Saturday, 28 February 2015

Noam Chomsky

I've finally taken the time to read an actual complete book by Noam Chomsky, as opposed to reading the odd article or hearing snippets on the radio.  Chomsky is now 86 and has been publishing books and articles on a bewildering array of subjects for the past 50 years.  What took me so long?

By profession Chomsky is a linguist, often referred to as the "father of modern linguistics".  I'm not very interested in linguistics but he is more widely famous as a political activist and as America's most prominent anarchist.  Ever since the Vietnam War he has provided a steady stream of dissident commentary on US politics and particularly on its international affairs.

Anyhow, I may be slow but I get there in the end.  I've just finished reading Hopes and Prospects, an interlinked set of essays published in 2010 and dealing with various aspects of US foreign policy.

The book revolves around two simple maxims.  The first, from Adam Smith, suggests that "'merchants and manufacturers' were 'the principal architects' of state policy and made sure that their own interests 'were most peculiarly attended to' however 'grievous' the effects on others".  The second is from the Greek historian Thucydides who suggested that "the strong do as they wish and the weak suffer as they must".

The book illustrates these two maxims in essays dealing with the history of American foreign policy in South and Central America, the Middle East and other parts of the globe.  The breadth of his knowledge is truly amazing and he puts it all on show, flitting from subject to subject as one thought leads to another.  The result is that the essays often turn into rants - but enlightening and thought provoking ones.

Through this wealth of detail are some simple and consistent messages.  The first is that American democracy is dysfunctional.  The political system is controlled by corporate interests and politicians do the bidding of these corporations at the expense of the majority of the population.  This can be seen in the way corporate profits soar while wages stagnate, in the way welfare recipients have to account for every dollar while banks receive huge bailouts without even the most basic accountability, in the way health policy enriches insurance companies while delivering poor quality and expensive health care.  It is also shown in the way politicians of both sides are consistently to the right of the vast majority of the population.

This same dynamic filters over into America's foreign policy.  Throughout its history, the US has justified its intervention in other countries with a kind of special pleading, suggesting that the US is the "light on the hill" bringing hope to common people around the world.  It's interventions in other countries are cast as "democracy promotion".

The truth could not be more opposite.  From Wilson to Obama, US foreign policy has protected US corporate interests at the expense of the peoples in whose countries they intervene.  He dwells at length on Chile where in what he calls the "first 9/11" on the 11th of September 1973 the US supported the overthrow of elected socialist President Salvador Allende in favour of a brutal military junta headed by Auguste Pinochet.  In 1991 they supported a similar event in Haiti, where after decades of dictatorship the radical priest Jean-Baptiste Aristide was elected as President and allowed to last less than a year.  And so it goes in Bolivia, Grenada, Guatemala and many other countries in South and Central America.

Despite this, Chomsky sees signs of hope.  The Chavez regime in Venezuela, still intact when he wrote, had managed to survive US pressure and take control of its own oil reserves, pursuing an independent socialist path and providing a rallying point for its neighbours.

The Middle East has followed a similar pattern, with US support for a series of brutal dictatorships in various countries, but in this case the situation is a lot more complex and US policy much more confused.

In Israel/Palestine matters are simple - support Israel in whatever it does.  This means that despite the rhetoric about "free and fair elections", when the Palestinians elected a Hamas regime in 2006 the US and Israel refused to recognise the result or deal with the victors, forcing the Palestinians to accept the continuation of the Fatah regime they had just rejected and causing the effective separation of Gaza and the West Bank.  Meanwhile, Israel is free to plunder Palestinian land at will.

Other interventions, however, have proved more problematic.  In the 1980s, in order to undermine the Soviet-sponsored regime in Afghanistan, the CIA funded and trained militia groups including the Taliban and what became Al Qaeda.  Also in the 1980s they supported the Baathist regime of  Saddam Hussein in Iraq to keep the Iranians in check.  They even supported the Iraqi nuclear program, providing advice and equipment.

The trouble with ruthless dictators and extremist militias is that they just won't do as they're told.  As a result, the US has moved to Plan B in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  First destroy the economy through sanctions, to the point of mass starvation and denial of medical supplies which kill hundreds of thousands of people.  Then invade the country with the aid of alternative militias and warlords (you can always find some pretext), set up a weak central government in place of the dictatorship and allow the country to be divided between rival factions, each with its little territory and sphere of influence.

The result will be terrible for the local population as we have seen in Iraq over the past year (Chomsky predicted something along these lines) but favours US economic interests who are able to control Iraq's vast oil fields and run a gas pipeline through Afghanistan without Russian interference.  US oil companies, and American energy security, must be protected whatever the cost to local populations or to American taxpayers.

There's much more where this came from, but I don't need to go on.  Reading this as an Australian is more than a little disturbing.  On the one hand, it is hardly possible for an Australian to be immersed in American politics the way Chomsky has been for the past half century.  Yet this story is also our own - not so much in South America, where Australia has little involvement, but certainly in the Middle East.  Where the US goes, Australia is among the first to follow.  We followed the US into Korea and Indo-China, helped invade Afghanistan and Iraq, backed the American line on Israel and Palestine.  For the past two decades we have gradually moved our health system away from the successful European model and towards the dysfunctional American approach.  Like the US, our own government is in thrall to big corporations (often the same ones, plus a few of our own) and out of step with its own people on a wide range of issues.

Apart from the injustice of these measures and the suffering they cause around the world, there is a warning here for us.  We make ourselves a target for terrorists, including those who have come here as refugees and then feel betrayed by the actions of their adopted country.  But we should not be too sure of the quid pro quo.  The story of American diplomacy over the past century suggests that America will always act in its own interests.  Its allies will be called "friends" when they are useful, but can be quickly cast off or converted into enemies when they become inconvenient, or begin to show too much independence.

Is such fickle friendship worth it?  Is it enough to justify our complicity in the suffering of millions, in the destruction of whole countries?  I think not.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

World Diagram #1

I've often thought the world can be described in a single diagram.  After all, how complicated can one planet be?

This is not it, but it's a little bit of the way there - a diagram which explains how we need to understand current world events by means of a pyramid.  If I was really clever I'd make it an iceberg with the top item and half the second sticking out of the water but if you want cute and pretty you'll just have to look elsewhere.  (If you click on it, at least you'll see it full size).

The idea behind this diagram is that we spend a lot of time focused on surface symptoms of deeper problems.  Because we spend so much of our effort on the symptoms we often fail to see what lies beneath them, so we opt for superficial solutions too.  We focus on cleaning up after natural disasters, playing with monetary and fiscal settings to smooth out fluctuations in our economy, surveillance and policing to prevent terrorist attacks, "stopping the boats" in response to the global refugee crisis and so forth.  These actions seem to relieve the problems in the short term, but they keep recurring.

Beneath these symptoms there lie a series of more fundamental and intractable issues.  These include things like our ongoing state of war, long-standing ethnic and religious tension, economic inequalities and the perseverance of absolute poverty.  We are generally aware of these issues but we don't necessarily understand them very well and they are often surrounded by mythology.

For instance, when we see Islamic State carrying out religious persecutions we attribute this emergence to Islam.  In focusing on this we forget that Islam has been the dominant faith in Iraq and Syria for over 1,000 years and is only now beginning this religious cleansing process.  Why now?

In the same way, we are aware of poverty as a phenomenon but only poorly understand the dynamics of trade, colonialism and resource distribution that bring it into being, so we tend to act as if it can be solved through things like child sponsorship and community development projects.  We respond to the immediate need, or the immediate crisis, without understanding the root causes of the problems we are addressing.  This means that often our good work can be undone.  We build peace and understanding between communities only for war to break out.  We educate children but then find that they are unemployed.  We build community enterprises only for them to be destroyed by civil war.

Part of the reason that these efforts are so fragile is because there is a set of even deeper issues that underpin them.  These are first, physical and then, beneath these, psychological or spiritual.

Physically, in the 21st century we are reaching a number of hard ecological limits.  Our use of the atmosphere as a dumping ground for carbon emissions is causing irreversible climate change.  Oil production has reached its historical peak and will soon begin to decline.  Fish stocks are collapsing in many parts of the world as a result of factory fishing.  Population growth is placing strain on our agricultural resources, and factory farming is depleting many areas of arable land.

The effects of our reaching these limits are behind many of the problems that plague our world.  Climate change drives the increased severity of natural disasters, while population growth and inequality means that they impact more people, more severely.  The struggle is intensifying for access to the world's remaining oil resources, and this struggle lies at the root of much of what appears on the surface to be Islamic militancy, and of our inept responses to it.  Many of the civil wars that plague Africa revolve around control of scarce arable land and water by increasingly poor and desperate populations.

We could leave it there, were it not for one thing.  Our reaching and exceeding  these various limits is not a matter of chance, random fluctuations or inevitable natural processes.  It is caused by decisions made by human beings, often in full knowledge of their consequences.  Why do we go on acting in this apparently foolish way?

I believe at least part of the answer is that we act on the basis of a number of pervasive illusions.  If you like, you could call them forms of idolatry - false and destructive world-views.  We eternalise our nations and cultures, acting as if they were invulnerable.  We worship the gods of progress and unlimited growth, believing we can go on taking more materials from the earth without them ever running out.  We have faith that every problem has a technological solution.  In a sense, be believe ourselves to be gods, in charge of the earth and the universe.  These illusions blind us to our true situation and prevent us from changing course.

The scale of this problem, the complexity of the layers of meaning and the pervasiveness of our illusions can leave us feeling hopeless.  Should we just give up and let what happens, happen?  Should we stop doing acts of charity, or trying to work for a fairer distribution of wealth, and focus purely on the ecological or spiritual plane?

For me, looking at the world in this way is certainly humbling and more than a little daunting.  It forces me to acknowledge that I, and my friends and fellow-travellers on this journey, have only limited influence.  We cannot save the world, hard though we may try.

However, this truth can also set us free.  This becomes more than just a form of words.  Although we can easily be drawn back into the illusions of our time and place, we are also able, at least a little, to escape them.  We are able to act on the basis that our society and its driving ethos are transitory, that the way we live now did not always exist, and will not exist forever.  Our choice is not between change and no change, it is only between better change and worse change.

Our efforts, whether simple works of charity and kindness, political actions to redistribute wealth, ecological actions to reduce pollution, or intellectual and spiritual efforts to unmask illusions and shine a light in dark places, can all make it better, even if just in a tiny way.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Gillian Triggs Episode 2

Sometimes the pleasure I get from being right is far outweighed by the pain of wishing I had been wrong.  This is one of these times.

About a month ago I suggested that the media and government assault on Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs over an obscure immigration case was merely a preliminary skirmish before the release of the Commission's report into children in detention.  I'm deeply sorry to have been proved right.

On February 11 the government tabled the Commission's report, The Forgotten Children, which it has been sitting on since November while it engaged in its initial softening up process.  I've only had time so far to read the summary and skim the rest, but it is not pretty reading.

Over an eight month period, teams of Commission staff and assistants, including experts in child health, interviewed over 1,000 children and family members in eleven Australian immigration detention centres.  The Commission also received a couple of hundred formal submissions and held public hearings.

Its purpose was not to determine if the indefinite detention of children was a breach of human rights.  The Commission has consistently held this to be the case for the past 25 years, even though neither side of politics is listening.  Rather, their intention was to investigate the effects of immigration detention on children's wellbeing.

The findings are as predictable as they are depressing.  Detention is extremely harmful to children.  Children in detention suffer high rates of mental illness (often severe), high rates of self-harm, poor general health and are frequently the victims of assault.  Children detained on Christmas Island were denied any access to education for 12 months, and a number of children born in detention are stateless.

None of this serves any useful purpose.  Both the former Labor Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and his Liberal successor Scott Morrison testified that detaining children does not have any deterrent effect on asylum seekers or people smugglers.

This problem is easily solved.  The children - and their families of course - should be allowed to live in the community while their applications for protection are assessed.  Easy to do, doesn't harm anybody, even saves money.

But I have long since given up expecting sensible policy from either side of politics on this question.  Instead Tony Abbott has gone on the attack.  The report is partisan, he says - why did it not take place when Labor was governing?  Ms Triggs ought to be ashamed of herself.  She ought to be congratulating Scott Morrison for his astonishing human rights achievements.  And in any case there are now fewer children in detention than there used to be so this is not an issue any more.

Lets slow down and take these one at a time.

1. The report is not partisan.  It is quite clear that children were detained under both governments, and the period it examines straddles the most recent election, interviewing families detained during both Bowen's and Morrison's tenures.  Both ministers were grilled in public hearings.  Neither came out smelling of roses.  However, the Commission does point out that while both governments detained children (and in fact the Labor Government detained more) the periods of detention have become considerably longer since the Coalition took office and it is only on their watch that children have been detained indefinitely.

2. Ms Triggs has nothing to be ashamed of.  She is doing her job as Human Rights Commissioner, examining the actions of the Australian Government and its agencies and identifying human rights abuses.  The government should be ashamed of itself for knowingly and indeed stridently perpetrating and defending such abuses.

3. Scott Morrison does not deserve any congratulation for "stopping the boats" or for reducing the numbers of children in detention.  For a start, it is not at all clear that the boats have stopped.  Only that they have stopped landing in Australia, and this was achieved by the simple and brutal means of intercepting them and either forcing them to turn around or detaining their occupants at sea and then taking them back to where they came from.   Has any refugee's life been improved by this proceeding?  It seems unlikely.  Have there been any improvements in Australian community life as a result of having fewer asylum seekers reach our shores?  There is no evidence of this.  Meanwhile, people (including children) are being traumatised by the steadily increasing level of inhumanity of our detention regime.

4.  There are indeed fewer children in detention but they are there for much longer and in much harsher conditions.  Part way through the inquiry Morrison made the decision to release all children under 10 who had been detained prior to July 2013.  Perhaps we can thank the inquiry for this strategic reduction in numbers.  Even if we can thank Morrison, it is a very partial measure.  There are still over 300 children in immigration detention and the average length of detention has risen to more than a year.  There should be none.

What's is missing from all this bluster from Abbott is any attempt to actually respond to the issue.  Not a single thing he has said so far even attempts to refute the report's findings.  By his silence he is effectively admitting that they are correct.  Instead of addressing these findings (which would require a change in policy) he has resorted to character assassination and blaming his opponents.

I guess in a sense Ms Triggs is fortunate that she is doing her job in Australia.  In countries with worse human rights records than Australia (and there are still many although fewer than there used to be) someone who highlighted official abuses in this way would be imprisoned on trumped-up charges, or murdered in the night by an anonymous death squad.  Triggs will only be subject to vilification and character assassination.  It just serves as a reminder that standing up to the powerful is never easy, even in a country that is supposed to be democratic.

Meanwhile, it seems that those children still in detention have little to hope for from our government.  The Prime Minister's belligerence is both shocking and frightening.  He implicitly accepts that his government's policies directly harm children, and is determined to keep doing it.  He is even proud of it.

After he nearly lost his leadership, Abbot promised that "good government starts now".  Still waiting.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Life Without Oil

If you're not worried about the future of our civilisation, you obviously haven't been listening.  You wouldn't be alone in that - this is an incredibly hard message for us to hear and we would prefer not to listen at all.  Jeffrey Sachs says that one of the reasons American politics is controlled by big corporate interests is because ordinary citizens are disengaged and distracted.  I suspect a desire to avoid facing our uncertain future is part of the reason.

I've been reading Life Without Oil: Why We Must Shift to a New Energy Future by Steve Hallett with John Wright, published in 2011.  Hallett, who is clearly the lead author, is English by birth, currently associate professor of botany in Purdue University in Indianapolis and also had a stint teaching and researching at the University of Queensland just across the river from me.  Wright, very much the silent partner, is a journalist and I assume his job was to make the work readable for a non-technical audience.  If this is so, he has done a good job.

The foundation for this book is the idea that we are living in a period the authors call the "Petroleum Interval".  This is a period of history in which systems of production are oriented around the availability of cheap, plentiful fossil fuels, in particular oil and to a lesser extent coal and natural gas.

The availability of these fuels has shaped our society profoundly.  It drives our systems of production, enabling us to cheaply produce huge volumes of goods.  It drives our patterns of trade, allowing us to easily transport materials and products around the world in a thoroughly global economy.  It drives food production, pushing us towards agricultural systems that resemble factories with high yields made possible by fossil fuel based fertilisers and diesel-driven machinery, and ease of transport seeing crops grown in huge monocultural zones and shipped around the world.  This process of globalisation has enabled the whole world to be re-oriented in the interests of the great industrial powers of Europe and Northern America (or at least, their corporations), with China and India increasingly getting in on the act in recent years.

The authors have three bits of bad news for us.  The first is that this dependence on fossil fuels is hugely destructive.  The emissions from burning fossil fuels are causing irreversible changes to our climate.  Industrial farming brings large yields in the short-term at the expense of longer term declines as soils are worked out and aquifers are depleted.  This level of damage means that even if these fuels were unlimited the processes based on their use would not be sustainable.

The second bit of bad news is that these resources are, of course, far from unlimited.  They estimate that we are now at about the point of "peak oil" - the point where global oil production reaches its peak and begins to decline.  In the last 100 years we have used about half the world's accessible oil, so it will last at most another 100 years.  However, this doesn't mean we have 100 years to sort it out.  We are using the easiest-to-access oil first so long before we use the last drop extraction will become more expensive and yields will decline.  Coal and natural gas supplies are harder to estimate, but they are subject to the same problem - they can't last forever.

Given the multiple ways our societies are oriented around fossil fuel use, and particularly oil use, the impact of declining supplies is potentially catastrophic.  These problems will be exacerbated by the changes brought about by global warming and by continued population growth.  As it becomes more expensive to generate electricity, transport goods around the world and fertilise our crops we are likely to see chronic economic problems, food shortages, rising unemployment and financial instability.  Along with this will come intensified competition for the remaining resources - more wars and more unrest.  We are, in fact, already beginning to see these events, but because we tend to focus on the short term we fail to link them to the underlying issues of energy and fuel supply.

The third bit of bad news is that there is no ready alternative to oil as a fuel source.  Renewables such as wind, solar, hydro and tidal energy are less reliable than oil, less transportable and will struggle to deliver the amount of energy required.  Biofuels are expensive to produce and compete for cropland with food production.  None of the alternatives can replace the industrial fertilisers produced using natural gas.

The best hope for our energy in the immediate future, the authors say, is a combination of nuclear and hydrogen.  Nuclear power would make up the shortfall in standing generation capacity that can't be met by renewables, while hydrogen fuel cells would fill the gap created by the loss of petrol to power vehicles and ships.  The authors are well aware of the problems with both these fuel sources.  Nuclear power generates wastes which need to be stored for millennia, and carries the risk of catastrophic accidents like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island (not to mention Fukushima, which happened after the book was written).  Nor is uranium unlimited.  Hydrogen fuel still has some technical problems to be solved, not least of which is tendency to explode.  Nonetheless, these appear to be the technologies with the most potential to bridge the gap.

What is to be done about this?  Well the authors are quite pessimistic.  In their view there will not be a smooth, pain-free transition.  We have left the task of adaptation too late, have become too dependent on fossil fuels to extricate ourselves in time.  The transition to a post-oil future will be painful, involving a great deal of suffering and conflict around the globe.  The task, as they see it, is not to avoid the collapse but to do whatever we can to reduce the amount of suffering involved, and to sow the seeds for the recovery that will come after.

This recovery, they believe, will involve us accepting a lower material standard of living than we have now.  However, they don't think this will be the disaster we fear.  All available evidence shows that more stuff doesn't make us happier.  It will involve a return to the sustainable agricultural practices of previous ages, with mixed cropping and rotation systems replacing industrial fertilisers and mono-culture.  It will involve, by necessity, more localism than we have now, with the majority of products sourced from near where we live rather than the other side of the world.

Of course not everyone is as pessimistic as Hallett and Wright about our energy transition.  In 2010 the Australian clean energy think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions published a detailed plan for converting Australia's electricity generation to 100% renewable sources by 2020, and have followed up with proposals on land management, building design and transport.  Their plan mostly relies on solar and wind generation, with a small amount of hydro and biofuel generation.  They view the costs as achievable and the technology as largely proven already.

I'm far from having the technical knowledge to judge between these viewpoints and the many others in the debate.  What both agree, though, is that change needs to happen and, indeed, that it will happen whether we like it or not.  The question is, will we shut our eyes and let it happen to us, or will we do everything in our power to manage the transition in the best way possible?

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Election 2015 - What Just Happened?

After spending a couple of depressing Saturday evenings over the past three years watching election results in which the Liberals/LNP gained substantial majorities, followed by months of pain as they set about shredding their respective governments' already feeble efforts towards equity and ecological responsibility, I finally get to talk about some good news!

It's interesting that all the commentators, even the ABC's seasoned election analyst Anthony Green, were stunned at the size of the swing.  Green's initial flummoxed response was that he didn't trust the numbers he was seeing.  They turned out to be correct.  After sweeping the pool in 2012, the LNP has clearly lost its majority.  At last we have seen Annastacia Palaszczuk with a genuine, unforced smile.

What's really interesting is that the opinion polls have been saying this for some time but no-one, including me, believed them.  We all assumed that come the election the undecided voters would compare the pair, conclude that Labor seemed unready to govern, and return the LNP with a reduced majority.  It just goes to show the value of trusting the objective evidence, even when it seems counter-intuitive.

Of course, there is still a way to go yet.  Neither party has a majority yet, and numbers are still fluctuating.  On election night the ABC closed with three seats still doubtful, today it is six or seven.   We probably won't have a clear answer until next week.  Most likely someone will need to negotiate with the independents and Katter Party MPs to form a government, which will be interesting since both parties were so emphatic that they would do no such thing.

Of course the LNP has an exit option because the promise was made by Newman and he's gone.  On the Labor side, we have already heard some mumbles about the definition of the word "deal".  The smart money would be on Labor - even outgoing Deputy-Premier Jeff Seeney seems to think this is what will happen.

Meanwhile, postmortems have already begun and the question on everyone's lips is, "why did voters turn so strongly against the LNP, only three years after giving them the biggest majority in Queensland history?"  Here's a quick run-down of some of the explanations, starting with the silliest and working up.

Seeney, in his press conference today, was quick to blame Newman and his advisors.  Coming from local government they didn't understand what was required in the State sphere.  This, of course, is the same Jeff Seeney who back in 2011 cheerfully took on the task of representing Newman in the Queensland Parliament.  In a democratic system it's just too easy to blame your leaders and forget that you put them there.  If Newman lacked knowledge of State Parliament and its requirements, what were his senior ministers - Seeney foremost among them - doing about it?

Closely related to this is the idea that the Newman Government had a marketing problem.  Scott Emerson, the outgoing Transport Minister, has suggested that the LNP were a good government but they didn't communicate their policies and decisions very well.  The poor dears, they were misunderstood, and we didn't appreciate the good things they were doing for us.

