Why electricity reform failed

My latest piece in the Guardian is headlined The national energy market is an abject failure – it’s time for a publicly owned grid   I’ve said this before and I don’t mind repeating myself. But the new insight that provoked me to write this piece is a bit further down

Why has Australia done so badly? The reform process in Australia has treated markets and competition as goals in themselves, rather than as policy instruments designed to produce useful price signals and thereby guide investment and consumption decisions.

The article is also a plug for a recently published book, Wrong Way, How Privatisation and Economic Reform Backfire, in which I have two chapters, one on electricity and one on productivity.

The Coal Truth

Last week, I spoke at a forum on Adani and indigenous rights organized by the UQ Human Rights Consortium. It was an excellent line-up, with

Murrawah Johnson – Youth Spokesperson Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council, Activist of the Year (Ngara Institute) and on the 50 Grist list – acknowledging her place amongst the world’s best and brightest fighting for the planet.

Dr Michelle Maloney – Co-founder and National Convenor, Australian Earth Laws Alliance

David Ritter – Chief Executive Greenpeace Australia Pacific, and author of The Coal Truth: The Fight to Stop Adani, Defeat the Big Polluters and Reclaim Our Democracy which is well worth buying and reading.

Having contributed to The Coal Truth I was very interested to meet David Ritter. I was particularly impressed that he took the time to respond personally to this long-ago post, attacking Greenpeace for the sabotage of a CSIRO experiment on GM crops. David assured me that Greenpeace had repudiated this action and re-established a good relationship with CSIRO.  There’s plenty of room for legitimate dispute about the issue of GM crops (I’m dubious, thought not opposed outright) but none about the kind of tactics used in that case.

Will a robot take my job?

As was pointed out to me on Twitter recently Betteridge’s law of headlines states that “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” That’s not entirely correct, I think. In many cases, the answer is “wrong question”. At any rate, that’s how I treat it in my recent Inside Story review article, where the headline[1] is followed by the standfirst text “Three new books challenge lazy thinking about job-stealing robots and infallible algorithms”. I talked about Ellen Broad and algorithms last time. Now for Tim Dunlop and robots.

Read More »

Presidents, Prime Ministers and parties

The discussion of my Queen’s Birthday showed that at least some readers have problems thinking about how an elected presidency would work, what powers the president should have and so on. There are many different models out there, but my idea is that the president would acquire the current powers of the Governor-General (dissolving parliaments, including double dissolutions; resolving disputes between the Houses; and initiating the formation of governments after elections) but with less deference to the wishes of Prime Ministers than in the past. For example, the President could reject the shenanigans with absurdly drawn out election timetables that we saw in 2016, and saw proposed in 2013, and could refuse a snap election called to take advantage of a favorable climate.

Assuming this role, the President’s views on policy issues wouldn’t matter much; rather we would be looking for personal characteristics such independent mindedness and capacity for good judgement in a crisis. A possible side benefit would be that parliamentary elections would be more about policy and less about the personality of the party leaders.

Under the current system, we are called on to vote on a presidential basis, but with no guarantee that the elected leader will see out a term. Even if the rules were tightened to make spills more difficult, we would still have the problem of a successful leader voluntarily retiring mid-term, as Menzies did and as both Hawke and Howard promised to do.

Happy Birthday, Mrs Windsor

It’s the Queen’s birthday here in Queensland, having been moved by the Labor government to separate it from May Day, which they already moved from October, reversing a decision of the Newman LNP government. Apart from reports on what is open today, I couldn’t find any reference to this event in the media, even from notional monarchists.

That pretty much sums up the irrelevance of the British monarchy in Australia. So, this seems like a good time to think about when we should become a republic, and what kind of republic we want.

Our last attempt was run by the unlamented Malcolm Turnbull who assumed that what everyone wanted was a change of figurehead that left the reality of the system unchanged. That reality is a Prime Ministerial dictatorship, constrained only by elections, obstreporous Senators and the ever-present possibility of a party-room coup. Looking at our system over recent years, I don’t think it’s performed very well, and I suspect that Turnbull might now agree.

Another important change is that outright Lower House majorities are no longer assured and may soon become the exception rather than the rule. The role of the Head of State in deciding who should be invited to form a government is now increasingly important. These decisions ought to be made by a President with the independent legitimacy that comes from an election.

Obviously, this isn’t the most important issue facing the nation. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss it and get moving on the issue. As usual, Bill Shorten (despite his unalterable image as a cautious timeserver) has taken the lead. I hope he will get the chance to act on this after the next election, and that he will take it.

Monday Message Board

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

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