Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - NSW elections and the vagaries of optional preferential voting

For the election tragics among us, NSW goes to the polls on 28 March. The ABC has its usual election site up. If you play with the Legislative Assembly election calculator included in the site, you can see that a very large swing is required to put Labor into Government. Based on the polls, a Labor victory would seem impossible.Still, as this useful post from Kevin Bonham suggests, who knows after Queensland?

The Queensland polls actually got the primary votes about right. However, the models used to allocate preferences in an optional preferential system got it all wrong. Even such an astute observer ABC election analyst Antony Green was taken by surprise, something he seemed to enjoy greatly. It can get very boring when results are, more.or less, just as you predicted!

Like Queensland, NSW has an optional preferential system. In a full preferential system, you have to rank candidates by preference. If no candidate gets a majority of votes, then the lowest vote candidate is excluded and their second preferences distributed to other candidates. This process continues until one candidate gets a majority,

An optional preference system works in the same way, except that voters do not have to allocate preferences. They can vote just 1, but may add preferences if they want. This has introduced a wonderfully random element into the political process.

As an aside, I do miss the compulsory preference system. I grew up in a Country Party world. The old Country Party would sometimes run several candidates in the one seat. The official Party view was that this left the final choice to the electors. This view was deeply held.

As politics became more professional, the Party machine tried to stop the process, but it was strongly defended by the older Parliamentarians such as David Drummond or Mick Bruxner.  Optional preferences finally killed to concept, while also making two cornered contests (Liberal vs Country or National) much more difficult.

Whatever the arguments, optional preference voting has acted to reduce the choices available to someone like me. I have more candidates to choose from, but fewer candidates falling within my conventional political preferences. It makes my vote much more variable. .

Returning to my main theme, the Liberal National Government should win in NSW, if with a significantly reduced majority. However, no one can say with certainty what proportion of people will vote just one, nor how the preferences will flow for those who do preference. The uncertainty does add a certain spice to the election.            

Friday, February 27, 2015

2tanners Burmese chicken curry

2tanners wrote in a comment:
Take 0.5 kilo of chicken thigh fillet. Finely slice a large onion, 3 cloves of garlic and gently fry until golden brown. Add a heaped teaspoon of turmeric powder (or the actual root, shredded, if you can get it) and two aromatic chilis. For those with sensitive tastes or stomachs, also add coconut cream until the heat is tolerable. Coarsely dice the thigh fillet and slowly braise for about 40 minutes. During this time, cook rice (google 'absorption method'). 5 minutes from the end, add some green veggies. Let stand for 5 minutes after cooking. Serve rice and Burmese chicken curry. 
Congratulations. Delicious meal, heaps of praise and you haven't thought about Federal politics for an hour.
Yum and I like the bit about Federal politics too!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A small rich country - revisiting threads in Australia's future

Back in March 2009, Saturday Morning Musings - threads in Australia's future attempted to draw together some of the threads of my thinking. In this post, I want to return to one  thread.

"In economic and population terms", I then wrote, "Australia is a small rich country perched on the edge of the Asian land mass.

In population terms, we presently rank around 53 in the world. In economic terms, 14 or 15th. In military terms, the combination of our wealth with access to technology makes us something of a regional super power.

On current ABS projections, the Australian population in 2051 is projected to increase to between 30 and 40 million people. While this is a large increase in absolute terms, we still drop sharply in global population rankings.

We will also drop sharply in economic ranking.The process here will be a little slower in terms of country rankings because of the big gap between Australian GDP and that holding in countries behind us.

Of more importance, the gap between our GDP and the countries in front of us is likely to widen very sharply. We may retain our nominal place in the G20, but our share of world GDP is likely to fall from the current level of around 1.4% to below 1%.

In military terms, we are going to struggle to maintain a military edge as other countries catch up in technological terms."

Nothing has changed since I wrote this, although the subsequent mining boom has somewhat concealed the economic and demographic trends, at least in our own minds. The country's relative decline in population and GDP rankings is underway, while our ability to maintain a military edge is certainly under a degree of threat.    . .
In 2009, I suggested that this basic pattern had driven Australian trade, foreign and defence policy. I also thought that successive Australian Governments have been quite clever in these areas and especially in trade policy.

At one level, we had worked for freer global trade, while also establishing a growing network of free trade agreements that reflects the dynamics of future world economic power. The Australian Government's greater emphasis on Africa - previously the ignored continent - was the latest building block. From this point, I thought that our life was likely to get a lot more complicated. How we handled those complications would be very important to our future as a nation.

Life has indeed got a lot more complicated! From my perspective, I did not expect the effects of the global financial crisis to linger in the way they have. I completely failed to foresee the Arab Spring with its subsequent domino effects, including the rise of ISIS. I did not expect that terrorism would, once again, become such a dominant theme,

In March 2009, I chose to write about four issues.

The first was the likely Pacification of Australia.

Australia used to think of itself as a Pacific Country, but then we started to ignore the Pacific as our focus shifted to Asia. This was a mistake, one that the Howard Government had to struggle to correct.

Absolute population numbers in the Pacific are not high in absolute terms. However, they are high relative to the populations of Australia and especially New Zealand. They are also growing quite fast. By 2050, there is likely to be one Papuan for every three of the then Australian population.

Australia, I suggested, had a powerful vested interest in the resolution of Pacific problems. If we failed, we were going to face powerful pressures on our borders. Even with success, we were still going to see a rapid rise in the absolute numbers of Melanesians and Polynesians living in Australia.

I should note that I had no problem with this. Apart from my dislike of the way Australia had forgotten its Pacific heritage, my underlying concern lay in the the way that evolving problems especially in PNG might have wash-on effects in this country. I am actually less concerned about this one than I was, although it remains an issue.  

The second issue was the importance of ASEAN.

ASEAN is critical to us along three dimensions; it sits across key trade routes; it is Australia's northern strategic buffer; and it is a key economic partner. The successful development of and relations with the ASEAN countries and especially Indonesia was arguably, I thought,  the key strategic issue from an Australian perspective.

I give Australia a fail here. We have literally lost sight of ASEAN. We do not have a coherent policy, at least one that I can understand, for dealing with our nearest neighbors as a group.  

The third issue I identified was the need to find a balance in our evolving relations with the US, China, Japan and India. This was seen as perhaps the key strategic issue, although I would still have placed ASEAN first from a longer term perspective. The need for this balance is still a continuing meme in Australian foreign policy.

The last issue was the need to avoid Australian hubris and arrogance.

