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The rise of a new, invisible global contagion

The frightening assault on democracy which has unspooled in America over recent months is simply one aspect of the acceleration of efforts by extremist groups, cultists, merchants of hate and intolerance, and already entrenched authoritarian rulers to reshape societies in a new way – their way!
The new threats to global peace and stability are taking place at a time when normal societal checks and balances have been compromised by the impacts and constraints imposed by the COVID-19 virus and the apparently increasingly adverse effects of climate change.
The new contagion now evident in the world can be characterised as the failure of honesty and the death of truth on the part of those who seek to remake the world in their image and impose their vision of reality on the societies they seek to create.
Those who hold extreme views are not new.
Such individuals and groups have been elements of most societies for centuries.
However, things have changed in the past decade or so.
The uncompromising spruikers of the left and right, COVID-19 deniers, anti-vaxers, racists, unhinged prophets, fervent nihilists, conspiracy theory creators, QAnon ratbags, anarchists, libertarian fantasists, religious zealots, and political strongmen who despise democracy and all it stands for have eagerly adopted the digital technologies of the modern world to increase their reach and power by many orders of magnitude.
The role of ‘state actors’ (government-supported sources) to produce misinformation and ‘fake news’ is now well-recognised and well-documented.
But, no longer do loyal enthusiasts of domestic falsehood have to conduct letter box drops, stick up some posters or daub slogans on walls.
The internet, through a multitude of platforms and techniques, allows any tech-savvy group to spread its message far and wide.
Professionally-prepared material can be transmitted, inserted, and promulgated almost anywhere very quickly.
Information can be safely encrypted and sent to chapters, branches and sympathiser easily across national borders.
And it is not only the supporters who can be reached.
Clever techniques for reaching and convincing millions of ordinary people about ‘alternative facts’ – or, in fact, fake news – has been proven to be outstandingly successful.
Why, even mainstream media can be encouraged to promote and authenticate material that is actually false.
Look how quickly the false claim that Australia’s terrible bushfires in 2019/20 were the work of organised arsonists took hold!
The success of outgoing President Trump to convince scores of millions of American supporters that the 2020 Presidential election had been highjacked and its outcome manipulated to give Mr Joe Biden an undeserved victory has created seismic shifts in the American political scene which may play out for many months ahead.
The success of the oft-repeated lie by Mr Trump and his team that the election had been ‘stolen’ is also evident in the fact that a very large number of Republican politicians still hold the view that Mr Trump actually won the election – when sufficient factual evidence abounds that the 2020 election result convincingly went Mr Biden’s way.
Of course it is not only in America that political honesty can be said to have failed.
The failure of honesty and the death of truth is evident in a dishearteningly lengthy list of nations, large and small, around the world. China, Brazil, Hungary, North Korea, Russia … the Middle East … the list is easy to compile,
That Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites have taken steps to limit or otherwise exclude fake and/or anti-social material from their platforms is perhaps a somewhat belated realisation that such multi-billion dollar businesses do actually have a degree of social responsibility and care when it comes the transmission of untruthful material that actually scorn recognised boundaries of freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech remains a cornerstone of democracy but with the right to publish views, opinions and information comes responsibility.
The failure of honesty leads to the death of truth.
We need to be on our guard in the new digital environment against those who seek to mislead or destabilise our society.
People everywhere must also insist that those who seek to govern us must know that if they fail the honesty test then they have failed their right to represent us.




Your Say

Don’t exclude farmers from Net Zero: Adam Marshall

Ring-fencing farmers from a net-zero carbon target is nothing but political point scoring based on the needs of those who think in timelines that are based on their political needs, not the future of agriculture.
NET-ZERO is a target of the NSW government and now an ambition of the Commonwealth.
Right now is when the work is done to get regulatory frame works right. Right now is when we need agriculture front-and-centre.
We are fairly fresh into 2021, which means there is another 29 years before we hit 2050.
If carved out now, this is 29 years of farmers being excluded from the policy table.
Once cut out, farmers are cut off.
Farmers will spend 29 years of being sidelined as plans for the future and investment strategies are developed and formulated by government.
This is 29 years cut off from real opportunities, investment and yes, real dollars in their pockets.
On some farms, an entirely new generation of farmers will be working their land, but many of their plans for the future are laid out decades in advance and in the making.
Many learn their trade as little more than toddlers following their parents around the farm.
On some farms, many now are looking ahead, carefully weighing the weather and future diversification options.
Twenty-nine years isolated from one of the key areas to be considered by multiple generations of politicians is 29 years frozen in place, as investors and the economy moves around them.
It puts them behind by almost an entire generation.
A father looking to pass the farm to his daughter has no hope of guessing what might happen after those 29 years in the dark.
In political terms, it’s like spending a century on the bench.
This could have devastating financial impacts on farmers.
How can farmers shape the future of this policy and cash in on opportunities when they are totally excluded from it?
This is exactly how bad policy has morphed into even worse regulations and been slapped down on farmers’ heads before – the old native vegetation laws spring immediately to mind. It is particularly short-sighted when you think about how carbon rich farmers are and what this simple fact could mean for their businesses.
Most farmers right now, especially when conditions are good, are probably carbon neutral or even carbon negative – meaning they completely offset any emissions via their land and normal farming operations.
What I want is for farmers to be paid for the valuable environmental benefits they bring to the table for New South Wales, for biodiversity, carbon, renewables, sustainable agriculture and so many other untapped potential income streams.
By cutting them out, you’re cutting them off.
And rather than their rich carbon resources being factored into emerging markets that they can capitalise on, they’ll simply be sidelined or even worse, penalised, because their representatives failed to get them a real seat at this table.
As Minister for Agriculture for the premier agricultural producing state, I want the farmers I represent to be at the pointy end of this area and maximise every opportunity to potentially secure additional income streams.
This is why I back NSW Farmers Association, National Farmers Federation and so many other farmers in supporting agriculture being included in the debates as we navigate a pathway forward to 2050.
Let’s get the modelling and the policy right by keeping farmers solidly in play, rather than spending 29 years in no-man’s land, when the people who called the loudest for farming to be excluded from the future have long since retired.
Farmers are already carbon bankers. It’s time they started to draw up the terms for their own futures.