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Some unsolicited advice on equal marriage

August 20th, 2017 33 comments

I’ve seen quite a number of church leaders making statements in support of a No response to the Turnbull government’s ABS survey on equal marriage. In nearly every case, there isn’t much of an argument on the merits of why the state should enforce their views about marriage. Rather, they express concerns that, if equal marriage is allowed, they will be forced to conduct marriages, or to employ members of same-sex married couples.

This seems like a nonsense to me. If that is the real concern, the obvious answer is to support a bill in the current Parliament that allows equal marriage but entrenches the right of the churches to discriminate in this way. That’s a compromise that would almost certainly be accepted, and once in place, would be hard to change. What government, having reached a compromise that more-or-less satisfies everyone would want to reopen the can of worms?

On the other hand, suppose that the survey yields a No response thanks to the advocacy of the churches, or even worse, there’s a Yes majority in the survey but the LNP right blocks legislation? Then, when Labor gets in, there’s no obvious reason to make concessions to a group who’ve shown themselves to be implacable opponents in any case.

Speaking more generally, it’s obvious that (nominal) Christians are going to be a minority of the Australian population quite soon, and, quite possibly, a small minority in a few decades. So, it would make good sense for the churches to dissociate themselves from people like Kevin Donnelly and Lyle Shelton who argue that the majority (currently Christian) should be able to impose their views on the minority. A whole-hearted commitment to strict governmental neutrality in matters of religion would make much more strategic sense.

Update I just saw that George Brandis made the same point. Not sure what I think about that.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Most Australians ineligible for Parliament?

July 26th, 2017 76 comments

A few weeks ago, I commented adversely on challenges by the ALP to the eligibility of government minister David Gillespie to sit in Parliament, on the basis that he owned a block of shops one of which was leased to an Australia Post branch. Since then, we’ve seen the resignations from Parliament of Greens Senators Ludlum and Waters, and from Cabinet of Senator Canavan. Eligiblity of others remains in question. This has led me to change my view. Instead of trying to make the best of this disastrous system, we should do away with it by constitutional amendment. The only way to make this happen is to enforce the existing provisions in their full absurdity.

According to the ABC, 49 per cent of Australians were born overseas or had a parent born overseas. Add to that everyone employed in the public sector “an office of profit under the Crown”, or who does business with the Commonwealth, and it’s conceivable that a majority of Australians are ineligible to run for election to Parliament. And, while Antony Green thinks it unlikely that pensioners are ineligible, the report he quotes says “However, the meaning of the phrase is not absolutely clear and there are divergent views about its effect.” Speaking personally, although I’ve never seriously considered running for election, I’d also never considered the possibility that, as an academic and ARC Fellow, I’d be ineligible. But it appears that I may be.

Of course, there are steps that can be taken to fix this problem for any individal, but we need a systemic solution.

Obviously, the authors of our Constitution never intended any of this. At the time, there was no separate Australian citizenship, so any British subjec was eligible, which would have solved the problems faced by Ludlum and Waters. And the public sector was much smaller, so the other constraints weren’t nearly as problematic. Age pensions hadn’t been introduced, so the provision against pensioners was meant to exclude personal pensions, granted by the monarch direclty

On the other hand, while the framers guarded against the sources of corruption evident to them, they never anticipated the problems we have now. It’s OK for political parties to be in hock to foreign donors, for someone who has renounced his Australian citizenship to control most of our media, and for careerist politicians to start out as hack staffers, give out favors in office, and cash them out afterwards. But if you don’t do the paperwork to cancel potential citizenship in a country you’ve never seen, you’re out on your ear.

At this point, the situation is so bad that “worse is better”. The best outcome would be for another dozen or two members of Parliament, from all parties, to be thrown out. Then we might get the unanimous support we would need to fix the absurdities of Section 44. Of course, that wouldn’t do anything about the real problems, but at least we would be free of this anti-democratic nonsense.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Are the Nationals a political party?

