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Contradictions, Part 2

December 7th, 2017 12 comments

The contradictions in the LNP/IPA attack on free speech became even more evident today with the appointment of Gary Johns as the head Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. Johns was once a junior minister in the Keating government and used this position to give a non-partisan veneer to subsequent career as a hack for the IPA, which was followed by a stint at the Australian Catholic University.

Johns has been at the forefront of the push to suppress political advocacy by charitable organizations eligible for tax-deductible donations. So his appointment by Minister Michael Sukkar followed logically from the LNP/IPA anti-free speech agenda.

There’s just one problem. The announcement came on the day of the vote on equal marriage, an issue on which numerous religious charities campaigned on the losing side. So, in the same breath as announcing Johns’ appointment, Minister Sukkar expressed the hope that the legislation might be amended to allow charities to continue advocacy on this issue.

This is silly, of course. It was already obvious that no amendments would be passed. And, as Warren Entsch pointed out, under current interpretations of the law, there’s no need for them. As Entsch says “A charity may advocate on any issue relevant to that charity and nothing in this bill will change that”. He’s right of course, but the whole idea of appointing Johns was to change this situation.

Hopefully, the government will realise what a trap they are setting for themselves here. If they attempt to remove tax-deductibility for conservation organizations that engage in advocacy, they will create a precedent that can subsequently be used against religious organizations. Turnbull should overturn Johns’ appointment and find someone who actually supports charities and non-profits.

Assumming, as seems likely, that the government is in too much of a mess to work this out, perhaps the churches will do so. If they want to protect freedom of speech for themselves, they’d better start defending it for others (cue Ditrich Bonhoeffer).

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Contradictions

December 6th, 2017 31 comments

The breakdown of the market liberal right, and the accompanying rise of tribalist politics, is producing some interesting contradictions, most of which are embodied in the Institute of Public Affairs. David Leyonjhelm, a longterm IPA member has staged a provocation by inviting racist troll Milo Yiannopoulos to Australia under the banner of free speech. The Senate condemned him for providing a platform to someone who “incites abuse and harassment of women, jews, and members of the LBGTIQ and multicultural communities”. When the words of the motion were quoted back at him, Leyonjhelm threatened legal action, and stated his general willingness to use defamation law against his political opponents.

Meanwhile, at the same time as backing an IPA campaign to remove charity status from environmental groups that engage in political advocacy, Malcolm Turnbull is supporting amendments to the equal marriage bill, pushed by IPA alumnnus James Paterson to preserve the charitable status of groups that oppose the law.

What’s happening here, I think, is that a group that has always assumed itself to be part of the silent majority of “real Australians” is being faced with evidence that it is actually a shrinking minority, regarded by the majority as a set of noisy and unpleasant bigots. One reaction is to double down on aggressive assertion of its views, treating things like the outcome of the marriage survey as a temporary aberration. The other is to seek the protections traditionally accorded to minorities, appealing to the rhetoric of tolerance and diversity.

This contradiction can’t be sustained for long, although that won’t stop them trying. But how should the decent majority deal with this problem. The answer is to remember that everyone will be in the minority some time. We should reject the attempt to stop charitable groups from engaging in advocacy, even if we don’t always like what is being advocated. As regards free speech, we should resist the temptation to use legal bludgeons, but make it clear to the promoters of racism, and those willing to line up with them, that they will be called out for what they are. This has already happened to the LNP in Queensland and WA following disgraceful alliances with One Nation. One of the few encouraging signs from the right was Turnbull’s recent declaration (motivated by fear rather than principle) that the Federal LNP would do no preference deals with Hanson.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Renewables, coal and culture war

November 22nd, 2017 11 comments

In the final week of the Queensland election campaign, I’ve been busy trying to do what I can to influence the result. I’ve put out a couple of opinion pieces about the choice between coal and renewable energy. This one, in The Guardian, focuses on the central role of the culture war in motivating rightwing opposition to renewable energy. In The Conversation, I look at the economics and business aspects and debunk the idea that ‘ultrasupercritical’ technology makes coal-fired power a high efficiency, low emissions technology

Also, in New Matilda, I’m collaborating with Morgan Brigg and Kristen Lyons of the Global Change Institute to produce a five-part series on Adani and the resistance to the project by the Wangan and Jagalingou people.

Categories: Environment, Oz Politics Tags:

An opportunity for a Bill of Rights

November 18th, 2017 30 comments

One of the striking outcomes of the equal marriage survey is that a lot of people who had always assumed themselves to be part of (in Spiro Agnew’s phrase) the “silent majority” have been presented with undeniable evidence that they are actually in the minority. Not only that, but the minority to which they belong on equal marriage would be even smaller if it weren’t boosted by lots of people they’ve always thought of as undesirable minorities. Most notably, the No vote was swelled by Muslims and recent migrants from more traditional cultures.

Against that background, it’s not surprising to see people who have never had a good word to say about the United Nations, or about a Bill of Rights, embracing the idea of incorporating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights into Australian law (we’re already a signatory, but that has no legal effect).

It would be absurd to incorporate a document dealing with topics as diverse as the death penalty and war propaganda (both prohibited) into the Marriage Act. Nevertheless, now that the issue has been raised, it’s a great opportunity for Australia to get something like a Bill of Rights enshrined into law (though of course it wouldn’t change the Constitution).

It’s tempting to use the thumping majority recorded in the survey as a stick with which to beat those (variously described as “dinosaurs” or “reactionaries”) who campaigned against equal rights on this occasion. But all majorities are temporary. It would be far better to use this moment to make common cause in support of protections for minorities of all kinds.

Read more…

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The thin end of the wedge on anti-discrimination law?

November 15th, 2017 39 comments

The latest attempt to derail equal marriage was a proposal by a group of conservatives to remove anti-discrimination provision to allow a wide range of discrimination against same-sex married couples. The leading proponent of the proposal was James Paterson who, like so many Liberal MPs, is a former staffer at the Institute of Public Affairs.

Press coverage duly noted that Paterson had answered “Yes” in the postal survey and described him as a supporter of individual liberty, but didn’t as far as I can tell ask the obvious question: is Paterson’s position on discrimination specific to this issue, or does he support a general right to discriminate on racial, religious and other grounds?

The public record isn’t very clear on this. Insofar as he’s said anything about anti-discrimination law, Paterson has been opposed. This is consistent with the orthodox propertarian position that employers, business and landlords should be free from any interference from government. However, so far, he has only made this point explicit in relation to equal marriage and racist speech (Section 18C). So, it would be good to have a clear statement as to whether the current bill is intended as the thin end of the wedge, or whether he sees equal marriage as a special case.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Where’s the money coming from?

November 11th, 2017 10 comments

In the Courier-Mail, Stephen Wardill responds to my observation that LNP’s campaign promises don’t add up, and must imply large unnannounced cuts to services, by suggesting that they may instead imply large unnannounced cuts in infrastructure, specifically the Cross-River rail tunnel project. There is a simple way to resolve this: the LNP could say where they plan to cut, and by how much. This idea doesn’t seem to have occurred to Wardill however.

It’s also easy to check that cutting the Cross-River project will go nowhere near filling the gap in the LNP’s promises. The commitment in the last budget was $2 billion, and the total (assuming no Commonwealth funding) is about $5.4 billion over 7 years, with a target completion date of 2024. Scrapping the current budget allocation of $2 billion would barely be enough to pay for the reintroduced Royalties for Regions program, let alone the many other ideas that have been floated. And none of that goes anywhere near achieving the promise of a surplus on fiscal balance.

So, as Robert Menzies famously asked, “Where’s the money coming from?”

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Why even bother ?

November 8th, 2017 17 comments

Questioned about the obvious arithmetical impossibility of his promises to increase spending, cut taxes and greatly improve the budget balance, Queensland LNP leader Tim Nicholls had two responses.

First, he claimed that he could balance the books by not renewing some unspecified programs as they aspire and by cutting government advertising expenditure. This is laughable. The savings from discretionary programs expiring in any given year are going to be tiny in relation to the billions Nicholls needs to find annually. As for government advertising, not only are the sums involved relatively modest, but this is a promise routinely made and broken by Opposition parties in just about every election. Nicholls may not like government advertising when Labor does it, but, in office, he was happy to spend $70 million on the Strong Choices asset sales campaign.

