condemnation of the Nats that has come from the press gallery and mainstream commentators show that they either don’t get the degree to which various forms of populism, anti-elitism, anti-politics are a winning ticket these days, or they just don’t care about actually reading the country. They would prefer to enforce a knowledge-class view of the world, in which Barnaby’s spinning penis pinyata act is simply incomprehensible politics, mad stuff. It got a stern lecture from professional political photobomber Troy Bramston, that this was not how we do things (and you wonder why Labor’s losing), and the 87th article from Katharine Murphy, the Lucille Ball of Australian political commentary, perpetually wide-eyed and agape that everything’s gone crazy and she can’t find the words for it.
Well, yes, there are some rural voters in the larger regional cities who may be finally detached from the Nats on climate change and personal conduct grounds, but there are others who will be persuaded to abandon any dalliance with tell-it-like-it-is rural independents, and that the Nats are speaking for them again. The Nats’ big competition is the new Voices movement, and they know it. Maybe Voices candidates won’t break through this time, but they’re not going away. The non-party structure as a network grounded in community is long-term viable in a way that start-up upstart parties, or isolated independents, aren’t.
The only remaining question is whether Barnaby’s return will have an effect in the cities, in divisions like Higgins, Boothby and others. But I believe people really don’t factor that in much in the ballot box. When the election starts, Nat politicians disappear down the wombat electoral trail and aren’t heard from for weeks in the cities. Barnaby would have to shoot an escort’s pimp in the head to get in the news then –something which he has presumably timetabled for early 2022.
The response to his return is not to put one’s hands up in the air and shriek. It’s to respond to politics with politics. In Labor’s case to tell the truth to country Australia and thereby gain support in the cities. Country Australia was a state-sponsored project, created by government monopsonies. Those days are over. If it’s going to survive as anything other than a vast FIFO zone it’s going to have to stop whining about getting no love, and make real and big changes — the imagination of which is entirely beyond the scope of the National Party.
To presume that everyone voting, or thinking of, for something like a Voices candidate is a rural soft progressive or centrist is to misunderstand both populism and the country. Populism doesn’t work on the left-right spectrum, since it is not per se about one economic system or the other. It’s about a relationship to elite power, which is how things like Brexit, or the National Front in France, or the election of Pedro Castillo in Peru happen. The Nats know that if they can’t keep their increasingly complex rural voting coalition together, they’re finished. They become subject to the (Tony) Windsor rule: if you run headlong against an existing Nat with a big majority and split the vote down the middle, the preferences will swamp them. By contrast, marginal seats will be harder, since the prospect of a Labor get-in will reestablish rural solidarity.
We are about five years away from global exclusion from trade due to our profligate emissions policy. When it happens, it’ll happen fast. Deep down, a lot of country people know that country, in its inherited form, is over. The appeal of Barnaby, the perpetually enraged personification of the left-behind, is that it means you don’t have to think about that for a while, and in technocratic hypermodernity that is all a lot of people vote for.
Go Barnaby, you big hen’s night prop, purplish and forever reinflatable.

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Electric Vehicle (EV) Policy

25 April 2021

The Federal Government has discouraged EV uptake and now the Victorian Government wants to tax them to replace the petrol tax that pays for roads.

This is very silly. Roads do not have to be paid for by petrol tax. Any sort of tax will do. Taxes should be used to encourage sensible behaviour, not discourage it.

One other important aspect is ignored in this video and in most discussions about EVs. That is their possible use to stabilise the electricity grid. If they are charged when there is a lot of renewable energy, e.g. in the solar peak during the day, they can be discharged in the evening, so lessening the evening peak. If EV owners paid the day rate to charge and go the evening rate to discharge, they would make money and offset their vehicle cost.It might be noted that AGL (an electricity supplier) is encouraging electric vehicle fleets so that it can use their batteries to do just this, but hey, why would the government let little people in a on a good deal?The action point here is the write to Victorian Govt to stop the tax and facilitate the grid stabilisation by allowing EV owners to pay and be paid at the rate at the time they charge or discharge.

Please do this if you live in Victoria.

https://www.facebook.com/thejuicemedia/posts/306478977513607

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Murray-Darling Farce- Another Summit.

19 March 2021

One of the more absurd ideas of neo-liberalism was to privatise ownership of all the water in the Murray-Darling and then rely on ‘the Market’ to allocate the water optimally. All that happened was that water was another commodity to be traded with its price more related to its possible future price than any physical or environmental constraint.

