Doctoring fiscal facts

July 28th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

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.

MRC-NRS-Fiscal (Robson) textThe 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.


Here’s what we should recognise

July 21st, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

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

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.



The ABC needs a charter for the digital age

July 7th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

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.


Hands down Liberal voters…

June 30th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

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.



Pope’s miserable gospel leaves out the Enlightenment

June 23rd, 2015 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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:

Enlightenment - life expectancy


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.


Pope Francis the hand-wringer

June 22nd, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

The Pope has succumbed to catastrophism in his latest encyclical, I write in The Australian tomorrow. Here’s Eric Lobbecke’s brilliant illustration:

Screenshot 2015-06-22 22.26.44



Unsettled science of climate change

June 17th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

The IPCC is a serial embellisher. It never passes by a chance to inflate, embroider or lay it on thick, I write in a piece for Spectator Australia this week (20 June).

Screenshot 2015-06-17 21.42.08Former IPCC chairman Robert Watson acknowledged after the failure of the Copenhagen summit that “the mistakes all appear to have gone in the direction of making it seem like climate change is more serious by overstating the impact.”

As Jo Nova points out, the models also fail on regional, local, short term, polar, and upper tropospheric scales. They fail on humidity, rainfall, drought, they fail on clouds and fail to take account of the hot spot. The so- called feedback loops are not intensifying the effects of CO2 as the computer models forecast.


Canberra’s latest green elephant

June 16th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Screenshot 2015-06-16 05.21.47The ACT light rail scheme has failure written all over it, I write in The Australian today. The trams will travel at an average speed of 30km/h — somewhat slower than George Stephenson’s Rocket at the 1829 Rainhill trials.

The journey from Gungahlin to Civic will take 25 minutes, the same time as the bus. The business case released last year predicts the tram will yield $5.5m in fares in its first year of operation, which appears to be about a third of its projected operating and maintenance costs. Add to that the construction and financing costs bundled into a 20-year-contract, and the ACT government will be up for $80m to $100m a year, a subsidy per journey of more than $17…

Rational arguments are all but useless, however, against la-la economics designed to buttress a sentimental longing for a city of low-carbon regularity and simplicity.

The tram’s proponents refuse to accept that buses are better suited to Canberra’s circumstances. They hate the fact that 92 per cent of Canberrans get to work on their own steam and see the Territory’s high rate of vehicle ownership — 1.8 cars for every household — not as a virtue but a vice.


Not-so-merry England: part two

June 12th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

“I find Matthew England’s response to Nick Cater’s article misleading,” writes Chris Schoneveld from Kewarra Beach, Queensland, in The Australian‘s letters page today. 

Schoneveld takes issue with England’s claim that the Antarctic land ice is melting rapidly.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 9.32.56 am“Changes in the ice mass in Antarctica are measured using satellite gravimetry and altimetry and they do not show an alarming decrease. On the contrary, ice mass in central Antarctica is remarkably stable and there is ice gain in the east and south. Ice loss is measured mainly along the west near the Amundsen Sea and the cause of this regional phenomenon is  yet to be explained.
“A geothermal source of heat has been suggested and/or the warming of the circumpolar deep current melt- ing the ice shelf from below. The mechanisms involved are complex, but global warming of the atmos- phere is not necessarily the culprit as it would give rise to a more uniform change in ice mass. A However, the steady increase in sea ice over the past 30 years, which Cater alluded to, is not consistent with the hypothesis of man-made global warming.”
Indeed. Putting aside the complex scientific arguments England et al need to explain one thing. Why are their computer modelled climate predictions are so badly out of kilter with observed changes?

Not-so-merry England: part one

June 10th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

After comparing the IPCC to FIFA in Tuesday’s column in The Australian I half expected to see a letter in Wednesday’s paper from Sepp Blatter protesting at the outrageous slur.

Instead the criticism came from Matthew England who, on behalf of his associates at UNSW’s Climate Change Research Centre, claimed I had launched “yet another unwarranted attack on me and my fellow scientists.”

Geoff Derrick sent me this reply:

Professor England’s criticism (Australian 10 June) of Nick Cater’s excellent column about the IPCC (Australian 9 June) is unfounded. Both Antarctic land and sea ice extents are at seasonal record levels, and any melting taking place is totally inconsequential.  Some melt water is recorded from the West Antarctic glaciers because of a zone of high heat flow in the earth’s crust in this area, related to volcanism. It has nothing to do with greenhouse gases, but everything to do with the global alarmist campaign of manufacturing misleading and erroneous headline-grabbing articles which have no basis in scientific fact, simply to promote the climate meeting in Paris later this year. The good professor also accuses Mr Cater of muddling sea ice with land ice, but we should also recall that Professor England comes from the same institution that gave us the so-called ‘Ship of Fools’ of Christmas 2013, which sailed into the Antarctic to demonstrate dangerous melting of the East Antarctic ice sheet, only to be promptly and embarrassingly stuck in thick sea ice for many days.

I’ll be posting a further riposte shortly.