1. Politics and the mood of the people
To me the Morrison government has brought politics to a new low in Australia. Angela Merkel’s flipping through her briefing notes to see who is PM in Australia this week spoke volumes.
Turnbull lacked authenticity when defending policy on climate change, for example, because he understood the government’s policies were a sham. Morrison understand nothing about the topic, so he can sound genuinely enthusiastic about the latest opportunistic intervention with great photo opportunities, and a policy Turnbull once called a “fig leaf” to cover doing nothing, and fiscally reckless.
Julie Bishop said she could have beaten Bill Shorten in the election if elected leader. Last year she also said that populism’s resurgence was ‘coinciding with a crisis of confidence in democracy’ and voters risk being ‘duped’ by populist political leaders. She also said voters believe MPs are ‘no better than schoolchildren’.
An outfit called JWS Research does a True Issues Survey every three months. Phillip Coorey tells us Voters more upbeat, but they’re not thanking the government:
- Voters are feeling better about their own personal circumstances than they were before Christmas, but this has not translated into a more favourable view of the Morrison government.
The latest quarterly True Issues survey by JWS Research shows that since November, the cost of living has slipped from first to second as the issue voters feel should be the government’s prime focus.
But while cost of living is the second-highest issue of concern, it ranks 18th out of 19 in terms of government performance.
JWS Research director John Scales said the government has not benefited from an uptick in sentiment with people rating its overall performance as lowly now as they did after Malcolm Turnbull was replaced as leader.
Health, hospitals and ageing has regained top spot as an issue of concern but ranks 18th in terms of government performance.
Australians’ overall optimism about their own personal situation has rebounded since November 2018. Significantly fewer feel they are headed in the wrong direction (17 per cent down from 23 per cent) and slightly more feel they are now headed in the right direction (33 per cent up from 31 per cent).
However, the government’s overall performance was rated as lowly now as last August after Malcolm Turnbull was replaced as leader.
From the survey itself, here are the prompted issues. People were asked to select the five most important issues the government should focus attention on:
Hospitals, health care and aging came in first at 60, followed closely by Cost of living at 57, with daylight to the third issue, Employment and wages at 40.
This format allows JWS to track issues over time, but I thought it interesting that when people were asked to nominate the most important issues unprompted, this is how it turned out:
Healthcare and ageing, then Immigration and border security and then Environment are Australians’ top-of-mind concerns.
The survey concludes that:
- The most top-of-mind concerns for Australians rank among this Government’s worst performing areas…
2. The campaigner behind Phelps, Banks and Steggall
If you can get into The Saturday Paper, Karen Middleton has an intriguing article on Damien Hodgkinson, former director of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, who helped Kerryn Phelps get elected (for a price), is helping her again this time, plus six other lower house independents and one senator.
- Hodgkinson, a 50-year-old consultant, runs a change management company, DEM Asia, and at last count was working with eight independent candidates – seven for the house of representatives and one for the senate – setting up their campaign infrastructure, including donor and volunteer databases, and advising on logistics, administration and other back-of-house necessities.
Hodgkinson estimates an incumbent independent MP will need to find about $150,000, and a whole lot of volunteer help, for a re-election campaign. New independent candidates will need around $250,000.
That includes his fee of $30,000, but does not include political advice. You can purchase that separately from others.
There is a market for just about everything these days.
3. Trialling universal basic income
Will people work if they are given a universal basic income (UBI), or will they just sit about, as these people are outside the cathedral in Helsinki?
The Finland government has just completed a two-year trial to test the concept. 2000 unemployed people between the age of 25 and 58 were randomly chosen across the country and given a basic income of €560 a month, which they would continue receiving whether they got a job or not. A control group of 5000 unemployed people were subject to the normal conditions of payments being reduced when they worked.
The hours worked were about the same, so there was no disincentive to work. On other counts, the World Economic Forum report gives the graphs shown below.
The test group had a somewhat better feeling of financial wellbeing:
Participants were asked, to what degree do you feel stress?
This was their self-perceived assessment of health:
So there were modest benefits, according to Luke Martinelli of University of Bath. He doesn’t think the results will convince critics of the scheme.
Clearly it would be good to trial UBI given to everyone within a region. Also in this survey the low numbers did not allow any regional differences to be observed.
MIT says only the data from 2017 was analysed. We’ll have to wait until next year for the full report.
4. Unpicking sex discrimination embodied in US law
On Saturday my wife and I went to see On the Basis of Sex, a film about current 85 year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a US Supreme Court judge who refuses to resign while Trump is president.
When she was a young lawyer in the 1960s and 1970s there were over 1000 laws that discriminated on the basis of gender on the US statute books. The film is on Bader Ginsburg’s legal education, her early career (she was a top student, but was rejected for a dozen jobs, then finally because the wives of the male lawyers in the firm might be jealous) and her first big case where a male caregiver to his old mother was discriminated in law because he was both male and unmarried. However, clearly the outcome of his case would set a precedent for all the laws discriminating against women.
The conservative position was that women occupied a role that was deemed natural in the scheme of things, essentially the way God designed the world. Her argument was that society had moved on and that the law must follow, as it simply reflected the social values of the time.
The film was interesting and surprisingly engaging as a story. The climactic court scene was in fact very moving. I’d give it 4 stars out of 5. However, I can see why Wendy Ide only gave it 2:
A now revered figure, Ginsburg evokes elegance and restraint, both in the calm precision of her statements and in her personal style. More significant is the legacy of her work, chipping tirelessly away against gender inequality. Bader Ginsburg is, in the most tasteful way possible, a revolutionary figure. But rather than attempt to convey all or, indeed, any of this in the film’s craft, Leder instead opts for lurching melodrama. This brilliant original thinker is crowbarred into a stolidly conventional “triumph against the odds” narrative. It’s not an entirely terrible film. It’s just not the film that RBG deserves.
I can see why her colleague Benjamin Lee at The Guardian said the film was all but ruined by the casting of Felicity Jones as the female lead, but still gave it 4 stars:
What really hampers proceedings, however, is Leder’s choice of lead. It’s such a disappointment that the film’s weakest link is arguably its most important. Struggling with an accent she never manages to nail, Jones fails to bring real command to a role that so desperately needs it. There’s energy but no depth.
It’s not that Jones is necessarily bad; she’s just incredibly miscast, never once justifying why she was picked for a role that was surely in demand.
The other characters, superbly played, rally around her, but:
the majority of the film relies on Jones and it’s a weight that she just can’t carry.
Her acting was not bad, indeed good, but it did not convey the “elegance and restraint, both in the calm precision of her statements and in her personal style” Ide suggests was needed.
The Independent does a review roundup – ‘Well-intentioned but flawed’.
I’d say definitely go and see it, it is an important story and an enjoyable film.
Meanwhile this review of Jane Sherron de Hart’s biography will tell you about Bader Ginsburg’s life and work, and Daniel Hemel tells us What Happens if Ruth Bader Ginsburg Remains Too Sick to Work?
Nothing, apparently. She remains a Supreme Court judge while she is alive. If she wants to, and she’s aiming for the next five years.