There is no denying that money buys power and influence. That has always been the case.
Money can keep illegitimate governments in power – it propped up Saddam Hussein’s regime, including Australian money that came from AWB. At the time the Howard government sent us to war in Iraq while at the same time turning a blind eye to allowing the regime they were fighting to be funded by an Australian country. This period has been thrown into further controversy recently with the release of the findings of the Chilcot inquiry - a report which made adverse findings against the Howard government, and which brought a robust defense from Howard himself. Interestingly, we have still not had an inquiry in Australia into what took us to war.
As they say in government - only hold an inquiry if you already know the outcome and you are sure it won't hurt you.
The Pacific Solution came about because Australia was able (and is still able) to bribe nations like Nauru to deal with a political problem such as refugees. But the damage to democracy extends beyond our shores. Nauru was essentially a failed state when the Howard government started pouring millions of Australian dollars into their economy to help run his Pacific solution.
Outside the moral issues of outsourcing our international responsibilities, this created a different issue. It made Nauru less dependent on foreign aid, which might at first blush seem to be a positive. But what this has done is to make them less accountable... as with foreign aid comes the need for levels of transparency. As Tess Newton Cain has highlighted - the removal of independent office holders (like the commissioner of police and the resident magistrate) has coincided with the new-found financial independence. As Tess states:
...with hindsight, it appears that the ‘Pacific Solution’ has contributed to a ‘perfect storm’ with the government having increased funds available at a time when those in power are actively seeking to throw off the perceived shackles of good governance.
Murdoch’s money and the media empire he built with it gives him a voice and influence well beyond what he would otherwise have. Gina Reinhart’s ideas were heard not because they are insightful, but because she was the richest woman in Australia. Clive Palmer built a profile, a voice and eventually a short career in parliament based on the money he spent in 2013. And for a brief time he had a powerful voting block in the Senate which was hugely influential.
The North Sydney Forum raised a lot of money for Joe Hockey’s political aspirations by selling access if not influence when he was Australia’s treasurer. It opened up many questions which were never sufficiently answered, as well as exposing connections to the corrupt Australian Water Holdings and people like Nick Di Girolamo (who gave Barry O'Farrell the $3000 bottle of Grange Hermitage that ended O'Farrell's political career) and Senator Arthur Sinodinos (whose selective memory seems to have saved his political career)
Political fundraisers for both major parties involve attendees paying ridiculous sums of money per ‘plate’. And while I’m sure the food is good, there is no doubt that what is being paid for is access and potential influence
It also seems that recent governments and their policy settings have been heavily influenced by money - either through donations or through money spent campaigning against them.
Back in the mining super-profits tax days, a large amount of spending from foreign owned mining interests was able to change government policy through the influence it was able to exert through advertising.
But very recently money has potentially decided who formed government. It is reported that quite late in the campaign at a time when a Liberal insider said 'The Party is broke. There is no money' Malcolm Turnbull donated $1M effectively trying to get himself re-elected as PM.
Government representatives are bemoaning policy setting on Superannuation and the impact it had on both the election result and donations. In the wake of the election result Eric Abetz has called for changes to the government's policy on Superannuation as he believes this was the message the election result sent. Abetz's comments were reported on the saveoursuper.org.au website. Clearly not an independent news site.
What the website didn't report was that there was actually no evidence for this claim.
The Australian quotes Senator Ian McDonald as saying (about the Superannuation policy taken to the election):
It also severely impacted our fundraising because most of those affected and even those who weren’t affected but were concerned that they might have been were traditionally our supporters and very often our very good donors.
McDonald is linking policy settings to donations, and while he isn't overtly calling for policy changes to ensure donations keep flowing, you do wonder why he makes the point.
The recent changes made by the Queensland government to ensure political donations are revealed in real time are a welcome change and are one step towards handing democracy back to everyone, not just the rick and the well-connected.
There isn't a democracy on the planet which suffers from too much transparency, and we should be calling for more of it. The Greens are one of the few political parties which are calling for a Federal ICAC and the banning of political donations.
They are next steps we need to take to shore up our democracy and wrest back some power from the wealthy and the well-connected.
by Mark Enders
The Greens have long understood the interconnectedness of things. Our previous blog post pointed to how one policy area affects another, from Education, to Health, to Social Issues, to the Economy.
Beyond the internet, people are all inter-connected and inter-dependent, and are in fact mostly much closer than the popular myth of 7 Degrees of separation.
Equally we are not just a product of our environment, we are a part of it, we are dependent on it, and increasingly it is dependent on us. It is good to have beliefs supported by research and evidence. Green cities are not just healthier and happier cities, they are safer cities and the Greening of cities has been an important of urban regeneration and transformation.
J. Morgan Grove and Michelle Kondo from the US Forestry Service have published some compelling results from the projects they have been involved in. The results are published on The Coversation website. They have been republished below with permission.
In the 1953 short story The Man Who Planted Trees, a lone shepherd plants thousands of trees, transforming a desolate valley into a vibrant forest with pleasant villages and unspoiled wilderness. The moral of this story is a simple one: that perseverance and planting trees can make places more desirable to live.
Across the United States, the US Forest Service is proving this, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.
Within some neighbourhoods, scientists are documenting a connection between trees and a specific social improvement: a reduction in crime. These studies combine modern mapping technology with spatial and economic statistics to compare crime levels between similar urban neighbourhoods in the same city.
This research is becoming increasingly widespread and sophisticated. According to Kathleen Wolf, a research social scientist with the University of Washington and the US Forest Service, this is “part of a movement to understand the role of nature in public health”. Wolf observes:
Now that we’re in the era of Big Data, we’re seeing an acceleration of crime-related research in a wide variety of disciplines and fields. We’re also incorporating data on things like disparities of green in urban communities.
Not only do healthy, well-maintained trees provide shade and benefit the ecosystem, they can have a social meaning: that people in that neighbourhood look out for each other.
One of the places we are conducting this type of research is Baltimore. One of the oldest cities in US, Baltimore has more than 600,000 residents. It is known for its rich historical heritage, a picturesque inner harbour, crab cakes … and for having some of the worst crime and poverty levels in the nation.
According to recent estimates, 25% of Baltimore residents and 37% of Baltimore children live in poverty.
Faced with one of the highest homicide rates in the country, the city implemented a youth curfew law in 2014 to keep unaccompanied children off the streets at night.
Baltimore also has an extensive team of urban research scientists, affiliated with both the US Forest Service Baltimore Field Station and the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, and a proactive non-profit organisation, The Parks & People Foundation. These entities are working together to demonstrate a connection between adding trees and reducing crime in under-served neighbourhoods.
We worked in a research collaboration to look at the relationship between urban tree cover and rates of robbery, burglary, theft and shooting in under-served neighbourhoods in Baltimore. After controlling for income, population density, block-scale tree canopy and housing type, we found that a 10% increase in tree canopy corresponded to a roughly 12% decrease in crime.
According to Valerie Rupp, director of community greening for The Parks & People Foundation in Baltimore, people are taking back their neighbourhoods. “While crime still exists, there’s been a shift to more minor, less violent crimes,” she says.
Less than 150 kilometres northwest of Baltimore is the city of Philadelphia, another historic metropolis. With a population of more than 1.5 million, Philadelphia also has its share of big-city problems.
Although Philadelphia’s homicide rate is lower than Baltimore’s, the city has one of the highest homicide rates of the country’s ten most populous cities.
The US Forest Service Philadelphia Field Station is working with city groups such as the Parks and Recreation Department and the Philadelphia Water Department to establish the “triple bottom line”, meaning improvements in three broad areas of impact – environmental, social and economic.
In terms of crime reduction, our studies have found that “green” stormwater infrastructure improvements resulted in significant reductions in narcotics possession and theft. According to Philadelphia police detective Hugh Davis, one can feel neighbourhoods changing and becoming safer over time. Davis says:
It often starts out as a grant program to make landscape improvements, and then residents start to take ownership. It improves neighbourhood pride and goodwill toward the city.
Developing ‘green courage’ in the inner city
The theory behind urban greening and reduced crime levels is that when under-served neighbourhoods are made more pleasant, it can result in a healthier sense of community. In turn, it makes those neighbourhoods less hospitable to criminal activity.
In places like Baltimore and Philadelphia, city departments are working with communities to give people what some urban sociologists call “green courage”. This occurs when residents become more willing to work together after seeing improvements in their neighbourhood.
At the end of the day, urban greening is not simply about planting trees. It’s about people working together to make neighbourhoods better places to live.
We are working alongside these efforts, helping to document and provide a scientific basis for the work to spread and continue. For those of us who are working toward these goals, we sometimes wonder: are we planting trees to organise people or are we organising people to plant trees?
The best answer is probably “yes” to both.
The Townsville Greens will publish blogs considered to be of merit. The opinions expressed are those of the Author.