Saturday salon 1/11


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. Sleep study

Overnight I’m going into hospital to have a sleep study done. My wife reckoned I stopped breathing the other night, so I thought I’d better get it checked out. I reckon I’m just a shallow breather when I’m not snoring, so we’ll see.

2. Ambulance and emergencies

Our little household has been quite sick this week. It started with our 27 year-old son, who was tired and run down, having just handed in his maths honours thesis. On Sunday night about 10pm he came down with a severe gastric upset – diarrhoea and vomiting. He was really bad, barely able to stand, going numb in his hands and feet, severe stomach cramps. We decided to call an ambulance about midnight.

After a medical officer interviewed us and him, the decision was apparently that he was not in danger of dying, so it might take a while.

Two hours later, we cancelled the ambulance and took him to the Wesley, which is about 10 minutes away. There he was seen immediately. A couple of hours later and he was back home.

It costs a maximum of $250 with Medicare, plus drugs and tests.

If we’d stuck with the public system, he would have been further triaged once the ambulance got him to the hospital.

We definitely have a two-tier medical system.

30 hours later my wife took ill, and 36 hours later so did I, both not as bad as our son. We are all on the mend, though it’s taking a while to regain full strength.

3. ALP set to win in Victoria

Premier Denis Napthine looks like becoming a oncer. The new Ipsos poll, replacing Nielsen in the Fairfax stable has the ALP ahead 56-44. Poll Bludger at Crikey reckons that’s a bit of an outlier.

However, this result is something of a puzzle, in being the odd man out in a crowded Victorian market over the past few days — Galaxy, Essential Research, ReachTEL and Morgan all having proved of one mind in showing Labor’s lead in the range of 52-48 to 53-47.

Seems there are two problems. Firstly, there’s an unusually high Greens vote, without a compensating lower vote for Labor, which no-one quite believes.

Secondly it’s how you allocate preferences. Ipsos did it two ways, by asking the people polled, and according to the 2010 election. The former produces the higher result for Labor, but may not be valid, because there is no effect of how to vote cards. Fairfax grabbed the higher number.

But for complex reasons to do with an unusual preference flow in 2010, Poll Bludger reckons the other polls might show the Libs as about one percentage point higher than they really are.

4. Labor flirts with boats turnback policy

Labor spokesman Richard Marles on immigration flirted with the idea of turning back boats to Indonesia, “if it was safe and didn’t affect Australia’s relationship with Indonesia.” In other words, with Indonesia’s cooperation.

I’ve been wondering whether there hasn’t been back-door cooperation with the LNP Governments turnback policy and what the new prez in Indonesia will have to say.

It does seem, however, that having an open mind on the matter was too much for the left within the ALP, so Shorten has gently slapped him down.

I seem to recall that Frank Brennan walked down the Marles path at the time Rudd announced his PNG solution, much to the consternation of his admirers. My recall is, however, that Brennan saw a much more full-blooded cooperation with Indonesia and other regional powers, setting up an orderly queue there, with increased assistance for asylum seekers to be treated decently in Indonesia, and taking more of our refugee quota from that source.

If the sea crossing is dangerous, which it is, we could take Clive Palmer’s advice and fly them all to Australia. Why don’t the Greens adopt that policy? It’s logical!

5. Nova Peris in the news

The point is that she shouldn’t have been.

The NT senator has broken her silence on the claims, saying she has “done nothing wrong”.

Making a statement to the Senate on Thursday, she said the claims were “baseless” and were connected to a family dispute.

“I have done nothing wrong,” she said.

“It pains me to have to talk about my private life. But the publication of my emails is part of a very difficult child access and financial estate dispute,” she said.
Audio: Nova Peris says explicit email leak was part of a blackmail attempt (PM)

She said the “aggrieved party” in the dispute contacted her by email 10 days before the emails were published to reveal “he had in his possessions a folder of information pertaining to Mr Boldon’s visit to Australia”.

“I did not realise at the time, he was referring to these emails,” she said.

“The release and publication of these emails is an attempt to extract money and embarrass me and my family.”

