Tsunami update

Six months ago, a number of readers of this blog gave generously to the Red Cross Tsunami appeal. I’m planning another appeal before long, and I thought it might be useful to link to this report (PDF file) on what’s being done.

Progress is slow, as a number of recent reports have pointed out, but things would be much worse if not for the generosity of the relief effort.

Aid is good, and so is trade. Watching TV tonight, the beaches of Phuket looked very tempting, and as one of the few hardy tourists pointed out, there’s no real reason to fear another tsunami hitting the same spot. If you’re thinking of a beach holiday, it looks like this might be a great opportunity to get a good deal and do a good turn at the same time.

What I’m reading

“Vision Splendid: A Social And Cultural History of Rural Australia” (Richard Waterhouse) A valuable work in the Raymond Williams cultural tradition, notably free of any desire to interrogate boundaries or supply transgressive hermeneutics, but still capable of challenging some of my preconceptions. I’ve written a review which is over the fold. It’s aimed at my local economics journal, Economic Analysis and Policy, hence the somewhat idiosyncratic focus.
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Weekend reflections

This regular feature is back again. The idea is that, over the weekend, you should post your thoughts in a more leisurely fashion than in ordinary comments or the Monday Message Board.

Please post your thoughts on any topic, at whatever length seems appropriate to you. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Ferguson out, Tanner in

I haven’t had time to digest the details of Labor’s Shadow Cabinet reshuffle, and of course it’s somewhat academic given that there’s a long period of opposition ahead and no sign of a serious attempt at policy and organisational renewal.

Still, I’m glad that Lindsay Tanner is back on the frontbench. He’s probably the best single candidate for future leadership Labor has at present. And I’m even more pleased to see the dumping of Laurie Ferguson. As far as I know, his sole achievement in politics has been to make a good choice of parents, and he has been an absolute disgrace on refugees, making even Vanstone (may she freeze in hell) look good.

Update Less sensible (in fact, very silly) is the (reported) continued omission of Bob McMullan and Craig Emerson. I have no idea what the rationale was for this, given that the shadow ministry is apparently being expanded.

Was the Pacific solution necessary ?

As the cruel policy of mandatory detention is gradually relaxed (though we should remember that Nauru is still holding prisoners on our behalf), it’s worth considering the claim that the policy was necessary in the crisis situation of 2001, and can be relaxed now because of the Howard government’s border protection measures. To respond to this, it’s necessary to consider what would have happened if we had pursued a different policy, without reliance on mandatory detention or exploiting our neighbours as prison camps.

As an alternative, I’ll consider the option of seeking to discourage boat arrivals through negotiation with Indonesia, and using a system akin to bail, in which only asylum-seekers judged to be at risk of absconding would be subject to detention.

What can we say about this policy? First, the large flow of refugees that caused the crisis in 2001 would have ended anyway, because the fall of the Taliban regime greatly reduced both the flow of refugees from Afghanistan (in fact, many went back) and the chance of making a successful claim. Similarly, although it appears that there is still a net flow out of Iraq, the fall of Saddam has made it very difficult for Iraqis to claim political asylum. It seems reasonable to suppose that we could have obtained the co-operation of the Indonesian authorities with a commitment of diplomatic and financial resources no greater than that required for the Pacific solution, though of course without the kind of instant compliance available from a dependent client like Nauru.

Overall, I’d guess that an alternative policy would have resulted in perhaps 10 000 more boat arrivals, and maybe a similar number of people arriving in other ways. Given that the direct cost of the Pacific solution has been estimated at $500 million, that means that the cost of deterrence is about $25 000 per person, or $100 000 for a family of four. Of course the moral cost of the crimes committed in our name, and with our electoral endorsement is far greater.

Blog birthday

This blog is three years old today. I hinted at this anniversary in yesterday’s Monday Message Board, and Chris Sheil was the first to guess what I meant.

Three is an advanced age for a blog. Only a handful of those who were around back then are still going. Tim Blair, Rob Corr, Jason Soon and my blogtwin Tim Dunlop are among the hardy survivors.

It’s not hard to see why people stop blogging, but also why more and more people are blogging and reading blogs. It’s exciting, exhausting, useful and very demanding on time and attention. Although I’ve had moments when I’ve been sick of the whole business, mostly I’ve enjoyed it very much. Thanks to all my readers, fellow bloggers and especially to those who’ve commented on the blog, regularly or otherwise.