Vote for a real opposition party, not Labor

 

Surveys and anecdotal evidence suggest most Australians see climate change as an emergency requiring society-wide action, yet many are confused about which political party has a better climate policy. With this post I aim to clear up some of that confusion.

This article won’t tell you exactly who to vote for, but I will explain why both major parties are definitely enemies of the planet, so you should be looking to either the Greens or another climate-friendly minor party. (You can also see my previous post for a straightforward ranking of the parties’ climate policies.)

Yes, we must kick out the conservative government

I should briefly reiterate that I utterly oppose the Morrison Liberal government and its dismal record of climate inaction. Elected six years ago on a promise to repeal a Labor-Greens carbon tax, they have kept that promise and gone beyond, cutting almost every climate policy and institution. Prime Minister Scott Morrison even brought a lump of coal into Parliament.

The government’s own climate policy has gone through a confusing series of incarnations – from an “Emissions Reduction Fund”, to an “Emissions Intensity Scheme”, to a “Clean Energy Target”, to a “National Energy Guarantee”, to a “Climate Solutions Fund” which is a rebrand of the Emissions Reduction Fund. Each has been a different variant of slush fund for big polluters (funny how the Liberals’ “free market” principle doesn’t apply to big business).

The current Climate Solutions Fund will spend only $2 billion over 15 years. It is based around the principle of funding polluting companies who cut their emissions below their business-as-usual growth. Only companies whose emissions grow more than expected are penalized under the related “Safeguard Mechanism”. The penalty is a requirement to buy offsets.

And if you look beyond this fig-leaf of a climate policy, the government’s true energy policy is clear. They rubber-stamp approvals for new fossil fuel mines, most recently the Adani coal mine – not that the environmental approval process includes climate impacts anyway, but they ignored expert advice on water impacts. They have even proposed funding Adani. They’ve allocated 25 times more funding for luxury cars than for electric vehicles. Their Underwriting New Generation Investment program has even sought to fund new coal-fired power plants (and though their own recent shortlist did not find any new coal projects to be even economically viable, it did include several gas projects and a coal upgrade).

The government has slashed subsidies for renewable energy, and reduced the Renewable Energy Target when the Senate refused to abolish it outright. Together with the media, the Liberals have run a scare campaign falsely blaming renewable energy for electricity prices and blackouts, in order to present their policies as a “compromise” between competing principles. In reality, many renewable energy technologies are now cheaper than fossil fuels and getting cheaper still, and the main barrier to their deployment is that this anti-renewables government has slashed renewable energy subsidies. In contrast, fossil fuels will continue get ever more expensive as the fuels become more difficult to cheaply extract from the Earth.

Finally, this government has repeatedly tried to censor climate change information. They have cut funding for CSIRO, tried to get the Great Barrier Reef removed from a UN report about World Heritage sites, stacked climate advisory boards, used discredited accounting methods to measure Australia’s emissions, and delayed publication of emissions data until just before Christmas.

Even the government’s most meagre climate policies have faced opposition from far-right forces inside and outside the party. Ironically, they have become so needlessly extreme they have undermined the prospect of investment certainty for the fossil fuel industry they are tripping over each other to defend.

You can read much more about the government’s dismal record here and here. And this satirical “Honest Government Ad” provides a good summary of this government on climate and other issues:

Labor’s also in bed with fossil fuel industries

But none of that means we should be uncritical of the possible next government, the Australian Labor Party led by Bill Shorten.

Despite their name, I consider Labor to be a party of the centre rather than the left. They are not a real opposition party, as they actually agree with the Liberal government on a great deal. Both parties support fossil fuel industries; give a privileged advisory role to business lobbyists; aim to deliver emissions cuts at the lowest possible cost to polluting companies; and generally prioritize economic growth.

Labor are still promoting natural gas as a “cleaner” fuel that can be used in the transition away from coal. (That would disastrously lock in new polluting gas infrastructure, and the issue of methane leaks means gas is not really cleaner anyway.) Their energy policy involves new gas pipelines to “build a sustainable gas industry, including an export industry”, though they have tried to placate climate activists by saying those pipelines could also be used for hydrogen. During the campaign they announced a $1.5 billion subsidy for fracking in northern Australia, an announcement that blindsided some climate activists reassured by Labor’s recent climate-friendly rhetoric. And even their climate spokesperson Mark Butler was unable to name any plan to reduce residential gas use.

Even on the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal, the party is at best divided. Although some Melbourne candidates have signed a climate activist pledge to treat climate change as an emergency and at least one candidate explicitly opposes new coal mines in Queensland, some Queensland candidates have signed a mining union pledge to immediately open those same mines. Shorten is refusing to rule out approving the Adani coal mine and rail line that threatens to open up the region, and has said Labor MPs are “free to speak” on the issue.

But is there a real debate within the party, or is the party just telling everyone what they want to hear? Many Labor candidates, when asked about Adani, deflect by saying it’s not the only proposed coal mine and they support coal mines in general. My local Labor candidate was very dismissive when I raised the issue. Pro-coal faction leaders are describing the issue as a “fake coal war” that is “blown out of proportion”, repeating the same line that Labor supports coal mines in general.

Labor have indicated a possible way they could stop Adani. They promise to expand environmental approval laws to include a climate trigger, and have criticized the Liberal government for neglecting to apply the existing water trigger. The question is whether Labor will actually use these laws to stop coal mines, or if that implication is merely an empty promise to win green votes. Concerningly, their environmental law reform also aims to reduce “inefficiencies, delays and hurdles” to “give business more certainty”.

When recently asked about climate change on Q&A, Shorten spouted a lot of good rhetoric about the importance of acting, but then claimed the notion of phasing out fossil fuels is a government scare campaign:

We know the government’s going to run a scare campaign… They’re going to somehow say that if we want to act on climate change, there’ll never be any fossil fuels. There still will be fossil fuels in this country. The point about it is what I learned out of 2009. You can stand for something or fall for everything, and we’re going to stand and fight on climate change. We’re not retreating.

Astoundingly, some in the audience applauded for this deeply contradictory statement! The next question asked more directly whether Shorten would unequivocally denounce the Adani coal mine. He replied:

No. What I’m going to do is adhere to the science, adhere to the law, I’m going to make sure that we don’t have sovereign risk…

At the end of the day, we have to have a framework of laws, we have to have a framework for investment. So as much as some people would like me to just say “Just stop it,” I’m not going to say that, because we’ve got to have a system so we don’t incur sovereign risk…

What I can’t say to you is that we’re going to stop using fossil fuels in our energy mix. And I’m certainly not going to say that we’re going to stop exporting, because that’s not a realistic promise…

This government says, somehow, that unless you support every mining project without checking it out, without doing the science, that you’re anti-miner. I’ve represented more miners than this government ever will.

In reality, the environment movement has nothing against workers. We want the government to assist workers in fossil fuel industries to transition to something new. This principle of just transition is mentioned in the policies of the Greens and other minor parties. Indeed Labor mentions it in regard to closing coal-fired power plants (though it seemed to totally slip their minds during the carbon tax debacle when they were formerly in government). Furthermore, the same corporations trying to legitimize themselves as “creating jobs” are in reality increasingly automating their mining operations – they are not genuinely motivated by the interests of workers.

“Sovereign risk” is just a propaganda phrase to bamboozle the public into thinking  corporate-friendly policies are somehow the only legitimate course of action. The term originally referred to an unpaid debt owed by a government, and was used to portray poor countries as untrustworthy because they couldn’t afford to pay. This is obviously not at stake with environmental approvals. More recently, politicians have informally expanded the definition to include any government policy change that results in lost profits, or as Shorten puts it, “changing existing contracts”. As The Conversation rightly says: “This is a narrow focus on the perceived costs to commercial interests of government actions, rather than the question of appropriate policy.” Governments frequently flout signed agreements with impunity, except for trade agreements and military alliances, which tells you a lot about the actual priorities of these supposedly trustworthy governments.

The aforementioned coal and gas mines are Australia’s largest contribution to global warming (we are one of the world’s top coal exporters). But because the fuels are mostly exported and burned in Asia, they are largely ignored by the official numbers on Australian emissions. Labor’s policies on domestic emissions appear to have improved a bit since they were in government, but even they remain inadequate in scale and sketchy in detail.

Their central policy is to extend the government’s Safeguard Mechanism, but add stricter targets that would truly force high-polluting companies to buy carbon offsets, turning it into a baseline-and-credit emissions trading scheme. Like all emissions trading schemes, its complexity makes it difficult to evaluate its effectiveness. Details as important as emissions target baselines remain to be determined by consulting polluters, after the election. I haven’t forgotten the former Labor government’s emissions trading scheme looked okay when they were elected in 2007, but was then sabotaged by fossil fuel lobbyists putting the devil in the detail. They are already promising special treatment to protect the competitiveness of “emission-intensive trade-exposed industries”.

Baseline-and-credit schemes have long been a “moderate compromise” policy dreamed of by the greener sectors of the business press, and centrists on both “sides” of mainstream Australian politics. These centrists see forcing polluters to buy offsets as a clever “stealth carbon tax”, but I fear it is a scam of a policy. I just do not trust emissions trading schemes in general, or baseline-and-credit schemes in particular – their complexity can be used as cover for all kinds of shenanigans. For example, in 2017 when the Turnbull government proposed a baseline-and-credit scheme limited to the electricity industry, RenewEconomy pointed out it would effectively result in coal-fired generators paying gas-fired generators for their supposedly “cleaner” energy.

The big problem with baselines is if the baseline is wrong, then the purchased “emissions reductions” might be something that would have happened anyway. Labor rightly promises to improve the accounting rules of the Carbon Farming Initiative, and removing carbon from the atmosphere is necessary if we are to have any hope of cooling the planet, but I’m not convinced it should be sold as an offset for ongoing industrial pollution. Labor will also make it easier for polluters to buy offsets from other countries, which means much of Australia’s supposed emissions reductions will not occur in Australia and will not contribute to the necessary transformation of the Australian economy. Furthermore, international offsets will have different accounting rules to Australian ones, so it will be even more unclear whether they represent real action.

Labor also proposes various other positive measures which I listed in my previous post. Chief among them are gradual closures of coal power plants, targets for electric cars and vehicle emissions, doubling investment in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and a Renewable Energy Target of 50% by 2030. (The latter pales in comparison to the Greens target of 100% by 2030.)

Labor fails to address the climate emergency

Still, Labor must be feeling some pressure from the climate movement because they have strengthened their climate rhetoric as the campaign has gone on. As already mentioned, some federal Labor candidates have signed the climate emergency pledge. ACT’s Labor-Greens government has passed a climate emergency motion. Former Environment Minister Peter Garrett has called on the party to launch a “war cabinet” to fight climate change. Even Shorten recently even said the phrase “climate emergency”, words I never thought I would hear from a major party leader.

But without policies to back them up, they are just words. Do Labor politicians really understand what is meant by “climate emergency”?

Eminent climatologists Hans Schellnhuber and Will Steffen warn there is a serious possibility that we are already in the process of triggering a runaway “hothouse Earth”. The climate system appears to be teetering on the edge of several destabilizing tipping points, which could trigger a cascade of feedbacks amplifying global warming to catastrophic levels that threaten mass starvation. According to Steffen (who the former Labor government appointed as a climate advisor):

The obvious thing we have to do is to get greenhouse gas emissions down as fast as we can. That means that has to be the primary target of policy and economics. You have got to get away from the so-called neoliberal economics…

Absolutely no new fossil fuel developments. None. That means no new coal mines, no new oil wells, no new gas fields, no new unconventional gas fracking. Nothing new. Second, you need to have a rapid phase-out plan for existing fossil fuels.

Contrast that with this recent report from Climate Action Moreland:

At the Wills Climate forum held on Monday April 29, Peter Khalil MP revealed that he supports new fossil fuel infrastructure, despite his earlier calls for strong immediate action to slash carbon emissions.

Khalil was speaking in support of the Labor Party’s announcement of a $1.5 billion subsidy for a northern Australia gas pipeline network that would allow development of the Beetaloo and Galilee basin gasfields.

Peter Khalil signed the climate emergency declaration in December 2016.

Labor does deserve some credit for having come around to a pro-renewables policy, unlike the Liberals who have done everything they can to sabotage renewable energy. The trouble is that Labor is also pro-fossil-fuels, and is definitely still in the pocket of the gas industry, if not also the coal industry. It’s as if Labor has become the new party of business, promoting profits wherever they may lie, while the Liberals promote established industries losing profitability. It is now in the interests of most businesses to rhetorically acknowledge climate change, and support moderate policies which open up new investment opportunities in renewable energy, carbon trading, and gas. In particular, the increasing wealth and power of renewable energy corporations has helped push reluctant politicians toward better renewables policies.

But a real effort to drastically reduce emissions is still not in the interests of any business invested in fossil fuels, which requires phasing out fossil fuel burning. Nor, to a lesser extent, is it truly in the interests of any business – not even the renewable energy ones – because all businesses seek to grow, a goal fundamentally at odds with reducing their environmental footprint. We cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet. And both major parties clearly represent the interests of business, so neither is going to save us from the climate crisis.

The major parties don’t represent the interests of the majority, so why do they continue to receive the votes of the majority? It is high time for major party voters to wake up and realize they are being had.

And don’t fall for the major parties’ claim that you’d be “wasting your vote”. In Australia’s electoral system you cannot waste your vote, as explained (again) by Honest Government Ads:

Some minor parties oppose climate action

Voters are presented with a bewildering array of alternatives to the mainstream parties. Which ones deserve our support?

Generally minor parties do appear to be much less corrupt than major parties, so there is a nonzero possibility that even the bad ones might someday come around on climate, they probably have a point on some other issues, and if nothing else they inject an element of chaos into the political landscape that might ultimately deliver a better outcome than bipartisan rule.

Still, it is very clear that the right-wing minor parties (eg. One Nation) are no friends of the environment. These parties represent mostly older voters who are rightly questioning the mainstream propaganda of today, but have fallen for the dubious solution of returning to mid-20th-century policies, because they still believe the propaganda of that era. They generally reject the scientific consensus that human activity is causing global warming and are ideologically opposed to pretty much any climate action. I do agree with their concern about erosion of sovereignty, but they are wrong to blame unenforceable UN agreements giving lip service to the environment, rather than the stronger forces of global trade and American empire. On the other hand, a few right-wing parties oppose fracking on farmland. See the bottom half of my voting guide for more information on right-wing parties.

One party you absolutely shouldn’t vote for is the United Australia Party, whose ads you’ve probably seen everywhere. They are run by mining magnate Clive Palmer, who has a history of supporting his own coal mining interests over environmental considerations, no matter what he publicly claims to be doing. Though he claims to have saved particular climate policies, he actually helped weaken them, and he also brags about having helped abolish carbon and mining taxes. Anyone who wants climate action would be mad to vote for this conman.

Weighing up the climate-friendly parties

The Greens are the only climate-friendly party running in every lower house seat, and they are light-years ahead of the other major parties. In the Senate, and some lower house seats, there are other climate-friendly parties to choose from. Most of those parties are unlikely to win seats anyway, so you’ll probably want to direct your preference back to the Greens and then perhaps Labor. Still, a first preference vote does have an impact because it gives that party extra funding.

Other climate-friendly parties running in the Victorian Senate include: Independents for Climate Action Now, Animal Justice Party, Australian Workers Party, Robert Whitehill, Pirate Party Australia, Sustainable Australia, Secular Party of Australia, Health Australia, and Socialist Equality Party. (See the top half of my voting guide for more information on their climate policies.)

In some lower house seats, climate-friendly independents stand the best chance of unseating the government member. They include Zali Steggall in Warringah, Rob Oakeshott in Cowper, Helen Haines in Indi, Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth, Julia Banks in Flinders, and Oliver Yates in Kooyong.

Which of the above alternatives is the best? It’s ultimately a judgement call, depending partly on how you evaluate the credibility of their environment policies, and partly on how much weight you give to other issues where you may have an opinion one way or another. The following are my personal thoughts based on my own priorities, and you may choose differently.

Based on stated climate policies alone, I rank the Greens first, since they are putting forward the most detailed climate policies of all parties (for the details, see my earlier post and/or the Greens website). I will vote Greens in the lower house and place them way ahead of the major parties in the Senate. But I haven’t yet decided who to vote for in the Senate, as I do have some misgivings about the Greens.

Firstly, despite the detail in the Greens’ policies, part of me worries they could prove more compromising than some of the other similar parties. In the past, the Greens have pushed for compromises with Labor rather than their own stated policies. During the Gillard Labor government, the Greens arguably compromised more than they should have considering the leverage they could have wielded in the hung parliament. The compromises they made then delivered mixed results which drew weak support and strong opposition. Of course, if enough people decide to vote Greens this should not be a problem. But it would also help to have other climate-friendly parties and independents on the crossbench, so the Greens would not be the only parliamentarians pushing for greater action.

Secondly, in recent years I have become dissatisfied with Greens policy in some areas. They have quietly moderated their positions on a range of left-wing issues, including their support for Julian Assange and criticism of foreign policy generally (I suspect this may be related to Scott Ludlam having been kicked out for supposed foreign interests). On some other issues, they have become more politically-correct, such as advocating censorship to stop “hate speech”. Nowadays some see censorship as left-wing and free speech as right-wing, but that is not true: we’ve seen plenty of censorship coming from Australia’s right-wing government, and there are still a few brave left-wing voices who actively oppose censorship. The Pirate Party and the Socialist Equality Party are strong supporters of Assange and free speech generally. (Both are also explicitly anti-racist and anti-fascist, proving that being anti-censorship does not mean one is racist or fascist.)

Personally, censorship is probably my second top issue after climate change. I’m torn because on the one hand, if we don’t solve the climate crisis, none of the other issues will matter anyway. But on the other hand, if we let political correctness lead us down a primrose path to censorship, we could end up lacking the free speech required to challenge power and solve any issue. So I may decide to take a chance on the Pirate Party or the Socialist Equality Party.

I expect you are similarly weighing up possibilities depending on whatever issues you care about. I won’t tell you exactly which party to put first. But I will tell you, if you want climate action, vote for a climate-friendly minor party.

I implore you, don’t vote Labor. They have already had too many chances to be a real alternative, and they have failed again and again. So this election, vote for a real opposition party that might actually do something about climate change.

Australian climate voting guide

Let’s make this the climate election!

Here’s my guide for how to vote for climate action on 18 May (or earlier if you’re a pre-poll voter). Depending on where you live you may have a slightly different set of parties to consider, but the main parties are the same everywhere of course. This guide covers all parties running for the Victorian Senate.

I have ranked their environment policies from best to worst. I consider this the most important issue, because if we don’t save the planet that sustains us then none of the other issues will matter. However, you can follow the links to each party’s website if you want to look at their other positions. (I intend to also post about policies on Julian Assange, to conclude my ongoing series on that issue.)

The Senate ballot paper requires you to number at least 6 boxes to cast a valid vote, but bear in mind that 6 is just a minimum and you can number as many as you want. Remember that when you stop numbering, your vote stops counting. For example, if you number only 6 boxes, and those 6 options are eliminated, your vote will then have no influence over who wins a seat. I advise you to keep numbering boxes until you no longer have any preference between the remaining parties.

I hope this information will help you decide how to cast your vote.

The short version

Download (PDF, 139KB)

The long version below lists the details behind the above summary.

The long version

Urgent action policies

Australian Greens

General focus: Environmentalism.

Environment policies include:

  • “This is the climate change election”
  • “The mining, burning and exporting of coal is the world’s biggest cause of climate change – and Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of coal”
  • “UN scientists have told us we have less than 11 years to get global pollution under control or our planetary system is likely tip over into a climate breakdown”
  • Detailed plan to rapidly transform Australia’s energy system
  • No new coal, oil, or gas, such as the Adani coal mine
  • Ban all new offshore oil and gas, including in marine parks and the Great Australian Bight
  • Stop coal port expansions
  • Phase out thermal coal exports by 2030 through a schedule of coal export caps reducing each year, with permits auctioned at a floor price of $1/tonne
  • Phase out coal-fired power stations by 2030, proposing a detailed timeline for closures
  • Closed coal mines to be rehabilitated into useable land
  • National ban on fracking, “a serious threat to our climate, groundwater, agricultural land and community”
  • Commission “an independent study of the real climate impacts of gas mining”
  • Give landholders the right to say no to mining on their land
  • No new gas pipelines and infrastructure
  • End fossil fuel subsidies
  • Cut emissions 63-82% by 2030 and to net zero no later than 2040
  • Oppose the “accounting trick” of rolling over Kyoto surplus credits, “which will cut Liberal and Labor targets by up to 50 per cent”
  • Oppose international offsets to ensure climate action occurs in Australia
  • 100% of new vehicles to be electric by 2030
  • Introduce Labor’s vehicle emissions standard earlier then ramp it up
  • Require car manufacturers to sell a set percentage of electric vehicles each year
  • Tax breaks for electric cars, funded by a 17% tax on “luxury fossil fuel cars”
  • Roll out electric vehicle fast charging infrastructure
  • Restore a carbon price
  • 100% renewable energy by 2030, with an Energy Storage Target of 419GWh
  • $1 billion Clean Energy Transition Fund to ensure a just transition plan for coal workers
  • Intervene to save the Port Augusta solar thermal plant
  • Create a new public authority, Renew Australia, to lead the transition to low emissions
  • Re-establish a government-owned energy retailer, Power Australia, to “contract the next wave of renewable energy projects” and push down electricity prices by competing with the other retailers’ price-gauging
  • Create clean energy jobs primarily in regional areas
  • $1.7 billion Clean Energy Export Development Fund to build a clean energy export industry using hydrogen, ammonia, and underwater cables to Asia
  • Reinstate Australian Renewable Energy Agency funding
  • $6 billion Grid Transformation Fund to create Renewable Energy Zones
  • $1.2 billion Solar for All program susbidizing rooftop solar for apartment buildings
  • “Offer people the opportunity to buy into Solar Gardens, installed on a supermarket or community building, and get to retain ownership of their solar panel when they move”
  • Renewable energy and storage microgrids to support remote and indigenous communities
  • Support community renewable energy projects
  • $2.2 billion Household Solar Storage Scheme “providing household battery storage incentives of up to $7000 per battery” (and double that for small businesses and low-income households)
  • National Energy Efficiency Target mandating energy retailers to drive energy efficiency improvements
  • Clean Technology Program to stop gas installation in new houses and educate the public to replace gas heaters with reverse cycle air conditioners
  • Reestablish the Carbon Farming Initiative to support carbon drawdown, to be sold as offsets to the carbon market
  • Green Steel Innovation Fund
  • An extra $25 billion for rail and bus services
  • “End the toll road rort” by redirecting $6 billion in toll road funding to public transport
  • An Australia High Speed Rail Authority to build east coast high speed rail
  • $250 million for safe and accessible cycling and walking infrastructure
  • Replace current environmental approval process with new law including greenhouse gas emissions, extending the water trigger to cover all forms of gas extraction, and making it easier for communities to challenge decisions in court
  • A federal Environmental Protection Agency with “real powers to enforce the law and provide independent expert advice”
  • An Environment Commission to “identify and plan for strategic environmental interests”
  • Stop sending “recycling” overseas or to landfill
  • “Aim for zero waste”
  • Fund waste-avoidance infrastructure through Clean Energy Finance Corporation
  • Introduce waste stewardship plans for televisions, computers, phones, batteries, fluorescent lights, tyres, and mattresses
  • Phase out single-use plastics such as straws, stirrers, cutlery, utensils, plates, bowls, polystyrene containers and cups, and other plastic packaging
  • National container deposit scheme
  • Plastics Research Centre to address plastic pollution
  • Expand marine parks
  • Transition to 100% plantation-sourced timber, ending logging of native forests and broadscale land-clearing
  • Reallocate Great Barrier Reef funding and ban dumping of dredge spoil there
  • Implement the South Australian Royal Commission’s recommendations to ensure more water in the Murray Darling
  • Australia Institute modeling shows this plan can create 200,000 new jobs, double those currently employed in the fossil fuel industry
  • Ban political donations from mining companies among others

Personal thoughts: The Australian Greens are returning to their roots by placing a greater focus on the environment than in previous elections. I have placed them first ahead of ICAN because their climate policies are more detailed than any other party. However, one concern is that in the past the Greens have pushed for compromises with Labor rather than their own stated policies.

Independents for Climate Action Now

General focus: Climate activism.

Environment policies include:

  • Climate change “a threat that could annihilate most people on earth”
  • Threat of triggering runaway climate change is an emergency
  • “Fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground”
  • Seek to work with all climate-committed parliamentarians to form a “Climate Caucus” to hold the government to account on effective climate policy
  • Work with all members of government to get a National Climate Emergency Declaration and associated Act to restructure the Australian economy
  • Reinstate an independent climate science advisory body
  • Establish a Climate Emergency Response Commission to set targets and Climate Emergency Planning Implementation Authority to implement them
  • Australia to cut emissions at least 50% by 2030 and to net zero no later than 2050
  • Ban new exploration for fossil fuel resources
  • Prevent further development of new fossil fuel resources
  • End all fossil fuel subsidies
  • Phase out fossil fuels
  • Develop a clean energy export strategy which could include hydrogen exports, as well as high-voltage undersea cables to Asia
  • “Just transition of fossil fuel industry dependent workers and communities”
  • 100% renewable energy by 2030 with interim targets for each four-year period
  • Bring back an “an effective market-based price on Carbon” which will fund carbon offsets
  • Upgrade electricity transmission network for transition to renewables
  • Build Renewable Energy Zones
  • A target and program for home battery storage, as well as developing large-scale storage such as pumped hydro
  • Maintain Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme support for rooftop solar
  • Mandate solar power in all suitable new homes starting 2020, as well as energy-efficient design
  • Increase funds for Australian Renewable Energy Agency and Clean Energy Finance Corporation
  • Skills development for growing clean energy industries
  • Establish a battery manufacturing industry
  • End clearing of remnant native vegetation
  • Set sector-specific targets on regenerative agriculture and carbon farming
  • Various programs to promote carbon sequestration
  • Public and private investment in carbon drawdown R&D, recognizing that the IPCC’s best-case scenario depends on the invention of such technology
  • Comprehensive set of incentives for electric car uptake including charging infrastructure
  • Fund hydrogen fuel technology
  • Fund R&D for low-carbon aviation, shipping, and industrial processes
  • National system of energy-efficiency targets with five-year reviews
  • Introduce a National Embedded Carbon Cost Labelling Scheme for all consumer products and services
  • Pursue a National Sustainable Population Policy, while accounting for humanitarian commitment to resettle refugees
  • Fund various climate adaptation programs, including a National Emergency Response Service with “a dedicated contingent within the ADF”
  • Incorporate projected climate change into water allocation planning including in the Murray-Darling Basin
  • Expand national parks
  • Fund a National Climate Emergency Education and Messaging program advised by the Climate Council, and a climate-specific mental health program

Personal thoughts: Independents for Climate Action Now sets a standard for climate policy that other parties should be following, and they are the best at climate messaging. I’ve listed them second after the Greens because their policies are less detailed in some areas, and I’m not sure about a military response to extreme weather, and but otherwise these policies are excellent.

Animal Justice Party

General focus: Animal rights.

Environment policies include:

  • Climate change is an emergency and causing mass extinction
  • “It is an AJP priority that urgent action be taken to address global climate destabilisation”
  • Encourage a plant-based diet
  • Transition in 15-20 years to a carbon-free energy infrastructure
  • Prohibit any new fossil fuel expansion, including coal seam gas and other natural gas
  • “It makes no sense to transition to natural gas, only to have to replace it with something better in the near future”
  • Carbon tax on coal and animal agriculture industries, directing the revenue into sustainable energy and agriculture
  • Include environmental impact in selection criteria for all energy sources
  • Transition to 100% plantation forestry
  • Stop further land clearing and marine habitat destruction
  • Phase out the cattle industry, reducing methane, allowing reforestation, and reducing fertilizer runoff to coral reefs
  • Favor materials that are recyclable and have a low land use footprint
  • Want more plastic recycling and research on biodegradable products
  • Protect all marine animals from fishing, gas exploration, land-based agricultural runoff, and dredging
  • Establish a Commonwealth Environment Commission (CEC) and Commonwealth Environmental Protection Agency (CEPA) to implement and enforce ecological plans
  • Enforceable duty of care for landholders toward animals affected by land use change on their property
  • Legally recognize Rights of Nature
  • Aim to keep the national human birth rate below replacement levels and limit population growth to within existing urban boundaries

Personal thoughts: The Animal Justice Party are way more radical than me, and that is something I don’t often say. However I obviously agree we need to sustain the biosphere of which we are a part, and meat-heavy diets have an enormous climate and environmental footprint. Unsurprisingly, their climate and environmental policies are excellent.

Good climate policies

Australian Workers Party

General focus: Social democracy.

Environment policies include:

  • “Climate change is real and poses a threat to our planet”
  • Support a zero emissions target for 2030, but also support Paris Agreement targets
  • Oppose fracking
  • Oppose the Adani mine
  • Oppose dependency on fossil fuels
  • “An attainable price for carbon”
  • Remove all fossil fuel subsidies
  • No new fossil fuel or nuclear power stations
  • Replace electricity poles and wires with decentralized renewable energy generation and storage
  • Utilize pumped hydro energy storage where feasible
  • R&D for carbon drawdown, recycling, power storage, water purification, and land harm minimization
  • Reduce production and consumption of single use items and excess plastic packaging
  • Ban plastic shopping bags
  • Recycle hospital waste through sterilization
  • Promote recycling and reduce landfill
  • Ban all logging in high conservation-value forests and transition from public land logging to plantations
  • Ban all offshore dumping of dredge oil on the Great Barrier Reef
  • Implement the recommendations of the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission
  • Strategies to deal with unexpected climate events

Personal thoughts: The Australian Workers Party does not list the environment as a major priority so it is unclear whether they will actually promote these policies. That said, their stated policies are more climate-friendly than almost all other parties. They are proposing the deepest emissions reduction target of all parties, deeper even than ICAN and the Greens, though it seems contradictory that they support the Paris Agreement target which is far less than zero emissions by 2030.

Robert Whitehill & Sunny Chandra (Group Z)

General focus: Various including climate action.

