Home > Oz Politics > A rocky start

A rocky start

October 10th, 2013

The Abbott government has had the rockiest start of any newly-elected government I can recall[1]. Opinion polls are already showing the government trailing Labor, even before the election of a new opposition leader.
The failure has two main elements. The first is the consequence of gaining office on the basis of slogans and personality politics rather than any coherent set of policy proposals. ‘Stop the boats’ was a great vote-winner for the LNP in opposition, but in office it’s a hostage given to fortune. Maybe the boats will stop and maybe not, but bombastic rhetoric will have no effect one way or the other.
The implication for Labor is not to respond in kind with wrecking and cheap slogans. Rather, it’s to make the point that, however dysfunctional the previous government may have been terms of leadership, and whatever the problems of implementation, it was in the right (or at least better than the LNP) on all the major policy issues[2].
The implied political strategy is to defend and extend the key policies of the Rudd-Gillard government, with the exception of the mistakes driven by short-run political exigencies (the archetypal example being the withdrawal of benefits from single parents, and the associated failure to do anything to improve the treatment of unemployed people in general).
That means treating the Abbott government as a temporary interruption a program of reform that includes carbon pricing, the NBN, NDIS and Gonski reforms. The only big gap in Labor’s program is the absence of a credible plan to finance these policies in the long run, while allowing state governments sufficient revenue to do their work. Labor needs to use the time in opposition to break with the low-tax rhetoric of the past, and work out a coherent plan to increase revenue. In practice, there’s no real chance of increasing the rate or coverage of GST, so the options will have to come on the income tax side. More on this soon, I hope.
The second factor in Abbott’s poor start is the ‘born to rule’ mentality that we’ve already seen in Queensland. Newman and his ministers have been shameless in grabbing more and better perks, giving jobs to their mates and so on. Abbott has started in the same vein, with examples such as the sacking of Steve Bracks, and his rumored replacement with a mate such as Nick Minchin. The contrast with Rudd, who left Liberal appointees in place, and gave plum appointments to well qualified Libs, is striking. Although the travel expense scandals now coming to light date from the past, they fit into a pattern that is already evident.
Of course, Labor is hardly innocent in this. But the isolated examples that have come to light, and the near-total absence of ministerial scandals in the Rudd-Gillard government suggest that this is not a case of ‘everybody does it’. Labor should join the Greens in pushing reform of the entire system.

fn1. The arguable exception is the Labor minority government that emerged from the 2010 election. But this wasn’t a new government or a new PM: Labor had a couple of years on top after 2007 and Gillard had already had her honeymoon period in the immediate aftermath of the deposition of Rudd.

fn2. ‘Better than Abbott’ was a pretty low bar when it came to refugee policies. But Labor did at least increase the refugee intake, while Abbott has cut it.

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  1. Hermit
    October 10th, 2013 at 10:57 | #1

    I suspect ‘our’ ABC are a bit stunned by the amount of crook goings on they have to work with. The missing ingredient is opinion polls. A year or so ago when the government of the day made some fairly inconsequential error of judgement (example the Malaysia solution) an adverse opinion poll came out the next day. Tssk tssk must do better. Perhaps the fear is that the public have spoken so the LNP have a presumed mandate. With the publicly funded ABC there is also the fear of being nobbled.

  2. Worrier
    October 10th, 2013 at 11:23 | #2

    Perhaps the tax question can be addressed by this:

    http://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/jul/21/global-elite-tax-offshore-economy

    ($21-32 trillion sitting in off-shore tax havens – Even if Australia could claim just a fraction of that, could be 100s of $billions available for expenditure on hospitals, universities, roads and other infrastructure)

  3. Tim Macknay
    October 10th, 2013 at 12:09 | #3

    Perhaps Federal Labor could take up Colin Barnett’s self-interested plea in modified form, and propose restoring the States’ ability to impose income taxes, while retaining the Commonwealth’s ability to do so. This has a number of positives – it would go some way to addressing vertical fiscal imbalance as well the structural deficit, and (more cynically) it would also enable the Commonwealth to avoid the opprobrium associated with raising taxes, by allowing (or implicitly forcing) the States to do it.

  4. Graham
    October 10th, 2013 at 12:17 | #4

    Curious about that poll do u have a link?

  5. Tim Macknay
    October 10th, 2013 at 12:19 | #5

    @Graham
    Graham, I think Prof Q is referring to the Morgan Poll.

  6. Tim Macknay
    October 10th, 2013 at 12:21 | #6

    Oops – automod.

    Graham, the latest Morgan Poll shows Labor on 50.5% and LNP on 49.5% 2PP. You’ll have to google it, as my link got automoderated.

    Admittedly the Morgan Poll has a reputation for skewing towards Labor, but it certainly supports Prof Q’s contention that this is the worst polling performance of a new government in memory.

  7. October 10th, 2013 at 12:55 | #7

    “That means treating the Abbott government as a temporary interruption a program of reform that includes carbon pricing, the NBN, NDIS and Gonski reforms.”

    While carbon pricing, NDIS and Gonski reforms may not be too difficult to implement again (although instability on carbon pricing may cause delays in reinvestments in renewable energy in the private sector), I think NBN would be difficult to fix if it is messed up in the term of the Abbott Government which looks increasing likely.

  8. Alan
    October 10th, 2013 at 13:10 | #8

    There was the Joel Fitzgerald scandal with undeclared travel gifts, and to a certain extent Labor managed to own the slippery meanderings around the ACT wineries. The allegations against Craig Thompson predated his time in parliament, but I suspect the electorate read those as expense scandals.

    What the Gillard government did do was propose legislation exempting the parliamentary departments from FOI which the Abbot opposition eagerly supported with none of the usual stop the waste nonsense. There is a reason most of the current exposures predate the Gillard-Abbot legislation. Gillard also moved heaven and earth to block any progress on the integrity legislation agreed with the Greens and Independents in 2010.

    There’s also the really interesting question of why we are hearing about these expenses only now? The September election could have been a lot more interesting if this had been known then.

  9. Mr T
    October 10th, 2013 at 13:38 | #9

    I haven’t seen many opinion polls. Is this because MSM doesn’t want to rock the boat with their allies now in government? It is usual that a new government has a honeymoon period this close after an election. If what you say is correct, I would have thought that would have been massive news.

    With regards to your “Better than Abbott” comment on refugee policy, discussions around this subject tend to not define what “Better” means. My reading is that it falls into 2 groups:
    better means less boats; OR
    better means more humane treatment of refugees.

    With the change in policy by the ALP over the last 3 to 5 years, for both sides of politics, “Better” appears to mean “less boats. Already Abbott’s key election promise to achieve this (Buy the boats) has been abandoned. I haven’t seen any examples of the other plank in this policy (tow the boats back to Indonesia) being implemented. What he seems to be doing in this massive area of policy controversy during the election is continuing with the Labor policy of processing offshore and arranging for asylum in third countries for those people found to be refugees. (A policy I think will be found to not be legal when tested in court)

  10. John Quiggin
    October 10th, 2013 at 13:53 | #10

    Alan :
    There’s also the really interesting question of why we are hearing about these expenses only now? The September election could have been a lot more interesting if this had been known then.

    Although I hadn’t heard about the weddings, the fact that Abbott was claiming expenses for Pollie Pedal was regularly pointed out on Twitter, as was his repayment of expenses over Battlelines. And, as a self-funded half-ironman competitor, I was always suspicious that he must have been spending a lot of work time and money on his training for the full event.

    So, it’s not so much that the news has just been discovered but that it has somehow been decided that it is news.

  11. Fran Barlow
    October 10th, 2013 at 14:00 | #11

    PrQ

    {The ALP} was in the right (or at least better than the LNP) on all the major policy issues.

    I note your second footnote but I don’t agree that this makes their policy better. It was offered in circumstances where the ALP must have known they were getting beaten, and wouldn’t have been held to the promise in the unlikely event they’d win. It was conceived, IMO, merely to give the “Labor for Refugees” crowd some political cover, but really it was like some chap dressed only in a g-string claiming he wasn’t naked.