July 15th, 2017 15 comments

I’ve made this point before, but I’m constantly reading articles about the rising share of “protest” votes going to “minor parties” in which the set of minor parties excludes the National Party. The reason is, of course, that the Nationals are a long-established party which, with a few state-level exceptions, operates in permanent coalition with the Liberals.

But, for all practical purposes, the same is true of the Greens. Roughly speaking, Labor and the Greens are in the position the Liberals and Nationals (and previously the Country Party) were for most of the 20th century. They fight three-cornered contests, often bitterly, and do a lot of agonising about preference swaps, coalitions and so on. But, when push comes to shove in terms of forming governments, they almost always line up together, whether in a coalition, with a formal agreement, or with informal support.

The most important difference between the two is that the Greens get more votes from a wider range of electorates. The difference that drives the spurious analysis of “protest parties” is that the coalition between Labor and the Greens is less formal and more fractious than that between the Liberals and Nationals.

If you count Labor and the Greens as a coalition, then the rise of protest parties in Australia appears primarily as a crackup of the political right. We’ve seen a profusion of rightwing protest parties, with only
the Xenophon group in the centre, and nothing much at all on the left. That differs from the situation in some other countries, where social democratic parties have embraced austerity and collapsed (Greece, Netherlands) or where the established leadership has been pushed aside (UK and possibly soon US also). I have some ideas about this, but I’ll have to write about them later.

But, coming back to the main point, a consistent analysis should treat both the Nationals and Greens as minor parties, or else neither of them.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Not the way to bring down a government

July 7th, 2017 31 comments

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Labor is launching court action with the objective of having a government minister disqualified from holding his seat in Parliament.

The opposition believes Assistant Health Minister David Gillespie may have an indirect financial interest in the Commonwealth – grounds for disqualification from office under section 44(v) of the constitution [which bans anyone who “has any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth”

As revealed by Fairfax Media in February, the Nationals MP owns a small suburban shopping complex at in Port Macquarie and one of the shops is an outlet of Australia Post – a government-owned corporation.

This is an absurd technicality, and I hope the High Court throws the case out. The Parliament is full of people on both sides whose main interest in holding office is in building up contacts for their future careers as lobbyists, bank sinecurists or both. If we can’t do something about this disgraceful situation, the idea of disqualifying someone for an obviously honest transaction with no potential for corruption adds insult to injury.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

A Potemkin HQ? (updated)

June 23rd, 2017 10 comments

A few weeks ago, Queensland Premier Palaszczuk and Adani’s Australian head, Jeyakumar Janakaraj opened the company’s new Regional Headquarters in Townsville. It was announced that “Townsville will benefit from about 500 jobs in Adani’s regional headquarters and about half of those should happen within weeks”. “Within weeks” can mean anything, I guess but the obvious interpretation is that things ought to be happening about now.

If so, it’s hard to detect from afar.

Update A Townsville reader informs me that Adani’s sign is still adorning its new HQ, though it’s unclear whether there’s anything more than a sign. Also, Adani has reannounced a jobs portal that has been up on its website since January.
Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Indigenous rights and the Adani Project

June 22nd, 2017 5 comments

As a part of my work on the Adani mine-rail-port project, I’ve been providing economic input to a project with Kristen Lyons and Morgan Brigg at UQ aimed at supporting the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Family Council (W&J) in their attempts to assert control over their traditional land. So far we’ve produced an initial report, a summary of which has appeared in The Conversation.

My general aim in this work is to examine more sustainable economic models than coal mining for both indigenous and non-indigenous people in the North Queensland region. More on this soon, I hope.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Adani outmanoeuvres Palaszczuk

May 22nd, 2017 28 comments

The eagerness with which the Adani board announced an indefinite deferral of the Carmichael mine project today speaks for itself. As has long been conjectured by everyone with an understanding of the hopeless economics of this project, Adani has been looking for an excuse to walk away and blame government obstruction. Not only do they get to defer writing off the billion or more they have already invested, but there is the prospect of extracting some kind of compensation. At worst, they have a story to tell the financial markets in India that’s a bit more appealing than “we bought a worthless asset at the top of the market”.

The Palaszczuk government’s mishandling of Adani’s bid for a royalties holiday gave the company the excuse it needed. Until now, the government had bent over backward to avoid appearing obstructive, while holding the line on putting in no financial support. If they had stuck to that when the holiday idea was floated, all would have been well. As it is, they are likely to bear the blame for Adani’s mistakes.

In the broader scheme of things, the outcome is, of course, a good one. There was always the remote chance that Adani might push ahead with the scheme, and now that appears to be dead. But the political cost to Queensland Labor will be huge.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Mindboggled

May 16th, 2017 39 comments

I’ve never been a fan of Senator David Leyonjhelm, but even so, I find it hard to believe he made the mindbogglingly absurd statement attributed to him by today’s Oz. Accusing Bill Shorten of a $1.85 billion black hole in relation to his policy of keeping the levy on high-income earners,

But Liberal Democratic senator David Leyonhjelm yesterday called out the Labor costings as disingenuous. He said it was “misleading budgeting” because Labor had no way of extending the deficit levy from opposition.

Say what? On this basis, no Opposition should ever announce policy of any kind. And of course, that goes many times over for members of fringe parties that have no chance of ever forming a government. I’ll be interested to see if he claims to have been misquoted.

Regardless, Leyonjhelm is one of a stream of regrettable politicians to be drawn from the ranks of the Institute of Public Affairs (IIRC, some even worse possibilities were derailed by racist indiscretions on social media). I won’t name names, instead repeating my possibly unhelpful endorsement of Chris Berg as the only person associated with the IPA for whom I have any intellectual respect.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Oz Politics Tags:

Keating on the end of market liberalism

May 11th, 2017 25 comments

Among the 29 people to hold the office of Prime Minister in Australia, Paul Keating is probably the one with the sharpest intellect[1]. So, his abandonment of market liberalism is worth noting.

Read more…

Categories: Economics - General, Oz Politics Tags:

Reciprocating Hanson’s boycott

March 27th, 2017 91 comments

Apparently, Pauline Hanson and One Nation are refusing to vote for any government legislation until the government intervenes on the side of canegrowers in a dispute with millers and marketers*

Coincidentally, I was considering the question of how to deal with Hanson’s presence in the Senate and came up with the opposite way of implementing the current situation. The major parties should refuse Hanson’s support, and should show this by having four Senators abstain on any bill where One Nation supports their side. Obviously, this isn’t going to happen with the LNP. However rude they may be about Hanson and other ONP members when they say something particularly appalling, ONP is effectively part of the coalition and is being treated as such.

But for Labor, I think the case for shunning One Nation is strong. The arguments for a complete rejection of One Nation’s racism are obvious. The costs would be

(i) In votes where Xenophon went with the LNP and Hanson with Labor and the Greens, this would turn a win into a loss (I think – can someone check)

(ii) Open hostility to One Nation would probably shift some ONP voters to change their second preferences

I don’t think either of these points have a lot of weight. But the self-styled Labor “hardheads” whose brilliant moves have included putting Family First into Parliament and abolishing optional preferential voting in Queensland, just when would help Labor most, will doubtless disagree.

* These disputes have been going on for decades, reflecting the fact that, because sugarcane is costly to transport, growers are very limited in their choice of mills, and millers similarly depend on a relatively small number of growers to keep them in business.. I haven’t looked into the merits of this one

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Turning the corner

March 25th, 2017 59 comments

Obviously, climate policy in Australia is not going well. In the US, the Trump Administration is keen to reverse the progress made under Obama. Yet for the planet as a whole, the news hasn’t been better for a long time. And there is every reason to hope that Trump and Turnbull will fail on this, and on much else.

Two big pieces of good news this week

* For the third year in a row, global carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector have remained nearly stable, despite continued economic growth.
* Large-scale cancellations in China and elsewhere have greatly reduced the number of proposed coal-fired power plants

A lot more needs to happen, but with the cost of renewables steadily falling and awareness of the health and climate costs spreading, there’s every reason to hope that the decarbonization of electricity supply will happen more rapidly than anyone expected. After that, the big challenge is to electrify transport. The technology is there, so this is mostly a matter of renewed political will.

