Saturday’s good reading and listening for the weekend 

May 8, 2021
Your taxes at work preparing a budget: Treasury Building, Canberra

What people in other forums are saying about public policy


The Budget

How to read a budget

On Tuesday Treasurer Frydenberg will present the Morrison Government’s budget for 2021-22.

Peter Martin has a general  guide to the budget in The Conversation: The budget is a window into the treasurer’s soul. Here’s what to look for Tuesday night. It’s basically a mechanical document, overrated in importance. But it’s also a “statement of values” he reminds us. We shouldn’t expect to see the Morrison Government’s values spelled out, however. When a government’s sole guiding principle is to be re-elected it doesn’t make that an explicit statement.

Peter Martin’s advice is general. Expect to hear something on:

Aged care – but wait a few days until COTA and other organisations have examined the detail. Will it simply be a few more dollars for aged-care providers, or will it be about supporting better regulation, mandatory standards of care and training and working conditions for staff?

Child care, mostly already announced. Is it simply about getting parents, mainly women, into the workforce, or is it about investing in the well-being of young Australians as they grow up, particularly those who are at most risk of suffering early disadvantage? Danielle Wood and others at the Grattan Institute have already provided some analysis: it seems to be targeted to lowering “workforce disincentives”: Childcare: everything you need to know about the Government reforms. Kate Noble and Peter Hurley of Victoria University, writing in The Conversation, consider the government’s plans to be focused on “economic growth and female workforce participation” rather than on childhood development: An extra $1.7 billion for child care will help some. It won’t improve affordability for most.

An appropriation for a fossil-fuel power station in the Hunter Valley, possibly as large as 1000 megawatts. We don’t need it, but the Morrison Government has dug into a hard position on gas, regardless of technical advice and changing market situations. This is the Coalition’s Gasplan (in emulation of the Soviet Union’s “Gosplan”). There may also be some funding for a coal-fired power station in Northern Queensland. In view of the Audit Office’s criticism of the feasibility study for this proposed project, it is likely to be buried deep within the budget’s documents.

Defence – maybe this time more about strategic needs than support for marginal Coalition seats in South Australia and Western Australia.

Laura Tingle reminds us that we probably won’t be hearing the usual Coalition bluster about deficits and debt: Frydenberg’s budget pivot puts the government on a path for judgement.  When a Labor Government budget plans for a deficit it is the height of irresponsibility; when the Coalition plans a deficit it’s about “keeping the economy ticking over until we get to even lower levels of unemployment than existed before the pandemic”. The economic reality is that there is nothing intrinsically good or bad about a deficit or surplus.

The budget is simply about fiscal bookkeeping, which is only one plank of a government’s economic policy and a minor one at that. What counts is how public money is spent. And how it is raised – although taxes are subject to different bills. Governments of a neoliberal persuasion are reluctant to spend, but when they do they tend to favour cash transfers to firms and individuals, rather than spending on public services such as health, education and infrastructure.

The budget papers should be available at this link imaginatively called “Budget”.  Ignore the budget speech – it’s political propaganda, with all the clarity and eloquence of a document drafted by scores of public servants and political myrmidons, and delivered by someone who doesn’t believe a word of it.

Ignore the “what’s in it for me” articles in Wednesday’s papers. And ignore the articles with headlines “$X million for Y”, unless X is really a significant number. Budget estimates are generally over a four-year period: so divide X by 4. And remember that there are 25 million Australians. So a publicised $10 million expenditure equates to 10 cents a head. It’s all spin.

The most informative paper is Budget Paper No.1: Budget Strategy and Outlook.  Look for its “Economic Outlook” section, where assumptions about output, employment and inflation are stated. Look for its statement on “Revenue”, remembering that governments have more control over spending than they do over revenue. One particular item is expected GST income – an important item, because the flow-through of GST comprises about a quarter of states’ revenue. Have a look at a table that may be called “Tax expenditures” or perhaps “Estimates of large measured benchmark variations” – essentially an estimate of revenue not collected because of concessions to interest groups, such as private health insurers, beneficiaries of family trusts, and wealthy self-funded retirees. And look in the “Statement of Risks” for any mention of climate change but don’t be disappointed if you don’t find it.


The morality of public finance

On the ABC’s Religion and Ethics Report Toni Hassan discusses the moral principles underpinning the Morrison Government’s fiscal and economic policies with Kasy Chambers of Anglicare and Mark Zirnsak, senior social justice advocate of the Uniting Church: Tackling inequality on budget day.

They outline their vision of an economic policy aligned with Christian morality. It would support those in need, lifting them up, rather than shaming and punishing them for being unemployed. For a time, during the worst of the pandemic, unemployment benefits were raised to a level that allowed the unemployed to live with dignity: they were allowed a glimpse of a more decent society, but have been let down again.

Specifically on the budget, they are highly critical of the way the government and the media see it, in a “what’s in it for me?” framework, rather than a “what sort of society is the budget shaping?” framework. (First 12 minutes of the 28-minute program.)


Other economics

Reserve Bank – all is well

Tuesday’s statement by the Reserve Bank on its monetary policy decision – to leave the cash rate unchanged – is upbeat. The Reserve Bank expects economic growth to be strong and inflation to be low.

In view of the fact that almost every economist has been wrong in recent economic forecasts, and in view of Treasurer Frydenberg’s conversion to a lower unemployment target, it concludes with a surprisingly confident outlook on inflation and interest rates:

It [The Reserve Bank] will not increase the cash rate until actual inflation is sustainably within the 2 to 3 per cent target range. For this to occur, the labour market will need to be tight enough to generate wages growth that is materially higher than it is currently. This is unlikely to be until 2024 at the earliest.

That statement is supported in a longer and more detailed speech by Deputy Governor Guy Debelle – Monetary policy during Covid. Debelle accepts that low interest rates can push up asset prices, including house prices. From the Reserve Bank’s perspective this is a desirable development because it stimulates spending.  That’s an extraordinary statement – essentially an endorsement of the illusory wealth effect associated with asset price inflation, and a failure to acknowledge the mounting risk of a catastrophic asset price crash. Reserve Bank staff would be well aware of this risk, but they seem to be deliberately endorsing the Morrison Government’s economic recklessness.


Who’s delivering your pizza?

“When you remove all the tech, the sizzle and pop, [the gig economy] is little more than modern day iteration of old-school precarious piece work arrangements.”

So writes Dustin Halse, Labor Party member of the Victorian Parliament, in Eureka Street: The thin veneer of the gig economy.  Covid-19 has seen a surge in demand for food delivery services. This is an industry with a fragmented workforce, with no benefits of collective bargaining, and no regime of regulation protecting workers from the savagery of ruthless competition where there are many willing or desperate workers and virtually no barriers to entry. There have been some minor improvements in workers’ conditions, but the current regulatory framework is weak, and economic and political pressures are not on the side of gig workers.


Good gas?

EnergyAustralia has committed to construct a 300 megawatt fast-start generator in New South Wales. Writing in Renew Economy Giles Parkinson points out that such plants are rarely used (typically 160 hours a year) and operate only at high prices. EnergyAustralia gets government money for first “green hydrogen” gas generator. The project has been criticised by the Clean Energy Council however.

The question as to whether it should be built is about optimal resource allocation. To draw an analogy, if a country town goes off-grid, it would be well-advised to have a diesel generator on standby, to cover the rare combination of a failure of wind and solar power over an extended period.  And perhaps if we could look in the garages of those who have gone off-grid, we would find the occasional Honda gasoline-powered generator.


Bad coal

The Biden administration and the European Union are moving towards carbon adjustment duties on goods involving high CO2 contributions in their manufacture. Unless the Australian economy moves to a low carbon model, ideally through a carbon price, these duties will impose a cost on Australia’s energy-intensive industries. Writing in the Saturday Paper Tim Flannery describes how Australian industry, in most sectors including agriculture, can adjust: US carbon tariff offers opportunity for Australia. Unfortunately, as a result of ill-considered government subsidies to Alcoa to buy electricity from coal-fired generators, the Australian aluminium industry has been locked into a dead-end technology.

Faced with both a rapid greening of aluminium production and border adjustment tariffs in some importing countries, the move by the Morrison government to “save” Portland Aluminium looks more like a death blow than any salvation because it locks a key Australian export industry into a polluting operating model at a critical time.

(Note the Schwartz Media access provisions. You can read one free article a week without a subscription.  But why be content with one article? In a country dominated by mediocrity and partisan bias in established media, Schwartz’s publications are good value for money.)


Superannuation

On last week’s Saturday Extra Geraldine Doogue interviewed Andrew Podger on superannuation.

Most of our concern with superannuation has been with the accumulation phase – fees charged by fund managers, the adequacy of contributions, the rate of the Superannuation Guarantee Levy, and fund performance. Podger points out we should be equally concerned with how superannuation serves us in the pension phase. There is a dearth of products that can convert a lump sum into an assured income flow (by pooling longevity risk).

Much of the discussion is about shortcomings in the 2020 Retirement Income Review (“The “Callaghan Review”). In Podger’s view that review gave inadequate consideration to the relationship between superannuation and the age pension, and did not give enough consideration to the needs of renters in retirement. Podger is also wary of schemes that allow people to pull money out of superannuation before retirement. (13 minutes)


Australians are on the move, but aren’t going very far

Some news reports on the ABS Regional Population Statistics would have us believe that, like the characters in Boccaccio’s Decameron, our big cities are emptying as people flee the pandemic, but the reality is less dramatic and less salacious.

Farina SA – they all moved to town

Our big cities are still growing, thanks to immigration (the data goes up to June 2020) and natural increase, but there has been some significant movement (“internal migration”) out of Sydney in particular. Outer suburban and coastal regions in cooee of capital cities have been growing, and there have been some regions of strong growth in non-metropolitan Victoria. Otherwise the story for inland Australia is of stagnation or decline – a process that’s been going on for decades.

Our understanding of these movements would be improved if journalists and politicians stopped classifying everything outside our capitals as “regional” or by the even more confusing term “rural and regional”. Our capital cities. with their large footprints, have their own distinct regions, and the rest of Australia is anything but a homogeneous blob as implied by such wide general terms.  The ABS data , with its informative maps, is a useful source for anyone with an interest in the complexity of our changing settlement patterns.


Religion in politics

Morrison isn’t the first to bring religion to the fore: he follows on from Rudd and Abbott

John Warhurst writes in the Canberra Times about his fellowship with the Museum of Democracy in which he studied the religious faith of Australian prime ministers.  Warhurst points out that Rudd consciously tried to change Labor’s approach to religious voters who had disconnected from Labor in the 2004 election. Rudd was followed by Abbott, who publicly linked his opposition to abortion and same-sex-marriage to his Catholicism, while leaving many Catholics disgusted by his stances on refugees and climate change, in defiance of Pope Francis’s teachings. Morrison, although from a very different religious tradition, has similarly left many Christians disgusted over his approach to the same issues. Morrison is too Christian for some, not Christian enough for others he writes.

In response to our entry last week about Morrison’s religion, Pearls and Irritations reader  George Wendell has drawn our attention to a 1999 book by Hillsong Pastor Brian Houston, who rose to prominence when Morrison attempted to have him invited to a state dinner at the White House. Wendell has given a link to Houston’s book, You need more money. The synopsis on Abe Books states that “money is a powerful tool in the hands of Bible-believing purpose-driven Christians. Brian challenges you to look beyond yourself, live according to the principles of God and see His blessing on your life as you become a money magnet”. George Wendell noted that the book was listed at $A208.16 on Amazon, while Abe Books lists it at $US 130.93. The Sermon on the Mount, one of Christianity’s fundamental tracts on material wealth and Christians’ obligations to others, has views on money that are somewhat at variance with Houston’s and is available free on the internet.


American Catholics divide on partisan lines about Biden

Joe Biden has made no secret of his Catholicism, but according to surveys by the Pew Research CenterAmerican Catholics are split along partisan lines in their attitudes to his policies.  Most Catholic Republicans believe his views on abortion should disqualify him from communion – which to Catholics means social ostracization – while only 11 per cent of Catholic Democrats hold that view.

The same surveys find that while most Americans know about Biden’s Catholicism, only 12 per cent correctly identify Vice-President Kamala Harris’s religion as “Protestant”.  Given the rich mixture of religious beliefs in her family, it is perhaps understandable that Americans find it hard to pin down her faith with a one-word descriptor.


Other politics and public ideas

Shakespeare on leadership

On last week’s Saturday Extra Phillip Adams interviewed John Bell about Shakespeare’s insights on leadership. Bell’s interpretation is that Henry V comes closest to Shakespeare’s ideals, because of his ability to inspire loyalty and enthusiasm among his followers. Bell also describes how Abraham Lincoln had a passion for Shakespeare – he knew Macbeth by heart and was fascinated by the moral dilemmas in that play.

Adams and Bell comment on Trumpist aspects of Shakespeare’s characters. Richard III – a psychopath, a master in cunning and dissemination of fake news – gets a mention, as does Julius Caesar – a senile character, driven by narcissism, who hangs on too long in the job.  Bell sees the play Julius Caesar as a case study in political rivalry. (23 minutes.)

Bell has recently written Some Achieve Greatness: Lessons on leadership from Shakespeare and one of his greatest admirers.

Shakespeare’s plays are certainly about the behaviour of people in positions of authority, but are they about leadership – the more mundane and unsung task of mobilising a group to deal with hard issues?


Trumpism without Trump

Behind the crudeness of blatant racism and pussy-grabbing, and the idiocy of bleach cures for Covid-19, is there some right-wing intellectual basis for Trumpism? What would Trumpism look like without Trump?

In Areo Magazine, Professor of Politics at Whitman College Matt McManus, who describes himself as a “cosmopolitan liberal socialist”, tries to make sense of Trumpism as a political philosophy, in a review of a book The MAGA doctrine: the only ideas that will win the future, by right-wing activist Charlie Kirk.

He struggles to find a unifying political doctrine behind Trumpism. He finds only a set of gut feelings, held together by nothing more than the pseudo-intellectualism of postmodernism. He concludes:

As a postmodern cultural phenomenon, Trumpism was defiantly contradictory: appealing to a pastiche of identities and value systems unified only by antagonisms and fears. The fact that Trumpism could emerge testifies to the profound problems underpinning contemporary American society.

McManus is author of The rise of post-modern conservatism: neoliberalism, post-modern culture, and reactionary politics.

(We might ask what a similar analysis of Morrison’s political beliefs would reveal? Would it find anything more substantial than a postmodern valorisation of gut feeling?)


The power of public ideas

Dani Rodrik is a firm believer in the power of public ideas, and while he underplays the influence of the pandemic, he sees the present period as one in which economic orthodoxies are being challenged: “Ideas such as the wealth tax, job guarantees, industrial policies, stronger labour unions and tougher regulations have all become mainstream. There is good ferment in the field, and very few [economists] are upholding market fundamentalism anymore”.

Rodrik expresses his economic ideas in an interview with Fikret Adaman of Constantinople’s Boğaziçi University: How to Create More Inclusive Economies, published on behalf of the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague.

Although he modestly claims to be more focussed on economics than on politics, he has found, in his studies:

that as economic inequality increases in society, a party representing the rich is more likely to pursue strategies that appeal to identity and culture. Greater inequality means a median voter grows more distant from the rich in terms of where she stands on economic policy interests. For the party of the rich, there is now a higher return on mobilising voters around issues such as racial resentment, gay marriage, women’s rights and immigration, all of which can give low-income voters a reason to vote against their economic interests.


Facebook’s Potemkin court

Facebook’s Oversight Board has upheld Donald Trump’s suspension, but questions of freedom of speech and what constitutes inflammatory comment remain unresolved. Writing in The AtlanticThe Problem is Facebook– Helen Lewis describes the operations of Facebook’s Oversight Board, and why it has given only conditional support to the continued suspension of Trump’s account.  The board’s judgement is a stopgap measure while Facebook develops a set of principles to govern de-platforming. But as Lewis points out, the board exists only with the consent of Mark Zuckerberg. “American lawmakers have consistently failed to grapple with the unprecedented challenges posed by regulating Facebook, and sometimes they barely seem to understand what it does. For now, the board is the best restraint we have—but that isn’t saying much.”

On the ABC’s Breakfast program Hamish MacDonald interviews Dex Hunter-Torricke, former speechwriter for Zuckerberg and now spokesperson for the Oversight Board. He explains the Board’s decision in relation to Trump: it can delete someone permanently or suspend someone for a specified period, but it should not give someone an indefinite suspension. Trump’s suspension was justifiable because his Facebook entries contributed to violence and harm, but the Board should be transparent about how it exercises its power.

He explains how the Board is appointed, in a process MacDonald calls “an interesting form of independence”. (9 minutes.)

Both the Atlantic article and the Breakfast program deal with the practicalities of developing rules, but they take us only a little way into the basic question of the values that should govern the way a private entity, with such influence, should be governed. Is it even conceptually possible that a set of rules, consistent with standards of respect for the truth, and applying to private media, can be developed?


China

How enduring is Xi Jinping’s rule?

Writing in Inside Story Richard McGregor and Jude Blanchette ask Is there life after Xi? In view of Xi’s removal of term limits it may seem premature for anyone to be discussing succession, but McGregor and Blanchette look at the succession of 282 emperors across 49 dynasties, and they find only a handful who held on until old age with a peaceful transfer of power.

They consider four scenarios that might play out over the next few years, ranging from early retirement while all is going well through to a coup. Unlike prime ministers and presidents in democracies, who usually enjoy a peaceful life after politics, autocrats often have a short and brutal life after leaving office.

McGregor  covers much of the same ground in an article on the Lowy Institute website: Reading the Xi leaves: what’s next for the Chinese president. He believes Xi will hang on for another decade at least, but may step down once a number of his signature programs are completed.


Remember the Sino-Soviet Axis – has it come back?

At the height of the Cold War the right used to refer to a “Sino-Soviet Axis” as some monolithic force of communism threatening the survival of western democracy.  Even though relationships between China and the Soviet Union were generally antagonistic (including a small-scale border conflict with casualties at one stage), the idea of a Sino-Soviet Axis served its purpose as a tool of right-wing propaganda.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Andrea Kendall-Taylor and David Shullman,  describe many dimensions of economic and military cooperation between the two countries: China and Russia’s dangerous convergence. Their advice to the US and its allies is to try to drive a wedge between China and Russia by strengthening ties with Russia.  (But isn’t that what Trump tried?)


The pandemic’s progress

Australia

It’s clear that there is no moral framework guiding the Morrison Government’s policies, but we might have thought it would be guided by a sense of shame, or even the established rules of normal diplomacy, before imposing a travel ban on Australians returning from India – a ban backed by a fine of $66 000 and a five-year jail sentence and reported around the world – including in mainstream UK and USA news media. Morrison may prattle on about no-one being likely to cop a penalty, but the penalties were emphasised in the government’s announcement of the ban.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has said the ban raises serious human rights concerns. “The Government must show that these measures are not discriminatory and the only suitable way of dealing with the threat to public health.” Constitutional law experts, including Cheryl Saunders and Anne Twomey, believe the ban could be challenged on constitutional grounds.

To make a bad situation worse, Australian cricketers are getting around the ban by fleeing through the Maldives or Sri Lanka. It’s OK to burden the people of the Maldives and Sri Lanka with the task of quarantining our precious sportsmen, but not to ask the same of our own country.

Domestically all attention is on an outbreak in New South Wales, well-covered in the media. The cases have been traced to a traveller from the US, pointing to a failure in that state’s border controls. As Norman Swan reports, people of New South Wales are remarkably lax about Covid-19: any outbreak in that state could spread rapidly, and the state is dealing with a large proportion of arrivals with Covid-19 – 115 of Australia’s 262 cases in the two weeks to May 6.

New South Wales also has the added risk of a premier who boasts about a more laid-back approach to Covid-19 outbreaks than that taken by other states, having learned nothing from the unnecessarily costly disruption caused by her government’s slow response to the mid-December outbreak.

Also it’s not clear that all New South Wales border workers have been vaccinated. The Commonwealth has been allocating scarce Pfizer vaccine to aged care homes, rather than to border workers, even though two-shot immunisation with Pfizer can be achieved much sooner than with AstraZeneca. The Western Australia Government has backed down on its earlier assurance that quarantine workers should be fully vaccinated: it is now allowing them to work if they have had at least one dose, prompting a warning from the local AMA that the first dose gives only limited immunity.

As at May 6, 2.5 million Australians – 9.7 per cent of our population – have had at least a first dose of vaccination.

Vaccination line up, Melbourne Exhibition Building

The ANU has released a major survey about Australians’ concerns with the government’s vaccination program and their willingness to be vaccinated.  While most Australians believe the vaccine process is fair, only 3.7 per cent of Australian adults think the process for individuals getting the vaccine is going very well.

The same survey finds a small but promising decrease between January and April in the proportion of people who say they would “definitely not” or “probably not” be vaccinated. It finds that groups with above-average rates of vaccine hesitancy include women, those who speak a language other than English, those who live in relatively disadvantaged areas, and those who live outside a capital city. They also find that those who experience discrimination are associated with higher rates of vaccine hesitancy.

Crispin Hull is critical of the media’s coverage of risks associated with vaccination.  He outlines the behavioural biases that result in an irrational fear of vaccination’s side-effects outweighing our perception of the much higher risk of contracting Covid-19.


Our region – cases rising but still low by official estimates

Cases are rising in many countries in our region, as shown in the table below, but they are still low in comparison with the USA and most European countries. We include India, the UK and the USA in the table to provide perspective. Malaysia’s daily case rate of 94 per million is high by east Asian standards, but it’s still well below the EU average of 214 per million.

Note that in preparing this table we have had to go to sources other than the WHO for data on Taiwan. Taiwanese Australians are calling for Taiwan to be included in the WHO, but such a move raises many issues other than public health. Even though Taiwan isn’t in the WHO, there is nothing stopping Australia, or any other country, from learning from their good performance, which has probably been the best of any of the world’s “developed” democracies.

Bloomberg reports on a new virus wave hitting developing countries, including India, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Fiji, but although daily infection rates in these countries are rising they are still below the daily peaks reached earlier this year in the USA (800 per million) and the UK (900 per million), or Sweden at present (500 per million).


The world – cases generally falling, but not in India

Worldwide cases seem to be falling again, with the notable exception of India, as shown in the graph below.

In Europe cases are showing what looks like a sustained trend: the UK, Finland, Portugal and Malta all have their daily case rate down to less than 50 per million population, but while falling, daily cases in France, the Netherlands and Sweden are still above 300 per million.  The US daily case rate is around 150 per million, but is falling.

As countries’ vaccination programs proceed, they are likely to confront more difficult situations of groups that are hard to reach and people hesitant about vaccines. If these groups are regionally concentrated, significant outbreaks can keep on occurring even in a national population with high vaccination coverage.


Intellectual property regulations: the Morrison Government procrastinates

In these roundups we have given attention to the need for “developed” countries to waive patent and other intellectual property rights under WTO rules to allow “developing” countries to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines. This has been opposed by a number of countries with pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities, including Australia.

The US Trade Representative Katherine Tai has announced US support for the waiver, but the Morrison Government is still dragging its feet. Writing in the health website Croakey Marie McInerney describes the strong support for a waiver from the public health community, contrasting with vague statements of half-hearted support from Trade Minister Tehan and government tactics to delay progress on a waiver.

(For those who are not fully across the issues in sharing vaccine intellectual property, there is a cheeky one-minute video explaining the interests of different parties.)


Sources

See our separate web page of hyperlinks to generally reliable information and analysis about Covid-19, including the ABC’s vaccine tracker.  On the Harvard Gazette’s site is a revealing article on Covid-19 in South America – how different countries have coped and failed – with emphasis on Brazil’s “humanitarian crisis”. Brazil has a good public health system, and coped well with AIDS and Zika; it’s failure to deal with Covid-19 is a failure in leadership.


Polls, surveys and elections

India – a small but significant loss for a far-right nationalist

We don’t normally mention state elections in other countries but when that state is West Bengal, a state of 90 million, an election defeat for the national ruling party is noteworthy. As Jeffrey Gettleman and Hari Kumar point out, writing in the New York Times, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been campaigning hard in West Bengal: he and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been badly shocked by their defeat. Modi’s party loses a key election, held under the cloud of Covid. Some of the result undoubtedly relates to Modi’s callous mishandling of the pandemic, but as pointed out in The Economist the election was phased, and half of votes came in before the pandemic took off in its latest wave: Battered by covid-19, Narendra Modi is humiliated by Indian voters (paywalled).


Tasmania – another weak win for the Liberals

Perhaps Premier Gutwein was hoping that Tasmania’s outstanding success in keeping the pandemic at bay would see the government returned with the sort of thumping majority that Premier McGowan enjoyed in Western Australia, Tasmania having been even less touched by Covid-19 than Western Australia. Tasmania’s Hare-Clark system (five divisions each returning five members) does not allow for landslide majorities, but Gutwein was hoping for at least a majority.

On last count (Friday morning) the Liberals had won only 12 seats in the 25-member House of Assembly, with two seats in doubt, both in the Clark division that covers the west shore of Hobart, including the CBD and university precincts. Clark was a traditional Labor stronghold, but in this election two strong independents have taken about 21 per cent of the vote, while Labor has lost 20 per cent and the Liberals have lost 6 per cent in that division. Overall there was a small swing against the Liberals and a small swing against Labor in all other four divisions. The Greens polled well, particularly in the two divisions covering Hobart. Writing in The Conversation, Michael Leader of the University of Tasmania describes the Liberals’ victory as more status quo than ringing endorsement.


Political systems in need of reform

The Pew Research Center has surveyed adults in the US, France, the UK and Germany about their attitudes to their political systems. Among those four countries discontent is greatest in the US and France, and least in Germany: 68 per cent of Americans and 65 per cent of French say their political system “needs major changes” or “needs to be completely transformed”, compared with 47 per cent of British and 39 per cent of Germans who express similar views. Other questions on trust and corruption reveal similar rankings.

In all four countries there is enthusiasm for citizen assembles and for referenda on key issues.


Poll position

The next Australia Institute Webinar is titled Poll Position, with Katharine Murphy, Political Editor at Guardian Australia, Pete Lewis, Executive Director at Essential Media and Ebony Bennett, Deputy Director of the Australia Institute – 1300 AEST, Tuesday May 11.


Bollywood in Melbourne

See how our Indian-Australian community brought a little enlivenment to Melbourne at the height of that city’s lockdown. It sure beats football.


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

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