    The reality is that the ALP and LNP policies were an artefact of their mututal (though hostile) design, and one can argue that the ALP nudged the LNP to the right in the race to the bottom. Once the “PNG solution” came in, the LNP moved to boat buys, paying for info in Indonesia (and now) “hide the boats”. It also expanded Nauru and is now moving to prevent administrative review.

  12. Fran Barlow
    October 10th, 2013 at 14:18 | #12

    More broadly though, there can be no doubt that by the standards established post-War, the ALP regimes of 2007-2013 were both comparatively competent and honest — and that under enormous pressure from internatuional circumstances and later the Murdoch press from at the very least early 2010.

    A number of important and valuable initiatives were enacted or commenced. They turned out to be very poor at playing the game into a political headwind but it’s unlikely that Abbott will choose to unwind much of substance undertaken by his predecessors.

    Even the much-maligned Swan looks good by comparison with his successor, Hockey, who seems either not to be familar with IMF projections and those in the budget or be a disembling fool, in circumstances where talking down the economy has ceased to have any political value for his party.

  13. Fran Barlow
    October 10th, 2013 at 14:25 | #13

    And this is telling:

    Prime Minister Tony Abbott has found himself in the eye of an expense scandal storm after it emerged his trip to the 2012 Country Music Festival was anything but “free” for taxpayers.

    The then-Opposition leader claimed $9347 in work expenses for the whirlwind visit – despite not even staying in the city overnight.

  14. Worrier
    October 10th, 2013 at 14:28 | #14

    @Fran Barlow
    Hockey continues to talk down the economy even when it has ceased to have any political value for his party?

    Oh dear. I didn’t realize he was that incompetent.

  15. Fran Barlow
    October 10th, 2013 at 14:54 | #15

    @Worrier

    Ignorantly too as he didn’t realise the (old pre-election) figures he was relying on improved the pre-existing projected unemplyment rate in June 2014.

    http://www.smh.com.au/business/joe-hockeys-lplates-are-there-for-all-to-see-20131009-2v752.html

    As Pascoe observes:

    Overnight the IMF got around to adopting the existing Reserve Bank and Treasury forecasts for Australian economic growth, which is what it routinely does. In cutting its forecast for Australia’s 2013 GDP to 2.5 per cent, the IMF was catching up with what the RBA was saying five months ago in its May statement on monetary policy. Treasury took a little longer to revise its more optimistic budget night forecasts, but by the August monetary policy statement and Treasury economic statement, the numbers were all aligned and pretty much what the IMF produced two months later.

    Treasurer Joe Hockey didn’t treat it that way, issuing a statement to tell us the IMF had downgraded its expected growth rates for the Australian economy by 0.5 per cent. More bemusingly, the Treasurer said: “Worryingly, the IMF forecasts Australia’s unemployment rate to rise from 5.6 per cent in 2013 to 6.0 per cent in 2014.”

    It seems poor Joe has been in negative opposition mode for so long, he doesn’t recognise possible good news when he sees it. That IMF unemployment forecast is an improvement on what the RBA and Treasury have been saying. The budget back in May guessed unemployment would be 6.25 per cent by June and the pre-election economic and fiscal outlook forecast it would stay there for another year.

  16. Ernestine Gross
    October 10th, 2013 at 15:05 | #16

    I am happy tax increases (at least for the super wealthy and very high income earners) can now be talked about, together with off-shore tax heavens. A bit of ‘austerity’ in this area is not amiss.

    Recent OECD data confirms the distribution of income growth between 1980 and 2008 within countries was very uneven among countries. Denmark stands out with having an approximately even growth in income across the top 1%, the top 10-1% and the remaining 90%. The point, you have made on many ocasians, JQ, regarding the USA is confirmed. In Australia the inequality has grown.

    Totally unrealted to the ALP vs LNP discussions, I maintain on the basis of an insight from general equilibrium models, income distribution matters. While it is difficult to know the ‘right’ degree of wealth inequality (incentives do matter, as do endowments), it is the total neglect of counteracting the growing income inequalities (and growing tax rorts) in the policy framework which is avoidable. The ship has to turn no matter how strong the head wind, for the sake of ‘the economy’.

    As for long term funding of the ALP’s policy program, IMO, the major mistake the Rudd-Gillard government made in this regard is the messing up of the mining tax. I realise avoiding this mistake is easier to talk about then to achieve, given the weddings and all that. It just happens to be a very costly mistake.

  17. MWS
    October 10th, 2013 at 15:06 | #17

    the archetypal example being the withdrawal of benefits from single parents

    The changes to single parent benefits changed in 2006 under Howard. However, to avoid a huge uproar, the changes were to only apply to new applicants – the existing single parents were “grandfathered.” This created two classes of single parents, those who existed before 2006 and those after, who got moved to Newstart when their youngest turned 6. The ALP decided to treat all single parents the same – apparently they would have had to pass new legislation because the “grandfathering” was going to expire in 2012. Considering the state of the Senate, the Coalition probably wouldn’t support extending the grandfathering, and the Greens would want all single parents on the single parent pension forever. I expect that any legislation would have been difficult to achieve.

    It is difficult to believe that single parents, who have known since 2006 that they would be required to look for work when their youngest reaches 16 (at the latest), weren’t making any arrangements (ie studying) to move back into the workforce, to join their less-well-off brethren that have been moved onto Newstart since 2006. Remember a 6-year-old child in 2006 would be 12 in 2012 – should their parent be able to stay out of the workforce for another four years?

  18. Tim
    October 10th, 2013 at 15:24 | #18

    Raising income taxes sounds like a suicidal re-election strategy.

  19. Ikonoclast
    October 10th, 2013 at 15:28 | #19

    As I said in another thread, I think the politicians’ travel rorts issue is a storm in a teacup. I really don’t care if politicians fiddle their travel expenses a bit. The real moral and intellectual crime is politicians who don’t understand macroeconomics, don’t care about solving unemployment, don’t care about inequality and don’t care about or deny global warming, resource depletion and limits to growth. Those are mistakes of a profound nature which will lead directly to environmental and economic collapse. Travel rorts just don’t rate on the scale of the real challenges we face.

  20. JamesH
    October 10th, 2013 at 15:29 | #20

    Ernestine Gross :As for long term funding of the ALP’s policy program, IMO, the major mistake the Rudd-Gillard government made in this regard is the messing up of the mining tax. I realise avoiding this mistake is easier to talk about then to achieve, given the weddings and all that. It just happens to be a very costly mistake.

    I think what they should have done with the mining tax, instead of promising company tax cuts, is given all the revenue to the Commonwealth Grants Commission to distribute to the states along with the GST. This would be on a firmer constitutional footing given the minerals belong to the states, help fix state balance sheets, ensure that any state like WA which raised mineral royalties was just shooting itself in the foot as those revenues would be deducted from their CGC distribution, and given the Commonwealth government and state governments some leverage and space to remove the various stamp duties, payroll taxes and other highly distortionary fund-raising measures the states need to raise money atm, which would be much more positive (and more popular) for economic growth than company tax cuts.

  21. TerjeP
    October 10th, 2013 at 15:37 | #21

    Rudd was the first Howard challenger to talk of tax cuts under a Labor government. And then he got elected. I don’t think anybody is getting elected to government in contemporary Australia on a promise of higher taxes. The GST was merely a change of tax structure but it’s presentation as a tax hike nearly killed Howard at the time. The Turkey does not vote for Christmas.

  22. Ken Fabian
    October 10th, 2013 at 15:38 | #22

    What made my jaw drop was Barnaby Joyce describing an expensive gift from a mining magnate as saving taxpayers’ money! Isn’t taking gifts from people who will be affected by the decisions you make an elementary no-no for an MP?

  23. rog
    October 10th, 2013 at 15:54 | #23

    A few things spring to mind;

    Abbott promised a new more honest government and then we get the leader defending claims of serial rorting;

    LNP members caught rorting were allowed to pay back the sum while they pursued Slipper over the same issue;

    In opposition Morrison was the veritable “shipping news” yet in govt he has restricted news on boats;

    Greg Hunts convoluted arguments on carbon tax/ETS are looking particularly weak in light of IPCC and current Australian weather patterns;

    Abbott is continually late for important events, a habit he adopted in opposition.

    This has to be the shortest honeymoon ever.

  24. Fran Barlow
    October 10th, 2013 at 17:21 | #24

    @TerjeP

    The Turkey does not vote for Christmas.

    Australia, September 7 2013 suggests otherwise.

  25. Fran Barlow
    October 10th, 2013 at 17:29 | #25

    @JamesH

    Travel rorts just don’t rate on the scale of the real challenges we face.

    That’s true of course. OTOH, how likely is it that politicians who did grasp the quality and scale of the challenges and who had singlemindedly devoted themselves to implementing the best solutions possible would have the time left over, or the inclination, to hire a jet for a phot op in Tamworth or be inclined to attend a wedding where they could hob nob with reactionaries while moaning about the entitlement mentality of the lower classes or the corruption of officialdom?

    The reckless indifference of the political class to these questions is also expressed in their snoutsd-in-the-trough mentality. Rorts are merely the outward signs of a profound disease.

  26. Fran Barlow
    October 10th, 2013 at 17:30 | #26

    oops … last was to @ikonoclast …

  27. Fran Barlow
    October 10th, 2013 at 17:39 | #27

    @TerjeP

    FTR, I would add, Terje, that voting for more taxes is not the same as “turkeys voting for Christmas”. Taxes are neither harmful nor useful per se. A tax system that settles burdens and benefits fairly within a community and between generations and which is adequate to fund services that communities need is a good one, which, to use your analogy, keeps the turkeys in rude health.

    Indeed, subject to the above, even those who in absolute terms bear a disproportionate share of new tax burdens will probably benefit, because by definition, the communities within which these relatively privileged live will be wiser, healthier, happier and likely to contribute to a more productive society, from which those privileged will also draw advantage.

    Why wouldn’t any rational and ethical person want that?

  28. Ernestine Gross
    October 10th, 2013 at 18:26 | #28

    @JamesH

    I take you point about revenue to State Governments. However, I don’t believe distributing the revenue allocated to company tax cuts from the mining tax (short term for Super Profit …) to State Governments would have made a big change to the balance sheets (budgets) of the States. The problem (mistake) lies with the depreciation allowances which the Gillard agreed to.

  29. Anthony
    October 10th, 2013 at 18:35 | #29

    @Mr T

    I think its a ‘Turn the boats around’ not ‘tow back’ the boats policy, the latter (apparently) being much more risky to navy personnel.

    Kevin Rudd did return one set of asylum seekers on the Oceanic Viking in his first term. Since LNP took office I think two sets of asylum seekers have been transferred to Indonesian search and rescue. If that current situation were to continue then presumably you get better results in terms of less boats & more humane treatment of refugees. This assumes the Indonesian government is co-operative, if not, well I assume that would mean a lot more boats arriving?

  30. Ernestine Gross
    October 10th, 2013 at 18:50 | #30

    TerjeP is very careful in talking about election outcomes and tax increases by making a prognosis about Australia in the immediate future. I suspect TerjeP knows about the election disaster of the Free Democrat Party (FDP) in the September 2013 federal election in Germany. The FDP did not manage to get 5% and therefore will not be represented at all in the new government. They were the coalition partner of the CDU/CSU during the past legislative period. They used to have around 8% of the votes.

    What happened?

    Mr Genscher, the currently honorary senior official of the FDP, and, I understand, a domestic and internationally highly regarded former Foreign Minister under coalition governments for many years, criticised Roessler, the leader of the FDP until he resigned after the September 2013 election, for having narrowed the policy agenda of the FDP to tax cuts and small government. Source: Der Spiegel.

    The FDP moved in the direction of Libertarians. It didn’t work.

  31. jrkrideau
    October 10th, 2013 at 20:40 | #31

    On the climate change side, the Canadian blog DeSomgbog is not impressed with the new lineup http://desmogblog.com/2013/10/09/australia-s-new-prime-minister-surrounded-climate-science-denying-voices-and-advisors

    You are getting close to mirroring our goverment!

  32. October 11th, 2013 at 00:03 | #32

    In the long run, bracket creep will increase tax revenue. In the mean time you could get rid of some of the more egregious rorts (novated leases on cars anyone?).

    I reckon bracket creep is a really clever invention – you get tax increases without voting for them. So all you need to do is not vote for tax cuts, and there you are. Which is like telling me I’ll lose weight if I just eat less …

  33. Kel
    October 11th, 2013 at 00:06 | #33

    I was on a golfing trip to Murray Downs in Swan Hill and while buying a beer after a humbling golfing experience, I heard a conversation between a customer and female bar staff. Customer opined why are you working you’ve got till he turns eight. Bar attendant replied I don’t know what you do all day, don’t you get bored.

    This might explain why some single parents aren’t making arrangements for future employment. Just reporting not judging.

  34. Anthony
    October 11th, 2013 at 00:31 | #34

    @Anthony

    Though apparently having read Graham Richardson’s piece in The Oz today it seems that Tony Abbott did say at least once that he would tow the boats back while he was Opposition Leader.

  35. TerjeP
    October 11th, 2013 at 04:24 | #35

    @Fran Barlow

    You labour metaphors much more than is warranted.

    I don’t think Australians will vote into government a political party that has a clear agenda to increase taxes. Of course the ALP can give it a shot. But it certainly wasn’t the strategy they used in 2007.

  36. Alan
    October 11th, 2013 at 07:04 | #36

    @TerjeP

    It is a myth that the electorate does not support increased socials spending. It is a mantra that gets repeated endlessly, because it is necessary to the survival of a certain kind of economics. The ANUpoll found quite different results when it actually asked the questions.

    The final piece of evidence concerning public opinion towards government and government services concerns attitudes towards government spending. A standard question included in a wide range of surveys since the 1960s asked the respondents if they want to see a reduction in taxes or more spending on social services. in effect, the question asks the respondents to make a choice between the two goals. The long term trends from the polls suggest that the high point in favour of reduced taxes was in the 1980s, and since then there has been an increasing proportion in favour of more spending on social services.

    This ANUpoll shows that a total of 39 per cent wanted reduced taxes, the same proportion as in the 2010 Aes, but substantially lower than in 1987, when 65 per cent took this view. A majority of the respondents – 55 per cent – wanted more spending on social services, with 35 per cent expressing strong support for this view. overall, the trend towards seeking more spending on social services rather than reduced taxes is confirmed in the ANUpoll, and the results show that over the last decade or so, the proportions have remained relatively stable.

    I imagine we will soon see an extensive commentage denouncing psephological alarmism as a product of evil parasites with their snouts in the public trough.

  37. Hermit
    October 11th, 2013 at 07:51 | #37

    I note some parallels between Greg Hunt and the former Soviet Union’s TD Lysenko. Both have theories unsupported by peers yet were put in control of major industries. Both like to silence their critics. In the case of Lysenko q.v. some wacky ideas led to crop failures and famine, one idea I recall was to plant crops in north-south alignment to harness the Earth’s magnetic field. According to Hunt farmers can be re-educated to become more CO2 absorbent so coal burning is less of a problem, an idea not well supported by peer reviewed science.

    Lysenko had some of his critics shot. Hunt has silenced his critics for example in disbanding the Climate Commission within days of getting the job. Yet we have no idea whether Hunt’s pet theories have any chance of working. If carbon tax is repealed then I think we should reasonably expect spectacular results from ‘direct action’. Instead I’m expecting a shambles with any emission reductions largely attributable to a global economic downturn.

  38. Donald Oats
    October 11th, 2013 at 07:59 | #38

    If the Abbott government had been smart, they would have allowed an ETS to continue, *and* introduced direct action schemes. If direct action proved more than adequate—but it won’t, that’s assured, if they account honestly—then they could have restructured the ETS if warranted. Instead, they place continuing uncertainty across the entire renewable energy sector, a sector that Australian conditions are well suited for, especially for research and development of even better technology. Cut adrift the solar energy business, and then rely heavily on coal and iron ore exports to China to help our economy. Smart…not.

  39. TerjeP
    October 11th, 2013 at 08:37 | #39

    Direct Action is a political sop. I don’t know anybody that believes it is good for anything other than political spin.

  40. Ikonoclast
    October 11th, 2013 at 08:39 | #40

    Quite right hermit. The only factors which will limit CO2 emissions by Australia and by the world will be;

    (a) economic collapse; and/or
    (b) fossil fuel shortages.

    All extant system behaviour to date, empirically measured, illustrates that the fossil fuel burning economic juggernaut of late stage capitalism will continue on the same path (attempted endless growth) until the above limiting factors cut in. All other attempts at (self)-imposing limiting factors have failed to date. I predict these attempts will continue to fail and only the unintended outcome of economic collapse (and the real world limits which will cause it) will be responsible for capping and then reversing human CO2 emissions.

    This whole phenomenon raises an interesting philosophical question. Can humans en masse direct their own history? The answer is NO if we mean by this “direct their own history by volitional action towards intended outcomes”. Of course, we are the “authors” of our history in some senses even though we are not the “directors” of our history. We are the authors of unintended consequences but not the directors of intended outcomes.

    Ultimately, we are helpless before natural forces and helpless before biological forces including the various biological forces and drives of out own nature. All these forces in toto determine our “macro” or overall fate. Volition, planning, conscious direction and intention have little role in directing the macro outcome although we like to believe these intentional factors are pivotal.

    A sense of powerlessness is engendered by the true perception of how fated we are to follow our doomed path. People would rather live with their illusions. Maintaining these illusions is actually accelerating the oncoming doom. But consistent with my thesis, I would have to say it seems that humans’ attachment to their illusions is also part of their unavoidable fate.

    There is nothing that can be done to avoid fate. Thus if anything can be done it can only be done at the level of the individual consciousness’s attitude to fate. The correct existential attitude if it can be achieved is to accept it and not worry about it. The correct existential attitude is probably close to a certain non-theistic Buddhist attitude which holds that all reality is ultimately illusion. Yes, it is empirically, materially real but it ultimately still means nothing. When the individual ephemeral consciousness ceases then reality itself effectively ceases (for that conscoiusness). In that sense, material reality is an illusion that is easily swept away. Everything we strive for and care about is pointless illusion and is annulled by the return to non-existence. We are deluded if we think it really means anything.

  41. derrida derider
    October 11th, 2013 at 09:40 | #41

    @Tim Macknay
    But the States have never lost the constitutional power to impose income taxes – they just agreed in 1940 not to do so, and any state can withdraw from that agreement whenever it likes. Though in practice it’d want Commonwealth cooperation in using ATO assesments mechanisms to avoid an administrative mess.

    A more feasible revenue raiser for the States would be a land tax administered as a large surcharge to council rates (which are, in Georgist fashion, based on Unimproved Capital Value). They could even ease the political difficulties of a new tax on individuals by just heavily taxing councils and so forcing them to raise the rates.

  42. derrida derider
    October 11th, 2013 at 09:55 | #42

    @TerjeP
    No, the GST was a net tax hike – it raised the amount of tax as a proportion of national income by over one percentage point (to a level, BTW, above the current level). It had to do so to fund the compensation to low income earners who could not benefit from the associated income tax cut.

  43. derrida derider
    October 11th, 2013 at 10:06 | #43

    @John Brookes
    But bracket creep depends on rises in nominal personal incomes. And with very low inflation, low productivity growth and a declining share of wages in national income these are growing only slowly. Bracket creep still works, but it takes a lotlonger to do so than it used to. Plus it has the side-effect of reducing the progressivity of income tax.

  44. Mel
    October 11th, 2013 at 10:27 | #44

    Has the start to the Abbott Government really been that rocky?

    The Indonesian trip (1) helped smooth over the clusterf*ck Labor created over live cattle experts, a win for our farmers and (2) kicked a couple of goals in relation to people smuggling:

    This week in Jakarta, Prime Minister Tony Abbott made significant progress on the issue with Indonesia. He got Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to commit to joint action and enhanced co-operation to combat people-smuggling. Yudhoyono said his nation, too, was a “victim” of people-smuggling.

    Abbott’s officials are already in Jakarta following up. The most important change in the past few weeks has been the numbers of boatpeople rescued by Australia, presumably in Indonesia’s search-and-rescue zone, who have been transferred back to Indonesian custody, presumably at sea, and landed back in Indonesia.

    This is normal maritime practice – people rescued at sea are returned to their nearest safe port. But under Labor the Australian navy was rescuing people virtually just off the Indonesian coast and then being forced to bring them to Australia.

    The last significant effort Labor made to buck this absurd practice involved the Oceanic Viking in 2009, when Kevin Rudd was prime minister the first time. But when the Sri Lankans on the vessel declined to get off at an Indonesian port, they were induced to do so by a promise that they would quickly be resettled in Australia.

    After that, Indonesia rarely allowed Australia to disembark people rescued at sea, no matter how close to Indonesia this rescue occurred, on Indonesian soil. This was a critical test of wills, which Labor failed.

    A rather spectacular start, I would’ve thought.

  45. Mel
    October 11th, 2013 at 10:29 | #45

    Jeepers- live cattle exports not experts.

  46. Tim Macknay
    October 11th, 2013 at 11:10 | #46

    Mel, I don’t think I really need to remind you that opinion columns are not a source of factual information. I also suspect you’re already aware that The Australian and Greg Sheridan both have well-established reputations for being strongly partisan supporters of the Conservatives and Abbott, as well as being rather creative in their interpretation, and reportage, of events.

    Given that you already know these things, I assume you’re just stirring the pot.

  47. Nick
    October 11th, 2013 at 11:30 | #47
  48. Fran Barlow
    October 11th, 2013 at 11:42 | #48

    @Mel

    Has the start to the Abbott Government really been that rocky?

    Utterly rocky. Post rockslide rocky.

    1. With the exception of the abolition of “the carbon tax” (sic) he has proposed exactly nothing positive and different from the regime he claimed was the worst government in history. What before the election were “emergencies” (“boats”, “the budget”) now look like things that require no specific new action on no specific timeline. No radical savings measures have been adopted, nor new revenues proposed. he has a cabinet composed 95% of males, all of them white and 40% of them lawyers.

    It turns out Abbott, and some of his underlings had their metaphoric snouts deep (and improperly) in the public trough even before coming to power — claiming benefits even for purelyly PR-based and entertainment activity.

    They’ve sacked the Climate Commission on Culture War grounds, affirming their disgust at evidence-based policy, and removing its material from the web with all speed, only to discover that with 48-hours, it could go public and get even more money from the public.

    Their treasurer has re-affirmed that he was the boob most who follow politics or economics had long ago concluded, proving conclusively that his nearly all-male cabinet was indeed, not selected on merit.

    Abbott has wandered around the region making a fool of himself — apologising to the Malaysian PM for the fact that his country “got caught up in a charged political argument in Australia” that he started in his attempts to disrupt the Australian government’s attempts to get to his right on asylum-seeker policy.

    He has also had to apologise to Indonesia for Australia insisting on humane treatment of Australian-sourced cattle (when the measures ultimately adopted were even supported by John Cobb of the Nationals). In order to smooth over this issue, he has had to abandon his position on tow-backs, and buying boats and trading information sub rosa with shady folks in Indonesia which he had affirmed before the election in public interviews, proving again that by his standard for lying, he is a liar. He also abandoned his (implied) promise to spend the first week of his rule in an Indigenous community. He has also implied that he has no leverage in his trade dealing with China.

    This all in under 6 weeks … scandal, incompetence, abandonment of pre-election promises, meek submission to regional partners/stakeholders and otherwise running from press conferences.

    Oh … and all ministers denied the right to do press conferences not first cleared through his office. Indeed, even low level appointments of new staffers for new MPs now have to be approved by a panel led by his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, and IIRC, Ronaldson and Abetz. Gosh, that’s going to cement unity.

    And what about that PPL scheme? He is either going to have to deal with The Greens on that now — how embarrassment! — or wait until Clive’s puppies turn up — and demand the requisite pound of flesh for waving through what Clive regards as “a scam”. Bearing in mind that not all LNP members think it’s a good idea, that will be interesting.

    The last government was not one I admired, but it was comparatively competent by Australian post-War standards. This government is giving early signs of threatening to become the worst post-War Federal regime in Australia’s history — and this despite being composed largely of ministers who held office under Howard.

