Don’t be fooled by Walker’s minor tinkering to the Toondah Plan

The development still has 10,000 people in 10 storey buildings that almost doubles Cleveland’s population. And the proposed 100 metre buffer is still too close. Walker’s own Environmental Impact Statement confirms that: ‘[it] will have significant impact on migrating, endangered shorebirds and wetlands of international importance.’ The revised plans also show a significant reduction in new foreshore parks.

Dredging sucks millions of marine creatures into oblivion and robs dugong and turtles of feeding grounds. There will be damaging mud plumes drifting across the Moreton Bay Marine Park for years. ‘Mud is a killer’ says marine scientist, Dr Charlie Veron. ‘All soils become toxic in a marine environment when disturbed.’

Dredging Cairns Harbour 2014 – Photo: Cafnec

Toxins in mud exposed by dredging in Gladstone Harbour in 2011, killed turtle and dugong, and commercial and private fishing has still not recovered. Residents eating locally caught fish required medical attention.

Click this link to see how Moreton Bay’s wildlife and fishing  are under threat from this development.

Dredging will destroy 34 hectares of sea grass and result in more dredging spoil than that required for Abbot Point. It will mean tens of thousands of trucks carting spoil through town for over 10 years and 20 years of construction dirt and noise. Walker’s development application says that work will continue from ‘February 2019 to February 2039.’

Toondah Harbour doesn’t need renovating, it needs relocating.

Don’t be persuaded that we need to put up with this development because the harbour needs upgrading. It’s an excuse to build a ten-storey township out to sea. The fact is that the present – and any future – harbour in a similar location is unsafe and unsound environmentally. It will also be unsightly.

More vessels go aground in the approach channel than anywhere else in Queensland because it is narrow, shallow and difficult to navigate in strong winds, and with drying banks either side there is no margin for error. This has resulted in many groundings over the years, the last one in December 2015 left 200 passengers stranded till several hours after nightfall. A refurbished harbour will not stop this danger.

The channel needs constant dredging which kicks up mud, which damages seagrass meadows and is gradually wiping out 50 hectares of adjacent coral beds and wetlands providing habitats for fish and crustaceans.

The 1996 draft of the Moreton Bay Marine Park Zoning Plan considered the east side of Cleveland Point, down to Point Halloran, deserved the highest protection, but this couldn’t be implemented due to high volumes of traffic using the harbour. The report also called for a go-slow area declared for boats as there is a turtle and dugong habitat nearby and the silt from prop wash was damaging adjacent seagrass and coral beds.

A 2014 workshop considered this development and the Straddie departure point

Deliberating over 2 days, a well-informed team of impartial specialists and community members suggested that the Straddie departure point should be on the western side of Cleveland Point, an area already oriented towards boating facilities with VMR and a Boat Club. According to marina consultant, John Mainwaring, ‘it is far more suitable for the harbour facilities to be located [there] where there has been human intervention and is protected from southerly weather’. The existing channel on this west side doesn’t cross any environmentally sensitive zone and could easily be widened for commercial craft. In addition, there’s space nearby for car parking and infrastructure.

These recommendations for the harbour’s relocation have been ignored by Council because it doesn’t enable a land reclamation in Moreton Bay for high-rise development.

The facilitator of the workshop, Shane Thompson, President of the Australian Institute of Architects, said that due to the nature of the reclamation, there could be no underground carparking beneath any of the 10-storey blocks, which means that the bottom 2 storeys of each block – i.e above ground – would be for carparks. His overall comments on the Walker proposal for Toondah: ‘This is a very poor quality piece of work and unworthy of the professionalism that should be expected and available in this part of the world and what the residents of the Redlands deserve. We can only assume that whoever has been responsible is inexperienced or has been inappropriately directed.’

Another attendee, Brit Anderson, Emeritus Professor of Architecture and Planning, University of Queensland, said: ‘The Toondah Harbour PDA represents a grossly oversized and inappropriate project on a sensitive site. The implications are seriously problematic on many levels including the environmental, technical, social and architectural…’

The Council has been remiss in failing to address the impacts of this development of 3,600 units

Traffic congestion and dust that will be blown over Cleveland for 20 years have been ignored. No discussion about new roads, schools or extensions to hospitals or public transport. No acknowledgement how the 20 or so cafes and shops planned for Toondah will drag business away from a suffering town centre or impact koala populations.

A report into development in the Redlands by planning consultants, Urbis, found there would be no residential shortfall and hence no need for major projects until 2041. And since this 2014 report, there have been well over a thousand units and houses been built with many more planned. And then there is Shoreline, another development of 10,000 people just approved for southern Redlands.

Relocating the harbour would be popular with most residents, but there are some Council members and the Mayor who rarely listen to constituents, the science or those with the skills and experience. They have obligations only to their campaign donors: developers. The community are angry that the need for a refurbished harbour has been used for a land grab and profit. Instead of the Redlands City Council being the guardians of the public good and custodians of community values, they’ve become the facilitators only of growth and development.

There’s much to lose from a rejuvenated Toondah Harbour

But look what we gain when these guidelines are followed from a relocated harbour:

  • Rehabilitation of the Toondah environment and establishment of appropriate Marine Park zoning
  • Preservation of the oldest green reserve in Queensland: the G J Walter Park
  • Facilitating the promotion of Qld’s early colonial heritage, conserved in its original setting
  • The grand view is preserved for the Grand View Hotel and for parkland and nearby homes
  • A safe all-weather harbour with little risk of grounding
  • Tidy, secure parking in a compact 4-level multistorey carpark, 2 levels of which could be underground

Redlands has less parkland than most comparable cityscapes. With a relocated harbour, a bayside reserve can become the City’s focal park and venue for markets, concerts and festivals. With heritage, views, breezes and koala habitat left intact, it will stretch from the Grand View Hotel down through the existing harbour site and carpark. With a new mangrove boardwalk and bikeway, it could link up with parks to the south and include a kiosk, interpretive centre, bird hides, koala lookout, swimming pool, kayak, sailboat hire and other amenities. From Bribie to Southport, no other bayside parkland would match it and residents would be proud.

This outlandish development must not get the go-ahead in any shape or form. It will contribute nothing to the area but will severely impact liveability of the area for decades and will permanently impact the marine environment.

