Total failure

The country is on fire. And:

  • The PM disappears overseas. His supporters spin the fact that it’s only his second overseas holiday this year (not second holiday, or second largely recreational OS trip)
  • The media are ordered not to report the fact, or even that we have an acting PM. Compliance is near-total until Twitter outrage puts the issue into the international press
  • Tory-fighter Albanese gives Morrison a free pass. Still hasn’t pushed the government on link to climate change. Would rather bash the Greens over ancient history disputes.

If there has ever been a more comprehensive failure of our political class, I’m not aware of it.

The system works, now and then

Among other activities, I write or sign on to, lots of emails to business leaders and others, protesting against environmental failures, abuses of workers rights and so on. Occasionally that contributes to a win, but hardly ever do I get reply.

I recently wrote to the CEO of Siemens, , protesting against the decision of the Australian branch of the business to work with Adani on rail signalling systems for the rail line to the destructive Carmichael mine. I was quite surprise to get a response, as follows:

Dear all,

Thank you for your mails addressing your concerns on Siemens delivering rail infrastructure for the Adani project in Australia.
I have not been aware of the matter until most recently. Likely given the relatively very small number of the rail signaling business associated with it. But maybe I should have. 
I take your concerns seriously and will look into the matter diligently. This may or may not change Siemens’ view and decision, but all of you who have respectfully spoken up on the matter deserve at least an answer and an explanation.

I will get back to you in due time.
Thank you again for speaking up.

Sincerely,
Joe Kaeser 

I was quite surprised to see a global business like Siemens risking its reputation for such a small deal, especially given the high probability that the deal will fall through, either because the whole project is abandoned or because Adani repeats the longstanding pattern of stiffing its partners. I plan to point this out in a return email.

Fudge

As I’ve said previously, explaining election losses after the fact is too easy, since changing any factor that caused a loss of significant numbers of votes would (other things equal) turn the loss to a win.

Still, one thing that’s struck me about several recent elections lost by the left is that they combined a generally coherent platform with a fudge on a central issue. Examples are Corbyn on Brexit, Shorten on Adani and Clinton on the TPPA.

I don’t want to make too much of this. The decision to fudge in each case reflected the reality that going either way would cost at least some votes, and might not get enough new ones to make up.

Still, Shorten didn’t gain anything by hedging on Adani, and lost quite a bit. If he had announced the end of new thermal coal, he wouldn’t have lost any more seats[1], and might have gained some

I think also that Corbyn would have done better with a promise of an immediate referendum on Johnson’s deal and a commitment to campaign for Remain. And once Clinton decided against TPP she should have gone the whole hog, rather than appointing another globalist like Tim Kaine as running mate.

fn1. This policy would actually help miners working in existing mines, in the Hunter Valley for example. Whether Labor’s abysmal campaign crew could get such a message across is another question.

No takers for a nuclear grand bargain

A while ago, I made a submission to a Parliamentary inquiry into nuclear power and, in particular, the removal of the 1998 legislative ban on nuclear power. The inquiry was pretty obviously a stunt aimed at placating Barnaby Joyce and the nuclear lobby[1], but I decided to take it seriously and ask what would be needed to give nuclear power any chance, economically and in terms of social acceptance, in Australia.

I proposed what’s been called a grand bargain , lifting the ban in return for a commitment to decarbonize electricity by 2040, and a carbon price increasing steadily over time to achieve that goal.

The Committee has now reported, and, unsurprisingly no one is interested in the idea of a grand bargain. In fact, the idea wasn’t mentioned, not even to dismiss it. Nor, as far as I can tell did any of the pro-nuclear submissions say anything about carbon prices.

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Pasokification

That’s a term coined to describe the fate of the Greek social democratic (and nominally socialist) party PASOK, which implemented austerity measures in the wake of the global financial crisis, and was subsequently wiped out, with most of its voters going switching their support to the newly created left party Syriza.

In France, Germany and the Netherlands, much the same has happened with the Greens gaining many of the votes lost by social democrats. Broadly speaking, the more a social democratic party has gone for centrist respectability, the worse it has done. In Spain, the Socialist Party has formed a coalition government with the leftwing populist party Podemos. In Portugal, confusingly there is both a Socialist (anti-austerity) and Social Democratic (pro-austerity) parties. Unsurprisingly, the SDs have lost ground.

Could something like this happen in Australia. I’ve always been critical of the idea that the Greens could replace Labor as the main left-of-centre party. That’s because the policy differences between the two were less significant than the stylistic/cultural differences, which meant that the Greens appealed to a relatively limited section of the electorate.

However, with the massive overreaction to the unexpected election loss in May, Labor under Anthony Albanese seems to determine to test out the possibility of Pasokification. Having waved through the Coalition’s regressive tax cuts, and “big stick” energy laws, Albanese has now failed to offer any response to the fire emergency, opting instead to promote coal exports. He has trained all his attacks on the Greens and has had nothing to say about the government.

Our only hope at this point is to replace Labor with an opposition that will actually oppose the government, and push for serious action in response to the climate emergency. That will take time we don’t have, but I can’t see any alternative.

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Anti-politics from the inside

There have always been lots of people who saw nothing in politics except a bunch of windbags scoring points off each other. And a year or two back, there was a thing called anti-politics which attempted to give some kind of intellectual basis for this sentiment.

Although I’ve known lots of anti-political/apolitical people and paid attention to the discussion of anti-politics, it’s always been something I’ve viewed from the outside, and as a problem to be remedied by doing a better job of explaining the importance of political issues. I’ve often (in fact usually) been highly critical of the political positions of the major parties, but always highly engaged.

