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The doubts about Abbott remaining Liberal leader continue

May 4th, 2015 Comments off

Federal parliament has not been sitting for a few weeks so the parliamentary press gallery has laid off on its obsession about Liberal leadership challenges, But out in the world where people are prepared to put their money where their opinion is the belief remains that Prime Minister Tony Abbott will not be Prime Minister when the next election comes.

The Owl’s leadership indicator, based on the betting markets, puts Abbott’s chances of remaining in charge at only just over 33%. That’s an improvement from earlier this year hardly encouraging as the House of Representatives returns for the budget session.
4-05-2015 liberalleaderindicator

Why are politicians still referring to marijuana as a gateway drug?

April 21st, 2015 Comments off

Miriam Boeri, Bentley University

With states legalizing marijuana by popular vote, some politicians, including Boston mayor Marty Walsh and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, are still calling marijuana a gateway drug.

The gateway theory argues that because heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine users often used marijuana before graduating to harder drugs, it must be a “gateway” to harder drug use. The theory implies that there is a casual mechanism that biologically sensitizes drug users, making them more willing to try – and more desirous of – harder drugs.

Yet the gateway hypothesis doesn’t make sense to those who use marijuana or have used in the past. Research shows that the vast majority of marijuana users do not go on to use hard drugs. Most stop using after entering the adult social world of family and work.

So why is it still part of the rhetoric and controversy surrounding the drug? A closer look reveals the historical roots – and vested interests – that are keeping the myth alive.

Explaining hard drug use

When analyzing what acts as a “gateway” to hard drug use, there are a number of factors at play. None involve marijuana.

With so much research challenging the gateway theory, it’s important to examine – and dispel – the research that proponents of the myth latch onto.

But what about all that evidence?

Most of the research linking marijuana to harder drug use comes from the correlation between the two. However, as any junior scientist can tell you, correlation does not mean causation.

Correlation is a first step. A correlation can be positive or negative; it can be weak or strong. And it never means a cause unless a rational reason for causality is found.

The brain disease model, which describes changes in the brain during the progression from drug use to addiction, currently gets a lot of attention as an potential causal link of the gateway theory. For example, in a 2014 article, neuroscientist Dr Jodi Gilman reported that even a little marijuana use was associated with “exposure-dependent alterations of the neural matrix of core reward systems” in the brains of young marijuana users. The reasoning goes that this would predispose them to use other drugs.

But other researchers were quick to point out the flaws of the Gilman study, such as a lack of careful controls for alcohol and other drug use by those whose brains were studied. Nonetheless, Dr Gilman’s research continues to be cited in the news media, while its critics are ignored.

In another study supporting the gateway theory, the authors admit to limitations in their study: that they excluded younger cocaine users from the analysis, as well as older cocaine users who had never used marijuana. This means that those cases that might provide evidence of no gateway effect were left out of the analysis.

One the other hand, there’s a wealth of research showing the flaws in the gateway theory. Unfortunately, the common thread among these studies is that much of them come from outside the US or from grass-roots organizations within the US that are promoting marijuana legalization.

A myth ingrained in politics, perpetuated through policy

So why is it that most of the funded research pointing out flaws in the gateway theory comes from overseas?

Harry Anslinger, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
Wikimedia Commons

As Nathan Greenslit explained in an Atlantic article last year, US drug policy began with racist fear-mongering by Federal Bureau of Narcotics director Harry Anslinger in 1937.

The Nixon administration strengthened drug control with the creation of the Drug Enforcement Agency, which classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, against the advice of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse.

Because marijuana is still officially classified in the US as a Schedule I drug with no medical value, carefully controlled research using marijuana must receive approval from several federal departments. On the rare occasions that researchers do get approval, local politics can thwart the study.

Meanwhile, in the United States, addiction researchers and addiction treatment professionals are heavily invested in the weakly supported claim that marijuana is a gateway to hard drugs. For decades, scientists who study addiction have received millions in government and pharmaceutical funding to perpetuate the gateway hypothesis. Many would lose their respected reputations (or continued funding) if a gateway mechanism is not a legitimate research goal.

Those who work in the vast addiction treatment profession are especially invested in keeping the gateway theory believable, since the majority of their treatment patients are marijuana users. Their jobs depend on a belief in addiction as a disease and on marijuana being an addictive drug.

Scare tactics

Today, what started as scare tactics under Anslinger has been “modernizied” (and mystified) by scientific jargon.

Sociologists Craig Reinarman and Harry G Levine described how the media and politicians manufacture drug scares to influence policy. One fear perpetuated is that marijuana use will increase if decriminalized.

But a 2004 study compared Amsterdam, where marijuana was decriminalized, to San Francisco, where cannabis was, at the time, still criminalized. The authors found that criminalization of marijuana didn’t reduce use, while decriminalization didn’t increase use.

The gateway fear has focused mostly on youth. For example, newly-elected Maryland governor Larry Hogan announced that he is against legalization partly out of concern that “marijuana use would increase among young people.” Meanwhile, parents are concerned by recent research showing marijuana’s effect on the brain.

These studies showed structural changes and loss of white matter in marijuana users, although the limitations of these studies and implications were questioned by other research.

But fears of decriminalization resulting in increased use among youth haven’t been supported by research from countries where drugs were decriminalized. Nor has this trend been noted in studies of US states that legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. For example, in an article published in the American Academy of Pediatrics, the authors found no evidence that young people had increased marijuana use in states that had legalized medical or recreational marijuana.

The worst impact on kids, according to these authors, was the potential for criminal prosecution.

A gateway to jail

Studies consistently find that the traumatic experience of being arrested and incarcerated for marijuana possession is the most harmful aspect of marijuana among young people. Arrest for possession can result in devastating – often permanent – legal and social problems, especially for minority youth and low-income families.

Getting arrested can be a traumatic experience for young people.
‘Cuffs’ via www.shutterstock.com

According to studies by the ACLU, nearly half of all drug arrests were for marijuana possession, and the majority of those arrested were African American. In some states, African Americans were more than eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites.

Unfortunately, marijuana legalization has not changed arrests and incarceration disparities for minorities. While African Americans have always been over-represented for drug arrests and incarceration, new research shows African Americans are more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession after marijuana reform than all other races were before marijuana policy reform. Although in some states, decriminalization makes possession a “noncriminal” offense, it can still be illegal and can result in an arrest, court appearance and stiff fines.

Marijuana as a gateway – out of hard drugs

On the periphery of the marijuana-as-gateway-drug debates are studies showing marijuana as beneficial for the treatment of opiate addicts.

These have been largely ignored. However, now that marijuana has become legal for medical purposes in some states, new research offers substantial findings that can’t be dismissed.

Crime has not increased in states that have legalized marijuana; it’s actually gone down. Surprisingly, opiate overdose deaths have gone down as well.

As I’ve written previously for The Conversation, anyone who actually talks with problem drug users (and doesn’t simply talk about them) knows that marijuana can help drug users prevent, control – even stop – hard drug use.

If anything, marijuana can work as a gateway out of hard drug use – an exit strategy that needs to be studied and, possibly, implemented at the policy level.

It’s time to move beyond marijuana as a gateway drug and start to study its use as treatment for the deadly, addictive and socially devastating drugs.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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Advice on Greens for Labor from Labour

March 15th, 2015 Comments off

The Australian Labor Party has struggled in recent federal and state elections to work out how it should treat the threat of Greens candidates snatching their votes in previously safe inner city seats. A vote for a Green risks giving the Liberals extra seats has become a familiar Labor cry without there being much evidence to support such a claim with the electoral system’s preferential voting. An end result of such misguided thinking is for Labor to play preference games in voting for upper houses where a seeming desire to punish Greens for their inner city naughtiness has led to some real opponents of a conservative bent being elected.

This phenomenon of a traditional left of centre party having trouble dealing with another leftist party is not uniquely Australian. European socialists have been dealing with it for 20 years with an acceptance of coalition governments making it relatively peaceful. Not so in Britain where the Australian born leader of the Green Party of England and Wales is being cast in the villain’s role by British Labour as that country’s election approaches.

From The Observer this morning:

Labour is trying to scare leftish voters away from the Greens with the thought that they will go to bed with Natalie Bennett and wake up to find David Cameron back in Number 10. One Labour MP who has tried this on the doorstep reports: “It doesn’t work. Your 18-year-old who is going to vote Green doesn’t give a toss about that. They want to make a statement by voting Green.” A statement about the world, about Westminster, about themselves.

The comment of that anonymous Labour MP pretty much sums up what I believe to be the situation in Australia. Rather than trying to beat the Greens the task should be finding more ways to join with them in presenting a united left of centre coalition to combat our governing right of centre one. Surely preferential voting makes that possible.

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Turnbull and the Keating influence

March 13th, 2015 Comments off

The more I see, hear and read of Malcolm Turnbull these days, the more inclined I am to believe my informant that the would-be Prime Minister is getting some tactical advice from former Prime Minister Paul Keating. See my political snippet from back in February The new besties – Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating where I mentioned that what I’ll call “a normally reliable and well informed Sydney friend” assured me that the pair have developed a close friendship. They are regularly, I was told, in each others company as the Liberal leadership pretender gets a tip or two on playing politics from the former Labor master.

For further evidence, take these comments as recorded by Simon Benson in a thoughtful Daily Telegraph column this morning:

“Labor had committed to several high-profile promises that if delivered would vastly increase outlays over the next decade, with much of their cost conveniently hidden beyond the budget’s four-year forward estimates window.

“Kevin Rudd’s 2010 deal with the states to fund hospitals, Julia Gillard’s 2013 Gonski reforms to schools funding, and the National Disabilities Insurance Scheme (NDIS) are the iconic examples. According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, these three types of spending will have a joint annual cost of $73 billion by 2023-24 (equal to 14 per cent of total budget outlays). If we allow this situation to continue we will put the security of every family and every business at risk. The deficits continue, our debt and interest payments balloon — and all this at historically low interest rates. What happens when rates rise again, as they assuredly will?

“Treasurer Joe Hockey’s 2014-15 budget attempted to address these trends. Evidently by doing so it disappointed many in the community. In addition there was a deeply felt sense in much of the community that our proposed budget measures were unfair to people on lower incomes when taken as a whole. In my view the failure to effectively make the case for budget repair was our biggest misstep, because it was a threshold we never crossed.

“We — and I include myself and every member of the government in this criticism — did not do a good enough job in explaining the scale of the fiscal problem the nation faces, and the urgency of taking corrective action.”

To my mind that’s exactly how the author of the banana republic comment would summarise things.

And for good measure think about the similarity of the views Turnbull and Keating have on the purpose of superannuation. They argue as one on the silliness of allowing first home buyers to raid their super balances to get a deposit.

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Has Tony Abbott committed Australia to a never ending war?

March 12th, 2015 Comments off

A couple of stories this week that make me wonder what Tony Abbott has got us into by sending our troops back to Iraq to tackle the ISIS threat.

One is on the Foreign Policy website – Let Me Make This as Unclear as Possible. It makes the case for “why the Obama administration’s authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State is intentionally an open-ended ticket to forever war … again.”

The author, Micah Zenko, who is the Douglas Dillon fellow with the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, looks at recent congressional hearings on an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that the Obama administration sought even while claiming a president did not need such a thing. Two bits of evidence stood out:

In a telling exchange last week, [Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Christine] Wormuth was asked by Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) how she would define victory against the Islamic State. Wormuthdeclared: “When ISIL is no longer a threat to Iraq, to its existence, to our partners and allies in the region, and to the United States.” O’Rourke pushed the Pentagon’s top policy official further: “So as long as ISIL is seen as a threat to ourselves or any of our partners around the world we have not won?” To this, Wormuth replied: “I think that’s fair.”

At Wednesday’s Senate hearing, Gen. Dempsey was similarly asked what victory over ISIL would look like. The most senior uniformed U.S. military officer answered: “That’s not for us to declare. Their ideology has to be defeated by those in the region.” But just who declares victory on behalf of the U.S.-led coalition, or how air strikes help in defeating an ideology, was not explained.

Zenko concluded that these two contrasting depictions of victory are a long way from Barack Obama’s previously articulated strategic objectives to “destroy” and later “defeat” the Islamic State.

But the Obama administration has been consistent since Aug. 7 in its use of fuzzy language, the gradual mission creep, and shifting implausible objectives. Now, 216 days and more than 2,200 strikes later, Congress is assuming its expected role of debating the language of what is, by all accounts, a meaningless AUMF. A uniquely brave senator or congressional member might better use hearings or floor debates to explore how this has become the normal state of affairs for how the United States goes to war.

And as is clear since the Abbott decision to send extra troops to “train” the Iraqi armed forces, as goes the United States, so goes Australia.

The second story for the week to set me wondering about where this renewed Australian intervention in the Middle East might end up was in London’s Independent – Isis in Afghanistan is a disaster waiting to happen – Its black flag has replaced the white ones of the Talibs in a swathe of areas including in Helmand.

Kim Sengupta the paper’s Defence Correspondent, that Isis spreading tentacles in Afghanistan has, internationally, gone largely unrecorded.

The gains for Isis are not purely military in Afghanistan. Like the Taliban they are grabbing chunks of the narcotic stocks which can then be moved west along the parts of Iraq under its control. This is of great value at a time when their income from sale oil from captured fields, said not so long ago to be a $1 million a day, are being hit by US led air strikes: the latest ones were today at a refinery in Tel Abyad. …

It has taken a while for official recognition of the Isis threat in Afghanistan. Last month General Ali Murad, of the Afghan army, stated that “elements of Isis, masked men, are active in Zabul [another Taliban dominated province] and Helmand and have raised black flags. Now, they are trying to spread their activities to the north.”  …

Afghanistan is a war and a place the West would like to forget, there’s too much of a sense of futility about the very long mission there. But that is the way we also felt about Iraq. There, too, Isis started on a slow burn and look what happened. Like Iraq, the West may have to revisit Afghanistan as well, this time facing an enemy more implacable and savage than the Taliban ever were.

Farewelling Mr Spock today and Tony Abbott on Tuesday?

February 28th, 2015 Comments off

farewellmrspock

That’s how 7News saw things this morning. It pretty much sums up the attitude of most of the media. Notable exceptions were the two biggest selling Murdoch tabloids and the ABC.

The socialist leaning ABC? Yes the ABC website preferred Mr Spock and a Russian murder. For the PM it was a straight report on meetings in New Zealand.

The Melbourne Herald Sunalso  was very low key on page seven while the Sydney Tele relegated its coverage to page nine with:

tele

Up in Brisbane The Courier Mail brought out the egg eater to whip the leadership speculation along.

courier mail (1)Laurie Oakes had his column elevated to page one, where soe people might actually notice it, rather than being hidden in the boring opinion pages as in the other tabloids. Laurie’s message?

Uncertainty about whether a leadership coup would help or hurt the NSW Coalition could be a key factor if Abbott earns another reprieve.

That is all it would be. The last couple of weeks have provided strong evidence for those believing Abbott cannot change his style. The constant flow of damaging leaks and leadership gossip have left no doubt that efforts to undermine him will continue and promises of time to turn things around were hollow.

The Fairfax tabloids went searching desperately for a different leadership angle.

the age (1)smh

Not much in the story that I could see.

The main story in the Oz was a balanced attempt to look forward.

australian

TONY Abbott will seek backbench approval for a recovery plan for his government, including a likely move within days to dump the Medicare co-payment, as he stares down attempts to panic Liberal MPs into another leadership showdown.

The Prime Minister’s fightback strategy will be to refocus the budget, cement his national security credentials and show he is listening to the concerns of the Liberal partyroom.

Conscious of consulting his colleagues, Mr Abbott wants to discuss options with MPs before any decisions are finalised, but he is considering making a health policy statement to quell concerns about the future of Medicare. He also plans to take announcements on a further troop commitment in Iraq to the partyroom.

Paul Kelly was looking forward in another direction.

THE terrible risk for the Liberals is that they destroy Tony Abbott as PM yet undermine Malcolm Turnbull as the next PM. The media frenzy of the past 36 hours, based on aggressive briefings, shows this danger.

At The Guardian they could barely contain their excitement.

guardianAnd The Saturday Paper was not going to be out done in the sacking stakes.

saturday paper

 

Tony Abbott’s personal intervention with Indonesian President fails?

February 28th, 2015 Comments off

executions

 

This morning’s Jakarta Post holds out little hope that the death sentences on Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan will be commuted.

