Sunday, November 21, 2021

An "indigenous voice"?

The Proposal: A national body made up of elected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that could provide advice to the Australian Parliament and Government on relevant laws, policies and programs and could engage early on with the Australian Parliament and Government in the development of relevant policies and laws

Peta Credlin

The PM and key ministers (such as the Health Minister and the Treasurer) have been preoccupied by Covid, but not so other ministers. The pandemic is no excuse as to why these significant proposals haven’t been openly discussed with the community, rather than sprung on them just before an election.

Take the Indigenous “voice”. Of course, our Aboriginal heritage should be honoured and respected, and Aboriginal people should fully participate in Australian society. And obviously there’s been past discrimination, injustice and racism against them. But how do we become a colourblind society? How do we become a country, in Martin Luther King’s immortal words, that judges people “by the content of their character not by the colour of their skin” by setting up a special body, with members elected on the basis of race, to give laws meant for all Australians special race-based consideration for just some?

Yes, it’s meant to atone for past racism, but isn’t making racial distinctions wrong? Certainly, that’s what we were asked to think, until Critical Race Theory came along, with its insistence that white people are inherently racist unless they manifest in their lives a kind of permanent, institutionalised apology.

As the First Australians, Aboriginal people could perhaps claim a special status, but this would be much better done through some form of acknowledgment in the constitution – such as Tony Abbott’s suggestion that we include, in the preamble, that Australia is a country with “an Indigenous heritage, a British foundation, and an immigrant character”. Such words would include everyone who has helped build Australia – now and in the past – by defending our flag and freedoms, creating our prosperity, and shaping our institutions as well as those who, in race terms, have been here for thousands of years.

I’m inherently cautious about any institutionalised special treatment for particular groups, especially as Aboriginal people are certainly not the only ones who’ve had a raw deal in the past and continue to face issues: what about women, migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds, some religions, and people with disabilities?

If every group with a claim for special consideration needs its own special representation to parliament, soon there’ll be a multitude, indeed a babble of “voices” to parliament, and governmental decision-making will be even more gummed up with special pleading, and the overall national interest even more drowned out.

Already, at almost every official event, there’s a “welcome to country”, in a special nod to the 3.3 per cent of Australians who identify as Indigenous, which the 96.7 per cent who don’t normally accept as the courtesy due to the people who were here first.

There are now six (out of 226) members and senators in the federal parliament who identify as Indigenous, with more standing as candidates at the next election. Surely continuing to elect Aboriginal people to parliament (which, after all, is the voice of the whole Australian people) is the best way to ensure that they get the hearing they deserve and is further demonstration that Australian voters are colourblind when it comes to choosing the people best able to represent them?

With its pandemic-driven spending spree, softly softly approach to authoritarian state governments, and commitment to net zero emissions (even though there’s no new policy to deliver it), the Morrison government has already sorely tested the goodwill of its political base.

One Nation, the reconstituted Liberal Democrats and the cashed-up Palmer party are already trawling for first preference votes among the “Howard battlers” who used to be the Coalition’s strongest supporters.

Maybe if the government had better addressed the concerns of conservative voters, via vetoing the incorrigibly politically correct national school curriculum or by supporting nuclear power on land as well as at sea, this wouldn’t matter so much because the splinter party votes would return in preferences.

But legislating a “voice” especially, rather than risking defeat by having a referendum, looks sneaky. Given the pressures on the parliamentary timetable, the only way a “voice” could be legislated before the election is with Labor support.

Asking people to support something they inherently mistrust, and a Labor version of it at that, would be a bitter pill to swallow – and for many could be the last straw.

If there’s an argument for a separate Aboriginal body, then it should be put to the people to decide, not the politicians.


Thousands of protesters march through Melbourne, Sydney as COVID rallies begin across the country

Large crowds were present in both Melbourne and Sydney.

In the Victorian capital, a large police presence was monitoring two separate crowds in Melbourne's CBD. Protesters had been camped outside Victoria's Parliament House throughout the week calling for the scrapping of the state government's controversial pandemic bill.

Today thousands more have joined and have begun marching through the city.

Meanwhile, another group of protesters, who have labelled themselves anti-fascist, gathered for a rally at the Eight Hour Day Monument in Russell Street.

Police have cordoned off the area, separating the two groups.

The ugly escalation in Melbourne is the sort of moment you would expect leaders to quickly respond to and settle down — but the Prime Minister couldn't resist adding a political kicker.

The Victorian government's pandemic bill was designed to replace State of Emergency laws which were used to bring restrictions in during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill has been the subject of intense debate and has attracted protests outside the Victorian parliament.

Some people associated with those protests wheeled out violent imagery, while legal groups and the state's ombudsman have been calling for greater oversight to be included in the legislation.

The state government has managed to delay a vote in the upper house while its tries to win enough crossbench support for it to pass into law.

Thousands of anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination protesters have also gathered in Sydney's Hyde Park and marched through the streets of the CBD.

Crowds carried Australian flags, Eureka flags and the Red Ensign and sung the national anthem while a bagpipe group performed.

