The Martian versus the zeitgeist

October 6th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

martian2015.jpg 1,008×1,494 pixelsBehind the drama and suspense of The Martian lurks a deeply subversive message for our eco-anxious times: taming a planet is a good thing to do.

Ridley Scott’s movie offers welcome relief from the fatalism that has darkened the screens of late. In a battle between the human race and the forces of nature, our collective ingenuity, industry and mettle will succeed in the end.


Truthiness The Age and the super snatchers

October 6th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

What are we to make of The Age‘s splash on Friday? Apart from the fact that it’s claptrap?

The Fairfax tabloid claimed the Government had “reached in-principle agreement with unions, employers and welfare organisations to reduce a raft of tax breaks, including negative gearing and superannuation concessions, that primarily benefit the rich”.

I confess I hadn’t read it when Waleed Aly called me to discuss the issue on ABC 774 (approx 5 mins in). If only I had. It was an example of what Steven Colbert calls “truthiness”, a story lacking factual support that the writer thinks ought to be true.


Illustration: Eric Lobbecke, The Australian

The fear that the unscrupulous rich are rorting their super has developed into full-blown moral panic, I write in The Australian this morning.

The imagined inequities of the system are discussed ad nau­seam at polite dinner parties, overtaking public subsidies for private education as the wrong that must be righted…

As sociologist Howard S. Becker wrote in 1964, the moral crusader “feels that nothing can be right in the world until rules are made to correct it”.

“He operates with an absolute ethic; what he sees is truly and ­totally evil with no qualification. Any means is justified to do away with it.”


Breaking the consensus

October 2nd, 2015 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

image“Consensus is the word you use we you cannot get agreement,” Margaret Thatcher said in 1981.

Consensus seeking has once again become popular in politics. I believe we instead seek common ground – which is quite a different thing.

Thatcher made her remarks at Monash Universirty, Melbourne, when giving the Sir Robert Menzies Lecture on October 6, 1981.

“I count myself among those politicians who operate from conviction,” she said.

“For me pragmatism is not enough. Nor is that fashionable word consensus. When I asked one of my Commonwealth colleagues at this conference why he kept saying that there was a consensus on a certain matter another replied in a flash “Consensus is the word you use when you cannot get agreement”.

To me consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes but to which no one objects. It is the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved merely because one cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause could have been fought and won under the banner “I stand for consensus”?


A deficit of dignity

September 30th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 6.32.35 pmIn 1971, one in 16 families with dependent children was a parent short of a couple. Now it’s one in six. Surely not even the most steadfast social engineer would consider this to be progress, I write in The Australian this week.


Plumbers versus lawyers: An update

September 28th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Lawyers outnumber plumbers by 15 to one in Joe Hockey’s seat of North Sydney, I noted in The Australian last week.

Kenny (Shane Jacobson) from the 2006 movie

Kenny (Shane Jacobson) from the 2006 movie

As an indicator of the social, cultural and political divide in contemporary Australia, the lawyer-to-plumber ratio is as good as any.

The Kenny Index shows that there are at least twice any many lawyers as plumbers in 21 out of 150 federal lower house electorates.

They are, I suggest, the seats where the Liberal’s new leader Malcolm Turnbull is likely to prove most effective.



Cant by candlelight

September 11th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

The eagerness to show “we care” about Syrian refugees has displaced the much harder moral and practical challenge of how best to relieve the anguish of millions of displaced people, I write in an article on the SBS website.

syria_vigil_room.jpg 704×396 pixelsJudging by one ABC Radio report, the leaders of a candlelight vigil in Sydney’s Hyde Park on Monday night had entirely missed the point.

“Thousands turned out to deliver a simple message,” reported Lindy Kerin on Tuesday’s AM. And what was that simple message? A GetUp organiser speaking from the podium spelt it out.

“We should be so proud of ourselves standing here tonight with courage and compassion to say welcome,” he said, and the audience cheered.

Well, thanks for turning up, everybody. But it is far too early to give ourselves a pat on the back. The challenge of giving people in the Middle East the chance of a better life is not solved by lighting candles, emergency foreign aid, or hasty decisions about quotas.


The sober truth about alcohol taxes

September 8th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Anti-booze zealots insist drinkers are not paying their way claiming that alcohol’s social cost is greater than alcohol tax revenue. They’re wrong. 

WineThe IEA’s Christopher Snowden reports that the costs of alcohol to government in England was not £20bn ($43.9bn) a year, as crusaders claimed, but £3.9bn a year. Since the government raises £10.4bn from taxes on alcohol, drinkers are subsidising non-drinkers to the tune of £6.5bn a year.

As I write in The Australian today, it would be interesting to transfer Snowdon’s methodology here. You can bet your wine cellar the cost of alcohol use is considerably less than the $36bn “social cost” claimed by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.



Bread, circuses and the welfare state

August 30th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Bread, circuses and the welfare state are driving Europe towards terminal decline, writes Oliver Hartwich in a confronting new essay.

cover‘It would be optimistic to say Europe is at the crossroads,’ he writes. ‘That would suggest it has a choice between reform and decline… It increasingly looks as if there is no such choice and Europe’s inevitable future is one of decaying power, wealth and influence.’

At the core of Europe’s anguish is the burgeoning size of government, and the surrender to special interest groups intent on driving spending higher. Sound familiar?




Altogether now

August 25th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

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


The marginalised majority

August 18th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

We are indebted to Sydney University’s Wom*n’s Collective for an update on the sexually orientated minorities we should not ­offend, I write in The Australian today.

It seems only yesterday that the initials LGBT — lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — covered the range of predilections that might qualify for protected status. Now we are told in a special Wom*n’s Edition of campus newspaper Honi Soit that we must extend our sensitivities to LGBTQIA+.

Care should be taken to avoid hurting the feelings of anyone who identifies as queer (“all individuals who fall outside of gender and sexuality ‘norms’ ”), agender (“someone who identifies as a gender other than a binary gender”) and something beginning with I. Let’s hope the expansion of the acronym has been halted with the addition of “+”. The paradox of minority politics is that once race, cultural identity, disability and gender are added to the list, the marginalised members of society form a comfortable ­majority.

Victimhood in today’s universities is a position replete with privilege and status. “ ‘I’m offended’ is not an invitation to a debate but a demand for a confession, retraction, and apology,” Claremont Review editor Charles R. Kesler writes in a despondent editorial. “How different is the spirit of ‘I disagree’.”