George Brandis: nothing else to say about the man really

February 27th, 2015 Comments off

brandis

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The new besties – Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating

February 26th, 2015 Comments off

If you thought Malcolm Turnbull sounded a lot like Paul Keating when he appeared on Q&A recently then you may well be right. I’m told by what I’ll call “a normally reliable and well informed Sydney friend” that the pair have developed a close friendship. They are regularly, I am told, in each others company as the Liberal leadership pretender gets a tip or two on playing politics from the former Labor prime minister.

That someone astute is helping Malcolm Turnbull steer through the difficulties of building his credentials without openly challenging Tony Abbott is apparent. And wasn’t this comment on Q&A pure Keating?

“I think firstly you have to set out a vision… describe where you want to go. What’s this all about? What is your goal? You’ve got to explain that. Then you’ve got to explain honestly, not dumbing it down… the problems that we face. What is the problem with the budget? What is the problem with the NBN… Explain it and lay it out factually and then lay out what the options are,” he said.

“I think the government and opposition should be prepared to put their cards on the table and actually have a debate… You never know, out of that debate you might come up with a third solution that is better than either of those.”

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Tony Abbott signs the execution papers?

February 24th, 2015 Comments off

Perhaps in diplomacy words can be bullets. This morning’s Jakarta Post commentary:

analysisabbott

[Note – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has also said that execution would have negative repercussions.]

The risk of Tony Abbott carrying the can if Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran do face the firing squad increases.

See also Blaming Tony Abbott – Indonesia plays the game and Jakarta Post reports: TNI to safeguard prison island as Jokowi firm on execution policy

A Liberal betraying the standards of the party and the conservative conventions of those that voted for him

February 23rd, 2015 Comments off

A kind reader – it was nice to find I had one – sent me an interesting paper that gives a bit of context to that “kind of love” reference in my piece earlier this week Jim and Junie’s kind of love and a lasting relevance for Tom Uren’s words? The paper ‘A KIND OF LOVE’: Supergirls, Scapegoatsand Sexual Liberation, written in 2011 by Kate Laing, referred to an interview Jim Cairns gave to a journalist from the late and great Sydney Sun about his relationship with Junie Morosi:

We know we’re being watched all the time. I don’t give a damn what people say. I have stuck by Junie all the way and I intend to keep doing this… I have not changed my opinion about Junie since the day a few months ago when somebody asked me if I was in love with her. I said then it had nothing to do with the love he was talking about. Love is a word that has many meanings. I said- but I was incorrectly quoted- that love ranged from the kind of thing I might have for the Vietnamese people to the kind of thing his boss had for money. I would like to add though, that in her capacity as my private secretary, Junie must command my respect and trust. Surely you can’t trust somebody in this world unless you feel something akin to a kind of love for them. [Emphasis added]*

*As a historical footnote I should add that in those days in the long ago 1970s politicians did not have chiefs of staff, with the private secretary being the key gate keeper in a minister’s office.

But of more interesting to me in the Laing paper than the main event of Cairns and Morosi were the references to an earlier example of controversy about a senior politician having a key female adviser.

Prior to this scandal, there had been another example that indicated the interest and intrigue in women in the political landscape: Ainsley Gotto was a young girl hired to be the private secretary to Prime Minister John Gorton.
Gotto was used as a scapegoat for an unpopular Prime Minister and the outrage was centred on his lack of judgment in employing her and listening to her advice. The headlines read, ‘PM listened to girl more than to his cabinet’ and ‘Ainsley Gotto (‘it’s shapely… it wiggles’) tells her own story’. They focused on her youth and beauty, implying the reason for her appointment was her sexual attraction rather than her professional experience. When Gotto flew with the Prime Minister to the US on Air Force One for meetings with the President of the US, the reporting seemed almost spiteful, as though she was simply a girl sitting ‘close to the policy makers, the architects of world power, the men whose figures loom larger than life, who with the stroke of a pen can change a nations history’. The reports despised her for thinking she was worthy to be in their presence because of her age and inexperience. …

These two cases have often been compared when talking about the media treatment of women in the workplace and in government employment because of their proximity to each other, the Gotto affair occurring in 1969 and the Morosi affair happening in 1974. Similarly, journalist Alan Reid was highly critical of PM John Gorton and used the Gotto situation as a way of turning public opinion against him, outlining that Gotto was only 22 years old and unmarried, therefore could never be taken seriously, nor could a Prime Minister relying on her advice. …

To compare this scandal once again to the scandal of John Gorton and his secretary Ainsley Gotto which occurred in 1969, this point identifies a fundamental difference. John Gorton and Ainsley Gotto were conservatives of the Liberal party, a party known to be fierce advocates for the nuclear family and the role of the woman as bearer of children and domestic ruler of the home.135 The 1969 scandal was a sensation because by employing the young woman on his staff and listening to advice from the ‘girl’ rather than from his ministers, Gorton was betraying the standards of the party and the conservative conventions of those that voted for him.

 

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A real Sydney Telegraph exclusive – political correspondent abolishes Tasmania’s upper house

February 23rd, 2015 Comments off

Reporting on an opinion poll giving the public view of the New South Wales upper house:clennell1clennell2

From the website of the Tasmanian Parliament:

The Legislative Council of Tasmania

A Message from the President of the Legislative Council,

The Honourable James Scott Wilkinson, MLC.

The Legislative Council, which is the Upper House in the Tasmanian Parliament, is a unique parliamentary institution.

Established in 1825 as the original legislative body in Tasmania (then Van Diemen’s Land) it is the only House of Parliament in the Commonwealth, and probably in the world, that has never been controlled by any government or any political party. It has always had a majority of independent members making it a truly genuine House of Review.

The Legislative Council has extensive constitutional powers, but Members are conscious of their powers and responsibilities and make their decisions accordingly.

The independent nature of the House makes for meaningful debate of the issues without the rivalry and regimentation which is involved in the process in Houses of Parliament dominated by political parties.

Blaming Tony Abbott – Indonesia plays the game

February 23rd, 2015 Comments off

If Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran finally are executed, expect Tony Abbott to be cast in the role of villain.

The reaction in Indonesia to our Prime Minister’s argument in favour of having the two drug dealers spared is getting stronger. From page one of the Jakarta Post this morning:

coin for abbott

People in Aceh are collecting spare change for Tony Abbot following the Australian prime minister’s recent comments about a lack of Indonesian gratitude as it readies to execute two Australian drug traffickers.

Organizers said that the money collected would be given to the Australian government to “repay” an estimated A$1 billion worth of aid given to Indonesia after the 2004 Aceh tsunami.

Among initiators of the coin drive are the I Love Aceh community and the Association of Indonesian Muslim University Students (KAMMI), which has set up special posts for people to participate in the drive.

“We are ready to collect coins to be handed over to the Australian government,” chairman of KAMMI’s Banda Aceh post, Martunus, said.

“We call on the Indonesian government to not be afraid of threats or other forms of intervention in connection to the upcoming executions,” he said, calling Abbot’s statement hurtful.

Stories like that are sure to influence the blame game in Australia should the executions take place. Tony Abbott will be accused of sabotaging the diplomatic amnesty attempts.

Jim and Junie’s kind of love and a lasting relevance for Tom Uren’s words?

February 22nd, 2015 Comments off

I am thankful to Gerard Henderson for including this item in his always entertainingly readable Media Watch Dog.

22-02-2015 nancy archive

(You can read the rest of the item HERE)

It brought back such marvellous memories of the Whitlam era and what was described at the time as “a kind of love”. There were pictures like this one:

22-02-2015 junieandjim

And this one.

22-02-2015 barechestedjim

And somehow, when I see a picture like this one, I can’t stop thinking about those words of Tom.

22-02-2015 abbottandcredlin

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The leadership speculation that just won’t go away

February 20th, 2015 Comments off

The prime ministerial way with words has struck again. Tony Abbott’s linking of Australian generosity with aid to Indonesia with the scheduled execution of drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran has placed him in dangerous political territory. If the view expressed in the media his morning that he has hindered diplomatic efforts to have the death penalty revoked catches on with the public it may well be the final straw for his leadership.

Already the media dogs are barking about another challenge. Mark Kenny was the loudest this morning with his “Leadership chatter has not stopped. It may all come to a head sooner than you think.”

But for Hockey, the primary question now must be whether he lasts long enough to deliver a second budget. He is as welded to Abbott as Abbott is to him. Liberals say they’ll go down together.

Chatter in the government shows no signs of abating and could yet manifest itself in a sudden move to replace Abbott with Malcolm Turnbull as early as the first full sitting week beginning March 2.

If that happens, the IGR [Intergenerational Report] will still be an important document because the long-term problems aren’t going away. But don’t expect to hear much about university deregulation or the toxic GP payment, no matter what Orwellian name it has acquired by then.*

[*Kenny notes in his story how the GP co-payment is now called, “somewhat comically, ‘a value signal in health’.”]

Graham Richardson in The Australian was delivering a similar warning:

For a party with a long tradition of sticking with elected prime ministers, that vote should have been the wake-up call of a lifetime for an embattled leader fast running out of friends. Whether his loss of sensory perception is in his eyes or his ears doesn’t really matter. Either way it will prove fatal.

The money is pointing in the same direction. The Owl’s market based Liberal Leadership Indicator has the probability of Malcolm Turnbull being PM at the next election increasing.

liberal leader indicator (1)

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Time to change those blue ties

February 14th, 2015 Comments off

My award for the most revealing story of 2014 about Tony Abbott would go to Mark Di Stefano with his The Definitive Ranking Of Every Blue Tie Tony Abbott Wore In 2014. “Tony Abbott”, wrote Di Stefano, “has stuck to a rigid routine throughout 2014: wake up, put on a suit and saddle up with one of his many blue ties. That’s right, if you haven’t noticed Mr Abbott nearly always wears BLUE ties.”

blue ties

The insistence can be traced back to June last year when then Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave a speech about what would happen if Mr Abbott won the upcoming election:

“I invite you to imagine it, a prime minister, a man with a blue tie, who goes on holidays to be replaced by a man in a blue tie, a treasurer who delivers a budget wearing a blue tie, to be supported by a finance minister, another man in a blue tie, women once again banished from the centre of Australia’s political life.”
Since that speech, Mr Abbott has worn a blue tie virtually every single day, in what some consider epic shade being thrown to the Labor Party and Ms Gillard.

The blue tie became a symbol of the Abbott style. Blame Labor. Blame Labor. Blame Labor.

And it worked well when he was Opposition Leader but something different is called for now that Tony Abbott has become as unpopular a Prime Minister as Australia has had in recent memory.

Symbolism being an important component in image making it must be time to change tie colour to accompany a change in rhetoric from opposing to governing.

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Trying to understand the Ruddock replacement

February 13th, 2015 Comments off

In my 50 or so years in Canberra covering politics I have never thought of a party’s whip as being a personal protector of a party leader on the British model. The whip’s duties in Canberra have always struck me as being far more mundane – ensuring that no one clocks off early and that the numbers are there when the votes are taken.

Tony Abbott, the believer in knights and dames, clearly has a different view. Sacking Philip Ruddock can only be explained by the Prime Minister believing two things. The first is that the Liberal Whip should be his personal man as in the House of Commons and the second is that he was truly surprised by the extent of the vote against him in the party room this week. Ruddock, as the Whip, has got the blame for that and paid for it.

Abbott, I expect, will pay his own price in the weeks to come. Philip Ruddock has been a loyal servant of his parliamentary party. I grudgingly admired him when, as Immigration Minister, he loyally supported the John Howard line on asylum seekers even while it destroyed his small “l” liberal reputation and caused a few tensions within his own family if I remember correctly. Whatever else he has been, Philip Ruddock has been a team player.

And his House of Representatives colleagues well know it.

They will be shocked at the way the PM has treated him today. It was the act of a bully-boy.

The consequences will be seen when the Liberal Party next considers its leadership. The likelihood of Abbott’s own sacking have just increased.

13-02-2015 liberalleader

(See the Owl’s other election indicators HERE)

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Case against Abbott Government builds at The Hague

February 13th, 2015 Comments off
  • Case against Abbott Government builds at The Hague – “The Independent Member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, and human rights advocate and lawyer Greg Barns have taken the next step in their formal request for the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate crimes against asylum seekers by members of the Abbott Government.”
  • How Tony Abbott came within 11 votes of oblivion – “This is the story of a leadership spill missing brilliant strategy, cunning organisation or sophisticated internal machinations that brought a Prime Minister within 11 votes of oblivion.”
  • This time the random walk loses – “Notwithstanding the progress made in the field of exchange rate economics, we still know very little of what drives major currencies. This column argues that the best that one can do is to assume that currencies move to gradually restore (relative) purchasing power parity. Contrary to widely held beliefs, this is in general a much better strategy than to just assume that the exchange rate behaves like a random walk. “
  • Do derivatives make the world safer?

cleaner air

  • Stopping at red lights could be slowly killing you – “The average UK commuter spends about 1.5 hours a day at the wheel. While not great for stress levels in general, there are other ways that the daily churn through traffic can negatively affect health. Research by my team at the University of Surrey has shown how drivers and pedestrians are being exposed to very high levels of air pollutants at traffic lights.”
  • Justice Deferred Is Justice Denied – Review of Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations by Brandon L. Garrett – “At bottom, corporate fraud amounts to little more than executives lying for business purposes, and prosecution depends on proving that the lies were intentional. Are the changes forced upon companies by deferred prosecution agreements likely to materially change the decision of these individuals to lie when it suits their goals?”
  • Author Sono calls for racial segregation in op-ed piece – “A prominent Japanese author and columnist who advised the government has called for Japan to adopt a system to force immigrant workers to live in separate zones based on race. In a regular column published in the Feb. 11 edition of the conservative daily Sankei Shimbun, Ayako Sono said immigrants, especially those providing elderly care, would ease the difficulties in Japan’s nursing sector. She also said that, while it was fine for people of all races to work, do research, and socialize with each other, they should also live apart from each other. “Since learning about the situation in South Africa 20 or 30 years ago, I’ve come to think that whites, Asians, and blacks should live separately,” Sono wrote. Sono, who was appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to an education reform panel in 2013, cited an unspecified whites-only apartment complex in Johannesburg that black South Africans moved into after apartheid ended. She said there was a problem because black people tended to bring large families into small apartments.”
  • Labor’s first test: putting integrity before politics in Queensland

Good government comes to Adelaide … Day 1

February 10th, 2015 Comments off

submarine plans

 

That’s how Adelaide’s InDaily website began its coverage of this morning’s attempt by the Coalition government to rescue Tony Abbott from his latest captain’s choice.

Before the party room vote on a split, the Prime Minister courted South Australian MPs with what one of them, Sean Edwards, described this way:

“I’m very pleased with the decision of the prime minister and when he rang me today with this very good news – it now commits the government to a full and open tender – and this should lead to hat throwing, to punching the air.”

Mr Abbott certainly did not move before the vote to qualify the interpretation that the Adelaide Advertiser put on the vote: Prime Minister Tony Abbott promises South Australia chance to tender for Future Submarines project to win leadership votes.

But clarification was clearly thought necessary now that day one of good government (or is it day two?) has come around. Defence Minister Kevin Andrew was dispatched to the headquarters of the Australian Submarine Corporation to put a little spin on things.

Which resulated in this:

In a bizarre morning media conference at Adelaide shipbuilder ASC, Andrews was flanked by a gaggle of Liberal MPs – including Sean Edwards, Andrew Southcott, Matt Williams, David Fawcett and Rowan Ramsey as well as state colleagues Steven Marshall and Dan van Holst Pellekaan – but effectively said nothing about his plans, or how they’ve changed since last week.

“We’ve decided that in relation to the future submarines program, we’ll have a competitive evaluation process,” he said.

“That will mean there’s an opportunity for anybody who can meet the requirements important to the program to have a part in that.”

But he refused to elaborate, saying: “I’m not going to get into the sorts of definitions and ‘what’s a definition’, all I’m saying as minister is this is the approach we’re taking.”

“I’m not a commentator. What I’m doing is saying to you and everyone who may be listening to me now is the process we’re going to undertake is going to be a competitive evaluation process; there are criteria which will be spelled out in more detail as we progress through them,” Andrews said.

Asked about the distinction between a tender process and an “evaluation process”, Andrews said: “I’ll use the words I choose to use – what we’re doing is a competitive evaluation process.”

Quite what means goodness knows. Probably that the next lot of submarines will be built in Japan but the government will try and find a few bits and pieces that can be built by the Adelaide lot that the predecessor of Kevin Andrews would not trust to build a canoe.

A surer way of ensuring that Christopher Pyne loses his SA seat could not be invented and I suppose that’s something.

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Will Abbott last the leadership distance? Probably not

February 9th, 2015 Comments off

The voting is over and the market has considered the prospects. Malcolm Turnbull is still the firm favourite to lead the Liberal Party at the next election.

liberal leader indicator

And as for who will be the government? Little change on the day.

federal indicator (1)

Will Abbott be Prime Minister at the end of next week?

