In the NACC of Time | Between the Lines

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The Wrap with Ebony Bennett

With Richard away this week, I’m giving you the fortnightly update, and what a fortnight it’s been! COP27 wrapped up in Egypt with a loss and damage fund for climate-affected countries, the Victorian election highlighted the Liberal Party’s continuing failure to connect with voters, and in Canberra, the Parliament has been busy with industrial relations reform, and at long last, the National Anti-Corruption Commission will be established after passing this week. And the territories’ right to legislate for voluntary assisted dying has been restored, passing the Senate on Thursday. These are huge wins for Australia, and Australia Institute research has been at the heart of the debate.

Independent Member for Indi Helen Haines shakes hands with Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus after he introduced the National Anti Corruption Commission Bill in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, September 28, 2022.

As you might know, the Australia Institute has been advocating for a federal corruption watchdog since 2015, and we couldn’t have done it without you. Our amazing community of supporters put this issue on the national agenda and kept it there until it became an election issue and now law. While it is incredibly disappointing to see the NACC’s ability to hold public hearings will be severely limited to ‘only in exceptional circumstances’, making the watchdog secretive when we know transparency only enhances its ability to expose corruption, there is no doubt this bill is a huge step forward. The NACC is truly a win for Australia’s democracy, but the Australia Institute will continue our work to strengthen Australia’s democratic institutions.

Australia has some big democratic decisions coming up, like the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, and the stronger our democratic institutions are, the better equipped we will be to meet the challenges ahead.

– Ebony Bennett, Deputy Director of the Australia Institute.

The Big Stories 📰

Integrity on the Agenda

With this year’s federal election declared the “integrity election” after growing public concern about government transparency and accountability, it is vital that the Parliament takes measures to protect and strengthen our democracy and to restore trust in government and politics. The NACC is a welcome step forward. Congratulations to all those who have made this idea a reality, in particular the Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus MP, Helen Haines MP and her crossbench colleagues.

However, there’s still more to be done. It is still legal to lie in a political ad in Australia, and it shouldn’t be. Democracy & Accountability Program Director Bill Browne joined Zali Steggall MP and much of the crossbench to mark the tabling of her Stop the Lies Bill. Our submission to the JSCEM inquiry into the 2022 federal election details the possibilities for truth in political advertising laws – which have operated successfully in South Australia for 30+ years.

You can help us by signing our petition calling for Truth in Political Advertising Laws.

Potential Conflicts of Interest in the Climate Change Authority

When Angus Taylor appointed former boss of Origin Energy, Grant King, to chair the Climate Change Authority (CCA) in 2021 critics called it a “win for fossil fuels”.  But that’s not all. King, along with other members of the CCA, also appears to have interests in fossil fuels, carbon credits, renewable energy, and climate investment – that is, almost every aspect of Australia’s climate policy.

These appointments remain at the helm of the CCA despite Labor’s rhetoric on the crucial and independent role of the agency in providing independent climate advice to government.

Polly Hemming’s latest piece in the Saturday Paper reveals the worrying extent of industry influence in the Government’s key climate advisory body.

Privatisation Has Failed

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ plan to re-establish a publicly owned state electricity commission is not just proof that privatisation has failed, it’s proof that the politics of privatisation have failed.

There has never been any strong economic evidence that privatisation delivers benefits to budgets. Direct public investment in essential services through old-fashioned entities like Victoria’s State Electricity Commission and our school system allows governments to directly solve lots of problems at once. Not only can the Andrews government directly invest in the renewable energy we need, it can play a direct role in shaping the wages, conditions, training and gender balance of its workforce.

Governments can’t and shouldn’t do everything. But after decades of privatisation, deregulation, outsourcing and the creation of private markets to replace public regulation, it’s positive to see a state government not just investing directly in public solutions, but being so public and proud in the process. From Richard Denniss in the Guardian.

Watch Richard explain it in this video.

Industrial Relations Reform Sets Stage for Wage Growth

After a few weeks of tussling, the Government’s Secure Jobs Better Pay Bill has passed and will become law.

Among a raft of changes to gender equity policies, the bill will lift the restrictions on multi-employer bargaining. We published a report that found boosting multi-employer bargaining would increase annual wage growth by 1.6% in the first year. Dr Jim Stanford, director of the Centre for Future Work explains why multi-employer bargaining works in this video.

The fight saw some pretty bad faith arguments rolled out by big business, including that they always advocate for higher wages. Our research showed the opposite is true. 

With constructive amendments from Senator David Pocock and the Greens, it is a good step towards tipping the scales of power back towards workers.

Rights for the Territories

This week, the territories’ right to legislate for voluntary assisted dying has been restored, passing the Senate on Thursday. It’s also been a top issue for the Australia Institute and we are heartened that citizens of the ACT and NT will soon have agency in the debate about voluntary euthanasia.

