Australian Politics 2020-12-18 10:05:00


The carefree larrikin is a myth. Australians are obedient to authority

Waleed Aly does have a point below. I found something related in my survey research some years ago. I found that Australians disapprove greatly of lawbreaking but were also much less respectful of authority of than are the English. Evidently, being anti-authority does NOT extend to tolerating crime. So that surely leads to cautions about what we infer from the available data

I think Aly somewhat misreads Australians' motivations. What he attributes to submissiveness to government I would attribute to the famously relaxed attitudes of Australians. They just do not get worked up about much, including demands on them from the government. Rather than protest government intrusions they just go to the beach

And the demands that Australian governments make can usually be seen as commonsense so the beach is doubly attractive because of that. Not much is lost by letting the government have its way.

Regardless of its explanation, however, the result is the same. Australians do live in a remarkably peaceful and orderly society with good modern amenities and a high standard of living. That's pretty good. It's particularly good when we read of the great and ongoing fractures in American society

Thinking about Australia’s stunning success in handling COVID-19:

If there are cultural dimensions to America’s poor performance and current paralysis, a similar explanation probably exists for our triumph.

I don’t say this in a spirit of triumphalism, or with a sense of cultural superiority. I’m suggesting instead that the characteristics of different societies make them well suited to different kinds of crises. We’re poorly suited to climate change, for instance. But COVID-19 is a crisis that very much suits us. Our national psychology is tailor-made for it. Crudely, I’d put it like this: we love a closed border, we’re a surprisingly anxious people in the face of immediate threats, we’re very obedient to authority and we have a deep belief in the role of government to solve our problems.

Some of that is at odds with our self-image, which tends to emphasise the mythology of the carefree larrikin, thoroughly informal in manners and sceptical of power. This is the Australia of Ned Kelly and Waltzing Matilda, which captures much of how we talk about ourselves, but very little of how we actually behave.

Perhaps the best demonstration of this point came from the late Australian historian John Hirst. His argument is worth reading in full if you find the time, but to put it briefly, our whole history is one of reliance on the state, heightened regulation and mass compliance.

So, we were the first nation to make seatbelts compulsory in cars. We’re one of extremely few to make bicycle helmets compulsory. We were early adopters of mandatory breath tests for motorists. We have extensive prohibitions on smoking in public places, including vast outdoor ones.

As Hirst put it: “At games of Australian rules football the spectators yell foul abuse at the umpire and then at half time they file quietly outside to have a smoke”. We’re the only English-speaking country to make voting compulsory. Before that we had compulsory enrolment. We even had laws that made it mandatory to tell the Electoral Office if you moved house. The police were involved in administering all of these policies, aided by spies from the Electoral Office. Yes. Our Electoral Office had spies, most often postmen. That describes a libertarian’s hell. Hell, it’s vastly more interventionist than even social democratic Europe.

And while we have our share of people who decry the idea of a creeping "nanny state", I'd venture that every one of these measures, from compulsory voting to bicycle helmets, is wildly popular here. In general, we'd argue they're common sense and regard critics of them as unreasonably ideological. In any event, we comply silently with all of them.

We might despise politicians, but we ultimately like government for the very simple reason that the modern nation-state of Australia could never have existed without it. In fact, it never did.

The British arrived with Governors, ready to assume the role of governing. White government arrived with white settlers everywhere except Melbourne, which was the only place settlers formed their own government. Then, these governments set about building infrastructure in a way they never did in Britain. They were not managing a society that existed. They simply crushed the Indigenous ones that did, then proceeded as though no society was here in the first place. That set in motion a peculiarly Australian logic that government created society, not the other way around.

Beyond that, our love of border control scarcely needs explanation. One of the first laws we passed after federation was the Immigration Restriction Act, and it has been the most enduring theme of this COVID year. The federal government defied World Health Organisation advice by shutting down our international border. Then, most of our state governments defied the federal government and shut their borders, too. Spats repeatedly broke out between the federal, Queensland and New South Wales governments.

