Vintage Reds were delighted to welcome Tony Kevin to talk about
his book, Return to Moscow (University of Western Australia, 2017).
Tony worked for thirty years as a diplomat, including as ambassador to Poland and Cambodia in the 1990s. His first posting was in Moscow in 1969-71, and he made brief visits again in 1985 and 1990.
In 2016 he made a 4-week trip to Russia as an independent traveller. Tony is a Russophile, and gave a strongly pro-Russia talk. He believes that we are completely unaware of how overwhelmed we are by Western anti-Russia news. Whereas in other news story we presume some state of regularity, when the news is from Russia we presume irregularity. In the misinformation echo-chamber of the West it requires a huge effort of will and intellect to judge things from the outside. Continue reading
Helen introduced our speaker, Tony Payne. Tony is a semi-retired professor of politics at Sheffield University who with Colin Hay has co-written Civic Capitalism, a rejection of Anglo neo-liberalism.
They reject the Thatcherite view that “there is no alternative [to the market economy]”; they also reject the Marxist view of capitalism, that it is global, unreformable, and must be overthrown. Hay and Payne want to occupy the sensible centre, which Payne sees to be increasingly unoccupied.
We were delighted to welcome our speaker, Emma Davidson, from the Women’s Centre for Health Matters, who spoke on the topic of housing in the ACT.
Emma noted that housing affordability for women is worse now in the ACT than when she joined WCHM in 2010. There is movement from the government: a housing summit scheduled for September; submissions being sought for an inquiry into housing, due in February; and submissions also being sought for Mick Gentleman’s inquiry into environmentally sustainable housing.
Funding shortages are affecting public and community housing. Women are particularly affected as their numbers are hidden. We need more diversity including models that suit groups and sharing, with a sell-on option. Many women are carers and require courtyard/accessible housing, for example. A non-government brokerage service would be ideal, to place people into appropriate housing. Planning regulations need more flexibility. Capped access to new land blocks (independent of developers) would allow more first home buyers into the market. The Nightingale project and the Women’s Property Initiative, both in Victoria, are good models. Reclaiming of government land by developers (funded by taxpayers) seriously erodes public confidence and housing affordability options. Public housing stock is being lost faster in the ACT than in any other jurisdiction. Negative gearing (a federal issue) is only benefiting big corporations and the wealthy, and must be reformed.
Two speakers addressed the October VR meeting: Pat Ranald, of the Australian Fair Trade & Investment Network, AFTINET, and Peter Murphy of the Philippines Australia Union Link, PAUL.
AFTINET is, in the words of its own webpage, “a network of community organisations and individuals that has campaigned since 2000 for a fairer and more democratic global trade system, based on human rights and environmental sustainability.”
With its fifty or so component organisations it has been an enormously influential opposition to the worst of so-called “free trade” agreements like the TPP. As Pat explained, the TPP was not about free trade but was meant to let the US write the rules in this region, rather than China. Big corporations would get more power, and those outside the US would get more access to US markets. In the US, unions and NGOs influenced the Democratic Party, and the TPP didn’t manage to get the numbers in Congress. In Australia, a Senate enquiry found that there wasn’t support for the TPP.
Peter gave us a short history of the Philippines union movement. The KMU (Kilusang Mayo Uno, May First Labour Movement) was established in 1980. ACTU president Cliff Dolan made an issue of the gaoling of KMU members in the early 1980s, raising it with the Hawke government, and pressure from the Australians contributed to the release of these people. International links do make some leverage possible.
In 1990 there was a push-back against the unions in the Philippines, driven by US corporations. It became hard to run a union. Philippines union membership is now only at 1%, compared to 13% in Australia. Seventy per cent of Philippines workers are casuals; they are allowed to join a union after working for six months. If they do, the bosses sack them.
Photo: Peter Murphy addresses the Vintage Reds meeting; Pat Ranald looks on.
Lyndal Ryan, ACT secretary of United Voice, spoke to the Vintage Reds on the subject of penalty rates.
Service sector employers have failed many times to get rid of penalty rates, but failure has not stopped them trying. United Voice has been defending penalty rates cases for years.
The Productivity Commission has given employers more of a voice, and initially recommended stripping penalty rates everywhere. But there was concern expressed about the impact on doctors and nurses, ambulance staff etc., and employers had to pull back. The impact of changes is now felt by young, casualised staff in a few industries. UV has put the case about their need for family time, time off, etc. and this argument is understood by most people.
Pete Van Ness, from the Department of International Relations, ANU, spoke to the Vintage Reds on the topic of nuclear power.
Pete and Mel Gurtov are the editors of a recently published book, Learning from Fukushima: Nuclear Power in East Asia. (The book is available for free download from the ANU Press.)
The project developed from an ANU workshop which aimed to respond in a helpful way to the March 2011 triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown) in north-eastern Japan. It evolved into a collaborative investigation of whether nuclear power was a realistic energy option for East Asia
The focus was on the ten members of ASEAN, none of which have nuclear power plants; though at the time, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia were all interested in getting one.
The book ends with nine reasons why nuclear power is a bad choice for any country which is not already a nuclear weapons power. These are: 1 the high cost of construction; 2 continuing need for very highly trained staff; 3 difficulty for a regulatory authority to be transparent, and lack of transparency that goes with high levels of security required around nuclear facilities; 4 huge liability in the event of an accident, frequently paid by the public; 5 cost of decommissioning, under both normal and crisis conditions; 6 the relationship between nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons; 7 the intractability of the problem of nuclear waste disposal (there is currently still no site for the permanent storage of high-level nuclear waste anywhere in the world; 8 the health implications of exposure to radiation, including much lower levels than previously believed; and 9 the insufficiency of nuclear power as an answer to concerns about climate change.
Frank receives his Vintage Reds mug.
Dr Frank Bongiorno, from the ANU’s School of History, spoke to the Vintage Reds on the topic, “Labor, Labour and Australia’s 1980s”. His talk concentrated on the political and industrial dimensions of the decade.
The 1980s were a very successful period for the ALP. There were some major changes: deregulation; less protectionism. Most spectacularly, in December 1983 the dollar was floated; foreign banks could now operate in Australia, and financial markets grew more important. The Labor government subjected itself to these markets, as part of an effort to distance themselves from Gough Whitlam. There was less universality in welfare, instead the more targeted “No Australian child will live in poverty by 1990”. There was a squeeze on the middle for a decline in real wages for the prices and income accord. Medicare was an exception, a revival in 1984. Continue reading
A full room of the Vintage Reds were very pleased to welcome Dr Helen Watchirs, the ACT’s Human Rights Commissioner, and formerly (2004-2016) our Discrimination Commissioner.
Dr Watchirs spoke on the work of the Commission, which aims to engage and educate, and to provide accessible services.
Dr Watchirs said that not enough people were aware of their rights to financial support if they were a victim of crime. Very few applications are received.
In April this year, new or reformed grounds for protection against discrimination were introduced, including sexuality, immigration status, and being a victim of domestic violence.
The ACT’s Human Rights Act is powerful as a day-to-day check on legislation.
Dr Matthew Stocks, from the ANU’s Energy Change Institute, spoke to the meeting about Australia’s 100% renewable energy future, focusing on pumped hydro. Together with photovoltaic cells and wind generators, a stable and affordable electricity grid is readily achievable.
Matthew’s presentation added a lot of context and clarity to a series of slides illustrating pumped hydro energy storage, which can be found on the Energy Change Institute’s website.
Dr Matthew Stocks with a slide on water consumption.