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Negging the NEG

April 4th, 2018 33 comments

The proposal of the pompously named “Monash Group” that public funds should be allocated to investment in coal-fired power stations is, of course, absurd. Leaving aside its environmental effects, new coal-fired power is far more expensive than renewables or gas.

Nevertheless, the proposal is welcome in a number of respects.

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The centre cannot hold

April 4th, 2018 42 comments

Lachlan Harris and Andrew Charlton have a piece in the Fairfax press decrying the collapse of centrism in Australia.

There are some problems with their data. As William Bowe has pointed out, the change in voter attitudes described by Harris and Charlton as “polarisation” looks more like a straighforward increase in support for the left, rising from 19.5 per cent to 31.4 per cent over the period 1996 to 2016. Measures of voter disaffection show no consistent trend over the period except for a sharp uptick in 2016.

Regardless of the data, there’s no reason to dispute the central claim that Australian politics is more polarised than at any time in the past twenty years.

The big problem with the piece, and the besetting sin of centrist analysis, is the near-complete absence of discussion of actual policy. The assumption is simply that whoever is in the middle must be right.
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Categories: Economics - General, Oz Politics Tags:

Changing places

March 17th, 2018 26 comments

When Malcolm Turnbull, as PM, first faced Bill Shorten, as Opposition Leader, I correctly surmised that this would be a contest between a bold and innovative leader, unafraid to put forward controversial policies if they were right for the country, and a timid pragmatist, tied down by secret deals with factional warlords, and standing for nothing. I just didn’t realise which was which.

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Where are the Greens going?

March 17th, 2018 84 comments

I haven’t had time to do a proper economic analysis of Labor’s proposals on dividend imputation credits. But you don’t need an economic analysis to see that making an overt appeal to conservative voters on the issue, as Richard di Natale has just done, is a very bad move if the Greens party wants to present itself as a left alternative to Labor.

Perhaps this is poor judgement in the heat of a by-election campaign, the significance of which seems to me to be greatly over-rated by all.

Alternatively, perhaps it indicates that di Natale is taking the Greens in a different direction. The obvious choices are

(i) A soft liberal centrist party in the mould of the Australian Democrats under Don Chipp
(ii) A serious push to displace Labor as the main alternative to the LNP

I don’t think there’s a real constituency for (i) and, to the extent that there is, it’s very different from the existing Greens support base.

I also don’t think (ii) has any chance of success. But, if it does, it will involve a lot of the kind of grubby compromises that are inevitably entailed in an attempt to put together an electoral majority. Labor’s shuffles on Adani and refugees are obvious examples, which have driven a lot of people to support the Greens. But now it looks as if the boot may be on the other foot.

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Weathervanes

February 21st, 2018 14 comments

I have a piece in Crikey (possibly paywalled) looking at the gyrations of our political leaders on climate policy in general and Adani in particular. I suppose what matters is that you end up facing the right way: on this test, Shorten does reasonably, Turnbull fails miserably and Abbott is laughable.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

A thought experiment

February 7th, 2018 43 comments

Suppose that the Constitution had made judges subject to the same eligibility requirements as MPs. How would the High Court have ruled in the cases that came before it?

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

There are more important issues than …

January 26th, 2018 31 comments

… whatever issue on which I want to avoid justifying my firmly held, but indefensible, position.

One of the rhetorical tricks I’ve noticed becoming increasingly common (though I may just have been sensitized to it) is opposition to some proposal, based on the claim that “there are more important issues to discuss”. Here’s a typical example from right wing culture warrior, Kevin Donnelly, campaigning against equal marriage in the leadup to the recent postal survey. Before commencing a lengthy diatribe against gay activism, Safe Schools, alcoholic and abusive parents, surrogacy and so on that barely mentions the topic of marriage, Donnelly says

about 98 per cent of Australians identify as heterosexual and according to the 2011 census figures only 1 per cent of Australian couples are same-sex, with surveys suggesting only a minority want same-sex marriage. There are more important issues to worry about.

If Donnelly believes the issue is unimportant, why is he writing about it? Why not just leave it up to the good sense of the majority of Australians, as the rhetoric of the plebiscite suggested? Why not focus his attention on problems like protecting children from the effects of alcoholism and domestic violence.

The answer is, of course, that Donnelly has no case, or none he is able to make publicly, but nonetheless is very concerned to stop equal marriage. In the absence of a case, he must resort to diversions. So, rather than explain why gay people should be denied the right to marry, he starts off by saying the issue is too unimportant to bother with.

Of course, there are plenty of questions that are too trivial to bother with, and the sensible response is not to bother with them. If pressed, one could reasonably respond “this issue isn’t worth my time, I’ll just go with whatever the majority decides”, but this is hardly ever done.

The only case where this trope is at least possibly justified is as an admonition to political allies not to be diverted into big efforts on trivial issues, when there are more important problems to deal with. Again, though, this only makes sense for someone who is themselves indifferent regarding whether and how these issues are resolved.

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More public holidays for a sustainable society

December 26th, 2017 43 comments

As I mentioned in relation to their advocacy of an end to coal, the Greens occupy a position where they can put forward policies that are outside the range of possibilities taken seriously by the commentariat. Another recent example is their proposal, during the Queensland election campaign for four additional public holidays. Of course, this idea was ridiculed by the major parties, which are still stuck in a mode of thinking where “jobs and growth” are ends in themselves rather than means to a better life. Jackie Trad, for example, was quoted as responding that “the election was about jobs, and that the proposal was “populist”, while Tim Nicholls described it as “loopy”. The attitudes expressed by Trad and Nicholls are typical of the neoliberal* thinking dating back to the 1980s that still dominates much of the political class.

Before the 1980s, it was generally understood that the benefits of technological progress included reductions in the paid work time needed to achieve a decent standard of living. Over the first three quarters of the 20th century, standard working hours were reduced from 48 per week to 44 then to 40, annual leave became a standard condition of employment, increased to four weeks a year in the 1970s, and the number of public holidays was increased. The last significant move in this direction was the 38 hour standard working week, introduced in 1983. Some more progressive Labor governments, such as that of the ACT have pushed for more public holidays. That’s the exception though: the general direction of public policy has been to push for more “flexible” (that is, flexible at the employer’s discretion) hours and working conditions, fewer long weekends and so on.

If we are to move to a more sustainable economy, a shift away from ever-increasing material consumption is necessary. A reduction in the time devoted to market work and production, as well as being desirable in itself, is an essential part of this process. An increase in the number of official public holidays, and a restoration of penalty rates for holiday work, would be an important signal that the era “jobs and growth” neoliberalism, setting the alarm clock early, and so on, is behind us.

* Here. I’m using “neoliberal” in the broad pejorative sense of “bad assumptions associated with the era of market reform that began in the 1980s” rather than in reference to a coherent theoretical position, for which I would typically use the term “market liberalism”. There’s nothing inherently free-market about the rhetoric of harder work, productivity and “competitiveness”, but the empirical fact is that they go together.

Categories: Economics - General, Oz Politics Tags:

Coalition politics and the end of market liberalism

December 14th, 2017 30 comments

Lots of commentators are making a fuss over the prospect of the Greens taking the seat of Batman following the likely and unlamented departure of Labor MP David Feeney (if not under S44 then at the next election). The underlying claim is that the election of Greens candidates represents an existential threat to Labor. This is typical of a commentariat mindset that sees anything other than majority Labor or LNP governments as recipes for disaster (the phrase “hung parliament” is indicative), even though we have decades of experience of such governments operating successfully both federally and in (I think) every state and territory. The reality is that, however fractious their relationship may be at times, Labor and the Greens constitute a centre-left coalition. As I said a year ago

For Labor that means giving up the idea that the Greens are a temporary irritant that will go the way of the DLP, if they are abused and/or ignored long enough. For the Greens, it means abandoning Third Way rhetoric suggesting that they represent an unaligned alternative to a two-party duopoly.

The details of the alignment between the two will vary according to the circumstances, from formal coalition to general support, but there is no alternative.

The problem of coalition politics is much more problematic on the right. Despite the frictions, I’m not thinking primarily of the LNP “coalition” (so rusted together that, even where they aren’t merged, the two are lumped together as a single “major party” in most commentary). Rather, the problem is the relationship between the LNP as a whole and the tribalist/Trumpist right, represented in various forms by One Nation, the Liberal Democratic Party, Bernardi’s Conservatives* as well as a large faction within the LNP itself. These two groups have nothing in common except that they have common enemies, and even that common ground is limited. They all hate greenies and unions, but the overt racism of One Nation and the religious bigotry of Bernardi repel lots of mainstream LNP types, while the Trumpist base is suspicious of banks and multinationals.

Most importantly, the ideological framework of market liberalism (aka neoliberalism, economic rationalism) and so on has lost its power, which always rested more on the idea that There Is No Alternative than on any positive appeal. Sermons about the need for reform, budget surpluses, more competitive tax regimes and so on no longer get the kind of automatic approval from the political class as a whole that they used to. So, the mainstream LNP no longer stands for anything in particular. Meanwhile, the Trumpists want nostalgic gesture politics without any concern for coherence or practical consequences.

For the immediate future, at least, politics in Australia has resolved itself into a struggle between two coalitions. Both are going to be fractious, but the big problems are going to be found on the right.

* There’s also the Katter party, but Katter is too idiosyncratic to fit into any classification.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Contradictions, Part 2

December 7th, 2017 14 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.

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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?”

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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?

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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