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. Continue reading “Why Labor voters in Melbourne need to vote Liberal”

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. Continue reading “Why has the left turned on Rudd more than the right did on Howard?”

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? Continue reading “Some implications of a large temporary population”

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. Continue reading “Will Clive Hamilton reflect on ‘alarmist’ failures?”

How ‘brain-sex’ with Robert Doyle led to the Quadrant hoax

Yesterday I went along to a Melbourne Writers Festival session on Australian hoaxes, from Ern Malley to Quadrant (one of the panel was my friend Simon Caterson, whose book on hoaxes is out later this year).

Session chair and Meanjin editor Sophie Cunningham began by quoting from an article she had published by Quadrant hoaxer Katherine Wilson, an article I had missed (perhaps because I miss everything that is published in Meanjin).

Wilson briefly rejects a point I made at the time, that this wasn’t a good hoax because it didn’t attack a position associated with Quadrant. In her article as ‘Sharon Gould’, Wilson used her own obsession with GM foods, rather than Quadrant‘s obsession with climate change scepticism.

But another point I made is supported by Wilson’s Meanjin piece. I said that

she wants to discredit Quadrant and Windschuttle in particular not by directly taking issue with what they publish, but by making them look foolish by publishing an article she had booby-trapped with errors and false statements

The real surprise in Wilson’s article is the bizarre source for her political strategy – the English classes of former schoolteacher and Victorian Opposition leader and current Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.
Continue reading “How ‘brain-sex’ with Robert Doyle led to the Quadrant hoax”

Do classical liberals and social democrats study different things?

The political identity survey included a question that asked graduates and uni students about their major field of study. The idea was to see whether there were significant ideology-related differences in their academic backgrounds.

There were quite a variety of responses, but I have tried to classify them into the following categories: arts, business, economics, law, science and engineering, and what I called ‘social’ degrees, which included education, the health professions, and social work. People who put two major fields of study were sometimes counted twice, if they fitted more than one of my categories. The results for classical liberals (205 respondents) and social democrats (308 respondents) are below.

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Continue reading “Do classical liberals and social democrats study different things?”

Conflicting Ernie awards?

Last night’s post on the economics of higher education included this (deliberately provocative) comment:

The efficient level of investment for a bright, hardworking young man (men being more likely to work full-time throughout their careers) is likely to be massively higher than for a middle-aged women of average intelligence filling in time after the kids have left home…

Kim at LP and most though not all the following commenters rise to the bait, demonstrating not my sexism but how their normative assumptions (men and women should be treated equally, with which I agree) over-ride their analytical abilities.

I was not passing any judgment on the relative ability of men and women. Indeed, women now significantly out-perform men at school. Nor was I commenting on appropriate gender roles. Men and women can make up their own minds on work and family activities and the split between them.

Rather, I was writing about a paper on the economic benefits of higher education, which for a given graduate are the hourly additional value they produce in the workplace compared to if they had not attended university multiplied by the number of hours they spend at work.

This issue cannot be anlaysed via my actual or supposed gender attitudes. For all the changes in social attitudes over the last 30 years, men are still significantly more likely to work full-time than women. This is true of graduates as well as non-graduates (there’s a graph from 2003 on p.9 of my FEE-HELP paper).
Continue reading “Conflicting Ernie awards?”

Why do squatters get to stay so long in university property?

Melbourne readers will probably have heard of a long-running occupation by squatters of Melbourne University-owned terrace houses in Carlton (disclosure: some of my colleagues have been involved in this issue, but I have not). The squatters call themselves the Student Housing Action Collective, and have rested their case for staying partly on the ‘homelessness’ caused by a very tight inner Melbourne rental market.

What’s interesting about this case, I think, are the assumptions it reveals about the relationship between universities and their students. Legally, this looks like a straightforward trespass case. Many of us would like to live in a Faraday St terrace house, but none of us have the right to do so without the landlord’s permission, and we would quickly be thrown out if we tried to move in. But in this case, the squatting has dragged on for many months.

Every party to this dispute has been acting as if the normal rules do not apply. The squatter-activists (the squativists?) correctly judged that the University would not just throw them out. The University has been negotiating with the squatters despite its strong legal case against them. The media has been reporting the story as if the squatters have a case for staying.

In an Age op-ed this morning, housing lawyer Chris Povey put his finger on the underlying assumption:

Continue reading “Why do squatters get to stay so long in university property?”