Archive for June, 2010

‘Working families’ not so stressed after all

A report this morning that some people with ‘mortgage stress’ are living on rice reminded me of those days back in 2007 when Kevin 07 was constantly going on about that and the general financial pressures on ‘working families’.

While of course through bad luck and imprudence there are always some households doing it tough, some of us were always sceptical about Labor claims on financial stress (eg here and here) .

The latest HILDA statistical report on trends in financial stress over 2001-2007 confirms that these 2007 Labor claims were gross exaggerations, and that the overall trend was clearly towards less financial stress.


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The most ridiculous op-ed you will read this week

Society must, at some stage, accept that not only is there a widespread demand for pornography, but that it also has the potential, in the process of adhering to certain values, to aid healthy adolescent sexual development. It may seem ludicrous to envision government-funded pornography, but there is no reason why such an enlightened initiative would not be theoretically feasible. …

Such an alternative could take many forms. A government-funded website or periodical aimed at adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18, for example, containing erotic and/or informative sexual content (written as well as visual); a high standard of journalism that is simultaneously accessible to the demographics in question; a feminist, but not misandrist, bent; a diverse, open-minded and celebratory view of sex; at least a small quota of queer material; healthy and realistic depictions of the human form, both male and female; opportunities for reader feedback; and rigorous production and employment standards that guard against exploitation.

- Monash University journalism student David Heslin, published this morning in The Age. He makes a sensible point that boys looking at pornography is no inherent cause for concern, but draws the ridiculous conclusion that government should pay for the kind of porn he prefers. There is no ‘market failure’ in the porn industry. And if people really want the nasty, non-NVE stuff a free alternative will not stop them.

Family finances under the ‘new familism’

The IPA Review has published an article by me on what I call the ‘new familism’. The article tracks how since the 1970s the left and right have each developed their own ideologies of the family. Despite significant differences of intellectual justification and policy detail, left and right converge on significantly increased state support for people with children.

The table below from the latest HILDA statistical report highlight just how much those with dependent children improved their financial position in the 2000s.


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Crean on VCs

New education minister Simon Crean is a man with experience in the job, having been the minister from 1993 to the Howard government’s election in 1996.

According to an article Lauchlan Chipman wrote for Quadrant in 2000, this left Crean with a certain impression of the Vice-Chancellors:

Of course I cannot verify the truth of this claim. But if true it suggests that VCs will face a sceptical minister.

Gillard and women

Contrary to previous gender politics theories, there was no clear evidence that Tony Abbott coming to the Liberal leadership disproportionately affected the way women saw their political choices.

But if women were not put off by Tony Abbott, will they be particularly attracted to Julia Gillard? Some of the media vox pops of the last couple of days suggest that they might.

The Nielsen poll demographic figures provided at Pollytics blog (here and here) let us start seeing if this will be the case. Like Scott Steel at Pollytics I think we should take these initial polls with some caution, given the general excitement of the last few days. The swooning media will soon return to the gotcha game of trying to catch politicians out. But these polls are the best we have to date.

On preferred PM, there has been a general shift to the Labor leader since Nielsen’s 3-5 June poll (though this was probably a rogue poll in understating Labor support). However women have moved more than men to the Labor leader, up 9% compared to 4% for men. Read the rest of this entry »

Spare a thought for authors with bad timing

As an editor of a quarterly magazine, where most articles are commissioned months in advance, articles on current events make me nervous. What happens if the basic facts behind an article change before it goes to print?

The editors at Melbourne University Press must have thought that they were safe in commissioning Patrick Weller’s Kevin Rudd: The Making of a Prime Minister, due out in August.

But now at best they need a new closing chapter, and a move in the bookshops from ‘current affairs’ to ‘history’.

Labor’s panicky caucus

The Labor Party’s capacity to talk itself into a crisis is quite amazing. Here they are, tracking reasonably well in the polls, and what do they decide to do? Yes, have a leadership spill.

I actually wrote that on 1 December 2006, the day Rudd challenged Beazley. But I could have written it last night. Labor’s caucus is still traumatised by their long period of opposition and panics when the polls look too close – though as Pollytics blog has pointed out more than once recently Labor is still in front in most surveys of voting intention.

That said, the initial political judgment of the caucus on Rudd was much better than mine. I didn’t think the public would like Rudd, but in fact he had very high ratings for a long period of time. I found it baffling. I can understand why he fell from favour much more easily than how he won so much favour in the first place. High expectations are easily disappointed.

By contrast, I can see why people like Gillard. A sense of humour is a big plus. She’s always calm. She deals with other people well. Though she must have a big ego to do what she does, she keeps it under check. I like her myself at a personal level – though from my political perspective her ministerial record isn’t great. Given my record in predicting how voters will respond to Labor leaders, I will be more cautious this time. But I think aside from her personal qualities Gillard starts with expectations about her government brought down to realistically low levels.

One reason expectations should be low are the caucus attitudes and behaviour that led to today’s leadership spill. A Prime Minister who doesn’t believe her party will back her through hard decisions will not be inclined to make them.

‘Left’ and ‘right’ not so useless after all

Commenter Senexx today joined others who don’t think much of the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’. Way back in 1993 I wrote an article for the IPA Review arguing something similar.

But re-reading that article after all this time makes me think that if anything ‘left’ and ‘right’ have gained in utility since the early 1990s. The test of labels like ‘left’ and ‘right’ is not whether they can fully describe someone’s political position. Rather, it is whether the label will reasonably reliably locate someone in significant political contests of the day.

In 2007 I used results from the 2004 Australian Election Survey to suggest that this was the case with the questions I examined – especially on party preference, perhaps the most important indicator because of the way it bundles reactions to many different issues.

In my 1993 article I suggested that Labor support for market reform was complicating the old left-right divide. Now there is little support for further market reform in Labor or anywhere else on the left, and near universal left support for a serious reform rollback on industrial relations. Read the rest of this entry »

Written and authorised by the government?

In this week’s episode of The Gruen Transfer they discussed this mining industry ad against the government’s proposed mining tax. Host Wil Anderson asked the panel about the ‘Authorised by M. Hooke, MCA, Canberra’ message at the end.

Rather surprisingly regular panel member Todd Sampson thought that this was a clever move to make it look like a government ad. Fellow panel member Carolyn Miller also thought that this was a sign of government advertising. In reality, as the other regular panel member Russel Howcroft pointed out, the written and authorised message is a legal requirement applying to electoral matter.

It seems that the government itself is such a dominant political advertiser that a provision aimed at revealing who is behind political campaigns is taken by people in the advertising industry itself to be a government endorsement. There is so little other political advertising that they don’t notice that all of it tells you who is behind it.

I’ve long suspected that the written and authorised message is useless. Now I think it may be positively misleading.

Why has the left turned on Rudd more than the right did on Howard?

Tim Dunlop kindly exempts me from his argument that the right’s commentators generally gave the Howard government a soft time, while the left’s commentators have turned on Rudd.

Some theories:

* Right-wingers typically have low expectations of what politics can achieve, and so were not so disappointed with the Howard government. Left-wingers have high expectations – higher than is realistic – so are inevitably disappointed. There was a huge expectations and popularity bubble around Rudd that in my view was always absurdly out of line with the fundamentals. It had to burst and it has.

* Labor governments try to do more than Liberal governments, and given the inherent limitations of state action are therefore more likely to stuff things up. The national broadband network looks like the next big Rudd fiasco, if he survives the 2010 election. Blunders put both left and right commentators on the attack.

* The views of right-wing commentators were closer to those of Howard than the views of the broad left were to Rudd. Most wouldn’t regard the examples Dunlop gives of failed Howard policies – Iraq, WorkChoices – as failed policies. Read the rest of this entry »