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Archive for the ‘Oz Politics’ Category

Post-School Education in Australia: The Case against Deregulation

September 19th, 2014 7 comments

That’s the title of my submission to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee inquiry into the Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014.

You can read it here

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

This is the model ? (updated and corrected)

September 16th, 2014 14 comments

The QS World University Rankings have just come out, and, as you might expect the top places (11 of the to 20 and 17 of the top 50) are dominated by US universities. By contrast Australia has five universities in the top 50 (ANU, Melbourne, Sydney, UQ and UNSW) So, you might think, this is a pretty good argument for following the US model. You get a different story, however, if you look at undergraduate enrolments (conveniently listed in Wikipedia)

I calculate that the 15 US universities in the top 50 have a total undergraduate enrolment of 210 000 (that’s dominated by a few public universities: Michigan, UC Berkeley, UCLA and Wisconsin-Madison, as well as Cornell which is partly public). By contrast, the five Australian unis enrol 148 000.

Adjusted for population, Australian students are about ten times as likely as Americans to attend a top 50 university.

Of course, the figures should be adjusted for fee-paying international students, who constitute a much larger share of the Australian student population than in the US. On the other hand, international enrolments at the top US universities are also increasing. And since many of them haven’t increased enrolments since the 1950s, the number of places for domestic American students is actually declining.

Note: I previously used the 2013 rankings. I’ve updated to the 2014 list, which includes UNSW and two more US universities. The ratios don’t change significantly as a result.

Further note In comments, reader Aldonius points to more accurate enrolment stats than I got from Wikipedia

109K domestic undergrads; 135K total (80% domestic) for ANU, Melbourne, Sydney, UQ and UNSW
723K domestic undergrads; 926K total (78% domestic) For all Oz universities

Here’s my US list

MIT 4528
Harvard 7200
Stanford 6980
Yale 5414
Chicago 5134
CalTech 978
Princeton 5336
Columbia 8365
Cornell 13935
JHU 6023
Michigan 27979
Duke 6495
Berkeley 25951
Northwestern 8459
UCLA 28674
NYU 19401
Wisconsin 29504
Total 210356

And for Australia

ANU 10231
Melbourne 38000
Sydney 32393
UQ 34228
UNSW 33000
Total 147852

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Three misguided beliefs of the Group of Eight universities

September 12th, 2014 7 comments

That’s the headline for a piece in the Conversation,looking at the arguments of the Group of Eight “sandstone” universities in favor of deregulation. Readers will be unsurprised to finde me in disagreement.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

The Australian Heartland

August 31st, 2014 41 comments

A while ago, the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a conservative/libertarian/denialist thinktank, got into a lot of trouble by putting up billboards with pictures of people like the Unabomber who, Heartland claimed, were climate change believers. A lot of corporate sponsorships got pulled, and Heartland’s insurance research group broke away en masse to form a new, non-denialist group, the R Street Institute.

The Institute of Public Affairs is Australia’s Heartland. Not only does it share the same positions (anti-science on tobacco, climate change and the environment, pro-corporate hackery and so on) there are close organizational ties. The IPA promotes Heartland events like its annual climate change denial conference (a bit more on this over the fold), and IPA Fellows such as Bob Carter have joint affiliations with Heartland.

And, lately, the IPA has run into its own version of the billboard scandal. Not long ago, IPA fellow Aaron Lane (former president of the Victorian young Libs) whose IPA output consisted mostly of low-grade attacks on unions and workers, was a Liberal party candidate in the Victorian state election. Lane was dumped, and lost his IPA gig, when he was found to have posted a string of homophobic and sexist tweets. A much bigger blow was the sacking of longtime Director of the IPA Deregulation Unit Alan Moran, over a string of tweets, of which the most damaging was one saying “Is there ever anything but evil coming from Islam”.

Quite a few interesting points arise here.
Read more…

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Oz Politics Tags:

We forgot to tell you we were tapping your metadata

August 11th, 2014 40 comments

The Abbott government has reached the stage where it can’t take a trick, even with things that ought to be surefire winners for a conservative government. We saw this not long ago with the attack on dole bludgers. And it’s emerged again with the attempt to cover the retreat on Section 18C with new anti-terror measures (or, in the government’s telling the dumping of 18C to secure support for the anti-terror measures).

After the Brandis fiasco, the government wheeled out the chiefs of ASIO and the AFP to explain that there was nothing to worry about: police were already storing and searching our metadata on a massive scale (300 000 requests last year) and just wanted to ensure this continued.

Unfortunately, the environment has changed since the revelations made by Edward Snowden and others on the extensive (and, in aspiration, total) surveillance of communications by the US NSA. It seems likely that the end result of this will be a rolling back of the extreme surveillance powers grabbed by the authorities over the last decade.

And, while I’m at it, can we stop talking as if we are facing a massive existential crisis because of the threat of terrorism. For most of the 20th century we were threatened with invasion or nuclear annihilation, and we managed to maintain our liberties. We should do the same this time.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Oz Politics Tags:

IPA unsure about free speech

August 10th, 2014 26 comments

The reaction of the Institute of Public Affairs to the Abbott governments backdown on the race-hate proviions Section 18C has been, by its own admission, intemperate (“white hot anger” is the description they used; I think I also saw “ice-cold rage”.

By contrast, the IPA has been much more ambivalent on freedom of speech. I noted a while ago, this piece suggesting that environmentalists who questioned the viability of the coal industry could be prosecuted either under securities legislation or as an illegal secondary boycott. This view isn’t unanimous however. Following some Twitter discussion (must get Storify working properly for things like this) Chris Berg pointed to a piece he’d written arguing against such a use of secondary boycott legislation (and against such legislation in general).

I was, naturally interested in how Freedom Commissioner and former IPA fellow Tim Wilson would respond to proposals to suppress free speech coming from his former organization. However, my Twitter interactions with him were thoroughly unsatisfactory. His initial response to my suggestion that he had been silent was rather snarky

um, go and read the transcript of the last senate estimates I appeared at

I did so, and found only a brief statement that he would be looking at the secondary boycott issue. Pressed, he said the issue would be discussed at the the Free Speech 2014 conference. The day came and I couldn’t find anything relevant in reports of Wilson’s remarks. So, I tweeted again and got the response “Mark Dreyfus just talked about it!

Indeed Mark Dreyfus (Shadow Attorney General) gave a great speech. But I was still interested in what Wilson had to say on the topic. Alas, my tweet on this went unanswered. Judging by a previous response, Wilson intends to duck the issue.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Three cheers for Stephen Parker

August 9th, 2014 35 comments

The last time I heard news of Stephen Parker, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Canberra, he was standing up to the Oz and its editor Chris Mitchell who had threatened to sue journalist and UC academic Julie Posetti for accurately reporting remarks made by a former Oz journalist in a public conference. That episode is worth remembering any time anyone suggests that the Oz is a newspaper (in the traditional sense of the term), let alone an advocate for free speech. It is, as I’ve said many times, a dysfunctional blog that is, for some reason, printed on broadsheet paper.

In this instance, Parker was doing exactly what you would expect of a university leader: defending an academic doing her job from outside interference. Sadly, in Australia these days, that can’t be taken for granted. The rise of managerialism has thrown up a number of VCs (or now, in the US mode, Presidents) who would instinctively side with Chris Mitchell in such a dispute.

That kind of outright betrayal of university values is still not the norm. On the other hand, given the financial pressure under which all universities have been operating for years, it is unsurprising that most VCs have been keen to support proposals for “deregulation” of fees, even though, as is inevitable with this government, they are poorly thought out and certain to be inequitable in practice. The lead, as I mentioned, has been taken by Ian Young of ANU. Others have their doubts, I think, but have kept quiet.

I’m happy to say that Parker has been the first to break ranks on this issue, writing in The Age that

An earlier generation of vice-chancellors would have stood up for students. I say, reject the whole set of proposals, on their behalf, and then let’s talk.

I hope his bravery leads others to follow.

Categories: #Ozfail, Oz Politics Tags:

Team Australia

August 7th, 2014 84 comments

George Brandis’ spectacular live meltdown over metadata retention has distracted attention from the abandonment of the government’s plans to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, prohibiting the kind of racial abuse dished out by the likes of Andrew Bolt and Fredrick Toben. Abbott’s rationale is that a purist attitude to freedom of (racially divisive) speech is something we can’t afford, given the need to unite against terrorism.

Obviously, neither Bolt nor Toben is a member of Team Australia[1]. Each makes it their primary business to stir up hatred, in Toben’s case against Jews and in Bolt’s case against (among many others) the “muslims, jihadists, people from the Middle East” he sees as responsible for Abbot’s backdown. The striking conflation of religion, geographical origin and terrorism is typical of Bolt’s approach.

Horrible as he is, though, Toben is not a serious problem. His Holocaust denialism is universally reviled, and it is a sign of strength, not weakness, in our democracy that he is free to walk the streets. Repealing the constraints imposed on him by 18C would only emphasise this.

Bolt is another story. It is his case that led the government to seek the repeal of 18C, and that motivated George Brandis’ gaffe (that is, a politically inconvenient statement of an actual belief) that people have a right to be bigots. Far from being reviled, Bolt has been embraced and coddled by the government, to the point of having exclusive access to the Prime Minister. He enjoys a well-rewarded position in the Murdoch Press. Even casting the net wider among our so-called libertarians, I’ve can’t recall seeing a harsh word against Bolt. He’s a tribal ally and his bigotry is either endorsed or passed over in silence.

It’s impossible in these circumstances, for the government to be taken seriously when they mouth the (apocryphal) Voltaire line about defending to the death speech with which they disagree. The repeal of 18C was clearly intended as an endorsement of Bolt, and not a statement of bare toleration. That position is now untenable, and it’s too late to switch back to Voltaire.

In summary, those on the right lamenting the continued existence of 18C ought to reflect on the fact that it’s their own overt or tacit endorsement of bigotry that’s brought this about. If they cleaned house, and dissociated themselves from the likes of Bolt, their claims to be supporting free speech might acquire a little more credibility.

fn1. I was going to add Sheikh Hillaly to this list. But based on this report, he seems to have joined the Team.

Categories: Economics - General, Oz Politics Tags:

Stafford by-election

July 20th, 2014 32 comments

Another big loss for the Newman LNP government here in Queensland, with a swing of nearly 19 per cent in the Stafford by-election. I did my little bit for this, speaking at a public forum on asset sales. However, since only the Labor and Green candidates showed up, and no-one in the crowd seemed inclined to vote for the LNP or Family First anyway, I doubt that my contribution to margin was noticeable.

Like Newman’s previous drubbing, this by-election was caused by the resignation of the sitting LNP member. However, whereas in the previous case, the resignation resulted from personal financial scandals, the member for Stafford was a doctor who resigned as a result of disagreement with Newman’s health policy. So, the outcome may fairly be interpreted as a rejection of the government’s approach, both in terms of policy substance and authoritarian style.

There is so much disillusionment with politics at present that just about anything can happen. My own guess is that the state election, due in March next year, will see Newman lose his own seat of Ashgrove (held on a margin of 5.7 per cent) and that no party will secure a majority. After that, who knows? Informed or uninformed speculation welcome.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Hoist by their own petard

July 13th, 2014 36 comments

Tristan Edis has a nice piece in Climate Spectator contrasting the many statements made by Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt (echoed by Bolt, Blair, Devine, McCrann etc) before the election about the impact of the carbon tax on the price of everything from airfares to supermarket goods with the reality that this impact was minuscule. The implication is that removing the tax won’t have anything like the broad effects on the cost of living that Abbott has promised.

It was this gap between rhetoric and reality that produced last weeks fiasco and the Senate, and may yet derail the government’s entire policy. Taking the government at its rhetorical word, Clive Palmer wanted the ACCC to ensure that all major firms, including airlines and supermarkets, rolled back the cost increases imposed as a result of the carbon tax. Greg Hunt assured everyone that the legislation would do so but it turned out there was no specific reference to anything but electricity. This was for the obvious reason that, in other industries, there was no cost increase to roll back.

All of this gives Clive Palmer, if he wants it, the opportunity to make whatever mischief he chooses. There’s no real way the government can deliver on its rhetoric about reducing the cost of living, so he can demand whatever he wants in the way of add-ons to their legislation.

Categories: Environment, Oz Politics Tags:

With Reformicons like this, no wonder the Reactobots always win

July 6th, 2014 41 comments

Over the fold, a piece a posted in Crooked Timber on the miserable position of the “Reformicons” – conservative writers who are trying to put some intellectual lipstick on the pig that is the Republican Party.

This isn’t a problem in Australia – there are, as far as I can tell, no intellectually serious conservatives left at all. The dominant thinktank is the IPA, a mirror of the US Heartland Foundation, which is utterly discredited, even on the right for its embrace of delusionism on everything from economic policy to climate change.[1] Quadrant, once a serious publication, is now a sad joke.

And then there’s the Oz. Enough said.

Read more…

Core promises (repost from 2008)

May 18th, 2014 55 comments

Now that Tony Abbott’s ‘fundamentally honest’ has joined John Howard’s ‘core promises’ in the lexicon of spin, I thought I’d repost this piece from 2008, urging Kevin Rudd to keep his (unwise and damaging) promise to adopt most of Howard’s proposed tax cuts.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Australian right a dumping ground for failed US ideas

May 16th, 2014 63 comments

It’s been obvious for quite a few years that the Australian rightwing commentariat takes most of its ideas from the US Republican party. A more recent development is that they seem to be importing ideas that have already failed in their home country. I mentioned Voter ID recently. My Twitter feed has also been full of factoids along the lines “48 per cent of Australians pay no net tax”, being pushed by Miranda Devine and others. Obviously these are derived from the “47 per cent” line made famous by Mitt Romney in 2012 [1]. We all know how that went for Romney, and of course we also know what’s wrong with the factoid. I’ll talk a bit more about the specifics over the fold, but it’s worth asking what’s going on here.

The most obvious point is that the Australian right hasn’t had any new ideas in 30 years or more. Everything in the recent Commission of Audit report (a more coherent version of the ideology reflected in a distorted fashion in Hockey’s Budget) could have been (and often was) taken from the 1996 version, and everything in the 1996 report could have been found in documents like Wolfgang Kasper’s Australia at the Crossroads published in 1980, and similar documents. Everything useful in this set of ideas was implemented decades ago: what remain are the items that are either permanently untouchable in political terms (eg road pricing) or unworkable for one reason or another (eg handing income tax back to the states).

So, it’s scarcely surprising that they need to import from abroad. But the US Republicans aren’t in any better state. Their big causes a decade ago were the culture war (primarily equal marriage which was seen as wedging the Democrats), climate denialism and the Global War on Terror, which was transmuted into the invasion of Iraq. Most of our current rightwing commentariat (Bolt, Blair, Devine etc) cut their teeth on this stuff, and have never really outgrown it.

The Repubs are now in a state of complete intellectual collapse, unable to produce a coherent position on anything, from immigration to health care to budget policy. They survive only on the basis of tribal hatred of Obama. Since that doesn’t sell well in Oz, the local right is forced to live on discredited failures like Voter ID and “47 48 per cent of the population are takers”.

It’s the combination of tired economic rationalism and imported tribalism that makes the Abbott-Hockey such a mess, and the efforts of its remaining defenders so laughable.

Read more…

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Oz Politics Tags:

Mean and tricky

May 14th, 2014 40 comments
Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Bahnisch is back!

May 14th, 2014 24 comments

I missed the memo, but Mark Bahnisch, formerly of Larvatus Prodeo is back, at the (much more sensibly named) New Social Democrat. Not posting often, but I still have a lot of reading to catch up on. This, on the Budget and the crisis of Australia’s political class, is superb.

Categories: Metablogging, Oz Politics Tags:

Don’t Follow Leaders, Watch The Parking Meters

May 13th, 2014 78 comments

The dispute over the Greens apparent intention to oppose a more progressive tax system has heated up again, on Facebook and elsewhere, especially given indications that the proposed return to indexation of petrol excise will be passed, as it should be. In combination, if pursued, these policies can be presented, with some justice, as pandering to the self-interest of the stereotypical Greens voter: high income, inner city, with no need to use much petrol.

I haven’t seen anyone defend the pro-rich tax policy on the merits, but I’ve had vigorous pushback from people whose views I would generally respect, taking the following lines

* Labor is doing the same thing, why pick on the Greens
* The policy may be right, but it’s being advocated for the wrong reason (deficit fetishism)
* The policy may be right, but it’s being put forward by the wrong people (evil Abbott government)
* This is only a small step, we need something much bigger and more comprehensive

I’ll respond to these points over the fold, but for the moment I want to observe that these excuses, or minor variants, can be and have been made for every policy sellout in the history of politics. No one gives them the slightest credence when they are put forward by people who aren’t close allies.

The fact that so many intelligent people are willing to buy this sort of case when it’s put forward by the Greens is evidence of the proposition that none of us is immune to the kinds of biased thinking that have completely corrupted the intellectual base of the political right. Fortunately, I think, the left as a whole is more self-critical, so that this kind of reasoning gets a tougher run. But for me, this emphasises the importance of not being aligned with any political party to the extent that loyalty clouds my judgement on the issues. That doesn’t immunise me from various kinds of biases, but at least it helps with problems like this.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Voter suppression comes to Oz

May 13th, 2014 11 comments

I’ve been commenting for a while on the descent of the Australian right into tribalist politics, largely imported from the US Republicans. Even people you might expect to be unaffected like this, such as Joe Hockey, come out with tribal shibboleths such as his statement that wind turbines are offensive[1]. A striking instance of this is the campaign for voter ID, now being pushed by the Murdoch press. Those involved in this shameful exercise include Clive Palmer, Jarrod Bleijie and the Liberal party apparatus, none of which is surprising. More depressing is the fact that Malcolm Turnbull is part of the push. It really seems that there is no hope for a sane and decent conservatism[2] in Australia.

This Republican strategy for suppressing voters works well in the US where registration and voting are both voluntary and (for poor and black people) as difficult as the Repubs can make them (though of course, they have nothing on their own former incarnation as Southern Democrats, in the years before the Voting Rights Act. It’s hard to see this working to suppress votes in Australia, unless voting is made voluntary. Even if you are sent home for not having ID, the requirement to vote is still there. More generally, the whole ethos of Australian electoral systems has been to promote voting[3]

In any case, the timing of this latest foray into tribalism looks pretty bad. US courts are striking down voter ID laws following the obvious evidence that they suppress legitimate voters rather than stopping fraudulent ones. In many cases, the proponents of the law have been unable to produce a single instance of in-person voter impersonation (the only kind of fraud stopped by ID laws).