It is important to make your views felt on this issue. It is open to public comment until 25 May 2017 – just 3 days away. It is easy to make a submission:

Quote reference number: 2017/7939 and title of the referral:  Submission #2256 – Toondah Harbour Development

Then send your comments by:

Email: epbc.referrals@environment.gov.au
Fax: 02 6274 1620     Or Express Post to:

Referrals Gateway
Environment Assessment Branch
Department of the Environment
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601

For more detail of the referral documents click here

For an excellent in-depth appraisal see this compilation by Redlands 2030

Comments on Walker Group’s Toondah Plans

Please forward this post on to others.

Graham Carter

 

Whether Redlands ends up resembling a cross between Inala and Surfers Paradise – depends on things we choose to do or choose to ignore TODAY

If this development application gets the go ahead it will set a precedent that could be repeated again and again around the Redlands. This is your last opportunity in 2016 to express concern about the scale of unsuitable residential development that’s occurring across the Redlands.

It’s not just cranky neighbours that are upset – a Town Planning expert said this about the proposal –shown above which is to demolish 3 modern low-set homes in Fernbourne Road, Wellington Point in order to construct a 5 storey, 41 unit development:

  • The development will dominate the streetscape.. At the top of the hill, height is amplified and will tower over other properties. The southern side dwelling will not have sunlight for extended periods of the day.
  • The intention of the 3 storey height condition is to allow for 3 storeys plus an interesting roof form. This building is actually 5 storeys high, with a flat uninteresting roof. The planning scheme allows 13 metres including the roof. The height of this building is 14.3 metres
  • Density is almost double allowed as per the planning scheme
  • Design is not compatible with the character of the neighbourhood and makes no effort to fit in
  • Design does not incorporate sub tropical design principals which enable sustainable practices
  • Design is mostly rendered block work, with concrete slabs. Large flat roof. The architecture in the street is predominantly single dwellings with timber character and pitched roof styles. This has a large dominant front facing the street, with little setback and no room for streetscape planting

So why does this over-dense and ugly development keep happening?

Well, the community was not consulted when the Council was preparing the Draft City Plan 2015 but one organization was consulted and given much credence: the Development Industry Reference Group (DIRG) This a group of developers and builders who have vested interests in furthering development in the Redlands at any cost.

Also, the Mayor and the previous Chair of the City Planning and Assessment portfolio – and some Councillors – have each given several public assurances that there was ‘no significant change’ to the previous Redlands Planning Scheme 2006 when creating the Draft Redland City Plan 2015. This is blatantly untrue. There were fundamental changes. And as we’re seeing, the Draft Redland City Plan 2015 has, and will continue to foster higher density and more small lot development.

Councillors in the past have campaigned strongly against hi-rise development, like Cr Paul Gleeson before the 2012 election. We need to remind all Councillors of our thoughts in regard to high density development

For a City Plan that is worthy and clearly aligned to the community’s vision see the Redlands 2030 Community Plan on their website: http://redlands2030.net/

 

We’ve made it easy to voice your opinion to Council with this downloadable pre-adressed form letter here

… but be quick, Red lights are flashing and bells are ringing!

Submissions from the public close on Wednesday 14 December 2016

Remember to share this post

Graham Carter

Many thanks for the support given by the team at Redlands 2030

The hammer needs to fall on misconduct in Local & State Government.

        – and it can with your help. 

Dr Cameron Murray is an economist who has studied Council related planning and assessment corruption and conflict of interest issues in Queensland. He’s said that Ipswich and Redlands were the two City Councils with the biggest problems in this area as a result of developer donations to candidate’s campaigns.

Dr Murray showed that the best money-making scheme available in Queensland presently is for a developer to contribute to an election campaign or engage a well-connected lobbyist. For an outlay of around $40,000 one can typically obtain favorable rezoning or development assessments worth $2 million or more. See his paper here: http://ftp.iza.org/dp9028.pdf

A solicitor from the Qld Environmental Defender’s Office [QDO], Revel Pointon, has spoken about the recently passed State Planning Bills which come into effect mid-2017. She said that although these Bills improve accountability and certainty in some areas, they maintain the status quo on environmental protection and developer influence on planning –  the issues with which we have the biggest challenges.

The Chief Executive Officer of EDO Qld, Jo Bragg, has said that developers are still able to choose assessment managers to decide their applications and gain exemption certificates from regular assessment.  “..we will probably continue to see an ever increasing volume of developments in the code assessable category where the community is not even notified.” 

For a summary of EDO’s assessment see this link: [political insight 7]

These Bills result from an ALP government and have been passed after the Queensland community had put in hundreds of submissions to urge the government to better provide meaningful community consultation and stronger environmental protection.

It shows that all political leaders at each tier of government, are on the side of big business and are not listening to community concerns. This makes reform to campaign contributions even more urgent.

Deputy Premier, Jackie Trad,  has said “we want to ensure the SEQ regional plan reflects the values, needs and great ideas of the community.”  But this is impossible due to developer funded influence in Councils.

The feedback Minister Trad needs is that State Government must reassert its commitment to ethical conduct in local government as many Mayors and Councillors are on unhealthily cosy terms with developers. 

For example, in the Redlands Council campaign of 2004, Councillors Beard and Williams shared $105,000 funds from developers with the then Mayor Don Seccombe. Twelve years later and the situation is no better due to State Government inaction.

Gifts create obligations which ensures that Council’s focus will be on enhancing ‘profit per plot’ on behalf of developers through higher densities and questionable rezoning practices.

We have had principled and capable mayoral and council candidates grossly outspent by developer-backed candidates.

We will only get principled candidates back in when we get developer donations and conflict of interest ruled out.

Documents were tabled in Parliament a few days prior to the Council elections in March that detailed these conflict of interest and corruption issues in many Councils in Queensland but nothing has been done. We need to remind the community, the State Government and the Triple C of this.

We must urge Jackie Trad to hand over documents to the Triple C relating to these matters and we must urge the Triple C to investigate. 