Environment policies include:

  • Stop construction of motorways
  • Thousands of new buses
  • Increase bus and train frequencies
  • Expand Melbourne’s tram network to various places by 2040
  • Expand Victoria’s train network to a long list of places by 2050
  • High-speed rail from Melbourne to Brisbane
  • Safe separated bike lanes
  • Stop Adani
  • Stop oil drilling in Great Australian Bight
  • Transition away from coal and oil (and cut any subsidies for them)
  • “Promote and subsidize renewable energy”
  • “Advertising blitz” for energy conservation
  • “Advertising blitz” for family planning
  • “Address limits to growth and natural resources”
  • Tree-planting initiatives
  • Sustainable infrastructure and oconstruction

Personal thoughts: Robert Whitehill in particular has a comprehensive set of policies to address climate change, especially the transport system.

Pirate Party Australia

General focus: Digital liberties and free speech.

Environment policies include:

  • Cut emissions 50% by 2030
  • Ban fossil fuel mining around important land, water, and aquifers
  • Give landowners rights to refuse fossil fuel mining on their land
  • Impose a moratorium on coal seam gas
  • Reallocate Emissions Reduction Fund toward clean tech R&D
  • Ensure publicly funded clean tech is made freely available to poor countries
  • Extend Clean Energy Finance Corporation loans to support community power
  • Change regulations to ensure households are freer to enter energy markets as generators
  • Shift taxation from savings to carbon, restoring the 2014 carbon tax
  • Free permits for coal-fired power stations “only where grid stability is at stake”
  • Tax thermal coal exports at $2/tonne, with the revenue used to purchase carbon offsets
  • Extend the Renewable Energy Target to 70,000 GWh by 2025
  • Adopt EU 2020 vehicle efficiency standards by 2023
  • Roll out electric vehicle charging stations
  • Manage Murray-Darling at federal level
  • Various other environmental programs

Personal thoughts: The Pirate Party’s climate policy is pretty good, though not as ambitious as I remember it being in the past. The mention of free permits for coal power plants is a bit concerning.

Sustainable Australia

General focus: Eco-nationalism.

Environment policies include:

  • Describe themselves as more centrist than the Greens
  • Lower immigration from 200,000 to 70,000 per year to reduce Australian population growth
  • Remove immigration from all trade agreements
  • Limit baby bonus type payments
  • Ten times more foreign aid for female education and contraception to reduce global population growth
  • Stop Adani
  • Lower Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30% below 2000 by 2025, 40-60% by 2030, and 80-100% by 2050
  • Renewable energy target of at least 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2050
  • Fund clean energy R&D
  • A moratorium on all fracking
  • A moratorium on all new export-based coal mines in Australia
  • Phase out fossil fuel subsidies (excluding diesel fuel rebate)
  • Lobby for a globally consistent carbon price that does not penalize Australian industries
  • Assess pumped hydro energy storage opportunities
  • No nuclear power
  • Promote a plant-based diet
  • Reduce waste, increase recycling, and establish “major community product repair and recycle centres”
  • Prioritize public transport funding over new tollways
  • End broadscale land clearing and rehabitate degraded lands
  • Minimize native forest logging and end old-growth forest logging
  • Widespread habitat protection and wildlife corridors
  • Invest in environmental education
  • Prioritize ecological design in housing
  • More biodiversity corridors
  • Increase conservation management funding and employment
  • Review Murray-Darling Basin policy, asking whether water trading makes sense considering “not all water is equal”, and also representing farming communities and traditional owners
  • Audit all nonrenewable resources and implement strategic resource depletion protocols and usage rights
  • Resource Super Profits Tax with the revenue directed to sustainability

Personal thoughts: Sustainable Australia has some good environment policies, but it is concerning that their carbon price would shield trade-exposed industries.

Secular Party of Australia

General focus: Secularism.

Environment policies include:

  • “We recognise global warming as a significant and dire threat to global civilisation”
  • Oppose the major parties’ polluter-paying and emissions-trading policies as ineffective
  • Introduce a simple carbon tax which would increase annually, use the revenue to fund alternative energy investment
  • Introduce an International Coal Tax on coal exports, starting at $5/tonne and increasing by $5/tonne annually, and use the revenue for domestic and international structural adjustment
  • Promote similar taxes internationally
  • Utilize all forms of renewable energy as well as nuclear energy
  • Do more about resource depletion, water conservation, dry land salinity, and overpopulation
  • Mining resource rent tax
  • “A full mobilisation of the world economy as if for war – a war for our survival, a war against carbon emissions”

Personal thoughts: The Secular Party’s climate policy is not bad but lacks detail. Their coal export tax is good, though I notice they don’t go as far as simply banning new fossil fuel mines.

Health Australia Party

General focus: Alternative medicine.

Environment policies include:

  • Vague on acceptance of climate change science (perhaps due to a general distrust of the scientific establishment) but support strong action on it
  • Ban fracking
  • Retire fossil fuel generators over at maximum 15 years
  • Shift fossil fuel subsidies to renewables
  • Mining companies should not have access to land without permission and preserving prime agricultural land
  • No nuclear power unless it is shown to be safe
  • “Optimal emissions targets set by objective science”
  • Prohibit logging of old-growth forests
  • Regenerative agriculture and permaculture
  • Reduce dependence on imported food by fostering local food co-operatives
  • Stricter regulation of insecticides to prevent death of bees
  • Stricter regulation of herbicides
  • Improve public transport infrastructure
  • Promote low-carbon architecture
  • Build new dams and monitor water use of landowners

Personal thoughts: Health Australia are a bit vague on their acceptance of climate change, perhaps due to a general suspicion of the scientific establishment. Still, their pro-alternative ideology has led them to rational conclusions on the environment, though it is unclear if their phaseout of fossil fuels would include exports.

Democracy-based policies

Socialist Equality Party

General focus: Trotskyist communism.

Environment policies include:

  • “For urgent action on climate change!”
  • “Supports the broadest expression of opposition to the looming environmental catastrophe”
  • Argue climate change cannot be stopped under the capitalist system “dominated by the drive for private profit”
  • Argue that big issues like environmental destruction need to be addressed globally and through “conscious economic planning”
  • Bring the biggest polluting corporations under democratic control
  • “A multi-billion-dollar public works program” to, among other things, “develop the infrastructure needed to address climate change”
  • Support the School Strike for Climate
  • Accuses Labor’s and the Greens’ climate policies of centering “cash subsidies to big business, and ‘market-based’ solutions”
  • Accuses the Australian Youth Climate Coalition of trying to censor socialist leaflets

Personal thoughts: The Socialist Equality Party have an unusually honest analysis of the world’s present precarious situation, and make a persuasive case that real climate action is difficult or impossible within the current system. On the other hand, they are light on detail about what exactly might be done about the climate after their revolution.

Climate Action! Immigration Action! Accountable Politicians!

General focus: Direct democracy.

They have no policies and will support whatever people vote for online – the current party name reflects issues raised by Australians in a recent survey. It is unclear exactly how the process would work. Unlike the other direct democracy party, they say each person will get one vote on each bill.

Based on how you interpret current opinion polls, a democratic climate policy could be either middle-of-the-road or ambitious.

VOTEFLUX.ORG Upgrade Democracy!

General focus: Direct democracy.

They have no policies and will support whatever people vote for. Unlike the other direct democracy party, they propose a clear mechanism: a smartphone app which would contact each voter on proposed bills drafted by issue-based specialists. The app would also allow trading of votes, and reward abstainers with surplus votes for later bills.

Based on how you interpret current opinion polls, a democratic climate policy could be either middle-of-the-road or ambitious.

Some good policies, but weak on fossil fuels

Australian Labor Party

General focus: Saving capitalism from its excesses.

Environment policies include:

  • “Working with industries” to “keep the economy strong while bringing down pollution to protect our future”
  • $1.5 billion to fund fracking in the Galilee and Beetaloo Basins
  • Refuses to rule out stopping the Adani coal mine and associated Galilee Basin coal mining projects
  • No plan to phase out coal
  • Continue the government’s “safeguard mechanism” (ie. a requirement for polluting companies to cut their emissions or buy offsets) with reduced pollution caps, but with baselines based on industry consultation, with tailored treatment for emission-intensive trade-exposed industries, continuing to exclude the agricultural sector though it will be used to generate offsets, and making it easier for businesses to buy international offsets to meet their obligations
  • Reintroduce an emissions target into the National Energy Guarantee, 45% below 2005 by 2030
  • Aim to cut Australian emissions 45% below 2005 by 2030 and to net zero by 2050
  • Increase renewable energy target to 50% by 2030
  • Double investment in Clean Energy Finance Corporation
  • A Neighbourhood Renewables Program and $2,000 rebates for solar batteries for 100,000 households
  • Upgrade transmission lines with links to Renewable Energy Zones
  • 50% of new car sales to be electric by 2030, and roll out charging infrastructure across the country
  • Vehicle emissions standards in line with the US
  • Build new gas pipelines
  • Fund research and deployment of hydrogen technologies, use existing gas pipelines for hydrogen, and establish a National Hydrogen Innovation Hub in Gladstone
  • Reduce gas exports to reduce domestic gas prices
  • Expand environmental approval laws to include a climate trigger, but also reduce “inefficiencies, delays and hurdles” to “give business more certainty”
  • Imply that they will use the water trigger for dams and pipelines associated with large coal mines
  • Establish a federal Environmental Protection Agency
  • Require large generators to provide at least three years notice of closure
  • Establish an independent Just Transition Authority to plan structural adjustment for future station closures
  • Upgrade rail lines
  • Develop a Low Carbon Strategy for each sector through industry consultation
  • Strategic Meat Industry Plan
  • Repair the Carbon Farming Initiative
  • Empower the federal government to intervene to stop land clearing
  • Reinstate an Australian Climate Ambassador to engage “constructively” in UN climate talks
  • Restore the advisory Climate Change Authority

Personal thoughts: The Australian Labor Party are at best divided on the climate issue. At the positive end, Labor’s former Environment Minister Peter Garrett has called on the party to launch a “war cabinet” to fight climate change. However at the negative end, the party leadership is promoting new coal mega-mines and fracking. Policy details as important as emissions target baselines remain to be determined by post-election consultation with polluting industries, and such consultation has usually sabotaged Labor’s policies in the past. Their enthusiasm for gas suggests they are still in the pocket of the gas industry. I intend to post a more detailed analysis of Labor’s policies soon.

Australian Democrats

General focus: Centrism.

Environment policies include:

  • Substantially reduce emissions
  • Ensure energy initiatives prioritize emissions reduction
  • Whole of government approach to transition to sustainable energy
  • Transition to energy that is sustainable and decentralized but cheap and reliable
  • Reduce fossil fuel dependence
  • Remove market barriers for renewable energy
  • Technology transfer and aid to help developing countries with sustainable energy
  • “Protect the energy sector from undue influence and distortion from vested interests and partisan politics”
  • Incorporate eco-design into future infrastructure
  • Extend the Renewable Energy Target
  • Keep the Clean Energy Finance Corporation
  • Environment-industry partnerships
  • Limit population but in line with international human rights obligations
  • Ensure availability and sustainable management of water

Personal thoughts: The Australian Democrats seem like their heart is in the right place on climate change, but they are very vague on detail.

Help End Marijuana Prohibition Party

General focus: Marijuana.

Environment policies include:

  • Burn cannabis for fuel because it is “a renewable resource and carbon sink”

Personal thoughts: The HEMP Party are difficult to take seriously when they claim one plant is a wonder drug for everything including climate change. I guess the sellers of illegal products advertise even more dishonestly than the sellers of legal ones.

Anti-fracking policies

The Great Australian Party

General focus: Sovereign citizen.

Environment policies include:

  • Stop fracking on Australian land
  • Irrigate Australia and remove water metres from dams

Personal thoughts: The Great Australian Party have almost no environment policy, except for opposing fracking which puts them ahead of most right-wing parties.

Christian Democratic Party

General focus: Christianity.

Environment policies include:

  • “We are called to be stewards (custodians) of the environment”
  • “Economic paradigm of maximizing exploitation of the natural resources must be balanced with a caretaking and sustainability paradigm”
  • Opposes coal seam gas fracking in all agricultural area, forests, and water catchments
  • Supports an immediate moratorium on all fracking
  • “YES to limited Coal Fired Power Stations”
  • Favors nuclear power
  • Manage immigration “on the advice of demographic experts and not growth economics”
  • Enhance drought preparedness
  • “Conduct a Scientific Enquiry into the impact of Climate Change”

Personal thoughts: The Christian Democratic Party’s environment policy could be worse, clearly opposing fracking at least, but they support coal and seem unaware that scientists have already studied climate change (and I wonder what they think of paleoclimatology). I rather hope their followers will pray rather than vote.

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party

General focus: Tough on crime, especially sexual violence.

No environment policies.

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party

General focus: Right to roam and farm.

Environment policies include:

  • Use our “vast reserves of gas, coal, uranium and oil shales”, as long as it does not “permanently” affect agricultural land or water
  • No subsidies for renewables while there are cheaper energy sources available
  • Reserve gas for domestic supply
  • Rebuild “sustainable” timber industry, and oppose “ideologically driven anti-forestry activism” and “the destructive policies of the Greens”
  • Oppose any carbon taxes which would “disadvantage Australian businesses, employment or citizens for little or no benefit to our lives, economy, or environment”
  • Give farmers the right to refuse mining operations
  • Replace fossil fuels with nuclear power
  • Claim that major parties “cave in to inner city and green lobby groups over land clearing laws”
  • Northern water diversion scheme and infrastructure for water conservation
  • Review the Murray-Darling Basin Plan
  • Prevent legal challenges against environmental approvals
  • Let farmers decide which land is cleared and burned
  • Oppose any bans on recreational fishing
  • Sustainably manage resources through “serious stakeholder debate and planning”
  • Expand recreational access to public land and waters
  • Promote hunting game reserves
  • “Oppose the vilification of four-wheel driving and motoring enthusisasts”
  • “Promote shooting, hunting and fishing as appropriate school activities”
  • Shift from environmental conservation to “adaptive management”

Personal thoughts: The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party tends to see environmentalists as their enemy, which I think is extremely short-sighted of them – how do these farmers expect to grow food on a planet that is several degrees hotter among other issues? However, they are sane on coal seam gas, where farmers can see another industry is doing harm to their land.

Bad climate policies

Democratic Labour Party

General focus: Catholic distributism.

No environment policies.

Republican Party of Australia

General focus: Anti-monarchy.

Environment policies include:

  • Oppose an emissions trading scheme as “rorting”
  • Energy security

Personal thoughts: The Republican Party might have a point with their skepticism of emissions trading schemes, but they propose no alternative climate policy.

The Small Business Party

General focus: Small business.

Environment policies include:

  • Reduce energy prices rather than “appeasing either the climate change believers or the sceptics”
  • Claim to support “sustainable and practical actions that protect the planet”, but only if they protect small businesses
  • Blame “power companies who prioritize profit over our planet”

Personal thoughts: The Small Business Party are at best agnostic on climate policy. Although I’d rather have policies written by small businesses than big ones, they are clearly just as myopically focused on their own economic interests rather than what is good for humanity.

Yellow Vest Australia

General focus: A misleading rebrand of a party that existed prior to the Yellow Vests and actually represents an anti-Islam movement called the Q Society.