She told the Senate that the NT News was “well aware” the emails were part of a long-running family dispute “ahead of its publication”.
(Emphasis added)

It was clear from the outset that Peris had an advisory role in athlete Ato Boldon’s visit. Athletics Australia made the decisions and paid the bills. Whether Peris had a personal relationship with Boldon (they had been training partners for years) is irrelevant.

The NT News is no doubt claiming public interest. At best they have been tools in an unseemly family dispute. At worst it was just gutter journalism, seeking to sell papers. I doubt the aim was to destroy Peris’s career, but they didn’t mind if they did.

Now we are told that the Australian Press Council has received a complaint about the coverage and is investigating. And:

The Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull says News Corp should have exercised more discretion before it published the emails but a former Media Watch host Jonathon Holmes says, in this case, the public interest outweighs any privacy concerns.

Good one Jonathon! I disagree on two counts. Firstly, there was nothing of public interest to see. Move on.

Secondly, he says we should ignore the motivation of the informants. With respect, that’s ethically bereft.

PUP does a deal on Direct Action

Palmer_Article Lead - wide6279022411dszqimage.related.articleLeadwide.729x410.11dt8w.png1414570114131.jpg-620x349

If we didn’t know before, we know now that Clive Palmer will do a deal with the devil. He’s going to vote for a scheme that he comprehensively rubbished, said was a complete waste of money and he would never vote for it.

His price?

Clive Palmer won a Government commitment to salvage the Climate Change Authority and to ask it to conduct an 18-month review of the PUP plan to legislate an emissions trading scheme (ETS) at a zero rate.

This is of course a good thing. I understand that the Climate Change Authority will have something to say about targets before we have to make commitments in Paris next December. And the review can take into account Paris outcomes. The review and the work of the CCA may provide a road to redemption for the backsliders in the LNP. Bernie Fraser sees his task in this light, as he was quoted on PM:

What you’ve heard today is perhaps the beginning, the beginnings of an emerging broad, broader political consensus on climate change and the need to take effective action. Because that’s what this country needs more than anything else – the development of a broad political consensus.

Of course, the Government needs six votes from the cross bench.

Victorian senators Ricky Muir and John Madigan and South Australian senator Nick Xenophon have also given their vote to the Government after negotiations.

Xenephon was said to have won four out of five of his requirements. Included was his penalties for big emitters proposal.

To win the necessary support, the government has accepted a proposal by Senator Xenophon to put in place a “safeguard mechanism” to ensure companies comply with the scheme’s requirements.

Details of the safeguard mechanism will be mapped out later. Observers expect it to include some form of penalty for companies that fail to meet government-set benchmarks, although it remains uncertain what the penalties would be.

Uncertain too what the benchmarks will be.

Not included was Xenephon’s proposal to set aside $500 million to buy carbon offsets from abroad to ensure the target is met. No doubt that would be too much like carbon trading for the LNP to stomach.

Christine Milne slammed the direct action policy as “embarrassing”. She reminded us that Palmer helped the Government tear down the ETS. Here’s their Facebook entry.

Bill Shorten:

“Tony Abbott has once again sold his soul to Clive Palmer and Australia will pay the price,” he said.

“This is a dirty deal that will send our country backwards.”

The Climate Institute welcomed the preservation of the independent Climate Change Authority but wanted to see more details about the review.

“Moreover, we are deeply concerned that the amendments to the CFI Bill fail to establish a climate policy that gives a reasonable chance of achieving even the lowest level of Australia’s 5-25 per cent 2020 target range, let along the deeper decarbonisation of the economy that will be needed beyond 2020. The Climate Change Authority has recommended Australia adopt a 2030 emission reduction target of 40-60 per cent below 2000 levels.”

“Without access to international carbon permits, stronger domestic regulations will be needed to meet Australia’s emission goals. The ‘safeguard mechanisms’ in the legislation—the emission limits that companies will have to adhere to—will need to be very strong and get more stringent over time, and regulations to limit emissions and tighten energy efficiency standards across the economy will also be needed.”

Greg Jericho made the excellent point that the Abbott Government “has been extremely successful in making climate change policy more about electricity prices than about climate change.” Maybe Bernie Fraser and the CCA can gently nudge it in a different direction!

There’s more at The Conversation.

Update: Bret Harper and Hugh Grossman give the detail of the agreement on Direct Action. They include:

The government will also withdraw its Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2014 and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Repeal) Bill 2014 during the Spring 2014 parliamentary sittings.

The CCA will produce three reports, going into targets for Copenhagen as well as emissions trading schemes.

Whitlam’s economic performance: time to think again!

The Whitlam years were certainly tempestuous years. There is a tendency, even by acolyte’s, to think that the economic turmoil of those years was made in Australia, by EGW, his treasurers and his ministers.


Who can forget the Khemlani loans affair, where Minister for Minerals and Energy, Rex Connor, was seeking to borrow US$4 billion, a lot of loot for the time, for resources projects without going through Treasury. My understanding is that the scheme was hatched by Connor, Whitlam and a small kitchen cabinet, perhaps including Lionel Murphy. After it became public and Cabinet put the kybosh on the scheme, Connor was still found to be liaising with the shadowy Tirath Khemlani. Whitlam dismissed Connor.

Khemlani, it is said, never made a loan in his life, and perhaps had contacts with the CIA.

Cairns was dismissed a few months later over a separate loans affair, where he (as claimed) unknowingly signed a letter and misled parliament by saying he hadn’t.

For these and other reasons, the Whitlam government at times looked highly shambolic.

Yet economic turmoil was not confined to Australia. That first Khemlani link reminds us that the price of oil quadrupled between 1973 and 1974. That’s why the Middle East was awash with petro dollars and a Khemlani figure could exist. Ian Verrender, the ABC’s busianess editor, now invites us to think again.

Verrender riffs off a piece in the AFR by John Stone, former treasury secretary and National Party senator, plus “outspoken critic of multiculturalism and a supporter of the Samuel Griffith Society, which he helped found”. Stone was also at one time John Howard’s finance spokesman in opposition. In his piece The economic policy madness of the Whitlam era Stone outlines a tale of woe. But:

As Stone rightly points out, Australia did not go into recession. What he fails to mention is that America did. So did the UK. And they were no ordinary recessions.

Both our northern hemisphere allies endured long and painful slumps, the chaotic fallout from which reverberated through the global economy, including Australia.

Not only that, inflation ran wild in both the northern hemisphere economic superpowers and throughout the developed world. It was a global recession that marked the dramatic end of the post-war boom.

This was the time of rampant stagflation, a rare phenomenon in economics where inflation and unemployment rise simultaneously. It’s a nightmare scenario for policymakers. Raise rates to dampen inflation and you exacerbate unemployment. Try to fix the jobs crisis and you fuel inflation.

There were a number of factors behind the global recession.

The Bretton-Woods financial system – instituted after the war that tied the US dollar to the price of gold – collapsed in the early ’70s, itself enough to engineer a significant slump in global activity. This followed attacks on the currency as the US ran up a constant series of balance of payments deficits.

The sudden collapse of the system and the immediate devaluation of the US dollar, which from then on became a fiat currency valued against other currencies, created havoc on trade and current account balances throughout the developed world.

Add to this that the Arab world had formed the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries and in 1973 deliberately squeezed supplies.

The price of oil quadrupled between October 1973 and the following January. That’s correct, energy prices rose 400 per cent in four months, sending shockwaves through developed world economies, underscoring the dramatic price rises that, in turn, fed through to wage demands.

Between 1973 and 1975, the Whitlam era, inflation in the UK grew from 7.4 per cent to 24.89 per cent – vastly higher than anything experienced in Australia.

Great Britain was wracked by industrial disputes. Miners walked off the job, coal supplies dwindled. So dire was the energy situation, UK prime minister Edward Heath instituted the three day week as commercial electricity users were restricted. Food queues formed.

America, meanwhile, endured its worst recession since the Great Depression between November 1973 and March 1975. While the unemployment spike was relatively short-lived inflation soared from a relatively modest 3.65 per cent in early 1973 to a 12.34 per cent peak at the end of 1974 before tapering off during 1975.