Independent MP Peter Wellington has said that it’s time to look into political donations in Queensland 20 months after the Palaszczuk government promised him it would take action.  His concern has been ‘…the apparent power of the development industry over successive governments while I have been in parliament – and we have seen a range of them, both Labor and the LNP,”

A committee of enquiry won’t do, it would be comprised of individuals drawn from the major parties – that is, the beneficiaries of the financial largesse bestowed by political donors and thus inherently tainted by a conflict of interest. Similarly, contacting local State and Federal members will be a waste of time.

While the government cannot direct the State’s corruption watchdog, the parliamentary oversight committee can make recommendations into what it looks into.

Individually crafted letters carry more weight. Click here [Political insight 8] for key points you can use in your letter. If there are other poor planning outcomes you know of that result from business funded campaigns, include them also.

Don’t be squeamish. We have put up with over a decade of outrageous development approvals, secret meetings between developers and Council executives behind closed doors, lies, half-truths and obfuscation.

Addresses are as follows:

Once you’ve sent your letter, email me: news@balance.org with your name and to whom your letter was sent so I can keep tally.

Help raise awareness of corruption among the uninformed and uninterested by sharing this post widely through every social media platform.

Authorized by Graham Carter

67 Valley Rd Wellington Point 4160

 

 

Stopping the land reclamation for Toondah apartments is a no brainer.

What is undecided is what to do about the harbour.

I’m going to argue that Toondah Harbour doesn’t need renovating, it needs relocating. The present location is unsafe, unsound environmentally, unsightly and uneconomical.

Toondah is Unsafe

Look at old photos and maps of the area from a century ago and you won’t see Toondah Harbour, which opened in 1964. You’ll see instead 4 public jetties on Cleveland Point, two on the west side and two on the east. Built out to deep water to take the early steamers that used to ply the Bay, the ones on the East side gave protection in westerly winds, while the ones on the west provided a safe landing with onshore winds.

I’ve taken commercial vessels into Toondah on three occasions. The first was in 1985 and the next two were in 1991. On each occasion it was to help take passengers to Straddie due to water taxis or barges going aground.

Why do more vessels go aground here than anywhere else in Moreton Bay?

It’s not incompetent skippers. The approach via Fison channel is exposed, very narrow and shallow and is difficult to navigate in strong winds, and with drying banks either side at low tide there is no margin for error.

The barges and catamarans that use this channel are all shallow draft vessels. They have a lot of boat above the water and not much below, which makes them vulnerable to being blown off course in strong cross winds. This is particularly the case when they’re lightly laden and going slow, when it’s easy to lose steerage.

This has resulted in many ferry groundings over the years, the last one in December 2015 that left 200 passengers stranded for several hours till after nightfall. Also Toondah harbour itself gets a little protection from nor’easters from Cassim Island but is wide open to south-easterly winds.

Toondah is Environmentally Unsound

The Fison channel needs constant dredging which kicks up mud. As Dr Charlie Veron – one of the world’s leading marine scientists – tells us, this  is a killer of all marine creatures from the tiniest crustaceans to dugong and turtle, as it interferes with digestive and reproductive systems. It also plays havoc with coral beds, seagrass meadows and bird-feeding grounds.

Mud killed several thousand hectares of seagrass meadows in the southern bay as a result of land clearing in the last half of the 19th century. Mud killed about 2,000 hectares of diverse coral beds around St Helena and Mud Islands from dredging the Brisbane River in the 1st half of last century.

It’s not just acid sulphate soils that become toxic in a marine environment. According to Charlie, silt is not harmful until it is disturbed. Stirred up, the sediment is oxidised and turns acidic and then becomes deadly to all marine life. All soils become toxic in a marine environment when disturbed, and there’s plenty of disturbance at Toondah from the constant dredging of the Fison channel plus 6,000 barge/ferry trips annually. Mud from dredging and from prop wash is currently killing over 50 hectares of coral beds around the entrance channel to Toondah Harbour.

The Fison Channel cuts across a wetland featuring sandbanks, mudflats and mangroves which provide important habitats for fish, crustaceans, dugongs, turtles and many endangered shorebirds. The marine and coastal area around the harbour has international significance and form a vital part of the Moreton Bay Ramsar site. See this link for excellent video on endangered shorebirds that feed on the mud-banks near Toondah.

Toondah is Uneconomical

Those four jetties were built for the larger steamers of the day that brought visitors to Cleveland. Bay cruises working out of the Brisbane River still happen today with vessels such as the Queenslander, Lady Brisbane and the Miramar. But they can only go to the recently refurbished jetties at Scarborough or Redcliffe. These old timber vessels are well over 25 metres, which is too long, and they have too deep a draught to get into Toondah or Raby Bay harbour. Some of these cruises are taken one way with a steam train return. Apart from Amity, there are now no jetties suitable for these vessels to land south of the river until they reach Southport. Such bay cruises are very popular and Cleveland is missing out.

Toondah is Unnecessary

The team of planning and marine specialists in the 2 day workshop in 2014 said that one of the ideas worth investigating was for a Straddie departure point to be considered on the western side of Cleveland Point. An area that already is oriented towards boating facilities with VMR and the Redlands Boat Club.

There is an existing channel that services this area and does not cut across any environmentally sensitive zone. It could easily be widened and deepened to accommodate commercial craft.

Space also exists for the provision of a wider ramp for the barges and a public jetty.

There is also plenty of space to the west, east and south of this area for car parking and other infrastructure.

I’m not aware of any research done on alternative siting options for Toondah. PDA’s appear to be deliberately set up to short circuit wise consideration such as feasibility studies and environmental impact statements, but this is what’s required. However, a comparison can be made between the two sites  – Toondah and the west side of the point – by looking at their Marine Park zoning status.

In 1996, as a committee member of the Qld Commercial Vessel Association, I was invited to a meeting by the new Marine Park authority to discuss the drafting of the Moreton Bay Marine Park Zoning Plan

At that meeting we were told that they’d prefer the entire area from the East side of Cleveland Point all the way down to Pt Halloran to have the highest protection due to coral beds, seagrass meadows, and Ramsar wetlands for endangered shorebirds. However, they were unable to give it this protection due to Toondah Harbour and the high volume of traffic using the Fison Channel.

They also wanted to declare it a go-slow area for all boats as it was a turtle and dugong habitat. This they were also unable to implement because shallow draft vessels like barges and catamarans become difficult to keep on course at slow speed due to loss of steerage and directional stability.

