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LINDA JAKOBSON. Beware the China alarmists out there


The quandary over what to do about People’s Republic of China government influence in Australia has burst on to the political scene. For the past months there has been ongoing media commentary about the consequences of political donations by businessmen with Chinese connections; and a piece in The Australian Financial Review claimed that hundreds, if not thousands, of Chinese citizens in Australia are gathering information for Chinese authorities.

These are contentious issues, ones that cause unease within the government, among public servants and citizens at large. Continue reading

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STEPHEN LEEDER. Review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule.


The Medicare Benefits Schedule, or MBS, is the basis for Medicare payments made for medical care in the community. It runs to over 900 pages and contains 5,700 items. Well over $2Ob pass through its ledger each year. It includes long and short clinical consultations and surgical procedures ($17b), pathology tests ($2.65b) and x-ray and other imaging ($3.2b) that form the bulk of out-of-hospital care, mostly but not entirely ($1b not) provided by doctors. Continue reading

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MUNGO MacCALLUM. World’s best practice – the Gulags on Manus and Nauru.


At a sparsely attended audience well past prime time at the United Nations General Assembly, Malcolm Turnbull used his pulpit to proclaim that Australia’s border security was the world’s best.

And it is – up to a point. Not since the demolition of the Berlin Wall has there been such ruthless sealing of our frontiers. The boats may not have stopped entirely, but they have been very effectively repelled from our shores.

We have, as even Peter Dutton, Turnbull’s hanger on in New York, admitted, something of a natural boundary; the country is, as our national anthem notes, girt by sea. No other major nation on earth has such an advantage. Continue reading

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ALISON BROINOWSKI. Your laptop is watching you: ‘Snowden’ the movie.


Before Snowden comes on, there’s a short film of Oliver Stone, the director, warning cinema audiences that they can be surveilled, so please turn off their devices. Even as a humourless joke for geeks, it sets the sombre tone of the movie to follow. This is a feature version of Linda Poitras’ Citizenfour (2014), that adds political and personal narratives to the story of the young intelligence employee who exposed America’s mass surveillance of the world’s communications. Continue reading

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RICHARD WOOLCOTT. Australia’s Shambolic Policy on Syria – Up Shi’ite Creek Without a Paddle.


We must get out of Syria.

The war in Syria is extraordinarily complex. It really began in 2011 with the failures of the so-called Arab Spring.

Now the core conflict is between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the rebel groups which oppose him. Both sides have split into several militias, which have attracted foreign fighters, including a number of Australians. Continue reading

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CHRIS BONNOR. Institutionalised farce: funding Australia’s schools.


The nation’s education ministers have just had a day together to sort out school funding. There was considerable posturing but little agreement. And they managed to sidestep real problems and urgent solutions. They do have some awareness of the institutionalised inequality created, in part, by school funding – but no real will to fix it.

In a new report Bernie Shepherd and I outline the problem, starting with the contrasts between the schools in Albury and Wodonga, two of our most prominent border towns. One school on the NSW side is Albury Public School. Across the Murray is Wodonga Primary School with students who are less advantaged. After all the talk about equity you’d expect the strugglers at Wodonga to be better supported. Quite the opposite: while NSW annually provides over $8000 for each of the students at Albury Public, those in the Victorian school make do with $2000 less. Continue reading

Posted in Education, Politics | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

GREG DODDS. Australian sacrifice in Vietnam, it’s time to rethink the way we memorialise

Mines are terrible weapons. They can still blow the leg off an innocent trespasser years after a conflict has ended. Dan Tehan, the Minister for Veterans Affairs demonstrated that, figuratively speaking, last month when he snarled at the Vietnamese that their cancelling the 50th anniversary service for the battle of Long Tan was “no way to treat mates”.

The Vietnamese were ruthless, competent and game enemies but we’re now all mates? Continue reading

Posted in ANZAC, Defence/Security | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

LUKE FRASER. Roads: Minister Fletcher will need a good nose for bullshit to deliver genuine reform a la Paul Keating.


Both the Grattan Institute [i] and Ross Gittins [ii] have lauded Minister for Urban Infrastructure Paul Fletcher for his hard talk on road reform. Gittins compared him to Paul Keating.

Fletcher is setting out with a reformer’s zeal. Like Keating, he shows a willingness to level with the public about big problems and the costs of inaction.

It would be a pity if poor advice sees Fletcher telling us about the wrong problem. If he is to approach comparison with Keating, he must be alert to policy furphies. Continue reading

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DANI RODRIK. Put globalisation to work for democracies.

A repost from the New York Times, Sunday Review, 17 September 2016.

A Chinese student once described his country’s globalization strategy to me. China, he said, opened a window to the world economy, but placed a screen on it. The country got the fresh air it needed — nearly 700 million people have been lifted from extreme poverty since the early 1980s — but kept mosquitoes out. Continue reading

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IAN McAULEY. The Mounting Case For A Royal Commission Into Banks And Insurance Companies

An overwhelming majority of Australians support a Royal Commission into the finance sector. Ian McAuley explains why.

We’re paying too much for a bloated financial service sector.A prominent example is Australia’s largest health insurer, Medibank Private, which in the last financial year absorbed just over a billion dollars of contributors’ premiums in management overheads and profits – $511 million as profit and $516 million as management expenses. Spread over its 1.9 million policies that’s $540 per policy holder.

Using a combination of subsidies and penalties (most notably the Medicare Levy Surcharge) successive governments have bludgeoned Australians into holding private health insurance, even though it has proven to be a woefully ineffective and high-cost mechanism of doing what Medicare can do so much better.

Out of every dollar that contributors spend on private health insurers, only 83 cents comes back as claims paid. By comparison, of every dollar that passes through Medicare and the Australian Tax Office, 95 cents is spent on health services.

It’s no wonder people are annoyed with private health insurers: in a recent survey 78 per cent of respondents agreed with the proposition that “private health insurers put profits before patients”. And it’s no wonder that the government’s stealthy moves to displace Medicare with private insurance met with so much resistance in the recent election.

When it comes to general insurance – the insurance that covers cars, houses and business assets – the industry’s performance is even worse. Health insurers, it turns out, are the leanest among a well-fattened lot. Continue reading

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