A Sharm Offensive: COP27

The UN Climate Conference (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh finally wrapped up 40 hours overtime. Climate & Energy Program Director Richie Merzian was on the ground in Egypt presenting on the findings from Climate of the Nation 2022 at the Australian Pavilion, partnering with US organisations on how to uncover false solutions to climate change, and pushing behind the scenes to address fossil fuels. Unfortunately, despite the wide array of voices calling for (the first time) a commitment to phase down fossil fuels, it did not make it into the COP27 decision text.

Progress was still made on establishing a new fund to compensate vulnerable developing countries for climate impacts. Overall, it was a case of addressing the symptoms of climate change and failing to address the cause. The new Australian Government, armed with a new short-term target and a bid to host a future UN climate conference, was putting on a Sharm offensive. But as the Climate Change Performance Index 2023 showed, the improved policies have yet to translate into an improved position compared to other major economies. Until the Australian Government has a plan to address fossil fuel mining, it will continue to lag at the bottom of the ladder.

Tasmanian Ocean Summit

Last week the Australia Institute Tasmania hosted the inaugural Tasmanian Ocean Summit which saw close to 150 marine experts, MPs, industry and members of the community gathered at Spring Bay Mill to discuss Tasmania’s coastal waters and the culture, science, policy, and the possibilities for integrated management.

Tasmania’s marine environment is globally significant, known for its marine diversity and species found nowhere else in the world. The panellists explained that east coast waters are warming four times faster than the global average. East coast fish stocks already experience poor habitat protection, and this ocean warming is exacerbating fish stock depletion and threatening vulnerable species.

In order to regenerate the marine environment, participants shared that marine management needed to be collaborative, equitable, knowledge-based, place-based and integrated. First Nations Tasmanians expressed the need for Cultural Licenses to Operate to be established in order to ensure benefits for their community, and for Aboriginal people to be the ones managing Sea Country.

The first review of Tasmania’s main marine law is currently underway and provides the best opportunity in a generation to fundamentally improve the way we care for and use our coastal waters. A White Paper on future options for a modern legislative regime is set to be released in the coming months here. You can get involved by signing our petition for a Tasmanian marine plan, and stay up to date on the issue by signing up to the Australia Institute Tasmania’s mailing list.

The Quote 📣

The Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe has not had a good year. After spending all of 2021 telling people that the Reserve Bank would not increase interest rates until 2024, he has spent this year increasing rates. He is now trying to fend off suggestions he misled people because the fine print shows it wasn’t a promise. But in Senate Estimates hearings this week he did offer this sort-of apology.

I’m sorry that people listened to what we’ve said and acted on that and now find themselves in a position they don’t want to be in.

‘Sorry that you listened to me’ is not necessarily dripping with remorse but perhaps Lowe has read some of our research that showed that the interest rate rises, which are worsening the cost of living crisis, are not necessarily going to reduce inflation, which is being driven by profits. Richard’s piece from June outlines the issue.

The Win 🏆

Coal mine defeated! Last Friday, Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal Mine lost a big court case against our friends at Youth Verdict and the Environmental Defenders Office. Our Research Director, Rod Campbell, was an expert witness in the case.

It’s a big win because a Queensland court has finally acknowledged that new coal mines are bad for the climate. Land Court President Kingham wrote:

“On the evidence in this hearing, there is no modelled scenario that demonstrates all the Project coal could be combusted, unabated, while still meeting the temperature goal.”

Translation: if the world burns enough coal to make this mine viable, we are all cooked.

Rod argued that the mine’s economists had overstated its economic benefits and understated its costs. President Kingham agreed:

“In conclusion, after considering all the evidence, I could not find as a fact that the economic and social benefits outweigh the ecological and climate change costs of the Project.”

This win comes almost exactly ten years since Rod, Richard Denniss and EDO first won a case against a Rio Tinto coal mine in the Hunter Valley. We won again in 2014 and again in 2015 and 2017 and 2019.

Clearly, courts have been persuaded that we don’t need new coal mines. Now for governments!

Momentum is growing for a right to disconnect that directs employers to avoid contacting workers outside of work hours. The Queensland Teachers Union won a right to disconnect, following Victorian Police last year. Our annual Go Home on Time Day report found that six in seven workers (84%) supported legislating a right to disconnect, as supported by the Senate Select Committee on Work & Care.

The Bin 🗑️

The mining industry has a long history of exaggerating its contribution to employment and tax. The latest example is the Australian Resources & Energy Employer Association (AREEA) claiming that ‘Australia’s resources industry provides employment for over 1 million people’.

We couldn’t let this one slide. Thanks to Australia Institute supporters, we were able to put this ad in the paper calling out their outrageous claim.

The Stat 📊

This year’s Go Home on Time Day report revealed the full extent of unpaid overtime in Australia. It showed that employers are profiting from 2.5 billion hours of unpaid overtime worth over $92 billion in unpaid wages amidst a cost-of-living crisis and declining real wages.

We discuss the issue in depth on our podcast, Follow the Money, featuring Eliza Littleton, Lily Raynes and host Ebony Bennett.

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What’s On 📅

Webinar: Lone Wolf: Albanese and the New Politics with Katharine Murphy
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Tuesday, December 6 at 11:00 am AEDT. Free, registration essential. 

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