Saturday, 8 December 2007
By Jon Friedman, MarketWatch
I want the media to stop the practice of identifying crazed fame-seekers, such as the gunman who killed eight people Wednesday in an Omaha mall before taking his own life. Don't release their names or photos.
By taking such a bold step, television, print and Web executives could help society and maybe even save lives. Media do-gooders often point to the positive ways in which they help people to live better lives. Now, those in charge can accomplish something truly noteworthy by doing nothing at all, and it wouldn't cost a dime.
Like everyone else, I winced when I heard that yet another troubled young man had gunned down innocent bystanders. This time, it happened in Omaha, but the script didn't seem all that different from the tragedies at Virginia Tech and Columbine.
I'll leave it to sociologists and psychiatrists to try to make sense of it. But I believe that media executives can help to minimize the possibilities of future incidents if they ceased to provide such high-profile publicity to these deranged gunmen.
The "gunman" in the Omaha episode was actually a teenager who desperately wanted the kind of publicity that the 24/7 media establishment could give him. He reportedly left behind a note proclaiming, "Now I'll be famous."
How did he know he'd be immortalized? Simple. He knew he could count on his enablers: The media would inevitably spread his fame by identifying him in reports in Omaha, across the U.S. and throughout the world.
We in the communications world practically enabled the kid by giving him, posthumously, what he wanted all along. Shame on us.
It doesn't have to be this way, though. What if the media covered all the nuances of the story but ceased naming the vicious and disturbed murderers who kill for the kicks of getting their names on the evening news and on the front pages of newspapers, magazines and Web sites?
I know well the argument against what I am proposing: The person's name is obviously a big element of the story. The public has a right to know. It's news.
That said, my point of view is an extreme one. I realize that once journalists are asked to start concealing public information, it could be construed as a slippery slope. However, I believe in this instance, the greater good to the public outweighs its need to know a lunatic fame-seeker.
The round-the-clock world of cable news, talk radio and the Internet practically demands that the media find a new and productive way to deal with society's misfits. It would take a Herculean amount of restraint for news executives to break with tradition, I know. But they could still cover the stories with drama and flair.
Show some class and some guts, folks.
News and politics
Media coverage was sparse during Abu-Jamal’s May 17 Philadelphia hearing before a three-judge panel from the United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The judges heard oral arguments on four different issues regarding the fairness of the original 1982 trial. Attorneys for Abu-Jamal, including Christina Swarns of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, argued that there is strong evidence that a racist judge and racist jury practices contributed to the sentencing of Abu-Jamal to death row.
Only progressive media like The San Francisco Bay View, a national Black newspaper, have published any of the 26 crime scene photos taken by photographer Pedro P. Polakoff. The photos—which the 1982 jury never saw—call into serious question the prosecution’s scenario.
But with a ruling from the May 17 appellate court anticipated at any time, the big-business press and their allies in the Fraternal Order of Police are rehashing an old tactic in their arsenal: trial by front page and jury made up of talk-show hosts.
They are unwilling to let Abu-Jamal exercise his constitutional rights to a fair trial with a jury of his peers in front of an unbiased judge, so lies and distortions about the case are presented as “facts” on the front pages of newspapers like the Philadelphia Inquirer, TV shows like NBC’s “Today,” and a recently released book co-authored by right-wing radio shock jock Michael Smerconish and Maureen Faulkner, widow of slain police officer Daniel Faulkner, entitled “Murder by Mumia.”
“Murder by Mumia” repeats the FOP’s official myths that “Mumia Abu-Jamal was unanimously convicted of the crime by a racially mixed jury based on the testimony of several eyewitnesses, his ownership of the murder weapon, matching ballistics, and Abu-Jamal’s own confession.”
Cops, media and courts in collusion
“The Today Show” has invited Maureen Faulkner and Smerconish, a former lawyer and fundraiser for the FOP, to appear on Dec. 6 to talk about their book. The group International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal is demanding that “Today” give equal time to present information of Abu-Jamal’s innocence and about the unfair trial he received.
The New York Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition and other supporters will protest outside the “Today” taping in New York City on Dec. 6.
To ensure fairness for Abu-Jamal on “Today,” the group Journalists for Mumia, along with ICFFMAJ and Educators for Mumia, initiated their own media-activist campaign urging people to write the “Today Show” at email@example.com asking it to present both sides of the Mumia Abu-Jamal/Daniel Faulkner case, by also featuring as guests Linn Washington, Jr., Philadelphia Tribune columnist and associate professor of journalism at Temple University, and Dr. Suzanne Ross, clinical psychologist and co-chair of the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, NYC. The International Action Center also helped launch an online petition for people to send to MSNBC. Go to www.iacenter.org.
As of result of the campaign, “Today” scheduled a telephone interview with Pam Africa of ICFFMAJ, who provided them with a press packet on the case.
The Fraternal Order of Police and the state powers that want to execute Mumia Abu-Jamal have always counted on people’s ignorance of and confusion about the facts surrounding this case. Since most people will never read the trial transcripts, the FOP feels free to present its own “facts”–lies that are never challenged and frequently repeated by mainstream media outlets like the Philadelphia Inquirer. That newspaper publishes a regular column by the pro-death-penalty Smerconish, who recently tried out to replace “Imus in the Morning” on WNBC after host Don Imus was fired for racist remarks.
The official myths have been rehashed by former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Buzz Bissinger in Vanity Fair magazine (August 1995), which also ran the “widow-fighting-by-herself” myth, thus hiding the role of the FOP.
In 1998 on ABC’s “20/20,” Sam Donaldson made no effort to hide his racism as he stated, “African-American activists believe that a black man was railroaded, and will continue to believe it, no matter what’s presented to them.” Donaldson was talking about major African- American figures like Angela Davis, Cornel West, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Sonia Sanchez and many more. He failed to mention that most of the prosecution witnesses had credibility problems.
Today, Faulkner’s book also fails to mention all the discredited prosecution witnesses, that the police never performed the standard “wipe test” to check for gunshot residue on Abu-Jamal’s hands and clothing, that the fatal bullet was too damaged to link to the particular traits of Abu-Jamal’s gun, or that Abu-Jamal’s alleged “hospital confession” was first officially reported to police more than two months after the Dec. 9, 1981, shooting.
Polakoff’s crime scene photos also show police officer James Forbes holding both Faulkner’s and Abu-Jamal’s guns with his bare hands touching the metal parts.
On the 26th anniversary of Abu-Jamal’s arrest in connection with the shooting death of Faulkner, his supporters are readying themselves for the next stage of the struggle when the appeals court’s ruling is announced.
A demonstration at Philadelphia’s City Hall at noon on Dec. 8, followed by an indoor rally at 2 p.m. at the Friends Center, 1501 Cherry, will also be used to air new evidence in support of Abu-Jamal’s innocence and to make clear that he sits on death row due to his revolutionary outspokenness against police brutality and all forms of injustice.
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News and politics
Thursday, 6 December 2007
U.N Climate Change conference in Bali - United Nations Frameworks of Convention for Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) 5th December 2007
NUSA DUA, INDONESIA: International bodies and governments must immediately establish effective mechanisms and create infrastructure to help the world’s poor cope with the climate change shocks that will devastate their lives, a food security expert said.
“The climate change is real and is posing great threats for the availability of food around the world,” said Menghestab Haile, Food Security Early Warning Advisor of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).
He was speaking at a side event of the United Nations Frameworks of Convention for Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Nusa Dua, Bali.
“WFP is presently fighting the hunger and destitution brought about by floods, droughts and other extreme events spurred by climate change,” he added.
With estimated temperature increases of between 2 and 3 C, climate change will bring with it more intense tropical storms as sea temperatures also rise, long droughts and other extreme climatic conditions in every corner of the world, especially in African, Asian and Latin American countries.
“Climate change threatens agriculture both in developed and developing countries. It has dramatic multiplier effects,” Haile added.
Climate shocks such as drought and flood can cause grave setbacks in nutritional status as food availability declines, prices rise and employment opportunities shrink.
Agricultural production and employment underpin many national economies. The agricultural sector accounts for over one-third of export earnings in around 50 developing countries, including Indonesia, and for almost half of employment in the developing world.
According to UNDP’s report, agricultural potential could increase by eight percent in developed countries, primarily as a result of longer growing seasons, while in the developing world it could fall by nine per cent by 2080.
With three-quarters of the world’s poor dependent on agricultural production, this has important implications for global poverty reduction efforts.
Emerging patterns of climate change risk in agriculture will have important implications for human development. Around three of four people in the world living on less than US$1 a day reside in rural areas. The same constituency also accounts for more than 800 million people in the world who are malnourished.
National projections for climate change in many regions in the world confirm potentially large-scale economic losses and damage to livelihoods.
In Indonesia, climate models simulating the impact of temperature changes, soil moisture content and rainfall on agricultural productivity show a wide dispersion of results, with yields falling by four per cent for rice and 50 per cent for maize. Losses will be especially marked in coastal areas where agriculture is vulnerable to salt water incursion.
“While the risks of climate change affect almost all societies, the poor households with their limited risk management capacity will, however, suffer the most,” Haile confirmed.
The inability of poor households to cope with climate shocks is reflected in the immediate human impacts, and increasing poverty.
Climate change will lower the incomes and reduce the opportunities for poverty reduction. By 2080, the number of additional people at risk of hunger could reach 600 million.
Deteriorating nutrition and falling incomes generate a twin threat: increased vulnerability to illness and fewer resources for medical treatment. Drought and floods are often catalysts for wide-ranging health problems, including increases in diarrhea among children, cholera, various skin-related problem and acute under-nutrition.
WFP has been active in implementing a number of approaches including humanitarian response mechanisms, assessment, vulnerability analysis and mapping.
“We have been carrying out analysis and mapping as well as comprehensive food security and vulnerability analysis in 80 countries,” he said.
WFP is now developing an Insurance Scheme for the poor as hunger safety nets for livelihood protection.
“Climate shocks can have devastating consequences for household assets and savings,” said Haile.
Assets such as live animals represent something more than a safety net for coping with climate shocks. They provide people with a productive resource, nutrition, collateral for credit, and a source of income to meet health and education costs, while also providing security in the event of crop failures. Their loss increases future vulnerability. (By RITA A WIDIADANA/ The Jakarta Post/ ANN)
At Bali conference, climate change victims say aid falls short
Victims of climate change, real and potential, appealed Tuesday for a vast increase in international aid to protect them from and compensate them for rising seas, crop-killing drought and other likely impacts of global warming.
"We cannot wait. We need to do something now," said climatologist Rizaldi Boer of Indonesia, some of whose farmers are already suffering from unusual dry spells blamed on climate change.
The "Adaptation Fund," being developed under U.N. climate agreements to enable poorer countries to adjust to a warmer world, has thus far drawn a mere $67 million for a task the World Bank estimates will cost tens of billions of dollars a year.
The almost 190 nations assembled here for the annual U.N. climate conference are taking up the fund's future among other issues on an agenda aimed chiefly at launching a two-year negotiating process to seal a deal to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
That 175-nation accord requires 36 industrial nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a key source of global warming, by an average 5% below 1990 levels by 2012. The United States is the only industrial nation that has rejected Kyoto.
The European Union and others are seeking a post-Kyoto agreement that would mandate much deeper reductions by industrial nations — including, they hope, the U.S. — in carbon dioxide and other such emissions from power plants, factories, vehicles and other sources.
Many here also want to see China and other major emerging economies take steps to curtail the increase in their emissions. The two weeks of talks promise to be difficult, with success far from guaranteed.
Operation, control and funding of the Adaptation Fund has been debated for years at these meetings of U.N. climate treaty parties.
The U.N. climate chief, Yvo de Boer, told reporters Tuesday he hoped it was possible that this meeting would finally make the fund operational, "so that perhaps in as little as a year before real resources for adaptation can begin to flow to developing countries."
The fund is expected to finance climate-change projects ranging from sea walls to guard against expanding oceans, to improved water supplies for drought areas, to training in new agricultural techniques.
All acknowledge, however, that the available money is relatively paltry.
The fund is financed by a 2-percent levy on revenues generated by the Clean Development Mechanism, the program whereby industrial nations pay for "carbon credits" produced by emissions-reduction projects in the developing world — credits then counted against reduction targets at home.
Those levies thus far are "tiny compared to the need," said Kate Raworth, a senior research with the Oxfam International aid group.
Oxfam and other advocacy groups favor a broadening of Adaptation Fund revenue sources, perhaps to include aviation taxes or direct taxes on all fossil-fuel use.
"The money should come from the countries most responsible and most capable," Raworth said, listing the United States, the European Union, Japan, Australia and Canada.
An Oxfam news conference was joined by a representative of the people of Papua New Guinea's Carteret Islands, in the far western Pacific, believed to be among the world's first "climate refugees."
As seas expand from warming and from the runoff of melting land ice, higher and higher tides are eating away at tiny places like the Carterets, a sandy atoll of a half-dozen islands.
Its 3,000 people, no longer able to grow taro, their staple crop, are preparing to abandon the islands over the next several years, resettling on designated land on nearby Bougainville island.
The islanders have a relocation appropriation of 2 million kina in local currency ($800,000), but to move 600 families that "doesn't go a long way," said their representative, Ursula Rakova.
"We still need more money, from people like America," she said.
Sinking islands deride climate change inaction
As the world tries to hammer out a future plan to tackle climate change, tiny islands say it is too late -- their homes and histories are disappearing under the rising sea.
Dressed in traditional grass and rattan skirts, the islanders used music, song and slide shows to tell their story to a tearful audience in a luxury hotel on the Indonesian island of Bali.
For nations and communities that sit only a few metres above sea level, even small ocean rises engulf their land and send destructive salty water into their food supply, leaving residents with little choice but to flee.
"Relocation for us is our only means of building our future. We will lose our identity, but we have no choice, the islands are shrinking," said Ursula Rakova, from the low-lying Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea.
"Do we leave our children so they float in the sea, or do we help them now?"
Climate experts say that as global warming heats the Earth up, glaciers and polar ice caps will melt and sea waters will expand, sending oceans rising by at least 18 centimetres (7.2 inches) by 2100.
World sea levels rose 3.1 millimetres (0.12 inch) per year from 1993 to 2003, the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said.
Representatives from the Carteret Islands, the Pacific nation of Kiribati, and islands in Australia's Torres Strait have brought their story to a UN climate conference being held here in Bali.
"For us as Kiribati people, the land is very important," said Tangaroa Arobati, a global warming activist from Kiribati, where about 92,500 people live on 33 coral atolls which sit about two or three metres above sea level.
"A very important thing is to have land and women. It gives us our future generation, and our land, this is our heritage."
As sea levels have crept higher, the coasts have eroded, corals have been bleached, and islanders' staple foods such as the giant Babai taro, coconut and banana are unable to grow in salty soil.
Drinking water is being contaminated with sea water, while extreme weather events beat coastlines, and fish are no longer abundant.
On the Carterets, where one island has been split in two by the encroaching sea, Rakova said hunger and desperation were sending the young men to mainland Papua New Guinea, or spiralling into depression.
"The young men of Carteret relieve their pain by getting drunk," she said.
Nearly 190 nations have gathered at the UN Bali meeting, which aims to see nations agree to negotiate a new regime to combat climate change when the current phase of Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012.
But activists say new targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would do little to held some Pacific islanders.
"They talk about climate change as if it is something that might happen in the distant future, something that might happen in 2020 or 2050 or even in 2100," said Tony Mohr, of the Australian Conservation Foundation.
"However vibrant cultures and communities of the Pacific are already experiencing climate change."
Islanders are urging the world to do all it can to reduce greenhouse gases and stop history repeating itself on other small islands.
They also want financial help from rich nations and practical assistance for the islanders, who will likely soon join a growing number of climate refugees.
"If this continues, maybe we will be left with three coconuts. We may be clinging to a very small piece of land. Where is our future?" said Kiribati's Arobati.
News and politics
Wednesday, 5 December 2007
Past players blame the administration but it's a cop-out. Too many of them queue up for the handouts provided by past fame and present sponsors. Too few of them serve in the confronting fields where players are made and broken. As far as West Indian cricket is concerned, the seeds of destruction were sown even as the victories continued in the 1980s. Bad habits set in but they did not seem to matter. West Indies still had great players and could trounce all comers. Not until the great men aged and the inadequacy of their replacements was exposed did any alarms bells ring, and by then it was too late. For a while the West Indies was able to produce just enough good men and wonderful cricketers to delay the inevitable, but there was too much strutting and not enough straining.
West Indian cricket and cricketers must carry the can for their own collapse. It has not been caused by basketball or soccer or even the weakness of administration (not that officials can escape censure). More than anything else the problem lay with the character of the players and the culture of the team. West Indies rose when it was on a mission but upon reaching the top became self-indulgent. The rest was inevitable. And champions have further to fall than anyone else. West Indies did not have a strong structure to fall back on, and therefore relied mostly on the talent and leadership qualities of the players. Once they fell into laziness, the game was in trouble because there was no back-up. As a result of these attitudes West Indian cricket is in a pretty pickle.
As a rule it is unwise to discount the possibilities of a restoration of previous powers merely because hard times have been encountered. Provided the underlying culture is strong, a bad patch will sooner or later end. Provided commitment is retained and the basics are respected, a country or company or school or family will rally. Properly regarded, setbacks can be instructive. Enduring cultures regard them not as calamities but challenges, and absorb their lessons.
Alas the rot runs deeper in the West Indies and so far no one has emerged to hold up the side. To the contrary, the game in the region has been blighted by self-interest. At the outset cricket in the Caribbean relied on co-operation between the islands and the embracing of a glorious idea. At first the game was sustained by the brilliance of the players and the desire to show that black men could hold their own, and what was more, behave better than anyone else. It was a fine motivation. Of course it was not all sweetness and light. For decades shrewd black players found themselves playing under dimwitted white captains - but then the world is full of folly, a custom that shows no sign of abating.
Nevertheless West Indian cricket pressed ahead. Between them the sugarcane fields and Sunday schools and soft-ball matches sent into the world an astonishing array of wonderful players and notable characters. Indeed the West Indies have produced both the game's most admired leader and most highly regarded writer: Frank Worrell and CLR James. Most of the truly great men of the game come from the Caribbean. Of course the islands have also had their black sheep. (Incidentally, has any evidence been produced proving that black sheep are worse than their white brethren?) The notion that West Indian cricket consisted solely of smiling fast bowlers and swashbuckling batsmen was patronising.
Hereabouts the culture of the game was powerful. As time passed and confidence rose, West Indies produced its first official black captain, and throughout the 1960s the Calypso Kings were the most popular and successful team around. It is an unusual combination. Brazil has had the same standing in soccer but generally domination demands harshness. Empires are not defended with feathers.
Towards the end of the decade the West Indies fell back. Meanwhile the demands for justice were growing, as independence movements fought for equality in Africa and elsewhere. A generation was born for whom pride was a starting point and not a conclusion, a generation tired of the tales of capitulation under pressure, a generation that rejected servility of the mind, a group that understood that deeds alone could silence sceptics.
Naturally the islands felt this surge. Inevitably cricket was affected. As far as West Indies was concerned, the two crucial moments were defeat at the hands of the Indians in 1971 and their destruction in Australia in 1975-76. Suddenly it was unacceptable. Unprepared any longer to shrug, and finding around him a bunch of like-minded players, including two great cricketers from Antigua (among the most angry of the islands), Clive Lloyd set out to prove that West Indies' time had come. He turned his side into an efficient fighting force, a supremely athletic team that played a ruthless power game. Inspired by the unifying idea, excited by their own remarkable gifts, and forcefully led by a captain able to set an example on the field and make players cower off it, West Indies ruled the roost.
The supremacy was glorious and enduring. Lloyd passed the mantle to Viv Richards, an explosive and politicised character whose intimidatory manner disguised insecurity and growing recklessness. He was a great batsman and a proud competitor who did not countenance defeat, but he turned a blind eye to excesses, including his own. Richie Richardson, the mildest of the Antiguans as Desmond Haynes was the angriest of the Bajans, came next, and already West Indies was losing its way. Men of the calibre of Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall had been replaced by Keith and Winston Benjamin. A succession of dubious glovemen and erratic pacemen were chosen. Not even Jimmy Adams and Ian Bishop could check the decline. West Indies lacked strength in depth and relied on talented charlatans.
Now the situation is even worse. Ten years of decline, a litany of failed captains, a list of sacked coaches, a series of defeats overseas, and a wasted but logistically well run World Cup (imagine building all those stadiums and not a single indoor training facility), and still West Indies fiddles. Still the selectors give further opportunities to failed and compromised players. Few of the players attract the attention of rich English counties. It is not that they lack ability. It is because too many players from the region have been idle, and the reputation has stuck. The imposing West Indian and Australian sides of recent years had one thing in common - many of the players turned out for English counties, where they experienced different conditions and bore the brunt for their sides.
West Indies needs to start again and can begin by sacking time-wasters. Marlon Samuels should have been dropped long ago, and he is not alone. Before it is too late West Indies must build its side around Dwayne Bravo, Omari Banks, Shiv Chanderpaul, Denesh Ramdin, Darren Sammy and other well-raised young men with a passion for the game and a sense of service. Chris Gayle is the hardest case because he expresses the best and worst in the current side. The Twenty20 project should be abandoned as a waste of money and the entire board sacked. West Indies thinks too much about the past. Everything should be focused on high standards, strong discipline, sustainable structures, good groundsmen, demanding competition, objective selection, visionary administration, and attacking cricket. Roger Harper, Bishop, Ottis Gibson, Gus Logie, Cardigan Connor and other good and true men have much to offer. The time has come to give them their heads.
Arsenal are playing some fantastic stuff and thoroughly deserve to be top of the Premier League.
After a mediocre 2006/07 [by their lofty standards] and the sale of Thierry Henry, the Gunners were written off by many a pundit, critic and football fan at the start of the season.
"Fourth was the best they could hope for," said some.
"Another year of transition," said others.
But Arsene Wenger knew different. He has moulded a side capable of playing in the exhilarating way to which we have become accustomed, but which has the steel and tenacity to scrap their way through games and come out on top.
So what's happened? Why have Arsenal been able to confound the critics and get off to their best ever Premier League start?
1. Strong management
England would take Wenger as manager in an instant. And no wonder. Every time his teams are written off he comes back with a vengeance.
He's a fixture at the Emirates and has a job for life if he wants it. Tactically he's spot on, while under that professor-like persona he has a ruthless will to win.
He has shown typical conviction by dumping Jens Lehmann for Manuel Almunia.
Now I don't personally rate Almunia that highly (he's not in the top three keepers in the league), yet he's been in inspired form. On the other hand Lehmann was an absolute liability at the start of the season, and has been the same off the pitch since. Will he ever learn to keep his mouth shut?
The same goes with Wenger's treatment of Gilberto. Everyone thought the Brazilian would be captain this season, never mind a dead cert to start in midfield. How wrong could we have been? Wenger believed Flamini was ready, and boy how right has he been.
Which brings me on to my next point ...
2. Wenger's faith in younger players
Yes, you can point fingers at the Frenchman for not bringing through many English youngsters, but you can't argue with his overall record of developing young players. If you're good enough you're old enough and reputation counts for nothing (as Gilberto is finding out to his cost).
Let's look at the current team for examples. Well, I've touched upon Flamini already, but there's the wonderful Fabregas, Clichy (who needs Ashley Cole, heh?), Sagna (looks as if he's been at Arsenal for years), Van Persie (I better not start or you'll never get me to shut up; amazing left foot; one of the most talented young players in the world - no question. Wenger has persevered with him, sorted out his temperament and he's fulfilling his potential (when fit, of course), and Eboue (his two bits of skill for Arsenal's goals against Villa were top draw - and he's still playing out of position).
And then there's the older players Wenger has stuck with. And he's getting his reward as a result.
Hleb is the one that stands out the most. Many football fans thought he would have been on his way out last European summer. Two years of mediocrity and he looked like a rare dud Wenger signing.
However, this season it's evident why Wenger persisted with him. It's amazing what a little bit of confidence and faith can do to a player. He's reborn, pulling Arsenal's strings and a constant threat. So skilful and quick. Excellent player.
And then there's Adebayor, who looks 40, so I'm classing him in the older bracket [he is in fact only 23]. Another who didn't look up to the task, but thanks to a little work from Wenger and his coaching staff, he has added purpose, substance and end product to his cacophony of skills. Undoubtedly benefitting from the sale of Henry as well.
Which brings me on to my next point ...
3. The sale of Henry
Wenger had shown in the past with Patrick Vieira that he was not afraid to sell key players when he felt they were past their best, but could still generate significant transfer revenue for the club. The same was pretty much the case with Henry.
The difference here though is that Henry was proving a disruptive influence in the dressing room. And it took balls for Wenger to act on it.
Henry was Arsenal's all time leading goalscorer, was one of the best players in the world and was adored by the fans (all thanks to Wenger I might add, who showed faith in him when Juventus showed none).
However, his heart wasn't fully in it any more, which Wenger knew, while it became a case that he dictated the way Arsenal played too much. They became too one-dimensional, too Henry-centered.
All their football went through him and it left the team relying on him far too much. Hence, when he was injured last season Arsenal struggled.
Now that he has gone, the strikers (Van Persie, when he was fit, and Adebayor in particular) are out of his shadow and are expressing themselves more, while the whole side is playing more like a team. There is a spirit which wasn't there last season.
Which brings me onto ...
4. Grit and determination
When Arsenal came under a bit of pressure last season, especially away from home, they folded like a badly baked merengue.
Yet, this season, it's been a different story. They had a fairly easy start to the season, playing a lot of the perceived weaker teams in the league, and it was always going to be interesting to see how they faired when the true tests came.
And they have faired very well. Unlucky not to win at Anfield despite being one down for a large chunk of the game, they fought back well to draw against Man United as well. And again, in a tough game against an in form Aston Villa last week, they came away with all three points. These are the matches you have to win if you want to win the title.
And I don't think it's been any coincidence that Arsenal's continued run at the top of the league has coincided with the return to fitness of ...
5. William Gallas
I still contend that the Frenchman was the key player in Chelsea's title wins and without him they have never looked as solid. And Arsenal really suffered during his long absences due to injury last season.
Now I know he's missed two months this season, but since he's been back he's looked fitter than he's ever been in an Arsenal shirt. He's getting stronger game by game and as he does, the Gunners will become harder and harder to score against. Quick, agile, strong - he's got all the attributes needed to keep Arsenal tight at the back and thus in the hunt for the Premier League title.
You don't win anything though unless you can create and score chances and Arsenal look so threatening this season thanks to their ...
6. Fantastic football
Arsenal have been playing 'excellent on the eye' football under Wenger for years, but their brand this year has been truly breathtaking. Simple, quick, one touch stuff which bamboozles the opposition and keeps them moving and chasing the ball.
It's not quite total football, but it's not far off. Clichy is like a winger, Toure could undoubtedly play in midfield or on the right wing, while most of the midfielders would be comfortable up front.
I can't see them taking anything other than the full three points against Newcastle tomorrow.
Speaking of Newcastle, I think it is ridiculous that Sam Allardyce has come in for so much criticism at Newcastle.
Yes, they have struggled in recent weeks, and yes, there are understandably high hopes, but give the man a chance. He needs four years like Alex Ferguson got. Judge him after that.
He inherited a poor team, and players beset by bad habits. He needs time to get rid of the dross and totally reconstruct the side.
It's a worry for Allardyce that some players are rebelling against his methods though, [he needs to get rid of them as soon as possible] while it doesn't help that key players Owen, Viduka and Given are always injured. He needs to get them fit asap.
Whether he gets the time though remains to be seen. I think he will.
Tuesday, 4 December 2007
In an investigation reported on first by Wikinews, Wikileaks today revealed another chapter in the story of the Standard Operations Procedure manual for the Camp Delta facility at Guantanamo Bay. The latest documents they have received are the details of the 2004 copy of the manual signed off by Major General Geoffrey D. Miller of the U.S. Southern Command. This is following on from the earlier leaking of the 2003 version. Wikileaks passed this document to people they consider experts in the field to carry out an analysis trying to validate it. Following this, they set out to assess what had changed between 2003 and 2004; including attempts to link publicly known incidents with changes to the manual. Wikinews obtained the document and did an in depth analysis.
One of the first prominent changes to the document relates to the detainees themselves. Previously they read the camp rules during admission processing. Rules are now posted around the camp in detainees' languages. The English version of the rules is as follows:
Your decision whether or not to be truthful and comply will directly affect your quality of life while in this camp.
Of concern to groups such as Amnesty International who campaign for the camp's closure, or Human Rights Watch pointing out prisoner handling under the prisoner of war aspects of the Geneva Convention, is the fact that policy for newly admitted detainees still allows for up to 4 weeks where access to the detainee by the International Committee of the Red Cross may be denied. In addition, guards are not to allow ICRC staff to pass mail to detainees.
Despite these changes, a great deal of effort has gone into ensuring the furore over detainee abuse does not recur. Rules governing the use of pepper spray (Oleoresin Capsicum, or OC) appear at an earlier point in the manual with considerable expansion. Infractions such as spitting, throwing water at, or attempting to urinate on guards appear as explicitly listed cases where pepper spray may not be used. Extensive decontamination procedures are included in the document, including immediately calling for a medical check on any detainee exposed to pepper spray. This was not previously present.
As a counter to the clearer instructions on use of pepper spray, Wikileaks asserts that many of the stricter rules for guards (referred to as Military Police or MPs in the 2003 manual) aim to reduce fraternisation that may improve detainee morale and adversely influence any interrogation process. Guards are informed in the manual not to take personal mail and parcels within the detention blocks or at any other duty stations. All electronic devices except issued materiel are prohibited, and guards may face disciplinary action should they keep detainees apprised of current affairs or discuss issues in their personal lives.
Additional restrictions on the detainees' chaplain are included in the revised document. Wikileaks speculated that many of these changes might have stemmed from the widely publicised case of James Yee. Captain Yee, a West Point graduate, served at the Guantanamo Bay base as a Muslim chaplain to the detainees and received two Distinguished Service medals for his work. Following discovery of a list of detainees and interrogators by U.S. Customs in Florida Yee was charged with sedition, aiding the enemy, spying, espionage, and failure to obey a general order. Eventually all charges were dropped with national security concerns being raised should evidence be released.
The most notable changes surrounding the role of the chaplain include the removal of a permanent position on the facility's Library Working group and exclusion from the decision process on appropriate detainee reading material. Wikileaks contacted lawyers representing detainees in the camp to perform their own analysis. Their opinion of the changes were that the library operation had been considerably tightened up. Duplicate books are required for the individual four camps to prevent covert use of books to communicate between camps. Periodicals, dictionaries, language instruction books, technology or medical update information, and geography were additions to the prohibited material. Instructions indicate such books must be returned to the source or donor.
The revised SOP manual makes considerable progress on documenting procedures, even those that are remote possibilities. A lengthy addition details rules to follow in the event of an escape or escape attempt. Laced throughout this procedure is an emphasis on having any such incident fully documented and - wherever possible - filmed. The procedure is explicit in how to recapture an escaped detainee with minimal use of force. One additional procedure covers the admission of ambulances to the main base area. A detailed security protocol to ensure only expected and authorised traffic gains access is included; a procedure streamlined to ensure the ambulance arrives on the scene as quickly as possible.
Unchanged from the 2003 manual is the set menu of four MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) issued to detainees However, additional steps are to be taken called "MRE Sanitization"; supply personnel must remove anything that can damage waste disposal systems - presumably a military term for toilets. Under normal camp conditions detainees should be fed hot meals as opposed to MREs, no details on the variety of menu are included.
Wikinews attempted to get feedback on this. US Southern Command passed a query onto the public relations officer at Camp Delta who responded; questions were forwarded along with a request to authenticate the leaked document; a response is pending. At this time no response to emails has been received from the ICRC or Human Rights Watch.
The Pentagon has requested that the document be removed from Wikileaks because "information with the FOUO (For Official Use Only) label is not approved for release to the public." They then state that the document can be "made available through a Freedom Of Information Act request through official channels."
News and politics
Nick Rowley, a former climate policy advisor to Tony Blair, joins Lateline to discuss the environment.
TONY JONES: I'm joined in the studio now by Nick Rowley, a founder and director of the climate change consultancy Kinesis, and a former senior policy adviser on sustainability and climate change to the British prime minister Tony Blair.
Thanks for being here.
NICK ROWLEY, DIRECTOR OF KINESIS: Pleasure.
TONY JONES: We saw the spontaneous round of applause from the delegates at the Bali conference, to the announcement that Australia had actually ratified the Kyoto Protocol. I mean, what sort of impact is this likely to have, in reality?
NICK ROWLEY: Well I mean, I think that in looking at the Bali meeting, which is a very significant UN meeting, they take place annually. The Bali meeting is a big meeting.
Hopefully you're going to get an agreement with regard to a road map which is going to help develop what the parameters of a post 2012 treaty are going to be. And for a country, that over the last 10 years that has pretty much been lock step with the United States, not in being party to the negotiations, playing an active role but really saying, 'well, the current protocol is inadequate, there are problems with it' and really not engaging in a positive way.
For Kevin Rudd, today, in his first act as Prime Minister it appears, to actually ratify the global climate treaty and for that announcement to be made in the context of this UN meeting, is significant.
Indeed in speaking to some of the people who were already there, and part of the Australian delegation as I did today, they were saying to me 'well, you know, you walk down corridors and people are actually walking towards you rather than walking past you, or actually not wanting to engage with you'.
So there was a focus globally, on the position of the Australian Government and that the Australian Prime Minister is actually going to this meeting I think also is very significant.
TONY JONES: I'll come to that. He's invested a lot of political capital in this as his very first act, hasn't he?
NICK ROWLEY: He has, he has. And yet, I think that Kevin Rudd understands that this is a very, very challenging area of policy.
And if you look at his appointments - he's appointed Penny Wong to head up climate change and water, Peter Garrett is there in environment. We've got Wayne Swan, who was actually in London, just prior to the Stern review into the economics of climate change, receiving briefings in the UK Treasury.
Kevin Rudd, as well as making this very much part of his individual political project as Prime Minister, I think he's building a team around him also who can help develop the policy response required, both internationally and domestically.
TONY JONES: Yes. The policy response is going to be extremely complex, as we know. The critical question is, how are those different roles going to be broken down? It looks like Penny Wong has been given the difficult task of negotiating and doing the mathematics, if you like. Peter Garrett for vision, is that the way you see it?
NICK ROWLEY: Well I don't know if it's just for vision. I mean we in Australia - although I wasn't around in Australia for all of his greatest songs - but nonetheless many people in Australia relate to Peter Garrett as the man on the stage who used to have a funny dance and sing-songs.
But I think internationally, he does have a pretty high profile amongst people who understand environment policy. So he's not perceived in the UK or in Europe as someone who sort of sings songs and has decided to have a political career. He's seen as someone who's pretty serious and robust on environment policy and a pretty smart man when it comes to actually selling the sort of actions and policies required to tackle the climate problem.
Even just looking at your program tonight. It was a program largely concentrated on the climate problem, but it wasn't a program that actually even talked about major forms of energy supply.
It was talking about deforestation, it was talking about farming and indeed it was talking about private transport. Now it just shows that if you're going to have an adequate policy response to a problem of this complexity, you have to look across the policy landscape in government.
I think that if you look at the appointments that Kevin Rudd has made and some of the administrative arrangements, I think we can - it's early days to make conclusions about how these things operate in practice - but I think that you're looking at a form of leadership in Australia now that is not saying well this is just an area of environment policy and we need to do a few tokenistic things.
I think we're looking at a government that potentially is going to start adopting climate policy calibrated around some very clear principles, around what the targets are that need to be established and indeed, hit within the domestic economy, how you're going to monitor performance against those targets. And indeed be brought accountable for them.
So if you look at the sort of politics of climate change, you look at the policy response, some of that response in any jurisdiction - I'm not just talking about Australia - has been quite superficial. Some of it has been more robust. But putting solar PVs on the roofs of schools is not a bad thing to do. I think it's a good thing, I think but it's more to do with actually engaging with the public on the issue, than really serious emissions reduction.
TONY JONES: Some of the relief we saw, in fact the expressed relief from the conference delegates is that as you pointed out, Canberra had broken step with Washington. Will Kevin Rudd's move have any effect at all, with the current US Administration and their views on this?
NICK ROWLEY: I don't think so. I think that really George Bush is someone who, well, I mean maybe this is a little unfair, but it's almost beyond redemption in relation to his perspective on this area of policy.
He convened a meeting in last September, which was the 15th largest emitters in the world. And although there was a fair amount of rhetoric about the importance of the UN process, essentially that is viewed within Europe and other countries around the world as a bit of a spoiling exercise. My view is that that will change. I think that it is very likely that the next president of the United States that should be in office by January the 20th, 2009, is likely to take a far more progressive view on this area of policy.
Now that doesn't necessarily mean that we're going to have in the US, like we had in Australia - a complete change in terms of their perspective on the Kyoto Protocol. But I think that pretty soon after the election of the next US President, you're likely to get some form of emissions trading system domestically within the US, and a far more positive level of engagement internationally on this issue.
And that is going to be very significant. Because I think that that is part of unlocking the very complex lock which is how one can get commitments from the rapidly developing economies - China, India, Brazil, Russia, South Africa and Mexico.
TONY JONES: And importantly, this change of government in the United States will definitely take place before the next big round of talks at Copenhagen?
NICK ROWLEY: Well I think that what can we expect from Bali? I mean Bali really is sort of the start. Bali hopefully, there's going to be an agreement in relation to a process and a road map, whereby the broad parameters of a global treaty can be agreed by 2009.
In 2009 the UN meeting will be taking place in Copenhagen. In Copenhagen I believe, well, certainly after a change in government in the US, I believe highly likely after a change in government with a new president, that has a far more progressive view.
Also that that meeting is taking place in Europe, and means that it is highly likely to attract heads of state. And certainly from the work that I did when I was working at Downing Street with Tony Blair, I've got a very firm view that when it comes to the really serious diplomatic breakthroughs, in terms of this problem, that is going to happen at a head of state level, not just at a level of environment ministers.
TONY JONES: In order to shut down the election campaign debate over Peter Garrett's comments about whether Australia would sign a new global treaty if developing countries like India and China were not subject to mandatory reductions, Kevin Rudd came out and said it's absolutely fundamental, it's a precondition.
Does that make his negotiating position already pre-ordered, if you like, and too difficult therefore?
NICK ROWLEY: Well, that was an election campaign and of course, election campaigns we all have, if anybody's working around election campaigns as I have in the past is that, one's blood pressure tends to get pretty high, and decisions are taken in response to the broad sort of flow of a campaign rather than the sort of policy merits of any position.
I think that certainly there need to be commitments from those rapidly developing economies and I think it's highly likely that there will be. But I don't think that we're going to get a treaty, which has a single level of targets that all economies around the world need to sign up to.
I think we're going to have to have a response which is calibrated to the domestic, economic and political circumstances within those countries.
TONY JONES: So everyone commits to reductions at some level, but it happens on different tracts. In fact, Kevin Rudd did, I think, during the campaign make that point?
NICK ROWLEY: That's right, on different tracts. So although you have an economy maybe like India's, that may not be willing to sign up to mandatory emission reduction targets at this point in time, you would have an ability for them to do so later in the piece.
But also they would commit to actually doing something and therefore, the question is what would that be? Well it might be that they have a clear commitment to a certain proportion of their energy supply coming from renewable sources.
They have a certain commitment to certain forms of energy efficiency, or avoiding deforestation. So there are plenty of things that any large economy can do to help tackle the climate problem within a global treaty, that is not actually part of a broad cap and trade system as crudely understood.
TONY JONES: It's a big question though, because India and China as we understand it with their plans - we spoke to Tim Flannery about this earlier this year - with their plans on the drawing board to build 600 new coal-fired power stations could upset the whole apple cart if they're allowed to continue with those plans. I mean do we actually have the luxury to allow them to proceed on a different track?
NICK ROWLEY: Well, I mean it's what that track is, is the key question. You've got around about 80 per cent of primary energy being generated in China, by coal-fired power stations. That simply is not going to change that much over the coming 10 to 20 years.
But then the key question is how can you actually apply new technologies, cleaner coal technologies to actually reducing the emissions impact of that energy growth?
I hope I'm not a naive optimist in this area, but I think that cleaner coal technology has enormous potential. I don't say that as an expert, I say that as someone who's spoken to some of the people up in Newcastle who are working for CSIRO on some of those technologies.
TONY JONES: Yes but the problem is, as far as I understand it, maybe this is happening now, but when I spoke to Nicholas Stern earlier this year it evidently wasn't happening.
Who's doing the geological surveys in India and China to find the holes to put the CO2 into, that is, the giant aquifers, the saline aquifers?
Do they exist in these countries? Are they near to where the coal-fired power stations are? If we don't know that, we can't solve the problem.
NICK ROWLEY: Well I'm tempted to say, here's a map that I prepared earlier, but unfortunately I don't have that map, it's not my area of expertise.
But of course it's a very important question. I mean if you look at Australia, there are, as I understand it, there's quite major potential for sequestration of CO2 from places like the La Trobe Valley. If you go to the Hunter Valley, the geomorphology of that area actually mitigates against that. So that presents a really difficult and...
TONY JONES: Can you imagine how much trouble we're in, if the geomorphology, as you call it, of India and China where the coal-fired power stations are, and where they're planning to put 600 more, doesn't work, then we're in serious trouble aren't we?
NICK ROWLEY: Tony, we're in serious trouble on climate change anyway, okay? And my view is that unless we find some way of cleaning up coal-fired power stations in rapidly developing technologies, then you know, it ain't going to be nuclear that gets us there. We've got the - I mean, despite statements made by former Australian prime ministers about the enormous potential of nuclear.
You've the most ambitious new nuclear building program in the world ever, in China. They aim to have around about 30 new coal-fired power stations by 2030. Say they do that, that equals 6 per cent of their energy needs. The great bulk of their energy will be provided by coal.
I just go back to the people who really do look into this whole area and they're saying there is enormous potential, technically, to not create clean coal - which I don't believe exists, but cleaner coal within these rapidly developing economies. And they will say it's not actually a technical problem, what it is, is a policy and political problem. We need to get very clear incentives to having those economies using those new technologies very quickly.
TONY JONES: We'll go back to the beginning. We heard about the symbolic importance of Australia signing or ratifying the protocol. What about the simple fact that developing countries are hardly likely to listen to a country that got a special deal on its Kyoto emissions can actually increase them?
Won't Australia be under an enormous amount of pressure to do something about that obvious disparity, between them and the underdeveloped countries?
NICK ROWLEY: Well the whole circumstances whereby the negotiation took place in 1997 for the very, I think 'undemanding' might be the word, target that was signed up to by Senator Hill, is a bit of interesting climate history.
The way I sort of look at this is, if you go back to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, five years then passed and in 1997 the world negotiated the Kyoto Protocol.
Now what was the level of public awareness in relation to this issue, back in 1992 or indeed in 1997? We've got about five years from now where we sit in 2007, until we need to land an adequate global treaty by 2010, but we're going off a far, far higher base in terms of the level of public engagement and the level of political engagement around the world on this issue.
You almost can't want to be re-elected in a democracy without a progressive view on this issue. This is something well beyond the classic left right divide. Some of the most progressive people and leaders around the world on climate policy are from the right, whether that's Nicholas Sarkozy or Arnold Schwarzenegger or Angela Merkel in Germany. This is getting beyond party politics.
And that is what really fills me with some sense of hope, that over the coming two years to be landed in 2009 at the Copenhagen meeting, we can agree, not a treaty which has very clear caps, is based around the sort of Kyoto rather rigid framework, but is actually calibrated around what needs to be achieved in terms of the global emissions reduction in target. And is pretty flexible in terms of how it is, the players in the game who all need to play in the game can be part of achieving that emissions reduction.
So I don't fret too much about how Australia or the current Government is going to be viewed in relation to its performance on what was a deal that was done in 1997.
I think it's far more important and looking at the evidence of what's being said, at least by the new Australian Government, we need to be absolutely focused and rigorous around what the parameters are for that global treaty. And how Australia can be part of building that new global treaty over the coming little while.
TONY JONES: Nick Rowley, that's a good place to leave you for now. We'll see you again, no doubt. Next year in fact, for us.
And we'll leave you there.
NICK ROWLEY: Thank you, Tony.
News and politics
Monday, 3 December 2007
It might seem like an easy promise to make for now: the average American emits 20 times more carbon than the average Indian, not least because more than 600 million Indians still live in homes without so much as a lightbulb, according to government data.
But the pledge is the closest India has come -- and is likely to come for now -- to agreeing to measurable targets, underlining its emphasis on the idea that polluting, industrialised nations must shoulder the greater burden in reducing emissions.
The absence of such targets for developing nations like India and China has long been a sticking point with the United States, and was one reason it remained outside the Kyoto Protocol, which binds 36 rich nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
India is expected to negotiate from this position as it meets with about 190 nations in Bali this month to begin a two year process to find a new agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.
"The prime minister has said that we will make our development path in such a careful way that 20, 30 years down the line we still don't cross the per-capita emissions of the developed world," Jayant Mauskar, a senior environment ministry official, told Reuters.
India's widely awaited climate change strategy is yet to be published, but Mauskar said this idea remained the "bedrock" of India's position.
"It provides a challenge to the developed countries," said Rajendra Pachauri, an Indian scientist and member of the prime minister's climate change council.
"If they want India to reduce or limit its emissions, they need to ensure that they provide the bar that must never be crossed."
CHALLENGE FOR INDIA
Pachuari, who was jointly awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize as the head of the U.N. climate change panel, said it could prove a meaningful commitment in the long-term.
"If some countries are talking about emission cuts of up to 80 percent by 2050 then it really could become a challenge for India," he said.
Looked at from one angle, India is the world's fourth largest emitter of the greenhouse gases believed to be the cause of climate change. But India prefers to think of itself as representing about a sixth of humanity, yet responsible for only about a twentieth of global emissions.
Most other countries agree with this view, and accept that India must be allowed to burn more energy as it tries to lift hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty.
This gives India a strong position in Bali from which it can demand greater action from rich nations, environmentalists say.
India also deserves some praise for leading the developing world in introducing clean-development policies, said Shruti Shukla of environmental group WWF, even if the policies are sometimes slow in becoming ground realities.
Climate change is expected to have an especially disastrous impact on India. Exacerbated droughts and floods would hurt the two-thirds of Indians who depend on farming for a living.
"I don't know why everybody's hung up on mitigation," said the environment ministry's Mauskar. "Adaptation is the first thing we have to tackle."
He repeated India's claim that it is forced to spend around 2 percent of its gross national product -- or 12 percent of its annual budget -- on dealing with the effects of climate change.
But many people see these figures as over-inflated, as they include its spending on things like anti-malaria and anti-poverty programmes, which India would have to deal with regardless of climate change.
News and politics
Democratic Audit of Australia Discussion Paper No. 19/06
AbstractThe last decade since the Howard government came to power has seen a dramatic change in the democratic model underlying the relationship between NGOs and the government. However, to date, few in the NGO sector seem aware of the theoretical model which is impacting on them. As a result, there has been little discussion of this issue and its implications for Australian democracy. Understanding the theory behind the changes in NGO/government relationship may be valuable for NGOs in making sense of the different attacks which they have experienced, in understanding the coherent nature of the attacks, and in formulating a strategic response. However, most importantly, its democratic implications are worthy of wider debate in the general community.
The last decade since the Howard government came to power has seen a dramatic change in the democratic model underlying the relationship between NGOs and the government. However, to date, few in the NGO sector seem aware of the theoretical political model which is impacting on them. As a result, there has been little discussion of this issue and its implications for Australian democracy.
In 2004, Maddison, Denniss and Hamilton demonstrated that advocacy NGOs believe they are being pressured into silence by policies and practices of government, particularly of the Federal Government. Lack of a sector awareness of the theory behind these often antagonistic policies and practices, may be due to many factors - the disparate nature of the sector, its volunteer structure and frequent change of personnel, its lack of resources, and general lack of an ‘NGO sector consciousness’ by the many players across a wide range of interest groups. Understanding this theory behind the changes in NGO/government relationship may be valuable for NGOs in making sense of the different attacks which they have experienced, in understanding the coherent nature of the attacks, and in formulating a strategic response. However, most importantly, its democratic implications are worthy of wider debate in the general community.
Defining the Sector and its Importance
Social scientists typically divide society into three – the state, the market and the community.
A Venn diagram with its overlapping circles is a useful model often used to represent the complex nature of the intersection of the three sectors. Continuing change in our society has seen organisations in each sector develop hybrid features and move into the overlapping sections. For example, the activities of many utilities, which were formerly the function of government, are now performed by semi-independent corporations. Because of this complexity, this paper will rely on this diagram rather than attempt a verbal definition. It is on the sector identified as ‘community’ on which it will focus, and, in particular, on those in that sector which attempt to play a part in public policy formulation.
The circle labelled ‘community’ has many names and those names change mainly depending on who is talking, rather than because of descriptive differences. In international circles and the UN, it is called civil society. In the UK and in some academic circles it is called ‘the third sector’. Indigenous and social justice people tend to call them community groups. Other common names are the non-profit sector, the voluntary sector, in Europe the social economy and, increasingly in Australia, the non-government, or NGO, sector. This paper has chosen to use the term ‘NGO sector’ as it is the name most frequently used by practitioners in Australia.
A strong NGO sector has long been seen as integral to how a democracy operates. In most democratic models, the sector plays an important political role in shaping public advocacy. However, it also reflects a society back to itself through its social and sporting clubs, its cultural organisations, its social justice and environmental organisations. The richer and more diverse and vibrant a society is, so the organisations will reflect that richness. These organisations are the source of ideas on the society we might become, and of aspirations and ideas that should be contested and debated to provide a rich brew from which a vibrant society can develop. The sector is also ever-changing to reflect changes in interests, values and priorities of the society.
Public Choice Theory
In 1991, just five years before the Howard Government came to power, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Community Affairs brought down a report in which it commented on the role of non-government groups. The Committee said:
An integral part of the consultative and lobbying role of these organisations is to disagree with government policy where this is necessary in order to represent the interests of their constituents.
Note that they said non-government organisations should ‘disagree’ with Government where necessary. Contrast this Parliamentary Committee statement with John Howard’s Menzies Lecture, delivered in 1996, the year he came to power. The lecture was entitled, ‘The Liberal Tradition: The Beliefs and Values Which Guide the Federal Government’. In it, Howard referred to the NGO sector as ‘single-issue groups’, ‘special interests’ and ‘elites’ and he promised that his government would be ‘owned by no special interests, defending no special privileges and accountable only to the Australian people’.
This discursive shift represents a move to a model of democracy known as public choice theory, which is part of the neo-liberal paradigm. Public choice theory is also the neo-liberal theory that has developed the most detailed analysis of the role of NGOs. Federal government statements are now couched in public choice language, so it is crucial for understanding NGO/government relationships to understand the theoretical underpinning of the theory.
Public choice theory was developed by economists who were uncomfortable with what they saw as a lack of precision in political theory, which deals with the untidy complexity of human emotions, aspirations and ideas. They saw themselves as improving the analysis by removing that complexity and describing the world of politics and interest groups within the marketplace. Significantly, public choice theory claims that interest groups are predatory and will try to obtain benefit for their members that stifle economic growth. The theory denies the existence of altruism in the behaviour of NGOs. It also ignores the rich variety of theories in the disciplines of sociology and psychology, which seek to explain human motivation and behaviour in a more holistic manner, inclusive of our social, intellectual, sexual and spiritual needs. As well, it ignores the fact that NGOs can take a long-term perspective, even past the lifespan of the individuals and the life of the group.
The theory has been around for some 50 years. Its founder, Buchanan, received a Nobel Prize for economics in 1986 for the theory. However, its implementation into public policy has been most pronounced during the past decade coinciding with a rise in the neo-liberal paradigm. Its influence has been strongest in Britain, New Zealand, Australian and the United States. In Australia, a seminal event was a visit from the key British public choice theorist, Marcur Olsen, in 1984, which assisted in raising interest in public choice theory and resulted in his writing, ‘Australia in the Perspective of the Rise and Decline of Nations’.
Public choice theorists reject the pluralist concept of many voices in society debating public policy to develop a consensus. For example, Mancur Olsen rejected this idea of developing a public consensus, saying, ‘Coherent national policies cannot be expected from a series of ad hoc concessions to diverse interest groups’. There is some similarity with Howard’s Menzies lecture where he stated that he wanted to govern for the ‘mainstream’ ‘rather than an amalgamation of special interests’, and there are many instances where the language of public choice theory is found in that of Prime Minister Howard, his Ministers and neo-liberal think tanks, such as the Institute of Public Affairs.
Public choice theorists also reject any advocacy role for NGOs because they are seen to interfere with the marketplace and are predatory. It is claimed that the way interest groups do this is by, ‘the disruptive effects of the pursuit of self interest’ creating ‘excessive expectations’ on the economy. These ‘excessive expectations’ are greater than the ability of the economy to respond and this is described as a ‘lack of accountability’. An example of a pie is used to represent the economy. Environment groups may ask for various forests to be protected, ACOSS for more generous welfare payments, and so on, such that the total claims are greater than the pie, or greater than the economy’s capacity to pay for these demands. Therefore, NGOs are behaving in a way that is not accountable. This is a very narrow view of representative democracy and a rejection of a pluralist or discursive model in which debate occurs in the media, and other public forums, as part of developing public policy.
In rejecting debate by NGOs about public policy, public choice theory says that only elected representatives are accountable through the election process. An emphasis on the lack of accountability of NGOs has been a consistent theme of the Howard government and neo-liberal think tanks. Both NGOs and academics have frequently interpreted this attack on their ‘accountability’ and legitimacy as being about their internal governance arrangements. It is absolutely essential that NGOs have their houses in order and use robust, transparent and accountable arrangements in running their organisations. However, they may be mistaken if they believe that doing so will remove government criticism on the grounds of ‘accountability’. Accusing NGOs of not being accountable is a statement of a political world view, a public choice paradigm, in which only elected representatives are accountable to the people. Restructuring and internal governance reforms by NGOs cannot change this paradigm.
This is not the only aspect of the government/NGO relationship causing confusion to some in the sector. On the one hand, they are lauded if they fill the void caused by smaller government and do good works such as planting trees or housing the homeless, or develop community enterprises for the unemployed or develop ‘social capital’. They are also being encouraged to ‘come into the fold’ by joining government-NGO ‘partnerships’. The value of examining the total picture of government policy within the paradigm of public choice theory is to show that these relationships are consistent with public choice theory. However, they come at a cost – that of giving up the democratic role of contributing to the public policy debate. The Howard Government has been proactive since its inception in trying to enforce such a paradigm.
Decade Overview of Howard Government Actions Against NGOs
A range of mechanisms which undermine the legitimacy of NGOs have been apparent under the Howard Government. All are consistent with public choice theory. While each mechanism by itself may not be a threat to democratic process and freedom of speech, it is in the totality of the overall picture and in the coherent nature of the attacks, consistent with public choice theory, that there is the possibility of a threat to democracy as we have known it. De-funding is the best-known, but it is only one component in a suite of mechanisms.
The 1970s was a time of dynamic intellectual debate on how to create a just society. Emerging from that debate was Government funding to assist unrepresented and poorly represented groups to be heard. With the assumption of power by the Howard Government, the NGO sector experienced an intense period of de-funding. Marion Sawer has pointed out that many of the groups that were de-funded in this period because of their criticism of Government were some of the poorest and most disempowered Australians. Some were, for example, the Australian Federation of Pensioners and Superannuants, National Shelter, the Association of Civilian Widows, and the Australian Youth Policy and Action Coalition.
