SATURDAY’s GOOD READING AND LISTENING FOR THE WEEKEND

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).

China/universities: Growth in Chinese demand for international education from Australian universities has come with enormous benefits, but also greater risks. How should we rethink the way Australia engages with Chinese students in Australia, and Chinese scholars abroad? Fran Martin, Associate Professor at University of Melbourne, and Peter Varghese AO, Chancellor of the University of Queensland.

Where’s my pay rise? For all the news of Australia’s prosperity most workers haven’t had a notable pay rise since 2011. What’s keeping wages so low, and what other options are available to both employers and employees?

Dennis Altman’s unrequited love. Academic, writer and activist Dennis Altman first went to the US as a 21-year old. That trip set off a lifelong obsession with the US, its counter culture, its political and intellectual life. But how is that obsession faring in the age of Trump?

Long-haired rat: With its fate tied to our changing climate, the native long-haired rat is an unlikely “canary in the coalmine” for Australia. Environmental lawyer and cultural historian Tim Bonyhady discusses his new book, The enchantment of the long-haired rat: A rodent history of Australia.

Follow-up to last Saturday

On last week’s Saturday Extra Geraldine promised to provide a link to the ANZSOG work on flexibility and innovation in the public service (the second item in her broadcast).

Other commentary

Kenneth Hayne on royal commissions and democratic institutions

A speech on the mechanisms of royal commissions delivered at a conference on constitutional law would generally not gain much attention outside the legal profession, but Kenneth Hayne’s speech On Royal Commissions, delivered at the Melbourne Law School late last month, is directed at all who are concerned with the state of Australia’s politics and policy-development processes.

He covers the function of royal commissions – what they can and cannot do, and where they should fit in the policy development process. The first five pages of the transcript cover that ground. The rest of his speech is about failures in our political institutions, particularly executive government and our political parties. “Reasoned debates about issues of policy are rare”, he says. “Three or four-word slogans have taken their place”.

Morrison’s pep talk to public servants

Shannon Jenkins, writing in The Mandarin, has provided a summary, including extensive quotes, of Morrison’s pep talk to public servants last Monday. Unsurprisingly its style is bland, but that style fits with Morrison’s message that the public service is there to translate ministers’ wishes into outcomes, no matter how wacky, irresponsible, or guided by interest groups those wishes may be. Policy advice gets little mention and there is nothing about the traditional role of the public service in warning of impending policy challenges and evaluating and analysing existing policies and ministers’ proposals.

His approach is a long way from that taken by governments with agendas for reform, who see policy development as a cooperative exercise bringing together the expertise, knowledge and objectivity of public servants and the political knowledge and abilities of ministers. Writing in Pearls and Irritations, former public service head Mike Keating reminds us of the contribution the public service can make  to developing and implementing good public policy, while remaining non-partisan. “According to Scott Morrison the role of the public service is limited to implementing government policy, which may help explain the thinness of his Government’s policy agenda”.

We have a lousy intergenerational imbalance, and it’s getting worse

The Grattan Institute has released its report Generation Gap: Ensuring a fair go for younger Australians, written and researched by Danielle Wood and Kate Griffiths. With a rich array of supporting data, it finds that the economic gap between the old and the young has widened, partly in income and much more so in terms of wealth. Younger people may be hanging around waiting for an inheritance, but when it comes it will be when they least need it, such is the effect of increasing longevity. The report makes several recommendations, mainly in the area of tax breaks presently privileging high-wealth retirees, and also in relation to housing and superannuation.

Many of the recommendations are similar to those Labor took to the election, but they tend to be wider in scope and more politically ambitious.  One significant area where they depart from Labor is in suggesting that the Superannuation Guarantee Levy be held at 9.5 per cent.

John Hewson’s comment on the Grattan Institute’s work is paywalled in some papers but is available in the Bega District News: We didn’t want our kids to lag behind. He writes “so much of short-term politics over recent decades has simply just pushed the ‘big issues’, such as say housing affordability and climate, down the road, while often favouring older Australians simply in the hope of ‘tying up their vote’”.

What’s happening in the global and Australian economy?

“Where all this ends is anyone’s guess, but this is not sustainable.”  That’s Ian Verrender’s conclusion in an article on the ABC website  Global financial markets may be in the midst of a major moment in history. He goes through the common financial indicators – levels of debt, bond yields below zero in many markets, stock market indices, and some economic indicators such as trade. Recession fears are on the rise, and in response authorities are pushing more liquidity into the system, but there is no response in the real economy.

Private health insurance – a slow and costly death

APRA has released its quarterly report on Private health insurance membership and benefits to June 2019, revealing a continued fall in the proportion of Australians with hospital cover.  Over the last three years 100 000 Australians have dropped hospital cover. In itself that’s a bit less than a one per cent fall, but it’s a net figure, for the health insurers have lost 300 000 people under 70, while gaining 200 000 more people aged 70 or more. Because at around age 60 to 70 members switch from being net contributors to PHI to net drawers from PHI, actuarily the figures look like a death spiral.

Also this week Medibank Private and NIB reported to the stock exchange. NIB’s operating results reveal that over the year it received $2013 million in premiums while paying $1639 million in benefits, meaning that of every $1.00 contributors pay for private health insurance only 81 cents is spent on health care, while the rest goes to administrative overheads and profits. Medibank Private’s operations were a little less top-heavy, with 83 cents of each dollar of contributions going to health care. The comparative payout for Medicare, including the cost of tax collection, is around 95 cents in the dollar. That means most of the 25 percent PHI rebate goes to insurers’ overheads and profits.

Newspoll’s second report, but what does it mean?

William Bowe reports on the second Newspoll on the Dutton-Morrison Government.  Its headline two party preferred figure is a 51-49 lead for the Coalition. Their lead in the first poll was 53-47.

Treat these figures, particularly their apparent movements, with caution. We don’t know the extent of bias (systemic under- or over-estimation that affects every poll) or the size of sampling error (which will show small differences in results poll-to-poll, even if there is no underlying change).

The poll also shows that Morrison has a strong lead over Albanese as preferred prime minister, possibly reflecting Morrison’s success in making political representation into a contest of marketing rather than a contest of policies, and the opportunities for media appearances that accompany his office.

You heard it from a publican: Cormann was decisive in the putsch against Turnbull

Writing in Fairfax media, Max Koslowski gives another perspective  of the Dutton – Morrison ousting of Turnbull, namely the decisive role played by Mathias Cormann. He draws his article from former frontbencher and colleague of Turnbull, the publican Craig Laundy, who was launching David Crowe’s book Venom: Vendettas, Betrayals and the Price of Power.

Breaking news – some economists are biased

“Economists like to say they’re immune from ideological influence. Our research shows the opposite”. That’s the summary of research by Mohsen Javdani and Ha-Joon Chang, published by the Institute for New Economic Thinking. They report on an experiment in which academic economists were asked to comment on their agreement with economic quotes which were deliberately mis-attributed, without participants’ knowledge, to authors with “left” or “right” reputations. They found “economists’ self-reported political orientation strongly influences their ideological bias, with estimated bias going up as respondents’ political views move to the right”.

Making America dumb again

The Pew Research Center  finds that more Americans believe that colleges “have a negative effect” on their country. In 2012, 60 percent of Americans believed they had a positive effect; that figure is now down to 50 percent. The decline has been almost entirely due to a sharp fall in support among Republican or Republican-leaning voters, only 33 percent of whom now believe universities and colleges have a positive effect. Seventy-nine per cent of Republican supporters believe higher education is “going in the wrong direction”, because “professors are bringing their political and social views into the classroom”.

Writing in The Atlantic  Reihan Salam offers  possible explanations. Some are partisan political: in the mid-term elections Republicans did badly in districts with high levels of education, and scored 16 points higher than Democrats among “whites” without a college degree. (Not dissimilar to our own federal election.) Some explanations are to do with the poor workplace performance among graduates with generalist degrees, many of whom are overqualified for available jobs but lacking in technical skills.

American Christians speak out against xenophobic nationalism

Alarmed at a de facto  alignment of many Christians with Trump’s nationalism, the editors of Commonweal—Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant – have written a short manifesto rejecting “ethno-nationalism” and the view “that the stranger, refugee, and migrant are enemies of the people”. They warn that “in the 1930s many serious Christian thinkers in Germany believed they could manage an alliance with emergent illiberal nationalism”. (We know the tragic consequences of that belief.)

Never make predictions, particularly about China

“Modern China is one of the most unusual and surprising societies humankind has created. There are no good models for it, nor are there data from comparable historical situations.” So writes Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cohen in Bloomberg. He draws on past erroneous predictions to make his point: there was no way the puny British fleet could take on China in the Opium Wars; Karl Marx never imagined a communist revolution in an agrarian country like China; after joining the WTO in 2001 China was sure to liberalise politically. So we should be cautious about present predictions about Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China’s economic prospects.

Is Britain becoming a failed state?

That’s the question posed by former Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten in a post on Project Syndicate. Unsurprisingly the specific context of his article is Brexit and Boris Johnson’s idiocy. Patten wonders what has gone wrong. Isn’t government accountable to Parliament any more? Is there no longer respect for expertise? Are the country’s politicians no longer guided by norms of representative democracy and by the social and moral constraints of Burkean conservatism?

Will the United Kingdom become a shrunken state? That’s the question posed by Daniel Finn writing in Foreign Affairs  about the possibility of Irish re-unification. Many believe that the inconvenience of a hard border associated with a hard Brexit will prompt re-unification, but Finn points to a changing demography in Northern Ireland that may be an even stronger force pushing in that direction.

Vale Tim Fischer

The Guardian’s political editor Katherine Murphy has written an extensive chronicle of Tim Fischer’s life – a political life well led – in The Guardian. Train enthusiast (except when it was taking him to boarding school), Army officer who served in Vietnam, member of NSW Parliament, deputy prime minister, a conviction politician who took strong and unpopular stances, diplomat, father, Australian.

Theresa May’s parting glass

Our politicians still have some way to go if they wish to match the eloquence of Theresa May’s final speech to Britain’s House of Commons.

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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