Read more…

Categories: Environment, Oz Politics Tags:

My resignation from the Climate Change Authority

March 23rd, 2017 45 comments

Earlier today, I wrote to Josh Frydenberg, the Minister for Energy and Environment, resigning as a Member of the Climate Change Authority. Mine is the third recent resignation: Clive Hamilton resigned in February, and Danny Price a couple of days ago. There’s a story in the Guardian here. My resignation statement is over the fold.

Read more…

Categories: Environment, Oz Politics Tags:

Minor parties?

March 19th, 2017 19 comments

Continuing on the coalition theme, there’s been a rash of articles (this is representative) worrying about the rise of “minor parties” to secure 25 per cent of the vote. All of these articles are premised on the definitional assumption that the Greens (a well-established party with about 10 per cent of the vote, in a longstanding but fractious alliance with Labor) are a minor party, while the Nationals (a well-established party with about 5 per cent of the vote, in a longstanding but fractious alliance with the Liberals) are not. In most of these articles, the Nationals are just lumped in with the Liberals (even though they have broken with them in several states at different times) but in some they are accorded major party status.

These articles reflect the longstanding prejudices of the press gallery in favor of majority governments their horror of “hung Parliaments” and their continued belief in a “mandate” theory of government. , Speculating a bit, I guess it’s easier to work on the basis of insider information from ministers, and to a lesser extent, shadow ministers than in a context where authority is much more widely distributed.

In any case, while the idea of an upsurge in “minor party” support is dubious, the gallery is right to think that something has changed. I’m planning a proper analysis, based on my “three party system” model, before too long.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Privatisation as electoral poison

March 15th, 2017 35 comments

Twitter is not a very useful medium for sustained debate. I’ve discovered this in the course of a rather strange interchange with Peter Brent (the psephblogger known as Mumble) and Piping Shrike, a pseudonymous blogger. These are both commentators I generally respect, but they are making a case that I find unbelievable. I made what I thought was the unexceptionable point that the proposed privatisation of Western Power was a central issue in the recent WA election, pointing to the polling evidence cited in the post below

In response it was claimed (if I’ve interpreted the tweets correctly that such polling evidence is useless and that privatisation has never been a central issue, not even in the Queensland elections which saw the Bligh and Newman governments successively turfed out with huge swings. Mumble asserted that these results reflected hostility to the national governments of the same party.

I’ll open this one up to readers, and invite comments from Mumble and Shrike.

What do people think about the substantive claim here. Am I wrong in thinking that, in the many election campaigns ostensibly dominated by privatisation, the fact that the pro-privatisation side has almost invariably lost is a mere coincidence. In particular, were the huge swings in Queensland mainly due to other factors?

What kind of evidence counts? I’ve cited extensive polling evidence on the unpopularity of privatisation, but Mumble and Shrike have both dismissed this?

I’ve said my piece, so I’ll sit back for a while and let others discuss this if they choose to.

Also, if someone knows how to storify the Twitter exchange and can be bothered doing so, I’d be very grateful

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

It’s Time?

March 13th, 2017 26 comments

One of the odder claims about the Liberals’ electoral debacle in WA is that the “It’s Time” factor played a major role. Readers of a certain age will recall that Gough Whitlam used this slogan to suggest that, after 23 years and (by my memory) nine election victories, the LNP Coalition had been in office too long.

The Barnett government in WA had served only two terms. There have been a fair few one-term and two-term governments in recent history, as you would expect on the general assumption that both parties in an election have some chance of winning.

On the other hand, there have been plenty of governments running four or more terms (Howard and Hawke-Keating at the national level, Labor everywhere but Victoria and NT (three terms in each case). The only time I’ve heard the It’s Time story invoked was that of Howard. In all the other cases, the incumbent government’s defeat has been attributed (correctly, I think) to specific causes, such as asset sales. Does the “It’s Time” explanation only work for conservative governments?

