Saturday salon 30/8


An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

Here are a few bits and pieces that came to my attention last week.

1. Union believes ABC cut will be much bigger


The coalition government’s review of the ABC has recommended much deeper cuts than previously proposed, the journalists’ union believes.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) says it has been advised that the government’s Lewis Review into ABC and SBS efficiency will suggest dramatically exceeding the $120 million of cuts over four years in the May budget.

It believes the review will effectively recommend a total cut of more than $130 million in the next 12 months and more than $100 million in each subsequent year.

MEAA federal secretary Christopher Warren warned that the cuts, and the reduction in staff numbers, would cause irreversible damage to the national broadcaster.

“The cuts the Lewis Review is set to propose would decimate the ABC,” he said in a statement on Friday.

Severe cuts would have a direct impact on vital and unique services and would likely reduce the number of foreign bureaus and cause a distinct drop in the ABC’s rural and regional reach.

2. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Kelly Higgins-Devine interviewed the author of Sapiens, Yuval Harari. Has anyone read it or found a decent review? Here’s a bit of a rave.

Harari reckons the key to our success as a species is the ability to cooperate en masse flexibly rather than inflexibly like ants.

3. Long-term Gaza ceasefire deal struck

But will it stick?

From The World Today on Wednesday:

After 50 days of conflict which killed more than 2,000 people, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators have now agreed to a long-term ceasefire over Gaza.

The deal was brokered in Cairo overnight and will see the Israeli government ease its blockade of Gaza.

4. Qantas posts worst loss in airline’s history

CEO says Qantas has ‘turned a corner’ after posting its worst loss

Will it work? Qantas’ former chief economist crunches the numbers

Unions blame management for massive Qantas loss

Enough is enough – it’s time to go Alan Joyce

Virgin’s operating loss, proportionate to size, was about as bad as that of Qantas, whose loss was mainly asset write-downs. I think air fares are going to become more expensive.

Getting serious about climate change mitigation

At Carbon Brief the most read post is The what, when and where of global greenhouse gas emissions: A visual summary of the IPCC’s climate mitigation report from 13 April 2014. It is an excellent post, condensing the message of a complex report. What a pity that it is completely out of date and more than a little misleading in terms of current scientific realities!

The problem is that because of the publishing cycle and the compilation process in putting together the IPCC reports the science they are based on is about three years old at time of first appearance. Then the IPCC reports are quoted in the media as gospel for a further seven years.

As I explained back in June in The game is up following a David Spratt post from May, there is no burnable carbon left if we want a reasonable chance of a safe climate. I repeat here three quotes from Spratt:

We have to come to terms with two key facts: practically speaking, there is no longer a “carbon budget” for burning fossil fuels while still achieving a two-degree Celsius (2°C) future; and the 2°C cap is now known to be dangerously too high.(My bold)

He says we need to take a proper approach “around contingency planning for high-impact and what were regarded as low-probability events, which unfortunately are now becoming more probable”.

If a risk-averse (pro-safety) approach is applied – say, of less than 10% probability of exceeding the 2°C target – to carbon budgeting, there is simply no budget available, because it has already been used up.

We all wish the incremental-adjustment 2°C strategy had worked, but it hasn’t. It has now expired as a practical plan.

There is no longer a non-radical option, only one path remains viable: the emergency ‘war economy’ mode.

Even when it was written the IPCC report was problematic. Take for example this statement in the Carbon Brief summary:

It shows that if emissions between 2005 and 2030 are within the dark green chunk on the left panel, then reductions between 2030 and 2050 would need to be around three or four per cent a year (the dark green bar on the middle panel). If emissions follow a path within the lighter green chunks on the left, reductions will have to be closer to five or six per cent a year between 2030 and 2050 (the lighter green bars in the middle panel).

In October last year I posted this graph from Malte Meinshausen which dates from 2009:

Figure 3: Meinshausen's emissions reduction options
Figure 3: Meinshausen’s emissions reduction options

In other words if we leave peaking until 2030 we will need annual reductions of emissions of 22.6%, reach zero by 2043 and then go negative. That was before the “carbon budget” shrunk.

In my view the world should aim peak by about 2020, try to reach zero by 2030 and then go negative. In Oz as the largest per capita emitter of the major economies we should be aiming for 45 to 50% reductions by 2020.

The portrayal of the problem as it stands in the Carbon Brief post is in my view dangerously irresponsible. In my own summary of the mitigation report in May I called the approach taken “reckless”.

Nevertheless it has a useful graphic which gives an overview of where the emissions are coming from:

Emmissions by economic sector_cropped_600

Our focus tends to be on electricity and motor vehicle transport, which amount to less than half of the problem. The green AFOLU segment represents agriculture, forestry and land use, a segment that is particularly difficult to deal with.

There is much to be done!

Childcare: subsidise it for child welfare if at all, not as a workforce enabler

Late last year Joe Hockey asked the Productivity Commission to investigate childcare and early learning. They brought down a draft report last month. Laura Tingle takes up the story:

The commission’s terms of reference talked about improving the flexibility and affordability of childcare which, in turn, would help workforce participation.

The headlines generated by the draft report focused on the possibility of childcare subsidies extending to nannies, and the fact the PC dumped on the PPL scheme, suggesting its funding be instead put in to subsidising childcare.

But the 904-page report actually shakes up a lot more of the “givens” in the wider policy debate.

It recommends directing subsidies back through childcare providers, for example, ending one of the Howard-era payments that tried to politically leverage spending by putting it instead in taxpayers’ hands.

It deals both with particular structural problems in the childcare market and how these play into the shortages of places that terrify any new parent. For example, caring for babies younger than two costs roughly twice as much as it does to look after older children, yet most providers cross-subsidise to entice parents in the door but in ways which partly explain the lack of places for really little kids.

The commission’s report also deals with the effective marginal tax rate disincentives in the welfare system to parents returning to work and how structured subsidies exacerbate these problems.

childcare-300The big surprise, however, was the Commission’s finding that improved childcare accessibility isn’t going to lead to any significant improvement in either participation or productivity. This is counter-intuitive and brings into question the social and economic efficacy of the paid parental leave scheme. Nevertheless the Commission comes up with the novel idea that subsidies could be justified in the interests of the well-being of children.

Tingle says:

That is, childcare has tended to be debated as a workforce issue, or as an entitlement issue for parents, rather than one that frames the discussion as one about government subsidies directed at the welfare of children.

Childcare has snuck up on us as a new “entitlement” in the past few decades that now sees governments meeting two-thirds of total costs, without the community ever having a real debate about what the community benefits – as opposed to the benefits to individual families – might be.

Tingle says we haven’t ever really discussed the issue, or how we best target set dollars to maximise outcomes if children’s well-being is the target, rather than the workforce.

Tingle perhaps missed a series of discussions probably at least 10 years ago, from memory, largely via Radio National’s Life Matters program on whether child care was good for children.

Early childhood education practitioners I talked to at the time were largely negative about long day-care. On the other hand, there was evident value for development and learning for children to be exposed for part of the week to the stimulus provided by quality child care. The tipping point between positive and negative is not a matter for generalisation, rather it depends on individual circumstances.

I note here that Queensland’s preschool education provisions introduced in 1971 by some talented and respected early childhood educators opted for a model that had five 2.5 sessions per week with each preschool having two groups either split to mornings and afternoons, or splitting the week at Wednesday lunchtime. The sector achieved a 90% participation rate, with some children also attending childcare during part or the whole of the rest of the week. The preschool year has now been replaced by a full prep year starting children 6 months older.

There was also detailed examination of institutional delivery provisions at the time when Maxine McKew was working for Julia Gillard, then minister for education, when Labor policy was to deliver childcare in association with schools. I know McKew was talking to some well-credentialled people about imaginative, indeed exciting delivery modes. Apparently she was cut off at the knees by Gillard and the initiative was dropped as a cost saving measure.

I’ve never heard the real story on what happened. McKew did not generate much public debate on the issues, just worked away quietly, perhaps too quietly. I’ve long suspected that her relationship with Gillard was basically dysfunctional from the start for whatever reason.

Tingle’s main point, however, is that this government’s MO is the grab for solutions without working through a proper public policy development process. I don’t see that changing.

This one is worth doing properly. Research from decades ago indicates that early childhood education opportunities have a lifetime impact on personality styles and individual life chances. In my humble opinion the lack of appropriate early childhood experiences shows in many of our politicians. Many were almost certainly bullies in the sandpit!

Update: Finally I read the chapter ‘Not Just Child Play’ in Maxine McKew’s Tales from the Political Trenches.

From reviews it seems there was a lack of chemistry between Gillard and McKew, but from the book their relationship seems professional enough within McKew’s portfolio responsibilities.

