Sunday, November 05, 2006

Multiculturalism 'a dirty word'

The Howard Government is looking to scrap the word "multiculturalism" as part of a major revamp of ethnic policy. In a move seen as a shift in emphasis away from fostering diversity and towards increasing integration and responsibility among migrants, the Government is canvassing alternative words to describe how ethnic communities harmoniously integrate into Australian society. The de facto minister for multiculturalism, parliamentary secretary Andrew Robb, yesterday confirmed to The Weekend Australian that he had told a meeting of the government-appointed Council of Multicultural Australia that he wanted to scrap the word from a redrafted multiculturalism policy. The committee members did not have their membership renewed when their terms expired at the end of June.

Mr Robb said he had not decided yet whether the CMA would be reconvened. "I'm keen to see a body but what its composition is and what its role is (are yet to be determined), I've got all the Muslim issues as well so I just haven't finalised it yet," he said. Mr Robb, parliamentary secretary for Multicultural Affairs, said a discussion was held at the meeting about the term "and the fact that it means all things to all men and all women and that there are a lot of other ways that what is being mentioned can clearly be expressed".

"I expressed my frustration that the term is not often helpful because different people listen to it and give different meanings to it and a lot of the others expressed similar frustrations," Mr Robb said. The current policy expires at the end of this year and is now being reviewed by policy-makers. The new approach comes less than 12 months before the next election and follows the Cronulla riots and the comments of Australian mufti Taj Din al-Hilaly that women who did not wear veils provoked men to rape them.

Versions of the policy have received bipartisan support since the Office of Multicultural Affairs was established in 1987. Former members of the CMA yesterday told The Weekend Australian they were concerned about Mr Robb's plans. Former CMA member Yasser Soliman, a Victorian multiculturalism commissioner, said he had raised his concerns about the lack of consultation and doubts about the future of the council. Mr Soliman said he had attended with Mr Robb the discussion about alternatives to the term "multiculturalism". "Our understanding was there was a lot of effort to find an alternative name to the multiculturalism policy because it carried negative connotations," he said. "I suggested 'multiculturalism II' because it implies that it was evolving." Another suggestion was the "integration policy".

Fellow former CMA member Tom Stannage said he was concerned about the new policy. "Clearly Andrew Robb and the cabinet are doing a whole lot of reshaping and developing a whole new vocabulary and so forth," Professor Stannage said. CMA members at the dinner had challenged Mr Robb to use the word multiculturalism more frequently because it was government policy, Professor Stannage said. "I've followed some of Mr Robb's public pronouncements - I'm worried about them but I can't do much about them," Professor Stannage said. "I expect references to unity and diversity will be lost from the new policy because of the diversity thing going out."


Politicized lawyers

Bored with traditional legal ethics, modern advocates are driven by moral vanity to grandstand on issues in a way that serves no one but themselves, argues Attorney-General Philip Ruddock

A corporate lawyer joked that on the rare occasions he visited a court, he felt like a lapsed Catholic going to church. Like lapsed Catholics, corporate lawyers receive less exposure to stern admonitions to observe the rules of the order. But traditional legal ethics remain relevant. I use the word traditional because the concept of ethical legal practice has become infected with a new and unappealing interpretation.

The traditional view revolves around practitioners' responsibilities: to the law, the court or tribunal, fellow practitioners and the client. Atticus Finch, from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, exemplified these ideals, defending an unpopular client against accusations of a heinous crime. Finch was fighting not to overturn the law but to uphold it.

The new view sees representation of the client as an insufficiently grand role. It holds the lawyer responsible for effecting broader social and political change. Labor's shadow attorney-general Nicola Roxon, recently said: "The whole business of law is actually not based around service to a client." Contrast this with Geoffrey Robertson: "There can be no greater honour than representing a man in his personal affairs." Similarly, it is an honour to represent Australia's great companies, which provide jobs for thousands of Australians.

Once legal practice becomes "not actually based around service to a client", the lawyer is tainted with the moral status of the client's cause. Service to that cause, no longer a professional responsibility, is therefore a choice. Those who represent corporations it is fashionable to condemn at dinner parties have heard the cry, "How can you work for them?" Roxon joined this chorus on "lawyers behaving badly", citing "those denying Freedom of Information requests or the lawyers who thought up the crazy Pacific solution". This impugns lawyers' ethics based on the commentator's approval of the client's cause. It perverts the tradition embodied by Finch.

The lawyer's duty is not to judge but to represent the client. It is interesting that Labor's approach does not extend this philosophy to criminal law, condemning legal representatives of terrorists and murderers as "lawyers behaving badly".

An increasing shade of moral vanity also colours pro bono work, one of the profession's noblest traditions. For instance, some lawyers deem it appropriate to run hopeless proceedings in a bid to undermine laws with which they personally disagree. This wastes court resources and falsely raises client expectations. There is no shortage of genuine cases: a disadvantaged citizen victimised by a loan shark; a pensioner seeking a will. Yet these cases do not carry the same moral cachet. Borrowing from US writer P.J. O'Rourke, "Everybody wants to save the world; nobody wants to help mum do the dishes."

