Sep 7, 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).

Taking aim at the NRA: A number of Second Amendment advocacy groups are attempting to replace the troubled National Rifle Association as the most powerful gun rights group in America.  Guest: Robert J. Spitzer, Distinguished Service Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at State University of New York at Cortland and author of five books on gun policy.

Argentina on the brink. In the final of our four-part series on Latin American hotspots, we look at Argentina, currently in a fiscal crisis, its economy paralysed until the Presidential election next month.

Beyond Brexit: We’ve heard realms about the political and legal machinations of Brexit – but what effect is the crisis having on day to day life – and on the country’s sense of itself? Guests Geoffrey Robertson (and one other to be confirmed).

As conspiracy theories have moved from the margins to the mainstream, their agendas have become more political. Professor Quassim Cassam on what the growth of paranoid theories says about our culture.

The Pick: In our new monthly segment we ask people in the foreign policy field to recommend what they’re reading/watching/listening to about our region. Guests Brian Toohey and Katherine Mansted.

Other commentary

Morrison’s misdirected mistrust

On Schwartz Media’s 7ampodcast, Elizabeth Kulas asks Rick Morton just what Morrison means by his statement:

Quiet Australians have a trust deficit with the public service. I want the APS [the public service] to have a laser-like focus on serving these quiet Australians, those who don’t meet here, and you never hear from, largely.

It’s about the middle class Morrison says – although how one can have a “laser-like” focus on a broad class defies imagination and the rules of logic (but these aren’t Morrison’s strong points). It’s about mistrust, says Morton, even though there is ample evidence that while people mistrust government, they hold far more respect for the public service. (In the  most recent Essential Report on trust, the Commonwealth Public Service scores almost twice the level of trust as political parties.) He suggests that Morrison is trying to deflect mistrust in government to the public service – a task at which he may well succeed as he shapes it into a mere administrative arm of the Coalition.

Those quiet Australians aren’t so quiet, but Morrison isn’t listening to them

Writing in – Australia is in dire straits: crony capitalism and the collapse of democracy – journalist John Stapleton points out that Scott Morrison has gone straight back to business as usual and has completely ignored the interests of the quiet Australians who won him the election.

Morrison, never known as an ideas man, has increasingly presented as a fat self-satisfied seal frolicking in shallow seas. Meanwhile almost every single economic indicator is trending down and many of his so-called Quiet Australians fear a coming Depression.

If you live in Balmain, Norwood or Carlton you may not have much opportunity to hear from Morrison’s quiet Australians (who turn out to be quite rowdy). Stapleton fills that gap with some of their more eloquent conversations overheard in an Illawarra pub.

Immigration control: malevolence, hypocrisy and incompetence

The plight of a Tamil family from Biloela seeking to remain in Australia has brought to prominence the cruelty of the Government’s approach to asylum-seekers, Dutton’s inconsistency in exercising discretion, and his political opportunism in lifting the veil of secrecy over boat turnbacks just whenever it is politically convenient.

Putting all this into perspective, without specific mention of the Tamil family, is an ABC Big Ideas  program featuring a debate at Latrobe University: Australia and the people who come by boat. Two prominent lawyers, Julian Burnside QC and Frank Brennan SJ, remind us that offshore processing was a Rudd Government initiative, and both call for an approach to boat arrivals based on morality rather than political opportunism. Both offer solutions: Burnside’s is more far-reaching while Brennan’s is more sensitive to possible political restraints.

Burnside makes no attempt to play down his assessment of Morrison, commenting on his time as immigration minister:

He became the cruellest and the most explicitly malevolent immigration minister we have ever seen … it’s a scandal which our generation will never live down that we have just re-elected him as Prime Minister of our country.”

He goes on to remind us of the government’s misuse of language: “calling them illegal is just part of the dishonesty of this government”.

Burnside also points out that “those who lie about their need for protection are not those who come by boat. They are people who come on visitor visas or business visas”. Writing in Open Forum, Jon Coyne of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute points out the imbalance between the government’s political obsession with boat arrivals and its laxity in dealing with asylum claimants who come by air: Organised crime is testing Australia’s onshore migration program. Many of these have dealt with criminal gangs to falsify their visa applications, and on assessment, in the comparatively benign conditions of onshore processing, 80 per cent of them have had their claims rejected. This compares with those asylum-seekers on Nauru and Manus Island, 80 percent of whom have been assessed as genuine refugees.

Polls and elections

National – a survey of vote-changers

Nicholas Biddle of the ANU reports on a longitudinal study he and his colleagues undertook to track 1832 individuals, comparing their voting intentions in April with their actual votes in the May election. Confirming international and Australian evidence of voter volatility, 420 of those surveyed changed their votes when it came to the election, or had been undecided in April (62 respondents). Minor parties lost ground (i.e. in comparison with April’s voting intention), while the Coalition enjoyed a net gain in primary votes and Labor’s net position was virtually unchanged. Understandably, with such a small sample, results should be interpreted with caution, but “the main consistent finding was that those who lived in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods were the most likely to have changed their votes”. There was also weak evidence that women were more likely to change their votes than men.

The main self-reported factor driving voter change was respondents’ views of local candidates. Among those who shifted from Labor the main factor was a changed view on  Bill Shorten. Around 15 to 20 percent of those who changed did so because of policy announcements: both Government and Opposition policy announcements seem to have had some effect, but these effects were two-way, perhaps slightly to the detriment of the Coalition.

Essential with a cornucopia of polls

Essential has produced a series of poll results on the impact of government policies, people’s following of federal politics, interest in politics, migrant status, attitudes to statements on racism, the performance of Albanese and Morrison, and preferred PM. Because responses to these questions are classified by voting intention, they have obviously asked people their voting intention, but they have not published those figures separately. Assuming their sample of 1075 is free of bias and ignoring non-respondents (big assumptions) the implied voting preference are Coalition 38 to 40 per cent, Labor 35 to 37 per cent, Green 10 to 11 percent, and Independent/Other 14 per cent. Some specific findings include:

    • there are strong gender differences – compared with men, women are far less enthusiastic about both Morrison and Albanese as preferred PM, and are less inclined to believe the Morrison Government will have a positive influence on Australia;
    • overall we do not following politics closely – but Coalition voters are much more engaged than voters for other parties, while men are more engaged than women (football finals arouse far more interest than politics);
    • there are mixed results on racism statements – most people seem to fear being labelled as “racist” and about a third of respondents agree Australia is racist, but that figure is higher for migrants and indigenous Australians;
    • Morrison’s net approval improved after the election and is holding steady, while Albanese is about ten points behind, with both his approval and disapproval creeping up.

Queensland – state and federal

William Bowe’s Poll Bludger  reports on two YouGov Galaxy polls  conducted in Queensland.  Their poll of state voting intention has the 2PP outcome at 51-49 in the LNP’s favour, while their poll of federal voting intention has a 55-45 outcome for the LNP. Labor optimists (if there are any left) will point out that it is better than the election result, which came in at 59-41 for the LNP.

Hong Kong – many issues, but the protestors are united

Writing in The Conversation, Samson Yuen of Lingnan University reports on a survey of 8000 protestors. As with other protest movements the young are strongly represented, but unlike the Arab Spring or France’s Gilet Jaune protestors, the people protesting on the streets of Hong Kong are generally employed and highly educated. While the extradition bill dominated protestors’ early concerns, increasingly police behaviour and the more general erosion of political rights and liberties have become major concerns. Yuen also finds a strong degree of solidarity among the protestors.

Germany – the far right holds ground but does not advance

There have been state elections in Sachsen and Brandenburg, two of the five states that once constituted East Germany. They are also Germany’s easternmost states. The far right Alternativ für Deutschland did well (28 percent in Sachsen and 24 per cent in Brandenburg), strongly up on the 2014 state elections, but similar to their positions in the 2017 federal election. The Grüne (greens) have gained, while the Linke (remnants of the communist party) have lost significantly.

A guide to bribing politicians

If you intend to hand over $100 000 cash in an Aldi shopping bag to a politician, make your offer to a federal politician, not a state one.

That’s a conclusion to draw from an interview with Geoffrey Watson SC, former counsel assisting the NSW ICAC, in an interview on the ABC’s The World Today (linked through the Centre for Public Integrity).  He points out that while in NSW the State Electoral Commission and ICAC work hand-in-hand, there are no comparable agencies at the federal level to uncover corruption. The Federal Electoral Commission lacks the powers of the NSW Commission, and there is no federal ICAC equivalent. Morrison did put up a proposal before the election, but his model would be so weak that it “would be worse than having no commission at all”. It would not be able to investigate until a criminal investigation has been shown already to have occurred, its activities would be held in secret, it would not be able to look at the affairs of politicians, and it would not be able to look at past behaviour. He points out that 80 percent of Australians are in favour of a powerful and independent federal anti-corruption body. (5 minutes)

No matter how much the economy is failing, it isn’t a recession

That’s the official line, because by convention a “recession” is defined as two successive quarters of negative growth.  That is, translated into English, two successive quarters of decline.

The latest figures on GDP  show that the Australian economy is still growing, even if at just 1.4 per cent it is way down from the three to four per cent annual growth rate of the second half of last century.  It’s being supported by a strong population growth rate: at 1.6 per cent a year that’s one of the highest in the “developed” world.  That means businesses can at least stay open, even if they aren’t going to expand.

But in terms of what counts for “quiet Australians” to use the latest Morrisonism, people’s real (inflation-adjusted) income has been falling.

The first graph illustrates the difference between our weak GDP growth and our falling incomes. Over the last four quarters Gross Disposable Income per-capita has been zero or negative. In fact, apart from a few ups and downs, per-capita GDI has not moved since 2011. It is hardly surprising therefore that the latest quarterly figures show a sharp fall in household savings (the saving rate has gone negative): it would be even more surprising if people going heavily into debt were to go out and spend as Morrison hopes.

Another series published as part of the national accounts, which the government isn’t going to bring to our attention, is GDP per hour worked, an indicator of labour productivity. That’s shown in the second graph, and because it’s a fairly bumpy series, shown on the same graph is also its three year average change – the smoothed black line.

The trend is clearly downwards, and in the absence of structural reform (we lost our chance when we re-elected the Dutton-Morrison Government), there is no reason for it to pick up any time soon. In other words, this non-recession could last for some time.

Health care policy

Pharmacists’ regulation “anticompetitive, ludicrous and asinine”

They’re the adjectives used by former ACCC head Graeme Samuel to describe the present regulations protecting pharmacists from competition. He was on the ABC’s Sunday Roundtable  Pharmacy Battleground, appearing with Chris Freeman of the Pharmaceutical Society and Harry Nespoln of the College of General Practitioners. The quaintly-named Pharmacy Guild, which has been so successful in maintaining anti-competitive rules, turned down an invitation to appear. Location and ownership restrictions are resulting in high prices for consumers, impeding new technologies such as electronic prescriptions, denying opportunities for pharmacy co-location with GPs, and subjecting consumers to the inconvenience of restricted opening hours. The Liberal Party’s rhetoric may be about “choice” and competition, but when it comes to petulant rent-seekers they can be counted on to cave in.

Health insurers in trouble again

The ACCC has instituted court proceedings against Medibank Private Ltd, alleging that a subsidiary “ahm Health insurance” has made false representations about the benefits covered by its policies. The allegation is that members holding certain policies have been told they are not entitled to cover for joint investigations or reconstruction procedures, when in fact their policies do cover these procedures.

The flight from Brexit

Among those fleeing Britain (or what’s left of it) are some of the country’s best-known celebrities.

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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