Update: Unusually, there is some polling evidence on this. Around 27 per cent of respondents cited “It’s Time” as a factor, slightly outnumbered by those who cited privatisation.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

How to get a nice, highly paid job in a bank

March 2nd, 2017 8 comments

In the last week or so, two former state premiers, Anna Bligh and Mike Baird have been appointed to highly paid jobs in the banking sector. In both cases there was some peripheral controversy. In Bligh’s case, some Liberals, including Scott Morrison, apparently felt that such jobs should be reserved for their side of politics. In Baird’s case, it was the fact that he took the bogus claim to be “spending more time with his family” to new extremes, giving lots of details on family problems and then deciding that six weeks was quite enough time to spend dealing with them.

These controversies obscured the key qualification held by Bligh and Baird for their new jobs; both had greatly enriched the banking sector by pushing through unpopular privatisations. Others enjoying similar rewards include Paul Keating (advisor to Lazard Freres), Alan Stockdale (Macquarie Bank) and Nick Greiner (too many to lost). By contrast, opponents of privatisation rarely find cushy jobs like this flowing their way. Of course, there’s no direct quid pro quo here. The banks and organizations offering the jobs aren’t, in general, the ones that collected fees from the particular privatisations in question. It’s rather that, politicians who are nice to the banking sector are well regarded, and eventually well rewarded, by that sector.

With such an incentive structure in place, it’s hardly surprising that privatisation is never far from the top of the political agenda, despite its extreme unpopularity with Australian voters.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Easytax redux redux

February 13th, 2017 29 comments

I got a brief run in the Murdoch press regarding Pauline Hanson’s revived proposal for a 2 per cent tax on all transactions (floated 20 years ago as “Easytax“). I was reported as follows: “University of Queensland school of economics professor John Quiggin said a 2 per cent tax would destroy small business and see a collapse in government ­revenue.” and the story was headlined “One Nation policy would ‘collapse the economy’” The headline is an exaggeration, but the quoted passage gets my opinion right.

Easytax is an example of a “cascade” tax, common in Europe a century or so ago. The point is that the tax rate is applied to the whole value of each transaction along the chain from primary producer to consumer. For a big firm, like Woolworths, the answer is simple: integrate backwards along the chain by taking over your suppliers. Then you pay the tax only once at 2 per cent. Small businesses, who can’t do this, end up paying the tax themselves, on goods that have already been taxed many times. So, they go out of business, and the total value of transactions falls far below the level used in the original calculation that a 2 per cent tax would be sufficient. Hence, government revenue collapses.

It was precisely because this process was happening that the French (the innovators in this field) dumped the cascade tax in favor of a value-added tax (VAT), the same model used in the GST. They were followed by the rest of the EU and then most of the world, except the US, which still relies on retail sales tax (levied only once, but still messy and narrowly-based).

The story also says “A spokesman for Senator Hanson said she had only advocated investigating the policy.” But the fact that such a nonsense idea is still part of One Nation thinking gives the lie to the suggestion of Hanson’s coalition partners in the LNP that this iteration of One Nation is different from the last. It’s just as racist and ignorant as ever. It’s not Hanson that has changed, but the LNP which is now indistinguishable from One Nation.

Trumpism in Australia (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

February 6th, 2017 37 comments

I’ve had this post in draft for a while, not entirely satisfied with it, but on the rare occasion of Australia making the front pages of US papers I thought I should post it on Crooked Timber ready or not. It’s for an international, largely US audience, but readers here might be interested. I posted it just before the apparent confirmation that Bernardi will Bolt.

After the cataclysm of Trump’s election, quite a few US-based friends asked me about moving to Australia. I had, as they say, good news and bad news. First, the bad news. Over the last few years, Australia has had no less than four Trumpist political parties, two of which currently form the government. We may yet get a fifth. The goods news is that, in most respects, they have been surprisingly ineffectual. That’s, partly because of constraints in our political system and partly because of the inherent limits of Trumpist politics.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

“White, heterosexual Christian” isn’t an identity?

January 30th, 2017 24 comments

At the Oz, Paul Kelly has a piece headlined’ http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/paul-kelly/donald-trumps-election-a-rejection-of-identity-politics/news-story/147b11c08b64702d3f9be1821416cb72. This is bizarre, given that Trump’s appeal was obviously directed at white, heterosexual Christians upset that the US is no longer being run entirely by and for people like them.

In a sense, it now is. Trump’s Cabinet, like the Republican party as a whole, is overwhelmingly reflective of the identity politics of a former majority unwilling to adjust to the reality that it is now a minority. The vagaries and the biases of the electoral system have given this minority a lot of power, but it is fragile and tenuous. It’s precisely this fragility that is giving Trump’s brand of identity politics its ferocity.

Of course, Kelly’s unstated premise is that “white, heterosexual Christian” isn’t an identity, it’s just the norm against which deviant identities are defined. This is on a level with the kind of low-grade bigot who uses the term “ethnics” to describe people of all ethnicities other than Anglo-Celtic.

Categories: #Ozfail, Oz Politics Tags:

The TPP fiasco

January 26th, 2017 19 comments

Until now, I thought of Malcolm Turnbull as clever but weak, unwilling to challenge the right wing of his party even as they drive his government into the ground. But his handling of the Trans-Pacific Partnership over the last week has left me with the impression that he doesn’t have a clue.

To recap, it’s been obvious for a long time that the TPP was in serious trouble. Both candidates for the US Presidency opposed it, and Trump was particularly vociferous in his denunciation. It’s also important that, within the US policy establishment, the most potent argument for the TPP was that it would cement US leadership in the region, and lock China out.

So, I would have imagined that the Turnbull government would have thought through the consequences of a US withdrawal from the TPP, even if they were surprised by the actual timing. In particular, I’d have thought that Turnbull would have discussed possible responses with Japanese PM Abe when he visited the other week.

So, I was pretty startled when Turnbull floated the idea of bringing China into the TPP to replace the US. At least from the viewpoint of the US and Chinese foreign policy establishments, that would amount to switching our support to China, or least shifting towards neutrality, in struggles about the future of the region. Given the risks posed by an alliance with the US under Trump, there’s an arguable case for that, but it would be a very big move. Turnbull’s floating of the notion seemed like a thought bubble, or maybe a thoughtless bubble.

Even more striking was Japan’s immediate rejection of the idea, accompanied by a repetition of the forlorn hope that the US might come back to the deal. Honestly, how could Turnbull have had a lengthy meeting with Abe and failed to elicit an indication that his proposal would be rejected out of hand?

Finally, as an aside, how about his churlish decision to give an AC to Julia Gillard but not (unless it was offered and privately rejected) to Kevin Rudd? At least Abbott was consistently tribal in his breach of the longstanding convention of making this offer to an outgoing PM (after they’ve left Parliament). With Turnbull it looks like personal vendetta.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Culture wars and smelters

January 21st, 2017 15 comments

The Victorian and Commonwealth governments have just announced a bailout of the Alcoa aluminium smelter at Portland, achieved primarily by pressuring AGL to supply cheap electricity. It’s unsurprising that a state government wants to save jobs: that is par for the course. The Commonwealth intervention reflects total policy incoherence. It’s entirely comprehensible, however, in terms of the culture war approach that drives the Abbott-Turnbull government. I have a piece on this at Crikey, reprinted over the fold.

Read more…

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

Australia is naturally suited to a federal system

January 20th, 2017 17 comments

The age-old idea of abolishing the states has popped up again, this time from Bob Hawke. I’ve recycled some old arguments against this idea in the standard form where the states are to be replaced by regional governemnts. I’ve also added some new points, focused on the undesirability of a unitary state. The piece is at The Conversation, entitled If we scrapped the states, increasing Canberra’s clout would be a backward step

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

The LNP-ONP coalition heading for a train wreck?

