Monthly Archives: August 2020

Australian Politics 2020-08-30 15:40:00


We're edging towards a big change in how the economy is managed

Extensive creation of new money has become respectable

Ross Gittins

We must be in a recession because I’m getting a lot more letters from readers telling me they’ve figured out how to fix the economy in a way the economists haven’t been smart enough to discover.

Their solutions can be weird and wonderful, but a lot of them boil down to a simple proposition: if the economy’s in recession and unemployment’s high because people aren’t spending enough money, why doesn’t the government just print a lot of money and spend it itself?

But here’s the scoop: the idea that, rather than borrowing to fund their budget deficits – thus incurring big debts and interest bills – governments should just create the money they need has been anathema to economists for the past 40 years, but this may be changing.

There is a growing debate among economists, between the proponents of what they call “modern monetary theory” and more conventional economists and econocrats over whether governments should just create the money they need.

The defenders of the conventional wisdom have had to concede a lot of ground. Whereas a decade ago MMT was lightly dismissed as a crackpot idea, as this radical idea has gained more attention its opponents have had to admit it would be perfectly possible to do. They just think it would be a really bad thing to do.

Unconventional already the norm

Trick is, the “unconventional policy” of “quantitative easing” – where the central bank buys second-hand government bonds and other securities and pays for them merely by crediting the seller’s bank account – is quite similar to what the radicals are seeking.

All the major advanced economies – the US, the Eurozone, Britain and Japan - began doing this in big licks in the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2008, once their official interest rates were so close to zero that they could be pushed no lower.

And now, once this coronacession had prompted our Reserve Bank to drop our official rate to its “effective lower bound” of 0.25 per cent in March, it too has resorted to quantitative easing, promising to buy as many second-hand bonds as necessary to keep the interest rate on three-year government bonds no higher than 0.25 per cent.

So, how exactly would what the RBA is already doing be very different to what the MMT advocates say it should be doing?

The greatest proponent of MMT is an Australian, Professor Bill Mitchell, from my alma mater, the University of Newcastle. Internationally, its highest profile salesperson is Professor Stephanie Kelton, of Stony Brook University in New York, author of the big-selling The Deficit Myth.

Our leading commentator on the debate is Dr Stephen Grenville, a former deputy governor of the RBA. And our most vocal opponent of MMT is present RBA governor Dr Philip Lowe.

Those opponents are right to say there’s nothing new about “modern” monetary policy. In the days before the loss of faith in simple "Keynesianism", it was common for governments to fund their budgets partly by selling bonds to the Reserve Bank, rather than to the public.

So the fatwah on governments “printing money” dates back only as far as Milton Friedman and his monetarists’ semi-successful attack on Keynesian orthodoxy in the late 1970s, when all the developed economies had a big problem with high inflation.

Friedman argued that inflation was “always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon” which governments could control by limiting the supply of money. Governments eventually realised that the quantity of money was “demand-determined” and that setting targets for growth in the money supply didn’t work. They switched to using the manipulation of interest rates to target the inflation rate.

As sensible economists always knew, it was never true that creating money always leads to greater inflation. It does so only when the demand for “real resources” – land, labour and physical capital – exceeds the supply of real resources. Only then do you have “too much money chasing too few goods”.

This has been confirmed by the failure of all the money created by quantitative easing since the global financial crisis to cause much, if any inflation, contrary to the predictions of the world’s few remaining monetarists.

The opponents are also right to say, quoting Friedman’s most famous aphorism, that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” and it’s a delusion to imagine MMT offers one.

As Lowe argued vigorously at his appearance before the Parliament’s economics committee earlier this month, in reply to questions from Greens leader Adam Bandt, it may seem that by creating money rather than borrowing it you’re avoiding a lot of debt and interest payments but, in reality, all you’re doing is delaying and hiding the bill to the government and its taxpayers.

Risky business

It’s also a delusion (as the leading proponents of MMT acknowledge) that governments would be free to create (or “print”, to use a misleading metaphor) as much money as they needed, without restraint. The restraint is the same one it always was: the limited supply of real resources.

While ever the demand for real resources – the things we use to produce goods and services – is falling short of the supply of those resources, creating money should lead to increased demand for them (provided you do it more effectively than the big central banks did it after the financial crisis).

But once demand was growing faster than the supply of real resources, any further money you created would simply cause inflation. This is what’s really worrying the opponents of MMT (and me). If you let the politicians off the leash to spend as much as they liked up to a point, how would you ever get them to stop once that point was reached?

While ever all we’re doing is quantitative easing, the independent central banks do the deciding, not the politicians. Which brings us to Lowe’s “advanced negotiating position”: why risk letting the pollies start creating money when the government can borrow from the public at interest rates that are pathetically low. And RBA governor Lowe’s promising to keep them low for as long as necessary.


A practical way of using renewables

Kalbarri [in Western Australia] is now the proposed site for a massive 5,000-megawatt renewable hydrogen export operation. Although construction is still 10 years away from breaking ground, should it go ahead, the project will put the tiny town at the bleeding edge of a pioneering technological development in renewable energy.

“The idea is to become a low-cost producer of green, renewable hydrogen,” says Terry Kallis, one of the project’s promoters.

Like solar and wind power, the technology to make “green” hydrogen from water has been around since the 1970s.

Historically the production of hydrogen relied on fossil fuels to make “brown” or “blue” hydrogen by running an electric current through water using an electrolyser – a device that breaks down water into oxygen and hydrogen.

But today the development of renewable energy has advanced enough that coal or natural gas are no longer needed to create the electric current. The entire process can instead be powered by wind and solar – making green hydrogen possible.

For years, technological development in the sector stalled due to a lack of demand, but that is changing rapidly. Each year the world consumes 70m tonnes of hydrogen to make glass, steel and fertiliser. That figure is projected to grow to 90m tonnes by 2050 under the more conservative scenarios.

The Kalbarri proposal aims to take advantage of this by constructing a combined wind and solar plant to power the commercial production of hydrogen from seawater. If all goes well, the gas will then be exported to nations like Korea, Japan and Singapore, countries that – thanks to their geography – cannot make it themselves.

Kallis and his business partner, Peter Sgardelis, have a background in large-scale renewables. Kallis was involved in the construction of the first commercial windfarm in South Australia and Sgardelis worked on the Star of the South offshore windfarm in Victoria.

This experience – along with the growing global interest in renewable hydrogen – has helped attract support from German multinational engineering giant Siemens, which in October last year signed up to build the electrolysers for the project.

“We’ve seen the costs associated with production of green hydrogen coming down, or coming down sooner than expected,” Kallis says. “We’ve also seen the development of the electrolyser to commercial scale and people start talking about demand. That has been a missing link.”

The area around Kalbarri – the traditional land of the Nanda people with whom they are currently negotiating a land use agreement – is an obvious choice, he says.

The landscape offers the right type of wind, good exposure to sun, and is close to both ocean and the Dampier-to-Bunbury pipeline – the longest gas pipeline in Australia.

Since the project is being developed in stages, the earliest phases will see hydrogen blended into the liquid natural gas supply before it then pivots to focus on export.

Like any ambitious project that pushes the boundaries of technological and industrial development, it is not without problems to solve.

While the process of making hydrogen from water is well understood, until recently the electrolysers required for the process have not been large and efficient enough to produce in commercial quantities.

The other issue has been transport.

Moving hydrogen offshore currently requires the gas to be packaged up in ammonia, or cooled 250C below freezing until it forms a liquid that can then be pumped out onto a ship like LNG.

“Those details have yet to be determined, as it will depend on what the buyer wants,” Kallis says. “We’re under no illusions and we make clear this is a very large project, something that will be developed in stages over time.”

Should they succeed, they will be helping to pioneer what may be a whole new industry for Australia.

Many believe hydrogen could play a role in turning Australia into the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy.

“Countries such as Japan, Korea and Germany have already come to Australia, asking for us to export renewable hydrogen for their domestic energy consumption,” says Ken Baldwin, the director of the Energy Change Institute at the Australian National University. “We have enormous opportunities … [to create wealth and] jobs due to the demand for our energy from these countries.”

In November last year, the CSIRO released the National Hydrogen Roadmap to plan out how an export industry could be developed.

The potential to get in on the ground floor of a future industry has the private sector excited, with a flurry of 30 new proposals for renewable hydrogen projects in Western Australia alone.


Independent review into NAPLAN advocates for replacing test with new Australian Standardised Assessment “ANSA”

The latest independent review into the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) was today presented to the Education Council which comprises commonwealth, state and territory Education ministers.

The review’s key recommendations included that NAPLAN be replaced with the new test “ANSA”, and testing students in Year 10 instead of testing students in Year 9 to better inform senior subject choices.

Sweeping changes to the writing assessment and more focus on critical thinking and science, were also among the recommendations.

If adopted, ANSA would be held earlier in the year as opposed to when NAPLAN is held in May in a bid to prevent schools “teaching to the test”.

It would aim for results to be returned within one week, to inform teaching and learning for the rest of the year.

However, replacing or amending NAPLAN would require consensus of the Education Council.

The review found that the lag between testing and results makes data ineffective for teachers, the writing test was flawed, the timing of the test contributes to teacher stress and student anxiety, and the test lacks contemporary content and delivery.

Education Minister Grace Grace said the review acknowledged that standardised testing should remain but needed to be improved.

“It is clear that the current NAPLAN testing is not world’s best practice,” Ms Grace said.

“By modernising these tests, we will be able to find a model that best suits parents, teachers and most importantly students.

NAPLAN performance has been calculated by finding each school’s yearly average total over five years. Five year change has been calculated by finding the percentage change between a school’s NAPLAN scores over five years.

Queensland schools cover the 2015 to 2019 period. Schools in all other states and territories cover the 2014 to 2018 period.

The Palaszczuk Government recently promised the Queensland Teachers’ Union, who have relentlessly opposed NAPLAN, to advocate for its replacement as a bid to appease the union over its anger and lobbying against the pay-rise deferral.

Ms Grace said the report proposes changes that would address issues that have been heard “loud and clear” that the “testing is onerous for teachers and too high-stakes for students”.

“This review aims to make changes to NAPLAN that alleviate these concerns, all while providing valuable information to schools, parents and the wider community alike.”

Since the testing began in 2008 NAPLAN has been subject to several reviews and controversy, and was this year cancelled because of COVID-19.

The latest review was commissioned by the Queensland Victorian, New South Wales and ACT governments and conducted by education experts Emeritus Professor Barry McGaw AO, Emeritus Professor William Louden AM and Professor Claire Wyatt-Smith.


Australia announces changes to citizenship test and English language program for migrants

In a major policy overhaul impacting migrants, Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge has announced that Australia will be updating the citizenship test with a strong focus on Australian values to boost social cohesion.

Flagging the changes in an address to the National Press Club in Canberra on Friday, Minister Tudge said new questions “on Australian values” will be included in the citizenship tests.

“Australian citizenship is both a privilege and a responsibility, and it should be granted to those who support our values, respect our laws, and want to contribute to Australia’s future,” he said.

Minister Tudge particularly recognised the efforts of the volunteers of the Sikh community who provided free meals to over 3,000 residents of the nine public housing estates in north Melbourne that were forced into “hard lockdown” amid a COVID-19 outbreak in July earlier this year.

“When you see Buddhist monks providing free massages to weary fire-fighters, Muslim builders putting on barbeques for bushfire survivors, Irish truck drivers delivering hundreds of thousands of litres of water, and Sikhs cooking and delivering curries to Melbourne’s public housing estates during the COVID lockdown, you know we have something special in this nation,” said Minister Tudge.

A record number of people – over 200,000 pledged their allegiance to Australia in 2019-20, of which a majority were from India.

Melbourne-based permanent resident Simreet Dua who is keen to be added to the list of Australian citizens this year said most migrants who want to assimilate into the country’s social fabric would welcome the inclusion of questions on Australian democratic values in the citizenship test.

“While it is too early to comment what the revised tests would look like, I strongly believe that all migrants should be across the Australian values, to be able to integrate into the Australian society and to make a valuable contribution to its culture and even economy,” said the 32-year-old.

Minister Tudge also announced that migrants who can’t speak English will be allowed to attend an uncapped number of free language classes in an overhaul of the billion-dollar worth Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), which currently offers 510 hours of free tuition to be completed within five years.

Under the changes, the government has announced it will not only scrap the cap on the hours but also remove time limits on the classes, enabling permanent residents or citizens to be able to attend classes free of charge until they have acquired "functional English.”

“Without English language skills, migrants are less likely to get a job, less likely to integrate, and less likely to participate in our democracy,” said Mr Tudge.

Census data indicates that around half of overseas-born Australians who arrived with no English skills still cannot speak the language well, or at all after 15 years of residency.

Former senior Immigration Department official Abul Rizvi said while the English language is a key element of successfully integrating migrants into Australia, the question remains how much more money is the Morrison government willing to allocate towards the expansion of AMEP.

"No one can deny that the English language is important for migrants to communicate and survive in Australia. But the thing to watch out for is how much more money is the government allocating to this approach. If the answer is zero then you will have to question what the value of the policy is?” questioned Mr Rizvi.

He said the key here is to encourage more migrants to attend and participate in these classes.

“The main problem is that many of the migrants who want to attend classes are also searching for work and are often working. And the difficulty is accessing AMEP while you’re working. Its accessibility is a greater challenge than the allocation or the hourly limit,” added Mr Rizvi.

Welcoming the changes to the English language program, Violet Roumeliotis, the CEO of Settlement Services International (SSI), a Sydney-based community organisation, that supports new migrants told SBS Punjabi that the change in the policy will “further strengthen” Australia’s resolve and success towards the settlement and integration of migrant communities.

"We welcome any move that will further enhance social cohesion for new migrants and lead to better settlement outcomes, especially during these unprecedented times,” said Ms Roumeliotis.


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Australian Politics 2020-08-29 15:30:00


We need an inquiry into climate alarmism

I hope you are sitting down; this foray into political and media madness over bushfires and climate change starts with recognising some excellent, forensic journalism by the ABC. Investigating last summer’s devastating Gospers Mountain fire, journalist Philippa McDonald took us to the very tree where the fire is believed to have been started when it was struck by lightning in a thunderstorm.

McDonald used this to give us the brilliantly counterintuitive opening line; “It began not with fire, but ice.” In a series of reports, McDonald and her team retraced the history of the fire over a number of weeks, how it was almost extinguished by rain, how bushwalkers in the wrong place at the wrong time thwarted a backburn that might have stopped it, how another prescribed burn got out of control and destroyed houses, and how a fortuitous wind change stopped it encroaching on suburban Sydney.

We might quibble with some of the alarmist language — repeating the silly new “megafire” term and pretending that when fires meet they join and get bigger when, in fact, this reduces the number of fronts and total length of fire perimeter — but overall the reporting was factual and admirable because it explained the many variables in fire behaviour and the factors that can influence whether a fire can be contained or extinguished before weather conditions turn it into an unstoppable beast. Surprisingly, and refreshingly, the reports did not dwell on climate change.

When it comes to our bushfires climate change is so close to being irrelevant, it should hardly warrant a passing reference — we have always faced disastrous bushfire conditions and always will. If climate change makes the worst conditions either marginally more or less common, it matters not; we still need to do the same things to protect ourselves.

In previous articles I have detailed the leading scientific analysis showing the main precondition for the NSW fires — a long drought — cannot be attributed to climate change. Unless climate activists want to argue Australia could do something to alter the global climate sufficiently to reduce our bushfire threat, they are exposed as cynical campaigners who used the sure bet of bushfires to advance their political scare campaign.

The NSW bushfire inquiry released this week took a dive into the climate science — as it was tasked to do — and found, predictably enough, that climate change “clearly played a role in the conditions” that led up to the fires and helped spread them. But thankfully it did not waste much time on climate in its recommendations, merely suggesting climate trends need to be monitored and factored in.

Apart from exercises in politically correct box ticking — Indigenous training for evacuation centre staff so they are “culturally competent”, wildlife rescue training for firefighters, and signs to promote ABC radio stations — most of the recommendations were practical. Better equipment for firefighters, more water bombers, more communication, public education and most importantly, a range of suggestions on fuel reduction around settled areas and planning controls on building in fire prone areas.

The bottom line has always been obvious: the one fire input we can control is fuel, so where we want to slow blazes or protect properties, we must reduce fuel. Planning is also important to prevent housing in indefensible locations, but one crucial phrase missing from the report was “personal responsibility”.

Houses on wooded hilltops or surrounded by bush cannot be protected and their residents should not expect others to risk their lives trying to do so.

People must be educated to clear extensively around properties, sufficient to withstand not a moderate fire but a firestorm, otherwise they must be prepared to surrender their homes and escape early.

“Hazard reduction is not the complete answer,” said report author Mary O’Kane. “People do need to take responsibility, they need to realise that if they live in certain areas it can be very dangerous, and we try to give a strong message of, if you are in a dangerous area and there is one of these big, bad megafires, the message, is get out.”

O’Kane is right, of course. But it seems a hell of a waste to hold a full inquiry only to be told we should do more fuel reduction, be careful where we build houses, and get the hell out of the way rather than try to fight firestorms. We knew all this.

The push for an inquiry was largely driven by the climate catastrophists. Remember, they wanted to blame the blazes on the axing of the carbon tax, and on Scott Morrison. It was inane and rancid stuff.

They will be at it again, this fire season. They love making political capital out of disasters, although they go as quiet as Tim Flannery when it comes to full dams and widespread snowfalls.

The area of land burned in the Australian summer has now been revised down by 25 per cent, and the claims about wildlife deaths revised downwards too, to factor in the mind-blowing realisation that animals actually escape fire when they can — birds fly, wombats burrow, kangaroos hop and even koalas can climb to the treetops and escape all but a crowning blaze.

Remember we had articles in The Guardian, The New York Times, and on CNN and the BBC, saying the bush might never recover. Take a drive through the Blue Mountains, Kangaroo Island or the Australian Alps and see how their predictions turned out.

The sclerophyll forests of southern Australia are not just adapted to fire, they are reliant on it. Therefore, the wildlife also is reliant on it for the rejuvenation of the vegetation — why does basic ecology escape the climate activists? If it is any comfort, the same madness is now playing out in California. Similar climate, similar history of bushfires, and the same maddening political debate. With fires burning more than a million acres in northern California this month, the state’s Democratic Governor, Gavin Newsom, sent a recorded message to his party’s national convention; “If you are in denial about climate change, come to California.” The trouble is that while these are bad wildfires, they are not unusual in the natural and settled history of that environment.

Like the Australian bush, the redwood forests that US journalists suggest are being destroyed by fire, depend on fire for propagation. Just like here, one of the issues has been the suppression of bushfire by human interference, leading to the unnatural build up of fuel that can explode when a wildfire does get away in bad conditions.

Environmentalist and author of Apocalypse Never; Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, Michael Shellenberger says the climate is warming but the impact of this on fires is overstated. In an article for he quoted Scott Stevens of the University of California, Berkeley, saying climate change is not a major factor, as well as other experts scoffing of the idea that severe fires are anything new.

“California’s fires should indeed serve as a warning to the public, but not that climate change is causing the apocalypse,” wrote Shellenberger. “Rather, it should serve as a warning that mainstream news reporters and California’s politicians cannot be trusted to tell the truth about climate change and fires.”

Ditto for Oz. I have detailed previously how Fran Kelly told ABC audiences in November that “the fire warning had been increased to catastrophic for the first time ever in this country” — but that was wrong, wildly wrong.

Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John accused his political opponents of being “no better than arsonists” and other Greens and Labor MPs said Australia’s climate policies were exacerbating bushfires. Insane as this might be, it was amplified rather than interrogated by most media.

The thick smoke haze in Sydney was portrayed as something “unprecedented” — if it has not been on Twitter before it must never have happened — but a quick search of newspaper files found similar bushfire-induced shrouds in 1951, when airports were closed, and 1936, when a ship couldn’t find the heads.

Fires in rainforest areas of southern Queensland and northern NSW were not “unprecedented” either, with archived reports noting similar fires in the spring of 1951 and even the winter of 1946.

Despite 200,000 media mentions of “unprecedented” tracked by media monitors across December and January, the facts showed none of this was new. Greater areas were burned in 1851 and 1974-75, and human devastation was either as bad or worse on Black Saturday in 2009, Ash Wednesday in 1983, Black Tuesday in 1967, Black Friday in 1939 and Black Thursday 1851.

Bushland was not destroyed forever, koalas were not rendered extinct and Scott Morrison was not to blame. We should have an inquiry into climate alarmism, political posturing and media reporting — we would learn a lot more from that than we have from relearning age-old fire preparedness from yet another bushfire inquiry.


Do we really need Mustafas?

Mustafa is one of the names of Muhammad

A sadistic ice junkie who raped seven women, including a 13-year-old school girl and a 22-year-old who died before she could see her attacker face justice, will die in prison.

Mustafa Kayirici, 30, was sentenced to 34 years in jail on Friday for the terrifying five-hour long sexual assault of a child which took place over 10 locations in 2016.

The sickening sex monster had already been sentenced to 38 years for the rape and robbery of seven other escorts that same year.

A judged at Sydney's Downing Centre District Court deemed Kayirici so evil that his latest sentence won't even come into effect until September 2041, but it's unlikely he will live that long as he has been diagnosed with an incurable disease and has just 12 months to live.

Kayirici's rampage began on the morning of May 7, 2016, when he raped a sex worker at an apartment block in Sydney's CBD while threatening her with a butcher's knife.

Later that afternoon, he arranged to meet another escort in Parramatta where he carried out a similar attack.

She said the face-tattooed predator was 'aggressive and dominant' and called her a sl*t before he spat in her eye, beat her and brutally raped her.

'I had to fight for my life,' she said.

Kayirici told her he 'loved seeing the fear in people when they can't do anything about it,' she said.

Just one week later he robbed another sex worker at knife point at her Parramatta apartment and then robbed another woman in her home in the same suburb on May 20.

On May 27, Kayirici pulled a butcher's knife on Dasha Volnoukhin - a 22-year-old Canadian model and escort who was living in Parramatta.

Eerie CCTV pictures showed him walking with her through the lobby of the Fiori Apartments in Parramatta and into the lift before his crime.

Ms Volnoukhin never saw her abuser suffer the consequences of his depraved acts as she died in the months before his sentencing hearing.

The cause of her death cannot legally be published.

Within moments of Ms Volnoukhin letting him inside the apartment, he took a 'large butcher style knife' from a kitchen drawer and told her to take off her clothes.

Kayirici told the terrified young woman - who screamed upon seeing the knife - to take off her clothes and then carry out sex acts on him.

'The man then yelled at me ''don't f***ing scream'' (and then) ''take your clothes off'',' Ms Volnoukhin told police.

'I was wearing shorts and a tank top at the time and then started to take my clothes off as I was thinking that if I don't, I will probably die. I was so scared.'

The young woman also said in her police statement that Kayirici filmed himself sexually assaulting her while asking her 'do you like being raped?'

'The man was pointing the phone at me… then started to demand that I say things… he was saying to me: ''Say you are a sl*t'.'

The rape ended after three to four minutes, Ms Volnoukhin said, before Kayirici stole her day's earnings and left.

Just three days after the brutal attack on Ms Volnoukhin, Kayirici robbed and raped another sex worker at knifepoint.

On June 19, Kayirici raped yet another woman in a Parramatta apartment block, calling her a 'little dog'.

His crime spree would continue on June 26, when he lured a 13-year-old into his car.

He then he drove the teenager to an underground car park where he forced her to undress and made her watch pornographic videos.

He told her she was going to get 'raped one day or another,' before making the girl perform sex acts and threatening her with a knife when she refused.

Kayirici then drove the teenager to a unit block basement and forced her to perform another series of sex acts.

He even tried to get her to find another young girl to join them as the pair drove 10 different locations, the Daily Telegraph reported.

The pair went to a supermarket together to buy duct tape and razors and the teenager tried to make eye contact with one of the staff members, the court heard.

Kayirici then scolded the girl for trying to get him caught.

He then raped her repeatedly in his car before dumping her at Auburn train station.

Kayirici gave the girl $5, apologised to her before threatening to release the videos he made if she told anyone.

'If you tell anyone, I will release those videos,' he said, the court was told.

'How would you like it if your dad saw that … I can hold it against you.'

The teenager said in a victim impact statement that the girl sometimes felt she would be 'better off dead' and felt constant fear and humiliation due to the attack.

The litany of sexual assaults over the horror six-week period resulted in Kayirici being found guilty of 42 charges at two separate trials including 12 charges of aggravated sexual assault with a person under 16 and 12 charges of using a child under 14 years to produce child abuse material.


Social work, psychology protected from university price hikes as Federal Government looks to lock in support

The biggest higher education reform in decades is set to pass its first test — a Coalition party room vote — after social work and psychology were cut from the list of humanities courses set to have fees doubled.

Introduced in June, the Federal Government's "job-ready graduates" program is designed to equip the tertiary sector for post-pandemic employment needs by using a carrot and stick method of reducing fees for some courses, while increasing fees for others.

The reforms, which yesterday triggered hundreds of teachers and staff to join a virtual grassroots organising committee vowing illegal strike action, will likely be introduced in the house on Wednesday.

But the reforms face a tougher task in the Senate, where the program needs critical votes from crossbenchers.

Education Minister Dan Tehan declined to comment on the grounds the matter was going to a partyroom vote.

However, the ABC understands Coalition backbenchers returning home to electorates and hearing about concerns over access to mental health services during the COVID-19 pandemic led to the partyroom change.

It is understood social work and psychology will both be taken out of the most expensive band, band 4, where humanities sit, and into band 2.

How much students can expect to pay:

Band    Discipline    Annual cost

1    Teaching, clinical psychology, English, maths, nursing, languages, agriculture    $3,700

2    Allied health, other health, architecturey, English, maths, nursing, languages, agriculture    $3,700, IT, creative arts, engineering, environmental studies, science    $7,700

3    Medical, dental, veterinary science    $11,300

4    Law & economics, management & commerce, society & culture, humanities, communications, behavioural science    $14,500

One of the senators the Federal Government will need to convince, independent Rex Patrick, said the latest changes were not enough.

He said wanted to see an inquiry into the proposal — which the Government would likely try to avoid.

"They have been presented without much evidence as to the effect they will have in the long term," Senator Patrick said

"I think a lot of students make their choices based on an affinity for a particular topic.

"I don't think you can force someone who's got an affinity with the humanities down a STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] path."

The fee hikes, as well as the absence of a comprehensive rescue package for the sector that is expected to haemorrhage between $3 billion and $4.6 billion in revenue this year, has parts of some campuses in revolt.


Behind Australia's big vaccine gamble

When it came to securing a COVID-19 vaccine for Australia, the Morrison government was between a rock and a hard place. It had to hedge its bets in a vaccine world that is full of uncertainty and risk.

If it sat on its hands and did nothing while a vaccine became successful, it risked looking inept. But, if it backed a vaccine which then fell over, it also risked looking inept.

For weeks, the government studied the options, took wise counsel, waited and debated. Then it made an educated guess. It selected the vaccine being developed jointly by the University of Oxford and UK-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

The Morrison government has selected the vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford, led by researcher Sarah Gilbert, and UK-Swedish company AstraZeneca. David Rowe

If this vaccine proves successful, Australia has a deal that will allow it to manufacture 25 million doses for domestic use.

“This is one of the most advanced vaccines of the moment and one of the first that shows promise, but there are going to be many others,” says Professor Brendan Crabb, director of Melbourne’s Burnet Institute.

“Everything about it is fine, except that – like all vaccines at this stage of development – it is a high-risk venture and could easily fall over. This means Australia will need a plan B, C and D.

“The ideal thing for a country that wants a vaccine is to bet on every horse in the race, knowing there is some chance that none of the horses will finish the race.”

But there are too many. Of the hundreds of vaccine candidates currently in development across the globe, 167 are listed by The World Health Organisation as having preclinical or clinical trials underway.

Of this number, 29 are already into clinical trials and of them, six are into the final phase. The Oxford vaccine is top of the list and Australia has gambled on it.

In an ideal world, Australia would have kept its powder dry while it waited, but that was not an option, says Professor Crabb. supplied

But Australia also has two local horses in the race, one based at the University of Queensland and one on the Flinders University campus in Adelaide. These two are the most advanced under development in Australia.

While Professor Crabb believes the government has made a very sensible decision he says it is “a fingers-crossed situation”.

“In an ideal world, Australia would have kept its powder dry while it waited, perhaps into next year, until the phase three results were out for the Oxford vaccine.”

But that wasn’t really an option. Other countries were securing deals and there was public pressure to do something. Australia needed to have licensing agreements in place, so as soon as it received the go ahead, it could begin manufacturing the vaccine.

A long lead time is necessary to create the level of sophistication and capacity to manufacture the vaccine at scale.

“This is a huge and expensive undertaking and it wouldn’t surprise me if they had started making it already,” says Professor Crabb. “Imagine the risk in that. If the trial falls over, the project is dead. And so many vaccines fall at the very last hurdle.

"There is every chance this vaccine may not get approval and all this money would have been spent.”

Nevertheless, he says we need more horses so we can be better prepared and won't need to rely on other countries to make a vaccine for us, in their own timeframe.

There is considerable optimism that a vaccine will emerge. This is being driven by the unprecedented global effort from governments, multilateral players and industry to condense a multi-decade-long process into a year or two.

During COVID-19, money has taken on a different life. The previous carefully measured allocation of resources for research has become a bottomless jug of cash pouring into developments that might help to bring the pandemic to a close.

The average cost of a pharmaceutical or a vaccine getting to market is about $US4 billion ($5.6 billion). One reason vaccine development usually takes many years is because the financial risk induces caution, with researchers gingerly going from step to step.

In the COVID-19 catastrophe this caution has been largely discarded, says Professor Crabb.


 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


There's a fun project going on among math bloggers and vloggers, who are presenting their favorite big numbers that are larger than one million, tagging their contributions with the #megafavnumbers hashtag.

Since we periodically cover math stories, our contribution is 602,214,076,000,000,000,000,000, which if you've had chemistry, you'll probably recognize more quickly in its scientific notation format: 6.02214076 x 10²³. It's Avogadro's constant, which tells us approximately how many atoms or molecules there are in a mole of a substance. A mole is the number of grams of a substance that is equal to its molecular weight, or rather, the number of protons and neutrons in its component atoms or molecules.

It was originally indexed to the mass of Carbon-12, which has 6 protons and 6 neutrons. One mole of carbon-12 therefore weighs 12 grams.

It used to be that the number of atoms in a mole wasn't exactly known, because counting the number of atoms in 12 grams of carbon-12 isn't as easy as it sounds. Scientists had narrowed the range of potential values down to fall within 100 quadrillion atoms of 602,214,150,000,000,000,000,000 (602.21415 sextillion), but on 20 May 2019, the International System of Units (SI) body arbitrarily fixed the value of Avogadro's number to exactly 6.02214076 x 10²³. We still don't know exactly how many atoms there are in an actual mole of a substance, but we now have a close approximation that the world's measurement experts have officially endorsed.

Avogadro's constant can be found in more places than just chemistry. Astrophysicst Alex Howe's #megafavnumbers contribution points to where it is used in statistical mechanics.

At this writing, there are over 153 entries in the #megafavnumbers video list, which take on illegal primes, the monster, and the case of too many lottery winners, among others! If you've run out of binge-able videos to watch during the pandemic, why not add a bunch of videos about really big numbers to your playlist? We'll award extra points if you watch them in order from lowest to largest....

Australian Politics 2020-08-27 15:32:00


Coronavirus: Australian antibody treatment offers aged care hope

An Australian consortium of 30 national peak clinical groups is working to develop an antibody-based preventive treatment for COVID-19.

“We’re interested in is actually developing antibodies that can block the entry of the virus into the cells and, therefore, stop virus infection,” Associate Professor Wai-Hong Tham said on Wednesday.

The treatment is designed to have antibodies that target the COVID-19 spike protein, which is what the virus uses to enter the body’s cells.

Tham, who is part of the research team via the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, explained the COVID virus has “a lock and key mechanism between spike protein and human cells. So, if you can actually bind an antibody that blocks spikes from doing the interaction with the human cells, you stop virus infection.

“What you’re developing really are antibodies you can deliver to patients, that you know are already going to be safe, that are going to be potent, they’re going to stop virus entry, stop virus infection, and they probably hopefully will work against all the variants that you have in the community,” Prof Tham said.

Antibody therapies have previously been used successfully for the treatment of cancers and multiple immune disorders.

Prof Tham said antibody treatments would be particularly beneficial in protecting aged and immune-compromised populations.

While Prof Tam refused to provide a timeline for the treatment, she said she and the consortium were “hopeful” and said “we are working as hard as we can … looking at clinical trials early next year. But it does take time and for us the most important thing is to make a safe and effective product.”


'Major victory' for paedophiles as baffling law is passed that could see rape and sexual assault victims thrown into JAIL just for telling their stories

This is presumably to protect the offender but surely the interests of his victims come first

Victorian sexual assault survivors could be jailed for up to four months or face fines exceeding $3000 for telling their stories using their real names.

The Judicial Proceedings Reports Act was changed in February, prohibiting victims from identifying themselves publicly if their attacker has been found guilty.

The new law applies retrospectively, meaning victims who have lawfully spoken out previously are now censored from speaking out publicly. Media outlets who defy the law can also be prosecuted and face fines of up to $8,000.

The only way for victims to identify themselves and tell their stories is to obtain a court order - which is not only time consuming, but would cost more than $10,000 in legal fees.

Dr Rachael Burgin, lecturer in the Swinburne Law School, described the change in the law as a 'major victory' for convicted paedophiles and rapists.

She said thousands of survivors will now find they cannot tell their stories.

Not only can victim's no longer use their real names, they cannot provide any identifying features such as photos in publications such as memoirs and autobiographies unless they get a court order.

 'There is no way that I would just have $10,000 sitting around to pay to do this. (I’d) be taking money away from (my) family,' Maggie*, an adult survivor of child rape told       

Sexual assault survivors are now fighting for their right to share their stories, with the #LetUsSpeak campaign launched on Wednesday. The campaign, which is a collaboration between Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy (RASARA), Marque Lawyers, End Rape On Campus Australia, and is calling on the government to reform the law.