Certainly under Jim Cairns stewardship the money flowed. Verrender says:

Gough Whitlam’s first two treasurers, Frank Crean and Jim Cairns, were widely criticised for their performances. Cairns, especially, appeared to be distracted by assets of another kind, and spending during his reign blew out spectacularly.

But Bill Hayden’s budget, delivered shortly before The Dismissal, had many in the Opposition worried. It was a responsible document designed to bring inflation and unemployment under control.

Personally I had a couple of long conversations with Bill Hayden when he was Treasurer and was impressed. The Whitlam Government had a further 18 months to run and things may have settled down.

It should be remembered that Malcolm Fraser only had the capacity to block supply courtesy of highly unorthodox senate replacements. First, in March 1975 the independent Cleaver Bunton was appointed by NSW Premier Tom Lewis to replace Lional Murphy who Whitlam had appointed to the High Court. Secondly Albert Patrick (Pat) Field was appointed by Queensland under Joh Bjelke-Petersen following the death on 30 June of Queensland ALP Senator Bert Milliner. Field had been an ALP member, but offered himself, promising never to support Gough Whitlam.

These were highly improper and undemocratic acts that were accepted by Malcolm Fraser.

Back to the economy, it could be that Cairns’ profligacy acted like a massive Keynesian stimulus package, saving Australia from recession.

More generally, figures like Immanuel Wallerstein see capitalism in its main centres doing it tough from the early 1970s. Capitalists sought to maintain their profits by beating down wages, by outsourcing, by financialisation, including increasing privatisation of human activities and experience. It’s well-known that American workers struggled to maintain real wages from the 1970s onwards. The modern manifestation of neoliberalism seems to date from about this time.

Thomas Piketty’s work on inequality is startling. This graph shows the rise in inequality in the US by charting the top decile’s share of income:


The 2012 data, too late for inclusion in the book, sees a new high of over 50%.

There’s a similar pattern if you look at the top 1% in the Anglo-Saxon economies:


Clearly something broader and deeper is going on that Whitlam’s whole program of social investment perhaps helped to protect us from. Certainly as Verrender says, Stone “still fails to grasp the impact the global economic upheaval had on Australia.”

Climate clippings 111

1. Record warmth

September followed August as record heat for the month worldwide. The period January-September was equal hottest with 1998 and 2010. The 12 months from October 2013 to September 2014 was the hottest 12-month period on record. The heat was just about everywhere, except for central Russia, some areas in eastern and northern Canada, and a small region in Namibia:

Screen-shot-Sept 2014-AM-600

2. Coal is good for humanity!

Thus spake Tony Abbott, repeating lines imprinted on his mind by coal industry lobbyists.

In an important post Graham Readfearn tells how big coal is hijacking the energy poverty issue

telling the world that the only way the poorest nations can pull themselves out of poverty is by purchasing lots of their product.

The point that those same people will likely be hit earliest and hardest from the impacts of climate change being driven by that same product, is neatly swerved or underplayed.

So we have Peabody Energy “fueling the world with energy essential to sustain life”.

Pardon me while I have a quiet chunder!

3. New 2030 climate targets for the EU

On the whole climate campaigners are disappointed with the new emissions targets set by the EU – 40% reduction in emissions, 27% cut in energy use and 27% of energy must be from renewables.

The ETS is seen as essential in reaching these targets, so it will be reformed in an as yet undesignated way.

Rich countries like Germany, the UK and France will have to do better than the designated cuts to compensate for the continued reliance on coal by the likes of Poland, Bulgaria and Romania.

At Climate Progress it seems the American reaction is more favourable. They point out that the targets are the first substantive offer from any member of the international community ahead of the UN climate talks to be held in Paris in 2015. The Americans and the Chinese are unlikely to go so far.

Personally when they aim for net zero emissions by 2030 and aim for 350 CO2e ppm by 2050 I’ll say they are reconnecting politics with reality.

4. Arctic sea ice escalator

BilB drew attention to Skeptical Science’s Arctic sea ice escalator:

Sea ice 2014_cropped

He’s right, the next break downwards could shock some doubters.