January 16th, 2017 25 comments

With a Queensland election due in the next 12 months and the usual journalistic speculation about an early election, the LNP will soon be faced with the decision of whether to formalise its coalition with the ONP. At a minimum, that would mean an exchange of preferences. But, given that the LNP doesn’t look like winning a majority in its own right it will be difficult to avoid the question of a possible coalition government. I’ll offer the LNP the unsolicited advice that it would be better, both morally and in terms of long-term self-interest to lose honorably than to win with Hanson.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

That was quick

December 22nd, 2016 47 comments

Not long after the election, I perceived the signs of an emerging semi-formal coalition between the LNP and One Nation. Less than three months later, here’s Jeff Kennett, generally seen as a relative moderate in the Victorian Liberal Party, endorsing the idea.

To repeat what I said then, I remain convinced that this will prove a path to disaster for the LNP in the long run. One Nation is already repeating the history of meltdowns we saw in its first big run, and making clear that it stands for nothing beyond incoherent gesture politics. That’s true of rightwing identity politics in general, which is why I think it can’t last. It can, however, do plenty of damage in the meantime.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Are young Australians (mostly) Christians ?

December 16th, 2016 24 comments

Regular readers will know that I’m not a great fan of analysis based on generations (Boomers, X, Millennials and so on). Most of what passes for insight on this topic consists of the repetition of unchanged cliches about the rigidity and hypocrisy of the old, the laziness and irresponsibility of the young, and so on, applied to whichever cohort happens to be old or young at the time.

But there are some genuine differences between cohorts, typically determine by the time they have entered adulthood. One of these is religion.
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Dutton, cringeworthy and (literally) un-Australian

December 15th, 2016 40 comments

Peter Dutton’s attempts to promote an “uprising” in support of Christmas, and against “political correctness gone mad” are un-Australian in all sorts of ways, but most obviously in the stunning cultural cringe they reflect. He’s borrowed the catchphrase of a British tabloid in an attempt to import a US culture war campaign that has been going on so long it’s a Christmas tradition in itself (I observed that it was old stuff, back in 2004). This guy is the best the Trumpist faction of the LNP/ON can come up with?

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Oz Politics Tags:

Dragging the chain

October 17th, 2016 36 comments

Looking at the Abbott-Hanson government that is now taking shape behind the nominal leadership of Malcolm Turnbull, the dominant theme is one of pointless resistance to inevitable change.

The most striking instance of this is the plebiscite on equal marriage, dreamed up by Abbott as a way of dodging the issue of a Parliamentary vote. At this point, it is obvious that the whole thing is just an expensive and painful exercise in delaying the inevitable. Equal marriage is law throughout the English-speaking world, and is rapidly becoming so everywhere, as well as being supported by a majority of Australians. Even if the opponents could somehow carry the day in a plebiscite, the position couldn’t be sustained for long. And of course the Abbott group know this. As soon as Turnbull was locked into the plebiscite they started loading it up with everything they could to ensure it would never happen. Even from the most cynical viewpoint, this seems silly to me. They are going to lose in the end, and when they do, they will be wailing about freedom of conscience for cake-makers and so on. If they agreed to a Parliamentary vote now, they could make it a condition for Turnbull to include such clauses and reject any amendment. But in three years time, or whenever a parliamentary majority emerges, there will be no reason to appease people who have shown themselves to be bigots.

Then there’s climate change. Everywhere else in the world, things are moving fast. Country after country is abandoning coal, and the share of renewables is rising rapidly. Even England is generating more power from solar PV than from coal. But Australia is going backwards. Having dropped any idea of turning Direct Action into an emissions intensity scheme, Turnbull and Frydenberg have joined the science denialists at the Oz in a campaign against renewable energy. At least they have signed on to the agreement to phase out HFCs, an agreement driven by, among others, the US, Canada, China and Brazil (the EU has already legislated an early phaseout). It’s good that the government has agreed to do the minimum required for developed countries under this deal, but takes some chutzpah to say, as Frydenberg does that this makes Australia a world leader.