I learned a bit about this many years ago from my grandparents. One of my grandfathers was a retired metallurgist who would tell me about world trends in metal demands and buy shares accordingly. His wife, my grandmother, knew nothing about this but would buy shares based on what the market was doing and tell me separately about how she despaired of my grandfather’s share investments. After a few years, she was much richer than he from a much lower base. The moral was that the share price had little to do with reality.

Why anyone would think that turning water into a speculative commodity would optimise its use is beyond understanding. But that was what happened. Joh Bjelke-Peterson built Cubby dam on the Queensland border and used the water to irrigate cotton, so NSW was behind the 8 ball from the start. NSW cotton farmers used surface water and took water from aquifers with no supervision of their meters. Brokers with mobile phones bought and sold water entitlements, and famously recently a Singapore-based company sold a lot of water rights to a Canadian superannuation fund, who felt that growing almonds (which are heavy water users) would be a good thing to do. (SMH 3/12/19) Hey, the price of almonds is good at present and you cannot smell rotting fish from Canada.

The idea that if you fix the money, everything else will come right seems to permeate every aspect of our neo-liberal, managerial society. I think of it as a religion, that ‘the market knows best and will allocate optimally with the unseen hand’. It also seems that religious folk are more prone to believe this, happier to believe that an unseen force can magically fix things and that it morally worthy to suffer now for some future redemption.

But in politics, we do not even have to debate these things; there is another option, ‘kick the can down the road’. Having the CSIRO produce a report in 2008, ‘Water Availability in the Murray Darling Basin’, led to an inappropriate Murray-Darling Basin Authority report in 2009. The CSIRO’s scientific response in 2011 was ignored. There was a Royal Commission inquiry by Bret Walker which found that the Authority has shown ‘gross negligence’. So they had another ‘Summit’, just last month.

All this is not to mention that Angus Taylor spent $80 million in taxpayer money to buy back water rights from a company called Eastern Australian Agriculture registered in the Cayman Islands and run by an ex-rowing mate, with the deal signed off by Barnaby Joyce. (The Guardian 19/5/19)


It is a worry, when the senior counsel assisting Walker inquiry writes a book called ‘Dead in the Water’ and still comes back with an opinion piece like this.

www.smh.com.au/national/murray-darling-basin-summit-a-laughable-response-to-finding-of-gross-negligence-20210318-p57brq.html

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Interested in Clean Air?

19 March 2021

NSW has a draft Clean Air Strategy and have invited comment.My contribution will be to help solve the climate crisis by introducing electric cars as a major policy initiative. If they were principally charged using renewable energy they could lessen emission from transport, lessen emission from coal fired power and also even the demand for power by plugging in to homes in the peak period and discharging their batteries. The average home battery has less than 10kWh. The new Nissans about to be released have 40kWh. If they were programmed to charge when power is cheap and renewable, and discharge when power is expensive they would be a very major power store, when the fossil fuel lobby (not to mention the Federal Govt.) is talking about needing (fracked) gas for peak load reliability.

www.environment.nsw.gov.au/topics/air/clean-air-strategy/draft-nsw-clean-air-strategy-public-consultation

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Insurance for Farmers with Coal Seam Gas

6 March 2021

I have minimal faith in insurers. Many years ago, one of my friends was killed falling down a crevasse hiking on a NZ glacier. A meticulous person, he had checked his AMP insurance before he left- the only exemptions were scuba diving and private flying. The company told his widow with her 6 month old baby that it was a dangerous sport and he was not covered and the broker he checked with had no right to say that he was covered. They offered her half. She was of substance, hung on and they settled on the steps of the Supreme Court rather than go on with their unwinnable case.Another friend had his house burn down, and was only given the depreciated value rather than the replacement, which was about half; small print as usual- do you feel like fighting Goliath?An acquaintance, who was a merchant banker with a lot of money got a nasty brain tumour and needed expensive chemotherapy. The gap between his Top Cover health insurance and what the bills were was so great that he left St Vincent’s Hospital and readmitted himself to Westmead as a Medicare patient. (Sadly the medical outcome was as expected).Every day I see people injured in Workers Comp or motor vehicle accidents have their treatments denied by insurers on grounds that could only be called spurious. In my practice’s statistics IAG (NRMA) refuse a higher percentage of treatments than any other insurer.It is, of course, impossible to say that fracking for Coal Seam Gas is safe. It involves breaking the rock strata to let the gas come up. Presumably these fractures will also let the water move to a lower level and be less available to the surface. And chemicals are pumped in so that the water may not be fit to drink, and there is no natural mechanism to purify it. Now unsurprisingly the insurers do not want to cover the farmers. For once I am on their side. Fracking is simply not safe. The gas companies will get their gas and move on-the farmers may have land that is useless, or at best less productive than it was before. Because of the nature of the law, farmers only own the surface of the land- mining rights are a separate thing, which is why the government can give companies the right to do what they like below the surface. The government needs to stop this- it should not be left up to the farmers. What a neat piece of nonsense that they are now supposedly protected from Public Liability claims- it might protect them if they are defendants, but it is far more likely that they will be plaintiffs!

