Monday, February 19, 2018

Political bias: leftist DFAT holds our foreign policy hostage

Mark Higgie

Bureaucracies are shaped as much by the political views of those who staff them as their commitment to implementing government policies. Having observed our diplomats from the prime minister's office as an adviser to Tony Abbott and on five diplo­matic postings, I have no doubt that their views of the world, advice and decision-making in the main reflect — to a greater extent than other parts of the federal government machinery — the politically correct pieties that also dominate the ABC, the Fairfax press, our universities and, increasingly, our schools.

To any Canberra insider, espec­ially those in Coalition circles, the fact most of our diplomats are leftish is a given. But the foreign service's political bias matters and is a real issue for Liberal-National governments — obviously not so much for Labor. If the bias isn't corrected by close government management, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's bureau­cracy and operations (cost: $5.1 billion this financial year including overseas aid) will go their own way and capture ministers and even prime ministers along the way.

The spirit of Gough Whitlam continues to hover over DFAT's RG Casey Building in Canberra. Most of our diplomats dream of an Australia less aligned with the US and have an often unqualified enthusiasm for the UN. They prefer Greens/Labor approaches to climate change to those of the ­Coalition. They're deeply uneasy with recent Coalition border protection policies and like the 1970s version of multiculturalism that “celebrates diversity” without much concern for common values and integration. They want us unshackled, as they see it, from our symbolic linkages with Britain.

A few examples of DFAT's thriving leftist bias and the tendency among many of its staff to make judgments out of step with mainstream Australian attitudes:

* Yassmin Abdel-Magied has become notorious for her contemptuous attitude towards Australia, highly controversial views of Islam (“the most feminist ­religion”) and preparedness to seek advice from the extremist ­organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir — banned in many countries because of its defence of Islamist terrorism, one of its spokesmen having ­described Australian troops in ­Afghanistan as “fair game” whom Muslims had an obligation to ­attack.

Nevertheless, Abdel-­Magied was appointed in 2015 to DFAT's Council for Australian-Arab Relations and the following year, after she said on the ABC's The Drum that sharia law was “about mercy” and “kindness”, DFAT funded and promoted her travels around the Middle East, representing Australia.

* This case of DFAT's desperation to prove itself hip to Islam wasn't an exception. Its Twitter account for some years has extended greetings to Muslims on the occasion of Ramadan and last year the usual message was supplemented by an additional message from the DFAT secretary. But no equivalent courtesies were tweeted last year to the world's Jews — or indeed to the world's Christians.

* DFAT also recently created a Twitter storm by enthusing about the Muslim “modest fashion market” of hijabs and burkinis — apparently oblivious to the fact the pressures and in some cases requirement to wear such garments are deeply controversial in many Muslim communities, as highlighted by recent anti-hijab protests in Iran. There was much social media incredulity that DFAT could imply that women who don't wear such garments are somehow immodest and what this says about an organisation that is supposed to represent Australia to the world and to champion the rights of women and girls.

* Most Australians would be aghast that about $44 million of their taxes will be paid this financial year for aid projects in the Palestinian territories, while the Palestinian Authority managed to find $US347m last year for payments to convicted terrorists and their families under its “martyr payments policy”, thus encouraging terrorism. The US House of Representatives in December unanimously passed the Taylor Force Act, which would link continued US aid to the Palestinian Authority ceasing such payments. But the Australian government, advised by DFAT, continues to resist any such linkage.

* In June last year the EU funded an EU-Australia Leadership Forum in Sydney, with round tables discussing various matters of mutual interest, organised in co-operation with DFAT. One of the round tables was focused on migration issues, an opportunity for European participants to learn more about Australia's success in stopping the people-smugglers' trade while maintaining a generous refugee intake — an achievement in which Europeans have been increasingly interested since their catastrophic and continuing migration crisis. But the round table was chaired by then Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs, one of the most strident critics of the government's border protection policies.

* In Brussels I discovered widespread awareness that a DFAT ­officer at the mission was moonlighting openly as the president of a political lobby group, using social media to make charges of racism and homophobia against prominent European political figures, including the leader of an EU and NATO member-state with which Australia enjoys cordial relations.

* Another DFAT official at the mission used Twitter to call for Rupert Murdoch to “become a hermit”, to describe the government as “utterly backward” on gay marriage — but Julia Gillard as “a personal hero” and “a strong female progressive” — and to barrack for a Labour win in the 2015 British election.

