Wren's Week: Drought proofing and Your Right To Know

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Efforts are being made to give the press more freedom, yet the press is largely owned by conservative groups (Screenshots via YouTube - edited)

While the LNP comes up with another scheme to assist drought-affected areas, the fight for press freedom shows signs of hypocrisy, writes John Wren.

I WOKE UP recently to an ABC radio news bulletin featuring a National Party MP (I was half asleep so not sure who) advocating for a program to put water tanks onto every house in rural Australia. This was promoted as both a way of “drought-proofing” the nation and as a means to pump-prime rural economies with investment and jobs. The latter is almost an identical rationale to Labor’s GFC-era “pink batts” program.

The difference is, though, that the batts work all year round, keeping in the heat in winter and keeping it out in summer. The problem with providing water tanks is figuring out what these homes going to fill them with. Thoughts and prayers? Given the way the National Party (and their Liberal Party colleagues) criticised the pink batts program at the time, the water tanks proposal is complete hypocrisy.

But let’s get back to the so-called drought. Building dams and installing water tanks is not going to make it rain. There is nothing to go into them. Many climate scientists are now starting to suggest the current aridness of parts of Australia may be permanent and is a result of man-made climate change and deforestation. It is a process known as desertification, where once-fertile agricultural land gradually becomes subsumed by desert as the climate changes.

Beneath the Sahara is clear archaeological evidence of farms and agriculture. Desertification is not a new phenomenon, however, what we are seeing today is unusual because of its rapidity due to our industrial level of fossil fuel burning and its emissions.

The Government is persisting in calling the phenomenon a “drought”. There are a number of reasons for this. The word “drought” implies the situation is temporary. It allows them to throw some cash around on dams and water tanks, make some flashy PR stunts that suggest they are doing something to help. Many members of the Liberal Government are also climate change deniers. If they accept desertification as fact, then they will be forced to concede that climate change is real after all.

My take on this is that it is most definitely desertification. It may well rain again in our parched inland areas, but the period of drought will return again soon after and will probably be even worse than the current spell. Over a decade or two, eventually the rains will stop altogether. If the Government were to acknowledge desertification as real and happening now, they would be better off spending money on transition programs for affected families, such as re-training and help with relocation.

Using taxpayer money to build dams for water that never arrives is grossly irresponsible. Unfortunately, the Coalition Luddites have wedged themselves on the issue and people in the bush continue to suffer because of it. Even more bizarrely, the majority of people in the bush continue to vote for conservative parties that have contributed to their very situation. It’s a form of Stockholm syndrome.

While we are on the subject of hypocrisy, on Friday, a consortium of major media players – Murdoch’s News Corp, the ABC, Nine Media and Kerry Stokes’s mob – combined to launch their “Your Right To Know” campaign that seeks to draw attention to (and ultimately reverse) the erosion of press freedom that has been happening under the Liberal Party regime. The media’s chickens finally came home to roost earlier this year when two journalists (one from the ABC and one from News Corp) had their homes raided by the AFP, both still facing charges on receiving secret government documents.

Let’s make it clear, I am a full-blown supporter of freedom of the press. Our media’s role is to hold the Government to account, to investigate corruption and incompetence and bring it to the light so that it can be dealt with. Free and unrestricted media is vital to a democracy. In fact, one of the first acts of any totalitarian regime is to control the mass media so it can control the message going out and to stop investigation and publishing of their extrajudicial abuses and corruption. The question must always be asked — if a government seeks to curtail press freedom, what are they trying to hide?

But why hypocrisy, you ask? Well, Australia’s media landscape is like no other in a Western democracy. It is dominated by Murdoch’s News Corp in print media and via Sky News on cable TV. Other players include Nine Media, publishers of The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and the AFR as well as, of course, Channel 9 TV. Nine Media is chaired by former Liberal Treasurer Peter Costello. Kerry Stokes owns Channel 7 and the West Australian.

All these media are fiercely conservative and routinely run anti-Labor and pro-Liberal Party stories on a daily basis. The Murdoch papers, in particular, The Daily Telegraph, The Herald Sun and The Australian, have devolved over time into little more than Liberal Party newsletters. Propaganda rags. They have given up all pretext of investigative journalism. The ABC is trying but has been cowed by constant budget cuts by the Government to such a point it can barely investigate what it had for lunch, let alone anything else.

These media arms have not held the Government to account, they have not done their jobs. In fact, some of them even promoted the re-election of the very government that now threaten to gaol their journalists. Australians expect impartial objective fair reporting of both sides of politics. The campaigning on behalf of the Government in the May election was unprecedented. Murdoch’s press ran most Liberal Party talking points verbatim with little or no critique. Some even published the fake stories of Labor’s death tax and the franking credits “retirees tax”.

While they claim via their campaign that we readers have a right to know, we readers also have a right to know the truth and expect the truth from our media. We seldom see it. Cover-ups have included Barnaby Joyce’s affair, Watergate and Grassgate and most recently, what aren’t they asking about Morrison’s relationship with the QAnon nutters?

The Your Right To Know campaign, while justified, will fail because the media are hypocrites. They will not hold the Government to account. Watch them closely. As their journalists are picked off and imprisoned, they will continue to campaign for the government that is doing it. How depraved is that? They’re like turkeys who can’t wait for Christmas.

You can sign the petition to have John Wren reinstated on Twitter here.

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