Australia's Carbon Price Legislation: Climate Responsibility with Social Justice

Three weeks ago the minority Federal government in Australia passed a historic broad-based carbon pricing bill through the House Representatives. The bill is not yet law, but it is certain to pass the Senate in the near future and will then find its way into the statute books. Under the legislation the 500 biggest emitters of carbon dioxide, some sixty percent of emissions, will pay an initial permit price of $23 per tonne which then be determined by market value in the future. Much of the cost will, of course, be passed on to consumers (who respond with purchasing changes) and there is a comprehensive package to compensate low-income earners and pensioners etc, along with substantial tax-breaks and a very significant increase in the tax-free threshold. Four million households will be better off after compensation, six million will be about equal, eight million will receive partial compensation and seven hundred thousand households will receive no compensation for the price rises. Average households will pay an extra $9.90 per week while average assistance will be $10.10 per week.

The legislation was passed after several years of debate on the issue; prior to the 2010 election the preceding Labor government has attempted to introduce a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which was also an emissions trading scheme, but with some significant transitional subsidies, leading to criticism from climate advocacy groups and the plan eventually being shelved. After the passing of the current legislation, the opposition leader has made a "pledge in blood" to repeal it, a very improbable proposal. The following represents a review of the carbon pricing scheme, its relative effectiveness, its relationship to social justice issues and the political issues it has raised. Before that however a brief review of the science is required.

Review: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain

Including the Civil War in Spain, Felix Morrow, Pathfinder Press 1974 ISBN 0-87348-402-9. First Published 1936 and 1938 by Pioneers Publications

Felix Morrow, a leader of the United States’ based Socialist Workers Party gives an excellent account about what was happening in Spain that was written by an eye witness who was both a participant and observer during the Spanish Civil War. He gives a detailed account about how the Stalin backed Spanish Communist Party was more interested in physically eliminating their political enemies in the Spanish Republic than fighting the Fascist menace. Morrow gives a blow by blow account about how the revolution was destroyed from the inside out. Although he has a sneaking admiration for the anarchist CNT and FAI his main sympathies lie with P.O.U.M (Workers Party), a relatively small Trotskyist Party that played a role in the Spanish revolution.

Stalin, paranoid about Trotskyism, used the Spanish Communist Party and many of the communist members of the International Brigades to destroy what he believed was the dominant threat to his rule in the Soviet Union. The Spanish Civil War was a backdrop in his international efforts to wipe out Trotsky’s supporters off the face of the planet. Once the threat from P.O.U.M was eliminated Stalin, through the Spanish Communist Party, turned his attention to the CNT and FAI. The Spanish Civil War as George Orwell pointed out in Homage to Catalonia was lost because of the Stalinists’ role in the revolution not because of the fascist counter-revolution.

More anarchist militants died as a direct result of Communist treachery than they did as a result of the Phalangists actions during the Civil War. The disappointing aspect about Morrow’s account is that although he gets his facts right about what happened, his solution highlight the limitations of a Marxist analysis based on creating a dictatorship of the proletariat through the actions of a vanguard party. In Morrow’s opinion the creation of a vanguard party was all that stood between defeat and victory in the Spanish Civil War. I find it hard to believe a man with so much insight into what was actually happening was so blinkered by ideology he was promoting the same ideas as a solution to the problems encountered during the Civil War as Stalin’s supporters in Spain were promoting.

The abolition of the state not the capture of the state by a vanguard party is the aim of all anarchists. Vanguard parties irrespective of whether they call themselves socialist or communist always put the interests of the party before the interests of the people they lead.

Felix Morrow’s pamphlets are a valuable source of primary information about what was happening in Spain during the Civil War. His analysis should be consigned to the dustbin of history. He broke with the Socialist Party of America during World War Two. I can't help wondering what happened to him and whether he changed his analysis as a result of his break with the SWP.

Try a radical bookshop or your library if you want to get hold of this firsthand account of the political machinations which led to the demise of the Spanish Popular Front government in Spain during the Civil War. Thanks to James from Frankston for lending me his copy of Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain to read and review.

