Weekend reflections

It’s time again for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. In keeping with my attempts to open up the comments to new contributors , I’d like to redirect discussion, as opposed to substantive new contributions, to the sandpit(s). As always, civilised discussion and no coarse language please.

44 thoughts on “Weekend reflections

  1. Who’d a thunk it? Nazis mentioned in Oz article that bashes climate science, climate scientists, and anyone who dares apply for grant money relating to AGW. Must be an Oz opinion piece: thanks again, Chris Mitchell, for standing up against Nazi Luvvers. A tip, Chris: I’m pretty sure that North Korea doesn’t have a pro-AGW stance, so maybe you should make discreet inquiries among their politicians to see if they’d like to contribute an opinion piece or two for the Oz in the coming weeks. It’d be a hoot I’m sure.

  2. Had a v quick scan and didn’t see the bit about nasties ( why wasn’t Donald Godwinned?), most of it seemed tolerable, but I thought the attack on The CSIRO, involving Spash, projected an immensity of hypocrisy I can ‘t come to terms with, particularly given the OZ’s own “envirofascism”, as attested through the witness of others.

  3. We have a wonderful example of the incapacity of the Oz to engage logical discussion by invoking the provisions of Godwin’s law — i.e., “reductio ad hitlerium”

  4. Martin, its because US politics is so overtly pitched in terms of rhetoric of “good guys” versus “bad guys”. There was wonderful old analysis of professional wrestling in such terms by Roland Barthes in Mythologies.

  5. To answer you, @paul walter, the pertinent passage from the Oz opinion piece is:

    Political interference against scientific objectivity is insidious and may ultimately deliver hideous outcomes. It is common in climate change debate for lesser intellects to label those who dare to question present climate science orthodoxy as deniers, making the implicit association between climate sceptics and Holocaust deniers.

    Such accusers probably are unaware of the savage irony in this epithet, in that German academics and scientists compliant with government policy were intimately involved in the formulation and development of Nazi racial policy, and, as historians have commented, the Nazi regime brought boom-time conditions for scientists from racial anthropologists, biologists and economists who were able to contribute to this aspect of the regime’s policies. Those academics who were outspoken were removed by the Gestapo.

    I do not offer these thoughts as being analogous to present climate debate but by way of caution to politicians who may be unwilling to allow debate, and scientists who may be unduly influenced by funding sources.

    [Source: the same Oz opinion piece linked to in the above. My italics and boldface.]

    No Godwin for me, Paul Walter 🙂
    Mr. Asten, the author of this gobshite, however, has a case to answer, I believe.

    BTW, I particularly like the rather audacious positioning of himself as on the side of the WW2 Allies, while the rest of the mucky climate scientists at CSIRO are supposedly on the side of the – sorry, some weeties just shot out my nose from laughing too hard – NAZIS!.

    [Mental not to self: don’t read Oz opinion pieces about climate change when eating or drinking anything! Come to think of it, why am I reading their opinions at all?]

  6. # 1 It seems that the Oz Editors are still engaged in supporting denialists which in this piece fall foul of Godwin’s Law.

    The real focus of the story should have been how the independence of the CSIRO has been undermined over many years, firstly with the impact of the Howard years followed by the failure of the Rudd/Gillard government to make any changes because they too like the obedience to policy principle. Policy driven by evidence was only a slogan for the 2007 election. It should have been evidence driven by policy.

    The public service is in a bad way – something that was recognised through the Moran Review and yet there is a kind of paralysis at work as the fat cats at the top protect their own positions in a Yes Minister with bells on kind of way. The Hollow Men are still very much in charge. A change in the Code of Conduct and protection rather than punishment for whistle blowers would be a great start. Returning to standard pay and conditions is another important step too. Currently people of talent in the public service are constantly moving on to higher paying departments. That is the way to get a pay rise without a promotion. It means that people who make mistakes are moved on before those mistakes are discovered and meantime new people come in to clean up the costly mess (by setting up a committee). The ABC childcare debacle was entirely preventable but the inertia of public servants compromised by a commitment by the Howard government to private providers meant that either children (and their working parents) were left without care or the government was left with a bill for milllions.

    The market driven reforms of the public service have reduced efficiency and accountability as public servants rush to a committee rather than action when there are difficulties. to avoid individual responsibility. for even the most minor decisions.

    The increase in Commonwealth Public Servant numbers over the years has not been in service provision but in contract management where any problems are the fault of a private contractor rather than of the public servants themselves. The market model for the public service has proven to be an abject failure and yet there is no drive by anyone in authority to do it differently.

