Tuesday, June 1, 2010

OMG! It’s so c-o-l-d...

by Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard

Written: 1st June, 2010

NOTE: I wrote this at the time, but did not post it. I should have done so. Here it is now.

Well, I’m out. Professional differences, let’s call it, have slingshotted me out of Papua New Guinea and back into Australia. Not the happiest outcome, but there was really no alternative after Australian volunteers International failed to support me when I told the boss that I was old enough and ugly enough not to want to put up with bullshit and game playing, so let’s cut the crap and get on with the job, or alternatively, he could ring up AVI and have me hurled hence back to the place of wintry darkness and gnashing of teeth -- viz Melbourne.

The AVI Country Manager had more than once expressed her disapproval of my frankness and refusal to accept childish rules from her side of the fence (see “I break out” and similar stuff posted earlier) so I suspect she was not unhappy to be shot of me. She certainly gave no indication to me of support.

And I am sitting here shivering (it was 30 celsius when I flew out of Port Moresby and 5 celsius when I landed at Tullamarine that night), wondering what on earth possesses anyone to live in this cold hole -- Melbourne, Australia -- where the news is a litany of violence and brutality, where smugness and denial of reality reign, where the media are complicit in the subversion of people-centred, democratic values and action.

And where corruption is perfectly obvious to anyone who is willing to do that first essential of criminal investigation -- follow the money trail.

I raise this because it is so often one of the first things mentioned when I speak to Australians of Papua New Guinea. First thing after the heat. Yes, it is warm, on the coast is it 30-32 celsius every day. And yes, Papua New Guinea has its share of corruption -- quite a big share.

But corruption in PNG has one saving grace -- it is kind of overt. Papua New Guinea’s population is five million, but its power elite is quite small and its principal mode of operation -- the “wantok system” -- is well known and easily identified. Tens of thousands of Papua New Guineans pay for the privilege to march against corruption and it is acknowledged in official documents. These things suggest the possibility of change.

Victorians, particularly, and many other Australians, on the other hand, deny that corruption exists here or at best are doubtful about it -- even when the evidence if obvious. Others are apathetic or don’t take it seriously. They dismiss talk of corruption as “conspiracy theory” -- as though this is some kind of irrefutable rebuttal of the allegation. Conspiracy? Of course conspiracy. Corruption inevitably involves conspiracy!

Maybe there are “a few bad apples in the barrel” but corruption, real corruption, they say, tends to happen “over there”, in those other places. Mostly those places where people aren’t white. It’s a kind of racism.

The most outstanding example I’ve seen of this kind of barefaced lie was when the former Premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks, went to Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor) to report on corruption and recommended they set up an anti-corruption commission. Asked on his return whether we should have such a body in Victoria, Australia, he replied, with a perfectly straight face, that no, we didn’t need one because corruption wasn't a problem here.

Where in PNG you have a Chinese Government owned copper mine that appears to be not about to return one kina to Papua New Guinea while leaving a legacy of terrible pollution of the sea, here in Victoria you have a huge desalination plant being built which will put the people of this state into debt for 30 years and leave a legacy of terrible pollution of the sea.

On our behalf, the ALP State Government which many people voted for because it campaigned against a desalination plant, signed up for a huge plant with an establishment cost clearly out of scale with what we are getting, along with a guarantee that we will buy every drop of water it produces for the next 30 years ... regardless of whether we need it or not.

A public/private partnership, they called it, and as such, the details of the contract are commercial-in-confidence, so we the taxpayers and electors -- the mutts paying for this fraudulent scheme -- are barred from seeing them!

Is this corrupt? Did money or other benefits change hands? I don’t know -- I cannot follow the money trail because it is so tightly locked away. But I do know that there are billions of dollars involved and the only publicly acknowledged beneficiaries are the private owners of the plant. A bunch of workers who build it and a handful who run it will get wages.

Certainly the people of Victoria are not beneficiaries. The downsides for them are many. Here are some key ones:

• VICTORIANS LOSE OWNERSHIP OF WATER -- this is a backdoor privatisation after governments of both hues (alleged left and right, but in reality, both right wing tending towards national socialism) perceived it would be very unpopular to privatise existing water supplies outright.
• Victorians have been CONDEMNED TO PAY FOR DECADES for the most expensive water in the world. They could have had sufficient water by other means much more economically, without nearly as much pollution, and without the cataclysmic on-costs in both financial and environmental terms.
• The State’s GREEN ELECTRICITY TARGETS HAVE BEEN SUBVERTED -- the desalination plant demands a huge amount of electricity to run, which seriously undermines any attempt to cut Victoria’s electricity generation using its dirty brown coal technology. That’s a huge benefit for the private owners of the brown coal fired electricity generators (originally state-owned, but sold off 20 years ago in another deal that put the future of Victorians into the uncaring hands of private interests).

Consider this alternative. For less than the cost of the desalination plant, the State Government could have installed and plumbed in 22,000 litre (8,000 gallon) water tanks on every residence in Melbourne to capture and use roof run-off which is currently drained off to rivers and Port Phillip Bay at considerable expense. There would be no on-costs (the annual cost of the desalination plant is $560 million whether it is producing water or not) and the tanks could be made a requirement under the building code so that all new homes had them -- at no further cost to the government.

Of course, such a solution would aid small business, not big business and finance, and it would make ordinary people freer by making them largely independent of the centralized water system. It would be pro-democratic.

Instead, we get the grossly over-priced desalination plant, enormous debt, 30 years of payments, and skewing of the water supply system.

If deals like this, involving stupefying sums of money, do not benefit the people the politicians are supposed to represent and whose interestes they were elected to safeguard, then why would the pollies sign up for them?

The politicians betrayed their trust, broke their promises, kept secret public information, and signed contracts providing huge financial benefits to a small group of individuals. In short, they corrupted the democratic process; they are complicity with the big end of town in attempting to destroy democracy.

What induced them to do so? I can see only one realistic answer.

Now let me turn my back on this cesspool and its slimy creatures and get busy working out how to return to Papua New Guinea where at least I don’t have to pay to keep warm! ###


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.