Australian Politics 2020-06-01 15:18:00


Australia set to be part of Trump's G7 expansion

Australia is poised to join the world's most exclusive political organisation after US President Donald Trump called for an expansion of the Group of 7 nations without China in an attempt to build greater cooperation over restoring the global economy following the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has discussed the prospect of joining the G7 with a senior Trump administration official, senior government sources say, and is expecting a formal invitation in the coming days that could further test Australian relations with China.

The offer to Australia will come at a politically fraught moment with the US President facing a domestic crisis at home as violent riots rage across the country sparked by the death of handcuffed African-American man George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody. At least 25 cities in the United States were under curfew on Saturday night as police cars were set ablaze, windows were smashed and stores were ransacked in the riots.

Mr Trump is also facing criticism on the global stage after he announced over the weekend he was severing all ties with the World Health Organisation over its handling of the coronavirus despite Australia and the European Union successfully establishing an independent review into the UN body's performance.

The move to expand the G7 but exclude China will also be seen as an attempt to sideline Beijing at a time when countries want it to fully co-operate with the review, which was established by a World Health Assembly motion in May.

After German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated she was hesitant to travel to the US in June for a physical G7 meeting, the US President revealed he would postpone the event until September and push for an expansion of the group. He singled out Australia, Russia, South Korea and India as possible additions. Mr Trump said the G7 - which includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States - was a "very outdated group of countries".

A spokesman for the government confirmed Mr Morrison had been in contact with the Trump administration about a G7 invitation.

"The G7 has been a topic of recent high-level exchanges. Australia would welcome an official invitation," the spokesman said. "Strengthening international cooperation among like-minded countries is valued at a time of unprecedented global challenges. The Prime Minister attended the 2019 G7 summit as a guest of President Macron.”

The invitation to Australia is another example of Mr Morrison looking to play a larger role on the world stage, after the Australian PM was invited by French president Emmanuel Macron a G7 meeting last year. Mr Morrison and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne have also been looking to use Australia's suppression of the coronavirus to push its diplomatic weight, including in its calls for the independent inquiry.

US Health And Human Services secretary Alex Azar told federal government officials last week "everyone wants to be Australia" when discussing its approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to senior government sources.

Lowy Institute executive director Michael Fullilove said Australia should pursue the opportunity to join the G7, saying it was outdated and needed reform. But he cautioned it did come at a sensitive moment with Mr Trump attempting to exclude China and sideline the world health body.

"There's a coherent argument to be made to include Australia because we have the 13th or 14th largest economy in the world and we plug a gap in the G7 membership because it is so Europe focused," Mr Fullilove said.

"It is in Australia's interests to pursue this opening, because as an organisation the 'G7-plus' would have more heft than the G20 and enables us to pursue our case and interests at the very top table.

"But Australia's interests would be better served if China were included and Russia excluded. We don't want it to be a 'China containment club'. Russia was excluded from the G8 for a reason - that being its annexation of Crimea."

A DFAT spokesman said Australia shared some of the US government's concerns about the WHO's response to the global pandemic, but its funding for the world health body would continue.

"Australia deeply values our longstanding cooperation with the US on international public health issues," the DFAT spokesman said.

"We note that, while the US has announced it will cut WHO funding, it has committed to redirect it to other international health initiatives."

Mr Morrison also announced on Sunday he would be holding a virtual meeting this week with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


Extreme feminist Clementine Ford shouldn’t be censored

Leave political censorship to the Left

Joe Hildebrand

There is an old fable of various forms, known most famously as “The Frog and the Scorpion”.

The scorpion, who cannot swim, asks the frog to carry him across a river. The frog politely declines because, well, it’s a scorpion.

But the scorpion reasons with the frog. “If I sting you we both die,” he says. “So why on earth would I do that?”

The logic is inarguable and so the frog agrees. Then, when they are halfway across, the scorpion stings the frog and they both sink to their deaths.

“Why did you do that?” asks the frog with his dying breath.

The scorpion shrugs. “It’s in my nature.”

The same might be said of Clementine Ford, a firebrand feminist who seems programmed to self-destruct at every opportunity – usually in an attempt to destroy someone else in the process.

Strangely, perhaps even refreshingly, she does not present as a martyr. Indeed she often seems surprised when her fury implodes. She is like an out-of-control heat-seeking missile that lands upon a target only to realise too late that it is the end of them both.

I have been targeted by Clementine on more than one occasion and it is both a derailing and damaging experience.

The first time was several years ago when she generated a Twitter storm around her enthusiastic use of the C-bomb, a word I – like her – have never had a problem with.

The bizarre part was that while she was flying thick and fast with it in the public exchanges she was privately messaging me joking about how silly the whole thing was.

Much like the frog, I mistakenly thought we were friends.

This was underscored by the fact that we had a friend in common, someone very dear to me. We even bumped into each other at his wedding a year or two ago and exchanged cheery hellos.

I was therefore a little surprised but not particularly concerned when Clementine pitched a column to Ten Daily, my own network’s news website, to rebut some comments I’d made on Studio 10. She would not, she assured the editor, be disrespectful.

Indeed, the same editor ran the pitch by me as a matter of courtesy and of course I did not object – censorship is hardly in my nature – however that doesn’t mean I was happy with what was to follow.

By way of background, there had been a horrible killing in Melbourne and the Victoria Police response had been to say that this was “absolutely about men’s behaviour”. I described the comment as “nonsensical”. It quickly emerged there were far more salient factors in the case, including homelessness and mental illness. Maleness seemed the least of the accused’s problems.

But let us leave that to one side.

Clementine’s opening line was “Joe Hildebrand is trending again” and every part of it was directed specifically towards me. To be fair, the piece was not disrespectful – at least not by Clementine’s colourful standards – but it was certainly personal.

And the vitriol, abuse and threats it provoked from her followers was both limitless and acute.

Last week it was Clementine Ford who was trending and, as she well knows, this is rarely a good thing. She had tweeted the words “Honestly, the coronavirus isn’t killing men fast enough” and the response was everything you might expect.

Of course, medically speaking, she could not have been more wrong. In fact the coronavirus kills far more men than women and kills them quickly – as has been repeatedly reported.

Perhaps Clementine was aware of this and joking about it. Let us hope not.

And of course it is a pretty dumb thing to say, but the whole “kill all men” routine is a pretty staple part of Clementine’s act. I’d be less surprised if I’d found out the guy who ate the bat in Wuhan was Ozzy Osbourne.

And of course it is tempting to say that karma is a bi**h, another word which Clementine has become familiar within the sewer of social media, where she is both violator and victim.

But if you believe in freedom of expression you either support it or you don’t. You either believe in the right to be provocative and profane no matter how much it offends or up-ends you or you believe in censorship and sanitisation.

Here in Australia we have no explicit document or law to uphold that right – it exists only in the hearts of those who believe in it. And holding on to that belief is often tough and ugly and agonisingly frustrating.

There is nothing more hypocritical than screaming thought police trying to deplatform free discourse while defending the most appalling abuse. And there is nothing more nauseating than people who claim to be on the side of tolerance and compassion spitting out the most violent language imaginable – including threats of violence itself.

But calling for Clementine Ford to be shut down or sacked is hardly the answer. If Melbourne City Council wishes to be associated with her, that is their right and voters can deliver their verdict on it at the next election.

More importantly, if Clementine herself wants to be associated with the extreme and often ridiculous views she puts on social media that should be up to her, not the government or the Twitter mob.

Deplatforming people isn’t just a pastime of the new authoritarian left, it is their very ideology – a backwards and bone-chilling belief that only certain views should be permitted.

Cancel culture for them is not just a weapon, it is a world view, and it is a view that must be utterly rejected by anyone who values diversity and liberty.

So when the moderate left or libertarians or conservatives seek to censor the censors they are not using the woke left’s weapons against them, they are becoming them. Idiotic and even evil opinions need to be exposed, not expunged.

There is a big difference between shutting down debate and winning the debate and it is those of us in the rational world who are supposed to understand that.

Yes, it is frustrating, but frustration is the price of freedom. We fight for those we love but we must still protect those we hate.

And that means taking the scorpion on our back even though we know we might get stung.


Morrison government announces return to mutual obligation for jobseekers

The federal government has announced a “limited capacity” return to mutual obligation requirements for Australia’s welfare recipients from next week.

The employment minister, Michaelia Cash, announced mid-May that mutual obligations for jobseekers, which had been put on pause at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, would be further suspended until 1 June, after which a three-phase reintroduction would commence.

After declining to put a timeframe on the restart of the system, which forces unemployed people receiving benefits to show proof of jobseeking efforts to continue receiving their payments, Cash, along with the social services minister, Anne Ruston, announced stage one, through a press release, on Sunday afternoon.

“Mutual obligation requirements remain suspended until Monday 8 June 2020 to ensure job seekers and employment service providers are given time to prepare for the new arrangements,” the release said.

“From Tuesday 9 June 2020, job seekers will be required to undertake at least one appointment with their employment services provider, which can be done online or over the phone. During the initial period following the reintroduction of mutual obligations, suspensions and financial penalties will not apply to job seekers who do not meet this requirement.

“The government strongly encourages job seekers to maintain contact with their employment services provider at this time to ensure they are aware of opportunities available for training, upskilling or employment.”

Exemptions can be applied for, for those judged to have “special circumstances”.

In an analysis, ANZ found Australian job ads fell by more than 50% over April as the official unemployment rate rose to 6.2%, after 600,000 Australians reported losing their jobs as the nation was locked down.

Unofficially, the unemployment rate is thought to be much closer to 10% after almost 500,000 Australians dropped out of the labour force figures – meaning they stopped looking for work altogether.

As the federal government pushes to reopen the nation, and turns its focus to the economy in the face of a global depression, the stimulus measures, including a Covid-19 supplement used to double the unemployment payment, and the jobkeeper wage subsidy, are increasingly under the microscope.

Both are due to end in late September, although pressure is mounting to increase the jobseeker unemployment rate permanently, above the $40-a-day Newstart rate.

So far the government has not shifted. But the prime minister, Scott Morrison, did mention a return to mutual obligations as part of his National Press Club address on resetting the economy last week.

“We must always ensure that there is the opportunity in Australia for those who have a go, to get a go,” he said. “This is our Australian way.

 “Access to essential services, incentive for effort, respect for the principles of mutual obligation. Ensuring equal opportunities for those in rural and regional communities to be the same as those in our cities and our suburbs.

 “All translated into policies that seek not to punish those who have success, but devise ways for others to achieve it.”

Business groups had welcomed the suspension of mutual obligations during the pandemic lockdown, as it meant their members would not have to deal with countless job applications for positions which either did not exist, or which applicants did not meet the requirements for.

No further detail was given on when the next two stages of the mutual obligation requirement return. Phase two includes applying for work while in phase three, penalties – the suspension of payments – will recommence.

Labor has not yet finalised its position on what it believes the jobseeker payment should be beyond September other than it wants a higher rate than the previous Newstart payment offered.

The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, said he did not believe $40 a day was enough to live on but he also didn’t think the unemployment payment should stay at $550 a week.

“Now, I don’t think it should be kept at the level where it is, where jobseeker is higher than the age pension,” he said on 18 May. “That’s not a reasonable proposition. But it is the case, I think, that jobseeker shouldn’t go back down to $40 a day.”


The decline of universities, where students are customers and academics itinerant workers

Donna Tartt’s much-loved novel A Secret History paints a classic university life. All white clapboard and ivied brickwork, it’s a world of eccentric talents, intense relationships, lunatic japes, glorious freedoms and scholarship of unparalleled autonomy.

These kids, drawn from Tartt’s own college experience in 1980s America, are the wealthy elite. Here in the antipodes, though, through the mid-century, university was a similarly immersive and life-changing few years. For some it became a lifetime, which was possible because it was free. These were teaching institutions, dedicated to cultivation of the mind. There were hurdles to be leapt, but money wasn’t one of them.

Now, bloated by a 20-year addiction to immense cash flow, glamorous buildings, corporate values, industry partnerships and a teaching model that is threadbare at best, our universities flap about like overstuffed geese on a deflating life raft. No one knows the future. Can these gross creatures even swim? Perhaps now is the moment for revolution.

Last year, UNSW responded to falling enrolments with a proposal to lower entry requirements. With an estimated 80 per cent of teaching now casualised, academics have become itinerant workers. Students have become customers. Teachers report widespread pressure to pass low-grade students but cannot speak of it, fearing reprisal. This too is indicative, since the whole point of tenure was to guarantee free speech.

Now, a leaked email shows that Cambridge University, wholly online since March, proposes to keep all lectures strictly digital for a year. That’s Cambridge, mind, the ultimate in physical branding, whose ancient colleges create their own language and mythology – the stone stairs, the double oak, the cloisters, the sacred lawns. Some “small groups” may be allowed. But imagine this place, this dreaming-spires town, all but empty of undergraduate life, of student pranks, punting on the Cam and of cycling, black-clad dons.

There’s no talk of dropping fees. Anyone who’s been alive these past four months knows that their gut-wisdom is correct: online teaching is no substitute for the real thing. Student attention wanders. Interrogation is difficult. Box-ticking becomes routine. Lectures, live-streamed but also recorded, can be watched by a student in the bath, in the pub, high. The exam is open-book, or open friend, or open adjacent expert. Key learning outcomes? Tick. Content? Pah.

As soon as the stuff goes online, meanwhile, the academics sign their content over to university ownership. Then, because the lectures can be rerun endlessly, for nothing, the creative mind itself becomes dispensable – casualised or dumped.

Casualisation means your law tutor or biomed lecturer, who’s spent perhaps 10 years earning a doctorate, is appointed for 10 or 13 weeks at a time, usually with just a few days’ notice. They get maybe $120 to deliver a lecture that could take three or four days to prepare. They receive half the super payments of proper staff, no holiday or sick pay. And if, for any reason, enrolment falls the course is summarily axed. No new shoes this semester, kiddies.

Yet the vice-chancellor must be paid. True, some of Australia’s vice-chancellors have taken special COVID pay cuts bigger than my total five-year income. Still, last year, the average Australian vice-chancellor salary hit $982,000. Sydney University vice-chancellor Michael Spence, declining the COVID cut, raked in $1.53 million last year (including non-monetary benefits worth $613,000).

Plus there are all those deputy and pro-vice chancellors to pay. And the billions to spend on campus development. No wonder universities can’t afford actual teachers. No wonder they must exert take-one-for-the-team-type pressure on the few academics who remain to accept pay cuts or job losses.

The fees, though, stand. Why might students be prepared to keep paying tens or even hundreds of thousands for an education that, like candy floss, disappears before you swallow it?

Because of the ticket. Because, explains Silicon Valley guru and New York University marketing academic Scott Galloway, content is irrelevant. It’s “not education. It’s credentialing”.

“I’ll have 170 kids in my brand-strategy class in the fall,” says Galloway. “We charge $7000 per student. That’s $1.2 million for 12 nights of me in a classroom – $100,000 a night. The gross margins on that offering are between 92 and 96 [percentage] points. There’s no other product in the world that’s been able to sustain 90-plus points of margin for this long at this high of a price point. Ferrari can’t do it. Hermes can’t do it. Apple can’t do it.”

This is possible because we’ve allowed our conception of higher education to morph from mind cultivation to a tool in the great global race to … what, exactly? I mean, what now?

The world has changed. Futurists such as Umair Haque (The Long Collapse) and Nassim Nicholas Taleb argue that the pandemic is not a blip but a portent of the new fragile. Fragile economies, fragile ecosystems, frequent “fat-tail” ruin events; it’s a world where the apparently unassailable – America, universities, airports – suddenly totter. Why? Too much globalism, too much connectivity. Too much attitude. We’ve been partying too long, too hard. And universities have been partying harder than most.

Yet never have we needed universities more. As Trump’s America shows, a system that restricts genuine education to the wealthy elite must eventually drown in its own ignorance. To think, as our governments clearly do, that education is about individual career trajectories is reductivist nonsense. Educating the educable, especially in the history of ideas, is about the culture we make. It is our best defence against world collapse. Education is survival.

Which is why hard-head countries such as Germany still offer free university education. It’s not altruism. It’s political recognition of the huge economic, cultural and wellbeing benefits from nurturing otherwise undiscovered young minds. Germany’s free universities regularly figure in the world’s top 100, so there’s no sacrifice of standards; entry is competitive, but on intellect not wealth. Still almost a third of Germans attend college, their rektors (or vice-chancellors) are paid about a quarter of our average and their institutions will survive COVID relatively unscarred.

But there’s also this. What’s wrong with a little modesty? Does anyone really need the huge status, the expensive toys, the win-at-all-costs mentality? Maybe a smaller, gentler life and smaller, more real institutions could bring back a world that’s nice to inhabit. Calling to the revolution: will you be long?


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here