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Wednesday, 09 March


The worst kind of political journalism Press gallery reform

No political journalism can ever be good if it patronises the people to whom it reports.

Politicians regularly call press conferences for journalists to ask questions. Mostly, their questions are inane - rather than ask better questions, press gallery journalists simply petition the ABC (the network that most often carries live press conferences) to muffle the often silly and ill-considered questions they ask. They usually seek to reinforce a narrative which does not relate to the subject-matter at hand, which is why politicians get a perverse pride in not answering questions or reading slabs from the very press release which initiated the press conferences in the first place.

Politicians almost never convene people for the purposes of asking questions. Some state governments, and the Gillard government, held community Cabinet meetings where they often fielded better and more pertinent questions than the press gallery ever could.

This is patronising garbage. The journalist seriously believes that interrupting a press conference to talk to a politician is some sort of breach of etiquette, and that people should just sit back and consume whatever drivel the media pumps at them.

Here's what happened: the Prime Minister was in Whyalla and someone came up to talk to him. End of.

Any time I have to do my own editing and presentation of a story, the journalist has failed. It's not that the journalist has presented the story in a different-but-equally-valid way, or using some superior journalism imperceptible to those of us who've never lolled about in a newsroom: the wanker who wrote this seriously believes that only journalists may question politicians in public.

Despite the best of preparations and the fullest of precautions, eve...


Game-changer: Sanders achieves 'upset of almost unheard of proportions' Independent Australia

Game-changer: Sanders achieves 'upset of almost unheard of proportions'Bernie Sanders defies naysayers, pundits and polls by delivering an unprecedented primary win in the bellwether state of Michigan. read now...


Allegedly the Nazis weren’t nice people Catallaxy Files

There are so many ways one can respond to the Immigration Department’s latest gaffe (emphasis added).

The Immigration Department secretary Michael Pezzullo yesterday launched a strident defence of his department and its officers in a rare message to “set the record straight” declaring the policy of keeping children in detention was used “only as a last resort”.

“Recent comparisons of immigration detention centres to ‘gulags’; suggestions that detention involves a ‘public numbing and indifference’ similar to that allegedly experienced in Nazi Germany; and persistent suggestions that detention facilities are places of ‘torture’ are highly offensive, unwarranted and plainly wrong – and yet they continue to be made in some quarters,” the statement read in part.

We could say that the minister is from Queensland, and they do things differently there. Or we could point that this is why we shouldn’t have a national curriculum. Perhaps even point to the fact that these same people thought it perfectly acceptable to have their alleged goons wondering around the streets of Melbourne demanding people produce their visas.

But I think I’m going to point to some hypocrisy.

Richard Marles, the opposition immigration spokesman, demanded Mr Dutton and Mr Pezzullo “withdraw and apologise” for the “deeply offensive” remarks.

Australia’s alleged offshore gulags are bipartisan policy.


We have a right to know what the law means No Right Turn

There's an interesting opinion out from the Ombudsman today on legal professional privilege. Normally legal privilege is one of the stronger withholding grounds in the OIA, reflecting the strong public interest in agencies being able to take legal advice. But in a case stemming from a refused authorisation for an in-vitro fertilisation study, the Ombudsman has overturned it on public interest grounds largely because of the type of advice sought:

In considering the weight to be accorded to the protection of legal professional privilege when balancing this against the public interest in release, the Chief Ombudsman distinguished between legal advice provided for the purpose of specific, contentious, proceedings and advice to a regulatory agency on the interpretation of a key term in the governing statute. The Chief Ombudsman considered that the research being conducted by the requester, and others in the field, was a matter of considerable public importance and interest and that, in these circumstances, it was incumbent on the Ministry to do everything it could to assist in the adoption of correct procedures by ensuring that the best, first hand information was made available.

[Emphasis added]

Or, to put it another way, we have a right to know what the law means. An agency shouldn't be able to interpret the law in secret and make decisions based on those secret interpretations. And while the Ombudsman was talking specifically about regulatory agencies (for whom interpretations of key terms are a...


Time to reform adoption law No Right Turn

For the past decade, there has been a growing push to reform New Zealand's sixty-year-old adoption laws and bring them into step with modern society. Successive governments haven't wanted to go there - Labour because it didn't want that fight at the same time as civil unions, National because it has a large conservative Christian rump blocking any progress. But now they're going to have to finally do something, with a formal legal declaration that the law is discriinatory and not fit for purpose:

New Zealand's 61-year-old adoption laws are discriminatory and outdated, according to a new ruling.

A Human Rights Review Tribunal decision, which comes after two years of legal battles, has found the Adoption Act 1955 and the Adult Adoption Information Act 1985 contradicts the Human Rights Act and the Bill of Rights Act by discriminating against people based on sex, age, marital status and disability.

The current law stops civil union partners or same-sex de facto couples from adopting. It also places restrictions on single men trying to adopt a female child and stops anyone under the age of 25 from adopting.

The net effect of those restrictions isn't to protect children. Instead, what they mostly do is stop people being legal parents to their own kids. They enforce a tired old bigotry that modern New Zealanders simply don't agree with, and which is now explicitly inconsistent with New Zealand law. National needs to make it a priority to fix this. Sadly, I expect their bigot caucus will do everything it can to prevent that.


All settled, done and dusted, don't you worry your agile, innovative head about it ... loon pond

The pond was out and about this day, and each moment of the walk repeated the mantra that the current record-breaking weather has absolutely nothing to do with that other matter of the climate ...

Besides, the science is in, basic research is no longer needed (Australia cuts 110 climate scientist jobs), the tech is crunched, the disruption done, and everything is sorted, and let's face it, anyone who says otherwise is probably a religious nut job, at least if you trust Larry Marshall and CSIRO chief says row over climate science cuts 'more like religion than science.'

Now please don't get the pond wrong. It's all in favour of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. How else would we get upgrades that comprehensively fuck up and so create work for people as they urgently rush out a patch?

How else would we get TV sitcoms that show us all how to pivot in an agile, innovative way?

But something niggled in the pond's mind about the science being sorted and settled. And it wasn't just back in the dim distant days of the wall puncher and the sounds of guitar and banjo:

Prime Minister Tony Abbott was in Hobart to give the keynote address at the Liberal Party State Council this weekend in Hobart, and has announced a $24 million co-investment fund for Tasmania. At the meeting, the party's Huon branch has declared climate change is a furphy and green propaganda, but other m...


Not even Murdoch's magic can get Turnbull above 50-50 Independent Australia

Not even Murdoch's magic can get Turnbull above 50-50The wheels are really falling off the Turnbull bus when even Rupert Murdoch's pet Newspoll can't get the Coalition above 50 per cent in the polls, says Bob Ellis. read now...


Labour on the intelligence review No Right Turn

The Greens have immediately come out strongly against today's strapped-chicken spy review, saying that it has not made the case for spying on New Zealanders. Labour, OTOH, is resorting to its usual mush:

“Labour is prepared to work with the Government to get the best possible legislation in place. But we must have the public debate to strike the right balance between security and privacy.

“There are some additional powers recommended in the review including wholesale access to immigration, customs and police databases among others. I would question whether this is justified.

Meanwhile, on the central recommendation - that the GCSB be allowed to spy on New Zealanders - they are absolutely silent. Its typical chickenshit behaviour from the establishment "opposition".


As predicted No Right Turn

So, the government's whitewash review of intelligence agencies has (as predicted) recommended increased powers for the spies - most significantly, by giving the GCSB explicit legal power to spy on New Zealanders. The "justification"?

Cullen said spying laws passed in 2014 to allow the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders [or rather, assist SIS and Police] had not solved the problem, with a lack of legal clarity and "some pretty condemnatory reviews" in recent years making the agency "extremely risk-averse".

Removing all restrictions on spying on New Zealanders, rather than adding specific exceptions, was the only way to solve the issue, he said.

Right. So the solution to an agency which has shown that it cannot be trusted to obey the law is to remove all legal checks and balances on it. Yeah, fuck that. When it comes to spy agencies with highly intrusive powers, I want them to be "risk averse" about invading privacy. And I want them to be very, very careful about whether they are obeying the law. Cullen's approach makes the spies a law unto themselves, checked only by "oversight" which happens in secret and which the spies themselves have shown they circumvent and mushroom. And that's not good enough.

I have a better plan: rather than give the GCSB more powers to spy on us, lets shut them down, sack their staff, and throw all their spy-gear into a volcano. Make New Zealand a Five Eyes free zone, rather than collaborating in their global panopticon.

John Key has made it clear that he wants bipartisan support for any change, and realistically this proposal can only pass with Labour's support. So, the question is whether Andrew Little will vote for this travest...


IMF promotes more government spending and monetary loosening Catallaxy Files

Here we go again.

The stuttering Chinese export performance this quarter is bringing the Keynesians and their monetarist equivalents to call for new fiscal loosening and monetary expansion.  The IMF’s second in command, David Lipton is calling for countries to act now.

Of course he pays lip service to the need to maintain open trade, cut red tape and ensure barriers to competition are kept low.  But at the heart of his policy prescription is a call not for nations to balance their budgets, cut government spending and allow interest rates to find their own level.  There is no role in his economic lexicon for eradicating the interventions that have led this global stagnation to have lasted so long.  Instead he is calling for a new round of deficit spending and, where possible, monetary loosening.

He maintains that we should continue policies that ensure low and even negative interest rates that prop up demand with air but offer massive disincentives to saving, which aside from innovation are the only means by which incomes can be increased.  He says, “Premature withdrawal of monetary support would not only undermine policy credibility, it would risk precipitating the very outcome we all wish to avoid. It would lower aggregate demand and increase the degree of slack in the global economy.”

And what will surely be music to the ears of state governments plumping for infrastructure funding for white elephants  that avoid bi-passing the CFMEU labour monopoly.  In support of his increased government spending and meddling he even invokes Winston Churchill ““I never worry about action, but only inaction.” as though Churchill would have favoured greater spending by governments.



Guest Post: Terry Barnes – Statement to The Senate Economics Committee Inquiry into Personal Choice and Community Impacts Catallaxy Files

I appear today not as a scientific expert, but as a policy adviser and analyst who has worked in and around government for many years. Having been at the centre of the 2014-15 GP co-payment debate, I have had recent experience in advocating sensible policy unpopular with the health establishment.

My expertise particularly relates to social policy, especially health. I have developed an interest in the policy, and politics, of harm reduction. In my experience, social policy issues tend to not only be the most expensive to address – not just in terms of spending taxpayer dollars but in political capital – but too often bring out the emotive, judgmental and self-righteous in people who should know better.

Too many people love telling other people what to do. Those who love it most tend to become policy-makers or, failing that, public health experts. Or doctors.

Before taking questions, I just want to make some brief general observations about the state and experts being the arbiters of standards of personal behaviour and choice. I will then say something about the Committee’s specific term of reference regarding e-cigarettes.

Making policy about personal harm reduction.

It’s long struck me that ministers, on being sworn into office, tend to forget individuals other than themselves have rights and responsibilities.

It doesn’t matter which side of politics they’re on. Power makes good people prohibitionists.

As for public servants dealing with public health issues, notably in tobacco, alcohol and gambling control, officials often tend to be more gung-ho in their regulationist and prohibitionist zealotry than experts talking in the media.

Human cravings for power being what they are, it’s therefore no surprise the dominant strain of policy-making on personal behaviour and choice is biased towards curtailing, outlawing, banning and taxing. Simply adopting policy measures that are permissive but still minimis...


The Peta Principle – how Abbott rose to the level of his incompetence The Political Sword

‘What’s wrong with Tony Abbott?” It’s a question that’s been asked ever since he rose to prominence as party leader, if not before. But then the question had a whimsical ring about it. What was wrong with a leader who was so nasty, so misogynist, so belligerent, so hell bent upon the destruction of his enemies? People had their answers, answers that went back to his early days in student politics. We wrote about it on The Political Sword in late 2009 in The pugilistic politician. The conclusion was that this was Abbott’s nature, malevolent though it was.

Over the years we have seen a man who rose from ministerial ranks to opposition leader where he was deemed to be competent, to prime minister where he was manifestly incompetent.

