Thursday, May 21, 2015


The appeal of the Greens to the rich and godless has been underlined by an analysis of voting patterns in the recent NSW election. The Greens picked up three lower house seats — Balmain, Newtown and Ballina — and two members of the upper house. The party’s state-wide vote was unchanged at 10.3 per cent, but it achieved solid increases in the inner city — and big jumps in its support on the north coast of NSW, due to concerns about coal-seam gas.

Analysis of election results using 2011 census data compiled by the NSW parliamentary library reveals the ¬secret of the Greens’ success ¬appears to be the party’s appeal to atheists and the well-off.

In the top 10 electorates ranked by the proportion of households with income of $3000 a week or more, the Greens’ primary vote averaged 17 per cent. In the 10 electorates with the lowest proportion of such families, the Greens vote averaged 10.9 per cent. And this figure was inflated by the Greens’ outstanding results in the north coast seats of Tweed and Lismore, driven by the CSG issue. The electorates ranked one and two for people who nominate no religion, agnosticism, atheism, humanism or rationalism are Newtown and Balmain in inner Sydney. The No 3 godless electorate is Sydney, which is held by the Clover Moore-backed independent Alex Greenwich, who captures much of what would otherwise be the Greens vote.

Even with him getting 39.6 per cent of the vote, the Greens still managed a respectable 9.7 per cent primary vote. The Greens’ other seat, Ballina, which includes Byron Bay and Mullumbimby, is ranked four for the number of atheists. Conversely, in electorates where the proportion of Christians is highest, Greens did relatively poorly. In the most Christian seat in NSW — Cootamundra in the Riverina — the Greens managed just 3.5 per cent of the vote. Although the Greens proclaim an emphasis on social justice and equity, working-class people ¬appear unconvinced. In electorates with the highest proportion of labourers, the Greens averaged only 4.8 per cent.

Greens MLC John Kaye said education, rather than income, was a better predictor of a likely Greens voter. “As a progressive party, we appeal to people who have been formally trained to look at alternatives and assess them,” he said. Dr Kaye said it was a mistake to lump Balmain and Newtown together, because they were quite different electorates. Balmain was wealthier and had more families while Newtown had more students and public-sector workers. ABC election analyst Antony Green studied the demographics of the Greens vote in the 2010 federal election, concluding Labor and the Greens are not engaged in a battle over Labor heartland but that the Greens were concentrated in the inner cities and among the “knowledge elite.” He remarked that “high Green support basically disappears at the end of the tram lines” in Melbourne.

Via email from the Australian Prayer Network

NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay slams inner-city hipsters as ‘anti-road zealots’

HEY you! Latte-sipping hipster of Newtown or Fitzroy. You’re worse for the environment than a fleet of trucks.  Look at you, sitting there in your wholefood cafe, munching on your kale salad (yum!) and whingeing about why your city can’t be a freewheeling bicycle utopia like Paris. You just don’t get it.

This is the entirely unflattering view NSW’s Roads Minister Duncan Gay takes of Australia’s inner-city residents, as he rails against (or, should that be “roads” against?) their extremist pro-train agenda.

Politicians continue to fend off criticism from residents (oh, and pesky planning experts) for prioritising mega roads — such as Sydney’s whopping Westconnex motorway and Melbourne’s maligned East-West Link — over public transport.

While the East-West Link is on the scrap heap, the 33km Westconnex is happening — and the six-land freeway will spit out thousands of cars right next door to Sydney’s hipster HQ of King St, Newtown.
But inner city scenesters can cry into their quinoa for all Mr Gay cares.

He used a forum on freight in Sydney yesterday to slam Australia’s “anti-road zealots”. (Stack hats on, hipsters, coz you’re about to cop it from Mr Gay.)

“I’m increasingly concerned by the vocal anti-road movement in Sydney and elsewhere which revere dogma over reality,” he said.
“They conveniently forget that thousands of commuters each day need to drive to rail and bus stations, ferry wharves, hospitals, schools, shopping centres and sporting grounds.

“They forget their groceries, whitegoods, furniture and mail are delivered by road. I’m yet to see a freight train back into a shop in Newtown or someone hitch a ride on a tram with their newly purchased 400L fridge from Harvey Norman.