There's only a short step from this piece of self-delusion to its more bitter, contemptuous cousin - the notion that Queensland voters are incapable of understanding the challenges we face and shied away from the necessary reforms.  Mr Emerson professes concern that as a result of this election reform will become impossible for Queensland governments and our public sector will stagnate.

Only a zealot could make this claim.  Queenslanders know we have a deficit - how could we not?  We knew what the LNP were doing about it - cutting public health, education and welfare services in the name of austerity - and what they were proposing to do in the future - sell government businesses to for-profit corporations.  Emerson and his colleagues would like us to believe that this will solve the problem and that there is no other way, but neither of these is true.  Budget cuts have not pushed us into surplus, and the sale of assets would make the problem worse, not solve it.  Despite the rhetoric of selling assets to pay down debt, the government was proposing to use a substantial slab of the proceeds to fund vote-winning infrastructure projects.  The LNP's problem wasn't that voters didn't understand, it was that we understood too clearly.

The finger has also been pointed at Tony Abbot's decision to knight Prince Philip.  Not that anyone took this decision seriously.  The point is that it was impossible to do so.  The fact that Abbot chose to knight the member of the royal family with the greatest capacity for buffoonery only added to the general hilarity.  This decision says there is no longer any need to take Abbot or his party seriously.  The air of strength in hard times, the illusion of a strong government dealing competently with critical issues and making tough decisions, was punctured as we fell about on the floor laughing.  When we got up, we found that we saw other, more important issues differently.  Laughter can be cathartic.

But if we take the Redcliffe and Stafford by-elections and 2014 opinion poll results seriously we can't explain the LNP's loss by looking at what happened in the last week of the campaign, or indeed in any part of it.  Perhaps the missteps of the campaign made up the minds of a few wavering voters, but most of those who deserted the LNP did so well before the election was called.  I suspect that the swing against them would have been even greater if the Labor Party had not been so under-resourced and under-prepared.

There's been a lot of talk about broken promises, both Newman's and Abbott's.  Newman said public servants had nothing to fear, then sacked 15,000 of them.  Abbott promised not to do a large number of the things his government attempted to do in its first budget.  Electors, the story goes, don't like to be lied to.

I think there is truth in this, but it misses the point.  We are used to our leaders not keeping their promises.  John Howard invented the idea of "core" and "non-core" promises and his government managed to survive for over a decade.  We all know that governments promise in haste and repent at leisure.  We're pretty cynical about politicians.

I think we should be asking why Abbott and Newman felt they needed to lie about these particular things in the first place.  I suspect the answer is that if the LNP had gone into the election with a promise to sack 15,000 public servants, neuter the judiciary and give favours to mates they wouldn't have been elected.  If Abbott had promised in advance to cut pensions and unemployment benefits and raise university fees, the Coalition wouldn't have been elected.

Australians are not so much saying they don't like to be governed by people who break promises, as that they don't like to be governed by right-wing ideologues.  We value our public sector as a buffer against extreme poverty and hardship.  We value our income security system, our public health and education systems.  We value the services that support homeless people, women escaping violence and people with disabilities.  We value the rule of law, the balance of powers, a strong and independent judiciary, the rule of law. We are not prepared to support governments who try to wind back these systems.

Queenslanders don't mind reform.  We elected the Goss government in 1990 in the wake of the Fitzgerald Inquiry with a mandate to rebuild our system of government.  Fitzgerald remains one of the most trusted figures in Queensland public life to this day.  Australians elected the Hawke and Keating governments for 13 years as they drove through difficult economic reforms.  The difference was, Hawke and Keating tried to make sure their reforms were not at the expense of the poor.  Goss and his ministers boosted community services as part of their reform program.

The LNP and the federal Coalition, along with their favourite commentators in the Murdoch press, use the word "reform" differently.  They mean privatisation, tax cuts and less regulation for the rich, cuts to services, income cuts and more regulation for the poor.  When Australians are voting against this it's not because we don't like reform.  It's because we don't like this reform.

If Abbott wants to survive past the next election, and if the LNP wants to be electable again in Queensland, they need to come up with a Plan B.