Monday, February 26, 2018

South Australian state election first big opportunity for Cory Bernardi’s party

He’s the high-profile South Australian politician challenging the big parties with his own upstart political movement – and no, we’re not talking about Nick Xenophon.

It is a sign of the deeply unusual manner in which the SA state election campaign is panning out that senator Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives party has hardly rated a mention, despite the 17 March contest shaping up as both the first big test and first major opportunity for the ex-Liberal’s new political force.

The Australian Conservatives are running 33 lower house candidates – three short of the number Nick Xenophon’s SA Best have announced to date – but the real opportunities lie in SA’s legislative council, where Bernardi already has two well-established members out of a merger with Family First.

Dennis Hood, the leader of the South Australian branch of the party, is not up for re-election, but his collegue Robert Brokenshire will be fighting for his spot, and Riverland businesswoman Nicolle Jachmann rounds out the upper house ticket.

If Bernardi can retain enough of Family First’s significant SA support base and bring on board some of his own fans, the Australian Conservatives could prove highly influential in what is likely to be a fractured 22-member legislative council.

What’s more, One Nation failed to register in time for the election, meaning the Australian Conservatives will have a clear run at voters who inhabit the space to the right of the Liberal party.

That space is larger than usual given that the campaign of Liberal leader Steven Marshall, himself a moderate, has responded to the Xenophon threat and Labor’s popular renewables strategy by edging to the political centre on a number of issues.

In an election where the centre-right party is offering $100m in means-tested grants to help people buy home battery storage systems and a 10-year moratorium on fracking in a farming region, Bernardi has a lot of conservative touchstones to himself.

His proposals include repealing $3bn in state taxes, completely ending renewable energy state subsidies, and undertaking a cost-benefit analysis to either bring coal-fired power back to SA or build a nuclear power plant.

The nuclear ambitions don’t stop there, with the Australian Conservatives proposing to follow through on Labor’s abandoned push to establish a $445bn state wealth fund seeded from importing and storing high-level radioactive waste that could remain hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years.

A lower house seat is a long shot, but the Australian Conservatives could play a deciding role in many electorates, firstly by making it more difficult for the Liberal party to win seats outright in an election where going down to preferences promises to be a chaotic affair, with Liberal, Labor and SA Best evenly divided in many areas.

Australian Conservatives preferences are, however, expected to flow back to the Liberals and could prove decisive in the many marginal seats up for grabs.

Their conservative values and policies appeal to some, but the key question is whether anyone is actually listening, with all the attention on Xenophon.

Of course, it is not so easy to start afresh without the formidable Liberal party machine backing Bernardi as it once did. Like Xenophon and SA Best, Bernardi’s personal brand is well known, but his new party’s name is not, and Australian political history is littered with the floating corpses of startup political parties drowned out by more established voices.

Voters had a decade-and-a-half to become familiar with Family First, but the Australian Conservatives are in a sense starting afresh, and will also be distracted by the federal byelection in Batman that concludes on the same day as the SA election.

Unlike Xenophon, Bernardi is not himself running as a candidate as he continues with his federal Senate commitments, and besides is a great deal more divisive a figure than the SA Best leader is. Xenophon might have questionable taste in advertising jingles, but he has never linked bestiality to same-sex relationships as Bernardi has.

After spending three months in the US during the 2016 election campaign, Bernardi might be confident that divisiveness can be a vote winner. His election slogan is a familiar one: “Make South Australia great again.”

The original version worked for US president Donald Trump, but how will it go down in SA?


Rainfall’s Natural Variation Hides Climate Change Signal

New research from The Australian National University (ANU) and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science suggests natural rainfall variation is so great that it could take a human lifetime for significant climate signals to appear in regional or global rainfall measures.

Even exceptional droughts like those over the Murray Darling Basin (2000-2009) and California (2011 to 2017) fit within the natural variations in the long-term precipitation records, according to the statistical method used by the researchers.

This has significant implications for policymakers in the water resources, irrigation and agricultural industries.

“Our findings suggest that for most parts of the world, we won’t be able to recognize long-term or permanent changes in annual rainfall driven by climate change until they have already occurred and persisted for some time,” said  Professor Michael Roderick from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences.

“This means those who make decisions around the construction of desalination plants or introduce new policies to conserve water resources will effectively be making these decisions blind.

“Conversely, if they wait and don’t act until the precipitation changes are recognized they will be acting too late. It puts policymakers in an invidious position.”

To get their results the researchers first tested the statistical approach on the 244-year-long observational record of precipitation at the Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford, UK. They compared rainfall changes over 30-year-intervals. They found any changes over each interval were indistinguishable from random or natural variation.

They then applied the same process to California, which has a record going back to 1895, and the Murray Darling Basin from 1901-2007. In both cases, the long dry periods seem to fit within expected variations.

Finally, they applied the process to reliable global records that extended from 1940-2009. Only 14 percent of the global landmass showed, with 90 percent confidence, increases or decreases in precipitation outside natural variation.

Professor Graham Farquhar AO also from the ANU Research School of Biology said natural variation was so large in most regions that even if climate change was affecting rainfall, it was effectively hidden in the noise.

“We know that humans have already had a measurable influence on streamflows and groundwater levels through extraction and making significant changes to the landscape,” Professor Farquhar said.

“But the natural variability of precipitation found in this paper presents policymakers with a large known unknown that has to be factored into their estimates to effectively assess our long-term water resource needs.”


Jordan Peterson: six reasons that explain his rise

Why has an obscure Canadian academic become a phenomenon across the Anglosphere? The man seems genuinely surprised at his 18-month transformation. Hence his tweet asking why so many people have watched the interview he did on Britain’s Channel 4. On March 8, Jordan Peterson kicks off his Australian speaking tour. At sold-out events in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane he will talk about his bestselling book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.

One way to explain this rise of a man who has been described as a cowboy psychologist and an egghead who gives practical advice is that he drives many on the left bonkers.

There are at least a dozen reasons for this, but this is a column, not a book, so here are six.

Reason 1. Peterson reckons that listening is good for our soul and even better for human progress. Sounds banal, but in an age when campus outrage and an angry mob mentality have seeped into our broader culture, listening to those we disagree with is a truly revolutionary message.

The University of Toronto psychology professor is old school. He gathers information and builds knowledge the Socratic way, by listening and testing ideas. That’s how he developed a fascination with why totalitarian regimes murdered millions in the quest for utopia. He’s suspicious of ideology, dogma and the doctrinaire. Ideology is dangerous, he says, because it’s too certain about things and doesn’t allow for dissent.

Moral relativism is equally dangerous because it makes no judgments and is blind to the greatness of Western civilisation. Human beings need a moral compass. The demise of religion has left a vacuum, and it has been filled by rigid ideologues and nihilistic moral relativists. Well-timed, given so many millennials are bunkering down with socialism or moral relativism.

If you want to ignore Peterson, that’s your right. But he is a symbol of what’s rotten within parts of our culture. When he speaks, his critics try to howl him down. Students scream over him, university administrators try to censor him.

Last year, Lindsay Shepherd, a teaching assistant at Ontario’s Wilfrid Laurier University, played one of Peterson’s YouTube videos in a communications class. In a meeting with university honchos, one professor, Nathan Rambukkana, accused her of breaking Canadian law and creating a toxic environment for students. Another said her decision to show a Peterson debate clip was akin to the Nazis relying on free speech. The meeting was taped. It’s literally crazy. An uproar led the university to apologise to Shepherd.

Some of this explains why, as of Thursday, Peterson’s cracker interview with Channel 4’s Cathy Newman has attracted 7.4 million views since it aired on January 17. Sure, some of us have watched it more than once, because it’s funny, it’s serious and it ought to be shown in the first lesson of a journalism 101 course.

As reported in Inquirer last month, the interview is a 30-minutes precis of what happens when you don’t listen. Peterson was calm, measured, respectful. He used science and evidence when explaining the differences between men and women. He raised obvious questions about dogma on the gender pay gap. And he smiled politely when a woman who brought him on to her show wasn’t interested in listening.

There are now memes about Newman’s closed-ears interviewing style. Like this one. Peterson: “Women want strong and competent men.” Newman: “So what you’re saying is women are incompetent.” And this. Peterson: “I’m a clinical psychologist.” Newman: “So what you’re saying is I need therapy.” But none is as humiliating as the interview.

Reason 2. Peterson believes in free speech. He’s worried about the illiberal direction of modernity, not just on campus. That’s another reason this solid-gold cultural disrupter, with a quiet but firm tone, drives many on the left nuts. The professor attracted headlines at home in Canada when he said he wouldn’t abide by Bill C-16, introduced in May 2016, amending the Canadian Human Rights Act and making it illegal to use the wrong pronoun. It became law last June. Peterson baulked at being told by the state to use the pronoun “ze” for transgender people. He said if someone asked him to use it for them, he’s a polite guy and he’d do it. But when the state tells you what to say, the state has crossed the line into forced speech.

Reason 3. Peterson is a force because he’s also damn good at getting his message across. He uses our most important stories, drawing from history, psychology, neuroscience, mythology, poetry and the Bible to explain his thinking.

The man described as an “ardent prairie preacher” grew up in the small town of Fairview, Alberta, watched some of his friends succeed while others ended up drug addicts. He spent years searching for answers to big questions such as what makes life more meaningful and, going back a step, why meaning even matters.

His 12 Rules book, extracted in Inquirer earlier this month, sprang from an online free-for-all forum called Quora, where anyone could ask questions and provide answers. His answers attracted a huge online crowd, then a curious publisher, and this week his book is topping Amazon’s bestseller list in Australia.

Why storytelling matters calls for a divergence. Last December Jonathan Sachs, a rabbi and member of Britain’s House of Lords, said we need an army to defend a country. And to defend our civilisation we need a conversation between generations. “We need to teach our children the story of which we and they are a part, and we need to trust them to go further than we did, when they come to write their own chapter,” he said.

This is not woolly idealism, Sachs said. “It’s hard-headed pragmatism.” Understanding our own story, our history, where we went wrong and what we got right, allows children to face the challenges and the chaos of a rapidly changing world. “We need to give our children an internalised moral satellite navigation system so that they can find their way across the undiscovered country called the future,” he said.

Peterson is a navigation system with a twangy Canadian accent, trying to direct us towards meaning. Wrong way, go back, he’ll tell you when you’re heading down a dead-end street.

Reason 4. Peterson is secretly feared by utopians on the left. Life is full of unexpected and unavoidable suffering, he says. We get sick, we get betrayed, we lose jobs and friends and a sense of order. Get used to it. Deal with it.

This starting premise is where he departs so spectacularly from cultural Marxists. The utopian imaginings of socialism and communism created great suffering. So stop dreaming, Peterson says, accept that life can be hard. Accept, too, that each of us is capable of being monstrous and marvellous in all our human complexity. And make choices about that. Accept individual responsibility.

Start by standing up straight because it can “encourage the serotonin to flow plentifully through the neural pathways desperate for its calming influence”. If people around you see you as strong and capable and calm, you might too — and vice versa.

Face your problems with honesty, he says. Choose friends who are good for you. Pursue what’s meaningful rather than what’s expedient. It’s the kind of advice given a generation ago when people talked more about responsibilities than rights and parents warned their children that life is tough. Today it offends our rights culture, not to mention our mollycoddling parenting. So three cheers for common sense from this Canadian disrupter.

Reason 5. Get your own house in order before you start lecturing others or presuming to know how to fix other problems. Peterson’s message is a direct challenge to two particularly rank strains of modernity: victimhood and virtue-signalling. Both are cop-outs. Much harder, and more important, says Peterson, is to fix what you can at home because if we all did this there would be fewer victims and less misery in the world.

Reason 6. Men need to grow the hell up, he says. A whiny guy who blames others for his poor life choices is of no use to himself, no use to women, no use to children and no use to a world that has prospered from those who take responsibility. A boy who never grows up can’t possibly deal with the periods of chaos we all must face. And parents shouldn’t bother children when they’re skateboarding, meaning let them take risks so they can manage them as adults.

Maybe now you’re seeing why the mild-mannered Canadian psychologist is attracting brickbats and bouquets.

Those living in a women’s studies world can’t bear him and wail about him entrenching the patriarchy. Men especially want to listen to him, and plenty of women, to be fair, because he makes a reasoned case, based on evolutionary science and evidence, for men to be men, in all their masculine complexity. The “patriarchy” hasn’t hampered human progress, he says, but helped it.

Peterson, who is the only member of his department to maintain a clinical practice, draws on his work with patients when he says that being “agreeable” doesn’t drive achievement. Instead, it’s being assertive, even aggressive.

And there’s this. He said recently he has figured out how to monetise social justice warriors. The more they scream and go crazy over what he says, the more money he makes.

They just keep feeding him material to work with and he’s making a motza each month from a crowdsourcing fund that pays for his YouTube videos.

If this information leads some of them to change their tune, it will mean they have listened after all.


Shock union claims: detective breaks silence on fraud scandal

The retired detective who led the police investigation into the ­Australian Workers Union fraud scandal has broken his silence, calling for a fresh probe into an alleged ­conspiracy between former union ­officials and executives from ­construction giant Thiess that he claims extended to Julia Gillard’s old law firm.

In an extraordinary development in the long-running affair, former West Australian major fraud squad officer David ­McAlpine claims his investigation into the AWU slush fund 20 years ago was “subverted” due to “political interference”.

He said that in August 1998 the WA Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions had “abruptly” ordered him to remain in Perth as he was preparing to fly to Melbourne to execute search warrants on key players, including Ms Gillard’s then employer, law firm Slater & Gordon.

Mr McAlpine said he had retained key documents including letters, memos and telephone notes from his two-year investigation and he was willing to swear an affidavit and give evidence in any court about his knowledge of the $400,000-plus fraud. “The fact that I was lied to and this investigation was subverted and people appear to have given false evidence at a royal commission, it needs to be reinvestigated because the simple fact is the Australian people need to know the truth,” he said.

Mr McAlpine retired from WA Police in October 2016 after 42 years of service and is now living in Thailand.

In a written statement and audio recording sent to The Australian, Mr McAlpine claimed ­former Thiess senior executives might have misled the trade union royal commission in 2014 about alleged secret commissions paid to AWU officials Bruce Wilson and Ralph Blewitt.

Mr Wilson has admitted to extract­ing large sums of money from Thiess for a slush fund he set up in the early 1990s with legal assistance from Ms Gillard, who was his girlfriend at the time.

Money from the AWU Workplace Reform Association was used to partly fund the purchase of a house in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy in 1993. The association was supposed to promote training and safety on construction sites.

Royal commissioner Dyson Heydon recommended in 2015 that Mr Wilson and Mr Blewitt face prosecution for fraud-related offences connected to the fund.

Ms Gillard has repeatedly denied knowing the fund was to be used in a fraud.

The royal commission found that she had been “casual and haphazard” in her work at Slater & Gordon but had not committed offences, and was not aware of Mr Wilson’s conduct.

Mr Heydon rejected Ms Gillard’s denials that she was the beneficiary of cash sums from Mr Wilson for house renovations. The commission found that the builder, Athol James, who recalled the “wads of cash”, and a union staffer, Wayne Hem, who said he had deposited $5000 at Mr Wilson’s request into her account, were telling the truth.

The former prime minister could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr Blewitt is facing 31 fraud charges and is due back in a Perth court next week.

In his statement, Mr McAlpine recalled how he had obtained warrants in August 1998 to enter and search Slater & Gordon, Melbourne Water, Thiess and other firms in Melbourne.

“The search warrants directed me to enter premises and search for evidence about the use of a power of attorney in the purchase of a property at Kerr Street, Fitzroy, the use of funds from the AWU Workplace Reform Association in that purchase and Slater & Gordon’s role in that property transaction,” he said.

“As I was preparing to leave WA and execute the warrants, I was directed not to travel and not to gather that evidence. The direction came from the WA DPP … I was given no explanation as to why my investigation was ordered to be stopped.

“Thiess executives … told me at the time they did not want to make any complaints about the money paid to Wilson via the AWU Workplace Reform Association. They said: ‘We got what we paid for’.”

Mr McAlpine said this was further confirmed in writing in a letter signed by a manager of Thiess. “The course of my inquiry was wilfully subverted,” he said. “(Two Thiess executives) have now made the claim, under oath at a royal commission that they were deceived — that a fraud was committed on them.

He said this “leaves two open explanations”: that their evidence to the royal commission was incorrect or the information they gave him was wrong. He said he believed at the time that the Thiess executives had been caught up in a “conspiracy with Wilson and Blewitt”.

“I believe that conspiracy extended to other persons … and had I not been stopped from travelling and executing the search warrants, further evidence of that conspiracy would have been disclosed 20 years ago.”

One of the executives yesterday denied misleading the royal commission and said his story had been consistent for the past 20 years. The other could not be reached for comment.

Mr McAlpine called on WA Police to restart the aborted investigation to identify who benefited from the AWU fraud.


 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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