Saturday’s good reading and listening for the weekend

Jun 26, 2021
Once there was a Country Party. Black Jack McEwen, Canberra

What people in other forums are saying about public policy

Barnaby’s resurrection

Australia does not have representative government

A clear majority of Australians want to see strong action on climate change.  (See the section on polls below.)

The Liberal Party has at least a weak commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, while Labor, Greens and independents have firmer commitments. Together these three parties and three independents gained 75 per cent of votes in 2019 and they hold 77 per cent of seats in the House of Representatives.

The National Party, including the LNP in Queensland, and Katter’s Australia Party, with 14 per cent of votes, hold the other 23 per cent of seats. It’s a disproportionate representation, but even so it’s clear that the distribution of seats in the House of Representatives is not too far from the distribution of community views. The House of Representatives is doing the job it is named for: delivering a representative parliament, at least on the important issue of dealing with climate change.

While we may have a representative parliament, we don’t have representative government.

It is an outrageous insult on our democracy when a party with so little popular or parliamentary support can dictate its terms on the most important aspect of our country’s economic policy, particularly when the terms of the National-Liberal Party agreement are not revealed to the voting population. In most contexts we call such an agreement “blackmail”.

We can and should be critical of successive Prime Ministers, particularly Turnbull and Morrison, for not having negotiated with Labor, the Greens and the independents to enact an effective energy policy. There is nothing in our constitution preventing such agreements, but putting national interest ahead of party loyalty seems to be unthinkable to politicians who have enslaved themselves to the so-called “Westminster” system – a model developed in another era in a distant country.

The media has made much of the Nationals’ attempt to emasculate the already weak Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The ABC’s Kath Sullivan has focussed on the substance of the Nationals’ amendments to the government’s bill – amendments that would have sapped much of the rivers’ remaining life, wrecked the South Australian horticultural industry, and transferred most of the basin’s remaining scarce water to the National Party’s agribusiness mates.

Other media have expressed shock at seeing Coalition, Labor and others line up against the Nationals and Pauline Hanson in the Senate. In all probability it’s a carefully stage-managed event by Nationals in coal seats – reminiscent of fierce gestures two bulls exchange when they try to impress the heifers. But breaches of party loyalty should be normal in a parliamentary democracy. In an interview on the ABC’s Breakfast program on Thursday,National Party Senator Matt Canavan at least got the rhetoric right when he stressed the point that the Nationals and Liberals are different parties.

A detached observer listening to Canavan’s drivel about energy and climate change would reasonably conclude that he made a strong case for the National Party to sit on its own in parliament, like Germany’s far-right Alternativ für Deutschand, leaving the task of government to grown-ups.

2050 is fast approaching

“Barnaby Joyce has an answer to those who say Australia should commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. He says 2050 is too far away to be sure of anything.”

That’s a quote from Peter Martin’s Conversation article No Barnaby, 2050 isn’t far away. Next week’s intergenerational report deals with 2061.

Martin reminds Joyce, and all Australians, that 2050 is only 29 years away. Next week Treasurer Frydenberg will release the fifth regular Intergenerational Report, a set of official 40-year projections and forecasts going out to 2061 (by which time the National Party may have biodegraded.) If the format of previous Intergenerational Reports is to be followed, it will have a chapter on climate change and its likely economic and fiscal effects.

Any power plant we build now will still be standing in 2050, either as a still-functioning renewable energy generator, or as a closed fossil fuel generator – a stranded asset in economists’ terms. What we do now counts.

The Nationals take on higher education

It’s still not clear what was going through the minds of University of Newcastle councillors when they appointed former federal Nationals leader and Chair of Whitehaven Coal, Mark Vaile, as Chancellor. They must have known that his association with a political party renowned for anti-intellectualism and denigration of higher education, and his financial interests in coal mining, would raise objections.

In response there were protests by students and staff, and 16 philanthropists who between them have donated millions to universities wrote an open letter stating that they would no longer support the University of Newcastle in light of Vaile’s appointment. Its tone is respectful:

Mr Vaile has played an important role in Australian politics and business, but that role has included questioning the science of climate change and its links to drought, and leading companies that are determined to build new coal mines.

Last Monday the university council accepted Vaile’s withdrawal.

Because Vaile’s appointment was backed by Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon, Education Minister Alan Tudge couldn’t blame Labor. Nor could he blame anti-Coalition forces: Julie Bishop’s appointment as ANU Chancellor did not set off a wave of protest.

So he blamed “cancel culture”—the Coalition’s update of the 1960s imagined “reds under the bed”. That’s an absurd accusation. At this time of the year when people think about charities and causes they will support with donations, they are not only deciding which ones to support, but they are also deciding, de facto, which ones they will not support. Does Tudge call that “cancel culture”?

Other Australian politics

Remember that promise about an anti-corruption commission?

Morrison has been boasting about the success of Australia’s police forces in busting organised crime rings through use of a baited app (“Operation Ironside”), but he has been remarkably quiet on dealing with criminal misconduct by the Commonwealth Government.

Catherine Williams of the Centre for Public Integrity writes:

One might ask why it is that the federal government’s commitment to law enforcement extends enthusiastically and instantaneously to “criminal thugs and gangs” but not to ensuring that there is an appropriate federal anti-corruption authority with the powers required to tackle the insidious ill of public sector corruption?

In her short article Going gangbusters on crime while integrity watchdog goes missing she reminds us that the Coalition had a promise to establish an anti-corruption commission, but the model it has proposed is pathetically weak, and the Commonwealth budget has no allocation for any commission.

Labor stands up for private health insurers against Medicare

In the 12 June roundup we drew attention to Labor’s opportunistic reaction to the government’s Review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule.  Writing in Inside Story, Jennifer Doggett calls Labor’s opposition Labor’s mistaken Mediscare.

It is understandable that the changes aren’t welcomed by overpaid surgeons who have been performing operations of little or no clinical value, and by private health insurers who attract members by offering cover (generally inadequate) for elective surgery. It is always politically tempting for Labor to add its voice to any protest against the Morrison Government, particularly when there is a degree of confusion among the voting public.

But in this campaign it is siding with those who have spent fifty years fighting against Labor’s reforms to health care – reforms for which a Labor Government was willing to risk a double dissolution election. No one in Australia should feel they have to be spending thousands of dollars on private insurance to get proper health care. Nor should our government be paying people $11 billion a year to jump the queue for medical procedures.

Jennifer Doggett writes:

Labor’s blanket opposition — clearly motivated by the hope of a Mediscare-type campaign at the next election — isn’t helping. It may be understandable, but it’s a disappointing response from a party that should have a sophisticated understanding of the need to keep Medicare up to date. That’s not to say there’s no truth in Labor’s claims about the lack of underlying support for Medicare within Coalition ranks. But the Medicare schedule review is not the best target for trying to make this point.

This campaign may help swing a few anxious voters, but its net effect is to convey the idea that Labor has no set of principles based on a model of the national interest. We already have an unprincipled, opportunistic government: why should voters change?

Protecting schoolkids from studying our society

Once a political or social theory gets a name, tribes on the left and right take sides to support it or denounce it, even if they don’t have the slightest idea what it’s about.

The idea that “race” is a social construct, rather than something unambiguously classifying humans into distinct categories with different abilities and moral behaviour, should be so uncontroversial as not to warrant much consideration. But because it is a core tenet of “Critical Race Theory”, a theory that stresses the institutional nature of racism and that sees it in the context of power relations, Australia’s far right is taking up arms.

Writing in The Conversation Leticia Anderson and Kathomi Gatwiri of Southern Cross University explain how the Coalition went along with Pauline Hanson’s motion to reject critical race theory from the national curriculum.

They explain critical race theory in remarkably clear terms, and they point out that it is generally too complicated for incorporation into the school syllabus. Rather than a serious contribution to the debate about our school curriculum, Hanson’s motion was grubby attempt by the far right to represent any serious consideration of racism as a push by the left to corrupt schoolchildren’s minds with woke ideas.

Coalition politicians should know better than to misrepresent critical race theory, particularly their former education minister Dan Tehan, whose master’s thesis was on the Frankfurt School philosopher Jürgen Habermas. He would be familiar with branches of Frankfurt School ideas, including critical race theory. That exposure (unfortunately) does not seem to have resulted in converting him to dangerous ideas such as scientific scepticism.

No serious educator suggests that school curricula should include critical race theory, any more than the curricula should cover transcendental number theory or advanced Sanskrit. But students should be able to understand how ideas about “race” developed, and how those ideas have contributed to systemic discrimination, particularly in the Australian context.