This is not to say lawyers should not take an interest in social policy. But contributing to the political conversation that shapes our laws is the right, and indeed the responsibility, of every citizen. Such contributions are made not in a professional but in a personal capacity. Professional bodies have helped blur this distinction. Of 28 media releases issued by the Law Council of Australia this year, 24 entered the political fray. Eight were devoted to David Hicks. Not one was related to the push to create a national legal profession. For the nation's peak professional body to have so little to say about the profession and so much to say about fashionable issues is surprising.

Lawyers should debate these issues. But they are issues of personal political conviction, not professional solidarity. In seeking a "lawyers' position", the Law Council risks the professional equivalent of imperial overreach. Some lawyers assume they are gifted with unique insights into the appropriate moral content of the law. Consider this address by Julian Burnside: "Plainly, the Government understood (border protection) would be electorally popular among the large number of Australians who had responded positively to far-Right racist political programs. The struggle for justice fell on to the shoulders of a few lawyers."

The claim that a legal elite must lead a bewildered populace out of error strikes me as patronising. Disdain for those outside the legal priesthood does little to raise the profession in the eyes of a nation disposed towards robust egalitarianism. Practitioners who serve clients, not causes, have many opportunities to demonstrate traditional legal ethics. A powerful way is for in-house lawyers to assist employers to be good corporate citizens.

Corporate lawyers may not attract the same approbation as human rights lawyers in Geneva. But without them the wheels of commerce would grind to a halt. If facilitating business sounds less grand than acting as the moral conscience of the nation, corporate lawyers should not feel slighted. We are all members of a privileged profession, and with that privilege come responsibilities. One responsibility is to adhere to traditional legal ethics. Another is to maintain a decent humility about our role. As lawyers, we are not masters but servants of the law.


Playing politics with the weather: Radical prescriptions will cause, not avert, disaster

An editorial from "The Australian":

It's easy being green, at least for politicians who would rather play politics than balance community fear that the present drought is the shape of climate change to come against the need to keep the export economy, and everybody's electric powered appliances, ticking over. This week, the Government was caught flat-footed by the media response to Nicholas Stern's report on climate change. Despite counselling caution in the way we consider the nature and effects of climate change, the Prime Minister did what he always does when he finds himself flat-footed: he spent money, this time on new alternative energy programs. Labor leader Kim Beazley, seeing a chance to make the issue his own went further, hammering Mr Howard for not signing the Kyoto Protocol and promising to focus research on alternative energy so that Australia could cut its greenhouse emissions by 60 per cent by 2050.

Mr Beazley's position appears politically astute. By making the Prime Minister look like he has been asleep on the climate change watch, the Labor leader appeals to journalists, and every other self-appointed opinion-maker, who believes Australian coalminers are climate-change public enemy number one, with number two being everybody who drives a 4WD or owns an airconditioner. And he has delivered the Labor Left the sort of symbolic issue it loves to campaign on, because it asserts their moral superiority over people who it believes are obsessed with economics.

Or at least some of the Labor Left, because the faction does not sing one song on how to balance the environment and economics. While environment spokesman Anthony Albanese praises alternative energy and preaches the evils of nuclear power as a replacement for coal, other Labor voices quietly chorus other ideas. The mining unions are keen on coal and some of them see nuclear energy as a way of providing clean power that generates jobs for Australians, and more members for them. And while the Labor line is now set for the next election, it is a fair bet that MPs and candidates looking for ways to win back the electorates lost to Mr Howard's mantra of economic growth will wonder whether the Opposition Leader is on the right track.

And they may wonder whether the Mr Howard has already lured Mr Beazley into a trap that will not be sprung until the next election. There is also no doubting the Prime Minister looked like he was making policy on the run this week. But there is no doubting that the distinction between the two men is now clear. On the one hand, Mr Howard is making not entirely convincing claims that the Government takes global warming seriously and is investing in technology to make coal cleaner and reduce Australia's output of greenhouse gas. But he is not walking away from the importance of energy - especially coal - exports to economic growth. And it would be hard to find a middle-income Australian couple with kids who does not know that their tax cuts and family payments depend to a great extent on the government revenue generated by the minerals boom.

There is no doubting that the world is warming. The question is how to address the issue. Mr Howard is keeping with the oft-misrepresented spirit of the Stern report, which does not call for radical solutions such as an immediate (and impossible) switch to solar energy but rather market-based solutions and the development of clean technologies such as the geosequestration of waste gasses from coal-fired power plants. Here Australia already has a leg up, with $500 million earmarked for the development of low-emissions technology. The signing of the Kyoto Protocol would do nothing to help the global environment while doing great harm to the Australian economy.

Although this newspaper remains healthily sceptical about the possible causes of and solutions to global warming, the Stern report landed at a time when concerns with global warming are very much on the community agenda, thanks to such events as Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth. But while Mr Gore's film was alarmist and, critics say, based on dubious science, the Stern review is a good deal more sober. Yet much of the coverage of Sir Nicholas's work has come from the Chicken Little school of journalism, fundamentally twisting the report to support the arguments of hairshirt environmentalists who see middle-class Australian voters as lazy, greedy sheep whose addiction to consumer appliances and automobiles is killing the planet. Any carbon-trading regime or price-signalling mechanism Australia does eventually sign on to will have to be designed in such a way that we are not disproportionately punished for our vast stores of coal or the extra carbon-consuming distances it takes our products to reach export markets around the world.

It is easy to indulge in juvenile jeremiads about the need to do away with killer coal as a power source, as long as you ignore two simple facts. Without coal exports Australia goes broke. And without greenhouse gas emitting coal fired power stations, now and for the foreseeable future, we would enjoy a clean green lifestyle, with all the mod cons of the middle ages. It is doubtful that the Prime Minister's greenhouse initiatives will be enough to assuage his opponents who will be well pleased with Mr Beazley's position.

But the risk for Labor is that appealing to the bishops and broadcasters, the academics and activists who denounce Australians for emitting greenhouse gases Mr Beazley may frighten ordinary Australians into worrying what their children will do for a living if our energy exporting economy is cut back. The Labor leader may be right. Perhaps the picture that will win the next election is a power station belching greenhouse gases. But if he is wrong an entirely different image will define the election, one we saw in the 2004 campaign when Tasmanian timber workers cheered Mr Howard for promising to protect them from then Labor leader Mark Latham's sell-out to the Greens on another environmental issue.

Australian nuclear power coming

A public debate on nuclear energy will follow the publication of a taskforce report on the viability of the industry, Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane has said. Prime Minister John Howard's hand-picked nuclear energy taskforce will find that a nuclear industry could be commercially viable within 15 years, giving the green light to the Prime Minister to radically shake up Australia's energy market. Former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski's review will also find the cost of nuclear power should come down dramatically as more global powers invest in the technology and the cost of fossil fuels go up.

Last night, Mr Macfarlane said a 15-year timeframe was "very realistic", offering an optimistic assessment from the Howard Government on the way forward for nuclear power. Mr Macfarlane also said a high-level report, to be released next week by the International Energy Agency, will give added weight to those backing nuclear power. Today, Mr Macfarlane has said a full public debate will follow the release of the report, expected in the next fortnight. "What we are seeing in the community is a willingness now to consider nuclear energy," Mr Macfarlane has said. "We are seeing reports like the Switkowski report which will indicate that nuclear energy will be competitive with low emission coal within 15 years. "We want to see debate that is based in understanding and knowledge not a debate based on scare tactics," he has said. He has said a nuclear power option will not be pursued in the face of widespread public opposition.

The release of Dr Switkowski's draft in two weeks will bolster Mr Howard's push to make nuclear power a central element of his election campaign. The Government this week sharpened its policy differences with Labor on energy following the release in London on Tuesday of a report by former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern calling for more urgent co-ordinated action to tackle climate change. The Opposition wants to ratify the existing Kyoto agreement, sign up to a global emissions trading system and give a stronger focus on renewable energy.

The Europe-based IEA, in its world energy outlook, will urge governments to speed up construction of new nuclear power plants, as part of the response to the climate change issue. "No doubt it will give impetus (to the nuclear debate)," Mr Macfarlane said.

Mr Howard yesterday ruled out any approach to fighting climate change that strips Australia of its competitive advantage as a heavy user of carbon-based fossil fuels with rich deposits of coal and gas. But nuclear power may be a partial solution, with the Switkowski review expected to find that the relative cost of nuclear power will come down amid a renewed focus worldwide on the technology driven by soaring energy needs and the fight against atmospheric pollution caused by fossil fuels. While it will find nuclear power is not competitive on a cost basis with coal-based power generation today, it anticipates the costs of using carbon fuels will rise over the next decade as some sort of carbon price signal is implemented to slow global warming. It will say the Government could make a decision to move ahead with nuclear power now, even given the cost differentials, and "by the time the first reactor was (reliably) delivering electricity the cost differential would have almost disappeared", according to a source.

Earlier this week, Mr Howard gave a strong signal he expected nuclear to play a role in Australia's energy future, when nuclear power on the one hand became competitive with clean coal on the other. "The point at which those two cross each other is, at this stage, impossible to precisely determine," he said. "When we have Ziggy Switkowski's report, we may have a better idea of where the two relate to each other." The report is expected to give hope to nuclear proponents, who are already taking steps to bridge the skills gap Australia has in key nuclear fields with new university courses.

Mr Howard yesterday vowed to do all he could to fight climate change, short of anything that cost Australia its comparative economic advantages. "In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions you have to adjust the use of all of those things where we have a comparative advantage, that is fossil fuels, because they're the basis of a lot of our wealth," he said. "We've got to be very careful that the adjustment process doesn't unfairly disadvantage Australia. The cost to this country of losing our comparative advantage in things like gas and coal would be enormous, it would be jobs and investment lost."

Opposition resources spokesman Martin Ferguson said "nuclear power is an important part of the energy security and climate change debate for Europe, Asia and North America". "That is why Australia's uranium is now so sought after ... Australia is energy rich. We are the envy of the world," he said. "The only energy security issue Australia has is in transport fuels and that's why this Government has got to get serious about converting our vast reserves of gas and coal into clean diesel."


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