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Sorry Ross ...

By John Töns - posted Tuesday, 4 March 2008

In the first week of parliament Kevin said “sorry” to the Stolen Generation. Wind forward and we hear him saying “sorry” to Ross Garnaut - thank you for your input but we will see if we can get someone come up with a more favourable point of view.

Rudd made much of the fact that as Parliament was responsible for enacting the legislation that made possible the Stolen Generation, it was responsible for saying sorry. What Rudd has admitted to here is that the legislation enacted by parliaments establishes the rules by which the game of life is played - it therefore follows when those rules have adverse consequences then parliament bears responsibility not just for saying sorry, but implementing those changes that are necessary to redress the consequences.

If Rudd fully intended that apology then the task that faces his government is a daunting one. For the principles on which the apology is based does not apply just to the Stolen Generation, not just to injustice experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders but indeed to all manifestations of systemic injustice. It requires that all parliamentary policies spell out the full implications of policy on both present and future Australians.


We now have a situation where both international advice (i.e. the Stern Report) and now the government’s own report are unequivocal about the need to take dramatic action to address climate change yet the government says sorry - we will keep seeking advice until we get some that suits.

The real problem that Australia faces is not climate change - Australia can do very little about making a difference to global warming - although per capita our emissions are the worst in the world our overall contribution is a mere drop in an ocean of greenhouse gas emissions.

Our real challenge lies in developing a 21st century lifestyle that enables us to cope with global warming in a sustainable manner. While one can develop sound ethical arguments for sustainable development for those not persuaded by the ethics we can appeal to self interest - sustainability is also about ensuring that there is a future in which we may live.

Indeed if we are successful in doing that we may be able to do some thing about climate change - by leading be example we will be demonstrating to the rest of the world that it is possible to have the comforts of 21st century living and drive carbon emissions below 1990 levels.

There are some immediate steps that may be taken:

All businesses need to reduce their energy usage by 20 per cent per year for the next five years. In other words by 66 per cent over a five-year period.) Every target reached will attract a significant tax break - the size of the tax break to be determined by charging a substantial penalty to those businesses that fail to meet the target. There are simply no incentives for business to be more efficient yet business and government, together, are the largest source of greenhouse gasses.


All consumer durables should be sold on a lease and return basis. What this means is that when you buy a fridge the manufacturer of the fridge retains responsibility for the repair of the fridge for the lifetime of the fridge and at the end of its useful life the manufacturer has to take the fridge back. How will this help? It will mean that manufacturers can plan accurately how many fridges they need to produce but it will also mean that they will be encouraged to build fridges, cars, and so on, out of materials that are recyclable thus reducing the overall strain on the environment.

Failure to act on climate change would mean that the Rudd government ignored the real and viable strategies that have been produced to address climate change. (Last year the Zero Carbon Network circulated the Zero Carbon Roadmap - a document that was carefully researched and demonstrated that we have the science to reduce emissions close to zero in a relatively short time frame.) Whereas there may be some merit in arguing that the policies that produced the Stolen Generation were well intended no such excuse exists for inaction on climate change.

The data on which Garnaut based his report is, if anything, extremely optimistic: it may already be too late.

Yet the government, shackled as it is to the interests of the mining sector, will continue to invent convenient fictions to avoid having to take action. Indications of the response to the Garnaut report suggests that this is a case of old wine in new bottles - the rhetoric may have changed but the same reluctance to take positive action is clearly evident.

The energy sector has already unleashed the hounds of fear - electricity rates will go up by 50 per cent if we reduce our emissions by 90 per cent, economic growth will falter, indeed our economy will collapse. So Kevin Rudd says “sorry - we will file Garnaut’s advice”.

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About the Author

John Töns is President of the Zero Carbon Network a network established to promote clear thinking about the issues associated with climate change. In addition to operating the only zero carbon boarding kennels in South Australia he is also completing a PhD at Flinders University in the area of Global Justice. John is a founding member of a new political party Stop Population Growth Now.

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