Three months is a long time in Martin Place

December 18th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

In Channel Seven’s Martin Place studio in September, I was asked if Tony Abbott might be deliberately exaggerating the terrorism threat to take attention from his political problems.

Screenshot 2014-12-18 08.48.42“You can see why some people are cynical,” Weekend Sunrise presenter Andrew O’Keefe argued. “You’ve got 800 cops swooping on houses around the country – one person’s been charged, and now we’re intoroducing new terrorism laws that may even allow certain types of torture.”

His co-host Monique Wright raised a similar point: “It does take all of the emphasis off domestic issues.”

The debate seems surreal after the events of last Tuesday. Here is the scene from the same studio on Monday as Larry Endmur and Kylie Gillies look across Martin Place to the Lindt Cafe:

Screenshot 2014-12-18 08.59.56In September I said the kind of terrorist act that was then being canvassed – the murder of random individuals in Martin Place – was too horrible to contemplate.

It’s easy to be wise after the event.



We know terror when we feel it

December 18th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

The Sydney siege was neither a strike from the Caliphate in the heart of Western civilisation nor a consequence of Western decadence. Man Haron Monis was not a soldier of Islam, much less a helpless victim of neo-colonial oppression, I write in Spiked! today.

He was a malicious and depraved individual inspired by who-knows-what.

Yet to insist that this was not terrorism, to explain away the dread we feel in the pit of our stomachs as the manufactured fear of Islamofascism or Islamophobia, is to deny the genuine emotions of millions of Sydney residents and countless others around the world.

Before mocking the ‘conspicuous compassion’ of tweeting #illridewithyou, or blaming journalists for fabricating hysteria, we must acknowledge a shared anxiety that exists independently of the media or the moral crusaders.


Once more with feeling

December 16th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

The carbon tax should have been confined to the dustbin of bad ideas. So why is Labor insisting on taking an Emissions Trading Scheme to the next election?

In The Australian today I write:

It is extraordinary call… Perhaps the people will come to their senses and realise that if they want to be regarded as good global citizens they will have to pay more for electricity and almost everything else.

Or perhaps they won’t. In 2011, about one in five Australians thought the environment was the most important challenge facing the country; today it is about one in 20, according the Scanlon Foundation’s Social Cohesion report…

This time Labor will not be fixing the price of carbon at $23 a tonne as it did in 2012, a decision that increased the cost of electricity by about 10 per cent. Instead it will tie the Australian ETS to the European carbon price. In May last year it fell to €3.73 or $4.86, a level that would have added a mere 2 per cent surcharge electricity.

The problem with a floating price, however, is it that it floats. Since the Opposition Leader re-embraced this inconvenient policy, the EU has changed the rules. It has altered the mechanism regulating supply in the carbon market to correct the over-allocation that was keeping prices low. At the same time the Australian dollar has been falling against the euro.

The result is the carbon price has risen. A week ago the European carbon price had risen to €6.74, breaking the $10 barrier in Australia. That in itself would be enough to increase power prices by about 5 per cent under Shorten’s plan, and add 0.3 per cent to the cost of living as a whole…

So, to summarise, in 18 months or so, Shorten will campaign to be the 29th prime minister of Australia promising to introduce a tax to fix a problem that a significant proportion of the population suspects does not exist.




What did Britain ever do for Australia?

December 14th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

AUSTRALIA, it is said, inherited Britain’s institutions but not it’s hang-ups. I explore the contribution of Britishness (as opposed to the British colonial administration) in the latest edition of The Progressive Conscience, a magazine published by the quirky British think tank, Bright Blue.

Australia may no longer be a British country, but it is a nation where British- ness – a civic rather than an ethnic concept – remains at the core of public life. Australia inherited from Britain the idea that governments as well as people should be subject to the rule of law. It absorbed the spirit of liberty, it thrived on the spirit of progress that stemmed from the Scottish Enlightenment and inherited civic institutions that were made in Britain.

Few in Australia would consciously call these Anglosphere values, as Daniel Hannan did recently in his book, Inventing Freedom: How the Eng- lish-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World. That, however, is undoubtedly what they are. They produced a
system that, in Hannan’s words, “on the whole rewarded production better than predation.” And that is why Australia works.

“The reason that a child of Greek parents in Melbourne is wealthier and freer than his cousin in Mytilene has nothing to do with race and everything to do with political structures,” writes Hannan. Characteristics the world imagines are particularly Austral-
ian – informality, outspokenness, self-reliance and an inherent suspicion of authority – are extensions of a very British idea of personal freedom.


Triumph of the Barbarians

December 9th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Whichever way you look at it, the persecution of Barry Spurr is another small step in the dumbing down of Australia’s oldest university, I write in The Australian today.

Sturt Krygsman, The Australian

Sturt Krygsman, The Australian

The persecution of the hapless Spurr brings to mind the plight of Coleman Silk in Philip Roth’s novel The Human Stain. Silk is an academic brought down by absurd allegations of ­racism, pursued by his prissy, academic rival Delphine Roux. Roth’s narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, says “everything Delphine Roux does must have virtue as its explanation … By defining you as a monster, she defines herself as a heroine.”

Silk picks up the theme: “Her metier is the stories that peasants tell to account for their misery. The evil eye. The casting of spells. Her metier is folktales full of witches and wizards.”

Learnedness has been superseded by appropriateness; it is not the force of argument or the wisdom of words that takes precedence but their imagined coded ­meaning.

Roth describes “appropriate” as “the current code word for ­reining in most any deviation from the wholesome guidelines and therefore making everybody ‘comfortable’ ”. FULL COLUMN

Michael Warren Davis, a Bostonian studying English at the University of Sydney, writes in December’s Quadrant:

The country’s finest academic institution is happy to let professional rabble-rousers skip class to hijack its campus and insult its most accomplished faculty members.

He says the administration has capitulated to hundreds of caustic 20-year-olds who insult and abuse a 60-something-year-old who has given the better part of his life to that institution.

There would be no University of Sydney without men like Barry Spurr,” writes Davis, “and there would be no Australia without the Western civilisation he defends.

New Zealand forges ahead

December 3rd, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

The inaugural R G Menzies essay was launched this week by the Menzies Research Centre. The series will provide a new forum for intelligent discussion about policy, progress and prosperity.

Screenshot 2014-12-02 12.41.34Quiet Achievers: The New Zealand Path to Reform is the title of the first essay by Oliver Hartwich, formerly of CIS and now Executive Director of the New Zealand Initiative.

Oliver spoke to Mark Colvin on PM yesterday and Philip Adams on Late Night Live.

Oliver summarised his thesis in Monday’s The Australian.

Order a copy of Quiet Achievers here.




Anyone want to buy a Ford Tree-hugger?

December 3rd, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

We gave Ford Australia $14m to produce the Falcon Ecoboost, a four cylinder “eco-friendly” car that retails for about $35,000. So far, as I write in The Australian this week, it amounts to an $8000 subsidy per car.

According to motoring writers it’s a pretty good Falcon, almost as powerful as a real one. “Brilliant!” Bill McKinnon wrote on the Top Gear website. “But also irrational and, in the end, ­irrelevant. The four-cylinder Falcon. Why is this car here? Now? Has anyone been screaming for it?”

The Ecoboost Falcon may produce enough torque to tow a semi-trailer of live pigs across the Nullarbor, but it is not what the market wants. A Falcon for tree-huggers is a contradiction in terms.

Joshua Dowling broke the bad news in News Corp Australia’s CarsGuide last week: “Confidential figures reveal just 1800 Ecoboost four-cylinder Falcons have been sold since it went on sale in April 2012 — less than half as many as Ford originally planned.” Dowling uses the word “sold” loosely, since about 600 Ecoboosts were bought by Ford itself. So if you spot an Ecoboost on the road, there’s a one-in-three chance the driver is a Ford ­employee.


The view from Ultimo

November 25th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Richard Boyer, the ABC’s finest chairman, believed the public broadcaster should ‘stand solid and serene in the middle of our national life.’

Eric Lobbecke's illo in The Australian this morning

Eric Lobbecke’s illo in The Australian this morning

In 2014 the ABC is drifting along way from that happy position. Public affection for the organisation we once familiarly referred to as ‘Aunty’ is hard to come by, I write in The Australian this morning:

AS the Friends of the ABC are quickly discovering, a share of public outrage is every bit as hard to come by these days as a share of the taxpayer’s dollar.

The government announces the biggest cuts to the ABC for 18 years and what is digital denunciator GetUp carrying on about? Climate change, coal-seam gas, and the Manus and Nauru detention camps, that’s what. It takes metres of scrolling to reach a polite invitation to sign a petition to save the ABC.


One strategy for the ABC would be to play to its perceived strengths in the regions, I wrote in The Australian last Friday:

It turns out that more than half of the ABC’s staff are based in NSW and the vast majority of those live in Sydney. Four out of five of ABC’s corporate managers reside in the harbour city. Almost 50 per cent of its journalists are based in NSW or the ACT.

That the ABC should fail so badly on geographical diversity, the most measurable form of ­plurality, is a reflection on poor management decisions over many years. If managing director Mark Scott decides to cut staff at the ABC’s television production studios in Adelaide, the concentration in NSW will increase still further. At the moment South Australia is one of the few states where the concentration of ABC staff (7.4 per cent) roughly matches its share of the population (7.2 per cent).

There could be as many as 150 jobs cut in Adelaide according to some reports, about 40 per cent of the total. If so, SA would find itself in the same boat as Victoria (16 per cent of ABC staff; 25 per cent of the population), Western Australia (6 per cent; 11 per cent) and Queensland (9 per cent; 20 per cent).

The issue here is not jobs per se, though heaven knows South Australia badly needs them. If the ABC were in the business of refining oil for example, we wouldn’t give a Peppa Pig.

But if the ABC is serious about reflecting the national culture in all its glorious regional diversity, then it would matter if most of senior staff lived, say, between Bondi and Enmore.




Who do we trust on Grantham – the eyewitness or the computer?

November 18th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 11.44.00 PM

THE Queensland Flood Commission’s mangled inquiry into the Grantham disaster is looking shakier by the day.

The case for a new inquiry is overwhelming. Why, then, are Lockyer Valley residents still waiting for one to be called so that they can give eyewitness accounts of what happened on the afternoon of January 10, 2011 between 3.45 pm and 5pm?

Jon Sippel, for example, was standing a couple of hundred metres to the north of the Grantham Quarry when the levee bank gave way. He had this to say to Tony Koch and Amanda Gearing in The Australian in July 2011:

“I heard one hell of a crash; it went on for 10 to 15 seconds. It was the wall giving way. Trees, tanks and debris that had banked up suddenly went as the wall let go. I heard the rush of the water go whoosh down the creek.”

He says the wave of floodwater hit the houses on the western side of Grantham and ricocheted off the railway embankment, picking up houses and destroying others along the railway line.

“That was where the main force of destruction hit in town, not along Lockyer Creek,” he says.

Sippel says the direction in which the water travelled was also indicated by debris lines left when the flood subsided.

“My tanks and cable spools ended up under the railway bridge in Grantham,” he says.

A new inquiry might consider taking evidence from Mr Sippel. A new inquiry could test Mr Sippel’s evidence against SKM’s computer modeling, which appears to have got it hopelessly wrong.

Believe me, this story is not going away.

Caught in the culture war crossfire

November 18th, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

The Australian Defence Force no longer deploys soldiers or staff. It “brings together people elements”, according the mission statement of the Defence People Group, a directorate once known simply as HR.

I’m indebted to a Mr Thomas of Queensland for bringing this to my attention from the Defence People Group’s home page:

It brings together people elements from across the Australian Defence Organisation to deliver sustainable people capability in line with the People in Defence Blueprint, and contributes to Chief Operating Officer Organisation’s mission by delivering integrated people systems and building a capable workforce ….. People Policy and Culture Division develops and maintains a safe Defence working environment drawing on effective people management and a competitive employment package. This Division focuses on diversity and inclusion strategies, APS career management, and evolving Defence culture under Pathway to Change.

Could this be a clever parody, replete with the black humour (“people elements”…) for which our armed services are famed?

I hope not, because I’ve written my column about it in today’s edition of The Australian.