Archive for the ‘Oz Politics’ Category

Meet the new boss …

September 24th, 2015 44 comments

As has happened before, I was travelling when the Prime Ministership suddenly changed hands. I’m still on holiday, though I briefly appeared before the South Australian Royal Commission on the Nuclear Fuel Cycle yesterday. But even without following the news closely, it’s easy enough to see that the Turnbull LNP government is basically the Abbott government with the gratuitous culture war element removed.

On climate change, for example, we’ve seen the end of attempts to kill the highly successful Clean Energy Finance Corporation, but no major change to the absurdly misnamed “Direct Action” policy, and a doubling down on Abbott’s support for coal from newly promoted minister Josh Frydenberg.

In particular, contrary to suggestions that Turnbull is going to push for a more “market liberal” approach, Frydenberg is still touting the idea of subsidising the Adani Carmichael boondoggle. I doubt that anything will come of this (on this score, the supposed deal with Downer EDI to build Adani’s railroad seems to have quietly died), but it’s indicative of the government’s position. And the new coalition deal, handing over water policy to Barnaby Joyce, amounts to a repudiation of everything Turnbull stood for when he was Water Minister under Howard.

The abandonment of the culture wars looks like something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it was obviously necessary, given the extent to which Abbott’s absurdities discredited the whole enterprise. On the other hand, much of the LNP base and commentariat are so committed to culture war politics that they will have grave difficulty in supporting Turnbull even if they want to: most of their usual lines against inner city elites, latte liberals and so on are far more applicable to their own new leader than to Labor and the Greens.

My success as a pundit is notoriously mixed. Still, I find it hard to see how Turnbull can sustain his initial bounce in the polls without taking tougher decisions than those he has been willing to make so far.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

A CHAFTA election? (updated)

September 17th, 2015 47 comments

Malcolm Turnbull’s coup against Abbott has been the subject of much commentary, and I didn’t have anything to add. But now it’s time to look beyond the juggling of Cabinet positions and to consider some of the long term implications. Turnbull’s rise takes off the table, or radically changes the politics of, a number of issues that would have been central to an Abbott election campaign. Most obviously, there are the issues (climate change, equal marriage, republicanism) where Turnbull is known to agree with Labor but has said he will stick with Abbott’s policies. Obviously, Turnbull can’t run hard on these. It remains to be seen whether Labor can make political mileage out of the contradictions involved.

The ground Turnbull wants to fight on is that of economic liberalism, primarily as represented by the so-called Free Trade Agreements with Korea, Japan and, most importantly, China.

Turnbull has the near-unanimous support of the elites on these deals, even though it’s hard to find even a single economist who would support them with any enthusiasm. Anyone who has looked seriously at the issue understands that the trade aspect of these agreements is trivial. What matters are the side clauses on issues like Investor-State Dispute Settlement procedures, intellectual property, environmental protection and so forth. Unfortunately, political journalists, as a class, don’t do much thinking.

Here, for example, is Laurie Oakes, asserting that

>Labor needs to end up supporting this trade deal. That is the bottom line

but not providing a single argument in favour. In typical “Insider” style, Oakes says

The government charge that Labor is sabotaging jobs would not be a difficult one to sustain.

without worrying about whether this charge is actually true (it isn’t).

In the case of CHAFTA (the unlovely acronym for the China deal), the big problem is not in the agreement itself, but in a “Memorandum of Understanding”, which provides for circumstances under which a Chinese company can import its own workforce, without labour market testing (that is, even if there are Australians willing and able to fill the jobs) and without matching existing conditions.
Read more…

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

We need a new word for “reform”

August 27th, 2015 44 comments

Hardly anyone bothered to pay attention to the “National Reform Summit” put on by the Oz and the Fin the other day. The word “reform” tells us everything we need to know about this event: yet more invocations of the exhausted policy agenda of the 1980s, all with the implicit message that we need to work harder. Both Jeff Sparrow at Overland and Ben Eltham at New Matilda have pieces today making this point.

“Reform”, meaning “change for the better” was always a problematic concept, but it was a useful word, and we don’t have a good alternative. I don’t think a single replacement is feasible, but I’d like to try out some alternatives, and call for other suggestions

“Redesign” and “restructuring” are reasonably neutral and can be used to indicate a wide range of policy changes, without assuming anything specific. For example, “retirement income policy redesign”.

“Liberalisation” describes a wide range of things for which “reform” is commonly used, for example “drug law liberalisation” or “financial market liberalisation”. This gives a pretty clear indication of the general line of policy change, without the approval implicit in “reform” (except to the extent that support for liberalization in general is assumed).

What is lacking is a good single word term for what was the primary connotation of “reform” until the 1980s, namely, policy changes along social democratic lines. Any suggestions?

Categories: Dictionary, Oz Politics Tags:

Is anyone surprised …

August 25th, 2015 23 comments

… by Martin Ferguson’s emergence as an enemy of the Labor Party and the trade union movement? I’m certainly not. Ten years ago, reviewing Michael Thompson’s Labor without Class, to which Ferguson contributed a laudatory foreword, I wrote

The obvious inference from Thompson’s book is not that Labor should change its position but that he, and others who share his views, should join the Liberals.

In 2009, looking at political nepotism in general, I said,

People like Belinda Neal and Martin Ferguson would never have made it into Parliament on their own merits, and would probably have been on the other side if not for their family ties

In between, I noted Ferguson’s support for John Howard’s climate do-nothingism as an argument against the hereditary principle in politics.

My record as a political prognosticator is notoriously mixed, but I got this one right.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Three word slogans

August 22nd, 2015 18 comments

I have a piece up at the Drum, looking at how the three-word slogan approach of the Abbott government helps to explain their budget problems. Text is over the fold

Read more…

Big Tobacco: A threat to Australian democracy

August 20th, 2015 29 comments

The news that the tobacco industry is seeking to abuse Freedom of Information legislation to gain access to surveys of Australian teenage attitudes to smoking confirms what has been obvious for a long time. The tobacco industry is a threat to democracy. Among its many hostile actions
* Misusing ISDS and other provisions of trade treaties to undermine domestic health policy
* Debasing public debate through the use of scientists for hire, fraudulent lobby groups and thinktanks, vexatious litigation and other tactics. In the use, these actions have led to criminal racketeering. The denialist apparatus set up by the tobacco industry was taken over by the fossil fuel lobby to promote global warming denialism
* Large scale purchasing of politicians and political parties

The big question is, what should be done about this? We need to consider a comprehensive approach to drug policy, which would also take account of the failure of the War on Drugs, and provide a model for legalisation of currently illegal drugs. That rules out prohibition of tobacco, but would leave no role for corporate pushers.

Even if we don’t get there immediately, it’s highly desirable to start the discussion. Big Tobacco and its friends should be warned there is something to lose from attacking democratic government.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Polls and punters, yet again

August 17th, 2015 52 comments

I just read this piece on The Drum, taking the line that it’s better to rely on the betting markets, which have Labor and the government level-pegging, than on the polls, which have had Labor well ahead for a long time. Elections are only held every few years, so they don’t provide much data on which to test the relative performance of the two. But, if markets give better estimates than polls, we should expect to see movements in the poll results follow those in the market rather than vice versa (in econometrics, this is called Granger causality). Digging around, I located a study finding that, if anything, movements in polls Granger cause movements in betting markets.

Since a compelling observation beats an econometric analysis for most people, let’s look at the 18 months or so since I last posted on this topic. Labor started out with a small lead in the polls and stayed consistently in front, with the lead varying over time. Meanwhile, the betting markets favored the government until very recently, before moving to even money. It seems clear in this case, that the markets are following the polls and not vice versa.

Categories: Oz Politics, Politics (general) Tags:

How our Senate (and not the US Senate) blocked the TPP

August 4th, 2015 17 comments

Following the breakdown of talks on the Trans Pacific Partnership last week, I did a quick reaction piece for Inside Story, making the point that our much-maligned Senate was the most important source of resistance to the demands for yet more protection for US pharmaceuticals, demands that make a mockery of both the claim that the TPP is a “free trade agreement” and the “diffusion of knowledge” rationale for the patent system.

The socialist objective

July 31st, 2015 55 comments

There’s a push within the ALP to remove the party’s long-standing socialist objective, which states

The Australian Labor Party is a democratic socialist party and has the objective of the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields.

Then follows a long list of commitments, notably including
(i) the restoration and maintenance of full employment;
(j) the abolition of poverty, and the achievement of greater equality in the distribution of income, wealth and opportunity; and
(k) social justice and equality for individuals, the family and all social units, and the elimination of exploitation in the home

I’m ambivalent about this, both as as regards substance and timing. When I started this blog, I made the decision to describe myself as a social democrat rather than a democratic socialist. In 2006, I gave the following explanation, in a comment

I prefer “social democratic” because it clearly refers to the set of policies implemented and advocated by social democrats in the second half of the 20th century, including a mixed economy, an active welfare state, government responsibility for full employment and so on.

By contrast, socialism is less well defined. It can mean comprehensive public ownership, which I don’t support, or it can be just a general statement of values and aspirations, consistent with social democracy.

So, if the change was simply to replace “democratic socialist” with “social democratic”, and to give a description of goals consistent with that, I’d have no problem. But let’s look at the text proposed by NSW Labor Leader Luke Foley[1]

The Australian Labor Party has as its objective the achievement of a just and equitable society where every person has the opportunity to realise their potential.

“We believe in an active role for government, and the operation of competitive markets, in order to create opportunities for all Australians, so that every person will have the freedom to pursue their wellbeing, in co-operation with their fellow citizens, free from exploitation and discrimination”.

Foley’s further comments make no reference to full employment, equality, poverty or any other social democratic concerns. He goes on to say

We understand that competitive markets are best placed to deliver the economic growth that the people we represent rely on.

We also know that regulation and redistribution are necessary to correct market failures, to ensure dignity and opportunity for all Australians.

Is there anything here that Tony Abbott, or even Joe Hockey, could disagree with?

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Sea change

July 27th, 2015 25 comments

Maybe it’s my chronic over-optimism, but it seems to me as if there has been a sudden change in the long-sputtering debate about taxation in Australia. Until a few weeks ago, “tax reform” was, as it had long been, code a “tax mix switch” which in turn was code for “tax food and use the proceeds to cut the company tax rate or the top marginal rate of taxation”. Joe Hockey was still pushing the second part of this package only a week ago.

But the reports coming out of the recent COAG summit seemed to convey a general acceptance that more tax revenue is needed to fund health expenditure in particular. The two top options were an increase in the rate of GST or an increase in the Medicare levy, with little mention of “base broadening” (more code for taxing food).

Meanwhile, Labor has been talking about a Buffett tax, that is, a minimum rate of tax levied on gross incomes, regardless of deductions. And, while the LNP still assumes that it can win by running against a “carbon tax”, that belief seems to have come unmoored from any general theoretical viewpoint. How can Abbott run against a “great big new tax on everything”, if he is happy to discuss a 50 per cent increase in our existing “great big tax on everything”, the GST?

I’m not clear what has happened to bring this about, or whether I’m misreading the signals. But it certainly looks to me as if the great political taboo against even mentioning higher taxes has been broken.

Nuclear power in Australia

June 7th, 2015 44 comments

I’ve decided to make a submission to the South Australian Royal Commission into the nuclear fuel cycle. I can’t actually submit until I find a JP or similar to witness it. This is a minor inconvenience for me, but may be a big problem for plenty of interested groups (for example, indigenous people). On the upside, I have time to ask for comments, and maybe make changes in response. This thread will be open to discussion of any issues related to nuclear power. However, in the event of lengthy two-person debates emerging, I’d ask the parties to move to the sandpits and leave room for everyone else.

Read more…

Categories: Environment, Oz Politics Tags:

Profit and public health

June 4th, 2015 74 comments

Amid the abandonment of tariff protection and the continued assaults on trade unionism, one union/lobby group has been consistently victorious. The Pharmacy Guild has managed to restrict competition so successfully that it’s impossible to open a pharmacy if it might hurt the profitability of an existing business, even if that business is failing to serve a significant group of customers. I ran into an example when I was at James Cook University in Townsville. A request for an on-campus pharmacy was rejected because it was within the market area claimed by a suburban pharmacy, more than a kilometre away and inaccessible by public transport.

Far more important to the Guild is the imperative of keeping supermarkets out of the pharmacy business. The key argument is that supermarkets are just businesses, happy to sell anything to make a buck, whether it’s cigarettes or cancer medications.

So, I was interested to read the Guild’s reaction to a proposal that medical professionals should stop prescribing homeopathic products. Whatever you might think about alternative/complementary medicines in general, homoepathy is plain quackery, combining a magical theory of medicine with the preposterous physics of water memory. Unsurprisingly, research has proved beyond any doubt that it’s no better than a placebo. So, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has formally recommended GPs stop prescribing homeopathic remedies and says pharmacists must also stop stocking such products.

The Guild’s reaction:

it is not a regulatory authority, and as such there will be no recommendation backing RACGP’s call for homeopathic products to be taken off the market.

In other words, selling medicine in the same shop as alcohol is unthinkable, but it’s entirely OK for a health professional to promote and sell water as a treatment for serious illness.

This episode demonstrates, to anyone who cares to look, that the Pharmacy Guild is (and in fact claims to be) nothing more than a rent-seeking lobby group, whose sole concern is the profitability of its members. As the Tobacco Institute of Australia would be quick to point out (if it were still around), there’s nothing illegal about that. But when profits and public health come into conflict, the Guild and the Institute are on the same side.

Going early ?

May 2nd, 2015 41 comments

According to the usually well-informed Laurie Oakes, the Abbott government is seriously considering the prospect of a double dissolution election, following the impending Budget. This makes no sense to me, not that this should mean it is unlikely to happen.

To recap, talk of a double dissolution emerged last year, in the wake of the Senate’s blocking of unpopular Budget measures. Facing bad polls, the government abandoned the double dissolution idea, then dumped most of the measures. The new budget is supposed to be pain-free and popular. But, if so, what is the need for a double dissolution to get it through

The obvious inference is that, once returned with a more compliant Senate, the government will return to its true agenda. How can this argument be refuted, given that the same agenda was explicitly repudiated before the 2013 election, only to emerge immediately thereafter?

Then there’s the question of a trigger/pretext. The only current trigger, I believe, is the bill to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. This is hardly a popular cause on which to fight an election, but more so than university deregulation, mentioned by Oakes as a possible second trigger.

Insiders generally assume that the trigger is a mere formality, of no electoral significance. But these are the same insiders who assured us back in 2010 that the Prime Ministership is in the gift of the relevant Parliamentary Party and that voters should not presume to be upset by an unexpected change. Given that it is nearly 30 years since the last double dissolution, I imagine many voters will want to know what is going on, and may have the temerity to take the constitution seriously.

Insiders are also easily impressed by a well-timed early election. Experience suggests that voters are not so impressed, and are likely to punish a government that goes early for no good reason. The most recent example was Campbell Newman in Queensland. He might perhaps have lost anyway, but he certainly didn’t benefit from running a campaign during the school holidays, despite his much-touted cleverness in “catching Labor by surprise”. Similarly, Kevin Rudd went early, when he would have done better (IMO) to take some time pointing out the weakness of Abbott’s position. And back in 1984, Bob Hawke went early to take advantage of his massive popularity, but still ended up with an adverse swing.

That’s my take, but perhaps the insiders know better.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Goodbye to CPD

April 17th, 2015 30 comments

Like Mark Bahnisch, Eva Cox and a number of others, I’ve resigned as a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development. It’s a sad day, since CPD has done a lot of great work, and I’ve enjoyed being involved in it. But the leadership of the Centre has taken a decision to move to the right in the hope of being more relevant to the policy process. The most recent outcome has been a paper on tax policy that broadly accepts the Treasury view of the issue, and pushes for a broadening of the GST base, which means taxation of fresh food. This isn’t a new or innovative idea. Rather, it has been part of rightwing orthodoxy for decades. CPDs endorsement allows its advocates to claim some “left” support. That claim obviously gained credibility from having Fellows like Mark, Eva and me. So, we had no alternative but to resign.

I should clarify that, apart from a nice title and a publishing outlet, I wasn’t getting any direct benefit from being part of CPD. So, I’m making a statement rather than a sacrifice.

The Australian Sharia Lobby

April 6th, 2015 49 comments

There were a bunch of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations at the weekend, sparked by supposed concerns about the possibility of Islamic sharia law being imposed in Australia. While the anti-sharia demonstrators were clearly drawn from the extremist fringe, there has been plenty of commentary on this subject from commentators generally regarded as mainstream, and from elected politicians such as Cory Bernardi and Jacquie Lambie.

The prospect of any significant legislation being based on Islamic sharia law seems pretty remote. On the other hand, those who claim to be concerned about sharia law (the Arabic term simply means ‘religious law) might want to consider the much more relevant issue of ‘sharīʿat al-Masīḥ’ (the Arabic term for ‘religious law of Christianity’).

Despite the Australian Constitutional prohibition on establishing any religion, lots of Australian laws are derived from Christian taboos, and many more have been in the past. Equally importantly, there is a group called the Australian Christian Lobby which, as the name implies, lobbies for the imposition of sharīat al-Masīḥ. Its activities are reported as if it is a legitimate political grouping, and not, as concerns about sharia law would suggest, a theocratic danger to our personal freedom.

When you look at the kind of issues being pushed by the Australian Christian Lobby, notably on their signature issue of opposition to gay rights, there’s not much difference from what you might expect from proponents of sharia law.

As I’ve said before, it seems highly likely that Christians will soon be in the minority in Australia. So, my unsolicited advice to the ACL is that they should support tolerance and civil liberties for all, rather than attempting to use the temporary majority status of Christianity to impose their version of sharia law. There’s nothing wrong with political activity being motivated by general religious values, but a lot wrong with attempts to impose your own religious taboos on others.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

How long can Abbott last?

February 25th, 2015 136 comments

Judging by the tone of media coverage, Tony Abbott’s Prime Ministership has now entered its terminal phase. Everything he does and says is being judged on that basis, with every slipup a potential disaster.

But having just beaten a spill motion, and with at least moderately good news from the polls, he can scarcely be removed immediately. On the other hand, as long as he stays in office, the government is effectively in lame duck mode, with its every decision open to reversal by his successor. To take the most recent example, if Abbott were replaced by Turnbull, the attacks on Gillian Triggs would cease instantly.

The big timing issue relates to the Budget, due in May. It’s obvious that, if Abbott goes, so does Hockey, which would be highly problematic if the removal took place after the budget was delivered but before it got through Parliament. Yet some reports I’ve read suggest that a lot of senior Liberals want to give Abbott & Hockey a chance to make a success of this Budget, then dump them if it fails.

On a side issue, the fact that the Prime Ministership is decided only by the Liberal Party members of the coalition is quite a big deal. Abbott would obviously do better if the two parties merged, or even if the Queensland LNP were part of the federal Liberal party rather than the bizarre camel it is now.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Time to abandon ‘reform’ as a policy and as a word

February 12th, 2015 33 comments

In the early years of this blog, I spent a lot of time trying to find a sensible way of handling the word “reform”. But now I think it’s been corrupted beyond any hope of redemption. My conclusion is that we should never use the word, and be instantly suspicious of anyone who does. Most Australian voters have already reached this position, I think (see also, “productivity“).

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Turnbull and the Renewable Energy Target

February 8th, 2015 34 comments

At the minute of writing (1404 Sunday), it looks as if Malcolm Turnbull will replace Tony Abbott as PM tomorrow. Among his many challenges will be climate change policy, the issue that brought him undone last time around. The word appears to be that he will adhere to the platform from the 2013 election, which rules out a carbon price (tax or ETS) but gives him room to move in various directions.The assumption is that this compromise will buy both Turnbull and the climate deniers in the LNP enough time to work out some kind of solution.

What no one seems to have mentioned is that the Abbott government, in defiance of the 2013 platform, has been doing its best to make drastic cuts in the Renewable Energy Target. To the extent that the processes of government are going on during the current mess, negotations with Labor and the minor parties are still under way. Turnbull will have to decide, more or less immediately, whether to keep pushing for deep cuts.

There’s a further problem. Turnbull can’t simply drop the issue and leave things as they are. Abbott’s obvious intention to destroy the scheme has had a chilling effect on investment, particularly in the wind sector. Under the current rules, fossil fuel generators need to offset their generation with certificates from renewable generators. But it now seems unlikely that there will be enough certificates by 2020, which would result in the triggering of penalty clauses. So, the scheme needs some kind of change.

The Climate Change Authority, of which I’m a member put out a report just before Christmas last year, suggesting that the target date of 2020 be shifted out, and that the duration of the scheme be extended past 2030. That’s one possible solution, though not the only one.

The problem for Turnbull is that any realistic solution will instantly enrage the climate deniers, while continuing on the current path will put him in the position of owning Abbott’s broken promises.

Categories: Environment, Oz Politics Tags:

Lib/LNP leadership schadenfreude thread

February 3rd, 2015 146 comments

When I posted on the Liberal leadership, I assumed that the right wing of the Liberal party was organized enough to persuade Abbott to go quietly and to install Bishop rather than Turnbull to replace him. Neither assumption looks safe now, and my overestimation of LNP organizational capacities has been shown up by the fiasco in Queensland. So, I’ll sit back and enjoy the fun, leaving you to offer whatever thoughts you have on the topic, or on related issues.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Queensland election outcome (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

February 1st, 2015 87 comments

We just had an election in my home state of Queensland, and the outcomes will be of some broader interest, I hope. The governing Liberal National (= conservative) Party has (almost certainly) gone down to a surprise defeat, going from 78 of 89 seats at the last election to a probable 40 or 41 this time. The key issues were broken promises (particularly regarding job cuts) and government proposals for privatisation.

This can be seen either as a reversal or a repeat of the last election when the governing Labor Party went from 51 seats to 7. That election was also fought on broken promises and privatisation, but with the roles of the parties reversed (Labor had won an election opposing privatisation, then immediately announced it would go ahead).

Among the actual or potential ramifications

* The first instance of a woman Opposition Leader defeating an incumbent government at state or national level in Australia (there have been examples in the much smaller territory governments, but I think this is the first case at State level. The more common pattern has been for a woman to get a “hospital pass” when it is clear that the government is on the way out.
* At the national level, the replacement of the current conservative prime minister Tony Abbott
* The abandonment of the biggest coal mine project in Australia

Looking internationally, the outcome can be seen as a defeat for the politics of austerity and maybe as an example to suggest that Pasokification can be reversed, under the right circumstances.

Finally, I’ll link to my analysis of the asset sales, which got a reasonably prominent run during the campaign. It probably didn’t change many minds, but it helped to counter the barrage of pro-privatisation propaganda.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

LNP needs a Plan C

January 30th, 2015 104 comments

There’s been a lot of discussion about the fact that the Queensland LNP needs a Plan B, in case they are returned to government, but Campbell Newman loses his seat of Ashgrove.

No one seems to have noticed that they really need a Plan C, for the case when neither party wins an absolute majority, which would almost certainly imply a loss for Newman. A couple of points arise here

* Both Newman and Labor leader Anna Palaszczuk have ruled out a minority government. But with Newman gone, some other LNP leader might say his position was inoperative

* The Governor needs to call on someone to attempt the formation of a government. That could be Newman, Palaszczuk, some other LNP figure or even an independent.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Abbott, Knight and Bishop

January 27th, 2015 104 comments

In making my predictions for 2015, I was tempted to predict that Abbott would last out the year, mainly on the basis of inertia, but decided it was too risky (Commenter Fran B sensibly went the other way). I’m already glad of that: even before Sir Phil, it seemed as if he was on the skids.

Assuming Abbott goes (still not certain, but looking more likely with every hour), Julie Bishop looks like a sure thing to replace him. She has looked pretty good as Foreign Minister (if you’re willing to overlook a massive cut in foreign aid), but that’s relatively easy, largely a matter of not messing up. If she does take over, she’ll need to do more than that.

To demonstrate that there’s a real change, she’ll have to break with Abbott on some major issues. Presumably that will include dumping Hockey and the most unpopular of the 2014 budget measures, but most of those are already dead.

The really big break would be to return to some kind of bipartisanship on climate change. There’s some precedent, given the way she stood up to him over going to the Lima meeting. But it would entail a break with the (numerous) denialists and tribalists in the party room and the broader party apparatus (including the Murdoch Press and bodies like the IPA). Still, if she could carry it off, she would be a force to be reckoned with.

Categories: Environment, Oz Politics Tags:

Queensland election

January 27th, 2015 38 comments

In the opening days of the Queensland election campaign, I thought the most likely outcomes were either a narrow LNP victory or a minority government of some kind*. But the campaign has been a disaster for the LNP and for Campbell Newman in particular. He is now in the ludicrous position of refusing to answer any questions, except to repeat scripted lines about jobs. And he is suing and being sued by all sorts of people, mostly from groups traditionally associated with the political right.

The big issue has been asset sales, and again the LNP strategy has been bizarre. Having cut services in breach of all their promises, they are now promising to restore them (notionally funded by the proceeds of asset sales) but only in electorates where the LNP wins. Labor has avoided matching these promises, and has offered a package that’s fiscally sustainable in the medium term, even if it doesn’t really address the fundamental problem of inadequate revenue. With public opinion solidly against asset sales, that should be enough to neutralise the LNPs perceived superiority in economic policy.

Newman’s main calculation, I suppose, is that holding an election in January ensures no one will pay any attention (though he had the hide to say that this is the most important election in Queensland’s history), and that may be right. Still, I now think that an outright LNP win is unlikely and that there is little chance of a minority LNP government being formed. There’s even less likelihood of Campbell Newman being re-elected in his own seat.

Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk has also (very foolishly, IMO) ruled out a minority government, but I doubt that she would be willing to follow through with another election if she had the option of forming one.

* I’m avoiding the silly phrase “hung Parliament”. By analogy with a “hung jury”, this implies a Parliament that is unable to produce a workable government. In reality, the existence of a disciplined majority, effectively at the command of a quasi-presidential leader, has generally produced bad government, particularly in a unicameral system like that in Queensland. By contrast, minority governments have often run their full term, and been more transparent and open than their majority counterparts.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

No pennies for Tenpenny

January 26th, 2015 68 comments

Following up on my earlier piece about anti-vaxer Sherri Tenpenny, I’m pleased to report that all the commercial venues that were booked for her potentially lucrative “seminars” have cancelled. It appears the bookings were made by her Australian contact, pro-disease advocate Stephanie Messenger, under the name of a bogus anti-SIDS charity. Apparently, charges of to $200 a head were proposed.

What free speech issues arise here? As I argued previously, I don’t support a ban on Tenpenny visiting Australia, and having come here, she should be free to organize and address public meetings, open to anyone to attend (and heckle!). But there’s no reason to permit her to make money out of her evil lies. As regards potential venues, if they take her money, they are complicit in her activities.

It’s worth observing that this balance only works if there is a substantial public sphere in which freedom of expression is guaranteed, leaving private businesses to make their own choices on matters like venue hire. The privatised world favored by propertarians is one in which freedom of speech and thought is subordinated to the rights of property owners. In the US, for example, the absolutist opposition to government restrictions on free speech goes hand in hand with the right of employers and landlords to sack or evict anyone whose opinions (or even abstinence from favored political organizations) they don’t like.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Oz Politics Tags:

Shorten and Abbott revive the Republic

January 26th, 2015 63 comments

Bill Shorten’s call yesterday to reopen the republic debate struck me as uncharacteristically brave. Now, with Abbott’s bizarre decision to confer an Australian knighthood on a foreign prince, it looks prescient, or perhaps well-informed.

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Living to 150: A quick reality check

January 19th, 2015 97 comments

Our fact challenged Treasurer, Joe Hockey raised some eyebrows when he suggested that we need to reform Medicare because children born today might live to 150. He got some support from University of New South Wales faculty of medicine dean Peter Smith, who cited the increase in life expectancy over the last century, from 55/59 (for men and women respectively) in 1910 to 80/84 today.

There’s an apparent paradox here: If life expectancy is 80/84 years today, how can a newborn child expect to live 150 years. The answer is that “life expectancy” is nothing of the sort. It’s the average age at death if current age-specific mortality rates remain unchanged. On average, people born in 1910 actually lived well beyond their “life expectancy” because death rates fell through their lifetime. So, if medical progress continues, people born today may live, on average, well past 80/84.

But how much more? Unfortunately, on past indications, not much more. Most of the 20th century extension of life expectancy came from a reduction in death rates for the young. A 65-year old in 1910 could expect to live to 76/78 (since death rates don’t change much over a decade, that’s an actual expectation not just a statistical construct). Today, that’s increased to 84/87, from 11/13 years of extra life to 19/22. For Hockey to be right, over the next 100 years or so, the conditional expectancy has to rise five-fold, to 85 years. The basis for all this, it seems, is a 2011 press release of the kind we see every week or two announcing a breakthrough that might, perhaps, lead to a cure for this or that disease.

But even in the unlikely event that this extension of life occurs, what possible relevance could it have to the amount we should pay for medical care today? Even under current rules (which would certainly change with extended life expectancy) Hockey’s hypothetical Methuselah wouldn’t be eligible for the age pension until 2085 and (given the anti-aging breakthrough he hypothesises) wouldn’t seriously burden the health care system until well into the 22nd century. Coming from a government that dismisses concerns about climate change as a problem for the indefinite future, this solicitude for Treasurers yet unborn seems misplaced.

Update Via Twitter, I discover that the source of Hockey’s claim is someone called Aubry de Grey, who is obviously in the tradition of wealthy British eccentrics, with his own foundation, journal and so on; a much more appealing instance of this kind of thing than Lord Monckton, but still not to be taken seriously.

Further update Defending Hockey’s silliness, Mark Kenny makes the point that what Hockey actually said (restating de Grey) was that it is “remarkable that somewhere in the world today, it is highly probable, a child has been born who will live to be 150″. This shift from mean to maximum helps the demographic plausibility of Hockey’s case, but only marginally (we still need an advance of nearly 30 years on 122, the longest lifespan ever recorded), but it makes the argument even weaker. Suppose that some child in, say, China is going to live to 150. What possible impact can that have on our health system. More generally, what can it matter to the budget if a handful of people live very long lives. It’s the average (measured by numbers like life expectancy at 65) that matters. As an indication of the minuscule scale of the fiscal problem posed by those with very long lives, there are currently only about 4250 Australians aged over 100, amounting to about 0.02 per cent of our population.

Yet further update It’s worth pointing out that, with pension age eligibility rising from 65/60 when the age pension was introduced around 1910 to 70/70 by 2035, men will have lost half of the extra retirement years gained from higher life expectancy and women the whole gain. The big problem we face is underemployment of prime-age workers, not the fact that we aren’t dying early enough.

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Anti-vaxxers: so friendless that free speech is enough to defeat them

January 9th, 2015 42 comments

That’s the headline the Guardian used for my latest piece on calls to deny a visa to pro-disease advocate Sherri Tenpenny. Discussion welcome, but I’d like to stress one particular point about the case for free speech

On considerations of equity alone, we should not be excluding people on the grounds that they advocate views that are wrong, dangerous and unpopular [antivaxers], while admitting those whose wrong and dangerous views have powerful backing[climate science deniers].

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Australia: If you don’t love it, leave

January 7th, 2015 139 comments

I’ve seen this slogan, with an Australian flag, on bumper stickers, and Google reveals that it a similar T-shirt was the subject of controversy not so long ago.Ifyoudontloveit

I have a couple of thoughts on this

First, this supposedly patriotic slogan was imported from the US, where it has been around for decades. In this respect, it’s similar to the recent innovation of having a single performer sing the national anthem at sporting events (adopted in the US because The Star Spangled Banner is virtually unsingable). This has displaced the Australian tradition of either standing silently or singing as a group while the anthem was played.

Second, I’d encourage the slogan if those who spouted it were expected to act accordingly. That is, the moment they complained about any aspect of Australia (for example, Muslims, dole bludgers, greenies and so on) they would be issued with a deportation notice and told to find a country they could love as it is.

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Queensland election

January 6th, 2015 139 comments

Watching TV last night, I was struck by the deluge of publicly funded government propaganda ads. Today, the reason was revealed as LNP Premier Campbell Newman called an election for 31 January, running several months short of a full term. Most insider comment seems to view this is a clever move, catching the Opposition off-guard and so on. My view would be that they are more likely to lose votes from people who expect a holiday from politics at this time of year.

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Broken promises and budget anger …

December 4th, 2014 108 comments

this chaotic mess won’t be fixed with the usual political script

That’s the headline for my latest piece in The Guardian. It’s over the fold

Read more…

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