Labor went to the election promising 260 new centres to be associated with educational institutions, presumably principally schools. 38 of the centres were targeted for ‘hot spots’ of special need. It’s not clear from the text whether these 38 were built, but expressions of interest were called for the remaining 222.

In the event the money was spent on cleaning up after Eddy Groves and the collapse of the ABC chain.

There was a proposal to include the childcare centres in the Building the Education Revolution funding (halls and libraries) but Gillard chose not to run with it. There was a problem McKew says, in that for every centre with hopelessly long waiting lists there was one down the road struggling to fill places. Quality varied immensely and the stories from some centres curdled the blood. There was a national accreditation body, but it was operating at the limits of effectiveness, in other words in practical terms it was virtually useless.

McKew then turned to the task of cleaning up the existing system which was a mess of different provisions and standards across the country. She appointed and worked with an Expert Advisory Panel, which looked at everything from staffing ratios, to program and curriculum standards and systems for accreditation and supervision under the rubric of a National Quality Framework. McKew says that this was successful, but few in the community may be aware of its existence.

On staff ratios, the norm was 1:5 for under twos. McKew wanted 1:3 but the states and territories would only come at 1:4. Every centre with 25 or more children would employ an early childhood teacher by 2014. In addition, at least 50% of other staff would need to have or be working towards a diploma in early childhood education and care.

The critical meeting, co-chaired by McKew and Gillard, was held in mid-2009 under the auspices of COAG. McKew says:

Gillard brought a calm rationality to proceedings, and with appeals at times to ‘the collaborative spirit of COAG’, she locked in a transformative agreement.

Mission accomplished, it seems, and McKew went off to work for Anthony Albanese.

The proposed GP co-payment is dead

Along with apologising comprehensively to the Chinese, yesterday Clive Palmer announced that the proposed GP co-payment was not going to happen. Not one cent, he said. Palmer was effectively saying that as a wealthy country we can afford the health system we’ve got.

Well, I think that there won’t be a $7 co-payment. It’s just media beat up, you know, it’s not going to happen. And, you’ve got to remember that in Australia we spend 8.9 per cent of our GDP on health. In the United States they spend 17.2 per cent of GDP on health, yet 60 million Americans have no coverage.

I’m not sure he’s right about 60 million Americans having no coverage. In my mind it was 40 odd million and that was before Obamacare. fROM MEMORY bout the same number who are ‘food insecure’, that is they aren’t sure whether they will eat tomorrow.

Minister Peter Dutton, however, was saying that we need the co-payment because the health system is unsustainable. In other words, in the government’s view, we need as a matter of social and economic policy the poor to go to the doctor less. However, GP services are recognised as being in the front line as preventative medicine. Ignoring the health welfare of the poor, health policy aficionados question whether the co-payment would not actually cost the system more in the long run.

We can’t assume that the Government actually knows what it wants to achieve with its policy. Laura Tingle finds the government’s position completely muddle-headed and inconsistent.

No matter how much it may now criticise the AMA proposal, no matter how large a hole the proposal leaves in the budget, the government is yet to find its own way through the debate, or even clarify what the actual aim of its policy really is.

Apparently the AMA proposal, the one Tony Abbott personally asked them to put together, eliminated 97% of the projected budget savings. But Tingle says that it dealt with the equity problem and addressed

the very issue the government said it wanted to deal with when it first raised the idea of a Medicare co-payment before the budget.

That is, that those who can afford to make a contribution to the cost of going to the doctor should do so.

It should be remembered, I think, that savings from the GP co-payment initiative would not be used to pay off the deficit. Rather a research fund was going to be established which was going to save the nation, having lost the car industry, and find a cure for cancer. Or something.

Yet minister Pyne can threaten to take the savings out of general university research funding if his proposals re universities are not passed.

This is a government that far from tackling problems in an orderly way as they claim is resorting to ad hoc threats and bullying rather than deliberative policy processes. Part of the problem is accommodating Abbott’s signature policy initiative, the paid parental leave scheme. As Tingle says in this article:

Wherever Hockey, or other ministers go trying to sell the budget, for example, they have to try to explain how its paid parental leave scheme fits with spending cuts that hurt low-income earners hardest.

Coming to terms with Clive

It is simply too easy to write Clive Palmer off as interested mainly in his business interests or more recently as a racist or xenophobe. Phillip Coorey in the AFR thinks Palmer taps into a deep vein of political mistrust (paywalled). Coorey bases this on research by Tony Mitchelmore who did some research on who votes for Clive and why.

“The stereotype of the Clive Palmer voter is of an outer-suburban, white-bread, lower socio-economic Anglo male,” Mitchelmore says in his findings summary.

“Attitudinally, they are thought by many as a bit ignorant, uneducated and even a bit angry and disaffected. Many see them as naive.” But this is “off the mark”.

“The reality is, yes, some are disaffected and, yes, cost-of-living concerns are at the forefront for many, but discussions with them are actually quite calm, thoughtful and insightful.

“They are not enraged by the boats issue, for example, like many in outer-suburban electorates, and appear less overtly ‘entitled’.”

Unlike the student politicians now running the country, some of whom have an ideology a mile wide and an inch deep, Palmer was perceived as having both sparkle and substance and, “unlike most politicians, he has actually done something”.

About 10% of voters vote for PUP in Queensland, 5% nationally. They want Palmer to shake things up and frequently mention Keating, Kennett and Joh.

In his rant about the Chinese, Palmer apparently mentioned the desire of the Chinese to undercut wages and conditions. Their desire to use their own labour for mining and agricultural projects is a sticking point in current free trade negotiations. Mitchelmore says that in any focus group, “457s go off”. Coorey:

The government has told China it could never allow the import of labourers en masse and options are still being negotiated to allow a limited and temporary importation of skilled workers under the 475 visa scheme.

At her peak Pauline Hanson attracted more voters but flamed out. Nevertheless there’s an enduring market, especially in Queensland, for conservative politicians who buck the system and perhaps replace the National Party, which too frequently sells out to the Liberals. Bob Katter probably left his run a decade too late. Barnaby Joyce initially had a bit of a go, but then chose to stay inside the tent, as did De-Anne Kelly, remember her?.

Conservative leaders need a strategy of dealing with Palmer which goes beyond hoping he will implode. The problem for them goes beyond the individual personality of Palmer. Mitchelmore:

“Unless the main parties can start to project Clive-like qualities, there are plenty of other voters out there who might be attracted to the next antidote to the status quo.”

Personally I think the key to Palmer is that he sounds unlike a politician, who it should be remembered rate just above prostitutes and used car salesmen in public esteem.

Whether Palmer can hang on in Fairfax, which he won by 53 votes, is a question. I suspect he’d easily win a senate seat. The quality of his senators is also a problem. Glenn Lazarus, the nominated leader, doesn’t say anything much and Jacqui Lambie sounds more like an independent than a team player. Nevertheless, when Labor and the Greens line up PUP can’t be avoided. The same will likely apply after the next election.

Remembering the Lessons from 9/11

I am fan of of Rob Burgess of Business Spectator.  I particularly liked what he had to say about the IS beheading and our reaction to it.

Burgess starts by reminding us how we reacted to 9/11:

Whichever account of Bush’s actions one accepts, history now tells us that the US response to the Al Qaeda threat was exactly what terrorists would want.

Anyone old enough to remember the shock of those attacks will understand why the US was driven to define Al Qaeda as tantamount to a rogue state that could be tackled by a conventional war.

Not lunatics. Not criminals. But warriors who wanted a war … and the West was damned if it wasn’t going to oblige.

It was the wrong choice. We were damned because we did oblige, and the power vacuum in Iraq, and the massing of extremist forces in Syria, are some of the ghastly results.

In our ignorance, Australia also fell into the mistake of demonising Islam as a whole instead of the Islamic extremists who were behind 9/11.  In Australia 9/11 was used as an excuse by some to burn at least one mosque, throw stones at least one busload of students going to an Islamic school and rant and rave about hijabs.  Then there were the comments from some radio jocks as well as some of our politicians.

There are two dangers here.  The first is that we will be so busy trying to avoid “the mistakes of Afghanistan and Iraq” that we will fail to see the differences between what is happening now and what happened then.  (For example IS seems to be the foreign invaders this time around while the Kurds are the natives.)

The second is that we will simply mindlessly repeat the mistakes.  In Australia Abbott is already rabbiting on about how this (beheading) could happen in Australia despite al the anti terrorist laws we have in Australia.  His comments about “team Australia” aren’t really helping unite Australia and its communities.

Burgess had this to say:

We now seem to be again on the brink of allowing a force of between 10,000 and 17,000 extremists to define a conflict – with themselves as glorious warriors, rather than lunatics and criminals.

The brutal video of the beheading of James Foley is a symbolic missile fired into the heart of the liberal democracies that the IS fanatics so despise.