  7. Totally agree Jill and how can you have such a situation where KK is minister for Barangaroo yet her own husband hopes to be the successful tender in the provision of electronic car parking stations.
    The misuse of political power goes straight to the top as the boundaries between public service and private providers becomes increasingly blurred. These sort of politically and individually profitable situations (at the greater expense of taxpayers) are all to commonplace and I beleive it has been caused by the the application of the market model to the public service. KKs husband somehow managed to become a director in this company with seed funding (seed?) in the millions by lend lease and a very healthy grant of shares to her husband as part of his appointment. Now how did KKs husband come across such a vastly superior appointment, when he was working as a cabinet minister?.

    There are no ethical boundaries between the public and private sector anymore over which ambitious public servants or political individuals cannot leapfrog into the arms of complicit private industry, and its the taxpayers who are being made utter fools of.

  8. I would go as far as saying we are almost without government now, such is the sham that passes for government.

  9. Jill Rush and Alice, you refer to ‘the market model’. I wouldn’t use this term. I would use ‘economic rationalism’ and ‘corporatism’ and ‘managerialism’ resulting in something like corporatised managerialistic economic rationalism. As I see it, the humanistic traces in both, the idea of a market economy and in the idea of a public sector, are lost. The idea of a civil society is lost.

  10. Ernestine – I used the market model because governments will tender to provide the services that its olicy deems necessary. Winning corporations or businesses are then expected to deliver a service which government has bought under the terms of the contracts determined by government policy. Once upon a time government provided these services directly to the people but now there is a purchaser/ provider understanding. It is not economic or rational as it often costs more and is also often less efficient (and often produces security risks too) – witness the outsourcing of the IT of departments to private firms.

  11. @Jill Rush
    Agree Ernestine with this comment of yours “As I see it, the humanistic traces in both, the idea of a market economy and in the idea of a public sector, are lost. The idea of a civil society is lost.”

    It is lost.

    Even the market in market model is increasingly not a real market at all when it come to many PPS.
    Government tenders that somehow slip into preferred hands, relatives hands, etc.
    The same organisation that lobbies for a privatisation suddenly ends up the successful bidder. The same minister once vested with the PPS approval power, ends up with a prime private sector job with the successful firm (if not directly – via a tortuous Luxembourg route).

    Roozendahl having just done a dirty midnight privatisation of state electricity assets, with no mandate and no popularity, flies off to the US rating agencies to beg for his piece of paper that says triple AAA.

    The A stands for something else.

    Market? To put it bluntly – its not a market. Its a gross misrepresentation of anything commonly understood as a market. Its insider trading with state assets. Taxpayers are outsiders but we continue to fund the losses, the leakages, the foolishness and incompetence of people like “the three uncles”.

    Bring on the inquiry but what good will it do?


  12. Ernestine Gross :Jill Rush and Alice, you refer to ‘the market model’. I wouldn’t use this term. I would use ‘economic rationalism’ and ‘corporatism’ and ‘managerialism’ resulting in something like corporatised managerialistic economic rationalism. As I see it, the humanistic traces in both, the idea of a market economy and in the idea of a public sector, are lost. The idea of a civil society is lost.

    Ernestine I agree with you 100%. “Corporatised managerialistic economic rationalism” is right on the money; an appropriately ugly term for a very ugly ideology. That is what it is; an ideology devised to suit the interests of the plutocrats and the plutocrats alone. Both civil society and the environment are pillaged by the outcomes of this ideology.

  13. Does climate change even figure into NSW government decisions about energy? Apart from some limited attempts to look and sound like it? Does the purchaser of NSW electricity suppliers expect to have to seriously reduce emissions or – as has been the case so far – expect to be exempted? This sector seems to be quite confident that requirements for reducing emissions do not apply to their efforts to maintain and grow electricity supply into the future. I suppose we need to ask if a Coalition government in NSW will even feel obliged to give lip service to climate change as an issue. Surely they will be as thoroughly threaded through with climate science denial as their federal Coalition colleagues.

  14. @Ken Fabos
    Ken, the electricity privatisation its even more tawdry than you can imagine. Part of the proceeds are to be used to invest in a new coalmine so the taxpayers can fund cheaper coal to supply the generators. We have sold the retail output but retained all of the costs of the generators. It is insanity. It is a sure fire way to further bankrupt a government that is already morally bankrupt and who most of us just wish the earth would open up and swallow.


  15. Thank you Jill Rush, after me getting tangled up in my own irony.
    Also the rest. It’d be laughable, if it wasnt so despicable.

  16. Ps, Donald Oats, sympathies. Nothing more upleasant than blowing foodstuffs out thru the wrong apperture.

  17. In 1996, Jeff Kennet sold Hazelwood power station for $2.3bn. At the time, Hazelwood was something like 25 years old, having been completed in 1971. Hazelwood has a maximum output of 1600 MW, and in 1996, a new brown coal power station that size would have cost about $2.0bn (in 1996 dollars). So Jeff managed to sell a 25 year old power station for about 115% of its repacement cost. This was obviously silly, and the buyers lost a lot of money on the deal. Something like 50% of replacement cost would have been a sensible price, because at least half of the economic life of the asset had already been used up.

    In 2010, Kristina Keneally managed to sell Delta Western for about $300m. Delta Western comprises Wallerawang power station, completed in 1976, and Mount Piper power station, completed in 1992. Call the average age 26 years. The maximum output of Delta Western is about 2800 MW, and has a replacement cost (in 2010 dollars) of about $6bn. So Kristina in effect managed to achieve a sale price of 5% of the replacement cost.

    This amounts to theft from the asset owners, the taxpayers of NSW. There’s no possible justification for it. The Treasurer didn’t even attempt a serious explanation, simply saying that it would “increase competition”, which is obviously false on its face.

  18. @paul walter
    It is despicable how right wing Labor has become at state level. Now Mr Roozendahl and KK dont even see the need to get a good price at least for our public assets, even if the sell decision is deeply flawed.
    ..following the “easy way out” song “its just best in private hands so even if we give it away for a $1 – it will increase competition.” So with that, they escape scrutiny for their bad deals.

    But the electorate isnt as stupid as they are. Labor is failing dismally one state at a time because of it.


    Yet the liberals will be no different. Thats the real tragedy.

  19. It would appear that the United States is spreading its corrupted values into our region.

    Wikileaks has exposed how the US embassy in Canberra set up a nest of “protected people” as sources in Australia’s Parliamentarians, and I assume only part has been uncovered.

    But in East Timor, one of Australia’s closest and most vulnerable mini-states, America has been breeching ILO conventions on workers rights to organise by sacking any workers who are members of unions.

    After sacking a unionists the US mission explained:

    “as part of the terms of his employment, Mr Baretto was/is not allowed to be a member of any organized union and therefore we will not meet with any representative acting on his behalf.”

    What bastardry!

    But it also goes to show that US capitalism is a significant htreat both to Australian democratic processes and human rights in East Timor.

    More info is at: http://www.apheda.org.au/news/1292392280_5782.html

  20. And in fact this appears to have a context.

    If capitalism can stave off its own decline in profits, by cutting wealth to workers and freezing minimum wages (as done by Howard’s last Fair Pay determination), then we should see a growing gulf between the rich and the poor.

    And so it seems this is precisely what is happening, see:


    So capitalism (properly understood) also threatens the entire Western economic hemisphere.

  21. John, did you see you got a mention from the Krugmeister himself! W00T!

    Watch those book sales rocket!

  22. That’s good, John. Hopefully more people will read the book.

    OTOH, though, this could bring on an attack from the flying monkeys.

  23. Jill, I understand your argument and I’d like to give support to your point @13 regarding the outsourcing of public services (an element of the so-called ‘third way’). IMO, the outsourcing of public services requires, in many if not all cases, a doubling of technical knowledge and a multiple of information flows and analysis, if it is to result in ‘quality’ outcomes. (‘quality’ meaning good quality). The public sector department has to have people who are at least as knowledgable as the most knowledgeable private service provider (thus there is no saving on relatively highly paid public sector staff) in order to assess the services offered. Potential private sector providers have to write submissions (bids) knowing in advance that only 1 will get the job (thus there is duplication of work and this will be costed in). Then the government departments are supposed to monitor the services provided (duplicating the managerial jobs of the service provider). But the monitoring of outsourced jobs by governmet departments is limited to what they are allowed to look at. It does not surprise me that many people complain about declining services (quality and amount) at higher prices and greater government expenditure, not to mention the time spent by people in trying to find out who is actually in charge of anything and who is responsible (trying to get a light bulb replaced in a street light is no longer just a call to the local council – it is a mini research job!) Then there is the problem of contracts and their enforcement. One of the practical nuisance outcomes of this approach is the generation of mountains of reports without consequence other than the wastage of paper and time.

