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.

Markets in everything (not) [Part 2 of a CT debate]

In an illustration of the BlogGeist at work, the issue of using lotteries to allocate scarce tickets to public events has come up in the Monday Message Board here and also at Crooked Timber. At first sight, the dispute over Bob Geldof’s attempts to prevent resale of tickets to Live Aid 8, discussed by Henry Farrell at CT, looks like a classic dispute between hardheaded economists and soft social scientists. In reality it’s nothing of the kind. The critics have not only ignored the issues raised by sociology and other disciplines, they have got their economics wrong.
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Monday message board

As usual on Monday, you are invited to post your thoughts on any topic. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Sticking with a seasonal theme, I’ll start by asking for thoughts on the occasion of the winter solstice tomorrow (or maybe Wednesday, I’m never sure on this). Also, tomorrow is a significant date in another way, and the first to pick it will get a valuable free acknowledgement in the relevant post.

Crossing the floor

The Howard government’s partial backdown on mandatory detention laws points up a striking feature of the Australian political system, the iron discipline that makes a threat by four backbenchers to cross the floor and vote against the government a major news event in itself. The government was in no danger of being defeated on a vote, with a majority of 27, and in many other countries an event like this would not be news. But in Australia it happens perhaps once in a decade.

Until recently, the US was at the other extreme. I recall a news story saying that Jimmy Carter had copped some flak for refusing to campaign for any Democrat who hadn’t voted for at least half the legislation he proposed. I doubt that either alternative is healthy.
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Fact-checking in the blogosphere

One of the benefits that ought to arise from the existence of the blogosphere is that of fact-checking. False claims can be refuted quickly, and, we might hope, not repeated thereafter. Sadly it doesn’t seem to work out that way, as the following examples show.

Tim Blair points to yet another repetition of the “plastic turkey” story, this time in Pravda. Not surprisingly he’s frustrated by this.

Meanwhile, the claim that bans on the use of DDT in anti-malaria campaigns have cost millions of lives, has been repeated yet again, by Miranda Devine in the SMH, and Rafe Champion at Catallaxy.

So in the interests of accuracy and bipartisanship, let’s get the facts straight

* In his visit to Iraq in November 2003, Bush did not pose with a plastic turkey, as has been often claimed, but with a decorative, real “show turkey” not intended for eating. The “show turkeyâ€? is a routine part of the presentation for the soldiers eating in the mess hall, so there’s nothing surprising about the fact that Bush posed with one.

* DDT has never been banned in antimalarial use. The main reason for declining use of DDT as an antimalarial has been the development of resistance. Antimalarial uses have received specific exemptions from proposals to phase out DDT, until alternatives are developed. Bans on the use of DDT as an agricultural insecticide, promoted by Rachel Carson and others, have helped to slow the development of resistance, and therefore increased the effectiveness of DDT in antimalarial use ( links on this here

If Tim is willing to make the same points, maybe we’ll get somewhere on this (begins holding breath).
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Aka! Aka! Aka!

I missed out on tickets to the Lions game against Geelong today. Halfway through the second quarter, watching at home on TV, with the rain falling and what looked likely to be a low-scoring mudfest in prospect, I was thinking maybe I hadn’t done too badly. How wrong I was

Backing away from mandatory detention (crossposted at Crooked Timber)

Having had part of the weekend to think about the changes to mandatory detention laws, I realise that it will take quite a few posts to get through all the questions I want to think about. The first is to assess how significant these changes are.

As Andrew Bartlett points out, these changes are an inadequate compromise, which won’t for example end the detention of children or prohibit indefinite detention (see also this analysis from Chilout (group campaigning for the release of children from detention (Word doc)). They greatly increase the discretion given to the minister (Vanstone) and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, both utterly discredited by their previous handling of these issues.

But what’s significant here is the turn of the political tide. For the first time, mandatory detention has clearly become a losing issue for the government. Howard may be overstating the extent of the reforms, but that fact is significant in itself. It’s an indication of the pressure he faces to do more.
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