Also published in the Anarchist Age Weekly Review No.951.

A complete copy of the book is available on the web

It must also be mentioned that Eric Blair, aka George Orwell, fought with the POUM as part of a contingent organised by the British Independent Labour Party (there's a recent article on their website) - the very organisation which was described promoting an Isocracy in its founding essays.

A copy of Homage to Catalonia is available at the George Orwell archive.

Negras tormentas agitan los aires / nubes oscuras nos impiden ver / Aunque nos espere el dolor y la muerte / contra el enemigo nos llama el deber.

El bien más preciado / es la libertad / hay que defenderla / con fe y valor.

Alza la bandera revolucionaria / que llevará al pueblo a la emancipación / Alza la bandera revolucionaria / que llevará al pueblo a la emancipación / En pie el pueblo obrero a la batalla / hay que derrocar a la reacción

¡A las Barricadas! ¡A las Barricadas! / por el triunfo de la Confederación./ ¡A las Barricadas! ¡A las Barricadas! / por el triunfo de la Confederación.

Obituary: Jack Layton

John Gilbert "Jack" Layton was one of the most highly regarded progressive politicians in Canadian history. When he died on August 22, what followed was a massive outpouring of respect from different categories of citizens. Torontonians remembered his time on the city council, where he led New Democrats and independents to a controlling presence in the 1988 elections. Canadians definitely remember him from this past 2011 federal election; he led the New Democrat Party to 103 seats, more than double its previous high, and the NDP toppled the Liberal Party to become the official opposition.

What truly captures the wideness of respect for the man is the behaviour of opponents upon his death. Layton was given a state funeral, something never before afforded to any opposition leader who had not been a former Prime Minister. Rob Ford, long-time city council antithesis who is currently Toronto's Mayor, made what might be his first speech that didn't manage to grievously offend progressive Torontonians. This statement from a friend's Facebook feed sums up a more grassroots-level opinion on the matter: "RIP Jack Layton ... As a thorn in the side of my conservatives ... I would rather have won the battle at the polls rather than have mother nature intervene ... He was one election away from toppling the conservatives".

It might be hyperbole to say that he would have toppled the federal Conservatives in four years' time. However, Layton was a charismatic and resourceful political leader. His last big victory indicates such: the biggest gains were made in Quebec, where the NDP traditionally sees little success. This leap was a continuation of a previous election where he brought the seat numbers within six of Ed Broadbent's previous record. One might ask how a politician can become so effective, and the answer is found in his history and life.

Andrew Bolt on Climate Predictions

Three years ago Andrew Bolt, a political columnist for the Herald-Sun, ran a 'blog article entitled "The Worst Ten Warming Predictions". It is opportune to take stock of the predictions and to illustrate how the debate can be unreasonably skewed by those who are unfamiliar with the scientific method or are politically partisan.

This response will go test Mr. Bolt's claims point-by-point.


Mr. Bolt selects a number of comments by Professor Tim Flannery concerning the status of water supply in dams. For example in March 2008: "The water problem is so severe for Adelaide that it may run out of water by early 2009". Flannery made this comment in a very brief interview in the March 2008 of Jetstar magazine. In response, Bolt points out that Adelaide's reservoirs were 75 per cent full at the time of writing.

Bolt also criticised Flannery for saying "water supplies are so low they need desalinated water urgently, possibly in as little as 18 months". This is actually a truncated quote from his editorial in New Scientist. The remark was actually for Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane. As evidence against Prof. Flannery's proposition, Mr. Bolt points out "its [Brisbane's] dams are 46 per cent full after Brisbane’s wettest spring in 27 years." etc.

Bolt he hasn't given sufficient (indeed any) consideration to the fact that Flannery's remarks are guarded propositions; "may run out", "possible in as little" etc. Scientific statements should always be expressed in this form as it deals with trends and other variables may be introduced (such as the introduction of a desalination plant). Knowledge, at least to those who know that they don't know everything, is tenuous.