fn1. As, I think Fran B commented on my Twitter feed, George Brandis will doubtless note that “but they have a right to be offensive”! Brandis, another supposed “wet” has been busy outing himself as a conspiracy-theoretic climate denier
fn2. AFAICT, self-described libertarians are no better on this
fn3. Howard tried some dirty tricks to stop newly eligible 18 years olds from voting, but this is tinkering at the edges.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Leadership

April 29th, 2014 26 comments

I’ve never been a fan of the idea of leadership[1][2]. This hagiographic portrait of Campbell Newman by Griffith University political scientist Paul Williams illustrates the problem. He describes Newman’s approach to policy execution as following the army’s ” “Task, Group, Individual” paradigm” and is fulsome (in all senses of the word) in his praise, concluding

Whether you support or oppose Newman’s policy choices, the evidence is the Premier is not engaging in random reactionary politics but, rather, adhering to a considered leadership plan. In the end, that’s all anyone can ask.

Well, no.

* We would reasonably ask that Newman should adhere to his election commitments which promised public servants their jobs would be safe.
* We could reasonably ask that basic rights like freedom of association should be preserved
* We could reasonably ask that our government should not spend millions of dollars of our money pushing claims about asset sales that no economist (not even strong advocates of privatisation) accepts.

If “leadership” meant persuading the public of the merits of particular policies, there would be a lot to be said for it. But, invariably, “leadership” means ramming through policies that voters don’t want, and hoping they will forget by the next election. In these circumstances, I’d prefer random reaction to a considered plan to do the opposite of what you promised.

fn1. One of its sadder outings was Labor’s doomed 1996 election campaign, which for some reason added a full stop to the word for its slogan. The sight of a “Leadership.” banner sagging to the floor on election night said it all.
fn2. I’ve long had the idea of writing a book on “followership”, on the general model of The Good Soldier Schweik. The key idea would be that a good follower makes sure that the leader is between them and whoever is shooting at them.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Joining a sinking ship

April 26th, 2014 39 comments

According to news reports, Education Minister Christopher Pyne is going to reprise his successful Gonski exercise of last year with an attempt to remodel the Australian university system along US lines, as recommended by former Howard education minister David Kemp and his adviser Andrew Norton. In particular, he hopes to expand the role of the private sector.

Apparently none of these people have read the stream of reports coming out of the US making the points that

* Whereas the US was once the world leader in the proportion of young people getting university education it now trails much of the OECD (including, if I got the numbers right, Australia)
* US university education, even in the state system, is ruinously unaffordable
* The top tiers of the US system are increasingly closed to students from all but the top 5 per cent (or less) of the income distribution
* The US has the most inequality and some of the lowest social mobility in the developed world
* For-profit education in the US is a scam, based on exactly the mechanism promoted by Kemp and Norton, namely access to public funding/

The US tertiary education system is now like the US health system: world-beating for the 1 per cent, high-quality but incredibly expensive for the top 20, unaffordable or non-existent for the middle class and the poor. And this is the model the LNP wants to emulate

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

Polls and punters

April 15th, 2014 21 comments

I’ve written a few times about the idea that betting markets provide a more accurate guide to political outcomes than do polls or ‘expert’ judgements or statistical models (which usually incorporate polls along with economic and other data). The problem is that, close to an election, they all tend to converge. So, the best time to do a comparison is early in the election cycle. Right now there’s quite a sharp contrast. The polls have had the (federal) ALP and LNP just about level for months, but the betting markets have the LNP as strong favorites.

One possible explanation is that governments generally do worse in polls than in election, so that the polls underestimate the government’s support. I’ve heard this claimed, but never seen any systematic evidence to support it. Another possibility is that market participants know something that’s not reflected in the polls. I’m sceptical on this.

The final possibility is that betting markets this far out from the election are thin and inefficient. If that’s right, then the odds for Labor look very favorable. I’m not going to bet myself (I did OK on my one foray into the US Republican primaries, but the hassle involved was too much to make it worthwhile), and I’m not giving betting advice.

Still, I’d be interested in responses from those among my fellow economists who’ve claimed efficiency properties for betting markets. I guess Andrew Leigh is precluded from commenting, and Justin Wolfers is a long way from the action in Oz, but I’m sure there must be others willing to jump in

Categories: Economics - General, Oz Politics Tags:

Freedom of speech (if you’re a boss or a bigot)

April 6th, 2014 87 comments

Hard on the heels of the fiasco over the “Bolt clause” in the government’s proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act[1] comes the news that the government is prohibiting public servants in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet from criticising it in any medium, even anonymously, and urging colleagues to dob in violators. Except for the handful of people who took the government’s talk about free speech seriously, there’s no surprise here. But I’d like to respond to this from the “Freedom Commissioner”, Tim Wilson of the IPA, who says

“Ultimately public servants voluntarily and knowingly choose to accept these limits on their conduct when they accept employment”.

On the contrary, it seems clear from the report that, at a minimum, the interpretation of existing rules (allowing free comment in general, but not on matters related to your own work) is being tightened. For example, the kinds of comments made by Greg Jericho under the pseudonym Grog’s Gamut, which were considered acceptable in the past, now appear to be proscribed.

More generally,it’s important to remember that Wilson, like all propertarians, is no friend of free speech. Propertarians may oppose governmentally imposed restrictions on the speech of people who have no dealings with the government, but the standard position is that any employer, or landlord should be free to sack or evict, anyone they don’t like for any reason, including their political views. Of course (echoing Anatole France) the position is one of majestic equality. If you don’t like the views of your boss, or landlord, you’re entirely free to quit your job, or move out (but not of course to sleep under a bridge).

As for the government, the principle applying to public servants apply equally to pensioners, road users, beneficiaries of national defence and so on (that is, everyone). You knew what you signed up for when you decided to stay here, rather than doing the decent libertarian thing and seasteading or moving to Mars. So, if the government chooses to impose conditions on your political activity, you’ve got no right to complain.

Update It’s been pointed out in comments that the directive, from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet applies only to staff in that department and not, as I originally read it, to the Commonwealth Public Service as a whole. It appears to be a tightening of existing restrictions, but not, as I suggested above, a wholesale removal of freedom of political opinion. I’ve edited the post accordingly.

Even though the original post was overstated, the general trend is clear, as Jeff Sparrow points out here. The government is seeking to remove any restrictions on the speech of its powerful friends, while tightening restrictions on its enemies, in keeping with its general tribalist approach to politics.

fn1. So-called because the aim was to create room for racially offensive lies by people the government likes (such as Bolt) while ruling out lies the government dislikes, such as the Holocaust revisionism of Fredrick Toben. It turns out that drawing a legally watertight distinction between Bolt and Toben is more difficult than the government expected.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Climate denial and the decline of the IPA

March 28th, 2014 43 comments

The Institute of Public Affairs has long been a major source of anti-science climate denial, following naturally from its earlier role as the leading denier of the health risks of passive smoking. While intellectually disreputable, this aspect of the IPA’s output seemed not to pose a problem for its broader role as an advocate of market-oriented economic policies. Indeed, given the frequency with which free-market economics and anti-science nonsense on all sorts of issues go together, the two seemed like a comfortable fit.

Over time, however, major corporations have become more wary of being linked to climate denialism, with the result that the IPA has become increasingly dependent on wealthy private donors like Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch, whose definition of “free market” appears to be “lots of free stuff for Gina and Rupert”. In particular, Rinehart and her front group Australians for Northern Development are pushing the federal government to offer a tax holiday for Northern Australia, where most of her business interests are located. The IPA has delivered in full for Gina, including

* Joint work with ANDEV pushing the case for massive tax expenditures
* Prominently announcing that Ms Rinehart, arguably Australia’s greatest corporate welfare queen, had received a “2012 Visionary CEO Award”[1].

To get a feel for the kind of nonsense the IPA is now espousing, listen to this interview with the head of ANDEV on RN Bush Telegraph. It’s a display of rent-seeking that would have been considered brazen back in the days of ‘protection all round’. Particularly absurd, and offensive, is the suggestion that an income tax holiday designed to attract lots of (non-indigenous) workers to Northern Australia will somehow benefit the indigenous community.[2]

Of course, as long as Tony Abbott is in office, the fact that the IPA has lost all intellectual credibility won’t be a problem. But in the long run, the embrace of climate denial is exacting a high price for the IPA, as for US counterparts like Heartland.

fn1. I can’t find anything about this award on Google, except for an apparently unrelated gong given by a US outfit call qad.com. It appears to be an instance of the Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence, except that IIRC, Burns gave the award to Homer, not himself.
fn2. Compare Rinehart to Andrew Forrest, who at least makes efforts to employ indigenous people, and criticises Rinehart for not doing the same.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Oz Politics Tags:

Send in the clowns

March 26th, 2014 80 comments

I’ve been working on a post about how to respond to commentators like Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt, and about the suggestion that they should simply be dismissed as clownish entertainers, to be ignored rather than criticised. But now that the Abbott government has turned into a clownshow (or maybe one of those medieval theatre restaurant shows) it’s hard to know what to do.

Read more…

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Oz Politics Tags:

Bolt and the right to be a bigot

March 24th, 2014 104 comments

The ABC News report on the government’s legislation to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, motivated by the Bolt case, makes interesting reading. Foreshadowing the legislation designed to prevent future cases of this kind, AG George Brandis notes that it defends “the right to be a bigot“.

