Brisbane Festival of Ideas

The Brisbane Festival of Ideas starts tomorrow. Bloggers are well represented, with Joanne Jacobs, Andrew Leigh and me among the Oz contingent and Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing among the many international stars. Most people do three or four gigs, so you should be able to hear all the speakers you want to, even if you miss out on some topics.

Thinking about this, the surprise is not that there are quite a few bloggers on the bill, but that there aren’t more. If you have ideas, it seems natural to want to express them, and there’s no easier way of reaching a potentially large audience than with a blog. I suspect the day will come quite soon when every intellectual or would-be intellectual will have one.

The Republican War on Science: CT Seminar

One of the new ideas in blogging to come out of Crooked Timber, the academic blog of which I’m part, is that of holding seminars on recently released books. The general idea is that a group of CT members and some guests write reviews of or posts about the book, the author responds, and the readers of the blog are invited to comment. As a process, it works a lot better than the traditional print approach, where the reviews appear in a lot of different places, and the author can respond, if at all, only through a letter.

I’ve participated in several of these, and now I’ve run one for the first time, on Chris Mooney’s The Republican War on Science You can see it here

Chickens coming home to roost

The Howard government’s past misdeeds, most of which seemed at the time to be consequence-free, are catching up with it. The AWB scandal is an obvious example, with the important observation that the “Children Overboard” episode ensured that no-one (other than those wanting to be duped, unfortunately a large group) believed the government’s initial denials of knowing anything about the whole business.

Perhaps more serious, in terms of its consequences for Australia’s national interests is the dispute with Indonesia over the granting of temporary protection visas to 42 Papuan “illegals” (the term popularised by former Immigration Minister and current Attorney-General Phllip Ruddock.

Under the international law that prevailed in the past, these people would have been asylum seekers, with a wide range of legal rights.[1] If their cases had proved successful, the government could reasonably claim to be bound by treaty obligations. Now however, “we will decide who comes here and under what circumstances”. People fleeing Saddam Hussein and the war in Afghanistan have been pushed back to sea, to take their chances, or subjected to close and critical scrutiny, in a process with the presumptions all stacked against them.

So, assuming a consistent process is taking place, the decision to grant visas to the Papuans amounts to a judgement that the Indonesian government is far worse than Saddam or the Taliban, so much so that their illegal arrival can be disregarded. Not surprisingly, the Indonesians are not taking this at all well.

The best thing the government could do for Australia is to admit that its actions in 2001 were a desperate and cruel, but successful, political manoeuvre, aimed at winning votes from a panicked electorate, and that nothing it said or did at the time should be regarded as part of our true policy. Almost certainly, that is the message being conveyed privately to the Indonesians, but what’s needed is some sort of public apology, and this is not a government that’s good at saying “Sorry”.

fn1. The process of stripping back these rights was started by Labor, but extended massively by Ruddock and Howard.