Monthly Archives: November 2020

Australian Politics 2020-11-28 15:35:00


Another dubious tale of "Aboriginal" achievement


It's amazing how the people who feature in stories about Aborigines who achieve academically all turn out to look just like people of European ancestry. Why? Because they clearly are overwhelmingly of European ancestry. They look nothing like Aborigines. The lady above is even hyphenated, for goodness's sake!

She does have a slight "suntan" but to a degree well within European norms. Vanessa is quite simply good-looking. She would be a social success among any group of white Australians.

How she came to originate in an Aboriginal family, one can only speculate, but mixed ancestry is common among urban Aborigines so she may well have simply got a very fortunate roll of the genetic dice that featured all or most of the "white" genetics in her ancestry. Though we should perhaps note that there is no mention of her mother below.

Her life story does show that her childhood among Aborigines ended in producing serious distress for her but her tale below is clearly very one-sided. Why did the social workers remove her from her Aboriginal family? We are left to believe that it was because they were inhuman monsters.

The fact of the matter however is that removing a child is very rule-governed and in this case the aim was protective. It is very common for Aborigines to treat their children very negligently and even abusively so there must have been reports of that nature in this case.

But despite her difficult childhood, that evil white society recognized her talent and moved her into the upper echelons of that society.

So combined with many other similar stories, this story does reveal a very clear lesson. It is not at all the lesson intended by the narrator but it is clear nonetheless: Real Aborigines cannot achieve academically. It is only ones who are not really Aborigines who can. It reasserts the great importance of European genetics

As a child I lived on Gadigal country in Redfern in Sydney, before moving out to social housing near La Perouse. Through a white lens, people would say we were poor. But there was something really powerful in being appreciative of what we did have and that was community, family, kinship and love. We were living with poverty and struggled at times, but we never went without.

The Department of Community Services (DOCS, now the NSW Department of Family and Community Services) removed me from my family in 2008 when I was 10. It was around 10 o’clock at night, and I was in bed. My older brother, thankfully, was at my mum’s place that night. Dad was out on the balcony and he yelled, “Bub I’m so sorry, they’re coming to get you.” I looked out the window and saw all of these red and blue flashing lights.

I heard a knock at the door and it was a caseworker. She said, “Hug your dad one last time, you’ve got to come with us.” I remember hugging my dad so tight that I could feel his tears drop on my shoulder.

When I was in the DOCS car, I vomited because I’d been crying so much. I didn’t know what was going on. I was placed into an emergency foster home that night. I remember the caseworker saying to me, “You can’t go home because your parents neglected you and your parents don’t know how to look after children.” I was really confused, because I remembered my dad raising my nieces and nephews and cousins and playing a prominent role in their lives. I was like, “What do you mean that my dad doesn’t know how to raise children?”

I went to around eight or 10 foster homes in that first couple of years. That’s considered a low number. Behind the scenes, my family was battling the court system. My parents, who had no knowledge of the legal system, were put into a room to advocate why they should be allowed to parent their child. No one ever asked me what I wanted.

I was passed around as if there was no soul in my body. The foster homes that I went to were white – they weren’t my kin, even though my aunties and uncles had put their hand up to take me in. During my third year in out-of-home care, I lost my Pop. He wanted to take me in, but I was robbed of those years with him because of the state system. I went from spending every weekend at Pop’s house, hearing stories, sharing our culture, having a Sunday roast, to seeing him for sorry business after he’d passed away.

My experience in foster care was a driving force for me to make the most of my career. I thought, “I’m going to leave this state system, I’m going to go back to my family and I’m going to get that time back that was robbed from me.”

At 18, I was accepted to study social work and criminology at UNSW. I met with a senior law lecturer to talk about whether I should study law. I remember she said, “It’s been 15 minutes and I’m already wondering why you didn’t originally enrol in law as your first degree.” In that moment I was like, “Shit, someone genuinely believes I’m capable of doing this.”

I’m in the sixth year of a seven-year combined law and social work degree. As an Indigenous student studying law, you’re reminded every day of what you don’t have. In corporations law you’re reminded you don’t have tenure to your land. In criminal law you’re reminded all your people are being locked up, removed from their families and communities and subjected to punitive measures rather than support. I work part-time as a paralegal in the pro bono team with Sydney law firm Gilbert + Tobin. One of the most beautiful things about working there is it’s built on the values of giving back. The team is like family. I’m lucky to have their guidance and support on the right side of the fight for humanity and justice.

The year that Kevin Rudd gave his apology to the stolen generations was the same year I was taken. I remember everyone felt so proud as a nation, but the reality is, the same executive powers are removing our babies. This is still occurring today. [In 2018, First Nations children made up almost 40 per cent of all children in out-of-home care nationally, despite being 5½ per cent of Australia’s child population. About a third were placed with non-Indigenous carers.]

Controversially named racehorse makes its debut

A Queensland thoroughbred owner has been allowed to name a rookie racehorse "Black Suspect", despite concerns it could offend Indigenous people.

The three-year-old colt with the potentially provocative name is set to raise eyebrows when it makes its racing debut, with even its trainer admitting there could be questions.

Black Suspect was meant to have its first race in a maiden event at Toowoomba last weekend but was a late scratching.

Ipswich trainer Beau Gorman said the scratching had nothing to do with the name of the horse, owned by local racing enthusiast Colin Clark, but was because it simply wasn’t ready to go.

Mr Gorman said the horse was named because it was a big black colt and its sire was a US stallion called Unusual Suspect.

He said the name was chosen after other names, including Black American and Black Gold, were rejected by Racing Australia.

Coronavirus Australia: Wake up and smell the sickly stench of government control

Lucky we seldom use cash any more; it would be impossible to physically swirl the dollars fast enough between taxpayers and governments. For instance, if I spend $10 at a local Sydney cafe, one dollar heads to Canberra as GST, while perhaps another one will cover company tax on any profit; some of the federal tax is funnelled back to the cafe for JobKeeper payments and most of the GST dollar is returned to the NSW government which, after an initiative in its post-COVID budget this month, then sends some of it back to me in vouchers to be spent at a local hospitality businesses — such as my local cafe.

It might have been simpler to just let my barista keep the $10 — or are we worried that leaves too many work-from-home state and federal public servants with too little to do. Imagine the money wasted and the efficiencies forgone in this endless churn; it is a wonder cash is not turned into butter.

Yes, this is a simplistic and stylised example, but it illustrates the never-ending expansion and reach of government. While the mortality rate from COVID-19 is trending downwards worldwide, the virus has proven lethal against pre-pandemic notions of small government.

On the macro scale, the impact is frightening; where once we were traumatised by Wayne Swan’s $50bn deficits we have flipped this year from a projected $7bn surplus to an $85bn deficit — a record shortfall that will be almost tripled next year with a $213bn dollar deficit. Swan can finally have a Christmas where he fancies himself as Scrooge.

Government spending as a percentage of GDP snuck above 25 per cent in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, after which even Labor agreed it should be kept below that mark. But it surged to 27.7 per cent last year, and will hit almost 35 per cent next year. So, while we once considered it prudent to keep federal spending to less than a quarter of the economy, Canberra’s splurge is about to account for more than a third of GDP.

When John Howard lost government, 13 years ago this week, the nation had cash in the bank — negative net government debt. We started to worry when debt rose above $150bn after the GFC, ballooning to more than 10 per cent of GDP. Now it has hit $500bn — half a trillion dollars, or 25 per cent of GDP — and within five years it will top $1 trillion, or equivalent to 44 per cent of the ­national economy.

Never before has the federal government sent more money to more people and more businesses. We are reacting to the corona­virus pandemic like it is a once-in-a-lifetime challenge that we can bet the bank on — best hope there is not another pandemic, natural disaster, global depression or war around the corner.

While interest rates are at record lows, we have been prepared to burden future generations with enormous risks. The big privatisations are behind us and all hopes hinge on the tumultuous cycle of economic growth. Most of us under 80 years of age can thank previous generations for the prosperity we have enjoyed — yet we seem happy to do the opposite, make ourselves comfortable in the here and now, while forwarding the bill to future generations.

The same people who argue it is immoral to leave behind a carbon footprint for future generations have no qualms about leaving them more debt than has ever been imagined. There must be an argument that we could have been more prudent and avoided any sense of intergenerational theft — but this discussion seems absent from the political debate.

Perhaps even more debilitating than the lifetime of debt is the rapid and unbridled escalation of the Nanny state. What has long been an alarming trend has run rampant since Wuhan first shared its virus with the world.

We have long observed the politicians’ predilection for increasing spending, launching new initiatives, imposing new rules and inveigling themselves into every aspect of our lives in order to win our gratitude and boost their prospects. Yet it is even more disturbing to see how great swathes of the population have lapped this up and played along — “gimme more free stuff”.

Nonsensical interventions

Worse still is the way we see people enthusiastically yield to the feverish and often nonsensical interventions imposed upon them. Melburnians heeded a drastic, inconvenient and muddle-headed curfew slapped on the city with no medical imprimatur. They also were forced to wear face masks outdoors, even many ­metres away from fellow citizens.

Daniel Andrews and his barrackers claim the absence of infections as vindication, when the whole point was supposed to be about controlling the pandemic without crushing communities, businesses and livelihoods. Around all the states except NSW, signs are that these lessons are yet to be learned.

Worryingly, police officers in Victoria and elsewhere enforced curfews and other nonsense with ruthless disregard for civil rights — officers on horseback and in ­patrol cars moved people on in Sydney parks, pregnant women were arrested over Facebook posts in Melbourne, drones spied on Western Australians in the streets, and there were Checkpoint Charlies set up along a string of interstate borders.

Most of us accepted these intrusions. People compliantly kept their children home from school, for months on end, when there was no medical basis for doing so. We stayed apart from family because of closed borders, we cancelled overseas holidays, worked from home, and kissed goodbye to a wide range of social activities.

Curfews weren’t enough

But it was not enough; governments wanted more control. They banned people in Adelaide and Melbourne from leaving their homes; restricted how many people could visit our houses; set stringent attendance limits for funerals, weddings and church services; demanded we did not sing; or dance; made us commemorate Anzac Day on our own but let the protesters do as they pleased; and they shut beaches

All this in a blessed Land Down Under where the people were once renowned for their self-­reliance and anti-authoritarian streak. Has the Nanny state eaten away our resilience and national character?

Sure, most of us have understood the aims and surrendered to authority, in part because we believe in the project of “flattening the curve”. But much of what has been imposed has been irrational, over the top and not based on ­science — yet we went along with it anyway. Were we too compliant, too ignorant, or too frightened to object?

There are Australians right now, kept apart or sweating it out in home isolation in Western Australia because Mark McGowan still insists on hard borders with Victoria and NSW, even though there has been no community transmission for weeks in the two most populous states. Some will be proud of this — “we are all in this together” — but it speaks more to fearmongering and ignorance.

Politicians have spoken of a “dangerous” situation and how they need to “keep people safe” which is a ridiculous way to frame attempts to control a virus that is mild to asymptomatic in more than 95 per cent of cases, makes a small percentage of people seriously ill and, in the main, is only life-threatening to people who are very old or already very ill.

This is not to dismiss the vulnerable — it is a call to focus on protecting them instead of trying to scare children and paralyse communities.

No such thing as a free lunch

Have we become so molly­coddled that we look to governments to prevent us from getting sick? Are politicians so conceited they believe they can manage all risk out of our lives? Do they fret about paying a political price because a virus hops from one ­person to another?

Ideas for government intervention have proliferated like a contagion. We have governments siphoning taxes from us only to regurgitate some of it back as vouchers to cover kids’ sport fees or, now, for us to spend in restaurants. There is no such thing as a free lunch — we are paying for these gimmicks ourselves.

Governments now proffer paid sick leave for casual workers, subsidies for wages, bonuses for employing people, refunds on car registration, funding for solar panels, bonuses for first-home buyers, freebies in childcare, schooling, healthcare, social housing, public broadcasting, and whatever else. We are dining out on the taxpayers of 2050.

No matter how successful or futile the vaccines turn out to be, no matter how far this pandemic has to run, we can say one thing about its duration. It will never outlive the propensity for governments and bureaucracies to constantly mutate and expand, infecting every aspect of our lives.

Beware, Parents, Your Kids Are Being ‘Scootled’

When I noticed that a top-tier federal-state education body is providing lesson materials for teachers, I decided to take a look. The body is Education Services Australia (ESA), a company set up by federal-state education ministers. ESA provides free supplementary online materials for teachers via 20,000-plus pages on its Scootle portal. No mickey-mouse operation, it’s all keyed precisely to the curricula and used in 2019 by some 60,000 teachers, who chalked up 2.8 million sessions involving 18.8 million page views. From 2000-09 this on-line exercise chewed up about $130 million of taxpayer money.[1] Today ESA self-supports on revenue of $40 million a year from projects and subscriptions.

Scootle is just one of many third-party inputs to schooling. More than 90 per cent of teachers and 8400 schools, for example, use online lessons supplied by the anti-capitalist green-left Cool Australia outfit (See here, here, here, here). I fully expected that Scootle materials would be part of the Leftist miasma pervading education, which is so all-encompassing that even the 50 per cent conservative-voting parents long ago ceased to notice what their kids are being taught.

In the immortal words of Victoria’s one-time education minister and premier Joan Kirner, education must be reshaped to be “part of the socialist struggle for equality, participation and social change, rather than an instrument of the capitalist system”. This was consummated in 2008 when PM Julia Gillard and her Labor premiers brought in their “Melbourne declaration”.[2] Conservative governments don’t seem to mind that schools have been converted to breeding grounds for green-minded woke warriors.

ESA is supposed to promote “improved students outcomes” and classier teachers and schools. As we know, our kids’ performance is sliding down the international league tables, despite ESA’s best efforts. So, as an amateur auditor, having logged on as a “guest user”, I had a look around.

“Paul Keating” gets 17 hits, virtually all laudatory; Gough Whitlam gets 56 hits, none hostile and most laudatory. Whitlam’s dismissal (1975) gets a dozen tracts. “John Howard” gets more than 20 cites, but sadly none are laudatory and most hostile.[3]

I got a surprise when I searched on “WWF” to check that green lobby’s input. Instead of cute pandas, I got a dozen propaganda film clips from the Communist-led Waterside Workers Federation of the 1950s, such as “Banners Held High, 1956: May Day”. Scootle tells kids this film is “honouring the achievements of workers across the world”. Actually, a few months after its May Day love-in, the WWF backed the Soviets as their tanks crushed the Hungarian revolt.[4]

Scootle’s asylum-seeker treatment is straight from The Greens’ playbook.[5] Search for “asylum seeker” and the request generates exactly 100 hits and ‘refugee’ alone 169 hits. Scootle’s intense interest in the topic includes: Discussion paper – ‘Towards a fairer immigration system for Australia’, 1992.

This is the cover of a 55-page paper titled ‘Towards a fairer immigration system for Australia‘. It states that the current immigration system is unfair to some groups and discusses how to guarantee fair access to Australia’s immigration system. The paper was prepared by Andrew Theophanous and published in 1992… The dimensions of the discussion paper are 29.60 cm x 21.00 cm.

I’m sure it’s a lovely paper from 28 years ago for kids to study, being 29.60cm x 21.00cm and all, about fairness and victim support. Author Andrew Theophanous was MHR (Labor) for the seats of Burke and Calwell from 1980-2000. But as Wikipedia puts it, “He was later jailed for bribery and fraud offences relating to visa applications and other immigration matters.” Specifically, “he was charged with defrauding the Commonwealth by making false representations in relation to an immigration matter, taking an unlawful inducement and soliciting an unlawful inducement.” He got six years, and served two of them. Maybe Scootle should footnote that?

Another example is:

Anthem – An Act of Sedition, 2004: MV Tampa and September 11

This clip presents an interpretation of the Howard government’s response to the arrival of refugees in Australian waters on the MV Tampa in August 2001. The narration states that John Howard had often used scare tactics for his political advantage and that the refugees were now to be used in a ‘race election’. Views defending the refugees are juxtaposed with images of troops. Scenes of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York dramatise the narration, which states that the government used fear of terrorism to override international law and civil rights.

The tone here seems similar to what East German kids used to get. Scootle’s explanatory notes say the film argues passionately that PM John Howard cynically exploited Tampa and 9/11 “to create fear, undermine the rule of law and secure a win in the November 2001 election.” The notes say, “the desperation of the passengers led the captain to attempt to land under conditions of emergency”. In fact the Afghans effectively took over the ship by threats, which led to SAS troops storming the vessel.

Scootle cites Julian Burnside QC, most recently a failed Greens candidate, who “condemns the ‘Pacific Solution’ legislation as being a clear-cut infringement of international law, and another lawyer sees it as being undemocratic.”

In a mealy-mouthed way, Scootle says,

In this case no attempt is made to present the case for the Howard government, the narration puts its views strongly and the use of dramatic footage heightens the sense of crisis, reinforcing the filmmakers’ view that these events marked a serious attack on civil liberties and democratic processes.

Impressionable kids are treated to a tear-jerking film (aka “powerful account”) about an Australian family with four kids visiting an Afghan teen in detention in Port Hedland in 2004. The visiting mother describes ‘a heavy gate being locked behind’ them, the children ‘huddled together wide-eyed and silent’ and the guard ‘unlocking the third door’, with an echoing, sombre and “slightly fearful” sound track. The film, asserts Scootle, “raises questions about the government policy that imprisoned children in the name of border protection.”

Kids also get a poem, ‘When I think of Australia’ by Amelia Walker. Extract: “I switch on the TV and see wire with children behind it. If this isn’t their country it isn’t mine.” Images include chicken wire and “refugees’ children in detention camps”. There’s also a color cartoon provided from leftist New Matilda[6] showing

a dilapidated ship crowded with asylum seekers approaching a pier where an elderly woman stands with outstretched arms, saying: ‘I know it’s extremely unAustralian of me, but I’d like to welcome you to our shores …’

So where does Scootle offer kids the conservative government’s case? A search on “people smuggler” finds one hit from a 1990 incident, and none contemporaneous. Another search fails to turn up reference to the 1,200 asylum seekers drowned after Labor’s PM Rudd overturned Howard’s policy and encouraged people smugglers to ship 50,000 people south in those infamously leaky boats.

More here:




Campbell’s Soup Presents "The Magic Shelf"

It's the day after Thanksgiving 2020, and like many Americans, we're now pondering what can we have to eat along with our turkey leftovers.

Longtime readers know we have a strong affinity for Campbell's Tomato Soup, since we've tracked the price of an iconic can of the condensed product since 1897.

That's why we were excited to discover the following 21 minute time capsule video from 1952. While it starts with an awful magic act that becomes an awfully long commercial for Campbell's Soups, it really says quite a lot about how Americans lived and ate nearly seven decades ago. Not to mention showing how Campbell's supply chain worked to get the finest ingredients to make its soups and get them to American consumers, as the company's home economist, Ann Marshall, was working to "create new ways in which soup can serve you even better".

We have to admit we were surprised by the very existence of the Chicken-Cranberry Salad featured in the film, which somehow hasn't survived into the 21st century. It seems whatever partnership existed between Campbell's and the Knox gelatin corporation at the time wasn't strong enough for this chilled concoction to endure.

But since we came for tomato soup, here's a quick overview of the suggestions Campbell's had for how to use its tomato soup in your recipes in 1953:

  • As a base for beef stew.
  • Use it just as it comes from the can as tomato sauce.
  • Pour half a can into your meat loaf as an ingredient, then heat and steam the rest of it to cover your meat loaf as a pour-on sauce.
  • Make a full-flavored spaghetti sauce from it. Or tomato cheese macaroni.
  • A "spicy, mellow-favored" cake!
  • A French salad dressing when shaken with oil, vinegar, and seasoning.
  • Combined with equal parts clam chowder and milk or water for a really hearty soup.
  • Combined with equal parts split pea soup and milk or water to create "Purée Mongole", which apparently "wins rave notices every time".

We didn't know what Purée Mongole was either, but it turns out "it was popular in the 1930s, being served in Manhattan restaurants in New York City. Mongole soup has since declined in popularity and is rarely (if ever) seen today." The New York City hotel chef who created it, Louis Diat, is better known for also creating the cold leek and potato soup known as vichyssoisse in 1917.

Speaking of which, there is a tomato-based version of vichyssoisse that looks pretty appealing. Is anyone else hungry for soup all of a sudden?

Previously on Political Calculations

Our coverage of America's most iconic soup, presented in reverse chronological order!

Australian Politics 2020-11-26 15:20:00


China claims 'quality' problem with Australian coal as $700 million worth sits idle off ports

It is clearly getting to be time to do something about this. Exporters who are not heavily dependant on the Chinese market could refuse all new orders from China until the existing shipments are paid for

But government action is probably needed to get enough impact. Morrison has several options, all of which would probably cause China to lose "face" so would have to be heavily telegraphed in advance

He could freeze all payments to China until China pays its bills -- including demurrage costs. China does have significant exports to Australia so losing payments for them should make an impact

He could ban all exports to China until China pays its bills. China is heavily dependent on Australia for some things -- such as metallurgical coal and iron ore -- so such a ban should cause great disruption to Chinese industry

He could let matters ride but insist that all future exports to China should be prepaid. That is a common way to deal with bad debtors. It should probably be the first option

For months, dozens of bulk carriers have been stranded off the coast of two major Chinese ports unable to unload their cargoes, with a Bloomberg estimate of more than 60 ships now in limbo in November.

Chinese authorities have not previously explained the exact reasons for the long delays, which have coincided with a series of restrictions and bans Beijing has imposed on other Australian exports amid diplomatic tensions.

But in answer to a question on Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has for the first time suggested quality problems are to blame.

As trade and political tensions simmer, speculation swirls about what's really going on between the two nations — and what's next on a Chinese sanctions "hit list".

"In recent years, China Customs has conducted risk monitoring and analysis on the safety and quality of imported coal and discovered imported coal not meeting environmental standards is relatively common," he said.

China has unofficially banned Australian coal imports since October amid souring relations between the two countries, and in turn, increased imports from Mongolia and Russia.

Mr Zhao said China had strengthened the examination and testing of imported coal regarding safety, quality and environmental standards "so as to better protect the legitimate interests and the environmental interests of the Chinese side".

Coal is one of seven Australian imported products that have reportedly been targeted with bans by China amid rising tensions.

Earlier this month, multiple Australian exporters said that their Chinese business partners had been informally instructed by Commerce ministry officials to stop buying seven types of Australian exports, including coal.

But many of the bulk carriers sitting off the Chinese ports arrived with their Australian cargo prior to those instructions being given.

China's Government has stopped short of directly linking the various trade measures with its anger at Australia but has made little effort to dispel the widely-held view that it is retaliation for a series of Australian moves Beijing objects to, including a public call for a coronavirus inquiry.

The Federal Government last week said the reports were "deeply troubling" but China has denied it is levying coordinated trade action against Australia.

China accounts for about one-third of Australia's total exports. The stalled shipments account for about a quarter of all imports waiting to pass customs clearance in China.

China's coking coal imports from Australia slumped in October to 1.53 million tonnes, or about 26 per cent of its total imports of the fuel, customs data showed, down from 78 per cent in March.

Despite the bans, Australia remains China's top seaborne coal supplier in 2020, as Mongolia was forced to trim exports in the first half of the year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Rules to Follow for a Happy Thanksgiving

We hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving. To help achieve that goal, Michael Wade has crafted 10 rules to follow to help ensure your Thanksgiving experience is a happy one.

  1. Thou shalt not discuss politics at the dinner. There is next to no chance that you'll convert anyone and any hard feelings that are generated may last long after the pumpkin pie is finished. Why spoil a good meal?
  2. Thou shalt limit discussion of The Big Game. This is mainly directed at the men who choose to argue plays, records, and coaches while their wives stare longingly at the silverware. The sharp silverware.
  3. Thou shalt say nice things about every dish. Including the bizarre one with Jello and marshmallows.
  4. Thou shalt be especially kind to anyone who may feel left out. Some Thanksgiving guests are tag-alongs or, as we say in the business world, "new to the organization." Make a point of drawing them in.
  5. Thou shalt be wary of gossip. After all, do you know what they say when you leave the room? Remember the old saying: All of the brothers are valiant and all of the sisters are virtuous.
  6. Thou shalt not hog the white or dark meat. We know you're on Atkins but that's no excuse.
  7. Thou shalt think mightily before going back for seconds. Especially if that means waddling back for seconds.
  8. Thou shalt not get drunk. Strong drink improves neither your wit nor your discretion. Give everyone else a gift by remaining sober.
  9. Thou shalt be cheerful. This is not a therapy session. This is not the moment to recount all of the mistakes in your life or to get back at Uncle Bo for the wisecrack he made at your high school graduation. This is a time for Rule #10.
  10. Thou shalt be thankful. You're above ground and functioning in an extraordinary place at an extraordinary time. Many people paid a very heavy price (and I'm not talking about groceries) to give you this day. Take some time to think of them and to express gratitude to your friends and relatives. Above all, give special thanks to the divine power who blesses you in innumerable ways.

Ignore any one rule at your own risk. And if it helps, they're not just rules, they're also basic tools you can use to discover happiness in your life after your family's Thanksgiving dinner is over.

Slicing pumpkin pie beside bread at end of Thanksgiving dinner - Source: Element5 Digital via Unsplash -

Image Credit: Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Australian Politics 2020-11-25 15:41:00


It's time to go to bat for market forces

It could be the news of not one, but two, COVID-19 vaccines with over 90 per cent effectiveness that could be widely distributed before winter. It could be some economic green shoots, with some forecasters - particularly at the big banks - predicting a far faster recovery than first feared.

It could be just that it's nearly summer time.

Economic optimism is a good thing in more ways than one: it's like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Optimism breeds consumer and business confidence, which itself generates the desired investment and economic growth to beat the pandemic recession.

Of course, given what 2020 has dished out thus far, it might be wise to exercise some caution amid the optimism - lest we next suffer a plague of locusts or some other biblical black swan.

Yet, while the short-term issues associated with the recovery are crucially important, they're not the only serious economic problem we face.

Although it may seem like the sort of dull thing we used to be concerned about back when we didn't have any real problems (circa 2019), you may recall that wage growth leading into the recession was at near record lows, despite a 28-year run of uninterrupted economic growth.

As the Productivity Commission pointed out in its latest report on productivity, stimulating and maintaining productivity growth are the only things that will boost wages in the long term.

There are two roadblocks to rebooting productivity, one on the left and one on the right. From the right, the concern is the re-emergence of economic nationalism and protectionism. From the left, the issue is the strangling growth of regulation.

It took a long time for Australia to move away from protectionism. There is a serious risk that the border safety concerns of the pandemic will drive Australia, and the rest of the world, back towards the insular, protectionist attitudes that were prominent in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.

As the Productivity Commission explained, the "Fortress Australia" approach of protection all around was deeply flawed: "The walls of Fortress Australia were unable to protect us from the economic turmoil of the 1970s and contributed to Australia sliding down the income ladder."

Scepticism of a free trade-led approach to international relations had been growing for years before the pandemic.

In the United States, both sides of politics have been openly expressing hostility to the merits of free trade deals. President Donald Trump has been a strong proponent of economic nationalism: specifically the idea that America is a loser from trade with the rest of the world.

A big part of Trump's pitch to "make America great again" was bringing manufacturing jobs back to America.

Of course, the unexplained flaw in this argument is that most of the jobs were actually lost to automation not trade. And the ability to manufacture far more than we used to, at a lower price, thanks to automation and productivity gains, is one of the most tangible examples of why we should embrace a pro-market agenda.

A pro-market agenda is not a pro-business agenda: it's a pro-consumer agenda. After all, despite what the politicians say, the gains from trade do not primarily arise from chiselling out access to distant markets for producers.

The biggest benefit comes from the competition that foreign producers bring to domestic markets. Competition drives innovation and cuts margins: that means more products and lower prices for consumers.

Competition forces firms to become more efficient to thrive. Firms protected from that competition grow fat and lazy, taking their customers for granted because they have nowhere else to go.

Regulation is a different type of limitation on competition, one that is equally damaging and even more insidious. Whatever lofty language is used to justify them, regulations are primarily about government control over businesses and markets.

Sometimes that control is exercised effectively, for a good purpose; such as regulations around manufacturing standards for medicines and medical devices.

But more often, regulation - regardless of how well-intentioned government is - creates as many problems as it solves. Regulations may create barriers to entry and flow through into unaffordable price rises.

The best example here is childcare, where the National Quality Framework has driven rapid growth in prices and out of pocket costs, despite increasing government subsidies.

Overzealous regulators can also create perverse outcomes, like ASIC's enforcement of responsible lending laws.

And sometimes regulation exists solely for the purpose of protecting vested interests, to the detriment of consumers - such as restrictions on the placement and ownership of pharmacies.

The number and scope of regulations imposed by government has exploded in the last decade or so. It would be convenient to point to the global financial crisis and its supposed failure of capitalism as the genesis of this trend, but in reality a desire to tamper with market forces to control economic outcomes far predates this downturn.

The left of politics in particular has embraced the regulatory state, both because of a discomfort with markets and because the declining power of unions has weakened their ability to push their social and political agenda on business and society through industrial muscle.

The distrust of market forces and the supposed unfairness of the outcomes from free markets are common to both right-wing protectionists and left-wing regulationists. The COVID-19 pandemic has enabled and encouraged the expansion of these attitudes.

Yet, as the Productivity Commission and the governor of the Reserve Bank have both made clear in recent days, freeing up market forces is the key not only to emerging from the COVID-19 recession but to sustained income growth thereafter.

If the green shoots of recovery are indeed more robust than they seemed a few months ago, it will be because Australia's efforts at deregulation and opening of markets in the 1990s and 2000s made our economy one of the most resilient in the world, in spite of the hostility to those ideas that has been growing since then.

It will not be easy to reignite this agenda. A lot of the low-hanging fruit has been picked, and what's left will require taking on entrenched vested interests (particularly in the public sector, where the productivity gains promise to be the greatest).

But if we want broad-based wage growth, then it's time to go to work.

Cheap, abundant gas cooks the green guilt industry

The conviction that global warming requires us to find new ways to burn other people’s money is hard-baked into the narrative of environmentalism.

Last week, the Grattan Institute took to cooktop shaming to make that case for switching to electricity. If you’re cooking with gas, we were told, you’re playing with fire.

Banning the installation of gas in new homes is “a prudent, no-regrets option” as a prelude to phasing out gas altogether.

“It may be painful for some in the short term,” Australia’s richest think-tank concedes, “but neither wishful thinking nor denial will serve us well.”

Installing electric cooking and water heating appliances adds $2500 to the price of a new house, and retro-fitting an existing house will cost $3800 more. What about the poor people? No problem. Electricity companies can pay for new electric appliances and recover the cost over time through additional electricity charges, says Grattan.

Electricity may one day be cleaner than gas, but to force a switch now would only increase emissions. Cooking with electricity is effectively cooking with coal for 60 per cent of the time and gas for another 20 per cent.

The incessant demand to commit to a target of net-zero emissions by 2050, if not sooner, ignores the fact that we don’t yet have the technology to get there. Pragmatism is an inadequate response to the apocalypse they insist is heading our way. It is tempting for a Liberal government to avoid the argument by making the pledge anyway. After all, Scott Morrison’s government will be in its 12th term before it has to deliver.

Yet a commitment to net-zero emissions in 2050 demands that we accelerate emissions reductions now, leading to the dangerous, knee-jerk responses of the kind advocated by Grattan.

Gas is a fossil fuel, ipso facto, it must be purged from our energy supply, or so the thinking goes. Hence Grattan’s expectation that gas will inevitably play a declining role in our energy mix, and we must start turning down the flame right now, whatever the cost.

The path to net-zero emissions will be revealed in the fullness of time and may or may not mean turning off the gas. It is bound to include offsets, such as the sequestration of carbon dioxide into soil where it can be put into productive use, producing better food, more productive farms, greater drought resilience and biodiversity.

The notion that the energy sector alone can achieve net-zero emissions is an assumption it has become heresy to deny. For some, the cost of over-ambitious emissions reduction targets is proof of their virtue.

Economic pain and environmental gain have become inextricably linked in the climate change narrative. Last year the same think-tank warned: “Australia will need to make faster, more expensive changes to get back on track.”

Yet the assumption that efficient technology costs more than the technology it replaces runs counter to our experience. A Honda Civic today costs roughly the same as new model did in 1973 but delivers twice as much power and lower emissions, thanks to investments in research and development in a highly competitive market.

For the past 50 years, however, the environmental debate has become shrouded in apocalyptic thinking and overlaid by puritanical guilt, led by people who doubt the power of free-range human ingenuity to deliver a better future. In the dull, zero-sum world of sustainability, anything that adds to the joy of human existence imposes a cost on the rest of nature.

Rational thinkers on the centre-right have abandoned the space, leaving the ironically named progressives in charge. The oil crisis that gave birth to the hatchback reinforced the conviction that excessive consumption was draining the world of energy and that economic growth should be curtailed.

Innovation in both car manufacture and oil exploration has since allayed the fears that peak-oil was just around the corner, but the anxiety lingers.

Grattan’s speculative assessment that the price of gas will make it too expensive to bring down the price of electricity or the cost of industrial production underpins its claim that it is yesterday’s fuel.

Yet the spot price of gas has fallen considerably in the east coast market since its peak early last year. Lower-priced offers from gas-powered generators in turn helped bring down wholesale electricity prices, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator.

The removal of moratoriums to unlock supply in NSW and Victoria, together with the expected arrival of re-gasification terminals in one or more east coast locations, will further bring down prices, together with government moves to introduce more market transparency and new investment in gas pipelines.

The prospect of cheap and abundant gas should calm the nerves of those concerned about greenhouse gas emissions. The renewable energy sources in which we have invested so heavily will at last be able to pull their weight supported by quick-fire gas, which Chief Scientist Alan Finkel describes as “the perfect complement to wind and solar”.

The impossible trifecta of energy that is cheaper, more reliable and greener at last seems possible, a win-win for people and the planet.

This what a rational environmental policy might look like if a rational approach was ever articulated. It is advancement through incremental improvement rather than by abolishing capitalism and starting again.

A Liberal approach to the environment sees no conflict between economic wellbeing and the environment. Indeed, it recognises that a strong economy is a precondition for environmental improvement and that attempting to reduce energy consumption by constraining supply is a race to the bottom.

Crucially, it avoids the conceit of perfect knowledge in a policy realm that is exceptionally complex. It does not attempt to pick winners or over-promise. It prefers, in the words of FA Hayek, “true but imperfect knowledge, even if it leaves much undetermined and unpredictable, to a pretence of exact knowledge that is likely to be false”.

China’s ‘major’ Australian miscalculation

Xi Jinping is carrying out an aggressive plan to force Australia to obey China – but there’s something “major” he wasn’t banking on.

Chairman Xi Jinping is urging his nation onwards and upwards on a new Silk Road towards international dominance. But he’s hit an unexpected roadblock: Australia. Now he’s getting angry.

And his “wolf-warrior” diplomats are leaping into the fray. “China is angry. If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy,” a Chinese diplomat “leaked” to Nine Newspapers on Tuesday.

And it’s all Australia’s fault. “Responsibility for causing this situation has nothing to do with China,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in a conveniently timed address to state-controlled media in Beijing later that same day.

“The Australian side should reflect on this seriously, rather than shirking the blame and deflecting responsibility,” Zhao warned. He failed to reflect on Beijing’s role in the escalating standoff.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, however, did. “Australia will always be ourselves,” he said. “We will always set our own laws and our own rules according to our national interests – not at the behest of any other nation, whether that’s the US or China or anyone else,” he said.

It’s exactly what the wolf warriors didn’t want to hear.

Chairman’ Xi’s ambitions seem likely to continue to be frustrated by Australia. But a frustrated Xi poses a “special kind of danger”, international relations analysts warn.

Beijing insists it has never interfered with other countries’ affairs. Nor is it interested in doing so, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said last week.

On Tuesday, Beijing proceeded to do precisely that. It issued a dossier of 14 grievances against Australia. Addressing these “would be conducive to a better atmosphere”, an embassy official said.

Changing these behaviours to ones more sensitive to Xi Jinping Thought would result in restored economic ties. But there’s a problem. Australia has a history.

It’s a unique history that has produced an eclectic national culture of political incorrectness. Not to mention irreverence, independence and an inherent suspicion of authority. None of these suit an autocratic mindset.

They tend to sit uneasily enough as it is with just about every Australian elected government. Until they’re back in opposition.

The crackdown against Australia’s recalcitrance is just one element of Chairman Xi’s rush to cement power. At home, he’s moving hard against any possible perceived threat to the Communist Party he dominates.

He’s even adopted a new title – “helmsman” – once reserved only for the great founding father Chairman Mao Zedong.

“Xi Jinping certainly seems to be cracking the whip with a purpose and a force that, if not new, is certainly designed to impress upon the party, entrepreneurs, citizens and the rest of the world his authority and determination,” Oxford University China Centre research associate George Magnus told US media.

Helmsman Xi unveiled his revised five-year plan to a Communist Party assembly last month.

He urged his commissars to redouble their efforts towards turning his promises into reality. He wants China’s economy to double by 2035. He wants greater state control of Chinese businesses. He wants Hong Kong and Taiwan to submit to his will.

Meanwhile, Xi’s been busy securing his position. He’s made himself national police chief. As chair of China’s Central Military Commission, Xi has ordered an extraordinary series of overlapping military exercises – the latest testing civilian industry’s ability to adapt to military demands urgently. Xi blames an “intensifying situation and increasing risk of military conflicts” as the need for such war preparations.

His Premier, Li Keqiang, is calling on Southeast Asian nations to quickly agree with Beijing’s “Code of Conduct for the South China Sea”. Their compliance would demonstrate “wisdom and capability to take good control of the South China Sea and maintain the peace and stability of the South China Sea”.

On top of all this, Xi wants to reshape the international order in his own image. Which is where Australia’s getting in the way.

“Xi Jinping’s China is an infirm colossus that will be frustrated by unmet ambitions. A strong but frustrated country poses a special kind of danger. This is the China Nightmare,” writes American Enterprise Institute Director of Asian Studies Daniel Blumenthal.

“Although China was ruled by a dictatorship before Xi’s ascent, he has made a radical bid to obtain almost total authority over his country’s affairs. In doing so, he has paralysed the normal functioning of the state’s bureaucracy.”

But Beijing’s belligerence is backfiring. Instead of compelling international compliance, it’s forcing South East Asia closer together for mutual protection.

“The ‘Beijing model’ was supposed to be an efficient alternative to democracy, which was supposedly more sclerotic and incompetent. Instead, the Beijing model has now inflicted untold misery on its own people and the rest of the world,” Blumenthal writes.

Canberra and Tokyo this week signed a new defence deal making it easier from troops of both nations to work with each other. Though hurdles, such as making Australians subject to Japan’s death penalty, are yet to be resolved.

The need for such a “special strategic partnership” is pressing.

Japanese Premier Yoshihide Suga joined Prime Minister Morrison in expressing “serious concerns” about “militarisation” across South East Asia. They stated the alliance’s “strong opposition to any coercive or unilateral attempts to change the status quo and thereby increase tensions in the region”.

Beijing doesn’t accept such tensions exist. Its territorial claims are uncontested, it insists. And the opinions of neighbouring nations and international courts of arbitration are irrelevant.

“(The) Chinese side is strongly dissatisfied and firmly opposed to their press statement in which they accused China on the South China Sea and East China Sea issue”, Zhao said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao told a Beijing briefing on Tuesday that “some” Australians harbour ideological prejudice, regard China’s development as a threat.

He went on to say Australia’s actions had “seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” – despite a Communist Party approved editorial having declared “Australia immature to be scared of Chinese scholars’ candid opinions”.

Australia, however, has its own feelings. And Prime Minister Morrison is unapologetic.

“Having a free media, having parliamentarians elected and able to speak their minds is a cause for concern, as well as speaking up on human rights in concert with other countries like Canada, New Zealand, the UK and others in international forums … if this is the cause for tension in that relationship, then it would seem that the tension is that Australia is just being Australia,” he said.

“Under Xi, the Chinese government’s goal is … a new network of strategic partnerships with China at the centre, and to propagate a “China model” of economic and political governance. It wants to create a new world order based on what it calls a “community of common destiny” that reshapes global institutions to be more compatible with the CCP’s own authoritarian governance,” Blumenthal writes.

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull summed up the situation last week: “These sorts of actions, whether it’s trade action like that or furious editorials in the Global Times or People’s Daily, are all instrumental, they’re designed to achieve a certain response, which in our case is compliance.”

Electric car tax spreads to new states

Controversial new taxes on electric cars are likely to be implemented by Victoria and NSW as well as South Australia.

Pitched as a way of making up for lost fuel excise revenue, special levies on electric vehicles are seen by supporters as a fair way of paying for road infrastructure, while opponents say extra costs will stifle growth of zero emissions vehicles.

Owners of conventionally powered vehicles pay for road infrastructure through fuel taxes of about 40 cents per litre, a cost owners of electric vehicles do not bear.

South Australia became the first state to commit to an electric car taxes in November, when treasurer Rob Lucas flagged plans to implement new levies for the 2021-22 financial year, in the form of extra registration fees, and mileage-based charges.

“Electric vehicles do not attract fuel excise and therefore make a lower contribution to the cost of maintaining our road networks,” Mr Lucas said at the time.

Victorian treasurer Tim Pallas revealed plans to introduce state levies on electric cars on Saturday.

Mr Pallas told the ABC “we need to recognise we have to put in place appropriate arrangements as we move to more electric vehicles and low-emissions vehicles on the network”.

Victoria will charge owners of electric or hydrogen powered vehicles 2.5 cents per kilometre for road use, while plug-in hybrid vehicles will pay 2.0 cents per kilometre.

It means electric vehicle owners who travel 15,000 kilometres per year will have $375 added to their registration bill.

By comparison, a Volkswagen Golf 110TSI owner who completes 15,000 kilometres of driving while matching the car’s official petrol consumption figure of 5.4L/100km would pay $342.63 in fuel excise currently taxed at $0.423 per litre.

The NSW Government also looks likely to implement EV-based taxes in the future.

A NSW Treasury review of federal financial relations published in June 2020 said “electric vehicles still use the roads and must share the costs of doing so”.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet told The Australian last week EV taxes are “something that I’d obviously want to take to cabinet within the next 12 months”.

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia chief executive Adrian Dwyer released a report in November 2019 saying taxes on electric cars would be “a home run reform” and must be introduced quickly.

“Once there is an electric car in every street, the opportunity will be lost,” he said.

The Australian Automobile Association, parent body to motoring clubs such as the NRMA and RACV, says there is widespread community support for electric vehicles taxes.

A survey of more than 4000 of its members agreed that “owners of electric vehicles should contribute towards the costs of the nation’s roads in some way”.

AAA managing director Michael Bradley said the Federal Government should step in to make sure EV taxes are nationally consistent and do not stymie green car sales.

Electric cars represent far less than 1 per cent of Australian new car sales.

Tony Weber, chief executive for the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, said the Victorian Government’s decision to tax battery-powered cars could “kill the technology at its infancy”.