Saturday’s good reading and listening for the weekend

Feb 6, 2021

What people in other forums are saying about public policy


The Australian economy – limping to recovery

The RBA’s analysis – quiet warnings about economic headwinds

The Reserve Bank is independent of executive government and does not have to toe the party line. But at this stage of an economic recovery, its message must be one of optimism, because revelations of risk can spook financial markets.

At his Press Club address on Wednesday, Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe performed in line with that job description. His opposition to dropping the unemployment benefit back to $40 a day has commanded media attention, but this was in response to a question, rather than part of his carefully drafted speech.

That speech was upbeat but a careful read finds a few warnings.

He expressed relief (perhaps even surprise) that the economic downturn had been less severe than expected. We have successfully contained the virus, the government has given the economy a timely fiscal boost, and we have found innovative ways to cope with necessary Covid-19 restrictions. But there is still a lot of under-used capacity in the economy.

His prognosis is for a slow recovery in GDP growth: a fall in population growth will hold that back, but in per-capita terms our recovery will be comparatively fast.

He says that high housing prices have “positive wealth effects”. That’s a curious statement for a usually cautious central bank executive. He’s right about wealth effects: rising house prices create a feeling of rising wealth, leading many people to spend more and to borrow more. But the wealth effect is hardly “positive”; Australians are already carrying a high level of housing debt, and because of monetary and fiscal incentives to build housing and low population growth, supply could easily overtake demand, leading to a downturn in house prices. Even a small oversupply can trigger a very rapid fall in house prices.

Because housing is so unaffordable for first home buyers, surely responsible public policy should be directed to a managed fall in house prices, rather than endorsement of a speculative bubble.

He notes that household saving has risen strongly – perhaps because there have been fewer opportunities to spend, or perhaps because people are cautious about an uncertain future.

This is sensitive territory, because households with high savings have more financial autonomy than those carrying heavy debts. Workers with a few dollars in the bank can be confident to leave a bad employer and seek a new job, and they can pay cash for products rather than incurring credit card and similar consumer debt. This contrasts with the government’s apparent desire to see a workforce subservient to employers, and to see the finance sector prosper from indebted households.

Lowe concludes with a hope that businesses takes advantage of low interest rates to invest. He doesn’t mention the government’s failure to settle on a realistic energy policy as an impediment to business investment, and he does not mention the possibility of the government directing its fiscal outlays towards productivity-improving investment in education and infrastructure rather than to tax cuts for the wealthy.


Australian politics

A chronicle of corruption

Remember the sports rorts? The $444 million grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation given without tender? The contract to pay a security company $1400 per asylum-seeker per day?

Perhaps we don’t remember them, because seven years of Coalition government have inured us to misuse of public funds, and the Murdoch media certainly isn’t going to expose Coalition rorts and corruption.

Ever since Howard won office in 1996 the message from the Liberal Party has been that the public sector does nothing of use, and the Liberal Party has supported that proposition by wasting public money – supporting its mates along the way with underpriced water entitlements and overpriced defence contracts to name two of many favours. Starving the Australian National Audit Office of funds, and making big open-ended budgetary appropriations under the cover “nfp” (not for publication) have been integral aspects of the Coalition’s Putinisation of public finance.

In The Monthly Nick Feik has pulled together some of the Coalition’s many cases of financial maladministration – The scandals he walks past: In Morrison’s government, a lack of accountability has become systemic. It’s a sickening exposure of the lack of moral principles guiding Morrison and his ministers in the way they treat public funds.

(Note that The Monthly, as with other Schwartz media, has generous limited paywall-free access, but we don’t want to see those avenues over-exploited. All the group’s publications – The Saturday Paper, Quarterly Essay, Australian Foreign Affairs and The Monthly – are reasonably priced. Remember that the free press is the press you pay for.)

Who’s buying political favours

In its briefing paper Money in politics: a flood of political donations, the Centre for Public integrity describes the Commonwealth Government’s political finance laws as “the weakest in the country”. Every state and territory government requires disclosure of political donations during elections within seven or 21 days, while the Commonwealth requires only an annual return each October, to be disclosed in February of the following year. (This means, if the Morrison Government were to call an election in November, we would not know until February 2023 who has contributed to political parties.) The Commonwealth has a disclosure threshold of $14,300 – much higher than the states, which generally have thresholds around $1,000. And while all states have donation or expenditure caps, the Centre points out that over the past 10 years at the federal level there have been at least 105 donations to parties of $1 million or more.

The Centre’s views align with the those of former electoral commissioner Ed Killesteyn, who describes the Commonwealth scheme as “one of the worst in the world”.

It recommends caps on donations and electoral expenditure, stricter definition of what constitutes a “donation”, and timely disclosure of donations.

This report comes in the same week that the Centre has published its analysis of political donations from the property and construction industry. Over the 20 years to 2019, the industry has given at least $54 million to political parties, peaking at $6 million in 2019, the last election year. At least two-thirds of those donations have been directed to the Liberal Party. (We might recall that in the 2019 election the Morrison Government ran a hysterical campaign against Labor’s proposal to rein in tax incentives favouring property speculation.)

Those who read the Centre’s briefing paper carefully will find instances where there are some arithmetical errors and a lack of clarity about methodology, but we have checked their figures against official data from the Australian Election Commission: these errors and ambiguities do not detract from the Centre’s message.

Look to Germany

Australian progressives have often held up the Nordic countries as models for emulation. Their systems of embedded democratic socialism have much to offer.

But we should not overlook Germany, not only for its successful economic model but also for its postwar political model, suggests John Kampfner on Saturday ExtraWhy Germans do it better. While there has been a trend towards populist authoritarianism in most democracies, Germany has maintained a civilised way of handling political differences.

Kampfner, author of Why Germans do it better, attributes Germany’s success in large part to its postwar political settlement, which distributed power and protected against winner-take-all election outcomes. The underlying factor has been the way it has dealt with its own terrible history. (22 minutes)

Remember the Holocaust

On January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Member for Kooyong Josh Frydenberg and member for Macnamara Josh Burns issued a joint statement: Learning from a tragic past to build a better future.  Both Frydenberg and Burns had families killed in the Holocaust: two of Frydenberg’s great-grandparents were murdered at Auschwitz.

Holocaust Memorial, Berlin

These aren’t events from the past or from other countries. A gathering of Nazi yobs in the Grampians last week reminds us that anti-liberal and racist extremism is not just a US or Eastern European phenomenon. Far-right terrorism, be it from ISIS, the Proud Boys, or from lone individuals such as the Christchurch murderer is a threat to our country.

It’s unfortunate that many members of Frydenberg’s own party have at times accommodated anti-liberal political extremists in preference deals and have been reluctant to condemn their vile creeds, apart from Islam-based far-right movements. Canada has declared the Proud Boys to be a terrorist group, but the Coalition seems to be reluctant to do the same here.


Public policy – how to make sausages and laws

By their acts will you know them

“Often, public ministerial statements are designed to mislead. But ministerial actions usually provide a reliable guide to the real intentions and the real policies of governments. Watch what they do – watch the budgets, watch whom they meet, watch how they spend their time.”

That’s a quote from Peter McCawley’s contribution to The Strategist: How the Australian public service really works: policy.

Ministerial press releases, speeches, and talking points are carefully prepared by public servants talented in sophistry and casuistry – the arts of misleading without formally “lying”. These statements provide material for our mainstream media.

That’s why bodies such as the Australia Institute, Per Capita, The Centre for Policy Development, The Conversation – just to name a few – are so important, because they analyse policy in terms of what governments do, not what they claim to do. So too are bodies such as the Bureau of Statistics and the National Audit Office important, because they are at arm’s length from the day-to-day pressure from ministers to provide partisan support to the government – a pressure intensified by the Howard Government’s amendment to the Public Service Act to require public servants to be “responsive” to executive government.

While McCawley’s piece is mainly about political spin, on Saturday Extra Geraldine Doogue interviews Percy Allan of newDemocracy about the processes by which governments make decisions: Why policy needs process. Allan describes how newDemocracy pulled together a group from Per Capita and the Institute of Public Affairs – a means of neutralising political disagreement – to analyse the processes by which the Commonwealth has made major decisions, against 10 criteria. Is the proposal in response to a clearly defined need; have genuine alternatives been considered; have affected stakeholders been consulted? While the ideal process involves the traditional green paper – white paper sequence, in reality decisions are often rammed through Parliament.

As Bismarck said Je weniger die Leute davon wissen, wie Würste und Gesetze gemacht werden, desto besser schlafen sie nachts – the less that people know how sausages and laws are made, the better do they sleep at night. We might sleep even better if we could be assured that our governments have a proper process of policy development.

In praise of professionalism

Nick Gruen grapples with the way scientific knowledge shapes public policy: Science, objectivity and the separation of knowing and doing, published on Club Troppo.

There is no one “scientific method”, and although scientists strive for objectivity it is an elusive ideal: humans get in the way. Administrative systems that separate the “knowing” and “doing” functions – for example the collection and analysis of data in a statistical agency separated from policy development in a treasury department – are bound by limitations of this separation. Such separation is based on the quest for objectivity, but it comes with an opportunity cost.

Gruen sees reconciliation of these offsetting needs in professional codes that integrate the application of knowledge with trained judgment – a protection from the curse of managerialism.


USA

Why 74 million Americans voted for Trump

America is divided politically: 74 million Trump voters see Democrat voters as privileged, out-of-touch, socialist, anti-American, who care more for the interests of homosexuals and endangered species than for hard-working “white” men; 81 million Biden voters see Republican voters as gun-toting, racist, uneducated rednecks who believe conspiracy theories and couldn’t care less about the state of the environment and who are manipulated to vote against their own class interests.

OK – those are extreme generalisations, but the American polity has been heading in that direction. Arlie Hochschild, Professor of Sociology at University of California, Berkeley, went to live among and befriend people of southern Louisiana, a Tea-Party and Trump stronghold, telling the story of her five years in that region in her 2016 book  Strangers in their own land: anger and mourning on the American right. Unsurprisingly, she reveals that the left’s stereotype is somewhat simplified, but she grapples with the paradoxes in their political views: why are they so against government when they’re so dependent on government for support and when private corporations re treating them so badly?

Journalist Terrence McNally has an hour-long interview with Hochschild, recorded on 20 January, in which she narrates what the political world looks like from the perspective of the people of that region – people who feel left behind in the queue to enjoy the fruits of the American Dream, while others, usually encouraged by government policy, have jumped the queue. The perception does not align with the facts, but it is deeply and sincerely held.

She also describes how Trump appears to many people as a Christ-like saviour who has sacrificed his own interests for those he loves, and is now suffering persecution on Capitol Hill – America’s Calvary.

A warning to Republicans: the enemy is within

Matthew Cooke has a wake-up call for Republicans – a nine-minute video. They have fallen in behind a narcissistic personality cult; they have lost touch with reality; their platform is distorted by a clinical paranoia.

For the former Republican Party, who call themselves patriots: this is your wake-up call. Your nightmare of a brainwashed, radical, anti-American movement trying to destroy the country – was you. (9 minutes)

Only hedge-fund traders have a right to destabilise financial markets

If you had some spare cash at the end of last year you could have bought shares in the US games retailer GameStock when it was trading at around $US15. A modest $10,000 invested then could have seen you clean up with a $300,000 profit if you had sold in January. If you had bought GameStock at around $3 last April, you could have walked away with $1 million from your $10,000 outlay.

What happened to drive this rise? Did GameStock gain exclusive rights to the blockbuster game of the century? Was there a takeover offer?

Neither happened, and in fact the company, as a bricks and mortar retail outfit, has been going through a hard time during the pandemic, and hedge-fund speculators had been shorting it, in the expectation of making a neat profit.

They were thwarted, however, by heaps of small players, some wanting to prop up a traditional retailer with a street presence, and some wanting to teach the fund managers a lesson. Many of the latter group didn’t mind blowing $1000 or so. They probably saw it as a better way to strike against capitalism’s excesses than donating $1000 to a nominally left-wing political party. And some may have cashed out in the few days when the price soared. (Unfortunately some naïve investors who traded on momentum would have learned a costly lesson.)

The Guardian’s Miles Brignall explains how this all worked – How GameStop traders fired the first shots in millennials’ war on Wall Street – and the hypocrisy of the hedge fund traders who complain about others doing what they have been doing for years – destabilising the market away from anything resembling prices that relate to the value of firms’ inherent strengths. Hedge fund traders have been motivated by the opportunity to profit at others’ expense, often sending otherwise viable firms to the wall, while those who pushed up the share price were doing it for the public purpose.

The New York Times has an article going into a little more detail: “Dumb Money” Is on GameStop, and it’s beating Wall Street at its own game.

For those who would like a quick tutorial in short trading, on the ABC’s 730 Report Leigh Sales has a five-minute interview with New York Times columnist Andrew Sorkin. What happened with GameStop and why is Wall Street so upset? Sorkin explains how the situation has played out, exposing “a system in desperate need of reform, and [which] has needed reform for a very long time”.

Hedge fund traders aren’t the only hypocrites in the business. Like the sports bet companies who bar successful gamblers, the online trading platform Robinhood decided to block retail investors from buying GameStock.

These small traders weren’t trying to bring capitalism down: rather they were trying to make capitalism work properly by exposing the insanity of poorly regulated financial markets. To quote Keynes “When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done”.


Democracy’s struggles

Navalny – an irritant for Czar Putin

Any notion that Alexei Navalny was an innocent who walked into a trap, or who naively over-estimated his own influence, has been dispelled by the emergence of thousands of people on the streets of Russian cities.

By jailing Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin may turn him into an even more potent opposition symbol, writes William Partlett of the University of Melbourne. His article in The Conversation points out that the Kremlin’s response is to paint him as a Western stooge, but he believes Putin will find Navalny to be an increasingly effective irritant. His piece has a link to the 110-minute video of Putin’s Palace (which some may draw on for inspiration in home decorating).

On Late Night Live Phillip Adams interviews Russia student and former diplomat Kyle Wilson on dissent in Russia. He sees Navalny’s return and arrest as a pivotal moment in Russian history. “Putin has reason to fear this man,” Wilson says. If Putin is as popular as he claims to be, why does he need to be protected by a national guard of 350,000?

Putin may enjoy support from those who remember the Soviet days and the turmoil that followed the USSR’s collapse, but younger Russians have a different experience, and are fed up with corruption and inequality. In terms of the distribution of wealth Russia has now become the most unequal country in the world, he points out. As Russians who have studied their country’s history know, a combination of extreme inequality and economic stagnation has consequences: someone will eventually kick in the rotten door. (19 minutes)

Myanmar – the military never relinquished control

We may be puzzled by the audacity of Myanmar’s military seizing control so soon after Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy’s decisive election victory in November. The election was not entirely above board: most Rohingya people had been effectively disenfranchised for example, but with 82 per cent of the vote (disregarding the 25 per cent automatically allocated to the military), by any measure the people had made their choice for the NLD. The pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party won only 4.1 per cent of the vote.

But to see this takeover as traditional military putsch overlooks the fact that the military has never relinquished control of the country’s government. The reforms of 2010, because they formalised the position of the military in parliament and the executive, were far from an establishment of democracy. Sebastian Strangio, writing in Foreign AffairsMyanmar’s coup was a chronicle foretold – points out that the country’s constitution allows the army to take power in order to prevent any situation that “may disintegrate the Union or disintegrate national solidarity or that may cause the loss of sovereignty.” If a loss of the military’s power could be called a “loss of sovereignty”, it could be argued that in terms of constitutional legitimacy, Myanmar’s military strongmen have a more defensible case than the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn America’s election.

While Strangio provides the background to the takeover, on Late Night Live, in an interview with Phillip Adams, Susan Banki, of Sydney University’s Southeast Asia Centre, explains what probably lies ahead for the country: Myanmar coup impacts. Whatever progress has been made on economic development and on bringing refugees home will surely be set back. (12 minutes)


The pandemic’s progress

Australia — Hotel quarantine is leaky

Some may look at our regular chart and note that Australia has had only two Covid-19 cases in the community in the past 19 days. That’s certainly the way Morrison has been talking about outbreaks from hotel quarantine.

But it should also be noted that the chart relates to four states, each of which has had to respond to outbreaks from hotel quarantine with restrictions – restrictions that have disrupted personal and business plans. South Australia too had a hotel quarantine failure in November. In the other three states and territories people reasonably believe that their turn will come and are wisely being cautious about making personal or business plans. The measures necessary to stop a single infection are costly: it is stupidly irresponsible for anyone to talk about “just one” infection when we know how the virus is becoming even more contagious.

Why do Covid quarantine breaches keep happening? asks Michael Toole of the Burnet Institute, writing in The Conversation. It’s now a good six months since Victoria’s catastrophic failure of hotel quarantine, but Western Australia, at least, has paid insufficient attention to lessons learned from that experience and to the findings of the National Review of Hotel Quarantine. Toole’s main concern (as it is with many health experts) is about insufficient attention to the virus’s spread through aerosols.

Epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws stresses the importance of airflow change to dissipate aerosols, but the rate of airflow change in hotels is very slow. Corridors, where security staff spend their time, are poorly ventilated. But she observes a “stubborn resistance to taking aerosol transmission seriously”.

Not that the Commonwealth has a monopoly on bad policy. Evidence about aerosol transmission was mounting well in time for Victoria to cancel the Australian Open.

Assuming that those involved in Victoria’s outbreak from quarantine were following that state’s tough standard, the clear message is that reliance on hotel quarantine in large cities, even when practised with caution, is still flawed.

If an effective vaccine that could protect against transmission of the virus were just around the corner, we may be able to muddle through with capital city hotel quarantine, but such relief is far from certain. Perhaps we will get a steady flow of the Pfizer vaccine in the next few weeks and not just a token 80 000, perhaps our governments will really prioritise those working on external borders, perhaps the initial dose will provide protection against transmission. A lot of things would have to work out well to allow us to continue to rely on our present model of hotel quarantine.

In the meantime the costs of actual or anticipated disruption dwarf any reasonable outlay that would be required to make our external borders more secure, and to protect returning travellers from exposure to infection while in quarantine.

Europe and America

New cases are falling in the US. In Europe the UK rate has fallen significantly, but its death rate is still high: in the UK 0.16 per cent of the population has died of Covid-19, compared with 0.15 per cent in Italy and 0.14 per cent in the US.

In other European countries infection rates are generally falling, but are still very high in Portugal, Spain and the Czech Republic.


The vaccine’s progress

Australia — Quackery in the ranks

What would be the consequences if Morrison were to expel Craig Kelly from the parliamentary Liberal Party? Labor would hardly call a no-confidence motion to support Kelly. The Coalition would lose its one-seat majority, but it would still get its legislation through the House of Representatives with support from enough of the so-called “cross benchers”, who are mostly from the centre-right.

But once again party solidarity trumps national interest. Apart from a mild rebuke, Morrison has been soft on Kelly, even though he has joined with TV celebrity Pete Evans, a  peddler of QAnon conspiracy theories.

This is more than harmless stupidity. Sam Williamson, writing in The Strategist, warns of “an international conspiracy theory posing a threat to Australia’s vaccination rollout against Covid-19” – The QAnon threat to Australia’s vaccine rollout. QAnon would surely welcome the support of a prominent member of the governing party.

Medical practitioners understand the gravity of the situation: Karen Price, president of The Australian College of General Practitioners, has urged Australians to follow professional advice and to ignore Kelly.

As the Health Minister points out, Australians have a good track record in accepting vaccination, but even if we achieve 95 per cent vaccination against Covid-19, that still leaves 5 per cent of the population vulnerable to the virus once we eventually re-open our external borders. If there are geographic concentrations of anti-vaxxers we can forget about the protection of herd immunity and a low national R number: the virus could still spread through certain tightly-connected communities.

A lesson from Brazil – get the vaccine distributed to all countries

It is hardly surprising that rich countries with financial resources try to prioritise their own people in distribution of the vaccine. There have been many voices objecting to this maldistribution on moral grounds.

Such hoarding isn’t in the self-interest of rich countries anyway, as pointed out by James Hamblin of the Yale School of Public Health, writing in The Atlantic: The Brazil variant Is exposing the world’s vulnerability. A new strain of the virus – now known as the Brazil strain – has ripped through the city of Manaus, re-infecting many who have already had the virus in an earlier wave, again confirming the idiocy of the idea that the virus could be allowed to spread so as to achieve herd immunity.

Hamblin’s main message is that so long as there are unvaccinated or otherwise unprotected populations anywhere in the world, where the virus has a chance to spread quickly, it will go through many mutations, challenging the efficacy of vaccines. It is in everyone’s interests to see that vaccines are spread to all countries to slow down the rate of mutation, rather than prioritising them in rich countries where they will show diminishing returns.

Sources

In the comments on last Saturday’s roundup, George Wendell put us on to this regularly updated map of coronavirus vaccinations around the world, based on Our World in Data.  Note the high vaccination rate for Israel, the UAE and the UK: of those countries only the UK is showing any appreciable fall in infections, but as yet it would be unwise to make any connection between cause and effect: there are too many variables and time lags in the systems. The UK in particular has very strong lockdowns. Vaccination does not stop the virus dead in its tracks: rather, it is a powerful measure to pull down the virus’s R number so that other measures, also aimed at reducing R, can be eased.

We have now included that map in our separate web page of generally reliable information and analysis about Covid-19.  That page gives links to Norman Swan’s Coronacast for instance – on his Wednesday session he explains why the Perth outbreak seems to have been contained in spite of the security guard having the UK strain. The Economist has an article about new strains of coronavirus: they may not be more deadly but they do seem to be more resistant to vaccines. It also has a 10-minute film about the physical and political issues in vaccinating the whole world.


