1. Sawatdi bpi mai kap!
That is a Thai new year’s greeting which means means:
- May you find compassion, loving kindness and equanimity along your paths over the next year!
On a personal level that would help. I think most people feel well rid of 2021, and hope for better in 2022.
2. Will humanity survive?
Andrew Leigh, they say, is always the smartest man in the room, and one of the nicest. Since entering parliament in 2008 he has now launched his 8th book. This Saturday Paper article (no doubt pay-walled) is an interview with Andrew Leigh on humanity’s one-in-six chance of ending.
He says he likes people and would like to see them live through another 30 million generations of humans that could populate the planet before the sun blows up.
The first and worst of four big existential threats is runaway artificial intelligence, which he says has a one in 10 chance of wiping us out in the next 100 years. We need to make sure we are in control and if we aren’t we need to ensure that AI’s values align with ours.
I can’t get into that topic, so I’ll leave it there.
A pandemic from an engineered disease is assessed as a one in 30 chance, compared to a one in 10,000 chance from a natural organism, that is, a zoonotic disease that jumps the barrier from animals.
With climate change he reckons there is “maybe a 10 per cent chance of a 6 degree temperature rise, and 1 per cent chance of 10 degrees.” I think he is saying 6 degrees would depopulate us but not wipe us out.
He pauses here to say one in 100 still calls for strong action on climate. The usual safety factor required of airlines is one in a million.
I interrupt here to say that one in a million is a 0.0001 per cent chance. The odds offered by the IPCC are an insult to common sense.
Nuclear war is the fourth. I did not get a clear quantum from the article. Obviously nukes are nasty, and having nine nuclear powers is unsettling.
Beyond those four is a fifth, namely political failure. He is talking here about increasingly populist undemocratic leaders, which he does not see in classical terms of left and right. He’s talking Philippines, Hungary, Turkey and Poland. Beyond them:
- In 2019 and 2020, the world’s four largest democracies, with a combined population of over two billion, were run by populists: Trump in the United States, Modi in India, Widodo in Indonesia, and Bolsonaro in Brazil. And we’ve seen a decline in the share of countries that are rated as strongly democratic.
- Populists regard politics as being a contest between a pure mass of people and a vile elite. For the left-wing populist, your classic Latin American 1970s populist, the vile elite is the super-rich. For right-wing populists, the enemy tends to be the intelligentsia – people with university degrees, urbanites, experts and immigrants. But it’s the demonisation that really matters. On both sides, populism is all about dividing rather than uniting. (Emphasis added)
In Inside Story a former academic colleague of Leigh’s, Paul T’Hart, attests to his smartness in his review Welcome to the Titanic. However, he says Leigh needs to apply his super brain more to the problem of how we fix the situation.
3. Putrid politics
Leigh does not think Australia is immune from a slide into populism.
John Hewson gives PM Morrison the rounds of the kitchen in A rat with a gold tooth.
Hewson is saying Morrison is a liar, is corrupt, is more interested in maintaining political power than in good government. He says:
- It is time for a reset of our politics. In recent decades politics has drifted away from a focus on delivering good government; it is now little more than a short-term game, the sole objective of which is winning or keeping government.
Policy decisions are taken for short-term, politically expedient reasons – what is perceived to be the advantage relative to winning or keeping government. As a result many of the big issues have been left to drift – childcare, aged and disability care, genuine tax reform, systemic welfare reform, universities and higher education reform, and many more.
The process of politics has become very self-absorbed. It has been attracting the wrong sort of people, focused more on their political careers within the party and in some cases what they can extract to their personal benefit, during or after politics.
His immediate worry is that Morrison is going to run a scare campaign in the election based on lies about Labor and everything.
He’s probably on the money there. Labor’s problem is that they need to take Morrison down, but struggle to do that with a leader who has little public standing. Katina Curtis has an unsettling review of the developing campaign. Frydenberg accusing Albanese of being a Troskyite is not edifying.
For substance, you could try Craig Emerson, who analyses historic Budget Papers from 1970 and finds that Labor is indeed better at running the economy.
That builds on his two previous columns.
First, Morrison’s new age of stagnation:
- Yes, the economy has rebounded – but only to its pre-pandemic levels of unreformed mediocrity.
