archive: January 2019

31 January 2019

A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare examined the link between socioeconomic status and disease: “Overall, researchers said the findings showed social disadvantage was linked to poorer outcomes, including higher rates of disease and a greater likelihood of dying. In fact, if all Australians had the same chance of dying from the three diseases as those in the highest socioeconomic group, the report said there would be 8,600 fewer deaths each year from cardiovascular disease, 6,900 fewer deaths from diabetes, and 4,800 fewer deaths from chronic kidney disease.” That’s about 1 in every 1200 people in Australia.

30 January 2019

Greg Jericho has been complaining for years about the flexible definition of “middle income” used by politicians and swallowed by journalists: “there is no reality in which an Australian worker on $120,000, let alone $200,000, can be classed as a middle-income earner. It is utterly misleading to suggest that someone on $84,600 is middle-income — let alone someone on $158,730.” I’ve always assumed that people who fall for this rhetoric just have a poor understanding of where they sit on the distribution curve, but today I learned there’s more to it than that. A marketing executive told the SMH that choosing an expensive private school for his son was “the equivalent of taking a $30,000 pay cut in salary”. What a neat trick: simply take your extravagant spending decisions, pretend that they are the same as not having money in the first place, and you too can be part of the struggling middle class! Life imitates dril.

The Yothu Yindi Foundation is calling for a full audit of all government funding earmarked for addressing Indigenous disadvantage, after its analysis showed that the money was being syphoned off to porkbarrel in other areas. The NT’s Indigenous Affairs minister was thrown out of caucus for questioning the government’s spending priorities: “We’re going to say we need [more money] because we have remote Aboriginal communities — then we’ll spend it on a water park.” Meanwhile, Commonwealth Indigenous Affairs minister Nigel Scullion was caught using Indigenous Advancement Strategy money to Country Liberal Party networks and his white business mates, in part to pay for lawyers opposing land rights claims. He’s retiring soon — good riddance.

29 January 2019

The High Court has upheld the union movement’s challenge to NSW’s electoral spending laws, which privileged political parties by tightening a cap on spending by community organisations. The decision hinged on NSW’s failure to explain why it thought $500,000 was an appropriate cap — cynics might suggest the fact that bosses’ groups spent just under $500,000 at the last election had something to do with it. The NSW Liberals have form; their 2013 law limited spending by industrial organisations that were affiliated to a political party. When their lawyer claimed “it is not as though … we have simply targeted, sotto voce, the ALP”, Justice Hayne demanded, “Well, your side does not point to any other party to which this would apply? … Are we to ignore 100 years of history in this country…? Are we to shut our eyes to what has been observed over the last decades? … Apparently so.” That law was also struck down for illegally restricting freedom of political speech.

Jeff Sparrow draws lessons from AOC for Australian progressives: “Those who want to change the world can’t shape their ideas according to the conventional wisdom about what the public will accept, whether on refugees, climate change or anything else. … [L]eadership — particularly progressive leadership — entails challenging, rather than simply reflecting, the status quo. It means being prepared to displease media moguls or political insiders; it means fighting to popularise ideas that might initially seem difficult or extreme. As Danton, who knew something about changing the world, put it: ‘We need audacity, and yet more audacity, and always audacity!'”

28 January 2019

From a fascinating Richard Denniss essay on how Government conducts cost-benefit analysis: “According to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), an Australian life is currently worth $4.5 million and each year of premature death is worth $195,000. This number is not top secret — on the contrary, it is contained in a short and eminently readable memo entitled ‘Best Practice Regulation Guidance Note: Value of statistical life’. … Intriguingly, … the head of PM&C, Dr Martin Parkinson, earns $896,400 per year, which suggests that a year of your life is worth less than a quarter of a year of his working life. Just saying.” Denniss raises some challenging questions about how we value different lives in different contexts.

27 January 2019

Greg Jericho on the wealthy elite in Australia and abroad: “My goodness they’re getting scared. Their world, which has them at the top of the heap, setting — nay, rigging — the rules, and where they can repeat to themselves over and over that their success is all about merit and personal brilliance, is cracking all around them. They’re scared and have retreated into stupidity and fallacy.”

Huge crowds joined Invasion Day rallies around Australia yesterday, including over 40,000 who marched through Melbourne, where the speeches focussed on youth suicide and deaths in custody. One key demand was the repeal of public drunkenness laws, which disproportionately affect Indigenous people. Last year, Tanya Day was arrested for public drunkenness after falling asleep on a train, and died in Castlemaine Police Station. Her family is calling on the Andrews Government to implement the recommendation of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody to repeal the law.

26 January 2019

Airport services contractor AeroCare has had its dubious interpretation of shift limits in the Ground Staff award thrown out. The Federal Court said the company’s claim that two shifts in one day were really just one “split shift” was “artificial”, “self-serving”, and “substantially eroded” the Award’s protection of shiftworkers. In 2013, AeroCare’s “split shift” system was approved by the FWC’s notoriously anti-union Graeme Watson, leading to workers stuck at the airport for up to 14 hours with 6 unpaid. (Watson was appointed to the FWC after helping draft the Coalition’s WorkChoices laws, and is now back at home advising the Coaliton.) AeroCare’s attempt to renew the system in 2017 was rejected for undercutting the award, and the Federal Court case was an attempt to push it through again.

25 January 2019

In a post about nuclear power, John Quiggin makes a comment in passing that for Australia, “the big problem is that our ancient and dirty coal-fired stations are being kept alive by the anti-renewable stance of the LNP. Contrary their claims of being more reliable than renewables they routinely break down when most needed.” Sure enough, as Victoria faces record temperatures, “three [coal] power generators across Yallourn and Loy Yang A have shut down”, and power failures are likely. So burning coal not only intensifies heatwaves, it also makes them more deadly by making it harder for people to ameliorate the heat.