Monday, 7 July 2014

Plea to the Senate - keep a price on carbon

Classified as: Reflective journal - advocacy

 Updated with links 22 July 2014

What can I say? Like many others, I have watched in shock as the Abbott government tried to undo all the good work of its predecessor. In public health and education in particular, the government's actions seemed to be motivated by ignorance, meanness and petty revenge.

In the budget, those in the most difficult conditions - the chronically ill, the young, Indigenous people, sole parents, low income families and unemployed people - have been targeted for savage cuts, while the wealthy or comfortably off - like myself - pay nothing or a token short lived levy.

Now we come to the major moment - Tony Abbott's plan to 'Axe the Tax'. Such ignorance, such foolishness I have never seen in a government in all my long life. I cannot understand how Australia has elected such a government.

Yes I know people were sick of the infighting of Labor, and I know they had been made to look incompetent, particularly through sexism and exaggeration, but they weren't. The Clean Energy Futures Act, which includes the carbon price, was actually good and far sighted legislation. It is setting us on the road to a lower emissions future already. More needs to be done, but we have started our journey.

Fortunately at least some of the mechanisms associated with the Act, such as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Renewable Energy Target, and the Climate Change Authority, look set to be retained due to the Palmer United Party position - for which I am grateful. But they still look set to axe the carbon price and at best go to an emissions scheme which won't have any impact until major trading partners adopt one.

So I make a last plea - don't do it Senators. If you want to switch to an emissions trading scheme, ok. But it has to be meaningful. The message sent by Australia setting a price and then backing off is just terrible. Apart from making us look like idiots - no small thing in itself - it creates doubt and uncertainty in Australia and internationally. Citizens and businesses in Australia deserve better than this.

To dispel a few false ideas, here is some evidence:

  • The carbon price caused only a small amount - about nine or ten percent - of recent electricity price rises. Most were for other causes particularly infrastructure upgrades.
  • People on low to middle incomes were compensated for the cost increases associated with the carbon price under the legislation. Paying the money back to them again is like paying them twice. People on average to high incomes don't need to be repaid as it was only a small amount for us. (I am not sure how long the link in this point will last as it links to the previous government's information, so here is another one, hopefully more permanent.)
  • Electricity prices are set to decline if we continue our investment in renewables. Without a carbon price, this investment will likely slow down. People will end up paying more in a few years. The carbon price is a small pain for a big gain. As long as vulnerable groups are compensated, it is a fair way of helping us move to a sustainable economy.

Yes, the economy will change in some ways. People may fly less and drive cars less - or drive different types of cars - but that is part of the transition of the economy. We have to invest in sustainable industry like renewable energy and public transport, to meet our changing needs and make sure there are jobs for people.

We can't just cling to the past as the Abbott government wants to do. We have to change. So please Senators, let's do it sensibly. Keep a price on carbon. Compensate vulnerable groups, and go further - help them through mechanisms such as community renewable schemes. Invest in alternative sustainable industry to meet our needs and create jobs. Look to the future, look to what we can be and the world we create for our descendants.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

"I am not the problem", plus threats to renewable energy, health cuts ..

Classified as: reflective journal - Indigenous perspectives, discourse, politics

 "I am not the problem"

A wonderful moment from Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, talking on the ABC's Q and A program on Monday 9 June 2014

I am not the problem

I have copied her words below because they are so wonderful, but it is even better to watch her in person (the link above has the video excerpt)

"You know, I have a culture. I am a cultured person. (Speaking Arrernte) I’m talking another language. And my language is alive. I am not something that fell out of the sky for the pleasure of somebody putting another culture into this cultured being. John [Pilger*] shows what is an ongoing denial of me. I am not an Aboriginal or, indeed, Indigenous. I am Arrernte, Alyawarre, First Nations person, a sovereign person from this country. (Speaking Arrernte) This is the country I came out from. I didn’t come from overseas. I came from here. My language, in spite of whiteness trying to penetrate into my brain by assimilationists – I am alive, I am here and now – and I speak my language. I practise my cultural essence of me. Don’t try and suppress me and don’t call me a problem. I am not the problem. I have never left my country nor have I ceded any part of it. Nobody has entered into a treaty or talked to me about who I am. I am Arrernte Alyawarre female elder from this country. Please remember that. I am not the problem."

This is such an important point - the people who experience or suffer from oppression, are not the problem - the problem is the oppression and the people who practise it or benefit from it. All white people in Australia have benefited from this oppression one way or another (as I've noted in a previous post). We need to acknowledge this.


Another thing I saw on the ABC news last night was a piece about the possible impact on Hepburn Wind if the Renewable Energy Target (RET) is removed by the Abbott government. I've discussed in a previous post how Hepburn Wind is a model for community energy projects, and how after years of work it has just come close to breaking even.

