Archive for April, 2007

BrisScience today

April 30th, 2007 3 comments

The latest in the popular BrisScience lecture series is tonight at the Town Hall, on the topic Windows to the Brain. Details over the fold.
Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

Monday message board

April 30th, 2007 21 comments

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. As usual, civilised discussion and absolutely no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

An interesting switch

April 29th, 2007 8 comments

Following Kevin Rudd’s launch of an IR policy including 12 months unpaid parental leave for each parent of a new baby, the Sunday Telegraph ran Glenn Milne’s story* under the headline “Rudd Caves: Unions win child-friendly industrial relations coup”. Given that Rudd has been pushing the family-friendly line hard since the day he was elected leader this seemed OTT even for the increasingly absurd Tele (still running global warming delusionism I note). Apparently someone else thought so – the online edition is running with “Rudd goes to bat for workers”

Update Monday 30 April Milne’s story in the Oz goes back to “Caves”. This is just silly. All these people seem to be living in the 70s when union-bashing was good politics (compare the vendetta against student unions, settling scores from the same era). Supposing that the Labor party structure had no union representation at all, I doubt that the policy would have been much different. It’s obviously necessary for Labor to fight the government on WorkChoices. Given this, it’s hard to see how the policy could have been much more moderate than it is without being open to attack as purely cosmetic.

* Note that standard practice, presumably followed here, would be for the headline to be written by a sub-editor without reference to Milne.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Not quite civil unions

April 29th, 2007 Comments off

One of the few real debates at the (generally tightly controlled) conference concerned a proposal under which couples could register their relationship to protect property rights, pension entitlements and so on. This proposal is somewhat less than a civil union, since there is no associated ceremony, and is explicitly claimed not to represent gay marriage. A couple of states have already implemented the idea. A striking feature, mentioned in the debate but not in newspaper reports is that registration is available for people in a carer-dependent relationship rather than a partnership.

As this comment notes, the proposal is very conservative by international standards, but the only opposition within the conference came from the right, and it appeared from the debate that most gay and lesbian organisations have been willing to accept the proposal. In part, this is because it delivers most of the substantive benefits of civil unions, while neutralising most (not all) of the religious opposition. But it also reflects the more general view that anything is better than another term of the Howard government, which has pushed nasty wedge politics on this issue and on many others. Although Labor is way ahead in the opinion polls at present, similar leads have evaporated in the past, and no-one seems willing to risk upsetting the applecart and getting the blame for yet another loss.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

End of the three mines policy

April 28th, 2007 16 comments

I managed to miss the crucial moment, but Labor’s National Conference has just voted to scrap the three mines policy, which was adopted at the last Labor conference I attended (in 1982, IIRC). I can’t say I have any regrets about this. The policy was a grubby compromise when it was adopted, and it didn’t improve with age. The idea that restricting Australian exports of uranium could constrain nuclear proliferation might have made some sense back in the 1970s when nuclear power was expanding rapidly, but it has long since ceased to be relevant.

That said, the news on nuclear proliferation has nearly all been bad lately, after a period in the 1980s and 1990s when a number of countries (including Brazil and South Africa) turned away from seeking nuclear weapons. The insistence of declining powers like Britain and France on maintaining their nuclear power status, and the success of India and Pakistan in gaining acceptance of their nuclear weapons has set the scene for a disastrous expansion in the set of nuclear-armed states, which will, surely lead to nuclear weapons being used, either by a government or a terrorist group, sooner or later. The only hopeful sign is the possibility that North Korea will disarm, though the recent agreement gives the rest of the world nothing better than the position that had been reached back in 2001.

The related ‘news’ is Howard’s announcement of plans for an Australian nuclear power industry. It’s hard to see this as much more than a stunt, since it’s most unlikely that any plants will be operational before about 2030. Even that possibility is conditional on a whole range of necessary conditions, including a return to nuclear power in the US and Europe, the successful completion of research on a new generation of plants (Howard’s announcement includes a contribution to this project) and, most importantly, some permanent resolution of the debate over what to do with nuclear waste.

Given the absolute need to respond to the global warming problem, we shouldn’t rule out the nuclear option. But neither should we engage in the kind of winner-picking implicit in the statements we’ve heard lately from Howard and others.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Labor and federalism

April 28th, 2007 5 comments

I’ve been attending Labor’s National Conference (more on this later), as an observer, mainly because I spoke at a “Fringe Conference” event on the topic of federalism. Amazingly, around 40 people turned out at breakfast time to hear me and Bob McMullen on this exciting topic.

A more substantive cause for surprise is that this is an issue (the only one I can think of – maybe others will suggest examples) where the major parties have swapped positions in the last 30 years. When the Whitlam government was elected in 1972, the view that the states were obsolete anachronisms and the Senate a collection of “unrepresentative swill” was pretty much unchallenged among Labor supporters, and this was even more true after 1975. Yet now it’s the Howard government that wants to bring the states entirely under the heel of the Commonwealth and to render the Senate a rubber-stamp.

In part, this is the effect of elections that have produced long-lived Labor State governments and an even longer-lived Liberal Federal government. If the position were reversed, I imagine old views would reassert themselves. But, on the Labor side at least, the change goes much deeper than election outcomes. As Labor has been forced to defend the achievements of the past against neoliberal attacks, the benefits of the checks and balances provided by democratically elected upper houses and a federal system have been more deeply appreciated. And the fact that the states (and also local government) are the natural providers of the services central to a social democracy has become more and more evident.

If Labor wins (and it’s notable that no-one I’ve met here is counting their chickens on this – even the formulaic references to a Rudd Labor government are matched with negative references to what a re-elected Howard would do), there’s a real chance to fix at least some of the overlap and duplication that plague our system at present, and to make talk about co-operative federalism correspond more closely to reality.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Weekend reflections

April 27th, 2007 15 comments

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

New on the RSMG blog

April 27th, 2007 Comments off

There’s a heap of interesting stuff on the RSMG blog, up and running again now that the site slowdown problems seem to have been solved. And if you haven’t already, visit our sparkling new website with loads of working papers, reports and info.

Management response to the drought: The case of dairy

Upcoming events

Why be sustainable if the world is about to end?

Chile, and Australia’s role for investment and development

Farm Succession and Capital Gain

Water: Recent action and the state of play

Patenting Lives: A question of Law, Economics or Ethics?

Freakonomics and environmental economics

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Rationality and water

April 27th, 2007 5 comments

Here’s my Fin article from yesterday. It’s a bit economic rationalist in tone, but this is a situation where rationality (economic rationalism in the 1970s sense of the term) is needed.
Read more…

Categories: Economic policy, Environment Tags:

Running dry

April 26th, 2007 6 comments

My piece in today’s Fin (I’ll post it tomorrow) has some responses to Howard’s announcement that there may be no allocations of irrigation water for the year beginning in June, unless we get good rain. A quick summary
* Drought relief policy needs to focus on buying back excess allocation
* With inflows apparently suffering a long-term decline, across the board cuts will be needed
* In the short run, we may need to consider intervention and rationing to keep tree crops alive

Meanwhile, in Queensland, there is talk of evacuating towns that are running out of water. This seems an over-reaction (or more likely media beatup) to me. A reported cost of $8000 per week for tankers to supply water to a town of 1500 people is not a huge sum. Stlll, unless rainfall returns to higher levels soon, a lot of communities are going to face decline and maybe in some cases disappearance.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Workchoices in one sentence

April 24th, 2007 23 comments

In comments on a Fred Argy post about Workchoices and measures of economic freedom, Sinclair Davidson compares “the social democrat notion where workers have a right to work and employers the duty to employ” with “the more sensible notion of workers have the duty to work and employers the right to employ”. This is about as neat a summary of the contrast between social democratic and neoliberal views of the employment relationship as I’ve seen.

Categories: Economics - General, Oz Politics Tags:

Gun laws save lives

April 23rd, 2007 13 comments

It’s not a surprising conclusion, but given the controversy on this topic, it’s important to get the stats right. Andrew Leigh and Christine Neill have done a study concluding that, while the data set is too short for a conclusive resolution, the best estimate is the gun buyback undertaken by the Howard government after the Port Arthur massacre has saved between 1000 and 2500 lives. The work of Leigh and Neill is a response to a very dubious study claiming no effect that came out last year.

Categories: Economics - General, Oz Politics Tags:

Monday message board

April 23rd, 2007 3 comments

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. As usual, civilised discussion and absolutely no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:


April 22nd, 2007 5 comments

The New York Times magazine has a great piece on OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) who take jobs overseas to send money (remittances in the econ jargon) back home to their families. My UQ colleague Richard Brown has been working on the topic of remittances for years, but its only very recently that the topic has attracted any attention. An obvious implication of Richard’s work on the role of remittances in Pacific Island economies is that Australia should consider opening its labour market to workers from the region, a topic we’ve discussed previously.

Surprisingly, the strongest opposition to this idea has come, not from unions, but from the Centre for Independent Studies. While there are some plausible arguments here, I don’t think they would convince anyone starting from the presumption that unless there are good reasons to stop them, people should be free to move where they want. The CIS view seems to start from the presumption “we will decide who comes here and under what circumstances” (with the implicit assertion that we should feel free to make such decisions for any reason, good or bad, or for no reason at all) a popular view but scarcely one consistent with classical liberalism

Really back this time

April 22nd, 2007 1 comment

I’ve found and fixed the problem on the site which was being bogged down by the Akismet plugin. I’m still getting heaps of spam in the moderation queue, so I’ll be looking for suggestions to fix this, along with other improvements to the site. But posting should be back to normal from now on, and commenting should be reasonably easy.

UpdateOf course, the moment I post this, the site bogged down again, but it seems to have been just a glitch.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Weekend reflections

April 20th, 2007 13 comments

I’m finally making some progress on the problems that have plagued the site for the last couple of months. Unfortunately, I won’t have time to do much more for a little while, but with luck, discussion will be able to proceed.

So, weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

End of the phoney war ?

April 18th, 2007 22 comments

The period since Kevin Rudd became Labor leader reminds me somewhat of the phoney war in the early stages of World War II. The government has relied mostly on attacks over trivia (the dispute over the exact circumstances in which Rudd’s family was evicted from their home, the dinner with Brian Burke, the Anzac day predawn dawn service and so on) most of which have had little impact, and some of which have backfired.

There have been some substantive issues of disagreement, including the broadband plan, the Iraq war and Kyoto, but the government’s position on all these issues is one of disarray. They have no idea how we’ll get a proper broadband rollout, how to extricate us from Iraq or how to do anything substantive about climate change while still refusing to sign Kyoto. Particularly on the second and third of these issues, they’re happened by the fact that much of their activist base, which is by now taking its views directly from US Republicans, still clings to delusional beliefs that victory in Iraq/demolition of the global warming conspiracy is just around the corner.

With the release of Labor’s IR policy we’ll presumably see some real action. This is an issue Labor has to get right and one where the government strongly believes in the rightness of its own position. They’ve got some impressive employment numbers to back them up, but they haven’t managed to get over the fact that their policies are centrally based on “managements’ right to manage” which, from the perspective of the average employee looks more like “bosses’ right to be bossy”. Nor have they given any explanation as to how we are going to avoid the situation that has emerged in the US, where incomes at the top have soared while wages for many workers have been stagnant for decades.

Obviously, the government will be hoping for conflict between Labor and the unions over the concessions to business in Rudd’s policy, most obviously the requirement for secret ballots for strikes. I doubt that we’ll see much of this. It must be obvious to all that another couple of terms of Howard or Costello government could break the union movement once and for all. Now that Rudd’s policy is out there, the unions have no real alternative but to support it.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Discussion policy

April 16th, 2007 8 comments

It seems as if I was in tune with the Zeitgeist when I took a few weeks off to think about how to deal with trolls, sockpuppets and other pests. During my downtime, there was the Kathy Sierra harassment case followed by dispute about a proposed code of conduct. It even made Deirdre Macken’s column in the Fin at the weekend.

Different people will have different views about what’s needed, but I no longer have the time or energy to deal with the trouble created by trolls so I want to stop them before they start. That’s why I’ve written my own discussion policy, as follows.

1. This is a forum for discussion. I publish it at my own expense and in my own time. It is not a public place. There is no automatic right to comment here.

2. The purpose of the comments section is to allow constructive discussion of points made in the main post. Comments which include personal attacks on me as author of the post or on other commenters (flames) will be deleted, or edited to remove such points. Commenters with a repeated history of provocation (trolls) will be banned. Comments that seek to score debating points at the expense of others (snarks) are discouraged; this is inevitably subjective, but please try to focus on substantial arguments rather than cheap shots.

4. Coarse language is prohibited, as are racist and sexist comments.

5. Pseudonymous commenting is allowed, but commenters must supply an email address on which they can be contacted. Except in the event of disruptive behaviour (as described under 6 and 7) this information will be kept confidential. Pseudonymous commenters should take particular care to avoid remarks that may be offensive to other participants in the discussion.

6. Commenting under multiple names (sock puppets) is strictly prohibited and will lead to an immediate and permanent ban. Details of persons using sock puppets may be disclosed to others including the operators of other blogs.

7. In the event of a ban, do not attempt unauthorised posting of comments, or harassment through email, phone contact or other methods. Be aware that any such action exposes you to a range of civil and criminal sanctions.

8. Comments are welcome from anyone willing to abide by these rules. Those who don’t like these rules are free to comment elsewhere or to publish their own blogs.

Discussion of this policy is welcome, and the policy may be changed, but the policy is in force with immediate effect, and will apply to any comments made from now on.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Back on air (sort of)

April 16th, 2007 1 comment

I’ve enjoyed taking a break, and now I’m ready to resume blogging. Unfortunately, I still haven’t resolved the performance problems that have been plaguing the site. I’m hassling my hosting service and trying to implement some measures of my own. Hopefully, there will be some good news on this front soon. In the meantime, I’m going to ignore the problems and resume reasonably regular posting.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Monday message board

April 16th, 2007 Comments off

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. As usual, civilised discussion and absolutely no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Status update

April 12th, 2007 1 comment

I’m hoping to resume blogging shortly. Unfortunately, as readers will have noticed, the site has been plagued by performance problems, and I need to resolve these first. I’m pursuing this actively, and hope to be back on air soon.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Monday message board

April 2nd, 2007 51 comments

Although I’m still on break, it’s time once again for the Monday Message Board. As usual, civilised discussion and absolutely no coarse language, please. Any topic at all, but I imagine people will have something to say about the David Hicks case.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:


April 1st, 2007 5 comments

I’m implementing a registration requirement for comments. I’m hoping this will help to kill off spam, and also help me in troll control. Please tell me if you find this requirement too burdensome, and I’ll try to find another way around all this.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:


April 1st, 2007 8 comments

Hi everyone. I’m testing a bunch of things, and this is an open thread where you can discuss them if you want. Among other things, I’m looking at different themes (=skins/designs). If you’re interested there’s a lot to choose from here. I’m imposing the following constraints
(i) Two-column layout
(ii) Widget ready
(iii) Fast loading (not too much Javascript etc).
The current theme, which is fairly bland, is Aqueous-lite and meets all these criteria. I may be able to do a little bit of fiddling with fonts and similar, but please don’t just say “change the font”, give me some idea what you would like.

On point (iii), I apologise for the technical problems with the site lately, including breaking of the RSS feed for some users. I am looking into all this.

I’m trying to minimise hand-coding stuff and am now working with widgets like the Active Discussions at the top of the sidebar. Suggestions for good widgets gratefully accepted.

Categories: Metablogging Tags: