Showing posts from June, 2012


I figure it's a dream of most people involved in public policy and/or political philosophy to have their own, brand-new country which could be shaped according to their principled and pragmatic whims. There are an extraordinary number of books about utopias and ideal societies and what they might look like, both in fiction and philosophy.  But there are basically no opportunities to actually take a clean slate and put any of these ideas in place.

Enough of all those utopian concepts though - if I had a new state, one of the first things I'd look at would be tax.

Dull? Well, yes, and admittedly I'm constraining myself to a new country in the world-as-we-know-it inhabited by people-as-we-know them, so some of the more imaginative utopias are out from the beginning. Within those constraints I assume there will be tax. And if there is going to be tax, surely we can make it better than the horrific systems we have at the moment!

Two more thoughts on Fairfax

At The Conversation:
The Fairfax Charter of Editorial Independence.
The Board at Fairfax has always hired and fired its editors. Nothing will change once Gina Rinehart takes effective control. And once appointed, as the Charter states, “full editorial control of the newspapers is vested with the editors”.

The appointment procedure is the only one that matters. Let’s say, a Gina-dominated Board wants Andrew Bolt. He would be interviewed and appointed by the Board and then given “full editorial control” as specified in the Charter. The editorial staff would have to abide by the Charter and take his instructions. There would be no reason for Gina to intervene. The Charter would be upheld. And that’s why signing (or not) would not make any difference.

Conrad Black signed up to the Charter and soon after appointed his own editors. Similarly when Rupert Murdoch took over The Times and Sunday Times in the UK in 1981 he too signed up to demands for editorial independence and appo…

And what about the AFR?

Briefly, in relation to my last post about Gina's Fairfax takeover, it occurs to me that all the talk is about The Age and the SMH, and very little is about the Financial Review. This is presumably because the Fin is a much less widely-read and circulated paper and so the immediate implications for public discourse are not as striking.

Bear in mind, though, that The Age sells about 50 000 copies a day more than The Australian; the SMH about 70 000 more. Circulation is not the be-all-and-end-all of media influence, particularly when it comes to shaping the political debate (as distinct from the more general, public one). Robert Manne:

[The Australian is] the only newspaper that is read by virtually all members of the group of insiders I call the political class, a group that includes politicians, leading public servants, business people and the most politically engaged citizens. Even those members of the political class who loathe the paper understand that they cannot afford to…

The Age is not 'independent', nor should it be

I would probably not qualify as a real blogger in Australia if I didn't have some kind of opinion on Gina Rinehart and Fairfax, so here goes. This is not new. Rinehart has been stalking Fairfax for months, and if there was ever any doubt that it was political then this minor bombshell did away with it. But the spin this week is about her refusal to sign the Charter of Independence, as the other Fairfax board members have. So suddenly the trope is not 'balanced media' as previously, but 'independent media'. That's a bit of a shame, because it's a seriously easy position to attack, largely for the reason that it's absurd.

Did News International do anything wrong?

Trick question. Of course they did. Using political clout to gain unfair competitive advantage, as seems to have been the case with interactions between News and Jeremy Hunt's office, is rent-seeking, illegal and wrong. Systematically hacking the phones of dozens of people, public figures or otherwise, for no reason but sensationalism, is even worse.

But this I'm not so sure about. John Major told the Leveson Inquiry about Murdoch (and by extension his newspapers) asserting their wish for policy changes, and threatening to withdraw editorial support if such changes weren't put in place.

It is not very often someone sits in front of a prime minister and says 'I would like you to change your policy and if you don't change your policy my organisation cannot support you.'

Green Wedges

I'm in the process of writing a quite long post which will hopefully be up later this week, but in the meantime I'll complain about something I heard on the radio this morning. I wasn't taking notes and my memory is not exact, but I'm fairly confident that the speaker was Mary West from the Green Wedges Coalition.

To briefly recap, the "green wedges" are the areas locked down by Rupert Hamer in the plan formulated for the growth of Melbourne during his time as Premier. They are supposed to unavailable for developers to access, so as to preserve rural and environmental features. Ms West talked a lot about the concreting over of farmland and forest. She, and her Coalition, are opposed to this and are objecting to the current state government's decision to make some of those original green wedge areas available for development.

Political media, revisited

Remember when I complained about how Australian press doesn't do much policy analysis? Michelle Grattan today not only doesn't do it, but writes in a way that suggests there isn't any meaningful analysis to be done, or debate to be had.

This is a seriously bad article. It largely consists of repeating the arguments of a Grattan Institute paper, bracketed with variants of the phrase "the paper argues". After we've gone through that rigmarole, we get some uninsightful commentary about how reform is not always popular, politicians have to be brave to attempt it and it often takes a great deal of time.

All true (albeit trivially true), but what about the actual reforms? If I had to nail down the place where Grattan loses the plot here, it's with that word - reform - and its use in a phrase like "big economic reforms".

In the context of this article, it's effectively taken for granted that a "big economic reform" is a good thing. That i…


The polarisation of politics, particularly in the US but to lesser degrees elsewhere as well, has chewed up a lot of column space in the last few years. That's been prompted largely by the meteoric rise of the Tea Party, and the subsequent refusal of many Republican representatives to make any compromises in Washington.

I don't know about the cultural and social phenomena that might have originally seeded all this, although I was struck recently in reading a 2008 New Yorker article by this observation from conservative David Frum:
The thing I worry about most is if the Republicans lose this election—and if you’re a betting man you have to believe they will—there will be a fundamentalist reaction. Not religious—but the beaten party believes it just has to say it louder.
So whatever the reasons might be, they evidently weren't as latent and impossible-to-predict as some commentary might have us believe. In any case, I want to offer not a fundamental cause but something mo…