May 25, 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).


Pharmaceutical companies aren’t developing new antibiotics. Some economists have new ideas to prod them into doing that. Guest: Natasha Loder, Health-care correspondent for The Economist.

What will the future relationship of Labor and the Greens be like?

Guests: Kosmos Samaras – Victorian Labor Assistant State Secretary and Deputy Campaign Director, and Zareh Ghazarian – political scientist in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University.

A Foreign Affair: The monthly panel on key international issues

Michael Fullilove, exec director of the Lowy Institute, on Australian foreign policy under the Morrison Government: Sabine Selchow, political scientist and research fellow, Sydney University, on the European Parliamentary Elections; Professor Ed Aspinall, ANU, on Indonesian election fallout.

Polling reconsidered

Two key pollsters join Saturday Extra to canvas the debates roiling pollsters themselves: Peter Lewis, executive director of Essential and a Guardian columnist, and John Utting, managing director of Utting Research, formerly the ALP’s national pollster for two decades.

 Sea people

The little-known story of Polynesian settlement. Guest: Christina Thompson, author of Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia.


Other commentary

Election post mortems

There is a plethora of opinion in the media, but little that draws on hard evidence. Accident theorists point out that aircraft crashes, nuclear power station melt-downs, and building collapses rarely have just one cause: there is usually a convergence of factors. So it is with failures in the democratic process.

One contribution that draws on hard data is by The Guardian’s Nick Evershed, who has produced eight scatter diagrams of swings to or away from the Coalition by electorate, by income, education, labour force participation, age, and immigrant vs native population composition.

Into the mill of ideas Tracey West of Griffith University, contributes a behavioural economics perspective  in an article in The Conversation. Three points: people are loss averse; people find it hard to compare between policy options; people are myopic – we don’t go for delayed gratification.

Analyst Kevin Bonham has a comprehensive coverage on the failure of opinion polls, covering a number of possible explanations and tentatively coming down to two possible factors – poor stratification (the way pollsters adjust for any demographic distortion in their sample) and a bias to poll the more politically engaged.

The ABC has released its final Vote Compass findings in a reader-friendly infographic.  Without knowing how it has dealt with possible sampling bias (it was an on-line survey) one should be careful in interpreting its precise numbers, but sampling errors would not explain the huge differences between political views in non-metropolitan Queensland compared with the rest of Australia. The data at the end of the display, based on hard voting figures, gives us reason to downplay some of the hype around the election outcome.

One person who predicted a Morrison win (and who had predicted the Trump and Brexit outcomes) is data mining expert Bela Stantic, whose approach is to analyse social media content.

Advice for the Dutton-Morrison government – get your fiscal policy in order

The conventional economic wisdom is that monetary policy (the setting of interest rates) is the job of the Reserve Bank, while fiscal policy (budget stuff) is left to the government, guided by Treasury. But what happens when a politicised Treasury has been producing an unrealistically optimistic outlook, in order to boost a government’s electoral chances?

The Reserve Bank responds with a dose of reality. That’s what happens.

Tuesday’s speech The Economic Outlook and Monetary Policy  by RBA Governor Philip Lowe seems to do just that. It comes close to promising that within the next couple of months it will lower interest rates. But the strongest message is the speech’s second-last paragraph, which essentially says that Morrison should get over his obsession with a balanced budget (an exercise in political impression management rather than sound economic policy) and give the economy a fiscal boost.

A strict interpretation of the Bank’s charter would be to say it should remain silent on fiscal matters, but the Bank is pointing out that monetary policy has gone almost as far as it can go. Six years of fiscal mismanagement cannot be fixed with interest rate cuts.

While Lowe‘s assessment of the economy is guarded (Reserve Bank governors must be cautious because they don’t want to be accused of spooking the economy), Ross Gittins is a little more blunt. He reminds us that we’ve gone “28 years without a severe recession. Starting to sound ominous”.

And a titbit of information that may or may not have anything to do with the world economy is that a Monet painting has just sold for $US 110.7 million at a Sotheby’s auction. Its owners had bought it in 1986 for $US 2.5 million.  (In 1637, in the last days of the Dutch tulip mania, single bulbs were selling at about the same price as a well-appointed house.)

Tales from the Vienna woods

The Austrian Government, a coalition cobbled-together from centre-right and far-right parties, is falling. Deutsche Welle explains that Chancellor Sebastian Kurz will almost certainly lose a no-confidence vote on Monday, leading to fresh elections in September. This follows the emergence of a video recording a discussion between Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and a woman claiming to represent Russian oligarchs. She was offering to buy the influential Austrian newspaper Kronen-Zeitung, which would give his Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ) favourable political coverage, in exchange for favourable deals for government contracts and a muzzling (or privatisation) of the country’s national broadcaster. The incriminating video was recorded some time ago; according to DW  it is possible that its release is timed to warn voters in the European election about Russian influence.

Franz-Stefan Gady, writing in Foreign Policy, provides a broader context  of the postwar resurrection of the far right in Austria. Polls show that the release of the video has cost the FPÖ very little support.

Tales from a European offshore island: “She has no cards left to play”

There are many accounts about Britain’s Brexit problems. An Economist article provides a pithy summary. Theresa May has run out of options, and the likelihood of any deal is fading, leaving a no-deal Brexit or no Brexit as the only options. Boris Johnson looks increasingly likely to take May’s place, but this will solve nothing, as the country is more divided that at any time since the referendum.

Tales from the Gulf: The USA-Saudi Arabia love affair

British military support, Sharjah 1973

Anyone who studies a map realises that the oil fields of Saudi Arabia are a long way from the USA, and anyone who studies the world flow of oil knows that not much of that oil makes it to the USA. The simple proposition that Americans want Saudi oil for their gas guzzlers does not hold. Americans have other sources of oil, including their own.

So why is America, Trump’s isolationist America, so supportive of Saudi Arabia, a country whose human rights record is in the same broad space as North Koreas?  Why do the British stand behind the Americans in that support and why have they been so involved in propping up the feudal regimes in the Persian Gulf? Cairo-based journalist Tom Stevenson, writing in the London Review of Books, reviews David Wearing’s AngloArabia: Why Gulf Wealth Matters to Britain.  It’s about geopolitical control, and it’s about propping the US currency explains Stevenson.

BHP: greener than Labor

While the Palaszczuk Government has been hastening to get the Adani coal mine moving, in a strategy presentation  to shareholders on Wednesday BHP has quietly announced that it does not see a strong future for thermal coal. It is far more optimistic about copper, demand for which will grow with the uptake of electric vehicles.

The ABC’s Peter Ryan reports that former Howard minister Helen Coonan has been appointed chair of the Minerals Council of Australia. Will she will persuade BHP’s directors to see their error in yielding to the influence of egoistic scientists and green tree-huggers?

Private health insurance

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has released its quarterly report on private health insurance. Unless you eagerly await the release of reports with big Excel worksheets this publication may have passed you by.

Over the year to March, the number of Australians with PHI cover has fallen by 60 000, or from 45.5 to 44.5 per cent of the population.  Of concern to the industry would be the continuing shift in the age profile of those with cover. That net fall of 60 000 is made up of a loss of 120 000 people under 60, and a gain of 60 000 of people aged 60 and more. (Members aged 60 or less tend to be net contributors to PHI, while older members are net drawers from PHI.)

Doctors warn Australia’s private health sector is heading towards a US-style system is the headline of an article by the ABC’s Stephanie Dalzell, reporting on AMA President Tony Bartone’s address to the group’s national conference.  In an ominous sign that the Commonwealth may be further supporting private insurance, Dalzell quotes a spokesperson for Health Minister Hunt saying that PHI is an integral part of the health system and that the Coalition is “currently implementing reforms to make it more affordable.”

The Coalition’s economic program clarified

During the election campaign Morrison was criticised for not articulating his party’s policies.  To rectify this impression Morrison has given The Shovel  an exclusive briefing  on the Coalition’s priorities.

Saturday’s Good Reading and Listening is compiled by Ian McAuley

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


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