Pearls and Irritations is influential and widely read, with outstanding authors writing about important current events.There are no sponsors and subscriptions are free. Our editors and authors are independent, dedicated and generous.
Please encourage your friends to subscribe on the P & I website,
Emails are sent to subscribers daily (Monday to Saturday) or weekly (Saturday).
Please do not reply to these emai ls as we will not receive your response.
There is a manage your subscription link at the end of the email.
To comment on articles, use the link at the end of each post.
Authors should send their posts to the email address provided in the style guide.

Message to subscribers

A number of subscribers contacted us about losing their subscription to emails.  This was caused by some subscribers’ ISP providers rejecting emails sent by Mailpoet who manage our subscription list.  This problem has now been fixed, but as bulk emails are coming under increasing scrutiny in efforts to reduce spam across the net, we will occasionally have problems.  If you miss your daily/weekly emails, please re-subscribe on our website.  Thank you for your loyalty and your patience.  Susie and John.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

JOAN STAPLES: Incredulous disbelief at Gary Johns to head charities regulator.

The appointment of Gary Johns last week as director of the regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), has created incredulous disbelief and concern amongst NGO leaders.  For decades, Johns has been proactive in criticising the public advocacy of NGOs and even their very existence. Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Human Rights, Politics | 2 Comments

PAUL COLLINS. The Royal Commission—a mixed blessing

I’m not looking forward to the report of the Royal Commission. As a still-practising Catholic with a minor public profile, I am very ashamed of what the Commission has revealed about my church. But, despite its excellent work, I still think it has been a mixed blessing. Continue reading

Posted in Religion and Faith | Leave a comment

MUNGO MacCALLUM. Malcolm Turnbull ran dead on SSM

Malcolm Turnbull may not have wished to appear churlish last Thursday after the final vote on the same sex marriage bill, but he had no choice: that was his job.  So rather than following the parliament to embrace bipartisanship at the long and tortuous procedure, he had the obligatory swipe at Bill Shorten. Continue reading

Posted in Human Rights, Politics | 2 Comments

ANDREW FARRAN. An alternative perspective for a realistic defence policy for Australia

In defence terms how do we operate in a region where China will by 2030 have a GDP 25 times greater than ours and whose current military expenditure is already 25 times greater, when the US will be concentrating increasingly on issues of its own elsewhere?

Continue reading

Posted in Asia, International Affairs | 2 Comments

TREVOR COBBOLD. Gonski 2.0 is the best special deal private schools have ever had

The Prime Minister says that Gonski 2.0 is “fair, it’s needs-based and it’s consistent”. However, confidential data released by the Commonwealth Department of Education under FOI contradicts his claim. It shows a massive increase in over-funding of private schools by 2027 and continuing under-funding of public schools. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

ALLAN PATIENCE. Confecting a new China hysteria.

Australia’s diplomacy with its Asian neighbours and contenders has always been awkward. In a similar manner to Britain’s awkward partnering with Europe, so Australia is Asia’s awkward partner. In the past we could calm our fears by relying on great and powerful friends. Those days are over. Australia needs urgently to plan for an independent future while integrating itself knowledgeably and sensitively into its region. First and foremost, that means learning how to relate intelligently to China, the emerging regional hegemon. Continue reading

Posted in Asia, International Affairs | Leave a comment

GREG BAILEY. The Institute of Public Affairs, finance and the contradiction between individualism and corporatism.

Readers of Pearls and Irritations will be fully appreciative of the considerable influence exercised by the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) on the commentariat and political decision-making through its representatives in various parliaments and its presence in the media. And given its discernible influence or occasional lack of it – witness James Paterson’s aborted attempt to neuter the outcome of the marriage equality survey – on shaping political opinion, we might ask whether it too will be required to open the books relating to its financial sources as part of an investigation of foreign influence on Australian lobby groups. If it is good enough for Get Up and various environmental groups to be targeted in this way, why not the so-called libertarian groups which are all really public relations fronts for the corporatization of government and the private sector.  Continue reading

Posted in Politics | 1 Comment

MUNGO MacCALLUM. Malcolm Turnbull and Sam Dastyari.

There is an old science fiction story about a totalitarian state which regularly paraded dissidents before a packed arena bent on retribution and punishment.   Continue reading

Posted in Politics | 5 Comments

MICHAEL WEST. ATO data dump: naming and shaming the nation’s biggest tax cheats

The usual culprits are at play. Zero tax on $2.9 billion in revenue from Rupert Murdoch’s News Australia Holdings, not a zack from Wall Street’s cuff-linked freebooters Goldman Sachs for the third year on the trot, same deal for brewing giant SAB Miller and a slew of other foreign multinationals.They are the really powerful foreign agents of influence. Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

MARGARET BEAVIS. Will the Nobel Peace Prize change Australia’s double speak?

On December 10th the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to ICAN – the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons –  which was founded here in Melbourne in 2006. The Nobel Committee made the award “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”   Continue reading

Posted in Asia, International Affairs | 1 Comment

ROSS BURNS. The Art of the Pushover

There are perhaps no negotiations more fraught, or with higher stakes, than those surrounding Israel-Palestine. Has the self-professed “world’s greatest deal-maker” dropped the ball after making his first major play in the region? Continue reading

Posted in International Affairs, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

RICHARD BUTLER. Jerusalem: US Foreign Policy begins at home.

In fulfilling a campaign promise made to what he discerned to be an important part of his base, Christian evangelicals and Jewish Americans, that is, to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Trump has: trashed all prior iterations of US policy; taken a position opposed by every other nation, except Israel; and, sunk all existing frameworks for a resolution of the Israel/Palestine problem. He was motivated by domestic political concerns but also by the growing US alignment with Saudi Arabia in the current power struggle in the Middle East.       Continue reading

Posted in International Affairs | 4 Comments

BRIAN TOOHEY. The US doesn’t need Asia

The US doesn’t need to be the dominant power in Asia to maintain its own national security. No amount of wishful thinking can negate this key insight from Hugh White, a leading professor of strategic studies, about the government’s latest foreign policy White Paper. Continue reading

Posted in Asia, International Affairs, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

ROGER SCOTT. Queensland State Election: Winners and Losers

The last rites were a long time coming but can now be pronounced with confidence. On Monday night, the TJ Ryan Foundation held a post-election function advertised as ‘Who Won and Why’. Even then, over a fortnight after polling day, no-one was absolutely sure, despite Antony Green’s cautious prediction on election night. Counting was painfully slow because of the expanded engagement of minor parties and there were unpredicted preference flows. It took 13 days before the Leader of the Opposition conceded defeat. Continue reading

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | 2 Comments


Looming in the New Year is debate over the Government’s anti-lobbying legislation, dressed up as a move against foreign influence. Fairfax journalist Peter Martin warns that if the Coalition gets its way, when the next election comes around charities would be prevented doing anything that may be seen as attempting to influence how people vote.  (The Murdoch media, although it is foreign-owned, and the Minerals Council would still be fee to influence how people vote, because they are not charities.) ABC political reporter Anna Henderson comments on the government’s appointment of former Keating-era Labor MP Gary Johns as the new charities commissioner, “a staunch critic of charities that conduct public advocacy work”.

Peter Martin also warns us not to get too excited about promises of income tax cuts. His basic message is that the Commonwealth budget cannot afford a significant tax cut. Wage rises forecast in recent budgets, which would have allowed for cuts to compensate for bracket creep, haven’t occurred.  Perhaps another reason for fiscal tightness is that many corporations are paying no tax, in data presented by the ABC’s Emily Clark.

German pilots are refusing to deport asylum seekers – the Independent

Amazon’s track record may signal a change in Australian industrial relations – TheConversation

Turnbull’s department head says Tony Abbott damaged the public service.

Government’s social security cuts seem all toughness and no love – Ross Gittins

Lesley Russell describes how commercialisation and the greater dominance of private providers has led to lower standards in aged care.

Ross Gittins writes about voters rejecting the fruits of neoliberalism, privatisation and many other economic reforms.

In a time of deep political, social and economic uncertainty for everyone (except the ultra-rich), Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin provide some theoretical and practical guidance for the left. This Truthout interview is an effort to help reimagine a realistic social order in an age when the old order is dying but the new has yet to be born.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

GRAHAM HAND. No, Gladys, build it and they will not come

The NSW Government has announced it will knock down and rebuild Allianz Stadium at Moore Park at a cost of $700 million and the Olympic Stadium at Homebush, only 17 years old, at a cost of $1.6 billion. However, there is little ‘business case’ evidence that new stadiums would make a material difference to attendances at football games, although Sports Minister, Stuart Ayres argues, “With better quality facilities, more people will come and attend matches.”   Continue reading

Posted in Infrastructure, Politics | 3 Comments

PETER BROWNE. Historian of the present.Ken Inglis

When I visited Ken Inglis early last month, a few weeks before he died, I found him engrossed in the day’s edition of the Sunday Age. It was perhaps eighty years since he’d begun reading the papers as a schoolboy in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Preston, and during that time he’d become one of Australia’s most highly (and warmly) regarded historians. But his passion for the press — his fascination with the way it recorded “the history of the present”, as the historian Timothy Garton Ash calls it — was undiminished. And not just newspapers — on the table beside his bed were copies of the New Yorker, the magazine that helped shape his style and fuel his remarkable curiosity. Continue reading

Posted in Media, Tributes | 3 Comments

KATHARINE BETTS AND BOB BIRRELL. How do Australian voters’ view the level of immigration? TAPRI and Scanlon compared

There has been growing controversy about Australia’s level of overseas immigration. In the year to March 2017 Australia’s population is estimated to have grown by a massive 389,100, some 231,000, or 60 per cent of which was due to net overseas migration. For the last few years around two thirds of the net growth in migrants have been locating in Sydney and Melbourne. Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Human Rights, Refugees, Immigration | 3 Comments

TIM WOODRUFF. A proposal for health-promoting welfare reform: could it help six million Australians?

On an almost weekly basis now I’m asked as a medical specialist to write a letter to help a patient be accepted by Centrelink as unable to work. My letter and that of the patient’s general practitioner are then assessed by staff with limited or no medical training. Continue reading

Posted in Health | 1 Comment

KIERAN TAPSELL. The Royal Commission Report on the Melbourne Archdiocese

On 5 December 2017, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released a redacted version of its Report of Case Study No. 35: the Archdiocese of Melbourne. It strongly criticized Church personnel for failure to protect children under its care. It blamed both the culture of secrecy and inadequate structures for the failure, and described those failures a number of times as “appalling.” Continue reading

Posted in Human Rights, Religion and Faith | 2 Comments

LARRY JAGAN. Suu Kyi should heed Pope’s suggestion on UN role

Pope Francis’ visit to Myanmar last week was an overwhelming success and may provide the much needed spark to ignite the government’s peace process and its efforts to bring reconciliation to the country’s violence-torn western region of Rakhine. The Pope’s message was loud and clear: the only way forward for Myanmar was “love and peace”, the title used for his visit. Continue reading

Posted in Asia, International Affairs, Religion and Faith, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

FRAN BAUM. Beyond the social determinants: a manifesto for wellbeing

Last week the Australian Health Policy Collaboration launched their Health Tracker by socioeconomic status, which is a report card on the health of adult Australians  in relation to chronic diseases, risk factors and rates of death, by quintiles of disadvantage. Continue reading

Posted in Health | Leave a comment

ALISON BROINOWSKI. Truth is not an excuse.

If ASIO bugged Mr Huang’s phone, and sat on what it knew, the political timing of the latest leak against Dastyari could not have been more deliberate. Continue reading

Posted in Asia, Defence/Security | 2 Comments

ALI KAZAK. Why should Israel’s lobby have different standards?

The government’s plans to address foreign influence in Australian life provide an opportunity for the first time to define the level of Israeli activity designed to influence the making of our foreign policy. George Brandis didn’t plan this. But it is likely to be an outcome.   Continue reading

Posted in International Affairs, Politics | 6 Comments

MICHAEL McKINLEY. Australia and the wars of the alliance: fragments for a coronial inquiry – Part 4: The finding: a disordered national mindset and body politic

Australia’s alliance wars – their respective causes, conduct, and consequences – are overdetermined by the politics and strategies of the United States. In general, though they consist of few battlefield successes, the overall record is one of failed campaigns informed by repeatedly failed – indeed, ‘dead’ – ideas that for various reasons maintain their currency.  The purpose of this post is to conclude a limited coronial inquiry on the basis of the three previous posts – that is, to establish the mind-set existing up to the time the death occurred.  Continue reading

Posted in Defence/Security, International Affairs | Leave a comment

TIM COSTELLO. A striking lack of ambition.

The Turnbull Government’s white paper on Australian foreign policy has raised as many questions as it has provided answers. Much comment has focused on its failure to resolve, or even point to a resolution of, the tension between Australia’s unwavering adherence to US hegemony and the undeniable rise of China as a global and regional power. Continue reading

Posted in International Affairs | 2 Comments

ALLAN PATIENCE. It’s time for a citizens’ constitutional convention.

Unsurprisingly, very few Australians have any interest in their Constitution. It was designed in the closing stages of the 19th century by mostly older white men (no women were involved) for a “horse and buggy” era. It is an awfully dull document, originally an Act of the British parliament, intended to persuade a gaggle of recalcitrant colonies to come together into a federal compact. In contemporary Australia there is no serious educating of citizens about the extent of federal powers, the complexities of federal-state relations, whether the Constitution is truly protective of human rights, and just how adaptive it is to the challenges of the contemporary world. Continue reading

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

TONY SMITH. A hope for the future?

There is plenty to criticise in the current state of Australian politics. It is important that expert commentators continue to point out the shortcomings of the system and the poor quality of those attracted to politics. There are however, occasional reasons for optimism and the inaugural speech of the new Greens Senator for Western Australia is certainly one worth noting. Continue reading

Posted in Politics | 1 Comment

PETER GOSS. How to achieve excellence in Australian schools: a story from the classroom

A new Gonski review is examining how to achieve educational excellence for Australia’s 3.8 million school students. The success of the review will ultimately depend on whether its recommendations lead to better practice in the classroom. And the best way for policy makers to improve classroom practice is to develop a more adaptive education system. Continue reading

Posted in Education | Leave a comment

ROSS GWYTHER. A sledgehammer for a walnut ?

Unbeknown to most Australians, a court case has been underway in Alice Springs over the past few months with implications far and wide.  Employing a sixty year old law drafted during the height of the anti-communist 1950s in Australia, the Federal Government has called for seven years jail for each member of a small group of people known as the Pine Gap Peace Pilgrims, whose only offence was singing and praying in the grounds of Pine Gap in 2016. Continue reading

Posted in Human Rights, Politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment