Doctor and activist

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Category: The Future

AUKUS- time to make a RUcKUS

6 February 2024

The decision to buy Australia nuclear submarines was one of the worst military decisions ever taken in Australia, not to mention the opportunity cost of $360 billion in terms of the useful things it could do to improve Australian society.

Nick Deane of the Marrickville Peace Group punches well above his weight because of the dire state of peace activism in Australia. He writes excellent material in a very understudied area.

He makes the point that a few submarines cannot defend Australia if it were in danger of a serious attack. But of course that much money could buy a lot of other military material, so we are actually a lot weaker for having the subs.

The other reason given is ‘deterrence’. Presumably this relates to China, but given the huge arsenal the US already has, whether a few submarines are Australian-flagged or US-flagged will not change their thinking one iota.  China is a power that is going to rise whether we like it or not, their current economic problems notwithstanding. Anwar Ibrahim, the excellent Malaysian Prime Minister has pointed this out at the ASEAN meeting in Melbourne.

We are not going to stop China’s rise and we should try to get the US to accommodate this as they will not be able to stop it either. We should simply deal with China as a trading partner, not sell them our strategic assets and get a fair price for our wares.  Their interest in the Eurasian continental mass will be far greater than invading a farm and a quarry of far less economic significance.

My own view is that it quite dubious whether a nuclear submarine will be of any use in any case. The battleships that fought in WW1 were rendered totally obsolete by their vulnerability to seaplane attacks in WW2. Submarines can currently hide because changes in water temperature make them hard to detect.  Conventional submarines get found when they come up for air, but nuclear submarines can stay submerged for very long periods. But nuclear submarines produce a lot of hot water from their reactors, which they cannot turn off. If they stay in the same place quite a plume of hot water goes up from them.  It is hard to believe that satellites will not be able to notice this temperature difference.  The Russian Black Sea fleet is being sunk by numerous relatively cheap drones, and it is difficult to believe that a pattern of surface drones guided by a satellite would not be able to locate and then destroy a submarine twenty years hence.

The UK wants to sell us submarines and wants to lock us in on their side in a confrontation with China. But the  US has other objectives. Apart from selling us submarines at vast profit, we will have to have a base capable of supporting them. Then they will be able to use that base, presumably at minimal cost, so we are locked into having US nuclear warships in our ports at our cost and becoming targets for China in the confrontation.

The pro-nuclear lobby has also pointed out that Australia will also have to hugely expand our nuclear knowledge capability with at least another reactor larger than our modest one at Lucas Heights. We cannot just have submarines and not be able to operate and maintain them.

The defence procurement has been an a mess for years, one suspects because some of our strategic planners want us to ‘operate seamlessly’ with the US, which assumes that our military policy is in total lockstep with theirs, and other planners want an independent Australian capability, fearing the US under Trump  might go into isolationism as it did just before both world wars. What do you procure if you have not solved this internal wrangle?

So along comes Morrison whose popularity is sagging just before an election and makes a big decision that allows him to pretend he is a big statesman with a US President and a UK Prime Minister. Photo op a bargain at $360 billion!

Labor, ever-fearful of being criticised by the Liberals for being ‘weak on defence’ (or border security or tax cuts) has just gone along with this. And of course decades of dithering for the reasons above have meant that there is no properly thought out and costed alternative.

We need to recognise that the US will always act in its own interest as it did in delaying its entry to WW1 and WW2 and in selling arms now. We need our own defence policy and to recognise that the US may help us, but only if it has the resources available at the time and there are not other priorities. Once we have a defence policy, we can  fix the muddled thinking and get a defence procurement strategy.  But we will have to make enough noise to get rid of the AUKUS deal, which will tie up so much money that nothing else will get a look in.

Here is Nick Deane’s article from John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations:


How did Australia get seduced by AUKUS?

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Gaza: The Final Solution?

15 February 2024

As the Israeli army threatens to invade the last part of Gaza, Australia, Canada, NZ, the UN and most of the world ask them to stop.  The citizens of Gaza were already crowded into a very small area. Then they were moved to the South, then into ever smaller areas.  Now military action will kill large numbers who have nowhere to shelter. It is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Netanyahu says that he wants to destroy Hamas and that the hostages must be there somewhere.  Presumably as he has not found them in the areas he is already occupying.

He is still trying to defeat Hamas militarily and always has intelligence that they are hiding in the civilian population.