Boat strikes are very common in this area. Not just dugong and turtle but a Southern Right whale, an endangered specie and a type which often visit this area, was struck and killed by a ferry in 2014.

In 1997, the Moreton Bay Marine Park was gazetted and the area immediately to the south of Fisons was given the highest protection and the area to the north made a Habitat Protection Zone, which affords the third highest protection, with some parts given inshore reef status. It is not the protection it deserves and it is not a go-slow area and boat strikes are common.

If the harbour was relocated as suggested this area would rejuvenate. Given the chance, nature repairs its ravages. Earlier this year Marine Park rangers went crabbing and fishing in some of the Marine Park areas of the bay that have been closed off for 20 years. Take a look at their website to see the size of crabs and fish caught.

There used to be coral beds immediately to the west of the point also, but the dredged mud from the Raby Bay canal development killed that off in he 1980s. Now charts show the whole area north of the canals to be an anchorage area, which has the lowest environmental protection status of all.

According to the marina design consultant, John Mainwaring, ‘it is far more suitable for the harbour facilities to be located on the northern side where there has been human intervention and is protected from southerly weather and has a northerly aspect’.

Disadvantages

This new location will mean a slightly longer ride to Straddie (just 1 kilometre) and add just 3 minutes to the journey time for the barges and half that for the catamarans. It will also increase vehicular traffic along the road to the point and will entail building a multi-story car-park.

But look what a relocated harbour gives us:

  • It overcomes the need for any development of any kind at Toondah, particularly the damaging reclamation of Moreton Bay for 4,500 units
  • It will enable the Toondah marine environment to rehabilitate and achieve full Marine Park status
  • It preserves one of the oldest green reserves in Queensland, the G J Walter Park
  • We can promote the area’s unique colonial history, conserved in its original setting
  • The grand view is preserved for the Grand View Hotel – the oldest and best pub in Queensland
  • It will provide a safe all-weather harbour with no risk of grounding

It also gives the Redlands an historic, bayside parkland with views and breezes intact that will stretch from the Grand View Hotel all the way down to include the ugly and dysfunctional Toondah Harbour site and carpark. With a mangrove boardwalk and bikeway, it could go through to the Nandeebie and Oyster Point Parks.

Redlands is short of good parkland. This bayside reserve can become the City’s unique focal parkland that will provide a premier site for events and festivals.

We should insist this option be given consideration.

Graham Carter

Economics as if people mattered

Inequalities in income, wealth and opportunity are not just widening, but the rate at which their widening is growing. And there’s been a succession of governments that have not acted. For one of the main drivers of inequality, look at tax trends in the US over the last 60 years:

Corporate tax in the in 1952 was 32%. In most States in 2015 it was around 9%.

The top income tax rate in 1950 was 91%, in 2015 it’s 39%.

Estate [inheritance] tax in 1950 was 80% with very few exemptions, today it’s around 35% with so many exemptions that only 0.2% of the wealthy pay any.

With these trends, asking how this current form of neo-lib capitalism will end is not the right question. It’s harder to imagine how it can possibly continue. There are enormous social costs.

The ‘land of opportunity’ is now one of the most unequal countries in the OECD and one of the most difficult in which to claw your way out of poverty. And where the public purse is starved of funds there’s little help from government.

Since 1950, the prison population has soared in the US from 93 per 100,000 to 743 per 100,000, which is 8 times higher than any OECD country including Russia.

It’s no coincidence that in countries like the Netherlands that have low rates of inequality also have low rates of incarceration.

The UK and Australia have suffered similarly tapered tax trends to the US. And it’s in the English speaking countries particularly where taxes are no longer the engine of social policy.

This form of capitalism has become the rule by the few and is taking its toll on democracy, the rule by the many. It’s a systemic crisis and it won’t get solved by politics as usual.

The young are the biggest losers. University debt, unemployment and rising house prices has suppressed spending power and prospects. At no time in industrialized history has income and opportunity for the young become so compromised.

This explained the success in the US of the youth-powered septuagenarian Bernie Sanders. In the UK, though Labour’s Jeremy Corbin is not popular among the rank and file, in many parts of Britain party membership has soared 200 – 300% through Millennials’ subscriptions.

Social enterprises have been flourishing. 

One of the best examples of regional economic development through employee empowerment, is the federation of worker cooperatives known as www.mondragon-corporation.com. Starting in the Basque region of Spain it arose in 1956 with a few workers in a disused factory, using hand tools to make oil-fired cooking stoves. Today it’s a conglomerate of 260 manufacturing, retail, financial, agricultural and civil engineering co-operatives employing 85,000 workers, with annual sales of $24 billion. In the aftermath of the GFC, when unemployment rose to 26% and to 53% amongst the young, Mondragon kept jobless levels in the Basque region to under half the national average.

Cooperatives have been happening in Australia too but on a smaller scale.

In 2014, Everlast Hydro Systems in Dandenong faced the fact that much of what they made was being sold in Australia for what it was costing Everlast to make them. But as manager, David Kerin  says “With not-for-profit co-operatives, we can be competitive …as long as we can comfortably cover costs, we don’t need to make a profit.”

They no longer have big salaries for the bosses either. In a worker cooperative all employees have a stake in the business and an equal vote in the way it runs and pay is much more even. Kerin earns no more than double the lowest-paid worker.

In other parts of Australia, new worker co-operatives include a civil engineering collective in Melbourne, a café in Adelaide, a date farm near Alice Springs, and an aged-care business in Sydney. In Brisbane the Nundah Community Co-operative provides employment and training opportunities for people with mental health issues. It delivers a range of services to businesses, government and the community across Brisbane.

In April this year, RACQ, announced plans to establish a mutual banking subsidiary within the RACQ Group.

In the past, Australian workers have chosen to unionize to bargain wages up, which exacerbates profitability, rather than organize to own production themselves. Melina Morrison, CEO of the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals, [BCCM] says “Co-operatives thrive in times of economic downturn because they are a self-help solution …the Australian economy is facing major challenges with productivity, competitiveness and resilience which co-operatives have the potential to overcome.”

Recognizing the important part cooperatives can play in the economy, a Senate Committee was set up and reported in March 2016. http://bccm.coop/deadline-for-submissions-to-senate-inquiry-set-for-1-july/#.V0ZDYvl96Uk.