  49. Mr T
    October 11th, 2013 at 11:55 | #49

    @Anthony

    My point remains that the legal status of what both sides of politics have been doing remains open to challenge.

    If what you say is correct, and two boats have been handed over to Indonesian Search and Rescue, it relies on the good will of Indonesia for this policy to continue to be successful. If the boats in question were in a fit state to continue sailing (I have no information on this), the Australian government leave themselves open to charges of piracy. If the boats were in need of assistance, all this will mean is that the quality of boats making the attempt will improve.

    Once any boats enter Australian Territorial Waters, there is an argument that Asylum Seekers have a right for that request to be heard in Australia. All the efforts by both the former Labor government and the current government to deny them this right has either been found to be illegal, or not tested in court. The current strategy is to prevent the question being put to a court. But it is my belief that eventually, some lawyer will find a way whereby a court does consider the matter.

  50. Nathan
    October 11th, 2013 at 13:38 | #50

    @Mel
    I think you meant to say that the trip to Indonesia managed to make some progress smoothing over the grave damage done by the Coalition during its election campaign over asylum seekers (a diplomatic disaster which far overshadows the live export tension). But this involved an extremely humiliating about face by Abbott, proving what we all knew, that the “boat-people” rhetoric was nothing more than a deceitful electoral gambit.

  51. Ikonoclast
    October 11th, 2013 at 14:47 | #51

    @Fran Barlow

    Well, did anyone who actually thought about it doubt that Abbott would make an idiot of himself and a hash of all these issues?

    What I am amazed by is that fact that people vote for Abbott and a few weeks later are having second thoughts. “Opinion polls are already showing the government trailing Labor, even before the election of a new opposition leader.”

    It might have helped if they had thought about matters a little more before the election instead of being led by the nose by the Murdoch media. Too late for second thoughts now. They have let the bull-headed idiot into the China shop, the ASEAN shop and so on.

    And we have Joe Hockey in charge of the economy! Be prepared for an inverted hockey stick as the economy goes into freefall.

  52. Jim Rose
    October 11th, 2013 at 15:41 | #52

    Will palmer united replace labor as the official opposition in qld?

  53. Donald Oats
    October 11th, 2013 at 17:31 | #53

    Abbott made a big deal about establishing a cabinet that consisted of senior members, many of whom had been in the Howard government. Given that is the case, why don’t any of them know the travel allowance rules by now?

    [Okay, rhetorical question, I admit.]

  54. sunshine
    October 11th, 2013 at 18:33 | #54

    It may in reality be a rocky start but I’m afraid that does not mean much until most of old media picks that line up . Ted Balieu was gone 2 days after his first negative front page on the Herald Sun . We are still stuck with this -watch mainstream media for the turning points .

    I would have to say it seems that humans’ attachment to their illusions is also part of their unavoidable fate.

    Ike ;- As you say in a sense they are all we have ,people have lived and died (and everything in between) for them . Whether or not illusions match independently existing reality or not is another question ..

  55. October 11th, 2013 at 22:58 | #55

    @Ikonoclast

    “Quite right hermit. The only factors which will limit CO2 emissions by Australia and by the world will be;
    (a) economic collapse; and/or
    (b) fossil fuel shortages.”

    I can’t agree with this. At some point it will become obvious that we can’t continue emitting CO2 (ok, its already obvious now – but so obvious that governments can’t ignore it). When that happens, I think the reduction of CO2 emissions will prove a lot easier than many think.

    I’m not sure what carbon price will be needed. But it won’t be too high, and provided its increased gradually, the transition from fossil fuel to renewables won’t be too traumatic. I’m not anticipating the end of the world.

  56. Donald Oats
    October 12th, 2013 at 06:26 | #56

    @John Brookes

    When that happens, I think the reduction of CO2 emissions will prove a lot easier than many think.

    That may be, but reversing the effects on a timescale that matters to humans is another matter entirely. The longer we take our sweet time about changing our behaviour, the bigger the risk of environmental changes we can do little to prevent or mitigate.

    The message of the Abbott coalition is of firm denial, with a few platitudes thrown in to persuade the eternal optimists (of the Liberal tradition) to vote for them this time—and it worked. Howard’s team did a lot of damage to Australians’s positive recognition of Kyoto, quite reversing opinion on whether the Kyoto protocol etc was of value, and he did that by conflating it with matters of Australian sovereignty: we should not be subject to (foreign) rules and regulations, etc, was the basic text. Tony Abbott, Nick Minchin, Alexander Downer, Arthur Sinodinos (as strategist), Eric Abetz, George Brandis, Andrew Robb, Sophie Mirabella, and a whole host of other senior members of the party, were responsible for attacking any suggestion that Australians should think carefully about the implications of AGW, and they did this with the entire panoply of standard denialist debating rhetoric. Barnaby Joyce’s only interest is where farmers might be able to make a financial gain from “direct action,” but beyond that he thinks it is a load of bahooey. Then there are the Dennis Jensen and Cory Bernadi hard core denialists within the current manifestation of a Liberal coalition government; it is difficult to see any forward momentum on addressing AGW issues while this lot are in power. In fact, I’d put money on a major reversal in direction, one that unravels stuff that even Howard did.

    Given that Tony Abbott has re-assembled as much of the old team as could be resurrected, and is offering jobs in the wings for those (Liberals) no longer formally in politics, I see little reason to be comfortable with Greg Hunt’s various pronouncements as minister. He may as well be minister for organising chook raffles at the RSL, for all the notice the more senior members will take of him.

    The one bright spot is that renewable energy technology has hit the growth phase in terms of business, and with some luck, that is out of reach of government policy now. Mind you, mucking around with solar panel rebates and electricity revenue for excess returned to the grid, that’s one way of slowing the growth down.

    Obviously I’m very pessimistic about this government’s likely behaviour with respect to doing something significantly positive about AGW, especially as they employed such strong rhetoric against any meaningful action in their previous term in office, and their recent terms in opposition. Still, scientists and (non-libertarian) engineering types will keep on thinking about solutions, even if some pollies refuse to, and that’s something to be cheerful about.

  57. Donald Oats
    October 12th, 2013 at 06:50 | #57

    Okay, this Garry Trudeau cartoon is like a mirror to Aussie politics…

  58. kevin1
    October 12th, 2013 at 07:59 | #58

    @Ikonoclast #48

    Well, did anyone who actually thought about it doubt that Abbott would make an idiot of himself and a hash of all these issues?

    You’re not taking Mel’s channelling of Greg Sheridan’s comment as other than trolling are you?

    I don’t know if it’s been measured somehow but “thinking about it” seems to be overtaken this election by the “anti-politics” of disillusionment, originally tapped by Rudd then seized by Palmer and the micro parties, and I expect to “action man” himself. The post election poll mentioned above suggests a “what have I done?” response the morning after: the primary vote for both Palmer (5.5 to 4%) and the LNP (45.6 to 43.5%) is down significantly, with Greens up (8.6 to 10.5%), but not much for Labor (33.4 to 34%). Those voters who thought a Labor-Green pact was untidy may develop some political maturity from they experiencing what they wished for. Recognition of the urgent need for good governance – and a belief in human agency to re-construct political institutions – is at least a possible outcome.

    On looking at the comments by Abbott’s circle of contemporaries in the issue subsequent to David Marr’s Qrtly Essay, a recurring theme of unbridled aggression and rugged individualism/contrariness appears. Whether the irresistible force of Pell’s Pill can have a non-fractious relationship with the immovable rock of Clive of Queensland is a moot point.

    Actually ton of lard rather than rock may be more appropriate metaphorically as well as visually. I recall a heterodox economist rejecting the mechanical model of the economy in favour of an organic model, using the jellyfish example – when you prod it it may push back rather than yield.

  59. Ikonoclast
    October 12th, 2013 at 08:09 | #59

    @John Brookes

    “At some point it will become obvious that we can’t continue emitting CO2 (ok, its already obvious now – but so obvious that governments can’t ignore it).”

    As you correctly point out, it should be obvious now. Yet, it isn’t apparently. The point where a phenomenon of complex nature and delayed impact becomes “obvious” in the face of active denial and ceaseless propaganda is a point that could be a long way down the metaphorical road yet.

    Then, recognising the changes needed is a different thing from being able to implement the changes. Even for one person, giving up what you are habituated to or addicted to and changing your ways is difficult. Multiply that by 7 billion and add in system bias and system momentum as massively emergent properties and you get an idea of the difficulty.

    One issue we face is the “rate of conversion” problem. Renewable energy requires (now) a large investment of fossil fuel energy up front to fund the renewable infrastucture which in turn has a long energy payback time. Eventually, renewable energy installations should reach a “critical mass” where they will fund (energetically) further expansion in renewable energy. Whilst we squander fossil fuels on items like automobiles, we risk falling below the necessary rate of conversion curve.

    The entire set of calculations are very complex and there are still many unknowns. Have we unleashed dangerous built-in climate change already? Can we safely burn some proportion of the remaining fossil fuel endowment to stay ahead of the rate of conversion curve to set up a sustainable renewable energy system?

    We can’t even agree about climate change. We certainly haven’t been able to get ourselves into a position to cut fossil fuel use. Nobody but a few far-seeing scientists has even raised the rate of conversion problem. That problem is not on any government horizon that I know of.

    Finally, don’t forget the (relatively) enlightened debate about climate change only exists among about the world’s most educated 700 million people. That’s 1/10th of the world population. The other 9/10ths don’t know or don’t have the luxury to think about it in the struggle for daily existence.

  60. Hermit
    October 12th, 2013 at 08:41 | #60

    I’m not sure I agree with the claim emissions reductions will be easy since our recent small decrease was due to several factors some one-off and others with downsides. By my reckoning Australia has about 31 GW of coal fired generation capacity whereas China has 750 GW adding about 2 GW a month. Most of those new Chinese power stations will still be running in 2050. To improve air quality four are to close in the Beijing area to be replaced by gas fired, the gas perhaps bought as LNG from Australia for top dollar. Search China + coal on The Energy Collective.

    Imagine if 2.5 bn people in China and India wanted 20t of per capita emissions like Aussies, or 50 bn tonnes. The world is currently on about 32 bn tonnes of manmade CO2. This is where it may get corrupted by Australian politics. Clive, Gina and Indian interests want to dig new coal areas like the Qld Galilee Basin. Since Clive now has the PUP senators and motoring enthusiasts onside he could fast track Galilee development. It will make Berlusconi look like a saint.

  61. John Quiggin
    October 12th, 2013 at 09:00 | #61

    @Hermit

    China is looking a lot more promising than it did when it was adding 2GW a month. Peak coal might be overoptimistic, but it is at least possible

    http://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-09-12/peak-coal-in-china

  62. Fran Barlow
    October 12th, 2013 at 09:21 | #62

    @Hermit

    whereas China has 750 GW adding about 2 GW a month.

    This is very probably an example of self-serving gross overstatement. This commonly quoted figure comes from Peabody Energy, which is amongst those trying to subvert decarbonisation as it is heavily invested in coal.

    The US Energy Information Association estimated that stationary energy capacity between 1997-2005 frew by about 500MW per week from all sources. In an effort to reduce carbon intensity and improve efficiency (of coal usage since China is a net importer) the National Development and Reform Commission (NRDC) of China announced in 2007 that all new coal plants must replace older plants and that coal plants with a capacity under 50 MW, and 100 MW generators older than 20 years, were to be closed by 2010.

    This document http://w_w__w___.netl.doe.gov/coal/refshelf/ncp.pdf (remove underscores) shows that no new coal plants have (Page 16) have been completed in China this year though some 25GW are under construction. It’s not clear when these plants will be commissioned or how much capacity will be retired. A figure of net capacity growth in coal of about 16% per annum is widely circulated.

    I’m discinlined to make light of the the carbon footprint of China but its growth should not be overstated, particularly when these overstatements are adduced by some (not you, but some) in order to present decarbonisation attempts in the west as futile.

    It’s worth noting that relative to per capita GDP, the Chinese are far more aggressively building low carbon capacity than the leading per-capita polluters and likewise moving to explicitly price carbon emissions more aggressively as well. One should keep in mind that western demand for Chinese manufactured goods is also a very significant factor in the growth of China’s installed capacity. If Australia produced all of the goods imported from China locally, our 20t per person CO2e would be a good deal larger and China’s somewhat lower. Ditto Europe and the US.

  63. Fran Barlow
    October 12th, 2013 at 09:22 | #63

    oops … link mod problem
    @Hermit

    whereas China has 750 GW adding about 2 GW a month.

    This is very probably an example of self-serving gross overstatement. This commonly quoted figure comes from Peabody Energy, which is amongst those trying to subvert decarbonisation as it is heavily invested in coal.

    The US Energy Information Association estimated that stationary energy capacity between 1997-2005 frew by about 500MW per week from all sources. In an effort to reduce carbon intensity and improve efficiency (of coal usage since China is a net importer) the National Development and Reform Commission (NRDC) of China announced in 2007 that all new coal plants must replace older plants and that coal plants with a capacity under 50 MW, and 100 MW generators older than 20 years, were to be closed by 2010.

    This document http://www.netl.doe.gov/coal/refshelf/ncp.pdf shows that no new coal plants have (Page 16) have been completed in China this year though some 25GW are under construction. It’s not clear when these plants will be commissioned or how much capacity will be retired. A figure of net capacity growth in coal of about 16% per annum is widely circulated.

    I’m discinlined to make light of the the carbon footprint of China but its growth should not be overstated, particularly when these overstatements are adduced by some (not you, but some) in order to present decarbonisation attempts in the west as futile.

    It’s worth noting that relative to per capita GDP, the Chinese are far more aggressively building low carbon capacity than the leading per-capita polluters and likewise moving to explicitly price carbon emissions more aggressively as well. One should keep in mind that western demand for Chinese manufactured goods is also a very significant factor in the growth of China’s installed capacity. If Australia produced all of the goods imported from China locally, our 20t per person CO2e would be a good deal larger and China’s somewhat lower. Ditto Europe and the US.

  64. Hermit
    October 12th, 2013 at 09:48 | #64

    I favour an each way bet on China’s noble intentions in case they have a memory lapse. I think Australia, the EU and others should slap a carbon tariff on Chinese made goods . When they lose say 5 bn in annual emissions the tariff can be lifted. Note we seem to be unable to get our own emissions below 0.5 bn tonnes. See the views of Oxford’s Dieter Helm
    http://e360.yale.edu/feature/forget_kyoto_putting_a_tax_on_carbon_consumption/2590/
    It shares the pain because we pay more for Chinese goods they sell less until they radically decarbonise.

    A few observations also cast doubt on China’s sincerity e.g. the dummmy spit over EU airline charges, Shenhua group’s Australian coal plans and Palmer calling his proposed mine ‘China First’. Let’s hope that the view that China will seriously decarbonise is not naive in the way Neville Chamberlain assured Brits in 1938 that Germany was no threat.

  65. Rustbucket
    October 12th, 2013 at 10:27 | #65

    Fran Barlow :@Mel
    … This government is giving early signs of threatening to become the worst post-War Federal regime in Australia’s history — and this despite being composed largely of ministers who held office under Howard.

    Well said Fan. But were the former Howard ministers all that competent. I seem to recall that they were being sacked/resigning at the rate of one every 8 months:

    From Wiki:

    [quote]Ministerial code of conduct[edit]

    …The coalition campaigned on a policy of “clean government”[18] as a contrast to the previous government. A “Code of Ministerial Conduct”[19] was introduced in fulfilment of this pledge. The code required ministers to divest shares in portfolios that they oversaw and to be truthful in parliament.[18] The code eventually led to seven cabinet ministers resigning following breach of the code. Jim Short and Brian Gibson both resigned in October 1996[20] as both held shares in companies that were within their ministerial portfolios.[18] Bob Woods resigned in February 1997 over questionable ministerial expense claims.[21] Geoff Prosser resigned in July 1997 following the disclosure that he was a shopping centre landlord whilst he was responsible for commercial tenancy provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1975.[22] John Sharp,[23] David Jull[24] and Peter McGauran[21][25] resigned in September 1997 over irregularities in the use of ministerial travel allowances in what became known in the media as the “Travel Rorts Affair”.[26][27][28] John Moore and Warwick Parer survived revelations about his shareholdings.[28] Parer however was not reappointed to the Second Howard Ministry.[29] In early 1999, the government announced that ministers would no longer be required to divest themselves of shareholdings.[29]
    [/quote]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Government

  66. Jim Rose
    October 12th, 2013 at 10:47 | #66

    @Donald Oats when is an MP off-duty? how many invitations sent and events attended are in their private capacities?

    why did this beat-up after the election and not before when both sides stood to lose votes?

    if a polictican did not attend a wedding of a fellow party member, would that not start leadership speculation?