February 6th, 2015 Comments off

There’s not enough data to produce one of the Owl’s election indicators on Tuesday’s Liberal party meeting but here is one guide. Sportsbet had these odds at the time of writing:

abbott as leader

Call it a toss-up.

When it comes to who will win the next federal election the market has barely moved after today’s events.

federal election indicator

 

Given that the opinion polls have Labor a long way in front it is reasonable to assume that many people think there could be a dramatic change – something like a change of Prime Minister – before polling day.

Abbott to go and Liberals to win

February 6th, 2015 Comments off

I am old enough to remember the jubilation in Gough Whitlam’s Labor Party the day that Billy Mackie Snedden was finally sacked as leader of the opposition after months of withering attacks by the prime minister. And I recollect believing that the euphoria caused by Gough’s “brilliance” would be temporary and disappear with that loss of Labor’s best weapon.

So if I was Bill Shorten today I would be hoping and praying that Tony Abbott survives next week’s Liberal party meeting. Malcolm Turnbull has all the credentials to do to him what Malcolm Fraser did to Gough Whitlam.

Not that I think Abbott will survive. Should he escape on Tuesday it will not be for long. He does not have what it takes to run the country and his colleagues know it. They know as well that Shorten is no world beater. With Turnbull as leader taking on Shorten they have a good chance of keeping their seat.

I will be having a modest investment on the Coalition to win the next election. (See The political speculator’s diary)

 

 

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Balanced wise words on Tony Abbott’s fate from a veteran observer

February 6th, 2015 Comments off

VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on the Liberal leadership

By Stephen Parker, University of Canberra and Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor Stephen Parker and Michelle Grattan discuss the week in politics including whether or not Prime Minister Tony Abbott should step down, how likely it is to happen and if Julie Bishop or Malcolm Turnbull would be best to take the position.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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Waiting for Newspoll to further inflame the anti-Abbott fire

February 5th, 2015 Comments off

I have no inside knowledge of any kind about what is happening within the federal Liberal Party. I look at politics from afar without speaking to any members of Parliament. My judgment is based on nothing more than a keen interest in what I read, see and hear of people who do pretend to know what is going on with all this leadership business, And my conclusion is a simple one. If Tony Abbott is correct about being supremely confident that he is not facing a challenge to his party leadership, why does he feel the need to keep asserting that confidence? It does not make sense to me.

And if there really is a threat to Abbott’s position, the next Newspoll will have a major impact on what happens. Presumably The Australian will have an update on Monday or Tuesday. Given the media coverage over the last fortnight it will be amazing if there is not a considerable drop in the Prime Minister’s personal approval rating and an improvement in Labor’s share of the two party preferred vote.

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A leadership challenge? Buy your papers and take your choice

February 5th, 2015 Comments off
Julie Bishop insists she is not campaigning for Tony Abbott’s job, but the leadership crisis deepened yesterday when another long-time ally of the Prime Minister joined those critical of his judgment.

Julie Bishop insists she is not campaigning for Tony Abbott’s job, but the leadership crisis deepened yesterday when another long-time ally of the Prime Minister joined those critical of his judgment.

Dennis Shanahan in The Australian:

THE public momentum for a leadership challenge to Tony Abbott is losing pace but the guerilla war continues and could still force a showdown for the prime ministership in Canberra on Tuesday.

As more Liberal MPs realise the enormity of trying to remove a first-term leader in a bloody and disorganised fight without a clear replacement, enthusiasm for a spill is waning. A senior cabinet minister told The Australian last night it looked like people were pulling back “from the brink”.

Steven Scott in The Courier Mail:

MALCOLM Turnbull is firming as the man most likely to be the nation’s next prime minister – and it could happen as early as next week.

With leadership speculation consuming the federal Coalition, some MPs are now determined to resolve the issue at a meeting scheduled for next Tuesday in Canberra.

And while Cabinet ministers are publicly backing Mr Abbott, there is a growing mood in the partyroom that his hold on the nation’s top job is now tenuous.

THE crisis enveloping Tony Abbott’s leadership deepened last night when his former assistant treasurer, Arthur Sinodinos, failed to confirm that he would still be Prime Minister by this time next week. ... Coalition MPs are now consumed by the leadership uncertainty. Parliament will resume in Canberra on Monday, and it now seems almost certain that the leadership crisis will come to a head at next Tuesday’s party room meeting.

THE crisis enveloping Tony Abbott’s leadership deepened last night when his former assistant treasurer, Arthur Sinodinos, failed to confirm that he would still be Prime Minister by this time next week. … Coalition MPs are now consumed by the leadership uncertainty.
Parliament will resume in Canberra on Monday, and it now seems almost certain that the leadership crisis will come to a head at next Tuesday’s party room meeting.

Mark Kenny in The Sydney Morning Herald:

Malcolm Turnbull has denied telephoning Liberals to canvass support as former minister Arthur Sinodinos became the most senior Liberal to question the judgment of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Senator Sinodinos, a former Abbott loyalist, described his support for the stricken leader as ‘‘ongoing’’ but ‘‘not unconditional’’.

Asked if Mr Abbott would be Prime Minister next week, Senator Sinodinos replied: ‘‘Comrade, ask me next week.’’

Liberals viewed that intervention as crucial with one calling it ‘‘extremely telling’’.

‘‘Arthur’s comment makes it much more serious,’’ said another senior Liberal. ‘‘People will now look around to see if someone is starting to count for an actual candidate.’’

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On being disloyal to the power behind the throne

February 5th, 2015 Comments off
From this morning's Sydney Daily Telegraph

From this morning’s Sydney Daily Telegraph

Once upon a time the hired help were meant to be the loyal ones.

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Japanese style morning company singalong for Tony Abbott’s office

January 29th, 2015 Comments off

The Prime Minister’s chief of staff will open proceedings with an inspirational version of :

The Prime Minister will conclude the morale boosting with a few verses of:

 

 

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Legalised bribery – an American opinion with relevance for Queensland

January 27th, 2015 Comments off

Legalised bribery – “Corruption exists when institutions and officials charged with serving the public serve their own ends. Under current law, campaign contributions are illegal if there is an explicit quid pro quo, and legal if there isn’t. But legal campaign contributions can be as bad as bribes in creating obligations. The corruption that hides in plain sight is the real threat to our democracy. Think of campaign contributions as the gateway drug to bribes. In our private financing system, candidates are trained to respond to campaign cash and serve donors’ interests. Politicians are expected to spend half their time talking to funders and to keep them happy. Given this context, it’s not hard to see how a bribery charge can feel like a technical argument instead of a moral one.”

2015-01-27_productivity

  • Productivity of High-Income Countries in the Long-Run – “No matter how you slice it, productivity growth is low all around.”
  • Scientists Just Found a Way to Make GMOs Much Safer – “Biotech researchers think they’ve found a way to keep modified genes from escaping into other organisms.”
  • Ending Greece’s Nightmare – “So now that Mr. Tsipras has won, and won big, European officials would be well advised to skip the lectures calling on him to act responsibly and to go along with their program. The fact is they have no credibility; the program they imposed on Greece never made sense. It had no chance of working. If anything, the problem with Syriza’s plans may be that they’re not radical enough. Debt relief and an easing of austerity would reduce the economic pain, but it’s doubtful whether they are sufficient to produce a strong recovery.”
  • Defying the Assassin’s Veto – “The massacre of Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris on January 7 was an attempt to impose the assassin’s veto. Where the heckler’s veto says merely ‘I will shout you down,’ the assassin’s version is ‘dare to express that and we will kill you.’ Instead of the academic’s metaphorical ‘publish or perish’ we have the Kouachi brothers’ ‘publish and perish.’ In the quarter-century since the fatwa on Salman Rushdie, this has become one of the largest threats to free speech in the West, and certainly the most extreme.”

The Abbott nightmare came on waking up

January 27th, 2015 Comments off

If the radio and television yesterday had not got the message across, the real extent of his bad judgment greeted Tony Abbott when he looked at his newspapers this morning. It was not just that Fairfax lot. The Murdoch team were putting the boot in just as vigorously.

2015-01-27_nightmare

I expect the opinion polls to show yet another decline in prime ministerial support and for Liberal backbenchers to get even more restless.

Surviving as leader until the next election will take a major effort by Tony Abbott.

 

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Why the obsession with younger candidates?

January 20th, 2015 Comments off

A gentle aging is apparently quite alright if you want to continue as a political party power broker. Melbourne financial wheeler and dealer Michael Kroger is seeking to become president of the Victorian branch of the Liberal Party at the age of 57. Yet, as The Australian reported this morning, one of his aims if he gets his hands on the title will be a “drive for a series of new, younger candidates to contest safe state and federal seats.

2015-01-20_krogerWhy is it, I regularly wonder, that as the median age of the population gets older, these mature aged “power brokers” continue to be fascinated with attracting youthful parliamentary candidates? Why not a 30 year old party president instead or as well as?

 

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Moslem is the barbecue stopping dirty word

January 17th, 2015 Comments off

A week and a bit away from Canberra with no newspapers and limited social media and it’s amazing the different perspective you get of political life. From inner Melbourne to the outer suburbs and then Eden on the south coast of New South Wales and barely a mention of government or opposition, Abbott or Shorten.

Normally the people I mix with, knowing my obsession with matters political, ask a few polite questions and make a comment or two about the way the country is being governed. But not this summer.

With one exception. Moslems. I found that’s the barbecue stopping dirty word for people from a variety of social spheres.

Some intolerance I expected. The vehement extent of it in conversations surprised me.

The opportunities for unscrupulous politicians from this sentiment are frightening.

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Tony’s Iraq adventure – desperate men do desperate political things

January 5th, 2015 Comments off

Maybe our Prime Minister just gets bored when on holiday. More likely he spent a few days in the sun contemplating why he was doing so badly in every aspect of the opinion polls but foreign policy. Perhaps his thoughts turned to showing that Foreign Minister lady a thing or two. Whatever. Off to Iraq Tony Abbott flew in a totally unnecessary mission.

Then just to make matters politically unproductive the network television cameras and journalists were left behind. There is nothing more dangerous than a media spurned.

The lads and lasses of News Corporation are already on the promote-Julie-Bishop trail. I expect them to lead a new round of leadership speculation very soon.

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Tony Abbott now has a dangerous duo of spurned colleagues in the Senate

December 23rd, 2014 Comments off

Now there will be little argument about David Johnston not really having the gift of the political gab. As Defence Minister he suffered by actually saying what he thought and that will never do when the political contest is about avoiding unwanted controversy. Fancy a politician saying that he would not trust the Adelaide based submarine corporation to build a canoe? Leave aside the truth that the feather-bedding of ship building in South Australia has cost taxpayers unnecessary billions. Surely the man realised that honesty would put thousands of votes at risk? Breaking an election promise to hand the next submarine construction contract to such a wasteful contractor needs finesse not brutal honesty.

So off to the backbench with the one Liberal and National Party member of parliament who actually made a keen study of defence matters during those long years in opposition. The Tony Abbott government wants safe hands ijn charge of our armed forces not sensible ones.

So David Johnston will move to the red back benches to join another mature aged Liberal rejected for ministerial office because of a perceived inability to play the modern political game where perception is king.

Now Ian Macdonald is a Senator I would not claim to know well but when I was in my Eden fish-sausage making days, and doing the books for some of the battling south coast trawler owners, I found him a knowledgeable and understanding Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation. During my 50 years on the fringes of political life I’ve met far less competent and decent occupants of high office and I’m sure that’s the case today; a veteran Queensland stalwart of the Liberal Party just did not fit in to the ministerial mold prescribed by the modern Liberal party apparatchiks who Tony Abbott bows down to.

So Senator Macdonald has spent the year and a bit since being passed over after the election sitting on the backbench and making the occasional pointed criticism of how the Abbott government is performing without really rocking the boat.

But now that he is joined on the Senate backbench by another Liberal veteran in Senator Johnston, the potential for influencing the shape of government decisions increases considerably. Not that I expect the pair of them to indulge in a pubic game of threatening to cross the floor in a closely divided Senate. Rather they have the potential to play a game of bluff with the Prime Minister who spurned them before things get to the voting stage.

I am sure the lobbyists will be aware of the potential.

A Tuesday morning addition:

Perhaps I should have referred to three spurned colleagues rather than two. Peter van Onselen had this interesting insight this morning (behind The Australian’s paywall) after writing how Johnston was supported by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop:

The Bishop slight within Abbott’s reshuffle didn’t end there. The only other dumping from the frontbench was Queensland senator Brett Mason, Bishop’s parliamentary secretary. The two got on well, building a strong working relationship.

 

Categories: Lobbying and PR, Political snippets Tags:

Please send Tony Abbott to the beach with a novel – he looks and sounds like a tired and troubled man

December 8th, 2014 Comments off

When the morning television hosts turn on you a politician knows he is in trouble. Last week for Tony Abbott it was Karl Stefanovic on Today treating him with scant respect. This morning it was Sunrise’s David Koch out to prove that a Port Adelaide man can be tougher than a friend of that rugby loving Alan Jones like Karl. Both interviews would make Liberals squirm as their leader made a botch of trying to appear like an honest man.

2014-12-08_sunrise

The Prime Minister looked and sounded tired and troubled.

Surely it is time to get him out of sight and into his Speedos for rest and recuperation and a little contemplation about what to do and say in the year ahead.

 

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The future looks incredibly bleak for social democrats

December 7th, 2014 Comments off
  • Surfers Without Waves – Is Social Democracy Dead In The Water? – “No social democratic party anywhere in the world is on the front foot. Sure, parties may find themselves in government – as they do in Denmark, Sweden, Germany and France, in their own right or as part of a coalition – but this happens by accident and tends to be down to the failures of the right. And in office, social democrats tend to follow austerity or austerity-lite measures. No social democratic party has a strident and confident set of intellectual and organisational ideas that propel a meaningful alternative political project. The future looks incredibly bleak. Why? … The brief upturn in the electoral fortunes of social democrats in the mid 1990s around the third way, the new middle and Clintonism was won at the expense of the further erosion of an increasingly ignored electoral base. In the mistaken belief it had nowhere else to go, core support was traded for core values and reliance pinned on a dysfunctional financialised capitalism that backfired spectacularly in 2008 with social democrats caught with their fingers in the neo-liberal till. … Instead of more things we didn’t know we wanted, paid for with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t know, social democrats are going have to talk about more of other things – more time, public space, clean air, community and autonomy.
  • Antarctic seawater temperatures rising – “New research published … in the journal Science shows how shallow shelf seas of West Antarctica have warmed over the last 50 years. The international research team say that this has accelerated the melting and sliding of glaciers in the area, and that there is no indication that this trend will reverse.”
  • Racial Divide: The Tragedy of America’s First Black President – Police killings of black youth in Ferguson and Cleveland have outraged many in the US. The tragic events show how deep the societal divide remains between blacks and whites. Many have given up hope that President Obama can change anything.
  • The Last Chapter – Books and bookselling have been with us for a couple of thousand years, in which time they have progressed out of the libraries and into bookshops and homes, away from institutions and towards individuals. A great success story, but nearly all stories have an ending.
  • New Asahi Shimbun chief promises to restore public trust in daily – “The Asahi Shimbun’s new president vowed Friday to rebuild domestic and international trust in the beleaguered paper by broadening the range of views expressed in its pages, correcting erroneous information in a timely manner and being more careful with investigative stories. Masataka Watanabe, 55, formally assumed his new post as president Friday, taking over from Tadakazu Kimura, who stepped down to take responsibility for errant reporting based on the transcript of a government interview with Masao Yoshida, the late head of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.”

New Republic

  • Have You Resigned from The New Republic Yet? – “Yesterday, the magazine’s two top editors, Franklin Foer and Leon Wieseltier, quit before they could be fired. Gabriel Snyder, a former editor of Gawker and the Atlantic Wire, is the new editor of the magazine, which will reduce its frequency from 20 issues per year to 10. (Foer reportedly learned he was going to be replaced from reading a post on Gawker.) … The pair’s ousting has led to a mass exodus from the masthead, which began yesterday when contributing editors Jonathan Chait and Ryan Lizza cut ties via Twitter, and picked up this morning. By our count, 33 of the magazine’s editors and contributors have also resigned.
  • Can anyone be a journalist? UGA researcher examines citizen journalism – Citizen journalists are expanding the definition of journalists. And new research by a University of Georgia professor looks at how two court cases work together to uphold freedom of expression.
  • Looking at El Niño’s past to predict its future

Silence not salesmanship might be the best answer for Abbott

December 2nd, 2014 Comments off

Take a look at this interview from morning television and consider the question: Would a silent Abbott do better for the Coalition’s popularity than a talking Abbott?

2014-12-02_abbotttoday

Not much doubt in my opinion that the smartest leak out of the Prime Minister’s camp for a while is this one:

2014-12-02_abbottholiday

Tony Abbott just makes things worse.

And it will take some very creative spinning when the revised spending and revenue figures come out in a couple of weeks for people to understand just what the PM means when he says of the budget “we are making progress every day – we are committed to budget repair” with a determination to end “the crime of inter-generational theft.” The way things are going this Coalition government will end up presiding over the biggest increase in government debt in the country’s history!

Abbott’s own team are getting uneasy about him as leader

November 22nd, 2014 Comments off

The supporters are getting restless. Tony Abbott is disappointing them.

The number one cheer leader this morning:

Abbott doomed

These extracts give the flavour:

It’s a simple lesson that Mr Abbott has failed to grasp: talking points and three-word slogans can never suffice. “Australia is open for business” does not constitute a narrative or provide inspiration. “Team Australia” has hokey appeal, but it, too, does not work as an explanation for complex national security issues.

Limply, the Prime Minister is losing the battle to define core issues and to explain to voters what he is doing and why. At stake is his political credibility, no less. Mr Abbott risks becoming a “oncer” if he allows his opponents to constantly control the agenda.

… Other than in some formal set pieces, he has lost his authoritative voice. Of course, it is no use blaming ill-equipped, tyro advisers. The Prime Minister’s Office is too dominated by Peta Credlin, his chief of staff, including on media strategy.

… Where is the intelligent Rhodes scholar who has an easy rapport with Australians in any setting?

This communications malady is endemic. The Coalition’s failing media strategy is damaging its electoral standing and making it difficult to bed down policy responses to problems it was elected to address. The economy is where this ineptitude is most marked; the selling of the Abbott government’s fiscal repair job has been a debacle.

… In opposition, the Coalition had overegged the crisis alarmism. In truth, the debt overhang is a medium-term issue …

Certainly, Mr Abbott was right to recognise that the electorate had lost patience with the extravagant verbiage of the RuddGillard era. But there is a sweet spot between overblown rhetoric and the dot-point banalities pumped out by the PMO and the Coalition’s advisers.

… Without a clear narrative, the task will be beyond him; his communications strategy is in disarray. The Coalition needs skilful media personnel and new roles for its best ministerial performers; it must communicate like a team that knows what it is doing. Short-term tactical wins may offer a mood hit in the executive wing, but they are not the key to sustained governing. Mr Abbott must regroup, trust himself and speak with purpose. Right now, his insipid default setting is losing the people.

Interesting that the criticism is all about the poor salesmanship. There’s still a long way to go before the disappointed ones start realising that it is the product not the sales pitch that people increasingly don’t like.

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Cartoonist captures Tony Abbott’s election losing mistake

November 21st, 2014 Comments off

Tony Abbott transformed into Julia Gillard the liar. This morning’s cartoon in the Melbourne Herald Sun says it all .

2014-11-21_cartoonAnd my guess is that the result will be the same.

Ms Gillard did not recover from breaking breaking her no carbon tax in a government I lead promise. The same fate awaits Tony Abbott over the spending cuts for the ABC and SBS.

 

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Hobart Mercury urges independence on Jacqui Lambie

November 20th, 2014 Comments off

Quite an endorsement this morning for Senator Jacqui Lambie from Tasmania’s leading daily The Mercury.

2014-11-20_lambieIt is advice she would be wise to follow. Tasmanians have a liking for maverick independents but don’t much like mainland big-noters like Clive Palmer.

 

US Governors Agree with Bob Katter

October 25th, 2014 Comments off

There was much scoffing and guffawing earlier this month when Independent federal MP Bob Katter proposed a mandatory 21 day quarantine period for Australian health worker ‘saints’ returning from Ebola affected countries. “We must emphasise that the people who go to these countries are our saints, our Christians, they are the people as Australians we should be most proud of; but it does not help the people on planet earth with another nation becoming an Ebola affected nation,” Mr Katter said.

25-10-2014 katter

The Australian Medical Association and Federal Labor, reported SBS News, criticised Mr Katter for his remarks.

Presumably they will now have harsh words to say about Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie who have determined that travelers returning to New York and New Jersey from West African nations will be put under mandatory quarantine orders if they may have had contact with Ebola patients.

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Rare honesty – what money buys from an Australian politician

October 25th, 2014 Comments off

It’s not often to hear a politician talk openly and honestly about what is given in return for campaign donations. Full marks then to the former Northern Territory Deputy Chief Minister David Tollner for declaring donations would open his door “if you ever need to talk to me about something”. Speaking on 105.7 ABC Darwin on Friday Mr Tollner said people who did not donate faced “a line-up at the door”, explaining “you have to start prioritising”.

The ABC website reports:

Mr Tollner said it was “extraordinarily difficult” for political parties to raise funds for campaigning.

He said it was “incredibly important” for the democratic system that parties and candidates have the funds to run what he said was a “legitimate campaign”.

“But there will always be a question in people’s minds… what is someone donating for?” Mr Tollner said.

“When I have talked to people about donating money and the like, the best you can say is ‘your donation will open my door if you ever need to talk to me about something’.

“You are supporting a democratic process and are supporting a conservative view of the world… but you can’t buy anything more than that.”

Asked if people who did not make a political donation could make an appointment to meet with a government minister, Mr Tollner said the wait could take a while.

“When you become a minister you find quickly there is a line-up at the door… you have to start prioritising,” he said.

He denied there was any issue with having the ear of a government minister because of political donations.

“Getting an audience with someone is not giving [them] a great favour,” Mr Tollner said.

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After the event Albo

October 12th, 2014 Comments off

Big, brave Anthony Albanese. Toe the party line and keep silent during the parliamentary debate. Wait until the legislation is passed and then pretend you are against it. What a weakie. What a pathetic attempt on Sky Television this morning to suggest Labor has gone too far in supporting the Abbott government’s national security agenda, particularly the new “draconian” restrictions on press freedom which would see journalists jailed for between five and 10 years.

I am judging him for what he is. A politician terrified that the Greens, a party with true left-wing sentiments, will win his seat at the next election.

 

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A parliamentary speech that actually says something

September 23rd, 2014 Comments off

I am old enough to remember the times when speeches in parliament actually meant something. I even learned shorthand so I could write down and then report what MPs said back in those days because there were no transcripts issued in advance. Reporting what was said was an indication of what was meant, what a member actually believed. Alas, no more. Parliamentary speeches these days are a repetition of prepared and sanitised arguments. Why bother to report such a boring parliamentary debate?

So what a delight it was to an old fellow yesterday when the Labor MP for Fremantle, Melissa Parke, actually had the courage to break the shackles of party orthodoxy on the question of military intervention in the Middle East and combating terrorsim at home.

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (18:24): Last week on Twitter a person called for my execution for treason because I had questioned the government’s rapid escalation of our new involvement in Iraq from a purely humanitarian mission to one where we appear to be joining the US in an open-ended fight against IS. A call for my execution may be extreme, but it demonstrates how the beating of the drums of war and the hysteria this generates inevitably prevent the kind of calm, serious and rational discussion that is called for when decisions are being made to commit Australians overseas to kill and potentially to be killed. It is natural for us to respond instinctively to confronting images. The graphic and brutal murders of Westerners David Haines, Steven Sotloff and James Foley—people who only sought to do good in the world—have offended our sense of humanity and stoked our desire for justice in a way that countless other atrocities in Iraq and Syria—as well as in Gaza, Afghanistan, Pakistan and many countries in Africa—seem not to have. But given the disastrous consequences of previous military interventions, as well as the continually evolving and incredibly complex situation in the Middle East, it has perhaps never been more important to curb that natural instinct for retaliation and the use of hard power and consider the root causes. In this it may be helpful to reflect on what an elderly woman in Northern Ireland said to one of the former heads of our national counterterrorism organisation before the peace talks: ‘If you’ve got nothing to live for, you’ve got everything to die for.’

The challenges in Iraq—some caused and others exacerbated by the ill-judged coalition of the willing in 2003 —arise from deep ethnic communal, cultural and religious issues. As the Ottoman Turks discovered, and as has become even clearer ever since, these issues are never going to be resolved by outsiders, especially not outsiders with guns and bombs, and not by approaching this as a crusade against a death cult. Fundamentally, this is an issue of human security. And does anyone believe you can ensure the security of humans by bombing humans? At the centre of any credible national security policy is human security—individual wellbeing and community harmony that allows people everywhere to go about their business without fear, without constraints on their freedoms as enshrined in law and without the constant worry that someone wants to take their possessions and enslave their children. That, of course, is the essential meaning of the term ‘security’: without worry—sine cura, for the classicists.
The authoritative and internationally respected commentator Rachel Shabi made the following observations just this week:

It should be obvious by now that if such bombing campaigns have an effect, it is to make things much worse. What western leaders portray as valiant efforts to rid the world of evil forces such as ISIL just don’t play the same way in the region. In Iraq, for instance, western military intervention is viewed as support for the authoritarian,sectarian and West-approved leadership, whose persecution and air strikes are so bad that many Sunnis are prepared to put up with ISIL, for now, as preferable. Western military intervention thus gives ISIL its recruitment fuel of choice: A war with a self-interested external enemy around which to galvanise support.

Meanwhile, arming supposed “moderates” in Syria is equally delusional: Even self-declared moderates have on the ground, allied with the currently dominant ISIL in the fight against dictator Bashar al-Assad, and even these so-called moderates have carried out beheadings and other brutalities. A cursory glance around the region shows exactly what happens when the West arms groups that somehow fit the “moderate” descriptive; as one writer  most succinctly puts it: “The terrorists fighting us now? We just finished training them.”

As with the situation between Russia and Ukraine, Australia has no strategic stake or status in Iraq and Syria, except as a compassionate and engaged member of the international community. One has to ask why on earth the UN was not our first port of call, especially at a time when we occupy a valuable seat on the UN Security Council, where we can examine with other countries who are more familiar with the situation in the region than we are the potential for political and diplomatic solutions. That means considering the use of smart rather than hard power.

It has been a matter of great surprise and disappointment to me that the government has not engaged with the UN before committing special forces and equipment to the so-called coalition of the concerned. In my view we should be endeavouring to ensure that there is a broadbased international partnership engaging moderate Islamic states such as Indonesia and Malaysia as well as neighbouring Middle Eastern states such as Jordan and Turkey, under the auspices of the UN, to address the very real humanitarian and human security issues that are at the heart of the current problem.

In my earlier speech on the Iraq conflict, on 4 September, I called for a formal debate in the Australian parliament. While this would be unlikely to change the result, it would represent an open and proper process for the Australian government in relation to its involvement in a conflict that will be costly and will inevitably have serious and uncertain geopolitical consequences. At this point it is very poorly defined, in terms of timescale, objectives, cost, rationale, international legal basis and underlying international agreement.

Such a debate would have the effect of airing the many issues and questions that remain unanswered. For instance, how does the use of armed force, in the manner that the US, Australia and other participants in the current coalition intend to apply it, actually serve the humanitarian and political objectives that should be at the centre of the international community’s response to events in Northern Iraq and Syria?

Airstrikes in Northern Iraq may deplete IS but also are likely to displace some IS members to other parts of Iraq and Syria. After the billions spent by the coalition of the willing on training and equipping the Iraqi army, it still seems as though its capacity to deal with such threats remains limited. Does this then mean a second attempt to train and equip the Iraqis? Why would this be any more successful than the first time? Does it mean a return to boots on the ground in Iraq and, if so, by which countries? What will happen in Syria where Bashar al-Assad’s forces have committed atrocities against civilians on a grander scale than IS and where various countries have provided funds and weapons, to either side, to continue that conflict by proxy?

If the proposal is to arm only moderate, Free Syrian Army fighters—as opposed to, say, an al-Qaeda linked group like al-Nusra—what would make such fighters stop fighting Assad and start fighting ISIL? Are we going to start arming Hezbollah or the Syrian army itself against ISIL? Is it possible to guarantee that weapons will not be used against civilians? How will the coalition deal with the participation of countries, such as Saudi Arabia, that have been involved in supporting Sunni jihadist groups, like IS?

Let us remember that Saudi Arabia is a country in which beheadings by the government regime are commonplace, including for the offence of sorcery. How will the coalition treat its partner Egypt, where hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been sentenced to death and where journalists, including Peter Greste, have been sentenced to long jail terms after sham trials? How will our government treat Australians citizens who have travelled abroad to fight with moderate groups against Assad and/or IS? Will they be the recipients of our weapons and assistance in Iraq or Syria, only to be prosecuted when they try to come home?

There is an enormous danger in moving so quickly that these questions are not examined and when the possible consequences are not thought through, anticipated and planned for. I am not suggesting that we should not be involved in protecting civilians from atrocities or that we should not endeavour to bring perpetrators of these crimes to justice. Our actions should be based on humanitarian objectives and in accordance with the international rule of law.

I am concerned too about the increased security risk to Australians everywhere as a result of our involvement infurther action in Iraq. I was working for the UN in the Middle East when Australia joined the so-called coalitionof the willing, in 2003. I was advised by security officers of the heightened risk I faced as a result of Australia’snvolvement in that the debacle. In some places, such as Egypt, I was even advised not to disclose the fact thatI was Australian.

We Australians like to think of ourselves as universally loved but this is not always the case, particularly as aresult of our involvement in Iraq in 2003 and the public positions taken from time to time by Australian politicalleaders in support of Israel’s actions against the Palestinians, even where these are plainly contrary to internationallaw. These issues matter to a great many people in the world and we are foolish if we fail to think through theconsequences of our words and actions. One of these consequences is the fertile ground such issues provide forthe recruitment of new members to the extremist cause.

Finally, I note that with the present focus on national security it is extraordinary that the Prime Minister is not attending the global summit on climate change. In this year’s quadrennial defence review, the US defence department describes the threat of climate change as a very serious national security vulnerability. Australia’s current national security strategy with climate change, along with the threat of the resurgence of violent political groups, has a broad global challenge with national security implications. National security is not all about jet fighters and special-action forces or even the numbers and powers of the Australian police. If the Prime Minister really wants Australians to insouciantly go about their business, he needs to re-examine his climate change policy—or lack thereof—which many Australians, as demonstrated in yesterday’s climate-action rallies, regard as regressive, ignorant, destructive and politically self-indulgent.

No-one will argue against steps to genuinely improve the security of Australians, but the core issue here is whether the steps this government is taking at home and abroad are being properly considered and calibrated to meet the reality rather than the hype, to achieve properly defined outcomes rather than draw us into yet another counter-productive military engagement. That judgement cannot be made when there is no meaningful debate in the national parliament. (Time expired)

 

 

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The dangers of sacking ministerial Senators

September 21st, 2014 Comments off

The Parliament House gossip for weeks now has had Australian Minister for Defence, Senator the Honourable David Johnston, head of the short-list of Cabinet ministers ready for sacking. As someone who avoids the big house on the hill like the plague I can shed no guidance as to the inspiration for the stories but the but the campaign against the Senator certainly got a kick along this morning.

Retired Major-General Jim Molan, who was asked to act as the Minister’s adviser on next year’s Defence White Paper, after he helped devise the Government’s border protection policy,  told Channel 10 he quit because he realised it would not be feasible to continue in the role.

“The reason for this being not feasible had nothing to do with the professionalism of the Department of Defence, of the [Australian Defence Force], of the chief of the Defence Force or the secretary of the Department,” he said. When it was suggested Mr Molan was narrowing his criticism down to Mr Johnston, he said: “Well, that’s a conclusion you can come to and that’s something that I would discuss in private with others.”

That’s as close as an old soldier can go to dropping a bucket on his boss and will increase the volume of the gossip and the pressure that some people are tying to put on the Prime Minister to make a change.

Unfortunately for Tony Abbott there are dangers in making a replacement. Principal among them is that Defence Minister Johnston is a Senator in a Senate where the Abbott government has difficulties enough already in getting the numbers. The last thing the Abbott government needs is another loose cannon from his own minority team to deal with.

The Queenslander Ian Macdonald is doing enough damage already as he uses his unwanted freedom of the backbench to remind the PM of the danger that comes from sacking one of his front benchers.

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Is it worth putting Christopher Pyne at risk to save $30 billion? South Australia, ships and seats

September 10th, 2014 Comments off

Doling out the taxpayer dollars to prop up industries in South Australia became something of an art form for Labor federal governments. From preferential treatment for the wine over other forms of alcohol, to subsidies for car manufacturers, to the establishment of a submarine construction industry – SA got them all in an attempt by the ALP to cling to its House of Representative seats and to control of the state government. The pork-barrelling worked pretty well with the party still holding five of the 11 Reps seats (in italics in the list below) and, with the help of some very favourable electoral boundaries, there is still an ALP state government as well.

That the Liberal Party understood the power of the electoral bribe was shown during the last campaign where Tony Abbott matched the Labor commitment to continue building submarines in the state. The seat of Hindmarsh fell to the Coalition, Boothby lost its marginal status and Sturt moved into what has traditionally been the safe category with a two party preferred vote of 60.1%.

Adelaide – Labor 54.0 Coalition 46.0
Barker – Labor 33.5 Coalition 66.5
Boothby – Labor 42.9 Coalition 57.1 after 6.5% swing to Coalition
Grey – Labor 36.5 Coalition 63.5
Hindmarsh – Labor 48.1 Coalition 51.9 after 8.0% swing to Coalition
Kingston – Labor 59.7 Coalition 40.3
Makin – Labor 55.1 Coalition 44.9
Mayo – Labor 37.5 Coalition 62.5
Port Adelaide 64.0 Coalition 36.0
Sturt – 38.9 Coalition 60.1 after 6.5% swing to Coalition
Wakefield – 53.0 Coalition 46.6

Promises about spending billions are easy to make when in opposition but harder to keep when in government with a commitment to drastically reduce a budget deficit. Hence this morning’s headline and the rash of stories preceding it about submarines being built in Japan rather than Adelaide:

 

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What the stories about abandoning Adelaide for Japan tend to glide over is the potential electoral impact on the Coalition. Hindmarsh would surely return to Labor with Boothby a likely Labor gain and Christopher Pyne’s seat of Sturt at least in the possible category. Add in the loss of at least one Coalition Senator and there will be a price to pay for the $30 billion.
The resolve of Cabinet will be tested before this decision is finally made.

 

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A sad and unimportant television report on Peter Slipper

September 7th, 2014 Comments off

I should have known better and can but apologise for anyone who followed my advice and watched 60 Minutes. The Peter Slipper segment was nothing more than an excruciating repetition of a sad story. No politically significant exposes. Just another insight into the grubby world of how politics is played.

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Eagerly waiting for 60 Minutes and its story on Peter Slipper and the secret plot. What was PM Abbott’s involvement.

September 4th, 2014 Comments off

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It’s been a long time since I have been waiting with eager anticipation to see a political item on 60 Minutes but they have got me tonight by interrupting my footy viewing with a preview about a Peter Slipper story. I can hardly wait to get another version of this most sordid story of an political assassination. The little hint in the promo that Tony Abbott may have had an involvement just makes it all the more tantalising.

 

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A clue to the Murdoch view on what to do in Iraq and other news and views for Wednesday 3 October

September 3rd, 2014 Comments off

3-09-2014 nyposteditorial

  • Attempt to split Commons clerk role is no ‘power grab’ – “Since he did not have Commons approval to split the post, Mr Bercow advertised the job of clerk in its traditional form and hired recruitment consultancy to conduct a national and global search. A panel of senior MPs conducted interviews and ended up nominating Carol Mills, a senior official from the Australian senate. Ms Mills is a respected administrator but a person with scant knowledge of Westminster procedure. Mr Bercow admits there was “something a tad incongruous about expecting one person to be both the procedural expert and the top-flight manager/chief executive”. The panel decided to go for someone with the latter experience.”
  • Sandhurst’s sheikhs: Why do so many Gulf royals receive military training in the UK? – “Four reigning Arab monarchs are graduates of Sandhurst and its affiliated colleges – King Abdullah of Jordan, King Hamad of Bahrain, Sheikh Tamim, Emir of Qatar, and Sultan Qaboos of Oman. Past monarchs include Sheikh Saad, Emir of Kuwait, and Sheikh Hamad, Emir of Qatar. Sandhurst’s links have continued from the time when Britain was the major colonial power in the Gulf.”
  • Labour cannot be complacent about Ukip’s advance – “Ukip is creating a divide between those with the skills, education and resources to adapt, and those who have little and feel angry.”

You had to turn to page 37 last week to get the most appropriate political comment in the Sydney Morning Herald about Tony Abbott and his coalition government.

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Come on Tony, going bald is not that bad

August 26th, 2014 Comments off

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Mixed messages to welcome the August budget

August 26th, 2014 Comments off

Everything old is new again. It has taken 20 years but federal Parliament is back for an August budget session. It’s as if Ralph Willis had never started that funny May business. And this time we don’t need one of those ridiculous budget lockups to keep us in suspense about what’s in-store. This time the negotiations about what’s in and what’s out are being played out in public and we are still none the wiser about the economic outcome.

What fun it is to have a proper minority government. Not like that last one where Labor, the Greens and a couple of independents stitched things up in private before hand. This Liberal-National coalition is letting us see the legislative sausage machine at work with all the crude ingredients that a Palmer United Party can throw in. Parliament, or at least the Senate half of it, is really relevant again.

The government is doing its best to spice things up as well. We go from a looming budget crisis to being relaxed and comfortable about the inevitable outcome. The Education Minister Christopher Pyne threatens one day to cut research funding for universities so the Prime Minister can assure us the next about the vital importance of university based research to the nation’s future.

And as if that mixed message was  not enough for the start of  a budget session, the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann this morning was still preaching his fears of having to raise taxes while Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirmed that his government would be reducing taxes not putting them up.

You wouldn’t miss this budget for quids.

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Understanding Julian Assange – does Sweden’s forthcoming election hold the key?

August 22nd, 2014 Comments off

Perhaps the Swedish opinion polls hold the key to the rather cryptic prediction by Julian Assange that he will soon be leaving the protection of the Embassy of Ecuador in London. The centre-right Alliance for Sweden coalition government (comprising the Moderate Party, Liberal People’s Party, Centre Party, and Christian Democrats) is trailing well behind the probable left of centre left coalition led by the Social Democrats. An Ipsos poll this week had the three parties of the left holding a comfortable lead over the four party governing coalition by 50 per cent to 36 per cent. That surely raises the prospect that the Wikileaks founder is banking on a leftist Sweden being far less likely than the current administration of extraditing him to the United States after his criminal investigation is dealt with.

The general election will be held on 14 September.

The trend of the Swedish opinion polls - from Wikileaks

The trend of the Swedish opinion polls – from Wikileaks

A flight too far for Tony Abbott?

August 9th, 2014 Comments off

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is clearly more worried about his standing with the Australian public, and that of his government, than I thought he would be. Flying off to the Netherlands to say a few thank-yous has all the signs of a gesture motivated by panic.

The government is clearly stunned at how unpopular it has become since introducing its budget but encouraged by the response to the Prime Minister’s reaction to the deaths of Australians on the Malaysian aircraft shot down over Ukraine. Let’s keep milking that favourable sentiment appears to be the motivation for the hurried decision to fly away.

My guess is that the mob will see it as the shallow gesture it undoubtedly is and that there will be no further revival in approval for the way the Prime Minister is performing his job.

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Repetition: Eric Abetz a sure fire vote loser

August 8th, 2014 Comments off

Insult all young people in the morning when the unemployment figures come out. Then in the evening upset the vast majority of Australians with frightening nonsense about the consequences of abortion. I can but repeat what I wrote about Eric Abetz earlier this month:

I must have spent too much time behind that one way glass. I can’t help thinking when I see a politician on television how those ordinary swinging voters will be reacting. Not to the words coming out of the mouth. They don’t really count. But to the look and the sound of the person uttering them.

And if there is one thing this old political adviser is certain of it is that Eric Abetz is doing his team great harm every time he appears on the screen or is heard on the radio. The Minister for Employment is a Liberal disability of the highest order. He just looks and sounds frightening whether or not you agree with his work for the dole message. A guaranteed vote loser who Labor must be hoping is kept in his role as government leader in the Senate where he will be guaranteed frequent appearances as the Abbott team struggles with being a minority administration.

 

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Job seeking

July 29th, 2014 Comments off

There’s nothing else to say about the Eric Abetz work for the dole scheme really.

 

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Eric Abetz a sure fire vote loser

July 28th, 2014 Comments off

I must have spent too much time behind that one way glass. I can’t help thinking when I see a politician on television how those ordinary swinging voters will be reacting. Not to the words coming out of the mouth. They don’t really count. But to the look and the sound of the person uttering them.

And if there is one thing this old political adviser is certain of it is that Eric Abetz is doing his team great harm every time he appears on the screen or is heard on the radio. The Minister for Employment is a Liberal disability of the highest order. He just looks and sounds frightening whether or not you agree with his work for the dole message. A guaranteed vote loser who Labor must be hoping is kept in his role as government leader in the Senate where he will be guaranteed frequent appearances as the Abbott team struggles with being a minority administration.

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When Australia is not Australia – Scott Morrison and the mad, mad world of boat people

July 28th, 2014 Comments off

On AM  this morning:

CHRIS UHLMANN: Why have you broken your policy for off-shore processing and decided to sent them to Curtin?

SCOTT MORRISON: We haven’t broken our promises for off-shore processing. Off-shore processing is the backstop measure. Where we can get people sent back to the country from which they’ve come from, then that’s exactly what we’ll do and that’s the step we’re now engaged in. 

It’s not the policy of this Government to send out the water taxi the second the whistle goes up, as was the practise of the previous government, that’s not what we do. We seek to frustrate every aspect of this venture, and that includes having people sent back where we can do that. And now you’ll know that he mainland of Australia is an excised off-shore place for the purposes of the migration act.

CHRIS UHLMANN: That’s true, Australia is no longer part of Australia for the purposes of the Migration Act.

SCOTT MORRISON: And that was the legislation brought in by the previous government which we supported. Now that means the off-shore processing options remain open to the Government in relation to this caseload of people that have come by this method, and the Government reserves those options.

And I particularly liked the “anyhow, don’t blame me it was Labor wot done it” reference: ” Unfortunately true enough to make a fellow want to go green

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Some thoughts on why idiots succeed in politics

July 18th, 2014 Comments off

Stumbling and Mumbling: Why idiots succeed.

Prompted by the example of Britain’s recent Cabinet reshuffle one of my favourite bloggers presents eight mechanisms through which, sometimes, organizations and markets can actually favour incompetence.

1. The wet bed. If a man has pissed the bed, you don’t ask someone else to sleep in it. …

2. A disposition effect. … Just as stock market investors tend to hold onto bad stocks, because of their refusal to admit error, so employers hang onto bad staff.

3. Noise vs signal. In many contexts, feedback about performance is noisy. …

4. The devil you know. In many jobs, a worker’s ability can only be assessed after he has done it. … mechanisms 2 and 3 above suggest that the bar for mediocrity might be set so low as to allow idiots to thrive.

5. Survival of the unfittest. Bjorn-Christopher Witte describes how, sometimes, competition between fund managers can encourage reckless risk-taking with the result that lucky chancers rather than the genuinely skilled will thrive. …

6. Desperation. If people are desperate for a very high pay-off, they’ll be attracted to incompetents and fraudsters, as only these are stupid or criminal enough to offer such rewards. As Laurie has said, “sometimes when you’re dying of thirst, you have to drink the Kool-Aid.” This is why con-artists often prey upon the terminally ill or bereaved. But it also lies behind what I’ve called the Bonnie Tyler syndrome – the urge (often on the left) for a great hero.

7. Product differentiation. In a wonderful paper (pdf) on the persistence of the market for quack medicines in the 19th century, Werner Troesken points out that the manufacturers of such remedies spent fortunes on advertising and product differentiation. In this way, the failure of one medicine did not discredit the industry, but merely shifted demand to other quacks. ,,,

8. Like hires like. … The upshot of this … is that organizations can eventually be run by second-rate MBAs whilst technical skills are completely weeded out. Joao Ricardo Faria shows (pdf) that this sort of mechanism can generate the Dilbert principle.

From Wikipedua: The Dilbert principle refers to a 1990s theory by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams stating that companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to management (generally middle management), in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing. In the Dilbert strip of February 5, 1995, Dogbert says that "leadership is nature's way of removing morons from the productive flow". Adams himself explained,[1] I wrote The Dilbert Principle around the concept that in many cases the least competent, least smart people are promoted, simply because they’re the ones you don't want doing actual work. You want them ordering the doughnuts and yelling at people for not doing their assignments—you know, the easy work. Your heart surgeons and your computer programmers—your smart people—aren’t in management. That principle was literally happening everywhere.

From Wikipedia: The Dilbert principle refers to a 1990s theory by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams stating that companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to management (generally middle management), in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing. In the Dilbert strip of February 5, 1995, Dogbert says that “leadership is nature’s way of removing morons from the productive flow”. Adams himself explained,
I wrote The Dilbert Principle around the concept that in many cases the least competent, least smart people are promoted, simply because they’re the ones you don’t want doing actual work. You want them ordering the doughnuts and yelling at people for not doing their assignments—you know, the easy work. Your heart surgeons and your computer programmers—your smart people—aren’t in management. That principle was literally happening everywhere.

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A night on the sake for Tony Abbott?

July 9th, 2014 Comments off

A short clip from today’ breakfast television.

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The politics of silence and the art of avoiding gotcha questions

July 7th, 2014 Comments off

2014-07-06_nothingYou can love him or, more likely, hate him but there’s one thing you have to admit about Scott Morrison – he is one of that rare breed of politician who realises that when you are doing something that many people find unpopular the best thing to say is nothing. Just imagine how much stronger the controversy would be if he was feeding the daily media appetite for details of every little aspect of his operation sovereign borders. It would be headlines every day to the exclusion of anything else the government is doing and while “stop the boats” might be a broadly popular policy with the masses it is not the only, or even the major, message that will determine this government’s future.

Stopping the boats might be approved by many but publicising the sending of people back to a country where they face torture or worse will worry at least some of those supporters. There are limits even for those with xenophobia so silence about the downsides of the Coalition’s policies is politically sensible for as long as you can get away with it.

For how much longer that will be the case is not something I am sure about. The beating to death of that man interned on Manus Island will have troubled some of the government’s supporters. The disappearance of any of the boatload sent back to Sri Lanka this week will add to the uneasiness. For while many Australians might have hard hears when it comes to boat people trying to reach this country, we are not a totally heartless people.

And while on this subject of political silence, I refer you to an interesting column on a different aspect of the subject by John Rentoul in London’s The Independent. 

George Osborne’s refusal to answer the question “What is seven times eight?” shows how clever he is. He was being interviewed by a group of children on television when Sam Raddings asked if he was good at maths. He replied that he had taken maths at A-level, which I had forgotten, although it is in Janan Ganesh’s excellent biography of him (he got straight As in maths, history and politics). Raddings then asked his follow-up question with the ruthlessness of a junior Andrew Neil.
“I’ve made it a rule in life not to answer a load of maths questions,” said the Chancellor. An answer that will be deployed by many pupils taking a maths test in the next few days. But it is actually the right answer. Asking questions to try to catch a politician out is an old media game, and if children ask the questions it doesn’t make it any better.

Osborne knows, because he is a politics obsessive, that Stephen Byers, when he was schools minister, was asked the same question and gave the wrong answer, saying 54 rather than 56. Byers is only human. Seven times eight is one of the harder questions in the times table, along with 12×8, 8×12 and 12×11 – the order makes a difference, apparently – but not as hard as 6×8 or 8×6, which one study identified as the most likely to trip people up. But it looked bad, just as it didn’t look good that Byers, who was later transport secretary, could not drive.

Osborne might not remember, because it is irrelevant to his calculation, that Gordon Brown, when he was chancellor, was once asked, “What’s 13 squared?” He repeated the question to buy time, but said “169” without further hesitation. I was impressed, but I doubt if anyone else was.

And that is the point. No one cares if you get the answer right. It is a story only if you get it wrong and, crucially, more of a story than if you rather obviously dodge the question. Osborne probably knew well enough that the answer was 56, but there is always a risk when you “know” the answer that a synapse has got crossed in the intraparietal sulcus and you will do a Byers on live television.

Which is a long way of saying that Osborne is good at politics.

 

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The really bad news for Abbott from the opinion polls – influencing that odd assortment of Senators

July 4th, 2014 Comments off

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The Owl’s federal election indicator is lagging well behind the opinion polls when it comes to assessing the future prospects of the Abbott government (although it is moving in Labor’s direction) but then the indicator is trying to measure something quite different to the pollsters. The polls are trying to tell us what people think now while the markets the indicator is based on are looking forward to what will happen on a future election day. They are two quite different things. As I have written many times on this site I prefer to take the guidance of the money.

But with new Senators about to take their places in the red chamber it is opportune to repeat something I wrote back in May.

What opinion pollsters say two and a half years out from an election is normally of no interest at all to me. Just ignore them is invariably my advice. Today, though, I am breaking those habits of a political lifetime. The unanimous verdict of all the major pollsters suggesting that Tony Abbott and his government are on the nose does strike me as relevant.

Not because the figures suggest the Liberal-National coalition will lose the next election. Far from it. I’ll stick with the predictive power of the Owl’s federal election indicator which puts Labor well behind. The importance of the polls is the influence they will have on that maverick collection of Senators who will become the real power brokers of politics after 1 July and on the Labor and Greens majority from now until then.

A strong suggestion that voters do not like a government – and the polls are giving just that now – encourages an opposition to stick the boot in because of a belief that will help their own prospects of re-election. Ultimately it might do no such thing but in the meantime it sure does make governing harder.

Pew Research helps you find where you fit in the political spectrum

July 3rd, 2014 Comments off

I admit to being a bit of a sucker for those online tests of where you fit in the political spectrum. It does a journalist good to be shown where the prejudices lie and it is no harm for readers either.

The latest I’ve tried is from that well respected non-partisan US organisation the Pew ResearchCenter for the People & the Press which tries to measure the shades and hues of the public’s political attitudes and values.

Partisan polarization – the vast and growing gap between Republicans and Democrats – is a defining feature of politics today. But beyond the ideological wings, which make up a minority of the public, the political landscape includes a center that is large and diverse, unified by frustration with politics and little else. As a result, both parties face formidable challenges in reaching beyond their bases to appeal to the middle of the electorate and build sustainable coalitions.

The latest Pew Research Center political typology, which sorts voters into cohesive groups based on their attitudes and values, provides a field guide for this constantly changing landscape. Before reading further, take our quiz to see where you fit in the typology.

The findings:

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But where would you fit? Well Pew has devised a little test so you can find out. Here’s the verdict on me after I pretended to be a US citizen:

3-07-2014 ideologyplacementSo what does that suggest I am? According to Pew I am a Solid Liberal along with 15% of the public which means:

2012 vote: 89% for Obama | 3% for Romney
Generally affluent and highly educated, most Solid Liberals strongly support the social safety net and take very liberal positions on virtually all issues. Most say they always vote Democratic and are unflagging supporters of Barack Obama. Overall, Solid Liberals are very optimistic about the nation’s future and are the most likely to say that America’s success is linked to its ability to change, rather than its reliance on long-standing principles. On foreign policy, Solid Liberals overwhelmingly believe that good diplomacy – rather than military strength – is the best way to ensure peace.

Nothing I can disagree with there. So keep that in mind when reading the Owl. It’s better to know the starting point of pundits than not.

 

 

Tony Abbott’s Sri Lanka at peace – unlawful killings by security forces … an environment of fear … involuntary disappearances … torture by police

July 3rd, 2014 Comments off

Prime Minister Tony Abbott this morning at one of his doorstop press conferences:

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, what’s happening in the Indian Ocean?

PRIME MINISTER:

What’s happening is that the Government is purposefully and methodically ensuring that our borders are protected and that the boats are stopped.

QUESTION:

Does the public have a right to know about asylum seekers being intercepted at sea?

PRIME MINISTER:

The public deserve safe and secure borders. They deserve a country which has not become open for the wrong kind of business – the people smuggling business – and one of the tragedies of the six years prior to September was that the red carpet had been laid out for people smugglers and their customers. Now, we’ve rolled up that particular red carpet. The way is closed. They can keep trying but we will keep responding in an appropriate way, doing exactly what we said we would do before the election and that’s what we’ve been doing.

Now I want to make two points: everything that we do is consistent with safety at sea and everything that we do is consistent with our international obligations.

QUESTION:

You said earlier this morning that Sri Lanka was at peace. Does that mean that Tamils no longer have legitimate asylum seeker claims?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is a peaceful country – it is a peaceful country. I don’t say it’s a perfect country, not even Australia is that, but it is a peaceful country and all of us should be grateful that the horrific civil war is well and truly over. That is to the benefit of every single Sri Lankan, Tamil, Sinhalese; everyone in Sri Lanka is infinitely better off as a result of the cessation of the civil war.

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 – United States Department of State • Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor – SRI LANKA 2013 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Sri Lanka is a constitutional, multi-party republic. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was re-elected to a second six-year term in 2010. The Parliament, which was elected in 2010, shares constitutional power with the president. The president’s family dominates government. Two of the president’s brothers hold key executive branch posts, as defense secretary and economic development minister, and a third brother is the speaker of Parliament. A large number of the president’s other relatives, including his son, also serve in important political and diplomatic positions. Independent observers generally characterized the presidential, parliamentary, and local elections as problematic. Polls were fraught with election law violations by all major parties, especially the governing coalition’s use of state resources for its own advantage. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Security forces committed human rights abuses.

The major human rights problems were: attacks on, and harassment of, civil society activists, journalists, and persons viewed as sympathizers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorist organization by individuals allegedly tied to the government, creating an environment of fear and self-censorship; involuntary disappearances and a lack of accountability for thousands who  disappeared in previous years; and widespread impunity for a broad range of human rights abuses, particularly torture by police and attacks on media institutions and the judiciary. Disappearances and killings continued to diminish in comparison with the immediate postwar period. Nevertheless, attacks, harassment, and threats by progovernment loyalists against critics of the government were prevalent, contributed to widespread self-censorship by journalists, and diminished democratic activity due to the general failure to prosecute perpetrators.

Other serious human rights problems included unlawful killings by security forces and government-allied paramilitary groups, often in predominantly Tamil areas; torture and abuse of detainees by police and security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by authorities; and neglect of the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Defendants often faced lengthy pretrial detention, and an enormous backlog of cases plagued the justice system. Denial of fair public trial remained a problem, and during the year there were coordinated moves by the government to undermine the independence of the judiciary. The government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. There were restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and movement. Authorities harassed journalists critical of the government, and most major media outlets were controlled by the government. Self-censorship by journalists was widespread, and the government censored some news websites. Citizens generally were able to travel almost anywhere on the island, although there continued to be police and military checkpoints in the north and de facto high-security zones and other areas remained off-limits. IDPs were not always free to choose where to resettle. The president exercised his constitutional authority to maintain control of appointments to previously independent public institutions that oversee the judiciary, police, and human rights issues. Lack of government transparency and widespread government corruption were serious concerns. Sexual violence and discrimination against women were problems, as were abuse of children and trafficking in persons. Discrimination against persons with disabilities and against the ethnic Tamil minority continued, and a disproportionate number of the victims of human rights violations were Tamils. There was an increase in discrimination and attacks against religious minorities, especially Muslims and evangelical Christians. Discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation continued. Limits on workers’ rights and child labor also remained problems.

Government officials and others tied to the ruling coalition enjoyed a high degree of impunity. The government prosecuted a very small number of government and military officials implicated in human rights abuses and had yet to hold anyone accountable for alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law that occurred during the conflict that ended in 2009.

Individuals suspected of association with progovernment paramilitary groups committed killings, kidnappings, assaults, and intimidation of civilians. There were persistent reports of close, ground-level ties between paramilitary groups and government security forces.

Intellectual disability and rorting the welfare system

July 1st, 2014 Comments off

There was a timely contribution this week from the Australian Bureau of Statistics to the debate being created by the Coalition government on the Disability Support Pension – with the suggestion that only people with a permanent disability could receive the payment. Some of the commentary on the just released report A New System for Better Employment and Social Outcomes suggests that much of the increase in the number of people on disability pensions is the result of some kind of rorting of the system. Hence the value of the ABS’s first issue reporting on Intellectual Disability, Australia, 2012 

1-07-2014 intellectualdisabilityNoting that intellectual disability may affect every day social, emotional and cognitive skills, resulting in a reduced ability to live independently, the Bureau finds:

In 2012, around 567,000 people with intellectual disability needed assistance with at least one activity. The level and type of assistance required for people with intellectual disability varies depending on the severity of their disability. In the SDAC [Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers], the severity of a person’s disability is conceptualised through the level of limitation they have with core activities including communication, self-care and mobility. In 2012, the majority of people with intellectual disability (417,100 people or 62%) had a profound or severe core-activity limitation, which meant they always or sometimes needed help with mobility, self-care or communication. Around 153,000 people (23%) with intellectual disability had a moderate or mild core-activity limitation, which meant they did not need help but had difficulty with at least one of the core activities or had difficulties with minor tasks such as managing stairs without a handrail, picking up things from the floor etc. Another 64,000 people (10%) had a schooling or employment restriction only.

In the SDAC, people were asked about their need for assistance in ten specific areas. Severity of disability affected the type of activities with which people with intellectual disability needed assistance. For those with a profound or severe core-activity limitation and intellectual disability; cognitive and emotional tasks were the most common activity where assistance was needed or difficulty was experienced (92%), followed by mobility (82%) and heath care (76%). Around two-thirds of people with a moderate or mild core-activity limitation also needed assistance with cognitive and emotional tasks (65%), whilst reading or writing (35%) and health care (26%) were the next most common types of activities where they needed assistance.

The greater the severity of a person’s disability the more they needed assistance. The vast majority of people with a profound core-activity limitation (83%), and just over half of those with a severe core-activity limitation (53%), needed assistance with four or more activities. By comparison, most of those with a moderate or mild core-activity limitation needed assistance with between one and three activities (73% and 57% respectively).

People with intellectual disability may receive this assistance from formal or informal providers. Formal assistance refers to assistance provided by organisations (regardless of whether they make a profit) or paid individuals. In contrast, informal assistance is unpaid help or supervision that is provided to people with disability or older people. Of the 668,100 people with intellectual disability, almost one-third reported needing more formal assistance (29%) than they currently received, and around one in five needed more informal assistance (18%).

 

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Australia’s health system rates well on an international scale

June 18th, 2014 Comments off

Listen to our politicians and you could think Australia has a very expensive health system that does not give an effective and quality service. Look at the latest Mirror, Mirror on the Wall report of the American Commonwealth Fund comparing 11 developed nations and you would find a quite different picture.

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Australia ranks better than most – significantly on the measure of providing quality care – with per capita health spending well below that of most countries.

The UK’s National Health Service tops the rankings on almost every measure.

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Income inequality caused by decline of trade unions

June 18th, 2014 Comments off

The decline of trade unions is a major reason for growing income inequality according to a just released study by Ohio State University academics. Union Strength, Neoliberalism, and Inequality – Contingent Political Analyses of U.S. Income Differences since 1950 finds the role of union decline as larger than many of the favorite explanations offered by economists. Among their contributions to income equality: unions reduce pay differences within companies and use their influence to lobby on behalf of the working and middle classes, the researchers say.

“The effect that unions used to have on protecting the incomes of middle class and working Americans has been underestimated,” said David Jacobs, co-author of the study and professor of sociology at The Ohio State University. Jacobs conducted the study with Lindsey Myers, a doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State. Their results appear online in the journal American Sociological Review and are scheduled to appear in the August print edition.

The complete paper is behind a paywall but a press release summarising the findings explains how the researchers used a wide variety of data sources for the study, including the Gini Index, a measure of income inequality, calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau. They used statistical modeling techniques to examine changes in family income differences over 60 years in search of factors that have important independent effects on income inequality.

Although the decline in union memberships began in the early 1950s, this decline accelerated after the election of President Ronald Reagan,whose policies and appointments to the National Labor Relations Board severely weakened unions, Jacobs said.

Since then, Republican presidents and one Democratic president (Bill Clinton) have followed policies that continued to weaken unions.

According to Jacobs, the effects on inequality have been considerable.

In the 12 years before Reagan’s presidency, from 1970 to 1981, income inequality grew by 4.53 percent. But it expanded by 11.2 percent in the 12 Reagan-Bush years from 1981 to 1992, or by 2.5 times as much.

Inequality grew as much during the Clinton administration, which also implemented policies that hurt unions, Jacobs said.

Of course, a lot happened during this period that may conceivably affect income inequality. But Jacobs and Myers controlled for more than 20 other factors that economists andothers connect to growing inequality. Still, the decline in union strength remained the most important explanation for the increasing income gap.

For example, the researchers took into account changes in the percentage of manufacturing jobs, the percentage of employees in service occupations, levels of international trade, and a variety of demographic factors, including the percentage of female-headed households and the percentage of people under age 16 or over age 64. They also took into account other political factors such as the percentage of Republicans in Congress.

And they considered the factor most often blamed by economists as the main cause of growing inequality: the growing education gap between the haves and have-nots.

“We controlled for all of the major factors generally cited by researchers as contributing to inequality. Still, union decline and the presence of Republican presidents remained the most important explanations for income inequality,” Jacobs said.

“Even education wasn’t nearly as important as union decline.”

According to Jacobs, Reagan’s policies and those of Republican presidents who followed Reagan along with Clinton were a key reason for the decline of union strength and the resulting growth in inequality.

Reagan broke a strike by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, which ended with the union being decertified. Reagan also named three conservative members to the National Labor Relations Board who held anti-union views.

The result was a sharp decline in the number of workplace union recognition elections and victories during the Reagan administration, which continued under Presidents Bush and Clinton.

The one other factor in the study that played a role in growing inequality was the “financialization” of the American economy and the growth of financial profits, particularly in firms that had not engaged in these activities before.

“Financialization meant that the incomes of the high earners grew rapidly during this period, while union decline led to stagnating incomes for the less affluent.The end result was growing inequality,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs and Myers used a variety of complex models to predict what would have happened if presidents during the 1980s and later had pursued more pro-union policies.

They concluded that unions likely would have lost members inthe 1980s even if there had been presidents supportive of their cause, but the losses would have been less severe.

“After the Reagan turning point, unions no longer had the influence to help contain the acceleration in inequality,” Jacobs said.

How did unions help control inequality?

According to Jacobs, other research has shown that firms with unionized employees have diminished differences in pay – such that the gap in the earnings of the highest-paid worker and the lowest-paid workers was reduced in firms organized by unions.

“Unions were also the most effective political advocates forthe less affluent before Congress, the president and other elected officials,”Jacobs said. “They ended up helping less prosperous families even if they weren’t union members.”

The journal abstract:

Do historically contingent political accounts help explain the growth in family income inequality in the United States? We use time-series regressions based on 60 years to detect such relationships by assessing interactive associations between the neoliberal departure coincident with Ronald Reagan’s election and the acceleration in inequality that began soon after Reagan took office. We find evidence for this and for a second contingent relationship: stronger unions could successfully resist policies that enhanced economic inequality only before Reagan’s presidency and before the neoliberal anti-union administrations from both parties that followed Reagan. Politically inspired reductions in union membership, and labor’s diminished political opportunities during and after Reagan’s presidency, meant unions no longer could slow the growth in U.S. inequality. Coefficients on these two historically contingent interactions remain significant after many additional determinants are held constant. These findings indicate that political determinants should not be neglected when researchers investigate the determinants of U.S. inequality.

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Evaluating the truthfulness of Harry Nowicki in the Gillard witch hunt

June 16th, 2014 Comments off

From this morning’s media section in The Australian:

16-06-2014 markson

Note: The picture edited because this page looks better without Darren Davidson.

 

 

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Learning from Canada – a warning for Tony Abbott

June 14th, 2014 Comments off

Tony Abbott tells us he is impressed by the example of politics in Canada. The country’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, according to Abbott, is a ‘‘guide’’ and a ‘‘beacon.’’ On a visit this week he declared ‘‘I have regarded Stephen Harper as an exemplar of a contemporary centre-right prime minister.’’ The Canadian Conservative Party policies of fiscal rectitude with a reduction in the size of government and the role of the state are clearly in line with the current direction of the Australian Liberal Party.

But at the time Tony Abbott was praising his host, voters in Canada’s largest state of Ontario were giving the thumbs down to Harper like policies of fiscal restraint. The people there voted to turn the Liberal state government from a minority one into one with a clear majority.

On the front page of the National Post, a Canadian equivalent of The Australian, this morning was this verdict on the vote’s significance by its commentator Andrew Coyne:

In 2011, Tim Hudak sought to minimize his differences with Dalton McGuinty, downplaying economic conservatism in favour of a clutch of populist wedge issues. He threw away a 12-point lead and handed victory to the Liberals. People like me criticized him sharply for it. If only he’d offered people a clearer choice, we counselled — had he been more forthright, more substantive, more principled — he’d be premier today. So, in 2014, Mr. Hudak ran on the kind of staunchly conservative platform we favoured, and dropped four points.
There isn’t any point in sugar-coating it. This election was very much a referendum on fiscal conservatism, and the fiscal conservatives lost. Yes, the Conservative campaign was a mess, and yes, the Liberal leader, Kathleen Wynne, proved an effective fear-monger. But the central issue in this campaign, unambiguously, was fiscal policy — the Liberals ran on their budget, and the Tories ran on theirs, the Million Jobs Plan. Everyone agreed this election presented the voters with a clear choice, perhaps the clearest in 20 years. And they made their choice, just as clearly.

Just a little something for our Prime Minister to think about.

Andrew Bolt and a definition of chutzpah

June 5th, 2014 Comments off

I switched off the comment section of this little blog because all I got inundated with was a barrage of links to advertisements of one kind or another and it was a pain getting rid of them. That I therefore I miss out on a pearl of wisdom or two I regret but this afternoon one did get through to me about this headline on one of my posts: That Andrew Bolt kid’s got chutzpah.

Have a quick glance at that posting and then read on.

By email:

Hi Richard,

Your use of Yiddish today was perfect with respect to Bolt!

Chutzpah – a man who murders his parents and then begs for mercy from the court on the grounds that he’s a orphan!

cheers …

 

The problem is the product not the salesmanship

June 3rd, 2014 Comments off

If Tony Abbott can resist the temptation to say much at all while overseas during the next fortnight then my guess is that he will come home to far less doom and gloom about his government than the pollsters are showing this week. When the message you have to sell is unpopular it is better not to try and do so and this Coalition budget is full of nasty little elements. But time heals – especially when most of the things the public is objecting to are never going to happen. When the Senate has done its destructive best the voters will be left wondering what they were ever getting so upset about.

Treasurer Joe Hockey seems to have realised that silence is the best policy. He has gone conspicuously silent and the Prime Minister would be wise to follow his example.

That things are  not really as serious as much of the media comment would have us believe is shown by the way the Owl’s market based election indicator still has the Coalition comfortably favourite to be returned at the next election.

3-06-2014 australianindicator

Sure there has been a movement towards Labor but it is still pointing in a very different direction to the opinion polls that have Labor seven or eight percentage points in front.

When the News Corp empire reports how people are laughing at Tony Abbott …

June 2nd, 2014 Comments off

Perhaps Tony Abbott does have leadership problems and it’s nothing to do with Malcolm Turnbull. Even worse for the Prime Minister than having Andrew Bolt defending him is having Bolt’s principal employer laughing at you.

Tonight’s lead story on the nation’s most read news site:

2-06-2014 abbottlaughter

In a regular segment devoted to ‘Other countries’ Presidents of the USA’, the HBO satirical US news program Last Week Tonight with John Oliver today aired a segment ruthlessly collating our embattled PM’s most embarrassing moments.

News.com.au reports how the program described our current leader as “hard line right-wing Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who rose to power promising to be pro-business and religiously anti-immigration — literally, religiously anti-immigration.”

It then cut to Mr Abbott on ABC panel show Q&A, explaining to host Tony Jones that “Jesus knew there was a place for everything and it’s not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia”. Cue much laughter from the Last Week Tonight studio audience.
“Exactly. Australia is for real Australians, like Tony Abbott — who was born in London, England,” the Last Week Tonight voice over intoned.

2-06-2014 birthplace
From there, Last Week Tonight cut to clips of former Prime Minister Paul Keating, protesters and even schoolchildren lambasting the PM. “My mummy calls him Tony Dum-Dum,” said one young boy in an undated interview.
Then followed clips of Mr Abbott’s disparaging remarks about women (“What the housewives of Australia need to understand is they do the ironing”), gay people (telling 60 Minutes’ Liz Hayes he feels “a bit threatened” by homosexuality), the Irish, and his now-infamous wink while speaking to an elderly sex-line worker.

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They finished with his silent response to a journalist who asked about his choice of words when speaking about a fallen Aussie soldier:

2-06-2014 abbottsilence

“Yes, Tony Abbott knows, one panicked pant-sh**ting expression is worth a thousand words,” the voiceover said.

Malcolm Turnbull ruins his leadership chances

May 29th, 2014 Comments off

Dining with a Treasury secretary is acceptable. Being seen with Clive is no hanging matter. But a New South Welshman skipping a State of Origin. An irreparable mistake

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Miranda Devine has forgotten Julia Gillard already

May 23rd, 2014 Comments off

Mmm. So Australian voters rush to embrace what the extreme and malevolent hate. Tell that to Julia Gillard.

2014-05-23_miranda2014-05-23_apology

 

How Australia’s winking Tony Abbott became one of the world’s most unpopular prime ministers

May 22nd, 2014 Comments off

In politics it is often the simple things that have the most influence on voters. And so we are seeing this week as university students contemplate paying higher fees while knowing the PM’s daughter avoided the millstone of a HELP* debt because one of her daddy’s Liberal Party friends helped her get a scholarship. The politics of this part of the Coalition budget could hardly be worse. There the story was again tonight at the top of the list of most talked about items on 9 News, just like yesterday.

22-05-2014 ninenews Still near the top of the list as well – tonight just behind the bull – is what the Washington Post on its website has called, surprise, surprise, Winkgate, under the headline How Australia’s winking Tony Abbott became one of the world’s most unpopular prime ministers

(YouTube)

Finally, the madness has taken its name: Winkgate. The gate opened when Australia’s prime minister, who has recently bungled his way from one scandal to the next, took a call from a listener on a radio show that was filmed.
The caller was worried about money. She was a grandmother. And a sex hotline worker. “I am a 67-year-old pensioner, three chronic incurable medical conditions — two life-threatening,” the caller, named Gloria, said. “I just survive on about $400 a fortnight after I pay my rent. And I work on an adult sex line to make ends meet.”

Abbott, who took office last September, then smirked for the briefest of moments and winked — unleashing a tidal wave of criticism, tweets and headlines.

This, of course, is nothing new for Tony Abbott, who’s quickly becoming one of the world’s most hated prime ministers. He just unveiled a draconian austerity budget that analysts call the most extreme and least popular of the past four decades in Australia. His approval rating has plunged to 30 percent. And then there’s the irreverent hashtag #MorePopularThanAbbott, which suggests that both toilet paper and flat tires are more popular than the prime minister.

Back on the home front, 7 News also had the winking as its top of the pops.

22-05-2014 7news

Over at the ABC, Sex line grandmother labels Abbott’s wink ‘sleazy’ and ‘slimy’ (video)was the most popular item for the last 24 hours.

And to think that yesterday I wrote that it would be Hard to think of a worse day for Abbott and Hockey as political salesmen. Just mark that down as another one of my mistakes.

*Who is it that came up with the name HELP to describe the cruel debt that is being inflicted on tertiary students?

The politics of building roads – an example

May 22nd, 2014 Comments off

I have no comment to make on this research other than noting Australia is now in a road building phase.

Nazi pork and popularity: How Hitler’s roads won German hearts and minds

The Hitler government built the world’s first nationwide motorway network. We examine the impact of road-building on the popularity of the Nazi regime. Using shifts in electoral support between 1933 and 1934, we conclude that ‘pork barrel’ spending worked in reducing opposition to the regime – wherever the new roads ran, fewer Germans voted against the government in elections and plebiscites. At least part of the regime’s popularity after 1934 can be explained by the popularity of the Autobahn.

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The Green Lantern theory of political leadership

May 22nd, 2014 Comments off

Make the obvious changes from the US to Australia and Ezra Klein in his The Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency, explained could well be writing about Tony Abbott and his government that does not have the numbers to actually govern.

Presidents consistently overpromise and underdeliver. What they need to say to get elected far outpaces what they can actually do in office. President Obama is a perfect example. His 2008 campaign didn’t just promise health-care reform, a stimulus bill, and financial regulation. It also promised a cap-and-trade bill to limit carbon emissions, comprehensive immigration reform, gun control, and much more. His presidency, he said, would be change American could believe in. But it’s clear now that much of the change he promised isn’t going to happen — in large part because he doesn’t have the power to make it happen.

You would think voters in general and professional media pundits in particular would, by now, be wise to this pattern. But they’re not. Each disappointment wounds anew. Each unchecked item on the to-do list is a surprise. Belief in the presidency seems to be entirely robust to the inability of any particular president to make good on their promises. And so the criticism is always the same: why can’t the president be more like the Green Lantern?

If you, like me, are not up on your comic book heroes, here’s the explanation:

Wait, how did the Green Lantern get involved in all this?

The Green Lantern Corps is a fictional, intergalactic peacekeeping entity that exists in DC comics. Members of the Corps get a power ring that capable of creating green energy projections of almost unlimited power. The only constraint is the willpower and imagination of the ring’s wearer. There was a long period of time when the ring was ineffective against the color yellow but in more recent comics that’s just “the Parallax fear anomaly” at work and with enough courage and willpower, the ring works just fine against the color yellow.

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Hard to think of a worse day for Abbott and Hockey as political salesmen

May 21st, 2014 Comments off

Here is the National Nine News take on the day:

2014-05-21_ninenews

In the Coalition they will be thankful for that small – or perhaps that should be large – mercy of the dancing woman to break up the succession of horrid stories. And there was nothing unique about Nine either. The headlines on the other television websites were just as bad.

The newspaper websites were even worse. Here’s the collection of political stories as per news.com.au and the Sydney Morning Herald:

2014-05-21_tonight

From earlier today, have a look at Laurie Oakes in advertising breakthrough – stars in Labor Party ad.

 

A new Canberra star is born

May 21st, 2014 Comments off

She has not arrived in the national capital yet but the media delight is already showing through. Tasmanian Senator elect Jacqui Lambie gave a headline grabbing performance on 7.30 last night. From 1 July she will provide the Palmer United Party with a wonderful second string to Clive.

Goodness knows what she will end up saying but what a spectacular debut:

SARAH FERGUSON: You said that the Federal Budget proves that Liberals are – and I’ll quote you – gutless sycophants led by uncaring psychopaths. On reflection, did you go too far calling them psychopaths?

JACQUI LAMBIE: No, I don’t think so, I don’t think so at all. I think when it comes to Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott that – I mean, the truth be said, they’re nothing less than a pair of deceitful, lying, political politicians and that’s exactly what they’ve done: they’ve been deceitful and they’ve lied to the public and they’ve lied to the nation.

SARAH FERGUSON: Psychopath is a pretty strong term though.

JACQUI LAMBIE: Well, I’m just saying that politically they’re like they’re psychopathic. It’s like they’re running round like chooks with their heads cut off. And I just do not think that brings in a good budget. They’re like they’re hitting the panic buttons, but we don’t need to hit the panic buttons. We have a triple A rating, for goodness sake. It’s like, “Calm down there, cowboy Joe, calm down. You’re coming out with all guns blazing and you are hitting welfare like there’s no tomorrow,” and that is not the answer.

And then a little touch up the bracket for the banks:

SARAH FERGUSON: The Treasurer made it clear today that if you and your other minor party colleagues resist all of these changes in the Budget, you’re going to be talking about billions of dollars that you will need to make up in revenue. Do you accept that that revenue – the revenue equation in the Australian budget must be changed?

JACQUI LAMBIE: Well, I accept that the four banks are making, you know, $30 billion worth of profit on a yearly basis, and if you spread that through the 23 million people give or take here in Australia, that ends up being a $1,300 every man, woman and child that is living in Australia, so why aren’t we hitting people like the big banks? You know, when $12 billion of this budget’s been handed down and it’s hilting welfare, once again, that’s not the answers and that’s not making for a smart economic future for our nation.

SARAH FERGUSON: Senator-elect, can you just explain what you mean by taking more money from the banks? Are you talking about higher taxes on the banks?

JACQUI LAMBIE: Well, you know, for somebody that makes $30 billion between those four banks annually, then maybe it’s about time we looked at over avenues and that would certainly be one I’d be prepared to look at.

SARAH FERGUSON: And would you just be precise about what you mean about those other avenues? How would you collect that extra revenue from the banks?

JACQUI LAMBIE: Well, you’d put extra taxes on the banks, but you would make sure that that’s not passed down to the consumer. You would put in legislation so it was that tight it wasn’t passed down to the consumer and the big banks that are making all these profits will be paying more into the country.

Politics surely is going to be fun.

2014-05-21_lambie

 

Laurie Oakes in advertising breakthrough – stars in Labor Party ad

May 21st, 2014 Comments off

I doubt that the old fellow will be amused at being used in this way but I’m sure it will be damaging to the government. Laurie is, after-all, far more credible a figure on television than any politician.

Laurie Oakes looking gloriously serious as he turns his attention to the dancing Treasurer

Laurie Oakes looking gloriously serious as he turns his attention to the dancing Treasurer

Now the pundits are betting on Abbott being replaced

May 21st, 2014 Comments off
From the Twitter feed this morning:

But Scotty Morrison to replace Tony Abbott? Now that would get Twitter twittering.

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Liberal leadership speculation – a definite early sighting

May 19th, 2014 Comments off

A first for the season.

Maybe not a full view but a definite sighting. Laura Tingle in the Australian Financial Review this morning under the headline Budget quake puts PM on shaky ground:

The magnitude and violence of the reaction to the budget shown in the Fairfax-Nielsen poll shatters that dominance. It will force the government to rethink its confused sales messages on the budget at the very least, but also prompt Abbott’s party room to demand change, and stir the embers of leadership talk.

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On marijuana Australia lags behind but for how long?

May 8th, 2014 Comments off
The LA Times front page

The LA Times front page

Where the USA leads Australia normally follows. So how long will it be before one of our governments follows the lead of the 21 US states ans the District of Columbia that now allow the sale of some form of pot?

Perhaps this is another of those areas where the government of the ACT will show there was some point to self government after all.

And for an update of how  rapidly changing in America have a read of  Toasted cheese sandwich? Like dope with that? on my wine and food blog.

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The clamour against Clive should worry Tony Abbott

May 8th, 2014 Comments off

The verbal onslaught against Clive Palmer by members of the Liberal National Party government in Queensland just keeps getting stronger. Today the state’s Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney used this report in The Australian to declare Mr Palmer “a crook”:

CLIVE Palmer’s private company Mineralogy has been accused of wrongfully siphoning more than $12 million from his Chinese business partners, with some of the funds allegedly used to cover political expenses for the costly federal election campaign by his Palmer United Party.

CLIVE Palmer’s private company Mineralogy has been accused of wrongfully siphoning more than $12 million from his Chinese business partners, with some of the funds allegedly used to cover political expenses for the costly federal election campaign by his Palmer United Party.

Under parliamentary privilege Mr Seeney described the Palmer United Party as “the best party that Chinese money can buy.”

“The best party that fraudulently obtained money can buy.

“The best party that a crook using other people’s money can buy.”

Strong words indeed and surely an indication of just how concerned the LNP is about its new competitor,

I wonder, though, about the political wisdom. The judgment voters eventually make of PUP will have more to do with what actually happens at law rather than statements made in the parliamentary coward’s castle.

And this is not just a state issue. Mr Palmer would not be human if he didn’t see the state LNP and the federal Liberal-National coalition as being two sides of the same thing. After every attack like today’s, Tony Abbott will be finding PUP a more and more difficult party to rely on.

From earlier this week: If Clive is defamed presumably the Queensland taxpayer will do the paying. Other PUP stories are in the Owl’s archives HERE.

If Clive is defamed presumably the Queensland taxpayer will do the paying.

May 7th, 2014 Comments off

It makes it sound very serious indeed when someone sues someone else for $1.1 million for saying nasty things about them. Clive Palmer certainly knows how to use such a figure to get a headline or two. And fair minded fellow that the founder of the Palmer United Party is, he promises to pay the money he expects to get from Queensland Premier Campbell Newman for defaming him straight to Mission Australia “to assist the charity with its work to help sacked Queensland public servants”.

What kind Clive has not explained to the good voters of Queensland is that they are the ones who will be paying for the largesse should he win. Politicians are skilled at having their Cabinet colleagues agree that anything said out of order that results in damages being awarded was just part and parcel of their official work. Hence the government pays both the damages and any legal costs.

No wonder that Campbell Newman does not seem to be in a hurry to retract any statement he made.

The ABC has a good coverage of what the Palmer-Newman dispute is all about.

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Still waiting for the first leadership challenge sighting of autumn

May 7th, 2014 Comments off

I thought I had it. The first one arriving just as autumn seems to be turning to winter. “Government MPs are bracing to ‘cop the political flak’ from next week’s budget containing tax rises and welfare cuts,” was the promising intro by Mark Kenny, Chief Political Correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald. But then the disappointing “but”… “but ministers say the unpopular moves will not weaken Tony Abbott’s leadership.” The challenge had flown away.

Perhaps not for long because chief correspondents are experienced leadership watchers with skills finely honed from watching Labor. And the signs were there this morning:

A series of political opinion polls have charted a sharp downturn in support for the Coalition and a fall in Mr Abbott’s personal standing, but senior figures have rallied around him, praising his determination to take hard decisions.

In political journalism that’s like a footy team president saying “the coach has my full support.” And from Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce:

In a strong declaration of support for Mr Abbott, Mr Joyce said there was a ‘‘nobility’’ in doing what was right in public office, describing Mr Abbott as a man with ‘‘a good sense of kindness and strength’’.

That has a Yes, Prime Minister “courageous decision” ring to it, a clue that the first proper sighting is not far away.

 

Time for Abbott to stop prevaricating and sack Sinodinos

May 6th, 2014 Comments off

The indication that it will be near December before the NSW independent Commission Against Corruption delivers a finding on the behaviour of Arthur Sinodinos surely makes it imperative for Tony Abbott to make his suspension as assistant treasurer permanent. Having a key player in the economic debate on the sidelines for three quarters of a year is just a nonsense. And that is without factoring in the damage being done to the Liberal Party by the involvement of Sinodinos, a former Treasurer of the NSW state branch, in the unfolding fund raising scandal being imposed by ICAC.

Let me repeat what I wrote at the end of last month:

It’s not so much what Arthur Sinodinos told ICAC that he knew. Or even that he proved to have one of the worst memories ever to speak on oath. It is just that the whole business of the New South Wales Liberal Party and its web of influences and fund raising gets worse and worse. Tony Abbott needs to take decisive action to stop the affair smearing himself.

Making the temporary ousting of assistant Treasurer Sinodinos permanent is a necessary step in doing that. If he wants to be kind to an old friend then the perfect excuse is to say that the ICAC enquiries are taking too long and that the needs of economic management mean the post must be filled. So, reluctantly, Arthur has agreed to step down. And quickly.

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A rare exception to taking little notice of opinion polls

May 6th, 2014 Comments off

What opinion pollsters say two and a half years out from an election is normally of no interest at all to me. Just ignore them is invariably my advice. Today, though, I am breaking those habits of a political lifetime. The unanimous verdict of all the major pollsters suggesting that Tony Abbott and his government are on the nose does strike me as relevant.

Not because the figures suggest the Liberal-National coalition will lose the next election. Far from it. I’ll stick with the predictive power of the Owl’s federal election indicator which puts Labor well behind. The importance of the polls is the influence they will have on that maverick collection of Senators who will become the real power brokers of politics after 1 July and on the Labor and Greens majority from now until then.

A strong suggestion that voters do not like a government – and the polls are giving just that now – encourages an opposition to stick the boot in because of a belief that will help their own prospects of re-election. Ultimately it might do no such thing but in the meantime it sure does make governing harder.

 

Labor silence on Treasurer for sale story would be wise

May 5th, 2014 Comments off

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No one who has been even peripherally involved in a federal election campaign will be at all surprised by the stories in this mornings Fairfax papers about Joe Hockey’s involvement in campaign fund raising. Getting in the dollars to pay for getting in the votes has long been an expected part of a Treasurer’s role whatever party is in office.

After the Prime Minister, the Treasurer is the office holder people with a cause to push most want to influence so party officials naturally take advantage of it. The only major difference I can see in the Jovial Joe case is that he localised the collection point via his own electorate organisation rather than letting the state or federal branch get their hands on the dosh. No doubt that will cause a bit of muttering within the Liberal Party now that the sums involved have been publicised.

Labor will be wise not to do too much tut-tutting on this issue. Companies and rich people paying for access to their own high and mighty has been every bit as prevalent as on the Coalition side.

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Paul Kelly’s strange logic on forecasts

May 3rd, 2014 Comments off

Just choose your forecast to fit your prejudice. That seems to be the view of Paul Kelly writing in The Australian this morning:

The value of the audit commission is proved by the firestorm it has generated. It is not written by politicians. Freed from such political constraints it can launch the national debate Australia needs to conduct.
Anybody who doubts this should consider the business-as usual projections showing the budget stays in deficit for a decade and beyond. This may be based on conservative forecasts but conservative forecasts are necessary after years of forecasting failure on the optimistic side.

Conservative forecasts are necessary? Really? Surely if we are going to be in the forecasting business at all we should be making our best guess? Otherwise it is just a nonsense.

The caution we show should be the realisation that our best guess most probably will turn out to be wrong – sometimes too pessimistic and sometimes to optimistic. Then when we are wrong we change.

A thought about trade unions – bring them back

May 3rd, 2014 Comments off

This cartoon caught my eye.

3-05-2014 unions

As being relevant when you have front pages like this:

2014-05-02_illawarra

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Former politicians as door-openers: a classic case study from Britain

May 2nd, 2014 Comments off

Australia has its tawdry tales of former politicians peddling influence for property developers and others told daily before the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. And we have had the slightly unedifying sight of former Prime Ministers Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd acting as door openers for companies in China and elsewhere. Departed Treasurer Peter Costello used his influence with the regime in Cambodia to introduce some business colleagues and remains in the consultancy business. Alexander Downer traded on the contacts made as our foreign minister to attract a client or two. It’s all a little sad perhaps but the activities of our retired leaders pale into insignificance compared with Britain’s Tony Blair.

London’s Financial Times this week brought its readers the story of this Prime Minister who turned lobbyist on a truly grand scale.

2-05-2014 manicmission

What a depressing read it is as it outlines how the man who not so long ago was a proselytiser for democracy, now, along with the monarchs of the Gulf, courts Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev.

His excuse says he is promoting political reform; the reality is that he is paid handsomely in lending a cloak of respectability to a central Asian tyrant.
Add in the paid-for speeches, dealmaking with the US investment banker Michael Klein and a lucrative door-opening role at JPMorgan, and it all adds up to a tidy sum. Guesses of Mr Blair’s wealth put it at about £100m. Friends suggest this is a serious underestimate.
I suspect he does not want the money for its own sake. More likely, the private jet is a way to keep score, a salve for a bruised ego. The craving is for public approbation.

Put the story in your “must read” category. The FT has a paywall but limited free access.

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That audit commission – much ado about nothing

May 1st, 2014 Comments off

I have scanned the major news website headlines and stories, listened to the radio current affairs programs and watched the television news. I am working my way through all those pages of the Audit Commission report. And I am still wondering what all the fuss about this budget deficit is all about.

My conclusion is that governments for the next few years should stop having new spending and tax reduction proposals. Then a few years of growth and a dash of inflation will solve any problem. And if the growth does not come there’s little that any Australian government can do about it. Most of what will happen is outside the control of a government of any political persuasion.

Thankfully we have a Senate where the numbers ensure that the austerian flavour of the Audit Commission will be ignored.

I’m an optimist and remain far from panic mode.

See also my comment written before the release of the Audit Commission report: Look at the Audit Commission through the prism of minority government

Look at the Audit Commission through the prism of minority government

May 1st, 2014 Comments off

Barnaby Joyce brought a tinge of commonsense to political debate this week when he stated the obvious about Tony Abbott’s then un-amended plans for maternity leave payments. The proposal would not get through the Senate so why waste time and effort criticising it?

The same approach will be the sensible one when considering the thoughts of the Audit Commission when they are released today. Most of what will be recommended will never happen because the Government does not have the numbers in the Senate to govern.

The big adjustment the Prime Minister will have to make in the coming months is that he is every bit as captive to minority rule as were his Labor predecessors. The lack of a majority has not changed; only the chamber in which the minority exists.

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Leave him in the sin bin – Abbott should not reinstate Arthur Sinodinos

April 28th, 2014 Comments off

It’s not so much what Arthur Sinodinos told ICAC that he knew. Or even that he proved to have one of the worst memories ever to speak on oath. It is just that the whole business of the New South Wales Liberal Party and its web of influences and fund raising gets worse and worse. Tony Abbott needs to take decisive action to stop the affair smearing himself.

Making the temporary ousting of assistant Treasurer Sinodinos permanent is a necessary step in doing that. If he wants to be kind to an old friend then the perfect excuse is to say that the ICAC enquiries are taking too long and that the needs of economic management mean the post must be filled. So, reluctantly, Arthur has agreed to step down. And quickly.

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Rich men and third party politics give a different twist to the Westminster system

April 23rd, 2014 Comments off

Gordon Barton gave us a taste in Australia of rich men flirting with third party politics back in the 1960s with his Liberal Reform Group and opposition to the support of conservative Liberal and National (then Country) parties for the Vietnam war. It transmuted into the Australian Reform Movement and then the Australia Party before he lost interest – or maybe it was his money – although his plaything was kind of resurrected in the the form of the Democrats. And they did use the Senate to have a considerable say in national politics before their disintegration as a party without money and thus influence.

Bob Brown. that deservedly revered founder of the national Greens, understood the importance of men with money too. It was the millions poured into campaigning by the founder of the Wotif online travel website, Graeme Wood, before the federal election of 2010 that saw the Greens emerge as such a dominant force that Labor was forced into a formal governing agreement with them. The absence of an equivalent to that largest donation in Australian political history perhaps explains much of the declining Green vote of 2013 when Queensland’s Clive Palmer was the third party man with the millions of dollars. It was the Palmer United Party that bought enough votes this time to upset the established two-party duopoly.

In Australia the success of rich men sponsoring a third force in politics has owed much to the multi-member nature of our Senate elections although now both the PUP and the Greens have a bum on the green House of Representative benches. Perhaps there are more such third forces to come. The current experience in Great Britain certainly points in that direction with UKIP – the UK Independence Party – coming from nowhere to challenge Conservatives and Labour in the opinion polls with the traditional third party Liberal Democrats languishing well behind in fourth place.

And money is surely playing a part in the UKIP ascendancy. The Financial Times reports this morning that a “reclusive multimillionaire behind the anti-Brussels UK Independence party has vowed there will be “no limit” to his spending in the run-up to next year’s general election.

Paul Sykes, a self-made businessman worth an estimated £400m, said he wanted to counter the tens of millions spent every year by Brussels on promoting the EU. “The British people need the facts,” he said. …

Having quit the Conservatives in the 1990s over Europe, Mr Sykes said he had so far spent about “£1.2m or £1.4m” on a media blitz that includes hundreds of controversial posters attacking the EU. “We haven’t stopped spending yet,” he told the Financial Times. “I’ll spend whatever it takes for the British people to make them aware that power has been transferred from Britain without permission.”

And here’s where the money is going:

23-04-2014 ukip123-04-2014 ukip223-04-2014 ukip323-04-2014 ukip4

It seems like a very powerful message to me – powerful enough to give a different twist to the Westminster two-party system.

Money might not buy you love but it seems to do alright with votes.

Europe calls and UKIP gets my first investment

April 23rd, 2014 Comments off

I have re-posted this from my little political speculator’s blog where I have actually been showing a punting profit!

With just under a month to go until the elections on 22 May for the European Parliament I’m prepared to start taking notice of the opinion polls. And there’s one thing I am getting confident about – the British Conservative Party is in for a right proper drubbing. And another – the Liberal Democrats are wasting their time even fielding candidates.
Here are the latest poll figures as tabulated on the UK Polling Report website:

It really does look like a two party race and, by-and-large, that’s how the market sees it.

At the best prices available you can back all four runners and break square. Leave out the also running Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and you can get the two chances at a glorious 90%! Surely that’s an opportunity too good to miss.
My recommendation is to wager in these proportions – $46 on Labour at the $2.2 from William Hill and $45 at Ladbrokes’ $2.25.By my calculation it’s $10 for nothing and only a month to wait.
You will find details of my outstanding bets and the betting record at The Portfolio – the record so far.

A coalition for the Coalition to govern Australia

April 7th, 2014 Comments off

To listen to Liberals and Nationals bemoaning the horror of a Labor, independents and Greens voting coalition, because coalition is a dirty word, was one of those humorous elements of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years. For most of the time since federation whenever Australia has had a conservative government it has involved a coalition of one kind or other. For the last sixty years Libs and Nats have even campaigned for office as THE Coalition. Together they have proved successfully enough that policy differences – sometimes even quite major ones – are no impediment to running the country.

When it comes to getting legislation through a Senate where The Coalition is outnumbered, conservative politicians have done well enough too. When a few hundred million for Tasmania here or a presidency of the chamber for a Queenslander there were insufficient there was a DLP hatred of Labor to rely on or a Democrat death wish to exploit in the name of good government. The Liberal-National coalition has always managed to stagger through.

With such a history of success perhaps too much should not be made of the new form of coalition that the Coalition will need to build via the Senate after 1 July. Clive Palmer and his PUPs might make for eccentric voting partners but they are not a collection of raving lefties. There will be some amusing horse trading at times but conservative positions should normally prevail. Generally Prime Minister Tony Abbott should be able to govern and where he cannot – the paid paternity leave scheme comes to mind – there will be many in his own proper Coalition who will be very grateful.

Does the picture tell the story? The Age and the SMH preview Peta Credlin differently

April 5th, 2014 Comments off

If the picture tells the story then The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald seem to have a different view of Peta Credlin, chief of staff for Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The front page previews of this morning’s cover story of the Good Weekend magazine insert give decidedly different impressions:

2014-04-05_credlinThe grumpy view on the left is from The Age. And the magazine itself?

2014-04-05_credlingoodweekend

 

George W. Bush paints portrait of John Howard

April 5th, 2014 Comments off

The retired President of the USA George W.Bush is taking art classes and apparently wields his paintbrush very day. Now the fruits of some of his labours have gone on show at his Dallas presidential library.

Among 24 portraits of world leaders he met while President is one of former Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

2014-04-05_georgewbushhowardpaintingClick to enlarge

 

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Most disruptive parliament ever? House of Representatives well on way to a sin binning record

March 20th, 2014 Comments off

This parliamentary year is shaping up as the most disruptive in the 21 years that members of the Australian House of Representatives have been subject to an hour’s expulsion for disorderly behaviour. The following figures from the parliamentary library are updated to show the annual rate for this year based on sittings so far.

2014-03-20_binnings

2014-03-20_sinbinning

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A taste of the tobacco to come? Another profitable drug for organised crime

March 19th, 2014 Comments off

There is the tobacco this morning, nestled in beside the cannabis in the Melbourne Age’s front page. And if organised crime considers growing tobacco plants in glass houses a profitable enterprise today, imagine what it will be after another two annual rises in excise of 12.5% that the federal parliament enacted this month.

2014-03-19_crops2014-03-19_tobacco

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Pick the parliamentary losers – how many MPs will be ejected during House of Representatives question time on Wednesday?

March 18th, 2014 Comments off

Monday’s record: three members directed, under standing order 94, to leave the Chamber for one hour

Tuesday’s record: nine members directed, under standing order 94, to leave the Chamber for one hour

How many will be forced to leave the parliamentary circus on Wednesday?

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Bragging rights contest – Pick the South Australian election winners

March 13th, 2014 Comments off

A little contest to test your political wisdom when the votes come in from Adelaide on Sunday night. Mark your assessment of the Liberals winning in every seat and the honour and glory could be yours.

In keeping with The Owl’s desire to be the thinking person’s political blogger the contest is not completely straight forward. We have chosen the methodology of the wonderful Probabilistic Competition that the smart people of Monash University run each year on the AFL. I’ll defer to their explanation of the scoring:

The probabilistic competition involves the tipper entering the probability (between 0 and 1) that they believe a team will win the match. It is sometimes also referred to as the information theoretic or info competition. The father of information theory was Claude Shannon.

In a traditional tipping competition, the tipper is forced to choose one team as the outright winner. However the tipper still believes that the other team does have some chance, just not as much as the team they chose. (In closely matched games, you may even think it will be a draw.) Choosing a probability allows the tipper to express their uncertainty or confidence level in the outcome.

It can be simply proven that the highest expected score can be achieved by tipping the true probability. (Even though the true probability is never known.)

The scoring system works as follows: If the tipper assigns probability p to team A winning, then the score (in “bits”) gained is:

  • If A wins: 1 + log2(p)
  • If A loses: 1 + log2(1 – p)

From the above we can see that the maximum gain of 1.0 is obtained by tipping 1.0 on the winning team. This however is very risky as maximum loss of -Infinity is achieved by tipping 1.0 on the losing team.

The scoring is not symmetrical and can be very non-intuitive for the beginner. The table below gives example tips and the scores (in bits) you would receive if your team won and if your team lost. Note that p values less than 0.5 are equivalent to tipping the other team with 1.0-p. Also, p=0.5 is equivalent to sitting on the fence – you neither gain nor lose any bits. Some examples:

2014-03-13_effectofp