Unmitigated failure

That’s been the response of Australia’s political class, politicians, pundits and journalists alike to the arrival of catastrophic climate change in the form of ubiquitous and semi-permanent bushfires. The failure has been so comprehensive, encompassing nearly everyone in Labor and the LNP, and most of the commentariat, that there is not much point in naming names.

I can’t motivate myself to write a proper analysis of this, so I’ve been reduced to writing a series of snarky tweets.

Update: Sean Kelly spells out the same point in the SMH.

Read More »

Predictions and projections

I have a piece in The Conversation arguing against the common practice of publishing projections, based on holding constant parameters that are unlikely to remain so in practice. I suggest modellers need to bite the bullet, make predictions and stand by them.

A slight clarification, arising from discussion. To the extent that we are concerned with policy, it’s fine to make conditional predictions about the consequences of alternative policy packages.


The use of “woke” as a term of abuse by rightwingers has expanded rapidly in the recent past. A typical example is Deputy PM McCormack’s claim (rapidly refuted by fire chiefs) that the supposed relationship between climate change and the bushfire disaster arose from “the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital-city greenies.”

This is striking for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve never seen anyone in Australia describe themselves as “woke”. That’s not surprising: the term comes from the US and refers to changed consciousness of the structures of racial oppression there, and specifically to the position of black Americans. Being “woke” refers to things like the gaining of a new understanding the way blacks are portrayed in the media.

While Australia has plenty of problems with racism, particularly in relation to indigenous Australians, there hasn’t been any real transformation of consciousness here, or at least, anything sufficient to be announced as an awakening. So, the pejorative use of “woke” is yet another example of the dependence of the Australian right on culture war tropes imported from the US.

The same is true, by the way, of “political correctness”. The term was initially used ironically within the US left of people who were more concerned with taking the “correct line” than with effective action. It was then appropriated by the right to become the catchphrase we all know. In the Australian context, the term “ideologically sound” was used within the left, in just the same way as “politically correct”, but our local rightwingers never picked it up.

A second striking observation is that, having no real referent in Australia, “woke” is being used as an all purpose pejorative for anything the right doesn’t like. There’s nothing “woke” about being worried about climate change – the entire scientific community has been shouting about it for decades.

The extreme case, so far, is Janet Albrechtsen in the Oz (no link), using the term to describe veteran corporate gadfly Stephen Mayne, also notable as the founder of Crikey and previously an advisor to Jeff Kennett. Mayne certainly makes trouble for the cosy network of the Australian corporate elite, but describing shareholder activism* as “woke” stretches the term beyond any possible limit. In the current case, he is campaigning for more independent directors, while Albrechtsen (in a very confused piece) plays the gender card against him,

  • To be clear, I’m not referring to the kind of activism done by groups like Market Forces, pushing for divestment from fossil fuels. Mayne’s typically complaint is that boards aren’t capitalist enough preferring a comfortable life to their fiduciary obligation to maximize shareholder value.

IPA unsure about free speech (repost from 2014)

In the light of the Morrison government’s attempts to extend secondary boycott laws to cover boycotts by consumers, investors and advertisers, I thought I would repost this piece from 2014. I’m inclined to agree with Chris Berg (link broken unfortunately) that all restrictions on secondary boycotts should be scrapped. In particular, that applies to bans imposed on unions under Sections 45D and 45E of the Trade Practices Act.

John Quiggin

The reaction of the Institute of Public Affairs to the Abbott governments backdown on the race-hate proviions Section 18C has been, by its own admission, intemperate (“white hot anger” is the description they used; I think I also saw “ice-cold rage”.

By contrast, the IPA has been much more ambivalent on freedom of speech. I noted a while ago, this piece suggesting that environmentalists who questioned the viability of the coal industry could be prosecuted either under securities legislation or as an illegal secondary boycott. This view isn’t unanimous however. Following some Twitter discussion (must get Storify working properly for things like this) Chris Berg pointed to a piece he’d written arguing against such a use of secondary boycott legislation (and against such legislation in general).

I was, naturally interested in how Freedom Commissioner and former IPA fellow Tim Wilson would respond to proposals to suppress free…

View original post 152 more words