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JOHN KERIN. ‘Free Trade’ (sic), Theory and Experience (Part 2)

As with most economic theories about the optimal way to proceed, there is a difference between theory and results. For example, do company tax cuts necessarily mean that companies will invest in new production? If demand is suppressed will they use them to invest? Will they spend them to invest abroad, spend on mergers, pay off debt, or pocket them? This is to be expected because of changed situations and the behaviour of many ‘actors’. The same applies to trade theory. Continue reading

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HENRY REYNOLDS. When will it end?

Three days after the Abbott government was sworn in on the 18th of September 2013 the new defence minister Senator David Johnston made a statement to the media. He told the Sydney Morning Herald that he wanted the military to be ‘battle ready for future conflicts in the unstable Middle East and south Asia.’ After 14 years of involvement in overseas conflicts the defence force had a ‘strong fighting momentum that should not be lost.’ He planned to maintain and ’augment our readiness for future fights in the unstable region stretching from Pakistan to the Middle East’. This was the area that’ we might need to go back into at some point in the future.’   Continue reading

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DUNCAN GRAHAM When sinking looms, jump.

Imagine if almost six per cent of the Coalition reckoned they’d lose their seats at the next election so switch to Labor. 

Chances are they wouldn’t be piped aboard, as ship jumpers are not favoured in Australian politics, distrusted by the party they betrayed and the one where they seek to stowaway.   Continue reading

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JOHN MENADUE. Private Health Insurance is a con job. Is Labor being conned again?

 The ALP does not seem to understand its own creation- Medicare- and that the $11 b taxpayer subsidy to PHI is like a Damocles sword that  hangs over  Medicare.  Ian McAuley in  Medicare under threat from Labor  points out that Labor in its”consultation document’ on a proposed reference of PHI to the Productivity Commission  suggests not only retaining PHI but strengthening it.

This may only be a stratagem to get the PHI lobby of  Labor’s back in the run up to the next election. But Labor’s record on PHI is not at all reassuring. Has there been a deal done with PHI as Kevin Rudd did before the 2007 election? Continue reading

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STUART REES Saudi Teenager and Australian Due Process


The human rights of Saudi Arabian teenager Rahaf Aqunun received fast recognition by Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and subsequent welcome refuge in Canada. By contrast, Australian Ministers insisted that in assessing claims for asylum in Australia, the government would follow its usual adherence to due process.

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GEOFFREY MILLER. Intelligence and the function of government. (Australian Outlook 9.1.2019)

“Intelligence and the Function of Government”, edited by Daniel Baldino and Rhys Crawley, contains a great deal of useful material on the Australian Intelligence Community (AIC), intelligence issues and intelligence in relation to government.

It consists of 12 chapters, covering topics such as the history of the AIC, intelligence as an academic discipline and, very importantly, the dissemination of intelligence to and within the government.   Continue reading

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PATSY MCGARRY. Church response to modern abuse scandals ‘same as 30 years ago.’

Marie Collins claims lessons of abuse in Ireland not being used to change policy elsewhere ‘The church reaction is a mirror image of what we were hearing here in Ireland 30 years ago.’   Continue reading

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ANDREW FARRAN. Brexit: Running out of time or anticipating a delay?

What explains an unprecedented, disastrous political defeat ever of a government on the floor of the British Parliament (432/202, a loss by 230 votes), followed within a day by its reaffirmation in government – prevailing over a no-confidence motion by a healthy margin of 19 votes? Essentially the Tories still cannot agree on an outcome for Brexit but bunch up to prevent their worst fear, the possibility of a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Government.

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PETER SAINSBURY. Sunday’s environment round up

Environmental issues, particularly but not only climate change, are once again prominent in the public eye and their importance has been reflected in frequent posts over the years in Pearls & Irritations. We can also be certain that a range of environmental issues will feature strongly in the forthcoming Federal election, particularly for instance climate change and carbon dioxide emission reduction targets, energy policy, the proposed Adani mine, fracking, the Murray Darling River, the Great Barrier Reef and land clearing. Some issues will assume greater importance in some electorates than others.

Starting this week, Peter Sainsbury will be compiling a list for your weekend reading of five or so recent articles that highlight significant aspects of the threats posed to the environment and what is being done to tackle them. The intention is to cover a wide range of issues from all over the world, and to try to include articles from regions that are close to us but that we don’t hear so much about in Australia, for instance Asia and the Pacific. This is an experiment so feedback and suggestions for interesting articles for future compilations are welcome.  John Menadue

Disappointed by the slowness of national governments and inter-governmental organisations to tackle climate change? Michael Northrop from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund highlights commitments by states, cities and companies at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco in September 2018 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in buildings, transportation, ports, renewable electricity, waste, land use and oceans and through finance.

Climate change isn’t the only environmental problem. Humans are changing the environment and ‘earth systems’ in many other ways, creating a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. This article, from AsiaGlobal Online, discusses how climate change and the Anthropocene are related but not synonymous.

A frank assessment by Giles Parkinson of where the Federal Government’s energy and climate policies stood at the end of 2018 and what the state and territory governments think about it all.

A picture may well be worth a thousand words but when it comes to promoting awareness of and action to combat climate change make sure those pictures include ordinary people suffering the consequences or taking action. Viewers are much more engaged by pictures that tell a human story that engages their emotions than ones that may be artistically striking and praiseworthy but devoid of human content.

Talking of pictures, Jack Waterford discusses the causes and political implications of some pretty dramatic ones of dead fish from the Murray River and Menindee Lakes this week (most photos did include some local people!). As he says, ‘The fish don’t need a detailed inquest: just by themselves, they show that something has gone very badly wrong.’ Few parties emerge from Mr Waterford’s scathing analysis with any credit.

And finally there is a graph from the Bureau of Meteorology that very clearly shows how Australia has been getting hotter. The graph shows Australia’s mean temperature anomaly for each year from 1901-2018. The annual temperature anomaly is the difference between the average temperature for that year and the average for the years 1961-1990. Yes, there were warmer than average years in the first half of the 20th century but it’s clear that before 1957 the vast majority of years were considerably colder than the 1961-1990 average, whereas after 1978 they were mostly warmer than the average, and increasingly so. Statistically the warming has been 0.13 degrees C per decade from 1910-2018. The media loves headlines and pictures about record temperatures across the country but seldom makes as prominent the links to the underlying global warming.

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

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MICHELLE PINI. Something stinks in the Coalition and it’s not just dead fish (Independent Australia 17.01.2019)

The sight of close to a million dead fish in one of Australia’s most important waterways may herald the end for the Morrison Government.

For this is hardly the first time this Coalition Government, under its various iterations, has spat in the face of Australia’s precious resources.

For now, however, let’s look at the Murray-Darling disaster and how we got here.   Continue reading

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JOHN KERIN. ‘Free Trade’ (sic), Some Fundamentals (Part 1).

Australian trade policy has dramatically changed over the last fifty years. What we now face is nothing like the situation we have been used to. The general public has little idea of the complexity and importance of trade negotiations, the reality of what we now face and the current implications of the US/China imbroglio and Brexit. None the less, some trade policy fundamentals for Australia persist, having been the main historical features of our endeavours. Agricultural trade policy has been central in the past, where we have still not advanced much, which is still relevant, but is no longer the main game. Continue reading

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MICHAEL NIMAN. Five Forces Driving the Rise of Fascism in 2019 (Truthout).

 Immigration has become a weapon in the arsenal of fascists who work to sow fear of the “other” in populations they wish to control.There are four other forces behind the rise of fascism Continue reading

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ANTONY GREEN. Why independents won’t matter so much at the next election (ABC News).

Despite predictions that independents will be an important factor in the result of the coming federal election, two important factors suggest otherwise. Continue reading

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JOHN MENADUE. We are paying to protect an industry that no longer exists.

We see it almost every day in the media; rent-seekers extracting benefits for themselves through political influence and lobbying at the expense of the broader community. It has very little to do with markets. It is about political favours for the powerful. No wonder that more and more people around the world are concluding that the economic and political system works for the influential and powerful insiders and not for the general community. Continue reading

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MASSIMO FAGGIOLI. A Church within the Church. Behind the new integralism is the old intransigentism. (La Croix International, 9.1 2019)

“They build a Church within the Church … while making of their views a dogma. I am not defending myself against them, but against what I would call their schismatic spirit.” John Henry Newman on integralism.

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GRACE BLAKELEY. The Latest Incarnation of Capitalism (Jacobin, September 2018)

Financialization isn’t a perversion of an otherwise well-functioning system. It’s just capitalism’s latest survival mechanism. Continue reading

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JOHN MENADUE. The myth that Liberals are better economic managers. A repost from 25 July 2018

Malcolm Turnbull has made it clear that his mantra of ‘Jobs-and-Growth’ will be at the forefront of his campaign in the next election. This week he will be talking about the growth of a million jobs in 5 years, but there is nothing really remarkable in that on average over the last 15 years about 200,000 new jobs have been created each year. Further, it is less impressive because our population is growing by about two million every five years.  Continue reading

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IAN McAULEY. Medicare under threat – from Labor!

Last year Labor announced that if elected it would refer health funding, particularly private health insurance, to the Productivity Commission, it being 50 years since the value of PHI was last examined by government. It appears, however, that Labor is squibbing on its promise to subject PHI to economic scrutiny, abandoning its historical commitment to defend Medicare from being undermined by PHI. Continue reading

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KAREN ELPHICK. United States Senate shows President a red light on war powers as Labor promises a war powers inquiry in Australia (Australia Parliamentary Blog 21.12.2018)


For several years, Yemen has been in a state of civil war between a Saudi-led coalition supporting the Yemeni Government and Houthi forces. The US armed forces are not directly engaged in Yemen but have been supporting Saudi military efforts with aerial targeting and intelligence sharing.

On 13 December 2018, the United States (US) Senate passed Resolution S.J. Res. 54 – 115th Congress (Res. 54) directing the US President to withdraw US Forces from hostilities in Yemen. Res. 54 provides (emphasis added):

This joint resolution directs the President to remove U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen within 30 days unless Congress authorizes a later withdrawal date, issues a declaration of war, or specifically authorizes the use of the Armed Forces. Prohibited activities include providing in-flight fueling for non-U.S. aircraft conducting missions as part of the conflict in Yemen. This joint resolution shall not affect any military operations directed at Al Qaeda.

The President must submit to Congress, within 90 days, reports assessing the risks that would be posed: (1) if the United States were to cease supporting operations with respect to the conflict in Yemen, and (2) if Saudi Arabia were to cease sharing Yemen-related intelligence with the United States.   Continue reading

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FINTAN O’TOOLE. Today Britain discovers it cannot escape history. (Irish Times 16.1.2019)

Today is supposed to be historic, one of the most epic moments in the long life of the Westminster parliament. So why does it not feel like that? The tabling by a British prime minister of an agreement on the terms of withdrawal from the European Union ought to feel much bigger than this. Some of the reasons are obvious enough: the sheer tedium of the journey; the tragicomic chaos that undermines the desired solemnity; the lack of any great drama attaching to the immediate outcome of the vote; the knowledge that this decisive moment will in reality decide nothing.   Continue reading

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JOHN AUSTEN. WestConnex inquiry report.

The Parliamentary inquiry into WestConnex is the type of thing that should happen before any major infrastructure project starts.  However, it let the project off too lightly. Continue reading

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JOHN MENADUE. Our intelligence agencies are out of control -An edited repost

 It seems  likely that the prosecution by the Commonwealth Government  of former spy (Witness K ) and his lawyer Bernard Collaery will be heard in closed court. What a travesty of justice this is. Those who authorised the illegal bugging of the East Timorese Cabinet for the commercial benefit of Woodside Petroleum and those who subsequently covered up their activities have not been pursued.. Some of them have been promoted. 

We need intelligence agencies that are both competent and accountable. We have neither at the moment. We have witnessed the abject failure of bank regulators.Regulatory failure in the intelligence sector is even more in plain sight.  

There are particular problems for agencies which operate in secret and with few public checks. In an abuse of power ASIO and its collaborators have been campaigning  overtly and covertly to force a change in Government policy towards China.

There is no effective supervision in the public interest of the Hastie/Lewis partnership . Here we have the parliamentary supervisor of ASIO (Hastie) and the head  of ASIO(Lewis) on a joint ticket. Old SAS colleagues. It is extra- ordinary and dangerous. Continue reading

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SANG JIEJA. Tibetans get home decor order: Hang Xi, Mao portrait

Dalai Lama images removed from temples, monasteries as Party reinforces iconography of its ‘heroes’; households next

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JOANNE SIMON-DAVIES. Community attitudes towards violence against women. (Commonwealth Parliamentary Blog 5.12.2018)

The National Community Attitudes toward Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) is the world’s longest-running survey of community attitudes towards violence against women. Results from the latest survey are mixed; levels of awareness have generally risen but there are still areas of concern.   Continue reading

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KIM WINGEREI. Brexit chaos – the failures of Westminster

As the Brexit chaos continues, it is worth reflecting on the background that led Britain to where it is today – with no ending in sight. The root cause lays in how the Westminster system is failing to serve the people.

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RICHARD KINGSFORD. The catastrophic fish kill on the Darling River– decades in the making

The plight of the Darling River shocked the nation last week, when up to a million fish were killed by lack of oxygen, accompanying the disruption of a blue-green algal bloom on a forty kilometre stretch of the river near Menindee, southeast of Broken Hill. This followed a similar kill of tens of thousands of native fish in December.

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ABUL RIZVI. Is The Australian making excuses for incompetent immigration administration?

Nick Cater writing in The Australian (see here if you can get past the Paywall) seems to think people trying to manipulate the visa system is news. Has he been as asleep to this while our intrepid government has allowed a world class visa system to deteriorate into chaos (see here)?  It is the chaos in our visa system that has enabled Dutton to set a new record in the number of mainly non-genuine asylum seeker applications (see here). But rather than ask the hard questions about how a government obsessed with border protection could have allowed this, Cater looks to blame anyone other than the government. Continue reading

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JON FINER and ROBERT MALLEY. Trump is right to seek an end to America’s wars (The New York Times International Edition).

The president’s desire to disentangle the country from costly overseas conflicts must be encouraged. Continue reading

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