Apr 6, 2019

A regular collection of links to writings and broadcasts in other media

ABC’s Saturday Extra with Geraldine Doogue  (from 0730 to 0900 or on their website  in case you miss it).

Geraldine talks with Mohamed Beavogui, Director-General of African Risk Capacity on how they’re trying to mitigate the risks of natural disasters in Africa;

David Thodey, former CEO of Telstra and Chair of CSIRO, is in charge of the review of the public service. He talks about their interim report;

Head of Australian intelligence Nick Warner discusses how intelligence security has changed and what some of the major risk areas are;

It’s 25 years since the Rwanda genocide in which the media played a vital role in inciting violence. First there is an interview with Stephen Raff, former co-ordinator of prosecutions, international criminal tribunal for Rwanda and then with Arthur Asiimwe, Director-General of the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency.

Other commentary

The budget and the budget reply – there really is a difference

As usual, in the week of the budget the media is overloaded with detail of “what’s in it for me” and news about appropriations (or more likely vague promises) for local projects. But what has emerged is a clear difference in economic policy between the Coalition and Labor.

In fact the Coalition doesn’t really have an economic policy. What they call an “economic policy” is really an obsession with the government’s fiscal balance, while they largely ignore issues to do with economic structure.

The Australia Institute has produced what is perhaps the most comprehensive analysis of the government’s budget proposals. Matt Grundnoff shows how the government’s tax changes would flow disproportionately to the well-off; David Richardson takes us through the accounting tricks behind the fiscal figures; Anna Chang analyses the absurdity of the government’s arbitrary revenue cap.  Others dissect specific policies including funding for the ABC, foreign aid, education and energy (that is, if they have an energy policy).

With a focus on distributional issues in the budget, writing in The Conversation Robert Taunton, Hai Anh La and Jinjing Li, of the University of Canberra, show that while in the short term the Coalition’s proposals would give tax breaks to younger taxpayers with moderate incomes (subsequently matched by Labor), over the medium term the benefits would flow to the well-off, and that their budget proposals would widen the gap between rich and poor.

Labor’s economic policy as outlined in Shorten’s budget reply speech is on a different tack to the Coalition’s. Much media attention has focussed on Labor’s plans to fund cancer diagnosis and treatment. It’s a worthwhile focus on a high-cost aspect of our health care, but it’s an overstatement to call it “the most important investment in Medicare since Bob Hawke created it”. The substance of Labor’s economic policy is a rejection of the neoliberal idea of what is known as “supply side” economics, or more accurately as “trickle-down” economics. Labor, unlike the Coalition, is committed to progressive income taxation and to action on climate change that goes beyond tokenism. Unlike the Coalition, Labor sees high-cost housing as a problem for the young rather than as a benefit for speculators. Unlike the Coalition, Labor recognises the public sector as an important and productive part of the Australian economy.

If we have any doubt about the capacity of the well-off to pull their weight by paying taxes, writing in The Guardian  Greg Jericho  draws on the latest taxation statistics and points out that in 2016-17 “the top 10% of taxpayers paid their lowest share of tax since 2005-06 and that the number of millionaires avoiding tax continues to rise”.

Commenting on the politics of the Coalition’s budget, Laura Tingle says it “seems to reflect a government that has collapsed, exhausted, in on itself”. She also points out that, because of the fall in consumer spending, there will be less GST collected to distribute to the states. (State governments will also be suffering a hit to their revenue base as the housing market comes off the boil.)

Perhaps the last word on the budget is by The Shovel: Low-income Australians to receive one-off lump of coal, to help offset threat of renewables.

Make-believe spending and real waste

The ultimate manifestation of the moral void of postmodernism is the notion that “ultimately there is no reality”. If there is to be a prize for postmodernism in action, Chris Crewther, the Liberal Member for Dunkley on the Mornington Peninsula, must be a front runner. The ABC’s Elise Scott reports that in several social media posts in March he announced grants of between $7 500 and $20 000 under the Community Environment Program. His posts even included videos of Environment Minister Melissa Price.

The only trouble is that the program does not start until next financial year: in fact the guidelines are yet to be written. In a “clarification” Minister Price has had to correct her hyper-imaginative colleague.

