Doctor and activist

Notice: Undefined index: hide_archive_titles in /home/chesterf/public_html/wp-content/themes/modern-business/includes/theme-functions.php on line 233

Category: The Future

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. 

Continue Reading

The Arms Industry Distorts US and the World’s Priorities

31 March 2023

The word ‘defence’ seems innocuous enough, and discussion about is generally starts with a diatribe about the threat of Russia or China.

But just as the tobacco industry was responsible for the smoking epidemic, so the Arms industry is responsible for military spending and the consequent need to have wars to justify that expenditure.

The US has had continuous wars for many years; when one ends, another starts. The wars are not because of a threat to the US, but represent the US exerting global influence, and selling weapons to itself and others. 

US foreign policy is hugely affected by its military and a perceived need for global hegemony.  There is pressure on countries that seem susceptible (like Australia) to buy weapons systems (like AUKUS) to fit into this hegemonic world view.  How long this can be afforded by US taxpayers is a key question; the Roman Empire imploded when its tax base could not pay for the mercenary armies that guarded its frontiers. 

A list of some of the wars is; The Cold War 1945-1989, Korean War 1950-55, Vietnam 1955-75, Lebanon 1982-84, Libya 1986, Panama invasion 1989-90, 1st Gulf War 1990-91, Somalia 1992-95 and 2007, Bosnia and Croatia 1992-95, Kosovo 1998-99, Iraq War 2003-2010, Afghan war 2001-2021, North West Pakistan 2004-2018, Libya 2011 and 2015-19, Iraq intervention against ISIL 2014-2021, and now Ukraine 2022-.

Obviously one can argue about the merits of any of these wars, but the success rate of them is not good from a US foreign policy perspective. The returns to the arms industry, however, are always positive.

But the opportunity cost of these wars in terms of the possibility of diplomatic settlement or the use of monies to address the problems in the warring parties is considerable.  The loss of social services and infrastructure to the US population is probably the most critical part from a political level.  Inequality and polarisation in the US are increasing with consequent social disharmony.

The arms industry has to be reined in. Its subsidies to the Australian War Memorial have tended to make this a temple of militarism rather than a place for regret and remembrance.

There was a book, ‘The Secret State- Australia’s Spy Industry’, by Richard Hall which came out in 1978 and compared the reports of the intelligence agencies of 25 years previously with the current affairs commentaries of the major daily newspapers of the same time.  (The 25 years was the time for the release of the spy agency documents).  The rants of the intelligence agencies and their fear-mongering were almost comic and the predictions of the major newspaper editorials were largely proved correct. 

It seems that as ‘Security studies’ replace ‘History ‘ in university courses likely to result in graduates getting jobs, the people who teach world events are changing their perspectives, and not for the better.  Our current policies with AUKUS would seem to derive from a believing a current spy’s paranoid world view. The Arms Industry is to be feared and opposed in Australia as well as the US.

Continue Reading

An End to the War in Ukraine?

3 March 2023

There is a still a cheerful assumption that Russia can be driven out of Ukraine, and this is accompanied by copious rhetoric about Putin’s unprovoked aggression, the need to fight for democracy, and a dismissal of his claim that it is an existential issue for Russia.

It is also hopefully assumed that the war will end when Putin falls, but that fall is extremely unlike.

Putin sees the war as an existential issue for Russia. Whether this is right or wrong, it is certainly an existential issue for him, and he needs either a victory or a settlement that saves face.

It must be noted in terms of strength that Russia has more than three times the population of Ukraine (146 v 41 million) and the per capita income in 2021 of Russia was almost three times that of Ukraine ($US12,259 v $4,594- UN figures). The casualty figures available are decidedly (and no doubt deliberately) vague.

The Chinese have a 12 point plan that, strangely, has not been seriously discussed in the Australian mass media. It was hard even to find the plan, though there was plenty of commentary that it was vague in detail, paid only lip service to territorial integrity and did not condemn Russia.   A copy of it is at [1] or [2].  This is at least a starting point. 

An article by Jeffery Sachs arguing for peace is below some of my comments.

Some background issues:

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and James Baker, the then US Secretary of State is said to have promised Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand to the east if Russia accepted German reunification.   Russia also agreed to independence for Ukraine, despite the fact that its base was in Crimea. 