“It is one thing to sit in your cafe, sipping your latte, and complain about cars and roads. “It’s another thing to wonder how the grease trap in that coffee lounge actually gets removed.” 

But, for his big finish, Mr Gay said Australia’s “chattering class” were worse polluters than trucks.  “More particulate matter goes into the air over the city of Sydney from the chattering class sitting around their log fire and a glass of chardonnay (talking about) that horrible Duncan Gay; they put more particulate matter into the air of Sydney by a factor of four of five than heavy vehicles ever did,” he said.

In a deeply unsurprising development, Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi has rushed in with box of tissues to dry the eyes of her craft-beer swilling constituency.  “Minister Gay’s callous remarks about the people in our community fighting against toxic toll road projects are condescending and ill-informed,” she said.

“The people organising against projects like WestConnex and NorthConnex are doing so because they believe these roads are not what Sydney needs in the 21st century. And they are right. “The Roads Minister’s tired cliches about latte-sippers basically trivialise what are really serious issues for people: the air they breathe, the way they get around, and the accessibility of the services and amenities they need to live good, healthy lives.”


Brandis takes away a lot of the money from the Leftist arty farties

And they're squealing

Diverting almost $105 million in funding from the Australia Council to the federal Arts Ministry would challenge "widespread perception" that the arts funding body is a "closed shop" that favoured artists in Melbourne and Sydney, Arts Minister George Brandis says.

There was a view that the Australia Council was an "iron wall that you're either inside or outside", the senator said on Tuesday.

"This is a very good budget for the arts," Mr Brandis said of measures announced in last week's federal budget. "There have been no significant cuts at all," he told ABC Radio National.

Under the policy, a National Program for Excellence in the Arts will be established with $104.7 million over four years diverted from the Australia Council (which will have $185 million to distribute to artists and arts organisations). In addition, the Australia Council has been asked to find savings of $7.2 million over four years.

The move sparked an outcry from many in the arts community, saying it reduced the amount of arts funding delivered by peer review, at arm's length from government.

While several major companies have been quiet on the move – and Opera Australia CEO Craig Hassall said he was "delighted" that major performing arts companies' funding was not cut – others have expressed concern that companies with better connections to the minister will be rewarded to the detriment of smaller organisations.

More than 4000 people, including authors Thomas Keneally, Christos Tsiolkas and JM Coetzee, playwright Joanna Murray-Smith and artists William Yang and Shaun Tan have signed a petition opposing the "massive defunding" of the Australia Council.

Individual artists have also backed up those concerns.  "It hasn't been explained yet how the minister will be administering these funds, and what he means by areas of excellence," said artist Ken Unsworth, who represented Australia at the 1978 Venice Biennale. "If that's just flagship companies getting more money then I think that's appalling."

Editor, poet and essayist David Brooks criticised the move, adding he wasn't greatly surprised by it. "We could have seen this coming, regardless of but especially after the PM's non-arm's-length role in this year's Prime Minister's Literary Awards."

Prime Minister Tony Abbott insisted Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan share the award with Steven Carroll, the judges' unanimous choice.

Asked to define his interpretation of excellence in the arts, Mr Brandis sidestepped the question, saying he would rather not anticipate the specifics of the guidelines.

They would, however, be transparent, independent and "they will extend access to funding to a wider [pool] of applicants", he said.

"The minister's not the assessor," he said, adding that decisions would be made by staff from within his office.

Of the perception that the budget measures would hit emerging artists hardest and favour the heritage arts, he said: "I don't think there is an antithesis between excellence and experimentation, not at all."

The senator said he had "quarantined" the arts from larger cuts in this budget and last year (the 2014 budget included more than $100 million in cuts to the sector by the Abbott government, which included a $28 million reduction in funding to the Australia Council over four years, $33.8 million taken from arts programs run by the Attorney-General's Department and $25.1 million from Screen Australia).

He denied he was "dismantling" the Australia Council by moving the Book Council and programs such as Festivals Australia, Visions of Australia and the Major Festivals initiative back under his ministry's control.