Melbourne mother Maggie, 44, was raped from age eight by her father, who also sexually abused her older step sister Kate*.

When Maggie was 17, he was arrested and charged with rape and gross indecency as well as multiple counts of bestiality, after Kate reported her abuse to police.

In May 1997, four days before the trial was set to begin, he shot Kate dead at work after tracking her down using a private investigator.  

He was sent to prison the following year, after pleading guilty to murder in exchange for the sexual offences being dropped.

With his parole eligibility date looming, Maggie decided to come forward, resulting in her father receiving a nine-year jail sentence for multiple counts of incest and rape against her. 

However, in March this year, the Supreme Court of Appeal slashed his sentence for the crimes against Maggie and ruled he could serve them concurrently with his murder sentence, leaving him eligible for parole in June 2022.

'I’m now a mother of three beautiful children and I wouldn’t want him out in any community. I’m not just scared for my children. I’m scared for all children. I also have to be the voice for my sister too. She never got justice for the sexual abuse she experienced either,' Maggie said.

Maggie contacted Australian media outlets to draw attention to the lenient sentences given to paedophilles, only to learn of the new law that makes it a crime for the media to publish her name, or her fathers, as it could indirectly identify her.

'My sister was murdered for trying to tell her story and now I’m stopped from telling mine. He has all the power again. It has to change,' Maggie said.

Victorian Attorney-General, Jill Hennessy has written to Maggie and other members of the #LetUsSpeak campaign to say she is 'very sorry' to hear of their experiences.

She has requested the Department of Justice and Community Safety look into the cases.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to cover the court costs of survivors battling to overturn the gag law.

Similar gag laws were overturned in the Northern Territory and Tasmania earlier this year as a result of #LetUsSpeak campaign.

However, they differed to the Victorian legislation as they were out-dated pre-existing policies.


Australia has an epidemic of nonsense jobs

As if the coronavirus hasn’t foisted enough change on us, NSW and Victoria are about to unleash more. Last week alone, during the ­biggest economic downturn in a ­century, the two states were advertising 20 high-paid jobs variously requiring skills in “change, culture, transformation and strategy”, with total salaries above $3.5m.

Pick of the bunch was the $249,000 director of intersectionality and inclusion role at the Victoria Department of Justice, who must, naturally, “provide authoritative, strategic and innovative advice in relation to inclusion and intersectionality”.

Also appealing was the $327,000 director of people and culture role at the NSW Department of Education, who should “provide expert strategic advice across a range of strategic priorities”. Familiarity with Sun Tzu’s Art of War is presumably a given.

But it was vocational training giant TAFE NSW that’s at the vanguard of a change revolution, advertising separately for a “change lead”, “change manager”, “change analyst”, “change co-ordinator”, “change specialist” and, the lowest-paid of the group, an “organisational change officer”, making do on $88,000.

The change lead ($194,000), manager ($173,000) and co-ordinator ($119,000) will at least have lots of time for blue-sky thinking with only a change analyst, specialist and officer to oversee.

The NSW Ombudsman, which handles complaints about government, isn’t immune to the change revolution either, seeking (albeit more frugally) its own “change lead” on $164,000 to “develop and embed a strategic approach to change across the Ombudsman”. Perhaps, like obscenity, you know a strategic approach to change when you see it. “The Change Lead will own the single view of change,” the advertisement explained. Talk about ­pressure.

Change is afoot south of the border, too. Victoria’s Environmental Protection Agency and State Revenue Office were luring change experts with $161,000 and $141,000 salaries, respectively. The former would need to “achieve organisation-wide support, enthusiasm, and participation in the changes … including delivery of change solutions (such as) change facilitation, change champions and change leadership”.

One feels for the successful applicant in a #WFH world, having to psyche up colleagues on Zoom call and nurture change champ­ions who may well have the camera option turned off.

Perhaps the SRO change role should be greater paid given the challenge at hand: state taxes have barely changed in 20 years.

Our two biggest state governments would appear to have provided an answer to anthropologist David Graeber’s 2019 book Bullshit Jobs: The Rise of Pointless Work and What We Can Do About It. Answer: not much.

“Economics around the world have become vast engines for producing nonsense,” Graeber writes in a book that delineates five classes of bullshit jobs, of which change roles fit best into “flunkie” and “box ticker” categories. The former “exist to make someone else feel or look important”, the latter “allow organisations to claim they are doing something that in fact it is not doing”.

You might think the tier of government most directly responsible for destroying livelihoods on an unprecedented scale in this country might have the modesty to rein in such profligacy. This is the biggest economic contraction since the national accounts were developed more than 50 years ago. Private sector wages are shrinking for the first time in a generation.

Jobs that are necessary, which arise from real demand from households and businesses, such as accommodation, retail, many professional services, have been wiped out, while those existing purely by fiat, for which no one would pay a cent, flourish.

It’s government arrogance and amorality that justifies such “jobs” — and the extraordinary salaries — in a major recession. It’s not the job creation we need.

Naturally, these advertised roles are just the latest recruits to the massively unproductive standing change, diversity and inclusion army entrenched in the public sector across the country.

In May the NSW Department of Planning hired a “manager, diversity & inclusion strategy” on a salary of $148,134, who would “lead a small, diverse team which is responsible for developing and implementing strategic plans to embed diversity and inclusion” across the department.

Perhaps this crack team is musing over whether brownfield developments are racist.

Meanwhile, as government sucks intelligent workers into the pointless work Graeber identifies, it hobbles the private sector’s scope to generate jobs.

For example, four years after it started negotiations, the Fair Work Commission knocked back an enterprise agreement sought by Swissport for its thousands of ground support staff.

That leaves intact the Airline Operations — Ground Staff Award 2020, which specifies, among other absurdities, that workers be paid $3.19 a week more for every coffin they handle and $5.18 a week if they handle money between $200 and $1000. You might think an industry facing an existential crisis required more flexibility.

Then there’s the Building and Construction On-Site Award, whose mind-blowing complexity makes it a wonder much is built at all. The construction sector is facing the loss of 150,000 jobs by early next year, yet it specifies loadings for working at different heights, in different types of weather.

And, a personal favourite, employees “who are regularly required to compute or estimate quantities of materials in respect of the work performed by other employees must be paid an additional 23.3 per cent of the hourly standard rate per day or part thereof”.

At least they are being paid more for something that need to be done, unlike the “change” army.


Australian state to make landowners clear fire hazards

Since landowners have been prosecuted in the past for doing that, this is a great leap forward

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's most populous state said on Tuesday it will compel owners to clear their land of flammable material as it endorsed 76 recommendations from an enquiry into deadly bushfires.

Fires razed more than 11 million hectares (37 million acres) of bushland across Australia's southeast early this year, killing at least 33 people and billions of native animals, a disaster that Prime Minister Scott Morrison called Australia's "black summer".

Amid public anger, the federal and state governments commissioned independent enquiries.

New South Wales (NSW), which recorded the highest death toll from the fires at 25, on Tuesday became the first to release findings. Its Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott said the state government had accepted all recommendations.

Among recommendations, the state will require landowners to clear or burn flammable material - usually dried brush and dead leaves - for firefighters to be trained in treating wild animals and the creation of a fund to develop technology to detect fires.

"These 76 recommendations are wide-ranging but what they also show is that there is no silver bullet. The last summer was caused by a crippling drought," Elliott told reporters in Canberra.

The issue of hazard reduction, however, is the most contentious as questions arise about the cause of the fires.

Morrison, a supporter of the fossil fuel industry, this year said removing flammable material was as "important as emissions reduction and I think many would argue even more so", a stance rejected by several former firefighting chiefs.

Environmental groups said Australia - one of the world's biggest carbon emitters on a per capital basis - must reduce its greenhouse emissions, amid forecasts for more frequent and severe droughts as the climate changes.


Superannuation funds increase pools of cash despite Australians withdrawing their money early

It's not exactly cash.  It is share investments

The rush by millions of Australians to withdraw their superannuation early and a rebounding sharemarket has left the nation’s honey pot of retirement savings virtually unscathed, new statistics show.

Data from the banking regulator, the Australian Prudential and Regulation Authority, released on Tuesday found total superannuation assets fell by just 0.6 per cent in the June quarter, from $2.88 billion to $2.86 billion.

The Federal Government’s early release of superannuation scheme has come under intense scrutiny by the Federal Opposition for allowing cash-strapped Australians to withdraw their retirement savings prematurely.

Under the scheme eligible applicants who have suffered hits to their incomes could withdraw $10,000 tax-free last financial year and another $10,000 up until December 31.

Latest ATO figures show more than 2.7 million people have withdrawn $33.9 billion from their super accounts under the scheme.

But a rebounding sharemarket has helped cushion the financial blow to super accounts during the COVID-19 crisis.

Figures from super research firm Chant West showed median growth funds (61 to 80 per cent in growth assets) climbed by 6.4 per cent in the June quarter.

This meant for $100,000 in super savings, it climbed to $106,400.

Debate has erupted over whether the compulsory superannuation payments should rise from 9.5 per cent to 10 per cent in 2021.
Debate has erupted over whether the compulsory superannuation payments should rise from 9.5 per cent to 10 per cent in 2021.
During this quarter the amount of quarterly benefits paid out to Australians climbed by 31.2 per cent in 12 months, from $76.5 billion to $100.4 billion.

All types of super funds also increased their assets in the June quarter including industry super funds which grew from $717 billion in March to $747.9 billion in June.

Retail funds also fattened, growing from $1.85 trillion to $1.9 trillion in the same period.

Federal Labor MPs have criticised the scrutiny of the scheme which allows Australians to go through a self-assessment application via the Australian Taxation Office’s online portal before getting the green light from their fund to withdraw money.

The compulsory superannuation guarantee is legislated to rise to 10 per cent on July 1, 2021 and then in increments up to 12 per cent by 2025.

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe warned this month that ­increasing the super guarantee would “certainly have a negative effect on wages growth”.

He said if it went ahead he would “expect wages growth to be even lower than it otherwise would be”.

This legislation has also come under fire in recent weeks from Coalition backbenchers who said the rise must be halted.

Many MPs believe small and medium-sized businesses cannot afford the hikes and want it delayed or scrapped as the economy fights to recover from the deepest recession since the 1930s.


 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

The U.S. Housing Market Since 1976, In Pictures

We're going to tell a story about the history of the market for new homes in the U.S. almost entirely in pictures today. While all the charts we'll present cover the period from January 1976 through July 2020, most of the focus will be on the last several months of that timespan.

Let's start with the history of 30-year conventional mortgage rates:

30-Year Conventional Fixed Mortgage Rates in U.S., January 1976 - July 2020

The lower the interest rates, the more affordable a higher sale price for new homes can be, which can contribute to rising sale prices. Remember, home buyers aren't just buying a house - most are also buying a monthly mortgage payment they believe they can afford. With mortgage rates at all time lows, both average and median new home sale prices are rising toward all time highs.

Median and Average Prices of New Homes Sold in the U.S., January 1976 - July 2020

With the Federal Reserve acting to lower interest rates to help stimulate the U.S. economy during the coronavirus recession, the number of new home sales has been rising. The following chart shows the trailing twelve month average of those sales, which smooths out seasonal volatility in the data.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Annualized Number of New Home Sales, January 1976 - July 2020

The combination of higher average prices and rising number of sales means that the market capitalization of the new home market in the U.S. is rising.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of the Market Capitalization of the U.S. New Home Market, January 1976 - July 2020

The new home market in the U.S. is showing surprising strength during the Coronavirus Recession. The data presented in these four charts confirms that observation and helps explain why.