Mulrunji, again

It appears that neither criminal charges nor any kind of misconduct proceedings will arise from the death of an innocent man, Mulrunji, from injuries received in custody at Palm Island. What’s even worse, is that the Director of Public Prosecutions chose, not merely to state that there was insufficient evidence to proceed to trial, but to make a positive finding of accidental death, contrary to the findings of the Coroner on the same evidence. The Courier-Mail reported the decision as “overturning the findings of a two-year coronial inquest”.

As far as I can tell, the DPP has no power to do anything of the kind. Certainly, I can’t recall anything like this announcement in the past. Maybe someone with more legal background can clarify this. But even if the DPP hasn’t exceeded her powers, the statement was ill-advised and inflammatory.

As Noel Pearson points out, this isn’t the first dubious decision made by Leanne Clare, and something of a pattern seems to be emerging. If you’re on the outer with the establishment (Pauline Hanson, Di Fingleton) dubious charges will be pursued to the limit. But if you’re on the inside, things are very different. The government and the Police Force have mishandled this case from day one, and it’s unsurprising the the victim’s family feel that they have been railroaded.

And I agree with Federal Minister Mal Brough. We need a public inquiry into the whole tragic business, including the government’s handling of it.


An interesting piece by Tim Colebatch about new data on weddings showing that only 40 per cent of weddings are now religious ceremonies. This, rather than answers to Census questions, is probably a good representation of the level of religious belief in Australia. Apart from cases where the parties have strongly conflicting religious beliefs, and choose a civil ceremony as a compromise, it’s hard to imagine a serious religious believer not wanting a religious ceremony for marriage. On the other hand, I doubt that many convinced non-believers these days would go for a church rather than a civil ceremony, given the range of options on offer.

Another interesting feature of the article is the assumption (probably accurate) that this trend is entirely driven by brides – the word “groom” doesn’t even appear.

Robson reverses reality

It turns out that Tim Blair’s post, linked below, is based on this piece by Alex Robson (a former colleague of mine and also briefly a blogger), who argues from claimed prediction errors by “leftist economists” (he’s kind enough not to mention me by name) that we shouldn’t trust climate science. His crucial point is that whereas we predicted that the 1996 budget cuts would cause increased unemployment

Howard did indeed reduce overall spending in real terms in the two years following the 1996 election, and he cut the size of the commonwealth public service in each year between 1996 and 2000. But following Howard’s “savage” budget cuts, the unemployment rate did not rise; it fell, from 8 per cent in 1996 to 6 per cent in 2000.

Unfortunately, Alex is being a little economical with the information he reports here. As can be seen below (courtesy of Economagic, unemployment did in fact rise following the 1996 budget cuts. It wasn’t as bad as it might have been (and was in New Zealand where monetary policy was messed up as well), but the facts are clear: contra Robson, unemployment did not fall, it rose.

The unemployment rate didn’t clearly resume its earlier decline until the shift to an expansionary fiscal and monetary policy during the Howard government’s second term.

Another piece of misdirection is the reference to cuts in the Commonwealth public service, largely driven by contracting out. This is a red herring, apparently designed to distract attention from the more relevant variable, public expenditure.


Blair concedes defeat

Tim Blair quotes a statement I and others wrote in 1996, criticising expenditure cuts, and saying in part

More attention needs to be given to the role of government expenditure on repairing the nation’s rundown infrastructure, creating jobs and fostering industry and regional development. If necessary, increased taxation and other revenue options should be under consideration. Savage expenditure cuts are economically irresponsible and socially damaging.

As Blair points out^, this is an argument that has now been pretty generally accepted. Most of the cuts we were criticising have been reversed (not without doing damage along the way). Infrastructure spending is now a high priority for governments. Without getting into sterile arguments about whether or not the current Federal government is the highest taxing in Australian history, it’s clear that the idea of radical cuts in public expenditure and taxation, which Blair has long advocated, is politically defunct in Australia.

The case was well stated by one of our political leaders in 2004, when he observed

There is a desire on the part of the community for an investment in infrastructure and human resources and I think there has been a shift in attitude in the community on this, even among the most ardent economic rationalists.

He could just about have been quoting our words from 1996.

As I noted at the time

A new bipartisan consensus has emerged, in favor of the social-democratic policies that have, until recently, been derisively described as ‘tax and spend’.

The only surprise is that it has taken Blair so long to wake up to the fact that he’s on the losing side of this debate.

^ With yet another kind reference to my success in winning a Federation Fellowship.

Castro and Pinochet

Pinochet is dead, and it looks certain that Fidel Castro will soon follow him to the grave. I don’t have the same visceral loathing of Castro that I feel for Pinochet, whose brutal coup in 1973 was one of the big political events that formed my view of the world, along with Brezhnev’s invasion of Czechoslovakia five years earlier.

Viewed objectively, though, the similarities between the two outweigh the differences. Any good they have done (education in Cuba, economic growth in Chile) is less substantial than claimed by their admirers, and in any case outweighed by the central fact that, to impose the policies they thought were good, they were willing to jail, torture and kill those who got in their way. And Pinochet’s gross personal corruption is matched by Fidel’s conversion of his dictatorship into a family business, to be inherited by his brother.

Moreover, Pinochet and Castro were two sides of the same political coin. Pinochet justified his destruction of Chilean democracy by the fear that Allende would turn into a new Castro. Castro used Pinochet’s coup (among many other US-backed attacks on Cuba and other Latin American countries) as a justification for repressing domestic dissenters. The world will be a better place when both are gone and, hopefully, democracy comes to Cuba.

Update Predictably, Andew Bolt defends Pinochet. It’s important to observe that Bolt is even-handed in these matters. He would be just as eager to excuse Castro’s crimes if Fidel happened to change sides (hat tip: Tim Dunlop)

What I’ve been reading

Multiethnic Australia by Celeste Lipow McLeod. It’s aimed at a US audience, and gives a potted history of Australia since European settlement, from a pro-multiculturalist point of view. More here. Written after the Cronulla riots, the book maintains an optimistic viewpoint, which I think is broadly consistent with our history in the long run.

It’s worth remembering in this context that until quite recently, resentment about immigration and multiculturalism was directed mainly against East Asians. This was true both of Pauline Hanson and of the previous big backlash in the 1980s led by among others, Katherine Betts, Geoffrey Blainey and John Howard. In the decade since Hanson’s famous maiden speech, this kind of prejudice has ebbed dramatically, even as the number of Australians of East Asian background has increased rapidly. And the still older prejudices against Southern Europeans have disappeared almost entirely, along with most of the feelings of resentment and exclusion that were once very strong among these groups.

It may be a while before we overcome our current problems, but I’m confident we’ll do so in the end.

The Missing Link

Club Troppo has a great new feature (actually, a revival of an old one from Ken’s days at the Parish Pump). Called the Missing Link, it’s an intelligent ‘best of Ozplogistan’ selection each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Here’s a recent example

Once my slow-motion site redesign is finished, I’ll add a link to an RSS feed, but you can probably pick this up over at Troppo.