In 2000-02, Ruth Melville conducted a major study into peak groups in the area of social welfare, non-English speaking background, health, aged, disability, and women and children’s peaks. She found that more than 50% had lost significant amounts of funding and another 20% had totally lost funding. She was able to demonstrate that nearly a third of these peak organisations had lost funding because of their public advocacy and related changes to Government funding policy.
It is the activity of public advocacy by NGOs that is significant in public choice theory and that is reflected in the actions of the Howard government. NGO activity in relation to good works – feeding the homeless or planting trees – is commended. In fact, it is consistent with the Government’s neo-liberal philosophy of smaller government. It is comment on public policy, or any attempt to influence public policy, that is seen as interfering with the market, or as public choice theorists say the ‘disruptive effects of the pursuit of self interest’ creating ‘excessive expectations’ on the economy. So, NGOs are commended if they go about their activities filling in the gaps left by the withdrawal of Government, but are criticised if they attempt to have any say in policy.
After the first round of de-funding, the process has continued. Many of the peaks surveyed by Melville no longer exist or exist in name only, and even during the 3 years of her study, 2000-02, over 20 nationally funded peaks were de-funded. The first 5 years of the Howard government saw funding to environment organisations cut and exclusion from major advisory bodies, with 1999 the year when many of the larger organisations were completely de-funded because of their opposition to the weakening of the Government’s major environmental legislation. That process continued in 2005 with funding withdrawn from many of the State Conservation Councils, which support hundreds of smaller groups. Instead, the money has been given to groups which do good works, but which do not engage in public advocacy.
Three More Silencing Methods
De-funding has shut down many voices, but it is only a small part of the picture. At the same time, forced amalgamations have silenced alternative views, purchaser-provider contracts bring NGOs closer to being an arm of Government and confidentiality clauses are explicit restraints upon freedom of expression.
Firstly, forced amalgamations have weakened the advocacy of groups by subsuming specific interests. For example, in the women’s area, those of a feminist perspective have been forced under threat of de-funding to amalgamate with non-gender specific groups. The Association of Non-English Speaking Background Women was de-funded and advised to ‘mainstream’ its advocacy through the Federation of Ethnic Councils. Yet it was created specifically because ethnic women felt they were having difficulty being heard through the male-dominated councils. Most forced amalgamations have served to remove those whose advocacy does not fit the Government’s ‘family’ and moral agenda, for example lesbian rights groups.
Secondly, purchaser-provider contracts have replaced core funding which was to fund the representative role of an organisations in providing informed advice to the Government. Core funding was especially important for peak groups in servicing a range of groups within a sub-sector, assisting them with a range of information relevant to their administration and advocacy and in determining group positions on advocacy questions. In contrast, the purchaser-provider contracts require the delivery of specific outcomes directly related to the Government’s policy and objectives. Meeting the often onerous assessment processes in relation to outcomes, which are part of the Government’s agenda, means there is very little capacity to advocate on behalf of members and their interests.
Thirdly, confidentiality clauses appeared at the same time that purchaser-provider contracts became the norm. They now appear in some form in most contracts that NGOs have with the Federal Government. These clauses have requirements that the organisation not speak to the media without first obtaining the approval of the appropriate department or minister. Some appear to forbid any public activity. Apart from the direct censorship involved, voices are likely to be silenced, even if a media release is approved, because delay risks lack of relevance with the speed of media stories today. Even groups working on habitat rehabilitation and feeding the homeless are now finding that any relationship with Government results in confidentiality clauses being imposed on them.
Wider Mechanisms Other than Direct Funding Taxation Measures
In 2000, the Government began a Charities Definition Inquiry and its report supported NGOs being able to engage in advocacy. However, when a draft Charities Bill was released following the Inquiry, it became clear that the definition of a charity was likely to have taxation deductibility implications for NGOs involved in lobbying on any government policy. Historically, Commonwealth taxation legislation which refers to ‘charities’ has been applied to a wide range of non-profit organisations receiving tax or other concessions and has been as wide as groups active in health, education, social or community welfare, childcare, religion, culture, natural environment, civil and human rights, reconciliation, public safety and animal welfare.
At the same time as he released the draft Charities Bill, the Treasurer referred it to the Board of Taxation for consultation as to its ‘workability’. The NGO sector was galvanised and 255 submissions were received, almost entirely from NGOs. The organisations represented were unanimous in their position that advocacy should be recognised as an established integral activity undertaken by not-for-profit organisations, and not be regarded as an exclusion. The large number of NGO submission received were from a wide range of organisations – large and small, and across many sub-sectors of the wider NGO sector. For example, groups represented included Philanthropy Australia, National Council of Churches in Australia, the then Australian Council for Overseas Aid, the Australian Conservation Foundation, Christian Children’s Fund Australia, Refugee Council of Australia, Women With Disabilities and YWCA Australia. Typical of their comments were those of the then Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA) which said, ‘the advocacy role of charities should not be singled out for special attention as a cause of disqualification......’ and the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) which said, ‘the Bill seeks to impose outdated and counter-productive restrictions on the advocacy and lobbying activities of charities’. However, it was not just advocacy NGOs who objected. Anglican Archbishop Peter Carnley described the Bill as the kind of thing one might expect from a quasi-totalitarian regime that was determined to control information and stifle public opinion.
In reporting, the Board of Taxation recommended a number of changes and clarifications to the Bill. There were many aspects of the Bill that were unworkable, and the Board of Taxation recognised this by recommending some changes and clarification. An election was imminent, and combined with significant opposition from both NGOs and many churches, the Government decided in May 2004 not to continue with the legislation.
However, that did not mean abandoning the idea, and in 2005 two draft rulings from the Tax Office emerged, which, appeared to partially replace the discarded Charities Bill 2003, by restricting the ability of NGOs to receive tax deductibility, and affecting GST exemption and salary packaging, if they engaged in public advocacy. Strong, submissions were received by the Tax Office from organisations such as the National Roundtable of Nonprofit Organisations representing 17 key NGOs. Like the Board of Taxation, the ATO found difficulties in defining charities and charitable activities and the final rulings released in late 2005 clarified some issues. However, there appear to still be restrictions that may affect the ability of many organisations to engage in active public advocacy and not lose taxation benefits. So, organisations that have tried to build up an income base free of Government funding are finding themselves impacted by taxation measures.
Outsourcing Welfare and the Churches
By outsourcing welfare, as part of a philosophy of ‘smaller government’, the Howard Government has also been able to extend its reach to silence another group. This appears to have been the effect on some churches, which previously did not have so much to lose before becoming dependant on large Government contracts. Early in its term of office, the Howard Government replaced the government’s Commonwealth Employment Service with the private Job Network. By late 1999, the second round of successful tenders amounted to a total of $3 billion. Of this amount, $700 million was won by church employment services.
One of the effects of this was that churches found it harder to criticise Government policy. Once an organisation, such as a church, has invested time, energy and money in setting up as a provider, issues such as dependency on government contracts and responsibility for their employees’ future welfare come into play. The conditions of these contracts entrap such agencies increasingly in the government’s systems, weakening their ability to offer independent critique and advice about the services concerned. Increasingly, churches have also found that their employment service contracts include specific confidentiality clauses requiring them to refrain from criticism. Commenting on this in an interview with Radio National’s Religion Report, Melbourne City Mission Chief Executive Ray Cleary said that this contractual restraint against speaking out,
... eats at the very heart of the mission and the value base of church-based agencies, which are there to demonstrate God’s preferential or special interest for the marginalised and those at risk.
At the same time, the Government has been discouraging the churches from public advocacy generally. On a number of occasions, Treasurer Costello, Foreign Minister Downer and Prime Minister Howard have each made it clear that they consider the role of the churches to be in personal, rather than social, transformation. Yet, at the same time, elements of the Government close to the Prime Minister have been mobilising conservative, American-style evangelical and Pentecostal churches to promote neo-liberal political policies and politicians – as has been documented by Marion Maddox in her book, God Under Howard.
Creating a ‘Government Non-Government Organisation’
In November 2003, the Prime Minister announced the creation of a peak NGO body with $50,000 from his Community Business partnership and called it the Not for Profit Council of Australia. The original hand-picked members included an art gallery, some service-provider organisations, and the Salvation Army and the Smith Family. The last two charities are primarily concerned with on-the-ground welfare and seem to have avoided political advocacy. It is possible the formation of the Government organisation was in response to the formation of the National Roundtable of Nonprofit Organisations, which is a genuine representative organisation formed the previous year by the key peak Australian NGOs. Its 17 members include the ACF, ACOSS, AFCID, ACA, the National Council of Churches, etc. This genuine roundtable has been concerned that creating a ‘puppet’ organisation with no representation from the major national NGO peaks might be used to legitimise Howard Government activities. There is clearly a need for the diverse parties of the NGO sector to come together for various reasons, and they have voluntarily done so in the National Roundtable of Nonprofit Organisations. So, it can be legitimately asked, why is the Government creating another body and funding it?
Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill 2006
No sooner had the sector responded to the two ATO Draft Rulings than an attack came from another direction, when Special Minister of State, Senator Eric Abetz, flagged in October, 2004, that the government would use the Electoral Act to attempt to monitor NGOs’ advocacy on a continuous basis. In December 2005, the Government introduced the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005. The Bill contained a number of provisions inimical to democratic involvement, including provisions relevant to NGOs which would result in most NGOs being continually monitored by Government. The crux of its proposals centred on a very broad definition of what constituted ‘electoral matter’. As drafted, it cast a wide net, so that even those NGOs which do not engage in any overt public advocacy would have been deemed to be producing ‘electoral matter’ requiring them to track their expenditure and file an annual return on their activities.
