Saturday’s good reading and listening for the weekend

Dec 5, 2020

What people in other forums are saying about public policy

The Australian economy

OECD Economic Outlook – advice the Morrison Government doesn’t want to hear

Mainly because of advances in vaccine developments, the December OECD Economic Outlook is a little more optimistic for world growth than in the June outlook.  Out of the countries it covers (OECD members plus selected large economies), China is the only country to see growth this year (1.8 per cent – low by Chinese standards), but all other countries should see growth in the next two years. It also shows strong declines (> 10 per cent) this year in Greece, Spain, the UK and Argentina.

Its general advice for governments is that “this is not the time to reduce support, as was done too early in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis”, and it advises that fiscal support should be managed carefully:

There are at least three priorities for policymakers. First, investing in essential goods and services such as education, health, physical and digital infrastructure. Second, decisive actions to reverse durably the rise in poverty and income inequality. Third, international cooperation: the world cannot solve a global crisis through single-country and inward-looking actions.

Note that tax cuts for the already well-off are not included in these recommendations.

In its section on Australia it warns of the consequences of the scheduled wind-back of government programs, and of tensions in the China-Australia relationship. Those warnings have been reasonably well-covered in the mainstream media, but the OECD also has some advice that most journalists seem to have missed:

…  to mitigate partly rising inequalities caused by the pandemic, the authorities should permanently strengthen the social safety net and support increased investment in social housing.

Notably, while the OECD supports reforms in property taxes (as has occurred in New South Wales) there is no endorsement of personal income tax cuts.

With such advice coming from the OECD, it’s no surprise that the Morrison Government is trying to get Mathias Cormann appointed as its next secretary-general – a disaster for the OECD as John Wren warns in Independent Australia.

Saul Eslake on the Australian economy

Saul Eslake packs a great deal into his occasional few minutes on the ABC evening news, but we rarely have an opportunity to hear him over an extended period.

He has been a guest on The Elephant in the Room property podcast –  What does top economist say on the current economic environment. His 70-minute interview with Veronica and Chris Bates is wide-ranging, but in distinct blocks:

The first 15 minutes (after the introductions) are about the pandemic, globally and locally. Australia’s fortune is that, unlike Europe and the USA, we weren’t guided by the idea that we had to manage a trade-off between health and the economy. We will come out of the pandemic with less economic damage and with more fiscal headroom than those countries. There will be no return to economic life as it was before the pandemic, however. “At some point we’ve got to step away from measures that are primarily to save existing jobs and businesses towards measures that are going to underwrite the post-Covid world, whatever it is.”  One medium-term consequence of the pandemic is that we have become more risk-averse.

From around 15 to 25 minutes he contrasts the way New South Wales and Victoria have handled the pandemic, focussing on differences in administrative practices in the two states. (In doing so he explains why you are more likely to get a speeding fine in Victoria than in New South Wales.) Victoria may have lost some of its attraction to immigrants he concludes.

From around 25 to 40 minutes the discussion is about monetary policy – a matter of obvious interest to property investors. He explains the Reserve Bank’s measures beyond the idea that it has only one big policy lever (the overnight cash rate): the RBA has been using other mechanisms to establish confidence in medium-term borrowing rates, and it won’t make the mistake of raising rates too quickly as incipient inflation develops. Interest rates for borrowers could stay low for some time.

From about 40 to 50 minutes he discusses the implications for Australia of a Biden presidency. We can expect some more respect for international institutions, and strong economic pressure to pull our weight on climate change.

From about 50 to 60 minutes he addresses our economy’s structural vulnerabilities – the folly of relying on population growth, our over-dependence on China, and our use of debt to shore up the illusory benefit of high real-estate prices (probably something his real-estate hosts did not want to hear).

From then to the end the discussion is about economic growth. There are plenty of ways to grow the economy, particularly in service sectors, without wrecking the planet. We need well-paid and well-respected service jobs, particularly in areas such as aged care. We seem to be conditioned to thinking that economic growth is about making stuff.

House prices – no improvement and worse to come

Even Adelaide’s modest dwellings are becoming unaffordable (East Terrace)

For a time it looked like housing might be becoming more affordable, but according to CoreLogic data (partly published on Yahoo Finance), November figures reveal that nationally the median home value has risen by 3.1 per cent over the year, a little faster than median wages. The rise has been worst (above 5 percent) in those cities once considered to be more affordable – Canberra, Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart. It has also been strong in what CoreLogic calls “regional” areas (i.e. other than capitals). Only in Melbourne has there been a slight improvement in affordability, where prices have fallen by 0.9 per cent.

In a separate document CoreLogic attributes the problem of high and rising house prices (although they don’t see is as a problem) to low nominal interest rates, mortgage payment deferrals, and the fact that many of those who have lost their jobs were not in the housing market anyway. Tim Lawless, CoreLogic’s head of research, suggests that we could see a reversal of any short-lived Covid-induced fall in house prices as early as January or February next year when prices will rise.

We’re out of recession – if you use Mexican mathematics

There is a story about road authorities in Mexico who, by re-painting line markings, converted a four-lane road into a six-lane road, thus increasing its capacity by 50 per cent.  But because there were too many accidents in the narrow lanes they converted it back to four lanes, reducing its capacity by 33 per cent. According to the performance metrics kept by the transport department, the net result was a 17 per cent increase in the road’s capacity, on the arithmetical basis that 50 – 33 = 17.

That’s the shonky mathematics of those who refer only to changing percentages, for example claiming that because Australia has now had three months of economic growth, Australia is no longer in recession. If we accept a definition of a “recession” as two quarters of negative growth (”decline” is the usual word in English), then, as shown by the ABS, we are out of recession because we had negative GDP growth in the March quarter (-0.3 per cent) and in the June quarter (-7.0 per cent), followed by growth (3.3 per cent) in the September quarter. But to illustrate the meaninglessness of the “two quarter” definition, think of the figures if the virus had arrived a couple of weeks later, and we had just gotten through the March quarter with a positive figure, had a worse contraction in the June quarter, and had scraped through the September quarter with another positive figure: we could have claimed that we had gone 30 years without a recession, or, with a few minor re-allocations of the timing of economic events, that we had gone since 1788 without a recession.  To its credit the ABS does not talk about “recessions” – they leave it to journalists and politicians to abuse the data.

In any event, GDP figures are boosted by population growth. A figure closer to people’s lived economic experience is per-capita economic growth, and when we plot per-capita GDP over the last three years we see that we’re still a long way behind where we were before the virus arrived, and that the economy has been tracking fairly sluggishly for the last two years.  (If we were really finickity we could point out that in per-capita terms we had two quarters negative per-capita GDP growth in the September and December quarters of 2018.)

And what is the source of this re-bound? The biggest jump in the quarter (41 per cent) has been in “accommodation and food services”, as restaurants, cafes and pubs re-open. While some have had to tighten their food consumption, we have gone on eating and drinking at home. For the most part this recovery is simply a transfer of activity from the home, where it isn’t measured in national accounts, to restaurants, cafes and pubs, where it is measured. That’s not to deny that people in these industries have suffered hardship and are now partly recovering, but that’s a problem in how we distribute opportunities for paid employment. In terms of real economic activity – people doing things whether paid or not — both the dip and the rebound are overstated by the figures.

Unemployment – stop congratulating ourselves on low unemployment rates

Alan Austin has been asking what is actually revealed in our official measures of unemployment. One well-known bias is that, in line with the convention in other countries, the ABS counts someone as “employed” if they have worked as little as one hour a week, and it has a restrictive definition of labour force participation. Writing in Michael West Media  Reality underemployed: time for truth in jobless figures – he draws our attention to the Roy Morgan series on unemployment, which uses more realistic definitions of employment and labour force participation than the ABS, thereby revealing an unemployment rate about three to four per cent higher than the ABS rate, and the gap between the series is widening.

Using data up to February 2020 (i.e. pre-Covid) Austin shows that relative to other OECD countries our employment has been worsening over the years, and he has developed a time series using different but defensible definitions revealing a very poor trend in full-time employment.

Why blueberries are cheap – thank workers in slave conditions

We hear accounts of farmers who, even though they offer award and over-award conditions, cannot attract seasonal labour – a problem heightened by Covid travel restrictions.

But in some regions there is a plentiful supply of people seeking work, where thugs in the horticultural industry, using labour-hire firms, employ “working holiday-makers” in conditions close to slavery. Conditions applying to working holiday visas result in a power imbalance hugely in favour of employers.

In union-sponsored research The McKell Institute has documented a concentration of such conditions in the Coffs Harbour region of New South Wales –  Blue Harvest: wage theft & other labour infringements in the NSW Mid-North Coast’s 2019/20 berry harvest. The victims are not only the young holiday-makers paid as little as $5 or $3 an hour and subject to outrageous charges for miserable accommodation. Other victims include those horticulturalists who abide by the law and treat workers with respect. They are at a competitive disadvantage in a tough market: it’s enough of a struggle in any rural industry without having to compete with thugs.  And as the report points out, the whole nation suffers reputational damage:

Originally designed as a cultural exchange initiative, a functional WHM [working holiday-maker] program would see its participants emerge as lifelong ambassadors of the values Australians hold dear. We should expect all WHMs to experience the best of Australia. Instead, too many experience the worst of Australia, often spending months under the employ of exploitative actors who are willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of their staff — and the reputation of Australia — for their own personal profit.

The pandemic’s progress

Australia –  yet another hotel quarantine failure

Just when New South Wales was two days off a four-week run without a locally acquired case, a worker in a quarantine hotel has contracted Covid-19.

Nationally there are around ten new cases a day among people in quarantine. So long as there is reliance on hotels for quarantine such instances are inevitable, as Norman Swan points out.

It turns out that this worker was also working in another hotel and was using public transport on a long commute. Has the New South Wales Government learned nothing from the Victorian and South Australian experiences? Hotel quarantine workers should be paid adequately so that they do not need a second job, and can be compensated for using safer transport to commute, such as their own car.

Europe and the USA

In most European countries cases have peaked. The Economist attributes Europe’s improving situation to lockdowns: Why Europe’s second, less severe lockdowns are working. The viral spread rate – the crucial number R that must be kept below 1 – has responded to restrictions on movement imposed by these lockdowns. The authors base their confidence in lockdowns on data revealed in the regularly-updated article Tracking the coronavirus across Europe. This article, covering 16 countries, shows clearly the benefits of lockdowns in suppressing cases and reducing deaths.

It is difficult to predict what will happen as Europeans receive immunisation: there are scenarios that could see an increase in infections (but not necessarily deaths) in the early phases of a vaccine rollout.

Cases in the USA seem to have peaked, but when cases are running at a very high rate there will be many undetected cases, and the predicted Thanksgiving surge is yet to be manifest.

In poor countries it’s not the virus: it’s the global recession and the lockdowns

“By the end of the year, the number of people facing starvation will have nearly doubled, to reach 270 million across 8 countries.”  That’s a quote from a speech by UN Under-Secretary-General for Human Affairs, Mark Lowcock, at the Geneva launch of the Global Humanitarian Overview 2021. The global recession and lockdowns have been responsible for “rising food prices, falling incomes, drops in remittances, interrupted vaccination programmes, school closures, and heightened risks of gender-based violence” in poor countries.

He points out that “next year, $35 billion dollars is needed to help 160 million of the most vulnerable people in 56 countries around the world.”

(To put that figure of $US35 billion into context, our fiscal deficit this year – the amount of extra public debt we are prepared to incur in order to support the Australian economy – is around $US140 billion.)


Sources of generally reliable information and analysis about Covid-19 are on a separate web page. On Norman Swan’s Thursday and Friday Coronacast sessions he talks about vaccines: there is no need for us to be in a hurry.

The Coalition’s war on renewable energy

A requiem for coal

The lead article in The Economist  this week is Time to make coal history.  “Coal’s days are numbered. The sooner it is consigned to museums and history books, the better.”

The Economist’s articles are paywalled, but you should be able to pick up a copy at a newsstand from early next week.

Other Australian politics

Labor must win over suburban Christian males who drive twin cab utes

A possible vote for Labor?

Just kidding, but the point John Quiggin makes in his Inside Story article We’re all “real Australians” is that Labor won’t win elections by targeting some groups, such as an imagined group of suburban conservative voters.

He uses an electoral map of Sydney to dispel some common myths – that Labor is too focussed on inner-city elites, and that it has been deserted by those living in outer suburbs. “Labor would do best to present a coherent centre-left platform, and seek to appeal to all its current and potential supporters, rather than focus on some and deliberately alienate others” he writes.

Progress in overcoming indigenous disadvantage: a mixed report card

The Productivity Commission has released its 2020 report on overcoming indigenous disadvantage.  You can watch a two-minute introduction by Commissioner Romlie Mokak   and Commission Chair Michael Brennan, and you can delve into its findings in its Overview, accessible from the main page.

It’s a mixed report. There has been progress in early childhood development and in economic participation by indigenous Australians. There has been some improvement in participation in higher education, but year 10 school attendance has slipped.  There are worrying indicators on child abuse and neglect, and on imprisonment and youth detention.

Aged care – a reform agenda

“Our aged care system is a mess and is not fit for purpose”. That’s an introductory quote from the Grattan Institute’s report Reforming aged care: a practical plan for a rights-based system by Stephen Duckett, Anika Stobart and Hal Swerissen. They make three broad recommendations, calling for:

  • universal access to care, with funding linked to individuals’ needs;
  • face-to-face help for older people to obtain “a range of diverse and high-quality options” which would be made available in a more decentralised system rather than one administered purely from Canberra;
  • a primary health focus, promoting healthy ageing and better integrating aged care with health care.

Such reform requires funding: they suggest $7 billion a year.  (That’s a lot less than the $22 billion annual bill for tax concessions for superannuation earnings.)

Whatever happened to ministerial accountability?

There is a long list of ministers who have resigned over improprieties. But apart from Bridget McKenzie’s resignation over sports funding, these cases are in a distant past. Resigning over improprieties is out of fashion in 2020.

So writes Chris Aulich, of the University of Canberra, in The Conversation: Why can politicians so easily dodge accountability for their mistakes? The troubling answer: because they can.

Richard Colbeck, Stuart Robert and Angus Taylor may be able to get away with dodging accountability, but Aulich points out that voters seek and vote for candidates who abide by conventional values, such as honesty and integrity. That may explain the growing support for independents.

Robodebt – a memorable and costly fiasco

The Government’s $1.2 billion payment in settlement of Gordon Legal’s class action is not the end of the robodebt story.  An inquiry by the Senate Community Affairs Committee is due to present its report in February, and Labor has promised to establish a royal commission when it is elected to office.

Writing in The Conversation, Peter Whiteford of ANU describes the five-year history of the scheme –  Robodebt was a policy fiasco with a human cost we have yet to fully appreciate. In describing robodebt as a “fiasco” he doesn’t use the word loosely. Drawing on the work of Peter Hall, author of Great planning disasters, he distinguishes a “fiasco” from other policy failure in that a fiasco “is commonly regarded as being reasonably foreseeable – that is, the failure should or could have been avoided with foresight”.

The Guardian’s Full Story podcast has a 26-minute program Justice for robodebt victims?, which goes into details of some of the government’s bullying behaviour. The onus of proof was assigned to the accused; as victims won cases in the tribunal (76 cases) the decisions were kept secret and dealt with as individual aberrations rather than as a systemic failure; victims were harassed by private debt collectors; and the minister (Tudge) publicly threatened victims with jail.

The $1.2 billion settlement probably underestimates the financial cost to victims, and it certainly does not compensate for the stress they endured. It’s also been a convenient way for the government to avoid any scrutiny or accountability. No one in the ministry or in the public service has suffered any consequences. This raises the serious issue of the integrity of the public servants involved, for it appears that they went on administering a program that they would have known to be illegal and inhumane.

Can we improve the Australia-China relationship?

In a ten-minute interview with Leigh Sales on the ABC’s 730 program, Kevin Rudd explains what has caused the Australia-China relationship to sink to its present level, and he suggests how it may improve.

Australia is certainly being singled out as a demonstration to others. But the latest incident involving a mock-up of an SAS soldier stands out for its ineptness. It is stupid, counter-productive and hypocritical (remember the cone of silence over the Tiananmen Square Massacre).

Our relationship with China is unlikely to stabilise until the Biden administration develops a proper US-China relationship. As that relationship develops we should be involved in the process, with the US and with like-minded powers. The Morrison Government should put away the megaphone and urge China to do the same.

There is a hint that the Morrison Government is shifting its rhetoric about our how we relate to the US. In a wide-ranging speech to the UK  Policy Exchange he extolled the virtues of international institutions (something of a break for the Liberal Party in 2020) and then went on to state the following:

Our actions are wrongly seen and interpreted by some only through the lens of the strategic competition between China and the United States. It’s as if Australia does not have its own unique interests or it’s [sic] own views as an independent sovereign state. This is just false. And worse it needlessly deteriorates relationships.

If we are to avoid a new era of polarisation, then in the decades ahead, there must be a more nuanced appreciation of individual states’ interests in how they deal with the major powers. Stark choices are in no-one’s interests.

Greater latitude will be required from the world’s largest powers to accommodate the individual interests of their partners and allies. We all need a bit more room to move.

As Stan Grant has interpreted the speech “Morrison sent a message to China that Australia will not be America’s ‘deputy sheriff’ and Canberra will not be making decisions based on a choice between Washington and Beijing”.

(It is odd, and indeed disrespectful to the Australians he is supposed to represent, for our Prime Minister to make a significant statement first in a speech to a think tank in a distant country for which the Australia-China relationship has little relevance.)


What has happened to the media so far this century?

In 2000 we had never heard the term “social media” – Facebook was still four years into the future, Google was in its infancy and Wikipedia was just about to come on to the scene. We were probably still picking up the daily newspaper from our front lawn or local shopping centre.

On last week’s Saturday Extra, Geraldine Doogue interviewed three experts about what has happened to media over the first 20 years of this century.  Much change has been shaped by technology: faster news cycles, fragmentation of audiences, the loss of a “shared reality”, commercial pressures as revenue from classified advertising evaporates, revenue from subscription struggling to replace lost advertising revenue.

They discuss implications for democratic engagement: what happens when quality journalism lies behind paywalls while the junk of gut feeling, conspiracy theories, prejudice and fake news is feely available on social media? In such a world trusted public broadcasting becomes crucially important. (29 minutes)

The Roy Morgan survey on media trust to which they refer is presumably the May 2020 survey of community attitudes to the ABC, linked by Friends of the ABC.

Julian Assange and Wikileaks – their contribution to the public purpose

Philip Adams’ Late Night Live devotes an entire 53-minute program to Wikileaks: Wikileaks and its continuing influence on journalism and foreign policy.

The first part (28 minutes) is about the influence Wikileaks had had on journalism and the public purpose. Wikileaks has brought innovation to journalism – the secure digital drop box (of use in fighting crime as well as in journalism), mechanisms of verification through attaching data links to articles, and the practice of global collaborative journalism. Also the treatment of Julian Assange has sharpened journalists’ attention to the risks they face when they confront power with truth.

Guests in this segment are Bernadette Brevini of the University of Sydney, Peter Cronau of the ABC, and Suelette Dreyfus of the University of Melbourne.

Brevini is one of the editors of  Beyond WikiLeaks: implications for the future of communications, journalism and society. Cronau is co-editor of A secret Australia revealed by the WikiLeaks exposés.

The second part is about how Wikileaks publications have contributed to our knowledge of foreign policy, particularly Australian foreign policy – knowledge that governments have preferred to keep under wraps. Our involvement in Afghanistan has been quite different from the impression conveyed by the military’s public relations people, and Iran’s policies have not been accurately presented to us.

The question of Australian subservience to the USA is a central theme of this segment. Have we been bullied by the USA into aligning aspects of our foreign policy with theirs, or has the choice to do so been ours, possibly in our government’s shared interests in a capitalist world order? Why have we aligned ourselves with some of America’s worst foreign policy proposals, on cluster weapons for example?

Another theme in this segment is the attempt by the US, as is evident in their case in Assange’s extradition hearings, to criminalise investigative journalism.

And there is general agreement that, beyond the basic consular services (that our government can provide for any Australian overseas) our governments have done nothing to secure Assange’s release.

Guests in this segment are Clinton Fernandes of UNSW, former Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, Felicity Ruby of the University of Sydney (co-editor of A secret Australia) and investigative journalist Antony Loewenstein.


Is war in our DNA?

On Late Night Live Phillip Adams interviews historian Margaret MacMillan, asking if war is an inescapable aspect of our being: “The Mark of Cain”: the relationship between war and humanity. Both optimists and pessimists can draw on MacMillan’s work to support their ideas. MacMillan deals with some widely-held beliefs about war (if only some idiot hadn’t shot Archduke Ferdinand in 1914; if only women ruled nations) she discusses the ever-present question “is Mutually Assured Destruction a bigger or lesser risk than it was at the height of the Cold War?”.  (21 minutes)

The session is essentially a summary of MacMillan’s 2018 Reith Lectures on the BBC.

War – its psychological casualties

The Vietnam War had a huge list of psychological casualties – a number disproportionate to the other wars in which we have been involved.

On last week’s Saturday Extra Geraldine interviewed historian Peter Yule on War trauma and Vietnam veterans.  Yule is author of The long shadow: Australia’s Vietnam veterans since the war, an account of the medical and psychological legacies of the war.

The first half of the 23-minute interview is about the history of war’s psychological consequences, going back 200 years to the Roman legions. Yule points out that the soldiers who were withdrawn from Gallipoli, for example, were psychologically shattered, having been under fire for nine months. But in some other conflicts, even the campaigns in France between 1915 and 1918, soldiers had the benefit of relatively safe periods of respite.

