Archive for September, 2004

Feeling optimistic

September 30th, 2004 30 comments

As regards the election, I’m feeling more optimistic than at any time since the first flush of Lathamania around New Year. Howard looked like a beaten man on TV tonight, and with more than a week still left to go, I think that will sink in with enough voters to make the required difference.

Howard has nothing coherent to offer. His foreign policy is to follow Bush to catastrophic failure[1]. Domestically, he has accepted that the public want services more than tax cuts, but he’s too much of a Thatcherite to change his own thinking. The result is an incoherent spray of spending promises, targeted tax breaks, and so on. The result is that his $6 billion has been generally derided, and Latham’s $3 billion generally applauded. And of course his reputation as a responsible economic manager is gone for good.

Against this, there’s the fact that incumbent governments tend to survive unless there’s a really compelling reason to throw them out. Howard may not be much good, but there isn’t a recession on and the Iraq catastrophe doesn’t affect us directly. Until now, I’ve felt these considerations to be evenly balanced. Now, however, I think the odds are significantly in Labor’s favour.

fn1. Our only hope here is that our jihadist enemies have shown themselves more than a match for Bush in both stupidity and capacity for pointless evil. Their brutal atrocities, many committed against fellow-Muslims, have largely, and perhaps completely, offset the support they have gained as a result of the invasion of Iraq and Bush’s continued backing of Sharon/Likud against the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians. A large number of Muslims, I think, have the same view I do: “a plague on both your houses”.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Interest rates: the lost years

September 30th, 2004 19 comments

I was just watching the Liberal scare ad on interest rates and it struck me that there was a gap in the history between Whitlam and Hawke. What was happening in those eight years?

Suddenly, like a bad memory recovered in therapy, it came back to me. I was paying 13 per cent interest on my mortgage, and the Treasurer was a little guy with big eyebrows. What was his name? Can someone remember? Will this Reserve Bank graph job jog any memories?


UpdateCommenter Peter Martin points to this series on the 90-day cash rate (Excel file) At the kind suggestion of commenter “George”, I’ve made a graph of this series, which goes from the Gorton government to the present day. 90day

The all-time record for high interest rates (23 per cent) goes to the “short sharp squeeze” under the Whitlam government, but Howard, as Treasurer, managed a creditable second place with 21.4 per cent in April 1982.

The peak for Hawke-Keating was 18 per cent under in 1989, but by 1993, interest rates had already fallen back to historically low levels. The oft-repeated claim of Howard-Costello to have lowered interest rates shows up here as completely spurious. A more accurate statement of their achievement would be “preserving the low interest rates we inherited”.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Revolution and Revelations

September 30th, 2004 14 comments

While we’re on the interface between religion and politics, here are a couple of questions I’ve been wondering about for a while.

The first one relates to my memories of the late 1960s, when most people of my acquaintance gave at least some credence to the belief that there would be a revolution of some kind, sometime soon. At about the same time, I encountered the Revelation-based eschatology of people like Hal Lindsey. Thirty years later, there’s been no revolution, and I don’t know of anyone who seriously expects one. As I recollect, belief in the possibility of a revolution had pretty much disappeared by 1980.

Revelation-based prophecies have similarly failed time after time, but they seem to be more popular than ever. What is about apocalyptic Christianity as a belief system that protects it from empirical refutation? I assume there’s heaps of research on this kind of thing, but I hope to get readers to point me to the good stuff.

The second point is that, as can be seen from Lindsey’s site, he and other apocalyptic Christians have strong political views, which could broadly be summarised as favouring a vigorous military response to Antichrist (variously identified with the Soviet Union, the UN and so on). How does this work? Do they think that another six armoured divisions could turn the tide at Armageddon? If so, wouldn’t this prevent the arrival of the Millennium and the Day of Judgement[1]?

And how does all this affect believers in rapture? Do they install automatic watering systems for their gardens and arrange for unsaved neighbours to feed the cat? Or do they just pay into their IRAs as if they expect the world to last forever?

fn1. There’s a genre of horror movies (The Omen, The Final Conflict and so on) that takes pretty much this premise.