The import of the Bill raised freedom of speech issues, with the likelihood of increased administrative costs for NGOs in its implementation, more reluctance of NGOs to speak out, and decreased donations. Moreover, it was not good law because it was likely to result in uneven compliance by NGOs, which can raise the problem of arbitrary enforcement by Government.
The government agreed to introduce some minor amendments in early 2006 to decouple the disclosure requirements of third parties such as NGOs, from the definition of ‘electoral matter’. However, the Bill will be under consideration by the Parliament during 2006, and, as it stands, its intent is still to monitor and licence advocacy NGOs on an annual basis. It still requires disclosure of material that has no relationship to politics or to elections, and would seem to have some of the intent of calls by the IPA to ‘licence’ NGOs.
Summary of Government Activities
This discussion has covered de-funding, forced amalgamations and ‘mainstreaming’ which silences minority voices, purchaser-provider contracts which have NGOs delivering the Government’s agenda, and confidentiality clauses which restrict or forbid NGOs speaking to the media. NGOs which try to exist outside any Government funding are not untouched, with first the threat of the Charities Bill, and now the enacted ATO rulings likely to affect some NGO tax deductibility criteria. Other wider mechanisms that have silenced NGOs include outsourcing welfare which has particularly served to silence the welfare arms of churches. The Government also appears to have created its own peak NGO organisation, despite a representative body of genuine peak groups already existing. Finally, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill 2006 before the Parliament in the first half of 2006 seems set to monitor and ‘licence’ significant numbers of NGOs on a continuous basis.
In their totality, these actions by the Howard Government are consistent with a public choice view that NGOs are not legitimate groups to engage in the public policy process. In their totality, they depict a government that is trying to discourage public advocacy by NGOs and create a society devoid of organised community input to public policy debate. NGOs that do good works which fill the void of government withdrawal from service provision are applauded. However, if NGOs try to participate in the essential democratic role of policy debate, they are attacked as being ‘unaccountable’ and lacking in political legitimacy, for being unelected as part of representative government.
Australian Neo-liberal Think Tanks and the Institute of Public Affairs
At the same time as government mechanisms have served to silence NGOs, there has been a strong, pro-active campaign to undermine the legitimacy of NGOs and promote a public choice agenda. It is to the combination of these two forces that we should look for a threat to the democratic process by changing the accepted Australian political paradigm This strong, pro-active campaign has been most notable in the work of the neo-liberal think tanks, and in particular in the work of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA).
There have been numerous analyses of neo-liberal think tanks in Australia. Their influence on public policy is increasingly recognised. The Australian Financial Review reported in 2002, that, ‘It is hard to overestimate the influence conservative think tanks have had on the political agenda in Australia’. Since the election of the Howard Government, they have been prominent supporters of the Government, advocates for policy that has been taken up by the Government, and key protagonists who have criticised elements seen to be opposed to a market view of the state. The Institute for Public Affairs (IPA) and the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) have probably been the most prominent of the Australian neo-liberal think tanks in the Australian context over the past decade.
However, in recent years, as the hegemony of neo-liberal economics has taken hold, it is possible to discern a shift in specialisation occurring between the two organisations, with the CIS continuing to promote a broad range of specific programs within the neo-liberal paradigm, and the IPA particularly focussing
on undermining the standing of its adversaries through generating and disseminating negative messages about their role in democracies, their motives and their integrity.
The defeat in 1998 of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, or MAI, largely through the efforts if international NGOs, is credited with causing the shift in IPA’s focus. In 2000, Michael Warby, of the IPA admitted there had been ‘some shift in concern in general policy, and the IPA activity away form economic focus to social and environmental concerns’ and he noted that advocacy NGOs had changed the nature of politics. This shift would seem to have created the situation where the IPA is now the major protagonist in Australia in attacking the legitimacy of NGOs, and the CIS the major engine of neo-liberal policy material for the Howard Government and general purveyor of the wider free market paradigm. It is clearly a situation where the role of each compliments the other.
The language of the IPA is neither measured nor temperate. In one article, Gary Johns, Director of its NGO Project, refers to ‘cashed up NGOs’, ‘a dictatorship of the articulate’, a ‘tyranny of the articulate’ and a ‘tyranny of the minorities’, and in another to, ‘mail-order memberships of the wealthy left, content to buy their activism and get on with their consumer lifestyle’. The IPA has repeatedly proposed withdrawal of financial and other support for NGOs which advocate environmental, social and industrial standards, even when the NGOs are privately funded. It has a clear public choice agenda aimed at stopping public advocacy. Consistent with this, it has urged stringent Government provisions for inhibiting public advocacy by NGOs, including certifying or ‘licensing’ measures. De-funding, purchaser/provider contracts, confidentiality agreements, taxation disincentives, and the 2006 Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill suggest that the government has been listening.
The pervasiveness of IPA ideas and comments can be seen by the frequency with which its staff write for and appear in major news outlets, generally without acknowledgement of their connection. The IPA website shows that in the 3 month period from the beginning of March to the end of May 2006, there were 44 articles published in key Australian media outlets by its staff. That is an average of over 3 articles a week, and this level of input has been continuing for many years. In June, 2006, the IPA website was citing some 900 such article since 1998.
Because of the IPA’s protracted, energetic and virulent campaign against NGOs, it was a source of dismay, astonishment and anger amongst NGOs when news emerged in 2003 that the Howard Government had commissioned the IPA to conduct a study into the relationship between Australian Government Departments and NGOs, and to also develop a ‘trial protocol’ for public disclosure of NGO standing with Government.
There was no tender and no public announcement. Director of the IPA’s NGO unit, Garry Johns, headed the inquiry. Johns must be the most active critic of the role of NGOs in Australia today, and the Government was obviously fully aware of what it was doing in its choice. Manning has pointed out that the National Audit Office guidelines require that when the Government engages consultants it must determine the selection criteria and document the evaluation to ensure that the chosen consultants are of appropriate quality and that the process is transparent. The irony of the IPA, which does not disclose its donors, contracting in secret to monitor NGOs for their transparency and accountability seems to have been lost on both Government and IPA. Radio National’s Background Briefing in March 2004, also pointed out that the IPA website declared it did not accept Government funding at the same time as it was undertaking this $50,000 contract for the Government, and that it actively engaged in public debate against NGOs on the Charities Bill, at the same time as it was working on the same contract.
The Inquiry’s report, delivered in 2004, and entitled, The Protocol: Managing Relations with NGOs, contained many of the elements previously suggested by Johns, particularly focussing on bureaucratic issues relevant to government department and NGO relationships. Threaded throughout is an implied criticism that NGOs have too much policy influence or ‘special status’, which is consistent with public choice theory. There is no recognition of a model of democracy where many voices are appreciated in developing public policy, and there is no criticism of corporations being players in developing public policy. Like its other attacks, the irony of the IPA being an unelected, unrepresentative NGO, whose publications address the Commonwealth Government, seems lost on both IPA and Government.
The Protocol was received by the Government in an election year and was noted with a non-committal response by the relevant Minister. However, its proposals for ‘protocols’ to have Government control of NGOs have not gone away, as noted earlier in relation to the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill 2006. The commissioning of the Protocol destroyed any pretence by the Government of accountable and independent policy review processes, and importantly, it threw into relief possible links between the Howard Government and the IPA. The nature of that relationship has been debated. However, there would seem to be circumstantial evidence that the IPA acts as a ‘stalking horse’ for the Government by promoting and publicising negative information on advocacy NGOs to the public, while the Government remains at arms length.
The significance of the IPA’s activities in relation to the promotion of a public choice paradigm needs to be placed against the many government silencing mechanisms described in this paper. At the same time as NGO voices have been shut down, there has been a concerted and strategic campaign to dominate the public sphere with a public choice perspective which serves to undermine the democratic legitimacy of NGOs. It is the two sides of this equation that together have had a dramatic effect on public perceptions of NGOs and on the removal of NGO voices from the development of public policy. Both sides of the picture are consistent with a public choice paradigm.
Corporate Attacks and Gunns Limited
This paper has focussed only on the Government and its close association with the IPA in the light of public choice theory. However, it needs to be noted that over the past decade, there has been an increase in litigation against NGOs and their members by corporations in the form of SLAPP writs – strategic litigation against public participation. These are legal actions for the purpose of silencing public debate.
As well, a number of NGOs and individuals, twenty in all, are currently facing a writ brought against them by the Tasmanian timber company, Gunns Limited, for almost $7 million – a writ which, by mid-2006, the judge had twice told the company to go and rewrite because it was so poorly framed, and a writ which many lawyers assert has little merit. It is possible the increase in litigation against NGOs may be linked to the development of a public choice paradigm, with corporations feeling less constrained in the public choice environment.
Public choice theory is part of the neo-liberal philosophy. It rejects a pluralist or discursive view of democracy and any role for NGOs in the development of public policy. The language of the Howard Government is consistent with this theory. Applying the theory to the history of government/NGO relationship over a decade of the Howard Government provides insights and clarity in understanding the significant change which has occurred in the relationship. On the one hand, the Government has employed a variety of mechanisms which serve to inhibit any public advocacy role for the NGO sector and to silence debate. On the other hand, there has been active dissemination of a public choice perspective on the role of NGOs by the Government and, particularly by the IPA.
The result of this two-pronged approach has brought about a fundamental systemic change in the role of the NGO sector in Australia. It has also changed the public perception of that role. The significance of this major change in our democratic processes cannot be underestimated in any assessment of the health of Australia’s democracy.
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