The second half is about Vietnam, which took a terrible psychological toll on the infantry, who could spend 300 days or more of their 365-day assignment on patrol, in gruelling physical conditions, and in constant fear of landmines.  Their stress was aggravated by the lack of any sense of purpose in the conflict – they had to do without the motivational boost of knowing (or believing) that they were doing something noble and useful.

Other public ideas

What’s wrong with capitalism as we know it

If you have 90 minutes to spare and have an interest in political economy you could do well to listen to Joe Walker’s interview with Yanis Varoufakis about The triumph and tragedy of capitalism on his Jolly Swagmanseries.

Varoufakis’s analysis of capitalism’s successes and failures is pretty much straight Marxist.  He goes on to explain that the excesses of capitalism and its self-destructive forces were kept in check by the Bretton Woods order, which ensured that the benefits of economic growth and competition were reasonably shared, but he sees the end of that order in 1973 as a turning point, as the finance sector, backed by the political philosophy of neoliberalism, came to dominate the economic order. The capitalism of our times is the capitalism where Adam Smith’s markets have become subservient to the parasite demands of the financial giants, and where monopoly has displaced competition. It is unstable.

The last half-hour of the interview is about his vision of an economic order – perhaps described as a liberal market socialism, as described in his fictionalised book Another now: despatches from an alternative present.


Voting intention – little movement

William Bowe’s Poll Bludger reports on two polls – Newspoll and Roy Morgan – of federal voting intention, summarised in the table alongside.  About all that can be inferred from voting intention is that an election, held today, would produce about the same outcome as last year’s election.

Bowe also reports on results for last Saturday’s Groom by-election – a federal seat stretching westward from (and including) Toowoomba. Because it is a very safe Coalition seat the contest has raised little media interest. The by-election saw only a 2.7 per cent TPP swing to Labor – a poor by-election result for an opposition party.

The Newspoll shows Morrison’s lead over Albanese in terms of approval and as preferred prime minister widening, as does Bowe’s Bludgetrtrack.

The Roy Morgan poll reports on federal voting intention by state, showing Labor leading only in Victoria and South Australia.  Notably the Coalition is well ahead in Queensland (where Labor has just won a state election convincingly) and is only just ahead in Western Australia (where the Labor Government’s support is so high that the Liberal Party Opposition Leader has stepped down to give someone else a go at taking on the McGowan Government.)

We’d be interested to see readers’ comments on these federal-state voting intention differences.

Essential – those on the right are more assured and more likely to be wrong

The two-weekly Essential Report covers many issues:

Interest in news stories.  Respondents have been following the South Australia outbreak (69 per cent), vaccine development (66 per cent)), US election disputes (56 per cent), and alleged war crimes (53 per cent).

Coronavirus concerns.  We’re slowly becoming less concerned, but concern is still strong.

Governments’ responses to the virus.  Although the South Australia Government has taken a dip in approval, all governments are still getting high marks.

Foreign aid. Respondents were asked what proportion of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid. Only 14 per cent of respondents responded correctly within the band 0.6 per cent to 1.0 per cent (these being lower and upper figures depending on what is included as “foreign aid”), 39 per cent admitted they didn’t know and 46 percent over-estimated.

Partisan differences were striking. Coalition and “other” voters were less likely to admit that they didn’t know and more likely to over-estimate the amount spent, as shown in the table alongside. Assuming that the “other” category is dominated by hard right voters (Palmer and One Nation), it confirms that those further on the right are more confident in their knowledge of this issue and are more likely to be wrong. (“Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d” – Measure for Measure.)

Unsurprisingly the survey also finds that those further on the right are more likely to believe we spend too much on foreign aid.

Nationalism and Covid-19. There is a pair of questions designed to tease out whether we believe that the pandemic has heightened our awareness of global interconnectedness, or that it has driven people to selfish nationalism. The results suggest we are split down the middle.

Support for government action on climate change. Responses to a set of questions Essential first asked in January (when the fires were still raging) show we are becoming more insistent that our governments take strong action on climate change, dispelling the notion that interest in climate change would fade as Covid-19 displaced the fires in our consciousness.

A further set of questions confirms significant partisan differences on policies to do with climate change, but even so 75 per cent of Coalition voters are in favour of a zero-carbon pollution target for 2050. (In fact 67 per cent of Coalition voters are in favour of a zero-carbon pollution target by 2030.)

The dumbness of industry protection

How the Chinese are hurting themselves

As the Chinese Government imposes tariffs on barley, wine and other necessities, they should remember the basic economics of protection – tariffs hurt foreign producers but they also hurt your own people.

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

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