SATURDAY’s GOOD READING AND LISTENING FOR THE WEEKEND

A regular collection of links to writings and broadcasts in other media

ABC’s Saturday Extra with Geraldine Doogue (from 0730 to 0900 or on their website  in case you miss it).

Geraldine talks with UNSW Professor Raphael Grzebieta on his work on road safety after being acknowledged with an international award.

What are the consequences of the Royal Commission into banks on regulation? Is this the end of Milton Friedman’s economics? With Alan Kohler and Ian Harper.

Former chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service John Sawers on national security issues post Brexit.

Associate research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London, Dr Paul Morland on how population change has influenced world events. His book is The Human Tide: How population shaped the modern world.

Australian documentary maker Tom Zubrycki on the challenges and opportunities of emerging digital platforms.

During last week’s interview on encryption, Geraldine promised to add links to other material on Australia’s new laws. There are several links on the program’s 9 February website, including one to Nellie Bowles’ New York Times article “Did Australia hurt phone security around the world?”

Other commentary

More on the finance sector

In his blog John Quiggin has a pithy entry The culture of financialised capitalism. Greed, “the guiding principle of financialised capitalism”, has been legitimised by the policies of financial deregulation.

Jack Waterford’s comment in the Canberra Times  is Best volume of Hayne report is the one that he didn’t bother to write. “It’s the one which seriously invites the question of whether the modern Coalition, and the economic ministers who have dominated it since the election of the Abbott government in 2013, can seriously pretend to be the better economic manager”.

Although financial market deregulation was first pursued by the Keating Government, protection of investors and borrowers from the sector’s most egregious practices has been an area of sharp difference between Labor and the Coalition. On the ASIC website is a short history of the Gillard Government’s Future of Financial Advice (FOFA) reforms, which the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government tried to overturn. Even though the Senate disallowed the worst of the Government’s proposals, they still managed to weaken the FOFA reforms through regulation. The Coalition’s policy of permissiveness to the finance sector’s practices is clearly expressed in Finance Minister Cormann’s November 2014 press statement  in which he condemns the Senate’s vote to disallow the Government’s weakening of FOFA.

This week’s Essential Report, besides confirming the Coalition’s miserable polling (34 per cent primary vote), covers people’s impression of Justice Hayne’s report. Only 28 percent of respondents believe it “will lead to significant changes to the way banks operate.”  A clear majority of respondents believe “Scott Morrison should not end this session of Parliament before the Government deals with all the recommendations of the Royal Commission.”

While on the subject of polls, a Washington Post poll   has found most Americans trust Robert Mueller: 57 percent believe his quest is to find out the truth, while 36 percent believe he is out to hurt Trump politically.

More about housing

“There is little confidence that things are good in our economy, or about to get better” is the title of Greg Jericho’s article in The Guardian. All the leading indicators point to a dramatic slowdown in the demand for housing. For first house-buyers that’s good news, because if demand falls prices will continue to fall. But falling house prices also drive an irrational change in behaviour known as the “wealth effect”. When house prices fall People feel poorer (even though they aren’t – they still have their houses), and spend less. (Hugh Riminton conducted a discussion of this effect  on Last Sunday’s  ABC Roundtable.)

This presents a dilemma for the Reserve Bank. They may be inclined to reduce official interest rates, to offset recent rises in housing interest rates that have come about as a result of banks’ tougher prudential standards. But as shown in the graph alongside (a re-presentation of Jericho’s chart on discount mortgage rates, but in “real” inflation-adjusted terms), real official rates have been negative for the last two years – an unsustainable situation.

Not all nationalists are populists; not all populists are nationalists

Jan-Werner Müller, Professor of Politics at Princeton University, has an essay in Foreign Affairs  False Flags: The myth of nationalist resurgence.  He writes “To some observers, it appears that nationalist populists have profited from a bitter backlash against globalization and increasing cultural diversity. This has, in fact, become the conventional wisdom not only among populists themselves but also among academics and liberal opponents of populism.” But analysing recent “populist” movements in Brazil, Britain, Hungary and Germany, he disputes this general interpretation, finding that in all these countries the explanations lie more in normal processes of democratic politics – a reaction against corruption, clever campaigning and old-fashioned influence of powerful interest groups. He questions the idea that there’s a “silent majority” of “real people”. In fact “… nationalist populists often represent not a silent majority but a very loud minority”.

A tweak to Australian policies on asylum-seekers

Earlier this week Parliament enacted a minor change to the way asylum-seekers in offshore detention are given medical treatment. This tweak of Australia’s oppressive policies seems to have attracted a great deal of media attention.

True to form the Murdoch media has added to the hysteria already being voiced by Morrison, Dutton and Pyne. The ABC was drawn into the hype: even before the legislation was passed in the Senate Alison Carabine was echoing Morrison’s spin, helping realise the government’s desire to keep the issue alive right up to the election. A more responsible commentary is the Canberra Times  Editorial of 14 February  “Australian Politics just got uglier”. To quote: “If anything is likely to get the asylum seekers back to business it must surely be the Coalition’s hysterical claims that a change of government will mean a change of policy.”

In view of the Government’s obsession with asylum seekers, it’s surprising that the Immigration Department doesn’t keep a record of how many people apply for asylum at Australian airports, and how many are turned away. In an article  in The Conversation  Asher Hirsch, Daniel Ghezelbash and Regina Jeffries report that decisions on whether to admit an asylum-seeker rest with airport Border Force officials.

Among those who don’t understand the fuss about the small change to asylum-seeker policy is The First Dog on the Moon.

Phelps’ tweak is welcome, but we need more basic action

Fr Frank Frank Brennan has reminded us of earlier contributions to Peals and Irritations about the way we handle those seeking asylum:

That most recent post echoes the statements of more responsible commentators:  “It’s time to tone down the rhetoric which might have people smugglers thinking something has changed when it has not.”

Did a foreign government manipulate an Australian election?

On Phillip Adams’ Late Night Live, Monash University historian Jenny Hocking reports on the Federal Court decision to refuse the release of letters between the Queen of England and Governor-General John Kerr at the time of the dismissal of the Whitlam Government. The two to one judgement handed down on Friday 8 February is the latest instalment in the quest for exposure of the events leading up to Whitlam’s dismissal in 1975.

Jenny Hocking’s most recent contribution to Pearls and Irritations reveals the close relationship between Kerr and the British monarchy, including the support and admiration he received from Lord Mountbatten, the cousin of Queen Elizabeth.

Although it’s 43 years since Whitlam’s dismissal, there are still many parties concealing their involvement. In his book  Things you learn along the way  John Menadue reveals what was known at the time he wrote the book in 1999. Thanks to the persistence of those determined to uncover the truth, such as Jenny Hocking, more is slowing being revealed.

The Court ordered Hocking to pay the National Archives’ legal costs of $30,000. Her ongoing legal campaign to release the so-called “Palace letters” is partially funded by the donor-supported Grata Fund.

Also on British influence abroad

Clive Williams explains the Interpol Notice system, which was so ineptly handled by Australian officials that it took a massive international effort to save Hakeem al-Araibi from being extradited to Bahrain. He also explains why the British have been reluctant to become involved in human rights issues involving Bahrain: the island Kingdom of Bahrain is a former British protectorate where the UK still has substantial financial interests.

Business on another small island

Do you want a $400 million contract with the Department of Home Affairs, without the bother of a full competitive tender?

All you need is a beach shack down a dirt road on Kangaroo Island (preferably a shack without a postal service, so no one can serve a writ against you), a couple of post office boxes in other locations, and $US50,000 in capital. On last Thursday’s Late Night Live  Phillip Adams discusses with Angus Grigg  of the Financial Review  what they refer to as   The Paladin Affair  in recognition of the company that was awarded the security contract on Manus Island.

The next instalment is due to be played out in the coming week in the Senate Estimates Committee.

Utopia for libertarians

Libertarians who want to free themselves from the shackles of government will be mourning the death  of His Royal Highness Prince Leonard of Hutt River Province. His venture was not entirely successful: he eventually had to yield to the authorities and pay $3 million in income tax. Writing in the Daily Beast Kathy Well traces the fortunes of libertarians who have set up in Acapulco, Mexico, one of the world’s “pockets of freedom”. They find that life without the oppressive burden of government can be exciting, brutish and short.

Saturday’s Good Reading and Listening is compiled by Ian McAuley

Watch out tomorrow, Sunday, for Peter Sainsbury’s Sunday environment round up

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