Categories: Philosophy, Politics (general) Tags:

The launch

September 29th, 2004 23 comments

I didn’t hear Latham’s speech but the transcript here seems to hit most of the right notes (thankfully, just a single occurrence of “ease the squeeze”, and it’s not clear if that was actually spoken or is just a topic heading).

Latham has avoided the temptation to get into a general bidding war with Howard. The only new spending announcement appears to be on Medicare. Of course, Howard is spending big here, but he’s hampered by the fact that, for all but the last six months or so of his 30 years in public life, he’s opposed Medicare and done his best to destroy it. He was Treasurer in the Fraser government which actually did destroy the first version, introduced by Whitlam[1].

Given that the economy is going reasonably well, and that national security is rarely a winner for Labor, it’s still, I think, too early to predict a Labor win, especially in the light of the scary Nielsen poll last week. But there’s no doubt that, as far as the battle of ideas is concerned, Howard has conceded defeat already.

fn1. Neoliberals generally bag the Fraser government for having failed to introduce radical free-market reform when it had the chance. But hardly any government has managed, like Fraser’s, to repeal a major social democratic reform in a core area like health.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Charity for the rich

September 28th, 2004 35 comments

Today’s TV news had a story about the Anglican and Catholic archbishops of Sydney attacking Labor’s schools policy. Before coming to my main point, I’ll say that I have no sympathy with the view that the churches should stay out of politics. It’s hard to imagine a religious viewpoint that doesn’t have political implications. On the other hand, like anyone else who engages in politics, bishops should remember that if the can’t take the heat they should stay out of the kitchen.

I’ll begin by observing that the Anglican Church (like most of the other mainline protestant denominations) is in a moral position somewhere between dubious and reprehensible when it comes to schools. They own schools which have a huge capital value but yield no return. Those schools could be sold and the proceeds invested to yield a flow of money for charitable works. So they are effectively subsidising these schools by the income forgone.

Subsidising schools would be fine if they were performing the charitable mission laid on them by Christ, of ministering to the poor. It would be reasonable if, like the Catholics, they offered an education to the faithful in general and made efforts to ensure that everyone could get access. But these schools are aimed, quite openly, at the well-off[1]. So church funds, mostly given in charity or on favorable terms by the state, are being used to subsidise education for the rich.

Given his position at the head of, what is, in effect an upper-class interest group, it’s not surprising that the Anglican Archbishop, Peter Jensen, should oppose Labor’s policy. But it’s pretty poor stuff, if not a stunning surprise, that George Pell should prefer episcopal and class solidarity to the doctrine of social justice.

Update The Anglican primate of Australia, Peter Carnley, has disavowed the statement. It’s good to see some debate within the churches. In poltiical terms, I think this issue is a winner for Labor, and I’m glad to see it back on the front pages.

fn1. I don’t claim that there are explicit policy statements to this effect, or that everyone who attends Anglican schools comes from a wealthy background. But anyone who has had any dealings with any of these institutions knows that a privileged student body is taken for granted, and that there are no serious efforts to offer an Anglican education to the poor, with the exception of a handful of scholarship students.

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On the radar

September 28th, 2004 4 comments

Evan Jones at the University of Sydney has started up a new blog Alert and Alarmed I haven’t decided how to classify it yet. Meanwhile, blogger Tom Vogelgesang (c8to from the comments threads) is running for the Senate as a libertarian

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Howard the centralist

September 28th, 2004 8 comments

One aspect of the govenment’s spending spree that has attracted relatively little attention is its implications for Federal-State relations. In important respects, these policies are more centralist than anything seen since the Whitlam era. Throughout the health and education sectors in particular, Howard is seeking to get involved in policy areas that have previously been left to the state, and to do so with direct day-to-day control.

But whereas Whitlam was a consistent centralist, these policies are a logical mess. The general line is that the states should be kept on a tight financial leash, but not relieved of any of their basic responsibilities for schools, hospitals, the TAFE sector and so on. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth will provide lavishly funded frills for schools with a “made in Canberra” label, operate a parallel line of Rolls-Royce TAFEs and pick and choose priorities in the health sector.

As I’ve argued before, it would be a good thing for the Commonwealth to take over hospitals, and probably also the TAFE sector. But that means accepting full responsibility for the sector, not throwing a few billion at whatever came up last in the focus groups, while expecting the states to do all the thankless basics. And it should be matched with a complete withdrawal from other areas (school education and highways are obvious candidates).

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

The government’s economic record

September 28th, 2004 13 comments

Here’s a piece I did on the government’s economic record, first published at New Matilda
Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Who prefers the Greens, part 3

September 27th, 2004 33 comments

As predicted, the Liberals have given preferences to the Greens ahead of Labor, raising the prospect that the Greens might win some urban seats and perhaps hold the balance of power in a hung Parliament. As I’ve observed previously, the Greens have been subject to ferocious attacks, in the course of which they’ve been compared to Communists, Nazis, kooks and vandals. Presumably, a party that would give preferences to Communists or Nazis ought not to be supported by decent Australians.

So will any of those who have denounced the Greens in these terms follow through and advocate a vote against their Liberal allies? Will any of them even condemn the government? I’m not holding my breath.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Monday Message Board

September 27th, 2004 12 comments

It’s time for the Monday Message Board, where readers are invited to post their thoughts on any topic (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). There will be plenty of posts from me on the election, and plenty of room for discussion, so I’d encourage Message Board comments on other issues.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Like drunken sailors

September 26th, 2004 9 comments

Paul Krugman, observing Bush’s deficit policy made the observation that the traditional Republican critique of the Keynesian case for using deficits to stimulate the economy (that, once you started running deficits, you’d never find a suitable time to stop) was true, but only as regards Republicans.

Similarly, having been announced his conversion to the cause of social democracy a few days ago, Howard is behaving like an economic rationalist’s caricature of a social democrat, spraying billions of dollars around in a combination of interest-group pork-barrelling and half-baked ideas for micromanagement of everything from the TAFE sector to the taxi industry. Meanwhile, the decision to make the states pay for the National Water Initiative means that basic needs for schools and hospitals will be worse-funded than before. Again, more detail from Chris Sheil

Labor’s correct response here, I would say is not to engage in an item-by-item bidding war, but to announce one big intervention in Medicare, using part of the money already spent by Howard.

Update Monday AM The “drunken sailor” description is irresistibly apt. Crikey used it to, and here’s the Oz editorial

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The ultimate Mandy Rice-Davies moment

September 26th, 2004 10 comments

Today’s SMH runs a front-page headline on what must be the most blatant MRD item since Richard Nixon said much the same thing about himself. Chris Sheil has more.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

The irrationality of terror

September 8th, 2004 Comments off

A lot of discussion of terrorism is based on the assumption that, however morally deplorable it may be, it’s effective. I don’t think this is true – terrorism generally harms the causes it supposedly seeks to advance. Anne Applebaum points to the kinds of evidence that convince me of this, notably the counterproductive effects of Palestinian terrorism. (I’d also mention the IRA, which has achieved less in 30 years of terrorism than could have been obtained if peaceful civil rights agitation had been maintained for a few years in the 1970s).

Categories: World Events Tags:

Let’s hear it for the lawyers

September 8th, 2004 11 comments

It’s going to be a long campaign, and many people will be glad of the diversion provided by the football finals. And, for me at least, the news has all been good on this front. Alastair Lynch is making a good recovery from his hamstring injury, and Brisbane’s crack lawyers got Jonathan Brown off on a technicality last night. Nothing is certain in sport or politics, but, with a full-strength team, Brisbane are odds-on to win a fourth straight premiership (Centrebet is paying $1.63, and this time I think the markets have it right).

Categories: World Events Tags:

Ho hum

September 7th, 2004 14 comments

Labor’s long-awaited tax policy has been released, and a quick look suggests there’s not much to get excited about. Labor has taken on both stages of Howard’s budget tax cuts and added a bit more for nearly everyone, but not a lot for anyone.

The most interesting thing in the package is the reform to family tax benefit. I’m not an expert on the complexities, but Labor appears to have achieved a useful simplification and expansion without spending a heap of money.

