New waves of protests against rising living costs amid an escalating energy crisis have hit Europe in recent days, as many people were angry about their governments waging war on their own people by following the US in sanctioning Russia over the Ukraine crisis.
Over the weekend, protests filled the streets of Paris, Berlin and Prague with some shouting out "leave NATO" or "Our country first", according to media reports, which analysts said hinted at a deeper crisis that Europe is now facing.
Recently Donald Trump accused Germany of being dangerously dependent on fuel imported from Russia. The Russian foreign minister has responded to this sally by pointing out that Germany is still occupied militarily by the United States Army. As for importing fuel from Russia, Germany has done so for over 50 years, reliably, without interruption due to political differences. Trump wants to sell fracked fuel from the US to Germany and other parts of Europe. Inside is a video with the Russian foreign minister's comment.
[UPDATE 7 Nov 2017: Added excerpts from President Rouhani's speech.] I was riveted by this video in its presentation of the antithesis of United States policy in new agreements between Russia and Iran. The video begins with a remarkable political message in the ceremonial exchange of documents of agreement on very important material matters, which should make a big difference to politics in the region - and won't please the United States. These included agreements on nuclear energy transport cooperation, oil and gas exploration, technology and information technology, railway electrification, urban construction and development, trade in the energy industry, visa-free travel for groups between Russia and Iran, and agreement on extradition of convicted persons between the two countries and cooperation on legal affairs. In addition they agreed on mutual cooperation in fighting Islamic extremism, the encouragement of cultural exchange and sports, and working on the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. This news conference was part of a trilateral meeting of Vladimir Putin, President of Iran Hassan Rouhani and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. Putin and Rouhani appear in the video. You have to be aware of the momentous nature of the agreements in order to appreciate this otherwise somewhat stilted piece of diplomatic theatre. America has been trying to isolate and weaken Iran, which has both considerable oil reserves and a catbird seat on the shores of the oil-rich (if logistically highly problematic) Caspian Sea. America has backed wars in the region, invaded neighbours, and tried to undermine support for Russia in the Middle East because it wants permanent influence there. Obama, in his negotiations about Iran's use of nuclear power, may have been trying to keep some communications open, but Mr Trump has breached all democracy by openly threatening Iran. Iran (now that Syria has been crippled) is the leading technological and socially progressive power in the region, bitterly resented by Saudi Arabia and Israel. Now, apparently ironically, but actually quite naturally, Russia has resealed and expanded its friendship with Iran. In so doing, it has made Iran much more secure. How will the United States, NATO and the EU respond to this?
Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: I would like to thank the President of Azerbaijan for the idea of holding such summits and thank my Iranian colleague for organising the second summit of the leaders of Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia.
I believe such regular meetings in this format are very much in demand. They make it possible to coordinate positions on the most acute issues on the regional and international agenda, conduct a constructive search for solutions to shared problems in the sphere of security and the fight against terrorism, and promote trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation.
The main areas of trilateral cooperation are reflected in the Joint Statement that we will sign following today’s summit. I would like to point out several things I consider important.
No doubt, ensuring regional stability and security is one of our principal tasks. It is necessary to improve coordination of the activity of [our] intelligence and law enforcement agencies, establish an intensive data exchange on the activity of international terrorist and extremist organisations, fight drug trafficking and transnational crime, and stop the attempts to transit militants via our countries.
It is important to continue dialogue on Caspian problems – our colleagues just talked about that – and finish the work on the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea as soon as possible.
Needless to say, special priority should be given to promoting mutually beneficial trade and economic cooperation. Last year, Russian-Iranian trade was up 70 percent; in the [first] eight months of this year, Russia’s trade with Azerbaijan increased by 62 percent; Azerbaijani-Iranian trade is also marked by stable positive trends.
In order to further stimulate trilateral exports and imports, it is necessary to streamline customs procedures and eliminate the existing barriers to the free movement of goods and services.
We could also consider increasing the share of national currencies in mutual financial settlements, fostering closer ties between financial and banking institutions and getting business communities in the three countries more actively involved [in these processes].
Transport infrastructure offers good opportunities for developing cooperation. I am referring primarily to the initiative of building the western section of the North-South international corridor – our colleagues just talked about that – which is indeed one of the shortest and potentially the most commercially competitive transit routes from South Asia to Europe.
We support Iran’s plans to begin the construction of the last section of the western Caspian route – the Rasht-Astara railway line. The implementation of this project will make it possible to organise transit more effective and reduce delivery costs.