    My point about terminology is aimed at not allowing the ‘third way’ people and ‘new public sector management’ people to deflect their mis-interpretation of the theory of competitive private ownership economies (‘market economy’). IMO, this theory can continue to provide insights into practical problems but it cannot be ‘applied’ in the way these people seem to want to do it. Attempts to do so result in versions of zombie economics. This is so because in these models there is no government and there are no corporations governed by corporate law and there are no managers who behave as they can under corporate law. Hence the useful bit of the theory (the welfare of all individuals matters) is lost and the practical usefulness of a competent public sector (governed by different rules) is lost too.

  24. @Alice
    Alice, using the proceeds to invest in coal doesn’t surprise me; after two decades of clear science telling us we need to reduce emissions we get more coal mines, coal exports, coal export infrastructure, coal fired power plants. That’s from the ‘side’ of politics that publicly acknowledges the reality of the problem! I think la Nina is having an impact on the political psyche as much as the weather; rivers flowing, dams full or filling, fire hazard reduced, cooler weather – perfect conditions for putting off difficult long term policy decisions on climate change and focus on short term expediency.

  25. Dear Prof,

    I cant think of where else to post this comment bvut you must make public what is going on in our universities. There is a core meltdown happening. Apparently 90 academics have been stood down at MQ, academics have been stood down and havent been paid for two months at UWS, the same is happening at UNSW.

    It is quite clear uni managements are treating their staff like utter cr….p. Casualisation is the neme of the game. Pressuring existing permanents to increase their workloads is the name of the game.

    The NTEU is next to useless because it failed to acknowledge the casual academics working in permanent part time capacity using their own resources years ago (hence no casuals joing the NTEU). The NTEU is bleeding members every year as unis pput more and more academics on ficed term uncertain contracts.

    We all know its been happening for quite some time but there is real discontent emerging in academic staff. Those who still have some permanency are now being treated badly (I wont comment on the fact that I could see this coming).

    Its disgusting. Uni corporate managements and the profit motive is destroying our universities and the livelihoods of Australias brightest.

    What fools are we? What fools do we have as governments?

    Is this any way to treat our academics?

  26. And the profit motif in Australias univeristies is destroying the lives of our youth by saddling them with debts they should never be paying.’
    Thats just great isnt it/ Unis now screwing students and academics to make a buck.
    Move on corporate managers and let us clear the cretins out of management of the uni system. They are just degrading it.

    You know, even Navitas treats its employees and stidents better than public unis do and they are a private organisation.

    What a come down. How far we have sunk.

    But mostly I object to the way universities treat students as cash cows that they can keep drawing blood from.

  27. But Ill tip my hat to the Chinese – the great copiers that they are! My students tell me you can name your textbook and buy it for $5 or $10 from copy shops in the inner city!!

    Yes! A fightback fromstudents for the exorbitant marketing of textbooks (and the new editions every year and the skinny inadequate dumbed down textbooks and the scams involving publishers to rip students off by charging ridiculous rates for textbooks).

    If any students want the phone no – ask me. You can buy your two hundred dollar textbooks for $10. So publishers and uni profiteerers – take that. You wont stop the copying. Students already know.

    Chinese do what they are good at and thank goodness they do.

  28. And just so every one knows exatly how useless the NTEU is,
    where exactly is the news of all these styand downs if academics on their website or in the news?

    If Id been paying union fees for years Id be pretty ticked off (except that I realised years ago NTEU were useless).

    NTEU need to go for training (professional development) on how to be a good union. Id suggest they take lessons from the TWU. It could take a while.

  29. Here is the information for MQ


    similar is happening at UWS and UNSW

    Those MQ staff should do en masse what the staff did in the UK to the VC they have now. The guy is a ruthless right winger and everyone at his uni in the UK walked out and sat on the grass and called for his resignation.

    So why did he end up at MQ?? (he must have been appointed under Howard – who else would employ such a person??)

  30. Hello I’d just like to thank JQ for hosting an excellent blog over the year from a frequent reader though less frequent poster.

    I posted this on another blog and I thought it might interest some here:

    This is a link to an excellent site of the US Economic Policy Institue and their report: State of Working America. This November story pulls no punches on the US job market.

    The more I follow the US economy, Obama proclaiming the recession as over is looking more and more like George W Bush standing on an aircraft carrier with a banner saying “mission accomplished” behind him. In both cases, their only real accomplishment seems to have been getting elected, and in Bush’s case re-elected.