Their greatest joy is watching the missile explode and rip holes in our democratic political culture, when we could so easily choose to defuse its destructive force.


Civilised, democratic debate is the precious core of our society — and that makes it a target for the symbolic missiles sent by groups such as the Islamic State.

To the extent they rouse us to anger, and provoke ill-considered responses, as happened with 9/11, the missile can be said to have ‘exploded’. Let’s not let that happen again.

So what should we do this time round?

Saturday salon 23/8


An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

For some reason three of the Saturday salons I preset to appear while I was away didn’t show up.

As mentioned elsewhere I didn’t hear much news apart from Hockey’s foot-in-mouth contribution. Here are a few bits and pieces that came to my attention since I got back.

1. Abbott reacts as per script

From The Brisbane Times

Horrific acts of terrorism such as the “truly sickening and utterly evil” beheading of journalist James Foley could happen in Western countries including Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said.

Bernard Keane at Crikey:

Yes, Prime Minister, that’s exactly why IS chose an executioner with a British accent, to induce hysteria from people like you.

From Facebook:


I think Abbott is hoping for a war or something to boost his electoral stocks.

2. The real deal on Islamic State

Michael Ware, interviewed by Richard Fidler, gives perhaps the best exposition I’ve heard on the origins and nature of Islamic State. He’s also good on other jihadist groups and Islamic political movements elsewhere. He says IS are very media savvy and know exactly what effect on-camera executions will have. IS is by far the most extreme and vicious we have yet seen.

Ware’s forthcoming documentary Only the Dead to be released in 2015 shapes as essential viewing.

3. Rundle on the coming East-West conflict

Rundle reckons that Clive Palmer and Jacqui Lambie are uttering what many ordinary citizens believe when warning about invasions by China or Indonesia. Indeed he reckons that East-West conflict leading to a multi-polar world and a form of reverse colonisation is pretty much inevitable some time this century.

I think Rundle overcooks it somewhat but there is a perception that we are slack and lazy and have vast unoccupied space. There is every reason why we should be alert, but the move is more likely to be commercial in character. China, for example, would love to use their own labour to extract our minerals.

This photo of Abbott and the Japanese PM is priceless:


4. Poll Bludger: Sunshine State could deal Abbott govt a body blow

William Bowe explains that support for the LNP is on the slide federally in Queensland to an extent that could see Shorten in the Lodge. There are as many winnable seats for Labor in Qld as there are in NSW with its larger population. In fact in Qld the ‘sophomore effect’ only applies to two seats. This effect, worth about 1.5%, applies when you have a first-timer in the seat. Only two Qld seats fell in 2013, whereas a stack fell in 2010.

Renewable Power – Sundry Items

This post brings together a number of items on renewable power including US windpower agreements setting the price as low as $US25 MWh (2.5 cents/kWh.  WA thinking of importing Indonesian coal for power generation while ignoring renewables and approval being given by the Pt Augusta council for a solar thermal installation that will be used to desalinate water and heat/cool 20 hectares of greenhouses for tomato growing.

Continue reading Renewable Power – Sundry Items

I’m back

Birdsville card cropped_450

That’s not how it happened – there are no caravans crossing the Simpson Desert – but it’s how it felt! The image is a scan of a card I bought in the Birdsville Bakery. I almost bought this one too by John Murray.

Got back on Wednesday, but it took me 27 hours to log on. Still sorting myself out. Working out how to pay for the holiday, dealing with 571 emails and about 1500 photos we took on the trip.

About 7000 km at a leisurely pace over 26 days. 100 km was a good day in the desert!

Wednesday night Mark was in town and filled us in on happenings in the world. We did hear about Hockey’s foot in mouth in the middle of the desert but not much else. As Mark said, it wasn’t the worst thing that happened in the world, unfortunately.

Hope to be back posting properly next week!

Should the GST be Paid on Exports?

State finances and industries that compete with imports would be a lot healthier now if John Howard had not decided to exclude exports from paying the GST.  The Howard justification was based on simplistic claims that the GST export concession would make our exports more competitive.  However, the reality is more complex because general export subsidies like the GST concession encourage offsetting increases in the value of the currency.  This post argues that we would be better off if the GST export concession was removed? Continue reading Should the GST be Paid on Exports?

Saturday salon 16/8


An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

Alice Springs – Simpson’s Desert odyssey progress

Where we are depends on whether we needed to extra day in the schedule for the desert crossing. If we made it across (praise the Lord!) we could be travelling from Birdsville to Windorah or Windorah to Emerald.