We see good prospects for deepening energy cooperation. Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan are firmly entrenched in leading positions in the world in terms of hydrocarbons production. I believe that joint prospecting and development of oil and gas deposits and the launching of joint projects in energy production and transit are in our common interests.
Building the Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran energy bridge, integrating our countries’ electric energy systems, remains a priority. Putting this initiative into practice would help enhance energy security of the entire region and ensure reliable energy supplies.
Among other much-needed areas I will single out cooperation in such areas as industry, agriculture, high technology, medicine and drug production. Positive examples of such cooperation have already been mentioned.
Considerable attention should be given to cultural cooperation, the implementation of joint cultural programmes, expanding tourism and youth exchanges and sport contacts and promoting the expansion of direct regional ties between the three countries.
Colleagues, I would like to express my confidence that cooperation between Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran will continue to develop steadily, acquiring a systemic and regular nature.
In closing, I would like to invite you to attend the next trilateral summit in Russia.
Excerpts of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s speech:
President Rouhani said in a press conference after the tripartite summit of the presidents of Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan:
“The three countries aim to build closer ties and take advantage of the capacities of the three countries on the path to economic development and the interests of the nations of Iran, Russia and the Republic of Azerbaijan”.
Thanking the presidents of Russia and Azerbaijan for their presence in Tehran, Dr Hassan Rouhani said:
“The summit of the Presidents of Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan is based on the friendship and neighbourhood of the three countries, and this friendship, closeness and geographical and cultural affinity, has made us more determined to make better use of the capacities of the three countries”.
Referring to the decisions made at the Baku-Tehran summits, including in the area of transit between the three countries and the Eurasian region, Dr Rouhani said:
“Within the framework of this transit route, we will connect north to south, and our decision is to connect Bandar Abbas to Helsinki, connecting Asia to Europe and our route is through Azerbaijan, Russia and Eastern and Northern Europe”.
“We also want to deepen relations in the field of road and maritime connections,”
the president added, saying that the three countries on the Caspian Sea coast should use this sea as a sea of peace for the countries of the region and also the sea of development to use the capacities of coastal development.
Dr Rouhani described energy as another potential for deepening ties between the three countries and said:
“Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan, with huge reserves of oil and gas and the good position in the region and the world, should have their own technological cooperation for the production and extraction of oil and gas in this region as well as joint investments in energy and other fields”.
The president also announced a joint program to connect three countries’ electricity networks, saying:
“Our electricity needs to be connected so that we can use electricity of the three countries at different times”.
The third meeting of the presidents of Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan will be hosted by Moscow next year, the president added.
Dr Rouhani also highlighted regional issues as another focal point of the presidents of the three countries and said:
“Closer relations and the role of the three countries in the stability and security of the region, in particular the fight against terrorism, were discussed at the meeting”.
“It is important for Iran and Russia to cooperate in the establishment of stability and security, and in the fight against terrorism, especially in Syria, and the tripartite cooperation of Iran, Turkey and Russia, which is being pursued in Astana,” he continued.
The president added:
“At the summit, all three countries emphasised regional cooperation for regional peace and stability and the fight against terrorism, drugs and organized crime”.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev also said at the press conference that trilateral negotiations between Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan were successful, saying:
“Relations between the three countries are being successfully pursued and we expect a good future for this cooperation”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, also expressed satisfaction with the talks between Iranian, Russian and Azerbaijani presidents, and said:
“I am confident that these cordial and transparent meetings will bring important results and benefits for our nations”.
Referring to the meeting with Dr Rouhani on regional security, he also said that the two presidents discussed Iran’s nuclear issue and the Syrian issue, saying:
“Our cooperation with Iran, especially in the Syrian issue, is very fruitful, and through our cooperation with Iran and Turkey, the fight against terrorism in Syria is going well”.
Today the Australian Financial Review carried a surprising and uncharacteristic number of remarks about the high cost of privatisation and the benefits of public provision of vital services.
"The Energy Supply Association of Australia said falling demand for power meant the Coalition must review its energy and climate change policy if it gains power at the September 14 federal election." (The Financial Review, 24/4/2013, p1 & 4)
It seems that power companies want us all to buy more power, even though everyone talks about cutting down emissions and consumption. But, if your company depends on constantly increasing turnover because it has to make a profit (unlike a public power provider), it cannot afford to promote conservation of resources and significantly lower emissions.
On page 4 the Fin Review opines, "[The opposition] is also likely to consider cutting the 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target if electricity demand remains weak."
In other words, to please the privateers, it sounds as if the opposition is willing to fry or freeze us all - depending on whether Greenhouse plays out before we actually run our reserves of fossil fuels right down.
Furthermore, amazingly, there are admissions that the effects of private 'competition' are RAISING prices:
"The main driver of gas price increases for 2013 was increased retail operating costs, including the costs of acquiring and retaining customers in an increasingly competitive market."
So, folks, not only are you driven crazy by telemarketers and doorknockers trying to talk you into changing your gas provider every three weeks for cheaper services, but all that sales-offensive is driving the prices up, not down. The profit motive raises costs. Privatisation costs us all.
Well, we already knew that, didn't we?
Competition policy in W.A. wound back
Already in 2011, West Australia's premier, Colin Barnett, found that increasing the number of private companies handling power had been counterproductive. He said that the break-up of Western Power five years prior had 'clearly failed'.
“There is absolutely no doubt that what the previous Labor government did in breaking up Western Power has not worked.
“When that was put in place, the promise from Eric Ripper at the time was that it would lower electricity prices.
In "Saving the budget and Medicare,"AFR, 24/4/2013, p.42, Alan Mitchell writes of the Australian medical benefits system:
"Medicare and the public hospital funding agreements with the states are designed to keep the lid on healthcare spending, and even its critics accept that it has been crudely effective."
"An unrestrained private market, the Medicare apologists warn, is an invitation for monopoly pricing and over-servicing. That's what America's private healthcare market has produced. In the US almost 18 per cent of nominal GDP is spent on healthcare, compared with just over 9 per cent in Australia."
And what about the Private Property Development and Housing Industry?
This lesson should be applied to the property development lobby. For many years France and most continental European countries have kept housing prices down by running public land development and housing as a major competitor with private property development and housing. It works very well.
Whitlam tried to bring in the same system with DURD. I've always wondered if that was the real reason that he was dismissed. (See Chapter 7 of The Growth Lobby and its Absence. )
Six months ago an Indian energy corporation, Lanco Infratech, bought an Australian coalmine for $750 million dollars. Although, at the time, it agreed to lower-prices for customers, now it is telling the West Australian government that it will stop supplying electricity to West Australians by September unless Australian customers pay double. Six months ago Indian energy corporation, Lanco Infratech, bought an Australian coalminefor $750 million dollars. Although, at the time, it agreed to lower-prices for customers, now it is telling the West Australian government that it will stop supplying electricity to West Australians by September unless Australian customers pay double.
"The equivalent of 15 per cent of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) production from export gas projects will now be required to be reserved for domestic use as a condition of access to WA land for the location of processing facilities."
So a mere 15% of Western Australia's liquefied natural gas, which according to a report (PDF, 223K, linked to from here) of the DomGas Alliance, "Western Australia’s natural gas resources, could be fully depleted within 30 years," is to be reserved for domestic use and the remaining 85% allowed to be sent overseas.
As inadequate as the 2006 provisions to protect LNG will become in the face of increasingly savage oil and gas depletion, they are better than our policies of digging up and exporting coal as fast as possible, leaving absolutely nothing in reserve.
West Australian electricity supplies under threat from foreign ownership
Six months ago Indian energy corporation, Lanco Infratech, bought an Australian coalmine from Ric Stowe for $750 million dollars. Although, at the time, it agreed to lower-prices, now it is telling the West Australian government that it will stop supplying electricity to West Australians by September unless Australian customers pay double.
The Bluewaters power station (also owned by Ric Stowe) is itself in the process of being sold to two Japanese companies, Sumitomo and Kansai Electric.
The West Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, has been accused by the opposition state development spokesperson, Mark McGowan, of failing to safeguard West Australia's power supply by not having put in place a 'coal reservation policy' similar to the one already in place for West Australia's natural gas industry.
A chief executive of the holding company for Bluewaters, Griffin Group, Mr Ashcroft, is quoted by the Financial Review as saying,
"What is unfolding here is that our Collie coal will be more and more targeted for export with domestic supplies becoming a second priortiy and only at increasing prices."
Why is West Australian Liberal Premier Colin Barnett resisting these perfectly reasonable demands that he act responsibly and reserve that minimal amount of coal for the needs of Western Australians?
