Archive for the 'Activism & activists' Category

Are student unions anachronisms?

The bill to re-introduce compulsory amenities fees isn’t pleasing even National Union of Students President Carla Drakeford.

In an Age op-ed she complains that

there would be no legislative measure that forces universities to direct funds from the complusory $250 fee to independent student organisations … student associations need autonomy to represent the views of their students.

My view is that the role of student unions is at minimum much diminished compared to the past. When student unions started their universities had within-state monopolies and few formal means of tracking student views. Student unions were a counter-balance to university staff and administrations that had weak mechanisms for feedback and no real incentive to act on it.

Things are very different now. Students are asked their views on the university’s peformance so often that ‘survey fatigue’ is a major issue. Every university depends for its survival on the fees of highly mobile international students. Though I had my doubts about whether the demand-driven system for Australian students would work, the mad rush to enrol more students suggests that universities will compete strongly in this market too. Read the rest of this entry »

Be careful what you wish for #2

Back in August Kristy Fraser-Kirk courted publicity for her claim against David Jones and its former CEO Mark McInnes, filing an outlandish and attention-seeking $37 million lawsuit and calling a press conference to publicise her grievances.

But now she is complaining about all the media attention, claiming through her lawyers that ‘it has induced a psychiatric illness’, and that she now regularly ‘checks under her car’. For what we are not told.

This appears to be in support of yet another preposterous claim, that women who claim to have been previously harassed by McInnes should not have to be named so that their allegations can be investigated. From the judge’s comments last week, this part of the action looks like it will be struck out, as justice requires.

Wilson Tuckey’s unexpected influence on my political life

As an inner-city, latte-sipping classical liberal you would not expect Wilson ‘Ironbar’ Tuckey, who lost his seat on Saturday, to have influenced my political life. But the somewhat embarrassing truth is that he did.

Way back in 1986, the Monash University Liberal Club, of which I was a member, rather provocatively invited Wilson Tuckey to speak on campus. The campus left were not big on freedom of speech, and decided not to let Tuckey speak. Having spent the earlier part of his career as the publican in a rough pub (the ‘Ironbar’ nickname came from some rather excessive means of ejecting unwanted customers), Tuckey was not easily intimidated. Though he could not give his talk, he refused to back down and spent his allotted time trading insults with the assorted lefties who had turned up to silence him.

When it came near to the scheduled end of the meeting, I was sent out to make sure that Tuckey’s Commonwealth car had arrived to get him off campus. Unfortunately it had not. I dashed to the car park to get my car as a back-up, knowing that the protest could be following him as he made his way to the designated pick-up point. I arrived at the pick-up point just before Tuckey did, surrounded as I feared by menacing Trots. Read the rest of this entry »

The hypocrisy of GetUp!

When it comes to political parties, activist group GetUp! favours strictly regulating donations. Its principles include:

* Only individuals should be allowed to donate to political parties.
* Increase transparency requirements.
* Cap individual donations at a reasonable limit [they suggest $1,000 a year]

But when it comes to donations to GetUp! things seem to be rather different, as the SMH reported yesterday:

The union movement has emerged as a key financial backer of the advocacy group GetUp!, with six unions pouring more than a million dollars into its election purse in the past three weeks alone.

GetUp! has splashed nearly $1.5 million on TV advertising since the campaign began, meaning the unions have effectively supplied two-thirds of its advertising budget.

The organisation’s director, Simon Sheikh, refused to name the six unions yesterday, saying they wanted their identities kept secret until after donor returns are filed with the Australian Electoral Commission.

So this arrangement breaches all of GetUp!’s three principles: Read the rest of this entry »

Spare a thought for the hacks

Terry Barnes empathises with the electorate and ministerial staff who could be out of a job by Sunday morning.

While I don’t think the punters should worry about them too much, I know what he is talking about. When I was a ministerial adviser during the 1998 election I could hardly bear to watch the election night coverage. It felt like I was being slowly sacked on live TV.

In the end the Coalition scraped back with a minority of the votes but a majority of the seats. And so then began the wait to see if my minister would get to keep the portfolio.

As Barnes says, political staffers know the risks. Most political careers end in failure – mine certainly did. While I survived the 1998 election the reform I had hoped to be involved with died in the controversy surrounding the leak of its Cabinet submission.

Why Labor voters in Melbourne need to vote Liberal

In the 2002 French presidential election it came down to a run-off contest between the conservative Jacques Chirac and the nationalist firebrand Jean-Marie Le Pen, after the left candidate Lionel Jospin was eliminated. Showing they had not lost their sense of humour, French leftists set up a shower outside a polling booth, to wash themselves after voting for Chirac to keep the lunatic Le Pen out of the Élysée Palace.

Labor voters in the seat of Melbourne may need to do something similar this Saturday. In what may be a first for Australian major party politics (or at least very rare), the only way Labor can guarantee itself victory in this seat is to boost the Liberal vote.

Their problem is that if the Liberals are eliminated before the Greens their preferences will run heavily against Labor. The figures on Antony Green’s website suggest that about 85% of Liberal preferences went to the Greens in 2007.

Yet if the Greens are elmininated first, Labor is headed for the kind of crushing victory over the Liberals it achieved before 2007, because Green preferences overwhelmingly flow to Labor. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Some implications of a large temporary population

Because the number of people with Australian residence rights crept up with little public awareness or debate, our thinking about what this means for them and for the permanent population is not well developed. Some observations:

1. The distinction between temporary and permament residence is important in eligibility for a wide range of welfare rights. It is part of the dispute about whether international students should receive public transport concessions. I have argued in the past that as temporary residents international students should not be entitled to this taxpayer subsidy – that choosing to study here gives them no claim on public funds.

Commenter caf has suggested that the fact that many international students go on to acquire permanent residence rights complicates this argument. Another complicating factor is the claim that given that temporary residents pay taxes, why should they not all also receive government services? While international students aren’t likely to be paying much tax if they are observing the work conditions of their visas, section 457 visa holders will often be paying significant amounts of tax.

2. Does a large population with residential rights but not voting rights have broader political implications? Read the rest of this entry »

Political paranoia, Hong Kong style


Hong Kong, 18 March 2010

Why is that political nutters around the world love underlining?

Will Clive Hamilton reflect on ‘alarmist’ failures?

Clive Hamilton’s series of articles on the climate change debate at The Drum is not yet complete, but what’s missing so far is any self-reflection. Things have gone wrong for the alarmist camp, but the fault according to Clive seems to lie entirely with other people.

For instance I agree with Hamilton that behaviour in this debate has been poor – but poor on both sides, not just the sceptic side. I complained years ago about the ‘McCarthyist’ tactics of the alarmists, and their outrage at any dissent from the official line.

Not only has this approach helped provoke attacks in response and alienated people not strongly committed to either side, but it probably contributed to the broader political shortcomings of the alarmists. As I showed in a recent Policy article, in public opinion the alarmists have had the upper hand for 20 years. Their political imperative wasn’t to stamp out the last remnants of dissent on the science, but to convert belief in the science into support for practical measures to reduce carbon emissions. There was an opportunity cost to chasing down every sceptic offering a view.

The other tactical problem with the alarmists was their focus on scaring people rather than trying to sell a more positive message. Read the rest of this entry »