In the US, the largest retailer, Walmart, pays $12 per hour to its average worker whilst Walmart chief, Doug McMillon, made $25.6 million last year. Meanwhile worker’s cooperative, Costco is the 4th largest retailer in the US and pays its workers an average of $20 per hour and its CEO is happy earning $240,000 per annum.

Recall also how the heads of big multi-nationals make poor ethical decisions from half a world away to boost profits, and these decisions often impact on worker’s health and the environment. The bosses are not concerned with pollution or poisoning the air. This won’t happen in a cooperative where the workers breathe and live the outcome of their decisions.

Also, participants in this radically decentralized form of socialism means more job satisfaction and far less industrial unrest because their workplace – where they spend most of their lives – has been properly democratized.

Think of all the failed governments’ attempts to reduce inequality, to engage with climate change and to make workplaces more egalitarian and work more satisfying. Workers’ cooperatives are beginning to do these things and still compete efficiently in the market place.

It’s a glimpse of economics, as Ernst Schumacher put it in his book, Small is Beautiful: “as if people mattered”.

Graham Carter

Most politicians know what needs doing

– they just don’t know how to get re-elected once they’ve done it!  

What does it say of us as passive bystanders, listening ad nauseam to politician’s spin and half-truths that lead to political dysfunction? Why do we put up with such stuck-in-our-ways inefficiency in an age of such progress in other areas of life?

Moisés Naím has said:

“In this era of revolutionary change, where almost nothing we do or expe­rience in our daily lives has been left unaffected, one critical area remains surprisingly untouched: the way we govern ourselves, our communities, na­tions, and the international system.”

Much gets written on inequality, terrorism, the refugee crisis and how to run better education and public health.  But little is said about the only thing that is capable of putting them right and is the foundational reason they’re all going wrong in the first place: The inadequacy of our democratic political system.

Real social progress that is just and long term can only be enabled by good policy; society’s governance structure is potentially its most powerful, least partisan and thus its most transformational body. There are huge unexplored possibilities for something better. There is more than one way to build a problem-solving system for our political economy, yet we are saddled with the most dysfunctional and inefficient option imaginable.

Too often we blame ‘capitalism’ or political leaders or greed, but the main question confronting us is not about these things, it is about democracy. We will only be able to start correcting our challenges when get the rules of the game right. As we’ve seen so often in sport, religion, love and war, if rules aren’t right – and properly regulated – they get exploited.

Think of any of the major challenges that face us globally; refugees; climate change; terrorism; inequality. There is nothing inevitable about any of them; it was something that we did to ourselves. They are not the result of inexorable laws of economics or culture or some ineffable force that we have no control over. They result from failed or misguided politics that we can correct. Only better policies will lead to better outcomes.

There are so many ways that our future could be hijacked by any of our challenges. So how do we avoid democratastophe?

Instead of allowing the market, technology or culture dictate our future, good government, at all levels can help create the sort of world that we want and reflect the latest science and the values that we cherish. Political decisions are matters of choice, why don’t we insist they reflect our priorities and commitments?

We need to formulate a new democracy that is not just better than what we’ve got, but one we can all see is worth striving to achieve.

Although efficient government can lead to better decisions being made across all areas of society, the one area it would have the greatest difficulty in transforming is itself. Political players are motivated to maintain the status quo, they won’t agree to inhibit perks, power and prestige. Politicians are thus a minority in our society: they’re the only ones happy keeping things as they are. Hence the force for change has to come from outside the system.

Like any new political movement, it has to involve group action from the ground up.

The good news is that it has already started. It’s happening in the place where the future – both its good and bad aspects happens first: The U.S.A

Like all social movements, it’s happening in unexpected ways and in unusual places. It’s occurring in struggle street in the thick of record breaking company profits. So it’s not just a rebuttal of the political system but the capitalist system. It’s a form of community wealth building that replaces the corporate structure in favour of employees owning a stake in the company and profits going straight back to the local community.

It’s happening in the cities most dramatically impacted by the nation’s decaying economy. Starting first in Ohio, these social enterprises became known as the Cleveland Model. http://community-wealth.org/content/cleveland-model-how-evergreen-cooperatives-are-building-community-wealth. They include an eco-friendly laundry service, an alternative energy company that installs solar panels and a hydroponic urban greenhouse that provides fresh salad and veg. Down and out cities nationwide began replicating this innovative approach to economic development, green job creation and neighbourhood stabilization.

There are now worker-owned cooperatives where business enterprises are owned and governed by their 11 million employees. There are over 30,000 of them across the U.S. operating in a range of industries including agriculture, utilities and child care. There are now 130 million using credit unions, plus there are 20 state banks and many more city banks. Also many public owned single-payer health systems.

Also community land trusts, which are non-profit organizations that ensure common stewardship of land. They are primarily used to ensure long-term housing affordability.

It mostly goes unremarked in the media but it’s beginning to build serious momentum in the biggest corporate/capitalist and wealthiest society the world has seen. It’s democratizing the ownership of capital and it’s come about simply because common-sense told people something was wrong.

It has a guru: Gar Alperovitz. Click on this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pSWNyLZTZc. Above all, hear what he says about debt.

It has a name: social democracy. And Bernie Sanders is the first presidential candidate to use that term positively in 60 years. Most of Europe has it to some degree and the place where it’s working best is the Nordic countries – societies that Sanders has said he would like America to emulate. Senator Joseph McCarthy is turning in his grave.

While the Republican right noisily trumpets itself off the rails, rust bucket America is quietly getting itself organized.

We’re glimpsing the future – and it seems to be working.

Graham Carter

 

bad things happen when good people do nothing

We don’t escape guilt in anything that’s wrong unless we do something or speak up. If we’re complacent we’re complicit.

Being a helpless victim or a hapless observer is still a choice. Even sitting quietly in our chair will harm anyone who’d benefit from us getting up to help. As Eldridge Cleaver said, “…if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem”.

The world’s problems have escalated because individuals or authorities have not faced up to their duties.

The more freedom we have to choose – the more responsibility we have to act. Charles Kingsley said, “There are two freedoms — the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought.”

Compared to any age – in respect to the resources and capacity available to it – humankind would not have lacked the resolution to reduce genuine need or the commitment to doggedly work toward social progress as now.

Prosperity promotes procrastination. Affluence enables ever more elaborate ways of insulating ourselves from – or blinding us to – the social and environmental realities that confront us.

We consider ourselves literate, disciplined, capable of thinking critically and creatively, so why have we become so inept in imagining new possibilities? That lives could be improved with resources that are unprecedented in scale and availability. In this interconnected world, we can hardly say we are unaware of its injustices.

And knowing of them and having the capabilities to help rectify them, does it not make us duty bound to act?

We take chances in love, investments, sport and leisure activities. Why are we so squeamish in taking risks for what we believe in?

“Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” says the Bible, but for all of us now – whether we’re religious or not – our attitude is: “There by the grace of God goes someone else.”

Even if we find ourselves uninspired to do good, aren’t there better uses we could be making of life? Plato says – in one of George Herbert’s poems:

“One thing I am ready to fight for in word and deed, that we shall be better, braver and more active men if we believe it right to look for what we do not know, than if we think we cannot discover it and have no duty to seek it.”

Why do we not crave the opportunity to take practical steps, individually or collectively, to show that some important aspect of life could be made more healthy and wholesome, more wise and compassionate? And to reduce the vast gap of inequities because we feel it’s unjust and not take action – like building our gated communities – only because it presents a security risk as the underprivileged may rise up against us.

How will future generations judge our fatalistic acceptance of needless suffering in our world? Could they argue that our tolerance of injustice – when we were perfectly capable of alleviating it – is equal in scale to actually committing an injustice?

Click this link FIVE for an example of just one way we could help.

The philosopher, John Rawls, told us to keep in mind that we come into this world without a choice of where or to whom we were born. This should make us forever mindful of our luck and the type of society required, as we do have a choice about the attitude we have to the life of others and the extent of our participation in its improvement.

A worthwhile pursuit is to work towards a world where it didn’t matter how careless we were in our choice of parents.

Some speak of establishing “a moral community”. See link SIX for this.

The effects of our unchecked fertility, the unjust distribution of resources and opportunities with its potential for conflict and unrest, the unrestrained power of capital, the drain on mineral and food resources, disrupted ecosystems, carbon emissions, careless waste production and disposal, have each set small ripples in motion that are spreading and will join to become a terrifying tsunami.

These problems are unique and require profound and coordinated change, yet to date our response has been inconsistent and dysfunctional. All the threats are solvable, but none of our currently deployed political solutions could avoid them. We can’t keep blaming political leaders; we get the government we deserve. The zeitgeist must change before politicians can be dragged kicking and screaming toward something better.

“Guilt” is when we know we’ve behaved badly, but have no intention of changing our behaviour. One reason for our passivity relates to the dilution that results from collective guilt: responsibility is shared among so many, and if they’re not acting, why should I? Or else we consider it the concern of government; or those closer to the problem; or those better placed financially; or perhaps that we have made our donation to the appropriate charity for the year. If anyone is looking, our conscience is clear.

But conscience is better defined as whatever it is that makes us behave well when nobody is looking.

Shame can be a motivator for change by making us feel bad but we have to be intimately connected to the problem, otherwise we can rationalize it away. Hope is the main source of motivation but it is fragile; hard to inspire and easy to lose sight of.

Perhaps we haven’t lost heart – we’ve lost hope.

Goodness has to be redefined. There is no such thing as a good person who lacks flaws or is invulnerable to forces that lead them astray. Good people are simply those that care enough to do something about the wrongs they witness. They’re people who try to improve their ways and influence those around them to keep improving their’s.

When good people do nothing that bad things happen .

Graham Carter

‘Exhaustipated’ describes the average voter !

… a mix of 2 words: exhausted and constipated.

We are up against powerful vested interests who profit from the status quo. They are well resourced, have loud voices and strong motivations to keep things as they are. In numbers they are a minority, but we’ve become a disenchanted and apathetic majority. Having a vote is not enough – we need a voice.

We’ve learnt from political failures of the last 150 years that with the deep-rooted challenges we face, there are no simple answers. We came up with one-size-fits-all solutions and saw their shortcomings too late. Look at the ‘isms’ – from Colonialism, Marxism and Fascism through to Neoliberalism, all these worldviews recognized the need for the political pendulum to swing and they satisfied a need for a while. Then the pendulum swung too far and they started knocking over everything we held dear. Theories became all-encompassing doctrines and they choked on their own contradictions.

It’s getting hard for us to look our future or our children in the eye – we have such low expectations.

There are no absolutes in social and economic problem-solving. Neo-liberalism became a worldview that’s now a cultural norm. All ‘isms’ – along with economics – are based on oversimplified assumptions on the way people behave.

Treating neo-liberalism as a solution to our problems was the problem.

Life would be easier if there was one overarching doctrine to which we could all subscribe. That’s why ‘isms’ are so appealing; for a while they really appear to explain everything. Neoliberalism became a faith, and faiths don’t need facts. David Sloan Wilson says, “…nonreligious belief systems are a greater cause for concern because they do a better job of masquerading as factual reality.”

That’s what makes them so dangerous.

They make us think that the solutions to our problems must be the solutions to everyone else’s and to force ideas like democracy on others with missionary zeal. To justify the invasion of Iraq, George W Bush said: “The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.” 13 years and 1 million casualties later, the Middle East in unending turmoil, global terrorism rife, and as Obama says, “ISIS is the child of the Iraq war.”

What goes unchallenged is the banality of these simplistic policies and how the same old remedies that haven’t worked in the past are wheeled out repeatedly. Forgetting that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is a sign of insanity. John Maynard Keynes “The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.” See this link: ONE

It’s not only political solutions that can’t be expressed in absolutes, demands shouldn’t be expressed this way either. NIMBYism and single issue organizations like the occupy movement or the twitter revolution, failed to engage and lost. In a world where wealthy interests dominate politics, if each part of civil society act individually they won’t get far, but acting together would be a game changer. It’s about imbuing politics with a collective and passionate commitment for change.

Thatcher, Howard and Abbott were masters at providing ‘sweeteners’ or giving form to the divisions in society or pandering to our fears. Afterwards we realized how little was gained and how much was lost. This applies to the left too. When Thatcher was asked for her greatest achievement she replied, “Tony Blair and New Labour.”

Our adversary is neo-liberalism or any other oversimplification on how society should work. Better to base objectives on recalling what doesn’t work and on science, which can provide some truths about human nature.

Social science tells us what contributes to a happy and cohesive society and it’s not increased wealth. See this link: TWO

Preventing inequality of opportunity and wealth from reaching obscene extremes is a key factor in society’s wellbeing.  See: The Spirit Level | The Equality Trust. Unless inequality is kept within reasonable limits, the freedom of all citizens – not just the poor – will erode. This has repercussions from increased crime and domestic violence to teenage pregnancy.

We were told that if the marketplace was left alone, we would be well looked after. But the rising tide lifted only the superyachts and left everyone else floundering.

US Supreme Court judge, Louis Brandeis, said, “We can have a democratic society or we can have great concentrated wealth in the hands of a few. We cannot have both.”  See this link: THREE

Governments must be neutral towards how individuals pursue their wellbeing. But they can’t be neutral in respect to the pursuit of wellbeing as a goal; it must be an expectation that citizens will achieve a good life by following their laws and policy settings.

We’re seeing the dictates of the market forming policy. Hence climate, environmental and market systems are are close to critical tipping points.

All the major challenges we face are complex and we will not be able to reason our way to a remedy as most of their solutions will be counter-intuitive. This is why they are our major challenges. See Link: FOUR

Science can better guide politics. Political objectives have no meaning unless based on past experience, trialling processes or known facts. They’ll only deliver probabilistic and partial answers but they help locate the signal amongst the noise in a world continually skewed by forces beyond our control. These methods put an end to witchcraft, disease and the flat-Earthers. Used properly they can put an end to dysfunctional government.

Those who created the problem will not be the ones who come up with a solution. As Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved within the mindset that created them.”

Graham Carter

 

Is neo-liberalism a kick to the bulls for investment?

Government is not as bad as we think.

Apple received its early stage funding from US government’s programs and all the technologies which make the iPhone ‘smart’ were State funded: the Internet, wireless networks, GPS, microelectronics, touch-screen displays and the latest voice-activated SIRI personal assistant.

“Most of the revolutionary innovations that fueled the dynamics of capitalism – from rail to the Internet, to modern-day nanotechnology and pharmaceuticals — trace the capital-intensive ‘entrepreneurial’ investments back to the State.”  – Economics Professor, Mariana Mazzucato

Mazzucato says the US – the country that is supposed to exemplify the benefits of the ‘free-market system’ – has one of the most interventionist governments when it comes to innovation. The U.S government has not simply fostered the ‘…conditions for innovation …but funded early research and created the necessary networks between State agencies and the private sector.’

Economics professor Vernon Ruttan, has shown that long-term government investment has been behind six important technologies in the last century: mass production, aviation, space, information and internet technologies and nuclear power.

It’s the unknown potential of new technology that requires it to be developed in its early stages by government. The Internet started as a U.S Defense network connecting a dozen research sites. In biotechnology, nanotechnology and the Internet, venture capital arrived 15—20 years after investments were made by public sector funds.

Yet innovation advocates tell a story of ‘freewheeling entrepreneurs and visionary venture capitalists’ . Usual criticisms of the State as slow and bureaucratic are more likely in countries that sideline it.

In Australia and the UK it’s argued that innovation should be privately led. Yet British scientist Tim Berners-Lee developed internet protocols at CERN, the publicly funded European Organization for Nuclear Research. In Australia, WiFi and plastic bank notes were developed at CSIRO.

Assistant Minister for Innovation, Wyatt Roy, announced: “I’m a Liberal, I’d like to see lower taxes, less regulation, less government intervention in your life so you can do what you do so well which is be an incredible world-changing entrepreneur”.

Nonsense. Australia is a low tax, small government already, relative to the OECD. Even when superannuation contributions are taken into account.

gdp-expenditure-from-tax-oecd-2014

Among the most prosperous countries only the USA and Switzerland have lower taxes than Australia.

Moreover, high taxes does not impede economic growth. In fact high taxes and high growth go together. In their book, Governomics, policy analysts, Ian McAuley and Miriam Lyons, say that what counts in economic performance is “…the capacity of public agencies to operate with efficiency and responsiveness where markets fail”.

There are government sponsored success stories that go unheralded: the BBC’s Internet platform, the iPlayer; the ABC’s new digital initiatives like podcasts and online catch-up service iview.

It was government that solved problems in the past, like putting a man on the moon, and it can only be government that will solve other big challenges we face in the future. Like measures to manage the transition from an economy based on an unprecedented mining construction boom to the new diversified economy of the 21st century

Austerity

“…the idea that governments should aspire …to have zero debt is deeply flawed and runs counter to how the most prosperous economies have done things for centuries …” says Economics Professor, Richard Holden. Austerity means people and small business hanging on to savings and investments.

The super-rich spend far less (in proportion to their income) preferring to build asset portfolios and blow up property bubbles. This doesn’t translate into a more productive economy.

Countries that reduced taxes and austerity had low growth, whilst the Nordic countries, with the highest taxes in the world, are the most prosperous. They found that equality and growth are not the result of the neo-libs’ inexorable laws but legislation.

Even the IMF and the World Bank declared that austerity has a negative impact on growth. Run a deficit they now say, borrow money at rock bottom rates and use it productively. Nicoletta Batini, the economist that altered their mindset, said: “If you diet when you are sick, it’s quite probable you’ll get a lot sicker.”

High rates of income and inheritance taxes were reduced in the English speaking countries from the 1980s which led to obscene inequality. Yet there was no trend towards growing inequality in other OECD countries. It has increased only modestly in Japan, Spain and Sweden, while France, Germany and Italy have experienced no change in inequality and the Netherlands had a small decline.

Trust in Government

Where criticism of the institution of government prevails, faith in political institutions fall also. The generation brought up with this myth think government can’t do anything. Why get interested in an institution that doesn’t work and can’t help?

Declining level of trust has impacted further on political parties of the left as they are more committed to maintaining an active role for government.

When a society allows market forces to runs its economy it affects society’s values and hence its politics. It also infects commercial media who see support of market values to be in their best interest.