Dan Tehan and others may be comforted by knowing that the German education curriculum includes a great deal about that country’s troubled history, particularly the terrible consequences of institutional racism. In spite of this exposure Germans grow up to be among the most unwoke people in Europe, who faithfully vote for the Christian Democrats and other conservative parties.

Mind the gaps: there are at least 17 of them

The Productivity Commission has released initial data for 17 socioeconomic indicators relating to closing the gap between conditions for indigenous and other Australians.

Progress indicators and target points can be found on the Commission’s Closing the Gap Information Repository “dashboard”.

In most areas where there is sufficient time series data there is progress in outcomes for indigenous Australians, but trends in suicide are alarming, the rate having risen from 17 deaths per 100 000 in 2009 to 27 in 2019. There has also been a serious rise in adult imprisonment over the same period.

In some areas, such as completion of tertiary qualifications, there is promising progress among indigenous Australians, but the gap remains wide, without any sign of closing in the near future.

The Australian economy

Underemployment – the price paid for “flexibility”

Underemployment in Australia has been rising for several decades, adding to the general background of labour underutilisation represented by unemployment. In an article in the June Reserve Bank BulletinUnderemployment in the Australian labour market – Mark Chambers, Blair Chapman and Eleanor Rogerson present trends in underemployment and analyse its causes.

Underemployment rates are highest in industries with a high proportion of part-time (and therefore female and young ) workers, particularly accommodation and food services, arts and recreation, and retail trade. Their general findings are consistent with a workforce that has generally been subject to more precarious conditions. In other times employers would have responded to changing economic or market conditions by adjusting their permanent employment numbers, a slow process. Now they are applying “flexible” arrangements to change people’s working hours with little regard to workers’ preferences.

Working from home: who benefits?

Most changes in the way people work, such as the transition from a manufacturing-based economy to a services-based economy, take place over a long period. By contrast the pandemic has resulted in a sharp jump in the proportion of people working from home. There are conflicting estimates on how this has affected labour productivity.

On last week’s Saturday Extra, Geraldine Doogue’s guests Michael Brennan from the Productivity Commission and Sue Williamson from the University of New South Wales discuss Working from home: the experiment that keeps on giving.

The discussion is necessarily speculative. Brennan refers to the recently-published Commission’s document PC productivity insights 2021, which analyses movements in productivity indicators over the period of the pandemic. Labour productivity has risen a little while multifactor productivity (a rough measure that attempts to aggregate labour and capital productivity) has fallen, but this has been during an atypical period, with very little mobility in terms of business exits and entrances.

On working from home the Commission finds that in some industries, notably the “computer systems and related services” industry, there has been a big boost in output, most probably driven by increased working from home. It also notes that in Australia both workers and managers are enthusiastic about working from home, contrasting with US findings that workers are more enthusiastic about working from home than managers. Brennan and Williamson both note that working from home misses opportunities for people to exchange ideas in “water cooler conversations”. If women are more likely to be working from home than men, they may miss out on career opportunities that can arise from being physically seen and recognised at the workplace.

The session includes references to an article in The Atlantic by Derek Thompson Winners and losers of the work-from-home revolution. The winners include introverts who are good at online communication, and men in high-income occupations in highly profitable companies. Entry-level workers, who are yet to accumulate social and human capital, may not fare so well.

Who said the Morrison Government isn’t spending on education?

There have been plenty of rorts associated with the Commonwealth’s “Jobkeeper”.  This one, reported by Naaman Zhou in The Guardian, is far from the most costly, but it is surely indicative of a whole set of policy problems to do with education and inequality, as well as the failures of the “Jobkeeper” program itself. We should keep in mind that while this education institution did so well, universities were deliberately excluded from “Jobkeeper”.

The pandemic’s progress

Australia – more outbreaks in an unvaccinated population

For some time spokespeople for business lobbies have been urging state governments to shift from a policy of eliminating the virus to allowing a few cases to circulate.

New South Wales is providing a clear demonstration of how such a policy works, revealing the complex dynamics when a virulent strain is introduced to an almost entirely unvaccinated population, and revealing what happens when a government obstinately refuses to take early and decisive action.

As economist Nicki Hutley explained on the ABC’s PM program, even though the New South Wales Government initially said it was not imposing a lockdown, it may as well have been a lockdown in terms of the outbreak’s economic consequences. People and businesses cancel plans, other states close borders, and people hunker down in safety. As she said, an extended period of uncertainty could be worse for the economy than a known short, sharp lockdown.

Now New South Wales has imposed a partial lockdown (even though Premier Berejiklian cannot bring herself to use the word “lockdown”) in and to the east of the CBD. Victoria tried that last year and it failed: the virus does not respect local government boundaries in a busy city. The virus in Sydney is almost certainly spreading exponentially, but the Berejiklian Government’s response is slow and linear.

As Norman Swan explained on Wednesday’s Coronacast, until now luck was on the side of the New South Wales Government, but that luck hasn’t held out.

The consequences of this outbreak could be as bad as those from the Melbourne outbreak last August. It is true that contact tracing has improved since then, but we are now dealing with a more virulent strain.

Is it possible that Premier Berejiklian, egged on by Morrison, is engaged in a partisan competition to demonstrate that her government is more economically responsible than those horrid anti-business socialists in Victoria?

We can only guess her motives for not having moved early and thoroughly. But the New South Wales Government has been irresponsible in allowing the outbreak to occur in the first place. This was an easily preventable outbreak, spreading from an unvaccinated limousine driver who was not wearing personal protective equipment. Former Health Department Secretary Jane Halton, now adviser to the Prime Minister on Covid-19 matters, pointed out on Thursday’s PM program that she warned the New South Wales Governmentabout drivers transporting international aircrews some months ago. The driver may or may not be at fault individually – it’s starting to appear that the problem may be systemic – but whatever police investigations find, ultimate responsibility for this breach and consequential damages lies with the state premier.

Also it appears that the New South Wales Government’s lackadaisical approach may have extended to the state’s population, as Norman Swan points out on ABC RN Breakfast: People in NSW not as “respectful” of COVID-19 as Victorians. (7 minutes.)  It is not just the Victorian outbreak that raised consciousness in that state: vaccination rates in South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT, where there is almost no virus are much higher than in New South Wales.

The other failure, constantly in the background, is in hotel quarantine, as seems to be the case with a bout of infections in Queensland.

The graph below shows local cases of community transmission over the last seven months – ever since the big Victorian outbreak was brought under control.

Unless all states, including New South Wales, take control of our external borders more seriously, we will almost certainly muddle along in this on-again-off-again way for the rest of the year, with or without lockdowns, in an environment where people defer or cancel personal and business plans, resulting in a huge opportunity cost to the economy. As the year drags on we will see more and more countries opening up as their vaccination programs approach herd immunity, but we will be stuck with these ongoing disruptions, because our government has made a ghastly mess of vaccination.

As for the whingeing business lobbies, they should reflect on the fact that business lobbies were among the strongest voices urging voters to return this mob to office in 2019.

Vaccine hesitancy

Over the last six months two people in Australia have died as a result of blood clots traceable to the AstraZeneca vaccine, and one has died from Covid-19.  Such figures don’t help sway the views of those who refuse to get vaccinated, or who are holding out for something they perceive to be safer than AstraZeneca.

Perhaps figures from the USA might help shift their views. In that country 54 per cent of adults have had at least one dose of vaccine, and 45 per cent are “fully vaccinated”.  Here only 30 per cent have had one dose and only 4 per cent are “fully vaccinated”.

In spite of their relatively high vaccination rate, America’s daily infection rate is still around 30 cases per million people, with about 1 death per million. Translated to Australia’s population we would be experiencing about 800 cases a day and 25 deaths a day. We need to be more aware of what we face in the event of an outbreak among our largely unvaccinated population. But that message isn’t getting out to Australians, particularly older people who are hesitant to get the AstraZeneca vaccine.

As Norman Swan pointed out on last Monday night’s 730 Report, the Commonwealth Government’s default position on vaccination (as it is with so many other areas of public policy) is secrecy. For the last few months it has been impossible to get any idea of the Commonwealth’s plan for a vaccine rollout. After the initial promise of full vaccination by October proved to be baseless political bluster, the Commonwealth went as quiet as a Trappist monastery. But it has now produced a downloadable PDF of its  “Vaccination Allocation Horizons” (Managementspeak for “plan”).  Notably the Moderna vaccine will start to come on stream, in small volumes, in September, and by October AstraZeneca will be almost completely replaced by Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines.

Sarah Martin has an article in The Guardian providing some background information on the plan: Australia plans to shelve AstraZeneca Covid vaccine by October. Her article includes a link to The Guardian’s vaccine rollout tracker, with a graph showing lines of “original goal”, “revised goal”, “current goal” and “doses given”.  On the “original goal” 21 million doses would have been given by now. That’s roughly enough to cover all Australian adults with a first dose. With only 7 million doses given, we’re a little short of that number.

Anther Commonwealth document is the COVID-19 vaccine weekly safety report from the Therapeutic Goods Association. The current report is rich with data on vaccine safety, some from Australia, some from the UK and the USA. On blood clots associated with AstraZeneca (Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia or TTS) it reports:

… in the UK where many more AstraZeneca doses have been given, the risk of TTS (which includes confirmed, probable and possible cases) was estimated to be 1.5 cases per million with the second dose compared to 14.2 cases per million with the first dose.

The document also has a great deal of information on other side effects.

(The link above takes you to the report for June 24. To get the current report in later weeks go to the TGA home page and click on “COVID-19 vaccine weekly safety report”.) It took us quite a bit of searching to find these documents. It’s hard to see why the Commonwealth makes such information hard to access.

The world

Worldwide reported cases of coronavirus continue to fall.

 In the USA and the EU cases have fallen to to around 30 daily cases per million population. That’s still well above the values in Japan and South Korea (around 10 per million), Singapore (3 per million) and New Zealand and Australia (< 1 per million).

Two European countries have gone against the falling trend. In the UK daily cases are now up to 150 per million, and in Portugal cases are around 100 per million. The Germans, who through tough lockdowns have brought their case rate down to 10 per million, are rather annoyed at Portugal for admitting British tourists.

The contrast between the Europe/USA and East Asian experiences has been one of the most notable features of this pandemic, but, as Hong-Kong based writer Timothy McLaughlin writes in The Atlantic, the tables may be turning. “Much of Asia cannot (or will not) yet get jabbed, so the region is still having to rely on suppression tactics”, he writes: The countries stuck in coronavirus purgatory.

In the “developed” countries in our region, long runs of zero or very few cases have bred a certain complacency. Governments that did well on early public health measures have been less attentive to the need to buy or produce vaccines. As a result we and our Asian neighbours will probably have to muddle through with recurring lockdowns for quite a while, while Europe and the USA open up later this year.

Data sources

See our separate web page of hyperlinks to generally reliable information and analysis about Covid-19.

World politics and economics

The Biden administration: still in the hands of the plutocracy

“The U.S. working class, led by people of color, has, at least temporarily, defeated the criminal Trumpian regime and the specter of the consolidation of gangster neofascism.”

So commences Laurence Shoup’s essay The Council on Foreign Relations, the Biden team, and key policy outcomes in the Monthly Review.

The essay is a thorough analysis of the Biden Administration’s connections with, and accountability to, the US plutocracy. Biden and the Democrats generally have stressed their diversity in gender and in “race”, presenting a stark contrast to the bunch who surrounded Trump. But the people surrounding Biden have common educational and life experiences (Shoup avoids the Trumpian term “élites”), and they have established links to corporate America.  As with so-called “left” parties around the world, the US Democrats are conscious of “race” and gender, but are too inclined to ignore class.

Shoup writes:

A more radical approach would be for the Democrats (if led from the left by figures like Sanders) to switch from the politics of diversity to class politics. But this is not what Biden and his team are doing. Their emphasis on diversity (often mere tokenism) is superior to the Trump approach (a very low bar), but plays into the hands of the political right by stoking the rage and fear of the Republican base, based on cultural and class estrangement. This base is all too ready to act against its own economic interests due to its exclusionary white political perspectives. To overcome this there needs to be a focus on class politics, encompassing the broad economic and social injustices that working people have in common, as was done during the 1930s, while at the same time prioritizing the needs of front-line populations and communities oppressed on the basis of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and other invidious distinctions cultivated by capitalist society. Such a class perspective is the way to win back and unify the masses of working-class people.

The Biden administration’s connections with the US economic establishment has shaped its policy towards China and on climate change. Its approach to China is unnecessarily obsessed with military and economic competition, and its “Green New Deal” is over-reliant on the private sector, overlooking the benefits of placing energy utilities in public ownership.

Nevertheless, in spite of the lack of class-based policies, Shoup sees Biden’s Covid-19 relief package as a clear “step in the right direction”.

On a related theme Ralph Nader, writing in Counterpunch, points out the power of corporations in shaping US policy: It’s the iron collar of the corporate state until the people collar the Congress.  He analyses the sources of power and the way those with power exercise their influence, concluding that only governments, with strong support from electors, can counter the power of big business. He sees no other strong sources of countervailing power.

Is the neoliberal order finally dying?

New Statesman journalist George Eton asks Is the neoliberal era finally over?. In the years since 1980 the dominant narrative has been that regardless of what national governments attempt, the forces shaping global capitalism – privatisation, tax cuts, small government, suppression of unions, fiscal austerity – are irreversible.

But this confidence (reminiscent of Marxist historicism) is misplaced. National governments are asserting their powers. Eton cites the authority with which the Biden administration is appropriating funds to reconstruct America’s rundown physical and social infrastructure, and is moving to protect workers’ rights. In Britain a conservative government has pledged to raise the corporate tax rate. China is pursuing a model of authoritarian state capitalism.

The order that’s emerging is not necessarily “left” or “liberal”, but Eton’s point is that national governments are once again asserting their authority. To the disappointment of old-school communists and Friedmanites there is no one global model that will prevail.

The trajectory of Friedman’s ideas: is this the end?

In a New Republic essay – The end of Friedmanomics – Zachary Carter, writer-in-residence with the Omidyar Network and the Hewlett Foundation, traces the influence of Milton Friedman’s ideas on American economic and political thinking. He presents the rise of Friedman’s ideas as a play in five acts, starting with Freidman’s early life as a New Dealer (Act 1), through his conversion to the economic and political right (Act 2), his academic obsession with monetarism (Act 3), the adoption of his small government and fiscal conservatism ideas as economic orthodoxy (Act 4), and the Democrats’ acceptance of his ideas (Act 5).

But his star has waned. The contradictions and inconsistencies in his ideas, and his failure to understand the way those with economic power outwit the imagined dynamics of market capitalism, have become apparent to all but his most dedicated apparatchiks. Trump unwittingly helped destroy Freidman’s ideas (although he probably didn’t have the first idea what they were), and Biden has shaken off the Democrats’ embrace of Friedmanomics. Carter writes in conclusion:

Joe Biden is the first president to desecrate not only the tenets of Friedman’s economic ideas, but the anti-democratic implications of his entire philosophy. He is also the first Democratic president since the 1960s who has formulated and publicly endorsed a coherent defense of American government as an expression of democratic energy. It is a powerful vision that enjoys the support of a large majority of American citizens. He has nothing to fear but Friedman himself.

 Human rights

Human rights worldwide – an update

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has presented an update of the human rights situation. This is “a time of grave setbacks in human rights” she writes.

Her report covers a number of countries where the UN is concerned about deteriorating human rights. In our region China is mentioned in relation to the National Security Law in Hong Kong and reports of serious violations of human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Philippines is mentioned in relation to “alleged” extrajudicial killings by police. (You can get a less sanitised  description of the situation in the Philippines from Nicole Curato of the University of Canberra in her 15-minute Late Night Live session: Probing the Philippines’ brutal war on drugs.)

Bachelet draws attention to Sri Lanka’s treatment of Muslims and Tamils. As in so many countries Bachelet mentions, the Sri Lankan Government discourages investigations into crimes involving human rights violations. (Our immigration minister, however, seems to believe that Sri Lanka offers a warm welcome to returning Tamils.)

Living in an age of perpetual surveillance

On last week’s Saturday Extra Geraldine Doogue interviewed The Economist’s Jon Fasman on liberty and justice in an age of perpetual surveillance. She introduced the segment by asking “how to strike the right balance between powers police need to do their job as technology becomes more sophisticated, and our own rights to privacy”.

Fasman, author of We see it all: Liberty and Justice in an age of perpetual surveillance, does not dispute the benefits of police being well-equipped with technologies such as numberplate readers (although he is more wary about facial recognition technology), but he is concerned with the way police use the data they collect. Is it used to investigate crime, or is it accumulated into a database of citizens’ normal and legal activities? Does it leave “no space for disobedience”, leading to overpolicing in some areas and a concentration of convictions for minor nuisance crimes of already-disadvantaged groups?  (18 minutes.)

Polls and elections

Lowy poll – shifting affections

The mainstream media has reported on Australians’ shifting attitudes to China revealed in the latest Lowy Institute poll. The superficial message from the media is that Australians have turned against “China”. What the poll actually reveals is strongly negative attitudes towards the Chinese government and towards Chinese investment in Australia, while attitudes to Chinese people and Chinese culture remain highly positive, but are becoming a little more negative.

The most dramatic shift has been in response to the question “is China more of an economic partner or more of a security threat to Australia?” Three years ago 82 per cent saw China more as an economic partner, while 12 per cent saw China as a security threat. Those figures are now 34 per cent as an economic partner, 63 per cent as a security threat.  But that doesn’t mean Australians are signing on to the Morrison Government’s presentation of our threat environment in terms of military confrontation.  Cyberattacks from other countries, climate change and pandemics are seen as our top three threats. Right wing extremism is seen as an important or critical threat by 87 per cent of Australians.

Most Australians still believe we can sustain a good relationship with the United States and China at the same time, but we are concerned about the influence of both the US and China on our political processes.

There are questions on where we see Australia’s overseas reputation and our place in the world. Unsurprisingly we believe others give our Covid-19 response a strong mark, but we do poorly on climate change policy.

There is a set of questions on how we see the Coalition government’s handling of certain issues. The Coalition gets poor marks on climate change and managing our relationship with China. But they get high marks on managing the response to Covid-19 (people must have forgotten that the states forced the Morrison Government to act) and on economic management (which suggests that people don’t understand the extent to which successive Coalition governments have weakened our economic structure).

Essential – mixed messages on climate change

This fortnight’s Essential Report covers three topics – policies on climate change, our relationships with other countries, and our quarantine system.

Strangely and worryingly, the percentage of us who agree that “climate change is happening and is caused by human activity” has fallen from 64 per cent in 2017 to 56 per cent now. Among Coalition supporters only 44 per cent agree with that statement, while 40 per cent believe “we are just witnessing a normal fluctuation in the earth’s climate”. Similarly the percentage who believe we are not doing enough to address climate change has fallen from 62 per cent last year (just after the bushfires) to 45 per cent now.

A more promising finding is that very few of us want to see government support for coal or gas fired power stations, while 73 percent of us want to see government support for renewables. Another set of questions is about our attitudes towards acting on climate change. We believe we should follow other countries’ lead and adopt a net zero target for 2050, and we believe that investment in renewable energy will be good for the economy.

On foreign relations, the results are broadly similar to those revealed in the Lowy poll (see the item above). We like New Zealand and the UK, and our feelings towards China have turned negative in recent times. On most aspects there isn’t much difference between Coalition and Labor supporters on attitudes to China, but there are strong and predictable differences on attitudes to the US. It is notable that the proportion who believe that China has had a positive influence on Australia’s culture has fallen from 43 per cent to 32 per cent over two years. Is this a result of the Morrison Government and the right-wing media directing criticism at “China” rather than the “Chinese government”?

On hotel quarantine there are no surprises. Only 9 per cent of us think it should be in our long-term approach. We want purpose-built facilities (65 per cent). We blame the Victorian Covid-19 outbreak on a failure in hotel quarantine.

Iran – the religious right consolidates its power

The UK-based media group Iran International presents basic figures for Iran’s election last week. Ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi won 62 per cent of votes cast – a figure stressed by the government-aligned Iranian media. Iran International points out that at 49 percent, voter turnout was the country’s lowest in four decades: only 30 per cent of all eligible voters voted for Raisi. Also 14 per cent of votes were blank, communicating some combination of rejection of the idea of an Islamic Republic and a protest against the Guardian Council’s exclusion of candidates from the ballot paper.

Aljazeera has a short summary of how Raisi’s election was seen in other countries: World reacts to election of Iran’s new hardline President Raisi. Sweeping aside traditional Arab-Persian hostilities, and Sunni-Shia conflicts, authoritarian Islamic regimes, including Turkey and Pakistan, welcomed his election, as did Russia.

Joy at Barnaby’s return

Music originally composed by George Frideric Handel for the Bayrischeländlischepartei in 1721, celebrates the joyous occasion of Barnaby’s return.

If you have comments, corrections, or links to other relevant sources, we’d like to hear from you.  Please send them to Ian McAuley — ian, at the domain name

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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