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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