Ahead of the zeitgeist on metadata

Data security and retention are very much in the news at the moment. Indeed the Abbott government’s data retention bill is currently being debated by the Senate and will inevitably be passed given that the Coalition did a deal with Labor whereby the latter will support it in return for inclusion of a fairly weak requirement for a warrant before law enforcement agencies can access journalists’ metadata. Richard “Justinian” Ackland published an article yesterday that highlighted the deficiencies of the warrant regime in the current bill.

I can modestly claim to have been ahead of the zeitgeist on this issue, having made a submission and given evidence before the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs way back in 2010, when they were considering the bill which eventually gave rise to the current journalists’ qualified privilege or immunity in relation to disclosing confidential sources when giving evidence in court. As I argued at the time:

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Debt and deficit emergency half-full glass

That Tony Abbott should have been forced this week to concede defeat on fiscal reform by declaring partial victory over “debt and deficit” (“the glass is half full”) is both ironic and fitting. As I discussed in a fairly recent post, Abbott was responsible for bringing to destructive perfection the toxic mix of “small target” strategy and relentless negativity that both major parties now employ when in Opposition. Tony has now been hoist with his own petard, brought undone by his own success in convincing the electorate to believe erroneously that governmental debt and deficit are universal evils that can never be justified. He finds himself just as helpless to achieve a budget surplus in the foreseeable future as his ALP predecessors, and for essentially the same reasons: unexpectedly slow recovery of revenue in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis; progressive collapse of iron ore and coal prices; and a recalcitrant Senate with an opportunistic Labor Opposition gleefully intent on being just as relentlessly negative towards Abbott as he was towards them.

Peter Hartcher had quite a good article in yesterday’s Fairfax media (which I can’t now find) outlining the recent history of tit-for-tat political bastardry that has brought Australia to our current situation of almost complete governmental paralysis on fiscal policy. However, the cycle of retaliatory fiscal mischief goes back decades. I would date the phenomenon back at least to Paul Keating’s cynical and unprincipled demolition of John Hewson’s Fightback policy in the lead-up to the 1993 election, a tactic that Keating pursued relentlessly notwithstanding that he himself had advocated a GST only a few years previously and that John Howard by contrast had had the guts and integrity (not words that most on the Left would associate with him) to support most of the Hawke/Keating government’s necessary deregulatory, market-based reforms over the previous decade.  The gloves were off on fiscal policy from that moment on.

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Opposition to Government Strategy 101 (OGS101)

NB This post makes extensive use of the footnote plugin.  The footnote numbers are very small, but they are hyperlinks so you can jump to them by clicking.

NBB The fact that I argue below that a major reason for the demise of the Newman government was the standard template opposition strategy that I outline/discuss does not mean that I personally approve of LNP policies or performance (or those of Tony Abbott for that matter).  In fact I think the LNP richly deserved to be booted out (anti-bike laws, politicisation of judiciary etc).  However, I don’t think the ALP would have gone within a bull’s roar of winning in the absence of OGS101, nor is it obvious to me that Labor will be a significantly better government.  After all, they’re not even promising to repeal the VLAD (anti-bikie) laws, just to “review” them (in itself a classic example of OGS101 in operation).

Yesterday’s seeming electoral triumph of Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Labor rump in Queensland after a single term of LNP government underlines the extent to which the secrets of successful continuous campaigning for an Opposition party have come to be reduced to an almost foolproof formula that almost guarantees successful undermining of all but the most wily or dead lucky incumbent government, even by a telephone booth-sized Opposition with very little visible talent or experience.

The formula largely accounts for the results of the last 3 federal elections and at least the last 2 Victorian and Queensland state elections. It is found in a political spin doctor’s playbook called Opposition to Government Strategy 101 (OGS101).  The formula is well known to spin doctors on both sides of politics but has been kept secret from the general public until now.  Fortunately I have now obtained a leaked copy and reproduce the Executive Summary over the fold:

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Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is constantly in the news these days which can lead to the impression that the problem is increasing. To the extent that scrutiny and public discussion shines light in dark places, we might have expected the real underlying rates to be tapering.

So I was more than surprised when The Age reported figures from Victorian Police Family Violence statistics in the left section of the table below, along with the headline “Family Violence Epidemic.” They specifically highlighted the increases from 2011-2012 to 2012-2013. (Warning; This is a long post so set aside some time!)

table 1

Victorian Totals are taken from Police Crime Statistics.

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Cut the waste! Stop the boondoggles!

Junction Oval

Junction Oval

Victorian Premier Dennis Napthine announces a “plan” to spend $20 million upgrading Junction Oval at St Kilda to accommodate the AFL team named after the suburb, even though it hasn’t played or trained there for decades. The plan appears not to have been checked with the local council or the AFL, and would apparently need another $37 million in infrastructure funding from the Abbott government.  At first glance it looks to be a complete waste of money with few if any redeeming features.

