6 November 2019

The Morrison Government has tried to hide a scathing Auditor-General’s report by releasing it on Melbourne Cup day. The report “savaged the government’s management of the sweeping policy to create ‘jobs and growth’ in ten regions as part of a Coalition promise at the 2016 election… Government officials recommended hundreds of applications for regional job programs but were overruled by a ministerial panel which rejected 64 projects seeking $75.9 million. Instead, the ministerial panel allocated $77.4 million to 64 other projects not recommended by officials responsible for regional development and industry.” This $200 million program was intended to help regions (like the Latrobe Valley) that have struggled with economic stagnation following structural shifts in the economy. Is it any wonder that people are sceptical when politicians promise a “just transition”, when it is abused as a political slush fund for pet projects at election time? Any proposal for a Green New Deal needs to be clear about how it will be protected from this kind of interference.

4 November 2019

A week after Woolworths’ admission of a decade-long, $300 million wage rip-off, the company’s narrative that it was all an innocent mistake has begun to fall apart, with revelations that they (and their lawyers, Ashurst) spent months trying to prevent thousands of employees finding out they were owed tens of thousands of dollars. And more significantly, the Fair Work Ombudsman has admitted to a decade of incompetence: “It’s tipping us into the corporate regulator space and we have never been in that space before… the community is expecting us to be satisfied that the company is properly assessing the underpayments. They want us to (take) oversight (of) getting the money back, and making sure it doesn’t happen again. That actually requires a different set of skills in this agency and high-level legal expertise. Companies are coming to us with teams of lawyers. Negotiation skills need to be high and we need forensic ­accounting expertise.” This is a startling admission — since its establishment in 2009, the FWO has had no forensic accounting expertise, and it is now surprised that it is expected to enforce wage laws and ensure they aren’t breached in future? Those are its statutory functions! Everyone in the organisation should be sacked.

2 November 2019

When the Left argues that every billionaire is a policy failure, we generally mean that inequality is unjust, and hoarding should be prevented while poverty exists. Chris Dillow argues the Right should agree, for different reasons: “[I]t should be conservative supporters of a free market who don’t want there to be billionaires. I say so because in a healthy market economy there should be almost no extremely wealthy people simply because profits should be bid away by competition. In the textbook case of perfect competition there are no super-normal profits, and in the more realistic case of Schumpeterian creative destruction, high profits should be competed away quickly. From this perspective, every billionaire is a market failure — a sign that competition has failed. … Tories are wrong, therefore, to portray attacks on the mega-rich as the politics of envy. It’s not. The existence of billionaires is a sign and cause of a dysfunctional economy.”

1 November 2019

Nafeez Ahmed levels two criticisms against Extinction Rebellion’s strategy. First, by prioritising “arrestable” action ahead of disruption that directly targets and challenges specific structures of oppression, XR misunderstands the social movements it purports to emulate: the US civil rights movement and the Indian independence movement “were successful because the institutions they disrupted were precisely the institutions of violence that needed to be overwhelmed by mass disruption in order for them to change, so that the costs of continuing that repressive violence would be increasingly difficult to sustain or justify. … [T]he idea that mass arrests of largely privileged white people will overwhelm the police system — paving the way for the government to capitulate to XR’s demands about climate change — does not follow from the logic of these historical cases.” Second, XR relies on the theory that if 3.5 per cent of a population are involved in mass protest, change will follow — but the study this is drawn from considered the overthrow of authoritarian regimes, not demands for new policy within Western liberal democracies. The whole essay is worth reading.

31 October 2019

The Interim Report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has put neoliberalism (aka the Hawke-Keating Legacy) in the dock: “[T]he ‘marketisation and individualisation’ of aged care … has been occurring since the 1980s. In particular, Governments have placed their focus on ‘consumer-driven’ care, the provision of care in people’s homes, increasing competition within the aged care market, and reducing ‘unnecessary’ regulation.” This “has generally been accepted” by review after review that has failed to solve the problems, but now: “It is time for a reality check. … The structure of the current system has been framed around the idea of a ‘market’ for aged care services where older people are described as ‘clients’ or ‘customers’ who are able to choose between competitively marketed services. But many older people are not in a position to meaningfully negotiate prices, services or care standards with aged care providers. The notion that most care is ‘consumer-directed’ is just not true. Despite appearances, despite rhetoric, there is little choice with aged care. It is a myth that aged care is an effective consumer-driven market. … It is clear that a fundamental overhaul of the design, objectives, regulation and funding of aged care in Australia is required. This will be the central purpose of our Final Report”.

30 October 2019

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has lodged a misleading submission [$] opposing the creation of a criminal offence of wage theft. “It may sound far-fetched but if underpaying someone becomes a criminal offence, then so too could the misuse of sick leave (an activity which surveys suggest almost one in five employees engage in every year) as a form of ‘time theft’,” ACCI claims. The trouble is, as I have pointed out before, making false sick leave claims is already a crime. So is lodging false time sheets: for example, this truck driver is currently facing up to 120 years’ jail — ten years for each of 12 false time sheets he allegedly submitted. Why can’t he sign an undertaking and make a token contrition payment to buy his way out of trouble? If ACCI’s concern for equality is genuine, it would be arguing that bosses should also face ten years in the slammer for every false timesheet they create.

28 October 2019

Sean Kelly: “Labor will always scare voters. It represents change, and therefore risk. The fear can be minimised, but it can never be erased. For Labor to triumph, that fear must be overpowered by excitement. And that is a hard ask — partly because you won’t excite voters by just giving them what they say they want in focus groups. This might sound trite, but voters expect Labor to fight, even when they’re not completely on board with the cause. The party should have learned that in 2010, when it backed down on emissions trading, and bled support. Before this year’s election, I thought Labor’s platform fairly left-wing. In certain respects, like tax, it was brave. But what if it wasn’t left-wing enough? Labor tried to have it each way on Adani. It would think about gender quotas on boards. On the central moral issues of our time — climate and refugees — it copied its opponents. If Labor is willing to admit it did not have a sufficiently inspiring vision last time, does it really think the answer lies in being just a little more innocuous? … There are many ways to lose a battle, but the only surefire method is not turning up.”

25 October 2019

UN climate scientists believe a concerted effort to revegetate land and improve soil quality could “convert enough carbon into biomass to stabilize emissions of CO₂, the biggest greenhouse gas, for 15-20 years, giving the world time to adopt carbon-neutral technologies.” Rene Castro Salazar, assistant director general at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, said, “With political will and investment of about $300 billion, it is doable.” This sounds like an incredibly large number, but when put in perspective it is a pittance. Bloomberg notes it is equivalent to “the world’s military spending every 60 days” — two months of peace would pay for 20 years of climate action! Even if we insist only the wealthiest countries cover this cost, the combined GDP of the G8 nations is about $40 trillion per year, so the whole of the $300 billion amounts to just 0.75%. That could be covered by one year of slightly lower economic growth in those countries. If non-G8 wealthy countries pitched in, the impact would barely be felt. And this is a 20 year project — on that time frame, the cost approaches zero.

When a tech consultancy boss realised his work hours were preventing him from having quality time with his daughters, he decided to trial shorter working hours for himself and his employees — moving from 8-hour to 5-hour days [$]. It worked well for a while, with no loss of productivity, but then he decided to shift back to longer hours, because: “Everyone’s outside life got so much better, at the expense of their passion for the work.” Of course, it didn’t occur to him to consider whether the harsh new working conditions he imposed might be making work life miserable: “small talk during work hours is discouraged. Social media is banned. Phones are kept in backpacks.” Perhaps the lessons to be drawn here are that shorter work hours significantly improve people’s lives, while dehumanising restrictions in the workplace reduce people’s passion for their work…

Matt Halton recently appeared on Floodcast to discuss his recent essay for Overland about the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation. He notes that a project aimed at removing Marx from the curriculum can not be taken seriously: “If there is indeed such a thing as Western Civilisation, with all its attendant signifiers, then [Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte] is right at the centre of it — pulling everyone from Caesar to Napoleon, Hamlet to Dracula, into its ideological orbit, exposing the hidden parallels of history even as it mercilessly deconstructs the idea that the West has a unified legacy.” In an amusing gambit, Halton then uses Ramsay himself to illustrate the continuing significance of Marx’s gothic imagery in understanding the world: “Ramsay is long gone, but through the medium of his money he still bends the world to his will, brushing aside the concerns of perennially underpaid and overworked researchers in blind, vindictive pursuit of his foundation’s obsolete agenda, wrapping his rotting hands around the neck of modern thought and trying to drag it down with him into the stinking grave of a past that never was. ‘The tradition of all dead generations,’ writes Marx, ‘weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.’”