Sixty Minutes on the Wagnerian tragedy

May 24th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Tonight’s Sixty Minutes  on Channel Nine (in which I appeared) should settle any doubts about the cause of the 2011 Grantham flood.

Screenshot 2015-05-25 07.27.59

Sixty Minutes’s Michael Usher and I looking across to the Grantham Quarry wall. CLICK ON IMAGE TO VIEW

Nine’s chopper was the first on the scene after the wall of water hit the Lockyer Valley town killing 12 people. Nine’s extensive footage shows without doubt that the torrent flowed from  Wagner’s Quarry where an artificial wall collapsed under the weight of water.

This was no act of God. It was a man-made disaster, the causes of which were completely overlooked by the 2011-2 Queensland Floods Commission.

Congratulations to Michael Usher and producer Jo Townsend for mounting a compelling case in a professionally produced report.

One important correction is required, however. Usher says I commissioned the independent hydrology report that prompted the Queensland government to call a fresh inquiry.

I didn’t.

The Australian‘s Hedley Thomas and Editor in Chief Chris Mitchell commissioned and paid for the report. Without that there would be no fresh inquiry into the floods.

It is because it is prepared to back a story like that this that The Australian has become the most important newspaper in the country.



Where do journalists live?

May 24th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

The reaction of the media class to SBS’s Struggle Street suggests that Mount Druitt is unfamiliar territory.

The 2011 Census suggests it is. Surry Hills is the most popular residential suburb for journalists (226) followed by Bondi/Tanarama (211), Newtown/Enmore (188), Clovelly/Randwick (152) and Leichhardt (151).

And Mount Druitt? There are five.

I’ve posted the full list for NSW, and here for Victoria (Brunswick, Fitzroy North, St Kilda, Northcote, Richmond… you get the picture).

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 5.04.45 pmThe curious habits of the media class came up for discussion when I appeared on The Bolt Report this morning.




Lenin backs de-regulation

May 23rd, 2015 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment



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Struggle Street’s “dark forces” named and shamed

May 19th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Struggle Street’s  narrator blames “dark forces” for Mount Druitt’s problems. Bob’s problem with heroin addiction, for example, began because “Bob found himself getting caught up in dark forces that had crept into the neighbourhood.”

Bob, at least, is prepared to wear a little more of the blame. “Heroin had hit Mount Druitt mate, and I was virtually one of the first people on it mate, first one charged at Mount Druitt cop shop with it anyway. Nothing has gone my way mate. It could have. Just from me own choices. Wish I wasn’t like that mate… ruined me f…ing life.”

Neither answer, however, is entirely satisfactory. Why did “dark forces” pick on this neighbourhood and not, say, Castle Hill, less than half an hour’s drive away, an outer suburb that is largely home to energetic, functional people? The drug trade is pervasive but why did heroin hit Mount Druitt especially hard and why were its residents so ill-armed to confront it? Why did SBS single out Mount Druitt for attention? Couldn’t the producers have found a heavily pregnant woman with a vacant stare smoking a lazy afternoon bong in Roseville or Artarmon?

The answer lies in welfare dependency, I write in The Australian today.


It’s not a university. It’s an anarcho-syndicalist commune

May 12th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

In The Australian today I write:

WHO does Paul Johnson think he is? The University of Western Australia’s vice-chancellor or something? It must have been something of a shock for Johnson to discover that despite what it says on his business card, he doesn’t actually run the university.

The withdrawal of the UWA’s offer to host Bjorn Lomborg’s Australian Consensus think tank offers an insight into the ungovernable, undisciplined and unenlightened world the modern university. Real authority within does not reside with its appointed executives. It derives from a mandate from the masses, like the autonomous collective King Arthur encounters in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Screenshot 2015-05-12 04.53.29One imagines Graham Chapman as Arthur reining in his stead on Stirling Highway and pointing at the vice chancellery cloisters:

Arthur: Please good people. I am in haste. Who lives in that castle?

Woman: No one lives there.

Arthur: Then who is your lord?

Woman: We don’t have a lord… we’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune

The objects of the Python satire were the dreamers of the early 1970s, a ragged group dedicated to overturning the cultural hegemony that legitimised the capitalist state. Today’s utopians, by contrast, are defenders of the new cultural hegemony, the one that maintains the doctrines of sustainability and social inclusion and enforces the rules of political correctness on Australian campuses. The old Left presumed to represent the workers. The new Left claims to defend stakeholders, community leaders and expert opinion.





Lessons for Shorten from the Miliband experiment

May 9th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

In The Weekend Australian today I analyse the result of the UK election. [full column] Bill Leak is in good form:



Grantham’s Wagnerian tragedy

March 10th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Illustration: Eric Lobbecke, The Australian

Illustration: Eric Lobbecke, The Australian

I became convinced towards the end of 2013 that the Queensland Flood Commission had botched its inquiry and that a terrible truth about the January 2011 Grantham flood had been hidden.

Now an independent hydrological engineering study, commissioned by The Australian, has supported that claim. It points to the collapse of a levee at Wagner’s Quarry as the likely source of the destructive series of waves that killed 3 children and 9 adults with a 500 metre radius in less than hour.

Why didn’t Catherine Holmes’ commission crawl over this incident piece by piece to work out what went on and who was responsible?

As I write in The Australian this morning:

…how many pages of the 653-page floods commission report were devoted to this extraordinary event? Grantham is mentioned in just 28 of them and the two in the index hardly count. Neither do the references on three introductory pages or the nine where the word Grantham appears only in the footnotes.

The five pages that consider Grantham’s post-flood recovery, the three on the local emergency response and the one on the break in the energy supply are, with respect, side issues.

Apart from six passing refer­ences, the circumstances of the actual flood in Grantham are confined to just 1½ pages.

Local voices were heard at two community gatherings yet the commission admits “no formal evidence was taken”. Holmes’s report says the meetings were “a useful way for the commission to hear directly from members of the Lockyer Valley community what they regarded as the questions needing to be considered by the commission”.

In The Weekend Australian on Saturday, Amanda Gearing and I pieced together the human story of Grantham and the deep frustration of being let down by the Commission:

Spierling cried when she read the findings. “I’ve said it all along, I’ll say it until the day I die. I will tell you that was a huge wall of water that hit us. And it was coming from the west.”

Marty Warburton saw shipping containers, cars, a house and two bodies floating past his service station. He too cried when the original report was released and he still cries, shaken, pale and quivering, as he recalls the horrors of that dreadful afternoon.

“It’s hard not to think that they’ve got it so wrong because they want to,” he told The Weekend Australian. “We were all treated like stupid problems, basically; you know, like hillbilly hicks. They said: ‘We’ve got to have experts to tell us that.’ If the experts got it wrong, well …”









Why Governments Fail so often

March 3rd, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

The $650 billion-plus that will be spent on welfare in the next four years would be a small sacrifice if we could be certain that the money was allocated according to need, that it relieved hardship rather than encouraged it, that it built resilience instead of eroding it and helped people bounce back, I write in The Australian today.

Yet the current system fails those basic tests, as government-run systems usually do. In Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better, Peter H. Schuck concludes that most government programs are preloaded with a degree of failure.

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Illustration: Eric Lobbecke, The Australian

Since state welfare provision is, in essence, the socialisation of risk, moral hazard is unavoidable. Put bluntly, any means-tested welfare payment provides an incentive to be poor. Charles Murray called it the law of unintended rewards: “Any social transfer increases the net value of being in the condition that prompted the transfer.”

The first point to make about welfare reform is that it will never produce a perfect system. It is hard to strike a balance between assisting victims of brute bad luck and making victimhood a career choice. The best that can be hoped of any program is its benefits outweigh its perverse consequences.

Yet welfare providers are disinclined to own their mistakes. Those who make a living from conspicuous altruism are usually proud of their work; they prefer to attribute failure to inadequate funding rather than flawed programs.

The electoral cycle also plays a part, writes Schuck. “Officials have powerful incentives to provide voters and interest groups with short-term benefits and hide the long-term costs of paying for those benefits.”

Welfare, like all government services, is prone to “non-market failure”, a term coined by economist Charles Wolf. In a non-market, the “product” is hard to define and difficult to measure; quality control is lacking; services are usually provided by a single agency, depriving them of the benefits of competition.

Non-markets are compromised by “internalities”, the conflict between administrators’ private goals and the agency’s public purpose, sometimes diagnosed as provider capture.

The iron law of government intervention — that the first, and sometimes only, beneficiaries of programs are the people who administer them — applies to the caring professions as much as the tax office. In the abstruse world of modern welfare the needs of clients frequently come last.


The Age of meddling

March 3rd, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

SO where did we get this ludicrous idea that governments can actually fix things? I inquired in The Australian last week.

Screenshot 2015-03-03 05.34.28From The Age, of course — or, to be precise, its erstwhile proprietor David Syme, a 19th-century pioneer of the meddlesome state.

A new book, yet to be reviewed in the Melbourne tabloid, traces the origins of paternalistic demo­cracy in Australia. It begins with the assumption that citizens and corporations cannot be trusted to do the right thing and that the government should order their lives for them.

Political historian Greg Melleuish highlights Syme’s role in spreading the dangerous notion that the state exists “to keep the excesses of human depravity in check”.  Syme used his newspaper to promote his theory of  “industrial science” that deeply influenced public policy in Victoria. It prepared the intellectual soil for Deakinite protectionism and laid the groundwork for the Harvester judgment.

Syme advocated a quite different form of democracy than the NSW model. The NSW system remained true to the English classical liberal tradition, trusting individuals to behave as responsible moral citizens. It followed Adam Smith’s theory that when individuals were left to pursue their own self-interest there was a net benefit for the common good.



The wages of entitlement

February 17th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

TROUBLE is brewing in the entitlement industry, I write in The Australian today.

Public servants at the Department of Human Services are so angry at the government’s derisory pay offer that they have taken off for lunch. The 1.15 per cent rise on the table falls somewhat short of the 12 per cent the Community and Public Sector Union thinks its members are worth. What’s more, the department wants to add nine minutes to the working day, requiring staff to stay at their desks for a full 7½ hours. No wonder they’re upset.

Last week DHS staff escalated the dispute by switching their email accounts to bounce-back while they took co-ordinated meal breaks. Unmoved, the department is refusing to budge.

Just how productive are the 30,000 DHS workers who administer the nation’s biggest welfare programs? Arguably a little too productive. Last year they redistributed $159 billion of other people’s money, about 10 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic product. That means each staff member doled out about $5.3 million in welfare in 2013-14, or 62 times what they are paid.

It’s not public service salaries that are sending us on the road to Athens, it’s the quantities of cash they are spending. The budget cannot be returned to surplus by simply cutting bureaucracy, as Finance Department secretary Jane Halton pointed out on Friday.

The government’s running costs were on track to fall to 6 per cent of total spending in 2017-18, Halton told the Committee for Economic Development of Australia. “Evidence suggests that (inefficiency) is not the major source and major driver of growth in government outlays,” she said.