The Melbourne East West Link tunnel is a vastly more expensive but equally dubious project in cost-benefit terms that Napthine has rammed through despite very widespread opposition, including from the ALP which has said it won’t build it under any circumstances if elected.

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Calmly considering ABC cuts

abcThe announcement by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull that the ABC’s budget will be cut by $50 million per year for the next five years has generated predictable kerfuffle in mainstream and social media circles. Whether it will have any real effect on the broader voting public is much more questionable, but it’s still worth talking about in policy terms.

The predictable line by left-leaning commentators is that Tony Abbott has broken a promise, or even “lied” when he said before the election that ABC and SBS funding (along with health, education etc) would not be cut. In a tit-for-tat sense I guess that’s fair enough, because it’s exactly the same accusation that Abbott successfully prosecuted against Julia Gillard in relation to her backflip on carbon pricing.

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Embracing a mature tax debate?

abbott hockeyTony Abbott might well be the last bloke on earth who could plausibly demand a “mature debate” on tax reform. But that doesn’t deny the crying need for such a debate in Australia.

Nor does the fact that it’s the antithesis of what Abbott did in Opposition mean that Bill Shorten should necessarily emulate Tony’s tactics himself.  What won the last war won’t necessarily win this one.  Abbott didn’t win the 2013 election only because he relentlessly opposed everything Labor tried to do. That tactic worked because Julia Gillard had mortally wounded herself by the manner in which she seized the prime ministership, because that inevitably resulted in ongoing destructive disunity orchestrated by an embittered Kevin Rudd, and because her government consistently exhibited appalling administrative and policy implementation skills despite some excellent policy ideas. Without those self-inflicted wounds, Abbott’s “one trick pony” knee-jerk obstructionism might have failed.

Despite the fact that opinion polls have looked quite respectable for Shorten for some time, Abbott in government isn’t burdened by any of the handicaps that ensured Gillard/Rudd’s doom. Moreover, he now has the additional benefit of wrapping himself in khaki, which John Howard exploited with such great success in 2001 and 2004.

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From assimilation to Black Power to Gordon Gekko to where? (II)

closegapHEAD

This is the second of a two part article about Aboriginal affairs policy in the wake of Noel Pearson’s speech last week at Gough Whitlam’s funeral. See From assimilation to Black Power to Gordon Gekko to where? (I).  Then read on. NB A very long post. I hope at least some will persevere to the end

In the first part of this article I argued that the self-determination policies of the 70s, 80s and 90s were generally perceived to have failed. That perception, along with calculations of immediate partisan political advantage, led to the imposition of the Howard Intervention on Northern Territory Aboriginal communities from late 2007.

The Intervention policies drew on various strands of right-leaning thinking on Aboriginal policy (including the prescriptions of Noel Pearson) which I will outline below. Despite their cynical partisan origins, these policies met with bipartisan acceptance and were implemented enthusiastically by the incoming Rudd ALP government through Minister Jenny Macklin under the Abbott-esque three word slogan Closing the Gap. Seven years after their implementation, the kindest evaluation one can give to these policies is that they have met with very modest success.

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From assimilation to Black Power to Gordon Gekko to where? (I)

Noel Pearson delivers the Greatest Australian Political Speech in Recorded History

Noel Pearson delivers the Greatest Australian Political Speech in Recorded History

It didn’t take long for the Aboriginal knockers to start tearing into Noel Pearson in the wake of his delivery of the Greatest Australian Political Speech in Recorded History at Gough Whitlam’s funeral.

And Helen Razer (although not Aboriginal to the best of my knowledge) took the opportunity of tweeting a link to an old article about Pearson by 60s-70s wannabe Black Power activist Gary Foley.  It’s a fairly spiteful and juvenile effort in many ways  (I didn’t, for example, need to know that Pearson is allegedly known by “many in Aboriginal communities around Australia as the ‘Cape York Cane Toad’”), but nevertheless makes some points that are worthy of serious reflection and discussion:

 Noel’s speech launching Prof. Langton’s Boyer book was in part a reiteration of his assertions about what is the way forward for Aboriginal people. The familiar Pearson themes of the importance of individual home ownership and entrepreneurialism were there, as well as the tiresome chastising of those who don’t support these contentions as being ones who are tolerant of domestic violence and child abuse. This latter accusation is particularly disingenuous because it implies that the solitary way one can combat social dysfunction is through the path of individualism, materialism and free-enterprise entrepreneurialism. If that is the case, then it is clear that what Pearson’s ideas are ultimately about is pure and simple assimilationism.

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