There was nothing unreal, however, about Scott Morrison’s announcement, in the wake of passage of the “Medevac” bill, that the Government intended to spend $1.4 billion on re-opening the Christmas Island detention centre. In the less prominent pages of the budget is the announcement that the centre will be closed in July, after $180 million has been spent on security and other services at the site. Writing in The Guardian former Greens Senator Scott Ludlam says  we paid $180m for Scott Morrison to have a press conference on Christmas Island.  Also writing in The Guardian Helen Davidson points out that on Christmas Island more than 150 staff are guarding zero detainees.

While on the topic of grants and handouts, Cathy McGowan, retiring independent MP for Indi, in an ABC Breakfast Show interview with Fran Kelly, modestly describes her success as an independent in getting things done for her electorate, and her role in pushing the agenda on a national integrity commission. She also describes the government’s ill-mannered behaviour when she was deliberately shut out of a public presentation ceremony announcing a government grant from the Building Better Regions fund in her electorate – a ceremony attended by the National Party candidate for her seat. McGowan sees the issue not in terms of a personal slight, but as an offence to the whole electorate, and as symbolic of the contempt which the Coalition, particularly the National Party, shows to rural communities. (It is also symbolic of the disrespect Executive Government shows to Parliament. It is Parliament, not Executive Government, that authorises appropriations under the Building Better Regions Fund.)

Breaking news: Economists sometimes get it wrong

Anyone who has endured undergraduate classes in economics, or has witnessed the failures of neoliberalism, will realise that much of economic theory and therefore public policy is based on simplified models, which fail to incorporate the interactive complexity of real-world systems. In what could pass as a collective confession by the discipline, The Economist has an article Simple interactions can have unpredictable consequences.  It’s a report of a forum on “economics after neoliberalism”, describing more complex and realistic models that show, for example, “how  seemingly stable systems can flip from one state to an entirely different one: from stasis to industrialisation, say, or from placid financial markets to crisis.” Engineers and others who deal with the real world will be wondering why it has taken so long for economists to realise this.

While we’re on the subject of simplification

Rodney Tiffen of the University of Sydney has a Conversation  article about the rise and fall of traditional bad-tempered tabloid newspapers. They have always brought a simplified and stereotyped presentation of events, and have always been somewhat to the right of centre. They have changed, however. Their editorial outlook used to be one of “smug conservatism” and a certain irreverence, but that has given way to the outrage of right-wing culture warriors. They are suffering not only from the general decline of print media, but also from a detachment from their own readers. Politically “their coverage is full of sound and fury, but signifying almost nothing of electoral relevance.”

Simplifying democracy

Budget week is an ideal time for a government to put out a report which it hopes will get little attention, such as the report of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories Telling Australia’s Story —and why it’s important.  Much of the report is about administrative matters and the need for coordination between Canberra’s cultural institutions. But there is also a recommendation that the Museum of Australian Democracy should be “appropriately focused on its core responsibilities”. This is supported by a finding:

The Committee has concerns about the disconnect between MoAD’s fundamental strategic role, and the direction of some of its engagement with the public. MoAD’s scope has crept from its core focus and role. Its current and emerging focus on critical debates and discourse about democracy is best left to academic, think tank or media analysis.

Is it that the authors of the report see only one model of democracy – the model that has served conservative powers so well over our 118 year history as a federation? As reported by Steve Evans  in the Canberra Times, museum director Daryl Karp diplomatically said “I was quite surprised by some of the things they said about us. It was very, very strange.”

Booze myths

We may have learned at school that humans, in the Neolithic transition 12 000 years ago, cultivated cereal crops in order to produce food (and ultimately to provide an electoral base for the National Party).  But in The Atlantic  is an excerpt  from the forthcoming work by David Courtwright The Age of Addiction: How Bad Habits Became Big Business. It turns out that our ancestors’ priority was beer, not bread.

We probably carry around political stereotypes about those who drink chardonnay and café latte.  Research by the Australia Institute finds that latte drinkers vote Liberal/National more than any other party. James Ashby may have us believe that One Nation makes its policies in a haze of beer and whisky inebriation on trips to Washington, but the survey reveals that One Nation voters are on a par with Green voters on their chardonnay consumption.


Saturday’s Good Reading and Listeningis compiled by Ian McAuley

Watch out tomorrow, Sunday, for Peter Sainsbury’s Sunday environment round up


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