The only remaining item about which the government seems to care is Abbott’s vendetta against the unions, settling scores dating back to the 1980s.

Abbott and Hanson and are almost exact contemporaries of mine (as is Turnbull, though he scarcely seems to have any active role). But politically it seems to me that they have chained themselves to ways of thinking that were ossified even in John Howard’s generation.

Categories: Economics - General, Oz Politics Tags:

A small victory

October 5th, 2016 22 comments

As a social democrat in an era of market liberal dominance, I’m only rarely on the winning side of policy disputes (privatisation, where lots of privatising governments have been defeated, has been the big exception). But the Turnbull government’s decision to put an end to the worst of the rorts in for-profit vocational training is certainly a big win. Three main changes were announced
* First, for-profit providers will have to demonstrate in advance that they are capable of doing the job for which they are paid. Given the appalling record of the industry as a whole on measures like graduation rates, it seems likely that most firms will fail this test
* Second, courses are being restricted to those that have some possibility of leading to employment
* Third, fees are being capped in a three-tier scheme ($5k, $10k, and $15k) depending on the type of course and the cost of provision. That should wipe out more of the shonky providers.

I’ve been going on about this since 2012. Others like Leesa Wheelahan at Melbourne Uni have been on the case even longer. We copped plenty of flak for our pains (‘flat earther‘ was one of the kinder terms), but have now been vindicated. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the advocates of market-oriented reform will listen next time around.

Still, a win is a win. The big question now is whether the damage to the public TAFE system can be undone in time to prevent a future skills crisis.

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The LNP/ONP coalition government: who’s in charge?

October 3rd, 2016 49 comments

I’ve found the reaction of Malcolm Turnbull to the South Australia blackout too depressing to discuss, but I suppose it’s time to talk about it. Turnbull was depressing for three reasons

First, there was the absurdity of failing to distinguish between transmission failures (pylons destroyed by storms) and intermittency. Reading the comments of Turnbull and others, it seemed as if the reasoning process was something like “wind bad for electricity system, so must cut back on wind power”). I gave up on expecting any substantive difference between Turnbull and Abbott quite a while ago, but this silliness coming from the alleged “smartest guy in the room” was depressing.

Then there’s the substantive political content. Turnbull and Frydenberg have already any ruled out kind of carbon price, even the emissions intensity mechanism proposed by the Climate Change Authority (of which I’m a member) as an evolution of Direct Action. When doing this, Frydenberg justified his position by saying that an energy transition, presumably to renewables meant that the government’s targets were achievable. Now, even this fig leaf has been stripped away.

Finally, and worst of all, it’s one more step in the capitulation of rightwing neoliberalism to the rising tide of tribalism. In the LNP-ONP coalition I described a month or so ago, it’s now clear that One Nation with its associated faction within the government (Bernardi, Christensen, Abbott and others) has the upper hand. ONP Senator Malcolm Roberts tweeted to Turnbull that it was “Good to see you coming around to One Nation’s position“, and he was spot on. Doubtless he’ll have many more occasions for similar tweets in the future

The polls suggest that the public reaction to all this is unfavorable, but unfortunately it’s a few months too late. We’re stuck with this for another three years.

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Recognising racism (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

September 14th, 2016 93 comments

Back in 2004, I wrote that

There is only one real instance of political correctness in Australia today and that is that you are never, ever allowed to call anyone a racist.

This was one side of an unspoken agreement among mainstream politicians, the other being that no one would ever make a statement that was overtly and undeniably racist (this was the central content of “political correctness” in its normal usage). Both the use of overtly racist language and the use of the term “racist” in political debate put the speaker outside the Overton Window. The official debate was undertaken in terms of “dog whistle” coded appeals to racism on one side and euphemisms such as “prejudiced” or “racially charged” on the other. The peace was maintained by the fact that the political class as a whole shared a broad neoliberal[^1] consensus in which marginal differences over economic issues were central, and where social/racial issues were primarily seen as a way of motivating the base to vote the right way.

With the rapid rise of tribalism on the political right this tacit agreement is breaking down.
Read more…

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