May 11, 2019

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

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

Geraldine talks with:

Fishery scientist Professor Caleb Gardener from the University of Tasmania, about marine policies from both the major political parties;

Former diplomat John McCarthy on why foreign policy is so important in this election;

Former Victorian premier John Brumby and Chair of the Australian China Business Council, about the future of Australia’s business relationship with China;

Election Express with Ashleigh Force, editor of the Circular Head Chronicle  located in north west Tasmania, and Lloyd Polkinghorne, editor of the Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper located in north west Victoria and covering south west NSW;

Elizabeth Kiss, the first female warden of the Rhodes Trust on the continuing importance of the Rhodes Scholarship.

Other commentary

There’s a fair bit of political content this week. From next Saturday, when the din has subsided, we should be able to get back to fewer and more serious topics of public policy. 

Polls – no seismic shifts

William Bowe’s Poll Bludger shows little movement in opinion polls. His BludgerTrack  aggregation of polls shows a two-party split of 51.8-48.2 in favour of Labor (10 May). Within those figures both main parties may be losing some primary vote – Labor to the Greens, Coalition to One Nation and United Australia. Betting markets (also reported on his site) would pay out $5.00 for a Coalition win and $1.16 for a Labor win, on a $1.00 wager.

All polls are subject to errors of estimate, but reputable pollsters take care to guard against bias. There remain sources of bias almost impossible to guard against, however. In an interview on Late Night Live Phillip Adams talks with behavioural economist Cass Sunstein about the ways people’s responses to polls may reflect not only their own preferences, but what they believe to be the preferences of others. This is a factor that explains some sudden shifts in polls, and shocks when election outcomes catch pollsters and political strategists by surprise.

The Leaders’ debate – did you fall asleep in front of the TV on Wednesday night?

The Leaders’ Debate on Wednesday night didn’t provide viewers with much enlightenment – possibly because of its highly formalised and constricted format. Most independent commentators were neutral in their assessment or gave the debate to Labor by a small margin. Michelle Grattan, whose comments are generally very cautious (“on the one hand; on the other hand”), suggested that Morrison painted himself into a corner with a hasty and unconsidered answer to a question on his plans for missing environment minister Melissa Price.

Writing in The Canberra Times, John Hewson reports that he found viewing “frustrating and disappointing”, the debate being just another ritual in a dumbed down election campaign.

The cost of Labor’s climate change policy: 42

In that debate Morrison, once again, hounded Shorten to provide a costing on Labor’s climate change policies.  “Only the stupid could think the cost of climate change is simple” writes Ross Gittins. Uncharitably one could ascribe stupidity to Morrison for asking such a question; more charitably, but no less damning, is the probability that Morrison believes the electorate to be stupid enough to expect a categorical answer. (Perhaps Shorten’s best answer may have been “forty-two”.)

Erring on the cautious side

While estimating the economic costs of climate change policies is impossible, making projections of fiscal costs of taxation revenue can be done within a reasonable band of error. Labor has been insisting that the Coalition reveal its estimates of the cost of its proposal to reduce taxes for those with incomes more than $180 000. Labor has been estimating that those cuts would cost the budget $77 billion over the next ten years, based on analysis by the Australia Institute. RMIT ABC Fact Check has put the question to two other independent institutions – the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods and The Grattan Institute. Their estimates are $88 billion and $89 billion respectively: Labor has been too generous to Morrison. That’s another $11 to $12 billion that will not be available for education, health care and infrastructure if the Coalition is elected.

Bill Shorten unshackled

More enlightening than the choreographed Leaders’ Debate was Bill Shorten’s solo appearance on the ABC’s Q&A, where he faced questions from real, live voters, without the dulling intermediation of journalists’ framing. He understands leadership in a way that politicians such as Putin, Morrison and Trump don’t. Two quotes:

Leadership in this country isn’t always about telling people what they want to hear. It is about telling the truth to people about what you are trying to do.


My style of leadership is not that of ‘I know best and everyone else must do as I say’. I’m not a lone ranger, I’m not going to be a messiah, I don’t believe in the sort of authoritarian strong man that says ‘I will do this and everyone will just follow’.  That doesn’t work.

He was relaxed, attentive, good-humoured and respectful to all questioners, listening and pausing for thought before giving his answers. He showed empathy, acknowledging that some people would be hurt by policies that Labor was promoting for the greater good. He did not pretend to have all the answers and acknowledged some of the government’s good policies. Above all, he supported his answers — often given in detail with mastery of the facts — with explanation of the principles underpinning his policies. This was no insipid Tony Blair “third way” (a little socialism here, a little capitalism there). Rather it was about Labor’s vision of fairness, inclusion and a society in which people could realize their capabilities.

Morrison’s unscripted responses and explanations in a similar situation can be found here.

And some unrestrained comment

While Shorten has been careful not to follow Morrison’s relentless negativity, Paul Keating has taken it upon himself to expose the emptiness of the Coalition’s economic policies. Most media have been obsessed by his comments on China and our security agencies, but his 17 minute interview with Andrew Probyn and Jane Norman also covered productivity, the wage-profit share, energy policy, and superannuation (his obsession for a 12 per cent contribution).

Even more on Labor’s policies

A principle of political neutrality would suggest equal exposure to the Coalition’s policies. But the Coalition – or more properly Scott Morrison because the rest of the ministry has not been allowed to get out of the car – can talk about nothing but Labor’s policy, or what they would have Australians believe to be Labor’s policy. Writing in The Guardian Katharine Murphy points out that to the Coalition the election isn’t about policy, but about a choice between Morrison and Shorten. A “bloke-off”. It’s a leadership failure according to Murphy:

There is a vacancy here, in a grand Australian institution. The institution is hollowed out and, headed by a leader intent on presenting himself as the solution to those problems, who thinks he can keep the show afloat through an act of individual will.

A fiscal “bloke off”

Former Treasury official and journalist Peter Martin, writing in The Conversation, sees the fiscal contest in a Mine are bigger than yours  frame. It didn’t take much calculation for him to correctly forecast that Labor, in its since-released election costings would forecast a bigger budget surplus than the Coalition. Many contributors to Pearls and Irritations  have commented how the Coalition’s obsession with the fiscal balance trivialises the complex task of economic management. That obsession may be coming back to bite them – “the Coalition’s worst nightmare” to quote Martin.

Breaking news: women in politics can be trusted

“New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Labor Senator Penny Wong, former Liberal foreign minister Julie Bishop and Labor’s deputy leader Tanya Plibersek have been named among the Australian people’s most trusted leaders.”

This is Samantha Dick’s summary  in The New Daily of a survey of 1400 Australians who were asked to rate politicians on qualities related to trustworthiness. The survey, conducted by the advertising magazine Bandt, gives Adern the clear lead, while none of the men even managed to score 50 per cent.

Religion and politics

On the ABC’s Religion and Ethics ReportAndrew West has three short interviews with experts on the possible influence of religion in the coming election:

Andrew Singleton of Deakin University on The discrete Pentecostal vote. The quarter of a million Australians who describe themselves as “Pentecostalists” (including Scott Morrison), and who tend to be concentrated in outer-suburban electorates, are generally conservative on issues such as abortion, marriage and LGBTQI rights, but that does not mean they necessarily vote for conservative parties on issues such as social justice, economic inequality or climate change.

Awais Piracha of the University of Western Sydney on The significance of the religious vote in Western Sydney. This is one of the most culturally diverse regions in Australia. Its Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims all show much higher levels of religious adherence than Australian as a whole, and tend to conservatism on most social issues, as revealed in the region’s high “no” vote in the marriage equality plebiscite. Such conservatism may be seen as indicating an attachment to the Coalition, but Piracha points out that these are strong Labor electorates, because they are socially disadvantaged, and they do not see the Coalition as representing their economic interests.

Also from Western Sydney Jamal Rifi, a GP and respected community leader, on The effect of faith on politics.  Andrew West joins with him in an evening Ramadan fast-breaking meal to discuss the community’s anxieties about hate speech, perceived threats to religious freedom, and the possible radicalisation of young men – a radicalisation that can be prompted by hate speech. Although the community is socially conservative, there is a general feeling that the Coalition has done far too little to distance itself from far-right xenophobic and intolerant movements.

No cover of religion and politics would be complete without a mention of Fr Rod Bower, the Anglican priest – well known for his placards supporting refugees – who is standing for the Senate as part of ICAN – Independents for Climate Action Now.

“We kind of know what the editorial line is at the paper”

Does Murdoch dictate the News Corporation’s hysterical anti-Labor line? He doesn’t have to, says News Corp journalist Rick Morton, in an article by The Guardian’s Amanda Meade.  “Murdoch hires editors who are very much like him”.  News Corp staff are deeply uncomfortable at the partisan interference from senior staff who routinely change content, write misleading headlines, and completely re-write tabloid front pages.

When the voting is over

Only another seven sleeps till the election, but what then? Writing in The Public Sector Informant, Peter Mares reminds us that democracy is an ongoing process.  It’s about far more than the race for office, in which “would-be leaders appeal to people’s appetites and encourage a chaos of shrill, competing demands”.

The Reserve Bank holds its fire – for now

Contrary to the expectations of some speculators, the Reserve Bank didn’t reduce interest rates last Tuesday. The Governor’s statement  suggests that there are some stirrings of an upturn in the economy. Commenting on the decision to hold rates steady Jessica Irvine, writing in Fairfax media, acknowledges that monetary policy lacks the oomph it once had. (In view of the different fiscal priorities of the two contending parties, it would have been strange for the RBA to have made a move before the election.)

The Reserve Bank’s Statement on Monetary Policy, released yesterday (Friday), revises economic forecasts downwards, including those in the Commonwealth budget. GDP growth and consumption expenditure are both forecast to be soft. On the other hand it is expecting some modest growth in real wages.

Behind the numbers – food insecurity

Social welfare issues in election campaigns are generally expressed in dollar terms – how many dollars will a tax cut  help the average household, the effect on the price of electricity, and so on. Writing in Open Forum  Sue Kleve of the Monash School of Clinical Sciences reminds us that up to 3.6 million Australians “struggle to maintain food security and often fall into food insecurity”.

Two new economic news sources

Schwartz Media, publishers of The Monthly, Quarterly Essay, Australian Foreign Affairs  and The Saturday Paper, have announced two new daily publications Australian Energy Daily  and Australian Banking Daily. The full versions are pricey, but they offer free  “shortened but useful versions” .

An American view on our election

Americans often find our electoral institutions such as an independent electoral commission, preferential voting and compulsory voting to be puzzling and quaint. But in this election they have found a candidate to whom they can relate in the same way as they relate to their own much-loved president.

Saturday’s Good Reading and Listeningis compiled by Ian McAuley

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

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