* At a US embassy reception arranged on November 9, 2016, to watch the results of the presidential election, a DFAT officer present wept openly once it became clear Donald Trump had won.

The problem with our foreign affairs bureaucracy isn't just the consistent political correctness and suspicion of the Coalition. Much effort is devoted to activity often marginal to Australia's international interests. Much fretting goes into how to achieve increased staffing diversity in DFAT, including through “diversity networks” and “champions” — even though the days when it was dominated by Anglo heterosexual men are long gone. No one wants discrimination against minorities, but most taxpayers would see DFAT's participation in last year's Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras as an activity remote from the protection of our international interests.

Agonised introspection chews up much effort more broadly, with the regular generation of often impenetrable managerialese: for ­example, with its “capability improvement program” — not to be confused with its “capability action plan” — DFAT is on a “capability development journey”, ever on the lookout for “capability champions” (to supplement the “diversity champions”).

The effort put into this gibberish, which now includes “unconscious bias” training for managers, requires much expensive staff time. The appalling lapse by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in losing hundreds of cabinet documents raises the question of whether these fashionable corporate obsessions distract attention from important priorities, such as ensuring national security and maintaining the confidence of our allies in sharing their secrets with us.

Even more effort goes into DFAT's favourite activity, campaigning for more influence in the UN. If this didn't require such effort, money and distortion to our foreign policy, it might not matter. But, as with Labor's campaign for the UN Security Council, that's rarely the case. In that instance, in pursuit of votes, hundreds of millions of dollars of extra aid money were pumped into Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa, and we softened our traditionally strong support for Israel.

To avoid a repeat performance, Abbott resisted DFAT pressure to launch a campaign for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. That partly reflected its particularly dubious nature — its members include Saudi Arabia, Cuba and China. But after Abbott lost the leadership, DFAT quickly got the green light. As The Australian's Greg Sheridan observed, this signalled that the Turnbull administration was going to be a bit more cuddly and progressive interna­tionally. It chewed up huge am­ounts of effort as we hawked our credentials to be admitted into the company of some of the world's worst human rights violators.

With its managerial and UN preoccupations, DFAT has long neglected some of the basics of what we should expect of a foreign service. Foreign language skills, one of the keys to understanding other countries, aren't taken all that seriously. Unlike most diplomatic services, foreign language ability isn't compulsory for recruits. Several officers in Brussels, after years in the city, hadn't bothered to learn enough French to be able to order a cup of coffee.

The writing skills of recruits are generally poor considering the competitive selection process. Many struggle to string together a coherent paragraph, let alone reports that may find their way towards the top of a minister's or prime minister's in-tray.

An especially insidious manifestation of DFAT's right-on tendencies is the widespread instinct to shun political forces its officials disapprove of, be it members of Trump's team during the US presidential campaign or Brexiteers ahead of the British referendum on EU membership.

On networking skills, many DFAT staff are painfully shy and passive about developing contacts. More useful than unconscious bias courses for DFAT staff would be training on developing networks, writing well, and developing conversation skills.

A curiosity is that as skills once considered core for our diplomats have declined, accommodation of dietary preferences has seen explosive growth. Colleagues at Meat & Livestock Australia have encountered vegetarianism so often among DFAT staff at their promotional events that they would occasionally ask in semi-jest if it was a selection criterion. One of our young diplomats once, when told that fish was to be served at an embassy function, demanded evidence that it had been sustainably sourced.

Our foreign affairs bureaucracy can be sloppy when it comes to what should be basics such as how we define our key area of strategic interest — where precision is important. The recent foreign policy white paper confirmed this as the “Indo-Pacific”, defined as the eastern Indian Ocean to the Pacific — so excluding the western parts of South Asia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But at another point in the document, the authors treat the whole of South Asia as part of the Indo-Pacific.

Another basic is that DFAT should be prudent with taxpayers' money. In 2012 it famously paid $388,000 to send 23 officials to a climate change summit in Rio de Janeiro; four years later it paid $192,000 to send a similar number to Paris to find ways to save costs. There was further extravagance last year when our 113 heads of mission were recalled home for discussions at a cost of $1.17m. As reported by The Australian, Alexander Downer, when foreign minister, rejected proposals for such meetings as a waste of money and time. Nothing about last year's meeting suggested this assessment needed revision.

The 2015 review of DFAT led by Brendan Nelson recommended extending postings to four years, which would have saved millions of dollars. But after union objections, DFAT dropped the idea. To her credit, Julie Bishop, on becoming Foreign Minister, banned first-class travel in DFAT, prompting probably the most bitter objections from its leadership to any decision of the current government.

But probably DFAT's worst failing is its lack of alertness to opportunities to advance the national interest. Why, for example did it not persuade Kevin Rudd or Gillard to pursue a free-trade agreement with the EU?

The EU is the world's second largest economy but its protectionism heavily restricts Australian exports in key areas such as beef and lamb. During Labor's last term in office, the US, Canada and Japan launched talks on securing free trade agreements with the EU. The Canadians in 2012 estimated that an FTA with the EU would result in a $C12bn increase in Canada's gross domestic product and 80,000 new jobs. Such analysis should have prompted Australia also to bang on doors in Brussels to start FTA talks. Why did that have to await the Abbott government?


Good for graduates, bad for society. Why university is a waste

Never have I been more excited than on my first day at university.

Orientation week, which is about to begin throughout the nation, opened a door to an entire world of courses, clubs, concerts, films, friends and beautiful facilities in which to have endless fun and be treated like an adult without ever having to act like one.

Ditching the idea of science, my original first choice, I chose drama, because I fancied myself as a producer of radio plays, politics, because I was obsessed with it, and economics because there was so much about it in the papers, and it was really, really, interesting; all the more so because no-one seemed to know the answers.

At university I was allowed to grow up slowly and learn stuff I wanted to learn, for its own sake. Never, for a second, until the final few months did I think about whether it would get me a job.

I don't know what's changed in more recent years, perhaps the economy, but it doesn't seem to be like that these days. Students often work part-time, they choose courses on the basis of job prospects and they limit the time they spend on campus.

If I had my way, I would recommend the full university experience to everyone, but I'd be wrong.

Financially, there's an advantage, one I didn't know much about at the time.

Over their lifetimes university graduates earn 40 to 75 per cent more than workers who go to work straight from school. One estimate puts the lifetime earnings of male graduates at $2.3 million compared to $1.7 million for those who go straight to work. The earnings of female graduates are put at $1.8 million compared to $1.4 million.

You might have noticed those figures say nothing about whether or not university education is the cause of those extra earnings. Those people might have done well anyway. It is my unfortunate duty to tell you most would not have. University education brings about extra earnings, rather than being merely associated with them. An ingenious Australian study of identical twins (“by definition, the same innate ability and family background”) found that it's the twin that does the extra study that gets the extra earnings.

Research conducted by Dr Andrew Leigh, now a member of parliament, found that each extra year of education beyond Year 10 added an extra 10 per cent to lifetime earnings.

But it didn't answer the more important question: what is it about those extra years that makes the students so much more valuable? If you think the answer is "learning more stuff" you'll have to answer to Bryan Caplan.

A university professor himself, he has just published a book titled The Case Against Education. Its implications are enormous. He is in no doubt that graduates earn more, and that graduation is the reason. But he thinks it has little to do with what they learnt.

Consider two students who had each learnt as much. One had a family tragedy and couldn't sit the final exam, the other could. US statistics show that the one who got the final piece of paper earns roughly 10 per cent more than other people for each extra year of education, whereas the one who learnt the stuff but missed out on the certificate gets only 4.2 per cent more.

Or ask someone whether they would have rather have learnt stuff without getting a degree or got a degree without learning stuff.

And what could they possibly have learnt at university that would be of use to an employer anyway? Calculus? Literature? Most jobs don't even require algebra, and literature doesn't help people write, which is what's required in jobs. There are exceptions: economics might be one, engineering another. But most courses teach things that aren't useful for employers.

So why do employers pay so much for people who've done them, or at least have got the certificates to show they once did them?

Caplan reckons it's profiling, a bit like racial profiling, where police use the way someone looks as a rule of thumb to work out whether they are likely to commit a crime, or the profiling by insurance companies who use postcodes to tell them what to charge. It mightn't be fair, but it's quick.

Seen that way, university is a sorting tool for employers, one they don't pay for. It helps them identify characteristics that will be needed on the job but have nothing to do with what was learnt. One is intelligence. You need a certain amount to get enough marks to pass, whatever the subject. Another is conscientiousness. You need to apply yourself. And the third is conformity. Sane free-thinkers realise quickly there's not a lot of point to what they are learning and drop out. Degrees certify IQ, the ability to knuckle down and a worker who won't make trouble.

So they are great for employers and great for graduates, albeit at the cost of enormous wasted resources. Employers could get the same outcomes if the courses lasted for two years instead of four, or even one. Or if they administered tests themselves.

If Caplan's right, we should be pushing politicians for less education rather than more, especially as the ageing of the population makes workers more scarce. My own company, Fairfax, is doing just that. It has taken on several truly excellent journalists precisely for the reason that they left university rather than see it through. They wanted to do the job rather than study it.

University isn't for everyone, but life is. And it's even better than university.


Construction Set To Surge To Decade High

Activity in the commercial construction sector is set to have the best year in more than a decade.

“With forecast growth of more than 14.5 per cent (equal to $5.3 billion) commercial building activity will be strong enough on its own to drag the whole industry back into positive territory for the first time in four years," Matthew Pollock, Master Builders Australia's National Manager Economics said.

The latest Building & Construction Industry Forecasts produced by Master Builders Australia show that total commercial construction activity is expected to contribute $42 billion to the economy in 2017-18.  

“With a small moderation expected in the value of residential construction work and another year of consolidation in the engineering sector, the timing of this surge in commercial construction couldn't be better," Matthew Pollock said.

“Better yet, new commercial construction projects will provide job opportunities for workers who may be finishing up on major high density residential projects over the next 12 months or so," he said.

“New retail related construction is expected to rise to $6.9 billion in 2017-18, led by the recent introduction of some big international retailers, including Amazon which recently built a large distribution centre in Melbourne's Dandenong South and plans by Aldi to open another 30 stores across the country in the next 12 months," Matthew Pollock said.

“Asia continues to be a strong source of tourist visitor numbers, particularly from Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and China. Asian investment is following the tourists with $4 billion committed to the construction of new pipeline of resorts and hotels with Queensland's resort sectors forecast to do particularly well," he said.

“Looking a little further down the track, the Government's investment in major transport infrastructure is ramping up and will support a boom in transport related construction over the next 5 years. There are currently more than $170 billion in transports projects in the pipeline, with activity expected to peak in 2019-20. This work will provide jobs for years and also provide much need productivity enhancing infrastructure. Master Builders has called for a greater focus on infrastructure investment to support businesses, but also to boost new housing supply and help with housing affordability," Matthew Pollock said.

“On the residential building front, the last three years saw unprecedented growth in new housing construction. We have built more than 200,000 new dwellings per year – a feat unmatched in our history," he said.

“Despite the forecast showing a moderation in new dwelling construction, we expect new commencements in 2017-18 to top 195,000 and average around 185,000 thereafter. To keep pace with population growth we will need to build at least 185,000 new dwellings each year for the next five years," Matthew Pollock said.

Media release

Renewable subsidies and the destruction of Australian energy competitiveness

Alan Moran

Yesterday I was the token rationalist speaker at the Australasian Agricultural and Resources Economics Society’s “The Future of Australian Energy Symposium”.

Two other speakers were Tony Wood (from the ALP’s think tank Grattan Institute recently rewarded for the damage his advice has done with an AO) and Danny Price from Frontier Economics (also an ALP consultant).

In so far as their advice has been followed, these two prominent characters have been instrumental in forging the taxing policies on fossil fuel generators that have destroyed our energy market. They now acknowledge the market is broken, it being impossible to shrug off the line ball reliability and doubling soon-to-be trebling of prices

But the politicians’ favoured consultants’ solution is one further attempt to get the interventionary policies right. Like the fans of socialism, they say its failure is because it has never been done properly!

The other speakers were operationally oriented – largely consultants – who proffered ways that the renewable target, now sanctified by the Paris Agreement few recognise as dead and buried, could be operationalised.

We have seen the wholesale price for electricity rise from under $40 per MWh with very little trend up until 2012, and was still $40 in 2015, to its present level of around $90 per MWh

​Wind has risen from nothing in the early part of the century to a share of over 10 per cent today. All of that wind is dependent on subsidies currently around $85 per MWh. In addition, there is the roof top solar (subsidised at $40 per MWh plus advantageous export tariffs). ​

Due to its abundant coal supplies, Australia had perhaps the cheapest electricity in the world ten years ago. As a result of the renewable subsidies it is now among the most expensive. Aside from increased direct costs to households, this has immense adverse consequences for the competitiveness of Australian industries and hence the nation’s living standards.

We can reverse direction and perhaps the demonstration effect of the US will provide the catalyst.

More HERE 

Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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