Perhaps enough to shake pollies of all stripes out of their torpor.

If you look at the trend from the late 1990s it looks even more dramatic.

The full article has two further graphs:



Actually there’s something wrong with both. The y axis should go below 4. It’s like where you have a graph on a wall and the line falls off the graph and onto the wall.

5. Pacific warriors blockade Newcastle

Climate Change Warriors from 12 Pacific Island nations paddled canoes into the world’s largest coal port in Newcastle, Australia, Friday to bring attention to their grave fears about the consequences of climate change on their home countries.

The 30 warriors joined a flotilla of hundreds of Australians in kayaks and on surfboards to delay eight of the 12 ships scheduled to pass through the port during the nine-hour blockade, which was organised with support from the U.S.-based environmental group

The warriors came from 12 Pacific Island countries, including Fiji, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Micronesia, Vanuatu, The Solomon Islands, Tonga,
Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Niue.

6. Norway takes to electric cars

Norway, not a member of the EU, now has 15% electric cars. Since 2011 Nissan LEAF has become the nation’s third best-selling car.

Norway is not a member of the EU. It gets 98% of its power from renewables. Presumably it doesn’t go around preaching that oil is good for humanity!

7. How to build without bricks and cement

Just print houses out of mud!


Thanks to John Davidson for those last two items.

Saturday salon 25/10


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. Jacqui Lambie refuses an invitation to visit a Sydney mosque

“I’m a Catholic; I’m religious,” she said.

“It’s not my moral upbringing. I’m Australian. I simply believe in the church.

“… I wouldn’t be comfortable with that.”

No comment!

2. $4 billion hit to Queensland schools

Queensland schools are set to take a $4 billion hit to their revenues over the next decade due to cuts announced in the federal budget in May, according to the state’s education department.

Education Queensland’s analysis, obtained by the ABC in a Right to Information request, revealed Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek was advised that over the 10 years from 2014, state schools would be $1.66 billion worse off.

Non-government schools fared worse, with cuts totalling $2.284 billion.

The revenue reduction formed part of $80 billion in savings announced by the Federal Government in the areas of health and education.

Other states would be similarly placed, and comparable cuts in health funding are in the budget.

The good news is that the cuts apply from 2017 and there will have to be an election by 2016. So we’ll get what we vote for!

3. New York doctor diagnosed with Ebola

A harlem doctor returning from Guinea has contracted Ebola.

He took several trips on the subway in the past week, visited a bowling alley and took a cab before he began to display symptoms. His fiancée and two friends have been isolated.

Questions arise, I think, as to whether precautions were adequate. He was taking his temperature twice each day.

Contra the article, I heard on the radio that New Yorkers were calm, trusting their public institutions.

4. New president of Indonesia

Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s new president, is a reform-minded technocrat who will need to make tough decisions if he wants to realise his grand ambitions to improve Indonesia’s creaking infrastructure, healthcare and education systems, analysts say.

He seems a man of principle who will take no nonsense. I wonder how he will view the funny games we play with asylum seekers.

I believe Al Jazeera has been airing an investigative report into the horrors of Australian offshore detention of asylum seekers.

5. Run silent, run deep in Canberra’s naval battles

The AFR has been severely hollowed out in Fairfax’s effort to make a buck, but Laura Tingle is still there. Recently she took a look at how we are going about acquiring submarines.

She reckons the politics wavers between regional concern for jobs and wanting to be mates with the Japanese. When senior LNP politicians were spruiking the possibility of saving billions by buying Japanese subs off the shelf, she says the subs were too slow and lacked the range to be useful in our context. Apparently there is no such thing as an off-the-shelf sub.

She has the impression that while the political talk “wobbles wildly” the Defence technocrats are moving “stealthily but relentlessly forward based on assessments of the best option from a Defence perspective.”

That’s a mercy, say I, once a bureaucrat!

6. Interesting houses

Via Mark’s Facebook, Los Angeles 1960:


From the road:


“Heliotrop”, University of Stuttgart’s “sunflower”-house which produces energy using a large photovoltaic sail on its roof:


RET: the battle lines are drawn

The Renewable Energy target (RET) has been severely scapegoated on electricity prices according to The Australia Institute Facebook:


The Tea Party LNP Government and Labor have agreed to talk, to find a bipartisan position on the RET. The LNP has now set out what must be an ambit claim:

  • The RET will constitute a so-called “real 20 per cent” of Australia’s electricity production.
  • Emissions from intensives industries, including aluminium, copper, zinc and cement will be exempt.
  • The small-scale solar panel scheme will remain untouched.
  • Biannual reviews of the target will cease.

As background, the RET was legislated in 2009 as 41,000 gigawatt hours, representing 20% of the electricity estimated to be produced in Australia in 2020.

Since then electricity demand has collapsed, meaning the 41,000 gigawatt hour target is now closer to 27%.

This was Bill Shorten’s response:

“The government say they want a real 20 per cent, I call it a fraud 20 per cent, a fake 20 per cent. The truth of the matter is that renewable energy is part of our energy mix. It’s had a great benefit for a whole lot of consumers,” Mr Shorten said.

“We’ve seen thousands of jobs created…and we’ve seen billions of dollars of investment. The real damage that this government’s doing in renewable energy cannot be overstated.”

As John Davidson has been saying repeatedly, the damage is already very evident, as shown in this graph:


The renewables industry reaction:

But the renewable energy industry said the target as proposed would devastate the industry and jeopardise millions of dollars in investment.

Lane Crockett, general manager of PacificHydro, said: “What reason can there be [for this cut] other than to protect the coal industry?”

Ironically the LNP position would be seen as something of a win internally for Greg Hunt in the face of the climate scepticism that infects the governing parties.

On the matter of reviews, the LNP have been saying that the Warburton Review was required by legislation. I think the truth is that by law the review should be done by The Climate Authority, which still exists. According to Lenore Taylor at The Guardian:

The Climate Change Authority announced this week it was conducting its own review of the RET before December, as required under law.

I wonder who is paying their bills.

Giles Parkinson points out that The Climate Authority will look at the RET in terms of its contribution to reducing emissions rather than consumer prices. That is novel in the current environment – reviewing the RET in the light of its original purpose!

In that article Christine Milne in estimates hearings chewed out the PMs Department which ran the Warburton review for allowing the review to go beyond its terms of reference and recommending the most expensive options.

The Government is clearly in thrall of the fossil power lobbyists. Giles Parkinson again:

The Abbott government has confirmed that its opening position in talks with the Labor Party is for a “real” 20 per cent target, meaning that the amount of large scale renewable energy being built in Australia over the next 5 years could be cut by two thirds from the current target.

This was one of the key recommendations of the Warburton Review, which made the recommendation despite finding that the cost to consumers would be far less if it left the target at the current level of 41,000GWh by 2020, or made it a 30 per cent target by 2030. (Emphasis added)

Dick Warburton ended up as a very confused puppy. As John Davidson said:

Climate Spectator had this post on Dick Warburton, the Chair of the RET review committee and his performance on a Fran Kelly interview after his review had been released. It gives a picture of a man who doesn’t understand his own report or anything much else apart from the need to recommend the destruction of the RET and all the jobs it has created.

But the LNP are also responding to the popularity of rooftop solar where around “15,000 Australian households add rooftop solar each month, despite the disappearance of state-based feed in tariffs.” After all nine out of 10 households have considered or would consider installing roof-top solar.

Large scale investments are for decades rather than for years. Genuine bipartisanship to a long term commitment is needed. Even if an agreement can be cobbled together in the talks, there is a real question as to whether investors in large scale renewables in Australia will consider it worth the risk.

Abbott not rewarded for behaving badly

I heard the headline on the ABC news on Tuesday morning. The latest Newspoll showed that Australians overwhelmingly approved of Abbott’s statement about shirt-fronting Vladimir Putin. So I bought the Australian while I was out, and indeed they did – 63% in favour and only 27% against. They approved in all demographics – women 60%, the young 57% and Labor voters 51%. The headline was:

Abbott wins backing for Putin face-off

Actually, the story was almost relegated from the front page. It occupied one column on the far right. There was nothing positive about Labor on the front page, nothing at all. Nor in the headings and subheadings on page 2.

It’s something of a surprise to find, therefore, that this was the two-party preferred result:

Newspoll 17-19 Oct 14_cropped

In TPP terms Labor had increased two points to be 53-47 ahead. That’s landslide territory, and a stunning result.

Curiously Labor’s primary vote had stayed the same at 34% while the LNP had lost 3 points to reside at 38%. Ostensibly their loss had gone to the Greens who were now at 14%.

Everyone understood that Abbott was playing to a domestic audience, most of all the Russians, where Julie Bishop and Putin have since had what seemed a sensible and calm chat about things that concern Australians. So far, at least, Abboitt has not been rewarded politically at home.

It’s true that the Morgan Poll had the TPP gap narrowing by a point to 52-48 in favour of Labor. Curiously the LNP primary vote was down half a point, while Labor was up by the same amount and the Greens and others remained the same. The difference was in the flow of preferences.

But the bottom line is that Morgan too saw no great move to the LNP and Labor is still in a comfortable winning position.

As an aside, Abbott would be well advised to keep his shirt-fronting to the metaphorical level. Putin is said to be a black belt in judo. As such he would have umpteen ways of ensuring that Abbott’s body momentum towards him would result in Abbott literally biting the dust.

Honouring Gough Whitlam

“Gough Whitlam changed the way Australia thought about itself and gave the country a new destiny. A more inclusive and compassionate society at home – a more engaged and relevant country abroad.

“He snapped Australia out of the Menzian torpor – the orthodoxy that had rocked the country asleep, giving it new vitality and focus. But more than that, bringing Australia to terms with its geography and place in the region.

“Along his journey he also renovated the Labor Party, making it useful again as an instrument of reform to Australian society.

“He will be missed by all who identified with his values and determination to see Australia a better place. But no one will miss him more than his family.”

From the SMH, that was Paul Keating’s summary. That will do me. If you start listing how he changed Australia, you are bound to miss something important, no matter how long the list. He was like no other. Comparison’s are pointless.

This morning I woke to Gerard Henderson on local ABC being mean-spirited about Whitlam’s “incompetence” and a prime minister. The ABC’s idea of ‘balance’. Other than that comments have been universally positive. Certainly politics was always interesting when Whitlam was in power, and he had some wild men in his cabinet.

For my own experience, two things stand out.

Firstly, early in 1975 I was separated from my wife and about 20 months later we had an amicably arranged no-fault divorce. Before Whitlam that would not have been possible. What often happened was that one partner engaged a private eye to catch the other in a compromising situation. Someone had to be at fault. In our case there was nothing to see. The marriage had simply ceased to work.

Secondly, when Whitlam was elected I was the first ever Supervisor, School Library Service, for the Queensland Government. School libraries had been in a dreadful state, but some progress had been made with the Commonwealth funded Secondary Schools Libraries Program. For primary schools we were trying to improve things but there was a desperate lack of resources.

Come the Whitlam government and we soon had a primary schools library program, plus lots of special needs programs and massive general funds for schools generally. I remember visiting Catholic parish primary schools that were literally falling down. I remember talking to a private school headmaster who said that he had always assumed that private school facilities were better. Not now. Government schools were building facilities as good or better than anything the private schools had to offer.

Overall, I recall for the first time feeling proud to be an Australian. We no longer had to apologise on multiple fronts.

This morning I learned something new about Whitlam. Susan Mitchell, who has a biography of Margaret Whitlam coming out soon, said he was actually a very shy man. And absolutely hopeless at small talk. Margaret had to cover that department for him.

My favourite story about Gough was the time he took the press gallery down to Manly beach. Gough strode out upon the waters, turned around, waved to the gallery and strode back to land without getting his feet wet. The headlines next day?


May he rest in peace. We will never see his like again.

Here’s Clifton Pugh’s 1972 portrait:

*** Local Caption *** Archibald Portrait Prize winner.

Update: Be sure to check out wpd’s list of achievements @ 2.

Update 2:

John Quiggin has done an excellent assessment of Gough Whitlam.

More than any other Australian political leader, and arguably more than any other political figure, Gough Whitlam embodied social democracy in its ascendancy after World War II, its high water mark around 1970 and its defeat by what became known as neoliberalism in the wake of the crises of the 1970s.

In all of this Whitlam is emblematic of the social democratic era of the mid-20th century. Despite the resurgence of financialised capitalism, which now saturates the thinking of all mainstream political parties, the achievements of social democracy remain central to our way of life, and politicians who attack those achievements risk disaster even now.

With the failure of the global financial system now evident to all, social democratic parties have found themselves largely unable to respond. We need a renewed movement for a fairer society and a more functional economy. We can only hope for a new Whitlam to lead that movement.

Elsewhere there’s Phillip Adams’ repeat of the 20th anniversary of the Dismissal.

Climate clippings 110

1. 25 climate change disasters

Business Insider, Australia tells us that 25 disasters may befall us from climate change. The assumptions are conservative – 2°C and half a metre of sea level rise by 2100, though the text sometimes specifies more. Some of the predictions are disturbing: Continue reading Climate clippings 110

Simpson Desert crossing 1: Mt Dare to Purni Bore

It was a long day, our first day in the desert, with some severe landscapes and four bodies of water. Within the first hour we had our first technical hitch (see earlier post) where a tap on our largest water container turned itself on, watering the road with about 17 litres of water before we remedied the situation: Continue reading Simpson Desert crossing 1: Mt Dare to Purni Bore

Saturday salon 18/10


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. National curriculum review

The Conversation asked several experts to comment on the Review of the Australian Curriculum conducted by Dr Kevin Donnelly and Professor Ken Wiltshire. As far as I can make out, the Government will make a final response by early next year and hopes that changes can be implemented by the states in 2016.

This is insane.

The Review seems to call for a rewriting of the entire curriculum, a task which would take years.

Moreover, the Review calls for a restructuring of the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), the body which would do the rewriting, which will take time. It seems unlikely that the states will have the capacity to undertake the necessary curriculum development themselves.

The Review itself seems to be based on opinion rather than research.

2. Calls to sack curriculum reviewer

One such opinion is that of Professor Barry Spurr of Sydney University, who was used as a consultant to review the teaching of English. Spurr has been suspended while the university investigates calls for his sacking. As reported on PM calls for his sacking:

follow the publication of a series of emails in which Professor Barry Spurr described Aboriginal people as “human rubbish tips” and reminisced about the 1950s, when there weren’t so many “bogans”, “fatsoes”, “Mussies” and “Chinky-poos” around.

In his review, Professor Spurr advised the Government to focus less on teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature and place greater emphasis on western Judeo-Christian culture.

On reading the original New Matilda report it’s hard to accept that his racist, sexist ranting is merely whimsical word games. See also here and here.

3. Classics in the English curriculum

While we are at it, Stewart Riddle and Eileen Honan took a look at the curriculum review and English literature. Remember that the Review

advised the Government to focus less on teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature and place greater emphasis on western Judeo-Christian culture.

They found that the national curriculum leaves the selection of texts entirely up to the schools. In fact as a result students already get a steady diet of the classics. But they probably don’t read the Bible or as six year-olds commit mediaeval verse to memory as suggested by the reviewers.

4. Five new growth centres for science and innovation

The Federal Government’s adding an extra $400 million to the science and technology budget. Five new “growth centres” are at the heart of the plan – mining, oil and gas, medical, food and advanced manufacturing.

The Government says that should boost growth and create jobs by encouraging co-operation between those sectors and the scientific community.

Sounds wonderful if you stop right there. But then this:

But the new centres will replace some existing co-operative research centres and it’s not clear what it will mean for the nation’s top research body, the CSIRO.

Opposition spokesman Kim Carr is allowed a very general criticism. I heard him later on RN’s Drive. Apparently Labor had instituted 12 such centres, which were slashed by the LNP. Also the cutbacks to research, science and innovation total a whopping $9 billion.

The headline says $400 million, but the article specifies only $188 million of government funds.

Hockey’s plan to shrink Australia continues apace!