But for all the political fireworks, there isn’t a single leader in this country who didn’t benefit from a hard border policy during this pandemic. Indeed, there probably hasn’t been one in our history. You could never have done this in Europe, where permeable borders are so central to people’s understanding of life. You’d be hard pressed to close state borders in America. But we embraced it with astonishing ease.

All these traits are invaluable weapons against COVID. They’re also what makes it possible for us to legislate gun control after an isolated massacre, pass expansive counter-terrorism legislation without anything like the scrutiny of a serious public debate, and maintain a brutal policy on asylum seekers. Chances are you support some of these things and oppose others.

But that’s the nature of a national psyche. It leads us to do both daft and inspirational things without breaking stride. Perhaps America cannot control its guns for the same reason it can have a spectacular civil rights movement. And if that’s true, perhaps we stopped COVID for the same reason we stopped the boats.

Beijing's trade war with Australia spectacularly backfires as China is plagued by electricity woes plunging millions into darkness – after it refused delivery of $1billion of Aussie coal

Millions of Chinese residents have been left without heating in the middle of winter as cities ration electricity amid a blockade on Australian coal.

Australia provided 57 per cent of China's thermal coal imports in 2019, which is used to generate electricity in power stations.

But last month, Beijing blocked Australian coal imports, which has resulted in 80 ships carrying more than $1.1billion in blacklisted cargo being stranded off the Chinese coast.

Chinese coal prices were 500 yuan ($100) last month but increased 760 yuan ($153) per tonne on Wednesday, which has now resulted in restrictions on power use for millions of residents, according to South China Morning Post.

Some 57 million people live in Zhejiang province, south of Shanghai, on China's east coast, and have been besieged by power shortages resulting in electricity being shut off.

The Zhejiang provincial government has now ordered offices to only use heating when the temperature drops below 3C and restaurant to only use air conditioning for diners, rather than staff, in the city of Wenzhou from December 11 to 20.

Small to medium sized factories have reportedly been ordered to halt production for one to two days after operating for two days between December 13 and 30.

Meanwhile in Hunan province, which is home to 67 million people, some residents have reportedly been forced to climb 20 flights of stairs after apartment power cut off and shut down the lifts, according to The Australian.

A Chinese energy industry source told the newspaper: 'You cannot pretend that bad relations between China and Australia haven’t contributed to this situation.'

Even in global financial hub Shanghai, which has a population of 24 million, the municipal government has ordered shopping malls and office towers to turn off air condition and non-essential outdoor lighting.

The city's iconic light and laser show along the Huangpu River will reportedly be shut down indefinitely in the coming days.

China's economic planning agency, the National Reform Development Commission, said there is enough coal to last through winter and spring despite increasing prices, according to the Post.

The Ordos Coal Trading Centre blamed skyrocketing coal prices on the ban on Australian imports.

'Right now, there are more than 80 Australian cargo ships, carrying 8.8 million tonnes of coal,' the coal trading and service provider said in a research note obtained by the Post.

'But under the current circumstances, in the short term, they will not be allowing in Australian coal, but rather will depend on [supply] from the domestic market.'

It comes after a Chinese government spokesperson denied knowing Australian coal exports worth $14billion have effectively been banned in the communist nation.

A meeting on Saturday between China's major power companies and the nation's top economic planning agency agreed to lift restrictions on coal imports from all countries except Australia, Chinese media reported.

Australia's total export markets in 2019
1. China: $135 billion (33% of total Australian exports)

2. Japan: $36 billion (9%)

3. South Korea: $21 billion (5%)

4. United Kingdom: $16 billion (3.8%)

5. United States: $15 billion (3.7%)


In the first official comments from the Asian nation about the meeting, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said he was 'not aware' of the ban and accused Australia of casting itself as a 'victim'.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the ban would be a lose-lose for both countries and a clear breach of World Trade Organisation rules, as well as the China-Australia free trade agreement.

He also emphasised it would force China to buy dirtier coal from other countries, putting its climate change ambitions at risk.

While there has been no formal notification of the ban, the spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry did not deny it was in place.

Mr Wang said everything China did was legal and in the interests of its consumers and companies and Australia was 'pointing an accusing finger at China.'

'This move is meant to confound the public and we will never accept it,' Mr Wang told a press conference in Beijing on Tuesday evening.

Australia's resources minister Keith Pitt said Australia expected all its trading partners to play by the rules.

'We are doing our part,' Mr Pitt said on Wednesday.

'Australia has not moved in terms of the free trade agreements and we continue to meet what we said we would do. But we expect all of our exporters to have a level playing field, be treated fairly and that is what we are looking for.'

Coal is Australia's second biggest export industry, with the nation exporting $14billion worth a year to China.

Relations between China and Australia have rapidly deteriorated since Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an inquiry into the origins of coronavirus which was identified last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading around the world.

More industries are concerned if they will be next on the chopping block as the Chinese Communist Party continues to punish Canberra for speaking out on its human rights record.

Beijing's decision to slap tariffs on Aussie wine and barley and block several other exports including wood, coal and seafood has badly affected some producers.

Indigenous leader appointed to Murray-Darling Basin board

A man with a red beard is an Aborigine? Pull the other one! The stream of articles like this are amazingly racist. They constantly show that you have to be effectively white to be regarded as a high-achieving Aborigine

The legislated position for permanent Indigenous representation on the board of the Murray Darling Basin Authority has finally been filled after more than a year’s delay.

Rene Woods has been appointed to the position by Water Minister Keith Pitt. Mr Woods was chairman of Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN), which is a confederation of Indigenous Nations or traditional owners in the southern part of the Basin. He stepped down from the role to serve on the MDBA board.

Mr Woods said Indigenous representation was a “step in the right direction” to improving the influence of First Nations on water management.

“It’s my hope that there will be more First Nations representation in coming years that will continue to take our voices to the Authority, improving their understanding of First Nations water issues,” Mr Woods said.

“My father, Ian, was the first Indigenous man on the Murray Darling Basin Commission – he started to advocate for more involvement in decision making – I’m proud to continue that work.”

'Disgrace': Calls for Indigenous voice in water management
The decision to deliver a permanent Indigenous representative on the authority’s board was announced in September last year by then-water minister David Littleproud, but the position remained vacant until Mr Woods’ appointment on Friday.

Indigenous representatives railed against the appointment delay. The Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations labelled it “appalling” and MLDRIN vice chairman Grant Rigney said it was “unjustifiable”.

MLDRIN’s acting chairman Grant Rigney said Mr Woods was the “the ideal candidate”.

“Now more than ever, as controversial new dam projects and flood plain harvesting rules pose heightened threats to our sacred waterways, First Nations need a strong voice at the highest decision-making table of the MDBA,” Rigney said.

Mr Pitt said Mr Woods had been a prominent force in his representation for MLDRIN and he was well qualified for the MDBA board.

“He grew up with the Murrumbidgee River running through his veins and has a wealth of valuable experience in a broad range of local and national water management issues.”

The MDBA oversees water resource management and delivers the $13 billion Basin Plan to recover water for the environment.

A study from Griffith University this year found in NSW Aboriginal people collectively have rights to 0.2 per cent of the available surface water (12 gigalitres). Aboriginal people comprise 9.3 per cent of the population in NSW’s Murray Darling Basin, but only hold rights to 0.1 per cent of the value of the water market there ($16.5 million).

Two other overdue MDBA board appointments remain unfilled.

The hotel quarantine change that could stop COVID-19 spread
Experts say we should have seen an outbreak causing chaos across Sydney coming and we could have stopped it with a very simple solution

Holiday plans are up in the air, state borders are on the verge of being slammed shut and more than 250,000 Sydneysiders have been essentially sent back into lockdown because of yet another coronavirus scare.

At the start of the week, Australians would be forgiven for thinking the dark days of 2020 were behind us after a consistent stream of days without locally acquired cases across the nation.

That all changed on Wednesday when the first warning shot was fired in the form of a Sydney Airport shuttle driver becoming infected.

And, yesterday 17 new cases were discovered in the city’s northern beaches — prompting a three-day ‘stay at home’ order for tens of thousands of residents.

There is still a lot of questions that need answering about how these cases cropped up, but a big one has been answered this morning

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian revealed genomic sequencing had been done on the coronavirus samples, revealing the virus spreading through Sydney was from an overseas source.

“Somehow that’s obviously gotten out into the community,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“We are concerned that there could have been what we call seeding events, people from the northern beaches may not have known they had the virus, gone to other parts of Sydney and unintentionally affected people.”

Basically, the virus has managed to escape the state’s hotel quarantine system and jump from an overseas arrival into the community.

It’s highly damaging news for the NSW government after several widely-publicised near misses in recent weeks.

Of course NSW isn’t the only state to be hit by a quarantine stuff-up. Victoria’s entire second wave was traced back to one quarantine hotel and more recently South Australia’s system was breached, leading to a local cluster in Adelaide.

Two of Australia’s leading epidemiologists have told they saw these problems coming a months ago and they could have been stopped with a simple solution.

Instead of bringing tens of thousands of potentially infected overseas travellers into our most populous cities where even the slightest breach can lead to a superspreading event, they say we should be sending our arrivals to remote locations.

They say that these facilities could be set up by the federal government with full-time staff living on-premises, meaning they were far less likely to seed infection into the community.

To them it’s a no-brainer.

Professor of Epidemiology at UNSW Mary-Louise McLaws told the system we have now makes “little sense” and should have only been a temporary solution.

“Placing quarantining of high numbers of cases in highly populated cities places too great a risk for seeding the community with infection through the staff,” she said.

“It would be like placing a COVID ward in the CBD in an office building without the required infection prevention design of that building and this ‘ward’ being staffed by non health workers. It makes little sense outside the original rapid response solution.”

Professor Adrian Esterman from the University of South Australia said there would be some difficulties in setting up a new remote system such as transport, logistics and cost — but that it would be worth it all to avoid the pain of another lockdown.

“I believe that the ADF could take care of most of this – they have experience in logistics, security, and disaster response, and could even supply catering and health staff,” he told

“Since some of the returnees might have health issues (other than COVID-19), there would have to be a health centre available, and if necessary, the ability to medevac people to a major hospital.

“Setting up these centres would not be cheap, but it would still be nowhere near as expensive as the cost of yet another lockdown.”

He believes the federal government should take charge of the system and that there are several facilities they could use to set it up at Howard Springs, Woomera, RAAF Learmonth and the immigration detention facilities.

Prof McLaws said this system would also be safer because the facilities could preferably be low rise buildings with the high level of airconditioning airflow expected for a COVID ward or good natural ventilation.

“Low rise also allows for exercise court yards with minimal contact with staff and other travellers that would also improve mental and physical health,” she said.

“However, to keep the staff and the immediate regional community safe from being seeded via an infected staff, there must be daily rapid antigen testing of staff before they return to their home. Rapid testing takes 15 minutes and can be performed by a trained person at the facility. “Testing needs to be daily testing because staff can be infectious before they develop symptoms; this is possible from day-three of being infected that is up to three days before they develop symptoms.”

However, after breaches in South Australia last month federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told Sky News that moving to regional facilities would cut the capacity of the system.

“You have to realise that there are capacity limits both in terms of what can be done in the cities, but if you want to look outside of the cities there are potentially even greater capacity limits in terms of the numbers of people who could be processed and bringing them back,” he said.

Professor Maximilian de Courten, health policy lead at Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute, told the Sydney Morning Herald hotel quarantine posed only small risks, and it would be far too expensive to relocate it to the regions.

“Do you really need to have it 99.99 secure? With COVID, you do not. COVID is infectious, it kills people, but not at the rate that ebola does. It is not something we need to have watertight to the nth degree,” he said.

“We have quarantined 130,000 people. Try to run a program absolutely watertight at that sheer size. It’s impossible. We will have leaks. The question is how serious are they, and can we control them.”