Some people brought babies to the demonstration to protest against vaccinating children.

Mounted police are in position to control crowds which have been largely peaceful.

Meanwhile, about 2,000 people have gathered in Adelaide's Rundle Park as part of the protests.


NSW passes Zoe's Law to impose harsher penalties for the death of an unborn baby

It sounds like this has got through the upper house as well

New laws which impose tougher penalties for crimes that result in the loss of an unborn child have passed the NSW parliament 12 years after first being proposed.

Under what is known as Zoe's Law, offenders whose criminal acts cause the loss of an unborn child will now face longer sentences.

The new offences will commence next year and will expressly recognise the loss of an unborn child as a unique injury for a pregnant woman and other family members.

The reforms were first proposed after Brodie Donegan from the NSW Central Coast was hit by a drunk driver when she was 32 weeks pregnant with baby Zoe on Christmas Day in 2009.

Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the laws had been a long time coming.

"These laws give recognition to the unborn children that are lost due to third party criminal acts. This has been a long fight for people like Brodie Donegan and I thank her and other bereaved expectant mothers for the long struggle they have undertaken to get to this day," Mr Speakman said.

Up until now, the loss of a foetus through a criminal act had been considered grievous bodily harm to a pregnant woman and there had been no separate offence for the unborn baby.

Two new offences will now be added to the Crimes Act.

One will cover when a foetus is lost as a result of a wide range of criminal acts (such as dangerous driving or grievous bodily harm) and will carry a maximum penalty of between five and 28 years imprisonment, depending on the type of act.

This offence carries a maximum sentence that is three years higher than what was previously available for this conduct.

The second offence can be used when a homicide offence (such as murder, manslaughter, dangerous driving occasioning death) kills both the pregnant woman and her foetus.

It carries a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment and applies in addition to the maximum penalty for homicide.

These charges can be laid when the unborn child has a gestational age of at least 20 weeks or is at least 400 grams in weight.

The Attorney-General said he hoped the new laws would help mothers deal with the loss of an unborn child.

"What the new laws do is acknowledge the unique nature of losing an unborn child, the heartbreak, the tragedy the family suffers when that happens," he said.

"No law can make a family whole after an event like that but hopefully these laws will temper that loss a bit."

The new laws also mean family members of a woman who loses a foetus can give victim impact statements in court and the name of the unborn baby can be included on the indictment.

Family members will also be able to claim funeral costs for the loss of an unborn child caused by a car accident.

Zoe's Law has been controversial among pro-choice groups, who have argued it could be used to weaken abortion rights and affect access to late-term abortions but Mr Speakman rejected this suggestion.

"The reforms deliver higher maximum penalties to reflect the gravity of these crimes, without undoing longstanding legal principles or affecting NSW abortion laws."


Greenies don't like hydrogen either

Owners of Fortescue Metals Group Limited (ASX:FMG) shares may want to know about a threat to Fortescue Future Industries’ (FFI) hydrogen plans.

Fortescue Future Industries says it’s taking a global leadership position in the renewable energy and green products industry and has a vision to make green hydrogen the most globally traded seaborne commodity in the world.

But not everyone likes the plans that Fortescue Future Industries is doing.

According to reporting by the Australian Financial Review, the former leader of the Greens, Bob Brown, has said that green hydrogen must not be “based on mega dam projects, bird-killing wind farms or without a “social licence” that returns foreign earnings to communities.”

Energy Minister Angus Taylor reportedly released modelling that showed green hydrogen could replace LNG as the top energy export, with $50 billion of revenue by 2050.

The AFR speculated that the Greens could use any balance of political power to block hydrogen projects that sustain fossil-fuel industries, like ‘blue hydrogen’.

The Bob Brown Foundation took out a full-page advert in the AFR this week to challenge some of Dr Forrest’s claims and Fortescue Future Industries’ potential projects including hydroelectric dams in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Papua New Guinea.

What’s the problem?

Why doesn’t Dr Brown like these projects? The Bob Brown Foundation said the aim is to foster debate about the environmental and social impacts of Fortescue Future Industries’ global hydrogen production. Bob Brown said:

He is promoting huge hydro-electric schemes on some of the world’s last remaining great rivers and there would be massive social and environmental consequences. As reported in the AFR, he has contracted with the president of the DRC for a scheme on the Congo River twice the size of China’s Twin Gorges Dam. It is reported to threaten the displacement of 25,000 people, involves massive transmission lines, and has been dropped by previous interested parties including the World Bank.

In Papua New Guinea, Forrest’s hydrogen vision brings dams on a number of major rivers into focus. There can have been no time to consult the local populations nor to assess the impact on some of the most spectacular tropical gorges on Earth. His global vision deserves global scrutiny. We want him to get social licences. That is what we seek.

We support a hydrogen economy based on renewable energy where the production of that energy does not contribute to climate change, damage the environment or cause social dislocation. That is going to take a lot more considered judgement than is evident in Dr Forrest’s global mission.

Time will tell what impact, if any, this has on Fortescue Future Industries, the Fortescue share price and FFI’s green hydrogen plans.




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