But now, I’m suddenly experiencing anti-politics from the inside. The country is on fire, and there’s no end in sight. The government is doing nothing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and actively promoting measures that would make things worse.

But watching the last session of Federal Parliament you wouldn’t know any of this. Angus Taylor is supposed to be the minister for emissions reduction: he’s failed miserably and lied about it continuously. But instead of discussing this, the politicians are arguing about bogus anecdotes and documents Taylor has put out as part of the culture war. Meanwhile, the government’s prime concern is to make life a bit tougher for a few hundred refugees, thereby getting the all-important win to end the year.

If this is what’s on offer, count me out.

Four propositions about conservative voting

Here are four propositions about voting behavior which, as far as I can tell, have been true in nearly all democratic countries for at least the past 50 years. Other things equal, people are more likely to vote for conservative parties if:

  • They have higher incomes
  • They have lower education
  • They live in rural areas or small towns
  • They are members of a dominant racial/religious group

By contrast, lot of commentary on recent electoral losses for the left seems to start from the presumption that “traditional” left voters have all of these characteristics, except perhaps high incomes. However, since these “traditional” voters are “aspirational”, it is assumed that they will vote in line with the income they wish they had. Given the actual preferences of voters like this, the obvious inference is that the left should adopt the policies of the right.

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Labor: Hiding in the past, destroying the future

As I write this, the haze of smoke from the now-continuous bushfires is hanging over Brisbane, as it is over Sydney and other cities. It’s scarcely surprising that the Morrison government is doing its best to ignore the problem, but you might think the official Opposition would be making some noise about it.

Not likely! On Nov 12, Penny Wong said

the immediate focus should be on firefighters battling the blazes, people at risk and those grieving lost loved ones.

“When we get through this, it is a responsible thing for us to focus on how we plan to keep Australians safe,” she told ABC radio.

“Warnings about a longer bushfire season and more intense fires have been on the table for a long time.”

Three weeks later, neither she nor anyone else in the Labor Party has had anything of substance to say about climate change.

Labor has found time, however, to pump out what seem like dozens of statements claiming that, if only the Greens had supported Rudd’s CPRS ten years ago, everything would be so much better today.

I’ll leave aside the many dubious historical assumptions needed to make this claim stand up. Even if it were true, it would be about as relevant as Peter Dutton pointing out that Labor supported the White Australia policy in 1900.

The fact is that, at a time when the climate emergency has ceased to be a hypothesis and is a visible reality, Labor is more interested in scoring points off the Greens than in doing anything about the problem.

If there has been a more depressing time in Australian politics I can’t recall it.

The CIS vs religious freedom

The Centre for Independent Studies has just issued a report about Australian public attitudes to religious freedom. I’m happy to say that the majority (64 per cent) attitude coincides almost exactly with the one I’ve expressed here, namely that

within very broad limits, what we do and say in our own time is no business of the boss.

That cuts both ways: both offering protection to people whose religious expression offends the boss, and preventing religious organizations from discriminating against employees whose beliefs or life choices aren’t consistent with the religion in question. There are limits of course, most obviously in relation to people whose job it is to represent the organization and its beliefs. But these should be the exception not the rule.

Given its history, (the CIS used to be the leading centre of ibertarian thought in Australia) one might imagine that the poll results would be reported as good news. But this is not the case.

Taking a corporatist line, the CIS argues that individual freedom should be subordinated to the collective rights of organizations to enforce their beliefs, even when they are engaged in in providing publicly-funded services.

The contortions required to reach this point reflect the basic problem underlying this legislation. From the point of view of the proponents, it isn’t about protecting religious belief and expression (what individuals want), it’s about establishing a special, and protected status, for religion.

That is not only contrary to public opinion, but runs directly against the spirit of our constitution, which states (s116)

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth

In line with its appalling performance on most issues, the High Court has read s116 down into insignificance. But there is nothing to stop the Commonwealth from prohibiting or severely constraining religious tests, and it should do so, particularly in relation to publicly funded organizations.

Yes, the world is paying attention to Australia’s climate inaction

That’s the title of my latest piece in Inside Story Opening paras

Like their counterparts in many other countries, members of Australia’s political class are frequently accused of living inside a self-regarding bubble. That’s certainly true when it comes to climate policy. But bubbles can be punctured by shocks from the outside, and one arrived earlier this month in the shape of a demand from the European Union, led by France, that Australia must make stronger climate commitments if it wants a trade agreement with Europe.

Before looking at the EU position, it’s worth considering how far removed from reality our political class has become. As bushfires raged through October and November, a bipartisan consensus emerged: any discussion of the relationship between the fire catastrophe and climate change, let alone any suggestion of a policy response, would be divisive and unnecessary. Many media outlets were happy to go along with it.

The same willingness to ignore the deeper issues extends to climate-related policy more broadly. As energy minister, Angus Taylor has repeatedly and egregiously misled the public about key aspects of his portfolio. He has denounced renewable energy, made spurious claims about the benefits of coal-fired power, and promoted the government’s claim to be observing our emissions-reduction commitments while vetoing any policy action that might promote that goal.

For all of this, he has had a free pass from Labor and most of the media. Their attention has been focused on a series of trivial scandals, culminating in the publication of a forged document used to accuse the Sydney City Council of hypocrisy. These transgressions may or may not cost Taylor his job, but their pursuit will do nothing to tackle the climate emergency.

More over the fold

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