Abbott’s rise is a classic example of a management principle enunciated by Laurence J. Peter in his famous 1969 book: The Peter Principle, in which he asserted that as managers are promoted, they "rise to the level of their incompetence." We have written about The Peter Principle before.

Let’s trace Abbott’s path. The media was lavish in its praise for his performance as opposition leader, some going so far as to assert that he was the best ever, presumably arguing that aggression, confrontation, adversarial behaviour and ceaseless negativity were the preferred ways to electoral success. Murdoch journalists particularly barracked for him endlessly. Defeat of the detested Labor government and the installation...


Di Natale's dirty deal with Turnbull to stitch up the Senate could cost Greens Independent Australia

Di Natale's dirty deal with Turnbull to stitch up the Senate could cost GreensThe deal between the Coalition and the Greens to effectively exclude minor parties from gaining Senate representation may have unintended consequences. read now...


In which the Devine stopped clock soothsays election time ... loon pond

(Above: and more Pope here, don't look too long at that ramshackle, copper-connected house or you might end up in another Amityville horror re-make).

So the pond might at last return to watching tennis, though there's a lot more grunters, groaners and shriekers still doing the rounds ...

In the meantime, there's election-watching time coming up very soon ...

Naturally this has the reptiles in a state of high anticipation and nervous excitement ...

Now the pond really doesn't care when it happens ... its course is clear enough, with the Greens...


What Nationals MP for Page Kevin Hogan did not tell the Grafton Chamber of Commerce's February breakfast meeting when he was asked about foreign ownership of land and overseas workers North Coast Voices

This was the incumbent Nationals MP for Page Kevin Hogan as reported in The Daily Examiner on 22 February 2016:

A member of the chamber executive, Mark Butler, asked Mr Hogan what the government was doing to combat countries like China buying up large tracts of Australian land and the prospect of those owners employing Australian workers……

Mr Hogan said the government, led by the Nationals, was fighting foreign ownership.

This included setting a minimum property sale of $15 million before the sale was brought to the Foreign Investment Review Board.

Mr Hogan said the limit in 2013 had been $250 million.

"Even then I think that's ($15 million) too high, but at least it's cumulative so, if they buy an $8 million and a $7 million property, they appear on the board's radar," he said.



Debating Disaster Capitalism at the London School of Economics Antony Loewenstein

During my recent visit to London, where I debated the future of the UN at the London School of Economics (LSE), I also discussed my book Disaster Capitalism at the LSE with three articulate and critical women: Dr Brenna Bhandar, Dr Marsha Henry and Dr Devika Hovell. I was challenged on my choice of interviewees in the book, why more female voices weren’t heard and whether disaster capitalism is really any different to exploitative capitalism:


Are we witnessing the beginning of the end for the global coal industry? North Coast Voices

While the Australian Coalition Government keep its head deeply buried in the sand on climate change policy and the future of fossil fuels the world has quietly begun to by-pass coal, one of this country’s biggest exports.

Senate Bill 1547 (ELIMINATION OF COAL FROM ELECTRICITY SUPPLY) passed the Oregon House of Representatives on a 39-20 bipartisan vote on 16 February 2016 and re-passed the Senate on 2 March 2016:

Requires each electric company providing electricity to retail...

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Tuesday, 08 March


Surly public servant gets smacked by Senator-elect James Paterson Catallaxy Files

Via Andrew Bolt:

JON FAINE: Over the weekend there was a big Liberal Party powwow and they had to decide who was going to replace a retiring Senator. At the next federal election, Michael Ronaldson will stand down as a Senator on the number one spot on the ticket for Victoria and his place will be taken by a man who has helped us out and filled in on The Wrap from time to time. Hailing from the breeding school of Liberal politicians, the IPA – the Institute of Public Affairs – deputy executive director James Paterson leapfrogs his boss John Roskam to the number one spot on the Senate ticket for the Liberal Party. James, good morning to you.
JAMES PATERSON: Good morning Jon, pleasure to be with you.
JON FAINE: What’s wrong with Johnny Roskam? There he is, he’s been your boss, he’s Tim Wilson’s boss, so many IPA people going into politics and he’s still there at the IPA.
JAMES PATERSON: Jon, as you know, John Roskam is one of the great intellectuals in Australian public life today.
JON FAINE: Sorry, say that again.
JAMES PATERSON: John Roskam is one of the great public intellectuals in public life in Australia today, and he has an enormous contribution to make to intellectual life or political life if he chooses.
JON FAINE: A public intellectual? I’ve heard him called many things, but that’s the first time I’ve heard that one.
JAMES PATERSON: Well Jon, what else do you call someone who runs Australia’s biggest think tank, who publishes a weekly column, who has written books and chapters in books, and who delivers lectures and guest speeches? That is the very definition of a public intellectual. In America they review their public intellectuals, and I think we should do the same in Australia because we don’t have as many.
JON FAINE: Congratulations to you, is where I sh...


'Simply extraordinary' Daddy Cool guitarist Ross Hannaford plays last gig Independent Australia

'Simply extraordinary' Daddy Cool guitarist Ross Hannaford plays last gigRoss Hannaford, widely regarded as one of Australia's finest rock guitarists, has died after a battle with cancer. He was 65. read now...


The “war on drugs” in Guinea-Bissau translated into French Antony Loewenstein

Late last year I visited Guinea-Bissau in West Africa to investigate the country’s role as a key drug smuggling hub between South America and Europe. I published a number of stories about it including in Foreign Policy.

Leading French website Ulyces is committed to translating investigative stories from across the world and bringing back the tradition of financially supported journalism. They’ve translated my Foreign Policy story (with more to come) and I’m happy that French speakers can now read my work around the globe. Here’s a taste (more here):

Nous nous trouvons à Bissau, capitale de la Guinée-Bissau. Les quartiers généraux de la police judiciaire, l’agence du gouvernement chargée de mener la guerre contre les drogues dans le pays, sont situés dans une rue poussiéreuse, au beau milieu de cette capitale d’Afrique de l’Ouest étonnamment silencieuse. À l’intérieur se trouve l’unique laboratoire d’analyse des drogues du pays, un ajout récent dû à l’augmentation du financement de l’Union européenne, qui vise à endiguer le flot de narcotiques qui traversent en permanence les frontières du petit État africain.


The same ruined road: Why we’re better than the Peta Credlin rumours Independent Australia

The same ruined road: Why we’re better than the Peta Credlin rumoursThe blame attributed to Peta Credlin for the downfall of former PM Tony Abbott is yet another sign of the deep sexism running through our society. read now...


Nikki Savva and journalistic ethics Catallaxy Files

I still recall my amazement when Peter Costello chose Nikki Savva as his media advisor. She was the ideological twin sister of Michelle Grattan, Michelle at The Age, and Nikki at the Herald Sun. Media advisor was, I suppose, different from actual policy but nonetheless, she was every inch a know-nothing leftist. It is why I have never paid attention to a single thing she writes and am always surprised to see her as a supposed spokesperson for the right side of the political divide. Everything she has written about Abbott might as well have been written by the ALP media team. And now she has written a book about Abbott’s years as PM and the role that Peta Credlin played, without bothering to talk to either! This is how Credlin has replied to Nikki this morning: Niki Savva’s Road to Ruin: politics is now unsourced gossip.

I always thought a dignified ­silence was the best way to deal with Niki Savva’s attacks. They were personal, invariably founded on unsourced gossip and rarely made any attempt at balance.

I have always just got on with the job. I felt my 16 years of service to four Howard cabinet ministers and time in opposition, including as deputy chief of staff to Malcolm Turnbull, said more about my ­record than any bile from Savva but she was never interested in the facts.

Then, like now, she hasn’t ever wanted to speak with me — including in preparation for her book. Her colleagues in the Canberra press gallery would often ask me what I had done to warrant her attacks. People were often taken aback when I responded that I barely knew her.

It is one of the golden rules of journalistic ethics to provide a right of reply to anyone you’re going to criticise. In the end, journalists are supposed to weigh up the contributions and seek their own tr...

Monday, 07 March


Abbott, Credlin and the book that could hurt the Coalition Drag0nista's Blog

A new book detailing dysfunction within Tony Abbott's prime ministerial office will cause upheaval in the Coalition and may even fuel a thirst for retribution over his ousting.

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