Climate change and neo-liberalism remain our biggest threats.

The Coalition got rid of carbon pricing and paid polluters industry assistance instead – costing $billions and causing emissions to rise. They provide $7.7bn worth of subsidies for fossil fuels and watered down renewable energy targets that lost billions in investment.

What distinguishes nations that are successfully transitioning to renewable energy – like Germany, Denmark and China – has nothing to do with the natural abundance of breeze, sunshine or entrepreneurs; behind the success of their profitable wind and solar industries is a proactive State.

The Greens have rightly said that market forces are a threat to the climate. But it will only be when the Neo-libs realize that the climate is a threat to the market, that we’ll see any change.

Graham Carter

ps  Waleed Aly has outlined the negative gearing problem and how important it is that governments address it. If you haven’t already watched The Project’s video on negative gearing – do it now! 

 

We need the grace to accept things that can’t be changed, the courage to change the things that can and the wisdom to know the difference  – Reinhold Niebuhr

Nowhere is trust more important than in politics and the public sphere. It comes from shared values, of wanting to act together and form goals to be held in common. But trust is fragile and can be fractured. If the belief takes hold that political and economic systems are stacked against them, individuals will exit from civic obligations.

The rise of neoliberalism over the last 3 decades has led to this breakdown in trust. It’s arisen from the way business is conducted and the deleterious effect this has had on government and society.

When business is done right, it creates employment, reduces poverty, leads to meaningful lives and satisfies community need. But business is not being done right and only the big corporates and a few citizens are reaping the benefit. 62 individuals have a combined wealth equal to that of the bottom 50% (3.5 billion) of the global population.

It started in the economic downturn in the early 1970s, as social democracy was challenged by free-market philosophies. Neoliberalism became a vogue that took on a life of its own. A decade later, Thatcher and Reagan took power, and the rest of the package followed: massive tax cuts for the rich, the crushing of trade unions, deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing and competition in public services.

The new zeitgeist was summed up in Reagan’s 1981 inaugural address: ‘Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.’ 

‘There is no such thing as society” said Thatcher. There were no more citizens either, just customers in a consumer market, workers in a labour market, and investors in a financial market. This new ideology asserts that these markets magically deliver benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Nothing was sacred. Energy, water, trains, health, education, roads and universities – even prisons have been privatized. Rent is then charged by these new monopolies which flows to dividends. 

Neoliberalism is about freedom: freedom to take what you want, from who you want, when you want it.

The only thing that became united under this mindset was business and political interests: championing a politics that is entirely subservient to economic imperatives defined in terms of markets. And we’re left wondering how many extreme weather and coral bleaching events does it take to change a neo-lib’s mindset.

Neoliberal policies are everywhere beset by market failures. Banks are too big to fail and bankers too big to jail. Yet essential services can’t be allowed to collapse, so business takes the profits, the state keeps the risk. Heads – business wins, tails – we all lose.

Through the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation, neoliberal policies were imposed on the developing countries. The rest of the free world meanwhile, found it hard to resist this new religion of the English speaking countries. After all it’s hard to run onto the pitch playing soccer when everybody else has decided to play hockey.

In Russia and India, oligarchs acquired state assets through fire-sales. In Mexico, Carlos Slim was granted control of all phone services, which led him to becoming the world’s richest man.

It was taken to extreme in English speaking countries who now have the biggest margins between the public and private spheres. In education, Australia has the biggest gap between its best and worst schools in the OECD. Also we have the highest domestic electricity and gas of anywhere in the world. While our banks rake in more pre-tax profit, per capita, than any in the OECD.

A study found privatized electric companies in 34 OECD countries charge over 23% more than public ones. Cuba’s public health system outperforms the largely private one in the US on every measure at far less cost. While in the UK, government support for British Rail increased after privatization in 1996.

But don’t worry, it’s all done to make markets more competitive and dynamic.

The Howard government liquidated over $100bn worth of public assets. This leaves the public purse – health, education and other public services – starved of funds, and climate change mitigation unaddressed.

The attraction of selling the family silver has been irresistible to governments of all persuasions. It frees them from the burden of managing public services properly and provides funds to fix holes in budgets and buy more votes with tax-cuts.

Any ensuing crisis is not corrected but used as another opportunity to cut taxes, privatize any remaining public services, deregulate corporations and re-regulate citizens.

When this neoliberal runaway train hit the buffers in the 2008 GFC, it wrecked an almost unbroken 200-year pattern of industrial capitalism, where new forms of technological innovation and automation provided higher wages and higher-value consumption. The travelling companion throughout had been government sponsored health, education and welfare.

Moreover, in every decade since World War 2, incomes at the bottom had grown faster than the incomes of those at the top. It had been inclusive growth.

Neo-liberalism was a con. But such myths rely more on faith than fact. Global economic growth has been markedly slower in the neoliberal era than it was in the preceding decades. It was over 4% in the 50s and 60s. After the neo-libs took a chokehold in the 80s and 90s, it became less than half that. In the new millennium it’s hovered around 1.2%.

Inequitable growth, according to Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Steiglitz, can’t foster new investment. That’s because “Inequality weakens aggregate demand and the economy.” Inequality moves money from the bottom of the pyramid to the top, and since those at the top spend less than those at the bottom, overall demand is weakened.

As the ballot box was replaced by the cash register, the state domain went walkabout and taken political engagement and trust along with it.

Markets lead to market power, which leads in turn to a concentration of political power. So an even more dangerous impact of neoliberalism than the economic crises, is the political crisis: we’ve lost the means to put it right.

When the social contract is revoked, when trust between a government and its citizens fail, disengagement, or worse – alienation – is sure to follow. This is serious. ISIS recruitment relies on alienation in society and those that carry out massacres – like Martin Bryant at Port Arthur – are usually alienated individuals. In many democracies around the world, mistrust is on the rise, particularly among younger generations.

To restore trust we have to stop thinking of government only in terms of what it takes away or interferes with, but what it can provide and initiate. It’s important to determinine what social and economic parts of society should be tackled by government and which ones can be safely left to the market.

Only then will we get a government that promptly makes and implements decisions that serve the common good. Only then will we begin to address our challenges and build the kind of society we want.

Graham Carter