Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

“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…


Tony Abbott, human weathervain

March 18, 2011

sorry, vane. Easy mistake to make…

This from the Age, Thurs 17 March is amusing/scary. It’s Katharine Murphy’s “Nuclear rethink over before it’s begun.”
Having ripped the piss of Julia Gillard and the governing Labor Party, she finishes with the following observation –

Tony Abbott’s stance on nuclear, and for that matter on climate, has been populism itself.
Having been a cabinet minister in the Howard government, which took a considered look at the nuclear issue and resolved that Australia needed to add nuclear to the energy mix, Abbott now says he has ”no policy” on nuclear power plants.
I wonder where the old policy went? Presumably the way of Howard’s proposed emissions trading scheme.
The Opposition Leader cannot seem to make up his mind whether he accepts the climate science or not. One minute he does, the next minute carbon dioxide is not a ”villain”. Abbott, according to a highly irritated Malcolm Turnbull, once confessed he was a ”weathervane” on climate change. Recent comments from the Opposition Leader indicate that self-criticism was about right.

The Liberals chucked their last leader (Turnbull), who would have wiped the floor with Labor, because he committed the mortal sin of having a consistent line on climate change (It’s happening and we had better do something about it).

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

Australian cultural divides

February 11, 2011

Andrew Bartlett nails it in a post called more shameless hate-mongering from some political ‘leaders’

Of course, the most obvious way to create the sort of division, separation and isolation which facilitates extremism is blatant, pig-ignorant hate-mongering from political ‘leaders’. However, some people clearly think chasing (and trying to expand) the bigot vote is more important than maximising community cohesion and the benefits to be gained from diversity.

The only so-called ‘cultural divide’ which is problematic in Australia is not between Muslims and others, it is between those who promote bigotry, ignorance, fear & hate versus those who promote Australian values of pluralism, democracy, cooperation and respect.

Hawke Centre lectures

January 29, 2011

Might have to listen to some of these

Kevin Rudd, a class act

December 26, 2010

I’d read enough to know that ex-PM KR wasn’t going to be my favourite cup of tea, but there’s a piece in the Australian Financial Review by a journo called Tony Walker that confirms my prejudices.  Walker really does give him a working over generally in a piece entitled “Rudd an accident waiting to happen”

In Jerusalem, on the occasion of a gala dinner for the Australia-Israel Leadership forum at the King David Hotel, [Rudd] waded into a bloody piece of history he might have left alone.

“From the 1930s, this hotel became the British field headquarters for what was then Palestine, until Menachem Begin undertook some interior redesign,” Rudd said to stifled guffaws from the audience. The so-called “interior design” referred to the blowing up of the King David – then headquarters for the British presence in Palestine – by the Jewish terrorist organization Irgun, led by Begin, who was later prime minister of Israel. About 92 people were killed in that moment of “interior redesign,” including British servicemen and women, Arabs and Jews.

This was a silly intervention, made worse by the fact that it appeared in a set-piece speech written partly by Rudd himself. He can’t blame a feckless speech writer.

War is the health of the Commonwealth

December 26, 2010

I’ve been reading a lot on Australian history and Federalism and all that.  One of the things that was quite useful indeed was from the “Yearbook Australia of 2008” by a chap called Colin Brett. He wrote about section 96 of the Australian Constitution, which was apparently an afterthought but has given the Commonwealth the whip hand when it comes to raising cash, and thereby dishing out the Law to the States.  This becomes a live issue because the Feds want a big mining tax and Queensland and Western Australia want to keep control of things ’emselves.  So, it was with smug recognition that I saw this below.

Australian Financial Review 23-8 December 2010

Treasurer has stick to keep states in line” by David Uren

Leading state tax expert Neil Warren said the commonwealth simply had to repeat the strategy it had used to seize income-taxing powers from the states in 1942, when it resolved to reduce grants to the states by one dollar for every dollar of income tax they raised.

“The states challenged that in the High Court in 1946 and lost. Section 96 of the Constitution says the commonwealth can do whatever it likes with its grants to the states at its discretion and there is nothing the states can do about it,” Professor Warren said.

The title is a reference, btw, to Randolph Bourne’s unfinished essay about the expansion of US State powers during World War 1 – “War is the Health of the State”

“Labor Party in accusation of cowardice” shocker

December 26, 2010

David Williamson, him of Don’s Party and The Club [insert bitchy comment from Humphrey McQueen in Temper Democratic here] was recently profiled in the Australian Financial Review, in advance of “Don Parties On”, which is on at Melbourne Theatre Company in January.

Here’s what he said on Labor “They tread gingerly around anything that might offend the outer suburban seats – the arts, gay marriage, any progressive social thing the Labor Party steers clears of these days.”


Carbon committee crumbles

December 26, 2010

The Australian Financial Review for 23rd December has a story called  “Carbon committee trades away its principles” by Sophie Morris

The principles that Labor, the Greens and two independent MPs have set for pricing carbon may have little real impact as even the committee that set them acknowledges there will probably be trade-offs.
The federal government’s multi-party climate committee met for the third time on Tuesday and finalised 11 principles.

Classic stitch-up and fudge then…

“In a further blow to transparency, the committee failed to keep its promise to publish by Wednesday paper that were presented to it on Tuesday, including on the options for carbon pricing mechanisms.”

Way to build trust. Not.

Whitlam and the witless

December 26, 2010

The harsh realities of government proved too great a hurdle for a Labor Party which had spent so many long and bitter years in opposition. Too many of the men who became ministers in that government were too old, too stupid and too embittered from their long walk in the wilderness.

Whitlam had a vision. He could dream the big dreams but he didn’t really know how to manage those around him. Within three years his government had descended into utter chaos. Kerr’s intervention is probably the main reason that the enormous number of Australians who worshipped Gough (let alone the man himself, who never suffered from a lack of self-esteem) have been able to erase completely from their memories the turmoil of ministers getting tied up with a spiv like Khemlani, a notoriously distracted treasurer, sackings, comings and goings, a faltering economy, an overnight 25 per cent cut in tariffs – just to name a few.

Page 74 of Quarterly Essay 9 (2003)

Graham Richardson (Correspondence in response to an article about the Australian Green Party’s prospects)