Further, in seeking to counter Flannery's claims, Bolt cherry-picks particular examples, rather than using trends, a tactic typical in political rhetoric. He points out that Sydney's dams at the time were 63% full after a particularly wet June. He does the same with Brisbane which had the "wettest spring" in 27 years and that Perth had its wettest November in 17 years. Such instances are meaningless in themselves (as is pointing out individual particular hot or dry months); trends are what is is important from a scientific perspective.

Left Wing Fascism: A Senile Disorder

Last weekend, 13-14 August 2011, witnessed the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Berlin Wall. It barely needs reminding that this was not a defensive or protective wall, designed to keep potential enemies out, but rather it was a prison wall, designed to keep a population incarcerated, to limit their freedom of movement. Like most walls, it wasn't particularly effective for the truly determined; during its short existence there were thousands of successful escapes, although there were also several scores of people being killed by DDR border guards in these attempts. What it did do however is create an environment where fear dominated. Prior to its implementation, fully twenty percent of the entire East German population had moved west [1]; the State had determined that this had been stopped. Does it need to mentioned that when the Wall came down people fled from the socialist (but dictatorial) East Berlin to the capitalist (but democratic) West Berlin and not the other way around?

Fascism is any political ideology that requires the suppression of individual or co-operative rights to collective ideals. This is evident in the symbolism of the "fasces" from which the name is derived; a bundle of individual sticks tied together, indicating authoritarianism and summary power. This contrasts with other social ethics, such as utilitarianism which, whilst based on a moral principle of individual liberty (as Benthem and Mill pointed out [2]), distributes felicity according to 'the greatest good for the greatest number' for specific situations.The example of utilitarianism is raised here because said ethical system is sometimes misrepresented by those ignorant of its basic precepts to justify the fascist reasoning of 'the suppression of the individual for the good of society'.

Instead of seeking to provide for the greatest number, fascism seeks to provide for the abstract ideal, the abstract 'bundle' against the real individual 'sticks' or their real collection. Sometimes that abstract ideal can be a race, or a nationality, or a class, or a particular State, or ideology, or Party, or Church, or religion. In the future we may even see particular corporations raised as the abstract ideal. It is against real individuals, and real co-operation between individuals (from which societies are truly born), and it is against liberty and democracy. Ultimately it is a fallacy of reificiation (or, as Alfred North Whitehead called it "misplaced concreteness"); it assigns a real status to abstract concepts and in doing so, suppresses those which are real. Who better to define it than Benito Mussolini himself?

"The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State - a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values - interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people." ("La dottrina del fascismo", 1932) [3]

The Crisis In Social Democracy: A Sick Rose

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
(William Blake, 1794)

Social democracy is in crisis. Its officialdom, represented by Socialist International, won't publically state this of course. The leadership of the constituent members will put on a brave face when confronted with the proposition, alternating between flippant rejection or trivial claims of an electoral cycle. But more privately, or at the very best among its small class of theorists and intellectuals, they surely know the problem. All over the world social democratic parties are losing elections, and often dramatically. Even with the support of other, smaller left or environmental parties, there is a strong trajectory towards conservative or neoliberal parties, far greater than what has been seen for decades.

The Broken Kolo and Humanitarian Intervention

The Kolo, a folk dance practised among the Southern Slavs, involves several individuals engaging in synchronised steps whilst holding each other around the waist. Once upon a time, it may have served as an appropriate political metaphor of Yugoslavia for the people who practised it; Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Slovenes. Long forgotten was Tito's desire for Bulgaria to join with Yugoslavia to form a complete federation of the southern slavic people, a position strongly opposed by Stalin - and pivotal in the breakup in relations between the U.S.S.R. and Yugoslavia. Now, instead, the dead are many, and the degree of distrust between these different but similar nationalities will take more than a generation to repair.

The period of "Brotherhood and Unity", the slogan used by the Yugoslav Communist Party, came to a crashing end when Milošević's sought to centralise power in the federal system at a time when leaders of other republics were seeking more autonomy. On 23 December 1990, Slovenia held a referendum, which passed with 95% votes in favor of independence, with a turnout of 93.2%. On May 19, 1991 an referendum on independence for Croatia was held which received a 93.24% vote from an 80% turnout (many local Serbs - who constituted 12.2% of the total population of Croatia - boycotted the referendum). The prevention of Croatian Stjepan Mesić for taking the role of the rotating presidency in 1991 also proved to be a turning point. Shortly after this, on June 25, Croatia and Slovenia declared independence and the breakup of Yugoslavia began.