www.abc.net.au/news/2021-03-05/big-on-spin-light-on-detail-as-gas-industry-touts-new-insurance/13216226?fbclid=IwAR26XpOCZk9aqusgrEukN44T-esmX-OhNFe4sgj4X7A9-Drtt9_3V-L6SxY

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JobKeeper becomes an Unaudited Subsidy to Big Business

6 March 2021

It seems that while JobKeeeper did help employees, some businesses did not actually need it, but got it anyway.  Now it is ‘moral issue’ that they give it back- that is to say it is voluntary.  If they have already taken it as executive bonuses or shareholder dividends it is probably not refundable.

The welfare recipients who had spent money and were accused retrospectively of Robodebt could not repay it either, but were hounded till the end.  All that will happen to the big end of town is a few days of newspaper articles.   

It is surely a reasonable principle that if taxpayers’ money is given away there should be monitoring of where it goes. If it was too hard to set up a monitoring system quickly, the obvious solution would be to make a regulation that it had to be used for purpose and would be checked and there would be prosecutions if it were misused. This would have allowed follow up, a few prosecutions and majority compliance.  This government seems incapable of any sensible management of anything, unless you think that deliberately handing money to mates is an unwritten policy.

Now even small businesses are annoyed.

www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/pretty-close-to-theft-small-business-slams-big-corporate-jobkeeper-profits-20210304-p577sn.html

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Electricity Pricing in Crisis Situations

27 February 2021

Texas just had a major problem with electricity supply caused by an extreme weather event and the fact that their grid was not connected to the rest of the USA to allow them to import power to the state.  But Australia has a similar market-driven model where generators bid to put electricity into the grid. The price is set by the last bid to get to the quantity that is needed.  This allows the gaming of prices by collusion between generators, which is probably the reason that prices have remained high- the competition that is supposed to lower prices is ‘imperfect’. Interestingly, no one gives this as a reason.

Most Australian retailers buy power, average the wholesale prices and sell to the consumer.  Wholesale prices on the National Energy Market vary widely and can be watched for free in real time on apps such as NEM Data. 

When a massive weather event occurred in Texas the wholesale price went through the roof.  Would our bills be similarly affected?  Possibly, as when South Australia had a similar problem their connection to the national grid was blown down.

A few electricity retailers in Australia merely sell at the wholesale price and take a fixed supply fee, which is cheaper unless huge price spikes come due to unforeseen events.

One aspect that has been neglected in public discussion in Australia is Demand Management, which involves cutting demand, rather than increasing supply.  It would be possible, for example, to have customers notified that prices were very high and have them shut off unnecessary power, such as air-conditioning.  This could be refined to be more selective, turning off the cooler but not the fan intermittently.  It could even be done remotely and houses could have circuits that could be cut off if power was short, and circuits that were considered vital, like lights and frigs.

It would be possible to get an SMS us to tell us that power was very expensive and to turn off whatever was possible.  This assumes the customer is on wholesale prices- otherwise it is the retailer’s problem.  But the issue and some technological and behavioural options need to be discussed. 

In the meantime I am on wholesale pricing and am writing to my retailer about SMSs.

https://theconversation.com/texas-was-a-warning-australia-needs-to-rethink-the-design-of-its-electricity-market-155856?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=The%20Weekend%20Conversation%20-%201874518280&utm_content=The%20Weekend%20Conversation%20-%201874518280+CID_4970c3abdf247db828ca44fdfbdfbc9a&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=Texas%20was%20a%20warning%20Australia%20needs%20to%20rethink%20the%20design%20of%20its%20electricity%20market
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