As I had commented in some of my posts on Mr Rudd, I got very uncomfortable when I saw an Australian leader big-noting this country. Among other things, this played to a continued inward looking prejudice within the Australian community about our superiority and place in the world.

I would, I suggested, feel far more comfortable if our approach were more low key, displaying greater recognition of the need to be subtle and clever if we were to properly manage the challenges we faced as a country.

What can I say? I would mark this area as a double F.For time reasons, I will deal with this in another post.  

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

hash tag #timetogoTony

This was not my intended post tonight. I had a for more interesting topic. But the unfolding attack on  Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs is a step too far.

I accept that this may be seen as partisan, but in all my criticisms of Mr Abbott I have tried to be balanced. Whether Professor Triggs was partisan or unbalanced is neither here nor there. You don't play the man or women in this way. The new hash tag 

Postscript
Seriously, this is just a bridge too far. I find the hash tag already exists, perhaps that's not surprising, but please promote.

Postscript 2
This is some of this morning's media coverage on the Triggs matter: here, here, here, here, here, here and also Michelle Grattan and then on the ABC's the Drum. I have included the last because of the comment stream. I think that the Grattan piece is especially worth reading. It concludes:
Abbott, in a blustering question time performance, professed to know nothing about the Brandis offer. “I do not claim to be across what may or may not have been canvassed between the President of the Human Rights Commission and the Attorney or indeed any other member of this government,” he told the House. 
“All I know is that this government has lost confidence in the President of the Human Rights Commission,” repeating his claim that the inquiry had been a stitch up. 
Is it really credible Abbott wasn’t briefed on the discussions with Triggs? 
The government is trying to force out the head of a statutory body, the issue is being fiercely contested at a committee hearing on the day, and the Prime Minister says he is not across it!
If this is true, he is guilty of arrogance or negligence.
Reflecting on the situation towards the end of the day, Brandis told the committee, “I don’t know where we go from here”. Indeed. The government, one might say, had stitched itself up.
I am not close enough to understand the detail of the Triggs matter. However, I struggle to understand the pattern of behavior of the Government and especially that displayed by the PM. I am tired of it and just wish it would go away!

Postscript 3

In the midst of the debate over Gillian Triggs' role, kvd wondered why there had been so little discussion on the matters revealed by the Liberal Party's Federal Treasurer and particularly this quote:
Mr Higginson wrote that he had raised $70 million since 2011 and recently "laid out my plans to the PM" to travel to the United States to raise "tens of millions" from donors.
kvd wondered why there had "been little outcry over the email from the treasurer of the Libs calmly stating that he was/is seeking financial support from US corporations?"

Returning to Professor Triggs, it appears that Malcolm Turnbull does not quite share the Abbott/Brandis angst.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Monday Forum - terrorism and civil protection, the emerging digital dark age

Today Australian PM Abbott unveils the Government's proposed new security measures. Yesterday , the preliminary report into the Martin Place siege was released. This is the transcript of the joint press conference with NSW Premier Baird, this the joint statement, this is the NSW Government response, here is the report itself.

The PM has made it quite clear that he believes that the balance needs to be tipped between individual freedom and civil safety in favour of civil safety: "we are determined to learn whatever lessons we can and take whatever action is required to address the threat of such an event because the first priority of government is to keep our country safe."

I do wonder just what price we have to pay "to keep our country safe" and indeed just what the existential threat is that justifies the level of rhetoric. None of this makes me feel any safer. I just feel threatened. Am I wrong to feel that the core threat that I face is not terrorism but governments themselves?

Driving home from tennis yesterday, youngest commented on the coming digital dark age, the difficulty posed by the combination of ever increasing digital processing and storage demands with continuous technological obsolescence. The effect is that we store ever more records and information but for ever shorter periods, leading to permanent losses of slabs of critical personal and public material.

You can see all this at personal level in the way emails have replaced letters. Emails are a useful if increasingly overloaded communications device, but a hopeless way of record keeping. That got me wondering. How do you select and store information for future use, or do you just not worry?

Postscript

I took the Review of Australia's Counter Terrorism Machinery out to lunch. That was an error. Quite spoiled my appetite. This is the PM's Statement on National Security. In reading the Review, focus not on all the recommended actions but on the threat analysis and the measures already taken, including the way that increased activity indicators are in fact directly connected with previous  actions. Look too at the language used.

Postscript 2

First, a further brief note on the terror stuff, triggered by further reading.

I don't know, but just to further explain my position.

I supported the first Gulf War. I supported the invasion of Afghanistan. Reluctantly, I supported the Second Gulf War. Then from the current position in Ukraine back to Afghanistan I now find fundamental foreign policy errors. In regard to the War on Terror, I started by worrying that the approach and rhetoric used would create the very thing that was feared. Then came the growing and egregious personal injustices supported on public interest grounds.

I find now that I have limited faith in the foreign policy judgments of Australian Governments, less faith in the ability of this Government to argue coolly and objectively, no faith that either it or a Labor Government won't misuse power in the name of the public good or national interest. Lost trust is hard to regain.

On a more positive note, on the emerging digital dark age, kvd pointed me to this piece by Jill Lepore, The Cobweb. He suggested that youngest might like this piece too, The Last Amazon. Lepore is a very good writer.     .

 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sunday Essay – musings on the rise and fall of New England historiography

One of the traps of having broad interests while writing a general history lies in the way it takes me down by-ways. R. H. MathewsIt’s not helped by my weekly history column in the Armidale Express

Each week for the best part of three years now excluding Christmas and sometimes Easter, I have written 500 words on some aspect of local history. I am given some latitude, I can wander where I like, but there needs to be some direct or indirect connection with Armidale.

You would think that I would run out of things to say. After all, just how much can you say connected to the history of a city of 23,000 people?  Quite a lot, it would seem. I have more unfinished story ideas now than when I started.

As best I can work out, my readers seem to like my sometimes meanders and even seem to put up with my series, multiple posts on a single topic. I know that people do not read every column. I know that those who do read regularly are generally older with either some long-standing connection to Armidale or a strong interest in history itself.

Even with a backlog of ideas, sometimes I come up on a copy deadline with my mind a blank. Worse, sometimes the piece I am meant to write actually requires more research than I have time. In both cases, I scrabble to make do.

Still, in all this, the by-ways I find myself in can be fun. The photo is R H Mathews (1841-1918), a surveyor, magistrate and self-taught anthropologist who devoted the last three decades of his life to the study of the Aboriginal peoples of Eastern Australia.

I was twenty one when I first came across RHM. I was writing my honours thesis on the economic structure of traditional Aboriginal life. I must say that I found his work somewhat bitsy and repetitive. It was much later that I came to realise his significance and indeed became interested in him as a human being.resized_9781741757811_224_297_FitSquare

Incidentally, I have only just come across Martin Thomas’s 2011 study of RHM and have yet to acquire a copy.

RHM came back on my radar a week ago because I decided to do a short series on New England historiography, the history of history in New England. This was triggered by the recent death of Lionel Gilbert, one of the doyens of New England historiography.  This is where by-ways comes in. To start writing the series, I needed to set a context, starting in the nineteenth century. I also needed to link that context to key features of New England historiography. So I started wandering.

There is a commonly accepted view that the interest in Australian history sort of began with the First World War and a dawning sense of nationalism and self identity. You can see this today in some of the hagiography associated with Gallipoli. Yes, I know that the term hagiography applies to lives of the saints, but we have actually sanctified Gallipoli. Indeed, some of the writing and broadcasting on Gallipoli seems to me to represent the worst type of hagiography.

There is also a commonly accepted view that no real Australian history was written until after the Second World War, nor was it available in schools until well after the war. Then we overcame the cultural cringe and really discovered ourselves.  

In talking about Australian history in the way I’m using the term, I am of course referring to the history of the European settlers and their societies. Writing on Aboriginal history came later.

The first writing on Australian history began early. There was great interest in Britain and indeed Europe in the new colonies being established in the Great Southern Land, so a range of books appeared on the early history of NSW telling the story of the colony, along with a range of settler reminiscences. In 1880, the new school text books introduced into NSW schools contained a segment on Australian history. That same year saw the founding of the Bulletin magazine. The 1880 and 1890s saw rapid growth in interest in Australian history. In 1901, the Royal Australian Historical Society was established, publishing its own journal from 1908.

The nineteenth century was a period of considerable intellectual turbulence that also combined a belief in the importance of progress and self-improvement. This was the age of the gifted amateur, the auto-didact or self taught man, as compared to the institutionalised professionals that we know today.

R H Mathews was one such gifted amateur. He devoted the last part of his life and his resources to investigating the structure of Aboriginal life, driven by curiosity as well as a powerful belief in the importance of his task. In so doing, he stood outside the accepted canons of thought. Then as now, established thought had a powerful tendency to exclude the outsider, a tendency not helped in Mathew’s case by his own sometimes difficult personality.

One of the features of the nineteenth and especially the twentieth century lies in the growth of state funded cultural institutions that came to control what we thought, how we thought and what we thought about. In a way, this gave added power to the established and the big, for those institutions interlocked with other mechanisms including publishing houses to determine what was important and why.

Consider the Bloomsbury Set, Do they actually warrant the importance now awarded to them?

In the New England case, New England historiography is important because it arose in a context where local elites had sufficient power to create institutional structures that, for a period, could survive despite their isolation from the dominant structures. That isolation was both the reason for the reason for their creation and the driver in terms of subsequent focus. As the New England power structures declined in importance, as their ability to assert the separate case declined, so did New England historiography decline. Today it is a shadow of itself.  

This probably sounds depressing and indeed it is from my viewpoint. Yet in this latest by-way that my interests have taken me, I have learned more about my own peoples and about the importance of structures in aiding continuity and in preserving the past.  

      `

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Train reading: the lessons of Don Aitkin's Stability and change in Australian politics for current events

In 1977, Don Aitkin published a book called Stability and change in Australian politics (Australian University Press, 1977, reprinted 1978). I was updated later, but my copy is the earlier version. Don referred to the book in a post on 15 January, ‘The political system is failing to deliver’. A little later I made a passing reference to the post, mainly to challenge the idea that real change was no longer possible. In my view it is. What has changed is the way people go about it.

This morning I plucked Don's book off the shelf for my train reading. While I read the book at the time it was published, I thought that it would be interesting to look back and especially at the then survey results and subsequent analysis.  I am only part way through the book, but I thought that I would make two brief observations now.

The first is that among the less party connected swinging voters, there seemed to be a view that you could switch your vote without too much risk because both of the main sides operated within a common framework despite the sometimes political rhetoric. Call it not too many surprises.

I think that's still broadly true, as Mr Abbott is discovering now. We didn't vote for that. We respond as a consequence. . However, I think that there is a broader factor as well, what I have called the dreaded policy instability.

In our personal budgets and planning, we all depend on a degree of stability. Back in the sixties, likely changes were relatively limited. Now in a world of constant changes at the margin with continuous re-packaging, there is no certainty. You can't introduce bigger changes when the electorate is constantly worried about smaller changes that affect them personally and make life difficult. You can't attack the electorate for that, it's a perfectly rational response.

The second thing that struck me was the sophistication about the role of elections, a sophistication now (perhaps) lacking. One big school saw elections as a two-way feedback loop. The parties took their policies to the electorate to test and refine. As the campaign proceeded, they modified and indeed introduced new approaches based on what they learned. Looking at it in this way, it was a continuous change process at party and candidate level.

Is that true today? I don't think so. The only thing that changes is the campaign packaging, while the capacity of local candidates to actually develop new ideas tailored to electoral circumstance is severely constrained. Of course, there were always practical limitations. But, speaking as a past pre-selection candidate and party organiser, the thought that I must stay on a centrally imposed message regardless of circumstances would have seemed very alien. My job was to win the seat, to help us represent the voters in that seat. That's it. That's all.

 I am not saying anything profound here. I just want to connect these two observations in a slightly different way.

In discussion, commenters often comment on the end of the old Deakinite social contract. That's true, although you have to add the policy instability that I referred too. In discussion, commenters complain about poll driven policy.That's true too.

But when you look at the changing rhetoric surrounding elections with its emphasis on mandates and shopping list promises, something a little different emerges.Since people can no longer rely on Governments not to change things, to even provide stability in daily life in the little things, election campaigns have become something akin to contractual negotiations between tightly organised political forces on one side, the electorate on the other.

The fact is that this can't work, nor is it necessary.

Recognising that I am presently not close enough to New Zealand to make detailed judgments, I am attracted by the Key's model. Mr Key promises stability. This does not mean no change. Rather, it seems to have these elements to it.
  • greater short term stability in the detail of policy and programs that affect daily lives
  • foreshadowing of larger longer term changes, but on the basis that we will discuss these with you the electorate, we will introduce those that we consider to be right, but we will give you notice so that you have plenty of time to adjust your personal affairs.
  • Then, if we are wrong, you can turf us out at the next election.
Mr Hockey's last budget affected the detail of every Australian's daily life. It left us all struggling to understand, to adjust, to work out what to do. It was just too much to absorb. The back benchers who rebelled were not the party professionals nor the ideologues, but the more traditional electorate focused members dealing with the on-ground effects in their electorates.

Can Mr Abbott or Mr Shorten for that matter now adopt the Key's approach? It would be nice if they tried.

 Postscript

I thought that Mr Abbott's response on the US decision to quash Mr Hick's conviction was quite revealing. I quote from the story:
"I'm not in the business of apologising for the actions that Australian governments take to protect our country. Not now, not ever." 
Asked if Australia had done enough to help Mr Hicks, Mr Abbott said: "We did what was needed."
"We did what was needed but, look, let's not forget whatever the legalities, and this was essentially a matter for an American court dealing with American law. He was up to no good on his own admission," he said.
To my mind, that response in the first two paras is without moral content. It is a statement that effectively mandates the most extreme actions so long as they are intended to protect the country. Could Mr Abbott have made his intended point in a different way? I believe that he could. He could have said something like this:.
The Australian Government does not intend to apologise to Mr Hicks. Mr Hicks was dealt with under the US legal system, a system that has now quashed his conviction. Our primary concern was the protection of Australia and Australians in the face of a terrorist threat. It is time for us to put this matter behind us. 
No apology, If it were factually true, he might add something like this. "Even though Mr Hicks had clearly become involved with al-Qaeda and was seen as a potential threat to Australia, the Australian Government did supply consular support and encouraged the US Government to find a solution that would help Mr Hicks return to his family." That could go before the last sentence in the above. 

Explanation, no apology. Now we have Mr Abbott stating a categorical position that frankly terrifies the living daylights out of me.   

        


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

That Australian life - community gardens

In our conversation on least liked vegetables and related matters, 2T argued that all foods could taste good, even karela or the bitter gourd. There was a reference in the discussion to a poem by Kipling. I couldn't remember, but had to look it up. Mowgli's Song against People from the second Jungle Book. The poem begins:
I WILL let loose against you the fleet-footed vines -
I will call in the Jungle to stamp out your lines !
The roofs shall fade before it,
The house-beams shall fall;
And the Karela, the bitter Karela,
Shall cover it all ! 
In the gates of these your councils my people shall sing.
In the doors of these your garners the Bat-folk shall cling;
And the snake shall be your watchman,
By a hearthstone unswept;
For the Karela, the bitter Karela,
Shall fruit where ye slept !
I suspect that 2T is a considerable cook. Certainly his passing references to curries made me feel quite hungry! But the point about combination of tastes where the flavour comes from combination is well taken, and not just about food either.

In another comment, Evan outlined
Moving to sustainability.Which means renewable sources of power and other necessities.
Suburban sufficiency in food and as much else as possible.
Tax breaks and other support for new industries.
Education that values children.
City and suburb design that value people and their health.
You will see from this story that ACT Territories and Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury and the leader of the Greens in the ACT Legislative Assembly clearly shares some of Evan's views.The piece begins:
Territories and Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury aims to free up more unused public land for growing food in Canberra and plans a registration system for backyard beekeepers this year, among measures to boost food self-sufficiency in Canberra. 
The roundtable convened by the Minister also looked at areas where Canberra was over-regulated, "including a requirement to weigh individual eggs, a specified size for hand-washing sinks and rules covering selling food"!

The rise in Australia of the community garden and indeed of more communal ways of living  is a reaction to an increasingly pressured and restrictive urban life style.

I am not a Green supporter. Like other groups, they wish to regulate and control the things they disagree with while promoting or allowing those things that they approve. Since I am predisposed to dislike regulation and controls (Australia is choking on the stuff) and have a particular dislike of some elements of Green thinking on things like National Parks, I tend to see Green thinking as soft-headed dictatorial thinking. However, that doesn't mean that I am not sympathetic to some of the arguments involved.

 As an observer fascinated by the evolving texture of Australian life, I am a strong supporter of things like communal gardens or indeed anything that provides individual fulfillment and allows variety. To return to 2T, the flavour lies in the combination.      

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

School fees, incomes, VR and the next employment boom

Interesting piece by Tim Dodd in the Australian Financial Review, End to 40 year flight from public schools.I think that its based on the detailed tables attached to this ABS release. In simplest terms, the number in the public education system have stabilised, the rise in primary enrollments offsetting a continued decline in public high school enrollments.

Tim concludes, correctly in my view, that rising private school fees mean that more parents are choosing public primary education, shifting to the private sector in secondary. I suspect that it's only a matter of time before public secondary school enrollments start rising, giving the rising real costs of private education at a time when so many Australians have stagnant or declining incomes.

A related story, Young people are heavily underrepresented in the public service, latest figures show, suggests that the number of Commonwealth public servants under 25 has now dropped to 2.5% of the total number of Commonwealth public servants. Not unexpectedly, it's is also taking longer to be promoted. Conversely, the number (and pay) of contractors appears to be rising.

Workforce aging has been a feature  of the public sector for some time, as has the rise of the contractor. A contractor can be fired more easily, while cut backs create gaps that need to filled since work must get out the door.

The aging of the workforce is more complicated. Its partly a feature of the end of mandatory retirement rules, together with the end or substantial reduction of entry level recruitment. The difficult is that at some point in the future, perhaps five to ten years, the public sector workforce is going to start walking over a lemming style cliff. Then where will the new workers come from?

VR or voluntary redundancy creates a further problem. Rules have been introduced to stop VR recycling (I have a friend who has has taken no less than three NSW VR packages!), but that actually doesn't stop it, just defers it until the end of the mandatory rules. Then the loss of knowledge and skills kicks in. Managers have to grab people to do their jobs.

Is the private sector different? No, although the effects are perhaps less pronounced. I say perhaps, for I am not sure.

I and my economist friends talk about externalities. Externalities are costs of benefits that extend beyond the individual organisation. I could wish that more attention were paid to externalities in a labour market context

I am not worried about my daughters in all this, although I am worried about younger graduates who are struggling just to get a job. Both my girls are able and in work. To my mind, they are sitting pretty. They will be there with experience when the next explosion in recruitment comes.    .      

   
   

Monday, February 16, 2015

Monday Forum – Mr Abbott’s jail before bail, tripe and the need for change

It seems Mr Abbott cannot help himself. This is the key excerpt from Mr Abbott’s now famous video on national security:

I will also be making a national security statement on Monday week.

It’s clear to me, that for too long, we have given those who might be a threat to our country the benefit of the doubt.

There’s been the benefit of the doubt at our borders, the benefit of the doubt for residency, the benefit of the doubt for citizenship and the benefit of the doubt at Centrelink.

And in the courts, there has been bail, when clearly there should have been jail.

We are a free and fair nation. But that doesn’t mean we should let bad people play us for mugs, and all too often they have: Well, that’s going to stop.

The rise of the Islamist death cult in the Middle East has seen the emergence of new threats where any extremist can grab a knife, a flag, a camera phone and a victim and carry out a terror attack.

As a nation we are responding to this threat. Abroad, Australia is working with allies to disrupt and degrade the Islamist death cult. At home, we have provided our security services with more powers, more resources and stronger laws.

We are currently considering additional legislation on data retention that’s before the Parliament – and this will make it easier to keep you safe and we want to get this legislation passed as quickly as we can.

I give you this assurance: As a country, we won’t let evil people exploit our freedom.

Mmm. Mr Abbott promised us a new, kinder, listening Tony. Instead, we have jail before bail; let’s get rid of the benefit of doubt; after all, you know the Government is right. We won’t let evil people exploit your freedom. We are quite capable of doing that ourselves. And I will explain all this to you in simple language that even a mug can understand. This is Michael Gordon’s take'; I’m inclined to agree with it.

Last  week’s Monday Forum - What is your least favourite vegetable and why? drew some interesting comments. Cauliflower came in worst with two votes. However, I really liked Ramana’s nomination of the bitter gourd.bitter gourd

Now here I have to confess to my own confusion. I mentioned eating humble pie, but that (as was pointed out) is a meat based dish. Then I mentioned mushrooms, again (as pointed out) not a vegetable. To add insult to injury, I called the bitter gourd a fruit when it  is, of course, a member of the cucumber family.

Mind you, I am not alone in this confusion. In comments on Ramana’s post someone mentioned tripe, before hastily pointing out that tripe was not a vegetable.   So confusion abounds. Feel free to add to it in whatever way you like, And, before you apply tripe to Mr Abbott’s remarks, I have just done so!

Finally, in the midst of Australia’s political turmoil, the business community and Australian Financial Review are busy beating their breasts and bewailing the way that the current Australian political climate prevents necessary reforms. I happen to agree with them, if not with the detail of the prescription that they wish us to take.

So a challenge. Put your change hat on. What changes would you like to see introduced?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sunday Essay - the return of Labor

Queensland Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk has been sworn in as the state's 39th Premier at Government House in Brisbane. Am I right in thinking that she is the first Polish ancestry premier or prime minister? 

The new Government's position is still a little unstable because of the possibility of a by-election in the seat of Ferny Grove where the Palmer United Party candidate has been found to be ineligible to run since he was an undischarged bankrupt. That one will go to the courts. 

The new premier, her deputy and the the new treasurer have already begun to receive public service briefings. In the Westminster system of government, the public service prepares two sets of briefings prior to the elections, one for each side. These cover both machinery and policy matters with the aim of ensuring a smooth transition from one Government to the next. 

In NSW during the recent long period of Labor rule, this became a fairly perfunctory process. That is no longer the case. It is one unseen plus from increased political instability. These briefings are important. The paper work alone involved in transition of Governments is staggering. 

Over at The Poll Bludger, the inimitable William Bowe has added the latest public opinion poll results taken just before the Federal Liberal Party spill to his consolidated Bludger Track. By consolidating poll results, Bludger Track smooths out the vagaries associated with individual polls. 

The picture presented is staggering. Federally, the Coalition is looking at a 42 seat loss. In NSW where the Baird Liberal-National Party Government is going to the polls on 28 March, Bludger Track suggests an eleven seat loss. These are national, not state, results. The Baird Government is still favoured in NSW, but no-one now is certain. 

One of the unseen and not often commented on aspect of the Australian political process is the important role played by the party worker, the host of unpaid volunteers who door knock, raise money, organise meetings and man the polling booths. These are the foot soldiers. 

When, as happened in NSW at the end of the Labor regime, a Government is on the nose the ruling party struggles just to man the booths. Mr Abbott has energised the NSW Labor Party. That party should have had no hope. However, the feeds that I follow show high levels of new grass root involvement even in seats where Labor has no hope.

I am not saying that Labor will win in NSW. I am saying that it is in with a chance.        

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings – Pollyanna on the Australian economy

Both politics and the economy continue to be very messy.

In Canberra, Mr Abbott’s decision to dump Mr Ruddock as party whip came as a surprise, creating further instability. I would have thought that this was the last thing the Prime Minister needed. I guess that we just have to wait on developments. It’s very hard to comment sensibly on policy  matters at present.

Of more importance, Australian Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens’ opening statement  to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics presented a reasonably sombre picture of the economic outlook. I say of more importance because developments in the domestic and global economies set the immediate frame within which Governments have to move.

In considering Mr Stevens’ remarks, put aside the media coverage of the ABS’s labour force statistics for January with their headline jump in the unemployment rate. Those stats bump around and are subject to considerable statistical error.

Mr Stevens speaks in classic central bankese. The words are qualified and carefully chosen. I think that the first take-home message was this. 

At its meeting in February the Board considered that this revised assessment – that is, sub-trend growth for longer, a higher peak in the unemployment rate, slightly lower inflation – warranted consideration of some further adjustment to monetary policy, after a fairly long period during which the cash rate had remained steady. These were incremental changes to the outlook but all in a consistent direction.

A second message was contained in this paragraph:

The Board is also very conscious of the possibility that monetary policy's power to summon up additional growth in demand could, at these levels of interest rates, be less than it was in the past. A decade ago, when there was, it seems, an underlying latent desire among households to borrow and spend, it was perhaps easier for a reduction in interest rates to spark additional demand in the economy. Today, such a channel may be less effective. Nonetheless we do not think that monetary policy has reached the point where it has no ability at all to give additional support to demand. Our judgement is that it still has some ability to assist the transition the economy is making, and we regarded it as appropriate to provide that support.

I have previously spoken of the global currency wars associated with quantitative easing. In his speech, Mr Stevens referred to the actions of the Swiss central bank in responding to European Central Bank quantitative easing. Then Thursday last week Sweden’s Riksbank moved its main repo rate into negative territory, by 10 basis points to -0.1 per cent, while also launching its own quantitative easing. The move followed four rate cuts in 18 days from the Danish central bank, which has cut its deposit rate – levied on money parked at the central bank – to a record low of -0.75 per cent.

I may be too much of an economic Pollyanna, but I am more positive about the Australian economic outlook than most commentators.

To begin with, the Australian mining investment boom is now flowing into increased production volumes, a trend that will continue. Sure, there is now a price and supply side problem, but that will ease as higher cost producers are forced out, with lower capital expenditure in mining reducing future production increases. If anything, and as always happens, the current slump is laying down the base for the next mining boom. 

The lower Australian dollar is now having flow-on effects in the real economy. In the case of Whitehaven Coal, for example, the rise in the Australian dollar price for coal has greatly eased that company’s refinancing problems. The hollowing out of the Australian economy over the last ten years has reduced its capacity to expand production outside mining, but it is beginning to respond to the lower dollar. The longer the dollar stays down, the greater the effects will be.

The Sydney property boom will end in tears. For the moment, the continued expansion in apartment building is providing an economic stimulus in Australia’s largest city, a stimulus reflected in the differential unemployment figures in Sydney as compared to the much of the country. In nearby Green Square, for example, there are nearly 10,000 apartments due for completion over the next 4 years, adding perhaps 19,000 people to Green Square’s population by 2019. The cranes are everywhere.

The really big drag on growth lies in stagnant personal incomes. The cash Australians have to spend has not been rising, while job insecurity has increased. This trend will continue for the present. However, population increase means that the absolute size of the domestic market should still increase over time. 

As always, one’s perspective is affected by the time horizon adopted. Regardless of that, I struggle to be totally negative except, perhaps, in the short term. Even then, I’m not convinced.

Postscript

Kvd wrote in a comment:

As always, one’s perspective is affected by the time horizon adopted.

Yes, this is almost exactly what I was saying the other day, in that perhaps we are far too much taking into account small inhomogeneous and anisotropic perturbations. This interpretation is explained more fully here.

Me, I'm fully occupied with a Black Friday, followed by Valentines Day. Just a matter of maintaining one's priorities :)

I rather like the idea of “small inhomogeneous and anisotropic perturbations”.

Victoria Thieberger had a useful piece in Business Spectator, What makes Glenn Stevens really nervous. In answers to questions, Glenn Stevens referred (as he has done before) to the absence of “animal spirits.”  This goes to the heart of what I have called the investment strike, the unwillingness of the private sector to invest, to engage in business creation. Meantime, governments are unable or unwilling to invest.

The problem is not unique to Australia, but is part of an ennui that seems to have infected the Western World. The phrase “capital management” is an example of the problem, for it means pay us now. Another example is the desire to acquire infrastructure assets whether from government or private sector, for these offer a reasonably secure if sometimes low return. They do so because they have some element of monopoly.

Friday, February 13, 2015

John Ryan appointed Emeritus Professor

Those who receive feeds will know that I took down a post. I did so because I decided that I had been indiscreet. I will bring it back up later after editing.

The University of New England has just announced the appointment of John Ryan as an Emeritus Professor. This what I wrote on Facebook: 
I was just so pleased about this, John's appointment as Emeritus Professor. John can sometimes be a prickly chap. As an undergraduate, I was driving a university car back from a prehistory dig on the North Coast. We had broken to boil the billy for tea. "Mr Belshaw", John said. "Why are we fighting?" We weren't as I saw it, but John thought that we were! 
t took me years to appreciate John properly. As I dug more deeply into New England history, he became a source of advice and past gossip. Like me, he tries to do too much, but his aggregate output is enormous.
John is many years older than me, he joined the UNE staff in 1959, but as time passed I became I became one of the diminishing number of people who shared his past, who knew the people who he was talking about,
There is something strange at becoming part of a shared past at the age I did, almost a burden. My grandfather played a key role in the establishment first of the Armidale Teachers' College and then the University College, my father was the first staff member to arrive at the new University College. Edgar Booth, the first warden, came to inspect me in hospital on birth.
Figures that are now part of the historical record live in my memory, I absorbed their dreams. John and I can talk about them, 
Now John and the younger if somewhat aging Jim share a joint dream in trying to document and present a Northern past that.was important, that exercised major national influence, that is now being forgotten. We can share memories of past events and people, of dreams and causes. 
Well, old mate, this is my personal tribute to you. I am just so pleased and happy. For both of us, i think that the best summary is that we tried.
 Just a personal tribute.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

That Australian story - four stories on growing up in New England

My main post Tuesday was on the history blog - Growing up in New England – four stories - covering Maslyn Williams, Judith Wright, Binks Dowling and Judith Wallace.

In a way, this post is a work in progress. I have the main post as a word document intending to update it in part from material already written .

As I wright, our blogging friend Paul Barratt is off to the inaugural  Judith Wright lecture at the University of New England. This first is being delivered by Dr Fiona Capp, the author of My Blood's Country (2010), a journey through the landscapes that inspired Judith Wright's poetry.

Seriously, it's quite difficult writing when you are so close to the physical and personal landscape.

In a different world, I have been re-reading about the Bloomsbury Set. I gave up on them all those years ago because they were just so "little England". Now I am revisiting them. Bloomsbury survives because there were some influential people, more because there were scandals and lots of sex in a deeply interconnected group!

I can't promise you the sex, but it is interesting researching and writing about interconnected people whose lives form part of the pattern of life in an area in which I have a deep interest.




Monday, February 09, 2015

Monday Forum - What is your least favourite vegetable and why?

As a child, I was forced to eat my carrots. I acquired a dislike of them that lasted for many years. Eldest hates spinach with a passion, while youngest hates chilies. She blames me for that.

So, just as a break from politics, what is your least favourite vegetable and why?

Mind you, you don't have to break from politics totally. Feel free to equate vegetables to any politicians or political events you like. Or to anything else. Whimsy is most welcome!

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Sunday Essay - Mr Abbott and the dangers of retrospection

There is something dangerously seductive about retrospection. We see patterns that were not clear at the time. We attach cause and effect to what may, in fact, have been random events. And we tend to reinterpret our own past positions and views in term of what happened later.

As I write, the political agony of Australian PM Abbott has entered its immediate end-game. Can Mr Abbott survive? I am not close enough to the numbers to know. I would have thought it unlikely.

As I write, the commentary and reporting outside the fevered analysis of what is happening really centers on two questions: why did this happen; what does it mean?

The why did it happen is heavily based on retrospection.We can see how Mr Abbott's rhetoric locked him into positions. We can see how a tightly controlled and focused opposition campaign carried into Government turned poisonous in a different environment.We can see how ideological stances formed in past campaigns, many old, came to set frames that overrode common sense.

And yet, somehow, that's not sufficient to explain what happened. How did Mr Abbott and the Government come to stuff-up so badly?

All new Governments face a choice between continuity and change. All new Governments need to recognise the importance of stability in people's lives. Finally, all new Governments need to recognise the importance of process and especially the time required to do things.

In saying this, I recognise that I am engaged in my own retrospection. Still, somehow, the Abbott Government managed to break all these basic principles. Consider this,

The Government wrapped its activities in a rhetoric about the need for basic change. It then changed or tried to change lots of things within the mantle of that rhetoric, placing everything under scrutiny. Finally, in its impatience to do things quickly, it ignored both process and time. In doing so, it outran both the patience of the electorate and its capacity to do.

These are some of the things that I have argued in my own retrospections. But am I right? The answer is that I don't know. I think that other things need to be considered.This is important because the answers given to the why it happened then determine the answers to the question what does it mean.

For example, those who conclude that the key lesson from the Abbott Government experience is that reform has become more difficult are in fact mounting a three pronged argument: there were reforms that were desirable to carry out; the Australian people and systems would not accept those reforms; and that, consequently, this shows the increasing difficulty of bringing necessary change about. This argument is often associated with another, the importance of bi-partisan support if change is to be achieved.

Looking back over Australian history, the first thing that strikes me is continuity, the way in which the past merges into the present into the future.Even in periods of major change such as the achievement of Federation or the end of the White Australia policy, the frame of the change is largely set by the past even where that change involves a major historical event that shifts national direction.

I am struck, too, by the way man proposes but God disposes to use a now old-fashioned phrase. From the ending of the depression of the 1840s to the crash of the early 1890s Australia experienced a long period of growth and prosperity during which everything seemed possible. Then came economic crash, the great drought, the First World War, the Great Depression and the Second World War, shocks every ten years or so that profoundly affected the nation. Even in longer periods of apparent growth and stability, there were recurrent crises that had to be dealt with. The growth of the 1950s and 1960s was followed by the oil shocks and stagflation of the the 1970s, then came another crash in Mr Keating's recession before growth resumed.

I make this point now because of a mind-set that says each Government must achieve significant change, because of a belief that things are controllable if only we plan properly. They are not and we cannot. Governments can only manage as best they can.

One of the interesting things about history lies in the way that particular Governments diminish in importance as time passes. The things that roused passion at the time cease to be of importance. The focus is on patterns within which each Government occupies a diminishing part. Even really big events such as the First World War that are now promoted as part of official myth-making shrink, the role of particular politicians or Governments shrinks further.

Looking at the troubles of the Abbott Government from this perspective, neither those troubles nor the associated discussions about the difficulties of particular types of reform are especially important. What is likely to be more important from an historical perspective are the patterns of ideas and attitudes displayed by collective governments, Labor, Liberal-National, Labor and then Liberal National over the longer time horizon occupied by those various Governments set within a context of change as defined in retrospect,

What is likely to be focused on? I'm not sure. It depends on what happens. My feeling is that changing perceptions of the role of the state, the rise of the environmental movement and of the new right may feature. However, I suspect that the three dominant drivers will be geo-political change, demographic change and climate change.

Taking climate change first. In fifty years' time we will know if the current projections of global warming are right. If right, that will dominate the history books. In fifty years' time., the current demographic trends in Australia and elsewhere will have reached their climax. That. too, will feature in the history books. Finally., none of us can know how current geo-political developments will play out. Major war is a statistically significant possibility.
   
It's time for me to end this muse. We will know Mr Abbott's immediate fate tomorrow. All this stuff is fun for the political fanatics like me. Just remember, it's actually not very important.

Postscript

So Mr Abbott has survived the spill motion 61 votes to 39. From an immediate perspective, the issue he faces is where to from here. In writing on Julia Gillard, I said that she needed to find that quiet place in the midst of turmoil that would allow her to regroup. She was never able to do so. Mr Abbott is now in a similar position.

It's very easy for someone like me to prognosticate. I guess that if I was Mr Abbott I would now do two things.

The first is keep a low profile. Yes, I know that's hard, but by letting his Ministers carry more of the load, by staying out of the limelight, he buys some time. The second thing that I would do is to take some time to reflect, to properly plan a relaunch. I wouldn't make this high key. Rather, I would do it by a series of reflective speeches and initiatives intended to build over a period.

The centralisation of  power in the Executive and then, within that, the centralisation of executive power in the PM and his office makes things very hard. The physical processing load on the PM is crushing. If Mr Abbott is to survive, he has to break out of this trap. To retain power, he has to give up,power.

It will be interesting to watch.




Friday, February 06, 2015

Decline of the humble pea

I was writing my weekly newspaper column. I was writing about Australia's changing food habits with a dash of my own memories. Then, suddenly, I realised something.

Next day I bailed someone up at work. When was the last time you ate peas, I said? I do so sometimes, she said. I put them in risotto. Frozen, I asked? Of course, she said.

Mmm. And when was the last time you bought fresh peas and shelled them? I don't remember, she said. Years ago.

I asked more people and got similar responses. That, you see, was my discovery. Growing up, we often had peas in the garden that we would shell. When we didn't, we bought them from the green grocer. We did grow and buy beans, but peas were our favourite. Then they started to vanish from supermarket shelves, banished by beans. Even their share of frozen space declined.

Now I wonder just how many Australians under thirty have even tasted a fresh pea. The pea has become another victim of a time poor world.

Go on, when was the last time you ate a fresh pea?



Wednesday, February 04, 2015

That Australian life - musings on the departure of a daughter

Tonight is normally my Australian life post. However, I played tennis with Clare, our first outing since eldest (Helen) left Sunday for a new job in Copenhagen. The photo was taken at the airport.

We will miss her, of course. Clare and I have locked Wednesday night in. One Wednesday we will play tennis or do something else together, the second Wednesday we will skype Helen.

Thinking about it, this post is about Australian life. The high proportion of overseas born in the Australian community means that many have left home and country to come here. Less well recognised is the very large number of Australian born who have gone overseas to work, many of whom never return beyond periodic visits.

I often write about the things that I see as wrong in this country. In doing  so, I focus on what (as I see it) needs to be fixed. However, I never forget what is right. Australia remains a remarkably lucky country.

I am not just talking economics. Our systems still work, if sometimes imperfectly. There is a diversity and depth in Australia that is not always recognised in this country, even less so outside Australia. This can be hard to explain. There is also a tolerance, a tradition of manners, that makes for a civil society.

Australia is a nation in transformation, constantly reinventing itself. At the end of the Second World War we chose to embrace mass migration, in so doing reinventing the nation. Later, we broadened the mix to include people from all creeds, races and cultures, again starting a process of reinvention.

We are not alone in this. Canada and New Zealand share the tradition. But very few other countries do. In a way, I suppose, we have had no choice. At each point in the nation's history we have had to make choices. Once that choice has been made, it dictates future events far into the future.

That is what I mean by having no choice. The choices we made in the past were determined by events at the time, by our relative isolation and fears. We could have chosen differently, but those making the choices perceived that we must do certain things  that then determined later choices. Frightened about our survival as a European society on the edge of Asia, we chose to be open.We didn't see it that way at the time, almost certainly just as well, but that's what happened.

Well, I'm to bed. As I write, Prime Minister Abbott's future seems increasingly uncertain. It's interesting, but I'm not sure that it actually matters very much.

Of more importance is the state funeral held today for Tom Uren. I was opposed to Mr Uren's views, but I greatly respected him as a man, as a person who was trying to do new things.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Mr Abbott and the sclerotic whirly gig of current Australian politics

Overnight, the Country Liberal Party in the Northern Territory  continued its revolving door policy by replacing  previous Chief Minister Adam Giles with Willem Westra van Holthe, 52. Attorney-General John Elferink is the new deputy, replacing Peter Chandler. Mr Westra van Holthe is on the right, Mr Elferink left in this photo from the ABC.
Speaking from a prepared statement Mr Westra van Holte said the government "could have done things better in the past". 
"Under my leadership, this government will be more consultative with Territorians and engage with them before we make important and crucial decisions to the future of the Territory. Mr Westra van Holte said his government wanted to provide "stability and confidence for all Territorians, especially our public service". 
"We acknowledge that we must work more closely with the community as we move forward and make the Territory a better place to live."
Sound familiar?

Meantime, counting continues in Queensland, with seats still moving around. One unexpected result is that One Nation's Pauline Hanson might now be returned to Parliament as the Member for Lockyer.

Down in Canberra, Mr Abbott has delivered his speech to the National Press Club, resetting Government directions. You will find the speech here. I dislike one sentence paragraphs.This is the world of simplification, of one-liners.

I was prepared to engage with the speech as a statement of  future directions. Sadly no. Mr Abbott continues to be locked in to a method of political discourse and indeed public administration that has become sclerotic. the veins heavily coated, allowing fewer and fewer new ideas to pass. He is not alone, of course..

Ah well.

Postscript

The Northern Territory imbroglio has developed into a constitutional crisis with former Chief Minister Giles refusing to resign. Law professor Anne Twomey has a very sensible piece on the constitutional issues raised by the crisis.

Essential Research has released some rather devastating poll results on changing public perceptions of Mr Abbott. I don't want to comment further at this point, including commenting on the on-going public discussion. What will be will be, and I really have no further value that I can add to the discussion.

I do wish to comment, however, at a later point, on what I perceive to be some of the sillier conclusions being drawn from the whole thing.  

Postscript 2

Twenty four hours is indeed a long time in Australian politics. Up in the Northern Territory, Adam Giles is back as Chief Minister with Willem Westra van Holthe as his deputy!  .

Monday, February 02, 2015

Monday Forum - the historians

Last week it was announced that Alan Atkinson had won the Victorian Government's $100,000 prize for volume three (the final volume) of  The Europeans in Australia. 

Alan was in brother David's class at school. Later I met him again when I was  living back Armidale and he was in the University of New England's History Department.

Jason Steger, the literary editor of the Melbourne Age, wrote:
Atkinson said he was very relieved to have finished the final instalment, which covers the period from the 1870s to the aftermath of World War I. "The last volume was an enormous effort."
He started work on the project more than 20 years ago, never thought it would take so long, and admitted he was glad he had finished it.
The establishment of democracy had been crucial to Australia, he said. "The problems and challenges of democracy are in the end more important and challenging because the nation is built on democracy." 
And in the week of Australia Day, Atkinson said the date was an appropriate one on which to celebrate. "Not because it's an absolutely perfect day but because it's an imperfect day in a way. It raises all sorts of problems that we can rethink every year, very deep moral problems and that's probably probably the way it should be."
It was nice to think of an historian winning the literary prize. Alan is a reflective historian, I try to be too, and a very good writer. I totally empathise with his comment on the time taken. 

All this brings me to the topic of today's Monday Forum, a break from Australian politics. What historian do you especially like or dislike? Why are they good or bad? Do you actually read history? 

Don't limit yourself to my questions or, indeed, Australian historians. Go in whatever way you like. Tangents are welcome. I'm just interested in what you think.  


Sunday, February 01, 2015

Sunday Snippets - Queensland elections, Greece and taxpayer funded charity benefits

Based solely on the pattern of polls, my best guess for the Queensland elections was that the LNP would be returned with a small majority, with Premier Newman losing his seat. I also commented that it would be a fascinating election.

The size of the swing against the Liberal National Party Government took everybody including me and indeed the pollsters by surprise. It was a rout, with a Labor Party government the most likely outcome. Michelle Grattan's simple assessment  was "The rout in Queensland is shocking news for Tony Abbott. It will terrify federal backbenchers and further destabilise his leadership."  That thread runs through most of the commentary. She concludes:
After Queensland it has become impossible to predict where things will go federally, including who will lead the federal Liberals to the next election, and what the likely result of that election will be.
Again, that seems to be the overall assessment. As I write, the swirls within the Liberal Party do suggest an end game in progress. Mr Abbott's greatest protection may well be the Nationals because they are saying to the Liberals that it's not just their business.

In An economic meander - Greece, debt and economic adjustment in a QE world I spoke election victory of Greece's far-left Syriza party. Now the political game has begun as Syriza attempts to deliver in the face of EU opposition.

Now in all this, I hadn't realised that the new Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis (right in photo) was dual Greek-Australian citizen who lectured in economics at Sydney University.

In a piece in Catallaxy Files, Subsidised meals and weddings: shut.this.down, .Judith Sloan argued against the exemptions from FBT (Fringe Benefits Tax) awarded to charities.

One doesn't have to accept her more colourful arguments to know that this is a distortion. In simple terms, if Government is going to transfer more functions to the charity sector, then a subsidy of this type distorts the competitive equation between charities, for profits and Government agency service delivery.

It's not the only distortion. The shift from Government to not for profit social housing delivery is based in part on combination of tax benefits such as GST rebates and the selective application of rent assistance paid for by the Commonwealth. I am a supporter of community housing. but I think that the current system including the shift to community housing is unsustainable because of its distorted commercial and policy underpinnings.

Well, I am out of time and have barely touched the things that I wanted to write about.