Monthly Archives: October 2011

Doyle’s army

Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle yesterday used police resources to brutally crush the peaceful Occupy Melbourne protest, apparently at the request of a few retailers.

Doyle’s action, like those of the police, was a grossly heavyhanded over-reaction, there for all to see on the internet, and displayed an extraordinary disregard for and ignorance of both public safety and the principles of democracy. It only served to reinforce the protesters’ point that governments too often act in the interests of financial elites instead of the people they are supposed to represent.

I shudder to think what level of violence would have been employed if the protest had had any real prospect of changing the status quo, like, say, in Egypt, where even the army showed greater restraint than the police did yesterday.

We are owed an explanation from the Lord Mayor’s office and from police management as to how this hamfisted strategy came to be employed, especially the discredited “kettling” technique which seems to have violent panic as its sole aim.

The argument that “they’ve made their point” does not wash: as the editorial in today’s Australian (hardly supporters of the Occupy cause) said: “It is not for…Robert Doyle or anyone else to decide when they have had sufficient time to make their point. There is no meter running on freedom of expression.”

Doyle needs to admit his mistake, apologise to those he has harmed, drop all charges (“trespass” in a public space, indeed!), and go back to school to study the fundamentals of Western-style democracy.

Half right

The Australian’s claim (“Protesting against all that keeps us free and wealthy”, 21/10) that the Occupy movement reflects a disengagement from “liberal-democratic market economies” is only half right. Far from being disengaged from democracy, the protesters are practising it, by rejecting the failed free-market experiment they believe has rewarded unelected elites for causing the economic suffering of the rest of the population. The editorial’s stubborn adherence to the minority contrary view is beside the point.

Democracy and unregulated markets are not sides of a coin: there are dictatorships with market economies, and there are socialist democracies. There is no inherent connection between democracy and any particular economic system. If the people choose to regulate their economy for the common good, then that is also democracy.

Let’s make a deal

James McDonald (The Australian, 20/10) graciously allows that “unions could still be part of the future” provided they submit to Judith Sloane’s proposed legislative regime designed to break them up (19/10), and further that they eschew any involvement in political life. This somewhat defeats their purpose, but perhaps we can get it to work if we can persuade employers and big business to stay out of government as well. Deal?


Janet Albrechtsen is right about one thing: there is no comparison between the Occupy and Tea Party movements (“Krugman’s army stirs up bulldust on Wall Street, The Australian, 19/10”). The Tea Party is a US-only astroturf movement bankrolled by a handful of billionaires, with a mish-mash of far-Right hobbyhorses from armed insurrection to fundamentalist anti-science. The Occupy movement is a global, spontaneous expression of anger at corporate hijacking of the economy and democracy, a simple message Albrechtsen feigns not to understand.

Albrechtsen finds irony where there is none, in the fact that some protesters appear not to be poor. Like many conservatives, she seems unable to grasp that people may actually care what happens to someone other than themselves.

Vain trappings

When the pesky U.S. Constitution gets in the way of a government’s desire for lethal revenge, Christopher Hitchens has a brilliant workaround: just strip your targets of citizenship first, then assassinate them (“Reason can define rules for treason”, The Australian, 18/10). But why stop there? Boring court cases could be avoided for all sorts of things ranging from murder to tax evasion, simply by declaring the defendants’ rights void.

Trouble is, people have become accustomed to the vain trappings of civilisation and are rather attached to due process. Sorry.

Don’t mention the war

Aside from a fact-free sneer from Brendan O’Neill (“Wall Street occupiers are an insult to the workers”, 17/10) and a desultory piece in the Business section (“Busy protesters fail to maintain rage”, 17/10), The Australian seems oddly reluctant to mention the wave of thousands-strong protests against corporate kleptocracy in a thousand cities worldwide, including Sydney and Melbourne. Contrast this with its many news and favourable opinion pieces on the “Convoy of No Confidence”, an astroturfed rabble of barely 300 people whose gripe was a $10-a-week tax. It seems newsworthiness has come second to ideological preference.

A million Laffs

In her haste to protect the super-rich from the inconvenience of paying tax, The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen misapplies the so-called “Laffer curve”, which hypothesises an optimum tax rate which maximises revenue and beyond which revenues fall due to decreased economic activity (“Let champagne socialists pay more tax voluntarily”,12/10).

She gives us a couple of anecdotes of increased revenue at lower tax rates – as a percentage of GDP. But Laffer’s theory is that decreased tax rates result in greater tax revenue through increased economic activity so, by normalising to GDP, she is not saying anything about the Laffer curve, only that those who can will simply move their money around to where it is taxed least.

For example, any higher revenues from capital gains which occur when the rate is lowered only prove that people hang on to assets until this occurs, providing only a one-off tax windfall.

As far as income tax goes, most quantitative studies of the Laffer effect put the optimum rate at about 70%. I’d like to see that.

Of the top 1% of income-earners, Albrechsen says: “When you tax people more, their incentive to work more and earn more income drops off”. News flash: that’s not how the super-rich make their money.

First violet of Spring

As Dennis Shanahan points out, debate fails when the protagonists’ religious beliefs become the focus (“Not a first violet in sectarian spring”, The Australian, 7/10). But the current spat between free-market Liberals and DLP-style conservatives is symptomatic of a real schism.

Economic conservatives like Peter Costello, despite their conventional description, have a radical project of privatisation and deregulation, and may well be socially progressive. They have little in common with social conservatives like John Madigan, who may well have traditional statist views on economic management. They are only united by their opposition to the progressive agenda, but even then, not to the same parts of it. Cracks are bound to appear in such a marriage of convenience.

Blunt instrument

Speech is no different from any other action – you are free to act, but if you cause harm, you are responsible for the consequences. Andrew Bolt has paid the price for using people’s cultural identity as a blunt instrument to increase his own notoriety, without regard for truth, reputation or feelings.

That the plaintiffs wanted the case dealt with under the Racial Discrimination Act is their prerogative, but they would have won it under defamation law just the same.

Bolt is a repeat offender in this regard, and every time he is convicted he cries “freedom of speech” and wants the legal system rewritten to suit himself. Justice has been served again, and it’s time Bolt’s cheer squad accepted his guilt.


Janet Albrechtsen’s contends (“Yes, there’s a silver lining to PM’s green salad days”, The Australian, 5/10) that the year since the election “has allowed the electorate to move from a state of somnolence to one of deep circumspection about the Greens”. Good story, but one small problem: Green support has risen.

Her eagerness to prematurely report the death of the current “power-sharing paradigm” betrays an undemocratic willingness to disregard minority views. The electorate is composed entirely of minorities – of which the Greens are the third largest – who all deserve representation. Democracy is complex and is not served by rounding off to the nearest major party.