"I don't think the Australia Council is on the way out," Mr Brandis said. "About 87 per cent of grant funding will continue to be funded through the Australia Council. I think the Australia Council ought to continue to have the principal role in arts funding in Australia.

"That being said I do not favour the view that it be a monopoly funder of the arts. A funding mix ... is a healthier way to do arts funding."

The minister provided little further detail beyond the short statement released last week on how the new initiative would work.

Mr Brandis said his office would publish guidelines in coming weeks and would invite applications for funding "in the coming financial year".

He compared the model for the national program to the cultural fund created to mark the Gallipoli centenary.

"[There's an] analogy with the way the Anzac Arts and Culture Fund has been administered, with an advisory panel of experts who assess projects and make recommendations."


Labor suffers first defeat in hung Qld. Parliament as Billy Gordon backs LNP’s wait time guarantee

Long waits in public hospitals are no concern of the ALP, apparently

THEY joined with embattled Cook MP Billy Gordon to help the Opposition chalk up its first win against the Palaszczuk Government in State Parliament last night and the Katter’s Australian Party MPs warn it will not be the last time this term.

KAP State Leader Robbie Katter said the decision signalled the return of democracy to the House.

“I think it demonstrates to people that we have introduced this wonderful form of democracy back into the parliament now where things get through on their merits,” Mr Katter said.

“We saw merit in what the Opposition motion delivered for hospitals and we voted accordingly and so did the Member for Cook and that will continue to happen.”

Mr Katter said he hoped the decision signalled to Labor and the LNP that state parliament was “not about major parties beating their chests and playing party games”.

“It needs to be used for serious activity to deliver real outcomes,” he said.  “We represent electorates that are on their knees. We believe we are doing it worse than anywhere else in Australia...and we are uncompromising in pursuing the agenda that we feel delivers best for Queenslanders.  “We’ve got real democracy ... and I think it’s a good thing for Queensland.”

Fellow Katter MP Shane Knuth said they would continue to work with the government on the surgery wait time issue to achieve a result they were happy with.  “We’ve indicated right from the beginning that we want to support good policies, good legislation and good motions,” Mr Knuth said.  “We may not get it right every time. We’re not perfect.”

In the first sign of the instability of the hung Parliament, Mr Gordon sided with the Katter MPs to help the Opposition win a motion to keep the LNP’s health wait time guarantee.

Mr Gordon said he backed the Opposition as he had not seen anything to convince him to vote against it.  “I’ve always said I will offer confidence to the Government and that stands, but on this particular issue, I haven’t heard anything that persuaded me otherwise,” he said.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk last night tried to downplay the loss.  “It’s just a normal vote of the Parliament, nothing unusual,” she said.

There was audible shock in the chamber as the Clerk read out the votes of the Crossbenchers, revealing the final tally of 45 votes for and 43 votes against.

Despite the vote, Labor insisted it wouldn’t reinstate the LNP’s wait time guarantee.  Instead, Health Minister Cameron Dick said the Government would continue with its own plan to tackle waiting lists.  “Any vote in a Parliament is important. But this is the reality of a hung parliament where no party has a majority,” Mr Dick said.  “It’s not a binding vote in the sense the Parliament can’t instruct the Government to do things.”

Scrapping the Opposition’s wait time guarantee – which assured surgery within clinically recommended time frames or free surgery in a private hospital – was one of the first things Mr Dick did when he became health minister.


The Tim Flannery hypothesis

Peter van Onselen

The descent into madness at the University of Western Australia associated with the possible setting up of a centre to be headed by Danish professor Bjorn Lomborg has been a debacle from start to finish.

I feel for all the parties involved — the management forced into an embarrassing backdown, colleagues who rightly or wrongly felt blindsided by the initial decision. And perhaps most of all I feel for the great majority of staff and students at UWA (let’s call them the silent majority) who probably weren’t that concerned about the decision either way, but no doubt are concerned by the reputational damage caused to the university.

Although I do not agree with the backlash that the decision to accept the commonwealth funds and establish the centre caused among staff (I wrote in defence of the centre’s establishment after it was announced), it is the often disingenuous reasons for the uprising that bother me most. These have certainly been the reasons to receive the most public attention.

I want to put out there a proposition for readers to ponder, which I’ll come back to throughout this piece: would the bottom-up revolt by staff have occurred had the Rudd or Gillard government done the same for Tim Flannery, for example, and set up a centre to advocate aggressive climate change action?

It is just my opinion, but I highly doubt it. Sure, this newspaper and certain commentators might have had a crack at it, but I doubt UWA would have faced a revolt.

For anyone who agrees with me they will also, I suspect, agree that this is a telling observation. For readers who do not, because the above is an unprovable opinion, we simply have to agree to ­disagree.

Let’s establish a few facts, as well as dispel more than a few myths surrounding this debate.

Lomborg believes in climate change, but he questions whether the cost of addressing it is economically worth the effort, in a world of finite resources.

Yes, he is not an economist by training, he is a political scientist. Critics have made a lot of this. But to suggest there isn’t overlap between these disciplines, or that he is somehow unqualified to explore a hypothesis in the wider sphere of economics is preposterous. All the more so given that his research expertise is in statistics.

I would direct readers to (the more than eminent) Professor Flannery’s formal qualifications and training, reminding them that unlike Lomborg he engages in debates about the science of climate change, for which he is not ideally qualified.

Would opponents of Lomborg’s academic policy engagements equally oppose Flannery’s, on the premise that both men were not, strictly speaking, trained within the specific discipline they now operate in?

There has been scuttlebutt about how well qualified Lomborg is to be worthy of the appointment UWA offered.

First, it was to be an honorary post, without salary. Second, he was already an academic at a well respected overseas university. His PhD is from Denmark’s top ranked tertiary institution (University of Copenhagen) and he rose to the rank of professor at its second best institution, the University of Aarhus. These are world top 50 and top 100 universities respectively. For context, UWA is a top 100 university, and proudly so.

Third, the mooted centre would have been staffed by scholars who would have gone through a formal appointment process within UWA.

Finally, the Danish centre as well as its offshoots in the US house highly reputable scholars, including a number of Nobel laureates. Links to these institutions would, I believe, have elevated UWA, not diminished it.

The point is not to brag, nor to imply UWA would be lucky to be graced with Lomborg’s partial presence. It is simply to highlight the absurdity of suggesting his centre was without merit and UWA would lose academic standing because of it, much less be so diabolic that it needed to provoke an uprising by staff and students.

It was an overreaction, which is perhaps why management should have stood firm.

Would it have been a controversial centre? Of course. Is that a reason not to engage with Lomborg’s ideas? I hope not, or I had better find another university to affiliate myself with. I don’t tend to tread lightly in my political commentary. There is a good point to be made criticising centres such as Lomborg’s as bordering on the polemical, and suiting the purpose of a think tank more than a university. I have heard this criticism used in recent weeks. That is to say, such centres seem to want to find evidence to support a hypothesis, rather than let the evidence direct the inquiry.

There are two things to say about this. First, keeping such centres out of universities is a fight that was lost a long, long time ago. The University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies is the most high-profile version of such a think tank within a university in this country, but there are many others both here and abroad. In fact, there are a number that concern themselves with campaigns for climate change action beyond what the consensus requests. Second, are those who opposed Lomborg’s centre consistent, and would they equally have opposed a similar centre albeit with a different ideological goal? This is the Flannery hypothesis (cum opinion) that I have.

I’ve seen others invoke the freedom of expression defence as to why Lomborg’s centre should have gone ahead, and in turn they have criticised UWA staff for silencing dissent. While John Stuart Mill’s writings often get raised in this context, in truth he has made counterpoints to the arguments free speech advocates like to raise. They would know this had they read his collective works, rather than cherry-picked his findings. Let’s keep long dead philosophers out of this debate, other than to note its nice to hear contrary arguments when we do quote scholars who housed themselves in our institutes of higher learning, often as contrarians at the time.

My criticism of the rejection of the Lomborg centre is more about the lack of consistency, the false narrative and misinformation associated with it, and the (in my opinion) rather obvious ideological partisanship which seemed to kick it off. It is important to note that there were colleagues who were upset with the initial decision because of the management process, or I suspect in their view the lack of it. I do not mean to lump them in with the more vocal opponents, who have tended to base their opposition on the grounds I am criticising above.

Are there reasons to dislike the decision to accept the money and set up the centre? You bet there are. Did the Abbott government have a clear agenda when seeking to allocate the funds? I have no doubt. The university would have been within its rights to say, “Thanks, but no thanks, we don’t want to be part of your partisan games.” Perhaps it should have.

Would I have rejected the opportunity were I part of university management? I simply do not know, there is too much information courtesy of the way this process has unfolded to develop an undistorted view now.

Like it or not, university managers need the support of their subordinates, such is the institutional structure. The fault perhaps lies more in the lack of consultation prior to the initial decision, than in the ultimate one to walk away from the centre.

I can see that the decision to engage with Lomborg may have been a managerial mistake given the agendas in play, it is a crying shame the way my colleagues reacted. That’s because universities should not shut down contrarian scholarship. And they certainly should not do so inconsistently and in a distorting way, given the broad ideological spectrum within society, which should be reflected in our universities.

It does appear that management could have sold the now defunct centre better to colleagues. The mere fact that there was an uprising against the decision is arguably evidence of that. But would a better sales job surrounding the opening up of the centre have avoided the embarrassment we witnessed? Perhaps, but I’m not certain. Because the reasons behind the opposition to Lomborg’s arrival (in name more than in person, given he was only ever going to be an unpaid honorary chairman of the centre, and not based in WA) seem to me to have been largely built on a mixture of ideology and misunderstanding.

In a sign of how ridiculous this whole debate has become, it is incumbent on me before signing off to spell out where I stand on climate change, how to combat it and what (if any) qualifications I have to comment on such matters.

Like Lomborg, I accept the science of climate change (not that I would have cared if he did not, his research isn’t about trying to disprove it). There appears to be a scientific consensus on climate change, although we should be mindful that there are well qualified professors of climate science who dispute the consensus, and they work in leading universities. They appear vastly outnumbered and outgunned by the evidence, but recognising such dissenting views is important.

Like Lomborg, I am primarily a political scientist by training, with a PhD in the discipline. I feel that makes me qualified to debate and examine the public policy benefits or otherwise of pursuing alternative uses of limited government (and private) monies when combating disease and scientific decay.

My political science studies have also trained me in the study of political economy and public policy specifically, as I suspect Lomborg’s have, and I’ve completed a master of policy studies and a master of commerce, if that somehow matters when dipping into this multidisciplinary debate.

Does the economics of focusing on combating climate change stack up, or are there other ways to spend limited funds more effectively? I’m not sure I’d agree with Lomborg’s findings, to be honest; I’d need to do my own research to find out. But what’s to fear in him doing such work? Surely his thesis is worthy of inquiry?

Not that this was to be the purpose of the UWA centre Lomborg would have been affiliated with anyway. It seemed from the media releases to be an extension of his work, focused more on the various ways of combating disease and dysfunction in our region. Lomborg’s earlier works on the economics of climate change action almost seemed irrelevant to the work the centre would have engaged in. You can see the value it would have had without agreeing with the premise on which it came about. It struck me that UWA could have played the government off a break, structuring the centre for its own purposes at the same time as satisfying the Abbott government’s penchant for dishing out the cash in the name of a cause.

Inevitably some colleagues who disagree with the views I have expressed may seek to pick holes in my argument, which I absolutely welcome. That’s all part of the rich joy of academic debate. It would have been nice if Lomborg’s centre could have been viewed in the same spirit, but alas.


1 comment:

PB said...

The trouble with the waiting time guarantees is that all the Hospitals did wass open phony "observation" wards and move those coming up to their maximum allowed wait time into these wards which counts as "admission". Back in the 90s Kennett's mob in Melbourne came up with a system of penalizing ED's a portion of funding for every patient that stayed more than 24 hours. In practice this meant that if you stayed 24 hours you were then lost and the focus moved onto the next patient coming up to 24 hours. Some people stayed on trolleys in ED for days on end as a result. None of this stuff works in practice because we will always find a work-a-round that doesn't really address the actual problems.