The other point that may arouse some interest is that the funding calculations include offsets from assumed behavioral response – more spouses going back to work. As the package points out, the precedent for this kind of thing was set by ANTS. Still this will heighten the intensity of the dispute over whether the package should be submitted for costing by Finance under the (ludicrously misnamed) Charter of Budget Honesty. My advice would be to refuse.

Apart from this funding, relies on two more changes to superannuation to add to all the others we have experienced. First, temporary entrants to Australia will no longer get the benefit of the Superannuation Guarantee Charge – this will go to the government instead. Since other countries do the same and those affected are, by definition, not voters, this looks like a sharp political move. The other is to abolish the superannuation co-contribution recently introduced by Howard.

It’s disappointing to see no assault on avoidance through trusts and private companies, nothing on capital gains or fringe benefits, and nothing much on compliance. However, given that the approach seems to be to produce each policy item with an associated set of funding proposals, perhaps there is still something to come.

With luck, this will neutralise tax as an election issue, but Labor needs to come up with something more impressive than it has produced so far in its core policy areas of health and education.

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Ingratitude and the Greens

September 7th, 2004 58 comments

We’ve heard a lot from the conservative side of politics lately about how the Greens are kooks, Communists, Nazis, anarcho-syndicalists and so on (I’m quoting senior politicians and prominent columnists here, not RWDB bloggers).

So how is that a Liberal minority government in Tasmania managed to last two years relying on Green support? It wasn’t comfortable – minority governments rarely are – and the Liberals cut a deal with Labor to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. But if even half of what has been said in the last couple of weeks was true, a government relying on Green support wouldn’t last two weeks before it fell to pieces over some demand for compulsory vegetarianism or the like.

There was also a Labor-Green Accord government a few years before. This also failed, but over the traditional Green issue of forests, rather than any of the nonsense we have heard about lately.

There’s a chronology here from Bob Brown focusing on forest issues. Obviously, it’s not an unbiased viewpoints, but the basic facts about the governments and their duration are there.

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Islamism and terrorism

September 7th, 2004 17 comments

As Ken Parish observes, in my recent post about Chechnya, I discussed the issue of terrorism and its causes in generic terms and didn’t have anything specific to say about Islamism. So, I’ll start by observing that most of what has been written on this topic is, in my opinion, useless or worse.
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Categories: World Events Tags:

Welfare reform

September 6th, 2004 25 comments

Among the issues that won’t be addressed in detail in the current election campaign is the case for, and against, welfare reform along the lines adopted in the US. Although the Howard government has made various changes aimed at increasing ‘mutual obligation[1]‘, there has been nothing approaching the reforms to the main pure welfare program in the US, then called Temporary Aid for Needy Families, and received primarily by single-parent families. Among those who still think substantial measures of microeconomic reform are needed, welfare reform along US lines is at the top of the list, and Wisconsin, where Governor Tommy Thompson slashed welfare rolls, is generally held out as the model.

Although there are various rationales for welfare reform, the only one I think worth considering is the claim that welfare perpetuates poverty. While relieving immediate distress, it is argued, welfare encourages a culture of dependence that perpetuates poverty. Against this, I’d put the argument that what matters most in preventing dependence is the availability of good jobs, and that a government commitment to full employment is what is needed for a genuinely mutual or reciprocal obligation to work.

There’s not likely to be a convincing and rigorously defensible empirical resolution of this debate any time soon. However, one telling piece of anecdotal evidence is worth a dozen regressions[2], so I thought I’d check out the Wisconsin example. What I found is a report with the headlines

Poverty rate hits 10-year high

State’s struggles also evident in growing number of uninsured: 11%

The rise in the poverty rate[3] is attributed mainly to the loss of manufacturing jobs, rather than to adverse effects of welfare reform. This is consistent with my general view that we need to look harder at employment and unemployment. But reform is clearly playing a significant role

We have gone since 1996, when Pay for Performance hit, from distributing 1.5 million pounds of food to 10 million on an emergency basis,” Tussler [executive director of Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee[ said, referring to the reform requiring work or job-seeking in exchange for welfare benefits.

I’m not claiming that this example proves that welfare reform increases poverty. But it’s hard to see how Wisconsin can be regarded as a successful exemplar of welfare reform when the poverty rate is higher than it was before the main phase of reform, and still rising.

fn1. As many have pointed out previously, the current government’s notion of mutual obligation involves drastically reducing its own obligations, while increasing those place on benefit recipients

fn2. Irony tags were clearly needed here, but Textile doesn’t support them

fn3. This is an absolute poverty measure, based on a poverty line set in 1965, and adjusted since then only for inflation. Of course, it’s not absolute by comparison with third world countries, and it’s about twice the income that was considered to constitute poverty 100 years ago.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Monday Message Board

September 6th, 2004 51 comments

It’s time for the Monday Message Board, where readers are invited to post their thoughts on any topic (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). There will be plenty of posts from me on the election, and plenty of room for discussion, so I’d encourage Message Board comments on other issues.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Root causes

September 5th, 2004 70 comments

There is no excuse or justification for terrorism. But that doesn’t mean it is inexplicable, the product of purely irrational evil impulses. There will always be people willing, under certain circumstances, to resort to terrorism. If we want to fight terrorism effectively, we have to avoid creating those circumstances.

Successive Russian governments created the conditions in Chechnya that allow terrorists like those responsible for the Beslan atrocity to flourish. There was a long history of oppression, from Czarist times to mass deportation under Stalin. But the current outbreak can be traced most directly to the actions of Yeltsin and Putin. When Chechnya sought independence from Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin’s response was one of brutal and incompetent repression, eventually leading to an effective Russian withdrawal, and the creation of a failed state, in which warlords and militias flourished, and terrorism established itself.

After a series of Chechen terrorist attacks in Moscow and an attempted invasion of the neighbouring republic of Dagestan, Putin came to power with a policy of crushing Chechen resistance, which he implemented with high civilian casualties and the destruction of much of the capital city of Grozny[1].

Again, this history doesn’t justify, excuse or mitigate horrible crimes like the one we have just witnessed. But there is also no excuse for those who advocate policies that are bound to promote terrorism while rejecting any analysis of “root causes”.

fn1. Those interested in a more detailed history can find what seems to be a pretty good one at Global Issues. This is a leftwing site, but seems to give fairly objective coverage.

Categories: World Events Tags:

A terrible atrocity

September 4th, 2004 20 comments

As usual in relation to terrorist attacks, and in common with others, I find it difficult to say much in relation to the terrorist siege in Beslan, which has now ended with heavy loss of life. The terrorists, who have sunk to new lows in this crime (the hostages, mostly children, were apparently denied water) were mostly killed. No decent person will mourn their deaths. No provocation or historical wrong can justify such foul actions.

I feel for those who have lost loved ones, and especially for the parents of children murdered on this tragic day.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Election blogs

September 4th, 2004 7 comments

The election has stimulated an explosion of new and revived blogs, aggregators and other websites, and has brought others to my attention for the first time. Here are a few that have caught my eye, in no particular order.

The Daily Flute has excellent economic analysis, mostly serious, but currently looking at the continuous misfortunes of the Persian rug shop industry

Psephite is currently running an assessment of pollies’ websites, most of which are awful. Minor gripe: she uses the acryonym IA which I don’t recognise. As PH would say, “please explain”.

Hack Watch (Iain Lygo) criticises the media from a green perspective, and with an olive green background (quite similar to this, actually

The Poll Bludger (William Bowe) focuses mostly on polls, as you might expect.

Mumble (Peter Brent) also does polls and electorate analysis

I’ll extend this post as I get time, and maybe put up a special election blogroll.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Why you should vote against Wooldridge

September 3rd, 2004 10 comments

Michael Wooldridge has a piece in today’s Age, giving some fairly standard arguments as to “Why you should vote for Howard”. As far as I’m concerned the mere fact that the story reminds readers of Wooldridge’s existence should be a good reason to vote against Howard. Although not the most incompetent Minister in the Howard government, he beat strong competition to be the one who has most lowered standards of public probity. Apart from his notorious extravagance, he regularly did favors to groups which then gave him financial or political returns. Most outrageously, he approved a public grant to a medical lobby group which hired him as a consultant as soon as he left office. It’s the accumulation of this kind of sleaze that brings down long-running governments.

Categories: World Events Tags:

No more years ?

September 3rd, 2004 9 comments

A while ago, I discussed the idea that the forthcoming US election would be a good one for the Democrats to lose, eventually reaching the conclusion that the damage that would be caused by four more years of Bush would offset any political benefits from finally discrediting the Republicans.

Now Niall Ferguson looks at the same question from the other side. Like me[1], he thinks this would be a good election for either party to lose. But, since he’s taking the Republican side of the debate, the damage that a second Bush term would cause is an argument in favor of his case. He concludes

moderate Republicans today may justly wonder if a second Bush term is really in their best interests. Might four years of Kerry not be preferable to eight or more years of really effective Democratic leadership?

fn1. Though not for exactly the same reasons. He puts more weight on criticisms of Kerry than I think can be justified, and less on the extent to which painful economic adjustments are already inevitable.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Who prefers the Greens?

September 3rd, 2004 16 comments

We’ve heard at length in the last few days how the Greens plan to ruin the economy, make vegetarianism compulsory, institute world government, and so on. Presumably, for those making such claims, the worst conceivable outcome from the forthcoming election would be a minority Labor government dependent on Green support (or maybe even forced to go into coalition with the Greens).

This is unlikely, but it could happen if the Greens win some inner-city seats, most held by Labor leftwingers. But the only way the Greens can win is on Liberal preferences. So I’d be interested to know who among those running the anti-Green scare campaign is advocating a policy of putting the Greens last, as Labor did in relation to One Nation[1]. I haven’t seen anything on the Liberals preferences yet, so this is a genuine question – if anyone has the answer, I’d be grateful.

fn1. Except, IIRC, in the 2001 Queensland State election, where, rather opportunistically, they exploited optional preferential voting by advocating a vote for Labor alone with no preferences.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Interest rates, part 2

September 3rd, 2004 10 comments

As everybody knows, low interest rates are a mixed blessing for homebuyers. That’s because they have contributed (along with government policies like the reduction in capital gains tax rates) to the massive boom in house prices that has made houses just about as unaffordable now as they were in 1989 at the peak of the last interest rate cycle.

Everybody knows this except, apparently, John Howard. In his scare campaign against Labor, he calculated the impact of Labor’s peak interest rates applied to the average mortgage prevailing under the Liberals. Not surprisingly, the result is horrific. But Howard is as much to blame for this as anyone else.

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

Interest rates

September 2nd, 2004 12 comments

Another silly feature of the election campaign is Howard’s claim to have delivered low interest rates (and, by implication more affordable housing). The variable home mortgage rate has barely moved over the eight years from 1996 to 2004, and (IIRC) it was lower in 1996 than when Howard handed over the Treasury in 1983.

It’s true of course that in between those dates, interest rates rose to stupendous levels, as high as 17 per cent. But to the extent that Labor made this mess, Labor cleaned it up. Howard had nothing to do with it (moreover, throughout Labor’s term in office, both Howard and Hewson were consistent monetary policy hawks),

This experience also showed that the link between budget deficits and interest rates (via crowding out) is not all that strong. It’s true that, if you move from large surpluses to chronic deficits, as Bush has done, you can expect an eventual interest rate response (though no such response has appeared as yet). But improving the budget balance by a few billion dollars will have no visible effect.

So, I’m disappointed to see Latham running with the government line and promising to keep interest rates low through fiscal policy. Given that world interest rates are likely to rise over the next few years, thanks to chronic deficits in the US, it’s doubtful he can deliver on this. And while it’s good to maintain surpluses on the cash balance over the course of the economic cycle, it’s silly to promise a surplus every year.

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

Sheridan on the Greens

September 2nd, 2004 47 comments

The bizarre campaign of distortion against the Greens continues with an extraordinary piece by Greg Sheridan, though one that is something of an embarrassing reminder of Sheridan’s long-standing support for the Suharto military dictatorship and its occupation of East Timor.

As with previous pieces in this genre, the modus operandi is to misquote Greens policy, take an extreme interpretation of the misquote and run with the resulting scare. There’s only a marginal difference between Sheridan’s treatment and the full-blown black helicopter fantasies being peddled by Steve Edwards.

Sheridan’s first point of criticism reads

For example, they assert that Australia should force the Indonesian Government to bring all “war criminals in its ranks” to justice by withholding military co-operation, which wildly overestimates the importance of Australian military co-operation to Indonesia.

The actual policy reads

using (along with other governments) continued military cooperation with the Indonesian military as a bargaining counter to convince the Indonesian Government to bring all war criminals in its ranks to justice before an international tribunal instead of trying them before the Indonesian-controlled Jakarta Human Rights Court.

There’s certainly room for argument as to whether Indonesia can be convinced, but it’s clear that Sheridan has misrepresented a policy that most Australians would endorse. The Greens aren’t asserting that Indonesia can be forced to act at Australia’s behest, as Sheridan claims. The rest of the article is no better – for example, a policy on Israel-Palestine is criticised because, while condemning suicide bombings, it doesn’t specifically use the word ‘terrorism’.

The Oz editorial picks up the same line and the Fin has another, rather rambling. piece from Gary Johns.

I’m still puzzled by the politics of all this. Commenters have suggested that it’s aimed at the Greens’ Senate vote, but that would mainly help Labor. Besides, devoting the opening days of a tight election campaign to a strategy aimed at marginal improvements in the Senate outcome seems misguided.

It still seems to me that the results of all this will be, first, to reduce the flow of Green preferences to the Liberals and, second, to benefit Labor at the direct expense of the Liberals. After all, there are only so many buckets you can tip in an election, even with a long campaign. By the time Sheridan and others get around to attacking Labor, a lot of people will already have tuned out.

Update: More on this from my blogtwin , Tim Dunlop

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:


September 1st, 2004 6 comments

It would be an exaggeration to say that I am living in a safe Liberal electorate. At the height of Labor’s rising tide in 2001, Labor’s Leonie Short won Ryan in a byelection, losing it again in the general election. And the state seat of Indooroopilly is, amazingly enough held by Labor. Still short of the kind of wipeout that would see most members of the government lose their seats, the incumbent MP, Michael Johnson, is safe enough. As a result, I don’t expect too much media attention for Ryan in this campaign.

So, this will probably be the only occasion on which Ryan makes the news. The claim that George Brandis described the PM as a ‘lying rodent’[1] came from a disappointed preselection candidate for the state seat of Moggill (part of Ryan, I think) and close ally of Johnson, Russell Galt. Al Bundy has the gory details, in a piece designed to discredit Galt but which makes an even stronger case against Johnson. If I had access to the Howard spam machine, I would circulate it throughout the electorate.

fn1. I have no idea whether Brandis actually said this, but Galt has certainly captured Brandis’s turn of phrase. The actual description is, of course, false – the PM is clearly a primate (thanks to reader Nabokov for fixing an error here; I had ‘reptile’ in mind, and put ‘mammal’ as the correct category).

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

More shonky science

September 1st, 2004 9 comments

Over at Crooked Timber, Daniel Davies demolishes the latest effort by junk science writer Steve Milloy (on diet and diabetes), and admonishes Todd Zywicki of the Volokh Conspiracy for giving uncritical credence to Milloy, who has a track record of bogus work going back at least a decade, to his work for the tobacco companies, trying to cast doubt on the link between smoking and lung cancer. Of course, this track record doesn’t eliminate the need to demolish Milloy afresh each time he pops up. Still if the name didn’t ring alarm bells for Zywicki as soon as he saw it, it’s clear he hasn’t been paying attention.

Devaluation of scientific work in favor of partisan hacks like Milloy has become standard practice on the political right and is a significant subtext in the current campaign against the Greens. Many of those making these attacks are drawing their talking points from the Institute of Public Affairs, a body which has supported global warming contrarianism, denied the link between passive smoking and cancer, and attacked scientists working on the Murray-Darling basin as “environmental activists masquerading as scientists”. It’s pretty clear who the wackos are in this debate.
Read more…

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