Polls and surveys

A new year of election polling

Labor supporters and some journalists are excited that the first Newspoll for the year has the Labor and Coalition TPP vote split 50:50, compared with 51:49 in the November poll.

That’s meaningless, because the difference between two estimates, each with a margin of error, is an even greater margin of error, dwarfing any information suggested in a small movement – one per cent in this case. And translation of primary votes into a TPP estimate involves rather a lot of assumptions.

According to the poll, Labor’s primary vote is 36 per cent (33 per cent in the 2019 election), and the Coalition’s is 42 per cent (41 per cent at the 2019 election). These figures are consistent with opinion polling showing a bias towards established parties because opinion polls outside election periods cannot simulate a situation with prominent independents on the ticket.

Labor supporters may take more comfort from the February Essential poll, which shows Labor with a 47:44 two party preferred lead, with undecided voters unallocated, but this may simply be at the extreme end of the poll’s margin of error. Also it should be noted that Essential polls only about 1100 people, compared with about 1500 for Newspoll. William Bowe in his Poll Bludger explains differences in the two pollsters’ methods – observing the strange way that Newspoll shows little evidence of normal sampling error. The Essential result is still consistent with a Coalition two party preferred lead, but Bowe’s Bludger Track cautiously suggests that there may have been a small closing of the primary and two party preferred gap since the middle of last year.

Essential also asks what people think of the idea that Morrison may call an election later this year rather than running full term. A clear majority are opposed to an early election. Labor and Greens voters are more enthusiastic than Coalition voters about an early election, presumably because they are more aware of the Morrison Government’s shortcomings.

Other findings from Essential

Besides the voter intention polling (see the previous item), Essential asks a number of questions related to Covid-19. It asks how we feel governments have responded to the virus and how we think the government should handle vaccination.

The Commonwealth maintains a reasonably high “good” score on its response to the virus, as do the states, with South Australia and Western Australia leading the pack at 80 per cent.

People are asked whether they think the vaccine rollout will be done efficiently, will be done safely and if it will be effective at stopping Covid-19 within Australia. The scores on all three questions are reasonably high at first sight (68 per cent, 72 per cent, 58 per cent respectively) but that figure of 72 per cent for confidence in safety conceals some differences between groups. When that 72 per cent is broken down by voting intention there are significant variations: while 80 per cent of Coalition voters believe it will be done safely, only 61 per cent of “other” voters believe it will, with Labor and Green voters in between. Also younger voters are less confident that the rollout will be done safely.

Australians are generally a content lot, but we harbour some prejudices

The media has reported briefly on the latest Scanlon Foundation Mapping Social Cohesion survey, but there is much more in the survey than can be revealed in any newspaper.  Some summary data is on their main page, but it’s a huge survey covering almost every aspect of social life in Australia – our satisfaction with life, our attitudes to globalisation, immigration and multiculturalism, our experience of discrimination, our political identification, and specifically this year how we have coped with Covid-19.

In most aspects of social cohesion we’re travelling well according to the survey.

To illustrate the detail of the report’s coverage, we have picked some specific findings that suggest there is still work to be done – but there are many others that people will find, depending on their interests.

In response to the question: “Would you say the system of government we have in Australia works fine as it is, needs minor change, needs major change, or should be replaced?” most people, particularly those who support the Coalition, are very content. But younger people are less content than older people, and supporters of One Nation and those struggling financially are particularly discontent. (P 57)

On immigration most of us (about 80 per cent) agree that we should not reject prospective immigrants on the basis of “race or identity”, but we can see some of the same prejudices as are afflicting the USA: older people, people struggling financially, and people living outside capital cities, are more likely to agree that race can be used as a criterion for immigration. (P 77)

Almost half (47 per cent) of people born in Asia have experienced discrimination, mainly when shopping. Many have experienced discrimination at work or when applying for work. But very few report discrimination at education institutions, when applying for housing, and in dealing with police or other government officials. (P 88)

One disturbing finding, brought forward in the report’s graphic summary, is that while not many of us have negative sentiments towards Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Hindus or Sikhs, 35 per cent of us feel negative towards Muslims. It was worse in 2017, when 41 per cent held such negative sentiments.


More on America’s democratic transition

Trump’s tax returns

One of Biden’s aides has unearthed Trump’s tax returns.


See Michael West Media for more independent analysis of these and other economic and political issues, and watch out tomorrow, Sunday, for Peter Sainsbury’s Sunday environment round-up.

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