Environment policies include:

  • Claim to be “neither ‘believers’ nor ‘deniers’” in climate change, but emphasise that climate change and extreme weather happened before human impact
  • Phase out “uneconomical and unreliable” renewable energy subsidies, but support renewables in off-grid areas
  • Reduce dependency on oil by promoting natural gas and non-combustive engines for cars
  • Investigate thorium as a nuclear power source
  • Construct new dams for hydro power and irrigation, and abolish the Murray-Darling Basin Plan
  • Environment policies focus on toxic waste, rubbish accumulation, national container deposit scheme, and biodegradeable packaging material

Personal thoughts: Yellow Vest Australia evidently denies or downplays human-caused global warming.

Very bad climate policies

Liberal Party of Australia/National Party of Australia

General focus: Right-wing.

Environment policies include:

  • Fund Adani coal mine through Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility
  • Existing Emissions Reduction Fund to become Climate Solutions Fund which will spend only $2 billion over 15 years, to pay polluting companies to cut their emissions below business as usual
  • Continue associated “safeguard mechanism”, a requirement for polluting companies to merely buy offsets and only for emissions above business as usual
  • National Energy Guarantee to underwrite new energy generation, supposedly “technology-neutral” but will underwrite one or more new coal-fired power plants
  • Only $400,000 to develop a National Electric Vehicle Strategy
  • Expand the Snowy Hydro Scheme
  • Strategy to halve food waste by 2030
  • Help households improve energy efficiency
  • Kyoto surplus credits from previous years to be counted toward future emissions targets

Personal thoughts: The Liberal/National Coalition, as I’m sure you know unless you’ve been living in a cave, is the incumbent government and is notorious for doing nothing about climate change.

Rise Up Australia Party

General focus: Christian conservativism.

Environment policies include:

  • Believe carbon dioxide is not a pollutant
  • Use all available energy sources, including coal
  • Describe natural gas as “cleaner energy”
  • Like thorium, tidal, and geothermal, but seem more ambivalent on solar and wind
  • Reduce oil and gas exports so more is available for Australia
  • Unclear whether they support or oppose the Renewable Energy Target
  • Free water access for farmers, but investigate water-saving irrigation systems and the environmental impact of pesticides and fertilizers
  • Redirect rivers inland

Personal thoughts: Rise Up Australia’s energy policy is so badly-written it is difficult to understand, but it seems to more or less keep the status quo. And it’s funny how the only clean energy technologies they like are the ones least ready to be deployed.

Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party

General focus: White nationalism.

Environment policies include:

  • “Enthusiastic supporter of mining, including coalmine development in the Galilee Basin”
  • Supports government building new railway and ports to enable more exports
  • Build new coal-fired power stations
  • Slash regulation on the aviation industry
  • Amend the constitution to limit international treaties, which they see as an attack on Australian democratic sovereignty
  • Divert rivers inland to irrigate Queensland

Personal thoughts: Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party have a point that Australian sovereignty has eroded, but are wrong to blame that on unenforceable UN agreements giving lip service to climate action.

Citizens Electoral Council of Australia

General focus: LaRouche conspiracism and anti-banks.

Environment policies include:

  • “Stop any measures to reduce energy consumption, whether they are in the form of carbon taxes, emissions trading schemes, or government regulations”
  • Stop treating carbon dioxide as a pollutant
  • Withdraw from all international climate talks and agreements
  • “Economic development can improve the environment for man and nature”
  • Oppose “extreme green policies” for helping ruin family farms
  • Abolish the fuel excise for the agricultural sector
  • More oil and gas drilling onshore and offshore
  • Wanted to keep Hazelwood open
  • Blame renewables for blackouts and high electricity prices, but support hydrogen as a replacement for oil
  • Support nuclear fission power, but also want to develop nuclear fusion
  • Renationalize all electricity assets and energy resources
  • Transport products through high speed rail around the Australian coastline and suboceanic rail tunnels to Asia
  • Abolish environmental flows in the Murray-Darling Basin, and build various river-diverting schemes to address water shortage
  • Preference the Greens despite being anti-environmentalist, because the Greens support some of their banking policies

Personal thoughts: The Citizens Electoral Council’s extreme fear of environmentalism remains clear.

Liberal Democratic Party

General focus: “Libertarianism” (mostly investor liberties).

Environment policies include:

  • Place a low value on the natural environment, arguing only our prosperous society has the luxury of overvaluing it
  • Emphasise that climate change happened before human impact and the Medieval Warm Period was good for the Vikings
  • If they become convinced that global warming is a problem and humans can affect it, they favor market-based options
  • Claim Australia’s coal production is too small to make any difference
  • Concerned about “noise pollution from wind farms”
  • Promote nuclear power and uranium mining
  • No restrictions on logging, arguing “locking up vast areas of forest on the basis that it is ‘old growth’ is folly”
  • No subsidies for recycling, because recycling techniques might consume wasteful amounts of energy and water
  • Claim native vs exotic species are just an aesthetic preference
  • Privatize all energy and water, because “the best protection for the environment is usually achieved through ending government control over natural resources”
  • No restrictions on hunting or fishing, because “the hunting of certain native animals is one of the few means by which they can be given a commercial value that ensures their survival”
  • Conservation should be done only by allowing environmental groups the “freedom they are now denied, to buy the relevant natural resources and devote them to conservation purposes”

Personal thoughts: The Liberal Democratic Party are comically blinded by their worship of the free market, which they seem to think will magic away any negative effect of trashing the environment with impunity – except when it comes to wind farms, for some reason they suddenly become concerned about the environmental impact.

Australian Conservatives

General focus: Conservatism.

Environment policies include:

  • Describe climate change, emissions targets, and renewable energy as “ideological obsessions”
  • “Legislative certainty for the ongoing use of fossil fuels”
  • “We will support landholders’ rights to allow gas production on their properties” (notice the sneaky wording!)
  • No renewable energy targets or subsidies
  • Require all electricity supplied to the grid to be predictable in output
  • Promote nuclear energy
  • Build more dams for hydro power
  • “A one-in, two-out approach to remove the red and green tape strangling business”
  • Withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord

Personal thoughts: The Australian Conservatives are dogmatically true to their name to the point of being comical, as illustrated by some of the above quotes, so they will not act on global warming.

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation

General focus: Nationalism.

Environment policies include:

  • “We are the only political party to question climate science”
  • Argue at length against the scientific evidence of human-caused global warming
  • Use the Senate to question government scientific advisors on climate
  • “There is a growing concern about the evidence on which the claims of man-made global warming rests”
  • Withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which they claim commits Australia to “the deepest and most savage carbon emission cuts in the world, on a per person basis”
  • Build new “low-emission” coal-fired power stations
  • Oppose subsidizing renewable energy sources, which they claim “cannot provide the base load power we need”
  • Oppose “Labor’s crazy car cull” because of the long distances in rural Australia
  • Oppose mining or coal seam gas exploration on farmland
  • Build new dams
  • Redirect Queensland rivers inland
  • Desalination plants
  • Water entitlements to be held by states rather than corporations

Personal thoughts: Pauline Hanson’s One Nation oppose climate policies and are the party most vocally opposed to the conclusions of climate science, though on the other hand they oppose coal seam gas on farmland.

United Australia Party

General focus: Personality cult of mining magnate Clive Palmer.

Environment policies include:

  • “Strongly committed to the support and future development of the Queensland coal industry”, which they claim is “our cheapest form of power”
  • Increase mining and the processing and exporting thereof
  • Oppose electric cars because of high electricity prices
  • Use Australian uranium for nuclear power
  • Abolish Murray-Darling Basin Plan
  • Leader has accused anti-coal campaigners of being funded by foreign interests like the Rockefeller Foundation and/or CIA
  • Brags about having helped abolish carbon and mining taxes
  • Claims to have saved climate policies that they actually weakened

Personal thoughts: United Australia Party is led by mining magnate Clive Palmer, who has a history of supporting his own coal mining interests over environmental considerations, no matter what he might publicly claim to be doing. Anyone who wants climate action would be mad to vote for this conman.

Defending Assange 7: Trump’s tyranny

This is Part 7 in a series on Julian Assange’s legal case and trial-by-media:

  • Part 1 discussed the value of Wikileaks
  • Part 2 discussed the Obama administration’s secret legal action
  • Part 3 discussed the Swedish sexual assault case
  • Part 4 discussed the Russian conspiracy accusations
  • Part 5 discussed the Ecuadorian “bad houseguest” accusations
  • Part 6 discussed the British charge of resisting arrest

Julian Assange is currently facing British court hearings on extradition to the United States. He has been proven right in his fear that this was the real agenda all along. Now that all the pretexts have run their course, we can finally see the true threat to Assange.

Trump, much like Obama before him, has been two-faced. When personally asked about his administration’s move to extradite Assange, he ludicrously claimed he doesn’t know anything about Wikileaks and the decision is not his responsibility. In reality, Trump has a presidential pardon so he could stop the prosecution if he really wanted to, and in the past he’s made both negative and positive remarks about Wikileaks.

In 2010, long before he ran for President, he offhandedly remarked that Wikileaks is “disgraceful” and “I think there should be like death penalty or something”. Then during his election campaign he praised Wikileaks over 100 times and claimed “I love Wikileaks”. Many Trump supporters still somehow believe Trump is really on Assange’s side and is “playing five-dimensional chess” against the deep state, but that theory contradicts all the actions of Trump and his administration.

Trump seems to have raised the priority of going after Assange. In general Trump is more openly hostile to the press than Obama was, because the press is superficially hostile to a Republican administration (albeit remaining government stenographers on most substantive issues). As soon as the mainstream media started smearing alternative media as “fake news”, Trump started applying the same slur to mainstream media. The Trump administration has refused to rule out prosecuting other journalists on the same basis as Wikileaks. So mainstream journalists should not be so confident the Assange case won’t be used as a precedent to take away their rights too.

In reaction to the 2017 CIA leaks, Trump’s first CIA Director Mike Pompeo condemned Wikileaks as a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”. In a sense I suppose Pompeo is right: Wikileaks has acted as a kind of people’s intelligence service. Unlike the state intelligence services which claim to protect our interests, Wikileaks tells us what is actually going on. Pompeo also said:

We have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us. To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.

Interpreting constitutional rights is supposed to be the role of courts, not intelligence agencies. Do remarks like this indicate that the verdict of Assange’s case has already been predetermined? In the Q&A at the end of his speech, which seems to have been deleted, Pompeo reportedly added:

Julian Assange has no First Amendment privileges. He is not a U.S. citizen. What I was speaking to is an understanding that these are not reporters doing good work to try to keep the American Government on us. These are actively recruiting agents to steal American secrets with the sole intent of destroying the American way of life.

It’s true that Assange has never been a US citizen, and his alleged crimes against the US government were committed when he was not even in the country. But surely that should mean that American law cannot be applied to him at all, rather than American punishments without American rights? Will other states also start demanding the extradition of foreign journalists who publish their secrets?

The existence of the US Grand Jury investigating Assange, already an open secret, was again revealed accidentally a few months ago when Assange was named in documents from another case, and officially this month when it finally unveiled its indictment against Assange. The Grand Jury is located in the Eastern District of Virginia, which is the espionage court according to CIA torture whistleblower John Kiriakou, who was imprisoned for 30 months after taking a plea bargain. He says all national security cases are presided over by Reagan-appointed Judge Leonie Brinkema:

No national security defendant has ever won a case in the EDVA. In my case, I asked Judge Brinkema to declassify 70 documents that I needed to defend myself. She denied all 70 documents. And so I had literally no defense for myself and was forced to take a plea. I suspect Julian is gonna get the same treatment. He’ll just not be allowed to defend himself.

Obama had caved to public pressure to shorten Manning’s prison sentence from 35 years to 7 on the last day of his administration. But this year Manning was reimprisoned because she refused to answer questions from the secret grand jury which is now admitted to have been investigating Assange. Wikileaks tweeted:

Now the extradition request is public, it turns out the accusation against Assange is “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion”. Despite the fact that Manning took full responsibility for her leaks at her court-martial, the evidence given in the indictment is that Manning asked someone, allegedly Assange, for advice on how to crack a password. The same evidence has been available at least since Manning’s court-martial (it was listed in Manning’s charges in 2011) so why was the indictment not made public until the British police got their hands on Assange?

It’s unclear if Assange did what he’s accused of. The account with which Manning corresponded was named “Nathaniel Frank”. The prosecution might have difficulty proving that account was operated by Assange – which probably explains why they are trying to force Manning to testify against him. It’s also unclear whether Manning succeeded in cracking the password. Most importantly, Manning already had access to the documents; she only wanted the password so she could log in with a different username to cover her identity.

Many mainstream journalists claim this doesn’t threaten press freedom because Assange is supposedly being charged for “hacking” and not for publishing. In reality, he is being indicted for conspiring with a source to cover their identity online. And even that is a flimsy excuse to prosecute Assange for effectively doing journalism, which will surely set a precedent for journalists to be targeted with similar excuse charges in future.

This is explained in more detail by Glenn Greenwald, the first publisher of the Snowden leaks:

It simply accuses Assange of trying to help Manning log into the Defense Department’s computers using a different username so that she could maintain her anonymity while downloading documents in the public interest and then furnish them to WikiLeaks to publish.

In other words, the indictment seeks to criminalize what journalists are not only permitted but ethically required to do: take steps to help their sources maintain their anonymity…

The indictment claims that “discussions also reflect Assange actively encouraging Manning to provide more information. During an exchange, Manning told Assange that ‘after this upload, that’s all I really have got left.’ To which Assange replied, ‘curious eyes never run dry in my experience.’”

But encouraging sources to obtain more information is something journalists do routinely. Indeed, it would be a breach of one’s journalistic duties not to ask vital sources with access to classified information if they could provide even more information so as to allow more complete reporting. If a source comes to a journalist with information, it is entirely common and expected that the journalist would reply: Can you also get me X, Y, and Z to complete the story or to make it better?

Greenwald continues in more technical detail, pointing out that the mainstream media have adopted Wikileaks-like software to communicate more securely with their sources, which would also be criminalized by the Assange indictment. In short, we’re being led to believe this is not an attack on journalism because it’s merely an attack on what a good journalist does in the course of their work!

Another media talking point is that Assange is “not a journalist”. In reality, even a UK tribunal has ruled that Wikileaks qualifies as a media organization. Greenwald again:

Although this charge carries a maximum penalty of only five years, there is reason to believe the US will later add much more serious espionage charges that can be punished by death. The US Department of Justice has admitted in a now-public letter that it is investigating Assange for the much broader charge of “unauthorized receipt and dissemination of secret information”. And as pointed out by James Goodale, the former New York Times editor who published the Pentagon Papers:

References to a conspiracy under the Espionage Act in the Assange indictment raise the question of whether the U.S. government is going for a bait-and-switch — get Assange past the English courts and to the United States, only to charge him with espionage when he is on American soil.

It is true that the extradition treaty states that a defendant cannot be prosecuted for any offense other than that on which the surrendering country agreed to extradite. But the treaty excludes from this rule any charges “based on the same facts as the offense for which extradition was granted.” And so, while the indictment makes out a case for espionage without charging it, the government has laid the groundwork to get around the rule that Assange be charged only for the offenses already stated.

The UK is preparing to hand over Assange in the belief that he won’t face death or torture, or at least they can plausibly deny knowledge of these potential punishments. But it is already evident that the US government is inclined to harshly punish him once they get their hands on him, and establish a precedent for a much broader attack on press freedom. This should not be allowed to happen.

In my final installment, I will examine the reaction of Australian politicians and add my own concluding thoughts.

Defending Assange 6: Britain’s bullshit

This is Part 6 in a series on Julian Assange’s legal case and trial-by-media:

  • Part 1 discussed the value of Wikileaks
  • Part 2 discussed the Obama administration’s secret legal action
  • Part 3 discussed the Swedish sexual assault case
  • Part 4 discussed the Russian conspiracy accusations
  • Part 5 discussed the Ecuadorian “bad houseguest” accusations

After Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy, the UK government initially threatened to storm the embassy to arrest him! Obviously they backed down, but the UK has continued to play a major role in detaining Assange.

Emails released under freedom of information suggest the British Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) took a special interest in the Assange case as early as 2011. One CPS email said: “Please do not think that the case is being dealt with as just another extradition request.” Another advised: “it would not be prudent for the Swedish authorities to try to interview the defendant in the UK… I suggest you interview him only on his surrender to Sweden”. They added: “Suffice it to say I have been rather busy trying to outflank the defence and to spoil their plans.”

As the stalemate dragged on, the Brits pleaded with the Swedes to keep the case open. In 2012 the CPS wrote to Ny: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!” In 2013, Ny wrote that she was considering dropping the case due to costs, and the CPS wrote back: “I do not consider costs are a relevant factor in this matter… All we do is wait and see [and perhaps be eternally grateful that neither of us have to share a room in the embassy with him over Christmas!]” They even sent Sweden a link about the American case against Assange. Many other emails from the case have been deleted, so we will never know the full extent of the UK government’s mistreatment of Assange.

As the Swedish case threatened to peter out, in 2012 the British police created their own pretext to arrest Assange. They demanded that he surrender to a British police station, in line with his house arrest conditions. Assange refused on the basis that: “Under both international and domestic UK law asylum assessments take priority over extradition claims.”

Assange’s refusal to surrender was judged to be a breach of his house arrest conditions – specifically, the requirement that he report daily to a British police station. However, it can be legal to breach house arrest conditions if one has “reasonable cause”, and Assange did have reasonable cause. It is reasonable to seek asylum when you have a reasonable fear of persecution in another country. Also, the reason why a suspect must report to a police station is so that the police know where he is, and the police knew exactly where Assange was – in the Ecuadorian embassy.

Elsewhere the UK government has implicitly admitted their treatment of Assange has been unjust. In 2014 the UK reformed its Extradition Act to allow a judge to consider a less coercive alternative to extradition, and to assess whether the investigation has progressed far enough to require the suspect’s presence. Unfortunately for Assange, this new law does not apply retrospectively.

The British government refused Assange safe passage to a hospital for medical treatment, even as his health deteriorated. This was despite several doctors, including a specialist on indefinite detainees, reporting in 2015:

The term ‘social suffering’ which has a wider sphere of reference, provides a more accurate description of Mr Assange’s condition… Social suffering takes place in contexts of social and material deprivation; and thus more directly concerns the damage done to a person’s sense of dignity and self-worth when the field of possibilities before him is heavily circumscribed by structural conditions that offer no means of respite or escape… When experience with uncontrollable events gives rise to the expectation that events in the future will also elude control, disruptions in motivation, emotion and learning may ensue.

There is no possibility of Mr Assange’s exercising in the open air or direct sunlight in the Embassy. Mr. Assange reports that he has made numerous attempts… to access the open air, for example on the roof of the building adjacent to the Embassy, for an hour a day (the legal minimum for prisoners) without risking arrest, but says that British authorities have refused this possibility. One interviewee described this refusal as an attempt to “force him out by creating the most inhuman conditions possible, without dignity.” …

All of the interviewees made reference to the fact Mr Assange was becoming increasingly introverted. One put it in the following way: “He is an extremely sad person. He doesn’t laugh as he did. In the beginning he was more sociable. There are times when he seems to forget about eating.” …

Mr Assange reported to me that for several weeks he experienced being woken up in the middle of the night. At first he was not sure whether he had woken up because of an external sound or a nightmare… Embassy CCTV footage confirmed to Mr. Assange that the bang was external: “A group of about five Metropolitan Police officers stood outside the window of the room I was sleeping in. One officer pointed at the window. Another officer then took an object from his pocket and threw it at the window.” … the incident caused Mr. Assange to feel chronically insecure about going to sleep…

Mr. Assange suffers from chronic dental pain from a fractured tooth which, he comments, affects his ability to sleep and work. Mr. Assange reports that the broken tooth was initially fractured when he was in the SCU at Wandsworth Prison in December 2010. Mr. Assange showed me contemporaneous Wandsworth prison reports regarding Mr. Assange’s receiving the attention of a dentist after a hard object has broken his upper first premolar. (Mr. Assange reports that the piece of fractured tooth disappeared from Mr. Assange’s cell while he was in the showers; immediately after Mr. Assange complained to CSU staff about the object in his food). Mr. Assange says that the episode not only caused physical pain and distress, but also, in conjunction with the segregation, caused him to feel targeted and persecuted. A series of dental complications have resulted from the fracture…

His inability to access proper medical care and assessment – without placing himself into the hands of the authorities – transforms each physical complaint no matter how simple into something that could have catastrophic consequences either for his health or his liberty.

It was difficult for doctors to assess Assange’s mental health because he rightly feared such information would be used against him. However they noted he was at risk of:

Stress and anxiety triggered by: a) uncertainty of the situation; b) Indefinite nature of the situation; c) feelings of being “at war” / targeted and persecuted / subjected to a psychological harassment campaign; d) the difficult conditions of the confinement; e) hostile media

Later that year, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Assange was being “arbitrarily detained” without charge and “with no predictability as to whether and when a formal process of any judicial dealing would commence”. They noted that “Mr Assange had been denied… the opportunity to defend himself against the allegations” and “the duration of such detention is ipso facto incompatible with the presumption of innocence”. Though aware the UK had its own arrest warrant for breaking house arrest conditions, the UN called for the UK as well as Sweden to “ensure the right of free movement of Mr. Assange”.

The British Foreign Office responded by falsely claiming that the UN WGAD are laypersons and not lawyers! The UK is not only violating international law, but denying its very existence. The Guardian likewise ridiculed the UN in an editorial and several columns, insisting the detention could not be arbitrary because it was Assange’s fault for choosing to evade the sexual assault investigation.

When Sweden dropped its case in 2017, the British government reaffirmed it still wanted to arrest Assange for his alleged violation of house arrest conditions in that now-dropped investigation. Again, Assange said he was willing to be arrested over the issue if the British government promised not to extradite him to the US, but again of course he received no such assurance. Assange tried the defence that he had had “reasonable grounds” to not surrender, and that he had already suffered enough punishment for it.

The British judge who ruled on the case was Lady Emma Arbuthnot, the wife of former Defence Minister James Arbuthnot. Arbuthnot rejected Assange’s appeal: “absent any evidence from Mr Assange on oath, I do not find that Mr Assange’s fears were reasonable.” She dismissed the UN ruling because “he can leave the embassy whenever he wishes”. She dismissed the surviving CPS emails because “I cannot determine from the extracts of correspondence whether the lawyer in the extradition unit acted inappropriately.” She dismissed the medical considerations because the embassy has a balcony and “Mr Assange is fortunately in relatively good health.” And she claimed Assange “appears to consider himself above the normal rules of law”, a talking point recently repeated by hordes of politicians and journalists.

But the UN again backed Assange:

The only ground remaining for Mr. Assange’s continued deprivation of liberty is a bail violation in the UK, which is, objectively, a minor offense that cannot post facto justify the more than 6 years confinement that he has been subjected to since he sought asylum in the Embassy of Ecuador. Mr. Assange should be able to exercise his right to freedom of movement in an unhindered manner, in accordance with the human rights conventions the UK has ratified.

The UK finally dropped all pretense when they arrested Assange three weeks ago, revealing they do have an extradition request from the United States after all! This is despite a UK government initiative having claimed just days earlier:

The UK together with Canada has decided that democratic countries need to stand together to make it an international taboo of the highest order to murder, arrest, or detain journalists just for doing their job.

The website Media Lens has compiled many instances of mainstream journalists expressing extremely anti-Assange sentiments in reaction to his arrest. Here are some examples (click the link for citations):

  • “Assange supporters . Cunt soup babbling about on press freedom.”
  • “Julian Assange is the architect of his own downfall. Bullish and grandiose yet plagued by paranoia, the WikiLeaks boss is his own worst enemy.”
  • “Most of those who still support Assange are hard-right nationalists – with many seeing him as a supporter of the style of politics of both Trump and Vladimir Putin.”
  • “Assange, once beloved for leaking the secrets of global governments, has essentially been reduced to a grumpy, stroppy teenager. He never left his room, thought he was the best thing since sliced bread and had his internet taken away when he was naughty. His arrest ended a seven-year stint in the embassy, which he chose. He didn’t have to stay there.”
  • “For me, however, the scene brought back memories of Saddam Hussein emerging from his spider hole in Operation Red Dawn… His dishevelment had more to do with his questionable personal hygiene than his living conditions.”
  • “Assange inside his fetid lair: Revealed, the full squalid horror that drove embassy staff to finally kick him out”
  • “Julian Assange has done much harm to American interests over the last decade, and on Thursday the WikiLeaks founder moved a large step closer to accountability in a U.S. court.”

Some mainstream voices did defend Assange’s right to publish, but unfortunately even most of them tend to throw in several caveats about Assange being an asshole or hacker or possible rapist. I am reluctant to concede even those caveats, because I am unconvinced they are true and they help fuel the propaganda case against Assange.

Within hours of arrest Assange was brought before a judge, who swiftly found him guilty of having failed to surrender in 2012. The judge rejected the argument that Lady Arbuthnot had a conflict of interests, saying it was “improper… to ruin the reputation of a senior and able judge in front of the press” and “his assertion that he has not had a fair hearing is laughable.” The judge lamented how much it had cost the British police to guard the Ecuadorian embassy for seven years, calling Assange a “narcissist” who should “get over to the US” and “get on with your life”. He considered the crime so serious that he sent Assange to a higher court for sentencing.

The UK is holding Assange in the high-security Belmarsh Prison. Alarmingly, the BBC once described Belmarsh as “Britain’s Guantanamo Bay”, albeit only in a brief period after 9/11 when the prison was used to detain foreigners without charge, before that was ruled unconstitutional. A recent inspection found it still contains a “prison within a prison” with an unexplained purpose. On 21 April, ten days after arrest, Assange’s mother claimed on Twitter that he was not being allowed any visitors including lawyers. Fortunately, several days later he did get access to his lawyers and received the planned UN visit.

Yesterday Assange’s sentence was handed down. As mitigation he repeated the arguments that the US torture of Manning was a nearly-reasonable excuse to not surrender, that he had already suffered enough punishment for his choice, and that he had offered to be interviewed in the embassy. Yet again these arguments were rejected, and Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks imprisonment, almost the highest possible sentence. Wikileaks contrasted this with another recent case:

As I write this, Assange is facing a hearing on extradition to the United States. Assange has been proven right in his fear that this was the real agenda all along. Now that all the pretexts have run their course, we can finally see the true threat to Assange.

In Part 7, I will examine the Trump administration’s legal excuses to indict and extradite Assange.

Defending Assange 5: Ecuador’s excuses

This is Part 5 in a series on Julian Assange’s legal case and trial-by-media:

  • Part 1 discussed the value of Wikileaks
  • Part 2 discussed the Obama administration’s secret legal action
  • Part 3 discussed the Swedish sexual assault case
  • Part 4 discussed the Russian conspiracy accusations

When Ecuador granted asylum to Julian Assange in 2012, the asylum was unconditional, and Ecuador stated very clearly that the reasons were political:

The judicial evidence shows clearly that, given an extradition to the United States, Mr. Assange would not have a fair trial, he could be judged by a special or military court, and it is not unlikely that he would receive a cruel and demeaning treatment and he would be condemned to a life sentence or the death penalty, which would not respect his human rights.

After Lenin Moreno became the new President of Ecuador in 2017, he revealed he wants to move closer to the US to pursue free trade policies. Moreno actually did meet with Manafort, the same Trump associate accused of meeting with Assange. According to the former Ecuadorian President, they were negotiating the handover of Assange, as well as to isolate Venezuela and exonerate Chevron for its oil spills. According to the New York Times, Moreno offered to trade Assange for debt relief – and what do you know, just last month Ecuador received a $4.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Under Moreno, Ecuador has treated Assange more like a prisoner than a refugee. They could not legally expel him because the former Correa government had granted him Ecuadorian citizenship, but they did impose strict conditions on his asylum. Normally asylum is considered a human right and not based on conditions. For over a year they cut off his internet access after he tweeted about suppression of the Catalan independence movement:

So Assange has spent the last year interacting almost entirely with officials who were looking for any excuse to throw him out. Since then, Assange’s only instance of communication with the outside world has been leaked testimony pleading with an Ecuadorian court:

I have been… isolated from most people for seven months, including electronic communication, the telephone etc, from my young children. That’s been a difficult experience and it has also interfered with my ability to work, to make a living, and with my deeply held principles that I have fought for all my life, which is to uphold the right of freedom of expression, the right for people to know, the right of the freedom of the press and the right for everyone to participate in their society and the broader society…

There have been attempts by people to get into this embassy through the windows at night. It appears that there may have even been an attempt last night, at 4.30am. I am an assassination risk. It is not a joke. It is a serious business…

[I’ve] been denied since January 28th nearly all visitors other than my lawyers – Parliamentarians, figures from Human Rights Watch, the General Counsel of Human Rights Watch, investigating this situation…

It cannot be that a journalist giving their opinions on a social network is effectively considered to be a crime and where they would be expelled and placed in prison, in the UK initially and then in the United States for 45 years to life…

It is the Ecuadorian Government positioning itself in order to violate the asylum. Positioning itself in terms of its public discourse. Gagging me in order to rebut the allegations that it is making in public that it is apparently deliberately leaking out to the press selective scandalous material.

Assange quoted at length from the Ecuadorian constitution to support his case, but his plea was denied. They did restore very limited access to communications, but still banned the political refugee from talking about politics.

The Ecuadorian Ambassador repeatedly sent Assange letters like this:

Once again, I must write in regards of a new display of inappropriate behavior shown by you, which occurred on Friday 1st of February, during the visit you received that afternoon.

It has come to my knowledge that you entered a studio lamp, normally used for television production, into the meeting room of the Embassy, where the visit was taking place, and deliberately pointed its light towards one of the security cameras operating in the room. This was done with the clear intention of preventing it to fulfill its purpose, which is exactly to provide a safe environment both for you and your visitors, as well as for the staff working in this Embassy.

The next letter added:

You have shown once again an inacceptable behavior, by playing radio at a deliberated loud volume, during a meeting with one of your visitors today… Equally unacceptable is your daring statement that I am spying on you.

Meanwhile, over the months that the new Ecuadorian government began trying to get rid of Assange, the mainstream media filled with claims that Assange was a bad houseguest. This seems to have begun with the International Business Times claiming a “source who had visited Assange at the embassy” said “it seems he doesn’t wash properly”. This was later repeated as an official claim, for example by Ecuador’s UK Ambassador:

When Assange wanted to be unpleasant he put excrement on the walls and underwear with excrement in the lavatory. We had to remind him to flush the toilet and clean the dishes. He had to be reminded of normal standards of behaviour all the time. He would always leave the cooker on.

I find it difficult to imagine Assange smearing faeces on a wall. Until we are shown the surveillance footage of it, I can only assume this accusation is, well, a smear. The Daily Mail has published photos of Assange’s dirty dishes, but in my opinion they are underwhelming:

(Source)

Fidel Narvaez, an Ecuadorian ex-diplomat who made friends with Assange in the embassy, disputes the narrative:

Julian had a respectful relationship with staff, diplomats and administrative staff. I don’t recall a single incident when he disrespected someone until I left in July 2018. He was 100% respectful. Clean and tidy? What is clean and tidy? Did he put the dishes in the dishwasher? Probably not at weekends. Is that a crime?

Assange’s doctor similarly says:

But Ecuador’s claims have been widely repeated in mainstream media, usually in a very mocking manner which trivializes the serious issues at stake while providing a cover story for Ecuador’s censorship, surveillance, and eventual expulsion of Assange. For example, Vox writes:

Over the years, the WikiLeaks chief clearly grew too complacent with his surroundings. He would skateboard at night, play music extremely loudly, and even walk around in his underwear, according to NBC News. It’s reminiscent of Home Alone, except that it wasn’t his home, he wasn’t alone, and he was the (alleged) criminal.

But his behavior was also downright rude — and more than a little gross. He barely maintained his own personal hygiene, leading the smell from his room to infest the rest of the embassy. He refused to clean up or even feed his cat. And he almost came to blows with the mission’s security staff. As if that wasn’t enough, he acted out and on at least one occasion smeared his feces on the wall.

The embassy tried to rein him in. In March 2018, for example, Ecuador took away his internet in a kind of geopolitical timeout for grown-ups.

Funny how this qualifies as Real Journalism but Assange’s work does not.

The day before Assange was expelled from the embassy, his lawyers held a press conference revealing Ecuador’s extraordinary surveillance of Assange. They compared it to a “Truman Show-like situation” with video and audio recording every moment of Assange’s life in the embassy, to which the US government is known to have demanded access. They discovered this when someone in Spain offered to sell them gigabytes of files including: visitors’ logs, passports, photographs, video with audio of Assange’s medical exams and legal meetings, and even photocopied documents about Assange’s legal strategy to stop the Ecuadorian embassy censoring him – a breach of lawyer-client privilege

Why has Ecuador’s spying been so underreported in the establishment media? The mainstream journalists at that press conference reacted by repeating their usual anti-Assange talking points. For example, one asked “does Wikileaks regret having helped Donald Trump get elected by publishing material from Russia?” When Assange’s lawyer pointed out that the DNC emails were newsworthy, the journalist replied: “There are laws in this country which restrict information, and which we as professional journalists sometimes choose to comply with.” When asked what laws Wikileaks had broken, he replied: “I’m not going to get into that discussion here… I’m not going to be lectured by you on how I as a journalist do my job… We ask the questions, this is a press conference, you answer.”

On 29 March, Assange’s lawyers contacted the UN Special Rapporteur on Privacy (SRP). The SRP called the Ecuadorian embassy requesting to visit them on that same day. The embassy did not respond for several days, and the SRP suggested a meeting on 3 or 4 April. Ecuador insisted on delaying the meeting to 25 April. The UN decided to also send the Special Rapporteur on Torture, who specifically warned Ecuador not to expel Assange, saying he would face “a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial, and the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

Days after delaying the privacy meeting, Moreno counter-accused Assange of spying on him, accusing WikiLeaks of being behind anonymous leaks about Moreno’s offshore accounts. In reality Assange personally, at least, cannot have had anything to do with it because he’s had no internet access. Moreno’s accusation is based mainly on the fact that Wikileaks tweeted about news of the leak.

This counter-accusation doubled as the final excuse to revoke Assange’s asylum, as Moreno claims it proves Assange is still “interfering in internal affairs of other states”. Moreno also repeated the accusation that Assange had “improper hygenic behaviour”, and insisted he’d received an assurance from the British govt that they wouldn’t extradite him to a country with the death penalty or torture.

Moreno’s predecessor Rafael Correa reacted on Twitter:

In summary, the new government of Ecuador has mistreated their political refugee and invented excuses to expel him.

In Part 6, I will examine the UK’s role in detaining Assange.


Defending Assange 4: “Russiagate” rubbish & media malignment

This is Part 4 in a series on Julian Assange’s legal case and trial-by-media. In Part 1 I discussed the value of Wikileaks, in Part 2 I discussed the Obama administration’s secret legal action, and in Part 3 I discussed the Swedish sexual assault case.

Mainstream media coverage of Wikileaks has been ridiculous, constantly emphasising the ethics of publishing leaked documents rather than the conspiracies exposed by them. They also push words like “hack”, “hacking”, and “hacker” when in reality Wikileaks publishes material leaked to them by whistleblowers.

This misreporting reached a new depth after the DNC and Podesta emails released in 2016, with the entire establishment accusing Wikileaks of obtaining them from Russian government hackers (though this accusation is not mentioned in the current extradition request). A detailed debunking of “Russiagate” is beyond the scope of this post, but I’ll debunk Assange’s alleged involvement.

The accusation that Wikileaks is a front for Russian intelligence began when whistleblower Edward Snowden was granted asylum by Russia. In reality, Snowden originally stopped in Russia while en route to Ecuador, but then the US cancelled his passport so he had to seek asylum there. Snowden says: “They did it on purpose to be able to say, ‘He’s a Russian spy.’” Then in 2015, British journalist Tom Harper claimed Snowden may have provided the Russians with redacted data. When asked how he knew this, Harper replied:

We picked up on the story a while back, from an extremely well placed source in the Home Office, and then carried on trying to substantiate what was going on through various sources in various agencies throughout Britain. And then finally presented the story to the government, and they effectively confirmed what you read in today’s Sunday Times.

In other words, he had only the word of the British government, and considered different agencies within it to be independent sources.

Likewise, the notion that the DNC emails were hacked by anyone, let alone the Russians, is merely an unverifiable claim made by the American intelligence agencies and former FBI Director Robert Mueller. It’s a lot like their previous unverifiable claim, also delivered by Mueller, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It’s also a recycling of their classic Cold War shtick that dissidents were Soviet infiltrators. The only reason why the pronouncements of American intelligence are so widely believed is because the mainstream media reports them as unquestionable fact. Why? These are organizations whose job is to lie convincingly.

Mueller recently released his long-awaited final report, and it turns out even Mueller concludes there is insufficient evidence for many aspects of the Russiagate narrative. Although Mueller accuses Russia of hacking the DNC emails and giving them to Wikileaks, he stops short of alleging that Wikileaks knew their source(s) were Russian.

Assange has stated unequivocally: “Our source is not the Russian government.” He’s also said that while it’s possible the DNC has experienced hacks from foreign states, that is being misleadingly conflated with the emails he received through a leak. In this light it’s interesting to note that although Mueller writes with certainty about Russia hacking the DNC and Wikileaks releasing emails, he hedges when he mentions the two together: “During these connections, Unit 26165 officers appear to have stolen thousands of emails and attachments, which were later released by Wikileaks in July 2016.” The probable reason for Mueller’s weasel words is that, astonishingly, the DNC didn’t allow even the FBI to look at their servers, instead showing them only to a company called CrowdStrike.

I do not pretend to understand the technicalities of hacking. But I do know the hacking claim has been disputed by a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, including former NSA technical director William Binney. They argue that publicly available metadata shows the DNC emails were downloaded at a speed of 22.7 megabytes per second, impossible to achieve long-distance over the internet but quite normal when transferring files to a thumb drive. Moreover, documents released by Wikileaks show the CIA are capable of planting the fingerprints of Russian malware.

Assange refuses to disclose the true identity of the leaker, but he initially hinted that it was DNC staffer Seth Rich. Five days after the DNC emails were downloaded, Rich was murdered on the street in what was allegedly a “botched robbery”. Wikileaks has offered a reward for information about the murder. Later when Democratic Party strategist Donna Brazile was being interviewed on her book admitting some aspects of how the DNC was rigged in favor of Hillary, she brought up the murder in a way that implied it could have been politically motivated:

Mueller also argues that Wikileaks deliberately timed their release of the Podesta emails to coincide with the Trump pussy-grabbing tape. But in reality, it was Wikileaks who announced their scoop ahead of time, so if anything, it was the Trump tape that was timed to coincide with the Podesta emails.

The lack of evidence for Mueller’s accusations has not stopped the mainstream media reporting as unquestioned fact that Assange collaborated with the Russians. For example the New York Times writes:

In 2016, some of Mr. Assange’s former American sympathizers turned sharply against him after he made WikiLeaks into an enthusiastic instrument of Russia’s intervention in the American presidential election, doling out hacked Democratic emails to maximize their political effect, campaigning against Hillary Clinton on Twitter and promoting a false cover story about the source of the leaks.

Likewise, Democrats leader Chuck Schumer recently tweeted:

The Mueller report’s section on Wikileaks’ alleged association with the Trump campaign is almost entirely redacted and therefore impossible to evaluate, so I assume it is unproven. Mueller never tried to interview Assange.

In the UK the Guardian, though still doing much good reporting on climate change, has revealed its true colors as a gatekeeper shaping the boundaries of socially acceptable left-wing thought.

The Guardian has published a number of baseless stories about Assange. The worst example was entitled “Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy” (then quietly retitled to add “sources say”). Attributed entirely to unnamed sources, it claims that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort visited Assange in the embassy on several imprecise dates. For a full deconstruction, see this video by independent journalist Gordon Dimmack.

In reality, if Manafort had gone anywhere near the embassy he would appear in surveillance footage (British and Ecuadorian), so why is there no such evidence? Nor does he appear in official embassy logs earlier obtained by the same newspaper, but the Guardian claimed to have acquired another embassy document mentioning “Paul Manaford” and “Russians”. This part of the story seems particularly implausible to me – would Ecuadorians really expend less effort to remember Russians’ names than Americans’ names?

The Guardian has since edited the article to conceal a third author, Fernando Villavicencio, after Wikileaks pointed out Villavicencio had previously been caught forging Ecuadorian government documents. The Guardian has even refused to answer any questions from other reporters about the story. Wikileaks has crowdfunded $60,000 to sue the Guardian, and tweeted:

This is just the most absurd example of a three-year international media campaign desperately trying to link Wikileaks to Trump associates. An associate called Roger Stone was accused of predicting the Podesta emails leak when he tweeted “it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel”, but in reality he tweeted that two months earlier about an unrelated Podesta scandal. Stone’s claims were dismissed by Wikileaks even in internal communications that were later leaked. On another occasion, CNN claimed “multiple sources” had confirmed that Donald Trump himself had received early access to Wikileaks emails, when in reality CNN had merely misread the date of a single source. The best “evidence” is that Wikileaks and Donald Trump Jnr twice exchanged private messages on Twitter, but that was only brief communication in which Wikileaks unsuccessfully asked Jnr to leak Trump’s tax returns – it doesn’t seem to indicate a long-term relationship.

Miscellaneous other ideological smears

A less extreme version of the Russian smear is the argument that even if Assange is independent, he is unfairly biased against America, the Democratic Party, and Hillary Clinton. That is a matter of opinion, but it’s worth pointing out Wikileaks has released files about Russian surveillance, tweeted against Russian censorship, and worked with anti-Putin punk band Pussy Riot. They have also released documents on the Syrian government, the Republican Party, and Donald Trump; and many of the Manning files were from the George W. Bush era. And Assange has said he admires the US constitution’s ideal of free speech.

I think the reason Assange focuses his criticism on the American empire is because it pretty much rules the world; the reason he focused his criticism on the Democratic Party is because it was in government; and one reason Assange so vocally opposes Clinton is because a leaked document showed she advocated assassinating him with a drone.

It is true that in 2015 in Wikileaks’ leaked internal messages, someone expressed the opinion that a Republican administration’s wars might face more opposition from politicians and the media. That turned out to be false, but for reasons they could not have predicted: on foreign policy the Democrats now attack Trump from the right rather than from the left.

However, Assange was never a Trump supporter. In 2016, Assange said Clinton or Trump was like “cholera or gonorrhea”, and referred to Trump as “unpredictable”. He later said in response to accusations of bias:

WikiLeaks is a hostage to fortune because we do specialize on encouraging whistleblowers and other sources to step forward, and then analyzing what we get from them. And we specialize on really big scoops. You can’t go: “Oh look, we have this massive scoop about corruption in the DNC. Now we need to balance this with a massive scoop about corruption in the RNC.” …

It’s kind of flattering that there’s a view that WikiLeaks is omnipotent in its ability to get hold of massive scoops whenever it wants… Massive scoops are hard to come by, and they come at their own time, not when you think we need to engage in a bit of balancing operation so people stop falsely saying that we’re Republican-aligned.

Leaks about Trump have been published in the mainstream media. Perhaps Republican leakers have felt no need to go to Wikileaks to get the information out there, whereas Democrat leakers have gone to Wikileaks because they feared the mainstream media would bury the story.

Along with the Russia narrative have been various attempts to paint Assange as right-wing (with one article even accusing him of “anarcho-fascism”, a contradiction in terms). In reality, Assange describes himself as “not a groupist”, and I think it’s fair to say most of his beliefs align more with the left than with the right. In the 2013 Australian federal election Assange ran a Wikileaks Party (now defunct), and at the time I summarized their politics as follows:

Aims to provide independent scrutiny of government; support internet freedom; require security and police agencies to have a warrant for digital surveillance and report on such activity; protect whistleblowers and journalists with national shield laws; expose influence of foreign powers; increase diversity of media ownership by promoting non-profit media, establishing a content innovation fund, and opposing any attempts to privatize the ABC and SBS; oppose Australia’s alliance with the US; and demand the government reverse the “PNG solution”, reverse excisions of Australian territory, process asylum seekers in Australia, cap immigration detention at 45 days, allow full media access to detention centres, and be accountable in assessment of asylum claims. Their climate policy acknowledges the need for a significant proportion of Australian coal reserves to remain unburned and proposes to: combat secrecy in the relationship between government and the fossil fuel industry, review the Climate Change Authority Caps and Targets Review to ensure it is evidence-based, ensure ETS legislation addresses criticisms of the EU scheme, reduce fossil fuel subsidies, support renewable energy and R&D, and ensure the transition from coal does not hurt communities.

However, these policy positions were overshadowed in the media by controversial preference lists that Wikileaks submitted to the Australian Electoral Commission, which contained some far-right parties. These preference lists were decided by Glenn Druery’s Minor Parties Alliance, something in which almost all Australian minor parties participate so that each has a chance of getting elected; it is not ideological except perhaps on Druery’s part. Moreover, preference tickets are entirely voluntary, so voters were quite free to vote 1 Wikileaks and then order the rest of their preferences as they wished.

Assange is sometimes accused of anti-Semitism, based on a handful of alleged remarks with unclear context. In recent years it has become clear that “anti-Semite” is a standard smear against anyone who criticizes Israel or its role in the foreign policy of other countries – the same tactic has been deployed against Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Tulsi Gabbard in the US. But there are also Jews who do not support the Israeli government and the system of thought control being pushed in their names. Indeed there are Jews who support Wikileaks, as Wikileaks says: “We treasure our strong Jewish support and staff, just as we treasure the support from pan-Arab democracy activists and others who share our hope for a just world.”

