Three travesties: this week in Australian government

Here is Joe Hockey, on the BBC, lying baldly.

That may be a bit harsh. Unless he's an extremely good liar, he doesn't seem to show any signs that he knows what he's saying is untrue at all. This is not complicated stuff. I learned in Year 9 geography that Australia was among the largest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. That has not changed. You can look at the statistics here.

The Treasurer didn't actually dispute those statistics, of course. He just said they were "misleading", because they failed to take into account some important fact about Australia's economy. He didn't really say what that important fact was: maybe something to do with the cleanness of our coal, or that we have a lot of land. He was most excitable about the fact that Australia exports energy to the region; but that is irrelevant, because the statistics don't count Australian resources used overseas towards Australia's emissions, as Hockey seemed to be half-suggesting. Australia just is one of the worst emitters in the world. That is not just, or even mainly, because of mining; it's because at home and in business we use energy voraciously and have shown no signs of stopping.


I have previously described the Coalition as quasi-climate sceptics trying to assure us otherwise. That may be too kind. This is a government which has found in climate change a wonderful new dog whistle. A leader who has publicly derided the existence of global warming, a nearly three-year campaign against the first piece of significant policy action to fight it, and a tendency for high-level politicians to say things like Hockey did this week, are enough to signal nicely to people who don't believe in climate change that the Coalition is on their team. Meanwhile, for the young and starry-eyed, there is still Direct Action and the lack of open denial to serve as a fig leaf.

I can't find good pre-Abbott and pre-carbon tax polling on this, so it's hard to do a proper comparison, but you can see here how heavily climate change deniers are concentrated among Coalition voters; even looking at recent polling, you can see a big drop from a year ago in the number of sceptics among Labor and Greens voters.

Here are a selection of Coalition figures, telling independent organisations what they should invest their money in.

There is room for a not-that-interesting argument in political theory about this. But having the assistant infrastructure minister write a letter criticising the ANU's investment decision and asking them to reconsider it, full of (thoroughly deniable!) threats in the form of freighted references to its public funding and financial losses, is extraordinary.

A few months ago the Coalition lambasted and threatened private actors over their decisions on who to take money from. Then, there was some semblance of a justification based on fiscal responsibility. Now they are attacking ANU for a decision about who to give its money to. It's beginning to look eerily as though, whenever someone takes a public stance that they disagree with, Liberal ministers take affront and do whatever they can to put a stop to it. Which would be fine, except when they start deploying the resources of the government to attack social and political viewpoints they don't like.

Here is Australia's government, functionally opting out of the Refugee Convention and giving itself the power to send refugees back into persecution.

It turns out, now, that the government shunted a boatload of Tamil asylum seekers back and forth across the Indian Ocean without even trying to ascertain whether they had genuine asylum claims. None of this, strictly speaking, is incompatible with the government's stated refugee policy, which is to stop all arrivals by sea in order to either Protect Our Borders or protect vulnerable people from drowning at sea, depending on who's asking. In fact, promising to not even consider an asylum application and then turf them back into the hands of their persecutors is probably the ultimate disincentive to bothering to flee those persecutors in the first place, so in some ways it's only logical. In other ways, it's brutalising, and monstrously unjust.

This bill may not pass the Senate. That would be a small mercy, but - same as it ever was - there's no real good news. The ALP doesn't have the stomach for this fight, any more, if it ever did. A refugee has been tortured after refoulement to the country he fled from. Another has been beaten to death by detention centre workers. Hamid Khazaei died from a cut on his foot, because Manus Island is a prison camp without proper sanitation or healthcare. None of this has led the Coalition to reconsider, or created the level of public outrage that might force them to.

I'm too pessimistic to try and finish this post with a call-to-arms, or a plea for people who support the Coalition to stop. But it's not really deniable, any more, that the government is wilfully inactive and criminally unconcerned about climate change, that its commitment to liberal principles or restraining the power of the government is nonexistent, and that its concern for the welfare of asylum seekers is a brazen fiction designed to justify their abuse. That seems not to worry people.

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