More importantly, Nicholls stated that his campaign would release costings by an unnamed accounting firm on 23 November, two days before the election and after lots of people have cast early votes. This is stunning. It’s obvious that the date has been selected to ensure that the costings can’t possibly be checked in time to confront him with the errors it will undoubtedly contain.

He might as well have promised them five minutes before the polls close on election day. Why even bother with such a charade?

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Here’s a fine mess

November 3rd, 2017 61 comments

The great citizenship debacle rolls on, and it’s hard to see anyone coming out of it looking good.

The primary blame goes to the High Court which decided to use an absurdly literal interpretation of the Constitution to knock out a couple of independent candidates back in the 1990s (they’d been naturalised but hadn’t properly revoked their previous citizenship). If the first person to fall afoul of this interpretation had been a senior government minister, I have no doubt the Court would have decided differently. But literalism and precedent are a disastrous combination.
Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Lamest. PM. Ever.

October 27th, 2017 43 comments

So, we’ve wasted $100 million on a postal survey that won’t decide anything. It’s already evident that, even with a thumping majority for Yes, the bigots on the LNP backbench will fight all the way to protect the right to be a bigot. They are, in my view, playing a dangerous game here. The existing law gives lots of special privileges to religious organizations that are justified only on the basis that we all need to get along tolerantly. If that rationale ceases to apply, all those privileges are open to question.

Meanwhile, all the fine words about letting the people decide have gone out the window when it comes to indigenous recognition. Even though Abbott has gone along with Turnbull on the decision, I think, if he were still PM. he might have done better on this issue.

In any case, this confirms me in the view that Turnbull is the weakest Prime Minister in living memory. I thought that Billy McMahon was a competitor for the title until I discovered that he took the decision to kill off Australia’s foray into nuclear power (they’d actually excavated the site at Jervis Bay) over the opposition of the redoubtable Sir Phillip Baxter who saw the project as a step towards an atomic weapons capability. The cancellation of this project was a bigger achievement than Turnbull can claim in his 20-odd years in public life, encompassing the Republic referendum, the Murray-Darling fiasco, the downgrade of the NBN and his two years as Prime Minister.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

A poll result I find hard to believe (two updates)

September 25th, 2017 34 comments

Nearly a week ago, I argued, in relation to the equal marriage survey that “most people will either respond straight away or not at all.” That was supported by an Essential poll, taken from Wednesday to Friday of the first week in which 9 per cent of those polled said they’d already responded. Since the first surveys were mailed out to rural areas on Monday, that looked like a rapid response. But the most recent Newspoll, conducted from last Friday to Monday reported only a 15 per cent response rate, even though nearly all those polled would have received the ballot. This didn’t reflect apathy or a boycott – the vast majority said they would definitely respond.

I don’t have any good reason to think Newspoll is drastically wrong on such a straightforward question, but I also can’t understand the result. Perhaps this is another example of the (apparently spurious) Pauline Kael fallacy, but everyone I know has already voted (mostly, though not exclusively, Yes). I’d appreciate any insights on this.

Update Essential has a poll out with 36 per cent saying they have already responded, 72 per cent of those saying Yes. No details yet on when the sample was taken, but it must overlap pretty closely with Newspoll. That’s a bigger difference between polls than I can recall seeing on any topic.

Further update Peter Brent in Inside Story quotes* leaked internal polling from the Yes side, reporting that 65 per cent of those polled had already returned their surveys. He describes this as “flabbergasting”, but it’s in line with my expectations. Still, the puzzle of how polls asking a simple factual question could yield such radically different answers remains unresolved. He makes the point that there’s always a reason for a leak, but this obviously isn’t what the Yes campaign would want to leak, since it implies that Yes has already won, or nearly so.

* Brent doesn’t give a link, but I dound the story here.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Putting the blame where it belongs

September 20th, 2017 23 comments

Queensland Premier Anna Palaszczuk has followed Bill Shorten in blaming privatisation for the woes of the electricity network. She’s basically right, although there’s much more wrong with the National Electricity Market than that.

Equally importantly, in terms of getting a good outcome, she’s on a political winner in the fight with the Turnbull government and particularly the Abbott faction pulling Turnbull’s strings.

No one fully understands what’s going wrong with energy policy, but Australians love renewable energy and hate privatisation. Both of these judgements are validated by experience. Renewable energy has overdelivered on its promises while privatisation has (at best) undelivered and more commonly made matters worse. So, the idea that the LNP can win the debate on energy policy by bashing renewables and attacking public ownership as socialism seems pretty implausible.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

The result is in the mail

September 19th, 2017 24 comments

We got our equal marriage survey forms in the mail yesterday, and posted them back today. From what I’ve seen, about half the forms were delivered last week and nearly all will be done by Friday. And I imagine, most people will either respond straight away or not at all. So, it was kind of strange to see the official campaigns being launched at the weekend, rather as if an ordinary election campaign started at lunchtime on election day*.

On the other hand, the results won’t be announced until November, and the ABS is working hard to prevent any release of partial information. That’s if the votes were kept under lock and key on election night and not counted until the last postals and absentees had come in.

In these circumstances, I’m hoping for the slow-motion version of an exit poll. Next week, any pollster so minded could survey people to ask if and how they voted. We wouldn’t have the problem, which affected pre-survey polling, of unpredictable turnout, so the results should be as accurate as an ordinary opinion poll (that is, a 95 per cent confidence interval of plus or minus 2-3 percentage points for a sample of 1-2000). Is anyone going to do this, I wonder?

* For byzantine funding reasons, the major parties now leave their election launch until the week before election day, when quite a few people have already voted. But this is taking it a step further.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Shorten changes the game on electricity

September 8th, 2017 64 comments

Somewhat lost in the noise surrounding yesterday’s High Court decision on the equal marriage survey was Bill Shorten’s statement that privatisation of the electricity industry in the 1990s was a major contributor to the current disaster. He’s essentially correct, though ‘privatisation’ has to be taken as shorthand for ‘the process of disaggregation and market reform of which privatisation was a central part’. I’ve been over this ground many times, including here and here, and have argued that renationalisation is the only solution.

Unsurprisingly, there’s been pushback from the Oz, which ran a piece headlined ‘Bill Shorten’s power play debunked” with the lead ‘Bill Shorten’s claim that the electricity crisis has been driven by privatisation has been dismissed by business leaders and energy experts,’.

It’s remarkably lame job.

The only business leader quoted is Tony Shepherd, formerly of the BCA, and last seen heading the disastrous Commission of Audit. Next up is Labor deserter, Michael Costa, followed by Jeff Kennett. Both Shepherd and Costa are climate denialists, which instantly destroys their credibility. Costa and Kennett have already had their privatisation policies rejected by voters, so it seems unlikely that their criticism will scare Shorten. In fact, he’s already hit back*

The only serious expert quoted is Tony Wood, but he doesn’t really help the Oz. He’s quoted as saying “Grattan Institute energy director Tony Wood rejected privatisation as the cause of the energy market crisis. He said 15 years of political disagreement on climate change policy and regulated monopolies in the electricity distribution networks were contributors to the current electricity crisis. He also pointed to the fact that in Queensland, the Palaszczuk government in June was forced to order its state-owned power generator Stanwell to pursue lower profits during heatwaves because of spikes in power prices.”

The first point is accurate enough, but the point about Queensland proves the opposite of what the Oz wants us to believe. It’s only because Stanwell is publicly owned that the Palaszczuk government can order it not to exploit the mess that is the National Electricity Market.

Turning to the politics of the issue, Shorten’s recasting of the debate is going to cause Turnbull a lot of problems. He’s made energy a central issue,, and is convinced that it’s a winner for the government. And, having attacked Shorten as wanting to turn Australia into North Korea, they can scarcely leave the privatisation debate.

This is likely to be disastrous for the government. Not only is privatisation politically toxic, but the government has already undermined any possible credibility on the issue with speculation that it will finance a new coal fired power station, along with Snowy 2.0 and other interventions. Once the debate moves on to the real issue of the failure of market reform, the culture war rhetoric on which the government has relied so far will be totally irrelevant.

* We shoudn’t pay too much attention to comments threads but it’s notable that even the Oz commentariat, almost uniformly made up of rightwing climate denialists, is far from united in support of privatisation.

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

The equal marriage survey

September 7th, 2017 57 comments

A few thoughts on the equal marriage survey, now that it’s going ahead.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Some unsolicited advice on equal marriage

August 20th, 2017 34 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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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