After the Soviet collapse the East European countries flocked to join NATO, which accepted them. The list is extensive: the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania; from old Yugoslavia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Montenegro and North Macedonia.  Even Albania, which had been the most hard-line communist country in Europe, joined NATO. 

Georgia was invaded by Russia in 2008 easily when its government tried to assert its authority over the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which were demanding autonomy and were recognised by Russia.  The Russian invasion went beyond those provinces but did not occupy the capital, Tbilisi[3].  Western reaction was muted, which is said to be the reason that Putin was so emboldened and regarded the West as decadent.  Georgia was Western-oriented and had applied to join NATO.

Ukraine wanted to join NATO and since the invasion, Finland and Sweden have also applied.

From a Russian perspective, NATO had been encroaching east.  There had been a pro-Russian government in Ukraine up to 2014 under President Viktor Yanukovych but when he did not sign a treaty between Ukraine and the EU there was the Maidan revolution in February 2014, probably helped by the CIA.   Petro Poroshenko was elected President. 

The provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine, collectively called the Donbas, and Transnistra in Moldova are significantly Russian oriented, and Russia supports their requests for autonomy and their separatist movements.  Russian troops are ‘peacekeeping’ in Moldova as they were in the Georgian provinces.    Whether these provinces want to be part of Ukraine or part of Russian is hard to determine, particularly  now, but one might suspect that there is considerable division of views and that they would prefer local autonomy to the highest degree possible rather than a distant government of either flavour.  A number of polls in 2014 came to different conclusions[4].  A 2020 poll showed primary concern was for local issues and fear of war[5].  Ukraine was having trouble dealing with the separatist movements before Russia invaded, so there are parallels with Georgia there.  Perhaps because of the Ukrainian military’s reluctance to fight Ukrainians, the Azov Brigade[6], a right-wing privately funded paramilitary group initially did most of the fighting against the Russian –backed separatists, which allowed Russia to claim it was fighting Nazis who had killed pro-Russian Ukrainians.  The actions of the Azov brigade were not popular, yet they were somewhat controversially absorbed into the Ukrainian army[7].

After the Crimean invasion, separatists seized control in Luhansk and Donetsk and declared their independence in May 2014. There was a civil war there, which led to the Minsk agreements in September 2014 and February 2015 that led to a ceasefire with the separatists having control of about a third of the provinces, with the objective to return the region to Ukraine but with significant local autonomy[8].   Russia recognised the independence of the breakaway regions in February 2022, just before it invaded.  

The Russians invaded Crimea in 2014 in response to the change of government in  Kiev.  The provincial Parliament in Crimea was pro-Russian, and initially Putin claimed that the invasion there was from Crimea itself.  There was little voting in Donetsk and Luhansk as the Kiev government did not have good control there.   While ‘territorial integrity’ is taken to mean existing borders, Kiev’s demand for this means that Russia would have to agree to its naval base being isolated, and Kiev having another attempt at suppressing the pro-Russian separatist provinces on Russia’s border.

Russia currently occupies about 20% of Ukraine’s territory and now has a land corridor in the south west of the country that links it to its key naval base in Crimea.  The only other link it had was via the 19km Kersh Strait Bridge, which is 19km long.  The bridge was planned after the 2014 Ukrainian coup and was completed in 2018.   Clearly if the government in Ukraine is hostile to Russia, it does not want to have its major warm water naval base only accessible by a bridge, and would never concede Crimea. 

The US arms industry, which is immensely influential in US foreign policy, is the chief beneficiary of the war, and President Biden has pledged support for as long as it takes. The Republicans, however control the Senate, and have an increasing isolationist voice.  The US President has quite a lot of discretion in waging wars, but if the US economy goes into recession there is a significant chance that the Republicans may win the 2024 Presidential election.   That is quite soon in terms of Russian war thinking.

For Americans, war is an inconvenience, fought overseas.  Russians have quite a different history.  In WW2 Russia lost far more people than the Germans and all the Allies in Europe combined, 26 million, or 13.7% of the population[9]. Russians see WW2 as one between themselves and Germany and were very critical of the rest of Allies for not helping them earlier. The long siege of Stalingrad ended in February 1943 and the Russian armies were advancing for 16 months before the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944.  So if Putin can convince Russians that it is an existential issue their expectations of what has to be sacrificed will be quite different to the US.