The idea that Hamas is separate from the population it governs is absurd. It may have a military wing, but it is a political party that was voted in. The reason that they were voted in was because the Palestinian Authority were seen as patsies for the Israeli government, corrupt and concerned with land rezoning kickbacks in the putative capital of the West Bank Palestinian state, Ramallah.

But even if the Israelis killed everyone associated with Hamas, their actions have guaranteed generations of hatred for the Israelis. The ‘war on terror’ was a silly slogan, as terror is a means of fighting that underdogs use, not a religion, a cause or a people.

Which begs the final question; what is Israel doing?  Netanyahu is under a great deal of pressure personally in that he is facing corruption changes and he has actually passed legislation to disempower the courts. This was a cause of many demonstrations before the Hamas raids on 7 October that triggered the current war. He is also dependent for power on far-Right Zionist parties for the survival of his government.  In a way he needs the war.

But I wonder if this final stage is actually the final solution of the ‘Palestinian problem’.  Israel has pretended that there would be a ‘two state solution’ as it pushed Palestinians off their land and out of their Jerusalem houses, gave their jobs to immigrant guest workers so that they had no means of support, and kept them in a gated city, Gaza.  Having deliberately made a two state solution impossible, they then made peace with adjoining countries and talked about a ‘regional solution’, which sounded very like ‘you take the Palestinians’.  Now, they may be saying to the rest of the world, ‘Are you going to open the border and let these people escape to the Sinai or will we kill them all?’  Of course if they go to the Sinai they will be a huge refugee problem, but it will not be Israel’s problem, it will be the world’s problem- a ‘regional solution’, as Israel will not take them back.

Israel is already a pariah. It has nowhere to put the Palestinians and would have to rebuild Gaza, which it will not want to do. It cannot integrate them as is being attempted in post-Apartheid South Africa, as the enmity is probably now worse than it was in South Africa. And Netanyahu’s far-right religious backers probably see this as an opportunity for a final solution. Do we really believe the stated reasons for their actions?  Who will blink first?

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Gaza Outcomes

4 February 2024

As Israel destroys all of Gaza and the refugees huddle on the beach one might ask what is the end point?

Israel claims it wants to destroy Hamas, because it is a ‘terrorist organisation’

But what does this mean? A terrorist is someone who uses attacks on civilians to create fear in a population to achieve a political end.  One could ask if that was what the Israeli occupation of the West Bank was doing already, failing to recognise land title, awarding Palestinian-occupied land to settlers and then sending the Army to defend the donated land for the ‘settlers’.

But leaving that aside, it is true that Hamas or groups associated with it used terrorist tactics on October 7th.  Terrorist tactics are almost always used by the weaker side for the simple reason that they cannot hope to win a more conventional conflict.

But Hamas were the elected government of Gaza, elected largely because the Palestinian Authority was seen to be corrupted by land development money and a patsy organisation for the Israelis.

Palestinians are actually quite an nonreligious people, but saw Hamas as at least on their side.

The Israelis response was at first called ‘self defence’ but the idea that killing 28,000 mostly civilians and flattening a whole city is an appropriate retaliation for 1,200 deaths seems totally unreasonable.

It is also unreasonable to think that Hamas can be defeated militarily. It is not a military problem.  Even if every last Hamas member were killed, their ideas will never be separated from the rest of the Gaza population. They have witnessed this unrestrained killing and destruction of their homes- it would be difficult to believe that in the long term they will not hate Israel.

So what is Israel’s objective? One could answer that it is the short-term survival of Netanyahu politically, but that is too simple.  Israel has pretended it wanted a two-state solution, which means giving the West Bank to the Palestinians. Yet it has systematically placed 750,00 settlers on all the high points of the West Bank, supported them and armed them to the teeth. It has deliberately made a two state solution impossible as a policy for the last 70 years.  As Netanyahu made good relations with Qatar, Dubai and Saudi Arabia, he started to speak about a ‘Regional Solution’ to the ‘Palestinian problem’.  This sounded very much like asking his Arab neighbours to take Palestinians as refugees/migrants.

Now the Gazans will have nowhere to go.  Their city is totally destroyed.  Who would pay for its rebuild?  Who will govern this wasteland?

It seems obvious that the Israelis want the Gazans to go into the Sinai desert in Egypt and then become a refugee problem for the UN and the whole world- i.e no longer a problem for Israel.  It has worked with the Rohingyas in Myanmar.

Biden is talking about a two-state solution, and not having the Gazans go into Egypt. How realistic is this?


Fillipo Grandi was Commissioner -General of UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency) and visited Australia as a guest of the UN Association of Australia in 2012. He was Italian, a consummate diplomat and in charge of relief for Palestinian refugees. I chaired a meeting at the Sydney Peace Foundation at Sydney Uni where he was the guest speaker. He was extremely careful not to criticise Israel to the extent that I as a debater and politician marvelled at his skill as he fielded loaded questions from each side of the debate.

According to Wikipedia UNRWA now has 30,000 staff and employs a lot of Palestinian refugees to help administer their aid programme. This is hardly surprising.  There are few jobs for Palestinian refugees and the UN needs relatively cheap staff. Naturally they would use Palestinians to help their own people. It is therefore hardly surprising that with Hamas as the Gaza government, some UNRWA staff would be involved with them, and also unsurprising that some would be sympathetic to Hamas.

We might ask who discovered the connection between a dozen UNRWA workers and Hamas? Israeli security?  Now we see the US, Australia, the UK and others stopping funding to UNRWA.  The Gaza refugees are already starving.  Who does this aid cessation benefit?  Israel of course. The last hope of the Gaza refugees is taken away.

It seemed that the only two possibilities for a resolution of the Israeli/Palestine problem were either a two-state solution or a one state solution as advocated by Jeff Halper in his book ‘An Israeli in Palestine’ which was an Apartheid  reconciliation process similar to what happened in South Africa.  The chances of either of these solutions seems remote now, so the Israeli solution, of bombing and starving Palestinians out of Gaza and into Egypt initially and then anywhere else may be the only one.  In the West Bank, with their land taken and the menial jobs now being done by imported Sri Lankans, Filipinos and Indonesians rather than Palestinians, there will be pressure for them to follow their Gaza compatriots into exile.

I hope that I am quite wrong about this, but I doubt it.

Here is a new word for irreconcilably taking someone’s home, Domicide, in an article in The Guardian.

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Power: the 50-25-25 rule

16 December 2023

When I was in Parliament someone said to me that big business had 50% of the power, all governments together 25%, and every other power group 25%.

It seemed a strange concept at first, but on reflection, I think it is about right.

Only after revolutions does it change much and historians argue over for how long.

Senator David Pocock, the Canberra independent, spent a lot of time trying to get the Government to release documents between Santos and themselves about the Barossa gas development in the Timor Sea.

THe reason for this was the Environmental Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) bill 2023.

Santos is the front partner and 50% owner of the Barossa gas field with SK E&S, a Korean company having 35% and JERA, a Japanese company, 15%. They wanted to develop the largest fossil fuel project in Australia, (natural gas), just when Australia is supposedly getting towards net zero carbon dioxide. Quite apart from the fact that methane burns to carbon dioxide, natural gas, having been formed from the decay of carbon products, is usually found with large amounts of carbon dioxide in with the methane. The Barossa gas is worse than usual at 16-20% carbon dioxide. Santos therefore wanted a permit to separate the carbon dioxide, capture it and store it.

Jennifer Rayner of the Climate Council is one of the many environmentalists who point out that CCS, Carbon Capture and Storage has never been done successfully and is just a fudge to continue fossil fuel use. But it gets worse. When the carbon dioxide is supposedly all captured, it is to be piped to a supposedly exhausted gas field, Bayu-Undan, in East Timor 100 km away and injected into the wells there. What could possibly go wrong? East Timor is not a signatory to the Paris Climate agreement. And if that were not enough, the pipeline to East Timor will not be finished until 5 years after the methane is being shipped, so 5 years worth of carbon dioxide waste is simply to be exhausted to the atmosphere.

All thai was pointed out in Parliament by Pocock and the Greens. There is a carbon offset scheme, where Australian Carbon Offset Units (ACCUs) could be bought, but estimates have been that not enough of these could possibly be created to offset the amount of gas produced by projects currently in the pipeline and the price of ACCUs would rise. The Sea Dumping bill was passed with support from the Coalition. The Greens and Pocock held out, unsuccessfully.

The government resisted releasing the Santos correspondence until after the bill was passed and the correspondence said that Santos’ decisions had already been made and considerable investments undertaken and it would upset the Korean and the Japanese investors if the project were stopped or delayed. It seems that the Koreans and Japanese pressured Penny Wong and the Foreign Affairs Ministry and overcame Chris Bowen and the Environment Ministry. .

All this happened at the same time as the COP28 (28th Conference of the Parties of the 1992 Agreement)in the UAE (United Arab Emirates). UAE is the second largest economy in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia and exports 3 million barrels of oil a day. The president of the COP meeting was Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, who is also Minister of Industry of the UAE and head of the Abi Dhabi National Oil Company. How anyone could have expected a resolution to phase out fossil fuels to come from a meeting so constituted defies understanding. The whole setting seemed beyond satire. The final text, which seems very hard to get actually agrees to phase down fossil fuels but gives no timetable and allows gas as a transition fuel, which is effectively a loophole to increase gas production.

Environment Minister Chris Bowen said that it was ‘no small thing’ to agree to ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels. But what is all this worth with no timetable and no commitment to phase them out?

Pocock is an ex-Rugby player. My local rugby club has the motto ‘Facta non Verba’= ‘Deeds not Words’ and Pocock is true to the breed.

He said ‘As a country we’ve got to make the choice. Do we put our futures and the ..future..ahead of the short-term profits of a handful of companies like Santos?’

The answer it seems is ‘Yes’. Santos tells the Labor government what to do, and the Labor government does it. The Liberals opposed initially as they usually oppose everything, but when they found out about what Santos and the Japanese and Koreans wanted they quickly came on board.

The rule about 50-25-25 seems to hold good. 50% quickly became 75%, then 100%.

It is very hot today, and summer is not yet here. It would be nice to think that next year will be better, but it won’t, maybe ever…

Here is the story in The Saturday Paper. You might wonder why it is not in the other papers.

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The Vicious Circle of Modern Politics by Barry Jones

10 December 2023

Barry Jones was a national quiz champion when Quiz shows tested knowledge not trivia. He became a Science minister in the Hawke Government from 1983-1900 and used to tell Parliament what was happening in Science and what its implications were for the future. It was a bit like throwing pearls to swine. They laughed because his pants were unfashionably baggy. But he did make some difference to policy.  At least knowledge had a voice.


He later became head of the Labor party and travelled campaigning for important issues and always taking a long view and a historic perspective. He believed, as we all did, that when more knowledge was generally available, policies would be better. Unfortunately social media, which allows everyone the same access to information also allows the same access to its dissemination, which seems to have given ignorance and simplistic populism a new lease on life.

He wrote in this week’s The Saturday Paper of how a vicious circle is created in modern politics.

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FB Post to School Students 4 Climate

17 November 2023

School students had a strike today and marched to Tanya Plibersek’s office to demand more action on climate.  I posted this to their Facebook page ‘School Students 4 Climate’

I note your slogan ‘Take back the power’. This is good and very important.. While 2 political parties can both be bought by vested interests we will never have the power. The Swiss constitution has citizens able to get a petition and overturn any government decision at quarterly referenda. They have 3 levels of government like us, but any level can be overturned. Politicians are part-time and limited to 2 terms so they cannot climb at party hierarchy, and they keep their original jobs while they are in Parliament and go back to them when their term expires. They also have a number of political parties so the government never has an absolute majority and has to debate and negotiate over every bill. The Swiss model was suggested in 1898, but Aust. went with the US/UK model. The Swiss model gives power to the people. We should work towards it as a better model. When Winston Churchill wrote the German constitution after WW2 he made certain that no single political party could ever have an absolute majority. Look at how polarised the US and UK are and we are going the same way. We must get power back to the people, not the political parties. To get the power back we need a change to the Australian Constitution. It is a long-term project. Can the schoolkids do it?

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Burma/Myanmar Sportswashing

9 November 2023

I visited Myanmar (Burma) in December 2017.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace prize winning daughter of the founder of modern Burma, who was immensely popular with the people had been elected in a landslide in 2015. She and her party had boycotted the 2010 elections as farcical, but the military dictatorship had allowed her to stand in 2015, where she had won with 86% of the parliamentary seats.

Despite this win, the military junta still refused to yield power and kept the critical portfolios in the Cabinet, so she was nominally in charge and trying to change the system but her hands were largely tied. It was hard to get anyone to talk about politics, and few spoke English, but I had enough contacts to let me in on the situation.

It was a third world country trying to develop tourism. It had some relatively modern tourist buses but few hotels of a reasonable standard. (This did not bother me as a lifetime backpacker). Most cars were old, but there were a significant number of modern ones. The only feature of these was that they were right hand drive in a country that drives on the right, so the drivers were on the wrong side when it came to overtaking. It was because Japan had made a number of recent model second hand cars available and these had been snapped up.

Yangon, the biggest city and historical capital had a building that should have been the Parliament and it was in quite good condition but mothballed and currently not used for anything. The city was third world, crowded and prone to blackouts, so many buildings had diesel generators in the street outside, which were turned on when the blackouts came, making pretty bad pollution worse.

The people were friendly and courteous, and keen to develop the new tourism industry that had opened up under the same pressure on the military government that had led to the elections. There was a palpable tension between the population and the military, who moved around with surly expressions as if they knew that they were hated, but were not going to give ground.

This was very evident in Mandalay, the second largest city, which has an old palace in a large fortified area, complete with a moat. The military have taken control of all but the central palace with signs forbidding anyone walking in the extensive (neglected) gardens. They have a large depot within the grounds and a surly military guard post at the gate that inspects passports.

The other major expression of this separateness was in Naypyidaw, the capital. This city was recently built with Chinese money and is in the mountains about 3 hours drive from Yangon, presumably to make it less vulnerable to possible revolution. It is very modern with 8 lane highways with absolutely minimal traffic. The foreigners were in a cluster of large modern hotels, again Chinese-built. The hotels were remarkably cheap for their standard, but I noted that at 9pm there were almost no lights on in any of the rooms and there were only about 20 people for breakfast in our large international-standard hotel. The foreign hotel area was a bus ride from where the people lived, and that was not a large area. The National library was a modern air-conditioned building, not partially large. We were about the only people in it apart from the staff. It was on a bus route, but nowhere near any population centre.

Four years later, in February 2021, there was a military coup and Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested on a number of charges related to national security. She has been in prison ever since on charges that the western countries have called politically motivated. It seems that her major crime was to use a two-way radio phone network that was not accessible to the military junta. Her economic advisor, Australian Professor Sean Turnell was also tried without an interpreter and gaoled. He was released in November 2022 after 21 months in detention and representations from the Australian government. There was some resistance to the coup and some people were killed. Resistance is ongoing and almost certainly widely supported, but it has had minimal publicity in the western or Australian media since Prof Turnell’s release.

The reason for this post is that a soccer team from Myanmar with strong junta connections is to play Macarthur FC in Sydney shortly. This looks like a sportswashing exercise to legitimise the government and lessen its isolation.

I suggest that you write to Penny Wong and ask that they not be given visas, and to Macarthur FC and ask that they not play them, email: Here is the request from the Australian Coalition for Democracy in Burma:

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Labor and Liberals Unite to Continue Opacity and Pork-Barrelling

25 May 2023

Labor has opposed a Teal move to have infrastructure proposals publically available. The lack of transparency has allowed the pork-barrelling that was rife in the Liberal administration, but it has also continued under Labor.

One would have hoped that Labor would support the move, as most of the Labor electorates, being less well-off are more likely to justify more spending.  But they have teamed up with the Liberals to defeat the move.  Very disappointing.  Labor seems happy  just to clear the Liberals very low bar.

Dutton and PM unite to block teal demands


Chief political correspondent SMH 25 May 2023

A bid to tighten safeguards on major road and rail projects has been blocked in federal parliament after Labor and the Coalition joined forces against moves by teal independents to reveal more about the $120 billion cost.

Calling for more scrutiny of the mammoth spending, the independent MPs sought changes to stamp out pork barrelling and force governments to reveal the costs and benefits of new proposals before sinking taxpayer funds into the projects.

But their bid was lost when the major parties used their numbers to defeat the moves, which included an amendment copied from a proposal from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese when he was in opposition nine years ago.

The debate heightened tensions between Labor and the crossbench over integrity in government and the priority for vast projects including the rail line to the Western Sydney Airport, the Melbourne Airport Rail, the Inland Rail and competing road-building proposals in every state.

Independent MP Allegra Spender wanted the government to accept changes that would prevent the peak agency for big projects, Infrastructure Australia, approving proposals that could not show the benefits outweighed the cost.

‘‘This is, you would think, an uncontroversial amendment, one which simply requires public money be used prudently and one which was previously proposed by the Prime Minister himself,’’ Spender said.

‘‘It is only controversial because it takes away the power of the government to make investment decisions which are positive politically but negative economically.’’

Another amendment put to parliament yesterday would require Infrastructure Australia to release its regular audits of the priority list so the public could learn more about costs and benefits of projects.

Spender gained support from Greens leader Adam Bandt and his fellow MPs as well as all other crossbenchers in the lower house

But the amendments were defeated when Infrastructure Minister Catherine King gained Coalition support, sending a signal that the government would also have the numbers in the Senate to defeat any similar amendments. The government passed its draft law in its original form.

King defended the decision to reject the amendments because some information was too sensitive to be released.

Coalition infrastructure spokeswoman Bridget McKenzie wanted an amendment to increase rural representation at the peak agency but did not support the push from the teals.

‘‘Other proposals would have increased costs, decreased investment, and reduced the ability of governments to initiate projects – which is surely fundamental to a democracy,’’ she said.

Kylea Tink, the member for North Sydney, warned that defeating the amendments would mean the Labor government was ‘‘no less likely’’ than the Coalition to engage in pork-barrelling.

Dai Le, who represents Fowler in western Sydney, said voters should not be surprised that Labor promised greater transparency before the election but voted against it after gaining power.

‘‘The two parties are the same – they go to an election, make a promise to make a change, and when they’re in government they don’t do it. They keep the status quo,’’ she said. ‘‘As a result of that, our society, our communities, pay the price for the lack of infrastructure planning.’’

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Modi’s Melbourne Rally has Australia Kow-Towing Again.

24 May 2023

The spectacle on tonight’s ABC news of visiting Indian Prime Minister addressing a rally in Melbourne sent shivers up my spine.

I had realised that Modi was acting as a Hindu nationalist, and doing quite bad things to Muslims Sikhs and other minority groups.  He was and is using religion as a way of increasing his vote as over 80% of Indians are Hindu.  But in a country of 1.3 billion people are lot are not Hindu, and areas in the North of the country have been suppressed, with the historic separation of Pakistan and Bangldesh (formers called East Pakistan), as well as problems in Sikh Kashmir, where the people actually want independence from both Hindu India who controls them and Muslim Pakistan who wants to.

Modi has used very authoritarian tactics, but has got away with it because the Indian economy has done well. 

Australia is very pro-India at present as the China trade embargos have meant that we are looking to diversify our markets and a rising nation with 1.3 billion people looks just the ideal partner.  Not to mention defence ties, though India has traditionally tried to create a group of non-aligned nations to cool whichever Cold War is going on at the time.

But the rally in Melbourne as shown on ABC News tonight had a huge stadium shouting with Modi in the centre like a rock star.  Our Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, said that the last time he saw this was a Bruce Springsteen Concert and the crowd were more adoring of Modi than they had been of the Boss, Springsteen. They also hugged, like footballers after scoring.  But it went on. Modi stood alone in the centre and addressed the crowd in their own language.  It was doubtless staged for the Indian elections which are next year.  It seems that our government was complicit.  It is very hard to think that they were unaware of what was being organised, and their part was as direct an endorsement of Modi personally as could have been done.

Having kow-towed to the US on defence last week, and mumbled a few platitudes about Julian Assange, this was another example of the Albanese government being very weak on human rights, or even standing up for anything.  We should have been friends with India without such a party-political statement. Politics%20 Wednesday 24 May 2023&utm_content=The Politics%20 Wednesday 24 May 2023+CID_646eeca792ac1e467a7fad04b06e163a&utm_source=EDM&utm_term=Read on free&cid=646eeca792ac1e467a7fad04b06e163a

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NSW Election Epilogue

I April 2023

The NSW election is over, with the result we largely expected, Labor victory, but not enough for an absolute majority.  I had hoped that they would get fewer seats so as to have more discipline from the cross bench, but they took a small target strategy and promised no privatisation and some key wage rises, so Minns did quite well.  It remains to be seen if Labor has shed the fundamental dishonesty of the Obeid era and the long history of being captured by property developers and the gambling industry.  Minns weak policy on the latter is cause for concern- the public are ready for serious action on the harms of gambling, but the chance may be squandered by Minns. The Australian  gambling lobby are our equivalent of the US gun lobby.  If Minns simply increases their taxes, it will merely increase the State’s dependence on gambling revenue and lessen the possibility of future reform.

The key structural problem of Australia’s finances remains that the States are responsible for providing the majority of services, but the Commonwealth collects the taxes and solves its own budget problems by not giving the States the money that they need, so States budgets are cobbled together with stamp duties, gambling taxes, and ‘dividends’ from State-owned enterprises like Sydney Water that have to get a profit and pay it to the government, (which boils down to water rates having a tax component).

Allegra Spender, the Federal Independent for Wentworth in Sydney’s affluent Eastern Suburbs, held a Tax Summit on 31 March as she correctly recognises that we need to address tax revenue as the Federal government seems paralysed even to get minor reforms to superannuation on people with over $3million, or cancel the silly Stage 3 tax cuts which were merely a Morrison promise to stave off election defeat, and then matched by Labor in a silly ‘race to the bottom’ for taxes, government revenue (and  services).   Meanwhile there is a housing crisis, caused by negative gearing pushing property prices up, then landlords trying to get a return as interest rates rise.  The fact that reforms on issue like this have stalled shows the extent to which the Liberals are rule from the grave by making silly promises, wedging Labor to promise to match them, then criticising ‘broken election promises’ when Labor tries to act.  Federal Labor, who lost the unlosable 2019 election to Morrison’s scare tactics are as spooked as rabbits in the headlight.  Hence the importance of Spender’s Summit.

Perrottet spruiked his government’s credentials as builders of infrastructure, though his concept of ‘recycled assets’ seemed to be borrowing using the government’s credit rating to build underground freeways to give to the private sector, so we can all drive cars and pay tolls to monopoly suppliers for years.  The whole scheme was conceptually flawed.  The money should have been used for a good underground Metro system. Now Minns want to cap tolls for citizens, which really mean just the government endless paying the monopoly companies they have given the freeways to.

Perrottet seems to have lessened what could have been a rout by drawing attention to infrastructure as if it is a long-term good no matter what it costs and no matter what sort it is. He also tapped into the gambling issue, which Minns was weak on, but did not seem to press this advantage fully. One Liberal I spoke to was very critical of Perrottet for this policy and said that it did not have widespread support among the Liberal Right. Perhaps this was why Minns was not pursued more energetically.  The general atmosphere of decadence, corruption, tiredness and the inability even to preselect candidates until the last minute seems to have less attention than might have been expected. The swing against the Liberals was 5%, but the Nationals only 0.9%.

Minns small target policy with wage increases for essential service workers, ceasing privatisations, particularly Sydney Water  and subsidies to residents for tolls seem to have helped him.  But the swing to Labor was only 3.8% while the swing away from parties to Independents was almost as large, 3.5%.

In terms of the overall percentages, using ABC News figures available today with 79% counted,  the Liberals got 27% and Nationals 8.7% for a total Coalition of 35.7%, Labor got 37.1% and the Greens 9.4% (down 0.2%).  The Shooters Farmers and Fishers got 1.5% (down 1.9), but it must be noted that two of their lower house MPs Philip Donato in Orange and Helen Dalton in Murray, left the party and were re-elected as Independents.  One Nation at 1.8% increased slightly, 0.7%.  

The major parties, the Coalition and Labor together polled 72.8% of the vote yet got 81/95 seats – 85%.  The current preferential voting system always favours the major parties and optional preferential worsens this effective gerrymander.

There are a number of seats where the optional preferential system has resulted in a major party winning when it would not have done so if preferences were compulsory.  It is because the smaller parties exhaust and the candidate with the larger primary vote wins.  In the Willoughby by-election when Gladys Berejeklian resigned a little-known Independent, Larissa Penn, would have won on preferences if the exhausted votes followed the pattern of the ones that did not exhaust.  That would have made a big difference to the minority government.  It will be interesting to analyse this whole election.  It might be noted that NSW is the only State with this inequitable system, which was introduced by Neville Wran in 1980 in reforms which otherwise allowed redistributions for equity in the size of electorates  (The Constitution (Amendment) Bill, Parliamentary Electorates and Elections (Amendment) Bill- Act 39 of 1979).

Anthony Green’s blog notes that historically the Liberals have done better than Labor under optional preferential voting, but that Independents have surprisingly done even better.  But when the Independents have won, it has often been in safe Liberal seats.  Currently with the Greens and the majority of smaller parties favouring Labor they may be willing to contemplate returning compulsory preferential voting to NSW.

The other important feature of this election was the Teals, the name the media gave to relatively conservative independents who wanted to do more for the environment and integrity in Parliament.    I have to confess to an interest here as I helped my local Teal, Victoria Davidson.  The Teals won 6 seats in the Federal Election in 2022, all with women in relatively safe Liberal seats.  It was taken to mean that the Liberals had moved too far to the Right, had moved away from a reasonable climate policy, and had not preselected enough women. 

A number of Teals ran in the November Victorian election without success.  This may have been because the Liberals in Victoria ran a very negative campaign that made the main issue the harm done to Victoria by the COVID lockdown mandated by Premier Daniel Andrews.  The election turned into a referendum of Dan Andrews’ leadership, in which he triumphed and the Teals did not take seats from the fading Liberals. It was generally assumed in the major media that the Teals would similarly fall short in NSW, particularly due to optional preferential voting.

In my Teal seat of Lane Cove, the candidate had been selected by a group that derived from the Voices of North Sydney, group pf experts who had tried to influence town planning and been heard politely and ignored by Councils. So a sub-group decided to find, select and help people who had not previously been active in politics to stand as their Independents.  This was similar to the genesis of other Teal candidates.   There was considerable energy remaining after the success of Kylea Tink in the seat of North Sydney and this spawned the candidatures of Victoria Davidson in Lane Cove and Helen Conway in North Shore. Larissa Penn, buoyed by her near-success in the by-election stood, but was not considered a Teal.

The key feature of these campaigns that did not get much a run in the major media was the degree of enthusiasm and organisation that they generated.  Victoria Davidson had 250 volunteers and door-knocked over 6000 households. A large number of homes displaying corflutes and a new publicity technique of  waving corflutes at suburban intersections helped name recognition to be built quickly and with the low budget imposed by the NSW legislation. The Liberals could not hope to match the number and energy of the Independent campaigns. What they did was claim that Simon Holmes a Court was funding it all and the Independents were either crook or dupes. They used the incumbents electoral and postage allowance at the last moment they were allowed to, just before the polls were declared, and they put up many signs saying the ‘You only have to Vote 1’, which looked like electoral messages, though they had a small Liberal logo in the bottom corner. 

The major media merely noted that no Teals were elected and went on about the progressive count to see if Labor could get an absolute majority.  Ross Gittins in the SMH of 29 March however commented that it was ‘Voting out our political duopoly’. He recognised what many commentators have not, that a large chunk of the population have lost faith in the major political parties, which is why so many volunteers can be found for Teals and other Independents in upper middle class electorates.  The figures in the 3 State seats which are part of the North Sydney Federal electorate are illustrative.  The Liberals won all three.

Sarah GriffinLabor19.7
Edmund McGrathGreens7.51
Larissa PennIndependent27.15
Michael WantSustainable Aust.1.73
Tim JamesLiberal43.91
Lane Cove
Victoria DavidsonIndependent20.88
Anthony RobertsLiberal45.43
Penny PedersenLabor23.68
Heather ArmstrongGreens7.85
Ben WiseSustainable Aust.2.16
North  Shore
Michael AntaresIMOP1.61
Helen ConwayIndependent22.48
Geoff SanterLabor16.8
Lachlan ComminsSustainable Aust.1.78
James MullanGreens10.53
Felicity WilsonLiberal44.66
Victoria WalkerIndependent2.14

 As can be seen, the combined primary vote of the Independent, Labor and the Greens can be compared with the Liberal primary votes as follows:

Willoughby (27.51 + 19.7 + 7.51) = 54.71 v. Liberals 43.91

Lane Cove (20.88 + 23.68 + 7.85) = 52.41 v Liberals 45.43

North Shore (22.48 + 16.8 + 10.53) = 49.81 v Liberals 44.66

It might be noted that in Willoughby and Lane Cove there were quite enough preferences to have changed the results, and in North Shore it may have needed the small parties and the other Independent, but preferences that did not exhaust could easily have changed that result also. 

It is important that the Independents and Greens try to influence the Minns government to improve the voting system by introducing compulsory preferential voting in NSW.

The idea that a political duopoly is needed for stability in government is complete nonsense. The NZ electoral system was changed to ‘top up’ Parliamentary seats so that any party that gets over 4% of the vote gets extra seats so that the percentage of seats reflects as accurately as possible the percentage of votes that they got.  The German parliament has a system where no party can get an absolute majority, so there is a period of negotiation after each election as coalitions are put together.  The German constitution was deliberately written by Winston Churchill so that a single party could never get an absolute majority and Hitler could never rise again.

The Swiss government has 3 levels, similar to ours, and tries to make decisions at the lowest level possible (unlike Australia).  They also have their politicians part-time and limited to 2 terms so that they retain good connections with the ordinary people and their superannuation is to return to their pre-Parliament job. They have a number of parties and the Parliament’s decisions can be overturned by a plebiscite with vote held every 3 months. 

There are plenty of alternatives to the duopoly system that is not working very well in Australia, the US or the UK, and the success of the Teals and Independents suggest that there is a nascent move for change in Australia.  The alternatives need to be publicised so a serious discussion can begin. 

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