There is something politically incorrect about mentioning past wars because they are almost always a source of embarassment for current governments and the pseudo-sophisticated classes that would rather we all pretended that we were being governed for our own good. Take WW2, where about 40,000 Australians and even more Japanese lost their lives fighting each other on behalf of governments which claimed to be ordering this in the name of their homes and families.
How do Australians who lost their spouses, children and parents in WW2 defending Australia's security and resources deal with the bizarre fact that today's governments are signing our agricultural land, our mineral wealth, and our built infrastructure over in peace time in exchange for a bit of cash up front? Indeed, how does any Australian? Concerns are entirely justified. In ten years time when fuel prices are reaching beyond the wages of many households, the amounts paid today by the purchasers of these energy sources will seem paltry and ephemeral.
Surely it was obvious to our current leaders that our control over these increasingly scarce resources could not be guaranteed by mere sales contracts and polite agreements?
The problems now arising with Indian coal could be the beginning of the end. Are they a sign that members of our governments are just going to surrender, in exchange for cash, the bulk of our scarcest resources to any cashed-up foreign corporation that can then search the world for the most cashed-up market, leaving Australians high and dry?
The economic policy of globalism relies in part on the notion that the intertwining of interests and ownership globally will make countries too interdependent to engage in war. The problem is that globalism makes no provision to protect the rights of citizens and individuals to self-government locally and to maintaining control of essential services and resources locally. It doesn't prevent wars either. They are going on all over the place - in the name of peace and democracy - ironically .
Food security also ignored by our cash-mad 'leaders' this week
And just this week the Senate Economics Committee rejected calls by independent and Greens senators to create a special legislative national interest test for purchases of agricultural land above a certain threshold and to require the Treasurer to publish applications of interest in Australian farms online. The proposed laws were intended to protect Australia's food supply and to reveal the true owners of the nation's farming businesses. The reason for concern is that significant portions of Australian farming land are now being acquired by foreign nations with interests which could become conflictual to those of Australians. The Senate Economics Committee appeared to evade its responsibility, and really to condemn our economy, providing as their excuse for rejecting the legislative proposals the idea that Australia needs to sell off equity in order to create industry and jobs for Australians. They settled for an audit.
2.47 Finally, the committee briefly explored the prospect of foreign ownership of Australian agricultural land, particularly the existing regulatory approach to major foreign land acquisitions.
2.48 The Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) informed the committee that investment in agricultural land by foreign investors is generally exempt from the requirement to notify the government in accordance with the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975. Only if the acquisition exceeds 15 per cent of a business or corporation whose Australian interests are valued above $231 million, or where the investment is made by a foreign government or their agency, is it subject to scrutiny from the Australian Government to establish whether any national interest concerns are raised.
2.49 The committee notes that incremental purchases exceeding the threshold amount in aggregate are not required to be disclosed. The committee also notes that in some countries the distinction between foreign governments and companies is not necessarily straightforward.
2.50 Land available for agriculture is declining across the globe as expanding populations inhabit fertile land that could otherwise be devoted to food production. Although this problem is not as severe in Australia as it is in countries with a smaller land mass, urban encroachment is nonetheless affecting the capacity of Australian producers to grow food in the areas in which it is demanded, which in turn affects its quality and affordability. Competition for fertile land from mining and biofuels also threatens to reduce Australia's productive capacity.
2.51 The committee recognises that it is difficult for governments to dictate to landowners the purpose for which their land must be used, particularly when agricultural production may not presently be the most profitable possible use. However, Australian governments need to give serious consideration to mechanisms for protecting our most fertile agricultural land from alternative uses in the interests of our long term productive capacity and food security.
2.52 The committee also notes the marginal viability of agricultural production and the difficulty for potential young farmers to enter the sector, due to high land prices which combine to leave agricultural production vulnerable to structures that are less desirable than traditional family farming. Corporate farming models have the advantage of attracting extra capital to agriculture, though there are questions about the availability of labour and long term stewardship of the land. More significantly, though, Australia risks foreign companies, many with close ties to their home governments, purchasing substantial strategic interests in Australian land without needing to be vetted for national interest concerns. Australia needs to be careful that Australia's productive capacity is not undermined by foreign interests producing food on Australian land that is not intended for trade, but for direct supply to countries that have not managed their own food security needs.
2.53 The committee recommends an audit be undertaken to establish the extent of foreign ownership of commercial agricultural and pastoral land, and ownership of water, in Australia, with particular emphasis on ownership by sovereign and part-sovereign-owned companies."