Volodymyr Zelensky was a comedian whose show ‘Servant of the People’ had him as a history teacher who accidentally became Prime Minister because a student filmed his rant about corruption and it went viral.  He was honest and the satire on corruption was a huge hit because Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries. He was elected with his party having the same name as his comedy show.  He is well intentioned, and not a US puppet as some in the leftist media has portrayed him, but it is unlikely that he can end a nation’s entrenched corrupt traditions.  But recent US articles have said that US arms are getting to the frontline, which was a concern early in the war[10].  He wants the territorial integrity of Ukraine and a total victory over Russia.  The question is whether he is realistic, and to what extent the West will support him if the war drags on.

If one is to explore the lofty rhetoric of democracies deterring unprovoked aggression, one would have to concede that the US actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya could be called the same. If one is to draw historic parallels with Chamberlain conceding Czechoslovakia to Germany, one could say that the difference is that Putin would know that even if he moves the border a bit to provinces that already had a Russian speaking and Russian-orientated population, he would have steep and organised resistance to any further moves in Ukraine or elsewhere.

Listening to a Chinese peace proposal sounds like a good idea.









[9] Russia: military deaths 10.6 million, civilian deaths 16 million, 13.7% of population. Germany military 5.0 million, Civilian 7.2 million 8.2%; France military 210,000, civilian 390,000 1.4%. UK military 0.6 million, 67,000, civilian, 1%. Australia military 31,700, civilian 700, 0.58%, USA 407,000 military, 12,100 civilian, 0.3% of population. Wikipedia accessed 3/3/23


Continue Reading

Outrageous Nonsense on China and Defence

8 March 2023

I confess I was flabbergasted at the SMH front page yesterday (7 March), which blazed ‘Red Alert: War Risk Exposed’ with an illustration of many aircraft taking off from China.   On pages 4-6, there was more tub-thumping. 

Today’s SMH has a front page ‘Conflict over Taiwan could reach our shores’; and pages 4-5 continue the story.

It might be noted that the Government in a foolish but bi-partisan (i.e. Liberal + Labor) decision will announce the AUKUS nuclear submarine delivery shortly.

Perhaps this silly story is to mute any criticism of the AUKUS decision.

To make a few relevant comments:

There is sadly not a Peace voice that is consulted. To be blunt the activist groups have not structured themselves effectively.

China is now a rising world power and will overtake the US, which like many declining powers is spending too much on arms, largely because the privatised US arms industry needs markets. China does not need to be belligerent.  Its expansion to the Belt and Road initiative is to take it all the way across Asia and Europe by land, and merely relies on people wanted to trade with it. It is effectively the biggest market in the world.  China has fortified some islands in the South China Sea, but it is the US that has bases close to China, not China to the US.  No Chinese warships sail around the Caribbean.

China will eventually reach an accommodation with Taiwan, whether the world likes it or not.  The US may want to delay this as the Taiwanese have the world’s best microchip technology and they do not want this to fall into Chinese hands, but most technological secrets leak eventually.  The US has accepted a ‘One China’ policy for years so it can import Chinese goods.  It is concerned about the ‘democratic rights’ of the Taiwanese, but the US has been very selective about whose democratic rights they support or don’t.  If they seek to have a war ‘sooner rather than later’, this would seem to be a bad long-term strategy.  Germany continued to rise after its WW1 defeat because its economic fundamentals were right.  Militarily Taiwan does not have the manpower to hold out against China in a military conflict, 24 million v. 1.4 billion says it all.  The US has aircraft carriers, but hypersonic missiles will sink them as soon as their guidance systems improve, so the carriers are soon likely to be as obsolete as battleships were in WW2.

As far as Australia is concerned, we can be a quarry, a food bowl and manufacture as we are able in the world economic system, and we should retain control of our resources and bargain intelligently with our customers.  China, however powerful, is likely to accept this situation.

The AUKUS submarines are a very expensive step into nuclear confrontation.  We are buying submarines at top dollar with an uncertain delivery date and huge opportunity cost for other projects, defence and civil.  We will have to have a base that services them, and no doubt the US will want to use that base for its nuclear fleet.  So we are being sold subs that we do not need and being locked into a US confrontation that benefits no one but the US arms industry.  Since China is unlikely to attack us, and our subs would not be decisive in any highly improbable direct conflict with the Chinese, they are merely a needless insult and a decisive move into the American camp in a polarised paradigm.

It is probably true that our defence has been neglected for a decade; the decadent Liberal government had precious little coherent policy on anything, but that is not an argument for AUKUS submarines.

The Herald has been extremely disappointing.  Paul Keating has said some sensible stuff. Will no one in power speak some realistic truth?

Continue Reading

Liberals Still Need 20 State Election Candidates:  Incredible arrogance from Headless Chooks!

25 February 2023

It is mind boggling that 4 weeks out from the NSW State election the Liberals still have not selected candidates in 20 seats.  There are 93 lower house seats in the State.

The idea that a candidate comes from his/her electorate, knows it and is trusted by it seems a distant memory, perhaps a dream.  From the tiny numbers left in the major parties, a candidate will be selected by the factions, presumably depending on Party loyalty and their not having rocked the boat.  The voters are supposed to be pathetically grateful and vote them in with a rousing cheer about ‘stable’, (i.e. win every parliamentary vote) government.

Let us hope that the Teals change this script.

Liberals still need 20 candidates a month before poll

Alexandra Smith, Tom Rabe  SMH 25/2/23

The Liberal Party is scrambling to finalise candidates to run in almost 20 seats across NSW just a month out from the state election, including in the independent-held electorate of Kiama.

While Labor has a handful of electorates without a candidate, among the many seats the Liberals are yet to fill is the one held by former government minister-turned independent Gareth Ward.

Ward, a long-time powerbroker in his area, was suspended from the parliament and the Liberal Party after he was charged with sexual assault. He has denied any wrongdoing and remains before the court, where the matter is scheduled to be heard after the election. Ward is recontesting his seat.

The NSW division of the Liberal Party came under fire during the federal election campaign for delays in selecting candidates.

Premier Dominic Perrottet vowed that he would not allow similar delays to plague his campaign, but the party has struggled to find suitable candidates for many seats.

Labor wants to finish pre-selections for all 93 lower house seats by Monday, ahead of nominations closing on March 8. The Liberals, however, are yet to field candidates in a host of seats, including Auburn, Bankstown, Granville, Port Stephens, Rockdale, Strathfield, Wyong and Blue Mountains.

The Liberals hope to finalise some seats this weekend but will still have more than a dozen outstanding. Their Coalition partners, the Nationals, have had all candidates in place for some time.

Meanwhile, NSW Labor leader Chris Minns is backing a push to run former state cabinet minister Steve Whan in the southern electorate of Monaro, held by the Nationals.

Whan, who held Monaro from 2003 until Labor lost in a landslide in 2011, is seen by the party as its best chance to win the seat following former NRL Canberra Raiders player Terry Campese’s shock withdrawal as the ALP candidate. Campese quit after it emerged that he had attended a risque party while scantily clad.

The Nationals had identified Monaro, once held by former deputy premier John Barilaro, as one of its most at risk seats when Campese was running, and Labor is desperate to win it.

A captain’s pick is also likely in the safe Labor seat of Fairfield, as federal energy minister Chris Bowen moves to install his preferred candidate, former Australian Federal Police agent David Saliba.

A senior Labor source confirmed Whan and Saliba ‘‘both enjoy the support of Minns’’.

Asked when the Liberals would announce a candidate for Kiama, Perrottet said it was a matter for the party and refused to rule out preferencing Ward.

‘‘There’s obviously 93 seats to fill, so my expectation is as soon as possible,’’ Perrottet said. ‘‘I don’t set those arrangements, that’s a matter for the organisation. Obviously, the Liberals intend on running in all the seats that we have in the past.’’ He said both parties were working through their preselection processes and pointed out that the Labor Party had not yet selected a candidate to contest his electorate.

‘‘I am the member for Epping, Labor doesn’t have a candidate in Epping,’’ he said.

Continue Reading

Flaws in Constitutions

3 January 2023

The US Constitution has many flaws. The most conspicuous being the ‘right to bear arms’ which is taken as the right for every citizen to carry guns around the place, with predictable consequences. There is also state controlled voting rights, which get fiddled and the right of elected governments to draw the electoral boundaries, a sure-fire recipe for dodgy electoral system.  It seems the US Supreme Court has managed to give itself a privileged position and now precedent cements this.

Of course the major problem is that the US Constitution  was made to be almost impossible to change so all these flaws are perpetuated, the latest problem being that Presidents can appoint Supreme Court judges for life and these judges now override the legislatures by saying the law is against the Constitution, as in the case of abortion.

How the US will fix this is not of academic interest. The Australian Constitution was not some document of all wisdom for all time; it was made with the overriding imperative to get the 6 colonies into one country.  All the power except marriage, tax and foreign policy was given to the States.  Looking at how Australia works in practice, one would not even guess this. We have uniform laws only because the state Ministers work out ‘template legislation’ and all State Parliaments pass it unamended.  About a third of all State legislation and certainly the most important stuff it this, with the States Parliaments serving as very expensive rubber stamps.

Now we have major constitutional changes suggested, a Voice to Parliament for Aboriginal people and removing the English monarch of head of State and creation of a Republic.

It would be better if there were some other changes also.  My favourite would be to move towards proportional representation and to allow citizens referenda to override Parliaments, and to limit the terms of Parliament so that political party hierarchies could not have such significance. This would be a move to more of Swiss-style constitution, as was suggested but discarded as it was not Anglo in 1899 at the Constitutional discussions then. The German constitution, which was written by Winston Churchill to ensure that no single party could ever have a majority, or even the changes in the NZ voting system which made it unlikely could, also be considered.  We have to recognise that we have the same problem as the USA, a fossilised constitution that needs significant change. It is ridiculous that we do not have the confidence even to talk about this. Change is not easy, but that is hardly the point.  Are we inferior to our great- or great-great-grandfathers that we cannot plan our future?   

US Constitution’s flaws on show

Nick Bryant SMH Columnist, 3 January 2023

A plan by the probable next US House Speaker to read the Constitution aloud could have unforeseen consequences.

For more than a quarter of a century, American politics has doubled as a civics lesson from hell. The Clinton years introduced us to the impeachment process, something not witnessed since the mid-19th century. The disputed 2000 election reminded us of the vagaries of the Electoral College and revealed how the Supreme Court could intervene to determine the outcome of a presidential election – who knew? The January 6 hearings, which culminated in the first-ever referral of a former president to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution, served both as a primetime crime drama and a tutorial in constitutional law.

To mark the opening of the 118th Congress today, the Republican Party intends to conduct its own teachable moment. If he wins the House Speakership – a contest that looks like it will provide a lesson in the chaotic state of the modern-day GOP – the Republican leader Kevin McCarthy intends to read in its entirety the US Constitution on the floor of the House of Representatives.

This ritual will border on the liturgical. The Constitution, despite Donald Trump’s recent threat to terminate it, has taken on a near Biblical status. Its framers are regarded as patron saints. Yet Americans who listen in may well be shocked to hear these portions of scripture take on a different meaning when placed in their rightful context.

No passage has been more misappropriated than the Second Amendment, which notes that ‘‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed’’. As people will hear, however, the primary focus of the founding fathers was the creation of a ‘‘well-regulated militia’’ rather than the firearms they would carry. The intention was to guard against a standing army, which in post-revolutionary America was seen as a tyrannical throwback to the days of British rule.

For almost 200 years, then, the Second Amendment was often referred to as the ‘‘lost amendment’’ because in an America that ended up creating a professional fighting force, the US military, it was considered obsolete. Not until 2008, following a decades-long propaganda campaign by the National Rifle Association to twist and falsify its meaning, did the conservative-leaning Supreme Court make the Second Amendment the constitutional basis for individual gun ownership.

Those who listen in might be surprised to hear how little the Constitution says about the Supreme Court, despite its omnipresence in modern politics. Nowhere does it state that the court should be the final arbiter of whether laws passed by Congress are legal. Judicial review, the ability to declare an act of Congress or presidential executive action unconstitutional, is a power that the Supreme Court granted itself in the early 19th century.

The irony is that the court’s hardline conservative justices are driven by a philosophy of jurisprudence known as originalism, which determines controversial rulings, such as the overturning of Roe v Wade, based on their interpretation of the original intent of the Constitution. Yet the founding fathers never intended the Supreme Court to hold such sway. ‘‘The judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power,’’ wrote Alexander Hamilton. Thus this right-wing philosophy falls at the first historical hurdle. Originalism is the enemy of originalism.

Defenders of American democracy may also be disappointed by what they hear, for nowhere in the Constitution is there a positive assertion of the right to vote. The original intent of the founding fathers was that only white men of property should be enfranchised, although they left it for the states to decide.

Over the years, as the electorate expanded, voting rights came to be framed in a negative way. The 15th Amendment, which was ratified in 1870 after the Civil War, stated voting rights ‘‘shall not be denied’’ on account of ‘‘race, colour, or previous condition of servitude’’.

In the 1930s, the 19th Amendment finally decreed that women ‘‘shall not be denied’’ the vote. But voting has sometimes been called ‘‘the missing right’’ because the Constitution does not explicitly and positively spell it out.

‘‘We the People,’’ the rousing words in the preamble of the Constitution, were certainly never intended as a statement of great participatory or populist intent. Indeed, the whole point of the Constitution was to guard against the tyranny of the majority and what its aristocratic authors called an ‘‘excess of democracy’’.

Following the American Revolution, the Constitution was designed to be a counterrevolutionary text; what the Harvard historian Jill Lepore has called ‘‘a check on the revolution, a halt to its radicalism’’. Maybe that explains why Kevin McCarthy is so keen to read it out. The Republicans are a minority party increasingly reliant on the founding fathers’ minoritarian model of democracy.

They have lost the nationwide vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections, but the Electoral College gives them a shot at the White House. The power granted by the framers to small states, which were allotted just as many senators as the most populous states, artificially inflates the Republican Party’s influence in the Senate. The original decision to allow states to determine voting qualifications has enabled Republican-controlled state legislatures to suppress the vote.

Hopefully, the reading of the Constitution will remind citizens of its flaws and how this American gospel is in desperate need of revision. But therein lies the constitutional catch-22. The founding fathers made it fiendishly difficult to amend.

Dr Nick Bryant is the author of When America Stopped Being Great: A History of the Present. Peter Hartcher is on leave.

Continue Reading

A Scientific Approach to Conspiracy Theories

16 December 2022

It seems that alienation and feelings of impotence increase the likelihood of conspiracy theories.

If this is so, a social policy that lessened economic polarisation might be a good idea.

Continue Reading

Morrison’s Minister for Everything’ Antics show Constitution is deficient

27 November 2022

When Prime Minister Morrison gave himself 5 ministries without even bothering to tell the ministers who he was over-riding, the Governor-General merely allowed him to do so.

Whether this was due to the fuss that was made when Kerr dismissed Whitlam and the upshot is that Governors-General believe that they have no right to countermand Prime Ministers I am unsure. Perhaps G-G David Hurley thought this; perhaps he wanted the PM’s support for his $18million ‘leadership’ scheme , or perhaps being military, he did not rock the hierarchical boat.

But some of us assumed that the Governor-General is head of State in order to stop political antics which are not in the interest of the Australian people. Naturally all the possible types of antics are not defined, nor presumably can anyone craft a law which bans any possible eventuality.

One is reminded of the aging President Hindenburg, who after the Reichstag fire made Hitler Chancellor and put out the Reichstag Fire Decree which Hitler used to suppress his opponents and get absolute power, even though Hitler did not have a clear majority on the floor of the Reichstag. The fire created an ‘emergency’ which was blamed on the Communists, but it is quite possible that the Nazis did it to create a crisis and enable them to take extra-judicial actions.

It is quite simply not acceptable to have a Prime Minster able to over-ride the Cabinet and take whatever powers he likes. The fact that Morrison only used this to stop a fracking project in the NT that he knew would be unpopular with the elections coming is not relevant. He could have done anything, and Hurley did not stop him.

If there is a censure motion against Morrison, this is also irrelevant. Morrison may be embarrassed and may or may not resign, but this will not stop it happening again a few years ahead. Even if Albanese arranges a law to prohibit multiple ministries, this may not help- any law can be reversed by a new government. It might also be noted that immediately after the 1972 election Prime Minister Whitlam and his Deputy Lance Barnard divided all the ministries between them and started enacting the programme that the ALP had taken to the election, merely to save time until his full Cabinet was appointed. This was consistent with the election result and seemed not to arouse any constitutional issues.

If we are to continue with a head of State who is ‘above politics’ he or she needs to be able and willing to stop political excesses. We need to know that there is some mechanism to stop an individual Prime Minster giving himself or herself whatever powers he or she likes. If you think, ‘it could not happen here’ you are wrong. It just has. The powers of the Governor-General were either inadequate or unclear and were certainly not used when they should have been. I cannot see that anything other than a clarification of the Constitution will resolve the matter. It seems that Justice Bell has overlooked this issue.

Continue Reading

Danny Lim Bashing a bad sign of the times

24 November 2022

Danny Lim is a regular at many protests. He is a very kind and gentle man, and his protests are quite individual and idiosyncratic with very humane values. He would never harm anyone, and the way he was thrown face first onto the tiled floor at the Queen Victoria Building by the Police is frankly a disgrace.

As the gap between rich and poor widens with neo-liberal policies and a welfare system which is starved of funds, the level of social frustration rises. Many times in Parliament I was asked to pass legislation which simply increased Police powers, mostly in response to an item in the media where some crime had occurred. There was never any question as to why the crime occurred, there was simply an increase in Police powers and usually the maximum fines or sentences. The Police Service was re-named the Police Force, presumably to reflect the same philosophy. No one ever asked if this would actually work.

I have formed the view that the defence industry increasingly uses the Australian War Memorial as a temple of militarism. A couple of years ago, Nick Deane of the Marrickville Peace Group asked me to help him hand out leaflets on Anzac Day that said, ‘Honour the Dead by Working for Peace’. So I dressed in suit, wore a discrete sign with the slogan on it and went to the edge of the public area in the Hyde Park ceremony and started handing out his leaflet. People took it, and most agreed that it was reasonable.

After a while a Police sergeant came and told me to move 150 metres away as I was ‘offending people’. I said that no one had been offended, (not that there is a law against offending people in any case) and I was not going to move, as I had a right to stand there. He said words to the effect of, ‘You will do what I tell you or you will be arrested and charged’. I told him that he was there to enforce existing laws, not make them up, and if he charged me he would merely be told by the Magistrate that he did not have a case. I agreed to move about 2 metres so he could save face. He was furious, and went off asking to find someone who was offended. He came back and we had a second altercation. I really thought that if I had not been in a suit and told him I was an ex-MP, I would have been thrown down and roughed up. It was a line ball as it was.

The Police are there to keep us safe, not remove people harmlessly expressing opinions, and certainly not to do so roughly. They must obey laws of reasonable behaviour the same as we should. Clearly pressure on them needs to be maintained. The presence of cameras on every phone will help in this- no longer will stories of people ‘falling over’ be believed.

Fortunately Danny has come out of hospital and seems OK, but the video below leaves little doubt that he was assaulted by Police.

Continue Reading

Albanese seeks to meet Chinese President, Xi Jinping

12 November 2022

Anthony Albanese has made no secret of his desire to meet the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, or the Premier, Li Keqiang at the current pair of Summits in Cambodia and Indonesia.

There is an ASEAN meeting in Phnom Penh. Australia is not a member of ASEAN, but there is also an East Asian Summit at the same time with major world leaders. President Biden is there, with Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol as well as Ukrainain Foreigh Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov and others.

The G20 Conference in Bali immediately after Cambodia will have both Biden and Xi Jinping.

Albanese wants to get the Chinese to lift sanctions on Australian products. He will have some work to do. Going for him is the fact that he is not Morrison and presumably would not have been so inept as to demand the UN investigate China’s early handling of the COVID crisis that caused such needless offence to the Chinese, but he has stuck with the silly AUKUS submarine deal, which just seemed to be Morrison finding a foreign distraction for his own ineptitude. Albanese has also allowed the US to put B52 bombers in Darwin- surely another silly and needless provocation that he is responsible for.

Here is an excellent analysis of what is wrong with the submarine deal.

Continue Reading