Category Archives: Social Science and Society

The General goes

holden21_275Abbott, Hockey et al would have you believe that GM have made a decision to cease manufacturing in Australia. Kim Carr and Jay Weatherall have been saying that GM were willing to continue and had specified exactly what was required. My recall is that Weatherall said they wanted the Government to chip in $130 million. Carr told Waleed Aly that the price was significantly less than $150 million. Carr said further that the hectoring and bullying by Hockey, Abbott and others clearly let GM know they were not wanted.

I think Carr is right. The Government wanted to make the decision look as though it was made by GM alone and to a degree they have succeeded.

Tim Colebatch, in a column written before the decision was announced (sadly, his last) was clear that the decision was made by Abbott. He thinks it could precipitate a recession. And:

car programs cost $400 million a year, nothing like the $3 billion a year for diesel fuel rebates to mining companies, or the $5 billion to subsidise negative gearing. The budgetary cost of losing this industry will dwarf the cost of keeping it.

Continue reading The General goes

Is the Pope a communist?

Hardly, but he is certainly a severe critic of market capitalism. George Weigel sees his recent apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) as

a clarion call for a decisive shift in the Catholic Church’s self-understanding, in full continuity with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Austen Ivereigh begins his broader treatment this way:

The first teaching document mainly authored by Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, is a bold and thrilling bid to send the Catholic Church worldwide on mission. Energetic, direct, lyrical, its language and style model the evangelization to which the Pope is calling Catholics. In sharp critiques and passionate prose, it polarises the choices faced both by the Church and the world, gently but insistently inviting people to opt for mission – and to a journey of transformation and reform.

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Be sure to read, however, Travis Gettys’ Pope Francis rips capitalism and trickle-down economics to shreds in new policy statement. Continue reading Is the Pope a communist?

Hockey’s Graincorp decision

grain silos_image_300Terry at Saturday Salon has raised the issue of Treaurer Hockey’s decision to disallow the US company Archer Daniels Midland’s (ADM) A$3.4 billion 100% takeover bid for the Australian company GrainCorp. As Terry said, Judith Sloan went ballistic, Bernard Keane and Glenn Dyer were scathing at Crikey, as was Geoff Kitney at the AFR.

For a straightforward account of what happened, try Michelle Grattan at The Conversation. She does call GrainCorp an agri-giant, although it’s not a large company in Australian terms, may just rate as a ‘mid-cap’. In American terms it’s a tiddler. Nevertheless it would have been ADM’s biggest acquisition to date. ADM is worth about $US27 billion. Graincorp after the post-bid price fall in now worth about $A2 billion.

Must reads, I think are Laura Tingle’s article and Hockey’s statement.

There are at least three reasons why the bid was rejected.

First, there is a lack of competition in the eastern seaboard grain handling market. Graincorp owns 7 out of 10 terminals and handles some 85% of the grain. From Grattan:

“Many industry participants, particularly growers in eastern Australia, have expressed concern that the proposed acquisition could reduce competition and impede growers’ ability to access the grain storage, logistics and distribution network,” he [Hockey] said

Given the transition to a more competitive network was still emerging, “now is not the right time for a 100% foreign acquisition of this key Australian business.”

Secondly,

A “further significant consideration” was that the proposal had attracted a high level of concern from stakeholders and the broader community.

Allowing the bid to proceed “could risk undermining public support for the foreign investment regime and ongoing foreign investment more generally”.

Thirdly, and down-pedalled somewhat, there were issues about ADM’s motivation and longer-term priorities and its record of providing service in its home market, in other words, questions of character. The sweetener of $200 million for additional investment and promised price caps for handling fees was too late to be persuasive. In any case there was no guarantee that farmers would not pay in the long run. Continue reading Hockey’s Graincorp decision

Christopher’s Crisis

Pyne_vd-gonski-gone-pyne-275Christopher Pyne said he was expecting a warm reception from education ministers yesterday. Seems it was heated to the point of being downright explosive. According to The World Today, Tasmanian Education Minister, the Greens Nick McKim, says Mr Pyne had thrown a stick of dynamite into the discussions.

(Image via SMH.)

He also spoke of a “bombshell revelation that will rock the public education system to the core”.

Other ministers were similarly unimpressed. According to the AFR:

“All in all ministers are very disappointed,” Coalition NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli, who chaired the ministerial meeting, said.

McKim again:

“Here’s a unity ticket for you right here – a Labor minister, a Greens minister, National ministers, Liberal Party ministers, sticking up and unified behind Australian schools and behind funding certainty for Australian schools”

Pyne said “no-one should assume they will get less money”. Seems the government school sectors in the states that signed up to Gonski deals with Labor are expecting exactly that. Pyne seems to be strongly implying that if extra funds are needed for the states that didn’t sign up or for other aspects of his new scheme then it will come from the government school sectors of those states that did sign up.

Adrian Piccoli, the NSW minister, points out that this means that everything that is done in schools in 2014 will have to be done on the assumption that it may not flow through to 2015. McKim says we have “Christopher’s Crisis” rather than a “Shorten Shambles”.

Barrie Cassidy says that the Government assumed that it has a store of goodwill. He warns that it doesn’t.

Geoff Kitney in the AFR asks What is going on with the Abbott government? Continue reading Christopher’s Crisis

Gonski gone

Kevin Rudd and I are on a unity ticket. There’s no difference between Kevin Rudd and myself when it comes to school funding.

That’s Tony Abbott before the last election.

“you can vote Liberal or Labor and you’ll get exactly the same amount of funding for your school”.

That’s Christopher Pyne, from the Brisbane Times piece, which is probably the clearest account of what is going on.

In simple terms, Pyne is going to honour the 2014 agreements, plus give the share owing to Queensland, WA and NT without expecting reciprocal commitments, but from 2015 there will be a “flatter, simpler, fairer” formula, within the same envelope of funding, but again without reciprocal commitments from the states and territories.

The LNP’s commitment on funding has only ever been for four years.

Presumably the LNP will have to change the law. Bronwyn Hinz at Crikey:

Another obstacle for Pyne is that the increased funding for school systems that signed up to Labor’s National Plan for School Improvement have been legislated for the period 2014-2019. The complexity of this legislation and a hostile Senate means that the Abbott government cannot just back away from these legislative commitments, and certainly cannot prevent the first additional funds from flowing before the start of the new school year.

Pyne claims that the Better Schools plan was incomprehensible an un-implementable. Certainly he declined a briefing from the Gonski panel and has never shown the slightest interest in Gonski’s findings. He plans to work from the old Howard scheme as a base.

Funnily enough, none of this is a surprise to me. It’s exactly what I expected from what was said before the elections. The statements by Abbott and Pyne back then were always a transparent snow job. Unlike Gillard’s “no carbon tax” statement, they intended to mislead. Continue reading Gonski gone

Climate clippings 87

Climate clippings_175These posts are intended to share information and ideas about climate change and hence act as a roundtable. Again, I do not want to spend time in comments rehashing whether human activity causes climate change.

This edition picks up the theme of activism mentioned in Climate change: reconnecting politics with reality.

1. Blue sky

After the last election some friends of my younger brother, feeling blue, decided to turn blue into an optimistic colour, and invented the Blue Sky movement. To join all you have to do is ‘like’ the Facebook site put something blue on your front footpath visible from the road, take a photo and post it on the site. Yes, and take the Blue Sky Pledge, which includes reducing your own emissions, displaying blue for 12 months, and encouraging others to join.

Here’s one example:

Blue Sky_1395958_234410770055917_951721907_n
I notice that people have been using the site to share links.

If you click on “Community” or “About” at the head of the Blue Sky FB page and then click “more” you’ll get the full Blue Sky spiel.

2. Go Getup!

Ben Eltham thinks GetUp! is currently Tony Abbott’s most dangerous opponent. Continue reading Climate clippings 87

Climate change: reconnecting politics with reality

After the rally on Sunday 17 November Ben Eltham took a look at climate activism in the digital age and nominated climate policy as “the central battleground of 21st century politics.” Sooner or later, somehow or other, climate activism has to be turned into real politics. As one of the ten themes in the Centre for Policy Development’s Pushing our Luck: ideas for Australian progress Professor John Wiseman, Deputy Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne looked at the shape of climate policy for the future.

You can find his whole piece at page 142 on the pdf counter, but I’ll attempt to give a brief outline here.

First he surveys the science, our prospects and the risks. The risk of a 4C future is unacceptably high. He quotes the World Bank’s report Turn Down the Heat:

    ‘Even with the current mitigation commitments and pledges fully implemented there is roughly a 20 per cent likelihood of exceeding 4°C by 2100. If they are not met warming of 4°C could occur as early as the 2060s.’

What does 4°C mean?

    Professor John Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, provides a stark assessment of the difference between a rise of two and four degrees. ‘The difference,’ he says, ‘is human civilisation. A 4°C temperature increase probably means a global [population] carrying capacity below 1 billion people’.

He then looks at the climate budget approach and posts a version of this now familiar graph:

Copenhagen diagnosis Fig 22 n

He concludes that we need more ambition and urgency, both at the national and international levels. The achievement of emission reductions at the necessary scale and speed will require transformational rather than incremental change. Continue reading Climate change: reconnecting politics with reality

Indonesian spying affair

Indonesia has recalled its ambassador after leaked documents reveal Australia spied on president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife, amongst others. Dr Natalegawa:

“It’s impossible for an ambassador in foreign country to do their duty in the midst of an unfortunate situation like this,” he said.

“The summoning of the ambassador is not considered a light step, but it’s a minimum step we can do to consolidate situation, and to show our firm but measured act.”

You have to wonder what the endgame is in this matter. Seasoned foreign affairs commenters seem to think these matters can be managed, everyone knows that everyone spies on everyone else. Behind the scenes all can be settled down and we continue as before.

Well that hasn’t worked so far for the US when Angela Merkel found that her cell phone was not off limits. The issue is still very much alive, though it’s not clear that the US will agree to a legally binding ‘no spy’ agreement.

It seems to me that Indonesia has all the leverage it needs to get whatever it wants, especially as Crikey’s editorial suggests, Abbott is pursuing an asylum seeker-based foreign policy.

Nevertheless the US may not allow us to enter a ‘no-spy’ agreement. Against that, the Chinese are taking an interest.

There’s more at The Guardian and The Conversation. Continue reading Indonesian spying affair

A hegemon in decline

Immanuel Wallerstein has argued since 1980 that the United States peaked as a hegemonic power around 1970. He says the decline was slow at first but became precipitate during the presidency of George W. Bush. At first

the reaction to this argument, from all political camps, was to reject it as absurd. In the 1990s, quite to the contrary, it was widely believed, again on all sides of the political spectrum, that the United States had reached the height of unipolar dominance.

However, after the burst bubble of 2008, opinion of politicians, pundits, and the general public began to change. Today, a large percentage of people (albeit not everyone) accepts the reality of at least some relative decline of U.S. power, prestige, and influence. In the United States this is accepted quite reluctantly. Politicians and pundits rival each other in recommending how this decline can still be reversed. I believe it is irreversible.

Wallerstein points out that the recent kerfuffle over spying on friendly leaders would have been hushed up during the 1950s. Now it is to the advantage of leaders in their local politics to tweak the nose of the US. Not one of the strong actors in the Middle East takes their cue from the United States any longer.

Finally, there are two real consequences of which we can be fairly sure in the decade to come. The first is the end of the U.S. dollar as the currency of last resort. When this happens, the United States will have lost a major protection for its national budget and for the cost of its economic operations. The second is the decline, probably a serious decline, in the relative standard of living of U.S. citizens and residents. The political consequences of this latter development are hard to predict in detail but will not be insubstantial.

Continue reading A hegemon in decline

His Honour v Herr Kommandant

Last week Qld premier Campbell Newman told the state’s legal fraternity to “come out of your ivory towers” and realise the only reason the government introduced a raft of tough new laws because the “system was failing”.

He said members of the legal industry who had publicly questioned the legislation and queried whether the government was blurring the lines between the judiciary and the executive were out of touch.

Last year 400 people committed offences while out on bail in Queensland, Mr Newman said, adding that Phillip Graeme Abell was out on bail when he killed Gold Coast policeman Damian Leeding.

“They [the legal fraternity] are living literally in an ivory tower,” Mr Newman said.

“They go home at night to their comfortable, well-appointed homes, they talk amongst themselves, they socialise together, they don’t understand what my team and I understand, and that is Queenslanders have had enough.”

On the separation of powers

Mr Newman said he believed it to be “more of an American thing, I should say”, but said he understood parliament to be “supreme” because it was “the manifestation of the will of the people”.

But

“It would be absolutely inappropriate for us to interfere in the workings of a specific court or case. That is where the separation of powers comes in. I don’t tell judges what to do, neither does the Attorney-General, nor do we now.

“What we are saying is, the community says enough is enough, they are not being protected, we are saying, here is a new set of laws to try and protect Queenslanders.

“If Queenslanders don’t like it, they’ll vote us out.”

Now Queensland Supreme Court judge Justice George Fryberg questioned whether he should hear a submission from the Director of Public Prosecutions asking the Supreme Court to review the decision to grant bail to 25-year-old alleged Bandidos member Jarrod Kevin Anthony Brown who police allege was one of the Bandidos involved in a public bikie brawl on the Gold Coast last month. Continue reading His Honour v Herr Kommandant

Armageddon avoided – this time

We are like a blindfolded man walking towards a cliff, and if we keep walking in that direction, very soon we will fall off.

That’s how Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer described the looming crunch over the debt crisis in the USA on the 7.30 Report last night. The man leading the charge for the Tea Party right of the Republican Party is Ted Cruz:

Cruz_e0e9c710-348f-11e3-83c4-1cff9b481b1b_2013-10-13T190728Z_76766367--500

This article suggests that he knows exactly what he’s doing. Beyond getting rid of Obamacare, he’s destroying the Republican Party as we know it, to be remade in the image of the Tea Party. He also has an eye on running for president in 2016.

On the remake of the Party, most conservative Republicans fear they’ll be done over by the Tea Party come preselection time because it is so well organised, and, I believe, supported by Koch Bros funding.

On the presidency, there is a suggestion that he believes Obama will eventually be blamed for the chaos if the US defaults. There is another suggestion that he really is ignorant of what will happen if to the world if the US defaults.

Overnight our time a deal was concluded, I think essentially to kick the can down the road, as they say, until next February. Meanwhile Citigroup had already liquidated US Treasury bills falling due around the end of this month and reduced its exposure to government bonds expiring through to mid-December. That is, a major American financial institution was getting effectively downgrading what martin Wolf of the Financial Review described as “the world’s most important safe assets.” Defaulting is likely to be “a huge disruption to market liquidity and credit across the world.” Continue reading Armageddon avoided – this time

Has Macfarlane gone mad?

There is a bit of a meme around that the MSM are giving the LNP Coalition a free ride in government. On Friday the Australia Financial Review did its bit to buck the trend by asking the above question in an editorial.

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When federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane spoke about a “final” assistance package for GM Holden last week, The Australian Financial Review took it as a sign that someone was finally standing up to the car makers’ protection racket. But Mr Macfarlane’s latest comments indicate a more protectionist mind-set. He agreed that Australia “needs” a car industry. He wants to reverse Ford’s decision to cease manufacturing cars in Australia after 2016. He wants an Australian industry to make cars that are driven “all over the world”. And he flags the option of an Australian car industry that is “supported by the government long term”. “I’m going to do everything I can to work with the companies to make sure that car workers’ jobs are protected, so we can have an industry long-term, so that Australia can be proud of its industry base,” he said on Thursday.

Then:

Has this normally sensible minister gone mad? It’s one thing to politically show you are doing everything you reasonably can to keep an industry going. But it’s another to use the language of the mendicants and rent seekers…

The AFR says that putting uncompetitive industries on permanent subsidy mocks Tony Abbott’s vow to make Australia open for business. It says that Joe Hockey and company should stand up to this lunacy.

At stake is whether the Abbott government has the wit and gumption to tackle the serious task of reviving Australia’s stalled productivity growth. Mr Macfarlane should be the first person to recognise this.

Continue reading Has Macfarlane gone mad?