After the Dalai Lama: Tibetan Democracy

The Tibetans may be the first people who got something like a democracy before even getting a country, which they may never get. After the Dalai Lama who for 60 years has been a symbol of their national cause, announced that he was going to resign from his post of a political leader of the government in exile, the Tibetans voted for a leader of their own for the first time. Eventually, this is the 42 year old Harward alumnus Lobsang Sangay who got 55% of the vote. The election itself was rather strange... It took place on March 2 and the large-scale organisation of the event included TIbetans living in 30 different countries. Almost 83400 exiles had the right to vote, and over 49000 ballots were cast. In China itself of course no vote took place. So in the end, Sangay won over his rivals Tenzin Tethong who collected 37.4% and Tashi Wangdi with 6.4%.

One of Sangay's nicknames is the Tibetan Obama. He is called like that because he is young, energetic, ambitious and he brings hope for a better future. On the one side, he is the first freely elected leader of the Tibetans and the expectations are naturally excessively big. He will step into office as prime-minister in exile in August. Until now this post used to belong to the Dalai Lama, who in practice used to take all important political decisions - he had the right to pass laws, convene and dismiss parliament, fire and hire ministers and appoint referenda. In principle the prime-minister of Tibet is a position which has been in place since 2001 but until now he did not have any significant jurisdiction because most functions were in the hands of the Dalai Lama. But this will change soon because the spiritual leader wants his political functions to be only symbolic and to focus entirely on his role as a religious figure, which he intends to keep playing to his last day.

The purpose of the resignation of the Dalai Lama is to modernise and democratise the Tibetan political system which is an anachronistic remnant from a theocratic past amidst a predominantly secular modern world.

But this does not mean that he would stop traveling around the world as a spiritual leader. As a Dalai Lama he will continue to advocate the Tibetan interests and he will be the face of the Tibetan struggle for civil rights, although not in the quality of a political figure. The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso has stated many times that the Tibetans need a leader who is freely elected by them, someone he could handle his political functions to, someone outside of Chinese control. The Dalai Lama also emphasised the importance of a democratic government which could function autonomously without his instruction. And his concerns have their reasoning, because the Panchen Lama who usually selects the new Dalai Lama incarnate has disappeared several years ago and is probably held by the Chinese, and a new one has taken his place.

Rejection of Imposed Authority Divine or Human

Presentation to the Melbourne Atheist Society, Tuesday May 10th, 2011

As David Miller, co-ordinator of the Atheist Society has pointed out Dr. Joe Toscano, of the Anarchist Media Institute, was supposed to be speaking this evening. It is very unfortunate that the has been unable to attend due to family matters and I am humbled that he nominated me to take his place; although I have had only a short period to prepare for this presentation, I will be using the title nominated by Dr. Toscano, and hopefully it will be in a similar spirit.

I will take this opportunity to mention that Dr. Toscano is one of the great radicals of Melbourne. A medical practitioner and surgeon, he was the chief organiser of the 1986 Australian Anarchist Centenary Celebrations, has run the Anarchist World radio show on 3CR since 1977 and produced a weekly newsletter, the Anarchist Age Review, since 1991, which is nearing a thousand issues. One of the most prominent recent campaigns he has been involved in is founding and promoting "Defend and Extend Medicare" through decentralised community groups. That attracted not only the criticism of the government's health minister as well as briefing papers on the activists by "a senior intelligence official".

If there are any "senior intelligence officials" in the audience, I hope you enjoy tonight. Please listen carefully and take plenty of notes. You and your masters might learn something.

Imposed authority; it can blunt and obvious, as the truncheon on the skull, or can be subtle, through laws, regulations and very importantly property relations. It can be carried out by legal authority which claim a legitimate monopoly on violence, or it can be carried out by illegal groups. It can be carried out in an organised fashion or randomly. It can be carried out by individuals, groups, or through formal institutions. But ultimately it relies on the use of force against individuals who have not breached their natural, subjective rights or those rights that arise from inter-subjective agreement. That particular classification is noted in order to distinguish against that those who engage in imposed authority against these natural rights of others will find that their rights are temporarily suspended. One who engages in violence against another may discover that, contrary to their will or consent, that others will restrain their actions of harm, and this applies equally to the criminal or the government.

More radically, one include in this is the right to an equal share of natural resources; the distinction between economic land, labour and capital is often overlooked since political economy has become a very specialised rather than general discipline. "Land rights" are natural rights - following Locke, Rousseau, Paine, Adam Smith, David Ricardo and through to contemporary economists such as Galbraith, Friedman, Solow, Samuelson, Vickery - the withholding of natural resource to the exclusion of others without compensation is an act of subtle violence. As this address is being made in a Unitarian church hall, I feel it appropriate to refer to Harriet Martineau's comment: "The old practice of man holding man as property is nearly exploded among civilised nations; and the analogous barbarism of man holding the surface of the globe as property cannot long survive. The idea of this being a barbarism is now fairly formed, admitted and established among some of the best minds of the time; and the result is, as in all such cases, ultimately secure"; to secure land to exclusion of others without compensation to the community is to be a enslaver.

Lessons for the UK; The Canadian Election and Voting Systems

On May 2nd Canada held a Federal election, contested primarily by the governing Conservatives, the opposition Liberals and the New Democratic Party, and the Bloc Quebecois. The election was called because the ruling Conservative Party suffered a motion of no-confidence, subsequent to the electoral commission found that the Conservative Party had contravened the Elections Act five years prior. The Conservatives promised to re-introduce warrant-less Internet surveillance legislation along with a bundle of crime-related bills emphasising punishment, in contrast with preventative measures suggested by the opposition. The Conservatives promised to purchase no less than 65 F-35 attack jet fighters, whereas the NDP preferred a more defensive naval orientation. The Conservatives claimed that they were economically responsible, successfully steering the country through the financial crisis. The Liberals countered this, claiming that they had left the country with a $13 billion surplus which was now in deficit. The Conservatives wanted to cut company tax down to 15%; the NDP wanted to increase it by 1.5% and double the pension plan.

During the election the Conservatives expressed fears that there would be a left-wing coalition between the Liberals, the NDP, Le Bloc and the Greens. Prior to the poll, there was an enormous swing to the New Democratic Party, but most of this came from the Liberals and Le Bloc. This was replicated on polling day; the Conservatives, with a mere 39.62% (+1.96%) of the vote, have achieved a majority government with 167 seats (+24). The progressive vote was split between the New Democratic Party (30.63%, +12.44%, 102 seats, +66 seats), the Liberals (18.91%, -7.36%, 34 seats, -43), Bloc Quebecois (6.04%. -3.94%, 4 seats, -43) and the Greens (3.91%, -2.87%, 1 seat, +1).

This is the second election is succession won by the Conservatives with the range of left-leaning opposition parties achieving around 60% of the vote each time. This is absolutely maddening for the majority of Canadians who, once again, have to put up with a government that the majority does not support and will implement policies that they are opposed to. The reason for this alienating outcome is quite simple; Canada, like the United Kingdom, uses a first-past-the-post electoral system, which ultimately means for each seat (or "riding") that victory is given not to the majority, but to the biggest minority regardless of preferences or proportionality, a fact quickly pointed out by Fair Vote Canada.

Of course, many Canadians have some understanding of this. Not surprisingly, the NDP has strongly argued for mixed-member proportional representation. The Conservatives are certainly aware of the popular desire for electoral reform, but will not support any method that creates large ridings (which basically means opposing MMP) whereas the Liberal Party has consistently taken no position. When taken to referendum however, a single-transferable vote proposal received majority support but failed to reach the required 60% support in British Columbia in 2005, and MMP options failed to receive even a majority in Prince Edward Island, also in 2005, and Ontorio in 2007. Notably in the latter case those most of those who were aware of the issue were going to support the case for change, but over half the population were not.


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