May Day

Here in Queensland, at least while the ALP is in office, we celebrate Labour Day as May Day, with a holiday long weekend on the first Monday in May. It’s a good time to think about how workers, in Australia and globally, can turn around the long decline in the reach and influence of trade unions and the resulting decline in the wage share of national income.
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Negging the NEG

The proposal of the pompously named “Monash Group” that public funds should be allocated to investment in coal-fired power stations is, of course, absurd. Leaving aside its environmental effects, new coal-fired power is far more expensive than renewables or gas.

Nevertheless, the proposal is welcome in a number of respects.

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The centre cannot hold

Lachlan Harris and Andrew Charlton have a piece in the Fairfax press decrying the collapse of centrism in Australia.

There are some problems with their data. As William Bowe has pointed out, the change in voter attitudes described by Harris and Charlton as “polarisation” looks more like a straighforward increase in support for the left, rising from 19.5 per cent to 31.4 per cent over the period 1996 to 2016. Measures of voter disaffection show no consistent trend over the period except for a sharp uptick in 2016.

Regardless of the data, there’s no reason to dispute the central claim that Australian politics is more polarised than at any time in the past twenty years.

The big problem with the piece, and the besetting sin of centrist analysis, is the near-complete absence of discussion of actual policy. The assumption is simply that whoever is in the middle must be right.
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Changing places

When Malcolm Turnbull, as PM, first faced Bill Shorten, as Opposition Leader, I correctly surmised that this would be a contest between a bold and innovative leader, unafraid to put forward controversial policies if they were right for the country, and a timid pragmatist, tied down by secret deals with factional warlords, and standing for nothing. I just didn’t realise which was which.

Where are the Greens going?

I haven’t had time to do a proper economic analysis of Labor’s proposals on dividend imputation credits. But you don’t need an economic analysis to see that making an overt appeal to conservative voters on the issue, as Richard di Natale has just done, is a very bad move if the Greens party wants to present itself as a left alternative to Labor.

Perhaps this is poor judgement in the heat of a by-election campaign, the significance of which seems to me to be greatly over-rated by all.

Alternatively, perhaps it indicates that di Natale is taking the Greens in a different direction. The obvious choices are

(i) A soft liberal centrist party in the mould of the Australian Democrats under Don Chipp
(ii) A serious push to displace Labor as the main alternative to the LNP

I don’t think there’s a real constituency for (i) and, to the extent that there is, it’s very different from the existing Greens support base.

I also don’t think (ii) has any chance of success. But, if it does, it will involve a lot of the kind of grubby compromises that are inevitably entailed in an attempt to put together an electoral majority. Labor’s shuffles on Adani and refugees are obvious examples, which have driven a lot of people to support the Greens. But now it looks as if the boot may be on the other foot.

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Weathervanes

I have a piece in Crikey (possibly paywalled) looking at the gyrations of our political leaders on climate policy in general and Adani in particular. I suppose what matters is that you end up facing the right way: on this test, Shorten does reasonably, Turnbull fails miserably and Abbott is laughable.