  67. Vegetarian
    October 12th, 2013 at 11:33 | #67

    @Ikonoclast
    The trouble is, travel rorts is something the average voter can understand and relate to. Those other issues need explaining, something the soundbite age doesn’t allow.

  68. October 12th, 2013 at 15:43 | #68

    Ikonoclast, your wrote that nine tenths of the world’s population are unaware or don’t have the luxury to think about global warming in the daily struggle for existence. Going by GDP the richest 20 countries of over a million people and their populations are:

    Quatar 2,000,000
    Norway 5,000,000
    Singapore 5,300,000
    Switerland 8,000,000
    United States 316,000,000
    Kuwait 2,700,000
    Australia 23,200,000
    Austria 8,400,000
    Ireland 4,600,000
    Netherlands 16,800,000
    Sweden 9,600,000
    Canada 33,500,000
    Denmark 5,600,000
    United Arab Emirates 8,300,000
    Germany 80,400,000
    Belgium 11,000,000
    Finland 5,400,000
    UK 63,200,000
    France 66,000,000
    Japan 126,600,000

    That’s over 800,000,000 people right there. So in your opinion are Italians and New Zealanders engaged in a daily struggle for existence?

  69. October 12th, 2013 at 17:46 | #69

    @Hermit

    When I say emissions reductions will be easy, I mean that once we have the will to do it, it won’t drive us back into the dark ages. Look at what countries have achieved when put on a war footing. If you had proposed to the British back in 1935 that they achieve what they did in WWII, you would have been laughed at. But once the necessity was there, they achieved it.

    Admittedly, it may already be too late, but there is absolutely no point taking that view without a lot of evidence to back it up.

    We have a society built on cheap energy. It is *really* cheap. If I hop on a bicycle, I can output 200 watts for 30 minutes, and then I’ll be exhausted. That amount of energy costs around 3 cents. If we move to currently available renewable energy sources that might cost 10 cents (there are all sorts of figures bandied about, and its hard to choose one because of the need to compare apples with apples). But I’m pretty sure that technological improvements will mean that emission free power will soon be a similar price to coal generated power – even without including the externalities of coal generated power.

    Of course it will be a big change, and change is always painful. But I suspect it will end up being a lot less painful than adjusting to dramatic rises in temperature, changes in rainfall patterns and rises in sea level. Although we will have to put up with the rises in sea level, because they are already locked in for a few hundred years 🙁

  70. Donald Oats
    October 12th, 2013 at 20:05 | #70

    @Jim Rose
    By your logic, Peter Slipper was not off-duty when attending the wineries that resulted in some of the trouble he is in now. That news story broke before the last election. [The alleged cab charge alterations are a different matter, and I’m not talking about that aspect of the trouble Peter Slipper is in.]

  71. Donald Oats
    October 12th, 2013 at 20:19 | #71

    @John Brookes
    As someone who doesn’t own a car and uses a bike, I agree that the potential for people to reduce emissions rapidly is there. I am also encouraged by the recent re-biking of the Adelaide CBD, a long time coming. It is unfortunate that a city council, a couple of decades ago, decided they didn’t like all those pesky bikes in the CBD, and retailers objected to having bike racks taking up valuable estate, such as car park spaces; the bike racks were removed (by stealth, and over time). The effect was fairly significant for the CBD, unless you were at uni and could use their bike rack huts. Hard to use a bike for shopping, if there is nowhere legal to lock it up.

    So while change in the right direction is possible and could even occur fairly rapidly, it can also be undone quite rapidly. There is a constant tug of war between one and the other. Currently, the business at all costs brigade is in the lodge, so we can expect significant deleterious and petulant attacks upon things like bike culture in the cities, or renewable energy, protection of environment and wildlife, or climate change mitigating actions. I want to be proven wrong, and in a big way, but the evidence so far is 180 degrees out of phase with what I wish for in Australia.

    I do agree that we have to keep trying to make changes though, and to keep trying to convince people to join in. The alternative looks like a lot less fun in the long run.

  72. Hermit
    October 12th, 2013 at 21:41 | #72

    @John Brookes
    I think the WWII analogy is apt because it may be a 1940s level of energy use we have to go back to when coal, oil and gas are unavailable or restricted. The West’s middle classes use about 5 kilowatts each of continuous direct and indirect power consumption or 125 kwh per day. That’s commendable riding a pushbike with 200 watts of leg power but the reality is only a minority can rely on that in practical terms. Hence the preference or unavoidable need for 100,000 watt automobiles. Ditto food supply, heating, cooling, entertainment, holiday travel and so on.

    Absent an energy storage breakthrough I don’t believe wind and solar can supply our energy needs with palatable demand management nor supply the silicon, steel, cement and plastics to replace themselves. If it means short term price increases I think we can say that Sept 7 was in effect a referendum on that. The evidence from emissions increasing Germany appears to be that wind and solar have strongly diminishing returns after about 25% combined penetration. Therefore high renewables proposals such as that by AEMO and others must lack political realism in their assumptions. In short we’ll need something besides (as well as) wind, solar and efficiency to replace fossil fuels.

  73. Alan
    October 13th, 2013 at 05:41 | #73

    @Donald Oats

    Even accepting Jim’s contention that LNP weddings are a rerun of an episode of The Tudors, when did preserving your leadership posiiton became a public duty that requires public funding?

  74. kevin1
    October 13th, 2013 at 08:51 | #74

    JQ at his OP said “Labor needs to use the time in opposition to break with the low-tax rhetoric of the past, and work out a coherent plan to increase revenue. In practice, there’s no real chance of increasing the rate or coverage of GST, so the options will have to come on the income tax side. ”

    I suspect a wider extension of the GST to be more politically palatable than higher income tax scales. A GST boost is not a Canberra “black hole” and has the big selling point that state govts are becoming starved for revenue again, with negative implications for services and infrastructure funding.

    Anyway, I don’t see why political taboos and fear-based bogeys should be allowed to dispel rationality in economic policy discussions, especially as we now have substantial GST experience and data to inform them. For example, I recall that the cafe/restaurant industry was going to be decimated, yet it has gone the other way bigtime.

    While the OECD and others want to raise the rate, it would be interesting to estimate the revenue effects of an extension at the 10% rate to cover the current exemptions including fresh food, health and education. Exemptions exist for small non-profits and could be continued.

    Has there been a substantial discussion on the GST issue at this blog in recent times? Vested business and ruling class interests have their own agenda but some points of relevance to this blog are:

    1. despite its recent growth being less than expected it is still a less volatile tax source

    2. traditionally seen as having much lower compliance/collection costs compared to income and company tax (an 80s trope was about wiping out “bottom of the harbour” schemes and the cash economy – I wonder how easy evasion is now)

    3. a growth tax, yet with a procyclical element, reflecting national private expenditure.

    4. the regressive aspect should be capable of being largely offset by design as when introduced in 2000. In his recent Battlers and Billionaires, Andrew Leigh reports ambiguity on which way taxation progressivity has gone over the past decade, but the “great divergence” between the bottom and the top has occurred, as elsewhere. Estimates of the regressive aspect need to factor in that high income people buy more of everything which moderates it.

    5. But looking at the application of tax revenues, wasn’t GST a huge contributor to education and health expansion over the last decade? And do I recall correctly from George Megalogenis’s articles of a year ago that most households in Australia pay no net tax, when inward cash transfers are included?

    6. Struggling areas like manufacturing are disadvantaged by the existing price distortions, compared to health and education which are growth areas.

  75. October 13th, 2013 at 11:26 | #75

    John Brookes, renewable energy is already cheaper than coal or natural gas. Using a discount rate of 5% the new Macarthur wind farm in Victoria produces electricity for about 6 cents a kilowatt-hour and the Snowtown II windfarm under construction in South Australia will produce electricity for about 5 cents a kilowatt-hour. This is less than the cost of new coal or gas capacity. Even cheaper is rooftop solar as it competes with the retail price of electricity rather than the wholesale price and it is the cheapest source of electricity available to Australian households and many businesses. Currently home and business energy storage is now around $500 per kilowatt-hour of capacity for low maintenance chemistries which means that with a 5% discount rate the cost of storage is now under 20 cents a kilowatt-hour which is around the point where people with an eight cent a kilowatt-hour solar feed-in tariff will start making money from installing it.

    So cutting our emissions is not particularly expensive, it’s really just a matter of how many more people are we comfortable with killing through inaction before we bother to do something.

  76. October 13th, 2013 at 19:32 | #76

    @Ronald Brak

    It can’t actually be cheaper. Because if it was, we would only be building wind farms. I’m a fan of renewables, but if it was that simple, we’d have already done it.

    There is also the ITER project to make fusion power a reality. One way or another, we’ll replace fossil fuels in the next 30 years.

    And its worth noting that we won’t be cutting our individual energy consumption much to do it. Its just that the energy will be generated without emissions.

  77. October 13th, 2013 at 23:55 | #77

    Here is what the apparently “Socialist Left” Alan Griffin secretly told the CIA about his selling out of a long time mate (at his funeral – classy) to appease the extreme right, presumably:

    In light of the current asylum seeker challenge in
    Australia, which he believes will not be an election issue
    for the Rudd government, Griffin relayed a story about the
    funeral of one of his long-time friends of Tamil extraction.
    Griffin was asked to speak at the funeral and only noticed
    when he approached the coffin that it was draped in the Tamil
    Tiger flag. He quickly modified his televised speech,
    acknowledging that he and his friend had a long-term
    friendship, but “often disagreed.” Griffin also noted the
    disturbing possibility of Tamil Tiger members being among
    Tamil asylum seekers destined for Australia.

    Any questions about why I have nothing but deep contempt for the faux-left ALP?

  78. Hermit
    October 14th, 2013 at 10:05 | #78

    @Ronald Brak
    I think wind power prices should add the LGC subsidy currently about 3.4c per kwh. I accept that at some point unsubsidised new wind will always be cheaper than combined cycle gas as the gas price continues to escalate. However there must be enough standby on-demand generation capacity or energy storage to cover protracted lulls. Rather than dictating the percentage of wind and solar we should just have a CO2 cap and reserve margin rules and let the players sort it out.

    I can’t see home batteries getting to anywhere near the numbers of rooftop PV owners. There may be no rebates years from now. New designs would have to be wall mounted not require floorspace in a locked shed. I know formerly cashed up people living off-grid who bought a battery bank and now don’t have the $20k to replace it. Like owners of heated swimming pools I expect urban battery users will be few and far between. I doubt it is practical to charge an electric car and also use it as a home battery.

  79. October 14th, 2013 at 13:38 | #79

    Hermit, do you think the tax on cigarettes makes cigarettes cheaper to produce?

  80. kevin1
    October 14th, 2013 at 19:36 | #80

    @Megan

    Any questions about why I have nothing but deep contempt for the faux-left ALP?

    Yes, I have a couple of questions.

    1. Referencing your source is especially important here, so who reported this and what were the circumstances? eg. was it a CIA source (their truthfulness you wouldn’t trust in a fit otherwise, but here it suits what you want to believe). And do you feel any reservations about intruding your interpretations on an event (where I presume you weren’t present), and involving a complicated personal relationship (which I presume you have no firsthand knowledge about.)

    2. according to your judgement about Griffin, this incident somehow implicates the “faux left ALP” as guilty by association – Plibersek, Albanese, who else? Come on, name names or tell us what their “sins” are. Are they also part of a grand CIA conspiracy against Australia?

    Do you acknowledge that this mode of attack is ugly – the politics of smear? You should put up some evidence or withdraw.

    Now, if you really want to attack the ALP (and I do), here are some issues for comment:

    1. it’s been reported that Albanese never aimed to be a serious contender, but this was a “show trial” to get media attention, demonstrate unity, galvanise the party; hmm, maybe true.

    2. Bracks on telly tonight talked about how the process was a stimulus to internal party democracy – what a revelation! Hey Steve: pushing for action on your 2010 report (with Faulkner and Carr) might have brought it on earlier (but the party is full of followers not leaders).

    3. Shorten’s role as the kingmaker in Aust politics – Rudd, then Gillard (and the GG if he chose). And what happened to the LGBT representation? Playing to the internal membership for vote harvesting? We won’t see that idea again.

  81. October 14th, 2013 at 23:54 | #81

    @kevin1

    1. Source is Wikileaks cables (of course they only tell us what faceless men told them – doesn’t mean it’s true, Griffin may have made it up to impress his perceived US masters. Doesn’t really make it any better for the stooges, does it?).

    2. I see you decline to cite a credible source for the Albanese stuff (Mind you, search Albanese in the cables! “It has been reported” is usually code for “Rupert says”).

    3. You want to “attack” straw persons, not the ALP or any other power structure.

    4. You incorrectly use quotation marks when referencing my comment. The ALP, in its entirety is “faux left”, not just some pretend grouping within it.

    Unless I’ve got you completely wrong, I accept that you are the most rusted on of ALP supporters – it might be that you want your team to be better than it is.

    I despise both ALP/LNP based on their track records. I have no historical link or sentimental attachment to either of them. That may make me unfortunate or lucky. Who really cares? I refuse to perpetuate a failed system and I am free from ideological shackles.

  82. kevin1
    October 15th, 2013 at 15:45 | #82

    @Megan
    I saw this secondhand gossip about Griffin as being possibly unfair to him, and certainly inadequate to judge the ALP: “any stick to beat a brown dog” just because you despise them can be below the belt. However I admit being a bit excessive myself at times, so best I just shut up now.

    I’m not rusted on Labor, though there are times when the left criticism goes too far IMO, and a false equivalence is made. I’ve just been reading Troy Bramston’s 2011 book Looking for the Light on the Hill, and he interviews Karl Bitar soon after he left the ALP Nat Sec job. Bitar says he worked with 100 ministers and the system promotes risk-aversion, lack of controversy and marching to the official drumbeat which is no surprise I guess. The system dumbs down and wears out smart people often of high principle, and Labor is unlikely to change it. So often people in political life seem to take the truth drug after they step down when it’s too late, not when they’re doing the job and can change things!

  83. October 19th, 2013 at 01:26 | #83

    This probably belongs in a “Weekend Reflections” or “Sandpit”, but here will have to do.

    The “Bikie” “laws” are astounding. Nobody in the bland world gives a flying hoot, but these laws criminalise everyone for anything at the whim of the executive. I’m not being a weirdo, this is extremely serious. The laws (and the myriad amendments to several dozen other Acts) mean that any group of 3 people can be declared criminal and any of them deemed to be some kind of leader MUST be jailed for an extra 25 years if they commit one of the crimes chosen by the executive.

    Jarrod Bleije did not draft these extreme laws by himself. Several test phases have been run through the High Court to get to this version, MK III (?).

    In essence, this will be applied to CSG protesters, anti-austerity protesters, first nations activists, “occupy” protesters, environmentalists and so on.

    The Qld Police are already shaking down anyone with tattoos, a history of riding motorcycles and many other groups (some serious googling will throw up examples).

    This is absolutely terrifying for democracy in this state.

    Of course, the ALP “Opposition” (all 7 of them – as if it would have killed them to take a stand) wholeheartedly saluted and proudly backed Newman’s draconian laws this week. Without a squeak. Without even demanding a pretend shred of proper oversight.

    The ALP’s gripe was that the laws weren’t as harsh as they would like!

    Before attacking my comment, do what I’ve done and read the entire Hansard from Tuesday.

    You ALP supporters make me sick.

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