Another constant smear, predictably considering the sexual allegations, is that Assange is a “misogynist”. This is based mainly on Assange’s occasional criticisms of feminism, usually in relation to how he has been treated in his sexual assault case. For example, in a 2017 documentary deliberately recut to portray Assange as misogynistic, he referred to the Swedish government’s actions as “a thoroughly tawdry radical feminist political positioning thing”. Considering the facts I covered in Part 3, this seems a reasonable opinion. The same documentary also downplayed the role of Wikileaks’ female members, and portrayed Assange as giving dismissive responses to Lady Gaga – but that was probably because Gaga asked about his favorite food.

But let’s suppose for the sake of argument that Assange and Wikileaks do hold some of the biases they are accused of. It’s not clear that this sets them apart from mainstream journalism. Isn’t there also plenty of bias in mainstream media? There’s certainly an anti-Assange bias. And is it even possible for a human being to be totally unbiased?

In conclusion, Russiagate is nonsense and the media have unfairly maligned Assange.

In Part 5, I will examine Ecuador’s pretexts for expelling Assange from the embassy.

Defending Assange 3: Sweden’s salaciousness

(Source)

This is Part 3 in a series on Julian Assange’s legal case and trial-by-media. In Part 1 I discussed the value of Wikileaks, and in Part 2 I discussed the Obama administration’s secret legal action against Assange.

On 20 August 2010, two Swedish women filed a police report accusing Assange of nonconsensual condom removal. I would not condone this behavior if it did happen, but I will show there are many reasons to be suspicious of the accusations and the investigation thereof.

Firstly, just days earlier the US government had sent out a memo, later mentioned in a leaked NSA document:

The United States on 10 August urged other nations with forces in Afghanistan… to consider filing criminal charges against Julian Assange, founder of the rogue Wikileaks Internet website and responsible for the unauthorized publication of over 70,000 classified documents covering the war in Afghanistan… The appeal exemplifies the start of an international effort to focus the legal element of national power upon non-state actor Assange, and the human network that supports WikiLeaks.

Note the language here: the NSA seems to view the law not as an impartial system for arbitrating disputes between equal citizens, but rather as a weapon for governments to use against their political opponents. Also note that Sweden has forces in Afghanistan. And sexual accusations do appear to be a standard anti-whistleblowing tactic, as British whistleblower Craig Murray points out

I’ve been a whistleblower myself and active with other whistleblowers, and I’ve seen so many whistleblowers fitted up with false charges, and as soon as anybody blows the whistle, particularly on any aspects of, if you like, neoconservative foreign policy and war, you’re going to get fitted up and you’re going to get defamed with false charges, and if you’re male I think in every case those charges are going to involve sexual allegations…

The same thing happened to me. I blew the whistle on British complicity in torture, MI6’s complicity with torture in Uzbekistan and on extraordinary rendition. I was immediately charged with sexual allegations, in effect with extorting sex from visa applicants…

This has happened to James Yee, happened to me, happened to Scott Ritter, happened to Janis Karpinski – anybody taking seriously these accusations astonishes me… And the fact that none of what I’ve just said to you will you find reported in the mainstream media, you know, ought to really, really alarm people about the kind of world we live in.

Although sexual assault cases are normally kept secret under Sweden’s strict feminist laws, the case files were leaked to the internet in 2011, giving an unusual opportunity for the public to evaluate the evidence.

It began on 11 August, when Assange arrived in Sweden and at short notice was offered houseroom in the one-bed flat of Anna Ardin, a politician in the Christian branch of the Social Democrats, while she was away campaigning. Reportedly born in Cuba, Ardin has written for Cuban dissident groups, a possible link to the CIA which has inspired online speculation that she was a honey trap. Ardin revealed another possible motivation in a pro-revenge blog post (now deleted but archived here):

If you want revenge on someone who cheated or who dumped you, you should have a penalty to do with dating/sex/fidelity… or ensure that he gets a madman after him.

On 13 August Ardin arrived home without warning, meeting Assange in person for the first time, and they ended up having sex. Both agree that Ardin was initially enthusiastic and did not verbally object except to tell Assange to put on a condom, which he did. Ardin would later allege that Assange tried to restrain her arms to stop her handing him the condom, and that afterward she realized he had nonconsensually torn his condom. Yet a forensic team found no trace of DNA on a torn condom that Ardin gave the police.

And Ardin does not seem to have complained at the time. She continued sleeping in the same bed for the next week, rejecting several offers to house Assange elsewhere, and acting as his press secretary at the conference where Assange was speaking. In a tweet she later deleted, she even said she was “with the world’s coolest people”.

According to Swedish journalist Donald Bostrom, Ardin joked about feeling “dumped” when Assange left her bed for his computer during the night. But she explicitly denied having any sex with Assange: “We haven’t had sex. Of course he tried, but I turned him down.” Even when she first told Bostrom about her condom complaint, she claimed she did not intend to press charges because she was overall happy with the sex, saying: “I was proud as a peacock — the world’s most awesome man in my bed and living in my flat.” This is quite different to her later condemnation of Assange’s “twisted attitude to women and a problem taking no for an answer”. If Ardin is an innocent victim, why did she keep changing her story?

Bostrom also observed that Assange “attracts a great many women” and “I have seen the overwhelming majority of women who have gotten near him have fallen completely under his spell.” Johannes Whalstrom, a closer colleague of Assange, made the same observation:

I discovered very soon that Julian aroused some sort of celebrity interest among young women — and especially among women whom I expected to be, one might say, more professional… These were journalists from very prestigious publications who behaved, well, rather like schoolgirls when they saw him. Giggled, tried to hug him. Tried to place their hands on his thigh. He was relatively unmoved.

Whalstrom said Ardin’s circle of friends struck him as anti-male, recalling one remarking that the party would be better if there were no men. He also said on 16 August she texted about Assange: “He’s not here. He’s planned to have sex with the cashmere girl every evening, but not made it. Maybe he finally found time yesterday?” Why did Ardin not mention here that she considered Assange a sexual predator spreading diseases? Why did she not warn the girl she knew might have sex with him?

“Cashmere girl”, Sofia Wilen, would become the other alleged victim. She and Assange agree that she was a prior fan of Assange, and that they had consensual sex several times during the night. But afterward, she expressed concern that she might have caught an STD from him when she was half-asleep. Unable to contact Assange (who later said he was laying low to avoid American spies), she instead phoned Ardin. Ardin took Wilen to a hospital to get tested for STDs, then to a police station to report Assange.

Assange later claimed that he was certain that Wilen was awake and consenting to the unprotected sex. He says she phoned him from the hospital asking him to get tested and threatening to contact the police over it:

She said that it was normal in Sweden to go to the police to get advice about STDs and that if I didn’t come down to the hospital she would go to the police to ask whether I could be forced to get tested. I told her I found her mention of police strange and threatening. She stated that she was only concerned about the tests and that it had no concealed meaning. I agreed to take the test out of goodwill and to reassure her, although I told her I could not do it until the following day, Saturday.

The prosecutor has not allowed Assange to view text messages from Wilen’s phone, but his lawyers were allowed to see them and noted down the following alleged texts supporting his case. Before having sex with him, she texted a friend saying “I want him. I want him.” After the sex, she texted that it “turned out all right” except “JA did not want to use a condom”. More damningly, when Wilen was at the police station she texted that she “did not want to put any charges on Julian Assange” but “the police were keen on getting their hands on him”, and she was “shocked when they arrested him” because she “only wanted him to take a test”. The next day she texted that it was the “police who made up the charges”. (In later messages, Ardin persuaded Wilen to sell their stories to a newspaper.)

Indeed, Wilen refused to sign the police statement attributed to her. A friend of Wilen’s said she “had been run over by the police and others”. Instead we have only second-hand notes written by a policewoman named Irmeli Krans, who claims she was unable to find a working dictaphone to record in accordance with standard protocol. (Ardin’s statement also takes the form of imprecise notes, as do all the female interviewees. Precise transcripts exist only for Assange and the two other male journalists.)

Krans also failed to report a prior acquaintance with Ardin: they are members of the same political party and had previously run together on the same ballot paper. Krans and Ardin had chatted online in 2009 about how “white men” are “abusive” (Assange’s skin is famously pale). The Swedish police have refused to comment on whether this was a conflict of interests.

So who knows exactly what Wilen really said in that police station? Anyway for what it’s worth, “Wilen’s” statement claims that as she lay sleeping after having consensual sex earlier in the night, Assange woke her up with unprotected sex and she couldn’t be bothered telling him to stop. This is the most serious allegation against Assange. The statement concludes:

Sofia and I were notified during the interrogation that Julian Assange had been arrested in absentia. Sofia had difficulty concentrating after that news, whereby I made the judgement it was best to terminate the interrogation… The interrogation was neither read back to Sofia nor reviewed for approval by her but Sofia was told she had the opportunity to do this later.

Within days the initial prosecutor closed “Wilen’s” half of the case, leaving only Ardin’s accusation which constitutes a less severe crime under Swedish law. Ardin added her own accusation after “Wilen’s”, so it is possible that Ardin retroactively constructed her narrative to match “Wilen’s”.

Assange learned from a newspaper that he was wanted for rape. Two days later, Al Jazeera asked a spokesperson for the Swedish prosecution if she had spoken to Assange. She said “the prosecutor in question doesn’t know yet whether she wants to interview him or not” and “this is normal procedure”.

Ardin chose to be represented in court by another political colleague, Claes Borgstrom, then the Social Democrats’ gender spokesperson and running for re-election. He supports the Feminist party’s proposal to impose a tax on all men to compensate for male violence against women. Borgstrom’s legal partner Thomas Bodstrom is yet another politician, the husband of Irmeli Krans, and as Justice Minister he extradited alleged terrorists to be tortured by the CIA. When a reporter asked Borgstrom why the complainant initially did not believe she had been raped, he responded: “She is not a lawyer.”

When Assange was finally interviewed by police, he willingly answered the questions put to him about Ardin’s accusation. He said he had worn a condom supplied by Ardin and denied tearing it. Though he was not asked about “Wilen’s” accusation, he voluntarily brought up her phone call from the hospital.

Shortly afterward, “Wilen’s” case was reopened by a new prosecutor named Marianne Ny, an advocate of stricter rape laws. Curiously though, Wilen herself has not been heard from since 2010, to the point all her social media accounts have been deleted.

A document of “agreed facts” totally contradicts the oft-heard claim that Assange was unwilling to face the accusations against him. He initially cooperated with the investigation, remaining in Sweden for weeks waiting to be interviewed again, proposing several interview dates which Ny rejected. Assange was told that he was allowed to leave Sweden, but when he left Sweden issued a warrant for his arrest. Assange offered to be interviewed by phone or video-link, or at the Australian Embassy, or by written statement, any of which would have been legal at the preliminary investigation stage. But Ny insisted he be interviewed in person in Sweden, and issued an EU-wide arrest warrant. Why was Ny so insistent on interviewing Assange in person? Assange voluntarily surrendered to the British police and provided a DNA sample. After paying £340,000 in bail, he was placed under house arrest with an electronic tag on his ankle.

Yet when Ny issued her international warrant, she justified it to the media with this lie: “we have not been able to meet with him to accomplish the interrogation.” She then lied that “we are by law prohibited from conducting hearings via telephone or video link”. She later argued anything other than an in-person interview would be “giving him preferential treatment” and “lower our quality requirements”.

In a British court she did not repeat her lies, instead refusing to specify a reason, which the judge accepted. In 2012 the UK Supreme Court ordered his extradition to Sweden, leading him to enter the Ecuadorian embassy where he was granted political asylum. Assange said he would go to Sweden if they guaranteed not to extradite him to the US, but Sweden refused to give that guarantee. Assange had good reason to fear that Sweden would in turn extradite him to the US: as early as December 2010, the Independent reported that Sweden and the US had already discussed the possibility. It’s also worth remembering bail does not exist in Sweden.

Meanwhile in 2013, Ardin posted this bizarre tweet: “no, I have not been raped, but I still believe that animals have rights and that people are animals, tag down!” Since Ardin later deleted this tweet, it is now impossible to see the context. However, in a recent tweet Ardin continues to stand by her accusation against Assange: “For me this was never about anything else than his misconduct against me/women and his refusal to take responsibility for this.”

In 2014, a Swedish appeal court ruled that the “failure of the prosecutors to examine alternative avenues” went against their “responsibility to proceed with the investigation, in the interests of all parties involved”. Even then, Ny still insisted she had missed no interview opportunities. She backed down only just before the Swedish Supreme Court was due to consider ending Assange’s detention. In the interim, Ardin’s accusation had already been dropped due to the shorter statute of limitations.

It was not until late 2016 that Ny finally questioned Assange on “Wilen’s” accusation. Unaccountably, she did not allow his Swedish lawyer to be present. Assange released a written public statement making some of the same points discussed above. Of course, this has still not stopped the media widely claiming that Assange was never questioned about it.

In 2017 the whole Swedish investigation was dropped, never having proceeded far enough to issue charges (though Sweden is now considering reopening the case again). Of course, this has not stopped the media widely claiming that Assange faced “charges”.

Overall the evidence suggests the accusations against Assange are politically motivated. If not for the leaked documents, we would never have known most of the above information calling into question the impartiality of the process and the credibility of the accusers. We would not even have known the accusers’ names. All this reinforces the importance of government transparency and leaks.

In Part 4 I will examine the Russian conspiracy accusations against Assange.

Defending Assange 2: Obama’s obfuscation

This is Part 2 in a series on Julian Assange’s legal case and trial-by-media. In Part 1, I discussed the value of Wikileaks.

A document released by Wikileaks shows that as far as back as 2008, under the Bush administration, the US Defense Intelligence Agency already had Wikileaks on its “manhunting target list”. They planned to attack the trustworthiness of Wikileaks:

Web sites such as Wikileaks.org use trust as a center of gravity by protecting the anonymity and identity of the insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers. The identification, exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers could potentially damage or destroy this center of gravity and deter others considering similar actions from using the WikiLeaks.org Web site.

Effectively, this was the US military declaring psychological war against Wikileaks.

The first shot fired in that psychological war was the smear that Wikileaks had endangered people’s lives by releasing war documents. For example, America’s then-Vice President Joe Biden accused Assange of being a “high-tech terrorist” who had “put lives in jeopardy”. Yet just three days earlier he said Wikileaks had done “no substantive damage” except “embarrassing” the US. And later during Chelsea Manning’s court-martial, the military’s own lawyer Robert Carr admitted that nobody died due to the leaks. At the time Assange pointed out: “Secretary Gates speaks about hypothetical blood, but the grounds of Iraq and Afghanistan are covered with real blood.”

There is a legitimate legal argument that the material leaked by Manning should never have been secret in the first place, citing a President Executive Order signed by, ironically, Obama:

In no case shall information be classified, continue to be maintained as classified, or fail to be declassified in order to:

(1) conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error;

(2) prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency

Wikileaks has released internal emails from intelligence firm Stratfor revealing that as early as June 2010, before the Swedish allegations, Stratfor’s Vice President Fred Burton proposed kidnapping Assange during a visit to the US:

As a foreign national, we could revoke Julian Assange’s] travel status and deport. Could also be taken into custody as a material witness. We COULD have a sealed indictment and lock him up. Depends upon how far along the military case is.

Burton’s emails also said a number of other things which I think speak for themselves:

  • “Not for Pub — We have a sealed indictment on Assange.”
  • “Assange is going to make a nice bride in prison. Screw the terrorist. He’ll be eating cat food forever.”
  • “Take down the money. Go after his infrastructure. The tools we are using to nail and de-construct Wiki are the same tools used to dismantle and track [al-Qaeda]. Thank Cheney and [Bush]. Big Brother owns his liberal terrorist arse.”
  • “Move him from country to country to face various charges for the next 25 years. But, seize everything he and his family own, to include every person linked to Wiki.”
  • “Bankrupt the arsehole first, ruin his life. Give him 7-12 yrs for conspiracy.”
  • “I look forward to Manning and Assange facing a bajillion-thousand counts of espionage.”
  • “The delay could be figuring out how to declassify and use the Aussie intel on Wiki… The owner is a peacenik. He needs his head dunked in a full toilet bowl at Gitmo.”

Is it really so paranoid for Assange to fear being delivered into the hands of these people?

In July (again before the Swedish accusations), an unnamed source told the New York Times that Assange could face the same charge for publishing the material that Manning leaked:

A person familiar with the investigation has said that Justice Department lawyers are exploring whether Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks could be charged with inducing, or conspiring in, violations of the Espionage Act, a 1917 law that prohibits the unauthorized disclosure of national security information.

The Espionage Act was legislated as part of the Red Scare, a crackdown on dissent during World War 1 and the Russian Revolution. Its initial version included a Sedition Act that jailed citizens for any “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” toward the US government. The Sedition Act was repealed in 1920, but the Espionage Act continues to punish leakers with extreme penalties and without any defence for leaking in the public interest. During 1920-2010 the US prosecuted only four whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, but Manning was the first of at least nine prosecuted since 2010. Before being found guilty, Manning was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, stripped naked at night, and checked every five minutes to supposedly prevent self-harm – conditions which the UN described as torture.

Ever since then, American government officials have continually hinted that they are pursuing legal action against Assange and Wikileaks. By the end of 2010, the Daily Beast reported that the US government had set up a “war room” at the Defense Intelligence Agency, working “24 hours a day, seven days a week — on the frontlines of the government’s secret war against WikiLeaks”. A number of people associated with Wikileaks were stopped and questioned by the FBI when they entered the US. A long list of senior figures in America’s political parties and media were calling for Assange’s assassination, as well as labelling him a “terrorist” and “enemy combatant”.

That they had initiated a secret Grand Jury was officially denied as a “conspiracy theory”, but was an open secret that leaked out in some media reports, for example here and here. The Grand Jury’s existence was also revealed by the fact that it was subpoenaing people and taking testimony from Chelsea Manning. These subpoenas were filed under conspiracy to commit espionage, and Dianne Feinstein of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said Assange “should be vigorously prosecuted for espionage.” The repeated mentions of “espionage” back in 2010 are notable compared to the current pretense of a much lesser charge.

However, in 2013 Obama administration officials told the Washington Post they had run into what they called the “New York Times problem”: If they prosecuted Assange, then logically they would also have to prosecute mainstream media organizations for publishing leaks, including many of the same documents as Wikileaks. Many commentators assume this means the investigation into Wikileaks was shut down by Obama and rebooted by Trump, but it is unclear whether Obama ever really shut it down. It seems more plausible that the Grand Jury just quietly continued preparing its case behind the scenes, knowing they might not get their hands on Assange until after Obama left office.

In any case, the Obama administration still did its best to censor the material published by Wikileaks. The Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the Pentagon all block Wikileaks. The censorship even extends to academia, with the International Studies Association forbidding foreign policy journals from citing Wikileaks, and university students warned that citing Wikileaks would make them ineligible for government jobs.

Clearly it was taking a while for the US government to figure out a legal workaround to attack Assange without being seen to undermine the First Amendment. In the interim as it prepared its case, it was going to need some legal excuses to demonize Assange and detain him for a while.

In Part 3 I will examine the Swedish sexual assault case against Assange.

Defending Assange: The value of Wikileaks

For seven years, Julian Assange’s enemies have strenuously denied that he would face extradition to the US if he left the Ecuadorian Embassy. They told us that was merely a “conspiracy theory”. But last week, the moment the British police dragged him out of the embassy, the US unsealed its secret charges and the mainstream media are reporting that as if it is a surprise! To me, it is vindication of what Assange has been saying all along.

I don’t understand why so many people are supporting the persecution of Assange. You don’t necessarily have to endorse every single thing Wikileaks has said and done, but that is beside the point. This is an attack on free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of information. Governments are making an example of Assange. If they can do this to Assange, they can do it to anyone who publishes government secrets.

In 2010 Chelsea Manning (then named Bradley Manning) leaked a large number of US government documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as communications between US diplomats around the world. Some of the leaks were initially published by mainstream media, but only Wikileaks published the full set of documents.

The Manning leaks, which helped spark the Arab Spring, included the following information:

  • The US government covered up its official count of civilian deaths in its wars, totalling 66,081 during 2004-2009.
  • The Obama administration was carrying out secret drone bombings in Yemen, killing mostly civilians and many children.
  • US diplomats secretly and illegally collected DNA samples, passwords, and credit card details of top UN officials.
  • Most detainees at Guantanamo Bay were arrested based on evidence that would not be permissible in American courts, such as wearing similar clothes to al-Qaeda members. Also released were more details on the torture at Guantanamo Bay.
  • In violation of the UN Convention Against Torture, the American military had an official policy to not investigate torture by the Iraqi government.
  • The US Embassy intervened to undermine activists advocating a proposed minimum wage law in Haiti, a country with widespread starvation.
  • The military contractor Dyncorp provided Afghan recruits with “dancing boys”.
  • The FBI worked with Egyptian security agencies who allegedly torture prisoners into a “zombie state”.

Also in the Manning leaks was helicopter video of a 2007 American airstrike killing ten men in Baghdad. Two of the men were Reuters journalists, named Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen, but the US government had claimed they were combatants engaging in battle. The video showed a much murkier reality. The Americans were looking for armed insurgents who had been in the area earlier that day, and as they hovered over a group of men walking around, they observed unidentifiable objects in the men’s hands and jumped to the conclusion that they were weapons. Although some of the men may have been carrying weapons, the journalists were actually carrying cameras, and none were aiming a weapon. Otherwise unprovoked, the Americans blasted the group with cannon fire until all but one were dead, then hovered over the dying cameraman hoping he would pick up his “weapon” so they’d be allowed to shoot him, then received permission to fire at him and a van full of people trying to pick him up.

The US military still insists that one of the Iraqis was carrying a rocket-propelled grenade, and that their soldiers’ actions were justified by its rules of engagement. Of course, that just raises the questions about whether the rules of engagement are reasonable, and whether the United States should be occupying Iraq in the first place, questions that are highly inconvenient for those who want to persuade the public to support America’s wars.

It’s much more convenient for war propagandists if citizens see only enemy atrocities and never see the atrocities of the armies supposedly bringing “freedom”. But the casualty statistics suggest civilian deaths have been the norm rather than the exception in the Iraq War. American-led coalition forces died in the thousands, Iraqi security forces then insurgents died in the tens of thousands, and Iraqi civilians died in the hundreds of thousands.

Nobody has been punished for the corrupt behaviour revealed by Manning, making it extremely hard to swallow the anti-Assange slogan, currently being spouted by the British government and media, that “nobody is above the law”.

And it’s not just about the Manning leaks. Throughout many of the biggest issues of the last decade Wikileaks has been there, providing much more information than our pathetic mainstream media, who frequently parrot dubious government narratives as if they were unquestionable fact. Much of the current anti-establishment mood has been brought about by Wikileaks. Without Wikileaks, the population might still believe our governments were acting in our interests. If it wasn’t for Wikileaks, we might never have known about so many ways that governments are acting against the interests of ordinary people. Here are some of the biggest revelations that have greatly contributed to our understanding of how our society functions:

The list goes on. These are all important facts that the public has a right to know. Who knows how many more government secrets we will never learn if Assange is successfully crushed.

Assange and Wikileaks have received a long list of journalistic awards, including the National Union of Journalists Journalist of the Year, the Walkley Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism, the Brazillian Press Association Human Rights Award, and the Kazakstan Union of Journalists Top Prize. And to my knowledge, there has never been any serious challenge to the accuracy of material published by Wikileaks, which is more than can be said for the establishment media who constantly condemn Assange.

Assange has also provided commentary that has helped place these leaks in context so that citizens can understand it – in short, what used to be called journalism. Until recently, despite being trapped indoors and increasingly marginalized by mainstream media, online he continued to provide insightful commentary on geopolitics which I found to be more independent than anyone else at his level of fame, and certainly more trustworthy than anyone mainstream. Now that he’s silenced, it’s become harder to figure out who or what to believe, and the world is significantly darker as a result.

As New Matilda’s propaganda expert Lissa Johnson puts it:

So that we can manage our enormous information load, the brain is prone to simplistically and unconsciously tagging familiar people and things “good” or “bad”. It does this using positive and negative emotions, known as affective tags…

In pro-war propaganda the tagging mechanism is deployed to pin an emotional bullseye to a target’s head. The target against whom propagandists wish to mobilise for attack need simply be paired repeatedly with an emotion that supports a violent response…

To sustain the pro-war propaganda narratives that feed the propaganda tags, contradictory material must be kept at bay. Across all levels of propaganda – whether motivational or technical – omission is a critical component.

Which means that Wikileaks and other independent media must be shut down if war propagandists are to do their jobs unencumbered.

Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 released the Pentagon Papers revealing lies about the Vietnam War, condemns the prosecution of Assange:

It’s a very serious assault on the First Amendment, a clear attempt to rescind the freedom of the press essentially…

This is the first indictment of a journalist and editor or publisher, Julian Assange. And if it’s successful it will not be the last. This is clearly is a part of President Trump’s war on the press, what he calls the enemy of the state. And if he succeeds in putting Julian Assange in prison, where I think he’ll be for life, if he goes there at all…

And without freedom of the press you have no–you have very little freedom in the country. I’m afraid that’s the direction we’re going.

I list all the above facts to remind readers of what is really at stake, to counter the propaganda of governments and mainstream media emphasizing the various attacks on Assange – because he has been demonized using the same propaganda techniques used in war. The mainstream media has been helping governments smear Assange for years, when they should be screaming blue murder about this attack on press freedom.

Julian Assange deserves his awards and he should be free to continue his important work.

In a coming series of posts, I will examine Assange’s legal case and trial-by-media, to prove the blatantly unfair treatment he has received at every stage.

The Extinction Rebellion begins in Australia

Today saw the start of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement in Australia.

In Melbourne, a crowd of around 150 gathered in Treasury Place to deliver a Climate Emergency Declaration to a government building. They marched in protest against both the state and federal governments, led by a group of “climate guardians” dressed in angel costumes, chanting slogans such as “Coal, don’t dig it, leave it in the ground, it’s time to get with it”.

The federal offices avoided any confrontation with the peaceful protestors, locking their gates as the crowd approached. Nevertheless, demonstrators read out the Declaration and handed a copy through the gate to a security officer.

Parallel events were held in Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide.

The Australian protests have not received any media attention to my knowledge. But today was merely the beginning of a planned campaign of civil disobedience which has already had considerable success in the United Kingdom.

London’s Extinction Rebellion was launched last Halloween by over a thousand protestors, of whom 15 were arrested for deliberately sitting in the road outside Parliament. In two open letters published in the Guardian, the Extinction Rebellion was endorsed by approximately 200 high-profile figures including scientists and academics from various fields.

The London campaign continued over the following weeks, as thousands of activists blocked major roads and bridges to disrupt traffic. Other tactics included activists gluing themselves to the doors of government departments, graffiti-ing government buildings, and partially shutting down an airport which plans to expand.

In one case 6,000 people disrupted traffic for several hours, and over 130 activists were arrested. Getting arrested is at the core of the movement’s strategy to use civil disobedience to disrupt society and show their commitment to the cause.

The movement helped convince several British councils, including the City of London, to declare a Climate Emergency.

Extinction Rebellion is associated with a far-left group called RisingUp! and its template for radical organizing. It aims to mobilize 3.5% of the population to leave their comfort zones and engage in nonviolent resistance to bring down the system. However their approach sounds like it is relatively hands-off, allowing decentralized organizing as long as everyone is in line with the basic values.

Why the urgency? To quote the Extinction Rebellion website:

Scientists believe we have entered a period of abrupt climate breakdown. The Earth’s atmosphere is already over 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels and the chance of staying below the 2°C limit set in the Paris Agreement is tiny. Projections show we are on course for 3 degrees of warming and probably much higher.

We and our children will face unimaginable horrors as a result of floods, wildfires, extreme weather, crop failures and the inevitable breakdown of society when the pressures are so great. We are unprepared for the danger our future holds…

World leaders have failed to adequately confront the existential threats posed by climate and ecological breakdown, let alone the causes of the crises. Polite lobbying, marching, voting, consumer- and shareholder-activism, have all failed. We are now on the brink. If asking the establishment nicely doesn’t get them to act, then the only option left is civil disobedience, to disrupt the ordinary working of things, so that decision makers HAVE to take notice.

Many of the largest mass extinction events in Earth’s history appear to have been caused by runaway greenhouse warming, driven by carbon dioxide triggering an amplifying release of methane and poisonous hydrogen sulfide. We are currently witnessing the latest mass extinction event, through global warming and other impacts on the environment. When you account for shrinking populations as well as extinctions, around half of the Earth’s wildlife has already vanished. And we humans could be one of the species facing extinction.

There is a serious possibility that we are already in the process of triggering a runaway “hothouse Earth”, as warned by eminent climatologists Hans Schellnhuber and Will Steffen. The climate system appears to be teetering on the edge of several destabilizing tipping points – including the disappearance of Arctic summer sea ice, which judging from the current trend could happen in the next decade – which could trigger a cascade of feedbacks amplifying global warming to catastrophic levels. As Extinction Rebellion points out, this could conceiveably cause mass starvation within years. 

As Steffen puts it:

The obvious thing we have to do is to get greenhouse gas emissions down as fast as we can. That means that has to be the primary target of policy and economics. You have got to get away from the so-called neoliberal economics.

Of course, no such policy shift has been in evidence. Our political and economic system is not solving the climate crisis. Instead, our elites seem to have total disregard for the future of the general population.

A digital economics professor named Douglas Rushkoff recently recounted an exclusive meeting in which five super-wealthy individuals grilled him on “the future of technology”. He was shocked to hear the real questions they wanted answered: Which region will be less impacted by the coming climate crisis? How will they maintain authority over the security forces guarding their underground bunkers? Should they use special combination locks on the food supply, or make the guards wear disciplinary collars, or build robots to replace workers?

It is high time for policy to be made in the public interest rather than the interests of billionaires. To this end, Extinction Rebellion makes the following demands (which you can read more about here):

  1. The Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.
  2. The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.
  3. National Citizen’s Assemblies to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.

(That last demand is partly to prevent the possibility of a eco-fascist dictatorship, which some fear could result from emergency messaging.)

Now the movement is preparing to go international. Extinction Rebellion is planning more actions for the week starting 15 April in Australia and around 30 other countries.

The rebellion has begun!