There’s a “let’s-get-the-band-back-together” feel about tomorrow’s National Reform Summit in Sydney, an attempt perhaps to relive the glory days of consensual reform in the 1980s.
Bob Hawke’s trick was to unite the unions and business around the need for economic growth, I write in The Australian today.
It won’t be quite so easy tomorrow, since the idea of growth is now contested.
Illustration: Eric Lobbecke, The Australian
Just four months ago the CFMEU took a stand against Labor’s proposed 50 per cent renewable energy target, to the satisfaction, no doubt, of its many members who dig coal for a living, I write in The Australian today.
Illustration: Eric Lobbecke, The Australian
At the Labor conference in July, however, the CFMEU decided to support the RET proposal which, if implemented, could tip card-carrying coalminers out of jobs. What had changed in the intervening three months?
“The introduction of battery storage,” union president Tony Maher told the ABC’s 7.30. “Cheap battery storage in homes is very attractive to consumers and they’ll vote with their feet. And you’d be a mug not to see that.”
Could this be the same Maher who wrote a thundering letter to the ACTU’s Dave Oliver in April arguing that renewable energy targets were “poorly targeted and ineffective”? Is this the champion of the poor and dispossessed who argued that “low-income earners bear a disproportionate burden of these higher electricity costs”? Well yes, apparently.
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New York Mayor Bill de Blasio won’t be the last nanny statist to come a cropper in a fight with Uber.
De Blasio wanted to cap the number of Uber vehicles by requiring the company to seek City Hall’s permission each time it upgraded its smartphone app. His capitulation last week should serve as a cautionary tale for other big-government advocates. As I write in The Australian this morning:
De Blasio used every lame argument in the progressive handbook to make the case for regulation. Uber was a corporate behemoth trying to dictate to government; it relied on a predatory business model that cheated workers of their benefits; Uber would undermine the quota system for disability-friendly vehicles; regulation protects consumers from overcharging.Uber would discourage “low-carbon and multi-modal options” (bike riding and walking in layman’s terms) and would increase dependency on fossil fuels.
De Blasio and his coercive arguments were on a hiding to nothing against a company that delivers safe and reliable transport through voluntary co-operation, the essence of the free market. Uber is winning because it is quicker, more reliable, more convenient, more personable and often cheaper than a regulated taxi.
The ultimate reproof for the regulatory state is that Uber is safer. Customers know their driver’s name, phone number and the vehicle’s make, model and registration…
The driver collects no cash and can rest assured that in the event of any unpleasantness Uber has their name, address and credit card details. Passengers may still be drunks, but at least they are not random drunks.
The result is that Uber has broken the taxi driving glass ceiling. In Australia more than 10 per cent of Uber drivers are women, the company reports, and the number is increasing every month. That’s more than double the proportion of women who reported driving cars for a living in Melbourne, Sydney or Canberra in the 2011 census.
In the end, the biggest disruption from Uber is not that unleashed on the regulated taxi industry but on the idea of regulation itself…
DISRUPTING THE REGULATORS
You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to understand the budget problem. Governments are spending too much of our money.
Australian Medical Association president Brian Owler – a neurosurgeon by trade – sees it differently.
“There is clearly a revenue problem,” Owler told the press club last week. “It’s not an expenditure problem.”
Owler’s diagnosis is seriously wrong, I write in The Australian today.
The revenue problem, if we are to call it that, is that the state takes too much of our money. Far from falling, government revenue has risen by 0.5 per cent as a proportion of gross domestic product since the 2008 financial crisis.
The trouble is that spending has risen five times faster, from 35 per cent to almost 38 per cent of GDP. Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan’s emergency spending levels have become the new norm, while Owler and countless other rent-seekers demand it should be pushed even higher.
In a submission by the Menzies Research Centre to the National Reform Summit Tony Makin and Alex Robson write:
Australia therefore unequivocally has a government spending problem — not a revenue problem. Australian governments should resist the temptation to increase the tax burden under the guise of ‘tax reform’, and instead focus their efforts squarely on reversing the irresponsible fiscal profligacy of recent years.
Makin and Robson have the facts on their side. The evidence counts for nothing in the debate about whether to cut spending or raise revenue, however. It is a debate framed by ideology. It’s a debate between those who argue for a greater role for the state and those who believe that individuals, as a general rule, are best placed to spend their own money.
The buzzword for the proponents of constitutional amendment is ‘recognise ‘. After an exacting week touring remote Aboriginal towns in Central Australia, I comment in The Australian today about what we should be recognising:
Remote Central Australia last week
If the proposal to remove race powers from the Constitution is to have any practical effect, we must acknowledge the racist assumptions that underpinned the failed policies of separatism and collectivism.
We must recognise that the rich and precious Aboriginal culture is not incompatible with individual enterprise, and that the pursuit of self-interest and public benefit go hand and in hand. Culturally inspired visions of the land are not incompatible with the individual property rights that underpin private enterprise and home ownership.
Above all we should recognise that the social evils destroying traditional culture are, by and large, symptoms of welfare. White public housing ghettos – like the one in Mount Druitt recently exposed by the documentary series Struggle Street – are little different from the wilderness ghettos of Central Australia.
The pernicious effects of the welfare life are indifferent to ethnicity.
WHAT WE SHOULD RECOGNISE
No amount of harrumphing in the Coalition party room will fix the ABC, I write in The Australian this morning. The government needs to re-write the ABC Charter for the digital age.
Digital disruption has rewritten the rules, yet the ABC is bound by a charter drawn for an analog world. The ABC Act was last revised by the Hawke government in 1983, informed by the Dix report commissioned by Fraser.
Alex Dix’s report was delivered six years before house-brick mobile phones and eight years before the first internet service. Viewers in most capital cities had a choice of four television channels at best; a quarter of households had no FM radio; the picture on one in 10 television sets was still black and white.
The Dix report identified the ABC’s biggest technological challenge as the introduction of videotape, a process delayed by a demarcation dispute between engineers and news cameramen. When a story broke, undeveloped film was driven back to the studio, run through a chemical bath, dried, hand-cut and loaded into a telecine machine. Yet the legislation needed to allow this hybrid broadcasting system, declared Dix’s engineering consultant Alan Morrison, was beyond the scope of the report.
Even in those primitive days, the ABC was uncertain what it had been put on earth to do. Dix describes it as “slow-moving, overgrown, complacent, and uncertain of the direction in which it is leading, despite the efforts of many talented and dedicated people who work for it”.
If the corporation struggled to find its niche against just three local competitors, it is hardly surprising that it struggles against hundreds, including the best from the US and Europe. When better-managed bodies struggle with digital disruption, it is hardly surprising if the ABC is confused.
Climate scientist Will Steffen has found a solution to opinion polls that don’t go his way, I write in The Australian this morning.
Canberrans are going off the idea of building an $800 tram to nowhere; support for the project has fallen from 55 per cent to 39 per cent in less than a year. Steffen and Babara Norman smelled a rat.
How could anyone fail to see the benefit of investing the best part of a billion bucks in a 12km light rail line from Civic to Gungahlin, wherever Gungahlin might be?
Why would Canberrans not wave their hats at the prospect of travelling down Northbourne Avenue at a thrilling 30km an hour, a speed only marginally slower than George Stephenson’s Rocket?
Steffen and co-author Barbara Norman spotted the outlier.
“Only 15.8 per cent of intending Liberal voters support light rail,” Steffen and Norman wrote in The Canberra Times last Thursday, “while for all other groups (Labor, Greens, Others and Undecided) support for light rail varied between 42 per cent and 63.5 per cent.
“That anomalously low level of support among Liberal voters immediately caught our attention and prompted us to reanalyse the poll results.”
The “strong skew” of Liberal-leaning respondents, claimed Steffen, “can easily generate a misleading impression of what the poll numbers are actually showing”. Steffen and Norman’s solution was to remove 446 Liberal voters from the result.
The result of this “reanalysis”, claim the authors, is that 51.9 per cent support light rail, 3.2 per cent oppose and 14.9 per cent are undecided.
There is no explanation of what became of the other 30 per cent but clearly they don’t count.
Write Steffen and Norman: “For the more than two-thirds of Canberrans who are not intending to vote for the Liberals, there is very strong support for light rail, a nearly 20 per cent lead over those who oppose it.”
So that’s settled, then. Everyone agrees a tram to nowhere underwritten by the taxpayers in the most car-friendly capital in the country is a wonderful idea. Everyone, that is, except those dolts who vote Liberal who don’t really count.
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SLOW TRAM TO NOWHERE
So if we’re turning the planet into a wretched, poisonous place, as the Papal Encyclical on the environment claims, how come we’re living so much longer?
Pope Francis doesn’t factor in the importance of the Enlightenment. When humankind shook off superstition and rely on human reason, science and technology took off. The result: healthier, happier and extended lives:
In The Australian today I ask why the Pope appears to be so anxious about scientific, technological, industrial and economic progress. Far from eating away at the planet, they are the very things that allowed the human race to prosper. And they make possible the social progress we long for.
The Pope has succumbed to catastrophism in his latest encyclical, I write in The Australian tomorrow. Here’s Eric Lobbecke’s brilliant illustration: