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Wednesday, 06 January

15:12

Directional politics John Quiggin

A few Prime Ministers back, Australian politics seemed to be all about Western Sydney. On the conservative side of politics, unremarkable politicians who managed to win and hold former Labor electorates were lionised, while similar wins in other parts of the country were seen as part of the normal ebb and flow of electoral politics. On the Labor side, the region was invoked by the NSW Right (many of whom preferred not to live there) as the basis for its “aspirational” politics. This was all nonsense. The two million or so people who live in Western Sydney vary far more among themselves than they differ from the Australian population as a whole. To the extent that they have any sort of collective identity it hasn’t stopped large numbers of them for voting for (or, for that matter, against) governments led by silvertails from the North Shore, Northern Beaches and Eastern Suburbs.

But since the brief return of Kevin Rudd, the focus has shifted back to an area of more traditional concern: Northern Australia and its supposed need for development. I had hoped to see the end of this when Turnbull became PM, especially given the government’s fiscal woes. But sadly, this is not to be. Not only is the $5 billion development fund still alive, but we are getting stories about Turnbull’s plans to “unlock the North“.

As it happens, I’m in North Queensland right now, and I lived in Townsville for most of the 1990s. Like everyone else in the region I received a special “zone allowance” under the tax system to compensate me for living in a pleasant (if rather warm) coastal city with all the amenities that would be expected by a resident of, say, Newcastle or Wollongong. I understand that this allowance is still available. Nothing of the sort is on offer to people in poor suburbs or declining country towns in the rest of the countr...

13:22

Tesla just meets 2015 EV guidance, BYD speeds up Renew Economy

Tesla beat its guidance for 2015, but not by much, delivering just over 50,000 vehicles for the year.

13:08

2015: The year in solar Renew Economy

With an international agreement in Paris, and record low prices for installed PV, 2015 was a positive year for solar.

06:38

Democracy in Europe requires Eurozone breakup Bill Mitchell – billy blog

On December 21, 2015, there was an article on the Social Europe portal – A New Plan for Greece And Europe: A Defining Moment For European Social Democracy – which I found interesting, though very incomplete, given its title. In fact, the ‘New Plan’ is really a series of fairly general statements, which at times, are somewhat inconsistent if you extend them into the necessary detail that they imply. For example, one of their key observations is that within the European Union there is a “wide and growing gap between national control over budgets that people have voted for and the post-national governance imposed on them”. Which would suggest that the solution requires that there is an aligning of the fiscal responsibility and control at the level of the currency-issuing unit. However, there is no hint of that in their ‘Plan’. They talk about an “Enhanced respect for the fiscal sovereignty of Greece” but fail to articulate how that can occur within the common currency when the Greek government has no currency-issuing capacity. Of course, if we want to increase the fiscal sovereignty of any Eurozone nation, then the only sustainable way of doing that is for that nation to re-establish its own currency and exit the monetary union. However, this would appear contrary to their “pan-European” sentiments, which dominate their overall vision. In short, once again the bogey person of the pan-European appears to be taken as a given and then specific matters that might appear inconsistent with that old ‘social democratic’ obsession in Europe are glossed over.

Let’s be frank: there will never be a functional European-level federation where the fiscal responsibility coincides with the currency-issuing capacity of the single central ba...

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Tuesday, 05 January

09:25

Mental illness and homelessness – fiscal myopia strikes again Bill Mitchell – billy blog

Yesterday, as I was going about my business in San Francisco, I passed a man lying in the gutter outside the Westfield Centre on Market Street (the swish multilevel shopping complex with some expensive label stores), who was poorly dressed, given the weather (cold) and was clearly having some sort of episodic fit. The street was packed with Sunday shoppers most of whom were well-heeled. I asked the person I was with whether we should ring 000 to get some sort of professional help for the man and he told me that it would be futile because they wouldn’t come out anyway. It was not an isolated incident. Throughout the city the extent of homelessness and the public nature of mental illness is stark. There are choruses of shouts, anguished cries, megaphoned self-dialogues emanating from almost every street corner, doorway, alleyway, train station and whatever. People who should be in care, suffering and crying out. For the richest country in the world to tolerate this degree of human rights violation is almost unimaginable. While the Australian health system is far from perfect, our mentally ill citizens are much better cared for in state facilities and are not left on the street, homeless, suffering from a variety of obvious physical and mental maladies – and basically abandoned by the system. There are some who escape the net and wander the streets of our cities, but, in general, we do not accept that the mentally ill should be left to their own devices. It tells me that any American claim to greatness is a pitiful, self deceit. This is a heartless society where citizens who are most in need of state support are the least able to access it.

Yesterday, I wrote about the myopic nature of fiscal austerity in terms of starving essential public infrastructure of necessary maintenance and improvement funds, which eventually comes back in the form of destructive floods, sewerage collapses, major bridge collapses, and o...

Saturday, 02 January

16:34

What the unions really need John Quiggin

As I observed here, the Trade Union Royal Commission has spent tens of millions of public money to show that the corrupt behavior of a number of Health Services Union officials is the exception rather than the rule. The payments made to a dozen or more TURC lawyers, after a ‘limited tender‘ process of very dubious propriety, far exceed the amounts involved in any of the handful of offences alleged in the Commission’s report.

But that’s not to say all is well with the Australian movement. The steady decline in union membership is mostly the result of external causes (the increased power of employers, a stream of anti-union laws, and so on), but the unions haven’t always helped their own cause.

Here are some changes I think are needed:

* Term limits for union officials. To take just two examples, Bill Ludwig has been Secretary of the Queensland AWU since 1988 while Joe DeBruyn was National Secretary of the SDA from 1978 to 2014. Both men used their entrenched position to exert political power within the Labor Party, in ways entirely unrelated to the interests and concerns of their members. Which brings me to:

* Ending affiliation with the Labor Party (or any political party). Bob Hawke recently pushed this idea as a way of freeing the ALP from the corrupting influence of the CFMEU. But the real problem is the other way around. The ALP, like most Australian political parties is a shell, controlled by factional chiefs, notably including union officials who control important blocks of votes. Obviously, someone whose main role is as a party apparatchik can hardly do a good job of represent...

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