Disaster Capitalism

2011 - Volume 14 Number 1

The concept of ‘disaster capitalism’ was conceived by extreme neoliberals at the University of Chicago dedicated to eliminating the public sphere so that business would be free and unfettered; and almost all social spending cease.

It feeds on the misery suffered by people whether in war, terrorism, natural catastrophes, poverty, trade sanctions and market crashes. Disasters are opportunities to generate huge profits and earnings.

The concept also applies in countries such as Australia where people who are asylum seekers are detained in centres, and prisoners held in prisons, run by ‘for-profit’ corporations. This new economy is outlined in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. The scheme always exploits people for profits.

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Murray Darling - Environmental and Social Tight Rope

2011 - Volume 13 Number 8

Covering one seventh of Australia, the Murray Darling Basin is one of the largest river basins in the world and contains 440,000km of rivers, 30 000 wetlands and one world heritage site.

The variety of ecosystems within the basin is as diverse as the size of the basin and provides a variety of habitats for flora and fauna including more than 60 fish species and around 98 species of waterbirds. Covering four states and the ACT and with 3.4 million people relying on water from the Basin, the management of the Basin is a political tightrope.

Nevertheless, unless serious action is taken sooner rather than later the beauty, diversity and ecological significance of the Basin could be permanently lost.

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Consensual Democracy vs Conflictual Democracy

2010 - Volume 13 Number 7

The role of leadership is to envision and enlighten, to put the national interest before personal gain, to think about the next generation rather than merely the next election, to look for what is right and good and fair so that most can agree to it rather than seek only to humiliate and embarrass political enemies. An over-emphasis on adversarial or combative politics can lead to parliamentary ineffectiveness and a deprivation of the wisdom and contribution of half its members.

An adversarial approach means conflict where beating the enemy at all costs means that truth and wisdom are early victims and whilst bickering occurs real problems are ignored and meaningful action is impossible. Social reform has come under the control of cynical calculators who measure success by winning elections, patronage and status on the political ladder . Political parties seek power, not change. Causes have given way to careers.

Though there are politicians who would like to adopt a more meaningful, inclusive and less aggressive approach to politics, civil and reasonable dialogue on major issues seems the exception rather than the norm, and the volume and shrillness of debate contributes to policy gridlock, civic disengagement, declining standards of behaviour , and lack of accountability.

We need go beyond the view that the status quo is the best one can hope for.

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West Papua: Colonisation is alive and well

2010 - Volume 13 Number 6

Papua’s abundant natural resources have made it another focus of the ‘resource curse’ – the curse of being resource rich. Significant natural resources often give rise to power struggles to control them and Papua is no exception. The Grasberg mine operated by Freeport-McMoRan and the Indonesian Government is the largest above ground copper mine in the world, but there is a protracted conflict in the area bounded by the mine. 

Imparsial, the Indonesian human rights monitor maintains that violence in Papua often targets human rights activists, whom the Indonesian military presume to be members of separatist groups. Although torture of radical students and separatist sympathisers by security forces was no longer in practice, there were ‘still rights violations, arbitrary arrests and detention of Papuans voicing their opinions, especially the young.’

Countries such as Australia and New Zealand use the approach of ‘quiet diplomacy’ which amounts ‘to polite and ineffective representations on human rights’. Australia and New Zealand are also complicit in providing military training to many of the officers who have breached human rights in Papua. They continue to be complicit in resource exploitation.

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Climate change - still a great moral challenge

2010 - Volume 13 Number 5

Climate change is happening, is primarily caused by human activity and is complex.

Studies of various scenarios of temperature rise predict that Australia will experience increasing difficulties with its river systems, with water availability for agriculture, industry, residential purposes and broader environmental needs.

There will be coastal flooding due to sea level rise, increasing extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, heat waves, and extreme precipitation. Infrastructure and public health will suffer. For example:

  • a 2-3° rise will mean an expansion of the dengue transmission zone as far  as Brisbane and the malaria zones will increase;
  • temperature related mortality for those 65 and over will increase by 89-123%, to 200% with a 3-4° rise.

Although Australia has a particularly vulnerable eco-system, it can draw on significant resources to adapt to the changes; resources that it has accrued through GHG pollution.

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