- Scott Morrison’s transactional government seems merely to want to return to the rut of slow economic growth with no ideas for the future.
When Morrison is not skiting about his government’s achievements, he is telling us that governments should get out of people’s lives, and do nothing.
In fact the Morrison government is doing plenty. Michael Pascoe, while investigating what has been happening with the many billions of dollars of Commonwealth grants, has found that tens of millions are going to golf clubs and related businesses, with only 2.2 per cent going to Labor electorates. See The Great Golf Rort where Labor seats need not apply.
To finish the year and herald the new one Pascoe really let fly in Olde Pascoe’s Almanacke reveals the pirate prefers the plank to putrid politics in 2022!!
4. Robodebt specialist put in charge of university research grants
You really could not make this stuff up.
In a sick joke Morrison has put Stuart Robert in as acting education minister to replace Alan Tudge who dropped off the perch because his former media adviser alleges that their affair was emotionally abusive and on one occasion physically abusive. Pascoe above says that Robert:
- was absolutely unbelievable, someone clearly unqualified, someone with bugger-all credibility, you know, someone responsible for an almighty disaster like Robodebt, someone who had run up a massive IT bill on the taxpayer for their religion side-hustle, someone who had been sacked as a minister over a dodgy trip to China.
This clown now has the power to reject university grants, which according to him “do not demonstrate value for taxpayers’ money nor contribute to the national interest”.
In other words, they did not pass the pub test. His pub test.
All were in the humanities: two on climate, two on China, two more on literature. Jenna Price tells the tale in the SMH:
- Every year, thousands of Australian researchers apply for funding through the Australian Research Council (ARC), about the only organisation in Australia which gives money for all kinds of projects. Applications are Herculean labours and there is so little money only about 20 per cent of grants ever get funded. You have to be smart, skillful and cunning to get through the 200-strong College of Experts. Jobs rely on these grants but, much more importantly, the future of Australia relies on the outcomes of these grants.
The Government held the whole process up for two months, delaying 587 approved grants, then pushed out the bad news late on the Friday before COVID-Christmas.
Julie Hare in the AFR in Robert’s research grants veto a pre-election ‘dog whistle’ reports Labor’s Kim Carr as saying this is “a nod and a wink to the Pentecostal church.”
John Roskam of the Institute of Public Affairs said:
“The idea of a political veto, a ministerial veto, a government veto on university research is, at one level, reprehensible,” said Mr Roskam. “It runs counter to a liberal democracy.”
As COVID cut a swathe through universities, shedding about 40,000 staff, the government reaction went well beyond gratuitous hectoring. It was like dancing on the grave of a vanquished enemy.
They really do treat us like mushrooms.
5. Australia’s slide into ‘competitive authoritarianism’
Lucy Hamilton at Pearls and Irritations has found a new diagnosis in Democracy in decline: Australia’s slide into ‘competitive authoritarianism’.
Worth a read. I’ll just highlight:
- Energy Minister Angus Taylor has stacked the bodies in charge of transforming Australia to a post fossil fuel economy with sector lobbyists and executives. The Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO are both compromised by lobbyist appointments.
Nothing is sacred.
She ends with:
- Australia’s future hangs in the balance: the struggles facing us over climate crisis directions in particular endanger our ability to vote out a government determined to crush transparency and protest. It is by recognising the concept of “competitive authoritarianism” that we can truly see the breadth of the risk we face and the urgency of addressing the threat.
At the same site Jenny Hocking writes that A culture of corruption is engulfing the Morrison government:
- The Morrison government has corrupted the idea of democratic government itself by undermining of political institutions.
A culture of corruption is engulfing the Morrison government. It’s not just the endless graft and largesse – the million-dollar contracts to Liberal linked companies, the generously (mis)allocated ‘grants’ to Coalition seats, the personal sinecures to retiring party faithful, the cruel illegality of Robodebt – we’ve become inured to all that, this is a corruption of the idea of democratic government itself. It is insidious, pervasive, and in its undermining of political institutions, dangerous.
She suggests Morrison will pay a political price. I’m not so sure.
More to come
That’s around 1630 words so far. There is more to come, but the above is enough to digest in one go.
Update: For more on reviewing 2021 and looking to 2022, see Weekly salon 12/1.