Brandis didn’t draw the obvious implication, but he didn’t have to. Bolt has made a career out of pandering to the bigotry of his audience. As with others in the crowded field of rightwing journamalism, it’s not clear whether Bolt himself is a bigot, or whether he just plays one on the Internet, but the act is loud enough to please his ignorant and bigoted readers, and skilful enough to earn him plenty of friends among people who should know enough to be ashamed of themselves.

I don’t have a fixed view on the legislation in question, but my feeling is that racial bigotry should, at the least, be an aggravating factor in cases of individual defamation. If that rule were applied, the plaintiffs in the Bolt case would almost certainly have received substantial damages in individual defamation actions, given the findings that Bolt’s racially loaded claims about them were factually false and “not made reasonably and in good faith”.

Update I should have mentioned that “bigot” is a euphemism for the R-word, which our defenders of free speech insist must never be applied to anyone, with the exception of one person who is excluded here by virtue of Godwin’s Law.

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, Oz Politics Tags:

March in March statement

March 18th, 2014 24 comments

I was invited to speak at last Sunday’s March in March, but was unable to go as I was entered in a triathlon in Mooloolaba[1]. So I wrote a statement to be read at the meeting, which was then published in in Independent Australia[2]. It’s over the fold.

After I wrote this statement, there was a bit of discussion in comments here as to whether the March was a party-political event in support of the ALP. I have no information about the organizers, but they were certainly happy to take a statement critical of both major parties

Read more…

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Abbott and tribalism

March 14th, 2014 163 comments

I’ve been too busy to post much, but I’ve written a number of articles over the past month or so that might be interesting to readers here. This one, published by various Fairfax papers looks at the damp squib of the G20 finance ministers meeting, and links it to the Abbott government’s elevation of tribalism over good government, and even over market liberal ideology.

There’s a follow-up here from Charles Richardson at Crikey and something more on similar lines by Rob Burgess at the Business Spectator

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

Don’t blame me: I voted for Kodos

March 6th, 2014 55 comments

Former Queensland Transport Minister Rachel Nolan (whose argument for privatisation I discussed here) has a piece in the Brisbane Times attacking the Electrical Trades Union (disclosure: I produced a report on electricity privatisation for the Victorian branch of the union). The headline is “The ETU is nobody’s friend“, and that pretty much sums up the article – Nolan’s complaint is that the ETU has had the temerity to attack both the previous Labor government and the current LNP government over the same issues, broken promises and support for asset sales.

As Nolan admits, Labor suffered from a

a widely perceived breach of trust – the fact that Labor went to the 2009 election on a slogan of “Jobs, not cuts” and then announced a program of asset sales seemingly as soon as the result was declared

With the exception of the weasel words “widely perceived” and “seemingly”, this is spot on. And the voters reacted long before the ETU had a chance to mount a campaign. Labor’s support plummeted in the polls and, with the exception of a brief blip after the 2011 floods, never recovered.

Now, Nolan complains, the ETU is doing the same thing to the LNP government whose victory they assisted by campaigning against the asset sales. Why? Well,

LNP members’ willingness to stand by the ETU[1], hands on hearts telling us they didn’t believe in Labor’s asset sales, is an act of breathtaking hypocrisy – perhaps bettered only by the pre-election reassurances they gave public servants – with which they now have to live.

So, the crime of the ETU is not to criticise asset sales or dishonesty. It would be fine, according to Nolan, if they made these criticisms of one side (preferably the LNP) and ignored similar actions by the other. But to attack both sides indiscriminately is to undermine the very foundations of the two-party system.

All of this makes sense in Nolan’s world view. As she says in her Monthly article “ Australians have little philosophical grasp of the (rightful) diminution of governmental power which deregulation has brought”. Hence, it is necessary for the two major political parties to lie at election time, in order to secure office and implement the policies on which they both agree. A good friend, in Nolan’s world is a person who picks one of the interchangeable teams, and sticks to it.

And finally, there’s this little gem where Nolan (Ipswich Girls Grammar and UQ alumna) makes clear her contempt for ordinary workers, and for hard-won working conditions, abundantly clear

It might be fun for the bruvvers to chant on their RDO before heading off for a few beers but most people aren’t just troglodytes who are opposed to everything – they do not share the distorted world view of the ETU.

Perhaps if she rechecked the results of the last election, she might conclude that “most people” with whom she mixes are not a particularly representative sample of the Queensland public, and that the “bruvvers” are actually a bit closer.

fn1. As far as I can tell, the claim of “standing by the ETU” is bogus. To the best of my knowledge, the ETU never gave the LNP any support or expressed any faith in their promises. But, thanks to the two-party system, attacking one party is seen as equivalent to supporting the other.

fn2. Thanks for alerts on this from my wife Nancy and from commenter Megan.

.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Quiggin and Catallaxy vs Newman and Bligh

March 1st, 2014 25 comments

I’ve had a few responses to my recent report on the history of electricity privatisation and market reform in Australia. There’s one here from Lynnette Molyneux, who’s with another research group in my own school, and one from the Electricity Supply Association (doesn’t seem to be online, I’ll post a link shortly). Most interestingly, one from Sinclair Davidson at Catallaxy[1] who starts with a couple of points of agreement.

A couple of thing where we agree:

Economists, at least when they were thinking clearly and speaking honestly, were as one in rejecting the most popular political reasons for privatisation: as source of cash for governments or a way of financing desired public investments without incurring public debt.

I made a similar argument recently in New Zealand.

Then he is critical of Public-Private Partnerships. I am too – albeit for different reasons. All too often, I suspect, they are financing mechanisms looking for infrastructure to finance, as opposed to being a positive NPV infrastructure project looking for financing.

before going on to quibbles and more substantive criticism.

I’ll try to present a proper rejoinder to the criticisms later, but for now I want to observe the striking fact that the point on which Davidson and I, and (AFAICT) all Australian economists, agree is also the focus of agreement between Campbell Newman and his predecessor, Anna Bligh, along with Peter Costello, Barry O’Farrell, and the great majority of Australian politicians[2]. The only problem is that the politicians agree on a view exactly opposite to that of the economists

Read more…

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

A conversation with Arthur Gietzelt

February 8th, 2014 165 comments

There’s been quite a lot of discussion about the political views of former Senator Arthur Gietzelt, who died recently at the age of 93, and in particular about claims[1] that he was a secret member of the Communist Party.

Although it’s scarcely conclusive, this is one of the few occasions when I have some direct evidence to contribute to a discussion of this kind. In the aftermath of 1975, I formed the view (ill-advised in retrospect) that I could help fix Australia’s problems by becoming a Labor party staffer. I wanted to move to Sydney, so I applied to all the shadow ministers based there, receiving replies only from Doug McClelland and Arthur Gietzelt.

I can’t remember much about McClelland, or even for sure if I met him. As I recall, he was associated with the Right, but didn’t have the thuggish persona that generally went with that group, especially after the rise of Graham Richardson.

But, although I didn’t get the job, I did have a brief conversation with Gietzelt, who said something to me along the following lines “When I was your age [I was in my early 20s at the time], we all thought the Soviet Union was the way of the future. But you young people will have to find a different way forward”. My politics then were much as they are now, on the left, but strongly anti-communist, and of course, I was puzzled as to how the left should respond to the resurgence of neoliberalism/market liberalism, represented at the time by Malcolm Fraser(!). So this resonated with me in a number of ways, and I’ve never forgotten it.

I took it to mean that Gietzelt had once been a communist sympathizer (whether a party member or ‘fellow traveller’) but had ceased to be so. That wouldn’t be totally inconsistent with an association with the then Communist Party of Australia, which had broken from Moscow after the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, but that wasn’t the impression I had: I assumed that his views had changed well before that, presumably in the wake of the Hungarian invasion and Kruschchev’s secret speech.

As I say, this is scarcely decisive evidence, but Gietzelt had no reason to mislead me, and no need to say anything at all to me along these lines: in all probability we were never going to meet again, and we didn’t.[2] So, my own guess is that, if Gietzelt was ever a member of the Communist Party, it was well before he entered the Federal Parliament.

[fn1] Made most prominently, I think, by Mark Aarons, who, however, wasn’t drawing on personal knowledge but from a reading of ASIO files – scarcely a reliable source as anyone who remembers the ASIO of the Cold War era will attest

[fn2] It was a long time ago, and it’s possible that I was still a candidate for the job. But presumably, in that case, a secret CPer would be dropping hints in the other direction, to see if I was likely to be OK with the idea.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Putting their worst foot forward

January 22nd, 2014 64 comments

I don’t usually watch much TV, which doubtless hampers me in keeping in touch with the mood of the Australian electorate, most of whom still get much of their political news from this source. But, over the summer break, I tend to take things easier which means watching more TV, and taking less interest in politics. So, I don’t think the following observations are way out of line with general public reactions

* When it limped into the end of its first session, the talk coming out of the Abbott government’s media cheer squad was that they would let us watch the cricket in the hope that we’d forget the fiascos of their first few months. Instead, they’ve generated more and worse political coverage than I can ever remember for this time of year, floating trial balloons, rerunning culture wars and so on

* As I remember them from Opposition a fair few of our new rulers are reasonably personable types. But the government’s media strategy has been to keep them all in the background, and to push the most appalling thugs and fools (Pyne, Morrison, Bernardi, Newman (Campbell and Maurice), Andrews) to the forefront. Or maybe there is no strategy, and they are just letting everyone do what comes naturally

But perhaps there is a brilliant plan here, and I’m missing it. Any thoughts?

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Oz Politics Tags: