Archive for the ‘economy’ Category

The Sweet Spot – How Australia made its own luck – and could now throw it all away

July 29, 2012

cross post from the very useful “The Political Sword

Australia is ‘The Sweet Spot’ to be

Saturday, 16 June 2012 19:55 by Ad astra

In recent days we have luxuriated in great economic news: strong growth, low inflation, falling interest rates, low unemployment, good jobs data, renewed triple A rating by Moody’s, low net national debt, massive investment in the pipeline, and an upbeat RBA and Federal Government. Each piece of good news has added to a sense of euphoria about our situation and our prospects. We live in a great nation.

In the light of this great news, it seems a good time to review a book that transmits this very message, and asserts that our favourable position has not happened by some accident of good fortune, some stroke of good luck. In his 2011 book: The Sweet Spot – How Australia made its own luck – and could now throw it all away (Black Inc), Peter Hartcher shows how it has all come about….


CEDA – worth knowing about

June 29, 2011

CEDA is a national, independent, member-based organisation providing thought leadership and policy perspectives on the economic and social issues affecting Australia.

We achieve this through a rigorous and evidence-based research agenda, and forums and events that deliver lively debate and critical perspectives.

CEDA’s expanding membership includes more than 800 of Australia’s leading businesses and organisations, and leaders from a wide cross-section of industries and academia. It allows us to reach major decision makers across the private and public sectors.

CEDA is an independent not-for-profit organisation. Our funding comes from membership fees, events, research grants and sponsorship.

The Federal Budget cycle

June 22, 2011

Ah, useful context…

With our short three-year – or less- political cycle, it was almost conventional wisdom that an incoming government would need to “go hard” in the first budget, consolidate in the second, and spend in an attempt to win the next election with the third.

The big budget gamble
John Hewson
Australian Financial Review May 11

Too much luck? The Mining Boom and Australia’s Future

June 21, 2011

So, this is from a promo sheet for a new book –

Chile, a less affluent resource-rich country, has shown just how inept our politicians and economic experts really are. Several years ago Chile put in place a mechanism to ensure that its politicians didn’t blow the proceeds of the country’s lucrative copper mines. Any revenue above a set threshold went straight into tightly controlled sovereign funds. When the GFC came along, Chile was able to use the fund to deliver an even bigger stimulus to its economy than Australia did, without racking up a single peso of debt. Other resource-rich countries have similar policies. Norway, a country of only four million people, has saved more than $450 billion in just fifteen years. When its oil is gone, Norway will be able to live off the interest, thereby maintaining its enviable standard of living into the future. There are many other examples. The essential idea is to turn non-renewable resources into a financial asset that will last forever….

The Australian economy is now sinking hundreds of billions of dollars into expanding mineral and energy production. Our state and federal politicians have become so bedazzled by the prospect of even greater mineral riches that they are eagerly facilitating a resources stampede while giving less regard to long-term ecological and financial consequences. Increasingly, resource development in Australia involves weak and inept governments up against muscular multinationals that are prepared to go as far as removing political leaders to secure their interests. Such were the dynamics of the mining companies ‘ spectacular defeat of the super-profits tax. Without a fairer tax, Australia will continue traveling at breakneck speed towards the bottom of the quarry, a journey that will wreak havoc on the non-resource sector and potentially leave many people far worse off. As the resource boom accelerates, it will drive the dollar sky-high, forcing up the cost of doing business for everybody. Industries such as tourism and education – industries that, unlike mining, involve many jobs – will fade away. But what happens if commodity prices suddenly collapse, as they did with the GFC in 2008; or worse, when the resources run out?…. without a resources fund, we are stealing from future generations. Without such a policy, this mining boom amounts to theft on a scale never before seen in this country’s history.

Paul Cleary
Too Much Luck: The Mining Boom and Australia’s Future
Black Inc Books
August 2011
See also Laura Tingle’s brilliant “Falling Down the Miners’ Shaft.” “Mine, all mine, bwahahahaha”

And Guy Pearse’s Quarterly Essay “Quarry Vision”

“Australia’s political malaise runs deep”

June 21, 2011

There’s a fine piece in today’s AFR, entitled Australia’s political malaise runs deep.
It’s by Ian Marsh at Australian Innovation Research Centre and Greg Barns, former Liberal Staffer.
They argue that there have been three post-war policy-making dispensations.

1) post war to 66, two parties running the show, mobilising their supporters
2) 66 to 83, New Social Movements (feminist, peace, aboriginal rights, gay rights etc), with parties as brokers
3) 83 to present “neoliberal think tanks emerged as primary agenda setters, ataining influence by mobilising the elite”

“Australia’s pro-globalisation agenda was implemented primarily via major party bipartisanship, which was often tacit. The fallout from this economic policy consensus was that the broader party structures were hollowed out.”

As in, Hawke and Keating were Thatcher and Major. John Howard was Tony Blair… ok, the analogy just stretched to breaking point…

Melbourne’s Monthly Argument – a little less talk, a little more conversation please

March 11, 2011

Well, I went to a meeting last night all about solar energy. “How did it go?” you ask. Let’s just say that the sun didn’t shine out of anyone’s arse…

It was part of a let’s-try-and-reinvigorate-civil-society series (an admirable goal) called “the Monthly Argument.” Held in a pub (food, beer – preconditions for any rational discussion, IMHO), it SHOULD have been an engaging babble of thoughts and opinions and beginnings-of-friendships/adversarial relationships.

From the get-go though, it was obvious this was to be Bizzzzness as Usual, if not outright Ego-foddering.
There was a perfunctory welcome, no invitation to mingle/exchange names with the person sat next to you or behind you.
The first speaker – Matthew Wright – then launched into a 30 minute (yes, thirty goddam minutes) slide show about the wonders of solar energy, diverting briefly to slag off the Nuclear Option). All this is via the “Beyond Zero Emissions” (BZE) group.
I stayed awake, manfully, and learnt that a carbon price of between 20 and 70 dollars (per tonne) is merely going to push energy providers to gas, which is NOT the desired outcome.

The second guy – who used to be called Albert Langer but has changed his name to Arthur Dent (geddit?) – started out better, at least insofar as he actually tried to get a sense of what the audience knew, and who had read the report, or at least skimmed it.
His main point seemed to be that the BZE group were acting in bad faith, that they hadn’t refuted the rebuttals from various sources, and were being creative in their accounting.
He name-checked three critics – the bravenewclimate group (nuclear funded), Ted Trainer who is an “agrarian wind-downer” and the Ministry for Resources, Energy and Tourism (so joined, according to Matthew Wright, so the Tourism-heads wouldn’t be able to scupper anything the Energy-heads wanted done, as apparently has happened in the past).
He and Wright seemed happy to be wrangling about this or that statistic, this or that scaled up demonstration project. There was no end in sight. It was like listening to Vogon Poetry, only without the happy prospect of being thrown out of an airlock…
For me the nadir (at which point I invoked the law of two feet) was when Arthur Dent queried some BZE statistic, saying it wasn’t clear what what it referred to. Matthew Wright pounced like a starving leopard. He rattled off various permutations, all of which the BZE group had clearly considered. That’s fine, and having details at fingertips is as it should be. It was the smugness and self-satisfaction, and his (perhaps unconscious) look to the audienc for validation of his extreme cleverness which really left me feeling cold and old. Have I been guilty of this exact same dickishness? Hell yeah. Will I do it ever again? Sadly, probably yes. Would I deserve to be walked out on? Abso-fucking-lutely.

Look, there is a missing moral dimension in the debate. Australians, with their enormous per capita carbon footprints and their wealth built on the export of coal, should not be choosing the “cheapest” energy system, but the one that minimises their dumping of carbon into the atmosphere. They also should not be choosing any system that leaves the long-term legacy of nuclear waste on their descendants. But within the incredibly narrow boundaries of “cost-benefit analysis” that these two speakers seemed happy to debate, broader discussions like this considered illegitimate. But these are the sorts of issues that NEED to be raised, and that inspire people to be involved in movements. And we aren’t going to figure out to cope with the shitstorms that climate change will bring down upon us without vigorous social movements that grow, learn, organise and win.

I just don’t get this sort of event. First off, I don’t get the hosts of “the Monthly Argument.” They go to the time and effort and cost of hosting topical discussions – the next is the oddly worded “is it time for dictatorship to be made illegal”. Presumably they believe in the intrinsic and/or practical benefits of a robust and dynamic civil society/informed citizenry. Why go to the effort of staging events if they don’t include efforts to get strangers to talk to each other, and create weak links?
Second, I don’t get Matthew Wright. He seems to think that the shiny technology will speak for itself. He seems to think that by blamming graphs and charts and pictures at people they will become advocates for his technocratic plans. I wonder if he’s tried a control experiment – of listening and engaging with audiences like last nights, and then seeing if he gets more expressions of interest about becoming volunteers, speakers etc. That would be the scientifical way of going about it, wouldn’t it?
Only the third actor – Albert Langer/Arthur Dent do I understand, if not agree with. He obviously takes pleasure in being contrarian. That’s not automatically a bad thing. Intelligent contrarians force you to think, force you to make sure you’re not just seeing the world the way you want/need to see it. Of the three, at least his behaviour was consistent with his motives.

A word on the gender politics. We had three (white middle-class) men on the platform and women doing the sound, and reminding the men frequently to speak into microphone. What is this, 1966?

How it could have been done
A genuine warm welcome to all, and an invitation/encouragement to people to talk with someone they didn’t already know for a couple of minutes (as an “activation phenomenon”)
“Shows of hands” poll around who thinks what in the room at the outset about the issues at hand
A “hard ceiling” maximum of 20 minutes per punter, with “clarification” questions from the floor after each section Thirty minutes is Too Long.
Structured q and a, with short answers from the speakers and further “show of hands” about the questions from the floor.
“Shows of hands” poll at the end over who has changed their mind on hearing the evidence.
Finish on time with an emphatic invitation to people to stick around and discuss further (this may well have happened).

See also
Meetings from Above

Quarterly Essay – meh.

February 20, 2011

Now or Never: A Sustainable Future for Australia?
Tim Flannery
Quarterly Essay 31, 2008

The title would lead you to think that the essay would be about the current situation in Australia, the balance of forces, the allies and opponents of moving towards “sustainability”. You would be wrong. This is instead a broad brushstroke picture of the history of the planet, its carbon pollution problem, it’s oceans etc. And a few random thoughts about geo-thermal and eating meat thrown in at the end. Sorry, but I learnt very little from it. Glad I got it from the library rather than shelled out 20 bucks.

Hawke Centre lectures

January 29, 2011

Might have to listen to some of these

NBN, Coal and Carbon

January 20, 2011

Various clippings from the 18 January Australian Financial Review that speak for themselves. Am halfway through reading very interesting journal called “Policy”. Disagree with lots of its assumptions, but loads and loads of useful info, and well written…

NBN Co keeps news to itself by David Crane
The government company building the national broadband network has claimed an exemption from Freedom of information laws, setting itself apart from other big federal agencies just as parliament searches for new ways to scrutinise the project

Coal mines face big transport delays
Restoring transport links to Queensland coal mines is likely to take weeks, the industry has warned, extending losses from the floods beyond the $2.3bn estimated so far.

[meanwhile, BP has exploration permits to go a drilling in the South Australian bit of the Great Australian Bight]

Lack of a carbon price handicaps projects
The race for $1.5bn of federal government funding to create commercial wind farms is tightening, with Spain’s Acciona dropping out because of continuing uncertainty over carbon pricing.

Hilarious and accurate description of Australia

January 14, 2011

Australia is a very small chain of overpopulated Islands of dubious fertility surrounded by sand and salt water. Its prosperity comes entirely from its willingness to dig up its mineral resources and sell them overseas, principally to China which depends for its demand on the US as buyer of first, middle and last resort. And the US just voted to rush headlong into a major depression, if not actual financial collapse.
From “They NEVER give up”, November 4 2010 post at, by
Earl Mardle