There is more information about the RET review and the possible impact on renewable energy and community energy projects from the Coalition for Community Energy.

I looked at some of the submissions on the RET review, including one from my energy provider, Origin. Origin is calling for the RET to be lowered - and I am thinking about whether I should change my energy provider! At least they are not calling for it to be abolished, but even lowering it is a foolish step backwards.

One thing that makes me quite angry about the position of Origin and also that of the Electricity Suppliers Association of Australia, is that they talk a lot about the costs of renewable energy to the general public, through the RET and the carbon price, but there are two things they don't seem to mention:
  • People on low to average incomes in Australia were in general over-compensated for the costs of the carbon price - they received more in payments from the government than the costs that the carbon price was estimated to cause households.
  • Energy companies make a profit from current household solar. Early Feed-in Tarriffs (FITs), which are the price the energy companies pay people for the electricity that they feed in to the main grid from their solar panels, were quite high, to encourage take up of solar panels. However, they have now been reduced,  and electricity companies now sell the electricity for more than they pay for it. For example, Origin pays me 8c per Kilowatt hour (KwH) for energy from my solar panels, and sells it to other people for 22c per KwH.
 It seems to me that they are not being entirely honest.

Final quick point - I'm sure everyone knows, in general terms, about the huge cuts to health that are proposed in the federal budget, plus the co-payments for doctor visits and medications. It is also worth noting that health promotion has particularly been targeted. The Australian Health Promotion Association (AHPA) are advocating on these issues. See advocacy information and letters here.

I would like to write more about the impact of the budget on health promotion soon, but in the meantime I urge everyone to support the work of the AHPA.


* John Pilger, maker of the documentary Utopia, which was being discussed.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Thought about getting your degree tattooed on your forehead, ladies?

When you act like you’re ignorant, people assume you’re ignorant. Your degrees aren’t tattooed onto your forehead.

Classified as: reflective journal - discourse, feminism, gender.

Quick update on a few things happening lately. I've mainly been reading more theory, for my data analysis as mentioned in the last post, and in my spare time reading Thomas Piketty Capital in the Twenty First Century (an important new book about inequality for anyone who hadn't heard about it yet). I've also been reading what others have said about Piketty online.

The comment above was made by a male (I believe) commenter to me during an online discussion, which I had started by questioning a statement by Piketty that sustained population growth in the 18th century was unprecedented (p 3). The commenter, and another man in the same discussion, were convinced that I didn't understand the concept of exponential growth, and that they had to explain it to me.

Didn't matter that I said, yes, I do get it, I do understand the concept - they were convinced I didn't, and they had to keep lecturing me about it. In the end I got so sick of it that I pointed out to the second guy that, while I hadn't studied general maths since I left school, I have studied biostatistics and epidemiology at postgrad level, got high distinctions for both, and won an award for epi. So the idea that I didn't understand a concept like exponential growth was unlikely.

In response to which, he said that I "sounded like" I was dumb at maths, and he couldn't be expected to know better, given that I didn't have my degrees tattooed on my forehead (not that that would have been much use online, anyway). I suppose the possibility of believing me when I said I understood it, hadn't occurred to him.

I'm not linking to the site, because it's a good blog and shouldn't be typecast by a couple of misguided individuals (in fact the first guy got reprimanded by other commenters, one of whom said he was behaving like a "dick".) However this whole episode reminds me of Rebecca Solnit's work Men Explain Things to Me. I've read the famous first essay, the one that led to the concept of "mansplaining" (although Solnit didn't use that term), but I'd like to read the whole book.

The episode also reminds me of another incident last year, when a male sustainability officer tried to explain to me why I was wrong about electricity prices going up. I'd been talking about peak demand, infrastructure, privatisation and service charges, and why all this had an unfair impact on low income groups. He interrupted me to tell me I was wrong, and then proceeded to explain it all using slightly different terminology. It took me several tries, and again having to insist that I wasn't stupid, before I managed to make him see that we were saying the same thing using different words.

Maybe it's particularly in the maths and technology area that some men think women are dumb. Anyway what about this idea of having our degrees tattooed on our foreheads? Will it work? Will it solve the problem? Or is the responsibility on these men to stop assuming we're dumb? Hard question (not).

But more seriously, how much does this keep women from participating in discussions about these issues? Because as I've mentioned before, not many seem to, at least online, and this is an important gap.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Nearing the final stage - project update

Classified as: Project update - progress report, theory

Looking towards Mt Abrupt, from Dunkeld
The 'Promoting equity, sustainability and health' research project is nearing its final stage. I hope to complete data collection in June-July this year and finish writing up the thesis in mid-late 2015.

Key milestones in the research so far have been:

Stage 1
  • Ethics approval granted (Monash Human Research Ethics Committee September 2011, Alfred Health Ethics Committee November 2011)
  • Two workshops held by ISEPICH Primary Care Partnership (PCP) in November 2011 and February 2012 (notes and reports from these workshops form part of the project data)
  • Focus groups with 20 research participants from ISEPICH in November-December 2011 and February 2012 (over the course of the project there have been 24 research participants from ISEPICH in total, including 11 staff members from ISEPICH member agencies and 13 community members) 
Stage 2
  • ISEPICH PCP stopped supporting the project in July 2012, although individual research participants from the ISEPICH catchment continued to take part
  • Project amended to include participants from two additional PCPs, both in regional Victoria. Ethics approval for the amendments granted by Monash, March 2013 (No participants from Alfred Health in Stage 2 of the project to date)
  • Interviews and focus groups with 14 participants from ISEPICH and 15 participants from the other two PCPs in April - November 2013
I am planning to distribute a report and short survey to all research participants in June- July 2014. This will be the final point of data collection.

I hope to finish analysing the data and writing up the thesis by about July 2015. I also hope to write one or two articles for publication and give one or two conference presentations on the research during the next twelve months.

Data analysis
At present I expect the data analysis will take the following form:

Key content
  • Meanings of equity and sustainability
  • Principles for promoting equity and sustainability
  • Commonalities between promoting equity and sustainability
  • Actions - what have participants done to promote equity and sustainability, what have they achieved?
  • Barrier and enablers - what has helped and hindered them in this work?
  • How do the meanings, principles and actions identified in the project fit with, or conflict with, broader discourses in Victoria and elsewhere? What are the implications of this?

Theoretical perspectives
At the moment I think that the data analysis will be in three stages using the following perspectives (this may evolve differently in practice):
  • First level of analysis - Health promotion and action research theory
  • Second level of analysis - Social practice theory (possibly may also include some network theory analysis)
  • Third level of analysis - Social history and eco-feminist theory
In general terms this is an analysis that starts from the participants' point of view and then moves out to look at this from broader social perspectives. As this is an action research project the participants' point of view will always be central. Any research participants wanting to discuss this with me, please contact me directly through my contact details. Any member of the public who wishes to comment may do so through the comments section of this blog.

Note on "barriers and enablers"
The terminology of barriers and enablers is often used in health promotion but it does not seem to be very clearly theorised. Some literature suggests it derives from behavioural psychology, however in health promotion literature it seems to be used much more broadly, to encompass social determinants as well individual behaviour.  Some relevant references illustrating different ways of using the concepts of "barriers and enablers" are:
Burch S (2010) 'Transforming barriers into enablers of action on climate change: Insights from
three municipal case studies in British Columbia, Canada' Global Environmental Change 20: 287–297
Dodson EA et al (2009) 'Preventing Childhood Obesity through State Policy: Qualitative Assessment of Enablers and Barriers' Journal of Public Health Policy 30: S161–S176
McGuire, AM & Anderson, DJ (2012) 'Lifestyle risk factor modification in midlife women with type 2 diabetes : theoretical modelling of perceived barriers' Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing 30(1): 49-57.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Please excuse me while I tidy up my blog!

Classified as: Reflective journal, methodology, blog

(Apologies to anyone on Google+ who just saw a whole lot of updates from me. I'm just doing an ethics application for amendments to the research project, and it has reminded me that I must tidy up this blog. I'm now going to go through the blog and classify all entries, as explained below. I thought I had turned off automatic updates before doing this, but it looks like I hadn't. Hopefully it's fixed now and you won't get more after this.)

The reason I need to tidy it up the blog is that it has evolved from being mainly about providing project updates and information (the aim when I first started it) to now also including a lot of entries about my reflections, ideas and advocacy.  When I started this research project, I kept a reflective journal. This was always meant to be part of the research data, but I originally kept it as a private journal. Over time, as I have become more confident  and more used to writing on the blog, I have begun to publish a lot of  ideas and opinions on the blog, and  make fewer entries in the private journal. However, looking through it, I think it is important to make a distinction between Reflective Journal entries, and Project Updates. I am somewhat restricted as I am not supposed to publish 'finished work' for the PhD thesis prior to submitting the thesis (except as articles in academic journals). However Project Updates, even though not in final thesis form, will be based on review of evidence to date, while Reflective journal entries may quite free flowing and random, and are more like data and work-in-progress.

Advocacy may be classified under Project Updates or Reflective Journal, depending on the nature of the advocacy, however would also like to stress that advocacy is a legitimate part of a participatory research project, and I may also put advocacy posts on twitter or Facebook or promote them through other blogs, and so on. It's difficult sometimes to classify advocacy in practice - is it part of the research for this project, or part of  my role as a researcher, or as a private individual? Not always clear.

So the classifications will be reflective journal or project updates, with subheadings, and will be at the top or bottom of the post.

Comments are welcome as ever.