Posts Tagged ‘Thoughts’

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Greens denounce Gillard Labor government

19 February 2013

The Greens have publicly distanced themselves from the Labor government in the leadup to the Australian federal election on 14 September.

Last month, Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Liberal leader Tony Abbott each launched their party’s election campaign with a National Press Club speech. (Gillard discussed economic policy, hinted at more budget cuts, and announced the election date; Abbott reiterated past promises including a budget surplus.) Today, Greens leader Christine Milne similarly addressed the National Press Club. In a strong speech, Milne argued Labor has flouted the principles it agreed with the Greens in 2010: “transparency and accountable government”, “policies which promote the public interest”, and “policies which address climate change”.

The move is long overdue. As I’ve written before, the Greens’ support has given credibility to a government which has gotten away with: Read the rest of this entry ?

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The illusion of the reasonable centre

4 February 2013

Republican strategist Karl Rove in 2002 notoriously disparaged “the reality-based community [who] believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality”. He continued: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

That quote has become a symbol for the Republican Party’s detachment from empirical reality, like Mitt Romney’s recent declaration “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers”. I’m a proud member of the “reality-based community”, in that I try to base my views as much as possible on observed facts rather than instinct or ideology. Yet Rove understood something his political opponents don’t: “political reality” is an illusion.

Campaigners who pride themselves on being “political realists”, and voters who pride themselves on being “centrists”, make the fundamental mistake of assuming the political centre is a real thing fixed in one position. Although political scholars talk about an objective centre halfway between the most extreme possible ideological orientations, it has no influence on political debate. In practice, the political centre is a perception that can be manipulated by various political forces. Thus it is possible to shift the political centre, or “political reality”, without deluding as the Republicans do – you only need to change the perception of where the centre is.

Here’s another way of looking at it. The “Overton window” is the range of political positions considered to be the scope of reasonable debate. The perceived political centre is in the middle of the Overton window. Positions toward the edges of the Overton window are considered radical, and positions beyond the edges are considered unthinkable.

A third way of conceptualizing this is “Hallin’s spheres”, three nested ideological spheres illustrating the implicit bias of ostensibly objective media coverage. In the centre is the “sphere of consensus”, consisting of propositions considered by the journalist (or other observer) to be self-evident to all reasonable people. The intermediate shell is the “sphere of legitimate controversy”, matters considered suitable to be debated among reasonable people; journalists generally strive for balanced coverage of the views in this shell. The outer shell is the “sphere of deviance”, positions considered to be outside the range of mainstream debate. In this metaphor it is journalists who (consciously or otherwise) decide which ideas belong in which sphere, and they tend to make those decisions based on the thinking of the political establishment. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Liberals Part 5: Are they hiding a radical agenda?

31 January 2013

This is the fifth part of a series examining the Liberal Party of Australia. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 examine the party’s climate policies. Part 4 debunks their allegations that the incumbent government is illegitimate. This part argues they are hiding a radical agenda of deregulation and austerity.

The countdown has begun: 226 days until an Australian federal election in which the Liberals look likely to sweep into office. Yet we still have very little idea what the Liberals would do in government. Leader Tony Abbott contradicts himself from day to day, apparently depending on who he’s speaking to, and even his party’s official policies are not very clearly explained. At this stage, a vote for the Liberals is a blank cheque. In this vacuum of confirmed information, I am forced to resort to informed speculation. You’ll know whether I’m right when the Liberals finally announce their fully detailed policies (which looks like it will be about 5pm on 14 September).

The deregulation agenda

I fear an Abbott government would be a wrecker government. We already know the Liberals would repeal the carbon and mining taxes, axe most other climate change policies, and delegate environmental approval powers to the states. These policies should be disturbing enough for anybody, but increasingly appear to be only part of a broader agenda of deregulation and austerity which should trouble even those unconcerned about climate change. It would follow the precedent set by the Newman government in Queensland, which blindsided the state last year by sneaking into power under cover of opposing a long-lived incumbent then proceeding to implement massive cuts. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Liberals Part 4: Australia has a legitimate government

27 January 2013

This is the fourth part of a series examining the Liberal Party of Australia. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 examine the party’s climate policies. This part debunks their allegations that the incumbent government is illegitimate.

Both sidesIllustration: Stephen Wight

There has been a persistent campaign by the conservative Coalition, led by Tony Abbott and his Liberals, assisted by most of the mainstream media, to create the perception that the incumbent Labor minority government, led by Julia Gillard, is illegitimate. Don’t get me wrong: I have a long list of disagreements with the government. But the implication it is somehow illegitimate is simply unjustified. Read the rest of this entry ?

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It’s high time we talked about coal

19 January 2013

Gillard two-faced

As Australia bakes in record-breaking heat and burns in devastating fires, the country’s political and media elites have yet again lined up to defend the industry driving global warming and cast those who speak out against it as extremists. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Liberals Part 3: False crimes of a climate crook

16 January 2013

This is the third part of a series examining the Liberal Party of Australia. Part 1 covers the party’s climate change denial and intention to abolish various existing climate policies. Part 2 examines the climate policies they promise to introduce. This part defends them against incorrect criticisms of their climate policies.

To use language which Liberal leader Tony Abbott might outside of a family program, the Liberals’ climate policy is complete crap. Having said that, its problems do not include some of the things for which it is most often criticized: fiscal impact, directness, and reliance on domestic action.

Fiscal impact

Some commentators (eg. Alan Kohler) claim the Liberals’ policy would have a massive impact on the government’s budget. But there is nothing wrong with the government spending money on addressing the greatest threat facing humanity. Indeed, we should be spending far more than either major party is currently prepared to. The real problem, as I explained in Part 2, is the Liberals would not spend enough. The Emissions Reduction Fund is capped at $10.5 billion by 2020, making it impossible to make sure it meets its target (let alone a more ambitious target). Because the Fund’s current costings depend on achieving 60% of its abatement through buying soil carbon offsets, it is difficult to see how it could make genuine absolute emissions cuts with such a limited budget. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Response to RET Review

19 December 2012

Today the Climate Change Authority (CCA) released the final report of its Renewable Energy Target review. It repeats all the same arguments I debunked in my response to the discussion paper released in October, and makes similar recommendations (though some of the details have been refined).

The RET Review fails to acknowledge that Australia and the world urgently need to phase out fossil fuel burning to avoid dangerous climate change, and the policies in place are completely inadequate to do so. Instead, on most matters it insists the status quo must be maintained to minimize policy uncertainty. But climate policy will be subject to uncertainty for the foreseeable future anyway, because it challenges powerful interests, so the best way to design the RET is to send the strongest signal possible to incentivize investment in renewable energy. The reason for the existence of a Climate Change Authority and regularly scheduled reviews is to provide regular opportunities to strengthen Australia’s climate policies and thus accelerate decarbonization over time. CCA’s rigid determination to recommend little change is creating the ludicrous situation where the body is making itself irrelevant.

CCA refuses to recommend increasing or strengthening the Large-Scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET). It recommends future reviews be scheduled at four-year instead of two-year intervals (though fortunately unscheduled reviews can be commissioned at any time by the Minister, the Parliament, or CCA itself). It envisages the 2016 review will consider the issue of post-2020 targets, and rules out consideration of accelerating renewable energy deployment before 2020 except “in the event of extenuating circumstances” (p. xi); it is unclear what would qualify as such a circumstance. The problem with this is that the RET is currently inadequate, a higher target is needed to incentivize new projects, and accelerating action cannot wait until 2016 or 2020. Read the rest of this entry ?