Put Labor last?

I gave up hope of getting much out of a Labor government when Albanese announced that he would implement Morrison’s top-end tax cuts, and it became clear that this meant abandoning most of the spending commitments Labor took to the 2019 election. But at least it seemed that Labor would be significantly better on climate policy. Now, that difference has been reduced to a minor point of semantics. Morrison has finally crabwalked his way to a 2050 net zero commitment. In deference to the sensitivities of the National Party, he refused to increase Australia’s 26-28 % emissions reduction target for 2030, while pointing out that the policies of state governments (both Liberal and Labor) would probably get us to 35 % with no action at the national level. Labor has yet to announce a 2030 target, but has already abandoned the 45 % target from 2019. So, it’s clear enough that the target will be indistunguishable from Morrison’s non-target, and will similarly imply no significant policy action.

More importantly, over the last week or so, Labor has acted to remove the remaining points of difference between the parties. Albanese backed Morrison’s refusal to join an agreement to reduce methane emissions. Then, Chris Bowen ruled out either a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme, and indicated Labor would continue the current governments’ voluntary policy, possibly with some minor adjustments.

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Thinking the unthinkable

If the last five years have taught us anything it’s this: the fact that something being unimaginable doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. So, it’s worth considering the prospect that Donald Trump becomes President after the 2024 election whether by getting enough votes to win the Electoral College under the current rules, or by having a Democratic victory overturned. Trump has made it clear that, in such an event, he would wish to secure at least a third term in office and perhaps a life presidency.

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The Nationals finally agree to a 2050 net-zero target …

… but the real decisions on Australia’s emissions are happening elsewhere. That’s the title of my latest piece in The Conversation. Key paras

The Morrison government, partly through its own doing, has almost no control over Australia’s emissions trajectory. The real decisions on that are being made elsewhere – by state governments and civil society, or outside the country altogether.

Morrison’s last-minute reach for a 2050 net-zero target is almost entirely symbolic, as was the Nationals’ resistance to it.

Some unpleasant pandemic arithmetic

A lot of discussion around “living with Covid” starts from the premise that, as long as vaccination rates are high (say 80 per cent of the population), we don’t need to worry about high case numbers. That’s because vaccinated people are less likely to suffer bad outcomes (hospitalization and death). The problem with this claim is that, because the primary function of vaccines is to protect against infection, unvaccinated people will be over-represented among cases. Let’s try some simple arithmetic.

Suppose the vaccination rate is x%, and that vaccination gives y% reduction in infection risk and z% reduction in bad outcomes (hospitalization and death) conditional on infection. Denote the percentage of bad outcomes for unvaxed by b %. Assume all unvaccinated will be infected if exposed.


Then, for each 100 people exposed, (100-x) unvaccinated and x*(100-y)/ 100 vaccinated will be infected. Example, if x = y = 80%, there will be 20 unvaccinated and 16 vaccinated. That is, even though unvaccinated people are only 20 % of the population, they will account for more than half the cases.


The number of outcomes will be

b* = (100-x)*b⁄ 100 + x *(100-y)*(100-z)*b⁄ (100*100 )


Say b = 5%, z = 80%, Then we get 1.16 bad outcomes, compared to 5 in the absence of vaccination. So the good news is vaccination works,


But as a proportion of cases, things don’t look nearly so good. In the absence of vaccination b=5 % of cases have bad outcomes, but with vaccination b*=1.16/36 = 3.2 per cent, which is only marginally lowe.

So, the idea that we don’t need to worry about high case numbers if vaccination rates are high doesn’t really stand up. We have to keep case numbers down. Taking the vaccination rate as given, that can only be done with measures like mask mandates, social distancing and vaccine passports.