    I do not suggest that Obama caused the recession. But his efforts to fix it have been feeble. If he thinks 10% unemployment is doing OK, with no foreseeable prospect of jobs for 75% of the unemployed, then I’d hate to see failure. Unless he turns this around soon, I’d bet money on a Repug President in 2012.

    To further illustrate the point, in November the US economy generated 39000 new jobs. That is in a population of 307 million, with 9.8% unemployment. By comparison, Australia generated 54,000 new jobs. We have a population of 22 million, and unemployment of 5.2%, with a higher participation rate.

    So Australia now is creating more new jobs than the United States, despite half the unemployment rate and 1/15th the population. Pretty grim if you are out of a job in the USA. Spain and Ireland are almost twice as bad.

    If this keeps up, Obama is toast. As Clinton said, “its the economy stupid”.

    Conversely, I don’t think most people realise how well we are doing here now. On that thankfull note, I’ll wish Ken Henry a happy retirement, and you all a happy christmas.

  31. @Socrates
    Socrates – I dont want to agree we are doing well here when its all relative. So what if the US is doing really badly? So what if Ireland is doing worse. To imagine we are doing well when Muns and Dads are bailing out their kids till they are nearly 30 and beyind because youth unemployment is high and rents are even higher – well to say we are doing well relatively isnt good enough. We are doing worse than we were 30 years ago. I want to be saving for retirement not supporting my kids who unis are ripping off and the private rental and housing market is excluding.
    Nonsense we are doing well. We are just doing marginally better than countries who have hit a brick wall and are sliding down it.

  32. @Socrates

    Seing as I have an axe to grind – take a read of VC Schwarz trepid response to the tripling of fees for British students. My god – the man even quotes the “Oz” as an authority. Oh dear – so much for VC of universities.
    How old is he? Certainly not old enough to even realise what education as public good is.

    To quote VC Schwarz

    “I say that Australia’s stronger economy means there isn’t the same pressure to increase student contributions via HECS, but circumstances can change.

    But, I add, most universities still had some scope for improved efficiencies before they could justify arguing for fee increases. ”

    Ill bet Schwarz will be looking for those efficiencies and the circumstances to change, and even if they sont he is warming up to justify fee increases for students on the mining boom

    Yeah right, as if. Maybe Schwarz didnt sell as many parking places as he would have like too. Why are the premium E spots still empty? Has Cochlear (Ltd) laid off staff?

  33. Maybe someone need to remind theMQ VC that the students that attend his uni are hardly likely to be beneficiaries of the mining boom.

  34. Im still here batting for uni staff because over 15 years I have seen conditions and treatment of academics go from decent to utterly appalling in the main Sydney universities.

    Its a national disgrace that our main universities have become so addicted to the use of short term casuals and fixed contracts that they now think the students can be utterly neglected and left to run on auto pilot each semester with a revolving door of inexperienced new grads as classroom teachers and short fixed term contract lecturers who are so damn busy running around like B…A….F…..s wearing multiple hats and being so paranoid about their own fixed term contracts they wont even speak about it. Academic freedom of speech, the first casualty of casualisation of our universities.

    They have become a miserable work place, no longer a place of intellectual enlightenment.

    Yet Uni managements are happy to take every extra fee and charge from students and staff, and squash more and more into classrooms, that they can get away with.

    I really dont know anymore how academic staff can enter the univerities without first pegging their noses at the stench of greed around them.

    Our main unis think that people should fund entirely the study towards their own phds over many years, and then only offer them casual or short fixed term contracts with no guarantees as they do so.

    Its disgusting that they use casual tutors (often those poor sods working towards a phd whilst living on an absolute breadline with no guarantee of work even one semester ahead) and expect them to stay on line for students with their own technology and their own office at home, to save the universities paying the cost for facilities.

    Its an ugly way to treat our brightest students who pursue higher learning.

    It is almost at the point where there is no point in pursuing higher learning when both governments and university managements are so stupid that they offer no incentives, and every deterrence, for academic progression.

    A pox on both but the biggest pox on John Howard who did his utmost to degrade and ruin our once excellent and well respected university system.

    There is more dignity of employment (and it is about dignity and treating staff and students with respect) in many other government departments.

    Who are these University Vice Chancellors that in the space of 15 years have so trodden on our university academics.

    Zombies – every last one them – not men of learning at all.


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